Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beecroft blows his credibility

US Ambassador to Iraq Robert S. Beecroft has a number of things going for him: Chiefly that he is not Chris Hill.  Hill was Barack's first ambassador to Iraq.  Hill was a disaster, petty, bitchy and manipulative.  Hill was the one who stamped his feet and had his vanity rewarded by the administration telling General Ray Odierno that only Hill would be able to go on TV and speak for America in Iraq.  Hill was a lousy 'get' because he uh-uh-uhs in interviews and starts sentences that frequently change mid-stream, the last half having little resemblance to the first.  He also was bland on his best day with that flat affect even more prominent than his sweaty, receding foreline.  And that's before you get into Hill's trashing of other Americans in front of Iraqis, Hill's trashing and insulting of Iraq (the country and its citiznes) in front of Iraqis, his 'gift' for never feeling obligated to familiarize himself with facts before weighing in, and so much more.

After Chris Hill -- who was fired as US Ambassador to Iraq -- had been benched by the White House, the general assumption was that the low water mark had been reached and, if only by comparison, any other ambassador to Iraq Barack would shine.

Beecroft had many things in his favor including his nomination was an internal promotion which does help the esteem in the State Dept, the fact that he was doing the job after James Jeffrey quit and throughout Brett McGurk's failed nomination, and that he understood the situation on the ground and spoke Arabic. 

But the by comparison factor is already dwindling.  Among European diplomats in Iraq, there is a sense that he's too rigid.  And one mocked even his name choice in a phone conversation earlier this week, noting that Beecroft is insisting on being called Robert Stephen Beecroft, "Who does he think he is?  Phillip Michael Thomas?"

Yes, the cultural reference is a bit out of date (Miami Vice actor) but what becomes a cultural reference point in another country is always an interesting details in and of itself and, besides, it did make me laugh.  Odierno was probably the most effective American leader working in Iraq since the start of the Iraq War.   Iraqis found him down to earth and he set that tone from the start of assuming leadership of the US military by insisting he was "Ray" not '"Raymond" as the press insisted.

"Robert," "Rob," Stephen" or "Steve" is much more likely to be perceived as down-to-earth and less stuffy and formal.  Do they not go over impressions when training State Dept employees on representing America in other countries?

All the above is not helping the US currently but we'd let Beecroft muddle along were it not for the fact that he's now made a fatal mistake which undermines him in the eyes of Iraqis.  As usual, you won't read about it in the American press because the American press lost interest in Iraq so many years ago.  As a result of noting it here, you'll probably see the State Dept book interviews with Beecroft with compliant journalists in an effort to get some good press and try to control the narrative in the US but they've already lost it in Iraq.

In a foreign country, the Ambassador is their word.  If they are seen as dishonest, that's that.  Dishonesty in fact or perception will create a wall between them and representatives of the host country.  I'm not creating new science here but apparently this is new information for Beecroft.

You also need to be aware of what citizens and political leaders in the host country are saying and have said, their general attitudes.  Since Beecroft was already acting as the ambassador before he was confirmed, that shouldn't have been a problem.  So why did he go around yesterday telling Alsumaria that claims that there are US troops in Iraq are just unfounded, false rumors?  Al Mada also covers his statements.

No one's going to hear a word you say after that.

Not only was Moqtada al-Sadr calling last week for US forces to leave Iraq, but Iraqis -- unlike Americans -- have read in their press in recent weeks about US troops going to Baghdad International Airport over the Syrian flights.  They've read about US troops going to the border Iraq shares with Syria.  In addition, earlier this year, a CIA or State Dept helicopter crashed in downtown Baghdad.  Yet again, the American press didn't care.  The Iraqi press was all over it and especially over the uniformed military -- that they identified as American troops -- that came along in a second helicopter and resecued the people in the first.  Not only was this covered by the Iraqi media but so were the subsequent statements by various MPs about American forces remaining in Iraq.

In addition to the 200 or so that guard US embassy staff, you have serveral hundred there as 'trainers' and assisting on weapons purchases. 

In December of last year, Ted Koppel reported on how all US forces would not be leaving Iraq in  a report he filed for Rock Center with Brian Williams (NBC):

MR. KOPPEL: I realize you can't go into it in any detail, but I would assume that there is a healthy CIA mission here. I would assume that JSOC may still be active in this country, the joint special operations. You've got FBI here. You've got DEA here. Can, can you give me sort of a, a menu of, of who all falls under your control?

AMB. JAMES JEFFREY: You're actually doing pretty well, were I authorized to talk about half of this stuff.

That report was all but ignored by the media in the US outside of NPR (Ted discussed it on Talk of the Nation).  But it got serious attention in Iraq.

September 26th, Tim Arango (New York Times) reported:

Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

With the exception of Tom Hayden's brief piece for The Nation, this was ignored in the US press.  But guess what press didn't ignore the article?

That's right, the Iraqi press.

For some ridiculous reason, Beecroft wasn't in Iraq when Arango's story ran and when it was picked up by Iraqi media.  Senator John Kerry, as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, moved heaven and earth to put together a confirmation hearing for Beecroft that was held less than ten days after he was nominated (hearing covered in the September 19th and 20th snapshots).  Kerry also got a vote from the full Senate on the nomination -- on a Saturday, no less.  (September 22nd.) And he doesn't get to Iraq until October 11th?

Surely I have to be wrong on that.  Kerry and others did not work so hard and with such urgency because there was time to spare on this.  Surely Beecroft was confirmed on the 22nd of September and grasping Iraq hadn't had an official US Ambassador for months, that the UN was voicing serious concerns about whether or not provincial elections would be held on time, that the political stalemate was continuing and much more, surely grasping all of that, Beecroft quickly returned to Iraq following his confirmation hearings.

Nope.  As this US Embassy in Baghdad webpage confirms, he didn't make it back to Iraq until October 11th.


I'd say that was an error.  And that's before you factor in that Beecroft apparently wasn't briefed on what the Iraqi press was covering while he was gone.

He was going to be the new face for the US.  As he rushed to insist that there were no US troops in Iraq, he left Iraqis with the impression that the faces changed but the American officials continue the lying.

The following community sites -- plus Pacifica Evening News, The Diane Rehm Show, Adam Kokesh, and Iraq Inquiry Digest  -- updated last night and this morning:

The e-mail address for this site is

iraq iraq iraq iraq iraq iraq