Thursday, September 22, 2011









"We'd be having, from my perspective, circular conversations because we just do not know what's going on in Baghdad," declared the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, today.
He and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were appearing in DC this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mullen's comment was disturbing and if you're not getting how that is so, let's note what came immediately before it.
Senator David Vitter: What's the minimum number in your opinion would be required for them to protect themselves? I mean, that's where you start.
Adm Mike Mullen: But inside how much training am I going to do, who's going to do it -- again -- assuming we're going to do this -- where's it going to exist? It depends on where it is in the country. It's different west than it is north than it is south or in Baghdad. It's just not -- it's just not -- I know people -- others, you -- would love to have me get a number out there -- I --- Honestly, it's just -- It's not determined yet. It really does depend on what we're going to do. And where we're going to do it. And how often we're going to do it.
Senator David Vitter: Okay. Well I guess I'm just a little frustrated, Adm, because on our side, on the US government side, we're part of the political leadership so I'm asking for that advice as we have that -- as we have that discussion.
And that's when Mullen declared, of that discussion, "We'd be having, from my perspective, circular conversations because we just do not know what's going on in Baghdad." As Vitter noted, Congress is part of the government, Congress should be involved in these discussions. But they're shut out of the loop.
The Bush administration did that with the Status Of Forces Agreement. They not only refused to follow the Constitution's mandate on advise and consent on treaties, they refused to provide the Congress with a copy of the SOFA. When Congress finally began addressing elements of the SOFA, they were doing so via a translated copy from the Iraqi side of the negotiations. The White House kept the US Congress in the dark until after the Iraq Parliament passed it, at which point the White House released the SOFA publicly on their website (Thanksgiving Day, 2008).
For those who have forgotten, this refusal was called out by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. Among the more prominent names calling it out were Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
And yet now, as the US government and the Iraqi government are in negotations about extending the US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011, the two senators who once objected to keeping Congress out of the loop on Iraq have decided that, as President and Vice President, they don't want the US Congress having any input or even knowledge of the negotiations.
It is almost October. December 31st all US troops (not including those shoved under the umbrella of the US Embassy in Iraq) might be out. That's certainly what Americans expect to happen because they've been told that's what would happen. Maybe they won't care about a broken promise?
Today the Los Angeles Times editorial board argued that withdrawal is more a state of mind than an actual action so 5,000 or less US troops remaining in Iraq is a-okay with them. And one minute they're decrying the deaths of nearly 5,000 US troops in the Iraq War in one sentence but in the very next sentence they declare that continued war is a-okay provided "the force were kept small -- 5,000 or so". So 5,000 is a big number except . . . when it's not? Clearly logic is not a prerequisite for serving on the paper's editorial board. And the editorial is saying that a pledge during a campaign, a promise to the public and even bad reporting from almost every outlet (and that includes the Los Angeles Times) telling Americans since the end of November 2008 that the SOFA meant US troops had to leave by the end of 2011 doesn't matter. Accountability apparently is no longer a concern of the press.
As noted, Committee Chair is Carl Levin. Senator John McCain is Ranking Member. Both attempted to garner answers and specifics were never forthcoming.
Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Arms Committee. He attempted to get some idea of how many troops might or might not be staying.
Chair Carl Levin: But putting that aside, in terms of a mission in Iraq, would you agree that we must be careful to avoid keeping a large number of troops in Iraq as being, number one, inconsistent with the agreement that President Bush has entered into [the SOFA] and, number two, that it could unleash some street demonstrations which possibly could result in instability but that whatever we are negotiating should be at the request of the Iraqis and we should be very careful in terms of the numbers that we might negotiate?
Adm Mike Mullen: I think -- I think we have to be very careful about the numbers. I -- For me, at a very high level, the most critical part of this is to get the strategic partnership right as the Secretary [of Defense Leon Panetta] testified and that we really are in the middle of negotiations right now with respect to what do the Iraqis want? And what, quite frankly, can the Iraqi political leadership deliver? And, as the Secretary said, there has been no determination and no decision at this point.
Chair Carl Levin: And the issue is not what the Iraqis want, the issue is what we believe is going to be appropriate, if any, after they make a request --
Adm Mike Mullen: Well actually.
Chair Carl Levin: It's our decision, is that correct?
Adm Mike Mullen: I - I think it will be, certainly, but that's part of the negotiations.
Chair Carl Levin: Of course. Secretary Panetta, do you want to add anything to that in terms of continuing training mission in Iraq?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I - I - I think it's important that - that the whole purpose of these negotiations is to listen to what - what is it that they need, uh, in order to ensure that they can provide security, in order to ensure that they can deal with the threat of terrorism, in order to ensure that they can take the steps necessary to be able to deal with security threats within their country. We've gotta' -- We've gotta' take the -- Listen to their needs, take them into consideration, indicate what can be provided in order to meet those concerns and then, obviously, through a process of negotiations, arrive at, you know, what - what is that going to look like? And that's the process that's going on nonw. And clearly it's not going to reflect the numbers that we've had there in the past but, uh, it - it -it does have to meet their needs. That's what's being negotiated by Gen [Lloyd] Austin as we speak.
Chair Carl Levin: Senator McCain?

Ranking Member John McCain: Well, Secretary Panetta, I don't want to waste the time of the Committee and my questioning but the fact is that one of the reasons why this has been delayed as much as it has is because the Iraqis wanted to know what our assessment was as to how many troops should be there and that has not been forthcoming. And it's very difficult for them to make a decision without us making input into what those needs are. And if we are basing it all on Iraqis' needs, that, to me, is an incomplete picture because we need to know what America's national security needs are as paramount reason for leaving American troops in harms way. Adm Mullen, do you believe that US forces should remain in the disputed territories of northern Iraq as part of a post-2011 mission?
Adm Mike Mullen: Again, Senator, I think certainly that is a very, very contentious area and it's --
Ranking Member John McCain: Do you believe or not believe that we should have --
Adm Mike Mullen: I think -- I think the security posture in that area has to be such that that doesn't, in any way shape or form, blow up. It is a very tough area and the exact composition of how that should happen, uh, is a product of these negotitations.
Ranking Member John McCain: So --
Adm Mike Mullen: And quite frankly, I've --
Ranking Member John McCain: So you'll not give your opinion --
Adm Mike Mullen: Sir, sir --
Ranking Member John McCain: -- as to whether we need to have a residual peace keeping force in northern Iraq in post 2011?
Adm Mike Mullen: There have -- There -- There -- Quite frankly -- and very recently -- there is still a very contentious debate about that issue.
Ranking Member John McCain: I understand there is a debate. I was asking you for your opinion.
Adm Mike Mullen: That's an issue that a security force is going to have to be there to resolve, yeah. It's composition, uh, is, I think, to be determined.
Ranking Member John McCain: Well every number that I've heard and been briefed on is at least 5,000 troops would be needed in that area, US troops, to prevent what has already been a very volatile are and if we weren't there would have already been conflict.
[. . . McCain takes the conversation to Afghanistan for a series of questions.]
Ranking Member John McCain: Finally, again back to Iraq, Mr. Secretary, it's not a training mission in the disputed areas. It's a peace keeping mission. So if you're confining it all only to training mission than you have got the complete picture of the security risks in Iraq that I have.
While visiting troops in Iraq in July (see July 11th snapshot), Leon Panetta made a serious of comments that were seen as gaffes. One wasn't a gaffe and that's become ever more clear. Panetta falsely linked 9-11 and Iraq. Panetta was widely called out in the press for this. His statements before the Committee today were often just as false and reactionary. His big theme, he pimped it three different times during the hearing, is that the Iraq War cannot just wind down because strides need to be made in Iraq and not to achieve those would be an insult to the dead.
He declared that the worst thing about it would be leaving the impression "that somehow all of this was in vain."
It was in vain in terms of its stated goals. In terms of creating a new market for corporations it's been a success. In terms of stealing Iraqi oil, it may yet be a success. But Leon Panetta has entered major reactionary territory taking him far from his center-left roots.
And, he better accept this, the American people have already determined that the Iraq War was not worth the cost.
The idea that approximately 4,480 Americans have died in the Iraq War so the US must remain in it is nonsense and it's insulting. Those lives lost are lost. That's very sad, it's very troubling. It does not excuse forcing other Americans to continue to die. To pretend that we cannot learn from mistakes is a rejection of the human experience and Leon Panetta was insulting, rude and crass. How dare he use the dead to shore up his weak argument. It was shameful and calls into question not only where he stands today but also whether or not he's fit to serve as Secretary of Defense.
Allegedly, Barack Obama as president meant change. But there's been no change with regards to war (except Barack embraces a little tighter). Today was one of the most embarrassing and shameful days for the administration. Barack may be able to take comfort in the fact that none of it resulted from a comment or comments he made, but that doesn't change the embarrassment or the shame.
If Leon Panetta feels that leaving Iraq will mean dead Americans (John McCain was the only one who ever noted the pain and struggle of Iraqis as more than a fleeting aside -- wait, Lindsey Graham did as well, he praised the Iraqis who had fought with Americans and noted that many had died during this war) died in vain, maybe he should tender his resignation, contact DynaCorp, grab a gun and head on over to Iraq as a mercenary?
But to insist that, because 20 or 30 people died walking into a fire that they were told would be a beautiful meadow, we must therefore keep sending people into that fire or the 20 or 30 dead was in vain, is an illogical argument devoid of any recognition of our greatest ability: The ability to learn from our mistakes.
The Committee was clearly (and rightly) bothered by the refusal of the administration to keep them informed on the negotiations or to bring them into the negotiations. We'll note this section of the hearing.
Senator Lindsey Graham: You're not going to tell me the number, I understand why you're not going to tell me the number. But we're going to talk about Iraq in terms of our strategic interest. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it that Iraq end well in terms of our national security interests?
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: It's -- it's certainly an 8 and above.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Okay. So let's look at it in terms of 8 and above. The resourcing for an 8 and above situation should be robust but reasonable. And Gen Ray Odierno says that we don't want a too large a force, I agree. The Iraqis want to take over but they need our help. If you looked at the Kurdish-Arab dispute as a potential failure point in the future of Iraq, where fighting could break out, Adm Mullen, how would you rate that as a risk?
Adm: Mike Mullen: High.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Okay, if you look at the construct you have of peshmerga, Afghan [Iraqi] security force and American soldier forming a new brigade or company, that construct is paying dividends, isn't it?
Adm Mike Mullen: Yes, sir, it has.
Senator Lindsey Graham: They call it the Lion's Brigade. So what I would ask you to do the next time you sit down and look at the number of troops to make sure the fault line does not crack because we've got a plan to integrate the peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces. And we're the referee. Over time, we're going to build a transition force that will be more stable. You said something, capacity and capability is as important as numbers. And I agree with that but there's a time in military engagement where numbers do matter. We're at the point now where capability matters. So my point about 3,000 -- and I know that's not the number -- intelligence gathering. What ability do the Iraqis have to gather intelligence on their own? Compared to us?
Adm Mike Mullen: I-I would describe that as one of the gap areas that they clearly need to work on. It's not none but it's an area that they certainly have --
Senator Lindsey Graham: But they dont have close to what we have and, if you want to keep Iran at bay, the more we know about what Iran's doing better off the Iraqis are, is that correct?
Adm Mike Mullen: But, Senator Graham, I don't think we should make them us either. Yes, they need to improve but --.
Senator Lindsey Graham: But we have a national security interest field in Iraq, right? So it's in our national security interest to know what's going on in that country. So when you look at the fault line of the Kurd-ish Arab dispute, you look at the fault line, you're looking at capabilities they don't have, when you look at their air force, training their army and having a force protection plan for our diplomats, the numbers begin to add up. And all I'm saying is, would you feel comfortable with a member of your family serving in a force of 3,000?
Adm Mike Mullen: I would -- I have confidence that whatever -- If -- assuming there is a number -- That force protection will be -- will be, uh, that our force protection will meet of whomever might be there --
Senator Lindsey Graham: One last question --
Adm Mike Mullen: So in that regard, yes.
The White House keeps the Congress out of the negotiation process. Their puppet Nouri al-Maliki mirrors their behavior. The Associated Press reports that Osama al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Parliament, held a press conference today in which he announced that Nouri al-Maliki has provided no information to Parliament about US troops remaining in Iraq or even about the capabilities of Iraqi forces. Nouri was designated as the sole negotiator in discussions with the US government to keep US forces in Iraq beyond 2011. As the commander of the Iraqi military, it is incumbent upon Nouri to deliver a report on readiness to Parliament.

Recommended: "Iraq snapshot"