Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, March 9, 2016.  Chaos and violence continue, the training of Iraqi forces continues but with very unimpressive numbers, Gen Lloyd Austin breaks with the White House over the Kurds, we note the unresponsive State Dept under Hillary Clinton, and much more.

We have to start with ignorance.  Every four years this comes up from someone. It's stupidity.

This year, it comes up from Russ Belville who offers a very strong column at HUFFINGTON POST which falls apart in the final paragraph:

So, no, Rude Pundit, I will not shut the f*ck up and resign myself to voting for Hillary-> if Bernie doesn't become the nominee. I will write in Bernie Sanders so Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC can count exactly how may votes they lost by running a moderate Republican neocon warhawk for the presidency. If we reward the DNC for merely not being the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing racist misogynist Islamophobes as they bow to the agenda of the one-percent, that's what they'll continue to be.

I don't know what state Russ is in but it's very likely that Russ will end up voting for Hillary Clinton.

B-b-b-but he says he will write in Bernie's name!!!!!


Know your state rules.

In most states, if you write in a name and they are not recognized as a write-in for that election, the vote is 'interpreted.'  If you write down any Democrat -- including dead ones like FDR and JFK -- the write-in vote goes to that political party.

So if Bernie is not running in the state as a write-in candidate, the vote will be interpreted as a vote for whomever is heading the Democratic Party ticket and will be counted as a vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination.

You need to stop playing stupid.

We have gone over this every four years.

It's past time for people to learn that a write-in is actually the stupidest thing you can do if you are protesting.

Because you can write in Minnie Mouse or Lady Gaga or Cher and it can be interpreted to be a vote for someone who is on the ticket -- Cher being a very public Hillary supporter, a write-in vote for Cher could be interpreted as a vote for Hillary.

If there is a write-in candidate who will be recognized in your state, by all means vote for them if you'd like to.

But if you're just writing in a name -- Bernie Sanders (if he doesn't get the nomination) -- grasp that you could very well end up voting for Hillary (if she gets the nomination) by writing in Bernie's name.

While we're doing voter education, a common mistake eager voters can make is having one of those paper ballots that you fill in circles on and filling in all the circles -- or one circle if they're voting straight ticket (voting for the same political party in all offices) -- and then also writing in the name of Bernie (if he's on the ballot) or whomever (that is on the ballot).  Your vote will likely not be counted unless someone calls for a recount and then people go through the 'spoiled' votes or 'under votes' by hand.

There are a lot of ways we think we can make our vote 'stronger' that instead make our vote not count.  Those are just of two of them.

If the network news truly cared about voting -- and not about playing cheap with the coverage (we get the horserace coverage and not real coverage because it's very cheap to produce and put on the air) -- they would go over these things for the voter every four years.   (Especially after Florida in 2000 when the entire country was focused on the spoiled votes and the uncounted ones.)

Again, Russ Belville has written an excellent and strong column but that last paragraph is 100% wrong in most states and before people think of writing in a candidate they need to find out their state's rules on write-ins and how their vote might be interpreted because in most states it will not count as a vote for the name they write in.

Changing topics . . .

In Iraq, the Iraqi Security Forces, which include Iraqi Army and Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS) forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and various Sunni and Shia volunteer elements, with the support of U.S. and Coalition air operations and advisors and materiel donations, have effectively halted ISIL's advance . The enemy is now almost exclusively focused on defending his strongholds rather than projecting combat power. Additionally, ISIL's counter-attack capability has been reduced as a result of battlefield losses, although we see the group conducting deadly terrorist attacks against Iraqi forces in Anbar and west of Baghdad, and, worryingly, civilian targets -- including in areas far from its control, in Baghdad and parts of the Shia-populated south.

That's US CENTCOM commander Gen Lloyd Austin speaking at Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee which we covered in Tuesday's Iraq snapshot and this morning in "Magical Bernie trumps Tired Hillary."

Austin was one of three generals appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to offer testimony in the hearing.  The other two were  Gen Joseph Vogel (Special Operations Command) and Gen David Rodriguez (US Africa Command).  The Chair of the Committee is Senator John McCain, the Ranking Member is Senator Jack Reed.

The quoted section in bold above was from Austin's opening remarks.

The opening remarks are sometimes also referred to as the prepared remarks or the written testimony because witnesses are supposed to submit those to the Congressional committees in advance.  This allows members of Congress (and their staff) to pour over that prepared testimony in advance and to come up with questions to expand on issues being raised in that testimony or questions on issues that they see are not being covered in the written statements.

When Secretary of State John Kerry was a Senator, if he headed a Committee (such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), he would urge witnesses to summarize (briefly) their pages of written testimony instead of reading them word for word.

He was the exception.

(And as Secretary of State, he himself reads every word dully and in monotone, eating up time and dragging each hearing down.  Were he the Chair of a Committee he was testifying before, he would cut himself off and tell himself to summarize the statement to save time.)

In most hearings, most witnesses still read every word.  They may alter a word or two -- often due to getting lost while reading out loud from the pages before them -- but they don't usually introduce new ideas.  There's a time limit for these opening statements and non-government officials will sometimes see the warning light flashing (indicating time is almost up) and try to quickly summarize the rest of their pages.

But for the most part, people stick to the written testimony when reading word for word.

So this is from Austin's prepared remarks:

We are making progress militarily in our efforts to defeat ISIL, as demonstrated by the recent victories in Ramadi and Shaddadi . However, military success will be lasting only if corresponding political progress is achieved in both Iraq and Syria . The Government of Iraq must take the necessary steps towards greater inclusiveness. Iraq will not remain a unified state long-term without the support of the major ethno-sectarian groups.

And we are noting that because it's important and it's something the State Dept (and that includes Barack's Special Envoy Brett McGurk) repeatedly forget to address publicly.

The White House continues to supply the Baghdad-based government in Iraq with weapons, US troops and money.

And it never says, "Haider al-Abadi, you've been prime minister since 2014 and we're not seeing any progress on inclusion.  If you don't stop the persecution of the Sunnis, we're not sending use these jets" or whatever.

Under Barack, the US State Dept doesn't do diplomacy.

While Austin's point is very, very important, he made another remark that was also highly important.

Gen Lloyd Austin:  Of note, the Kurish Peshmerga remain critical to our efforts on the ground in the northern part of the country.  They are irreplaceable and we must do all that we can to support them.

Some readers will agree with him on that, some won't.

Most members of the US Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- will agree with that remark.

Does the White House?

Actually, no, it does not.

Nor does the US State Dept which tries to pretend it's being 'impartial' while toadying to the Baghdad-based government.

That makes the statement important.

You know what else makes it important?

It appears no where in his written testimony.

He wasn't two minutes into his opening remarks when he made this comment, reading from a version of his opening remarks that was pretty much word-for-word what he submitted (and what will be in the official record -- the written testimony is put into the official record).

But that passage?

His comments on the Peshmerga did not appear in the submitted remarks.


Because the remarks would not have been cleared for submission had the statement appeared in them.

The official position of the administration goes against those remarks -- as is clear in every State Dept press briefing.

Since the fall of 2014, the US military has been on the ground in Iraq acting as trainers to the Iraqi forces.  We're noting that because Austin testified on the 'progress' there.  And maybe some will see it as progress, but I don't.

According to the general, by the middle of December 2015, the US military had trained "more than 19,000 Iraqi security forces."

19,000 is not impressive for approximately 16 months.

19,000 is not impressive even for a year.

At least 3,000 of the US troops in Iraq (approximately 4,450 US troops are in Iraq, per the Pentagon -- and this number does not include US Special Forces which are in Iraq and in combat operations in Iraq) are present for training.

19,000 is not impressive.

In fact, people should be asking why the number is so low.

Is there resistance to training?

That was the case when the State Dept was put in charge of training.  As Barack's drawdown began (pulling most but not all US troops out of Iraq), the mission in Iraq was transferred from the Defense Dept to the State Dept.  With State acting as lead, the Iraqi forces did not want training.

They did not show up for training.

Officials stated publicly that the money would be wasted because they didn't want training.

That was US tax payer money.

For those who missed that reality in real time, this is from the December 1, 2011 snapshot:

"Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program?" asked US House Rep Gary Ackerman yesterday. "Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue."
That was Ackerman's important question yesterday afternoon at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing on Iraq.  US House Rep Steve Chabot is the Chair of the Subcommittee, US House Rep Gary Ackerman is the Ranking Member.  The first panel was the State Dept's Brooke Darby.  The second panel was the Inspector General for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen and SIGIR's Assistant Inspector General for Iraq Glenn D. Furbish.  Chabot had a few comments to make at the start of the hearing.  They often echoed comments made in the November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee hearing [see the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," the November 16th "Iraq snapshot" and the November 17th "Iraq snapshot" and other community reporting on the hearing included Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)" and Kat's "Who wanted what?" ]. But while Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham made their comments during rounds of questions, Chabot made his as the start of the hearing in his opening remarks. 
Chair Steve Chabot: Unfortunately, these negotiations failed due to, in my opinion, mismanagement by this White House.  Amazingly, the White House is now trying to tout the breakdown and lack of agreement as a success in as much as it has met a promise President Obama made as a candidate. This blatant politicization calls into question the White House's effort to secure an extension.  Fulfilling a campaign promise at the expense of American national security  is at best strategic neglect and at worse downright irresponsible.  And the White House tacitly admits this in negotiating an extension in the first place. I fear, however, that our objective is no longer to ensure that Iraq is stable but merely to withdraw our forces by the end of this year in order to meet a political time line. Saying that Iraq is secure, stable and self-reliant -- as Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough  recently did -- does not make it so.  And to borrow a quote from then-Senator Hillary Clinton , It requires "the willing suspension of disbelief" to believe that withdrawing our forces from Iraq at a time when Iranian agents seek to harm at every turn our country and its allies advances our strategic interests.  Although I understand that Iraq is a sovereign country, I believe there is much more we could have done to secure a reasonable troop presence beyond the end of this year.
McCain was wrongly criticized for not grasping Iraq was a sovereign nation in some press accounts. Wrongly.  McCain grasped that fact and acknowledged it repeatedly in the hearing.  Chabot may have wanted all of that at the start of the hearing to ensure that he was not misunderstood.  In addition, Chabot noted the "reports of obstruction and noncooperation on the part of the Department of State during SIGIR's audit.  This is extremely distressing and, to echo the sentiments of several of my colleagues in the other body which they recently expressed in a letter to Secretary of State Clinton, the Department of State is legally obliged to cooperate fully with SIGIR in the execution of its mission; jurisdictional games are unacceptable." In his opening remarks, the Ranking Member weighed in on that topic as well.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman:  He [Bowen] has testified before other bodies of Congress, he has released written quarterly reports, as well as specific audits and the message is the same: The program for which the Department of State officially took responsibility on October 1st is nearly a text book case of government procurement -- in this case, foreign assistance -- doesn't buy what we think we're paying for, what we want and why more money will only make the problem worse.  Failed procurement is not a problem unique to the State Department.  And when it comes to frittering away millions, Foggy Bottom is a rank amateur compared to the Department of Defense. As our colleagues on the Armed Services committees have learned, the best of projects with the most desirable of purposes can go horribly, horribly off-track; and the hardest thing it seems that any bureaucracy can do is pull the plug on a failed initiative.  How do we know the Police Development Program is going off-track?  Very simple things demonstrate a strong likelihood of waste and mismanagement.  Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program? Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue.

Ackerman went on to note how "the program's objectives remain a mushy bowl of vague platitudes" and how  it had "no comprehensive and detailed plan for execution, there is no current assessment of Iraqi police force capability and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no outcome-based metrics.  This is a flashing-red warning light."

And I would argue that what's going on currently is another flashing-red warning light.

19,000 is not an impressive number -- not for the time spent, not for the money spent.

No clear cut plan has been presented to the Congress or, more importantly, to the American people.

When you are spending the people's money, you need to be clear about the goals and the measures.

Dropping back to that December 1, 2011 snapshot:

Brooke Darby was sent before the Committee to spin.  I'm not going to waste much time or space on her testimony and I do feel sorry for her that she was farmed out on this assignment. "I can't answer that question," she said when asked anything that hadn't been covered in at least three other hearings or "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it."  (The last one to Gary Ackerman's question of if will take the State Dept 8 years to train the Iraqi police?)  I think she did a strong effort trying to sell the plan but I've heard it all the talking points before over and over -- and so had the Subcommittee, as was evident by their reactions -- and there's no point in including too much of it here.
She referenced her conversation recently with Adnan al-Asadi, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior.  It was apparently a good conversation and he believes trainers and training are both needed.  Chair Chalbot asked if he denied the comments?  (He is among those dismissive of training in the SIGIR reports that Ranking Member Ackerman referred to.)  Darby testified that he didn't.
[. . .]

From that first panel, we'll note this exchange.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
[long pause]

Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye."  Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.

What Ackerman asked then should be asked today.  (Ackerman, a Democrat, was first elected to the US Congress in 1983 and served to the start of 2013 after deciding not to seek re-election in the 2012 race.)

In the above, you'll see some problems for the State Dept -- at that time headed by Hillary Clinton.  Where you see "[. . .]," I've omitted parts not having to do with training.  If you read the December 1, 2011 snapshot, you'll see the Committee members clearly expressing impatience and frustration with Hillary Clinton's State Dept not being upfront and honest.

That's her record.

We documented it here.

We now know that she used a personal server during this time.  It is clearly obvious that she did so to avoid public accountability -- her e-mails couldn't be searched because they existed on a private server and not on the State Dept server.

But it wasn't just the public that Hillary showed disdain for, she showed it for Congress.

She refused to supply them with detailed budgets, she refused to supply them with information, she refused to answer their questions.

A Hillary presidency would be more of the same.

She doesn't feel she's accountable to anyone.

Which is another reason Senator Bernie Sanders' big win in Michigan Tuesday was so amazing and important.

His campaign issued the following today:

MIAMI – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders issued the following statement tonight after The Associated Press projected that he won Tuesday’s primary election in Michigan:
“I am grateful to the people of Michigan for defying the pundits and pollsters and giving us their support. This is a critically important night. We came from 30 points down in Michigan and we’re seeing the same kind of come-from-behind momentum all across America.

“Not only is Michigan the gateway to the rest of the industrial Midwest, the results there show that we are a national campaign. We already have won in the Midwest, New England and the Great Plains and as more people get to know more about who we are and what our views are we’re going to do very well.”

On the morning of that historic win, when everyone in the media was still insisting Bernie would lose Michigan, Bill Curry wrote an important column that SALON published, "Hillary’s inevitability lie: Why the media and party elites are rushing to nominate the weakest candidate."

The election’s best news thus far is the evidence it offers that a campaign funded by small donors that stays true to its principles can beat big money. But we don’t know how much dark and super PAC money Clinton commands, or its impact on the race. Here’s hoping the next time she says Wall Street is spending money to defeat her, Bernie points out that it probably spends as much to elect her and that the whole reason he’s running is to make it harder for Wall Street to cover its bets.
Clinton began the race for the nomination 40 points up. Yet all these advantages — money, superdelegates, calendar, shutting down debates and withholding election results — couldn’t save her. She needed yet more help and got it from liberal lobbies that are all that remains of the great grass-roots movements that once drove all our social progress. Most are led not by grass-roots leaders but by technicians who seek money, access and career advancement and rely on the same consultants advising Clinton, Obama and a long list of corporate clients.

It's a great column and demonstrated Bill saw what many were missing.  (Disclosure, I know Bill Curry.  And am so impressed that he wrote what he wrote -- I know him from the Clinton years and would not have expected him to publicly go against Hillary's campaign.  Good for Bill.)

The US Defense Dept announced strikes on Iraq today.

We'll note that in just a second.  But first, we're not Judith Miller or THE NEW YORK TIMES.  Just because the US government announces something doesn't mean it's true.  They've been shooting off their mouth in the last 24 hours.  It's probably lies -- but THE TIMES ran with it.

I say probably lies because it's actually a response to Tuesday's hearing and comments a senator made.

Hopefully, we'll have time to cover that this week.

In the meantime, we'll close with the US Defense Dept's announcement on strikes:

Strikes in Iraq
Attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 11 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government:
-- Near Kisik, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.
-- Near Mosul, four strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL fighting position, two ISIL vehicles and an ISIL assembly area.
-- Near Ramadi, three strikes struck a large ISIL tactical unit and destroyed six ISIL fighting positions, five ISIL vehicles, and an ISIL vehicle-borne bomb.

-- Near Sinjar, a strike destroyed five ISIL fighting positions and two ISIL mortar positions.
-- Near Sultan Abdallah, two strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL mortar position and an ISIL assembly area and suppressing an ISIL fighting position.

Task force officials define a strike as one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative, effect. Therefore, officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against buildings, vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making those targets harder or impossible for ISIL to use. Accordingly, officials said, they do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.