Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hapless in Iraq

The U.S. State and Defense Departments are at loggerheads over Iraq. Again. Still. This time, they're going toe-to-toe over how to revive the Iraqi economy. The Pentagon wants to reopen Iraq's old state run businesses. State says that would be antithetical to free-market reforms.

One senior official says, "There has been a surprising degree of venom and hostility" between the two cabinet departments over the issue. Things have gotten so bad that Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Brinkley has stopped working with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq altogether, and has set up his office in another part of the Green Zone.

"We tend to not deal with them very often," Brinkley said dismissively of embassy officials. "We have our own mission, and we do our own thing." Unlike those fuddy duddy embassy types, Brinkley sees a bright commercial future for Baghdad. He expects several factories to open this summer, and envisions Wal-Mart and other U.S. retailers selling made-in-Baghdad leather jackets, shoes, carpets, and pin-stripe suits.

Those Poor Kids at the Embassy

Most embassy employees, however, seem to have more on their minds than free-market reforms. McClatchey story reports that they're getting mad as hell over security measures in the Green Zone where recent mortar and rocket attacks recently killed six people, including two U.S. citizens. Most employees still sleep in trailers that one described as "tin cans." The trailers' sides are surrounded by sandbags, but the roofs are unprotected. The U.S. government won't harden the roofs, one employee says, because of the cost involved. One might think Defense Undersecretary Brinkley might look into hiring an Iraqi state-run business to armor those trailer roofs, but nah. He has his own mission; he does his own thing.

Another employee says it's "criminally negligent" not to reduce the size of the embassy staff, but "They're not going to send us home because it's going to be another admission of failure."

The embassy employees the McClatchy story cited spoke under condition of anonymity because they'd been ordered not to talk about security concerns with reporters.

Those Poor Soldiers

Four more U.S. soldiers were killed in attacks around Baghdad on Monday. The three soldiers kidnapped by some outfit the military claims is connected to al-Qaeda are still missing, and 4,000 other soldiers have been diverted from whatever they were supposed to be doing to look for their missing comrades.

Starting Monday, U.S. military personnel in Iraq and elsewhere overseas will lose their access to web sites like You Tube and MySpace on Department of Defense computers and networks. They can, of course, access these sites through their own computers and networks, but how many soldiers in Iraq do you reckon have their own computers and networks?

Poor Choice of Diplomats

Dick Cheney is back from his whirlwind Diplomatic tour of the Middle East. He says he found that Iraqi political leaders have a "greater sense of urgency," probably means they don't. He also suggested that Iraq's Parliament not take two months off over the summer, which means they probably will.

On the surface, it's difficult to see the point of Mr. Cheney's Middle East visits, but a pattern seems to be emerging. It looks like every time Condi Rice goes over there, Cheney comes in behind to make sure she didn't accidentally accomplish anything positive.

His visit to an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to announce that America will not allow Iran to dominate the Middle East seemed perfectly timed to throw a damper on the upcoming ambassador level talks between the U.S. and Iran in Baghdad about curbing the sectarian violence in Iraq.

Cheney and his neoconservative pals don't like the idea of talking to Iran. Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute "I think it's foolish to believe that Iran sees its interests as compatible with American interests in Iraq."

Hopefully, State Department will manage to keep Cheney and the neoconservatives from meddling in the Iran negotiations. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has been in the Foreign Service since 1971 and shows few symptoms of being an ideologue soul mate of Cheney's. That's a lot more that you can say for Crocker's predecessor, Zalmay Khalilzad, who along with Cheney was a charter member of the now infamous Project for the New American Century PNAC. Jim Lobe of Electronic Iraq says that George W. Bush gave the thumbs up for direct U.S.-Iran talks 18 months ago, while Khalilzad was still Ambassador to Iraq. Funny how those talks didn't come about until after Khalilzad was out of the picture.

It would be nice to think that at long last the neocons are losing their influence on Bush foreign policy. Keep in mind, though, that the escalation strategy was crafted by Frederick Kagan and Jack Keane, two conspicuous members of the American Enterprise Institute and long time cronies of PNAC founder William Kristol.

For now, let's hope the U.S. State and Defense departments can maintain a cease fire between themselves in the Green Zone long enough for the U.S.-Iran talks to take place.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous12:45 PM

    Ok, hold on. W gave thumbs up 18 months ago, and nothing happened? How the hell is that possible? Isn't he the president? Sheer madness.

  2. That's what Jim Lobe says (the link to the article is on "Zalmay Khalilzad.")

    It sure looks to me like the man behind the curtain was pulling some strings.

  3. William Bollinger3:03 PM

    RE: You Tube/MySpace, remember "All liberty's cancelled till moral improves!"? I used to concider that line to be a bad joke. Of course, we are talking about the bush administration...

  4. All communication is cancelled until you learn to keep your mouths shut. ;-)

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