You are browsing the archive for Iraq.

Obama Administration Set to Cover For Petraeus’ Training Failure

5:03 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

David Petraeus: winner in propaganda, failure in training troops.


On Wednesday, I noted that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) was quoted in the Washington Post pointing out the impossibility of David Petraeus’ plan to train Afghan forces to take over security responsibility in Afghanistan after a US pullout. I predicted a ramping up of the Petraeus propaganda machine kicking into gear to protect Petraeus’ reputation as he prepares to assume control of the CIA in his planned preparation for the presidency. Friday’s Los Angeles Times has a remarkable article where we see that the Obama administration is planning to “scale back” training of Afghan forces under cover of saving money. The Times tries to present this as the administration somehow pushing back against Petraeus’ plans, but it looks to me much more like the administration is covering for the abject failure, once again, of Petraeus’ training myth.

Here is the remarkable passage from Wednesday’s Washington Post on the impossibility of training sufficient Afghan troops to take over security there:

Many have questioned the feasibility of plans to recruit and train as many as 400,000 Afghan security forces to take over once foreign troops depart.“Despite our best efforts, there are challenges — corruption, predatory behavior, incompetence — still evident within the Afghan army and police,” Kerry said. “On top of these problems, there is the question, ultimately, of money, resources.”

That statement by Kerry, where he appears be pointing out failure in Petraeus’ key strategy of training Afghan troops so that we can withdraw ours then leads to today’s article in the Los Angeles Times. The article begins:

After months of internal deliberations, the Obama administration has decided to limit the expansion of Afghanistan’s army and police forces over the next 18 months, largely to hold down the costs of training, equipping and paying them.

If we are to take this at face value, then we are supposed to believe that it’s just too darned expensive to follow the Petraeus plan of training so many Afghan troops so fast. And the Times tries to present this as a difference between what Petraeus wants and what the administration wants:

Petraeus and senior Pentagon officials had pushed to add as many as 73,000 troops to the Afghan force, officials said. Instead, the administration has limited the addition to 47,000, which would bring the authorized Afghan force to a total of 352,000. The U.S. government provides most of the money to recruit, train and pay the Afghan troops.

However, by hiding behind this “it costs too much” excuse, which John Kerry nicely framed for them, the administration is able to provide cover for Petraeus failing miserably, once again, to reach his troop training goal, just as he did multiple times in Iraq and now in Afghanistan. In going out of their way to protect Petraeus’ reputation before he gets saddled with accusations of failing to meet his training goals in Afghanistan, the administration also gets the “bonus” of using the scaled back training as an excuse to “follow” the recommendation that will be coming from Petraeus to scale back the troop drawdown:

They said Petraeus and other senior officers in the Pentagon favor limiting the scale and slowing the pace of any U.S. pullout in order to preserve fragile security gains, especially in the south and east, where the Taliban presence remains strong.

And, of course, by slowing the buildup of Afghan forces, that allows the addition of ever more Friedman units to the date on which our drawdown of troops will be complete. So much for the cost savings from a slower training schedule.

David Petraeus, once again, will be given a free pass for his failure. The Obama administration is going to change the training goals under the guise of scaling back expenses when the underlying reason almost certainly is that Petraeus had zero chance of hitting his stated goal. The punditocracy will once again sing Petraeus’ praise as he takes the reins at CIA. What new failures await him there?

Will Bin Laden’s Killing Reset US Relations with International Community?

5:16 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

In dramatic fashion and after numerous delays from the initially announced time, President Obama announced late Sunday night that the United States has killed Osama Bin Laden in the outskirts of
Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. After recent months which have seen US-Pakistan relations stretched to the breaking point multiple times over the US killing three Pakistani soldiers at a border crossing (resulting in Pakistan briefly closing off US supply routes to Afghanistan) and then the arrest of CIA agent Raymond Davis after he killed two men in Lahore (resulting in Pakistan dropping out of the trilateral talks with the US and Afghanistan) this latest development immediately puts Pakistan in a bad light for repeatedly denying Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, despite evidence now that the compound where he was killed appears to have been built specifically for him in 2005.

The video above shows Obama’s dramatic announcement. From the text of his statement, we see this about Pakistan’s involvement in the operation that killed Bin Laden:

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

A close reading of Obama’s words here, supplemented with additional information that has been released, allows us to surmise that ISI was involved in background work that helped to set the stage for this operation, but once specific information was developed and as the actual operation was planned and carried out, Pakistan was left out of discussions.

The details that are emerging tell us that it was through a courier that the CIA developed the information used to find Bin Laden.

This operation is remarkable in part for the conventional knowledge which has been turned on its head. Many believed Bin Laden was hiding out in a primitive cave in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, and yet he was actually living in a luxurious compound only a thousand feet from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point. Many believed that Bin Laden only could be taken through use of drones, and yet it was painstaking work much more akin to old-fashioned police work that found his compound and resulted in his death when he and those around him took up arms in response to the task force entering the compound.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US faced a moment of decision for how it would interact with the world community. The administration of George W. Bush chose an aggressive, belligerent stance that has resulted in the overthrow of the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by ongoing occupations of those countries and a very heavy-handed approach throughout the world, including the implementation of torture.

The nature of how Bin Laden was found and killed suggests that an approach much more focused on Bin Laden himself and his key associates would have been a much better approach. It was intelligence heavy-lifting that took the one clue that appears to have come from a Guantanamo detainee (a key question not answered is how this information was obtained; I’m betting it wasn’t through torture), the operational, but not real, name of Bin Laden’s most trusted courier.

There will be much bellowing from the war mongers in our midst that Bin Laden’s killing does not end the Great War on Terror and that we must extend our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. I call on our President instead to use this opportunity for a complete reset of the US approach to terrorism. An honest review of where we are and how we have gotten here has to acknowledge the death and destruction that our toppling of the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan has wreaked. Perhaps even more important, though, is that an honest evaluation also would show that these operations only got in the way of, and greatly prolonged, the search for the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. We have created many more enemies of the United States through our choice of methods for responding to the 9/11 attacks.

Obama has the perfect opportunity now to explain to the world community that the approach taken by the United States has been in error. Our success in finding Bin Laden came from focused intelligence work, not from killing huge numbers of people and letting God sort them out. Now is the perfect time to begin a real withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. It would illustrate that, as Obama said Sunday night, “the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam”. The best way to achieve the security Obama seeks when he also said “The cause of securing our country is not complete” is to acknowledge how the US overstepped in its response to 9/11 and that with Bin Laden’s death, we can turn that page and return to a peaceful stance rather than being an occupying power.

Can Petraeus Avoid Self-Promotion at CIA?

4:48 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Can Petraeus set aside self-promotion and provide neutral analysis of military strategy he set into motion?

Articles by Phil Stewart and Mark Hosenball at Reuters and Walter Pincus at the Washington Post finally, now that he has been formally nominated by President Obama, point out the difficulties David Petraeus will face as he becomes the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Taken together, the two articles clearly paint Petraeus as a highly politicized military man intent on becoming president who now must take on the role of a traditionally civilian agency tasked with providing neutral analysis. Most importantly, Stewart and Hosenball point out that a key portion of that analysis will cover the progress of military strategy set in motion in Afghanistan by Petraeus himself. Pincus quotes CIA veteran John Gannon asking the key question of whether Petraeus will be able to avoid self-promotion when providing that analysis.

Stewart and Hosenball set the stage for their analysis by stating that Petraeus “has a reputation for brainpower and political savvy”. Pincus takes that characterization even further, noting Petreaus’ presidential ambitions:

Petraeus comes to the agency with a particularly high profile and, like George H.W. Bush before him, has long been seen as having presidential aspirations. Bush had to sign a letter agreeing not to run in 1976 as part of his confirmation. That profile is seen within the agency as both a plus and a minus, veterans say.

Hmmm. Bush took over CIA in January, 1976 and signed the agreement not to run that year. Does Obama have a similar agreement in mind for Petraeus and the 2012 race?

At any rate, Stewart and Hosenball point out the inherent conflict of interest that Petraeus will face:

But in his role as U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus has been a developer of the counterinsurgency strategy whose results are incomplete as the Obama administration plans to begin a withdrawal of U.S. soldiers this summer.

Because he helped to craft U.S. policy and has publicly defended it against critics, some officials wonder how open Petraeus will be in his new role to critiquing his own work.

They wonder if he will faithfully represent to the White House a CIA view of Afghanistan and Pakistan that is more pessimistic than that of Pentagon brass.

Pincus notes that CIA is nervous about Petraeus taking over:

The agency staff is always nervous with change, particularly when the new director comes with a high-profile military background, a history of regularly changing jobs and a hint that this may just be a temporary stopover on the way to something else.

Pincus concludes his article with a blockbuster quote from former CIA deputy director for intelligence John Gannon:

“The challenge for Petraeus is to avoid promoting himself rather than the organization,” said Gannon.

I’ll take promoting himself for $500, Alex. David Petraeus has made a career of promoting himself at the expense of many lives and billions of taxpayer dollars. I don’t see him changing that any time soon.

Petraeus to CIA Completes Cheney’s Dream, Consolidates Intelligence Within Pentagon

5:30 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Screen shot from an Army ad produced by Petraeus' propaganda machine.

Today is the day that my worst fears will be realized, and the propaganda machine that has been mercilessly promoting the career of David Petraeus will achieve his nomination to be Director of Central Intelligence.

Aside from the horrible nature of this move in putting a blatantly political operator into a highly visible position from which he can consolidate his credentials for an eventual presidential campaign (see Spencer Ackerman for a very different take on this aspect), this move can be seen as finally completing Dick Cheney’s dream of moving virtually all intelligence functions into the Pentagon. Back when Michael Hayden was nominated to head CIA, the ongoing Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)-CIA turf war was noted:

What worries some experts, however, is a shift in the balance of power within the US intelligence infrastructure as the CIA is weakened and the Pentagon expands its role. For one thing, the Pentagon’s intelligence activities largely escape congressional scrutiny. ”Rumsfeld and Cambone claim that everything they do is a military operation,” says Richard Clarke, the former head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, ”[and] that therefore nothing that they do should have oversight by the House and Senate intelligence committees. But they are doing things that are clearly intelligence.”

It is precisely this ability to “escape congressional scrutiny” that has driven the move to consolidate intelligence functions within the Pentagon. Here is more from Jeremy Scahill on how this was brought about:

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” says Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”

The key thing to note here is how Cheney bypassed McChrystal’s direct commander in SOCOM to dictate McChrystal’s actions. At least in regard to when those actions were in Iraq, it should be noted that McChrystal’s field commander there was none other than David Petraeus. I think Wilkerson is wrong here when he claims that McChrystal was acting without the knowledge of the field commander.   For McChrystal to be carrying out “rogue” operations at the direct command of the Vice President and bypassing his SOCOM commander, it seems inconceivable that Petraeus could not have been aware of what was happening. It seems most likely that Petraeus was both aware of what was going on and approved of it, since he is often seen as crediting McChrystal and his night raids for their effects in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. This means that Petraeus had to be aware of, and approved, Cheney’s actions that were designed to bypass congressional scrutiny of actions that would have been subject to oversight had they taken place through the CIA.

In today’s New York Times article about Petraeus’ nomination, we see that the blurring of the lines between intelligence and military functions already is almost complete:

The result is that American military and intelligence operatives are at times virtually indistinguishable from each other as they carry out classified operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. Some members of Congress have complained that this new way of war allows for scant debate about the scope and scale of military operations. In fact, the American spy and military agencies operate in such secrecy now that it is often hard to come by specific information about the American role in major missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya and Yemen.

The operations have also created tension with important allies like Pakistan, while raising fresh questions about whether spies and soldiers deserve the same legal protections.

Officials acknowledge that the lines between soldiering and spying have blurred. “It’s really irrelevant whether you call it a covert action or a military special operation,” said Dennis C. Blair, a retired four-star admiral and a former director of national intelligence. “I don’t really think there is any distinction.”

I’m sure Dick Cheney approves of Obama’s move to put Petraeus in charge of the CIA, because it is clear that Petraeus fully subscribes to Cheney’s vision of a Pentagon in control of the most important intelligence functions, fully protected from congressional oversight.

Suicide of Prominent Iraq, Afghanistan Vet Highlights “Sham” of Pentagon Statistics

4:48 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Clay Hunt, widely known and respected for his work in multiple groups assisting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, took his own life on March 31. Hunt’s death is particularly tragic because he appeared in a Public Service Announcement for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and generally was a voice for veterans getting the help they need for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. From the IAVA obituary:

It is with unspeakable sadness that IAVA staff and members across the country mourn the loss of Clay Hunt. Clay took his own life on March 31st. Clay served in the Marine Corps for 4 years before being honorably discharged in 2009. He served in an infantry squad in Iraq in 2007 where he was wounded in action, receiving the Purple Heart Medal, and then in Afghanistan in 2008 as a Scout-Sniper.

Clay was an incredible advocate for our generation of veterans, a person of tremendous character and a fierce believer in the value of service. He was a leader for IAVA, participating in Storm the Hill 2010 and playing a critical role in the Ad Council campaign. In addition to his involvement with IAVA, he was active with Team Rubicon and Ride to Recovery. Clay believed his mission in life was to serve both in and out of the military. That is something that we will never forget.

Equally tragic is that the Pentagon will not count Hunt’s death among the spiraling figures for military suicides. From CNN:

“In my mind he is a casualty of war,” she [Hunt's mother, Susan Selke] said. “But he died here instead of over there. He died as a result of his war experience. There is no doubt in my mind.”

But Hunt’s death will not be counted by the Pentagon as an official military suicide, since he left the Marines in 2009.

“That is a complete sham in my opinion,” [Hunt's sniper school partner Jake] Wood said. “Part of Clay was killed in Iraq. Part of Clay was killed in Afghanistan and the rest of him was killed in Houston, Texas. And if that is not reflected in military statistics, it’s a shame.”

Last September, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen addressed the increased rate of military suicides:

A dramatic surge in troop suicides has become the Pentagon’s top “emergency” issue, though the brass doesn’t know how to curb the tragedies. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while suicides have been on the rise since 2004, the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they have really jumped recently, forcing he and his top aides to look for a solution.

“The emergency issue for me right now is the suicide issue,” he said at a media roundtable breakfast today. Just last week, he added, five Army soldiers took their lives. “It’s a very difficult problem. There’s not a national solution,” he said.

After admitting that the rate is likely to increase further before declining, Mullen then acknowledged that returning vets also are at risk:

What’s more, he added, the surge in troops coming home may encounter troubled families when they arrive back home. “I think we’re going to see a significant increase in the challenges that we have in terms of our troops and our families because they are going to have some time [together at home] and if things have been pent up or packed in or basically suppressed or sucked up, what ever term you want to use, we’re going to see that as well,” Mullen said.

So the Pentagon knows that returning vets face a high suicide risk and yet the Pentagon refuses to include these deaths among the official suicide figures. This means, of course, that the suicide figures actually are even much higher than the Pentagon admits.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this whole situation is that the Obama administration launched its effort to support military families this week. Sadly, however, the program being launched is being used as a vehicle to rehabilitate the image of war criminal Stanley McChrystal, against the wishes of Pat Tillman’s family, who suffered greatly from McChrystal’s role in covering up the friendly fire aspect of Tillman’s death. Furthermore, the program is being administered by the Center for a New American Security, which is funded by military contractors and is involved in a campaign to sell the idea of extending the Iraq war. At a time when it should be stepping up real services for both active military personnel and for veterans, the Obama administration is playing the worst sort of cynical politics with military families. There are no words to describe the evil of this situation.

Will Petraeus Propaganda Machine Get Him DCI Job?

5:48 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

I noted last week that there is a push to appoint General David Petraeus as head of the CIA should Leon Panetta move on to be Secretary of Defense and that this would represent a terrible move by President Obama. Sadly, this push now seems to have moved beyond the whispers on Twitter that I noted last week to a story that can be found here on NPR’s website. The NPR story is notable for its listing of “top jobs” potentially available to Petraeus when he rotates out of Afghanistan later this year, pitching Petraeus as worthy of a very high position but noting that many top positions already seem to be “taken” and pouting that Petraeus is not a candidate to be Chair of the Joint Chiefs.

The NPR story fits into a general pattern of propaganda that is generated on many fronts to promote Petraeus’ career. Back in January, I noted the push to get a fifth star for Petraeus and was able to do some digging on the Republican front groups that were a leading part of that effort. The current effort to push Petraeus, however, seems to be originating with help from inside the government and/or military. The NPR story cites “government sources” and “sources close to Petreaus”. Given the tone of the NPR piece, I find it disturbing that “government sources” seem concerned with finding Petraeus a position that is suitably important enough for him. It seems to fit within an overall atmosphere that promotes Petraeus in a way that I find to be quite offensive. Take, for example, the Army recruiting ad that is embedded above. I saw this ad run again just last night during the NCAA National Championship basketball game on CBS. Here is the “Information” about the ad that the Army provides on its YouTube Army Strong Videos channel:

A parade of U.S. Army leaders are shown in powerful archival footage, from General George Washington to Teddy Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Colin Powell. The message ends with a call to action:They bring out the best in others and themselves. Can you?

Since Petraeus appears within that “powerful archival footage”, he is clearly being touted as worthy of comparison to Washington, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower. That’s a lot of presidents, so I find it very informative that this ad would run again in an extremely high viewership slot when Petreaus is being touted for a position that would be seen by many as a stepping stone to the presidency. How can it be legal for this ad to run in this way at this time?

Just in case the Army pulls the video or blocks its embedding function, here is a screengrab of Petraeus as he appears in the ad among the historical figures to whom he is being compared:

David Petreaus has inserted himself, time after time, into the political arena, often by falsely claiming progress on training of troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, going all the way back to his interference in the 2004 presidential election.  Obama needs to resist this relentless push from those who would have David Petraeus as president and who think that DCI would be the next logical step in his career advancement to the presidency.  Rather than appointing Petraeus to that vital position, Obama should let him rotate into a position of minor importance more in keeping with his multiple failures in the field and his pathological lying about those failures.

Quagmires R Us: Now Adding Libya to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq

7:34 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Dial "Q" for quagmire. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Remarkably, the US is sending “clandestine” CIA teams into Libya to coordinate bombing runs and to provide contact with the rebels there at the same time that courts in Pakistan are still sorting out how Raymond Davis was allowed to leave the country after his blood money payment despite having been placed on the Exit Control List.  Also, Washington is gearing up for a “debate” on drawing down US troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military now angling to narrow the options to include only insignificant numbers to be withdrawn.  Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of the remaining “non-combat” US troops there, violence in Iraq continues, with 56 killed in a single attack Wednesday.

In Pakistan, the Lahore High Court has given various government offices until April 8 to respond to a petition that has been filed with the court requesting information on how CIA operative Raymond Davis was allowed to leave the country despite having been placed on the Exit Control List:

The petition, filed by Barrister Javed Iqbal Jaffery, requested the court to seek explanation from Federal Law Minister Babar Awan, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, AD&SJ Mohammad Yousuf Aujla and others as to why they facilitated Davis in his acquittal and emergent departure despite the fact that his name was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

/snip/

The petitioner had stated that the LHC had directed the interior ministry to place Davis’s name on the ECL and the court was also assured by a law officer and the ministry that the order had been complied with.

He had further said that the court order was in place when Davis was released and the LHC had not suspended or withdrawn its order and no such application was filed by any one on behalf of Davis.

The petitioner had therefore alleged that the government and its functionaries released Davis ignoring the order of the LHC through which his name was placed on the ECL.

And yet, despite the ongoing fallout from the CIA’s continuing misadventures in Pakistan, Obama has signed a “finding” allowing CIA teams to enter Libya with assignments that appear to be very similar to Davis’ reported activities in developing targets for drone attacks:

The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.

/snip/

In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.

/snip/

In addition, the American spies are meeting with rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi, said United States government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities. American officials cautioned, though, that the Western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces.

Given the track record of the US in these matters, you can bet that it is only a matter of time until our operatives are engaged not just in “directing the actions” of the the rebels but also actively engaged in the miraculous “training” that always is just on the verge of achieving success, but needs only another Friedman Unit or two to be completed. Of course, we probably also will need some drone strikes to “protect” the rebels and their trainers, too.

At the more mature end of the quagmire process that is beginning in Libya, we are about to move to the next phase in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reports Thursday morning on the upcoming battle over the extent of troop reductions this summer:

Military leaders and President Obama’s civilian advisers are girding for battle over the size and pace of the planned pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military seeking to limit a reduction in combat forces and the White House pressing for a withdrawal substantial enough to placate a war-weary electorate.

Despite the fact that Obama is the Commander in Chief, Obama is following his usual negotiation strategy by allowing others to set the parameters of the debate:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, has not presented a recommendation on the withdrawal to his superiors at the Pentagon, but some senior officers and military planning documents have described the July pullout as small to insignificant, prompting deep concern within the White House.

/snip/

As both sides prepare for what they expect to be a vigorous debate, they are seeking ways to achieve their favored outcome by limiting what the other can do. For the military, that means crafting a narrow set of choices, because there is general agreement that reduction numbers need to originate in the field, not be imposed by the White House. But the National Security Council may attempt to impose its own limitations by setting a date by which all the surge forces must be brought home, the officials said.

And how is that going to work out? We only need go as far as Iraq to find out. The “drawdown” there was finalized by redefining the remaining troops as “non-combat”. And that is going just swimmingly:

Sunni militants linked to al-Qaeda were responsible for a bloody siege in Tikrit in which 56 people were killed, Iraqi officials have said.

Tuesday’s attack took place at a local government building in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein.

A fierce gun-battle ended when the attackers – numbering about eight – blew themselves up.

Just how many quagmires do we have to be engaged in simultaneously for the military-industrial-congressional complex to be satisfied?

US, UK Governments Commit to Libyan War Despite Citizen Opposition

5:51 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Another $1 million Tomahawk missile being fired from the USS Stout toward Libya on March 19. (US Navy photo)

While debate in the US drones on about whether Barack Obama needed Congressional approval before launching attacks on Libya, there seems to be little doubt that Congress would have approved the attacks, which cost the US over $100 million on the first day in missiles alone. Taking this action puts the US government directly at odds with its citizens, who favor reducing the defense budget before any “austerity” measures begin to cut Social Security or Medicare. Similarly, a new poll finds that only one in three Britons agree with the attack on Libya, while Parliament voted 557 to 13 in favor of the attack. Why do the US and UK governments push for war while ignoring the peaceful desires of their citizens?

It is admirable on some fronts that both far left and far right politicians have pointed out that Congressional approval is required before military action is initiated. As the New York Times points out:

Some Democratic lawmakers — including Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Barbara Lee of California and Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts — complained in a House Democratic Caucus conference call as the bombing began that Mr. Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority by authorizing the attack without Congressional permission.

That sentiment was echoed by several Republican lawmakers — including Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland — as well as in editorials and columns published over the weekend and on Monday in conservative opinion outlets like the Washington Times editorial page and National Review.

Sadly, though, this small number of elected officials who are calling for Constitutional requirements to be followed would be vastly outnumbered should the question actually be brought to a vote. A huge majority of US lawmakers would quickly rush to put their names on the record as authorizing these attacks, just as they did in the ill-fated attack on Iraq, where the AUMF passed by votes of 420 to 1 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate. Correction, those were the Afghanistan AUMF votes, Iraq was marginally closer, 296 to133 in the House and 77 to 23 in the Senate [h/t Rebecca Griffin for catching the error]. Even when the citizens do not want war, US elected representatives vote overwhelmingly in its favor.

One only needs to go back less than two weeks to find the latest poll in which Americans came out in favor of reducing defense spending:

A majority of Americans prefer cutting defense spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed.

The poll found 51 percent of Americans support reducing defense spending, and only 28 percent want to cut Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor. A mere 18 percent back cuts in the Social Security retirement program.

Yet, with a majority of Americans wanting to cut the Defense budget, President Obama unilaterally decided to engage the country in another war, blowing over $100 million on missiles in the first day alone. From the conservative National Journal:

With U.N. coalition forces bombarding Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi from the sea and air, the United States’ part in the operation could ultimately hit several billion dollars — and require the Pentagon to request emergency funding from Congress to pay for it.

The first day of Operation Odyssey Dawn had a price tag that was well over $100 million for the U.S. in missiles alone. And the U.S. military, which remains in the lead now in its third day, has pumped millions more into air- and sea-launched strikes targeting air-defense sites and ground-force positions along Libya’s coastline.

The politicians in Washington blather about the need to cut Social Security and to remove all federal funding from NPR, while also complaining that they didn’t get to vote in favor of spending another few billions of dollars the US doesn’t have in a war that does not directly affect US security unless that security is defined only by access to oil at low prices.

It is no better in the UK. Politicians there did get the opportunity to vote on involvement in Libya:

The debate focused on Resolution 1973, passed by the United Nations Security Council last week. This authorises “all necessary measures”, short of bringing in an occupying force, to protect Libyan citizens from the Gaddafi regime, which has been fighting rebel forces.

The Commons motion – which was backed by 557 MPs and opposed by 13 – followed a second night of US-led action in Libya, with Col Gaddafi’s sprawling Bab al-Aziziya complex in Tripoli among the locations hit.

And yet, Britons do not want this war:

Only one in three Britons agree with the decision to take military action in Libya, a poll published Monday showed.

The ComRes/ITN poll found that 43 percent disagreed with the action and 22 percent were unsure. Just under half of those surveyed felt military action was an unnecessary risk for Britain to take.

Haunted by the experience of the recent Iraq war and continued losses in Afghanistan, Britons told Reuters they were wary of getting dragged into another lengthy foreign conflict at a time of belt-tightening at home.

When it comes to war, politicians in the US and UK hear only the call to war, not their citizens’ call to avoid war and cut defense spending to decrease deficits.

US Drops Out of Twenty Least Corrupt Nations: NYTimes Ignores, WaPo Dissembles

6:34 am in Afghanistan, Financial Crisis, Pakistan by Jim White

More public trust being abused for private gain? (photo: I got bored with my screen name on Flickr)

In a report released today, Transparency International ranks world governments on a corruption scale from least to most corrupt. For the first time, the United States is no longer among the twenty least corrupt nations, dropping to number twenty-two on the list. Despite this important news, the New York Times appears to be ignoring the report entirely, while the Washington Post is reporting on it primarily to point out how far Russia has fallen.

For preparing the report, Transparency International provided this description of corruption and the analysis employed:

Transparency International(TI) defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. This definition encompasses corrupt practices in both the public and private sectors. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranks countries according to the perception of corruption in the public sector. The CPI is an aggregate indicator that combines different sources of information about corruption, making it possible to compare countries.

From the report, (pdf can be downloaded from here), we have more on how some countries declined in the corruption index:

With governments committing huge sums to tackle the world’s most pressing problems, from the instability of financial markets to climate change and poverty, corruption remains an obstacle to achieving much needed progress.

/snip/

With governments committing huge sums to tackle the world’s most pressing problems, from the instability of financial markets to climate change and poverty, corruption remains an obstacle to achieving much needed progress.

/snip/

Notable among decliners over the past year are some of the countries most affected by a financial crisis precipitated by transparency and integrity deficits.

So, despite Reuters pointing out that the US has fallen out of the twenty least corrupt nations for the first time, why is it that the New York Times would ignore the story entirely, and the Washington Post would primarily note the report to point out how far Russia has fallen? [The Post article does finally, in its next to last paragraph, note the US decline out of the top twenty as being due to "financial scandals", which it doesn't describe further.]  Would it be because these “papers of record” have been enablers for the process of abusing entrusted power for private gain? Reporting on mortgage fraud and the favoritism to Wall Street and large banks during the financial crisis at both of these newspapers tended to gloss over the enrichment of high level executives even when they had taken the country to the brink of financial ruin.

There is one other reason why these major newspapers should be covering Transparency International’s report. If we go to the bottom of the list, for the most corrupt nations, we see that Afghanistan is tied with Myanmar for the second most corrupt nation on the list. Iraq is next, at fourth most corrupt. By destroying the governments of these two countries and completely botching any “redevelopment” efforts, the United States has been solely responsible for dramatically increasing corruption on the global scale. Don’t look for any coverage of that point in the New York Times or Washington Post, because I guarantee it won’t happen.

It could be worse, however. Dawn.com, in Pakistan, carries the very misleading headline that Pakistan ranks 34th in the corruption index. The problem is that Transparency International presents its list with the countries numbered from least corrupt to most corrupt. On the list, Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tie for number one at least corrupt and Somalia is number 178, the most corrupt (the US is number twenty-two). Pakistan is in a three-way tie for number 143 as the 34th most corrupt nation. Why didn’t Dawn state Pakistan is 143rd instead of 34th?

Update: During the time that this post was being written, the Washington Post article changed.  It now notes the US decline in ranking in the headline and moves that note higher in the article.  Yet, despite the chance to contemplate and adjust their coverage, the Post did not choose to point out how corrupt Iraq and Afghanistan have become due to US “nation building”.

With His Training Myth Pierced Yet Again, Will Petraeus’ Political Ambitions Ever Suffer?

7:40 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

General Babaker Zebari

General Babaker Zebari, center (photo: Stephen Baack on Flickr)

BBC is reporting Thursday that Iraq’s highest ranking army officer has said that his country is not ready to take responsibility for its own security:

Lt Gen Babaker Zebari warned that the Iraqi military might not be ready to take control for another decade.

/snip/

Gen Zebari told a defence conference in Baghdad that the Iraqi army would not be able to ensure the country’s security until 2020 and that the US should keep its troops in Iraq until then.

"At this point, the withdrawal [of US forces] is going well, because they are still here, but the problem will start after 2011," he said.

It should be kept in mind that the myth of training Iraqi forces to take over their own security is a product of General David Petraeus’ long history of spinning the media. Remember that Petraeus entered the realm of politics by publishing an Op-Ed in the Washington Post on the eve of the 2004 elections. His overly optimistic description of his "success" in training Iraqis is thought to have played at least a partial role in helping George W. Bush to a second term as President. Here is the heart of Petraeus’ 2004 spin:

Nonetheless, there are reasons for optimism. Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) and an additional 74,000 facility protection forces are performing a wide variety of security missions. Equipment is being delivered. Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being reestablished.

Less than three years later, of course, Petraeus then led the political spin surrounding his "surge" in Iraq, sending in more troops and starting anew on the training mission. The previous claims of training success were discarded without note and training started all over.

Today, the Obama administration is employing semantics to claim the end of combat operations in Iraq this summer while leaving 50,000 combat-ready troops in Iraq under a re-designation as advisers. This move allows the myth of Petraeus’ training of Iraqi forces to remain in operation, while the advisers stand ready to fill the gaps left by the poorly trained Iraqi forces.

Thus, Zebari’s plea can be read as a request to keep these advisers in Iraq for another ten years. Heaven forbid anyone should try to pierce the political aspirations of Petraeus and admit that his claims to training are a total scam perpetrated on the US government and the citizens who have funded his self-aggrandizement. Just consider the adulatory tone of this American Forces Press Service article from April, 2009:

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the author of the military’s counterinsurgency manual, yesterday explained the principles that led to success in Iraq and how they apply to the fight in Afghanistan.

The commander of U.S. Central Command spoke to a packed stadium at Kansas State University, invited as part of the prestigious Alfred M. Landon lecture series on public issues hosted there.

To a resounding ovation, he stepped to a podium that has seen three standing presidents and five former presidents, the current and three previous defense secretaries, a slew of politicians, ambassadors, Pulitzer and Nobel prize winners, but only a handful of military generals since the series began in 1966.

With his own Ivy League doctorate degree and tours as a military professor, Petraeus is no stranger to academia and is friends with the university’s president.

This article should remove all doubt on the question of whether Petraeus has political aspirations. Not only does he have them, but he is willing to use the military press to start building a presidential aura. As long as the government and the corporate press hold onto the myth that his superior ability to train foreign forces allows those countries we have destroyed to eventually take over their own security arrangements, he will continue on his path of eventually running for President.

Should General Zebari continue to provide evidence against the Petraeus training myth, it would not be surprising for him to be replaced soon. The Petraeus myth is quite fragile at this point and I would suspect that anyone who is seen as a threat to it would be slated for silencing.