Free Markets, Free People

Iraq

What, if anything, do we do about ISIS/ISIL?

In 1917, the United States found a casus belli to enter World War I in the Zimmerman Telegram. Prior to this, President Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of the war.”. A year later we were belligerent in that war.

What we know now is that the European nations had bled each other white since August, 1914. There were already discussions in all the belligerent capitals about a negotiated end to the war that would have ended the war with the status quo ante intact.. America’s entry changed all that, and eventually forced the surrender of Germany. That victory led directly to an unwisely humiliating peace imposed on Germany, which caused the resentments that led directly to the rise of nationalist radicalism. Which nationalism led, in turn, to the Nazis gaining control of the country. Nazi government in Germany led directly to WWII, a war the Nazis planned beginning in 1933. Whatever suffering WWI caused, WWII was substantially worse. An argument can be made that American intervention is the ultimate cause of WWII in Europe.

Similarly, in 1991, America led a coalition to intervene in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Since then, American forces have been a more or less constant presence in the region of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  By Osama bin Laden’s account, the presence of infidel Christians in Muslim lands was the reason for his dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United States, and the genesis of his animus against the United States. That animus led to 9/11, from which followed the last 13 years of…unpleasantness. One could, if one wished, make a parallel between American intervention in WWI and in the Gulf War.

Intervention has ripples, like pebbles tossed into a still pond, that reverberate long after the event. It can be argued that ISIS/ISIL is the latest ripple in the US’ Gulf War intervention.

So, nasty video images aside, what is it about ISIS that requires a US intervention in the Mideast again? Saddam Hussein ran a particularly nasty terror state, with rape rooms where suspect’s wives and daughters were brutally gang-raped in front of them as they were forced to watch. Dissidents were routinely dissolved alive in acid. Mothers were forced to watch as their children were shot, and their infants had their heads dashed against cement walls. Uday Hussein famously fed people who displeased him feet first into wood chippers. There is no way in which Saddam Hussein’s government was, in any way, objectively more humane or less brutal than ISIS.

ISIS seems to actively want a US intervention in the region, based on their publicly released media and statements. If they desire this, why should we be so keen to do what they wish, without at least seriously examining why they wish us to do it? In fact, I have several questions about a possible intervention against ISIS.

1. In what way is ISIS a greater threat, or indeed as much of a threat, as Saddam Hussein was from 1991 to 2003?

2. Why are both Republicans and Democrats willing to cede the President the authority to intervene in the Mideast again, without explicit Congressional approval?

3. What do we accomplish by intervening in Iraq, and not in Saudi Arabia, from whence ISIS receives funding? Indeed, what do we accomplish at all without cutting of Saudi money to fundamentalists? How do we cut that money off?

4. How likely is it that intervention against ISIS in Iraq will require intervention in Syria to defeat ISIS?

5. How likely is it to defeat ISIS without a substantial ground presence of American combat troops?

6. If ISIS is such a threat, why isn’t Israel doing anything about them?

7. How much of ISIS’ existence is part of a proxy war between Sunni states against Iran, especially as the end result of US intervention was increased Iranian influence in largely Shi’a Iraq?

8. What is the desired end state of US intervention against ISIS? Mustn’t it not simply be ISIS’ defeat, but also foreclose the rise of future ISI-like groups, lest we gain nothing but a little time?

9. Does “fighting them over there” actually make us safer from ISIS over here, or does it simply exacerbate Arab resentment, increasing the chance of terror attacks against the US?

10. How much blood and treasure are we willing to spend, and for what length of time, are we willing to commit to this intervention?

11. Would spending that blood and treasure in increasing border and port security have a greater effect on ensuring our security than military intervention?

12. Has the region become more or less stable since America began intervening in the Mideast in 1991?

13. Has the threat from the region increased or decreased since 1991?

14. Is the current situation the result of the current president’s inaction, or rather, the result of entirely too much action over the past few decades?

Frankly, the result of American intervention in the Mideast seems to have accomplished little. Yes, Kuwait was liberated, and Saddam Hussein hung but at what cost? So far, it’s been 23 years of more or less constant presence in the Mideast, during which the region has become less stable, not more. It seems that the answer to dealing with the results of our intervention in the Mideast has become more intervention.

It’s all beginning to remind me of the War on Drugs. “If only we increase prison sentences, we’ll reduce drug use.” “If only we seize assets, we’ll cripple the drug lords.” “If only we make it hard to deposit more than $10,000 in cash, we’ll shut down money laundering.” Meanwhile, we’re going through more cocaine than Hunter Thompson in Vegas, cops are using SWAT teams to serve no-knock warrants, and people’s legal cash is being seized.

Sure, I’d love to stomp ISIS flat, with a big ol’ American boot on their neck, as they gasp their last breath, while watching us kill their pet goat. I’m not really sure that’s the best answer, anymore, though.


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Is it finally Obama’s turn “under the bus?”

As the crisis at our southern border continues to stagger on, a recent IBD/TIPP poll found that a majority of Americans hold President Obama and his administration responsible for the problem:

The public largely blames President Obama for the flood of children who have poured over the border in recent weeks, creating a growing humanitarian crisis, according to the latest IBD/TIPP Poll released Monday.

[…]

The poll found that 59% of those closely following the immigration crisis agree that “current administration policies and lack of focus on securing the border” are behind the human tide of illegal crossings. Six in 10 say that the children should be ordered to leave the country. (The survey found that 73% of Americans are following this story closely.)

The responsibility for the border crisis is one Obama can’t duck or deny – it is a crisis of his own making.  His refusal to enforce the laws of the land and his permissive policies and rhetoric all but invited this to happen.  Now that it has, he’s “frustrated” with Congress – his personal candidate for being tossed under the blame bus, and is asking for 2 billion in emergency funds to address the crisis he created.  As you can see, most Americans aren’t buying the White House spin.

He doesn’t get a pass on Iraq either.  Per the poll, 56% believe his decision to withdraw troops in 2011 had a direct bearing on the crisis there today.

What’s more, 55% say that Obama wasn’t being honest when he claimed that Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was entirely responsible for the decision to bring the troops home.

Meanwhile, 55% say that the administration’s failure to contain the Syria conflict contributed to the rise of the militant forces in Iraq. Just 27% give Obama high marks for his handling of the Iraq situation.

Finally, the IRS scandal is considered anything but a “phony scandal” by the public:

The IBD/TIPP poll found that 65% believe that the lost IRS emails are an attempt by the administration to “hide evidence that the IRS deliberately targeted conservative groups” prior to the 2012 presidential election.

The lost emails are the latest twist in a more than year-long saga that erupted when an inspector general report detailed how the IRS held up Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status before the 2012 elections.

[…]

Obama dismissed the IRS scandal earlier this year, saying there was not “even a smidgen of corruption.” Congressional Democrats argue that the IRS wasn’t singling out right-wing groups.

Those defenses aren’t flying with most Americans who’ve been tracking this story. Among independents, 66% think the lost emails were an attempt to cover up wrongdoing. Even 36% of Democrats say it was a cover-up.

These are three very hot topics that Americans are following  closely and a majority doesn’t believe the administration’s side of the story.  As Mr. Obama’s favorite preacher would say, it appears as if the Obama chickens “are coming home to roost”.

~McQ

Trying to rewrite history … again

Even the Washington Post has a problem swallowing the latest Obama attempt at rewriting history (with the usual motive of passing off the blame to someone or something else).  As usual, Obama is trying to have it both ways while waving away his culpability in the problems and deaths now taking place in Iraq:

President Obama surprised a few people during a news conference Thursday by claiming that the 2011 decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq, a politically popular move on the eve of an election year, was made entirely by his Iraqi counterpart. The implication ran counter to a number of claims that Obama has made in the past, most notably during a tight campaign season two years ago, when he suggested that it was his decision to leave Iraq and end an unpopular war.

His remarks, coming as an Islamist insurgency seizes territory across northern Iraq and threatens the central government, recalled key moments in his reelection race when he called his opponent hopelessly out of step with Middle East realities for wanting to keep U.S. forces in the still-fragile country America had invaded nearly a decade earlier.

In the 2012 campaign’s stretch, Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney met inside the performing arts center of Lynn University for the last of three presidential debates. The race remained close, and in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA-run annex in Benghazi, Libya, the Romney team saw foreign policy as an area of potential vulnerability for the incumbent. The debate focused on the issue.

For much of that election year, Obama had included a line of celebration in his standard stump speech, one that among an electorate exhausted by more than a decade of war always drew a rousing applause: “Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq,” Obama proclaimed in Bowling Green, Ohio, in September 2012, and did nearly every day after until the election. “We did.”

For Obama, who four years earlier had distinguished himself from Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton through his opposition to the war in Iraq, the fact he had withdrawn all U.S. forces from the country was a problem solved and a political chip to be cashed in come November.

It was also a way to once again draw contrasts with Romney, who criticized Obama for failing to secure a so-called status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. The agreement would have granted immunity from Iraqi prosecution to all U.S. troops in country after 2011. Reaching such a deal — a political risk for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — would have allowed a contingent of several thousand U.S. troops to remain, largely to help with training and specific counter-terrorism operations.

“With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement,” Romney told Obama as the two convened on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla., that October evening. “That’s not true,” Obama interjected. “Oh, you didn’t want a status of forces agreement?” Romney asked as an argument ensued. “No,” Obama said. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”

On Thursday, Obama addressed reporters in the White House Briefing Room about Iraq’s latest crisis. “Do you wish you had left a residual force in Iraq? Any regrets about that decision in 2011?” a reporter asked. “Well, keep in mind that wasn’t a decision made by me,” Obama said. “That was a decision made by the Iraqi government.”

While the last statement is technically true, it’s because the Obama administration had engineered it to be that way.  They knew full well how all of our other Status of Forces Agreements were done and deliberately included conditions and a step that was unnecessary that all but guaranteed rejection by the Iraqi government.

Here’s a little history of the time (written in October of 2011):

Quite simply it was a matter of will: President Bush really wanted to get a deal done, whereas Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Bush spoke weekly with Mr. Maliki by video teleconference. Mr. Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations. Mr. Obama and his senior aides did not even bother to meet with Iraqi officials at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The administration didn’t even open talks on renewing the Status of Forces Agreement until this summer, a few months before U.S. troops would have to start shuttering their remaining bases to pull out by Dec. 31. The previous agreement, in 2008, took a year to negotiate.

The recent negotiations were jinxed from the start by the insistence of State Department and Pentagon lawyers that any immunity provisions be ratified by the Iraqi parliament—something that the U.S. hadn’t insisted on in 2008 and that would be almost impossible to get today. In many other countries, including throughout the Arab world, U.S. personnel operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that doesn’t require parliamentary ratification. Why not in Iraq? Mr. Obama could have chosen to override the lawyers’ excessive demands, but he didn’t.

He also undercut his own negotiating team by regularly bragging—in political speeches delivered while talks were ongoing—of his plans to “end” the “war in Iraq.” Even more damaging was his August decision to commit only 3,000 to 5,000 troops to a possible mission in Iraq post-2011. This was far below the number judged necessary by our military commanders. They had asked for nearly 20,000 personnel to carry out counterterrorist operations, support American diplomats, and provide training and support to the Iraqi security forces. That figure was whittled down by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to 10,000, which they judged to be the absolute minimum needed.

The Iraqis knew about these estimates: U.S. military commanders had communicated them directly to Iraqi leaders. Prime Minister Maliki was said (by those who had talked to him) to privately support such a troop commitment, and almost all Iraqi political leaders—representing every major faction except for the rabidly anti-American Sadrists—assented on Aug. 2 to opening negotiations on that basis.

When the White House then said it would consent to no more than 5,000 troops—a number that may not even have been able to adequately defend itself, much less carry out other missions—the Iraqis understandably figured that the U.S. wasn’t serious about a continued commitment. Iraqi political leaders may have been willing to risk a domestic backlash to support a substantial commitment of 10,000 or more troops. They were not willing to stick their necks out for such a puny force. Hence the breakdown of talks.

So the talks on SOFA broke down giving Obama a reason to “end the war” and to blame the breakdown on Iraq and Iraq’s government.  Perfect.

And now we see the result.  He has someone to blame the problem on even as the history of how and why what happened happened seems to be lost in the mist.  This was a deliberately staged and engineered outcome.  By making an unacceptable offer and requiring other than the leadership of Iraq to endorse the deal, they knew it would fail.  And that means the usual … another of our allies thrown under the bus.  Yes, Maliki isn’t any bargain.  And yes, he’s done as poor a job with Iraq as Obama has done in America.  But there are two people that should be under the bus, and we all know who the second one is.

Don’t let him rewrite this bit of history to his advantage.

~McQ

So many debacles, so little time

With the relase of the 5 Taliban leaders for a deserter, we’ve been mostly assured, by the usual suspects, that they won’t go back to war with us and anyone who thinks they will, well that’s “baloney” per John Kerry.  That there has been a “deal” made and we were “promised” that wouldn’t happen.  That’s sort of like believing gun control laws will keep guns out of the hands of criminals … it strains credulity.

And, frankly, we’re apparently pretty good at reseeding terrorist ranks as it turns out.  Take the terrorist organization ISIS which is now brutalizing Iraq:

The United States once had Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in custody at a detention facility in Iraq, but president Barack Obama let him go, it was revealed on Friday.

Al Baghdadi was among the prisoners released in 2009 from the U.S.’s now-closed Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq.

But now five years later he is leading the army of ruthless extremists bearing down on Baghdad who want to turn the country into an Islamist state by blazing a bloody trail through towns and cities, executing Iraqi soldiers, beheading police officers and gunning down innocent civilians.

Even I remember al Baghdadi’s name and the massive hunt to bring him to ground.  He was murderous scum then, and he’s murderous scum now.  How in the world  we ever let someone like that go is, well, something the Obama administration would have to explain.

Don’t bother asking … the answer is “it’s Bushes fault, you racist”.

~McQ

Cantor, cheese and other stuff

So Eric Cantor went down in flames in the Virginia Republican primary I see.  I can’t say I’m the least bit chagrined.  Cantor is the quintessential establishment Republican.  And like most of that ilk, he was more worried about what the press thought of him than doing what was right by his principles.  I notice the media spin doctors are immediately claiming that he really didn’t lose because of his stand on immigration (i.e. a hard lean toward “amnesty” for illegals although he tried to deny it).  After all if they admit that immigration reform was a reason for his defeat, then they have to admit that its dead for this year (as, given this lesson, no Republican running for reelection in the House  – that would be all of them – is going to touch it with a 10 foot pole).  The spin doctors also know that if it is dead for this year, it may be dead, at least in its present form, for good, if Republicans win the Senate.  One also assumes that Republicans are aware of the polls out there that place immigration reform as a low priority issue for voters right now (yeah, surprise, they’re much more interested in jobs and economic growth than illegal aliens).

I think another reason for Cantor’s loss is a deep dissatisfaction with Republican House leadership – such that it is.  Add his lack of popularity within his own district and an acceptable alternative candidate and you have the prefect electoral storm. Finally, Tea Party candidate Dave Brat’s win signaled, much to the annoyance of the left, that the Tea Party is hardly “dead”.  It’ll be interesting to see how the establishment Republicans react to this upset.

On another subject, yesterday we saw where the FDA had unilaterally decided that it might be necessary to ban the centuries old tradition of aging cheese on wooden shelves.  Because, you know, there’s been such an epidemic of sickness from such practices here lately and over the ages. What?  There hasn’t?  There hasn’t been any real problem at all?  However:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an executive decree banning the centuries old practice of aging cheese on wooden boards.  One bureaucrat within the FDA, without surveying all of the scientific literature, and without public commentary, has rattled hundreds of small businesses across the United States.  Consumers who eat any kind of aged cheese should prepare for a potentially catastrophic disruption in the market for artisan, non-processed cheese.

Now that was yesterday.  Today, yeah, its cave in time.  There has been such an outcry from cheese makers, the public and just about anyone else that could find a forum that the FDA is hastily backing down.  Overlawyered brings us up to date:

Following an enormous outcry from cheese makers, commentators, and the general public, the agency beats a hasty retreat. Commentator/ Pepperdine lawprof Greg McNeil has the details at Forbes (and his earlier commentary on the legalities of the agency’s action is also informative). Earlier here.

In a classic bureaucratic move, the agency denied it had actually issued a new policy (technically true, if you accept the premise that a policy letter from its chief person in charge of cheese regulation is not the same as a formally adopted new policy) and left itself the discretion to adopt such a policy in future if it wishes (merely declaring itself open to persuasion that wood shelving might prove compatible with the FSMA).

McNeal:

This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard…

Yes, true.  But … there’s always a ‘but’, Overlawyered points out something that is true and often overlooked.  You have to be willing to fight for it all, not just the popular stuff.  You have to be willing the challenge all the nonsense bureaucrats put out there:

There is a less optimistic version, however. It happens that a large number of editors, commentators, and others among the chattering classes are both personally interested in the availability of fine cheese and familiar enough with the process by which it is made to be un-cowed by claims of superior agency expertise. That might also be true of a few other issues here and there — cottage food sold at farmer’s markets, artisanal brewing practices — but it’s inevitably not going to be true of hundreds of other issues that arise under the new Food Safety Modernization Act. In a similar way, the outcry againstCPSIA, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, rose to a politically effective level only on a selected few issues (publishers and libraries got a fix so that older children’s books would not have to be trashed; youthmotorsports eventually obtained an exemption, and so forth) but large numbers of smaller children’s products and specialties whose makers had less of a political voice simply disappeared.

Absolutely true.  I think of those who want to drink raw milk for instance.  Where does the government get off saying you can’t drink something you choose to drink if you’re willing to take the risk and suffer any consequences?  Something that, until pasteurization, everyone drank?  But since those who prefer raw milk don’t have a large lobby, they’re subjected to government bullying and laws prohibiting them from making that choice.

Choice is freedom.  Limiting of choice is limiting freedom and government is in the freedom limiting business.  The premise is you’re not able to make good choices yourself, so government must keep you from doing so.  Question?  If aging cheese on wood was dangerous to our health and it had been the reason from many deaths over the centuries, how do you suppose the market for such cheeses might have been effected by now?  Right.  It certainly wouldn’t have come down to some government bureaucrat making a unilateral decision in 2014, that’s for sure.

In Iraq, Mosul has fallen to terrorists.  Nightwatch brings us up to date:

ISIL has been trying to take Mosul since earlier in June, but only lately assembled enough forces to rout the security forces and overrun the city.

ISIL now controls two major cities in the Sunni region of Iraq: Fallujah and Mosul. Its fighters tried to overrun several other cities, but failed. Its aim is to create an Islamic emirate that joins Iraq and Syria.

The group had been affiliated with al Qaida for many years, since the time of Abu Musab Zarqawi, according to the National Counter Terrorism Center. In February al Qaida disavowed all links with ISIL because its actions were more extreme than al Qaida and it would not follow orders to stop fighting the al Nusrah Front in Syria, which al-Qaida supports.

On Sunday in Syria, ISIL fighters clashed with the al-Qaida-affiliated al Nusrah Front in eastern Syria, while its Iraq wing fought to capture Mosul in Iraq. This is a formidable group. Only the Syrian Kurds stand in the way of ISIL consolidating large areas in Iraq and Syria under its control.

Mosul’s capture reinforces the judgment that Iraq has re-entered civil war. ISIL is more than an insurgency because it has an effective organization and is conquering territory. By force of arms, it has created a power-sharing arrangement with the government in Baghdad and fragmented the country. A statement by the Muslim scholars association today encouraged ISIL to hold Mosul and to set up an administration. It urged the youth of the city to defend it against the Baghdad government.

ISIL’s control in Syria seems tenuous and contested by other opposition groups. In Iraq, it is the dominant anti-government force and it has broken Iraq, for now.

My position?  If Iraqi’s want a free Iraq, they’d better fight for it.  They’ve been given the time, the equipment and the training.  Now, it’s up to them.

Finally, yesterday I literally had to laugh out loud when I read something Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, had written on his Facebook page.  It simply demonstrates how effing silly – and dangerous to your freedoms – these people are:

President Obama announced steps yesterday he said will make student loans more affordable. It’s probably all he can manage with a grid-locked Congress, but it’s still tinkering with a system of college financing that’s spinning out of control. What’s really needed is to make college free of charge and require all graduates to pay 10 percent of their earnings for the first 10 years of full-time work into a fund that pays the costs (additional years of graduate school means added years of payments). That way, nobody graduates with debts; young people from lower-income families can afford to attend; graduates who go into high-wage occupations in effect subsidize those who go into lower-wage work; and we move toward a system of genuinely equal opportunity. What do you think?

Right … free college for all.  Graduate with no debt!

Question: How in the world does this dolt think that making all graduates pay “10 percent of their earnings for the first 10 years” to fund “free college” doesn’t equal being in debt?  Oh, and who would keep track of all this?  Why the IRS of course – another in a long line of ideas to further centralize control of all aspects of your life at the federal level and add to the federal bureaucracy’s reach and power.

Then add the scam value of this.  Ride the gravy train for 3 or 4 years of free college and then walk away as a non-graduate.  Nothing to pay, right?  I mean the stipulation is that “graduates” pay, so why not hang out in a college dorm, eat in the chow hall, do your own thing while also doing barely enough to stay in school.  That way you can let these other dopes subsidize those years for you.  Then, move, apply to a new school and repeat.  Trust me, there are enough “professional students” in this world that I can promise that would be done.

Oh … and read the comments to the Reich post.  They’ll make you weep.

~McQ

Folding the flag in Iraq

The 9 year long war in Iraq is officially over.  Frankly, I’m fine with that.  I think the one lesson we need to have learned from both Iraq and Afghanistan is the meaning of punitive raid or punitive action.  If a country attacks us or otherwise deserves to see the “blunt instrument” of national policy used, we need to go in and do what is necessary, then leave.

For whatever reason, we’ve chosen nation building as an end state instead.  And while I certainly understand the theory (and the examples where it has worked … such as Japan, West Germany, etc.), it shouldn’t be something we do on a routine basis. 

There were certainly valid reasons to do what we did in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  And while I supported both actions, the decision to try to build a democracy in both countries has been expensive in both blood and treasure and I’d deem it somewhat successful in Iraq (we’ll see if they can keep it) and at best marginally successful in Afghanistan (where I fully expect the effort to collapse when we withdraw).

So I’m fine with folding the flag and leaving Iraq.  And before the Obamabots try to claim it was their man who finally made it happen, Google it.  This is the Bush plan, negotiated before he left office and simply executed by this administration.   That said, Obama will shamelessly try to take credit for it while also trying to erase the memory of voting not to fund the war while troops were engaged in combat.

It is going to be interesting to see how Iraq turns out.  It is an extraordinarily volatile country sitting right next to two countries waging religious war against each other by proxy.  Saudi Arabia and Iran are deadly enemies and with the end of the US presence there, I think Iraq will end up being their battleground.

Within a few months I think there will be concerted campaigns of violence aimed at toppling the current government and installing some flavor of Islamist regime there.  I hope I’m wrong.

But again, bottom line – I’m happy to see this chapter draw to a close and that we’re getting our troops out of Iraq.  It’s time.  And to them all, a huge “well done” and “welcome home”.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Mercenaries? Serving the Obama Administration?

Hey, weren’t “Blackwater” and “mercenary” a bad words during the Bush administration?  Didn’t the left spend an inordinate amount of time demonizing private contract security in Iraq?   Weren’t we told that wouldn’t be something we’d see in an Obama administration?

Er, not so fast:

By January 2012, the State Department will do something it’s never done before: command a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade. That’s the plan to provide security for its diplomats in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. And no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret.

Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), is essentially in the dark about one of the most complex and dangerous endeavors the State Department has ever undertaken, one with huge implications for the future of the United States in Iraq. “Our audit of the program is making no progress,” Bowen tells Danger Room.

For months, Bowen’s team has tried to get basic information out of the State Department about how it will command its assembled army of about 5,500 private security contractors. How many State contracting officials will oversee how many hired guns? What are the rules of engagement for the guards? What’s the system for reporting a security danger, and for directing the guards’ response?

Yeah, nothing could go wrong with this, could it?  Ackerman is asking the right questions.  Civilians and diplomats running a quasi-military organization the size of a combat infantry brigade, and trying to keep it secret to boot.

Let’s be honest here – this is a private army.   And since taxpayers are obviously paying for it, a little transparency (yeah, you remember that promise too, right?) would be nice.

But that’s not going to happen if the ambassador has his way.  Citing jurisdictional conflicts, he’s told the IG to butt out.

And for months, the State Department’s management chief, former Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, has given Bowen a clear response: That’s not your jurisdiction. You just deal with reconstruction, not security. Never mind that Bowen has audited over $1.2 billion worth of security contracts over seven years.

“Apparently, Ambassador Kennedy doesn’t want us doing the oversight that we believe is necessary and properly within our jurisdiction,” Bowen says. “That hard truth is holding up work on important programs and contracts at a critical moment in the Iraq transition.”

So here we have this secret private army of 5,500 that is way above and beyond what is necessary to guard diplomats (something the State Department has been doing for years and years all over the world).  This isn’t just about diplomatic security – not with those numbers:

They have no experience running a private army,” says Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who just returned from a weeks-long trip to Iraq. “I don’t think the State Department even has a good sense of what it’s taking on. The U.S. military is concerned about it as well.”

I would be too if I were the military.   This is dangerous stuff and if they do stupid things, it could get other Americans, specifically those in the military, killed.

Of course, with this crew, you also have to ask, “how much am I getting taxed to pay for this debacle looking for an opportunity to happen?”

So far, the Department has awarded three security contracts for Iraq worth nearly $2.9 billion over five years. Bowen can’t even say for sure how much the department actually intends to spend on mercs in total. State won’t let it see those totals.

About as much information as the department has disclosed about its incipient private army comes from a little-noticed Senate hearing in February. There, the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq said that they’d station the hired guard force at Basra, Irbil, Mosul and Kirkuk, with the majority — over 3,000 — protecting the mega-embassy in Baghdad. They’ll ferry diplomats around in armored convoys and a State-run helicopter fleet, the first in the department’s history.

And here I thought we were leaving Iraq.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Lunch with SecDef Rumsfeld

I have to admit that when I received an invitation  to have lunch with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld while I was in town for CPAC,  I wasn’t sure what to expect.   As with most public figures I’d seen him from afar through both the lens and filter of the national media.  About 10 of us were invited in to meet and eat lunch with Sec. Rumsfeld and talk about his new book. 

It included a group of pretty heavy hitters in the conservative sphere, including Conn Carroll of the Heritage Foundation, John Noonan and Mary Katherine Ham of the Weekly Standard, Matt Lewis late of AOL and now with the Daily Caller, Ed Morrissey of Hot Air, John Hinderaker Rumsfeld2 of Powerline, Philip Klein of the American Spectator … and me (and yes, I was asking myself wtf am I doing here? The answer is a friend who managed to get me a seat at the table as a favor).

Sec. Rumsfeld arrived and immediately welcomed us and thanked us for joining him.  He was gracious, engaging, humorous and both forthright and informative.  The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial.   It was an hour or so that seemed to fly by.  Frankly I could have stayed there all day talking to the man – it was that enjoyable of a meeting.  And hearing the history of events I had observed and written about first hand from one of the decision makers was, well, an incredible opportunity.

He was hit with all the questions one could imagine in that short time, but perhaps the one that I most appreciated was related to his offering to resign twice and President Bush refusing to accept either (as we all know, he did, in fact, tender his resignation a third time and it was accepted). 

One of the resignations was offered after Abu Ghraib.  You could tell, even now, that Sec. Rumsfeld was still  both mad and upset about what had happened there, calling it “perverted”.  It had a very negative impact on the image of the military, even if the perception was wrong and he was bothered by that.

He said that after the investigation he looked for someone he could hang it on because he felt someone had to take responsibility for what happened.  But looking at the facts in the case there wasn’t really a single person in the chain of command he could validly point too and say “because of him or her, this happened”. He felt it left him no choice but to take responsibility himself.  He was in charge, it happened on his watch, the damage was extensive and he thought he should fall on the sword and resign his position.  President Bush refused to accept his resignation.

His point was about accountability, something he believes in strongly, but – as many of us have observed – no one seems to take very seriously anymore, especially in DC.  He felt then and still does that he should have been the one to be held accountable for the Abu Ghraib fiasco.  I thought that was pretty telling about the man and his sense of duty and honor. 

Rumsfeld1Ed Morrissey has  a lot more at Hot Air (Ed actually wrote his blog post as we sat there with Rumsfeld – Morrissey is a blogging machine) so be sure to give it a read.

After the meeting began breaking up (and I got my copy of his book signed), he spontaneously offered to take us around the office and show us the memorabilia he’d collected over the years.  It was an incredibly impressive tour (picture on the right of yours truly and Ed Morrissey hearing Rumsfeld tell us about each item).  This is a guy who has served numerous presidents in various capacities (to include two stints as SecDef) for decades.  Additionally, he served as a Navy pilot before getting into public life.

Anyway, one of the pieces of memorabilia that really struck a chord with me was a mangled piece of metal.  It was from the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11.  Rumsfeld had picked that up that day as he toured the damage, had it mounted and hung it on the wall in his office at the Pentagon so he could see it every day and be reminded of the job they had to do (you can see it below on the left– sorry for the Rumsfeld3photo quality, but you get the idea).

And while the meeting had a purpose, to publicize his new book, “Known and Unknown”, it was an event I’ll certainly not forget anytime soon.  Later that day, Sec. Rumsfeld received the “Defender of the Constitution” award at CPAC.  I think he’s very deserving of the award. 

While there were some things I disagreed with him about during his tenure – and I’m certainly not here to pretend there weren’t problems during that time -I have to say my perception of the man changed significantly with this meeting.  While I’ve had the book for a couple of days I’ve not had the opportunity to read it in full – only selected parts I was interested in for this meeting.   And to all you folks who contributed questions, I apologize, I was only able to ask one and it concerned the “you go to war with the Army you have” comment and the fall out.  When I brought it up, he laughed, pointed at me and said, “you’d better not say that in public, you might get in trouble”.

I’m looking forward to reading the book … I feel in know the era and events pretty intimately from the time I spent studying and writing about them.  It’s going to be very interesting to read his version (with almost 100 pages of source notes) that was 4 years in the writing.  I’ll be sure to post a review here when I finish.

~McQ

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The Iraq speech (update)

Let’s just say I was “underwhelmed”.  As a friend ask in an email, “where did the great speech maker go?”  I can only contend that this speech was like a task you know you have to do, but really don’t want to do.  And the results are usually along the lines of what you saw or heard last night.

The big questions were would he acknowledge success, victory or George Bush?

While he didn’t come right out and acknowledge success with that word, his “turn the page” comment implied success.  Victory?  No way, no how does that enter into the speech.  And his acknowledgement of George Bush explains why:

As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq’s future.

How does one who so adamantly opposed a war he ended up in charge of characterize it as anything but a mistake that somehow, in general, turned out well?  After all he was a “patriot who opposed it”.  And please, let’s turn the page.

No acknowledgment of the fact that the surge worked when all – to include our “patriot who opposed it” said it wouldn’t.  And even though he and his staff are now trying to rewrite history, it’s clear he was against the surge and claimed it wouldn’t work.

“I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” – Senator Barrak Obama in response to the PSOTUS. (January 10, 2007 on MSNBC)

Of course, they had precisely the opposite effect.  Why this is so difficult to acknowledge even when there’s video of him saying it remains a mystery.

And, of course, even with the acknowledgment of Bush, Obama couldn’t resist a shot as well:

Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.

That “trillion dollars” for war is not what has put us in the financial shape we’re in today.  And anyone following the news knows that. That canard has been laid to rest.  However, if you read the paragraph carefully, you find the usual lefty talking points firmly embedded in the substance of the message.  Government is the answer and is the entity which should be making “tough decisions” about everything “from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform”. Of course not acknowledged in the paragraph is its previous decisions about those areas has given us what we have today.  A pure mess.

Even in a speech about ending the combat mission in Iraq, Obama seems unable to avoid politicizing it.  And, as usual, the blame Bush card – not as blatant as usual – is played.

Acknowledging the role of the military and the sacrifice of the troops, as well as the herculean job they did in filling roles outside their job description, was a good and appreciated part of the speech by all, I’m sure.

The rest – eh.  The usual boilerplate, wordy finger-pointing delivered in an uninspired and flat speech.  You can always tell when someone doesn’t have their heart in something.  My guess is he’s not over his vacation-lag yet. 

Perhaps – after that arduous night’s work, it’s time for another one.

UPDATE: And finally, Joe Biden is heard from on the subject:

Vice President Biden said the day after President Obama’s Oval Office address that the debate over who deserves credit for removing troops from Iraq isn’t “worth arguing about.”

And why is that Mr. Biden? Oh, yeah:

“At the end of the last administration, the transition was in place.”

Yes it was – which is another explanation for the lackluster speech marking the end of the combat mission in Iraq.

~McQ

 

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“I” isn’t just a letter in “Iraq”

Ed Morrissey reminds us that if we’re waiting on the present POTUS to show a little class and at least acknowledge the success in Iraq was due to his predecessor’s strategy and persistence, we shouldn’t hold our breath.  Obama’s weekly address is an indicator of why that’s the case:

On Tuesday, after more than seven years, the United States of America will end its combat mission in Iraq and take an important step forward in responsibly ending the Iraq war.

As a candidate for this office, I pledged I would end this war. As president, that is what I am doing. We have brought home more than 90,000 troops since I took office. We have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. In many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

In the months ahead, our troops will continue to support and train Iraqi forces, partner with Iraqis in counterterrorism missions, and protect our civilian and military efforts. But the bottom line is this: the war is ending. Like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course. And by the end of next year, all of our troops will be home.

Of course he didn’t “end this war”, success has ended it and “we” (meaning “he”) hasn’t brought 90,000 troops home, a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated by the Bush administration and signed, sealed and delivered before he ever was elected is the reason they’re home.

4 “I”’s, no mention of success, no mention of Bush, and strangely, no mention of inheriting something that seems to be winding up well.

Iraq has been on SOFA auto-drive since the treaty was agreed too by both sides.  It has nothing to do with Obama or his “promise”.  And I’ll make you a bet right now that he’s wrong about all of our troops being home by “the end of next year”.

As Morrissey notes about that promise:

It’s certainly possible, although very unwise. The Iraqis still don’t have much of an air force or navy, and it will take years to build both. They face pressures from Iran and Syria, and while their army can maintain internal security now, they won’t be any match for Iran or Syria alone, let alone together, if the two countries decide to subjugate Baghdad. I’d put that promise in the easier-said-than-done category, where the promise to close Gitmo wound up. If we’re not involved in combat operations, the political pressure to withdraw those forces drops to about the same level of class shown by Barack Obama in this address.

I’d say that’s about right.

~McQ

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