Saturday, June 23, 2012






March 21st, Iraq War veteran Captain Ian Morrison called the military suicide hotline and
waited for over one hour to speak to someone before killing himself. Steve Vogel (Washington Post) reports his widow Rebecca Morrison joined with other surviving spouses to share their stories of loss at a VA and Defense Dept cofnerence in DC following the record number of military suicides so far this year (in 2012's first 155 days, 154 active-duty service members have taken their own lives. His wife Rebecca Morrison shares his story with Steve Vogel (Washington Post) who also quotes Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki wondering, "Are we asking the right questions about sucides?" He notes that, in 2009, 'experts' were saying "mental illness was the leading cause of homelessness, and we have since learned that it is, more specifically, substance abuse."   Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke on the issue (link is video).  His remarks on the concluding day of the conference included:
First of all, this is always critical when it comes to an operation like the Defense Department and to our military forces…leadership responsibility.  We are directing military leaders to take this issue head on.  Like almost every issue in our military, progress on suicide prevention depends on leadership. 
I have made that clear, that this issue is first and foremost a leadership responsibility. 
All those in command and leadership positions – particularly junior officers and NCOs who have day-to-day responsibility for troops – need to be sensitive, need to be aware, need to be open, to signs of stress in the ranks, and they need to be aggressive, aggressive, in encouraging those who serve under them to seek help if needed.  They also must set an example by seeking help themselves if necessary.
As part of their leadership responsibilities, junior officers and NCOs must foster the kind of cohesion and togetherness that is a fundamental part of our military culture and can do so much to improve mental health.  My wife was a nurse, worked on mental health care issues, and she said to me time and time again, this is a human issue, a human problem.  You've got to look in people's eyes, you've got to be sensitive to their emotions, you've got to be sensitive to the challenges that they're facing, you've got to be aware, you've got to have your eyes open, and the more we can see those problems, the more we can do to try to help people in need.  To that end, we have to make clear that we will not tolerate, we will not tolerate actions that belittle, that haze, that ostracize any individual, particularly those who have made the decision to seek professional help. 
Leaders throughout the Department must make it understood that seeking help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and courage.  We've got to do all we can to remove the stigma that still too often surrounds mental health care issues.  Outreach efforts such as the Real Warriors Campaign, which work to increase awareness and the use of resources such as the Military and Veterans Crisis Lines, are also a very important part of these efforts. 
Secondly, we've got to do everything we can to improve the quality and access to health care.  This is the second pillar of the suicide prevention strategy – improving the quality of behavioral health care, expanding access to that care.
We now have more than 9,000 psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, counselors working in military hospitals and in military clinics.  That number has increased more than 35 percent over the last three years.  Behavioral health experts are now being embedded into line units, and the Department has worked to place mental health providers in primary care clinics in order to facilitate access. 
Guardsmen and Reservists often do not have ready access to the same support network as the active duty force.  We've got to do what we can to increase initiatives like the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program that's working to address this kind of problem. 
And going forward, I want to make sure that all service members and their family members have the quality mental and behavioral health care that they need, the kind of care that must be delivered by the best health care professionals in the world.  Thanks to the efforts of so many of you in this audience, we are improving our ability to identify and treat mental health care conditions, and we are working to better equip our system to deal with the unique challenges that these conditions can present.  For example, I have been very concerned about reports of problems with the screening process for post-traumatic stress in the military disability evaluation system.  For that reason, I have directed a review of this process across all of the uniformed services.  This review will help ensure that we are delivering on our commitment to provide the best care for our service members.  We've got to do everything we can to make sure that the system itself is working to help soldiers, not to hide this issue, not to make the wrong judgments about this issue, but to face facts and deal with the problems upfront, and make sure that we provide the right diagnosis and that we follow up on that kind of diagnosis.    
Thirdly, we've got to elevate the whole issue of mental fitness.  A third pillar of suicide prevention is better equipping service members with training and coping skills that they need to avoid or bounce back from stress.  
To that end, all of the Services, all of the Services – under the leadership of General Dempsey and his Senior Enlisted Advisor, Sergeant Major Bryan Battaglia – are working to elevate mental fitness to the same level of importance, we've got to elevate mental fitness to the same level of importance that DoD has always placed on physical fitness. 
Separately, a whole of government effort that has been led by the President and Mrs. Obama to combat veterans' unemployment and boost hiring of military spouses is aimed at helping to reduce the financial stress faced by military families and veterans.  
Finally, fourthly, we've got to increase research in suicide prevention.  In partnership across government and with the private sector, the fourth pillar of our approach is to improve our understanding of suicide, to improve our understanding of related mental health care issues through better and more improved scientific research.  I'd like to note the leadership of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius on this issue and thank her for coming to address this conference earlier.
I think it's an important speech and hopes the press will pay attention to it.  (Click here to read it in full.)  I know Leon and I like Leon so he doesn't get a fair shake here.  This morning we called him out with regards to statements he made and I don't have a problem with that but he made some historic and important remarks (click here for video) last week and we were too busy to note it.   Anyone else would have gotten their deserved attention for those remarks but I always want to be sure that I'm fair with regards to him because I do like him and I've known him for years. And factor in all of that because what he said in the speech today needed to be said.  But no one in leadership has wanted to say it.  If words are followed up by the brass immediately below Panetta, this should be a historic shift regarding suicide and mental health issues in the military.  As with his remarks earlier this year on sexual assault within the military (click here for January 19th snapshot if you missed it), he said was needed and should have been said long before.  But he's the first Secretary of Defense to say these things.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK.
P.T.S.D. is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event. Given that troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq see fallen comrades, experience combat, or survive horrific events, the likelihood of a veteran being diagnosed with P.T.S.D. is high. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, someone with P.T.S.D. is at least twice as likely to commit or attempt suicide, or experience substance abuse. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse, depression or mood disorders, according to a 2010 report by the Coalition for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
The Center for a New American Security discusses the stigma in the service associated with mental health treatment. In a study on the rising suicide rate in the military, the organization found that troops were two to four times more interested in receiving care than reported but were afraid of repercussions from their superiors. That same fear initially kept me from getting treatment. But I finally sought help. My superiors met me with neither resistance nor support. It felt like I lost their respect, that they forgot who I was and what I had done for the Marine Corps during my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
P.T.S.D. is something that some in the military do not accept or understand. Unlike physical wounds, it is invisible, intangible. I once heard a senior Marine say P.T.S.D. was "fake." In a way this makes sense for a military institution that prides itself on toughness and resilience in the face of adversity. But the time has come to realize that all battlefield wounds must be healed.
And Senator Patty Murray, who is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee,  has been calling for answers as to how some service members and veterans were diagnosed with PTSD but then were given new diagnoses and suddenly they didn't have PTSD -- except most of them still did.  So who ordered the change and was someone trying to cut out needed treatment to save a few bucks?  As she gets more answer on what recently happened, she's now insisting that the scope be expanded to see who else was effected.  Wednesday her office issued the following:
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to request details on how the Department of Defense will conduct a major review of mental health diagnoses made since 2001. The review, which Secretary Panetta announced last week at a hearing with Senator Murray, comes after Murray has repeatedly pointed to inconsistencies in the Pentagon's mental health evaluation system. In Washington state, those inconsistencies have led to hundreds of service members having their proper diagnosis of PTSD restored after being accused of lying about their symptoms.
"The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are losing the war against mental and behavioral health conditions," Murray wrote. "As you acknowledged, huge gaps remain in how both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs approach, diagnose and deal with these cases. A review across each service is a necessary step forward in addressing concerns I have been raising about both the disability evaluation system and the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health conditions."
In the letter Murray outlines four key issues the Pentagon must consider in proceeding with the review, including one about the timeline for this massive review. Murray also calls on Secretary Panetta to "clearly communicate the scope of the review as well as the impact on individual servicemembers and veterans."
The full text of Senator Murray's letter follows:
June 20, 2012
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Secretary Panetta:
As I stated during the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Defense FY 2013 Budget Request, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are losing the war against mental and behavioral health conditions. The recent events at Madigan Army Medical Center, where hundreds of soldiers have had their proper diagnosis of PTSD restored after being told they were exaggerating their symptoms, lying, and being labeled malingers, demonstrate the weaknesses within the Department of Defense in properly evaluating and diagnosing behavioral health conditions.
As you acknowledged, huge gaps remain in how both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs approach, diagnose and deal with these cases. I was pleased to see you share my belief that a review of behavioral health evaluations and diagnoses in support of the disability evaluation system needs to be a Department led effort. A review across each service is a necessary step forward in addressing concerns I have been raising about both the disability evaluation system and the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral health conditions. I applaud your commitment to undertake this comprehensive review, however, I have questions about how the Department will proceed.
· Has the Department developed or provided guidance to the services in order to accomplish this review? If so, I would request copies of any guidance that has been developed or issued.
· What is the timeline for execution of this review? When do you expect the other services to begin this review and when do you expect findings and recommendations from each of the services?
· Which senior leaders at the Department and each service will be responsible for conducting this review and the development and implementation of recommendations?
· How will the Army's current review be incorporated into this broader effort?
As the review begins, the Department of Defense must clearly communicate the scope of the review as well as the impact on individual servicemembers and veterans. Appropriate steps must also be taken to ensure the performance of this review does not adversely impact the timeliness of cases currently processing through the disability evaluation system.
Ensuring greater consistency in the evaluation and diagnosis of behavioral health conditions is not the only challenge currently confronting the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). As highlighted by a recent Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing I held on IDES, the number of men and women enrolled in this system continues to climb, the number of servicemembers cases meeting both of the Departments' timeliness goals is unacceptably low, and the amount of time it takes to provide benefits to a servicemember transitioning through the system has risen each year since inception. Both Departments must take immediate action to reverse these trends.
Following a recent discussion with Deputy Secretary Carter on these issues, I outlined a series of recommendations to improve the disability evaluation system. The letter to Deputy Secretary Carter dated June 6, 2012 outlining these recommendations is enclosed, and I urge you to act quickly to implement these solutions. I appreciate the opportunity, which you offered at the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, to discuss these issues with Secretary Shinseki and you in the near future, and I look forward to hearing your recommendations about how we can improve this system.
I appreciate your attention to this request and I remain committed to working with you to address these very serious issues.
Patty Murray
cc: The Honorable Carl Levin
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct
That was released on Wednesday and we're staying on Wednesday for a moment.
Chair Bill Johnson: H.R. 3730, the Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act, was introduced by our Subcommittee's Ranking Member, Congressman Donnelly of Indianana. His bill would require the VA to notify Congress and directly affected individuals, within 10 business days or less, of a data breach that compromises sensitive personal information. This imporved transparency and responsiveness would be a boost to the VA's efforts at improving its information security image. As the system currently works today, the lapse of time between the VA knowing of a data breach and a veteran knowing his or her information has been compromised and may be floating around is entirely too long. In discussions with staff, Assistant Secretary Baker acknowledged that the current duration between the VA learning of a data breach and a veteran being notified that his or her personally identifiable information, or "PII," may have been compromised could be shortened, and this legislation is a good measure toward that end. I am proud to co-sponsor this bill. I urge my colleagues to consider adding their support and look forward to Ranking Member Donnelly's further remarks on it.
Wednesday the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on proposed legislation. (Yesterday the House Veterans Affairsl Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and a section of it was covered in yesterday's snapshot.)  That was one of four important bills that were addressed.  Another important one was H.R.5948.  This is the fiduciary bill.  On February 9th, this same Subcommittee held a hearing on VA's fiduciary system.  We coverd aspects of that in that day's snapshot and I had no idea it was as big an issue as it was.  That snapshot resulted in a ton of e-mail then and since and we still get e-mails asking, "Has anyone mentioned fiduciary again?" I'm hardly the smartest person in the room so I'm not surprised that I had no clue on this one's importance.  But I think it's also true that this isn't necessarily an issue that you're going to have veterans showing up at hearings to talk about because if they have someone overseeing their benefits, there's usually a reason for that.  So this is a veteran's issue but it's one that's more likely to catch attention from veterans' families.  Chair Johnson did raise the issue while questioning the VA's Director of Pension and Fiduciary Service Dave McLenachen and we'll include some of that exchange.   
Chair Bill Johnson: I find it interesting that you used the term working constructively together on the fiduciary program because at our hearing on the VA's fidcuiary program in February, you said you intended to look at the statutes governing the fiduciary program and make recommendations that might improve it. Outside of the testimony that you've given today, four months later we haven't heard anything from you or your Dept. Currently, our bill addresses a number of issues we brought to your attention and yet you're against these. After the issues raised at the February hearing and the recent media coverage of fiduciary issues, I would think that you would have some ideas on how to improve the program. Can you provide for us improvements in the fiduciary program that you've made since our February hearing?
Dave McLenachen: Well sir, in addition to the -- the policy and procedures that we've issued even since the February hearing, as I mentioned, we've completed our proposed fiduciary recommendations. Now as we were working on those recommendations, we determined that there was different authority that we needed from Congress, we would certainly develop a legislative proposal for that purpose. But I have to say, having worked on those regulations and looking at the authority that we have, we believe we have the authority we need to correct the program. And all of the things that we do support in the bill are things that we have implemented ourselves, like I said, over the last seven months. I believe we are making real progress.
Chair Bill Johnson: You mentioned that you've completed the regs and that you have the authority to implement the program, but you didn't really answer my question. Can you describe some specific improvements that you've made in the fiduciary program since February?
Dave McLenachen: Yes, sir. One of the concerns of the Committee was the independence of the fiduciary. We had a policy in place that required a fiduciary to check with VA, as you mentioned the form. Well it wasn't just the form, we had a policy in place that required a fiduciary to check with VA for any expenditure over $1,000. I rescinded that policy. That was since the hearing. In addition to that, there's concern about transparency in the program. We have never provided veterans with copies of audited accounting by VA. I changed that policy. Every -- every fiduciary is instructed to provide a copy an audited true accounting by VA to the beneficiary. Criminal background checks. We have contracts in place to do a criminal background check on every fidicuiary we appoint. There's a number of other developments, sir, that I could go through with you but we are making progress in this program.
Chair Bill Johnson: That would have been great. We would have liked to have gotten that information before today. But that's good. Based on recent articles about nationwide problems in the fiduciary program, it seems that there's been little improvement other than the things that you mentioned today. Do you have any further response to the media reports of the numerous and horrific stories in those stories?
Dave McLenachen: Yes, sir. I disagree with the view that the fidcuariy program is plagued with fraud. I am aware of those articles and it is our position that any misuse of VA benefits is unacceptable. That's our position. And we work hard to prevent that type of misuse. That's the reason why we do over 30,000 accounting audits every single year. That's the reason why we do 70,000 or more field examinations every year. So we work hard to prevent misuse and we've been very successful. I testified in February that our misuse rate during Fiscal Year 2011 was less than one-half of one-percent. Looking at the articles, sir, I think, in reality, the articles are about a broader problem and that is general abuse of veterans. We looked at the cases that were mentioned. In the state of Texas, 6.5% of our beneficiary population in our program live in Texas. Yet the misuse rate in Texas is only 4.4% compared to all of the cases. So while the articles may have been reporting the broader problem of misuse, I don't think that we've been able to confirm that it points out a specific problem about the fiduciary program. And, that said, that doesn't mean we're going to ease up on misuse of benefits.
Chair Bill Johnson: The VA opposes the provision that would authorize the VA to limit the appointment of a fiduciary to management of VA funds. The VA contends that the purpose of this provision is unclear and probably unnecessary because the VA appoints fiduciaries only for the limited purpose of receiving VA benefits on behalf of a beneficiary. However, I have VA e-mails that direct a VA representative to take control of non-VA funds. Why the difference between your actions and your comments on the legislation?
Dave McLenachen: Mr. Chairman, I'd be interested to see -- to see the information that you have about that. Congress has authorized us to appoint fiduciaries for the purpose of VA benefit funds under management. That's what we have authority to do. Now there may be some disconnect about the accounting process. When we do an accounting, we need to see all income and expenses in accounts and sometimes in those accounts there is other income such as, for example, Social Security benefits.
Chair Bill Johnson: So you would find it inappropriate for a VA representative to take control of non-VA funds?
Dave McLenachen: Yes, sir. Without knowing more about the facts of the case, I would say, yes, I would.
Chair Bill Johnson: We will provide you with that information.
Dave McLenachen: Thank you.
Chair Bill Johnson: You discuss the provision concerning appeals and the removal of fiduciaries as limiting a beneficiary's ability to have his or her competency restored. Can you describe how a veteran currently has his or her competency restored and subsequently can get out of the fiduciary program?
Dave McLenachen: Yes, thanks for that question because this is an area that I've really been interested in addressing and we are doing that in our regulations, just to let you know, that's one thing that we are addressing. Currently, if an individual has been rated as being unable to manage their VA benefits. They can be taken out of the program by having a medical evidence such as a doctor's opinion that they can in fact, based on their disability or regardless of their disability, manage their own VA funds. In addition to that, there might -- if there was a legal process -- uh -- where a court held that a person was incompetent to manage their own affairs and a court concludes otherwise, that would be evidence considered.
Iraq has again been slammed with bombings today.  AP reports there were 2 roadside bombings, one after the other.   Kareem Raheem (Reusters) quotes police officer Mudhaffar Khalaf stating, 'Fruit and vegetables have been scattered everywhere.  Some children were wounded.  We have started to eacuate the injured people."  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) quotes shoe store owner Mohammed Hussein al-Jizani stating he heard one blast, "Three minutes later there was a second explosion as people and policemen were rushing to the site of the first bomb.  The evil insurgents chose the best time to attack, because the market is usually busy on Fridays with young people gathering to sell and buy birds."  The Voice of Russia counts 14 dead and over one-hundred injured.  But that's just Baghdad.  If you visit the Iraqi press, you'll find Alsumaria is reporting a roadside bombing near Samarra Hospital which left three people injured, a Samarra suicide car bombing targeting a bus of pilgrims claimed the life of 1 of them and left nine more injured as well as one Iraqi soldier and two police officers, and the Sunni Endwoment in Samarra was also targeted with a bombing resulting in serious structural damage and injured civilians (plural -- so at least two, no actual number is given for the wounded) who were passing by.
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Friday, June 22, 2012






Alsumaria reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani states Nouri al-Maliki -- prime minister of Iraq and chief thug of the operation -- is sewing sedition in several ways and that his supporters are pushing a false rumor: That a Barzani, in exchange for Nouri's consent on an oil deal [the ExxonMobil deal], Barzani will bury his complaints and grievances over Nouri's pattern of rule.  Barzani calls the rumor a lie.
Many feel Nouri's charges against Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi are a lie as well.  To review, let's fall back to drop back to the April 30th snapshot:

The political crisis was already well in effect when December 2011 rolled around.  The press rarely gets that fact correct.  When December 2011 rolls around you see Iraqiya announce a  boycott of the council and the Parliament, that's in the December 16th snapshot and again in a December 17th entry .  Tareq al-Hashemi is a member of Iraqiya but he's not in the news at that point.  Later, we'll learn that Nouri -- just returned from DC where he met with Barack Obama -- has ordered tanks to surround the homes of high ranking members of Iraqiya.  December 18th is when al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq are pulled from a Baghdad flight to the KRG but then allowed to reboard the plane. December 19th is when the arrest warrant is issued for Tareq al-Hashemi by Nouri al-Maliki who claims the vice president is a 'terrorist.' .
And al-Hashemi has been in Turkey while a Baghdad court, controlled by Nouri, pretends to be offering an impartial trial.  This despite the Baghdad judges declared him guilty in February at their press conference and while one judge was stating that he had been threatened by al-Hashemi, before the trial even started, they declared al-Hashemi guilty.  That press conference demonstrated that al-Hashemi was correct, he would not get a fiar trial in the Baghdad courts (he had asked that the trial be moved to the KRG or to Kirkuk).  In May, the trial began.  His attorneys have walked out at least once in protest of the judges' behavior.  The judges have also refused to allow Vice President al-Hashemi to call President Jalal Talabani to the stand as a character witness. 
Tareq al-Hashemi remains Vice President.  That should mean the trial shouldn't even be taking place.  His term would need to have expired or he would need to resign or he would need to be voted out of office to stand trial.  As Vice President of Iraq, Tareq al-Hashemi is now in Saudi Arabi where, Alsumaria reports, he is conveying condolences over Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz's death.  That's a trip that Nouri couldn't make successfully.  Tariq al-Hashemi is Sunni Arab.  Nouri's not and Nouri's constant verbal attacks on Saudi Arabia -- as well as Saudi Arabia's snub of his Arab League Summit in March -- go to the fact that they don't trust him.  For good reason.  Last Friday,  Alsumaria reported he was publicly accusing Saudi Arabi and Qatar of trying to destroy Iraq and Syria.  President Jalal Talabani probably could have handled the trip and the diplomacy aspect but he's fled Iraq for Germany.
Commenting on al-Hashemi's trial, Press TV gloms on Alia Nsayef of White Iraqiya -- a splinter group that broke off from the larger Iraqiya and has carried water for Nouri repeatedly since doing so.  Nsayef insists to Press TV that the trial is fair.  We'll be kind and assume the next section contains an editing error which leads to confusion and appears to indicate Iraqiya's Hamed al-Mutlaq was vouching for the court.  He was doing no such thing.   Mohamad Ali Harissi (AFP) quotes al-Mutlaq stating, "All evidence during the past months indicate that the judiciary was not successful in many things, and the effect on it of politicisation is clear.  We need a separation of powers and to define responsibilities and stop the interference in the work of the judiciary, which is not up to the standard of the Iraqis, though Iraqis were one of the first people to adopt laws."
A large number of Iraqis took to Baghdad's Firdous Square this week to protest Nouri.  Dar Addustour (check out the photo of the turnout, this was a huge turnout) reports Moqtada al-Sadr supporters showed up demanding that the media be free, that people speak freely and that no one muzzle the voice of democracy.  Kitabat notes that Nouri's effort to shut down satellite chanel Baghdadi resulted in the large turnout and that the crowd chanted Moqtada's name.  Dar Addustour reports that Nouri attempted to limit -- if not halt -- the protests by butting off raods to the square, stationing security guards throughout and more.  Nouri dismissed the protest and their objections to him while insisting that his critics can say anything about him but he's gagged/prevented from speaking about them.  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had no comment because he's fled to Germany.
He don't show much these days
It gets so f**king cold
I loved his secret places
But I can't go anymore
"You change like sugar cane"
Says my northern lad
I guess you go too far
When pianos try to be guitars
I feel the west in you
And I feel it falling apart too
-- "Northern Lad," written by Tori Amos, first appears on her From The Choirgirl Hotel
It hasn't been a good time for Northern Lad Jalal.  For awhile there, he could hang with Moqtada, Iraqiya's Ayad Allawi and KRG President Massoud Barzani.  Then he refused to follow the Constitution and forward a petition to Parliament.  Jalal decided he had a 'right' to verify signatures and verify meant something other than: Did you sign this?  "I signed it two weeks ago but I've changed my mind" meant Jalal struck your name and he then turned around and insisted that the petition didn't have enough signatures.  He was gripping any excuse he could as quickly became obvious.  And now he finds himself alone hence the trip to Germany.

Kitabat reported last week on Talabani's June 9th declaration that he wouldn't forward the signatures for a no-confidence vote, thereby ending that process for the Parliament to vote Nouri al-Maliki out as prime minister.  Of Jalal's change of heart, Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) noted, "Talabani has close ties to Iran, which has been using its leverage in Iraq to keep al-Maliki in place. Divisions among the prime minister's opponents may also be undercutting the no confidence push."  Dar Addustour also focused on the messages that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been sending Jalal Talabani.  And it wasn't just Iran putting the pressure on Jalal.  By mid-week,  Dar Addustor was reporting that eye witnesses claim Jalal was visited by a convoy of US officials (ten vehicles) who explained to him what he was going to do.  (Both the US White House and the Iranian government backed Nouri al-Maliki in 2010.)  While Jalal danced for his masters, Alsumaria reported Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi stated that he refused US Vice President Joe Biden's request that he meet with Nouri al-Maliki.  He states that Tony Blinken (Biden's National Security Advisor) made the request on Biden's behalf and urged that the opposition to Nouri back down.  Kitabat noted that the US publicly insists it is not biased towards either side of the debate but that it worked repeatedly to undercut the opposition and to save Nouri from a no-confidence vote.
His former allied pals didn't just roll over the way Jalal so often does.  Instead, Alsumaria reported they met-up in Erbil on June 10th and discussed how to mobilize Parliament to take on the issue of the power grab and Nouri's monopoly of power.  Moqtada al-Sadr would insist after the meeting that the process continues.  Later in the week,  Al Rafidayn reported that Massoud Barzani also declared that efforts continue to replace Nouri and to "repel the dictatorship" as the Iraqi people want to happen.
And then Alsumaria reported Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi explained that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was the one reassuring everyone April 28th that a withdrawal of confidence could be done and Nouri al-Maliki easily replaced.  Allawi states that Talabani stated no Constitutional mechanism was required, Talabani merely had to withdraw confidence.  The next day Alsumaria reported that the Kurdistan Alliance has declared they do not support the Iraqi president traveling out of the country (he had planned a trip to the US for health issues caused by his gross obesity) and that the Kurdistan Alliance was calling on him to respect the no-confidence petition which has 176 signatures (and which they expect to gather more signatures -- the figure they give is 190).  Alliance MP Mahma Khalil  repeated that in April in Erbil (that would be the April 28th meet-up), Jalal stated he could replace Nouri with a no-confidence vote that would leave the rest of the elements of government in place.  Yes, the exact charge that Allawi had made the day before.  The next day it was time for Jalal to talk to Alsumaria and he insisted that Ayad Allawi was wrong (he avoided calling out or mentioning Mahma Khalil who'd made the same charges).
The waters were simmering and looked likely to boil.   Al Rafidayn noted so many were upset with Jalal that he's had to prepare a public letter for the PUK to distribute to its members.  But the big drama would wait for Saturday.  With less than 24 hours before a meet-up of Iraqiya's Allawi, KRG President Barzani and Moqtada al-Sadr, news emerged via Alsumaria that Jalal had resorted to a strongly worded letter  to Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi and KRG President Massoud Barazni in which he belittled Moqtada al-Sadr and in which he insisted he'd rather resign than change his opinion and forward the petition with 176 signatures to Parliament.  A strongly worded letter left him so weakened that he had to immediately flee Iraq and head to Germany.
From his hospital sick bed, Jalal's issued near daily thoughts and affirmations via the press.  Yesterday, he resorted to a spokesperson.  Dar Addustour reports that the spokesperson declared Jalal had surgery but would not disclose what type of surgery or even a general reason for the surgery.  There was time, however, to float a rumor that, as soon as he returned to Iraq, Jalal planned to announce his resignation as president.
If that was meant to lead to cries of "Heavens no!," poor Jalal, no one appears to care.
RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

Thursday, June 21, 2012




Fewer Americans believe the economy is getting better and a majority disapproves of how President Barack Obama is handling it, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.


And I'm Melissa Block at NPR West in Culver City, California. Today from Federal Reserve, another downbeat assessment of the economy. After two days of meetings, Fed policymakers cut their forecasts for growth over the next three years, and they said unemployment would be higher than they previously thought. But as NPR's John Ydstie reports, the sputtering economy only prompted a modest response from the Fed, the extension of a program known as Operation Twist.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Fed officials cut their forecasts for economic growth for this year from around 2.5 percent back to about 2 percent. They said unemployment is likely to remain just above 8 percent.




House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Bob Filner: Now, by the way, Mr. [US House Rep Timothy] Walz -- now, Mr. Walz, she [VA Under Secretary Allison Hickey] doesn't need your defense here for her past accomplishments. And I don't need a lecture from you of her past.  We're talking about what she's going to do for the VA now. I'll stipulate any accomplishments that she's had. I respect her service.  But if she can't do this job, I don't care what she has done in the past.  Okay? So don't lecture me about how I don't have respect for someone's past.  She's talking about the future -- the present and the future.  And she didn't give one answer or one recognition that there was any problem -- in all her testimony, in every answer.  This Chairman [Marlin Stutzman] asked her a number of things. She talked for three-and-a-half minutes and didn't give the answer and still doesn't know the answer.  So let's talk about what she's doing right here and right now.  And I said if one of your veterans -- And she didn't answer your question, your very good questions, Mr. Walz, about the time period of what's going on in Minneapolis?  She just said, 'Oh, from time to time we have surges.'  You asked are we heading toward a lowest common denominator and she never answered that.  So don't -- I mean be a little more critical of the kind of answers we're getting.  We don't have a plan. This whole hearing was about a plan.  If I were her, I would have given out the plan.  But we still don't have one.  Again, Ms. Hickey, if I were you, leadership comes from the top. The top is saying, "There is no problem."  You ask any veteran in my district, in Mr. Walz' district, in Mr. [Mike] Michaud's district, in Mr. Stutzman's district: Is there a problem?  Every one will say, "Yes."  Now you can say, 'They don't understand fully.  Their perception is wrong, we've had a surge of this.  We did this.  We had the Vietnam era.'  I don't care what -- you have not either acknowledged the problem or say how we're going to get out of it.  You gave us an assurance of a date.  And Mr. Walz asked --  I know it's not a very bright question -- 'Are you committed? Is it going to happen?'  What is she going to say?  "No"?  We've had these questions, we've had these committments for years and years and years and years.  And Mr. Walz asked you another softball question: 'Has anything been tried as this big before?  We have tried every single thing that you have as your initiatives -- has been tried.   Every one of them at some point.  In fact, we've had far more comprehensive plans than your forty initiatives lumped together.  Nothing has worked.  It's gotten worse.  And you refuse to admit it.  You refuse to acknowledge it.  And you don't give us a plan to fix it.  What am I to think? 'Well, she was an Air Force General that did great things.'  If it doesn't happen by 2015, are you going to say I resign or what's going to happen if you're at the top?  And it's always two or three years out.  It's never, "I'm going to do this tomorrow."  You've been working on this.  Your predecessor's been working on this.  I don't have any assurance.  You can't even correct a date on the computer for a year-and-a-half and you call it a "glitch."  What confidence do I have that you can do anything if it took a year-and-a-half to fix a "glitch?"  The simplest thing.  Put a date in.  You could have done it by hand in a few months.  It took you a year-and-a-half.  You still haven't done it.  I'm sure we'll get a memo from you -- I just bet, you want to make a bet right now -- that you'll ask for another extension.  I just bet.  When's that going to be done?  Why should we have any confidence in 2015 that a system of a million backlog is going to be fixed when we can't even get a "glitch" fixed in a year-and-a-half?  What gives me the confidence?  That you were an Air Force General?  Sorry, it doesn't work. Give me some confidence.  What has worked so far?  Everything has been a problem.
Yesterday US House Rep Gus Bilirakis and other Republicans chaired a VBA hearing.  Chair Jeff Miller wasn't present for the hearing.  "Well here we are again," observed Ranking Member Bob Filner, "I think one of the first meetings I went to twenty years ago as a member of the Veterans Committee was on the backlog. We've hired what?  In the last few years, maybe 10,000, 15,000 employees."
 I spent last night on the phone to friends in federal, state and municipal government because Bilirakis brought up an issue that I didn't feel comfortable speaking to without some research.  Bilirakis noted the claims progress, or rather the lack of progess.
Acting Chair Gus Bilirakis: VBMS I know that I and my fellow Committee members and our Ranking Member have many questions to ask as to when this system will be ready for national roll out rolled out and how issues relating to the scanning of paper documents will be handled in the future.  As a matter of fact, VA's contract with the US National Archives and Records Administration, the agency currently handling VA's scanning needs, expires on June 26th, just one week from today.   I'll ask what goes after, what's going to happen on June 27th?
Backlog needs to be farmed out.  I'm not surprised or troubled by that.  I'm bothered by backlog being created as I type this sentence.  Paper taken in today should not become part of a backlog.  The first person touching that paper in the VA should be immediately scanning it into the system.  (Then it would be put in a box for archiving, as was explained last night, according to whatever retention program they're operating under.)  The paper needs to be addressed immediately.  And how do you address it?
You don't hire one or two people in the office to scan documents and carry the documents to them.  That's how you begin creating the backlog.  The first person to handle the paper, is the one who scans it.  Every one that comes after is referring to the digital copy in the system after that.  And everyone responsible for accepting paperwork or opening mail has a light scanner (inexpensive) attached to their computer and they immediately scan what they receive.
That's the only way you're going to end the paper backlog. There is no excuse for creating new backlog.   Again, I'm not disputing the farming out of the existing backlog.  There's no way VA employees can catch up with that and also do their current job tasks.  But new backlog should not be created.  You touch a claims application, you scan it in and then it goes to a pile to be boxed up for archives.  The original is not sent somewhere else in the office to be scanned or placed with stacks of others to be farmed out for scanning.
How much of a problem is the claims request?  Do they get lost?  I was told by three people with the VA that "missing" happens more than "lost" with "lost" meaning -- in their usuage -- it's not showing back up and "missing" meaning a week or two of fumbling around for the paper.  (How often are original paper documents "missing?"  "From time to time" and "it happens" were the responses, no one with the VA wanted to give a percentage or an estimate.) 
Many governments are already moving towards that.  In your local areas, getting an application to put up a fence means turning it and paying for the permit and more and more local governments are scanning that document in right there when payment is being taken.  They're doing that to prevent the loss that can take place when the original document is routed to one or more different people before it's entered into the system.  This is not a "C.I. brainstorm."  This is what is happening in government offices around the country and what the VA should immediately begin doing.  There is no need to create new backlog and even without a numbered estimate of how many claims application are lost each year, one is too many.    The longterm goal is for VA to move away from paper altogether.  They're not their yet and they're really not prepared for that at present which is the point US House Rep Phil Roe made -- he is also medical Dr. Phil Roe -- when he discusses his own practice's transition to paperless.  Disabled American Veterans Jeffrey Hall also raised the issue of the paper backlog, the future paperless goal and more.  Hall, VFW's Gerald Manar, The American Legion's Richard Dumancas and Paralyzed Veterans of America's Sherman Gillums made up the first panel.  The National Archives Records Administration's William Bosanko was the second panel.  The third panel was the IG.  Fourth panel was the VA's Allison Hickey, Alan Bozeman and Roger Baker.
Jeffrey Hall: Mr. Chairman, even before VBMS was first conceived, it was clear that in order to have a paperless claims process there must be a comprehensive system in place to digitze paper documents.  Yet VBA has failed to finalize a long-term scanning solution, in part because it has not yet definitively answered fundamental questions about when and which legacy documents will be scanned into VBMS.  Although VBA has committed to moving forward with a paparelss system for new claims, it has dragged its feet for more than two years in determining under what conditions existing paper claims files would be converted to digital files.  Because a majority of claims processed each year are for reopened or appealed claims and because files can remain active for decades, until all legacy claims are converted to digital data files, VBA could be forced to continue paper processing for decades.  We have been told that VBA's current plans are to convert claims files that have new rating-related actions, but not those with minor actions such as dependency or address changes.  However, the uncertainty over the past couple of years about how much scanning would be required, and at what cost, is at least partly responsible for VBA's reliance on NARA and its current rush to find a new scanning vendor.  While there are very difficult technical questions to be answered, and significant financial considerations involved in transitioning to all-digital processing, particular involving legacy paper files, we believe VBA would be best served by taking the most aggressive approach feasible in order to shorten the length of time this transition takes.  While the conversion from paper processing to VBMS will require substanital upfront investment, it will pay dividends for VBA and veterans in the future.  We would urge VBA to provide -- and Congress to review -- a clear plan for eliminating legacy paper files, one that includes realistic timeliness and resource requirements.
As noted before, there were several acting chairs for the hearing.  It was a disturbing hearing as we heard the same things that we've heard over and over.  But there were some new revelations as well.  However, that might have been even more disturbing.  Excerpt.
Acting Chair Marlin Stutzman: I'd like to do a second round because I'd like to talk about the scanning issue.  Why did it take this Committee calling a hearing for the VA to meet with NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] to discuss next week's scanning contract expiration?  I mean this is, I think, the frustration that's felt around here.  It's these sorts of things that we find out about and why isn't there some sort of pro-active movement before this?  Can you -- can you give us an explanation of why the contract is set to expire next week?  There isn't a contract.  Is there some other plan that the VBA is planning on implementing? Is it going to be done in-house? I mean, I know for us, Congressional offices, we have folks that we could use to scan things in.  I'm sure that you're system is a little bit more complicated.  We're spending ten million dollars a year, if I remember the number correctly.  It seems like we could do it cheaper and it seems like we could get it done.  Is there a plan to address that?
Allison Hickey:  Congressman -- I mean Chairman Stutzman, yes, there is.  I will defer the first part of it to my Assistant Secretary for Information Technology, Roger Baker. 
Roger Baker:  Thank you. I just want to talk to the NARA piece.  NARA's been our partner on this for two years so let me start with will we have an agreement with them by the end of this week to continue them for the next year? I believe the answer to that is "yes."  I know that's in process.  I checked with my staff while we were listening to this going on.  Got absolute assurances that there is really nothing in the way of that completing by the end of this week.  So it's a little bit different than a normal government contractor relationship.  Because it's a government-to-government relationship, it's much easier to do.  We've used NARA primarily from a development standpoint. 
That's more than enough from him.  I'm really tired of witnesses who eat time to avoid answering questions.  Stutzman would go on to ask about the cost.  "I really don't know," Baker told him.  The cost is a per-page scanned fee.  Well then you should know it.  And it's probably not a good idea to tell Congress and taxpayers that the deal will be closed by the end of the week but you don't know how much the VA will be paying for the scanning.  See, most people would assume that you find out the cost before you start closing on a contract.  Rushing to complete a deal when you don't know the cost doesn't look like you're being scrupulous with the taxpayer money. 
And it's not good to call something a plan when, as Acting Chair Stutzman noted, it's a presentation (slide show) of variables, not a plan.  Excerpt.
Ranking Member Bob Filner:  When you were asked: "Do you have a plan?," you said, "Yes, we supplied it to the Committee."  This is not a plan.  This is not a strategic plan.  I will ask you again, do you have a strategic plan?  And why don't you just have it with you and give it to us?  That's the title of this hearing [Reclaiming the Process: Examing the VBA Claims Transformation Plan as a Means to Effectively Serve our Veterans].  Do you have a plan to give to us this minute?
Allison Hickey: I do have a plan, Congressman Filner.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: You what?
Allison Hickey: I do have a plan.  I do not have it in this book, in these materials.  I'm happy to provide it for the Committee.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Why are you providing it with us, a plan of execution?  You're going to provide it to us?  Why don't you have it here?  You have 18 people here working  for you.  Give us the plan.  That's all we're asking for.  You said you did it.  [Shaking head] We have some slides.  We don't have a strategic plan of how you're going to execute this so-called transformation which sounds more like a fossil-formation.  So where is the plan?
Allison Hickey:  Congressman Filner, I have the plan.  It's in Word document.
Ranking Member Bob Filner:  A secret one or what?
Allison Hickey: No, it is not a secret document.  In fact, I have shared it with Veterans Service Organizations, with our labor partners, with --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I just said none of us have seen it.  Why don't you have it with you?
Allison Hickey: I will be happy to bring it to you, sir.
The paper backlog  and the some-day-transition-to-paperless are issues and are problems.  There are other problems. The worst backlog problems is veterans waiting and waiting for their claims to go through the process.  And, as Ranking Member Bob Filner noted, this isn't weeks or months, this is years.  He estimated that there were 100,000 Agent Orange claims -- from Vietnam era veterans -- waiting, over thirty years, he noted.
He noted that the IRS used to have a huge backlog and you waited and waited forever and ever for a refund check if you had one coming.  What changed that?  Why can you now file and get money within three weeks if you have a refund coming?  Because it's "subject to audit."
Ranking Memer Bob Filner argued that's what should be taking place with the VA today, "Grant the claim, subject to audit. Send out a check."
Ranking Member Bob Filner:  What have we done in the last few years? Doubled the backlogs. Raised the rate of inaccuracy, according to the recent report, up to 25%.  This is disgraceful.  This is an insult to our veterans. And you guys just recycle old programs, put new names on them, and here we are again.  Do you know what the definition -- one definition of insanity is?  Try the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  I mean somebody has to take responsibility for this.  We just keep announcing new names, new pilot programs, on and on.  We're up to 1.2 million by one count on backlog. If it wasn't tragic, it would be ridiculous.
Acting Chair Bilirakis raised another issue that needs further attention.  So we'll ignore it here.  Seriously, it'll be carried over to Third on Sunday because it's one of the issues -- the first one -- that we discussed with Dona in "Congress and Veterans."  It has to do with education and I see Bilirakis' concerns (which are solid concerns) as related to Senator Richard Burr's concerns that we discussed with Dona for the piece last Sunday so it makes more sense to pick it up this coming Sunday at Third.  There's something we're carrying over for tomorrow already as it is.  I'll be one day behind on hearings all week, I bet but I didn't know a damn thing about storage of records or moving towards digitized or anything and I needed all the wonderful people who walked me through the process last night (thank you to all) so I could understand the hearing I'd sat through.  There's a press release on the hearing that we'll include in a morning entry tomorrow there's not room for it today.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012






Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released [PDF format warning] "The Gulf Security Architecture: Partnership With The Gulf Co-Operation Council." On page v., Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, notes, "Home to more than half of the world's oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas, the stability of the Persian Gulf is critical to the global economy."  Chair John Kerry has stated of the report, "The Gulf Region is strategically important to the United States economically, politically, and for security reasons.  This is a period of historic, but turbulent change in the Middle East. We need to be clear-eyed about what these interests are and how best to promote them.  This report provides a thoughtful set of recommendations designed to do exactly that."
The report may well map out that for many.  That's not what stood out to me. The takeaway for me is US troops remain in the region, right next to Iraq in Kuwait and the Committee's recommendation is that they remain present.  (For those who don't want to read the report in full or operating systems are not PDF friendly, click here for the Committee's one page explanation of the report.)
A series of challenges are listed early on and we'll note the fourth one.
Challenge 4: The United States must carefully shape its military presence so as not to creat a popular backlash, while retaining the capability to protect the free flow or critical natural resources and to provide a counterbalance to Iraq.
If that was a challenge there were hopes the US would meet, it's too late at present. As Arianna Huffington noted last week at The Huffington Post:
With the war there officially "ended" and most of our troops back home, Iraq isn't getting much ink these days. But the story is far from over. Indeed, according to Wadah Khanfar, former director general of Al Jazeera, Iraq is still the most important story in the Middle East -- with a far greater impact on the region's future than Syria. "Nobody's paying attention to Iraq anymore," he told me during dinner in London over the weekend, "but it's becoming a client state of Iran, with a giant amount of oil between them." This state of affairs is, of course, primarily our doing.
And yet, as our soldiers have left, so has our attention. "The war in Iraq will soon belong to history," proclaimed President Obama at Fort Bragg as he marked the occasion of bringing the last troops home. But while the military chapter of that disastrous undertaking might belong to history, its consequences belong very much to the present. A present in which the very same voices that rose to push us into war with Iraq are again rising to push us into war with Iran -- but without ever noting that it was their misadventure in Iraq that gave Iran a new and powerful ally.
If the goal/challenge was to keep Iran and Iraq from growing closer, you don't, as the current White House did, back Nouri al-Maliki for a second term. You note instead that his political slate came in second and demand he step aside so that Iraqiya can have a crack at forming a governmnet. Instead, the US chose to spit on the political process, the Iraqi Constitution, democracy and the will of the Iraqis who voted by backing second place Nouri for a second term as prime minister.
Now let's move to another challenge.
Challenge 7: Relations between the Gulf monarchies and Iraq remain cool. There has been a tendency of some Arab states to remain disengaged from Iraq, largely over its relations with Iran. Unfortunately, this tendency has had the effect of pushing Iraq closer to Iran.
Recommendation: The United States should promote the gradual political reintegration of Iraq into the Arab fold.
Again, the problem is Nouri. He can't stop accusing Arab states. Just last week, he was again insisting Saudi Arabia and Qatar were out to get him. He's paranoid and he's not trust worthy. How the US government ever thought Nouri al-Maliki would bring Iraq closer to the Arab states is a head scratcher. Someone really needs to answer to that question: The White House ensured that second place Nouri remained prime minister; how was this supposed to improve relations between Iraq and the Arab states?
Further into the report, we get the point AP' was emphasizing this morning. AP: "The United States is planning a significant military presence of 13,500 troops in Kuwait to give it the flexibility to respond to sudden conflicts in the region as Iraq adjusts to the withdrawal of American combat forces and the world nervously eyes Iran, according to a congressional report." Page nine of the report:
A residual American military presence in the Gulf and increased burden-sharing with GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states are fundamental components of such a framework. However, the United States must also carefully shape its military footprint to protect the free-flow of critical natural resources and promote regional stability while not creating a popular backlash.
Page 12:
Kuwait is especially keen to maintain a significant U.S. military presence. In fact, the Kuwaiti public perception of the United States is more positive than any other Gulf country, dating back to the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Kuwait paid over $16 billion to compensate coalition efforts for costs incurred during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and $350 million for Operation Southern Watch. In 2004, the Bush Administration designated Kuwait a major non-NATO ally.
* U.S. Military Presence: A U.S.-Kuwaiti defense agreement signed in 1991 and extended in 2001 provides a framework that guards the legal rights of American troops and promotes military cooperation. When U.S. troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011, Kuwait welcomed a more enduring American footprint. Currently, there are approximately 15,000 U.S. forces in Kuwait, but the number is likely to decrease to 13,500. Kuwaiti bases such as Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Field, and Camp Buehring offer the United States major staging hubs, training rages, and logistical support for regional operations. U.S. forces also operate Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait, which are vital to theater missile defense.
On page 20, the report notes, "Amid relatively high sectarian tensions in the Middle East -- a consequence of violence in Iraq and, more recently, in Syria, and growing concerns about Iran -- the United States should encourage its partners, including in the Gulf region, to pursue nonsectarian policies." Again, that begs the question of why, in 2010, the White House backed Nouri al-Maliki for a second term? He's not about reconciliation, he's about demonization as we've seen repeatedly in the last months starting in the fall of 2011 when mass arrests began targeting Sunnis accused of being terrorists. They weren't terrorists. They were college professors, they were the elderly. Most importantly, they were Iraqis. At what point does Nouri cease trying to divide the fragile country and start uniting it?
Page 29:
Relations between Gulf monarchies and Iraq remain cool. There has been a tendency of some Arab states to remain disengaged from Iraq, largely over its relations with Iran. Unfortunately, this tendency has had the effect of pushing Iraq closer to Iran.
That's partly true but it's also true that what is seen as Nouri's targeting of Sunnis is not well received in Sunni-Arab countries. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Again, this begs the questions why, when Iraqiya won the March 2010 elections, did the White House decide to back second place Nouri for a second term as prime minister?
That is the question that will haunt the Barack Obama administration throughout history.
Someone might want to start preparing some version of an answer.
Just as the report refuses to seriously note how Sunni-dominant countries see the current events in Iraq, it also wants to pretend the Arab League Summit meant something. First off, this is flat-out wrong: "In April, the annual Arab League summit was held in Iraq for the first time since . . ."
The Arab League Summit was March 29th. March 29th, grab a calendar if this confusing to you, is not in the month of April. Your first clue there is probably the "March" in "March 29th." From the March 29, 2012 snapshot:
The Arab League Summit was held today in Baghdad. It didn't change a thing because Nouri never learned how to charm. So instead of starting with it, let's start with the ongoing political crisis in Iraq. [. . .] Also telling was the turnout for today's Arab League Summit. Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report, "Sunni Muslim rulers largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq on Thursday, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring." It was not all that, to put it mildly. A friend who covered the summit deemed it, "Not so much a who's who as a who's that?" Who attended? Among others, the Oman Observer reports Talabani "received the credentials of Shaikh Mussalam bin Bakheet bin Zaidan al Bar'ami, Sultanate's Ambassador to Jordan, as the Sultanate's non-resident ambassador to Iraq" yesterday. Today Al Sabaah reports Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh, prime minister of Jordan arrived, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. [. . .] Who were the notable no-shows? Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report that the no-shows included rulers from "Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Gulf countries, as well as Morocco and Jordan -- all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran."
The Belfast Telegraph notes, "The only ruler from the Gulf to attend was the Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah."
We could continue but I believe the point's been made. It was a one day summit. You can drop back to March 28th, the day before, for when various countries' foreign ministers met in Baghdad but that wasn't the Arab League Summit nor was that "April." The Senate Foreign Relations Committee sees the summit as a success. March 30th, the morning after, we graded it. It didn't look then and has looked since like a success. Here's some of the criteria we used to judge the summit on March 30th:
The Arab League Summit took place in Baghdad yesterday. Al Mada reports 15 ministers attended. There are 22 countries in the Arab League. Patrick Martin (Globe & Mail) observes, "That 12 of the 22 Arab League leaders did not show up and sent lower-level envoys instead did not go unnoticed [. . .]" Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) put the number of Arab League leaders who attended at 10 and they pointed out that Qatar, Saudi Arabi, Morocco and Jordan were among those who sent lower-level officials to the summit. Patrick Martin explains that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani (Prime Minister of Qatar) declared on television that Qatar's "low level of representation" was meant to send "a 'message' to Iraq's majority Shiites to stop what he called the marginalization of its minority Sunnis." Al Mada noted yesterday morning that the Iraqi public and Parliament would be judging the summit a success or not based upon whether the leaders turned out for the summit. On that scale, it wasn't a success. In other words, attendence needs improvement and absences hinder progress.
In addition to snubs and rebukes,
Liz Sly, Aziz Alwan and Asaad Majeed (Washington Post) also note, "The blast at the Iranian Embassy undermined the government's boasts that it had managed to pull off the summit without incident, although it would have gone unheard in the conference room deep inside the vast palace. Zebari and Elaraby both seemed surprised when asked about it by a journalist." Not a success.Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) points out, "It spent almost $1 billion on preparations that included unprecedented security measures -- jamming cellphone networks and mobilizing 100,000 security-force members -- and rolling out a catered menu for dignitaries that featured a dessert of 24-carat-gold-laced dates." Not a success.
And that's just some of the criteria.
Where the report succeeds (possibly without intending to) is by making clear that the alleged withdrawal and returning home of the troops never happened. Basically, 15,000 US troops were marched out of Saks to Fendi. They didn't return home. Yes, they left Saks, they even crossed a few streets, all the way through West 53rd, but they're still on Fifth Avenue. Remember, the press and the White House sold it as "withdrawal." The Pentagon used the term "drawdown."