Thursday, August 19, 2010

SOFA means what?

Transparency requires telling the people what you're planning. One administration official explains how the US could be in Iraq longer than everyone wants to pretend and why it can't be discussed publicly just yet.

Before we get to that, we're again dropping back to Monday's State Dept press briefing by the "Near Eastern and North African Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq Michael Corbin and Defense Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Middle East Affairs Colin Kahl." So that's US State Dept and DoD both represented. We've covered it repeatedly and probably will again in the future. So the two were explaining the militarization of diplomacy in Iraq. Here's Corbin:

We're going to have two consulates in Iraq, and the Council of Ministers recently signed off on having two consulates -- one in Basra and one in the north, in Erbil. And these consulates provide a recognized important diplomatic platform for all the types of programs that we want to do now and that we'll want to do in the future. And consulates around the world used to be a very key element of our diplomatic presence. We'll have two of those consulates. And obviously, one is in the Kurdish region in the north and the other is in Basra, which has enormous economic importance as the -- being close to Umm Qasr, the only -- Iraq's only port, being close to the new oil fields, the ones that have been exposed in the latest oil bid rounds. So we're going to have different interests in these consulates, but they serve as platforms for us to apply all the tools of a diplomatic presence.

And, in case you're wondering, in Baghdad -- the Green Zone section -- the US Embassy will remain. So three buildings -- Nope. Citing "this transition from the military to civilians" as the reason more is needed, he explained their would be "embassy branch offices" "in Kirkuk and in Mosul . . . An embassy branch office is a diplomatic termthat is recognized as a way diplomats can have presence, but these are going to be temporary presences, as Deputy Secretary Lew has explained. These are a three to five-year presence . . ." If you're trying to calculate, he's referring to 2011 (or 2012) so add three and five years to that.

Why are five needed?

The joke going around the State Dept is that five more are needed (for a total of 10) so that staff can easily get to any one of them should they need to seek 'sanctuary' from violence or, the joke goes, prosecution.

(Not all staff would have diplomatic immunity, FYI. But the press should be asking what immunity will be granted to the contractors. Don't hold your breath waiting for that answer. Most likely the press will cover that issue only if contractors slaughter a number of Iraqis and it becomes an international incident.)

Asked about the air space and Iraq needing the US to continue to provide protection for the air space, Kahl responded, "You're right about the air sovereignty, what the U.S. military calls the air sovereignty gap. For all the right reasons, we've focused on building Iraq's ground forces to provide for internal security and be able to conduct counterinsurgency operations. We've also made a lot of progress in building up their air force, but largely kind of the foundation for a capable force, as opposed to one that can fully exercise and enforce Iraq's air sovereignty. We can expect that the Iraqis will have requirements for air sovereignty that extend beyond 2011, which is one of the reasons they've expressed interest in purchasing a multi-role fighter to provide for their own security. All their neighbors have it, et cetera." Asked to elaborate on "provide assistance," Kahl responded, " You're right about the air sovereignty, what the U.S. military calls the air sovereignty gap. For all the right reasons, we've focused on building Iraq's ground forces to provide for internal security and be able to conduct counterinsurgency operations. We've also made a lot of progress in building up their air force, but largely kind of the foundation for a capable force, as opposed to one that can fully exercise and enforce Iraq's air sovereignty. We can expect that the Iraqis will have requirements for air sovereignty that extend beyond 2011, which is one of the reasons they've expressed interest in purchasing a multi-role fighter to provide for their own security. All their neighbors have it, et cetera."

Now we're to the New York Times where Michael R. Gordon's "Civilians to Take U.S. Lead After Military Leaves Iraq" appears. Speaking to Ryan Crocker -- the former US Ambassador to Iraq -- Gordon is informed that the US needs to be flexible and that a request to extend the SOFA would be in the US' "strategic interest." Crocker is saying if asked. Ryan Crocker remains well connected to numerous Iraqi politicians. If he's raising this issue as a possibility, he's doing it for a reason and not to shoot the breeze. Crocker was a Bush appointee (he was also opposed to the US invading Iraq) who stayed on while the current administration (Barack Obama's) attempted to find an ambassador. They went with Crazy Chris Hill, their mistake (their huge mistake). I'm saying "extend," that words not used in the article. Gordon's not clear, in quoting Crocker, what Crocker is saying there. I raise that because the SOFA can be replaced with another agreement. The easiest thing (for Iraq's government and the US government) would be to extend it through a resolution -- which might or might not require the Parliament but Barack's decision to drop his opposition to the SOFA days after he was elected would appear to indicate that such a resolution would not go before the US Congress since the SOFA didn't. "Easiest" refers to pushing it through quickly. "Easiest" is not used as a recommendation or as applause. This site, this community, believes all US forces need to be out of Iraq immediately. From Gordon's article:

With the Obama administration in campaign mode for the coming midterm elections and Iraqi politicians yet to form a government, the question of what future military presence might be needed has been all but banished from public discussion.
"The administration does not want to touch this question right now," said one administration official involved in Iraq issues, adding that military officers had suggested that 5,000 to 10,000 troops might be needed. "It runs counter to their political argument that we are getting out of these messy places," the official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, added. "And it would be quite counterproductive to talk this way in front of the Iraqis. If the Iraqis want us, they should be the demandeur."

Transparency? If Barack's promise of transparency was believed by you then either it's been broken or you believed it was okay to learn what was really taking place via anonymice. (That's not an insult the quoted. And by the way, I think it's fairly obvious by the speech pattern who was quoted. I'm sure when Rahm read it, it was fairly obvious to him as well.)

This is the first time the administration has gone on record (anonymously, but on record) about the realities since Barack's August 2nd speech to the Disabled Veterans of America where he praised himself and talked about mission accomplished in terms of his campaign promises. The press has repeatedly avoided pressing Barack on this issue despite the fact that all of DC has been in leak mode for nearly 3 weeks now on the realities (the SOFA will not be followed is the general talking point, the US will remain in Iraq beyond 2011). So at what point is Barack going to be asked about this? If the NYC issue is a "local issue," then why did the press waste time on it yesterday? There were serious questions to ask about Iraq. They weren't asked. You've had the top Iraqi military commander call for the US to stay (until 2020) and no one's put the question to Barack. Why is that?

Ross Colvin (Reuters) provides an analysis on the possibility that US would withdraw in 2011 and notes various public statements but here's the key passage:

The U.S.-Iraq military pact that came into force in 2009 provides the legal basis for U.S. troops to be in Iraq. Under the agreement, all U.S. troops must be out by 2012. But U.S. negotiators say that even as the pact was being negotiated, it was considered likely it would be quietly revised later to allow a longer-term, although much smaller, force to remain.

Welcome to the reality we've tried to deal in since Thanksgiving of 2008 while others -- you know who they were -- insisted the SOFA meant the end of the Iraq War. That's not what the SOFA meant and that was not just a misreading of the document, it was a complete failure to understand the SOFA itself and what it replaced (the yearly UN mandate for the occupation).

If you're attempting to follow the Rod Blagojevich story be sure to check out Caro's post at MakeThemAccountable -- remember too that she's one of the original bloggers from back when independence allegedly mattered (it still matters to her) and that she's been one of the pioneers for women addressing politics online. Jeff Gates is a strong writer so we're noting "Playing the Never Again Card, Again" (Veterans Today) but that's it on John McCain. If he's acting the fool in hearings Kat and I attend we will (and have) called him out. I'm really not following this latest wave to attack John McCain. A female columnist wrote a ridiculous, low-fact column this week where she insisted McCain had just hailed the Iraq War as a success making him the second person after Bush to do so. What? I can reel off a number of Republicans and Democrats (and Joe Lieberman) who have made that false claim publicly in Congressional hearings that we've attended and reported on. That the columnist is unaware of that strikes me as implausible. So apparently the meme is "Destroy McCain!" We don't play that game of being an echo chamber. I don't like John McCain -- as I've noted many times before. I do like Cindy McCain (and, in fairness to the senator, if she's been able to make a life with him -- and she has -- then there must be areas of grace he has that I've just missed or ignored). I know Cindy and I like Cindy, she's a very dedicated person and a very caring person and I've said my piece on her husband here since 2004. Unless he does something that makes him newsworthy, we're really done with him. Kat and I attend the Senate Armed Services Committee. We both called him out on DADT. Kat's called him out repeatedly at her site. And we note her reports in the snapshots. But that's something that's he's done. That we'll continue to do but I'm not joining in some team sport of let's all bash McCain -- especially when someone can't even get her facts right. Again, Jeff Gates is a strong writer (for a strong outlet) so we are noting him. But I'm done with McCain. Report on something he's doing or I have other things to do. John Feffer (Institute for Policy Studies) has a strong column up entitled "Where's Our Money?" that is worth checking out. And some of you may think of comments Mike's being making, similar arguments, including in last night's "" which is not showing on the permalinks and I have no control over that before someone e-mails. That's Blogger/Blogspot, not me. Other community sites that updated last night (all of whose latest polls displays to the right of this entry):

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, today is World Humanitarian Day and, at the US State Dept yesterday, Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz was briefly brought out (during a press briefing on Pakistan) to speak on the subject:

Thanks, P.J. As P.J. indicated, tomorrow indeed is World Humanitarian Day. And let me offer a few thoughts about it before turning the podium over to my colleagues, and then we’ll be happy to take your questions.
More than ever before, the world is – seems engulfed by humanitarian crises, overwhelming suffering as a result of conflict, hurricanes, earthquakes, and really enormous dangers faced by those trying to help people in need.
Pakistan now confronts devastating floods of historical proportions. Earlier this month, 10 dedicated medical aid workers were brutally murdered in Afghanistan. In Kyrgyzstan, violence and intimidation forced some 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks to flee their home in June. Malnutrition is lurking in Niger, while relief efforts continue in other parts of the continent.
Amid these and other disasters, tomorrow we observe World Humanitarian Day which was established by the UN to pay tribute to aid efforts on behalf of victims of conflict and natural disasters and to honor the memory of the more than 700 humanitarian relief workers worldwide who have lost their lives in service over the past decade. The date coincides not unintentionally with the August 19th, 2003 terrorist bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, which took the lives of 22 people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the UN’s and the world’s most dedicated and effective humanitarian diplomats.
So what do we draw from this day, given especially the proliferation of humanitarian crises? First, the number of people affected by disasters tragically is on the rise. By the end of last year, 43 million people were displaced by conflict, forced from their home due to disasters, and that was the highest figure in over a decade. More are impacted by natural disasters, including, as you’ll hear about in a second, millions of Pakistanis displaced by torrential downpours and flooding.
Second, and in spite of these trends, humanitarian assistance and relief by the United States is an extraordinarily sound investment. It represents a tiny percentage of the federal budget, but it saves – not only saves lives, but promotes security and well-being where despair and misery often threaten. In Haiti, for example, food, shelter, medicine provided by the United States was critical in enabling Haiti to avert further large-scale loss of life after the earthquake took the lives of so many and has helped to permit the country to focus on the recovery process ahead.
Third, we must transform our efforts to prevent disasters before they occur. In places like Liberia and Sierra Leone in Africa, our programs to promote reconciliation, the rule of law, development help to diminish the prospects for conflict. And in several countries impacted – even as we see the disaster in Pakistan, in several countries impacted by the tsunami – the Asian tsunami in 2004 – stronger building codes, warning systems, official emergency response systems have genuinely reduced the possibility that a natural hazard, like a hurricane, will become a full-blown disaster.
Finally, while the United States leads the world in international humanitarian response, we can’t do the job alone. In particular, we have to support UN agencies like the High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, the World Food Program, as they integrate the contributions of donors. They know their business and they help promote collaboration on the ground. About half our relief goes to these agencies and it’s money well spent.
Collectively, a ballpark figure, this year the Department of State and USAID will spend somewhere on the order of $5 billion to assist vulnerable people around the globe with relief. And happily, the Congress consistently supports these missions which are complemented by enormous in-kind assistance from our military.
Frustration and donor fatigue are understandable given the myriad calamities in the headlines, but they are not good options as they contrast starkly with the progress humanitarians have made in alleviating the suffering of tens of millions of people in recent years. There’s much more we can do to advance this noble cause. And on that note, I think let me invite my colleagues, and Frank first, to talk about the effort with respect to Pakistan. Thank you.

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