Thursday, December 01, 2011






‘And I always tell Malia and Sasha, look, you guys, I don't worry about you.

‘I mean, I worry the way parents worry - but they’re on a path that is going to be successful, even if the country as a whole is not successful.



US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher: This whole episode in American history is a very disturbing thing to look at. And I think when people look back, they're going to wonder why the hell did we ever go into Iraq? And there will be no question, even in our minds today, whether or not the money that was expended and the lives and the blood that was expended there was worth it? It was not. And whatever we are spending now should be terminated and as soon as we can get those troops out, the better. When you find yourself in a bad situation, you don't try to mess around to make it a little bit less bad, you just step over and try to get in a good situation somewhere else where you can accomplish things.

Yeah, some can speak the truth and not shy from it. Rohrabacher was speaking at a hearing yesterday, one about the State Dept's plan to spend or waste billions training the Iraqi police or supposedly training since DoD contracts set the pattern for a lack of accountability that it has now handed off to State.
"Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program?" asked US House Rep Gary Ackerman yesterday. "Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue."
That was Ackerman's important question yesterday afternoon at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing on Iraq. US House Rep Steve Chabot is the Chair of the Subcommittee, US House Rep Gary Ackerman is the Ranking Member. The first panel was the State Dept's Brooke Darby. The second panel was the Inspector General for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen and SIGIR's Assistant Inspector General for Iraq Glenn D. Furbish. Chabot had a few comments to make at the start of the hearing. They often echoed comments made in the November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee hearing [see the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," the November 16th "Iraq snapshot" and the November 17th "Iraq snapshot" and other community reporting on the hearing included Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)" and Kat's "Who wanted what?" ]. But while Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham made their comments during rounds of questions, Chabot made his as the start of the hearing in his opening remarks.
Chair Steve Chabot: Unfortunately, these negotiations failed due to, in my opinion, mismanagement by this White House. Amazingly, the White House is now trying to tout the breakdown and lack of agreement as a success in as much as it has met a promise President Obama made as a candidate. This blatant politicization calls into question the White House's effort to secure an extension. Fulfilling a campaign promise at the expense of American national security is at best strategic neglect and at worse downright irresponsible. And the White House tacitly admits this in negotiating an extension in the first place. I fear, however, that our objective is no longer to ensure that Iraq is stable but merely to withdraw our forces by the end of this year in order to meet a political time line. Saying that Iraq is secure, stable and self-reliant -- as Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough recently did -- does not make it so. And to borrow a quote from then-Senator Hillary Clinton , It requires "the willing suspension of disbelief" to believe that withdrawing our forces from Iraq at a time when Iranian agents seek to harm at every turn our country and its allies advances our strategic interests. Although I understand that Iraq is a sovereign country, I believe there is much more we could have done to secure a reasonable troop presence beyond the end of this year.
McCain was wrongly criticized for not grasping Iraq was a sovereign nation in some press accounts. Wrongly. McCain grasped that fact and acknowledged it repeatedly in the hearing. Chabot may have wanted all of that at the start of the hearing to ensure that he was not misunderstood. In addition, Chabot noted the "reports of obstruction and noncooperation on the part of the Department of State during SIGIR's audit. This is extremely distressing and, to echo the sentiments of several of my colleagues in the other body which they recently expressed in a letter to Secretary of State Clinton, the Department of State is legally obliged to cooperate fully with SIGIR in the execution of its mission; jurisdictional games are unacceptable." In his opening remarks, the Ranking Member weighed in on that topic as well.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: He [Bowen] has testified before other bodies of Congress, he has released written quarterly reports, as well as specific audits and the message is the same: The program for which the Department of State officially took responsibility on October 1st is nearly a text book case of government procurement -- in this case, foreign assistance -- doesn't buy what we think we're paying for, what we want and why more money will only make the problem worse. Failed procurement is not a problem unique to the State Department. And when it comes to frittering away millions, Foggy Bottom is a rank amateur compared to the Department of Defense. As our colleagues on the Armed Services committees have learned, the best of projects with the most desirable of purposes can go horribly, horribly off-track; and the hardest thing it seems that any bureaucracy can do is pull the plug on a failed initiative. How do we know the Police Development Program is going off-track? Very simple things demonstrate a strong likelihood of waste and mismanagement. Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program? Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue.
Ackerman went on to note how "the program's objectives remain a mushy bowl of vague platitudes" and how it had "no comprehensive and detailed plan for execution, there is no current assessment of Iraqi police force capability and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no outcome-based metrics. This is a flashing-red warning light."
Before we go further, let's jump back to Rohrabacher's statements quoted earlier. Some may rush to condemn him for them -- some on the right, some on the left, some on the center, some from the apathetic aisles -- by noting that he supported the Iraq War. True. And he didn't deny that. Later in the hearing, he noted Ranking Member Ackerman's questioning of Brooke Darby with praise and then added, "Mr. Ackerman and I weren't always on good terms. I argued the case for supporting President Bush with his efforts in Iraq with Mr. Ackerman numerous times and I was wrong. Thank you, Mr. Ackerman. This [the Iraq War] has been a waste of our lives and our money." He also stated during another section of the hearing, "I hope that someone's listening because I wasn't listening years ago when I berated Mr. Ackerman." As US House Rep Brian Higgins would point out, that was a significant moment in Congress where few ever admit they got anything wrong.
Brooke Darby was sent before the Committee to spin. I'm not going to waste much time or space on her testimony and I do feel sorry for her that she was farmed out on this assignment. "I can't answer that question," she said when asked anything that hadn't been covered in at least three other hearings or "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it." (The last one to Gary Ackerman's question of if will take the State Dept 8 years to train the Iraqi police?) I think she did a strong effort trying to sell the plan but I've heard it all the talking points before over and over -- and so had the Subcommittee, as was evident by their reactions -- and there's no point in including too much of it here.
She referenced her conversation recently with Adnan al-Asadi, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior. It was apparently a good conversation and he believes trainers and training are both needed. Chair Chalbot asked if he denied the comments? (He is among those dismissive of training in the SIGIR reports that Ranking Member Ackerman referred to.) Darby testified that he didn't.
Another good question would have been, who is al-Asadi's boss?
He's the Deputy Minister at the Ministry of the Interior. Who is his boss? He has none. That is one of the three ministries Nouri al-Maliki was supposed to have named a head of back in November 2010 -- November 2010 -- to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister. Those opposed -- as many members of the Subcommittee were -- funding police training should have probably raised that issue. Grasp that the headless Ministry of the Interior is who State is coordinating the training with, that there is no Minister of the Interior and they want to throw away a billion US tax payer dollars.
From that first panel, we'll note this exchange.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
[long pause]
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye." Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.
Another exchange that also captured the inability of State to answer any questions took place shortly afterwards.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Madame Deputy Assistant Secretary, welcome. Is it your testimony here today that the State Dept is fully committed to transparency and accountability with respect to any and all programs it has oversight and responsibility for in Iraq?
Brooke Darby: We take our responsibility for accountability and cooperation with all of the audit entities, with Congress very, very seriously.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: No, ma'am, that was not my question. Is it your testimony that you're fully committed to transparency and accountability with respect to those responsibilities?
Brooke Darby: We are absolutely committed to accountability.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Full accountability? Full transparency and accountability?
Brooke Darby: I'm not sure -- I'm not sure how you define that so . . .
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Well I guess I'm not sure why you avoid the word. That was my question and you've ducked it three times. Are we or are we not, is the State Dept committed to full transparency and accountability to the tax payers in the United States and the people who served in Iraq or not?
Brooke Darby: We absolutely are accountable to the tax payers, to our Congress and to all of the oversight bodies who are looking into how we are spending our dollars, whether our programs are achieving success. We are absolutely --
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Alright. I'll sort of take that as a commitment.
Those two exchanges capture State's responses during the first panel (which took up the bulk of the hearing). During the second panel, Bowen would reference the exchange between Connolly and Darby that took place. Excerpt.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Mr. Bowen, you have indicated you've been in Iraq 33 times?
Stuart Bowen: 31.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: 31. Dating back to?
Stuart Bowen: February 2004.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: February 2004 and your last trip was?
Stuart Bowen: Two weeks ago.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Okay. The effort starting in 2003 was to commit 8 billion train the Iraqi police force, some 450,000 something Iraqis. Since there are no baseline assessments, again, I would ask you as I asked the previous witness, anecdotally what is your sense of the security system, the internal security system with respect to Iraq? Where the holes are? Are there any places, like in Baghdad, for example, Ramadi, that provide a good example of a successful result from this financial effort?
Stuart Bowen: I think there have been examples of success across the country. Anbar Province is much safer than it was six years ago. Uh, Kurdistan, the three northern provinces are largely very well in order.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: But they were pretty calm to begin with?
Stuart Bowen: You're right, there are two Iraqs. There are Kurdistan and the southern 15 [provinces]. But really what you are addressing is the current state of the Iraqi rule of law system as a whole. And that embraces corrections, the judiciary and the police. And I think that there continue to be serious problems on all fronts not just police training. The judiciary -- over 45 judges have been killed in the last 7 years. And I met with Judge Mehat [al-Mahmood] during my trip and another judge had just been killed and he was bemoaning again the lack of weapons guards for his judges' security members. And on the prison front -- we've-we've -- Frankly, we invested a lot of money building prisons and we wasted a lot of money.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Sadr City. About a five million population center of Baghdad. How does the Iraqi government deal with Sadr City? Just stay out of there altogether?
Stuart Bowen: I think it's a truce of sorts between the Sadrists who control that area and the rest of Baghdad. And I think that is why, frankly, Prime Minister Maliki's senior deputy minister al-Asadi and others are concerned that the primary location for the police development program in Iraq is right on the edge of Sadr City. It's directly next to the Baghdad police college -- another place where we wasted a lot of money -- right across the street from the Ministry of the Interior and adjacent to Sadr City and thus a magnet for indirect fire.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Clearly there's a lack of oversight and transparency. And that problem is seemingly pervasive and growing or least since we've initiated this back in 2003. Why is it that the State Dept would deliberately make efforts to obstruct, efforts to blame greater oversight and transparency? Why is there that adversarial relationship? It would seem to me that your efforts would be to benefit the effective use, efficient use, of American resources in that region because we all have a strategic interest in seeing that region evolve. Why is it that you suspect that the State Dept is seemingly obstructing those efforts?
Stuart Bowen: Well it was obstructing. I think we heard today that they are supportive -- almost "fully" supportive -- of our oversight at this stage. And it took an obstruction letter though, Mr. Higgins, as you were pointing to, to break that log-jam. Why? You know I can't read into the exact motives but I think to a certain extent it was a -- it was a legalistic argument about jurisdiction.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Yeah. Okay. I just, a final thought on this, someone once said, I think it was [New York Times columnist Thomas] Tom Friedman, he posed the question: Is Iraq the way it is because Saddam was the way he is or is Saddam is the way he is because Iraq is the way it is? And I just think when you look at this long, expensive effort -- and I don't just mean financial expense, expense in human capitol -- and the surge experience -- again, which was to tamp down the violence, provide a breathing space within which all the political factions in Iraq could reconcile their difference and evolve; it seems that the surge succeeded militarily but politically the situation doesn't seem to evolve. And obviously the policing issue, as I mentioned previously, in Northern Ireland, is fundamental to the success of any power sharing agreement and without meaningful progress over the past 8 years and this renewed effort given this horrible past of wasted money and great expectations and lofty goals but very, very little to show for it , it seems as though a billion dollar expenditure over the next five years moving forward is not a good use of American resources in a region that I think we've done everything that we can do in order to help them achieve their objectives, whatever they are, be they consistent with our objectives or not.
Yesterday we attended a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing took place as well. There's just not going to be room for that this snapshot. It will be covered tomorrow. I thought we'd do far less on the Subcommittee hearing above; however, when talking to people about coverage today, I kept asking if Rohrabacher's statements were covered and was repeatedly told no. I agree with US House Rep Brian Higgins that it took character to do what so often never happens, admit that you got something wrong and give credit to someone who got it right as Rohrabacher did in the hearing to Ranking Member Gary Ackerman.
I think the American people are right to be frustrated with the Congress (and the White House) as polls demonstrate they are and I'm not one to believe in the need for 'happy talk' news meaning I don't think the press "owes" Congress sunny reporting. But I do think Rohrabacher's statements on the Iraq War were significant in themselves. I think they became more significant when he didn't attempt to pretend like that had been his opinion all along but instead stated he was wrong. And I agree with Higgins that you rarely get that in Congress let alone someone saying they were wrong and noting that an opponent on the issue was actually right. That moment demonstrated a maturity that the low results in polling indicate Congress could use a great deal more of.
I've not had time to read any reports on the hearing -- I barely had time to read over my notes from the hearing today -- but a friend at ABC News swears Charley Keys (CNN) had the strongest report on the hearing, click here to see what won praise from someone at a competing network.