Thursday, February 12, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, February 12, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, a military base in Iraq with US troops on it comes under attack, calls for pressure to be put on Congress to reject President Barack Obama's AUMF request,  the House Foreign Affairs Committee addresses Iraq and the AUMF,  US House Rep Brian Higgins declares: "You know, let's just acknowledge that our investment of $25 billion in the Iraqi national army failed." and much more.

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama sent a written list of what he wanted from the Congress regarding his ongoing actions against Iraq and Syria that supposedly will defeat the Islamic State.  Since August 8th, he's been bombing Iraq and now he wants the US Congress to make it legal by passing an Authorization of Use of Military Force.

Joseph Kishore (WSWS) points out:

There are no geographical limits to the military action sanctioned by the resolution. Making clear the global framework of the new “war on ISIS,” Obama wrote in a letter to Congress that ISIS could “pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland.”The inclusion of language ending the authorization in three years unless the resolution is renewed has as much significance as similar “sunset” provisions in the Patriot Act, which has been routinely reauthorized by Congress. In his announcement of the AUMF, Obama stressed that the three-year framework did not represent a “timetable” for military action and could be extended by Congress under his successor in the White House.
In an attempt to delude the American public, which is overwhelmingly opposed to war, that the new operations are to be limited in scope, the authorization states that it does not provide for “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” Again, the wording is formulated so as to allow virtually any type of military action. There is no definition of “enduring” or “offensive.”
Extended combat operations in Iraq, Syria or another country could be justified on the grounds that they were “defensive” or not “enduring.”
Obama claimed that the resolution “does not call for the deployment of US ground combat forces in Iraq and Syria.” This is simply a lie. Obama last year deployed 1,500 US troops to Iraq, many of which have already been involved in combat operations. The authorization would sanction a vast expansion of such operations.

Eric Garris ( believes a huge public outcry could sink the request:

It’s time for a preemptive strike at the War Party’s congressional fortress. Please call your congressional representative today and urge them to vote no on the AUMF – because we can win this one. We stopped them last time when Obama decided it was time to bomb Syria. One by one members of Congress who were inclined to authorize that military campaign backed away when faced with a deluge of outraged calls from constituents. We can do it again – oh yes we can!
Please make that call today – because the future of this country, not to mention the peace of the world, depends on it.

And we need your help to stop this war before it starts. Your tax-deductible donation to will give us the resources to stop the well-funded War Party in its tracks – but we can do it without you! Make your contribution today – because the future of our country. and the peace of the world, depends on it.

Could an outcry bury Barack's AUMF?

Today, US House Rep Lois Frankel wondered about what Barack was proposing, "Is military action the only thing?  How does humanitarian aid fit into this? Or educating women?  Is this the only way out?  And where does it leave us?  Who fills the void if we get ISIL?  I mean, I could ask a lot more questions."  She was speaking at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing today.

There's also these comments from the hearing.

US House Rep Lee Zeldin:  The President in his original strategy back in September when he gave a speech, he was talking about dropping bombs and  reliance on Iraqi military and law enforcement to finish the job.  When I was in Iraq in 2006, it was an accomplishment to get them to show up to work.  Expecting no threat that day, getting them to show up to a precinct that's a quarter mile from their house.  We were trying to get them to show up.  So relying on elements on the ground who have no morale, no patriotism, they don't have the resources, they don't have the training, they don't have the will is something that we have to take into account.  In that speech, the President said this was going to be different than past wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because there will be no boots on the ground.  And, in the same exact speech, he says, "Tonight I'm announcing I'm sending 495 additional troops to Iraq.  Someone shows me a picture of their grandson in the Air Force.  He's in Baghdad. He's wearing the uniform.  He's carrying a rifle.  He's wearing boots.  Those boots are on the ground.  The use of this term 'boots on the ground' here in Washington?  The reality is that we have boots on the ground right now and I think we need to not worry about what polls say what wording sounds the best.

We'll come back to the hearing but Frankel and Zeldin's reaction and that of others certainly suggest that Eric Garris is making a valid argument that pressure can be brought to bear and have an effect.

In addition, David Sherfinski (Washington Times) reports on a Fox News poll which found 73% of respondents feel Barack's lacks "a clear strategy for defeating the Islamic State."   And David Espo and Matthew Daly (AP) report no one in Congress has yet stepped up to champion it.

Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders' office issued the following:

Michael Briggs
(202) 224-5141

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement today after President Barack Obama formally asked Congress to authorize a military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group:
“The Islamic State is a brutal and dangerous terrorist organization which has murdered thousands of innocent men, women and children, including Americans. It must be defeated.
“I voted against the war in Iraq because I feared very much the destabilizing impact it would have on the region. Today, after 13 years in Afghanistan and 12 years in Iraq, after the loss of almost 7,000 troops and the expenditure of trillions of dollars, I very much fear U.S. involvement in an expanding and never-ending quagmire in that region of the world.
“I have supported U.S. airstrikes against ISIS and believe they are authorized under current law, and I support targeted U.S. military efforts to protect U.S. citizens.
“It is my firm belief, however, that the war against ISIS will never be won unless nations in the Middle East step up their military efforts and take more responsibility for the security and stability of their region. The United States and other western powers should support our Middle East allies, but this war will never be won unless Muslim nations in the region lead that fight.
“It is worth remembering that Saudi Arabia, for example, is a nation controlled by one of the wealthiest families in the world and has the fourth largest military budget of any nation. This is a war for the soul of Islam and the Muslim nations must become more heavily engaged.

“I oppose sending U.S. ground troops into combat in another bloody war in the Middle East. I therefore cannot support the resolution in its current form without clearer limitations on the role of U.S. combat troops.”

Senator Tim Kaine's office issued the following today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine released the following statement on the draft Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL announced by President Obama today. For more than seven months, Kaine has been a leading voice urging the administration to seek a specific authorization for military action against ISIL while pressing his Congressional colleagues to debate and vote on the mission – a mission he believes goes beyond the intent of existing authorizations from 2001 and 2002.
“I applaud President Obama for taking this important step in defining the United States’ role in the multinational effort to defeat ISIL. With the Administration’s decision to submit a written proposal and formally seek Congressional authorization, we can now focus on having the proper debate and vote the American people and our servicemembers deserve.

“The administration’s draft authorization reflects consultations with Congress and includes many provisions I support, such as a repeal of the 2002 authorization and a 3-year sunset.  But I am concerned about the breadth and vagueness of the U.S. ground troop language and will seek to clarify it. As the Foreign Relations Committee prepares to take up this draft authorization, I look forward to a robust debate, along with amendments and votes, that will inform the American public about our mission and further refine this authorization to ensure that the U.S. is vigorously assisting nations willing to battle their own terrorist threat rather than carrying the unsustainable burden of policing a region that won't police itself.” 

And today US House Rep Adam Schiff's office issued the following:

Washington, DC –Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and author of legislation providing a limited and narrow authorization for use of military force against ISIL, released the following statement:
“The Administration’s engagement with Congress on a new authorization for use of military force against ISIL has been enormously beneficial and should jumpstart Congressional action. With the receipt of specific language from the President, Congress has run out of excuses for any further delay of a debate and vote on a new authorization.
“The Administration has been carefully considering how to craft an authorization of our mission against ISIL and I believe its proposal contains important limiting provisions – including a three year sunset and an immediate repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF – but there are some key aspects of the proposal which I believe must be narrowed further. In particular, a new authorization should also include a sunset of the 2001 AUMF; without one, any sunset of the new authorization will be ineffectual, since the next president can claim continued reliance on the old one.  Such a result would fail to meet the goal set by the President last summer when he argued that that the old authorization should be refined and ultimately repealed. Additionally, a new authorization should place more specific limits on the use of ground troops to ensure we do not authorize another major ground war without the President coming to Congress to make the case for one.
"There are additional concerns over the lack of a geographic limitation and a broad definition of associated forces which will also be the subject of debate. In the days ahead, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build on the President's proposal and provide a properly-tailored authorization for the war against ISIL.”

But for those who showed leadership, there were also those who cowered.

Once upon a time, many years ago, Tammy Baldwin was a member of the House of Representatives and stood against the Iraq War.  Today?  She's in the Senate and "pleased" (her term) with Barack's request, This despite having a few 'concerns': "I’m concerned that the vague language of the Administration’s draft proposal may leave the door open to putting boots on the ground for combat operations and put the United States at risk of repeating the mistakes of the past and becoming bogged down in an open-ended conflict. I’m also concerned that the draft AUMF would authorize action for 3 years without establishing measurable goals, benchmarks of success and a clear scope  in the battle against ISIL."

Also crawling on her belly is US House Rep Barbara Lee who is "pleased" as in, "I am pleased that the proposed authorization includes a repeal of the misguided 2002 AUMF, that authorized an unnecessary and disastrous war in Iraq."  And she's also "glad" -- "Additionally, I am glad the proposed authorization includes language recognizing the vital role that a comprehensive, diplomatic, economic and political solution must play in ultimately degrading and dismantling ISIL."  She has a few reservations and even insists that she "will keep fighting to repeal  the 2001 AUMF, a blank check for endless war."  Yeah, she's claimed to be fighting that fight since 2009.  She's not progressed one bit on it.  But then she really doesn't care to while Barack's in office.

Today the US House Foreign Affairs Committee addressed the topic of Islamic State. The witnesses appearing before the committee included former US Ambassador James Jeffrey, the Center for a New American Security's Dafna H. Rand and RAND Corporation's Rick Brennan.  US House Rep Ed Royce is the Chair of the Committee and US House Rep Eliot Engel is the Ranking Member.

US House Rep Brad Sherman: I believe ISIS is a lesser threat to the United States than the Shi'ite alliance [reference to Iran's Shi'ite fighters].  Ground troops, if necessary to take the territory, will be necessary to hold the territory.  The [Kurdish] Peshmerga are not going to be welcome in Sunni Arab area and the Iraqi army?  We saw what they did.  It was the greatest transfer of weaponry to a terrorist organization in history.  The Iraqi government has some effective fighting units.  They are the Shi'ite militias that have engaged in murderous ethnic cleansing of Sunnis -- under-reported in the American press.  And so I don't see who we have that will be a ground force to take Sunni areas.  I do know that I don't want to have to vote to have American soldiers going house-to-house in Mosul in a bloody hand-to-hand role because no other ground forces are available.  As to the AUMF, we've got the text the President sent over, leaves in place the 2001 AUMF.  In effect, republishes it, reaffirms it.  Well what is that that we would be reaffirming 15 years later?  Unlimited in time. Unlimited in what weapons or tactics or ground forces.  It authorized over 100,000 forces in Afghanistan last decade.  It would authorize over 100,000 US soldiers to be deployed on the ground next decade.  And, of course, unlimited in geography.  So if we republish, rather than repeal, that it's hard to say that the President doesn't have enough authority to do all the things that many of us hope he does not do.  And then as to the timing issue?  If Congress is doing its job and there's a three year AUMF, after two years we pass something else rather than waiting for two days while we have soldiers in the field wondering whether Congress will pass the bill.

Serious objections were raised throughout the hearing, serious issues with what Barack is requesting.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  I personally will not -- I don't believe I can speak for my colleagues -- but I will not be giving the President of the United States -- and I don't think the Congress will give the President of the United States -- a blank check on the use of American military force in the Arab world or in the Gulf -- where ever it is.  And, by the way, it's maybe not specific enough in the territory -- much less the timing of this. We're not going to give him a blank check for a given period of time.  We need to know exactly if that means that he would be willing to commit major forces on the ground or not.  That needs to be part of any agreement we have.  So I don't see this being: Oh, the president's asking? Thus he's going to get whatever he wants. We need to work this out.  We need to work out the details.  I personally don't believe this is going to be settled by the military.  When we eliminated the Soviet Union -- which was then the ultimate threat to peace and stability in the world, it was done not by the deployment of large numbers of troops.  And we need to create a dynamic that will end up with the defeat of this threat to western civilization.  We need to create that dynamic.  And that means what we did to defeat Communism.  We made that our number one goal and we worked with anybody who would work with us to defeat that goal.  And that made it possible for us, by the way, to defeat them without conflict -- direct military conflict -- with the United States. Let me just note that I think the President of the United States has not reached out -- we've already heard about the Kurds and other people and other groups in the world and especially in that region who should be our best friends and mobilize them in this effort -- whether it's General [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-] Sisi, the people who marched against radical Islam in Tehran where the president couldn't get himself to say anything about that -- in support of those kids in Iran.  So we need to have that dynamic created other than just having the President come to us and asking us for military -- for a military blank check.

We will note the hearing in the next Iraq snapshot (I plan to include US House Rep Alan Grayson in the next snapshot, for example).  But we'll close our coverage of the hearing tonight with these comments.

US House Rep Brian Higgins: It amazes me in all of these hearings how quickly we just kind of bypass the fact that the United States paid about $25 billion to build up an Iraqi army and the first test of that army was against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and they essentially ran.  And we are told that the reason that they were not committed to the fight was because the previous prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was not inclusive of the Sunni population and therefore didn't feel as though it was a fight worth committing to.  And now were told that there's a new prime minister who's also a Shia but more inclusive [chuckles] of the Sunni community and therefore we should have confidence again in the Iraq national army.  $25 billion.  Thousands of lives lost. And no commitment?  Who are the most effective fighters in Iraq today? The Peshmerga -- 190,000.  And the Shia militia.  The new prime minister [Haider al-Abadi] had said that there are about a million Shia militias who are trying to fill the void of the ineffectual Iraqi army.  Mr Brennan, you had said earlier, you talked about the Shia militias who recently experienced success against ISIS.  You also made reference to Qasem Soleimani -- the Iranian Quds forces leader who really negotiated [chuckles] the second term of Nouri al-Maliki with one condition -- that the Americans leave.  That the Americans leave.  And now we have a president's resolution before Congress asking to engage again militarily.  You know, the Shia militias are not there to prop up the Iraqi government.  They're there to do what Soleimani and others in asymmetrical war fare try to do and that is to create a proxy in places they want to control -- be it in southern Lebanon, be it in Syria, or be it in Iraq.  My concern is that if we commit American forces -- and there's no pacifist wing of the American military -- everybody has weapons and everybody fights and they die courageously when they do -- we are continuing a situation in this country that has been going on for way too long.  You know, what Tom Friedman -- the author and New York Times columnist, once said. "Is Iraq the way it is because Saddam the way he is or is Saddam the way he is because Iraq is the way it is?"  And I think it just speaks again to the sectarian, tribal nature of a place that we are trying to impose a political solution to.  You know, we are told [chuckles] that the American military with extraordinary courage, extraordinary commitment, extraordinary effectiveness could only do one thing: Create a breathing space within which the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish community could achieve political reconciliation including the sharing of oil revenues.  And we saw a hopeful sign in December that that was occurring between the central government in Baghdad and Kurdistan with the 17%  sharing of the national revenues and also a billion dollars to equip and train the Peshmerga.  But I will tell you where our investment has been made financially, where our investment has been made morally has been an abject failure.  And what we're proposing to do with this resolution by the President is continue that failed policy without any clarity about what it is that we're going to achieve because when there's no political center -- here's what we know in that part of the world -- when there's no political center there's only sides to choose.  And right now there is no political center.  And don't argue that the changing of a Shia prime minister in Iraq is going to fundamentally change the will and the commitment of the Iraqi national army.  You know, let's just acknowledge that our investment of $25 billion in the Iraqi national army failed.  Failed miserably.  Because when you say they all ran -- 250,000 of them -- in the face of 30,000 ISIS fighters, well certainly because Iraq is a majority-Shi'ite country, many of those fighters would be Shia. So at least they wouldn't run.  So I don't know really what's going on here but I know where this is leading and I think most Americans know where this is leading.  It's not to a good place because, again, America is essentially going it alone for the third time in two different countries and unless there's a recognition of minority rights, unless there's a recognition of the pluralistic nature of Iraq, there will never be peace there. 

Higgins, like many, used their entire time to address the AUMF.  Whether Committee members didn't think it goes far enough or they feel that it needs to be stated that US troops will not be in on the ground combat or whether they feel that the plan or 'plan' doesn't address the real root causes of the crises, there was clear resistance to what Barack is asking for.

On another note, stupidity came from RAND via witness Brennan who at one point wasted everyone's time instructing that the Islamic State should not be called that because they don't represent Islam (then he allowed they represent some form of it) and we should show solidarity.

In lying?

Everyone calls the Hell's Angels the "Hell's Angels."  No one really thinks they are angels or that they are from hell.  Similarly, the cult Heaven's Gate -- who took part in a mass suicide back in 1997 -- was not from Heaven or a gate to it.  But that was their name so that's what they were called.

I understand what Brennan's getting at.

I also think it's extremely stupid to 'brand' others and doesn't increase tolerance or understanding but does increase labeling people "the other."

A group -- terrorist or civic -- should have the name they themselves designate.

I'm not willing to live in a world where Brennan gets to dictate the lexicon based upon his own personal whims and fears.

There are US troops in Iraq today.

They've been under fire -- even the Pentagon admits that -- from mortar attacks.  Canada was just sending 'trainers' as well but those Canadian forces have now twice been in combat on the ground in Iraq.

Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim (Washington Post) report:

Islamic State militants seized parts of a town in Iraq’s western province of Anbar on Thursday, sparking fierce fighting within miles of a military base where hundreds of U.S. advisers are stationed.

Anbar’s provincial council called for “immediate and urgent military reinforcements” after the attack on the town of al-Baghdadi, which began in the early morning. Ayn al-Asad air base — where some 320 U.S. personnel have been training Iraqi troops and tribal fighters — lies five miles west of the town.

Reuters reports it wasn't just an attack near the base, fighters also "attacked the heavily-guarded Ain al-Asad air base five km southwest of the town, but were unable to break into it.  About 320 U.S. Marines are training members of the Iraqi 7th Division at the base, which has been struck by mortrar fire on at least one previous occasion since December."

In addition, Xinhua reports battles in Salahudin Province today left 16 Iraqi forces dead.  Margaret Griffis ( counts 57 dead from violence across Iraq.

Senator Patty Murray is the former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.  Her office issued the following today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            CONTACT: Murray's Press Office

Thursday, February 12, 2015                                       (202) 224-2834
Senator Murray’s Statement on the Confirmation of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray released the following statement after voting to confirm Ashton Carter to be United States Secretary of Defense. Carter was confirmed by the Senate on an 93-5 vote.
“Secretary Carter has a tough job ahead of him, but I am confident that he is the right person to get it done. I look forward to working with him to make sure our troops are getting the care and support they deserve, our national security is prioritized and protected, and we continue to invest in national and Washington state defense priorities.
“I met with Secretary Carter this week and talked to him about his plans to protect our troops, fight terrorists wherever they are, and keep our country truly safe over the long term. We discussed the devastating impact of sequestration on defense and non-defense investments and jobs. I also raised the importance of protecting our military units, bases, and communities in Washington state, which are critical to our nation’s readiness and national security strength.
“I am looking forward to working with Secretary Carter to make sure our military is strong, our nation is secure, and our troops have the equipment they need to stay safe and complete their missions.”
Eli Zupnick
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
(202) 224-2834