Tuesday, March 27, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad gears up for the Arab League Summit, a disturbing hearing is held by the US Congress, and more.
Starting with the US Congress.
US House Rep Susan Davis: One of the things that we know is that we've been a military at war and not a nation at war. Would you agree with that statement? [Nods from witnesses.] How does that effect what we do? You mentioned, Colonel, that above all we should be a unified and committed nation. Where does that fit in?
Col Robert Killebrew: Well -- well -- Madam, you're running a grave risk, I have a whole sermon I give on this. But I'll try to restrain myself.
US House Rep Susan Davis: Okay.
Col Robert Killebrew: The social changes and the political changes that are happening in the world right now in my view -- and I'm not a PhD-ed social scientist but having studied it, I believe -- are undermining in many cases the concept of nation-hood. One country as I said in my testimony that's going back at that is Columbia. And you have to look at them -- get away from this help that we've given them -- and look at how they're deliberately trying to foster the concept under law of Columbia nation-hood -- to understand the really depth of what they're doing. In this country, we've always taken that for granted. And I still take it for granted. We developed a-a-a-a volunteer armed force in which -- and, by the way, I came in during the draft, so I've seen both. I don't believe a draft would ever be pratical again in this country. I think we have a volunteer armed force. I have to tell you I'm very impatient with the fact that no national leader has ever said -- since the volunteer force came in -- that it would be a good thing for someone's son and daughter to join the armed forces. Never. Not even after 9-11. The concept of nation-hood that we have to engender are the things that matter to us under the Constitution. And I don't believe it's furthered by the kind of red-blue split we see right now in the country. I think that's -- I think -- As you look ten to twenty years in the future with the impact of the technology and the social change in the rest of the world, I think this runs a risk of undermining our common concept of what we are as a nation. And I think that's something we have to take on -- national leadership, persons like yourself, people like me who write -- we have to come to understand that there's some core idea about what being an American means that may include serving in the armed forces or paying your country back through some kind of service. But larger than that, being willing to accept the concept of a lot of people make up this country and everybody is an American. That's a kind of a grand strategic view but it's occupied my thoughts for quite a while now.
US House Rep Susan Davis: Mm-hmm. Thank you. Did you want to comment on that too?
Seth Jones: Uh, I do. Very briefly, I think your question: Are we a nation at war? If you look at the last uh decade, decade and a half, we have been at times. We were a nation at war after September 11th because there was a threat that brought us together as a nation, that there was mutual feeling that we had to defend the borders. I think that there was a -- We were a nation at war in May of last year, during and after the bin Laden raid. I think that the challenge that we find ourselves in along these lines, is that in many of the areas where we face regular warfare challenges, we are talking about a, uhm, countries like, uhm, Syria now, countries like Libya, where we have -- and this is just a sub-set of them -- large Muslim populations. I think we have found that adding and deploying large numbers of conventional forces to these kind of theaters is -- is not only in some cases counter-productive but certainly doesn't provide a lot of domestic support. We see that on the Afghan front today. I do think one of the things that this suggests as we move forward is -- and this goes back to comments that both of the panelists have made, is that does it make sense on the irregular warfare threat to think of this really as focusing predominately on the indirect side? Smaller numbers, competent US Special Operations and intelligence forces dealing more systematically with these kinds of threats rather than deploying hundreds of thousands -- over a hundred thouasand forces because I don't think there are, uh, unless we're attacked like we were on 9-11, we will be a nation at war from a domestic standpoint the way we were on 9-11. I think those kinds of incidents are extremely rare but the threat is real.
David Maxwell: Madam, I think, uh, really to echo both my colleagues comments, we have to look at the nature of the conflict that we're engaged in. And I think that, uh, I think Dr. Jones was right, after 9-11, we were a nation at war. And we have been at times. But we also have to ask ourselve: Should we be a nation at war? And as I look at the categories that I've laid out, the first category: Existential threat to the US or allies? We have to be a nation at war if we're faced with that. I think for the second category, those threats to regional stability and status quo, our friends, partners and allies, subversion, terrorism, insurgency and lawlessness and the like, that may not cause us to be a nation at war. And as Dr. Jones says it might require a smaller footprint, a discreet force, that may not require the nation to be focused. The third? A more hybrid threat, I think, would require us to be a nation at war because the scale of that complex threat, we would need to be a nation at war. So I think it's really a question of the types of threats that we face and the strategies we employ to deal with those threats. But I think, the other -- the other aspect you're getting at is -- Our nation supports our military. You know, there is support for it but the question is, as always, who serves. And there are a lot of people who are serving and who continue to serve and they feel that burden on their shoulders and they are tired.
That was this afternoon, a little over half-way through the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. It was an 'interesting' hearing. US House Rep Mac Thornberry is the Subcommittee Chair and he explained at the start of the hearing:
Last fall, this Subcommittee held a hearing to begin exploring the possibility that what we call irregular warfare may be a regular -- that is, frequent -- challenge for us in the future as, in fact, it certainly has been in the past. And we began to explore how we ensured that the hard won lessons of the past decade are not simply shelved and forgotten as we "get back to normal." Today, we want to go a little deeper in looking at what type of future irregular warfare challenges we are likely to face, what strategies are best suited to deal with these future challenges and what examples or models may exist to suspport those strategies and effectively deal with the irregular challenges.
The Subcommittee heard from three witnesses, Rand Corporation's Seth Jones, Center for a New American Security's Robert Killebrew and Georgetown University's David Maxwell.
Jones is a rah-rah War Hawk who made many claims but whether the assertions could be established or not is anyone's guess. Afghanistan, he declared, was a series of mistakes from 2002 to 2009 because there were attempts to build a government. No, he's not against nation-building, he feels the tribal strength was not understood. You may agree with that, you may not. You may just, like me, remember that this is a little different than the maint thrust of the argument Jones made in his book In The Graveyard of Empires where he asserted that there was a chance to create a stable democratic government in Afghanistan but that chance had a brief window and, by 2006, political upheaval had changed that. And, of course, one of his big complaints then about Afghanistan's was that there was corruption and how it spread. Let's quote: "Afghan governance became unhinged as corruption worked its way through the government like a cancer, leaving massive discontent throughout the country; and the international presence, hamstrung by the U.S. focus on Iraq, was too small to deal with the escalating violence." Courrption, by his own ranking in that book, needed to be addressed first and long before any tribal issues. And, in that book, Jones was arguing that Afghanistan was spinning out of control not due to some lack of understanding of tribal landlords but due to what was going on within Pakistan.
It was certainly interesting to watch him make assertions that -- whether you agree with them or not -- pull at the loose strings in his previous work, reducing a sweater collection to a ball of yarn. And you don't have to go back to the publication of that book. You can just drop back to August 30th of last year when he was a guest on Patt Morrison (KPCC) and listen closely to determine whether you find matching statements and beliefs.
Jones insisted, "We made mistakes in Iraq, in my view, for several years. We corrected them. In the Iraq case, beginning around 2006." Really. Hmm. Again, interesting assertions I'm just aware of the conflict in his testimony before the Subcommittee and his previous statements. For example, at Georgetown, where he's a professor, he does many public events. I attended one in -- of all years -- 2006. You know what he was advocating at that one? Back in January of 2006, he was advocating that stability in Iraq would come from the US pulling troops. (Not all troops.) Now if you feel that way, if that's, in fact, the entire basis of your presentation -- it was, and it was co-presentation with David Edelstein, if I'm remembering correctly -- how do you then say today that 2006 is the start of a turnaround? That's before the "surge" starts. And you were arguing for it to go the other way in 2006 (arguing for a drawdown).
I'm sorry that I expect consistency in witnesses and expect that -- when they go back on their own previous positions -- they either acknowledge the switch or have the good manners and decency not to present their new positions as ones they've always held and ones that make them so much smarter than everyone else in the room. (And for those late to the party, a US withdrawal was always going to likely mean increased violence. That wasn't a reason to prolong the occupation of Iraq. It was a reason to get out because the longer the US occupies, the stronger the pushback would be after the US left. The US never should have gone to war on Iraq, having failed to realize that, the US government should have withdrawn immediately.)
On January 31, 2001, former Senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart and their United States Commission on National Security issued a final report warning that "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers," as a result of terrorist attacks. The commission recommended that the government create a National Homeland Security Agency to deal with the threat. That was more than seven months before terrorists flew jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands.
Again, some laughed. I just found it embarrassing and sad to see a grown man make such an idiot of himself in public. "I was on the Hart-Rudman Commission about global threats," he said mincing intentionally with his right hand to gin up the laughter, "and no matter what the retrospective view is, I'll tell you we had it figured out, it was China and a resurgent Russia. Terrorism didn't even hardly come up on the scale." What a sad, sad man.
The TV news media is often criticized for its failure to discuss issues as important as war with anyone other than Hawks and/or retired military personnel. The same criticism could be made of the Armed Services Committee. And anyone who asserts, "It's the Armed Services Committee, they have to cover the Defense Dept in their witnesses." The Rand Corporation works closely with DoD on many projects, yes. But that's Jones. The other two? Retired military officers now at alleged 'think tanks.'
The thrust of the hearing -- witness testimony and statements made by most Subcommittee members as well -- is that irregular warfare is not just upon us, it is here in the US and it has no end date. I don't see how Congress is helped with such nonsense and I'm positive that America isn't.
The witnesses offered a variety of 'threats' and, as you might expect, Iran and China were among them. You might be surprised to learn Venezuela was also floated.
Are these threats to the US or just countries with leaders the US doesn't like? I'm having a hard time believing that even the most anti-Chavez person in the US could truly believe that Hugh Chavez would lead Venzuela in an attack on the US.
Killebrew was full of 'expertise.' Citing a friend of his with the LAPD, he declared we'd start seeing car bombs across the US. The LAPD. Or one officer with the LAPD. Why stop there? Was Miss Cleo's 900 number busy?
Who's the model for what we need? Killebrew said it was "the DEA agent in Columbia who lives with this every day." Wow. Colombia's the model? Transparency International's most recent findings, Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 Results awarded Columbia a 3.5 on its index where the perfect score for transparency is a 10. 3.5. Not only is that an awful score, on the South American continent, Colombia's not in the lead. Among those beating it? Chile with 7.2, Uruguay with 6.9 and even Brazil with 3.7. But that's the example? And the police force there that Killebrew couldn't stop praising? Corruption is not a new angle on them. Among the many articles, you can refer to Raymond Billy's "Police Corruption Plagues Colombia, Residents Say" (Resonate News). "That's the success story in Colombia," Killebrew insisted at another point in the hearing. And it can be exported with Special Ops. He wants "a lot of Colombias out there." I can't think of many things sadder.
If Killebrew gets his way look for another war between the US and Mexico because insisted that "what's happening in Mexico is a new kind of insurgency. As you know the Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary of the Army got their hands slapped when they said that."
It was a very disturbing hearing as eternal war was preaced and we were informed it was here on the US soil because insugrency "is blending with cimre," there is "a hybrid crime-insurgency threat" and national borders "don't matter" to our opponents. "Armies around the world everywhere are kind of similar," Killebrew insisted. We got Seth Jones lamenting that, after 1975, the US government wrote off counter-insurgency and all the lessons learned.
Only with a hand picked panel of War Hawks and War Whores could such a laughable assertion be made. Ronald Reagan's administration saw to it that counter-insurgency was used throughout the eighties in Latin American and you can find a large bodycount to demonstrate that. More importantly, by 1975, counter-insurgency was rightly out of favor and it was out of favor because it not only was an excuse to murder, the very process of counter-insurgency (forget the results) went against the notions of what was humane.
There are hearings that inspire me, there are hearings that engage me, there are hearings that bore me. I can't think of another hearing that left me as frightened for our future. And not just because of what was said by the witnesses but because there was never objection to it.
If I've ignored David Maxwell it's because the few bits of intelligence on exhibit in the hearing usuallyf lowed from him. While Seth Jones blathered on about Twitter and Facebook -- and sounded like a middle aged man trying desperately to sound 'hip' while talking to a teenager, it was Maxwell who told the committee, "Sir, I would focus on capabilities and say that rather than military and technology, irregular warfare capabilities rest in people. And I think that's where we really have to invest -- especially in this time of fiscal constraint, it is our people who have to solve complex political-military problems."
Any common sense flashed this afternoon came via Maxwell.
In Baghdad today, more Arab League Summit excitement. Jane Arraf is a correspondent for Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor. She tweeted today.
So captivated by #Baghdad thru the window hv failed to realize our official #ALIraq press bus keeps getting turned away at checkpoints
Silly Nouri, doesn't he realize that spending all that money on the summit, to impress, really needs photos and text praising the 'beauty'? Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Nearly $1 billion has been spent on sprucing up a capital racked by years of conflict, and close to three million flowers and a half-a-million trees have been planted for the occasion. Baghdad International Airport will be shut to civilian traffic and some 100,000 army and police have been mobilized to secure the visiting Arab dignitaries". Alsumaria TV adds that over 500,000 trees and plants have been added to the streets and entrances of the Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport. Some of the trees are date palm trees, some of the plants are rose bushes. And the guests must be made to feel welcome. Jane Arraf Tweeted:
#Turkey's Rixos hotels flies in 2,500 staff for #ALIraq hotels, palace. Food also flown in, inc 24-carat gold covered dates for summit.
None of which covers overKitabat's report that Iraqi children are forced labor working for hours on end for little pay at a brick factory just outside of Baghdad. No, Nouri, all the rose bushes in the world won't take away the stench of a child sweat shop where young children labor for 14 hours a day. Not will it conceal the true state of Iraq. Farirai Chubvu (New Era) explores those realities today:
Today, nine years after US troops toppled Saddam Hussein and just a few months after the last US soldier left the devastated country, Iraq has become something close to a failed state. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presides over a system rife with corruption and brutality, in which political leaders use security forces and militias to repress enemies and intimidate the general population. The law exists as a weapon to be wielded against rivals and to hide the misdeeds of allies. The dream of an Iraq governed by elected leaders answerable to the people is rapidly fading away. The Iraqi state cannot provide basic services, including regular electricity in summer, clean water, and decent health care; meanwhile, unemployment among young men hovers close to 30 percent, making them easy recruits for criminal gangs and militant factions. Although the level of violence is down from the worst days of the civil war in 2006 and 2007, the current pace of bombings and shootings is more than enough to leave most Iraqis on edge and deeply uncertain about their futures.
Al Sabaah reports Comoros President Ikililou Dhoinine was the first Arab leader to arrive in Baghdad for the summit. It's not often that the president Comoros (whose total population is less than 800,000) gets to garner international headlines. On the attendees, Jane Arraf Tweets:
Al Mada reports on Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari's Monday press conference where Zebari stated 21 countries would be participating in the summit, that Syria wasn't invited and the newspaper notes that Syria is expected to be a major part of discussion at the summit. In another article, they quote him stating that the summit will send an important message about how Iraq has integrated into the Arab world. Al Sabaah runs a photo of Zebari from the press conference. Zebari gloats to Liz Sly (Washington Post), "We pulled it together. Nobody believed us. The very idea it is taking place is a success." Al Mada notes that Nouri has ordered a stop to the protests against Bahrain for this week. (Yet in Falluja, protests were staged calling for support of the Syrian opposition.)
The Arab League Summit is being covered but what is the organization? Who are they? Why did they come together? What have they accomplished? The Brookings Institution offers three views on the Arab Summit. Khaled Elgindy view includes:
For most of the last six decades, the Arab League has been, as one expert put it, a "glorified debating society" -- synonymous with ineffectiveness, inaction, or incompetence (and in some cases all three). In the year since the Arab uprisings began, however, the ArabLeague seems to have enchance both its street credibility and its diplomatic standing thanks to a number of bold actions that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
But how much is that judgment based upon a desire for the Arab League to do the bidding of others? I have no idea but the piece reads like, "The Arab League won't do what we want it to! And we know best! If only they'd listen!" Tamara Cofman Wittes' opens her piece with:
When the Arab League convenes this week, it will meet in a constitutional democracy, Iraq, and will include a former Tunisian human rights activist, Moncef Marzouki, among its assembled heads of state. These are two of the least remarkable facts reflecting the rapid assimilation of democratic norms into the League and its member states over the past year.
Is it a constitutional democracy, Tamara, if the constitution is never followed? Kenneth M. Pollack focuses on it in terms of Nouri al-Maliki:
As a result, it is all the more imperative for him that the summit go well, both for Iraq and for him personally. If it goes well, not only will he buttress his sagging popularity with the Iraqi street, he also will likely be able to parlay it into improved trade relations with the rest of the region, more direct foreign investment from the wealthy Gulf states and greater Arab diplomatic support for Iraq's international causes -- particularly the lifting of the last UN sanctions under which Iraq has labored since the days of Saddam. If Maliki is truly accepted by the other members of the Arab League, it could mean significant material benefits for Iraq that would further reinforce his popularity and power.
I don't know how accurate or how fair it is to make the focus of a body one single person. I grasp that it's much easier to do that. The Los Angeles Times' Ned Parker is on a sabbatical and is a Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. They've done a video on the Arab League Summit.
Ned Parker: This week, Arab leaders gather in Baghdad for their first summit in two years. There are three major issues at this conference. One is: How does the Arab League stay vital in the 21st century? Two is the durability of Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. And three is the question of whether or not Baghdad can hold a successful Arab League Summit?
The Arab League was founded in Cairo in 1945 by Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan (Jordan, as of 1950), and Yemen.
[. . .]
The Arab League has served as a platform for the drafting and conclusion of almost all landmark documents promoting economic integration among member states, such as the creation of the Joint Arab Economic Action Charter, which set out the principles for economic activities of the league. It has played an important role in shaping school curricular, and preserving manuscripts and Arab cultural heritage.
The Arab League has launched literacy campaigns, and reproduced intellectual works, and translated moder technical terminology for the use of member states. It encourages measures against crime and drug abuse and deals with labor issues (particularly among the emigrant Arab workfrorce).
The Arab League has also fostered cultural exchanges between member states, encouraged youth and sports programs, helped to advance the role of women in Arab socieites, and promoted child welfare activities.
More history can be found at this BBC News page which explains that there are 22 member states of the Arab League and notes:
The highest body of the league is the Council, composed of representatives of member states, usually foreign ministers, their representatives or permanent delegates. Each member state has one vote, irrespective of its size. The council meets twice a year, in March and September, and may convene a special session at the request of two members.
Day-to-day, the league is run by the general secretariat. Headed by a secretary-general, it is the administrative body of the league and the executive body of the council and the specialised ministerial councils.
The current Secretary-General is Eypt's Nabil Elaraby.
Back to the United States. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES Tuesday, March 27, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
TOMORROW: Senator Murray to Question Army Surgeon General on the Handling of Mental Wounds of War
At Hearing of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Veterans Chairman Murray will press the Army Surgeon General on troubled PTSD unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and whether similar problems exist at other bases.
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, will question Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho on recent shortcomings in the Army's efforts to properly diagnose and treat the invisible wounds of war. Specifically, Murray will discuss the forensic psychiatry unit at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord that is under investigation for taking the cost of PTSD into consideration when making diagnosing decisions. The Army is currently reevaluating over 300 servicemembers and veterans who have had their PTSD diagnoses changed by that unit since 2007. Murray will ask whether similar problems are happening at Army bases nationwide.
WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
WHAT: Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing -- DoD Health Programs