Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, October 7, 2014. Chaos and violence continue, US officials betray the Constitution with remarks that goes against democratic principles, Barack's 'plan' gets more criticism, AP's Matt Lee asks the State Dept if they can point to a success, a new US Ambassador to Iraq has arrived in Baghdad, and much more.

There seems to be some confusion over this part of yesterday's snapshot:

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has taken public many criticisms that he made in real time privately to the administration.  They can't deny these charges, so the administration has tried to attack Leon.  I know Leon and I like him.  I also know and like Vice President Joe Biden.  But . . .

I don't think Joe's ever said anything as idiotic as what Jason Ditz quotes him as saying:

Vice President Joe Biden was quick to criticize Panetta, although not on the content of his hawkish comments. Rather, Biden said it was “inappropriate” for Panetta to criticize Obama at all, on anything, until after 2016, and that he should “at least give the guy a chance to get out of office.”

A friend was joking over the weekend that "Uncle Joe" should run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination with the slogan Free Flow Joe to note that Joe lacks any filter or self-censorship.

And he's said many dumb things but to insist that Leon or anyone is unable to criticize Barack for two more years is so deeply stupid and so deeply offensive that Joe, who doesn't have a real shot at the presidential nomination, should go ahead now and announce he won't be seeking it.

I like John Kerry and I supported his 2004 run.  When he had an incident that was just too destructive, I noted here he should give up plans to seek a second run in 2008.  Joe's remarks are the same type of offensive.  You really can't come back from that.  It doesn't go away and it undermines you at every step.

That's far from Joe's only problem remarks of late. As Alsumaria reported, Joe spent the weekend working the phones with the UAE and Turkey after he publicly declared that the two governments supported terrorism.

A number of e-mails maintain that I stated (stated, not wrote, the snapshots are dictated) Joe had blown his shot at the presidency due to his remarks about the UAE and Turkey.

That's not what I said.

That error was glaring because you don't say what Joe said -- whether it's true or not -- about Middle East countries who are assisting you with your 'plan' to destroy the Islamic State -- especially when you're trying to shore up support in the region.

At today's State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki noted:

Okay. I have two items for all of you at the top. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk are in Amman today, where they met with tribal leaders and sheikhs who have bravely resisted ISIL in Iraq. General Allen and Ambassador McGurk praised their courage and affirmed that those who stand against ISIL will continue to be supported by the international coalition. They also discussed our support for Prime Minister Abadi’s vision of a united Iraq and a united Iraqi National Guard that both empowers local populations to protect their communities and incorporates those forces within the formal national security structure.
Tomorrow, General Allen and Ambassador McGurk will meet with the King of Jordan and other Jordanian Government officials. They will also travel tomorrow to Cairo and then will be in Ankara October 9th and 10th. And we’ll have, of course, further readouts of their meetings there as the week continues.

Joe's remarks threw a monkey wrench into the efforts of reaching out to other MidEast countries.

The remarks were poorly timed and diplomatic efforts had to come to a sudden stop in order to address the situation Joe created.

I stated Joe's criticism of Leon Panetta was the problem.

Joe can be as stupid as he wants to be but while he's the Vice President of the United States, he needs to defend the Constitution -- in fact, he took an oath to do so.

Free speech is not aided by Joe's ridiculous and undemocratic barriers.

And that's not an open society or democracy -- one in which people must wait until an elected official is out of office for him or her to face any criticism.

Leon Panetta does not just have a legal right to speak out, he has a duty to as a member of a democracy.  And open society only exists when people can speak freely.

Anyone -- including Joe -- can disagree with what Leon says.

But if Leon feels it's important to democracy, he has a duty to speak out.

Joe makes many silly comments -- he also makes his share of wise ones -- but that wasn't the problem with the issue Jason Ditz was reporting on.

The problem was that Joe Biden argued Leon should be quiet until Barack was out of office.

That goes against the Constitution, it goes against free speech, it goes against democracy and open societies.  Someone who expresses that sort of belief -- a fleeting one or a firmly held one, it doesn't matter -- should not run for the US presidency.

I know there are many things going on in the world and that Joe says his share of stupid things; however, I am surprised that the media failed to pick up on the statements, specifically the undemocratic nature of them.

Joe's not the only one saying stupid things.  Democratic member of the House of Representative Dutch Ruppersberger has added his voice to the cry for more war and US boots (officially) on the ground in Iraq.  Peter Sullivan (The Hill) reports the House Intelligence Committee's Ranking Member appeared on Erin Burnett's CNN program last night and noted he was open to (more) US troops on the ground in Iraq.  He observed, "We have boots on the ground right now but they're not out there fighting."  Ruppersberger apparently wants them to be but frets that this would be announced ahead of their entering combat because, he says, "The only thing I'm concerned about, you don't tell the enemy what you're going to do."

Uh, yeah, you do.

You declare a war, Dutch.

Do you not know how it works, are you that stupid?

Maybe you are.

It's one thing not to offer battle plans to the enemy or 'enemy.'

But saying, "X will lead to combat" -- or saying "We are declaring war" -- those are basic statements.

Again, a war is supposed to start with a declaration.

Maybe Dutch should stop flapping his gums and brush up on the US Constitution?

One of the reasons declaring war is not hidden?

Because in a democracy citizens are supposed to weigh in.

In a democracy, citizens are over the officials.  The officials work for the citizens.

Dutch seems to struggle with that concept.  It's a shame people in his district can't give him two years off via the November election so he could take some time to learn about civic participation and other elements of an open society.

The bombing of Iraq is disturbing, the ongoing illegal war is disturbing.

But so are undemocratic statements made by elected officials who betray the Constitution with their guttural
expressed remarks that embrace totalitarianism and deception.

 US President Barack Obama has no plan.  By Dutch and Joe's 'educated' opinions, I should be silent about that.

No, I'm an American citizen and I can offer my opinion and should.  And so should all voices in a democracy.

Barack not only doesn't have a plan, he's repeating Bully Boy Bush (yet again!).

Bully Boy Bush knew the way to save Iraq from violence was (a) send a huge infusion of US troops into Iraq and (b) this military might would create the space -- fostered by US diplomatic officials -- for a political solution.

Barack knows he can save Iraq by (a) sending in us planes and helicopters over Iraq to bomb and (b) this military might will create the space -- fostered by US diplomatic officials -- for a political solution.

As with Bully Boy Bush, Barack got distracted playing war and forgot about the need for a political solution.

The surge failed because part (b) never took place.  The US military did their part.  The US diplomatic effort was a joke.

And that's what's happening with Barack's 'plan' today.

If you're not getting what a failure at diplomacy Barack has been, you may have missed yesterday's snapshot.  It closed with a transcript of a US press conference in Baghdad from last Friday.

Think about the issue of diplomacy as we note the key passage:

AMBASSADOR JONES:  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the American Embassy.  It is great to see you here. So, welcome to the Embassy, it is great to have you here.
My name is Stuart Jones.  I had the honor yesterday of presenting my credentials to His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Iraq.  And so I am now very pleased to be here to replace my good friend and colleague, Steve Beecroft.  And, on this, my third day of work, it is also a great honor to present to you my good friend and colleague, General John Allen, who, as you know, is the President's special envoy to building the coalition against Daeesh.

In the midst of a diplomatic mission and focus, Barack is yet again switching US Ambassadors to Iraq.

In his six years as president, Barack has had four Ambassadors to Iraq:

1) Chris Hill
2) James Jeffrey
3) Robert S. Beecroft
4) Stuart Jones

Where is the consistency?

Maybe a stronger Iraq would be possible if the White House wasn't forever changing the lead US diplomat in Iraq.

Chris Hill was an utter failure, no question.

But Jeffrey was competent and Beecroft was competent and energetic.

How is there a consistent message to the government of Iraq or consistent support for it when they should be expecting every US ambassador to disappear within 16 months.

On Barack's 'plan,' Walter C Ladwig (Irish Independent) offers:

The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated that air power and other forms of long-range precision strikes can be devastatingly effective against relatively unskilled opponents, such as the 2001-era Afghan Taliban or Iraqi army conscripts in 2003. 
However, the same weapons have proved to be far less effective against relatively more skilled opponents, such as al-Qa'ida's foreign fighters, who have the ability to employ cover and concealment, build effective fighting positions, and otherwise adapt to the circumstances on the battlefield. .
Despite the startling advances in sensor technology in the past 20 years, it is still very hard to find targets to strike with air power in complex terrain, be it natural or man-made. Although Iraq is devoid of detection-disrupting forests, the critical landscape is its urban areas, which contain vast amounts of cover, not to mention innocent civilians that must be distinguished from legitimate military targets. Conducting effective air strikes in these circumstances against an opponent who knows how to exploit the terrain for their protection is not an easy task.

Ladwig goes on to argue that US troops are needed on the ground in Iraq.  And that really appears to have been the point of Barack's plan.  The planes were the early pregnancy of this wave of the Iraq War.  Now, at the start of the second trimester, he's adding helicopters.  Like a pregnancy, the war will continue to grow and increase in size.

You can object to the bombings without calling for more US troops to be sent into Iraq.  Last night, Mike noted  Robert Fisk (Indpendent) pointing out how limited Barack's plan actually is:

Is there a “Plan B” in Barack Obama’s brain? Or in David Cameron’s, for that matter? I mean, we’re vaguely told that air strikes against the ferocious “Islamic State” may go on for “a long time”. But how long is “long”? Are we just going to go on killing Arabs and bombing and bombing and bombing until, well, until we go on bombing? What happens if our Kurdish and non-existent “moderate” Syrian fighters – described by Vice-President Joe Biden last week as largely “shopkeepers” – don’t overthrow the monstrous “Islamic State”? Then I suppose we are going to bomb and bomb and bomb again. As a Lebanese colleague of mine asked in an article last week, what is Obama going to do next? Has he thought of that?

After Alan Henning’s beheading, the gorge rises at the thought of even discussing such things. But distance sometimes creates distorting mirrors, none so more than when it involves the distance between the Middle East and Washington, London, Paris and, I suppose, Canberra. In Beirut, I’ve been surveying the Arab television and press – and it’s interesting to see the gulf that divides what the Arabs see and hear, and what the West sees and hears. The gruesome detail is essential here to understand how Arabs have already grown used to jihadi barbarity. They have seen full video clips of the execution of Iraqis – if shot in the back of the head, they have come to realise, a victim’s blood pours from the front of his face – and they have seen video clips of Syrian soldiers not only beheaded but their heads then barbecued and carried through villages on sticks.

Barack's 'plan' is a failure.

The Associated Press' Matt Lee underscored that at today's State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: Jen, you said that the President had laid out a clear and comprehensive strategy for dealing with this. Is it not at all distressing to the Administration that this clear and comprehensive strategy thus far has seen ISIL make gains rather than driving – than retreat?

MS. PSAKI: Well, in fact, I would disagree with that, Matt. There have been certainly gains made by the Iraqi Security Forces in Iraq. I can go through some of those for you if that would be useful.
We’ve said from the beginning and the President has said from the beginning that this would be a – an – would not be overnight, that this would be a long-term effort. And certainly, I outlined – as I just outlined, there are some strategy objectives that we’re focused on. We’ve gone after refineries. We’re going after strategic locations. And let me just tick through these and then we can go to your next question – some of our successes we’ve seen on the ground by the Iraqi Security Forces. One moment. Sorry. Well, I’ll find these.


MS. PSAKI: Sorry, I wanted to highlight them --

QUESTION: Does that mean there aren’t any? (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: That does not at all mean that, Matt. There have been – the Iraqi Security Forces have pushed back and regained territory, and I just wanted to list through those. But I’ll find them before we end the briefing.
Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. But you say, clearly it’s – this isn’t going to be an overnight campaign, regardless of whether it’s clear and comprehensive or not. But overnight Kobani almost fell and by tomorrow may be in ISIL’s hands. And so I just don’t know how – is there not any concern at all that you’re not doing – that the clear and comprehensive strategy the President has laid down is not – isn’t working yet?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think --

QUESTION: Or do you think that the successes --

MS. PSAKI: -- the reason why I outlined our objectives here and what are the deliberate and focused campaign is, is to outline and highlight the fact that it’s been focused militarily on command and control structures, destroying ISIL’s critical infrastructure, and attacking sources of ISIL’s fuel and financing. And certainly, we’re undergoing airstrikes in a range of places, including in the neighborhood.

Iraq has so many crises and Barack's 'plan' does not appear to address any.

The United Nations News Centre notes:

The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Iraq is more than a crisis of food and shelter, it is a “crisis of spirit” that requires urgent action from the international community, the Deputy United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq said today.
Briefing reporters in New York via video-link from Erbil, Kevin Kennedy said that currently there are some 1.8 million people displaced in the country, mostly in Kurdistan and Anbar Province.
Over 860,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have arrived from Anbar, Mosul and Sinjar in the last several months as the situation has deteriorated in all those regions, he noted.
In August alone, 650,000 people arrived in Kurdistan seeking shelter, security and safety. Many of them have been staying with friends and relatives. Most of the refugees arriving now are seeking shelter in schools. This has caused the start of the school year to be delayed for months, Mr. Kennedy said, adding that it is uncertain when schools will reopen.
The IDPs are also dispersed, with about 400,000 of them in Anbar Province, which is not controlled by Iraqi Government forces. On top of that, Iraq is also hosting some 220,000 Syrian refugees and another one million people displaced since the start of the 2003 war.
“The people who are here came here to seek refuge. They are very traumatized having seen things they did not want to see,” said Mr. Kennedy, recalling a recent visit to Tikrit, where he met an elderly man who said that he could not account for his 41 family members.

As distressing as that is, it's October.  This is a time when cholera often becomes a serious issue in Iraq.  With all the fighting, if there is another serious cholera outbreak, it will probably receive little to no press coverage.

The waves of cholera result from a lack of potable water -- water which can be drank without causing illness, safe drinking water.  Iraq has a problem with that due to the decaying infrastructure.  Nouri al-Maliki was prime minister from 2006 until this past summer.  Eight years and he failed to address water and sanitation issues.  The water in many areas is unsafe to drink.

If you don't boil it or use purification tablets in it, you will likely get ill.

For eight years, Nouri was allowed to ignore this while claiming to represent the Iraqi people.

The water and sanitation issue may also be an issue this month if heavy rains emerge.

The decaying public infrastructure also means that sewers which would normally drain water remain out of commission and rains lead to flooding as the water stands.  It's now common for heavy rains to result in water up to the knees in parts of Sadr City.  (Sadr City is a section of Baghdad where some of cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr's followers live.)

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is a non-partisan group. They have released a voters guide for the upcoming mid-term elections.

Ahead of Election Day, IAVA Releases Voter Guide for Veterans’ Issues

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or press@iava.org

Ahead of Election Day, IAVA Releases Voter Guide for Veterans’ Issues
Issue guide will help Americans cast smart votes to support new veterans on November 4th

Washington, D.C. (October 6, 2014) – In advance of midterm elections, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing post-9/11 veterans and their families, has released a guide to help voters assess candidates on their support for vital veterans’ issues. The 2014 IAVA Veteran Voter Guide focuses on policy issues for: combating suicide among troops and veterans; ending the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog; improving support for female veterans; combating effects of burn pit exposure; defending veterans’ education benefits; and lowering the veteran unemployment rate. The guide includes issue summaries and a checklist to help every American evaluate a political candidate’s platform and talking points.

To read the full 2014 IAVA Veteran Voter Guide, click here. Also included in the nonpartisan guide are questions voters can ask directly to candidates running for office; techniques to use when raising veterans issues at town halls and political events; and a tear-away Call to Action page.
IAVA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and does not endorse any candidates for office or support any political party.

“This election year, IAVA wants to make sure that every veteran’s voice is heard loud and clear by candidates across the country,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. "This is a pivotal year for the military and veteran communities, as 22 veterans die by suicide each day and our country marks 13 years in Afghanistan. We expect more than yellow ribbons and campaign speeches from our lawmakers. Thousands of servicemembers will be returning home this year and our country isn’t yet capable of meeting their needs. From increasing mental health care access to modernizing VA services for the unique needs of women, each American’s vote will get us one step closer to improving the lives of the new greatest generation.”

IAVA and its supporters want to see smart policy and tough decisions from leaders of both sides of the aisle on six critical issues:

1. Combating suicide among troops and veterans: According to the VA, 22 veterans die by suicide each day. Combating veteran suicide has been IAVA’s top priority in 2014 with the “We’ve Got Your Back: IAVA’s Campaign to Combat Suicide.” In July, House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention For American Veterans Act (Clay Hunt SAV Act), H.R. 5059. Once passed, the bill will combat veteran suicide and improve access to mental health care. IAVA is urging for bipartisan support for H.R. 5059.

2. Ending the VA disability claims backlog: Although the VA has made significant changes to meet its goal of reaching backlog zero by FY 2015, there is still work to be done. Currently, more than 230,000 veterans are stuck in the disability claims backlog. IAVA continues to call on the VA to create an infrastructure that allows the disability compensation system to protect future needs and adapt to a growing population of new veterans and even more complex injuries.

3. Improving support for female veterans: Women are the fastest growing segment of the veteran population. Similar to their male counterparts, women are facing challenges with unemployment, suicide and accessing mental health care.  According to the latest data from the VA, 57.4 percent of female veterans are enrolled in VA health care. However, the VA health care system is not designed to support the unique needs and experiences of female veterans with a lack in even the most basic VA services. IAVA is urging the VA to modernize its health care system for our women warriors.

4. Combating effects of burn pit exposure: According to IAVA’s 2014 Member Survey, 76 percent of respondents were exposed to burn pits while deployed and 54 percent of those exposed feel they have symptoms associated with that exposure. IAVA urges Congress to pass the Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act (H.R. 2510) to help improve health outcomes for veterans exposed to burn pits.

5. Defending veterans’ education benefits: The Post-9/11 GI Bill (or New GI Bill) has been the best investment our country has made in its veterans since World War II. However, GI Bill benefits are under attack. Due to the “90/10 loophole,” some for-profits are targeting the New GI Bill to line their pockets with taxpayer money by aggressively and deceptively recruiting veterans while failing to deliver the high-quality education and career opportunities they promised. Congress should pass legislation to close the 90/10 loophole that causes veterans to be unfairly targeted by some predatory for-profit schools.

6. Lowering the veteran unemployment rate: Post-9/11 veterans have consistently experienced a higher unemployment rate than their civilian counterparts. According to IAVA’s 2014 Member Survey, 10 percent of respondents are currently unemployed. While veteran unemployment rates have gradually declined in the last few years, there are still populations of veterans that are struggling more than most. IAVA calls on Congress to pass legislation to translate military skills into equivalent certifications.

Note to media: Email press@iava.org or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership about pressing veterans issues during the 2014 midterm election cycle. 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has nearly 300,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.