Monday, December 08, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, December 8, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq's prime minister says there's no agreement to provide US troops with immunity, Barack's non-stop bombing gets called out, we grade outgoing Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, and much more.

The Democrats lost control of the Senate in the November mid-term elections.  Mary Landrieu was forced into a run-off which she lost to her Republican opponent over the weekend.

When the new Congress is sworn in next month, Republicans will control the Senate (and they remain in control of the House of Representatives).  Community member Brandon wanted to know if I could score the outgoing Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee?


It's Bernie Sanders.  He is not a Democrat.  He votes with Democrats (way too often for someone supposedly opposed to corporate control of the Congress) and is often referred to as an "independent" but as Laura Flanders noted the night he was elected to the Senate (in 2006), she doesn't want to hear anyone calling him an independent because he is a Socialist.

He will not be Chair in the next session, a Republican will be.

Sanders as Chair was a disappointment.

If you're a third party, you need to be better than good because there are so few of you.

But Sanders wasn't even good.

His pet issue was non-traditional medicine.

And no one ever forgot it.

That's not what you do as Chair.

That he would advance, for example, acupuncture was not a surprise.

That he would be unable to set aside his pet issues when a scandal emerged?

That's appalling.

But that's exactly what happened and exactly why he lost the support of veterans.

He refused to allow a hearing that was scheduled as the scandal of the VA keeping 'official' lists and secret lists emerged to acknowledge that scandal and insisted that if this was indeed a real scandal he would be the one to lead on this and the Committee would lead on it and blah, blah, blah.

Reality: It was a real scandal.

Reality: The Committee never dealt with it in a hearing.

Over in the House, they did.

Not in the Senate.

Then there's VA Secretary Eric Shinseki whose tenure was one scandal after another -- usually one of his own making.

And when he had lost the confidence of veterans, there was Sanders prattling on about how it was too soon . . .

I think President Barack Obama realized he had to ask Shinseki to resign before Sanders ever grasped their might be a serious problem here.

I spoke with veterans last week as I attended two Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearings -- two.

What was Sanders' sudden interest, everyone wanted to know?  He held very few hearings which became even more noticeable when the scandals kept breaking.

Last Thursday may have been his final hearing as Chair (until the next election cycle).

If so, he went out looking like a huge disappointment.

The hearing was on the nomination of Leigh A. Bradley to be the General Counsel for the VA. In 1998, when she was nominated to the same post by then-President Bill Clinton, the post was described this way, "The General Counsel serves as the chief legal officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs and is responsible for the interpretation of all laws affecting the department and for the review of all regulations implementing such laws. The General Counsel directs the legal, litigative and legislative activities of the department, provides legal advice and assistance to the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs and represents the Secretary in Congressional committee and other hearings and in interdepartmental conferences on legislative matters."

Chair Bernie Sanders showed up late for the hearing and noted there were impending votes.

Chair Sanders had Bradley stand and swore her in -- something we support doing for all witnesses who come before Congress.

She then began reading from her prepared statement.

Leigh Bradley:  We'll Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member [Richard Burr is the Ranking Member and was listed as such in her written statement, in the hearing Johnny Isakson acted as Ranking Member and she acknowledged him verbally], Distinguished Members of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I am humbled and honored to have been nominated by President Obama to be VA General Counsel, and grateful to Secretary McDonald, and Deputy Secretary Gibson for their confidence in me. Mr. Chairman, from the start of my legal career in 1987 as an active-duty Air Force Judge Advocate to my present position as Director of the Department of Defense  Standards of Conduct Office, I have been guided by a deep and personal commitment to our nation’s Armed Forces and its Veterans. I come from a long, proud line of military Veterans. My father is a Vietnam Veteran who served as a career officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. Both of my grandfathers served in the U.S. Army--one in World War I and the other in World War II. My husband served for 20 years as an Air Force Judge Advocate, and my brother-in-law currently serves as an Air Force B-1 Weapons Systems Operator. Finally, and I say this with great joy and pride, my daughter has decided to follow in the family’s footsteps. She is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, studying to be a doctor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Walter Reed. I am immensely proud of her decision to continue our family’s tradition of service in uniform. I have spent the majority of my legal career supporting the mission of the Armed Forces and the needs of our nation’s Veterans. After five years on active duty, I was selected for a civilian position in the DoD Office of the General Counsel. Later, I served as the Principal Deputy General Counsel of the Navy, the second highest ranking civilian attorney in an office of over 600. In 1998, I was nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate to be General Counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs. And in my current position, I advise the senior DoD leadership on ethical compliance and creating and sustaining ethical cultures across the Department.

[. . .]
Of late, however, VA has not fully met its responsibilities and obligations to Veterans, and we must make restoring their trust our top priority. To quote Secretary McDonald, “the seriousness of this moment demands urgent action.” I am deeply inspired by the dedication, vision, and leadership of Secretary McDonald and Deputy Secretary Gibson. While this is a challenging time at VA, it is also an exciting and transformative time in which the leaders of the Department, in cooperation with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations, and other Veterans’ stakeholders can collaborate to reform and improve services to Veterans. Yes, there is hard work to be done. But for me, there can be no higher calling than to be part of this historic moment which will have lasting, positive impacts on the care and benefits we deliver to Veterans and the way VA operates going forward. Accordingly, if confirmed, I will work closely with the VA leadership team to strengthen the Department’s ability to serve our nation’s Veterans and restore trust with them, with Congress, and with the American public. I will do all in my power to provide thoughtful, expert advice and counsel on all legal matters including those associated with the implementation of both the Veterans Choice Act and MyVA (the Secretary’s ground-breaking initiative to bring a singular focus on customer service to Veterans), improving access to medical care, better delivery of other VA services and benefits, protecting the rights of whistleblowers, and helping to ensure that the processes to hold employees accountable for wrong-doing are expedient, fair, and defensible. I will do this by exemplifying VA’s core ethical values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence.

Half-way into the year, Leigh Bradley was named special counsel to (then acting) VA Secretary Sloan D. Gibson.  "On loan from DOD's Standards of Conduct Office" as Leo Shane III noted July 2nd.

That position was supposed to be a temporary assignment for her and the understanding was she would return to the Defense Dept.  So one question for her at the hearing might be about that.

I'm sorry.

Questions for a witness?

Not in Bernie's world.

This is a transcript of what followed when Leigh Bradley stopped stop reading her statement.

Chair Bernie Sanders: We thank you very much for your statement.  You and I chatted yesterday and I am strongly supportive of the nomination and you answered my questions yesterday.  Mr. Isackson?

Senator Johnny Isakson:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I too met yesterday with Ms. Bradley and we had a wonderful meeting and I want the record to reflect this is one Georgia Bull Dog that's going to pull for an Alabama Roll Tide, Crimson Tide lady in the fall game coming up pretty soon.  Good luck this weekend.  Mr. Chairman, I told Leigh this is probably the most important appointment in the VA other than the Secretary themselves.  And the implementation of the Veterans Choice Act is going to require an awful lot of work from legal counsel to support the Secretary in whatever disciplinary action he takes as well as expedite the review process in cases that are appealed because we're getting more and more disability determinations coming out faster and faster which means we're going to have a higher and higher volume of appeals which means legal counsel is going to be under the gun.  We want to be supportive of you.  We want to streamline that process as much as possible.  We have a two-year window of opportunity to make the VA the best VA in the world and we want to make that happen.  And you're a key part of that. I'm very supportive of your nomination.  Appreciate your willingness to accept the job.  And I really have no questions for [her], Mr. Chair.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Thank you very much, Mr. Isakson.  Ms. Bradley, thank you very much for your willingness to serve.  As Senator Isakson indicated, the position is enormously important.  We're seeing transition in the VA right now but I'm confident you're going to do a great job for us.  Okay.  And with that, if there are no other comments -- Okay?  Okay.

Leigh Bradley:  Thank you both.

Chair Bernie Sanders: This hearing is adjourned.

That was the entire hearing.

And it goes to how awful a Chair Bernie Sanders has been.

The position is important, the one Leigh Bradley is up for.

It's a shame the hearing couldn't have treated it as such.

And I'm sorry but I thought Socialists in the US led the call for transparency?

Where was the transparency in that hearing?

Bernie and Johnny going on about how they had spoken with the witness the day before?

Well good for them but did those conversations mean that there was no reason to have a conversation for the record?  No reason to question a witness publicly?

What was the point -- besides wasting time -- in having the witness sworn in if no one was going to ask her one damn question?

And with all the scandals in the VA, let's grasp that a lot of them happened because of people in positions of power.  No one thought this person or that would be inept or worse.

Hopefully, Leigh Bradley will be a huge success.

But with the problem in the VA, the Committee was required to ask questions.

They failed.

Veterans around the country have interest in this appointment and were looking to how the nominee would respond under questions.

But a candy ass, poorly led Committee refused to do its job.

This is the typical nonsense that has taken place over and over under Bernie Sanders' leadership.

There was never time, while he was Chair, to address serious issues or problems.

There was always time to explore acupuncture and other holistic medicines.

That's really all he ever made time for.

We're all so very sorry for Chair Sanders and the Committee that they were put out, that they're valuable time was shortened with the expectation that they'd do their damn job and hold a real hearing on a top post at the VA.

Going through the motions, that's all Bernie Sanders offered during his time as Chair of the Committee.

All the US government offers in Iraq is more of the same.  The Defense Dept noted the following today:

In Iraq, six airstrikes near Kirkuk destroyed two excavators, a bulldozer, an ISIL bunker and an ISIL ammunition dump and struck another excavator and an overpass servicing the ammunition dump. These airstrikes also suppressed an ISIL fighting position and struck a tactical ISIL unit near Kirkuk, officials said.
Near Biaj, four airstrikes destroyed four armored vehicles, an ISIL checkpoint and two ISIL storage containers. Near Sinjar, four airstrikes destroyed six ISIL-occupied buildings, seven ISIL storage containers, two ISIL fighting positions and an excavator and struck an ISIL bunker. Near Mosul, four airstrikes destroyed an excavator, an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL heavy weapon and struck two ISIL tactical units.

Also in Iraq, three airstrikes near Qaim destroyed two ISIL armored vehicles and struck an ISIL observation point. Near Tal Afar, three airstrikes destroyed seven ISIL armored vehicles, a bulldozer and an excavator. Near Ramadi, three airstrikes destroyed an ISIL-occupied building and a front-loader and struck two ISIL units.
Near Bayji, two airstrikes destroyed an ISIL-occupied building and struck two tactical ISIL units. Near Rawah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL tank. Near Hit, an airstrike was conducted, but there was no damage.

 All aircraft returned to base safely, officials said, noting that airstrike assessments are based on initial reports.

The US government has been bombing Iraq from the air since August and brought other countries into the campaign.  President Barack Obama has no plan for the moment and just keeps bombing.

It's accomplished nothing in terms of improving lives.

And people are beginning to go public with that reality.  Ines San Martin (Curx Now) reports:

The top Catholic official in Iraq says the current US-led bombing campaign will not dislodge the radical Islamic State, and he is pleading for a stronger response from the international community to ensure Christians can remain in the region.
“Bombing is also killing people, destroying the infrastructure, houses, schools, churches,” said Patriarch Louis Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

I would say, "Long after Barack again loses interest in Iraq, the damage from these bombings will still be present."

I would say that . . .

but the fact is Barack and the administration, they've already lost interest in Iraq.

Bombing is not a 'plan' but it's used to stall and distract as US officials keep trying to rope other countries into agreeing to send soldiers into Iraq.  Phil Stewart (Reuters) reports US Lt Gen James Terry ("commander of Operation Inherent Resolve") declared that, in addition "to 3,100 troops U.S. President Barack Obama," unnamed "allies have committed to send about 1,500 forces to Iraq."  BBC News underscores the unnamed part of the talk, "He did not say which coalition nations would provide the extra troops or what role they would play."

The lack of specifics might lead some to believe that Terry's remarks were little more than propaganda, the hope that declaring X number would encourage some countries to sign on.

Whether these are a real 1500 troops or only 'visible' to Terry, would they qualify for immunity?

We ask that because last week the Associated Press was reporting:

The US has reached an agreement with Iraq on privileges and immunities for the growing number of troops based in the country, helping in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis) militant group, the new US ambassador said on Thursday.
Stuart Jones said prime minister Haider al-Abadi has given assurances that US troops will receive immunity from prosecution.

Yet now, NINA reports:

Prime Minister Dr. Haidar al-Abadi media office of Dr. Haider Abadi denied news which recently claimed that the Iraqi government would be granted immunity to US troops describing such a news as fabricated .
The office said in a statement today that the statements attributed to the US ambassador are baseless and exciting surprise .

All Iraq News also covers the story, "The Prime Minister, Hayder Al-Ebadi said Monday 'There is no immunity for any foreign fighter and I did not sign any immunity for any US soldier deployed in Iraq'."

It's amazing the AP filed multiple reports today but never got around to mentioning that their big news last week was now being called into question by statements the prime minister of Iraq is making.

But Lt Gen James Terry did a lot of talking today.  Robert Burns (AP) reports, "Islamic State fighters have lost the initiative in Iraq and are now 'on defense' with far less ability to generate the kind of ground maneuvers that enabled the extremists to capture large chunks of Iraq earlier this year, a senior U.S. general said Monday."  David Lerman (Bloomberg News) also notes Terry's remarks:

Iraq’s security forces probably won’t be able to start retaking territory from Islamic State for months, the top U.S. commander for Iraq and Syria operations said.
While the Sunni extremists are “probably on the defensive” after more than 1,200 airstrikes by the U.S. and allies, Iraq’s army needs more time to rebuild, Army Lieutenant General James Terry, commander of Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today in Kuwait.
“It’s hard for me to say when exactly it’s going to be,” Terry said of an eventual Iraqi offensive against Islamic State fighters, who seized much of western Iraq and took Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June. “The current plan has it, I think reasonably, in months,” he said. 

Wow.  Months and months of bombing and Terry doesn't think the Iraqi military is ready.

Eric Schmitt (New York Times) points out that Iraqi officials disagree and feel the time is now to fight for Mosul (the Islamic State currently controls Mosul).  Schmitt also notes:

Any military campaign to retake Mosul in early 2015 would also push closer a decision by President Obama on whether scores of United States military advisers should leave the relative safety of the command posts in Iraq, where they work now, to join Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the front lines of a challenging urban fight.

We'll close with this from Justin Raimondo's "Pearl Harbor and the Engineers of War" (

What gets me are the lies. Iraq’s "weapons of mass destruction" – Iran’s (nonexistent) nuclear weapons program – the Vietnamese "attack" in the Gulf of Tonkin – Germans bayoneting Belgium babies – the sinking of the USS Maine: over the long and bloody history of US imperialism, these are just a few of the fabrications US policymakers have seized on to justify Washington’s aggression. It’s quite a record, isn’t it? Not only that, but there’s been little if any acknowledgment by the American political elites that they’ve ever lied about anything: it’s all been thrown down the Memory Hole, along with whatever sense of shame these people ever had.
Indeed, if there is an award for sheer shamelessness then surely it must go to the court historians who preserve the myth of Pearl Harbor, insisting that the Japanese launched a "sneak attack" on the US fleet. The official version of the narrative is that the Americans, dewy-eyed innocents all, were simply minding their own business, not bothering anybody and certainly not aggressing against the predatory Japanese, who were fighting harmless "agrarian reformers" led by Mao Tse-Tung in China. Suddenly, totally without provocation, and out of the clear blue the Japs – to use the term routinely employed by the Roosevelt administration and its media minions at the time – crossed thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean to commit murder and mayhem for no good reason other than their own inherent evil.

What’s amazing is that even though this nonsense has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked over the years by historians concerned with discovering the truth – as opposed to getting tenure at some Ivy League university – the Big Lie is still not only believed by the hoi polloi but also stubbornly upheld by the "intellectuals."