Saturday, June 30, 2007

No Solutions In Iraq

Will we ever get a straight story from the Bush administration on Iraq?

On Thursday, an Associated Press story reported that "A top U.S. diplomat in Iraq predicted progress by fall on bringing together Iraq's feuding factions." The U.S. diplomat was Daniel Speckhard, who also said, "My expectations are…that they'll rise to the challenge of producing some key legislation by September."

September, of course, is when U.S commander in Iraq David Petreaus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to report to Congress on the progress of the "surge."

Come Saturday, we discovered that the largest Sunni bloc in Iraq's Parliament suspended their membership in the ruling body over the issue of an arrest warrant for Culture Minister As'ad al-Hashimi. The Iraqi Accord Front holds 44 seats. Another Sunni group with 11 seats stopped attending Parliament meetings last week, and earlier this month, 30 members loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr boycotted Parliament. That could leave the 276-seat house with only 191 legislators.

No Military Solution

Last week, Brigadier General Mick Bednarek, commander of the offensive (Operation Arrowhead Ripper) in the Diyala province capital of Baqouba, said his Iraqi partners may be too weak to hold on to the gains. "They're not quite up to the job yet," Bednarek said, and added that the Iraqi military does not have enough ammunition.

One has to wonder how Iraqi units committed to an offensive operation can show up with too little ammunition. It's not like there's a shortage of AK-47 bullets in the country of Iran. Do you think maybe the Iraqi soldiers are giving their ammunition to their militia pals?

Bednarek's counterpart in Baghdad, Major General Rick Lynch, said much the same. There are too few U.S. troops to garrison newly cleared districts. "We have what we have," he said. "There's got to be more Iraqi security forces," he said in a news conference, suggesting that Iraq's army should be expanded by 20,000 troops.

But again: what good is adding more troops to the Army if they a) don't show up for an operation if they don't feel like it or b) show up without enough ammo when they do show up?

And what on earth is happening with the U.S. troops involved in these operations? According to numerous sources, the Baqouba operation involves 10,000 U.S. troops. At one point the stated aim was to round up what was believed to be 300-500 al-Qaeda in Iraq militants holed up in the western part of the city. The al-Qaeda types had run away from Anbar province during the offensive there, so this time, U.S. commanders tried the novel idea of cutting off escape routes. Some news outlets suggest that a lot of the bad guys escaped anyway. A bunch of them have been killed or captures. As of Sunday, 24 June, Brigadier Bednarek estimated that 50 to 100 militants were trapped inside a security cordon in the city.

I of all people don't like playing dime store general at the tactical level, and it's impossible to draw an accurate ground picture from a handful of newspaper reports. But if you look at the basic numbers involved, Arrowhead Ripper doesn't make sense. 20 to one numerical advantage in an offensive operation is not necessary. If most of the 10,000 U.S. troops involved are actually there to hold neighborhoods, then why is Bednarek complaining there aren't enough Iraqis with enough bullets involved in the operation?

Speaking of bullets… While Brigadier Bednarek complains his Iraqi army cohorts don't have enough ammunition, other U.S. commanders have been authorized to arm Sunni groups that agree to fight al-Qaeda. The program was first tried out in Anbar province, where it was considered a great success. Yeah. It was so successful that it drove al-Qaeda out of the province, and up to Baquaba, where the assigned Iraqi forces don't have enough ammunition to contribute to the mission.

Have you noticed lately how everything regarding Iraq and the rest of the so-called war on terror gets framed in terms of al-Qaeda? Al-Qaeda, blamed for inciting nearly all other violence in Iraq, had, according to reports, taken over Anbar province, even though their strength was estimated to be only a couple or a few thousand. We had a heck of a lot more Marines than that in the province, yet in September of 2006, a senior Marine intelligence officer concluded the struggle for the region was all but lost.

By the time we got around to surging in Anbar and chasing al-Qaeda up to Diyala province, their reported numbers were 500 or less, and now Brigadier Dednarek says his 10,000 man force is going toe-to-toe in Baqouba with fewer than a hundred of them.

We don't know how many al-Qaeda members are actually in Iraq, but we know there are 170,000 something coalition forces and upwards of 300,000 Iraqi security forces. At best, al-Qaeda totals are in the mid to low four figures. Al Qaeda in Iraq is not the main problem in Iraq, and many argue that al-Qaeda in Iraq isn't even really al-Qaeda.

Similarly, administration tales of Iranian involvement in fomenting violence in Iraq are too tall to be credible. Iran, supposedly, is smuggling arms across its border. I can't give you an ounce of proof that they're not, but why should they bother to smuggle arms into Iraq? Prior to the invasion, U.S. military officials estimated there were between one and seven million AK-47s in private hands in Iraq. That doesn't include whatever weapons stockpiles Hussein had cached. We brought a half million weapons into that country, and we don't know what happened to the vast majority of them. Now we're handing out weapons to militia groups that have attacked us in the past, and we're blaming the proliferation of weapons in Iraq on the Iranians?

We hear the Iranians are behind the Shiites in Iraq because, well, Iranians are Shiites. But we also hear that the Persian Iranian Shiites are behind Hamas an Arab Sunni group, and that Iran is the major ally of Arab Sunni Syria, and that Iran is now the biggest bestest buddy of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There's no telling how much of this Iran talk is true, but it can't all be true, especially considering that the people talking the talk have a reputation for shunning the truth.

The main thing to keep in mind is that at this point, within the smoke, behind the mirrors, under the bed of bull feathers, there is no coherent strategy for Iraq, and the only tactics being practiced there are stall tactics.


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

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cheney: Can Anybody Lick This Dick?

Things happened mighty fast. Let me see if I got the timeline straight.

On Sunday or Monday, Dick Cheney's office claimed it was exempt from national security disclosure requirements because as president of the Senate, the vice president of the United States is not a part of the executive branch.

Come Tuesday, House Democrats said, Okay, if you're not part of the executive branch, we'll strip funding for your office. Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois), sponsor of the legislation, noted that five years ago Cheney claimed executive privilege when asked to reveal details of energy policy meetings Cheney held with his pals in big oil.

In a typical pot and kettle moment, Cheney's office accused the Democrats of playing partisan politics.

Sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning, Cheney's office came out saying, Aw, shoot, yeah, we're part of the executive branch. Never mind what we said earlier.

Then, late Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee slapped the Office of the Vice President with subpoenas for documents relating to President Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program. Cheney's people once again squealed "partisan politics" even though the subpoenas were supported by Republicans Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley and Arlen Specter.

My guess is that somewhere in the course of navigating all those rotating knives, Cheney and his folks figured it would be safer to stay under the executive umbrella. For all you hear about Cheney being the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, he really doesn't have jack for statutory privilege. The U.S. Constitution makes him president of the Senate. Period. He's not the number two commander in chief of the military, or anything else. Even his Senate job is pretty much of a joke. He only gets to vote in case of a tie, and that's the only time anybody expects him to show up. That's why the Constitution provides for a president pro-tempore of the Senate to do the actual work of running the legislative body's day-to-day business.

So if he's going to hide sins, he needs to hide them behind Mr. Bush's door. Whether Congress can huff and puff its way past that obstacle remains to be seen.

On Thursday, Mr. Bush's counsel Fred Fielding rejected congressional demands for documents relating to fired federal prosecutors. He also made it clear that former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor will not respond to subpoenas requiring their testimony.

Leahy's Judiciary Committee sent subpoenas seeking documents regarding the NSA to the White House and the Justice Department as well as to Cheney's office.

Dick Cheney has more lives than Freddy Krueger. How many times before this have we thought he was on his last one? Cheney has so many defensive layers of subordinates, claims of privileges, and legal arguments he can probably ride out this subpoena business until the next Republican president pardons him. The guy has committed enough sins to run for Satan and win by a landslide, but don't expect him to ever pay a price for them in this life.

But is it worth harassing him to the maximum extent possible? You bet it is. Dick Cheney is still the high priest of the administration's neoconservative "crazies in the basement." Every moment Dick spends covering his six is a moment he doesn't focus on driving U.S. foreign and domestic policy, and every moment we can keep Cheney's hands off of U.S. policy is a good moment for America.


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

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Iraq: Lugar Lobs a Loogie

Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appears to have joined the revolt of the GOP legislators. In a lengthy speech on Monday night, Lugar said:
Our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond. We risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world.

I speak to my fellow senators, when I say that the president is not the only American leader who will have to make adjustments to his or her thinking. Each of us should take a step back from the sloganeering rhetoric and political opportunism that has sometimes characterized this debate.

Lugar isn't a Chatty Cathy kind of politician. When he sounds off like this, people listen.

Here's hoping a certain decider we know was paying attention.

September Mourning

Lugar doesn't need to wait until September to hear General David Petraeus's assessment of the "surge" strategy. He already knows it's a graveyard whistle.
In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.

Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) also joined ranks of the GOP disgruntled by echoing Lugar's sentiments in a letter to Mr. Bush. Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said, “I think September is absolutely the endpoint of decision, whether individuals will come to a conclusion before that, I think is likely.”

Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) ominously predicts that after the Independence Day recess, "you'll be hearing a number of statements from other (Republican) colleagues." Presumably, Warner himself will be making a number of those statements. Warner is said to be drafting a proposed amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill due to hit the floor for debate next month, and given Warner's previously expressed attitude toward the "surge," one expects his amendment will put some sort of hackles on Mr. Bush's ability to extend his woebegone war in Iraq indefinitely.

Good Money After Bad

It seems Congress is getting ready to take control of the war away from Mr. Bush. And it's about time.

A bipartisan congressional investigation released on Wednesday states that we have spent $19 billion to train nearly 350,000 Iraqi soldiers and police since toppling Saddam Hussein. Representative Martin T. Meehan (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations, says that, "We have no idea what our $19 billion has gotten us… The DOD can't tell us how well the Iraqis perform their missions or even plan them."

The 250-page report states that the Pentagon "cannot report in detail how many of the 346,500 Iraqi military and police personnel that the coalition trained are operational today." Strong evidence suggests that some of the Iraqi forces are involved in sectarian violence and other criminal activity. The Pentagon "cannot account for whether coalition-issued weapons have been stolen or turned against U.S. forces." Iraq's defense and interior ministries are incapable of "accounting for, supporting, or fully controlling their forces in the field." The police organization, vital to counterinsurgency operations, is "riddled with corruption and sectarian influence."

Here's the part that really got to me (from Ann Tyson of the New York Times):
U.S. military advisory teams placed with Iraqi security forces were formed on an ad hoc basis and were not fully qualified for their mission in 2004 and 2005, it found. U.S. military police units were not deployed to advise the Iraqi police until 2005, and they did not begin to receive training specific to the mission until March 2007, it said.

It got to me so bad that I spent some time hunting down an article I vaguely remembered from a while back. Here's how it opens:
Helping organize, train and equip nearly a quarter-million of Iraq's security forces is a daunting task. Doing so in the middle of a tough insurgency increases the challenge enormously… Now, however, 18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up.

The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq.

This optimistic article appeared in the Washington Post on September 26, 2004. Its author was in charge of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq, one Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus.

Yes, that David H. Petraeus, the one who is now a four-star and in command of U.S. forces in Iraq. The one who puts on street theater in Baghdad portraying pro-war Republican Senators yucking it up while they shop in open air markets while 100 heavily armed soldiers provide security just off camera. The one who gives reporters helicopter rides so they can see all the soccer games being played in Baghdad, and who talks about the country's besieged capital showing "astonishing signs of normalcy."

This same David Petraeus now tells us that: "Conditions in Iraq will not improve sufficiently by September to justify a drawdown of US military forces."

So the line is pretty much drawn. September 15 was Petraeus's "deadline," Petraeus admits he can't meet it, and congressional GOP heavyweights like Lugar and Warner are clearing their throats in the direction of the White House.

The spit could hit the fan any day now.


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

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Judging the Generals, Part III

"The CEO managers started taking over from the warrior leaders during the Korean War… The "slick and quick" replaced the warriors who knew how to win wars and inspire soldiers because they'd spent most of their careers down in the dirt learning their trade the hard, old- fashioned way. Instead, with the Perfumed Princes, connections and the right punches on the career ticket have become more important than troop leading skills and inspiring soldiers by example and tough love. "

--David H. Hackworth

General David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, recently noted that Baghdad is showing "astonishing signs of normalcy" even as American troops are killed in that city on a regular basis. Petraeus staged the now infamous outdoor market shopping spree that featured Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and a hundred of their best heavily armed friends.

In a recent publicity stunt, Petraeus put reporters in a helicopter and flew them over soccer games taking place in Baghdad neighborhoods. I'm sorry: I can't help but think these sporting events were staged, that the U.S. military provided stadium security, and that the games concluded moments after the "fly by."

Boy Genius

During his confirmation hearing to become America's four-star commander in Iraq, Petraeus was sold as the "brilliant" officer who had literally written the book--the Army field manual--on counter-insurgency operations.

And yet, his critics, according to Rod Norland of Newsweek, consider him a "perfumed prince" who advanced from one staff job to another as an efficient "courtier" to the four-stars and "rankle at his capacity for self-promotion and public relations."

It may be that Petraeus possesses substance as well as show, but it's doubtful that he can walk on water. Come mid-September, Petraeus has to give Congress a report on the progress of the "surge" in Iraq. Nobody seriously thinks the escalation is producing decisive results in Iraq. We can expect Petraeus to point to his "soccer success" and try to buy more time and funding from the legislature.

Petraeus's number two man, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, said in May that the surge needs to last until spring of 2008. It will be interesting to see if Congress has the patience to wait that long on an Army general's say so.

Wearing the Collar

The Iraq war has been an embarrassing one for the U.S. Army. This is the kind of war it is supposed to carry. The Marines assist on the ground, certainly, and the Navy and Air Force supply fire and logistics support. But invading and occupying another country is supposed to be the Army's stock in trade, and they have not delivered the goods.

This less than sterling performance was not the fault of the rank and file. Granted, the Army generals had help from above--largely in the person of Donald Rumsfeld--in mismanaging the war. But Iraq was, by and large, an Army show. It shouldn't be too surprising that General John Abizaid was replaced as Central Command (CENTCOM) chief by Navy Admiral William Fallon even though two land wars rage in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, and that another admiral, Mike Mullen, was chosen to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over anyone the Army had to offer. Army Generals aren't real popular with civilian leadership these days. They're not too popular in the Army, either.

Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post recently wrote that:
Many majors and lieutenant colonels have privately expressed anger and frustration with the performance of Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and other top commanders in the war, calling them slow to grasp the realities of the war and overly optimistic in their assessments.

Some younger officers have stated privately that more generals should have been taken to task for their handling of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, news of which broke in 2004. The young officers also note that the Army's elaborate "lessons learned" process does not criticize generals and that no generals in Iraq have been replaced for poor battlefield performance, a contrast to other U.S. wars.

Pulitzer Prize winner Ricks has been working the Pentagon beat for decades. If he says the Army's rank and file has had it, it's had it.

The criticism one hears most often is that the Army's promotion system has created a general community of "mild-mannered team players," but in all fairness to the Army, this has been said of the general and flag communities of all the armed services. Still, the Army is the service in the spotlight these days, and their star wearers have not looked good.

The Army's unenviable role as top goat could change in a heartbeat, however. Just let something flare up with Iran and watch what happens when a B-2 stealth bomber goes down over Tehran, and hear the outrage when a Cold War era anti-ship missile pickles off in the hangar bay of an aircraft carrier, or a World War II vintage torpedo sinks an amphibious ship full of Marines. We'll have a whole new set of dogs wearing the collar then, by golly.

Pavlov's Dogs of War

The question everyone should be asking of all the generals and admirals is "what good are you doing?" For decades, the armed services have justified their bloated budgets by wrapping themselves in the "defending America" mantra. But where were they on 9/11? We also hear talk about "defending America's interests overseas," but whose interests are we defending in Iraq and Afghanistan? Exxon-Mobil's?

The force structure we have today looks very much like the one we had in World War II: armor, artillery, infantry, carriers, surface combatants, submarines, fighters, bombers, etc. We spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined to maintain a force that can fight a war that nobody's going to fight with us. Why should they? We've proven our capacity to be soundly defeated by asymmetrical forces. Why buy a tank when a car bomb will do the trick? Why build capital ships when you can take out a guided missile destroyer with a rubber dinghy full of explosives?

More to the point perhaps: why keep around a bunch of generals and admirals whose main purpose seems to be maintaining a costly but obsolete military industrial complex?

Read Parts I and II of "Judging the Generals" at Pen and Sword.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Judging the Generals, Part II

"As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."

--Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, United States Army

Part I of "Judging the Generals" generated an array of feedback, much of which spoke in defense of our senior-most military officers. As I wrote previously, part of me wants to sympathize with the four-stars running the show. They have a tough job. They're involved in a war our military isn't designed to fight, they have been subject to the rule of very bad civilian leadership, and every new guy who steps up into a four-star billet inherits a nightmare that wasn't necessarily of his predecessor's making.

But let's look at a few realities. America, the sole superpower, spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined and yet is bogged down militarily in two third world potholes. If our senior generals and admirals don't bear a large measure of culpability for that, who does?

Revolt of the Light Colonels

Lieutenant Colonel Yingling's Armed Forces Journal article titled "A Failure in Generalship" has grabbed national attention. Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post describes it as "a blistering attack on U.S. generals, saying they have botched the war in Iraq and misled Congress about the situation there."

According to Ricks, Yingling decided to write his article after attending Purple Heart ceremonies for American soldiers. He found it "hard to look them in the eye." In an interview, Yingling stated, "Our generals are not worthy of their soldiers."

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Brian Hanley offers a similar perspective in his recent Proceedings article (login required) titled "Now Hear This: Send the Best and the Brightest."

Like Yingling, Hanley decries the "intellectual and moral poverty of senior military leaders." Hanley believes our military education system is largely to blame. "General officers are drawn from the ranks of colonels who have completed one of the senior war colleges." But these war colleges are "less institutions of higher learning" than "finishing schools that measure success by the uniformity of temperament their graduates demonstrably possess."

This educational process, according to Hanley, is in keeping with well-established practices of careerism in the military officer corps. "You advance in the military by making your mind conform to that of your boss," he says. "To express a dissenting view on policy--no matter how beneficent or perceptive--is to risk being regarded as someone who is disloyal in outlook if not in deed."

Tying the educational and practical aspects of officer careerism together, Hanley says that like any bureaucracy, the military…
…encourages its most ambitious members to evaluate policy by the lights of “How does this make my organization look?” rather than “Is it true; is it right?” This outlook infiltrates our war colleges if only because an intelligent, persistently expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo—the wellspring of substantive innovation—will undermine, if not derail, one’s career prospects.

I agree with much of what Yingling and Hanley say about graduate-level military education. Entirely too much of it is driven by the pet theories and doctrines of three and four star officers who have parochial interests in shaping force structure and weapons acquisition programs. This influence also connects to the military industrial complex and to the hawkish, neoconservative think tank world that includes groups like the Project for the New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

The negative effects of all these influences merged during the now infamous "battle experiment" Millenium Challenge 2002 (MC02), a $250 million war game that simulated U.S. forces liberating a country in the Persian Gulf region from an "evil dictator." The game was designed to "prove" favored military transformational concepts like "network-centric warfare" and "shock and awe."

A funny thing happened on the way to the "mission accomplished" ceremony. The opposition force commander, retired Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, managed to sink most of the U.S. fleet through use of low-tech weapons and tactics. The game masters called a time out, re-floated the fleet, and resumed the game with restrictions on the opposition force that would ensure a friendly force win.

Not surprisingly, Marine General Peter Pace was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, and was called on by his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, to explain why the war game had to be rigged. "You kill me in the first day and I sit there for the next 13 days doing nothing, or you put me back to life and you get 13 more days' worth of experiment out of me. Which is a better way to do it?" he said.

One could almost buy Pace's line of logic, except for the way the battle experiment proceeded from there. Van Riper was told to turn off his air defenses at times when "blue" air forces were scheduled to attack, and to move his land forces away from beaches where blue forces were scheduled to assault. As war gaming goes, that's moral and intellectual bankruptcy.
And it was exactly that kind of moral and intellectual bankruptcy that brought us to our present condition, with our ship of state bow down in a third world sand dune, and generals like Peter Pace own a large slice of the blame for that. As Tom Ricks wrote:
Many majors and lieutenant colonels have privately expressed anger and frustration with the performance of Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and other top commanders in the war, calling them slow to grasp the realities of the war and overly optimistic in their assessments.

Now we have General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, telling us how Baghdad is showing "astonishing signs of normalcy" even as American soldiers are killed daily in that nation's capital city. Sorry, but I can't begin to think of describing that situation as any sort of "normalcy," and am frankly astonished that those soldiers' commanding general can.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

At Long Last Subpoenas: So What?

Nick Juliano of Raw Story tells us the Senate Judiciary Committee has finally authorized subpoenas Bush administration documents related to the National Security Administration (NSA) domestic surveillance affair.

About time, huh? We found out about the warrantless spying program clear back in December of 2005. It has seemed as if the new Democratic heads of the congressional oversight committees have wanted to be able to say "See, we tried to play nice," before they pulled the pins from the hand grenades. Of the NSA related subpoenas, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said:
This Committee has sought information about the authorization of and legal justification for this program time and again – in letters, at hearings, and in written questions, yet this Administration has rebuffed all requests... This stonewalling is unacceptable and it must end. If the Administration will not carry out its responsibility to provide information to this Committee without a subpoena, we will issue one.

Of course, for committees to approve subpoenas is a different thing from actually issuing them. And issuing subpoenas is a different thing from the White House actually responding to them.

If It Ducks Like a Duck

We're still waiting to see how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responds to attempts by Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) to make her testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the Niger yellow flake/Valerie Plame affair. Rice claims that because she was National Security Adviser at the time, the concept of executive privilege protects her from having to testify.

Subpoenas were also an issue in the Attorney Gate scandal, and who on earth knows what all that sound and fury will lead to. In fact, who knows if any of he Democrats' oversight efforts will amount to anything? According to Reuters, Democrats have held more than 400 oversight hearings since they took over Congress in January. What have they accomplished?

A good argument says that by showing their fangs, the Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee scared the administration off from putting Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace up for a second term. Pace would have had to face another confirmation hearing, one that Defense Secretary Robert Gates feared would be, "a backward-looking and very contentious process."

"Contentious" is a mild way of putting it. Sitting across from the SASC under oath, Pace would have been flayed alive about all things leading up to the Iraq invasion, most notably the Office of Special Plans (OSP), the Pentagon unit created by Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith to cook the intelligence on Iraq.

The handling of Pace's situation mirrors the Bush crowd's standard operating procedure. They don't fight decisive political battles if there's a good chance they might lose. The case of Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen held as an enemy combatant without formal charges (in violation of about half of the Bill of Rights), is a good example. Alberto Gonzales and his Justice Department sandbagged the case for years, right up until it reached the showdown point in the Supreme Court. Then he backed down and had Padilla formally charged by a federal court in Florida. (It's important to remember that the formal charges did not include involvement in the "dirty bomb" plots that were the original justification for holding Padilla as an enemy combatant.) You can safely bet your shiniest penny that Padilla's trial won't go into jury deliberation any time soon.

The odds are also against any of the congressional investigations into administration malfeasance producing anything of note as well. At least not the way Congress is going about things. 400 something oversight hearings, that's a scattergun approach, the kind of approach that GOP master strategists typically steer their political opponents into. If the Democrats attempt to look into each and every instance of malfeasance by the Bush administration, it will never get to the bottom of anything because there is (literally) too much malfeasance to do justice to. If the congressional Dems don't focus their efforts on the big-ticket items, they'll spin their wheels until the end of the Bush term and never find a single smoking gun. The GOP in turn will accuse the Dems of having wasted time and abusing its power as majority party by conducting vindictive, political fishing expeditions.

You hear arguments these days from both ends of the political spectrum that Congress should drop all this "backward looking" investigation and get along with the business of the people. This position has a certain attractive quality. Certainly, after six years and change of Bush shenanigans, it would be nice to see the country rise from its neo-malaise and move forward. But there are several problems with letting bygones be bygones.

We need to have some idea what actually happened behind the curtain before the administration's neocons get a chance to hide the evidence and rewrite history. Key administration figures need to be held accountable for their actions, even if accountability only consists of our knowing what they did. Most importantly, though, we must have Congress reassert its constitutional authorities and reinstate limits on what has become a tyrannical executive branch.

With that in mind, the focus of congressional oversight and investigation should be on those things the Bush administration has claimed as executive rights and privileges in time of war. Despite what many would have you believe, there really are no such things as presidential "war powers." Yes, presidents have exercised extraordinary measures in past wars, but the "authority" for those acts largely consisted of what the presidents could get away with. Sometimes the Congress and the courts went along, sometimes they didn't.
The Constitution makes the president commander-in-chief of the military and of the militia (National Guard) when it is called up for federal service. Virtually all other war and foreign policy related powers belong to Congress. I have searched high and low for any statute that grants a president special powers in wartime, and the only thing I have found is this brief subparagraph in Title 50 of U.S. Code:
Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for a period not to exceed fifteen calendar days following a declaration of war by the Congress.

I suspect that this law would be declared unconstitutional if challenged in the courts, but constitutional or not, Mr. Bush and his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have clearly violated it. It may be moot to argue whether Congress ever declared war against anyone in our current struggle against Islam-unism. The "specific statutory authorizations" Congress gave Mr. Bush to conduct his war on terror may or suffice as "declarations of war," but even if they do, Bush and 'Berto were way over their 15 day limit when the NSA warrantless domestic surveillance story broke in December of 2005.

So if I were to choose, I'd pick the NSA issue as Congress's primary subject of investigation, and I'd keep the fire hose trained on the Justice Department. Justice is the cabinet department that justified all the administration's sins.


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

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Iraq: The Cat Stampede Continues

Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times tells us that after four years of playing whack-a-mole, in which insurgents and terrorists sneak away live to fight another day, U.S. forces are changing tactics. It seems they figured out that taking the fight to al-Qaeda in Anbar province didn't destroy them; it just chased them up to Baquba, the capital of Diyala province.

But now that they've got al-Qaeda pinned down in the west end of Baquba, boy, they're going to keep them pinned down. The planners of the current operation, Arrowhead Ripper, want to block the escape routes. The way Gordon writes this story, you get the impression that Army commanders are proud of the fact that it only took them four years to figure out that maybe letting the bad guys run away wasn't a good idea. He quotes Colonel Steve Townsend, commander of a Stryker brigade team in Baquba as saying, “Rather than let the problem export to some other place and then have to fight them again, my goal is to isolate this thing and cordon it off.”

Isolate and cordon off. What a concept. It's been around since Sun Tzu reported to boot camp.

Someone Please Explain

There are, of course, complications. The al-Qaeda fighters have fortified their positions and show no signs of giving up. That could lead to some ferocious fighting, made even bloodier (and more complicated) by the fact that thousands of civilians have remained in the city. If the fighters decide not to fight, they don't necessarily have to slip away. They can hide their weapons and fade into the general population.

U.S. forces have measures designed to keep this from happening: taking biometrics of potential militants, relying on locals to identify insurgents and so on. That'll work great if the militants cooperate in giving their biometrics and the locals agree to risk their lives by identifying the militants.

Gordon says that al-Qaeda strength in western Baquba is estimated between 300 and 500. According to John Ward Anderson and Salih Dehima of the Washington Post, Operation Arrowhead Ripper involves roughly 10,000 American troops.

Someone in the mainstream press or Army public affairs please clarify this for me. Did we really go into this operation with a force advantage of 20 to one or greater? If so, why is there any question of any of the bad guys getting away? And what's to worry about if they stand and fight?

Friday Dump

As the week ends, we learn that the "surge" deployments are complete, but the surge itself is a bust. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, is gone, but his legacy is still with us. The Taliban have launched their spring offensive in Afghanistan, and the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq is just another train. 14 U.S. troops died in Baghdad's Green Zone on Thursday in an attack on the mayor's office. And oh, yeah, we're handing arms out to Sunni militant groups.

The reactions to the announcement that Pace would step down were mixed. I didn't hear or see too much of "Good, let the bastard burn in hell." A lot of voices decried that Pace hadn't done a thing wrong, and was being made the fall guy for other people's sins. My take was that, more or less as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, nobody in the administration wanted Pace under oath in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I think that would have turned into a pre-war intelligence fishing expedition in a heartbeat.

As to Pace's culpability in losing two wars, my take is that while he wasn't in the combatant chain of command, he was the president's senior military adviser, and he either failed to give his boss good advice or failed to make him listen to it. Pace also had a penchant for exaggerating successes in Iraq, which to me is the leading cause of our failures there. Granted, Paces predecessor, Air Force General Richard Myers was a lot worse with the malarkey that Pace was. Myers was the administration's best echo chamberlain.

Part of our problem is that the wartime roles of politicians and generals have reversed since George S. Patton's heyday. Today, politicians micromanage wars and generals play politics. Even the war fighters are spin doctors first, war winners second (if ever). As chief of Central Command, John Abizaid was the one who came up with "If we withdraw, they will follow us here." Abizaid knows "they" can't follow us "here" in significant numbers. "They" don't have a navy and it's too far to swim. And Abizaid's commander in Iraq, George Casey, boasted that "the men and women of the armed forces here have never lost a battle in over three years of war; that is a fact unprecedented in military history," a statement both false and irrelevant. Vietnam War apologists said that the Army was never defeated in the field in over a decade of conflict in that country, but like the old saying goes, you can win a thousand battles and still lose the war.

Part of the problem with today's general and flag officer community is that its members started their careers toward the end of the Vietnam conflict, and over the years they have come to embrace the false mantra that says we lost that war on the home front. That's utter bunker mentality bunk. We lost the Vietnam War in Vietnam. The "liberal" media and the Democrats and Jane Fonda did not lose the war for us. Our commanders in chief and their key advisers and generals lost the war for us.

Today's commander in chief and his advisers and generals are trying to pull the same con job on us. They're working overtime to shift blame for their incompetence to the "hostile press," Iran and Syria, Pelosi and Reid, Catholics who voted for John Kerry and whatever other scapegoats make themselves handy.

I really hope I'm wrong about this, but David Petraeus, our new commander in Iraq, is starting to look like he's cut from the same bolt of polyester as Bush era four-star spinsters like Abizaid and Casey. He was sold as a brilliant officer who wrote the new Army field manual on counter-insurgency operations. Based on reports we're getting, it sounds like he wrote the field manual titled Chinese Fire Drills.

It may be that the reports we're getting from journalists like Michael R. Gordon aren't very accurate. Keep in mind, though, that Gordon has a hard earned reputation for being Bush administration friendly. By most accounts, he helped Judith Miller push the White House's pre-Iraq invasion propaganda through the New York Times, so it seems unlikely he'd go out of his way to make Petraeus look bad.

No, folks, I'm afraid the dogs are in charge of the kennel, and all the opposable thumb types have run away in fear or resigned in disgust.


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

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Still Herding Cats in Iraq

The big offensive is on. Roughly 10,000 U.S. troops have commenced an operation to drive the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq from its new stronghold in Diyala province north of Baghdad. As best we can tell, al-Qaeda made Diyala its new stronghold because the operation to drive them out of Anbar province was so successful.

Some senior commanders describe the goal of Operation Arrowhead Ripper (yes, they're really calling it that) as breaking the cycle of sectarian violence and retribution that has swept Iraq. Brigadier General John M. "Mick" Bednarek (yes, that really is his name) put things in more earthy terms. "The end state is to destroy the al-Qaeda influences in this province and eliminate their threat against the people," he said. "That is the number one, bottom-line, up-front, in-your-face, task and purpose." (Yes, he really said that.)

Something tells me the most Arrow Head Ripper and other operations will accomplish is to chase al-Qaeda in Iraq from Diyala back to Anbar and guarantee the cycle of violence and retribution continues.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

U.S. forces are also stepping up the operational pace against Sunni militias in Baghdad's southern suburban belt. Further south, in Maysan province, U.S. and British troops are conducting offensive ops against Shiite militiamen.

Remember when the "surge" was all about establishing security in Baghdad? On Tuesday morning, shortly after the announcement that the troop buildup was complete, a truck bomb blasted a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, killing 75 and injuring more than 200.

Is this one of those things that U.S. commander in Iraq David Petraeus considers "astonishing signs of normalcy?"

They're Number Two, We're Number One

Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace now rank Iraq as the second most unstable country in the world. Sudan just eked out the number one rating, a remarkable accomplishment considering that it doesn't have the advantage of being occupied by 150,000 U.S. troops to help destabilize it. Somalia ranks right behind Iraq for instability, which makes a certain amount of sense. U.S. troops are in Somalia conducting combat operations, but not nearly as many U.S. troops as are fighting in Iraq, so you can't really fault Somalia for not being more unstable than

The two non-African countries in the top 10 unstable states are Iraq and Afghanistan, and we pretty much know what those two have in common, don't we?

Shoot, if a fellah didn't know any better, he might come to the conclusion that the number one cause of instability in the world is the United States of America.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

"Iraq is sinking fast," says Fund for Peace president Pauline Baker. "We believe it's reached the point of no return. We have recommended--based on studies done every six months since the US invasion--that the administration face up to the reality that the only choices for Iraq are how, and how violently, it will break up."

The Bush administration doesn't want to see Iraq break into three separate political entities because that would make it too difficult to control Iraq's oil, and Iraq's oil was always what the invasion of Iraq was always about.

That's why, with pressure from Congress to get political results in Iraq or get our troops out of it, the administration is rubbing Ben Gay into Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's to complete the law on division of his country's oil proceeds by July. Maliki says there are a lot of difficulties in getting the bill passed that are "not well understood from the outside."

Here is the crux of the difficulties. According to some Iraqi critics of the draft law under consideration, it hands the keys to Iraq's oil industry over to the U.S. and its energy partners. Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Southern Oil Company Union and the Iraqi Federation of Oil Workers Unions, says the proposed law amounts to "a raid by the international oil cartel" and that thousands of Iraqi oil workers will go on strike to oppose it if necessary.

A strike of oil workers in an oil rich country that's already the world's second most unstable nation? Hey, boy, that sounds like just the thing Iraq needs to put it over the top in the Foreign Policy charts. Eat your heart out, Sudan (you losers).

Mission Accomplished Again

Mr. Bush says that only history can judge his legacy. That's Rovewellian hogwash. Through his poppycock policies, Bush managed to squander in under a decade the international good will and political capital that America accumulated over the course of two centuries and change. We've lost the Midas touch. Now, every thing we lay our fingers on turns to dung.

I’m confident we can turn things around, but am uncertain how long that will take. We'll have to clean our own house first, though, and that may be harder than fixing foreign policy.

Our Iraq war is a bigger elephant in the middle of the room than Daddy's secret cocaine problem. We preemptively invaded a country on false premises for the actual purpose of controlling its oil, and oil is the main reason we continue to occupy the place. We allowed ourselves to be led by a ruthless cabal of neoconservative ideologues who thought America could demand its way throughout the world by virtue of its military might. It's entirely possible that if things in Iraq had gone well--greeted as liberators, Chalibi forms a stable government, cheap gas forever--we might have thanked the neoconservatives for kicking us off the couch and doing what we should have done years ago.

We need to recognize that the neoconservative philosophy was and is wrong, and that it is inconsistent with the very ideals under which this nation was founded. That does not mean that we completely disarm, or that we never again partake in armed conflict, or even that we never, ever, ever conduct a preemptive invasion. It means we gain (or at least seek to gain) the wisdom to use our power effectively and conservatively.

And we need to learn that even if we're the biggest kid on the block, we still need to get along with the other kids. Perhaps the more germane lesson is this: if you're the biggest kid on the block, what's to keep you from getting along with the other kids?


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

Monday, June 18, 2007

Judging the Generals

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace is the last of Donald Rumsfeld's hand-picked four-stars to be shown the door. Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided not to put him before another confirmation hearing, saying it would be "a backward-looking and very contentious process." Having served as vice chairman (under then chairman General Richard B. Myers) from 2001-2005, Pace makes for a very convenient Iraq/Afghanistan whipping boy, and no one in the White House likely wants him to face hard questions under oath about the pre-Iraq war intelligence, or on how we could have gone to war with no post-war plan.

But to what extent is Pace really responsible for our problems in the Middle East?

I have heard from numerous sources that General Pace is a sterling officer and a person of irrefutable character. I feel safe in assuming this is the case.

Strictly speaking, Pace was not in the chain of command of U.S. forces in the Middle East. Combatant and command runs from the president to the Secretary of Defense to the four-star unified commanders. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, that unified commander is the head of Central Command (CENTCOM). Tommy Franks was CENTCOM at the starts of the Iraq and Afghan wars, followed by John Abizaid. It's probably fairer to lay blame for the quagmire on these two. Franks dropped the ball in the end zone and Abizaid spent about three years failing to recover it.

As chairman, Pace served as the senior military adviser to the president. We can't know what Pace said to Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and others behind closed doors, and he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who will write a book that tells us all about it. But we can see what has happened with our wars, and can reasonably deduce that over the past two years, Pace gave Mr. Bush no advice or bad advice, or was unable to make him listen to good advice. Whatever the case, he didn't do a very good job of advising.

But we have, perhaps, a more pertinent bone to pick with Pace. At a recent news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of Pace, "I talked to him in my conference room, just him and I, and I told him how I felt, that he had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren't going right in Iraq."

That comment brought Reid no small amount of flak from the right, but I frankly thought Reid's word choice was kind. There were times that I thought Pace sounded more like the Minister of Truth than the nation's senior military officer. One of Pace's former assistants argues that Reid seems to forget "it was not General Pace's job to publicly disagree with President Bush's policy."

But Pace's assistant seems to confuse not disagreeing with policy and not quite telling the truth. Does anyone else remember the Sunday in March 2006 when, on the heels of the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, Pace told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that the Iraq war was "going very, very well."

Sergeant Rock and a Hard Place

In today's military, once you accept 0-6 (Bird Colonel or Navy Captain), you become a company man. When you pin on a fourth star, you become the company. Yeah, the Peter Paces of the Bush administration have been in a tough spot. If their level, if you disagree with policy, you can always vote with your feet--but walking away from troops in the field who don't have the option of walking away too can make for a tough choice. If you decide to stay and do whatever you can to change things for the better from within the system, you're going to have to walk a fine line between following your conscience and following orders.

A large part of me wants to give Pace a pass, to say, "he was the wrong guy, in the wrong war, in the wrong place, with the wrong boss, etc."

Pace was onboard with the Bush and Rumsfeld policies for six years, and if you're going to support policies for that long in a senior advisory, you have to take responsibility for them. All one can do is the best one can do, and I'm certain Pace gave everything he had to both the vice chair and chairman job. It may well be that given the circumstances he faced, no one could have done any better.

But, America in essence lost two wars on his watch, and he'll have to claim a large slice of the guilt pie for that.

General Factotums

Senator Reid also said he was disturbed to in USA Today that General David Petraeus claimed to see "astonishing signs of normalcy" in most of Baghdad.

"I was a little disappointed," Reid said. "I am waiting to see if Gen. Petraeus can be a little more candid with us." When asked if he thought Petraeus is competent, Reid answered, "Not as far as I am concerned."

I'm not ready to pass judgment on Petraeus's competence, but like Reid, I'm disturbed by some of what I've seen and heard so far. From appearances, Petraeus's greatest contributions to the security plan in Baghdad have been a pair of publicity stunts. First was him walking around an outdoor market in Baghdad buying a donut from a local merchant. Then came the all singing, all dancing shopping spree starring John McCain and Lindsey Graham with 100 of their best heavily armed friends lurking just off camera. I hate to judge anyone on the basis of what may have simply been a pair of miscues early in his job, but when you add public comments like "astonishing signs of normalcy," you start to get the idea that Petraeus is just another standard issue Bush administration four-star who knows more about spinning wars than winning them.

If Petraeus tells Congress come September that the "surge" is showing astonishing signs of progress, I hope Reid and the rest of the Senate tell him he can give one of his stars back and put in for retirement.


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

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

William Fallon Hearts Nuri al-Maliki

On Monday, in case you haven't heard, Central Command chief Admiral William Fallon told Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to pull his head out of his keister. Also present at the closed door conversation were U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, a senior political adviser and reporter Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times.

Gordon describes the Sunday afternoon discussion as a mix of "gentle coaxing with a sober appraisal of politics in Baghdad and Washington" in which Fallon told Maliki his government should pass legislation on the division of oil revenues by next month. “Is it reasonable to expect it to be completed in July?” Fallon asked. “We have to show some progress in July for the upcoming report.”

Maliki said the Kurds had raised concerns about the revenue sharing agreement, but, according to Gordon, "He indicated that some progress on the oil law would be made."

At that point, as Gordon tells it, Ambassador Crocker chimed in and pointed out that it was important that progress include the resolution of that thorny issue (italics added).

Even at that, it doesn't sound like Maliki got the picture.
At one point, Mr. Maliki wondered aloud whether Congress would really give the Iraqis credit for tackling tough issues if they completed the oil law. Admiral Fallon reassured him that most Americans wanted the Iraqi government to succeed.

Fallon also touched on the subjects of Iraq's army and police force, and on Iran and Syria. Based on Gordon's article, Maliki seems to have fended off any substantial talk on that subject.

As Gordon described the meeting over all: "At times, the two sides appeared to be operating on two different clocks. While Admiral Fallon emphasized the urgency of demonstrating results, Mr. Maliki cast the political process as a long journey from dictatorship to democracy."

Of Note

I see four noteworthy aspects of this story.

1) Gordon writes, "It was only at the end of the meeting that American officials agreed that it could be on the record." Strictly speaking that might be true, but it's still bunk. Gordon was invited to the meeting for a specific purpose: to frame an image of the meeting to the administration's specifications and feed it into the media through the New York Times. There's no one to contradict Gordon's version of events. Fallon and Gates won't, Malachi really can't (he'd just sound like he was trying to save face), and the "senior political adviser" wasn't named, so there's no way to press him for additional details. Gordon, who worked with Judith Miller on several key stories during the run-up to the Iraq war, is a known administration "cooperator." Note how he used "two sides appeared to be operating on two different clocks" in the story, hearkening the administration's oft repeated lament of late that "there is Washington Time and there is Baghdad time."

2) Gordon's narrative indicates that Admiral Fallon did most of the talking, not Ambassador Crocker. That seems just a tad unusual, the four-star dominating an ambassador in his host country, but the meeting may have been staged that way purposely. I've spent just about zero time in Admiral Fallon's presence, but he has a profound reputation as a man who seldom fails to get his point across to anybody.

3) The way Gordon tells things, Maliki didn't get the point. At all. Not even close.

4) The Bush administration wants us to get the message that everything that's wrong in Baghdad is that clueless putz Malichi's fault.

The timing of the meeting (and the article) has to do with the nearing "progress report" General David Petraeus is scheduled to give Congress in September. With this story and other's like it, the administration has announced that it has rattled Maliki's cage and he's not responding.

The next question: what leverage are they holding against Maliki?

They're not threatening to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq--that's directly counter to the administration's goal. If they're getting through to Maliki at all, they're telling him that he will be blamed for future failures, and if push comes to shove, we'll remove him from power.

Stripping Maliki of his Prime Minister role would be a serious breach of Iraq's sovereignty. Then again, I'm not too sure anyone takes the notion of a "sovereign Iraq" too seriously."

But if we can Maliki, we pretty much need to can the whole government, and if we do that, we just about have to follow up by installing a Douglas MacArthur style military governor and take direct charge of everything--including and especially the oil.

That would make a heck of an excuse for staying the course, wouldn't it? Heck, maybe in 40 or 50 years, we could offer Iraq statehood.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Middle East Odyssey

Send lawyers, guns and money. Dad, get me out of this.

-- Warren Zevon

On Monday, Iraq's Parliament voted to remove its speaker, Mahmoud Mashhadani. As Josh Partlow of the Washington Post informs us, Mashhadani (a Sunni) had his bodyguards beat up fellow parliament member Firyahd Mohammed (a Shiite), not in some back alley, but in the lobby of the parliament building itself.

No, I don't think we'll see any signs of unity in the Iraqi government by September, when General David Petraeus is scheduled to skulk up Capitol Hill and give his progress report to Congress.

The Bad Guy of My Bad Guy Is My Good Guy?

Four months into it, the surge has shown negligible success, and commanders are taking a strategic turn they know to be fraught with risk. John F. Burns and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times report that field commanders are authorized to arm Sunni groups that promise to fight al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. In the past, these Sunni groups have fought U.S. forces and were allied to al-Qaeda. Some of these groups have been provided arms, ammunition, cash, fuel and supplies.

There's a good chance we're merely arming both sides in a Civil War and guaranteeing that it will escalate even further. We've spent more that $15 billion building up Iraq's heavily Shiite army and police force. There's also a real possibility that both Sunni and Shiite factions will use these weapons against U.S. forces.

The program of arming Sunni groups was tested earlier this year in Anbar province. Now it's being applied throughout a broad part of Sunni dominated areas.

Americans seem to have given up on disarming Shiite militia groups as the powerful Shiite political parties refuse to give up their militias. The Sunni groups we're giving arms to show little sign of wanting to cooperate with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maki's Shiite dominated government. One leading Shiite politician says he'll rule out discussion of amnesty for Sunni militants, even for those who fight al-Qaeda.

If that's a formula for reconciliation, Pall Malls are a cure for pnuemonia.

Despite the inherent perils of arming Sunni militants, some senior officials are foursquare behind it. Major General Rick Lynch, leader of a task force fighting south of Baghdad, remarks, “When you’ve got people who say, ‘I want to protect my neighbors,’ we ought to jump like a duck on a june bug.”

Whatever you say, General. Just don't be surprised when you wind up like a duck that jumped on an oil spill.

A Master Strategist Speaks

The administration and its supporters continue to attempt to link Iran to the violence in Iraq. On Face the Nation last Sunday, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) told host Bob Schieffer "I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq." Lieberman said that he has seen "evidence" that the Iranians are supplying militants in Iraq, and are responsible "by some estimates" for killing "as many as 200 American soldiers."

No word from Joe about the source or reliability of the "evidence" and "estimates," but that's understandable. Joe wouldn't know his intelligence from his elbow. All Joe knows is what Dick Cheney's gang tells him to say.

Joe also seems oblivious to credible analysis that indicates militants in Iraq have a far more reliable source of arms and ammunition than Iran.

Scott Cannon of the McClatchy Newspapers reports that "U.S. military officials estimated before the war that between one million and seven million AK-47s were in private hands in Iraq… The number of Kalashnikovs only grew when the Iraqi military collapsed and many troops walked off with their AK-47s--some to defend their homes, others to fill arsenals of sectarian militias or insurgent groups."

An audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released in November 2006 concluded that only two percent of serial numbers for over 500,000 weapons brought legally into the country by the U.S. were recorded.

Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst and small arms specialist for the Center for Defense Information says, "The United States has no idea what happened to the majority of weapons it brought into the country." She adds, "We do know these weapons, in conjunction with the millions already in the country left from Saddam's era, are being used to perpetuate the violence and continued instability throughout Iraq."

Even if Lieberman were aware of these analyses, they likely wouldn't register on him. They're off message. Why acknowledge that you've created your own problems when you can blame them on somebody else?

Worst, Worster, Worstest

We screwed up in Iraq all on our own. We didn't need al-Qaeda or Iran or Syria or anyone else to help us do it. Pulitzer Prize winning Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post noted on Sunday that…
Officials now dismiss the 2004-06 years -- when Gen. George W. Casey Jr. was in command -- as a fruitless "rush to transition."

…Top military officials even say that Iraq's elections in December 2005 only deepened sectarian divides and contributed to the outbreak of a low-grade civil war in Baghdad last year. "We wanted an election in the worst way, and we got one in the worst way," one U.S. general here said.

We spent nearly two years after the "mission accomplished" ceremony denying an insurgency was underway, calling such claims "Henny Penny sky is falling" talk. We spent another two years clinging to a "stay the course" strategy now characterized as a fruitless "rush." Four months into the "surge" strategy, we can see that it's little more than a feckless stall for time. Now we're trying to fix our past mistakes by handing weapons to militants like we throw candy and soccer balls to Iraqi kids, and if that backfires on us, we'll blame it on the Iranians and go to war with them too.

If that's the best the nation that evolved into the world's sole super power can come up with, it's time to turn things back over to the apes.

Come to think of it, maybe we already did that, back in 2001.

Iraq: Running With the Devil

Forget waiting for Iraq's army and police to "stand up." Joshua Partlow of the New York Times reports that:
The American soldiers in [the Sunni enclave of ]Amiriyah have allied themselves with dozens of Sunni militiamen who call themselves the Baghdad Patriots -- a group that American soldiers believe includes insurgents who have attacked them in the past -- in an attempt to drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans have granted these gunmen the power of arrest, allowed the Iraqi army to supply them with ammunition, and fought alongside them in chaotic street battles.

Lieutenant Colonel Dale Kuehl, a U.S. battalion commander, is trying to form the Baghdad Patriot group into an Amiriyah police force--the mainly Shiite national police force refuses to work in the area. "This is a defining moment for us," says Kuehl.

An intelligence officer in Kueh's battalion said, "We have made a deal with the devil."

Running With the Devil

The U.S. has also recruited indigenous forces to fight in Anbar Province and in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad. But Kuehl's arrangement with locals defies repeated declarations by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that no one but American and Iraqi forces are to carry arms. There's also a danger that "adopted" local allies could turn on their U.S. partners.

Then there's the problem of telling the "good guys" from the "bad guys." They dress alike, they carry the same kinds of weapons. Sure, you can put arm or head bands on the good guys, but the bad guys don't need a whole lot of smarts to figure out they can wear arm or headbands too.

In early June, the Baghdad Patriots led Kuehl's soldiers to a large weapons cache. They asked for the weapons in the cache as reward. Kuehl later said he would probably give the fighters weapons, but in limited amounts.

Many of the Amiriyah Baghdad Patriots are said to belong to the Islamic Army, which contains former officers of Saddam Hussein's military. On Wednesday June 6, the Islamic Army called a cease-fire with al-Qaeda. U.S. soldiers said the cease-fire would not affect the Amiriyah group.

That night, the Americans went on an overnight mission to arrest seven members of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Two hours after the raid was to commence, the tank unit was still waiting on empty streets for the Amiriyah militia group to arrive when they were told the militiamen had called off the raid.

"Pretty soon they run out of al-Qaeda, and then they're going to turn on us," one of the tank drivers said. "I don't want to get used to them and then I have an AK behind my back. I'm not going to trust them at all."

Don't Turn Your Back

One would like to commend a local commander like Colonel Kuehl for showing some initiative. Goodness knows that solutions aren't coming from high command. But aligning your unit with a local militia group of relatively unknown membership and allegiance--brother, that's taking a walk on the wild side. That no-show night raid could easily have been a trap for Kuehl's unit.

According to Partlow, Kuehl understands the risks, but decided the intelligence the Baghdad Patriot provided on al-Qaeda in Iraq was too good to pass up. "Hell, nothing else has worked in Amiriyah," Kuehl said.

Kuehl also said, "We need them and they need us. Al-Qaeda's stronger than them. We provide capabilities that they don't have. And the locals know who belongs and who doesn't. It doesn't matter how long we're here, I'll never know. And we'll never fit in."

We'll never know and we'll never fit in. This is one hell of a kind of war our leaders have stuck our military in.

But General David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, is nearly ecstatic about how the local alliances are going in the Anbar province. "What's taken place in Anbar is almost breathtaking," he told CNN in a June 8 exclusive interview. "In the last several months, tribes that turned a blind eye to what al Qaeda was doing in that province are now opposing al Qaeda very vigorously. And the level of violence in Anbar has plummeted; although there clearly is still work to be done."

I'm more inclined to buy the last clause in that statement than any of the rest of it. We've gone in to parts of Anbar again and again, claimed victory, then looked in the rear view mirror and gone "oops!"

It's also interesting how administration has pointed its rhetoric at al-Qaeda lately. As Charles Hanley of the Associated Press points out:
Inside the bloody kaleidoscope called Iraq, the list of enemies and allies is long, shifting and motley, running from “revolution brigades” and Baathists, to Salafists, secularists and suicidal zealots. But one group alone gets routinely tagged “Public Enemy No. 1” by the Americans.

Nine out of 10 times, when it names a foe it faces, the U.S. military names the group called al-Qaeda in Iraq. President Bush says Iraq may become an al-Qaeda base to “launch new attacks on America.” The U.S. ambassador here suggested this week al-Qaeda might “assume real power” in Iraq if U.S. forces withdraw.

Al-Qaeda is a minor contributor to the violence in Iraq. Some 30 distinct groups now claim credit for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi government forces. The odds of al-Qaeda assuming "real power" in Iraq are slim to none. Steven Simon, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that the Bush administration's warning about al-Qaeda and Iraq “serves mostly to buttress the administration's claim that Iraq's problems are the work of outsiders, and not the result of the administration's mismanagement of the occupation and internal Iraqi factionalism.”

And of course, the constant referrals to al-Qaeda reinforce the subliminal implication that Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9/11 attacks.

So what will this focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq really accomplish? It might drive the Islamic group from the country, but if it does, we'll still have the 29 something other anti-U.S., anti-Iraqi government militant groups to deal with.

And as the young tank driver in Lieutenant Colonel Kuehl's battalion said, "I'm not going to trust them at all."


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

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Iraq: The Post Occupation Occupation

After years of fighting post-hostility hostilities, military officials are now planning for the post-occupation occupation. As Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post informs us:
U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a "post-occupation" troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years…

… It is based on officials' assessment that a sharp drawdown of troops is likely to begin by the middle of next year, with roughly two-thirds of the current force of 150,000 moving out by late 2008 or early 2009.

The assessment that a sharp drawdown is likely to begin in mid-2008 may be a false assumption.

Go Long

As currently envisioned, the "long force" would consist of a 20,000 man reinforced mechanized division, 10,000 advisory troops to train and work with Iraqi forces, a headquarters and logistics element of 10,000 personnel and some civilian contractors.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others have taken to calling this the "Korean model," though most analysts agree that the situation in Iraq has very little in common with Korea. We have spent over fifty years in South Korea in support of a cease-fire agreement. This has been relatively successful because the belligerents have by and large cooperated with the peace agreement, and because they are sovereign nations separated by a defined border. U.S. troops in the south are not in the middle of a multi-sided Hobbesian conflict as they are in Iraq, and the South Koreans want us in their country whereas most Iraqis want us to leave theirs.

Our ability to safely withdraw troops from Iraq will depend on significant and lasting decreases in violence levels as well as political progress within the Iraqi government. Neither of those things appears imminent. We have to ensure that whatever number of troops we leave in Iraq will be able to defend themselves and maintain their line of communication and supply through Kuwait. Before we can draw down to 40,000 troops, we have to determine "ground" conditions that will allow sufficient force security and logistics support, and those conditions may be impossible to determine.

What's more, any drawdown will be a gradual one. As Ricks points out, even if a total pullout were the goal, it could take a full year to accomplish. We could conceivably be 20,000 troops into a pull out only to discover violence increasing, thus requiring yet another surge to quell hostilities, and find ourselves right back at square one. Keep in mind that the original plan was to have only 30,000 troops left in Iraq by fall of 2003. Also keep in mind that Iraqi forces still show little sign of being able to manage that country's security situation.

Officials in Baghdad don't take think the "September deadline" for showing progress in the "surge" plan is realistic. Ricks says that some of them quietly suggest that they really have until January 20, 2009 before they'll need to put the smaller force in place.

Whether they'll be required to resort to the smaller force will depend on the 2008 election results. If a war-friendly Republican candidate wins the White House and the GOP takes back, say, the Senate, we may still have pre-surge numbers of troops in Iraq for at least one more political cycle.

And there may be a convenient excuse for keeping up the troops levels in Iraq. Iran has warned that its missiles can reach U.S. bases in Iraq, implying they will use their missiles on those bases if the U.S. initiates an attack on Iran.

We have no way of knowing what Iran's nuclear intentions are. The administration insists that Iran wants nuclear weapons. Iran insists it only wants a nuclear energy program. Even if Iran is lying, it won't be capable of producing nuclear weapons before the Bush term expires, so any missile attacks on U.S. ground forces would involve chemical, biological or conventional warheads (and I'm not entirely convinced Iran has chemical or biological weapon stockpiles).

But even a mere conventional warhead missile attack on American bases--whatever set of circumstances might prompt them--could have a devastating effect on a much reduced U.S. force in Iraq, especially if Iran also managed to close down the Straits of Hormuz. With that sea line of communication cut off, reinforcement of the troops in Iraq would be next to impossible, and all kinds of bad things can happen in a scenario like that.

Relationships between the U.S. and Iran aren't likely to improve during the Bush tenure. Iran could conceivably become the rationale for keeping troop levels in Iraq robust. If the rhetoric and saber rattling become bellicose enough, even the most dovish 44th president we could possibly put in office might not be able to avoid an expansion of hostilities in the Gulf region.

Yes, that sounds like a paranoid doomsday scenario, but it's one that we need to consider because that's the course the Bush administration and its supporters have been steering throughout its existence, and they show no indication of shifting their rudders.

On Sunday's Face the Nation, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) told host Bob Schieffer “I think we have to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq.”

In this regard, Lieberman is lockstep with his hawkish pal Dick Cheney, whose staff members have spread the word that he thinks diplomacy with Iran is pointless, and with leading neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan whose aim is to create a total, indefinite and intractable war with as much of the Muslim world as they can draw into it.

So when you hear news of planned drawdowns in Iraq or diplomatic efforts with Iran, don't let our guard down. The neocon hawks still have the ear of the great decider, and you have to watch all of them like, well, like hawks.


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

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Musical Deck Chairs and Slippery Strategies

I hate to say I told you so, but…

In March 2007, Gordon Cucullu of the conservative New York Post wrote a piece titled "The Iraq Surge: Why It's Working." Cucullu quoted U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus as saying that the results the Baghdad security operation have been "dramatic."

Cucullu declared that "Early signs are positive; early indicators say that we're winning," and that we needed to give Petraeus "the time and space to win this war."

Jump ahead to June 7, 2007. At his Senate confirmation hearing, new War Czar Lieutenant General Douglas Lute said that Iraqi factions "have shown so far very little progress" toward reconciliation. Unless that changes, he said, "…we're not likely to see much difference in the security situation" a year from now.

Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) quoted a CIA expert on radical Islam as having said, "Our presence in Iraq is creating more members of al-Qaeda than we are killing in Iraq."

A Bad Surprise

Lute's assessment agrees with the views of officials who told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session last month that trends remain negative for a political solution in Iraq.

According to Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post, a senior Iraqi recently said, "People may look for benchmarks, achievements, legislation here and there to look for progress. This will not reflect the reality. This country is in deep, grave trouble. . . If anyone expects problems to be fixed by September 2007 or 2008, they will be in for a bad surprise."

No one expects General Petraeus to bring a pocketful of good news with him when he reports to Congress on the surge progress in September. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates now says American troops will be in Iraq for a "protracted period of time."

Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert with the Congressional Research Service says officials are "preparing the political landscape for a report that is not glowing ... and that not all U.S. troops would be leaving."

Mr. Bush and Secretary Gates are starting to describe a scenario in which U.S. units will pull back to permanent bases in Iraq where they can provide indefinite logistical support to Iraqi units. The trouble with that scenario is that nobody, including Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, really trusts the Iraqi Army or police to provide security.

Pace Takes a Hike

In a Friday afternoon dump/punt, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that President Bush will not nominate General Peter Pace to another two-year term as chairman of he Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gates said that after consultations with Democratic and Republican Senators, he concluded that "…because General Pace has served as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the last six years, the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past, rather than the future, and further, that there was the very real prospect the process would be quite contentious."

Nobody in the Department of Defense wants to be grilled on what happened over the last six years, and boy, if anybody knows where all the bodies are buried, Pace does. Gates says he will nominate Admiral Mike Mullen, presently the Chief of Naval Operations, to replace Pace as chairman. Mullen didn't come onboard the Joint Chiefs until August of 2003 when he became the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, so he has credible deniability regarding the run-up to the Iraq war, and as a naval officer he has little to no culpability for the long string of mistakes made on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also kept a fairly low profile regarding Middle East policies and strategies, so he doesn't have a public stance, pro or con, on any future decisions the administration might make.

Go Longer

So the game of musical deck chairs continues, as does the search for a coherent strategy in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. According to David S. Cloud of the New York Times, Mullen seems willing to give the "surge" a chance to succeed until at least September. In a recent interview, Mullen said, “It is a matter of months that this surge is designed to apply. If there isn’t political progress, if there isn’t economic progress, the military isn’t going to make this work.”

What's missing from Mullen's statement is that without political and military progress, the military isn't going to make things work regardless of what military strategy it employs.

Alternate strategies we've heard of being kicked around Washington over the past week look and sound much like the Pentagon's "Go Long," scheme, the Iraq Study Groups 79 recommendations, and Jack Murtha's proposal for redeployment to the periphery, a strategy Murtha first proposed in November 2005.

Though nearly all the key civilian and military featured players have been recast over the last several months, one face remains familiar on the Bush policy team: Vice President Dick Cheney. I don't buy any of the talk that Cheney's influence has waned. Every time he seems to have retired behind an undisclosed curtain, he pops up again to rally the base around the "stay the course" flag, and we can expect him to continue that pattern through the end of Mr. Bush's term.

So no matter how many new faces appear on the scene and how many proposals get kicked around, I fully expect the administration's strategy will be to do whatever it takes to maintain a sizeable presence in Iraq until the 2008 election, and do its utmost to place a Republican in the White House who's committed to finishing the job.

Whatever "finishing the job" means.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Three Star War Czar

The Maytag Repairman has nothing on Lieutenant General Douglas Lute. The newly nominated "War Czar" is about to become the loneliest man in the world.

During Lute's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-Michigan) told him that he would be, “responsible for bringing coherence to an incoherent policy, a policy that is still floundering after more than four years of war in Iraq.”

Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) said, “I just fear you are going to be placed in an impossible situation. It’s another public relations play rather than a significant change in strategy.”

Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) said, “You’ve been given a tough assignment. I share my colleagues’ concern that a good man has been put in a very difficult spot.”

Lute's in a difficult spot, all right. He's been ordered to march to the end of a long table and bend over.


Lute told the committee that: “America’s at war, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan represent what we in the military call the main effort in the long war.”

Translation: "America is losing two wars."

Lute has a record of having opposed the current surge strategy, and said the results so far have been uneven. “Conditions on the ground are deeply complex and are likely to continue to evolve, meaning that we will need to constantly adapt.”

Translation: "I don't have a clue what's going on or what needs to be done."

He said that his job as War Czar will be to help “provide our troops and civilians in the field with increased focus, full-time, real-time support here in Washington.”

Translation: "I'm the new scapegoat."

Lute said that the aim of the War Czar billet is "…to bring additional energy, discipline and sense of urgency to the policy process.”

Translation: "It’s another public relations play rather than a significant change in strategy.”

Cheney of Command

Retired Marine General John Sheehan, a former top NATO commander, was one of several former four-stars who turned down the War Czar job. Sheehan said he believed that Vice President Dick Cheney were still more powerful than realists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks.'"

Sheehan's remarks about Cheney are notable because they illustrate the cockamamie nature of the chain of command in the Bush administration.

Militarily, young Mr. Bush is the military's commander in chief. Next in line is Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense. After Gates come the combatant commanders, which in the case of both Iraq and Iran is Admiral William J. Fallon. Dick Cheney has no legal command authority. The only thing the Constitution authorizes him to be is president of the Senate. Operationally, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace has no command authority either. He is the president's adviser on military affairs. The individual service chiefs themselves are, in essence, administrative commanders, responsible for the manning, equipping, training and discipline of their individual services and for providing the combatant commanders with ready forces.

The National Security Adviser--a post created by Harry Truman during the Korean War--has no official status in the military chain of command either, nor does his staff, the National Security Council.

We have a dual chain of command in Iraq. Iraqi forces don't answer to U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus, and if they don't want to show up to support any given operation, the Iraqi government doesn't make them. NATO supposedly has operational command of Afghanistan, but U.S. special forces conduct independent operations in that theater. Admiral Fallon supposedly controls all of the Central Command Area of Responsibility, but I can't for the life of me figure out what he actually controls, and suspect that he and his staff can't either.

Into this unholy mix we're about to throw three-star general Douglas Lute, and he's going to reach in and un-fritz the military command puzzle plus make things hum between the Department of Defense and all of the rest of the U.S. government agencies and private contractors involved in Iraq and Afghanistan? No, he's not going to do that. Superman couldn't do that. God might be able to pull it off, but I doubt he'd stoop to working for George W. Bush.

Earlier reports said that as War Czar, Lute would work under National Security Adviser Steven Hadley, but no. During his hearing, Lute revealed that Hadley will no longer have any role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Jack Reed was aghast that the National Security Adviser was being taken totally off the hook for the two wars, and said that Hadley should be fired. (See the video of Reed's remarks at TPMMuckraker.)

Well, I wish Lute all the luck in the world. He'll need it. It may be that he'll facilitate a few things that otherwise would have fallen between the cracks.

But there's no way on earth he can recover four years worth of fumbles.


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