Saturday, February 14, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, February 14, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the Islamic State seizes control of another city in Iraq, we continue to explore Thursday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Barack Obama's AUMF request, could three Democratic women who serve on that Committee publicly explain why they chose not to attend the hearing -- this would include the woman who had plenty of time to do press all day Thursday even if she couldn't get her ass to the hearing, and much more.

US House Rep Lee Zelden: I'm going to read a letter that  I just received in my remaining time.  I received this letter from someone who is watching.  So there are people at home who watch these hearings.  He says, "Lee, as a parent of a lieutenant in the  Marines I have no doubt that, if deployed, he will do his duty with valor and distinction.  However, unless (one) the President can specifically articulate our goals, (two) the President explains a strategy speficially designed to achieve those goals and those goals include the utter destruction of ISIS where ever they function and (three) our troops are given whatever they need for however long they need it without restriction both as to weapons and tactics, I request that you vote against the authorization. The document, as drafted, appears to me to be an attempt to codify a failed strategy of limiting our ability to prevail.  It is a political document which allows the President to say he could not do more because Congress will not let him.  He knows his strategy is failing and he needs someone else to blame.  I will be damned if my son is going to be asked to risk his life for a failed strategy simply to allow the President to avoid the consequences of his incompetence.  War is an all or nothing thing. Either authorize the full force -- political, military and economic -- of the United States or do not send our troops into harms way.  We must fight to win or not fight at all. 

Zelden was speaking at Thursday's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.  Offering a perspective on the issue from a parent's stand point was another member of the Committee.

Lois Frankel: Let me just start, I-I-I -- There have been many folks on this panel who served our country.  I want to thank them and those of you have.  I come from a little different perspective because I have a son who I saw go to two wars.  Sorry if I babble or get emotional.  But I wanted to say that I'm lucky he came home safely.  I cannot tell you how horrific it was for his family.  I don't even [shakes head].  So when I think of the families who lost their children, their loved ones. The morbidity of the thousands of soldiers who return.  And then we have to say what for?  So for me to make a decision of whether to send someone else's child into harms way is, I think, the biggest decision or most important one that I will make in Congress.  And I feel like we have been given this huge jigsaw puzzle where the pieces do not fit.   

We started coverage of the hearing in Thursday's snapshot.  It will probably continue in Monday's snapshot.  Because it is an important hearing and because it is an important topic.  Ruth and Marcia have expressed dismay over outlets that they had every right to expect would be offering AUMF coverage but has not.  I had not thought to consider who was covering the hearing and who wasn't because the issue is so important I (wrongly) assumed many sites would be covering it. We'll come back to the issue of importance with an emphasis on failures later in the snapshot.

For now, 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.

The topic of the hearing was the White House's AUMF request.

The what?

The White House issued a fact sheet explaining the basics:

1. What is an AUMF?
An AUMF, or authorization of use of military force, is a law passed by Congress that authorizes the President to use U.S. military force.  
2. What is the President’s proposal for an AUMF against ISIL? 
The President is submitting a draft of an AUMF to Congress to authorize the continued limited use of military force to degrade and defeat ISIL. Key elements of the President’s proposal include:

  • A three-year limit on the AUMF so that the next President, Congress, and the American people can assess the progress we have made against ISIL and review these authorities again
  • A repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF which authorized the 2003 Iraq invasion under President George W. Bush
It’s important to note that the AUMF the President is proposing would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. His proposal does seek the flexibility to conduct ground operations in other, more limited circumstances, including:

  • Rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel
  • Special Operations missions against ISIL leadership
  • Intelligence collection and assistance to partner forces

The AUMF President Barack Obama is requesting has received criticism from many sides.  Friday, IPS offered two voices.  Paul Findley is a former US House Rep who "was a principal author of the War Powers Resolution of 1973" and he offers,  "If I were still in Congress I would oppose any resolution that authorizes further involvement there. Our forces have been killing Muslims by the tens of thousands for the past decade in the misleading label of anti-terrorism. Bombing kills innocent people whose friends are furious over these killings."

And international law expert and University of Illinois College of Law professor Frances A. Boyle explains:

"In the cover letter, Obama would use special forces, which is how the Vietnam War started. Once you have ground troops over there in combat, there is really no way to prevent escalation or to call it off and he knows it. What happens when one of our soldiers is captured and killed by ISIL? What kind of jingoism will that unleash and what escalations will that facilitate?

    "He only talks about 'tailoring' the 2001 AUMF. It should be repealed, not 'tailored.'

    "This Resolution sets a dangerous precedent. Up until the 2001 AUMF, all War Powers Resolutions had been adopted with respect to a State, not alleged terrorist organizations that can operate anywhere in the world as defined by the President. This Resolution continues in that dangerous path, basically substituting ISIS for al-Qaeda and continuing to wage a global war on terrorism. So if Obama cannot plausibly invoke the 2001 Resolution because there is no connection to 9/11 as required therein, he will simply invoke this Resolution. Between the two resolutions you can have the U.S. government waging war all over the world.

    "The Resolution states: 'The authority granted in subsection (a) does not authorize the use of the USAF in enduring offensive ground combat operations.' In other words, it does indeed authorize the use of USAF in offensive ground combat operations. 'Enduring' is in the eye of the beholder. Three years from now could have another 100,000 troops back in Iraq and maybe Syria too.

    "Congress cannot lawfully give him authorization to use military force against Syria. That requires the permission of the Syrian government, which they do not have, or else the authorization of the Security Council, which they do not have. As for Iraq, [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider] al-Abadi is a puppet government that Obama installed and therefore has no authority under international law to consent to U.S. military operations in Iraq. It is like in Vietnam when we had our puppets there asking us to conduct military operations there."

On Thursday, US House Rep Alan Grayson used his line of questioning to highlight various problems with the AUMF request.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Section 2C of the President's draft Authorization of the Use of Military Force reads as follows The authority granted in sub-section A does not authorize the use of US armed forces in enduring offensive ground US operations.  Ambassador Jeffrey, what does enduring me?

James Jeffrey:  Uh.  My answer would be a somewhat sarcastic one.  Whatever the executive at the time defines enduring as.  And I have a real problem with that.

US House Rep Alan Grayson: Dr. Brennan?

Rick Brennan Jr.:  I have real problems with that also.  Not only because it's -- I don't know what it means and I could just see the lawyers fighting over the meaning of this.  Uh, but-but more importantly, if you're looking at-at, uh, committing forces for something that you say is either vital or an important issue to the United States and you get in the middle of a battle and all the sudden are you on offense or are you on defense? What happens if neighbors cause problems?  Uh, wars never end the way that they were envisioned.  And so that's, I think, a-a-a-a terrible mistake to put in the AUMF.

US House Rep Alan Grayson: Dr. Rand?

Dafna Rand:  Enduring, in my mind, specifies an open-endedness.  It specifies lack of clarity on the particular objective at hand.

US House Rep Alan Grayson: Dr. Rand, is two weeks enduring?

Dafna Rand: I would leave that to the lawyer to determine exactly.

US House Rep Alan Grayson: So your answer is you don't know, right?  How 'bout two months?

Dafna Rand:  I don't know.  It would depend -- Again, I think it would depend on the particular objective.  "Enduring," in my mind, does not have a particular objective in mind.

US House Rep Alan Grayson: So you don't really know what it means?  Is that a fair statement?

Dafna Rand: Uhm, "enduring," in my mind, means "open ended."

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Alright.  Section five of the draft for the Authorization of the Use of Military Force reads as follows:  In this joint-resolution, the term "associacted persons or forces" means individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of or alongside ISIL or any closely related successor in the hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.  Ambassador Jeffrey. what does "alongside ISIL" mean?

James Jeffrey:  Uh, I didn't draft this thing but uh

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Nor did I.

James Jeffrey:  Nor did you.  But I would have put that in there if I had been drafting it.  And the reason is, I think they went back to 2001 -- of course, this is the authorization we're still using -- along with the 2002 one -- for this campaign.  And these things morph.  For example, we've had a debate over whether ISIS is really an element of al Qaeda.  It certainly was when I knew it as al Qaeda in Iraq from 2010 to 2012.  And these semantic arguments confuse us and confuse our people on the ground in trying to deal with these folks.  You'll now it when you see it if it's an ISIS or it's an ally of ISIS?

US House Rep Alan Grayson: How about the Free Syrian Army?  Are they fighting alongside of ISIL in Syria?

James Jeffrey:  Uh, no, they're not fighting along ISIL.  In fact, often they're fighting against ISIL and ISIL against them, in particular.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  What about Assad is he fighting for or against?  It's kind of hard to tell without a scorecard, isn't it?

James Jeffrey:  It sure is.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Yeah.  What about you, Dr. Brennan?  Can you tell me what alongside ISIL means?

Rick Brennan Jr.:  No, I really couldn't.  I think that, uh, what -- It might be that -- The 9-11 Commission uses the phrase radical Is-Islamist organizations and I think maybe if we went to wording like that -- It includes all those 52 groups that adhere to that-that type of ideology that threaten the United States.  But we're putting ourselves in boxes and as you said, Senat - uh, Congressman,  trying-trying to understand what that means, what the limits are, uh, who we're dealing with is very confusing.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Dr. Rand?

Dafna Rand:  Well, first of all, I believe that confusion is probably a function of the fact that this is an unclassified document.  So it's not going to specify exactly which groups are associates.  That would be for classified setting but second, as I said, in the testimony, the nature of the alliances within ISIL are changing and are fluid.  And those who are targeting -- military experts -- know exactly who is a derivative, an associate or an ally of ISIS at any given moment. 

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Why are you so confident of that?  It seems to me it's a question of terminology not a matter of ascertainable fact

Dafna Rand:  Uhm, based on my public service.  I've seen some of the lawyers and some of the methodologies and --

US House Rep Alan Grayson:   Alright, here's the $64 billion dollar question for you Ambassador Jeffrey -- and then, if we have time, for you others -- if you can't tell us -- you three experts -- can't tell us what these words mean, what does that tell us?  Ambassador Jeffrey?

James Jeffrey: Uhm, that it's very difficult to be using a tool basically designed to declare war -- or something like war -- on a nation-state -- which has a fixed definition -- against a group that morphs, that changes its name, that has allies and other things.  Do we not fight it?  We have to fight it.   Uh, are we having a hard time defining it?  Uh, you bet. 

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Dr. Brennan?

Rick Brennan Jr.:   I-I agree with the ambassador.  I think -- I think the issue that we need to be looking at is trying to broaden the terminology and understand that it is -- it is a tenant or organization  or groups that adheres to this ideology and make it broad enough that if one pops up in a different country that is doing the same thing, that is a sister of this uh,uh, organization, the president has the authority to act.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Dr. Brennan, I think you just described a blank check which I'm not willing to give to the president or anyone else.  But thank you for your time. 

Let's move over to US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  This was her opening statement:

We all are deeply saddened by Kayla's -- by Kayla's appalling murder by ISIL terrorists.  She made it her mission to care about humanity in a region that seems to no longer value human life and our prayers go out to her family.  The brutality of ISIL truly knows no bounds and this cancer continues to grow and metastasize throughout the region.  The President has finally given us a draft AUMF that may actually our engagement in the region so I look forward to a robust debate here in our Committee on it.  But I firmly believe that no matter what happens with the AUMF, solving the problem of ISIL cannot happen without simultaneously addressing the problems of Assad and Iran.  The administration's de facto partnership with Assad ensures that Syria will continue to be a terrorist breeding ground for groups like ISIL and we will never be victorious that way.  A big part of the administration's ISIL strategy is to train and equip a program that seeks to enhance the capability of   moderate Syrian opposition  leaders yet, Mr. Chairman, that program hasn't really started yet.  The administration has said these fighters will be trained for defensive -- not offensive -- action. And we're not engaging the Assad regime directly -- only ISIL.  I worry that this policy is not going to be a victorious one. 

In her questioning, she would touch on Syria again,  "The Obama administration states that the training of Syrian moderate fighters is a large part of our strategy but as of yet we have not seen much evidence of this success.  Former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said in our Middle East Subcommittee that the administration doesn't bother to coordinate or discuss strategy with Syria's moderate fighters at all."  I don't support war on Syria and we're not doing the "Syrian snapshot."

She did ask about Iraq and noted, "And Mr. Ambassador you testified that Iran's policies almost drove Iraq apart between 2012 and 2014."

The responses included, James Jeffrey, "The poster boy for the cause is Qasem Soleimani  who has done a great deal to drive Iraq into the disunity that ISIS was able to exploit in 2014 by allowing and, in some cases,  encouraging [Nouri al-] Maliki of the Shia governing coalition to oppress the Sunnis and disagree with the Kurds such that the country was not holding together well.  And then ISIS came on the scene and we saw what happened."

Why are we noting the Syrian aspect?

It goes to a larger issue.

As a feminist, I am aware women are under-represented in all walks of life in the US and that they are rarely the go-to for an interview on foreign policy or war.  There were three witnesses appearing before the Committee.  That one was a woman is still significant all this time later.  There are still hearing where no woman is a witness.  Even at this late date.

This full Committee hearing should have provided us with an opportunity to highlight a number of women since a number of women serve on the Committee.

Well . . .

. . . are assigned to the Committee.

Can't say they serve if they can't drag their tired asses to a full Committee hearing.

We've noted Ros-Lehtinen and Frankel.  We'll be noting Grace Meng in a moment.

And that's all we'll note.

Three other female members of the Committee didn't show.

Now maybe one was sick.

Maybe even two were.

But I know for a fact that one of the three wasn't sick at all.  She gave a newspaper interview on Thursday, she gave an interview to KPFK and she appeared on TV with Al Sharpton.

She had plenty of time to self-promote.

She just couldn't show up for a hearing.

A hearing on the Iraq War.

The one she pretended was so important to her last June.

Remember that?

And her ridiculous statements then?

Pretending to grasp history but speaking as if she thought the Ottoman Empire ended with the end of the Gulf War?

And she ended up by insisting she would never authorize US troops into Iraq.

Has she forgotten that?

We can repost her words in case she has forgotten:

I cannot imagine sending our troops back to Iraq.   We should not answer previous blunders with additional missteps. Our nation has sacrificed too much already in Iraq, and it is time for Iraq’s leaders to step up and diffuse the sectarian differences that are tearing the country apart.

So where was she Thursday when her Committee was exploring the AUMF?

Well, see, it's one thing to say she won't go along with US troops sent into Iraq when Barack's just said -- as he had in June -- that he won't send troops in.

It's different when he's asking for the power to do so.

Then our 'brave' Congress member can't show.

And members of her district -- who overwhelmingly oppose US troops being sent into Iraq -- should be asking why   Karen Bass couldn't get her  ass to the hearing on Congress granting military authorization for war on Iraq.

As for one of the others, she couldn't come to the hearing -- for whatever reason -- but the day before, she did Tweet.

My thoughts go out to Kayla Mueller’s family. Her selfless devotion to improving the world will not be forgotten
4 retweets1 favorite

Her thoughts go out.

Not enough of course to show up for the hearing on the Islamic State.

But she can concentrate long enough to type a brief Tweet.

How proud she must be of herself.

And that's good because I don't imagine many other people would be proud of her if they knew she'd skipped out on the hearing.

The third?

Iraq War veteran Tulsi Gabbard took a pass on the hearing.  I'm told she's conflicted on what to support -- opposition to the AUMF or backing the AUMF -- so she skipped the hearing to buy more time.

If the three women aren't up to serving on the Committee, they need to be removed from the Committee -- removed and replaced by any woman or man willing to step up and attend the full Committee hearings on matters of war.

They dishonor the Committee, they fail their constituents.

This is unacceptable.

They're also letting down girls and women with this nonsense.

Let's get back to those who actually attended the hearing.

US House Rep Ron DeSantis:  Dr. Rand mentioned, I think accurately, that a lot of these Sunni tribes in Iraq -- and certainly, when I was serving there -- they're really not jihadists.  They're Sunni Arabs.  And if they think that -- back then -- AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] was better than the deal they'd get with the central government, then they were out to do that.  And if they think it's a Shi'ite government, then that's going to push them further [away from the Iraqi government and towards a group against the Baghdad-based government].  So I guess my question is-is, if you look at the administration's policy, there's a clear attempt to have a major rapprochement with Iran, if you look at Yemen -- now could potentially be an Iranian-client state, the [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad -- I know we've been through different machinations there, but I think the administration is content to leave Assad there.  And so, if you're just the average Sunni Arab wanting to figure out should you work with the Americans and whatever forces that we may be supporting or should you work with some of the Sunni jihadist groups?  If they see us as, uhm, facilitating Shi'ite domination of the region, isn't that going to push some of these Sunni Arabs who are not necessarily jihadists into the arms of the more radical Sunni groups.  Ambassador?

James Jeffrey: Absolutely.  Which is why we can't pick a side in the Sunni - Shia struggle anymore than we could pick a side in the Christian - Muslim struggle in the Balkins.  We have to have a set of values and friends who accept them and go after everybody who is violating them -- whether they're coming out of Mosul or they're coming out of Tehran or they're coming out of Damascus.

US House Rep Ron DeSantis:  So you have, for example, ISIS fighters threatening the outer Baghdad belts and you have Shi'ite militia groups -- which we've considered to be terrorists when we were in Iraq and that are supported by Iran's Quds Force -- some have said 'well there's kind of an alliance with the US.'  We're supporting some of the anti-ISIS forces in other parts of Iraq and we're essentially relying on the Iranian-backed forces to-to keep ISIS out of Baghdad.  Is that a sustainable strategy?

James Jeffrey:  Uh, in the long run no.  But there's a saying, you slay the wolf closest to sled.  Right now, when ISIS is moving forward, we should be working with anybody that can stop them.  But, uh, they really haven't moved forward anymore.  Now we have to figure out how to go get them.  That's really not with Shi'ite militias.

Let's note another exchange.

US House Rep Grace Meng: I sort of want to piggy back off of what Mr. [US House Rep Reid] Ribble had previously asked about what coalition members should be prepared to do to delegitimizing ISIS' ideology.  For example, a recent report indicated around 4,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS since the airstrikes began.  Are there specific strategies that coalition members should be employing to further prevent the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and and Iraq?

[. . .]

James Jeffrey:  It's very interesting the types of political capital that's needed to be invested by leaders in the Arab and Muslim world to fight -- to counter radicalization, to counter ideology.  Some of the examples I mentioned earlier were the leaders in Saudi Arabia and Egypt have helped their clerics issue fatwas condemning ISIS' violence which is unprecedented.  There's also the importance of social media.  The United States' government is not the only government that has the technical capacity to sort of Tweet against ISIS.

[. . .]

Rick Brennan Jr.:  We missed a great opportunity in 2006 when the Maliki government needed us most and we did not press for reconciliation.  I think at this point and time, when the Iraqi government needs us that a part of our strategy has got to be -- and our support for them  has got to be honest to goodness reconciliation that is not going to walk away from as soon as the problem is over.

US House Rep Grace Meng:  Thank you.  And I'll try to answer my last question fast. Secretary Kerry previously testified that the US would be supplying the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga going through Baghdad so as not to undermine the central government.  Has this arrangement prevented the Kurdish Peshmerga from getting what they need to effectively fight ISIS?  And how would the central government in Baghdad view an effort to provide military equipment directly to the Kurds?

James Jeffrey: Uh, it did prevent the transfer of equipment when I was Ambassador.  Uh, I don't have the statistics now but the Kurds certainly believe that it has.  They cite, as we heard earlier, only 25 of 100s of MRAP armored vehicles that have been provided to them.  And, uh, while there are some pretty good reasons why we're careful with the equipment we give them, the point is they are fighting, they are the allies of Baghdad and a lot of these weapons systems are no threat to Baghdad but they are a threat to ISIS and they should be flowing.

Earlier in the hearing, in reply to US House Rep Christopher Smith, Jeffrey stated, "In the case of Iraq, it's a bit complicated -- and it's very complicated about sending the Peshmerga into certain areas -- but certainly they deserve more support from us, they're doing well and I hope they get it."

The Washington Post's David Ignatius explored that topic this week and concluded:

The U.S. is counting on the Kurds to hold their ground against these killers while other Iraqi forces get trained. And that brings Barzani to his most important point: The Kurds need U.S. weapons, fast. In particular, they need armored personnel carriers and Humvees to protect their troops, tanks to repel enemy advances, night-vision goggles to detect sneak attacks, and small attack helicopters to defend a front that stretches 600 miles.

Barzani’s request seems reasonable, given the crucial role the peshmerga have played in this fight. The trick is to provide weapons to the Kurdish regional government in a way that doesn’t worsen Iraq’s sectarian divisions. Barzani says he would be happy to receive the weapons through the Iraqi government — so long as they’re actually delivered. That strikes me as the right solution, and it should be a priority for the Obama administration.

Friday morning Phil Black: And what we're now hearing from Iraqi officials is that the entire town is now under the control of ISIS.  It is yet another piece of land that they have grabbed.

No, that's not Phil Black reporting for CNN from last summer.

That's Phil Black (CNN) reported. "And what we're now hearing from Iraqi officials is that the entire town is now under the control of ISIS.  It is yet another piece of land that they have grabbed."

And that they grabbed a day after the witnesses before the House Foreign Affairs Committee insisted IS's efforts had been contained.

Heather Saul (Independent) explained, "ISIS militants seized control of parts of the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, close to an air base where 320 US Marines are training Iraqi soldiers."  How close?  The headline says IS is "13 minutes away" from the base and CBS News reported:

Eight suicide bombers managed Friday to get onto a sprawling Iraqi military base where hundreds of U.S. Marines are training their Iraqi counterparts, but were killed by an ISF counter attack almost immediately.
Sean Ryan, chief of foreign affairs for the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq, confirmed to CBS News that the attackers made it onto the secluded Ain al-Asad airbase west of Baghdad, but said the attackers made it "nowhere near" the American forces on the base before they were killed.

Phil Black adds that an unnamed US defense "official reiterated what has been said many times publicly by Pentagon officials: That U.S. forces retain the right to defend themselves if necessary, but at this point there have been no injuries to U.S. forces at the airbase and there is no change in status."
Margaret Griffis ( counts 179 dead from violence across Iraq on Friday.


the washington post
david ignatius