Friday, April 28, 2006

Annual Terror Report Released

The State Department issued its "Country Reports on Terrorism 2005" today. In the typical 60-second news block, what might get overlooked is the major change mandated by Congress. Whereas in past years only international terror incidents (cross-border or involving a person in a foreign country) were counted, now all terror incidents are counted and all are "equal" whether or not anyone dies.

About half the recorded incidents killed no one. Iraq was the scene of approximately one-third of all incidents in 2005 and more than half of all deaths attributed to terrorism.

Darfur, Congress, and Transitions

Last week I received a letter from Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) who represents the congressional district in which my family resides. It wasn’t the usual campaign literature (a bit too early for November 7) or even the perennial two paragraph form letter thanking me for agreeing with my representative’s position on an issue even if I heartily disagreed.

This was a 2-page letter about the atrocious events in that region of western Sudan known as Darfur that, in September 2004, the Bush administration labeled “genocide.” It was about the atrocious living conditions and the violence in refugee camps on both sides of the Sudan-Chad border to where most of the 2 to 3 million displaced people have fled. It was about the miniscule amount of money that Congress may finally approve for humanitarian relief, support of the African Union’s 7,000 monitors currently in Darfur, and the costs of converting the AU force to a UN operation and expanding it.

Congressman Wolf has traveled to Sudan 5 times and observed first-hand the conditions against which tens of thousands must struggle on a daily basis. When H.R.1424 could not gain House leadership support due to its authorization of oil sector sanctions and the use of force against Sudan, Wolf cosponsored new legislation (H.R.3127) that was directed more toward restrictions on those Sudanese officials the UN found were involved in the genocide.

The House version of the 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill provides $66.3 million for humanitarian needs in Darfur, $173 million to support the African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS), another $98 million for the expected transition from the regional peacekeeping force to a larger UN mission, and other assistance for a total of $499.1 million. Wolf supported these provisions.

The full Senate is now considering its version of the supplemental. As reported out of committee, the legislation mirrors the House version on Darfur-related allocations except for one item: the Senate provides only $38 million for the AMIS-UN transition.

(In recognition of the re-opening of the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) office in Khartoum, the Senate also allocated $6 million to accelerate this process, but the impetus for this money was less Darfur than the end of the North-South civil war.)

Darfur is exceptional in the amount of congressional interest generated in resolving both the North-South civil war (accomplished last year after more than two decades) and now Darfur. But in terms of need, the people of Darfur are far from unique. The problem really comes down to the old observation that foreign aid has no constituency – and so is always among the first program areas to be cut when lawmakers trim appropriations.

But if one really looks closely at the proposed supplemental, what stands out is the real bargain represented by the millions allocated for diplomatic, humanitarian, and development activities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America-Caribbean compared to the billions allocated to the Defense Department.

Over the course of the Cold War, the U.S. public lost sight of the lesson of post-World War II Europe and the Marshall Plan. And without interest from voters, Congress gradually lost focus as well. The result has been a new form of isolationism, not inner-directed as during the inter-war decades (1920-1930) but the “splendid loneliness” of being “king of the hill,” the “top dog,” “the decider.” The mind-set revealed by this last linguistic creation from the lips of the president reverberates with scorn for the patience required to fashion enduring diplomacy.

A Congress educated in and imbued with the spirit of George Marshall would intuitively recognize that fewer lives would be put at risk and less treasure consumed if the arts of the diplomat enjoyed as much congressional favor as the arts of the soldier do today. One idea about how to get this re-adjustment started was made by Congressman Wolf some 12 months ago. He suggested each member of Congress pick one developing country and, in effect, “adopt” it by visiting it, examining its humanitarian and development needs in detail, encouraging good governance but not penalizing society when this is missing, integrating the needs of this country with its neighbors – in effect becoming the “country expert.” Congress could then better evaluate proposed White House foreign aid programs and exercise a more informed oversight of foreign policy trends and actions by the sitting administration.

As it is, five members of Congress were arrested April 28 for “disorderly conduct” when they participated in a demonstration at the Sudanese embassy in Washington. Saturday and Sunday will see more Darfur-related protests.

This year has been labeled “the year of transition” in Iraq. The Pentagon in general and the U.S. Army in particular is undergoing wide-ranging structural changes. Moreover, this is an election year, leaving open the possibility that Congress itself may experience a transition. Might this suggest that it’s time to transition from the “decider” to the “cooperator”?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Voices on Permanent U.S. Bases in Iraq

“That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq,” stated President Bush when asked if a day will come when there will be no more American forces in Iraq - March 21, 2006

“At the moment, there are no plans for long-term bases in the country.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - April 3, 2006

"I don't know yet how many bases. We're looking at reducing the number of bases. We have 18 we are flying airplanes off of right now. I see that number coming down. But I don't see the air and space component leaving soon." Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff - April 12, 2006

"Some of our top leaders never intend to withdraw military forces from Iraq and they are looking for [staying] ten, 20, 50 years." "I have never heard our leaders say that …ten years from now there will be no military bases of the United States in Iraq." President Jimmy Carter - April 19, 2006

The U.S. has "no goal of establishing permanent bases in Iraq." Zalmay Khalilzad, Ambassador to Iraq - March 24, 2006

“The current plan is to reduce the coalition footprint into six consolidation bases – four of which are US. As we move in that direction, some other bases will have to grow to facilitate the closure (or) transfer of smaller bases.” Maj. Gen. Joseph Breasseale, senior spokesman for the coalition forces headquarters in Iraq - April 2, 2006

"We're building permanent bases in Iraq for Iraqis." Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, Pentagon spokesman - March 24, 2006

“Intense opposition to U.S. plans to establish long-term military bases in Iraq is one of the most passionate motivations behind the insurgency. …Neutralizing this anti-imperial passion — by clearly stating that we do not intend to remain in Iraq indefinitely — is essential to winding down the insurgency.” Larry Diamond, Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, January to April 2004 - August 15, 2005

“Nothing could be worse than trying to maintain bases in a country with Iraq’s past and where the people do not want them. “Nothing could be worse than trying to maintain bases in a country with Iraq’s past and where the people do not want them.” Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies - July 18, 2005

A January poll by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) asked Iraqis whether “the US government plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq or to remove all its military forces once Iraq is stabilized,” 80% overall assume that the U.S. plans to remain permanently.

“We must continue to show that we will not become a permanent force of occupation... because we need to operate in that region in an environment of consent," Brigadier Gen. Mark Kimmitt - March 30, 2006

“The United States may want to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq to bolster moderates against extremists in the region and protect the flow of oil.” Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia - March 15, 2006

"I don't think that anybody believes that we really want to be there longer than we have to.... I would think that people would tell you, we're not seeking permanent bases really pretty much anywhere in the world these days. We are, in fact, in the process of removing base structure from a lot of places.'' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - April 4, 2006

"Iraqis and their neighbors would be reassured to hear from the United States that its ultimate goal is complete withdrawal, and to hear that the United States has no intention of using Iraq as a launch point for other interventions or a base from which to destabilize other regimes.” James Dobbins, Rand Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center - June 27, 2005

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Amending the Supplemental

The full Senate took up amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 4939) today.

Pending are amendments that Senator Biden has crafted on Darfur (finance the AU mission and any transition to a UN force) and Iraq. The latter says:
"It is the sense of Congress that
* the United States should not establish permanent military bases in Iraq;
* the United States should not exercise control over Iraq's natural resources."

The Iraq amendments come none too soon as some members seem to be considering leaving 20,000-30,000 U.S. troops "over the horizon" --in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq. That not only isn't over the horizon, it opens the door and windows to civil war and the disintegration of Iraq as a single nation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Undesignating Enemy Combatants

The Los Angeles Times reported today that 141 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay were to be freed, with most being returned to their countries of origin.

Two sentences in the story, when inverted, provide a capsule study of what is wrong with this whole process.

Battlefield commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan had determined when the men were arrested that they were a threat to U.S. forces in the region, he [Lt. Cmdr Chito Peppler] said.

“The detainees determined by last year’s Administrative Review Boards to pose no threat to U.S. national security are ‘no longer enemy combatants,’ explained Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler of the Pentagon office in charge of reviewing detainee status.”

First, when did the U.S. military invade Pakistan and who is the U.S. “battlefield commander” in that country? Does President Mussaref know about this?

Second, battlefield commanders don’t arrest people; they take prisoners of war who surrender on the battlefield or who are so severely injured they cannot escape advancing U.S. forces. They are treated for battle wounds as prescribed by the Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions.

Third, if the U.S. is going to arrest everyone in these two countries who deeply dislikes the U.S. and in anyway “conspires” to advance a “threat” to U.S. forces in the region – a very ill-defined criterion – there would not be enough Guantanamo’s to even begin to hold them all.

Fourth, “unlawful combatant” is a Bush-devised category created to circumvent prisoner of war and civilian detainee rights as prescribed by the Hague and Geneva agreements, including the additional protocols to the Geneva documents.

Fifth, just as the designation of a person as an “enemy combatant” comes like a voice from heaven or from a deus ex machina, so too is the undesignation of a person as an “enemy combatant.”

The Guantanamo tally, according to the paper, stands as follows:

740 known to have been incarcerated (but with more “off the books”;
250 already released or returned to their homelands;
141 more to be released or returned;
10 charged, but no capital cases;
25 additional cases under development;
0 trials.

That totals 426 of the 740, leaving 314 in limbo – which to them must be more like hell.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Gun That Wouldn't -- Couldn't -- Smoke

Mary McCarthy – is she to the CIA in the 21st century what Daniel Ellsberg was to the Pentagon in the 20th?

Is she a person whose sense of morality extended to and so infused her loyalty to the nation that she could not condone renditions and other acts of or leading to torture?

Was she fired from her CIA job for unauthorized contacts with reporters during which she allegedly revealed highly classified information about secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe – as opposed to authorized leaks of previously highly classified information that the Vice-President said the President personally had declassified so that, allegedly, Scooter Libby could tell reporters?

Had she gone to and through her superiors, right up to the top, with her objections (and that assumes she did object, which she has declined to confirm or deny so far)? Did she go to the CIA Inspector General who is suppose to be the independent in-house watchdog of Agency compliance – but who in this instance happened to be McCarthy’s supervisor?

The CIA isn’t even confirming that McCarthy was fired, let alone why she was fired. Part of the reason is the Agency has never admitted it had any overseas rendition locations that it ran. But considering the high profile accorded Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib scandal, logic suggests that the CIA would have its own prisons to avoid the limelight.

As so often happens in the intel world, most of what has been reported about this saga originated from “open sources” with insiders confirming – anonymously – the general thrust of the story and some public events – e.g., McCarthy was escorted from the CIA building. In fact, assuming she did talk to reporters on the rendition issue, McCarthy may very well not have been the original source but the secondary source -- which means the CIA either has another, primary leaker or the Agency left so many loose ends that good reporters put it all together.

McCarthy denies, through friends, that she was the source. Reportedly she failed a polygraph test, but results of such tests still are not accepted in court cases. (As far as I am aware, Bush has not decreed otherwise and there are no special polygraph courts.)

Details of investigations allegedly are in the hands of the Justice Department, but there may not be enough for a case or the Agency may have more to lose in pursuing charges.

Might this be the CIA gun that misfired?

Friday, April 21, 2006

After 30 years

Remember Aceh, the part of Indonesia devastated by the December 26, 2004 tsunami?

BBC reports that on April 19, nine leaders of the Free Aceh Movement who had been living in exile in Sweden returned to Aceh for the first time in 30 years.

As 2005 drew to a close, both sides completed the reciprocal 4-stage demobilization/disarmament and troop withdrawal processes for the armed wing of the Free Aceh movement and Indonesian military units, respectively. Wednesday's return, symbolic as it may have been, signaled that another aspect of the peace accord was underway: the formation of political parties.

Is Jakarta reformed or at least reforming?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Shuffle in Iraq?

The Washington Post reports that interim Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has consented to drop his bid to retain that post in the new permanent government.

While on the surface this seems encouraging in that, if true, the concession might move the process of selecting a new prime minister forward – along with choosing or confirming the permanent speaker of parliament and the president and two vice-presidents.

However, there are a number of ifs, mights, and mays in all this.

-Has al-Jaafari actually agreed to step aside?

-What is the quid pro quo and is it within the Dawa party or in the larger Iraqi body politic?

-Will Moqtada al-Sadr, al-Jaafari’s chief backer, accept the reported change or will he demand a concession for his party?

-Given the wave of sectarian-based violence, neither the Sunnis nor al-Sadr are unlikely to accept anyone from SCIRI (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) as prime minister because of SCIRI’s control of the Badr Brigades. The same objection would apply to al-Sadr with his “control” of the Madhi army.

This would seem to open the way for selection of a “secularist” as prime minister, but the Shi’ite clerics could oppose this option and close it down quickly.

Should the Iraqi’s actually get a functioning government, they have two immediate tasks. The first is to fulfill the pre-constitutional referendum pledge to consider amending the constitution. The second is to publicly ask the U.S. and coalition countries to withdraw all troops and bases.

If the currently improbable becomes the possible, all sides should be ready to move rapidly to anchor the possible in the new reality – before that reality flows away.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Early Warning

“Life in this country has become unendurable.” – Baghdad resident.

April’s U.S. military deaths in Iraq are heading for 60-plus.

Daily Iraqi civilian and security personnel fatalities continue to run in the 35-40 range.

According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, approximately 80,000 Iraqis are living as refugees in their own country, with most of these fleeing their homes in the wake of the turmoil caused by the destruction of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra February 22.

Four months after parliamentary elections, Iraq still has no functioning permanent central government.

By its own reckoning, the Pentagon concedes that at least 40% of Iraq’s population resides in the areas where armed conflict remains prevalent.

Compared to its Vietnam-era equivalent, the anti-Iraq war peace movement has been much maligned for its small size and lack of coherence among groups.

Well, guess what’s coming ‘round the bend! It’s an opportunity to either (1) “express yourself,” (2) “let loose,” or (3) “let it all hang out” – depending on where you feel comfortable along the “formality” spectrum.

As noted in earlier entries, Congress seems to finally be stirring on the question of U.S. policy on Iraq. The House voted last month to restrict negotiations for permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. This month, a key Senate committee cut out funding for long-term military construction projects that might lead to permanent bases. The action shifts now to the full Senate. But senators cannot represent their constituents – each voter – if all they hear is – silence. However, senators will be able to meet their representational obligations if they know that their constituents want a clear declaration that it is U.S. policy to establish NO permanent military bases in Iraq.

If that’s the what, the “how to” is easy.

Send an e-mail asking your senators to attach a resolution to the Iraq war supplemental that conditions any new funding for the war in Iraq on a clear declaration that all U.S. military forces and bases will be withdrawn from Iraq and the U.S. will initiate the withdrawal this year. Just hit this link:

If you relish dialogue, you can participate in the Iraq Peace Campaign Call-In Day on Monday, April 24, the day before an expected Senate vote on the Iraq policy amendment to the funding bill. Discover how to get this done and a toll-free number to use by going to .

And then to top it all off, send this email to 10 friends you know who are upset about the direction of U.S. policy in Iraq and encourage them to email and call their senators as well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Rumsfeld and the Critics

Civilian control of the military: what is it and who does it involve?

Because six retired generals (so far) have publicly criticized Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the inadequate – some say non-existent – post-combat planning in Iraq, the issue is back – and is misconstrued.

Others, including recently retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Richard Myers, who have rallied to Rumford’s defense, would stretch the concept so much as to make it unrecognizable. Myers, noting that none of the four critics who actually served in Iraq had objected while on active duty, said that officers who failed to give their superiors their best advice were derelict in duty and “ought to be shot.” Myers also stated that in judging Rumsfeld, the officers were, inappropriately, also judging the commander in chief

Four stars or not, Myers’ advice is wrong – wrong because it would perpetually muzzle the very individuals who, not tied to day-to-day operations, have time to step back and analyze the “big picture”; and wrong if such silence leads to or prolongs armed conflict stemming from poor policy.

Civilians who volunteer to serve in the armed forces also voluntarily agree to limitations on some of their constitutional rights. They cannot wear whatever they like while on duty, leave their unit on a whim, decide they will not report for or participate in training, or publicly criticize either a policy or the chain of command while in uniform unless they resign or retire.

On the other end of military life, Army tradition holds that soldiers, in hanging up their spurs (as per the cavalry), gain the ultimate promotion to “full U.S. civilian” with all the rights, privileges, and duties that inhere to that “rank” – one that outranks every general in the U.S. military. So whatever the context, as long as the departure is not dishonorable, all restrictions on their rights and privileges are lifted.

This change in status extends even to the mundane. On a military base, should a “grey-beard” in civilian garb ask a soldier for directions, invariably the response comes with a “sir” or “ma’am.” And while this could be interpreted as uncertainty as to the rank (if any) once held by the visitor, I suggest it is grounded in the civil-military construct that holds that the military serves society and not the converse.

Another military anecdote says that one can take the man out of the uniform but never the (experience of) the uniform out of the man. As reflected in the tradition that “once a general always a general,” officers ranked colonel or lower frequently address retired generals or admirals by their rank or “sir.”

Such anecdotes point to more substantive matters involving obligations that extend to anyone who is a “U.S. civilian.” In national defense matters, discernment and judgment are prized attributes in the development of accomplished military leaders. How much more ought they be prized by society when, after 30-38 years of practice in dealing with ever-more complex challenges, a retired officer re-enters civilian life and pursues a second career built on the experience and knowledge gained from the first? As civilian “subject experts,” not to speak out when they believe mistakes in policy are increasing the dangers to the nation is to violate the oath that guided them through three decades or more of active service.

This same oath, lived every day when in uniform, ensures the military remains under “civilian control.” Augmented by statute, the Constitution provides a line of succession for the presidency that excludes all uniformed persons, excludes all uniformed persons in the Pentagon from the formal senior chain of command, provides that the top two individuals in the chain of command are civilians, precludes a serving officer from assuming th presidency, and to have a former general or admiral be the Secretary of Defense requires specific authorization by Congress, not simply confirmation by the Senate as is normal for cabinet posts.

The point is, “civilian control” isn’t a real issue for critics, only for Rumsfeld’s defenders trying to deflect the criticism.

As to the why of the criticism – now that is open to counter-criticism.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Congress: Stirring At Last?

Washington wags would have it that this ought to be a banner year for Congress. With only 97 days on the legislative calendar – 23 days longer than one-fourth of the calendar year as we know and love it – surely the amount of harm that can be inflicted on the body politic is minimal.

Of course, not all of the other three-fourths of the year – minus those 23 days (which is about an ordinary work month not counting weekends) – is spent on junkets or vacationing. Members of Congress, after all, have constituent visits in their district and states and have to do fund-raising on an almost daily basis.

But Congress must be in session to legislate. So when a major piece of proposed legislation fails to pass both chambers – the recent immigration “reform” bill in the Senate is a case in point – this not only captures the headlines, it upsets the planning for considering other legislation.

It also conceals stirrings, however belated, of congressional oversight, something missing for years. In the House, a Democratic bill calling for the creation of a special Iraq-Afghanistan contracting oversight board picked up two new Republican co-sponsors in early April. They join Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA), an original sponsor with John Tierney (D-MA) for a total of 35 co-sponsors. And while more Members would be needed to ensure committee consideration, let alone consideration by the full House, there may be more co-sponsors when Congress returns from its Easter break and a growing body of constituents who question what the U.S. is getting in return for the $1.9 billion (or more) that goes out each week to contractors operating in or in support of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The proposed select committee, should it materialize, would be modeled after the seven-year World War II era “Truman Committee” that went after waste, fraud, and abuse in that era’s war contracting. Historians say that the Truman panel documented $15 billion in abuses – in fiscal year 2000 dollars, that comes to $179 billion. In just Defense Department-controlled reconstruction spending in Iraq, the Defense Department’s inspector general says the Pentagon cannot document how it spent $8.8 billion.

Another panel looking at Iraq held its first meeting April 12. Unlike the official House panel, this bi-partisan Iraq Study Group of ten principal members grew from a proposal by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) for an independent look by a non-governmental group of experts at Iraq’s military, economic, political, and strategic condition. Sponsored by four prominent research and policy analysis organizations, the so-called “Fresh Eyes on the Target” panel will try to produce an evaluation of where Iraq is now, where it needs to get to so U.S. troops can leave, and suggest how this can be done. Sub-panel working groups will take on each aspect of the enquiry, and these four groups will be augmented by a fifth panel of retired generals and an admiral. The study group is to complete its work within a year.

So while Congress may look at history – contracting history – the Study Group will concentrate more on the future and how to get there. I’m not sure who has the easier task.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Marla Ruzicka - A Blessed Spirit Remembered

Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera Orfeo ed Euridice (Orpheus and Euridice) retells the story of the quest by the musician Orpheus to reclaim his bride from the realms of the dead. Orpheus’ intense love, captured in his impassioned music, works its charm on the Furies and other Spirits who initially block his entrance to the underworld where he witnesses a balletic interlude known as the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits.”

Marla Ruzicka, charming as well as a dancer, was no less impassioned about her quest: justice for the innocent whose lives had been turned upside down when family members were killed during U.S. bombing raids, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

Hardly had the Taliban regime abandoned Kabul and the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance moved in before the irrepressible spirit of Ms. Ruzicka was working its magic on diplomats, war lords, soldiers, the press – any one who would stop and listen, and that was virtually everyone who crossed Marla’s path. The combination of her personality, persistence, and compassionate pragmatism overcame the exhaustion-induced lethargy felt by those who saw mile-high obstacles in trying to recreate a nation. For Marla, their obstacles were actually expansive opportunities to begin the process of reconciliation and rebuilding – not society as a whole but individual lives and families who would then build the communities of the new society.

She was in Baghdad right after the city fell to coalition troops and stayed there through President Bush’s declaration that the “combat phase” of the war had ended. Soon thereafter Marla formed the “Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict” – CIVIC – to fill a significant gap that other organizations concerned with post-war conditions did not address: rebuilding the basic, commonplace economic and social structures that serve as familiar guideposts of “normalcy” in the lives of individuals, families, and local communities – schools to educate, clinics for health care and advice, stores and markets for necessities such as food

Marla envisioned CIVIC as an unbiased collector and validator of information on war’s unintended destructive consequences, information that U.S. field commanders would trust when deciding whether to make or withhold “sympathy payments” to individuals seeking compensation for war-related losses – death, severe injury, destroyed homes. In this role, CIVIC, by assisting war’s innocent victims as they struggle to rebuild some semblance of a normal life, would serve as a bridge between the work of traditional humanitarian relief organizations and the reconstitution of local, self-sustaining civil society.

Her insight was to adduce moral responsibility on those who, even unintentionally, cause innocent individuals to become victims of war. As she explained during an interview for the Harvard International Review in early 2004: “Victims of violence, terrorism, and war – we want them not to be forgotten, we want a process that accounts for them. We want governments – international, the United States, the United Nations – to have structures in place for assistance.”

Marla soon convinced others that she was on to something important, a way to hold on to the hearts and minds of potentially tens of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis whose lives and livelihoods had been profoundly changed by war. In 2004, she achieved a breakthrough when Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) inserted a provision in the foreign aid bill creating and funding a “Civilian Assistance Program” (CAP) to channel help to innocent civilians engulfed by U.S. military actions. The initial $10 million CAP appropriation was matched in 2005 by another $10 million which was approved jut days before that fateful Saturday, April 16, 2005.

Returning from visiting one of the war’s victims, Marla and her long-time Baghdad colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, died in a fireball when insurgents detonated a roadside bomb aimed at a passing U.S. military convoy.

Marla had dreamed of someday expanding CIVIC’s role to other countries in conflict such as Colombia and Liberia. But she realized that Iraq and Afghanistan were of necessity more pressing because of the direct role of the U.S. military in those countries. In its initial action on the 2006 emergency funding bill for the Iraq war, the Senate Appropriations Committee has kept that dream alive by designating an additional $10 million for the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund.

Marla Ruzicka was 28 when she died – truly a Blessed Spirit.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Retirees But No Resignees

The number of retired generals calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld's resignation or dismissal now stands at six. Between them are 15 stars and nearly 200 years collective experience in military affairs ranging from combat command to evacuation of civilians and UN "blue helmets" to participation in UN authorized interventions.

While unanimous in calling for Rumsfeld's departure, they differ in their support for or opposition to the decision to invade and then occupy Iraq. Those supporting the action fault Rumsfeld for violating one or more of the nine principles of war. Thus theirs is a critique of Rumsfeld's practice of the art and science of war. Those opposing the war go further. They fault the policy, which in the end is approved by the president. But again, their opposition tends to be grounded in the effects the policy has on the military institution and less on the inherent moral and legal considerations of war in general and preventive war in particular.

Speaking of opposition to war, three West Point graduates from the Class of 1962 have started a website "West Point Graduates Against the War." Any graduate, spouse or widow of a graduate may join. See

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Civil War Then and Now

At 0430 this morning, April 12, 1861 -- 145 years ago -- Confederate General Pierre Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina, beginning the American Civil War. Just 3 days short of 4 full years -- April 9, 1865 -- Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

In 339 days, March 17, 2007, U.S. forces will have been in Iraq 3 days short of 4 years. Will they be caught in an Iraqi civil war?

Building Iraqi Villages

No, this is not about reconstruction or rebuilding public or private structures destroyed in combat operations in Iraq.

But it is about building and what this "building" portends for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The Associated Press carried a story April 11 about a $57 million dollar village being built at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California.

For years, NTC and the complementary Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and then Fork Polk, Louisiana, hosted Army armored and light infantry combat battalions for rigorous field maneuvers against equivalent razor-sharp Soviet formations – really U.S. troops so well schooled in operating Soviet equipment and using Soviet tactics that the “Opposing Force” or OPFOR was said to out-Soviet the Soviets.

Those days are past. Fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq proved such a strain on Army combat units in 2004-2005 that the OPFOR had to be re-trained and re-equipped for duty in Iraq.

The latest news about Fort Irwin’s metamorphosis says 300 buildings will be erected in the Army’s simulated Iraqi village. This will not be the first “village” in Fort Irwin – there are about a dozen there already – nor is Irwin the only place with these constructs. Some of the earliest were erected to train troops in what is known as MOUT – military operations in urban terrain – to reflect the change in post-World War II Europe landscape from agrarian to urban. When U.S. units started arriving in Vietnam, Vietnamese “villages” were created to give soldiers an idea of what they might encounter.

Of course, these “villages” have to be inhabited for there to be any significant value to the training. Soldiers in civilian dress, instructed in a variety of free-flowing scenarios, interact with personnel in the unit being trained. While the “villagers” are play-acting, they must be deadly serious about their part in the training or there may be some seriously dead soldiers when units deploy.

I never visited NTC but I did observe an exercise at the British Army’s equivalent facility where units alerted for duty in Northern Ireland were put through a series of demanding counter-insurgency scenarios. Compared to Iraq, the UK soldiers had less stress getting ready for Northern Ireland duty because there was no serious linguistic barrier – just one of obstinate and even willful miscommunication.

In Iraq, language barriers add pressure on leaders and troops alike because accurate translating takes time, which exposes troops to hastily organized attacks or allows insurgents to escape, or both.

In Washington last month, President Bush noted that “a future president and a future Iraqi government” would decide when all U.S. forces would withdraw from Iraq – putting the earliest year at 2009. Apparently, the Army believes that it will be sending units to Iraq until at least 2009, else why spend $57 million on a new potemkin village when it has 12 already built at NTC?

Or is the Army hedging its bets that before 2009, it might b somewhere else in the vast desert expanses of Africa, Asia, and the Near and Middle East?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wildly Speculative

It might as well have been an echo chamber.

President Bush, speaking at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies April 10, insisted that any talk about invading Iran or planning to use nuclear bunker busting bombs was "wild speculation." As he so often does in making a point of policy, he repeated himself.

The president got off lightly compared to White House spokesman Scott McClellan. In an extended exchange with Helen Thomas, McClellan repeatedly -- 8 times -- declined to enter into "wild speculation" and cautioned reporters not to give credence to "wild speculation." The transcript of the briefing also showed that Ms. Thomas was cut off twice, getting out "wild" but not "speculation."

Without knowing the sources for Seymour Hersh's article in The New Yorker and the Washington Post's story over the weekend, it's hard to conclude just how wild and how speculative the reporting is on prospective operational plans for striking Iran. What is troubling to many is the repetition for Iran in 2006 of the assertions of "evil" lodged against Iraq in 2002-2003 accompanied by lip service to diplomacy as the proper way to resolve international disputes.

Time will tell how real, how sincere, the administration's statements are. I don't think, however, that it's"wildly speculative" to heed Shakespeare's caution: "Methinks he protests too much."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Shucks. There he goes again (Bush and Iran)

Ronald Reagan’s oft-used rejoinder to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 debates when Carter would bring up Reagan’s past statements on issues was a shake of the head and a “There you go again!”

While Ronald Reagan is no longer with us, his statement is right on the mark when applied to George Bush’s foreign policy. Bush seems intent on finding as many countries as possible to back into the proverbial corner by threatening military action should they not fall into line with the administration’s view of how the world should conduct itself.

Compounding this combative approach, which in itself accelerates events down the road to armed conflict, is the seeming proclivity to read every challenge to his idea of how the world ought to be ordered as an affront not only to the United States’ “right” to run global affairs but also a personal affront to his personal “vision” – what, in his latest article for The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh calls Bush’s messianic complex.

Further compounding these aspects is Bush’s inability to see through to its end the use of military force in one area before launching a new war on another opponent. It’s as if a form of attention deficit disorder comes into play in foreign affairs.

First came Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime refused to turn over to the UN Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members. The bombs began to fall October 7, 2001; by December Kabul and then Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, fell to the combined Northern Alliance and U.S.-led western coalition. But neither bin Laden nor the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, was captured. One recent result, among others, is a very non-spiritual increase in attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians and, more recently, on UN and NATO bases and personnel.

With large areas of Afghanistan still not under the firm mandate of the central government in Kabul, Bush turned to Iraq – “unfinished business” from his father’s presidency. Seizing on every tidbit of information that favored the already-decided war policy while discarding everything that pointed to other explanations, the Bush White House pushed through Congress what the administration regarded as unrestrained consent to wage war whenever and however the president chose. Three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, only three of Iraq’s 18 provinces are considered stable by Pentagon and State Department people on the ground – and those three are the Kurdish areas that have been semi-autonomous for a dozen years.

Now Bush seems intent on taking on Iran. It is as if, having taken on Afghanistan’s 31 million and Iraq’s 27 million citizens, he reckons it’s but a step up to Iran’s 69 million. But an attack on Tehran would be on a country whose population is in no way as deeply fissured as Afghanistan’s was or as Iraq’s became. Iran is also physically larger than Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Moreover, Iran has not been at war for 18 years while the past three years have taken a toll on U.S. equipment. Moreover, recruiting for the army is proving increasingly difficult, witness the additional money and personnel devoted to that task after the army missed its goals for 2005.

In March 2003, Bush unilaterally ended the UN mandated inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN chemical and biological weapons inspectors by launching U.S. missiles, bombs, and personnel to topple Saddam’s regime. The IAEA is in Iran right now inspecting declared nuclear sites and tracking down undeclared sites. Late reports from unnamed Pentagon sources suggest the White House has moved from contingency planning to operational planning for a strike should Tehran not give up its right to run the entire nuclear fuel cycle from enrichment to fuel rod reprocessing.

The latest cause for concern is speculation that President Bush may be considering seriously a nuclear option against deeply buried targets in Iran. Beyond being a risky military venture given the time the Iranians have had to strengthen their air defenses, the long-term consequences would be diplomatically, economically, and environmentally disastrous.

As a rejoinder, “There you go again” won’t do any more. “Stop now!” is today’s order.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bloody April

The weekend should have been joyful. After all, three years ago Saddam Hussein's regime fell.

Instead, there was shock, anger, and grief.

“This is not the first time the occupation forces and their death squads have resorted to killings.”

That was Moqtada Sadr April 6 after a suicide car bomber attacked the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. The 13 deaths in that explosion, as devastating as they are for the families of the victims, pale in comparison to the toll in the triple suicide bomb mayhem at the Buratha mosque in Baghdad. Reports say that at least 80 are dead and 160 injured in the assault on one of the city’s oldest mosque.

Like the Najaf explosion, the motive for the attacks – and thus the identity and affiliation with a sect or political faction – is unclear. The convenient scapegoat is al-Qaeda in Iraq, as it has said it will do whatever is required to drive the coalition out and keep the country divided.

To hear Jalil Eddin al-Sagheer, imam of Buratha, the latter part of the tactic may be succeeding, Not injured himself, al-Sagheer reportedly was angry as he told western reporters that today’s bombing was part of “a campaign of distortion and lies” perpetrated by Sunni politicians and clerics. Moreover, he accused the world of once again (as in the 1990s) failing to provide security for Shi’ites by ignoring Sunni depredations in Iraq’s “dirty sectarian war.”

So at the end of April 7, in less than 18 hours in Iraq, the recorded count from throughout the country stands at 4 suicide bombers, 114 Iraqi civilians and 9 members of the security forces killed.

Since the February 22 attack that destroyed the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, almost 1,600 Iraqi civilians and 275 security personnel have been killed. At the pace so far this month – 265 dead in seven days – April will easily surpass March’s 901 civilian fatalities.

By comparison, since February 22, U.S. fatalities in Iraq total 68 and coalition losses stand at 5.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Permanent Bases in Iraq: Where Politics and Law Hit a Brick Wall


Over the last few months, the media have reported that the Pentagon is busy constructing what appear to be “enduring” (i.e., permanent) bases in Iraq. A recent Associated Press story noted that in 2005-2006, one billion dollars had been requested or approved for building or improving bases in Iraq. The Supplemental Appropriations act itself includes a request for $348 million for further base and other construction.

Earlier stories spoke of the U.S. retaining possibly 14 bases of the 108 set up around the country. (Thirty-four of these 108 have been “returned” to Iraqi control to date.) Of these 14, four locations as enduring bases have been specifically cited:

Balad Air Base, some 40 miles north of Baghdad, where two million cubic feet of concrete has been laid for runways and parking aprons for C-5 and C-130 airplanes and for as many as 120 helicopters. Facilities will accommodate 25,000 troops in its 15 square miles;

Al Assad Air Base, 180 miles west of Baghdad and ten miles from the Syrian border. Covering 19 square miles, it is home to 17,000 U.S. military and civilians;

Ali Air Base at Tallil, between Baghdad and Basra, home to a new mess hall able to seat 6,000.

Al Qayyarah Air Base in the north near Mosul

These four airbases would provide quick response capability for U.S. or U.S.-Iraqi operations. Make no mistake: as long as U.S. ground troops are in Iraq, whether as units or as embedded trainers/advisors, U.S. warplanes will be close by. And the converse is true: as long as U.S. warplanes are needed to support Iraqi counterinsurgency operations, even after all U.S. units have left the country, U.S. soldiers will have to be on the ground to direct bombing and strafing runs


The Iraqi Air Force consists of C-130 cargo aircraft and training aircraft. They also have some unarmed helicopters. The extent of U.S. construction far exceeds any conceivable requirements of a future defense-oriented Iraqi Air Force.

Not counting any bases in Iraq, since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has created 35 new bases in the arc running between Poland and Pakistan. (Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 2006) However, the Karshi-Khanabad (K-2) base in Uzbekistan was closed the end of July 2005. Kyrgyzstan still permits U.S. basing at Manas, but that government wants more money from the U.S. for basing rights. Should the latter base also be lost, there would be a break in the chain of bases containing Russia and China. Iraq is not quite in the arc, but would partially fill the missing link.


As part of its version of the FY2006 Supplemental Appropriations bill, the House of Representatives on March 16 passed an amendment that states: “None of the funds in this Act may be used by the U.S. government to enter into a basing rights agreement between the United States and Iraq” (Title III, Section 3014, H.R. 4939).

For its part, on April 5 the Senate Appropriations Committee cut $177 million of the $348 million request in the Supplemental for base construction in Iraq. The panel told the White House that it will reject administration attempts to designate as “emergencies” requests that clearly “propose a longer-term presence” in Iraq.

POLITICAL implications of prohibiting any funding of “basing rights” agreements or significant construction that points to “a more permanent presence than is the policy of the United States.”

- Does not force the White House to stop ongoing construction work which can always be declared “force protection” measures.

-Can unmask White House intentions for the long term in Iraq.

-Pentagon master plan for construction at Balad reportedly runs 10 years

-All but $10 million of the Senate’s $177 million cut in construction funding involved a plan to build roads to by-pass major Iraqi urban areas where convoys are more susceptible to ambush and improvised explosive devices. Ironically, in the 1980s in Central America, National Guard engineer construction units were dispatched to build roads connecting rural areas to urban centers.

-Senate cuts can be restored in whole or in part in conference.

LEGAL Implications of prohibiting any funding of “basing rights” agreements or long-term construction projects

- No effect until bill passes Congress and signed by president. Veto always possible though unlikely for Supplemental Appropriations bill for war fighting and hurricane relief.

- Basing rights prohibition applies to the monies being appropriated in H.R. 4939 only.

- Even with this prohibition, the real impact on appropriations might be zero to -$14 per annum as each base could be leased from the Iraqi government for $1 per annum yet nominally still be commanded by an Iraqi – meaning that Iraq assumes all risks and liabilities.

- Once a bill includes such a prohibition, the barn door is opened and the same language is easier to include in the future, with extended parameters.

- Should or when the Iraqi government requests that a status-of-forces or similar understanding be formally concluded, this should trigger the prohibition in H.R. 4939 as status-of-forces agreements implies the presence of foreign troops in another sovereign country and therefore real-estate for a base.

On April 4, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asked by Representative Steven Rothman (NJ) during her appearance before the House Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee if the bases in Iraq were permanent, dodged the question by replying; “I would think that people would tell you, we’re not seeking permanent bases really pretty much anywhere in the world these days.”

It was definitely indefinite. But at least now the questions are being asked, and sooner or later someone in the administration will actually answer.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Missing Iraq Debate: Sisyphus Redux

Ever since Congress voted in October 2002 to allow President Bush to use any and all measures against Saddam Hussein’s regime, trying to get a debate on the course of the invasion and occupation of Iraq – let alone challenging the folly of continuing to fund unquestionably all administration requests for the “global war on terror” – has been a labor rivaling Sisyphus’ impossible task of rolling a boulder up a mountain.

Until now.

Earlier today, three Republican House Members – Walter Jones (NC), Ron Paul (TX), and Wayne Gilcrest – announced they were supporting House Resolution 543, a Discharge Petition that would move H. Res 55 (“Homeward Bound”) from committee, where it has languished since November 9, 2005, to the House floor for 17 hours of debate about the war.

This trio of House Republicans join Representative Jim Leach (R-IA) and some 80 House Democrats in support of H. Res. 543. For the Discharge Petition to become effective, 218 Members must sign on in support.

It obviously is a different mountain, but the task is still Sisyphean.

Yet until the issue comes to the floor for extended debate, there is little chance that a real non-partisan solution to the Iraq impasse will emerge before additional scores of coalition soldiers and Iraqi security forces and civilians die or are seriously wounded.

The heart of democracy is the right – the duty – of full and open debate of issues vital to the nation. If we do not engage democracy at home, how can we represent it abroad?

Connecting Dots Take II

Three responses, one quite long from an irate recruiter, are too few from which to draw conclusions, but it’s a start.

Recruiting can be one of the most difficult – “challenging” imparts a positive cast – specialties in the military, possibly even, after combat itself, among the most stressful of all military activities. But because society willingly entrusts those recruited into the institution with the means to kill people and destroy things, it is critical that those in the institution meet qualitative criteria that enable them to carry out missions assigned by competent authority as well as internalize and practice professional standards of conduct.

Having been a company grade officer in the last decade of the conscript army in Germany and Vietnam, I saw the effects of statistically lowered standards across the whole force – racial animosities that flared into small riots, lower morale, different rules for officers and enlisted serving in the more risky parts of combat zones, “fragging,” etc. It was also the era in which sheriffs offered youthful offenders arrest and jail time or enlistment and judges offered felony conviction or military service.

I am concerned when mental standards are relaxed, especially when the civilian leadership has been at pains to point out the increased complexity of weapons systems that presumably require higher intellectual capability to understand and operate equipment.

Of course, what many point to as lower standards in public school education inevitably affects the quality of the pool of potential recruits. That argues for increased funding for teacher education and salaries. Yet with record deficits, something has to give if this generation is to avoid passing on to future generations an ever-increasing weight of debt. But few politicians, and even fewer presidents, are willing to consider cutting back defense programs or increasing multi-national cooperation that would permit cutting (rather than increasing) personnel end strength

One final point. War is all one is left with when one side (or both) in a dispute stops looking for answers. This allows categorizing “defensive” war (including preemptive but excluding preventive war) undertaken to preserve the continued existence of the nation-state as a “necessary” war – as was World War II. That position, nonetheless, does not change the judgment that all wars exacerbate abandonment of intellectual and pragmatic-ethical principles normally guiding human relationships.

Supplementals Are Real Money

The story behind the headline in the New York Times April 4, “Senate Pushes War, Hurricane Bill to $100B,” continues the all-too-familiar saga of poor estimates by the current and past administrations of the financial costs of policies and programs. It also points to the unwillingness – because of a lack of expertise on congressional staffs or the political need to “bringing home the bacon” – of Congress to exercise fiscal control over spending.

The FY2006 Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 4939) is but the latest example. Supplemental appropriations, because they are not counted as part of the regular appropriations cycle that involves budget reconciliation – that is, balancing income and expenditures in the same way individuals balanced their checkbooks before e-bills – originally were conceived as a method to speed congressional action after unforeseen calamities, man-made or natural.

One way to grasp the idea of supplemental appropriations is to think of them as a form of catastrophic insurance. The problem is that those who act in the capacity of claims adjusters and relay to the home office (Congress) the estimate of the dollar loss consistently underestimate that loss. Unlike the Pentagon’s cost overruns for weapons systems, which can be tracked over the 15-20 years a weapon is being procured through the Selected Acquisition Reports – disasters are usually forgotten by most people except those directly involved.

For example, President Bush pledged the federal government’s support of efforts to rebuild Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Last year, estimates for repairing the levees damaged or destroyed came in at $2 billion, which Congress appropriated. The 2006 supplemental contains another $2 billion based on an assessment that the original sum would leave parts of the system unrepaired or under-repaired, at best, to cope with a Category 3 hurricane. Now, according to the Times article, the administration projects that the final cost will approach $10 billion – that’s five times the original appropriation. The amount of the discrepancy ought to trigger questions about the process followed in arriving at the $2 billion estimate so that, in the wake of the inevitable next major natural catastrophe, enough aid can be provided to state and local governments early enough to have critical infrastructure repaired or restored in less than 12 months.

Although it would be an extraordinary occurrence today, supplemental appropriations theoretically could be a rational course to take should a “once in a nation’s lifetime” opportunity come along. The U.S. has had two such events. One was the Louisiana Purchase (1803) for $11.5 million (plus another $3.5 million in claims against the French government) and Seward’s Folly – the purchase from Russia of Alaska (1868) for $7.2 million. As a historical note, the national debt increased only $9.4 million between 1803-04 before declining for the next eight years up to 1812 and war with Britain. Alaska did not increase the national debt between 1868-69; at most it helped slow the pace of debt reduction following the Civil War, dropping only $23 million whereas the differences between 1867-68 and 1869-70 were reductions of $66 million and $92 million, respectively.

There’s another, growing systemic problem with post-1990 supplementals. Why 1990? Because that was the year the new Budget Enforcement Act formally exempted supplementals from the budget ceiling. This opened the door, as the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and numerous non-governmental organizations have noted frequently, for multiple millions if not billions of dollars for non-emergencies to be added either in the request from the White House or as part of the final legislation approved by Congress.

For instance, one wonders why, under Title II of H.R. 4939 – “Further Hurricane and Disaster Relief” – there are funds allocated for ammunition procurement. There is another entry for $10 million for a “Democracy Fund” aimed at advancing democracy in Iran even though human rights advocates in Iran have pleaded for the United States not to make their situation more perilous by implicit association. Why is the supplemental being used for procuring C-17 transport and V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, items that should be in the regular appropriations request for the military?

In the end, the April 4 estimate of $100 billion for the 2006 supplemental going into the Senate Appropriations committee came out at $106.5 billion.

As Everett Dirksen would say, that’s real money.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bloody March 2006

Up to the very end of the month it looked like March would be the first time since February 2004 that a month's U.S. fatalities would be fewer than the number of days in the month.

Regrettably, it was not to be. March 2006 averaged one U.S. military person each day, matching the exact average during June 2003. In that June, 18 deaths were from hostile action, including 6 RPG attacks – that is, one-third of the total. Another 12 deaths were recorded as being from non-hostile causes.

By contrast, of the 20 U.S. fatalities in February 2004, 8 were due to non-hostile causes while12 were the result of hostile action. Only now, IEDs, not RPGs, were the main cause of fatalities – 9 of 12 or three-fourths.

Last month, 26 of the 31 U.S. fatalities were the result of hostile action, with IEDs again the leading cause at 11 or just over 42%. Unlike the other months above, this March the five non-hostile deaths constituted just over 20% of the combat fatalities, a sharp drop from the 66% in June 2003 and February 2004 (12of 18 and 8 of 12, respectively).

Makes one think that while the coalition forces will do their duty, they are being more careful -- as if they might themselves be thinking about the proposition that no one wants to be the last person to die in a war, whether from combat or by accident.

And lest we forget, in March the reported count of Iraqi civilian fatalities was 901 while security forces lost 193. Coalition partners in Iraw lost two.

Different cultures, different nationalities, but the blood is always red.