.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: the lone woman

Linda Greenhouse has an excellent article posted just now on Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court. It's called Oral Dissents Give Justice a New Voice.

Professor Liu said that when he read the dissent on Tuesday, it occurred to him that in recounting the workplace travails of the plaintiff, Lilly M. Ledbetter, Justice Ginsburg was also telling a version of her own story. “Here she is, the one woman of a nine-member body, describing the get-along imperative and the desire not to make waves felt by the one woman among 16 men,” Professor Liu said. “It’s as if after 15 years on the court, she’s finally voicing some complaints of her own.”


The case Professor Liu is referring to, of course, is Ledbetter v Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., ably analyzed at that link by Dailykos's Adam B.

I'd like to start a discussion here of a broader point, using the influence of the Greenhouse piece and Adam's analysis...but also by hearkening back to three pieces I wrote at the time of Samuel Alito's and John Robert's nominations to the Supreme Court as well:

* the lone woman
* one simple sentence about Alito
* 12 Common Sense Reasons to Oppose Samuel Alito

Every last rank and file Democrat has a choice to make looking forward. And that choice has to be based on a realization. We need to realize that those in our party who said it did not not much matter that John Roberts and Samuel Alito were conservative, white males, members of the Federalist society, Roman Catholics, pro-business jurists, Bush back-of-the-envelope picks, were dead wrong.

Gonzales v. Carhart and Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. are brutal, inflexible and meanspirited decisions that are not simply marked by the rude stamp of "conservative" jurisprudence, they are distinctly, overwhelmingly unwise in their implications in a way that can only be called male:

The longer-term implications of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the ban are extremely ominous. The ruling opens the door for states to enact—or reenact—restrictive abortion laws without health exceptions, with an understanding that the courts likely will uphold them.

And Kennedy's paternalistic and moralistic statement of the "reality" that "respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child," coupled with his "unexceptionable" conclusion (notwithstanding "no reliable data to measure the phenomenon") that "some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained," appear to invite states to require women seeking an abortion to be provided with "informed consent" information designed to persuade them to continue the pregnancy.

It's the little details, the little inflexibilities that are telling. Per Ledbetter, women who are victims of workplace pay discrimination must somehow know enough to sue within 180 days to have standing...a provision so nonsensical as to make our law meaningless. Per the Gonzales v Carhart ruling on Hypothetical Harm, the only women who might have standing in future abortion cases will have to be pregnant at the time of the lawsuit (Read that entire National Catholic Register article for an understanding of exactly what Gonzales v Carhart has come to mean to some of its ideological supporters):

4. The court stops use of hypothetical harm to block entire abortion laws.

The Supreme Court has always permitted individual abortion businesses and industry groups to challenge entire abortion regulations “on their face” on behalf of their patients.[...] Outside the abortion context, preliminary injunctions against laws are usually granted only when challengers establish that “no set of circumstances exists under which the [law] would be valid” — a very high hurdle. When it comes to abortion cases, however, such rules were thrown out in favor of those benefiting abortion doctors. Challengers have successfully blocked laws for years, merely by presenting a court with the hypothetical and sometimes far-fetched circumstances of a fictional plaintiff.

Carhart II states that where medical uncertainty exists, facial challenges should not be entertained. A facial challenge is a manner of challenging a statute in court, in which the plaintiff alleges that the statute is always, and under all circumstances, unconstitutional, and therefore void. Instead, a doctor should sue only to prevent the law’s application to actual women whose health he can prove would be compromised by the law.

eg., Doctors challenging abortion laws will only be able to do so on behalf of women who are pregnant. Think about that for one second. That decision could only be the work of five men.

It is no wonder that Greenhouse writes that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lone woman on the Court, has now chosen to abandon her previous respect for decorum and quiet diplomacy and speak up forcefully and out loud...to raise her voice. The above rulings are not simply examples of a lack of wisdom, they represent a kind of inhuman lack of respect for the way things work in the real world.

Bush and the GOP packed this court with conservative men and these conservative men are producing decisions so out of step with common sense, common decency and equal respect for women that it's time people heard about this and got angry.

Dry powder Democrats need to hear us on this. Gang of 14 Democrats need to hear us on this. Last-minute, ineffective, "know-we-are-gonna lose" Democrats need to hear us on this. NARAL and Planned Parenthood need to hear us on this. The leaders of the progressive and netroots movements need to hear us on this.

The guys Bush put on the Supreme Court are exactly as bad as everyone said they were going to be in exactly the creepy, sneaky, down and dirty ways many of us suspected all along. They don't even listen to Ginsburg.

Greenhouse spells it out:

Some might say her dissents are an expression of sour grapes over being in the minority more often than not. But there may be strategic judgment, as well as frustration, behind Justice Ginsburg’s new style. She may have concluded that quiet collegiality has proved futile and that her new colleagues, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., are not open to persuasion on the issues that matter most to her.

Linda Greenhouse knows her material. These guys have frozen Ginsburg out.

I have one simple question for the netroots, one simple question for Democrats, one simple question for anyone who cares about whether this country ends up runs by guys like John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and that question is this:

Are you going to let Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lone woman on the United States Supreme Court stand alone?

Or are you going to, in your anger, in your informed opposition, in your careful research and able persuasion, in your bedrock commitment to wisdom, common sense, equal rights and justice add your voice to hers and spread the word to our fellow Americans, men and women alike, that this Supreme Court must change with our next President?

It is not so much that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the lone woman on the Supreme Court, as much as the fact that the Roberts Court has proved itself to be so willfully and appallingly and predictably conservative and male.

A Republican Congress and a Republican President created this mess, but many in our current Democratic Congress told those of us who were right all along about Roberts and Alito to bide our time.

No more. No more. Nope. We must be absolutely clear. We're standing with Ruth Bader Ginsburg tonight and every night till we see our project through.

Justice Ginsburg may be the lone woman, but she must not stand alone.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pre-war National Intelligence Council documents available online

Washington Post writers Walter Pincus and Karen De Young detailed last Saturday that new pre-war documents released by a Senate Intelligence Panel show that the consensus view of US intelligence agencies was that a US invasion of Iraq would "be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan" and "'result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups" in the Muslim world."

From the Post:

In addition to portraying a terrorist nexus between Iraq and al-Qaeda that did not exist, the Democrats said, the Bush administration "also kept from the American people . . . the sobering intelligence assessments it received at the time" -- that an Iraq war could allow al-Qaeda "to establish the presence in Iraq and opportunity to strike at Americans it did not have prior to the invasion."

Most of the information in the report was drawn from two lengthy assessments issued by the National Intelligence Council in January 2003, titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq," both of which the Senate report reprints with only minor redactions. The assessments were requested by Richard N. Haass, then director of policy planning at the State Department, and were written by Paul R. Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Near East, as a synthesis of views across the 16-agency intelligence community.

Those two documents, Principal Challenges in Post Saddam Iraq and Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq, are now available online in their public, yet redacted, and in places, poorly photocopied, versions posted within a PDF published by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at their website. For a direct link to download the pdf, click here.

{Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq (Appendix A) starts on page 17 of the pdf. Principal Challenges in Post Saddam Iraq (Appendix B) begins on page 55 of the pdf.}

These pdfs contain salient information not mentioned so far in the press coverage. For example, from the "Principal Challenges" doc (p. 87 of the pdf/ p. 34 of the NIC document) comes this passage detailing the extensive discussion of the role and interests of international oil companies in US considerations pre-invasion:

If a successor authority in Baghdad were perceived by investors as both politically and economically stable, Iraq's massive proven oil reserves-second only to Saudi Arabia- could be a significant lure to foreign investment. This could permit Baghdad to expand its oil output rapidly- by an average of 500,000 barrels per day (b/d) per year for several consecutive years- rivaling the recent pace of expansion in Russia and making Iraq the second largest oil exporter in the world after Saudi Arabia as early as 2005.

The biggest prizes of the Iraqi oil patch are the "giant" oilfields with recoverable reserves of more than one billion barrels each. International oil companies have expressed interest in developing seven of these fields and have signed contracts for two.

Even with the attractiveness of the Iraqi oil sector, Iraq would need a stable central government and would have to refrain from unreasonable demands on foreign oil companies to realize its full potential as an oil exporter. Iraq would be capable of about 3.1 million b/d almost indefinitely with its indigenous resources and could even expand it slowly with help from oilfield service companies. Without extensive foreign investment, however, Baghdad would be unlikely to have the financial and technical resources to reach its announced goal of 6 million b/d in capacity.

And from the Regional Consequences doc (Pgs. 26/27 of the pdf and 9/10 of the NIC document) comes this passage highlighting US advance cooperation with Middle Eastern regimes and their security forces who planned to quell public opposition to the US invasion while allowing their governments to maintain a public distance from US policy so as not to appear to be "US puppets:"

A US-led war against Iraq would precipitate immediate popular anti-US demonstrations in many countries in the region driven by perceptions that the United States was waging a broader war against Muslims and that Washington was driven primarily by motives other than reducing the security threat from Saddam Husayn. Local security forces probably would be capable of containing popular uprisings and have taken measures to increase their readiness. Some governments, however, would be more vulnerable, especially if the focus of the protests shifted from the United States to the local regime or if the United States acted unilaterally without the political cover of a UN resolution authorizing the use of force.

Recent polling data from many countries in the region reveal strong opposition to a US war in Iraq, increased anti-American sentiment, and a widespread belief that the United States is anti-Muslim.

Most governments would allow some open opposition to the war as a safety valve to deflect pressure but would act to prevent attacks against US assets or interests. Many regimes also would adjust their public postures to appear attuned to the opinion of the "street" and avoid being labelled US "puppets."

In essence, this is a window into the world view behind the "best information available" to the Senate and the President at the time of the invasion of Iraq. It is a window into how our government and intelligence agencies viewed the advance cooperation of oil companies and friendly Middle Eastern regimes whose security forces "increased their readiness" in anticipation of a US war in Iraq.

The only reason the public can read these documents is that an election in 2006 changed the make up of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence which voted to release them last week as a part of their report on Pre War Intelligence. A careful study of these and other documents produced by our government in the lead up to the war in Iraq is essential grounding for the debate in Congress over the timeline of a US withdrawal, permanent US bases in Iraq and the Iraqi Hydrocarbon law.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Permanent Bases in Iraq: the silence of the Democrats

If the bipartisan push for a Hydrocarbon Law written to benefit United States oil companies is one under reported, if not taboo, story in the press and Congress regarding the United States occupation of Iraq, another taboo topic is that of permanent, or enduring, bases in Iraq.

In September, 2005 I cited this April 2003 New York Times report:

The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region, senior Bush administration officials say.

American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.

What have we learned since that time about US intentions regarding permanent bases in Iraq? This February 2006 report by Tom Engelhardt in Salon tells the essential story. It's a must-read:

For the first time, we have actual descriptions of a couple of the "super-bases" built in Iraq in the last two and a half years and, despite being written by reporters under Pentagon information restrictions, they are sobering.

Recently, Oliver Poole, a British reporter, visited another of the American "super-bases," the still-under-construction al-Asad Airbase ("Football and pizza point to US staying for long haul"). He observes, of "the biggest Marine camp in western Anbar province," that "this stretch of desert increasingly resembles a slice of U.S. suburbia." In addition to the requisite Subway and pizza outlets, there is a football field, a Hertz rent-a-car office, a swimming pool, and a movie theater showing the latest flicks. Al-Asad is so large -- such bases may cover 15 to 20 square miles -- that it has two bus routes and, if not traffic lights, at least red stop signs at all intersections.

There are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with "withdrawal" from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say -- and they always deny that we seek "permanent" bases in Iraq -- facts on the ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream "permanency."

{See also: Englehardts' 2006 the Nation piece: "Can you say 'Permanent Bases?'"}

Englehardt notes that press descriptions of these bases (see this Thomas Ricks Feb 2006 report in the Washington Post about the base constructed in Balad Iraq) simply hint at how contractors working for the US government are building "facts on the ground" in Iraq without discussing the issue of their clear permanence. In sum, the US press occasionally and obliquely reports on the bases without really reporting on the significance of the bases. This is a fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle and the mainstream press don't, won't or can't talk about. This MSNBC article features photographs of the Balad base that Ricks discusses; that swimming pool looks pretty permanent to this observer.

Numerous writers in the alternative press, however, have done research into the extent and legality of these bases in Iraq. Dr. Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee reported at Common Dreams in March of 2007:

Post-invasion, the U.S. military established 110 bases in Iraq. By spring 2006 the Pentagon had “reduced the size of its footprint” by consolidating them into approximately 75 bases across the country. As authority is turned over to the central government in Baghdad or seized by competing Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurdish mini-states, the Pentagon is working feverishly to further consolidate the U.S. military presence to 14 “enduring bases” in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan), Baghdad, Anbar province (home to Sunni Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit), and Shi’a-dominated southern approaches to Baghdad.

Organized around airfields “to facilitate resupply operations and troop mobility,” the major bases in Baghdad include: Camp Victory at the airport, which hosts as many as 14,000 U.S. troops; Anaconda Air Base, just north of Baghdad, which spreads across 15 square miles and is being built for 20,000 U.S. troops; Camp Falcon / Al Sarq, which will accommodate 5,000 U.S. soldiers; and the so-called U.S. “embassy complex” in the Green Zone. There, $1 billion is being spent on a 100-acre installation, comparable to the size of Vatican City, with a Marine barracks, 300 homes, 21 other buildings, and its own electrical, water, and sewage systems.

“Post Freedom,” Camp Marez, and the Mosul Airfield serve the 101st Airborne Division and defend U.S. allies and interests in oil-rich Kurdistan. “Camp Renegade” is an air base “strategically located near the Kirkuk oil fields and the Kirkuk refinery and petrochemical plant.” Tajji, just north of Fallujah, is built on the site of a former Republican Guard “military city” and is replete with the comforts of Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Subway restaurants to make U.S. warriors feel right at home. Camps Speicher and Fallujah are located near Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit and the center of Sunni resistance in Fallujah. Little is known about the other planned “enduring bases.”

David Swanson, reporting in Alternet last December, noted that such bases may already have run afoul of US law:

Donald Rumsfeld, testifying before the same Senate Armed Services Committee, said: ''We have no intention, at the present time, of putting permanent bases in Iraq.'' Now, in Rumsfeldspeak this probably meant that he would build temporary bases and then decide later to make them permanent, or that they would just be "enduring," which would mean permanent but not, you know, permanent -- in the same way that an "enemy combatant" is a prisoner of war without the rights of, you know, a prisoner of war. In any case, what is gained by having Bush or Rumsfeld say the words? Wouldn't it make more sense to recommend to Congress that it do something that used to be the role of Congress: namely, pass a law?

But there's the catch. Congress already has. Since the moment we entered Fiscal Year 2007 in October, every dime spent on permanent military bases in Iraq has been illegal. But no one even knows how to find out how many dimes that is. And that illustrates a broader problem. Bush not only began this war in secret with money that Congress had approved for something else, but he also immediately turned it into a permanent occupation and began constructing permanent bases. It took Congress three years to get around to cutting off the funding for more such construction, but Congress had never approved the whole idea. Neither, of course, had the Iraqis.

The common thread here, however, is that the mainstream press has simply not covered this major story in any critical way and that politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have stayed conspicuously mum.

For the hundreds of thousands of grass-roots activists who helped the Democratic Party achieve majorities in the House and the US Senate last fall while arguing for a change of course leading to a US withdrawal from Iraq, these are two issues that should be front and center. A hydrocarbon law that is a giveaway to US oil companies and permanent US military bases being constructed across the nation of Iraq are two central, practical questions facing the United States in Iraq. On both of these questions the Bush Administration has disavowed in public what they are actually doing on the ground, and Democrats in Congress have simply let them get away with it.

When the Democratic leadership, including Speaker Pelosi, says they are committed to ending this war, and yet do not talk about these two issues which are central to the debate, that leadership is betraying its obligation to the clear majority of the American public that wants an end to this occupation. Politicians are not talking about the hydrocarbon law or permanent US bases because to do so gets to the heart of the matter in Iraq: either the United States is occupying Iraq with long term ambitions of controlling Iraq's oil and projecting US military power in the region from unilateral permanent bases in Iraq, or it isn't.

If everyone is Washington, including the Bush Administration, seems willing to deny these two ambitions but only in vague, nonspecific terms, then the Democratic Congress should make it formal and pass some regulations that make just those two positions the clear law of the land: no permanent US bases and US support for a fair hydrocarbon law with no giveaways to US oil companies. For that to happen, the folks who helped win Nancy Pelosi the Democratic majority need to raise these two questions in no uncertain terms.

It's time for Democrats to talk turkey on two of the central issues facing the United States in Iraq: oil and permanent bases. Until that time, on all sides, Democratic talk of withdrawal from Iraq is only so much hot air.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Staff Sgt. David Safstrom: voices from Iraq

From a must-read New York Times article by Michael Kamber:

Staff Sgt. David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents.

“In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place,” he said. “There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.”

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

“I thought: ‘What are we doing here? Why are we still here?’ ” said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. “We’re helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us.

The piece, titled, "As Allies turn Foe Disillusion Rises in Some GIs" is a document of the state of the war in Iraq four years on through the eyes of a cross-section of members of Delta Company, including Sargeant Safstrom. It's a must-read today, not simply because it gives direct voice to US troops on the ground, something rare-to-find despite our always-on media, but also because it documents the growing frustration of service members in Iraq with their perception that they are caught in the midst of a civil war in which Iraqi security forces cannot be counted on as allies, or worse.

As the Petraeus/Crocker plan ramps up for two more years of total US military and political involvement in the midst of Iraq's civil war and members of Congress give George Bush war funding once again with no timetables, benchmarks or limits to the open-ended US commitment in Iraq, one has to wonder if anyone in the United States government or media is doing what Michael Kamber has done: listen to the uncensored views of our troops on the ground.

Delta Company has a very clear message from the streets of Baghdad today.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

International Institute for Strategic Studies: report on the Baghdad Surge

The British-run International Institute for Strategic Studies which calls itself the "world's leading authority on military conflict" has produced a significant document (May, 2007) on the Petraeus Plan for Iraq called: "the Baghdad Surge."

This report is perhaps the clearest, most succinct public account of current United States strategy in Iraq. It is a key document for understanding the emerging work of the Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team and the Joint Strategic Assessment Team in Iraq. For purposes of this article, I am going to discuss what I see as the three significant and newsworthy inferences that one can draw from the report itself.

First, US policy in Iraq is on a collision course with Moqtada al-Sadr. This conflict is a core, if not particularly publicly acknowledged, component of the Petraeus Surge policy:

To be successful, US forces will, over the summer, need to enter Moqtada al-Sadr’s east Baghdad stronghold, Sadr City. This slum, neglected for decades by the Ba’athist government, is thought to contain over two million of Baghdad’s 6m population. If the US military manages to gain control of it, to impose security and to begin rebuilding its crumbling infrastructure, it will have made a major dent in the geographic, military and political foundations of Sadr’s strength.

Second, US policy in Iraq is in direct conflict with, yet also dependent upon, the current government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and the bad actors who make up his allies:

The first political target of the surge is the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki itself. The US administration has voiced profound doubts about the motives and capacity of the prime minister and his government. However, since America’s diplomatic and military effort lacks the time and leverage to replace him, Maliki is the most important vehicle for delivering the political goals of the Baghdad Security Plan. US success in Iraq is dependent upon Maliki’s willingness and ability to reform his government.

[...]The Maliki government is dominated by the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a large, unwieldy coalition built to maximise the Shia vote in the two elections of 2005. Once in power, elements within the UIA used their positions in government to pursue a sectarian agenda and exacerbate communal tensions. This involved denying resources and government services to Sunni areas. In addition, the police force and Ministry of Interior became highly politicised and were used in sectarian cleansing and murder.

Finally, the general thrust of the IISS report is that the Petraeus surge policy in Iraq is a late and last-minute attempt regain control of events in a nation on the precipice of, if not currently engaged in, a civil war. The flow of events in Iraq...the actions of various insurgents, sectarian groups, diverse political elements and the ever-present efforts of al Qaeda in Iraq...have driven United States military and political policy in Iraq into a pattern of reacting to events and forces that have been for the most part completely outside of US control. The Petraeus surge, then, is an attempt to create an "event" in Iraq whose "momentum" is powerful enough to stem that tide and that will, somewhat contradictorily, produce an Iraqi political solution to the impending civil war where one currently does not exist:

As General Petraeus recognises, the ultimate success of this final American attempt to create stability in Iraq will not be delivered in the military but in the political arena. The momentum delivered by the surge is meant to trigger and ultimately be sustained by the transformation of the Iraqi state.

There is a logical inconsistency however, in this "hope" for success in "this final American attempt to create stability in Iraq." And that is not simply in the twin barriers mentioned above: the inherent conflict between the interests of Moqtada al-Sadr, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and their allies on the one hand and the United States on the other in Iraq. The history of US involvement in Iraq has been a history of events that were beyond US control overtaking the capacities of a US policy and resources on the ground that would have been inadequate even in the most favorable environment. The dynamic in Iraq has always been that of the occupation of a nation half a world away by an occupying power that, until recently, seemed to little understand the diverse realities of the people and territory it occupied. In this environment, the United States has been very much at the mercy of events in Iraq. The IISS report documents that even some of the small progress made by the surge in markets West of Baghdad were offset when, once again, events and actors outside of US control reshaped the Iraqi landscape in unanticipated ways:

A marked increase in sectarian-motivated violence in April, the third month of the surge, indicated that the militias and insurgent groups had reorganised. Although a US-led military campaign in January had driven al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) out of its stronghold along Haifa Street in the Kark area on the western banks of the Tigris, this did not reduce its ability to deploy mass violence. Instead, AQI shifted its resources into terrorist ‘spectaculars’, launching suicide car bombs into predominantly Shia areas, to reignite the vicious sectarian cycle of atrocity and counter-atrocity.

On the other side of the civil war, the Shia militias, especially Jaish al Mahdi, chose not to fight superior US forces but stood down, merging back into their host communities, retaining their weapons and capacity. Their leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, fearing for his life and unwilling to confront the US with an extended rebellion, fled Iraq to exile in Iran.

The New York Times reports today that Moqtada al-Sadr has returned to Iraq from Iran (if, indeed, he ever left) and has renewed his campaign of anti-American rhetoric. The impending conflict between General Petraeus's Surge policy and this Iraqi leader and his followers once again threatens to create events on the ground over which the United States has little say or control. It is this crucible in which the success or failure of the surge will be judged. Once again events on the ground have overtaken American planning in a significant way.

If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend reading the report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies with that reality and today's news in mind. (If you are at all interested in this subject matter, I recommend going to the IISS website directly and reading, if not downloading, the entire two page report.)


Troops Levels: deja vu ad nauseum

November 18th, 2005 in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the measure by Representative John Murtha calling for withdrawal from Iraq, NBC reported that General George Casey had presented a "withdrawal plan" to the Pentagon:

Pentagon and U.S. military officials tell NBC News the plan calls for the substantial withdrawal of more than 60,000 troops from Iraq. The plan was drafted by Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, the two top U.S. commanders of the war.

Today, in the aftermath of Congress passing legislation giving George Bush yet another blank check extension funding the US occupation of Iraq we read a report from David Sanger in the New York Times that:

The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.

It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.

The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1.

This report runs exactly counter to Stewart Powell's reporting for the Hearst Newspapers that taking account of Pentagon schedules and overlapping troop deployments US troop levels in Iraq may well increase to 200,000 by the end of this year in a 'second surge':

The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday. The little-noticed second surge, designed to reinforce U.S. troops in Iraq, is being executed by the sending more combat brigades and the extending tours of duty for troops already there.

The actions could boost the number of combat soldiers from 52,500 in early January to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year if the Pentagon overlaps arriving and departing combat brigades.

Separately, when additional support troops are included in this second troop increase, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 -- a record-high number -- by the end of the year.

But this kind of head-spinning, politics-fueled flurry of contradictory press statements is nothing new. As Tim Grieve reported in Salon in November of 2005 in the wake of the Casey speculation:

As we approach the end of 2005, there are still more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. When will they come home? No one knows the answer to that question, but that doesn't keep Bush administration officials from making one up whenever political pressure suggests that it's time to do so.

In the course of just a few weeks this summer, the administration put out a flurry of semicontradictory predictions about what troop levels would be and how they would be set. First Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military official in Iraq, said the U.S. could make "some fairly substantial reductions" in troop levels in the spring and summer of 2006. Then Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said he had formed a committee with Iraqis to come up with a detailed plan that would involve withdrawing U.S. troops from specific regions in Iraq. Then it was reported that Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, had outlined a plan that could bring 20,000 or 30,000 U.S. troops home by the spring. Then an unnamed top U.S. military official in Baghdad told the Post that any early drawdown was "still possible" but unlikely. Then the president himself dismissed all talk about future troop levels as "kind of what we call 'speculation.'"

And, of course, no one should forget the way the administration played politics with press regarding troop levels way back in the summer of 2003, as reported in Time Magazine:

For obvious domestic political reasons, the Bush Administration going into the war had downplayed the scale and duration of a post-war occupation mission. When then-Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki told legislators that such a mission would require several hundred thousand U.S. troops, his assessment had been immediately dismissed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as "wildly off the mark." Wolfowitz explained that "I am reasonably certain that (the Iraqi people) will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down." Six weeks ago, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was still suggesting the U.S. force in Iraq could be reduced to 30,000 by the end of the year. But the prevailing assessment in Washington appears to be shifting to the idea of a figure closer to Shinseki's.

As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker prepare to deliver a two-year plan for the further US occupation of Iraq at the end of this month, it doesn't take a great deal of common sense for Americans to understand one thing about the Bush Administration: whatever the Pentagon might leak to the press and however much the President's various stated goals (WMD, freedom and democracy, 'hold and clear','as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down') have changed and fallen by the wayside, this administration has remained committed to one thing above all, the ongoing US occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its oil by major US companies.

In the midst of all this, that much is sure. You can take that to the bank.


Friday, May 25, 2007

the Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team: the Petraeus/Crocker plan

United States Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David H. Petraeus have been selected by the Bush Administration to chair the Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team (a name so boring and cumbersome that it was surely intended to create a 'hey, nothing to see here, move along' effect.) Most of what is publicly known about this project, which is due to conclude its reporting May 31st, comes from this May 23rd Washington Post Article by Ann Scott Tyson:

Top U.S. commanders and diplomats in Iraq are completing a far-reaching campaign plan for a new U.S. strategy, laying out military and political goals and endorsing the selective removal of hardened sectarian actors from Iraq's security forces and government. The classified plan, scheduled to be finished by May 31, is a joint effort between Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American general in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.[...]

The overarching aim of the plan, which sets goals for the end of this year and the end of 2008, is more political than military: to negotiate settlements between warring factions in Iraq from the national level down to the local level. In essence, it is as much about the political deals needed to defuse a civil war as about the military operations aimed at quelling a complex insurgency, said officials with knowledge of the plan.

The groundwork for the campaign plan was laid out in an assessment formulated by Petraeus's senior counterinsurgency adviser, David J. Kilcullen, with about 20 military officers, State Department officials and other experts in Baghdad known as the Joint Strategic Assessment Team. Their report, finished last month, was approved by Petraeus and Crocker as the basis of a formal campaign plan that will assign specific tasks for military commands and civilian agencies in Iraq.

In sum, the report of the Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team, when it is delivered on May 31st, will lay out a two-year time line for the Bush Administration's political and military goals in Iraq. Per Tyson's article, the new plan has three main emphases and forms a thoroughgoing rebuttal of General George Casey's efforts to aggressively hand control of Iraq's security and government to the Iraqi's themselves. (In other words, that effort failed.)

The first emphasis of the new plan is to forgo Casey's previous focus on pursuing insurgents and training the Iraqi military and police corps to be self-sufficient and to focus instead on using tens of thousands of additional US troops to directly protect Iraqi civilians in Baghdad and al-Anbar province, the Bush "surge." The second emphasis is for United States personnel to actively work within the Iraqi government to shore up and build that central government's capacity over an 18 to 24 month "bridge" period.

Finally, the plan intends to purge Iraq's leadership of bad actors and sectarian elements intent on destabilising Iraq for their own ends. To do this, Petraeus and Crocker are conducting outreach across a wide range of segments within Iraq's political landscape, including sectarian elements who have been hostile to the United States occupation, in the hopes that those hostile elements will move from resisting the US occupation and fighting other Iraqis in exchange for a place at the bargaining table in a more stable Iraq (an Iraq, it must be added, that would still be occupied by the United States.) It is not clear, however, from the Tyson article how the "purge" side of this, eg. dealing with the non-cooperative bad actors in Iraq, will function. (For an indication of what might be in store, see this article on the IISS report on the Baghdad Surge.)

In a nutshell, where the Bush Administration had previously advocated the now-failed "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" policy in Iraq, what we know of the Petraeus/Crocker plan, which is somewhat more complicated, could be characterized this way: four years on, the Iraqis haven't stood up and have failed at running their government, which, by the way, we do not trust, so, in response, the United States will send in tens of thousands more American troops to patrol Baghdad and al-Anbar in a massive counter-insurgency and stabilisation effort, commit our embassy to filling the operational holes in the Iraqi government for a two year "bridge period" and commit the United States to an attempt to weed out the good from the bad actors within Iraq's sectarian elements all the while fighting foreign jihadists, purging Iraqi bad actors from the scene (without defining much what that "purge" will mean) and preventing Iraq from slipping into full scale civil war.

The even shorter version: when Bush said "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down" he neglected to mention the "Plan B" that "if the Iraqis don't stand up, we'll send more troops to prop them up, run their government for them for two years and try to calm their civil war from our embassy."

It's worth noting just what a contrast this is to President Bush's previous rhetoric. On November 19th, 2005, President Bush clearly enunciated his now-failed policy in a speech to US troops stationed at the Osan Air Base in South Korea:

[W]e're making steady progress. With every passing month, more and more Iraqi forces are standing up, and the Iraqi military is gaining new capabilities and new confidence. At the time of our Fallujah operations a year ago, there were only a few Iraqi army battalions in combat. Today there are more than 90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists, along with our forces. American and Iraqi troops are conducting major assaults to clear out enemy fighters in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Iraqi police and security forces are helping clear the terrorists from their strongholds. They're holding onto areas we've cleared and are preventing the enemy from returning. Our strategy can be summed up this way: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

If that speech presents a glaring contrast to the current state of Iraq, in particular its "90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists" and its now abandoned emphasis on Iraqis "holding onto areas we've cleared," this May 2004 speech before students at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania presents in even greater measure how deeply this new strategy reflects the failure to achieve Bush's previously stated goals in Iraq. This speech is from almost exactly three years ago during a Presidential campaign year; and, given what's followed, we have to remind ourselves that this major speech and its ideas were supposed to represent a turning point in Iraq in 2004:

Our coalition has a clear goal, understood by all -- to see the Iraqi people in charge of Iraq for the first time in generations. America's task in Iraq is not only to defeat an enemy, it is to give strength to a friend - a free, representative government that serves its people and fights on their behalf. And the sooner this goal is achieved, the sooner our job will be done.

There are five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom. We will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, help establish security, continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encourage more international support, and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people.

The first of these steps will occur next month, when our coalition will transfer full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens who will prepare the way for national elections. On June 30th, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist, and will not be replaced. The occupation will end, and Iraqis will govern their own affairs. America's ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, will present his credentials to the new president of Iraq. Our embassy in Baghdad will have the same purpose as any other American embassy, to assure good relations with a sovereign nation.

The Petraeus/Crocker plan is, in no uncertain terms, a complete rebuttal of both of the above statements. The plan extends for at least two years into the future even the fig leaf of the Iraqi government or military taking any action for or by itself without significant United States intervention. It is both a rejection of the premise of General Casey's entire effort in Iraq and a quiet backing away from Paul Bremer's policy of debaathification as well. Four years into the war in Iraq, the United States has given up all talk of Iraqi self-sufficiency, freedom and democracy. In fact, for all of Bush's previous talk of "democracy," the administration does not much trust the democratically elected Iraqi government. As Ann Tyson reports, the Petraeus/Crocker plan both props up and works around Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, who is viewed by Petraeus and Crocker "as beholden to narrow sectarian interests." For all the President's talk of "victory" and "defeat," the unstated United States goal in Iraq now seems to be intervention with the intention of preventing an all out Iraqi civil war.

That change of goals and utter reduction of our expectations has not stopped General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, per the President's instructions to their Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team, from charting out two more years of the US occupation of Iraq. And two more years of United States occupation is the one thing that the Petraeus/Crocker plan most certainly will mean, whatever name it eventually goes by, whatever figments of withdrawal are suspended before the public, and whatever the ultimate success or failure of its strategies.


David R. Irvine: the cancer of Abu Ghraib

From a must-read editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune by David Irvine, a retired brigadier general who taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law for 18 years for the Sixth United States Army Intelligence School:

In the three years since the cancerous photographs at Abu Ghraib came to light, the Army's acceptance of and resort to torture have made combat service in Iraq that much more dangerous for our forces there. We cannot claim Geneva Convention protection for our own troops because we have ourselves abandoned the Geneva protection due the Iraqis.

The president and vice president have repeatedly denied that America tortures prisoners, but they choose their words carefully when they refuse to explain or deny the use of "unconventional" interrogation techniques which, by any reasonable definition, amount to torture.

Recently, a group of retired flag officers began quietly meeting with the 2008 presidential candidates in an effort to help the candidates understand the stakes created by America's wrong-headed resort to torture. One well-known candidate stated the dilemma this way: "How can I take an absolute position opposing torture when many people believe that it works and that it's worth it if it prevents another 9/11?"

The response of the generals and admirals was unequivocating: "It [torture] doesn't work, and the belief by a few that it does has cost us the respect of the world and our moral stature as a nation. As president you have to take a clear, no-exceptions stand against torture in any situation, because if you don't, that moral ambiguity will inevitably work its way down the chain of command, and every private will conclude that if the president sees exceptions for ticking time bombs, every improvised explosive device planted along my convoy route is for me a real ticking bomb. Once you open that door by so much as a crack, you have lost the ability to control what your Army will do."

Read the whole piece, it makes a powerful argument against torture. It also serves as a corrective to attempts by the Bush Administration to push the legacy of United States conduct at Abu Ghraib under the carpet. Of particular import is Irvine's relentless focus on how a policy that condones torture impacts our troops.

Irvine, a former general writing in Utah, is making both a pragmatic and a moral argument against torture here. That's significant given Irvine's intended audience in his home state. This op/ed, then, represents an important start point for those committed to building a national legal and policy consensus reversing the Bush Administration's legacy of torture.

Finally, and not least, Irvine notes that a group of "retired flag officers began quietly meeting with the 2008 presidential candidates in an effort to help the candidates understand the stakes created by America's wrong-headed resort to torture." This strikes me a significant and newsworthy in and of itself.


Maj. General William Caldwell: Torture Rooms

CNN reports:

Coalition forces in Iraq have recently uncovered what they call "torture rooms" operated by Sunnis on Sunnis in Anbar province, a military commander said Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell in an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room" and in an earlier press briefing, said 17 kidnapped Iraqis had been found in two hideouts.

He said one of the tortured people was a 13-year-old boy, who "literally had been tortured, electrocuted, whipped, beat by these al Qaeda terrorists." He said freed people told troops that one or two captives had died during the torture sessions, and the remaining captives expected to be ransomed off to their families, with the funds going to support the al Qaeda insurgency.

"This is the nature of the enemy that the Iraqi people are facing here in Iraq," Caldwell said.

General Caldwell might have mentioned the torture rooms located in Iraq's Interior Ministry as well.

From the UK Independent:

Behind the daily reports of suicide bombings and attacks on coalition forces is a far more shadowy struggle, one that involves tortured prisoners huddled in dungeons, death-squad victims with their hands tied behind their backs, often mutilated with knives and electric drills, and distraught families searching for relations who have been "disappeared".

This hidden struggle surfaced last week when US forces and Iraqi police raided an Interior Ministry bunker only a couple of hundred yards from where we were standing. They found 169 tortured and starving captives, who looked like Holocaust victims. The "disappeared" prisoners were being held, it is claimed, by the Shia Muslim Badr militia, which controls part of the ministry. Bayan Jabr, the Minister of the Interior, is himself a former Badr commander...

In the midst of a sectarian and civil war in Iraq, a United States General holds a press briefing to trumpet the discovery of al Qaeda "torture rooms." Torture, however, is everday news in the sectarian strife that has ripped apart US-occupied Iraq. As Jamie Tarabay reported last summer, death squads operate with impunity in Baghdad, leaving their tortured victims to be pulled from the river.

Caldwell, of course, did not mention the US torture rooms at Abu Ghraib (which included the indelible images of Iraqi prisoners in dog collars and with electrical wires attached to their bodies) in his press briefing; General Caldwell made his comments about finding "torture rooms" without a hint of irony.

Others, however, including retired General David Irvine have not been afraid to speak out about the legacy of US policy condoning torture. Abu Ghraib, in Irvine's words is "a cancer that has metastasized." That cancer directly affects the current reality on the ground in the ongoing US occupation of Iraq.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ryan Crocker: United States Ambassador to Iraq

Ryan Clark Crocker, the current United States Ambassador to Iraq, is somewhat of an enigma: a US Ambassador who has been working the Middle East for decades but about whom we don't know that much, especially regarding key issues that relate directly to his current service in Baghdad.

This profile will discuss what is known of Crocker's co-authorship of the "Perfect Storm Memo" which warned of the danger of the current quagmire in Iraq before the US invasion (and may have supplied some of the source material for Colin Powell's famous line about the "Pottery Barn Rule"). It will also examine Crocker's current participation in the Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team and survey the public record of Crocker's career, thinking and experience leading up to his confirmation as Ambassador to Iraq.

According to the NYT, Ambassador Crocker is:

One of the State Department’s most experienced Middle East hands, Mr. Crocker, 57, has already served as ambassador to Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan, with postings as well to Iran, Qatar, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Ambassador Crocker has recently been assigned by the Bush Administration to partner with General David H. Petraeus in crafting the strategy of the "second surge" in Iraq, in Bush-speak the "Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team."

What is the Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team? Very little information is available publicly about this awkwardly-titled program. According to CNN:

A "joint campaign plan redesign team" is preparing the diplomatic and military strategy for Iraq, which is expected to be approved by the end of the month. One element of the plan is to try to identify groups of people -- possibly including Sunni extremists and militia groups -- with whom U.S. officials feel they can do business, such as negotiating power-sharing and cease-fire agreements and granting economic aid [...]

The officials cited an inability to maintain current troop levels into the summer as a reason for the changed course. "We have been focused too long on defeating the enemy," one official said. "We need to bring them to the negotiating table." Little else is known about the new plan and it has drawn little reaction.

But the announcement apparently is an acknowledgment that the traditional war-fighting stance of trying to capture or kill all insurgents is failing, that the country may have devolved into a civil war, and that the only way to proceed is to use military force sparingly and attempt to bring many insurgents into the fold.

This is an interesting assignment for Ambassador Crocker since, as the Los Angeles Times noted, Crocker is "a career diplomat who once warned that the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein could set off spiraling strife between the nation's Sunni Arabs and majority Shiites."

At his swearing-in, Crocker told an audience, mainly workers at the U.S. Embassy where the ceremony was held, that security was "without question" the central issue in Iraq. "Terrorists, insurgents and militias continue to threaten security in Baghdad and around the country," said the 57-year-old diplomat. Fulfilling U.S. goals in Iraq would be hard, he said, but added, "If I thought it was impossible, I would not be standing here today."

What can we learn about Ambassador Crocker from the public record? The rest of this article will survey the available information with an emphasis on highlighting relevant information relating to how Ambassador Corker may discharge his duties in Iraq.

This Thom Shanker New York Times profile written at the time of his confirmation as Ambassador to Iraq by the US Senate contained this information regarding Ambassador Crocker and human rights:

He does have detractors among human rights advocates, who recently criticized his public support for Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as the final days of Mr. Crocker’s tour as ambassador in Pakistan were marked by protests denouncing General Musharraf’s suspension of the country’s chief justice. The human rights advocates do acknowledge that Mr. Crocker was carrying out a policy directed from Washington.

And this New York Times biography written by Scott Shane at the time of Ambassador Crocker's reassignment from Pakistan to Iraq noted how he is viewed within the diplomatic community:

Former colleagues say Mr. Crocker is likely to be a less public presence in the Iraqi capital than Mr. Khalilzad, though they say he will work assiduously behind the scenes for the political accommodation necessary to reverse the slide to civil war.

“He has the background on a lot of the important figures in Iraq, and he’s very good at sussing out who’s who.” A former colleague who agreed to speak of Mr. Crocker candidly on condition of anonymity called him “incredibly hard-working, very serious, a little introverted. I’d say he’s more respected than loved in the State Department,” the colleague said, “but he certainly is respected. He’s done the dirtiest, hardest assignments you can imagine.”

Ambassador Crocker's wiki page notes that he has training in both Persian and Arabic, and speaks both languages. That is significant given some of his predecessors in Baghdad. And this must-read Robin Wright Washington Post profile notes Crocker's long and direct experience in the Middle East, including this description of his experience with a truck-bombing at the American Embassy in Beirut in 1983, including an observation from Thomas Friedman who was stationed in Beirut at the time as well:

On April 18, 1983, Ryan Crocker was in his office at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, with its spectacular view overlooking the Mediterranean. His wife, Christine, was working next door. At 1:05 p.m. a dark delivery van made a sharp left onto the guarded cobblestone lane and rammed into the front wall, detonating an explosive that ripped apart the seven-story high-rise. A huge brown cloud of smoke could be seen for miles. It was the first suicide bombing by Islamic extremists against a U.S. target.

Crocker -- the career diplomat the Bush administration has nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador in Baghdad -- was blown against the wall. Bloodied but not seriously injured, he and his wife fled the building. He then began to search through the twisted steel and concrete for colleagues.

New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman lived nearby and raced to the site. "I came around the corner and there was the American Embassy cut in half like a doll's house, bodies hanging out of it, smoke belching, and the first person I saw staggering around in the ruins was Ryan, his sleeves rolled up, looking in the rubble," Friedman recalls. The bomb, which killed 64 and wiped out the CIA station, marked the start of a trend that now defines U.S. foreign policy.

More to the point, however, Wright, writing for the Washington Post, noted that Crocker was perhaps an Iraq war critic before the invasion. Ambassador Crocker was co-author of the Perfect Storm Memo:

Crocker was one of the most significant voices inside the administration about the dangers of invading Iraq.

In late 2002, as the Bush administration prepared for war, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell tasked Crocker and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns with exploring the risks of military intervention. The result was a six-page memo they entitled "The Perfect Storm,"[...]

The memo bluntly predicted that toppling Hussein could unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions, that the Sunni minority would not easily relinquish power, and that powerful neighbors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia would try to move in to influence events. It also cautioned that the United States would have to start from scratch building a political and economic system because Iraq's infrastructure was in tatters.

This profile of Crocker from TIME correspondent and blogger, Scott MacCleod, picks up and amplifies the significance of "the Perfect Storm Memo," a document which is not yet a matter of public record:

As we watch history straining to repeat itself in Iraq, it is worth exploring why American actions in the Middle East have so often been disastrous when we have so many fine diplomats experienced in the region like Ryan Crocker. I never asked him, but if I had to bet, I'd say that he advised against Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. We know from Soldier, Karen DeYoung's recent biography of former Secretary of State Colin Powell (excerpt), that he opposed the Bush administration's war in Iraq. In a leaked recommendation known as the "Perfect Storm Memo," he foresaw the sectarian conflict and American quagmire that resulted.

Was Ambassador Crocker's Perfect Storm memo the source of Colin Powell's famous admonition to President Bush about the Pottery Barn Rule? As possible as that inference may seem, we simply don't know. Regardless, the irony of Crocker's current position given his co-authorship of the Perfect Storm Memo, and the significance and complexity of his current situation have been underreported.

A tour of articles on Ambassador Crocker during his tenure in Pakistan is also revealing. This PBS Frontline interview with Crocker when he was Ambassador to Pakistan demonstrates his thought process working style and included this significant exchage telegraphing how Crocker views insurgent movements, a point of view which may well apply to how he conducts himself in Iraq:

Frontline: Gov. [Ali Muhammad Jan] Orakzai told me that the finger-pointing is a consequence of the fact that we're five years out from 9/11, and we haven't really put a dent in the Taliban. They're coming back, they're resurgent, and there's a lot of frustration. Could you agree with that?

Ambassador Crocker: Well, there has been a Taliban resurgence, no question about it. … I think what this reflects is we've got a patient and determined enemy. We therefore have to show greater patience and greater determination.

A fight isn't over until an enemy concludes he's defeated. It's what the enemy thinks; it's not necessarily what we think. We've got the three of us [Presidents Karzai of Afghanistan and Musharref of Pakistan and the United States] to persuade him that this is a campaign he's not going to win, which means we can't let frustration take us over on this.

Yes, it's been almost five years since 9/11, but when you look at the challenges, when you look at what President Karzai has to deal with in rebuilding a state and a society in Afghanistan, it doesn't come as a huge shock and surprise to me that the Taliban's found some running room before he gets all this built.

Similarly, on the Pakistan side of the border, the tribal areas have never been an integrated part of the state. As you know, regular army forces had never been stationed there on any kind of long-term basis, ever. The British never did it, and the Pakistani government didn't do it until 2003, 2004. So there are a lot of crevices and vacuums, space where the Taliban can kind of get another little bit of a toehold. We -- and by that I mean the three of us -- have just got to go about this in a coordinated, systematic way, and we will prevail. Sure, I think everybody feels frustration, but in terms of who's doing what, the notion that Pakistan is somehow playing a double game I find just frankly preposterous. President Musharraf is a career military officer. He's putting his troops in harm's way, and they're paying for their mission with their lives. I just find it absolutely impossible to think that any commander would do that with deliberate, two-faced cynicism; equally impossible that officers, commanders and common soldiers wouldn't be aware of it. So I just do not think that's happening.

Finally, this speech given at a school in Pakistan after the massive earthquake that shook that nation is revelatory about Crocker's views of the region as well:

Through USAID, the United States government put $100 million dollars into the relief effort, along with well over $110 million through the U.S. military. Those Chinooks flew thousands of missions; they evacuated thousands of casualties and they helped uncountable people make it through the winter. I am very pleased, those Chinooks are back here today, again coming from Afghanistan, and bringing with them the same crews that helped in the earthquake efforts. Col. Bradley and his pilots, and one of those pilots is here with us today, Betty Piña.

Lt. Piña flew -- I am not sure either of us can count how many -- missions during the disaster relief, but we are delighted that she could come back because she personifies what nations can do when they give full opportunity to both halves of their populations. And I am very pleased therefore to see, the girls of Dadar here too, and their headmistress, Shabana Kasur, a women of extraordinary will, energy and drive.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker is now two months into his assignment as US Ambassador to Iraq. A perusal of the public record reveals that interesting and unanswered questions abound:

What was the content of "the Perfect Storm Memo?" and was it the source material for Colin Powell's admonition about the Pottery Barn Rule? Why and how is a critic who warned of the perils of the invasion now serving as US Ambassador to Iraq? What exactly is the Joint Campaign Plan Redesign Team, who is on it, and how does their assignment relate to a "second surge" in Iraq? Given Ambassador Crocker's track record in Pakistan, what will be the likely human rights outcomes in his stewardship of Iraq? In what ways does the now assembled team of Defense Secretary Gates, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker represent a change in Bush Administration policy in Iraq?

And, finally, five years after he authored the "Perfect Storm Memo" how do Ambassador Crocker's views on Iraq and the Middle East differ from those of the Bush Administration? Will those views make any difference in the ongoing US occupation or will Ambassador Crocker merely, once again, simply "carry out policy as directed by Washington? Significantly, Ambassador Crocker had this to say on that very subject in an interview conducted for the Whitman college magazine (pdf):

Q: Have changing administrations, and changes within administrations, impacted your work?

Ambassador Crocker: Each administration has its own priorities and style. The job of the career Foreign Service Officer is to offer his best advice as policy is formulated and then to implement that policy. Our elected leaders need to have the confidence that we will carry our policies to the best of our ability.

In closing, one can note this somewhat novelistic...if not apropos given the circumstances...passage about Crocker from the Thom Shanker New York Times profile quoted above:

[James F. Jeffrey], now principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, recalled how his former boss took a vacation trek through Yemen, riding deep into the rocky canyon lands between remote villages on a commuter minibus.

Suddenly, inexplicably, the driver lost control. Mr. Crocker leapt to the front of the bus, grabbed the wheel and guided the bus and its frightened passengers safely down the mountain pass.

Whether this vignette proves prophetic or merely wishful thinking, one thing is sure, every student of US policy in Iraq is familiar with that bus, and its 'inexplicable' driver.


Keith Olbermann: we have been betrayed

Keith Olbermann:

Who among us will stop this war-this War of Lies? To he or she, fall the figurative keys to the nation.

To all the others-presidents and majority leaders and candidates and rank-and-file Congressmen and Senators of either party-there is only blame… for this shameful, and bi-partisan, betrayal.

-Transcript C&L


Dennis Kucinich on the Hydrocarbon Law

This blurb from the Hill sums up the state of Congressional oversight of the role of US oil companies in Iraq:

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a fervent Iraq war opponent and dark horse presidential candidate, claimed an hour of floor time Wednesday to criticize Iraq’s hydrocarbon law. Kucinich argued that the proposed law would privatize Iraqi oil. [snip] “We must not be a party to any attempt by multi-national oil companies to take over Iraq’s oil resources,” he said.

His declarations went largely ignored. No one sought to intervene, and when he was done, the House quickly moved to a non-controversial bill revising the boundaries of The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.

State of the debate.

Actually, the Iraq hydrocarbon law is an active subject of concern almost everywhere else in the world (including the board rooms of major US oil corporations) except the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

Tags: Tags:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Blank Check for Iraq

Tell Congress: No Blank Check for Iraq.


an observation

"Both sides are in a position where neither can do something without the other. That's the reality," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.)

Hundreds of thousands of grassroots, reform-minded Democrats did not give their dollars, their time and their tears to win majorities in both Houses of Congress in 2006 so that Steny Hoyer could define the limits of the possible in Washington D.C. in 2007.

That's another reality.


House Democrats back off lobbying reform

From an article on lobbying reform by Jim Snyder in today's the Hill:

[A]s the House prepares to take up a lobbying reform bill tomorrow, a number of outside groups are disappointed that the strictest measures appear likely to be left to the campaign trail.

“There is great concern as to what is going to be approved on the floor,” Craig Holman of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch said. “It’s starting to look like the House isn’t really serious about lobbying reform.”

The reform package is missing three main components, reformers say: a longer cooling-off period between the transition from lawmaker to lobbyist, new disclosure of grassroots “Astroturf” campaigns, and more information on how much money a lobbyist “bundles” for candidates. None of those three issues survived as part of the main bill.

This is exhibit B in the currently widening gap between Democrats in Congress and reform-oriented folks in the grassroots who helped put them in the majority.

You know what exhibit A is already.


Paul Fusco and Michael Kamber: photo essays

Here are two photo essays with audio commentaries from the photographers themselves.

Paul Fusco's photo essay is an exploration of the Chernobyl disaster through photographs of children suffering from cancers in the region nearby. (Caution: this photo essay contains very strong content.) I wrote in a comment at Majikthise, where I first became aware of this work, that it was the most powerful experience I'd had brought to me yet on a computer screen.

Putting aside questions of the evidential meaning of Fusco's project, it is a profound example of witness. The photography is extraordinary and moving. The power of Fusco's observation and his clear commitment to convey the humanity of his subjects in stark and honest terms are, quite simply, startling. This is work on the level of Diane Arbus or Eugene Richards.

Michael Kamber is a photographer working for the New York Times in Iraq. Here he tells the story of a patrol he participated in...a patrol which suffered four casualties...in words, live audio and photographs. It is, in its own way, a powerful companion document to Fusco's piece, in particular in its marriage of audio and photography. I've never seen anything quite like it. Here, in one four-minute-experience is visceral testimony to the experience of combat from Iraq. You will not quickly forget what you see and hear in Kamber's work.

(Given today's news from Congress, that work is all the more relevant.)

These two pieces form, each in their own way, a testament of our times. They are works of witness. More than anything else, Fusco and Kamber engaged their subjects and refused to look away.

When all is said and done, it is the resolute honesty of these two photo essays that exemplifies the core of what it means to be a photographer.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jim Jarmusch: Stranger than Paradise

One of the best indie movies ever made. It just gets better with age.


the human diet in the news

Food is in the news. Nina Planck's NYT op/ed Death by Veganism and the sagas of both Governor Ted Kulongoski and Congressman Tim Ryan trying to live within a food stamp budget for one week highlight some basic questions about the human diet and who eats what in our society.

There's a reason this stuff is in the air, I think. We know something is off kilter...from the related epidemics of childhood obesity and diabetes to folks revisiting some of basic questions about things like who does the cooking and where does our food come from.

Given that, I think Nina Planck makes a good, balanced point and one that rebuts some popular, yet dangerous, notions within the health food movement. In that light, I'd like to make a simple, albeit unpopular, point that I think pretty much all nutritionists would agree on.

Refined and processed sugars are not part of the original human diet and, by most definitions of the term, aren't really nutritious. Simply put, when we eat the empty calories that come from sugars, we miss out on nutrients contained in all the other truly healthy foods we could be eating. Nevertheless, Americans get a huge portion of their calories from just such sugars. Now, before you abandon this post and get back to your sweetened latte drink or cola beverage, hear me out.

Even within that class....refined and processed sugars...there's one culprit that sits at the fulcrum of many these questions about the American diet, and that's high fructose corn syrup.

It's not just that high fructose corn syrup, like all refined sugars, is not really good for you, and quite possibly bad for your liver and pancreas, it's that it is cheap, artificially supported by government policy and it's been put into everything by our corporate food industry including the supermarket bread and peanut butter that both Governor Kulongoski and Congressman Ryan tried to live on. Most people would find that cutting back on the refined sugar and the high fructose corn syrup in their diets would make them feel better and allow them focus on the healthy foods they do like to eat, whatever their dietary philosophy. Problem is, as the politicians discovered, it's really hard to avoid high fructose corn syrup if you are on a budget.

And that gets to the heart of the matter; sugar is cheap in America. With the advent of high fructose corn syrup, sugar has become a higher percentage of most people's diets. A diet focused on getting calories from sugar, however, is simply not good for anyone.