Barack Obama

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After Spectacular Failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, US to Throw More Money at Training for Syrian Rebels

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and "accomplishments" from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond is discussed.

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and “accomplishments” from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond are discussed.

A central part of Barack Obama’s prime-time disclosure that he is authorizing air strikes in Syria was his call for half a billion dollars to train and equip “moderate” rebels in Syria. Proving that bipartisanism in Washington is not dead, John Boehner was quick to show his support for this nifty plan:

Congressional leaders rallied behind President Obama’s call to combat the Islamic State, vowing Thursday to back his request for funding to arm Syrian rebels as early as next week.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he expects the House to pass Obama’s $500 million funding request to train and equip Syrian rebels who are fighting the militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

/snip/

“We only have one commander in chief,” Boehner said. “At this point in time, it is important to give the president what he is asking for.”

Remarkably, though, even this USA Today article notes that there might be a slight problem or two with this brilliant plan to stop ISIS, otherwise known as “the personification of evil in the modern world“:

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another endangered Democrat, said he was opposed to arming Syrian rebels. “We must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us,” he said.

House Republicans are divided into two camps, according to Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. He told the Associated Press after a closed-door caucus meeting that one side hopes to hold Obama “accountable for doing the right thing.” The other group — that includes himself, Fleming said — believes Obama’s plans amount to an “insane strategy to go out there and depend on people that are proven undependable” to take down the Islamic State.

Wow. I think I just became a big fan of a Republican congressman from Louisiana.

So where could Begich have gotten the idea that if we arm extremists they might eventually use those arms on us? I mean, besides folks like Osama bin Laden and the death squads we have armed in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how could Fleming think the groups we plan to train and arm might be undependable? That is, besides the Iraqi troops we trained who then abandoned their posts and US-supplied weapons as soon as ISIS entered the picture or the Afghan troops that routinely give territory back to the Taliban as soon as US forces withdraw?

And about that half billion dollar budget. Note that back in June, SIGAR’s latest figures (pdf) showed that the US has already disbursed over $48 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund which provides funding for the training and support of Afghanistan’s troops. Despite those billions, of course, no one doubts that these forces will be completely unable to function once US troops and US funding are gone, just as we saw when Iraqi forces faded away in the face of ISIS.

So yes, we are still stuck in that version of the movie Groundhog Day where we just end up training and equipping groups to take on our latest enemy, only to have the effort fail. But who should lead this august effort? Our most accomplished failure on this front, hands down, is David Petraeus. How could we possibly not use the author of this brilliant prose, penned in September, 2004, claiming that his second attempt at training troops in Iraq was a smashing success: Continue reading

“Let’s Bomb Syria” Version 2 Is Working; Why Did Version 1 Fail?

Polls taken almost exactly one year apart show a remarkable reversal in US opinion regarding the prospect of air strikes on Syria. Last year, in a poll conducted September 6-8, (pdf) there were a number of questions regarding action in Syria. By a margin of 59% to 39%, Americans overwhelmingly said they thought Congress should not pass the then pending resolution authorizing “military action for 60 to 90 days” that also banned use of US troops in a combat role. Further, 55% of those polled stated that even if Congress passed the resolution, they opposed US air strikes in Syria while only 43% favored them. In the hypothetical of no Congressional authorization, opposition to the air strikes rose to 71% with only 27% favoring them. Just one year later, those numbers have reversed. In a poll conducted September 4-7, 65% of Americans now say they support expanding US air strikes against the Sunni insurgents into Syria, while only 28% oppose them. Checking the crosstabs, support for the strikes jumps to 74% for Republicans but still is 60% for Democrats.

So why is this year’s Drum-Up-War week working, when last year’s failed?

Despite the heinous nature of last year’s sarin attack, it seems to me that most Americans did a good job of recognizing that what is underway in Syria is a civil war in which the US has no vital interest other than humanitarian concern for widespread death and displacement of citizens. Having failed to paint Bashar al-Assad as an evil-doer on the level of Saddam Hussein (or perhaps after Americans rejected such an obvious campaign to do so) Obama and his fellow war hawks now consider ISIS “the focus of evil in the modern world“.

The beheading of US journalists in Syria got huge play in the press. And yet, if we drill down a bit, the rate of journalists being killed in Syria is going down from its peak in 2012.

Somehow, Obama’s war gang has managed to convince ordinary Americans that ISIS represents a real threat to the US. That same poll that favors attacks on ISIS in Syria found that a staggering 91% of Americans find ISIS to be a serious threat to the US (59% said “very serious” and 31% said “somewhat serious”). Sadly, there is no reality behind this fear on the part of Americans. Even Time, in doing its best to support the hysteria, winds up undercutting the concept in a story today. In a piece creatively titled “Understanding the ISIS Threat to Americans at Home“, we learn:

On the one hand, Attorney General Eric Holder has said western fighters joining ISIS and returning home radicalized are the national security danger he worries about most. “We are seeing, I would say, an alarming rise in the number of American and European Union nationals who have been going to Syria to help extremist groups,” Holder told TIME last month. “This represents a grave threat to our security,” he said.

But in a thorough presentation on Sept. 3 at the Brookings Institution, outgoing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, presented a less scary picture. ISIS has no cells in the U.S., Olsen said, “full stop.” Further, Olsen said, “we have no credible information” that the group “is planning to attack the U.S.” ISIS, Olsen said “is not al Qaeda pre-9/11.”

At most, the article concludes, quoting Obama in his “exclusive” with Chuck Todd, he needed “to launch air strikes to ensure that towns like Erbil were not overrun, critical infrastructure, like the Mosul Dam was protected, and that we were able to engage in key humanitarian assistance programs that have saved thousands of lives.”

The links Holder is hyping about ISIS and AQAP simply do not exist:

Holder says the danger comes from the combination of westerners joining ISIS and the expert bomb-makers working for the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It is not clear what if any evidence exists of such collaboration yet. On the one hand, AQAP has issued statements in support of ISIS, and both groups are active in Syria and Iraq; on the other, al Qaeda and ISIS split in the last year after a debate over tactics and territory.

Several senior administration officials tell TIME they have seen no evidence of direct contact between individual members of AQAP and ISIS.

In the end, the article concludes, Obama’s war team has deduced that we must attack ISIS because at some point in the future, they will turn their sights on us. Never mind that in this case, attacking ISIS in Syria winds up helping Assad, whom we wanted to attack last year:

Jane Harman, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said that while the Assad government was a major topic of discussion, she and other participants told Mr. Obama that he could order military action in Syria without fear of helping Mr. Assad, since ISIS was occupying ungoverned territory that his forces were unlikely to reconquer.

I guess that Harman and Obama know that Assad won’t be able to reconquer those once ISIS is gone because of the bang-up job we will do training and equipping our famousmoderate” rebels, but hey, what could go wrong on any of this?

In the end, though, the apparent support for this version of strikes on Syria seems to me to have come about because of the shift in focus on the “enemy” from a president oppressing the citizens of his country to an international terror group that we must fear and that represents true evil. As far as the average American is concerned, meddling in another country’s civil war is out of bounds, but when it comes to protecting the homeland against evil-doers, anything goes.

And it doesn’t even need Congressional approval.

 

Abdullah Declares Himself Election Winner, Won’t Accept Audit Result

In a press conference completed only about an hour ago, Abdullah Abdullah has declared himself the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election and said that he will not accept the result of the audit that has been taking place since the June runoff election. Khaama Press appears to be the first to come out with a story on Abdullah’s statements, although there were Twitter updates from several sources as he spoke:

Afghanistan’s controversial presidential election was once again taken towards a deadlock after the Reform and Partnership tem led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah announced their stance regarding the election process.

/snip/

Abdullah said the political process has now entered to a deadlock and claimed that his team was the winner and will be the winner of the presidential election, accusing the electoral bodies for being involved in industrial scale fraud.

Abdullah criticized the vote audit and invalidation process and said the process had problems since the beginning and his team’s complaints and concerns were not considered by concerned parties involved in the process.

He claimed that his rival team had the support of government and the electoral bodies during the election and vote audit process.

Although Abdullah did speak out against violence, there appears to be widespread concern that if the audit and power-sharing process have indeed broken down, fighting could break out along ethnic lines.

It appears that Obama was still pushing last night for Abdullah and Ghani to work out a deal, but that effort clearly failed.

By declaring himself the winner, Abdullah seems to be setting the stage for both candidates to declare themselves winners. From this morning’s Washington Post:

Daoud Sultanzoy, a top aide to Ghani, said the Ghani campaign hopes that Abdullah will not announce he’s abandoning the process. But if he does, Ghani appears prepared to assume power unilaterally.

When the US begins to squawk about both candidates abandoning Afghanistan’s constitution to declare themselves winners, don’t forget that it was the US who first brought up the extra-constitutional “power-sharing” government idea. There seems to be a very good chance that the situation will get worse very quickly at this point.

As Expected, Kerry’s Power Sharing Agreement in Afghanistan Falling Apart

Well, that didn’t take long. On Friday, John Kerry made a second pass at getting Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to make nice. This time he even produced a signed document (probably) to go along with the happy photos. And then yesterday the Washington Post announced that Ghani already is backing down on the whole shared power concept:

Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates competing to become Afghanistan’s president, said Tuesday that the deadline to finish a vote recount is slipping and that a U.S.-brokered agreement for the rivals to form a joint government afterward does not mean the winner will fully share power with the loser.

Speaking to foreign journalists at his fortified compound in the capital, Ghani appeared to be trying to tamp down a surge of discontent among his supporters and allies, many of whom are reportedly upset that he agreed under U.S. pressure to a full recount of ballots from the troubled presidential runoff in June and the formation of a “unity” government with his rival.

On Friday, Ghani restated those pledges during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But on Tuesday, he sought to clarify that he has not agreed to a power-sharing agreement with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani said the winner will appoint the loser “by decree” as a chief executive to serve “at the discretion of the president.” Abdullah has demanded more authority if he loses.

After a false start earlier, the work on developing the real power sharing agreement was slated to start today:

The joint committee assigned by the two presidential candidates and expected to hash out the details of their power-sharing agreement is expected to begin its work on Wednesday, according to representatives of both campaigns.

The joint committee was initially expected to start work last Saturday, a day after the three article declaration about the broad structure of the national unity government was signed by both candidates. However, disagreements over the join committee were said to have stalled the start of negotiations until now.

Abullah Abdullah’s First Vice President, Mohammad Khan, has said on that the committee will have a total of thirty members representing both candidates. According to Fizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s team, both teams nominated 15 representatives on Tuesday.

With 15 negotiators on each side, I would expect that the first week or two of the negotiations will resolve such crucial issues as the shape of the table and the length of the breaks between sessions. They might also want to make a “no punching” rule, as there appears to have been another fight today while ballots were being reviewed.  It’s hard to see how Kerry could make a third trip to put the power sharing back on course since the first two have been such spectacular failures.

Combining the poor outlook for a power sharing agreement with the continued disruptions in auditing ballots puts the next “deadline” in a huge amount of doubt:

The NATO coalition will be forced to make a decision on its continued role in Afghanistan without a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in place if the Afghan presidential election does not meet a conclusion soon, NATO Secretary-General Andres Fog Rasmussen warned on Monday.

The senior NATO official indicated continued military support, including a post-withdraw troop presence for training and advising purposes, as well as broader financial aid to Afghanistan, would likely be impossible if the BSA is not signed by a new Afghan president before the NATO summit begins on September 4.

“Soon we will have to take tough decisions, because if there is not a legal basis for our continued presence in Afghanistan, we will have to withdraw everything by the end of this year and to do that we will have to start planning … very soon,” Rasmussen told Reuters on Monday.

Obama has a very easy way out here. If there still is no resolution to the election by the time of the NATO summit, he can paint the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan as a NATO decision rather than a US decision. Yes, a number of earlier deadlines in this process have been ignored, but it is very hard to see how NATO would agree to remain in Afghanistan without a BSA signed by a new president. Although the neocons likely would return to Iraq-era “no permission slip needed” rhetoric urging Obama to keep troops there even without any other NATO allies, I don’t seen how he would do that.

We are less than a month away from what almost certainly will be a decision to withdraw fully from a war that has been one of the most badly managed efforts in our country’s history. We have squandered about a trillion dollars, killed untold numbers of civilians, lost far too many troops and will leave a country that is wracked by devastation and a huge increase in corruption. Obama will be blamed for losing Afghanistan just as surely as he is now being blamed for losing Iraq, but in both cases, the entire country should share the blame for empowering amoral leaders who know only death, destruction and corruption.

US Finally Admits Air Strikes in Iraq

It turns out that the mighty Cessna can indeed fire Hellfire missiles!

It turns out that the mighty Cessna can indeed fire Hellfire missiles!

As events unfolded rapidly yesterday afternoon into the evening, we had several different stories about what took place in Iraq in response to President Obama authorizing air strikes against Islamic State, or IS. Air drops of humanitarian aid are undisputed. These were for a group of Iraqi civilians who became stranded after fleeing IS, fearing execution because they belonged to various non-Muslim religions. That air strikes took place during the night Thursday night in northern Iraq also is not disputed, but we had multiple reports on who was responsible. The New York Times initially said the strikes were carried out by US aircraft, but eventually relented and the current version of their story (with caveats to be seen below) quotes the Pentagon as saying the strikes were carried out by Iraq. At the height of the confusion, there was even a trial balloon floated that perhaps the strikes were carried out by Turkey, but that story didn’t appear to catch on anywhere else.

The Pentagon’s claim that strikes were carried out by Iraq seemed to me to be very unlikely to stand up, even at the height of the confusion last night, prompting me to tweet:

I found Robert Caruso’s description of options for support in Iraq to be especially interesting, especially this bit that he put forward just before we heard about the strikes:

Clandestine action will be key to success. Aircraft carriers decide what is on their deck and what is not. If you decide to covertly support Kurdish forces, naval aircraft can complete the circuit and return to deck. No landing in Turkey or Jordan in plain view of anyone with eyesight. No cell phone pictures from the flightline, which is exactly how the RQ-170 Sentinel was exposed. Whatever you say was in Iraq’s airspace was there, and whatever you deny was in their airspace wasn’t there because you decide what was there.

That seemed to ring especially true to me. After all, the “official” line from the Pentagon in the version of the New York Times story I am working from now says that Iraq carried out the strikes, but there seems to be little support for that story. Here is the Times parroting the Pentagon:

The official said the cooperation had included airstrikes by Iraqi forces against militant targets in the north.

The Times paid slight homage to their earlier report that the strike was carried out by the US:

Kurdish and Iraqi officials said that airstrikes were carried out Thursday night on two towns in northern Iraq seized by ISIS — Gwer and Mahmour, near Erbil. Earlier on Thursday, The New York Times quoted Kurdish and Iraqi officials as saying that the strikes were carried out by American planes.

The problem for the way the Times has the report this morning is that Iraq’s air force is nearly non-existent. This report is only one month old (the slightly garbled text is in the original):

Iraq’s air force has been very slow in getting to its feet. A handful of Seeker light observation aircraft with their distinctive bubble-shaped fronts, a few Comp Air light propeller aircraft, a couple of old, refurbished C-130E transports, and a slowly growing fleet of helicopters. A few Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350s have been orderedfor transport and surveillance duties, and an RFP for armed counterinsurgency aircraft has only given Iraq a set ofunarmed T-6B trainers. Even subsequent ordersfor F-16C/D fighters and L-159 advanced trainer and attack jets leave the Iraqi air force a long way from being able to secure Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. While it continues to grow<, the IqAF’s primary duties remain troop/medical transport, light supply duties, and surveillance of roads and infrastructure.

Ah, but the centerpiece? To deliver Hellfire missiles, Iraq relies on…..Cessnas: Continue reading

Will Obama Show Reagan’s Courage and Suspend Tank Transfers to Israel?

In the worst strike yet by Israel against a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were seeking shelter from the carnage, up to 19 people were killed and 125 were wounded last night when Israeli tanks shelled the school in Jebalya. Citizens in Gaza have very limited options on where to go once Israel issues an ultimatum to evacuate an area. Reuters reports that more than 200,000 have sought refuge in UN schools and other UN buildings since the fighting broke out. Also yesterday, Israeli tanks shelled the only power plant in Gaza, forcing it to be shut down when a fuel tank was hit.

Israel, of course, claims that there was mortar fire from the vicinity of the UN school:

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops fired back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

It is hard to see the shelling of the power plant, however, as anything other than collective punishment for all of Gaza. For all of Israel’s yammering about terror tunnels and the scary rockets that Hamas is firing toward Israel, numbers in a CNN article this morning drive home the asymmetry of the conflict. Gaza is home to 1.8 million residents while Israel has a population of 8 million. Israel’s armed forces have 176,000 active personnel. As for Hamas:

The U.S. State Department says there are “several thousand” Gaza-based Hamas militant operatives along with a “reported 9,000-person Hamas-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Executive Force.’”

Tellingly, CNN does not separate Palestinian civilians from Hamas militants when it first touches on casualty figures, stating only that “more than 1200 Palestinians have been killed”. The Reuters article linked above puts the number this morning at 1270. Only later in the CNN article do we learn that Israel estimates that it has killed “more than 300″ Hamas militants. That means that Israel’s own estimate is that 76% of the Palestinians they have killed are civilians. For all of Israel’s claims about the “pin-point precision” of its attacks, that is a horrible track record.

Of course, Israel hides behind claims of Hamas using civilians as human shields to justify the high civilian death rate. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to see how Israel faces any sort of imminent danger from any Hamas militants who may be hiding among Palestinian refugees (or even in the terror tunnels!). While the death toll of Palestinian civilians is approaching a thousand in this conflict, a grand total of three Israeli civilians have died, along with 53 soldiers who have died once Israeli forces crossed into Gaza. The UN is taking as many precautions as they can to screen the refugees in their shelters, and they have found and disclosed rockets that operatives tried to hide in shelters three times now.

Given the horrific numbers of civilians killed and the clearly punitive nature of bombing the power plant, it is time to visit the regulations and policies that apply to US arms and arms funding that flows to Israel. Consider this policy pronouncement in Defense News in April of this year, where we learn that:

a State Department official said Washington’s classified Conventional Arms Transfer Policy has been updated to make clear that the US will not transfer arms, equipment or training to countries that commit genocide, crimes against humanity or violate international humanitarian law.

The law against collective punishment is clear and the ratio of civilians to militants killed, along with the repressive blockade and power plant bombing would seem to be slam dunks for proving collective punishment.

Further, none other than the war mongers’ best friend Ronald Reagan actually intervened (pdf) in arms transfers to Israel once when they over-stepped the bounds of humanity:

Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. The pertinent segment of that 1952 agreement between Israel and the United States reads as follows:

The Government of Israel assures the United States Government that such equipment, materials, or services as may be acquired from the United States … are required for and will be used solely to maintain its internal security, its legitimate self-defense, or to permit it to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, or in United Nations collective security arrangements and measures, and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state.

It should be noted that none of the critical terms such as “internal security,” “legitimate self-defense,” or “act of aggression” are defined within this 1952 U.S.-Israeli agreement. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988

Note that Israeli tanks appear to have been involved in the shelling of both the school and the power plant. That would make tanks and their ammunition perfect candidates to replace the cluster bombs in a repeat of Reagan’s move in 1982. From the figures in this document (pdf, see this pdf for a guide to the categories), it appears that in 2013, the US provided over $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel, just among the figures reported by the State Department rather than the Defense Department.

Of course, don’t look for Obama to have the courage to stem the flow of money and weapons to Israel any time soon. In the meantime, it will be up to outside groups to apply what little pressure they can.

Update: From the UN statement on the shelling of the school (the sixth one hit!):

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.

We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.

The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.

Kerry Castigates Putin For Using US Strategy of Training, Arming Rebels

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

Aside from the fact that the only craft beer served at the National Security Caucus session at Netroots Nation 2014 was an outdated California beer rather than a local Michigan beer, it was a session marked by interesting discussion. I received quite a bit of support during that discussion for noting that the US response to any crisis anywhere, for far too long, has been simply to ask “Which group should we arm?”. Further, I noted, as we had heard in the “Iran: Diplomacy or War?” session, there is reason for optimism among those of us who favor diplomacy over violence in the successful removal and ongoing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons rather than the missile strikes the US had been planning and in the remaining strong possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear technology issue instead of a war to destroy the technology. I illustrated that point by mentioning the tragic downing of MH17 and how that demonstrated the folly of training and arming rebel groups that often veer into extremist actions that result in atrocities. That point ties to the mad push to arm Syria’s rebels with the shorter range MANPAD antiaircraft missiles even though they are less powerful than the Buk missile that took down MH17. As I noted, will Syrian “moderates” promise us never to take the MANPADS to a site where civilian aircraft are within range, and would there be any reason to believe such a promise?

In executing his Full Ginsburg yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reached new heights of hypocrisy, as he went from Sunday morning talk show to talk show, proclaiming the evils of Russian actions in Ukraine. The evils for which Kerry is castigating Putin are precisely the evils that the US has been unleashing on the world in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and beyond. From today’s New York Times:

 In presenting the most detailed case yet alleging Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Russia had funneled large quantities of heavy weapons to Ukrainian separatists and trained them how to operate SA-11 antiaircraft missiles, the type of system that is believed to have been used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.

“We know for certain that the separatists have a proficiency that they’ve gained by training from Russians as to how to use these sophisticated SA-11 systems,” Mr. Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

Just as when CIA Director John Brennan got his panties in a wad over al Qaeda training death squads in Syria after we had trained our own death squads to send there, Kerry is now saying that Russia choosing a group to arm and train is a horrible thing even though he has been instrumental in helping the Obama administration to do the exact same thing in other areas.

And just as the US now faces problems in its upcoming training of Iraqi troops because of the previous failures in training Iraqi troops, there is reason to believe that the atrocity of MH17 may be due in part to failed training by the Russians. From today’s Washington Post:

Meanwhile, in Kiev, the U.S. Embassy said American intelligence analysts had confirmed the authenticity of recorded conversations in which rebel leaders bragged about shooting down what they thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane moments after the Malaysian jetliner was blown apart.

So even though the separatists are good at using the missiles to blow aircraft out of the sky (the Times article notes they have downed “almost a dozen Ukrainian transport planes, reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters”), it would appear that they haven’t quite worked out that whole target verification thing and that this tragedy may not have been an intentional targeting of civilians as much as it is a training failure. But yes, the Russians own a large portion of this tragedy, as the evidence seems strong that they provided the weapon along with instructions on firing it (if not the full lesson on target verification). And their tactics in doing do were taken directly from the US playbook, all the way down to the training being an abject failure.

Graphing the Afghanistan Surge Out of Existence

On Wednesday, Jason Leopold tweeted this image that had been released by the White House:

What surge?

What surge?

Marcy quickly responded, “Funny how you can graph surge out of existence.” 

So how did the White House make Obama’s surge of troops into Afghanistan disappear? Consider this graph of troop levels in Afghanistan, where we see the surge of US troops into Afghanistan standing out clearly:

Afghanistan troop levels.

Afghanistan troop levels.

This graph shows what we are used to seeing for Afghanistan, where troop levels were only around 35,000 when Obama took office in 2009 and surged to almost 100,000 in 2010, remaining at that level through most of 2011, as well. So how did the White House hide this surge in their feel-good “bringing home the troops” message? They did it by making the graph include both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are the troop levels for Iraq:

Iraq troop levels.

Iraq troop levels.

There were around 150,000 US troops in Iraq when Obama took office and by the time his Afghanistan surge (remember, Obama campaigned about Afghanistan being the “good war”) reached its peak in late 2010, Iraq troop levels had dropped to around 50,000 (although Obama waved his hand and declared that these were no longer “combat troops”). So, with a net loss of 100,000 troops  in Iraq during the same time period, the White House was able to make it appear that the surge of about 65,000 troops into Afghanistan never happened.

Maybe next week the White House can graph that pesky inequality of capital distribution out of existence. I’m sure it will make us all feel richer.

Did Obama’s Handling of Karzai When Visiting Kabul Put Bilateral Security Agreement at Risk?

Demonstrating once again that electoral politics trumps all other considerations for his administration, Barack Obama mostly went along with the military’s recommendation (successful US political campaigns NEVER contradict the military) on troop levels in Afghanistan after this year, announcing a force size of 9800 after the military had requested 10,000 to 12,000 troops. Even the one instance of bucking military hawks comes from an electoral standpoint, as he announced that the force size will be cut in half after a year and then taken to only a handful by the end of 2016, which magically coincides with when Obama expects to triumphantly ride off into the sunset. Republicans are upset about an announced end to the troop presence, rather than allowing “conditions on the ground”, which is shorthand for letting the military do what it damn well pleases, to dictate force levels, but Obama seems to think that putting the end of our troop presence just before the next presidential election will get troops out at the one time electoral blowback will be minimized.

Obama’s announcement came with a large helping of arrogance in the handling of his invitation to meet with Karzai during the surprise visit to Kabul over the weekend. Although Obama fully intended his poor treatment of Karzai, he seems to have raised the ire of many more Afghans with his actions. Will that put the Bilateral Security Agreement, on which his troop size plan depends, at risk? From Khaama Press:

President Hamid Karzai was praised by Afghans for rejecting the invitation by President Barack Obama to meet him in Bagram air base.

A last-minute invitation was sent to President Karzai to come to Bagram air base as Obama arrived to Afghanistan on Sunday following an unannounced visit to meet with the US troops.

White House officials said, “We did offer him the opportunity to come to Bagram, but we’re not surprised that it didn’t work on short notice.”

Obama’s plan on troop levels is fully dependent on the winner of next month’s presidential runoff signing the Bilateral Security Agreement that Karzai has refused to sign. Although both Abdullah and Ghani have said they will sign it, their responses to the handling of Karzai are very interesting. Returning to the same Khaama Press article:

In the meantime, Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential race, said the decision by President Karzai not to go to Bagram was “respectful to the people of Afghanistan.”

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, one of the other leading candidates, told Wall Street Journal in an interview that he wasn’t privy to the security discussions surrounding Mr. Obama’s visit.

Some Afghans saw the episode as a deliberate snub and said the U.S. leader didn’t respect diplomatic protocol.

Ghani said, “We do understand security concerns, but adhering to protocol helps cementing relationships.”

Obama has set himself up for a huge problem here. It looks as though both Abdullah and Ghani are indicating that they expect to be treated with the respect due to the office of President. Should Obama continue his cavalier attitude of simply assuming the BSA will be signed once the winner is sworn into office, he could be in for a big surprise.

On the other hand, there are still the four billion US dollars every year that come with our continued presence (and all the attendant opportunities for embezzlement), so perhaps in the end Obama can continue his arrogance without fear of consequences. With that in mind, the role of that final handful of military personnel to be left in Afghanistan after 2016 stands out. From the Washington Post article linked above:

At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador.

Even after our troops are gone, the US will do everything it can to keep enriching military contractors.

The Disturbing Paradox of the David Barron Nomination

CryingJusticeBarack Obama has a preternatural preference for ivory tower elites from Harvard when it comes to judicial and executive branch appointees, and David Barron is the latest example. The White House is in the final stages of an all out push to insure David Barron gets confirmed to a lifetime Article III seat on the First Circuit.

In this regard, Mr. Barron has gotten exactly the kind of fervent support and back channel whipping the Obama White House denied Goodwin Liu, and refused to give to the nominee at OLC that David Barron stood as the designated and approved Obama acting placeholder for, Dawn Johnsen.

It turns out Mr. Obama and his White House shop really can give appropriate support to nominees if they care, which seemed to be a trait entirely lacking earlier in the Obama Presidency. And by giving the ill taken legal cover to Mr. Obama for the extrajudicial execution of American citizens, that Obama had already attempted once without, Mr. Barron certainly earned the support of the Obama White House.

It would be wonderful if Mr. Obama were to give support to candidates for judicial seats and key legal agencies who protect the Constitution instead of shredding it for convenience, but it appears to not be in the offing all that consistently. Obama has never been the same since blowback from the release of the Torture Memos when he first took office. Even Federal judges like Mary Schroeder and Bill Canby who, less than a month after Obama took office, were stunned by the about face, and wholesale adoption, by Obama of the Bush/Cheney security state protocols. From a New York Times article at the moment:

During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.

“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.

Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”

Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.

Make no mistake, from my somewhat substantial knowledge of Mary Schroeder, that was the voice of shock and dismay. But it was an early tell of who and what Barack Obama, and his administration, would be on national security issues from there forward. And so, indeed, it has been.

What was unconscionable and traitorous to the rule of law and Constitution for Obama, and the Democratic majority in the Senate, under George Bush is now just jim dandy under Barack Obama. It is intellectual weakness and cowardice of the highest order.

So we come back to the case of David Barron. Frankly, it is not hard to make the argument that what Barron has done is actually worse than the travesties of John Yoo and Jay Bybee. As unthinkable, heinous and immoral as torture is, and it is certainly all that, it is a discrete violation of domestic and international law. It is definable crime.

But what David Barron did in, at a minimum, the Awlaki Targeted Kill Memo (there are at least six other memos impinging on and controlling this issue, at a minimum of which at least one more is known to be authored by Barron, and we don’t even deign to discuss those apparently), was to attack and debase the the very foundational concept of Due Process as portrayed in the Bill of Rights. Along with Habeas Corpus, Due Process is literally the foundation of American criminal justice fairness and freedom under our Constitution.

David Barron attacked that core foundation. Sure, it is in the so called name of terrorism today, tomorrow it will justify something less in grade. And something less the day after. Such is how Constitutional degradation happens. And there is absolutely nothing so far known in Mr. Barron’s handiwork to indicate it could not be adapted for use domestically if the President deems it so needed. Once untethered from the forbidden, once unthinkable Executive Branch powers always find new and easier uses. What were once vices all too easily become habits. This is exactly how the once proud Fourth Amendment has disappeared into a rabbit hole of “exceptions”.

This damage to Due Process occasioned by David Barron can be quite easily argued to be more fundamental and critical to the Constitution, the Constitution every political and military officer in the United States is sworn to protect, than a temporally limited violation of criminal statutes and international norms on torture as sanctioned by Yoo and Bybee. But it is not treated that way by cheering Dems and liberals eager to confirm one of their own, a nice clean-cut Harvard man like the President, to a lifetime post to decide Constitutional law. What was detested for Jay Bybee, and would certainly be were John Yoo ever nominated for a federal judgeship, is now no big deal when it comes to David Barron. Constitutional bygones baybee; hey Barron is cool on same sex marriage, what a guy! Screw Due Process, it is just a quaint and archaic concept in a piece of parchment paper, right?

If the above were not distressing enough, the Barron nomination was supposed to, at a minimum, be used as leverage to get public release of the Barron handiwork legally sanctioning Mr. Obama to extrajudicially execute American citizens without a whiff of Due Process or judicial determination. Did we get that? Hell no, of course not. A scam was run by the Obama White House, and the Senate and oh so attentive DC press fell for it hook, line and sinker. We got squat and Barron is on the rocket path to confirmation with nothing to show for it, and no meaningful and intelligent review of his facially deficient record of Constitutional interpretation.

Barron cleared cloture late Wednesday and is scheduled for a floor vote for confirmation today, yet release of the “redacted memo” is nowhere remotely in sight. This framing on Barron’s nomination, irrespective of your ultimate position on his fitness, is a complete and utter fraud on the American citizenry in whose name it is being played. And that is just on the one Awlaki Memo that we already know the legal reasoning on from the self serving previous release of the “white paper” by the Administration. Discussion of the other six identified pertinent memos has dropped off the face of the earth. Booyah US Senate, way to do your job for the citizens you represent! Or not.

Personally, there is more than sufficient information about David Barron’s situational legal, and moral, ethics in the white paper alone to deem him unfit for a lifetime Article III confirmed seat on a Circuit Court of Appeal.

But, even if you disagree and consider Barron fit, you should admit the American citizenry has been ripped off in this process by the Democratically led Senate, and an Obama Administration who has picked a dubious spot to finally get aggressive in support of one of their nominees.

If Goodwin Liu and Dawn Johnsen, two individuals who had proven their desire to protect the Constitution, had received this kind of support, this country, and the world, would be a better place. Instead, Mr. Obama has reserved his all out push for a man who, instead, opted to apply situational ethics to gut the most basic Constitutional concept of Due Process. That’s unacceptable, but at a minimum we should have the benefit of proper analysis of Barron’s work before it happens.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @OKnox @emptywheel Quit guessing and man up you wimp!
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emptywheel @TorEkelandPC To me, battle should be abt 2nd Amendment right to bear drones and bear hacks.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @DougWilliams85: I'm just happy that my father never accepted that his only son would have to work twice as hard to deserve simple equal…
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emptywheel RT @pwnallthethings: @csoghoian "On devices running IOS 8, your personal data is stored in our cloud, so law enforcement no longer needs to…
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emptywheel @csoghoian That only applies if THEY have the phone, the cops?
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emptywheel Just in time for USAF, I might add. http://t.co/n0578eXsTt
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emptywheel In addition to being great marketing this is a nice list of the things Apples has already been asked for. http://t.co/n0578eXsTt
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JimWhiteGNV RT @ArifCRafiq: Reports are wrong. They got an al-Zawahiri. But it was one of his brothers. Tito or Jermaine.
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emptywheel @McCully11 Agree. Too bad that doesn't work for most defendants.
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emptywheel @jilliancyork LOL. Yup. Just being an asshole.
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emptywheel @jilliancyork Shush now. I'm supposed to be the nihilist who won't compromise, you know.
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