Saturday, March 10, 2012

The State Dept's accountability failures

In the next entry, we'll note the targeting of Iraq's youth. If you missed the story exploded today. It didn't explode via the New York Times but the New York Times has always been in the business the US State Dept's business so what they would ignore the paper would ignore.

And a lot of people are doing a lot of ignoring right now.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads the State Dept. (I know and like Hillary. That doesn't get her any slack here.) She answers to US President Barack Obama. Both are under the mistaken impression that they do not answer to the US tax payers.

The State Dept wanted and received billion for Iraq in FY2012 and they want billions for the next fiscal year. That money doesn't magically appear because Barbara Eden folded her arms and blinked or because Elizabeth Montgomery wiggled her nose. This is money American citizens paid (and will be paying for decades). The government is not given a gift. It is accountable for how that money spent.

The US State Dept's biggest mission -- money wise -- is in Iraq. When the Defense Dept was spending billions, the American taxpayer could follow briefings from the Pentagon in DC and US briefings from Iraq.

This week (see Friday's snapshot), a US Senator (Ben Nelson) attempted to public figure out what the US mission in Iraq -- that all this money is going for -- was. And he couldn't get an answer.

Who exactly is the State Dept and the White House accountable to on Iraq?

It's supposed to be the American people but they have repeatedly shown a blatant disregard for the public as evidenced by their refusal to answer the questions of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction about how the billions requested would be spent.

Those appointed by Congress to provide oversight as well as the Congress itself are denied answers repeatedly and the American people are supposed to find this acceptable?

The White House is spending billions of US taxpayer dollars on Iraq and provides nothing to the American people?

This week, the US State Dept continued their daily and generic press breifings. Two days saw Iraq briefly touched on once for the attacks on Haditha and the other day for women's status (the State Dept had no answer) and for the MEK.

Please note, the spokesperson never came out and stated, "Before we get started, let me just provide an update on Iraq." No, the State Dept never initiated Iraq as a topic. When Iraq was raised -- and not very often -- it was raised by reporters present.

When Senator Claire McCaskill finishes compiling her Iraq reconstruction data and releases it, there may be a lot of criticism of the press for its failure to keep Americans informed. (And at that hearing, the Associated Press was called out by name on another topic, FYI.) It's amazing that the press and the editorial boards haven't led on the demand for the State Dept to provide information about what they're doing in Iraq. Not some sweeping paragraph, but what's actually taking place.

When the Pentagon was over Iraq, all through last year, the US State Dept had to provide regular reports on Iraq (sometimes weekly, sometimes bi-weekly) -- available to the public. Now that the State Dept's in charge? They've stopped the regular reports. Apparently they don't feel that they're required to inform the American people what's going on in Iraq and what exactly they're doing.

State Dept spokesperson Victoria Nuland let a little truth slip out in one briefing this week -- we'll note it at Third, and it's amazing or telling that no one else caught what she'd stated -- but at one point last week she was asked about the so-called 'honor' killings of Iraqi women and the reported increase in the number. This has been spoken of by the Iraqi government, in fact, by the Baghdad-based government. It's been covered by news outlets. Not the day she was asked, bu days and a week before. And she replied, "I haven’t seen this data that you are referring to". So is the State Dept as in the dark as everyone else when it comes to what the US is doing in Iraq?

Is anyone paying attention to Iraq?

Billions of US tax dollars are being spent there. For what? Nuland, struggling to sound informed on the topic of Iraq, declared, " I think one of the positive aspects of the transition in Iraq is that the Iraqi constitution so strongly protects the rights of women and their inclusion. And that is change."

That's all she could offer.

Let's set aside the fact that the US government attempted to sell out Iraqi women on the Constitution (Iraqi women took to the streets to protest and that's the only reason the Constitution includes what Nuland's referring to) and let's side aside the contradictory elements of the Constitution (which give women rights in some points but may not in other sections) and let's instead focus on the fact that in 2012, asked about women's progress in Iraq, after billions and billions of US tax payer dollars have been spent and with many more requested, the State Dept's answer is to point to a document (the Constitution) written and ratified in 2005. Seven years ago.

Tax dollars to Iraq remain in the billions and when the status of Iraqi women needs to be briefly addressed, all the State Dept can point to is a document from seven years ago?

February 14th of last year, Charley Keyes (CNN) reported on the request for FY 2012, "Under the Overseas Contingency Operations segment of the budget, State is seeking $8.7 billion -- '$2.2 billion is for Afghanistan, $1.2 billion is for Pakistan, and $5.2 billion is for Iraq. The increase associated with the Department of State is more than offset by reduced costs for the Department of Defense,' the budget document says." February 13th of this year, Sara Sorcher (National Journal) reported, "Obama requested $4.8 billion for the civilian-led missions in Iraq. Of this, about $1.8 billion would go toward funding police training and military-assistance programs transitioned from the Defense Department. Another $2.7 billion in operations funding would largely support the embassy -- which has swelled to about 16,000 diplomats and contractors in Baghdad -- and three consulates. All told, State's Iraq funds are approximately 10 percent less than the current fiscal-year level. For its part, the Defense Department requested only $2.9 billion for Iraq-related costs in 2013."

The US State Dept is behaving like a spoiled adolescent. It's basically asking the American tax payer to fund its travel, to fund a year abroad in Iraq, but it doesn't have the good manners to even send home a regular post card, let alone a letter.

Around the country, banks are failing (13 already this year alone, click here for the FDIC's full listing), some libraries are closing, other libraries are facing reduced hours and reduced staff, schools are struggling with many unable to keep a nurse on campus, and the White House thinks they can grab over four billion tax payer dollars and that no one need to provide the American people with a weekly briefing of how this money is being spent?

Only in DC.

The State Dept needs to return to issuing regular status reports on Iraq and to providing regular breifings on Iraq -- both from DC and, via video-link, from Baghdad. If this is 'too much' for the State Dept, then they have just explained that not only do they not deserve $4 billion-plus in next year's budget for Iraq, they don't deserve a damn dime. They exist to serve the American public. When they fail to do so, they no longer have a reason for existence -- let alone funding.

The following community sites -- plus Cindy Sheehan, the New Statesman, Tavis Smiley and Fresh Air (yes, if you call Terry's sexism out enough loudly and publicly, she'll toss out a morsel to try to prove you wrong) -- updated last night and today:

We'll close with this from David Swanson's "Evidence of War Lies Public Pre-War This Time" (War Is A Crime):

When President George W. Bush was pretending to want to avoid a war on Iraq while constantly pushing laughably bad propaganda to get that war going, we had a feeling he was lying. After all, he was a Republican. But it was after the war was raging away that we came upon things like the Downing Street Minutes and the White House Memo.

Now President Barack Obama is pretending to want to avoid a war on Iran and to want Israel not to start one, while constantly pushing laughably bad propaganda to get that war going. We might suspect a lack of sincerity, given the insistence that Iran put an end to a program that the U.S. government simultaneously says there is no evidence exists, given the increase in free weapons for Israel to $3.1 billion next year, given the ongoing protection of Israel at the U.N. from any accountability for crimes, given the embrace of sanctions highly unlikely to lead to anything other than greater prospects of war, and given Obama's refusal to take openly illegal war "off the table." We might suspect that peace was not the ultimate goal, except of course that Obama is a Democrat.

However, we now have Wikileaks cables and comments from anonymous officials that served as the basis for a report from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the United States approve the sale of advanced refueling aircraft as well as GBU-28 bunker-piercing bombs to Israel during a recent meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday. The American official said that U.S. President Barack Obama instructed Panetta to work directly with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the matter, indicating that the U.S. administration was inclined to look favorably upon the request as soon as possible. During the administration of former U.S. President George Bush, the U.S. refused to sell bunker-penetrating bombs and refueling aircrafts to Israel, as a result of American estimates that Israel would then use them to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Following Obama's entrance into the White House, however, the United States approves a string of Israeli requests to purchase advance armament. Diplomatic cables exposed by the WikiLeaks website exposed discussion concerning advanced weapons shipments. In one cable which surveyed defense discussions between Israel and the United states that took place on November 2009 it was written that 'both sides then discussed the upcoming delivery of GBU-28 bunker busting bombs to Israel, noting that the transfer should be handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the USG is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran.'"

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