Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, February 4, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Shi'ite militias -- insists the minister of Iraq's Human Rights Ministry -- have killed only a 'tiny' number of Sunnis, the nominee for US Secretary of Defense is concerned about Iran's influence in Iraq and wanting to arm the CIA-backed 'rebels' in Ukraine, and much more.

Remember when the media used to mock the way Sarah Palin spoke when answering questions?

"And to -- uh I-I-I think the uh-uh-uh the-the strategy connects, ends and means -- and our ends with respect to uh  ISIL needs to be it's lasting defeat.  Uh,  I say lasting because it's important when they get defeated and they stay defeated.  Uh, and, uh, that is why it's important that, uh, we have, uh, those on the ground there who will ensure they stay defeated once  defeated."

And to really underscore that statement by Ashton Carter, let's note that it was in response to this question from Senator John McCain, "What do you understand the strategy to be?"

Again, the answer was:

And to -- uh I-I-I think the uh-uh-uh the-the strategy connects, ends and means -- and our ends with respect to uh  ISIL needs to be it's lasting defeat.  Uh,  I say lasting because it's important when they get defeated and they stay defeated.  Uh, and, uh, that is why it's important that, uh, we have, uh, those on the ground there who will ensure they stay defeated once  defeated.

This morning the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing.  Senator John McCain is the Committee Chair and Senator Jack Reed is the Ranking Member.  They heard from only one witness:  Ashton Carter,  the nominee to be the next Secretary of Defense.

Yes, it's time for a new Secretary of Defense.

It's the start of year seven of Barack's eight years as president and that means a new Secretary of Defense, apparently.

Already, his tenure has seen Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel serve as Secretary of Defense.

So, if confirmed, Ashton Carter will be the fourth Secretary of Defense in the administration.

For context, let's turn to Bill Clinton's terms.

Bill was elected president twice (1992 and 1996).

In his eight years, he had three Defense Secretaries: Les Aspin, William Perry and William Cohen.

Aspin was a mistake.  He had health issues which got worse in his brief tenure and he also had a highly embarrassing public moment (the Mogadishu attack which left eighteen US service members dead and over seventy injured) which led Bill to ask for Aspin's resignation.

Barack's asked for no resignations (as far as we know) from Gates, Panetta or Hagel.  He just can't seem to keep them.  Maybe he should be singing "Shake It Off"?

I go on too many dates
But I can't make them stay
That's what people say
-- "Shake It Off," written by Taylor Swift, first appears on her 1989.

Carter's biography at DoD is as follows:

Ashton B. Carter served as the Deputy Secretary of Defense from October 2011 to December 2013.
Previously, Dr. Carter served as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from April 2009 until October 2011.  As Under Secretary, Dr. Carter led the Department’s efforts to accelerate the fulfillment of urgent operational needs; increase the Department’s buying power; and strengthen the nation¹s defenses against emerging threats.
Over the course of his career in public service, Dr. Carter has four times been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal.  For his contributions to intelligence, Dr. Carter was awarded the Defense Intelligence Medal.
Dr. Carter earned bachelor's degrees in physics and in medieval history from Yale University, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and received his doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. 
Prior to his most recent government service, Dr. Carter was chair of the International and Global Affairs faculty at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Co-Director of the Preventive Defense Project.   Dr. Carter was also Senior Partner at Global Technology Partners, a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, a member of the Board of Trustees of the MITRE Corporation and the Advisory Boards of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories and the Draper Laboratory, and an advisor to Goldman Sachs.
During the Clinton Administration, Dr. Carter was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy.  From 1990 until 1993, Dr. Carter was Director of the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Chairman of the Editorial Board of International Security.  Previously, he held positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and Rockefeller University.
Dr. Carter is a member of the President’s Management Council and the National Council on Federal-Labor-Management Relations. He has previously served on the White House Government Accountability and Transparency Board, the Defense Science Board, the Defense Policy Board, the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, and the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States.  
Dr. Carter is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Diplomacy and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Physical Society.
In addition to authoring articles, scientific publications, government studies, and Congressional testimonies, Dr. Carter has co-edited and co-authored eleven books.

Dr. Carter is married to Stephanie Carter and has two grown children.

His wife Stephanie sat behind him this morning and fidgeted throughout the (very long) hearing.

Various issues came up throughout the hearing.  We'll note this exchange on Iraq.

Ranking Member Jack Reed: So, the Middle East, do you believe the most immediate threat there to US interests in the region is ISIL?

Ashton Carter: Uh, uh-uh-uh-uh, I hesitate to, uh-uh-uh, ISIL only because in the back of my mind is Iran as well.  Uh-uh-uh, so I think that we have two immediate, substantial dangers, uh, in the Middle East.  Uh, one is ISIL and one is Iran.

Ranking Member Jack Reed: In terms of our current military operations, they are clearly directed at ISIL is that --

Ashton Carter:  That's true.

Ranking Member Jack Reed: -- the appropriate response at this moment to the threats in the region.

Ashton Carter:  It is. 

Ranking Member Jack Reed: And as you point out, there are two theaters.  One is Iraq where we have more traction and the other is Syria.  So you would think in terms of responding to the threat that our actions or our vigorous support of the current Iraqi government is appropriate in responding to this ISIL threat?

Ashton Carter:  It is appropriate if I -- as I said -- if I -- if, uh, -- whether and how to improve it will be my first job if I'm confirmed as Secretary of Defense.

Ranking Member Jack Reed: One of the issues  -- particular with respect to Iraq --  is that not only  improvement as you suggest in your comments, the longterm defeat, uh, of ISIL rests not just on military operations but on political arrangements.  And what we've witnessed in Iraq particularly was a political arrangement that consciously and deliberately degraded the Sunni population.  At least, that's there perception.  And it gave rise.  So would you acknowledge that part of a strategy has to be constituting an Iraqi government that is perceived by its own people as being a bit fairer and inclusive?

Ashton Carter: Absolutely.  That's what the previous government of Iraq did not do and that was instrumental in their military collapse.

Ranking Member Jack Reed: And one of the issues that complicates, you've pointed out, in terms of Iran being a strategic issue for the United States in the region is their relative influence in Iraq and throughout the region was enhanced over the last several years by the government in Iraq, by the [Nouri al-] Maliki government.  Is that accurate?

Ashton Carter:  That is accurate, yes.

Ranking Member Jack Reed:  So we are now in a position of.trying to essentially contain the regional ambitions of the Iranians and kinetically defeat the Sunni radical Islamists.  Is that the strategy?

Ashton Carter: Yes, that sounds right.

Ranking Member Jack Reed:  And you understand that?  And that to you is a coherent strategy?

Ashton Carter: It is, uh, yes.

Ranking Member Jack Reed: Uh, now that means that your prioritizing -- or the administration is prioritizing these actions you've talked about in building, uh, over time, capability in Syria. Uh, in terms of using US resources in addressing the most serious threats, is that a coherent response in your mind?

Ashton Carter: Uh, I think it is the beginning of a, uh, strategic response.  Uh, I think that, uh, as I noted on the, uh, Syrian side of the border, the, uh, assembling of the force that is going to keep ISIL defeated. Uh, there is, uh -- We're in the early stage of trying to build that force.  We're participating in the uh-uh building of that force, I think it's fair to say that we're at an earlier stage there.  On the Iraqi side, we have the existing Iraqi force.

Senator Jack Reed:  Let me --

Ashton Carter:  Uh, uh, mister, uh, Senator Reed -- 

Senator Jack Reed:  Please.

Ashton Carter:  Let me add one other thing.  Maybe it's something I missed in your, uh, line of uh-uh questioning.  There is, uh, an issue, uh-uh, looming over this which is Iraq in the region.  I mean Iran in the whole region.  That is why I pointed it out at the beginning.  That is a serious complication. 

There are other moments I'd like to note about the hearing.

I'm not really concerned with his position on the Ukraine -- but then I'm not selling war on the Ukraine.

The US press corps is which is why they ran like crazy with that aspect of the hearing.

They can't stop beating off and fingering themselves to the thought of a full blown US invasion of Ukraine.  They're that sick and that nutty.

Carter insisted that he did support sending arms to the so-called 'rebels' in Ukraine and, in one exchange, he added "lethal arms" at that.

If they were less hot and bothered over war on Ukraine, they might have wondered about his wording and if that reflected on his competency?

I have no idea if it does or not.

People can get flustered speaking off the top of their heads and clearly Ashton Carter was flustered throughout the hearing.

But if someone's going to be over the Defense Dept, I kind of expect that they would grasp that any arms sent to be used in battle would be "lethal arms."

Or is Carter proposing water guns and super soaker water blasters be sent to the CIA-backed 'rebels' in the Ukraine?

Equally true, it doesn't matter what Carter thinks.

US policy in terms of whether to go to war will continue to be decided by the president and the national security advisor and others -- the others and the national security advisor were, of course, neither elected nor confirmed by an elected body.

The American people had no say in them.

That's not how it's supposed to be in a democracy.

And careful readers of Robert Gates and Leon Panetta's recent autobiographies caught what the press refused to explore: how little the Secretary of Defense can impact foreign policy.

What the person holding the post can impact is regulations and rules for those serving.

With that in mind, we'll note this exchange.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: [. . .] but specifically, let's focus on the military sexual assault issue, which you know, I'm very passionate about trying to solve this scourge.  One of the concerns I have is that last year, we had 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact within the military.  And I would like your view as to whether you believe that level of sexual assault today is still the good order and discipline we would want from our services?

Ashton Carter:  No, Senator, it's not. And I-I use the word "passion."  I have the same passion you do.  This-this problem of sexual assault is something that is -- It persists in our military.  It's widespread in our society but it's particularly offensive in the military community because uh-uh-uhm the military community ethos is one of -- one of honor.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  Mm-hmm.

Ashton Carter: And uh-uh trust.  You have to trust the person who is, so to speak, in the foxhole next to you.  These are violations of honor and trust.  It-it-it -- Also in military life, we put people in positions -- we put them in positions of austere deployment -- of a situation where the hierarchy of military life is a necessity in-in battle.  And these also provide opportunities -- these -- this-this military context for predators.  So it is more offensive in military, uh, life even than civilian life.  And we've-we've got to root it out.  And I-I know that many members of this Committee, but you especially, Senator, have-have led in that regard.  And I'm-I'm grateful for the, uhm -- for the thoughts and, uhm, frankly for-for keeping the heat on. I-I-I-I -- If I'm confirmed, I'll feel that heat and I'll-I'll understand it and-and be with it. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  The one statistic I was particularly concerned about in the most recent report is that in all those who were willing to report the assaults openly were retaliated against.  62% of those who reported these crimes were retaliated against -- experienced some form of retaliation.  So I am highly concerned that the military is still failing in living up to their zero tolerance policy.  Do you agree?

Ashton Carter: I-I-I-I  do agree that retaliation is a dimension of the problem that be-  we-- uh, to me at least is-is-is, uh, uh.uh,uh, be-be-becoming increasingly apparent.  Uh, this is a problem, if I may -- if I may say -- and you know this because you've worked so-so hard on it.-- but that the more we dig into it, the more dimensions of it we come to understand.  And I think the idea that victims are retaliated against not only by the hierarchy above them but by their peers is something that is unacceptable that we have to combat also.  And the survey that you referred to indicated that that is widespread and we need to get at that. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  I understand from your testimony that you place a premium on chain of command and I fully understand that for combat situations the chain of command is not only essential but necessary in every respect.  Uhm, I would like you though to consider all options for how you can reform the military justice system to actually professionalize it, make it more effective.  And when our allies have reformed their military justice system to guarantee more civil liberties and to professionalize it and to take out biases, they've not seen diminution in the ability to train troops, to instill good order and discipline within the troops and to do their jobs.  I would ask you that you would keep an open mind to look at all possible solutions for improving our criminal justice system within the military

Ashton Carter:  I-I will.  

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:  Thank you.  Another concern I have is in terms of the issue of how we can create opportunities for women in combat. One of the issues that I have looked at is how each of the services being able to open those positions -- opening all positions to women in combat because, as you know, in order to become promoted within the military, often times combat missions are required and having certain roles that require combat is required for promotion.  Are you committed to allowing women to serve in all positions and to gender-neutral standards for each of the services. 

Ashton Carter:  I-I'm certainly committed to gender-neutral, uh, standards.  Uh, the forces -- What I do know is this: That the, uh, services are examining whether there are any positions, uh-uh-uh, in the military that should not be open to women. I strongly incline towards opening them all to women but I'm also respectful of the circumstances and of-of-of-of professional military judgment in this regard, I've not been involved in those studies.  If I am confirmed, I'd want to confirm with our own leaders in the Dept of Defense, with you and others who've thought carefully about that-that problem and try to come to a view.

The issues Senator Gillibrand raised are serious ones.

And as for the military justice issue, the outgoing Secretary of Defense (Hagel) refused to consider military justice being reformed so that criminals were punished like criminals.

He wanted to keep it a 'good old boy' system where a convicted rapist, found guilty in a military trial, could be set free by a high ranking general.

And this did happen.

It's outrageous and Senator Gillibrand has led the charge against it.

At it's most basic in a democracy, justice should be uniform.  There should not be a standard for rapists in the civilian world and a different one for them in the military world.  The notion that a convicted rapist was set free under 'military justice' is repugnant and undemocratic.

This is an issue that a Secretary of Defense can lead on and reform or can block any changes to.  The next Defense Secretary will have tremendous power over this outcome.  It's a shame the press was so uninterested in the exchange.

There are many other exchanges from the hearing I'd like to note if we have time tomorrow and/or Friday.

Turning to Iraq, AFP reports that the Kurdistan Regional Government is stating that, from June 10th through February 3rd, that close to 1,000 Peshmerga were killed in battle with the Islamic State and another 4,569 were left injured.  The loss of any life is tragic but what makes this news even more important is that this is the body that is seen as having its act together in Iraq.

Yes, there are reports of abuses by the Peshmerga and that's nothing new to this year or last.  But in terms of fighting and winning battles, it's the Peshmerga that's accomplished things.

In today's hearing, nominee Ashton Carter offered his take on the failure of the Iraqi military controlled by Baghdad:

Ranking Member Jack Reed: One of the issues  -- particular with respect to Iraq --  is that not only  improvement as you suggest in your comments, the longterm defeat, uh, of ISIL rests not just on military operations but on political arrangements.  And what we've witnessed in Iraq particularly was a political arrangement that consciously and deliberately degraded the Sunni population.  At least, that's there perception.  And it gave rise.  So would you acknowledge that part of a strategy has to be constituting an Iraqi government that is perceived by its own people as being a bit fairer and inclusive?

Ashton Carter: Absolutely.  That's what the previous government of Iraq did not do and that was instrumental in their military collapse.

Nouri al-Maliki, former prime minister and forever thug, has offered one lunatic conspiracy theory after another for why the Iraqi military deserted when the Islamic State attempted to seize Mosul (and did seize Mosul -- which they continue to hold).  But most observers and commentators take the position that Carter expressed -- Nouri's own divisive actions led to the military being weakened (including his firing generals and replacing them with flunkies loyal to him because he was always convinced the military was going to overthrow him so he didn't want them to be too powerful).

The Iraqi military has been 'beefed up' in the eyes of some -- due to bringing in Shi'ite militias -- armed thugs.  The Badr Brigade is but one example. And of course it means that it was all a lie.  Nouri used the Accountability and Justice Commission to toss out political rivals, to keep them from running in elections.  And insisted that this or that rival (usually Sunni, but not always) was connected to a militia and you couldn't run for office if your organization continued to operate a militia.

Nouri began bringing them in a few years back.  They remain under new prime minister Haider al-Abadi.

Last week, Ahmed Rasheed, Stephen Kalin and Robin Pomeroy (Reuters) reported, "Sunni politicians and tribal chiefs from Iraq's eastern Diyala province accused Shi'ite militias on Monday of killing more than 70 unarmed civilians who had fled clashes with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militants."  And then Ahmed Rasheed, Ned Parker and Stephen Kalin (Reuters) reported on the testimony of the survivors.  The testimony makes clear militias were involved.

The US government needs to insist this stops.

Unless, of course, the point is to keep Iraq unstable.  If that's the real point, then by all means continue to look the other way.

Zaid Sabah and Jack Fairweather (Bloomberg News) report on the Shi'ite militias:

“There is gross and widespread sectarian cleansing,” said one of Iraq’s vice presidents, Ayad Allawi, by e-mail while traveling in Amman, referring to the areas controlled by Shiite militias that the government has turned to for its defense from Islamic State. Allawi said he had been approached by victims and taken their concerns to the government.
The risk is growing that Iraq -- the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ second-biggest producer -- will fragment along sectarian lines, undermining the authority of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and reigniting the country’s recent civil war, according to Wathiq al-Hashimi, a political analyst in Baghdad.

“The government turned to militias to defend Baghdad, but now they’ve lost control of them,” said Hashimi. “The use of ethnic cleansing by militias is destroying what belief Sunnis had in piecing the country back together.”

As this takes place, the Iraqi government makes an 'interesting' move with regards to militias and the UAE.  Fahd al-Zayabi (Asharq Al-Aswat) reports:

 Iraq has asked the Emirati government to remove an influential Shi’ite political party and its militia from its list of terrorist organizations.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday, Iraq’s minister for human rights, Mohammed Mahdi Al-Bayati, said that the Iraqi government had asked Abu Dhabi to reconsider its decision to blacklist the Badr Organization led by Iraq’s former transport minister Hadi Al-Ameri.

We've warned before about Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati and the laughable Ministry of Human Rights.  But for those who still don't get it, let's note this from last December, Roula Khalaf (Financial Times of London) reporting on her face-to-face with al-Bayati, "The discussion takes an even more worrying turn, however, when we talk about why his country is facing this predicament. He absolves the former government of abuses against Iraq's Sunni minority, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the factors that allowed Isis to thrive, and also dismisses the number of human rights violations committed by Shia militias as 'tiny'."