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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Barack 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.
Proving it is never too late to shine your lame duck ass for a new generation of 1% oligarchs, Barack Obama laid open the real constituency of national politicians. And proved certain any inference that such was only the constituency and province of the GOP, Koch Brothers et. al is false.
If this is not stupid and ugly to the common Democratic fanchild, it is hard to imagine what is, or could be. From the New York Times hagiography:
On a crisp morning in late March, an elite group of 100 young philanthropists and heirs to billionaire family fortunes filed into a cozy auditorium at the White House.
Their name tags read like a catalog of the country’s wealthiest and most influential clans: Rockefeller, Pritzker, Marriott. They were there for a discreet, invitation-only summit hosted by the Obama administration to find common ground between the public sector and the so-called next-generation philanthropists, many of whom stand to inherit billions in private wealth.
“Moon shots!” one administration official said, kicking off the day on an inspirational note to embrace the White House as a partner and catalyst for putting their personal idealism into practice.
I guess the Obama White House couldn’t fathom a better phrase for coming in their pants over big money.
If there is a more sick comment on the perverted state of US national politics, it is hard to imagine what it would be.
We are ruled by a bunch of oligarchs, and political handmaidens that kiss the oligarch’s asses and hew their beck and call. If the fact the great once and forever symbol of the common citizen “hope and change”, Barack Obama, is such a distant leader, constantly beholden to not only the future of the moneyed class, but the current too, then there is no reality for the American public.
The well-heeled group seemed receptive. “I think it’s fantastic,” said Patrick Gage, a 19-year-old heir to the multibillion-dollar Carlson hotel and hospitality fortune. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Mr. Gage, physically boyish with naturally swooping Bieber bangs, wore a conservative pinstripe suit and a white oxford shirt. His family’s Carlson company, which owns Radisson hotels, Country Inns and Suites, T.G.I. Friday’s and other brands, is an industry leader in enforcing measures to combat trafficking and involuntary prostitution.
Oh my. And holy crap.
The New York Times penned a factual report of this sick instance. Will the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or any of the other august opinion pages of national press, deign themselves honest enough to write opinion and/or editorial pieces recognizing this political cancer for what it really is?
If you did not view the video, and listen to the lyrics in the video above, do so. Because that is exactly the class of “super citizens” your elected leaders are beholden to. The handful of billionaires count for far more than the actual billions of people on this earth.
Want proof? Look no further than the “liberal”, “socialist”, “Democratic” Obama White House, who just demonstrated the problem in Technicolor.
And, before you chafe, of course it would be even worse with Republicans in charge. But the question is no longer just which party is in control of the levers of power (though it DOES matter for SCOTUS), but where the values of the country really are.
It is almost impossible to fathom the country’s values are with the pimple faced, Bieber banged, teenager scions of billionaires the Obama White House so calmly and cooly glad-hands.
[Seriously, watch the video from the one, the only, fantastic Tubes:
Young and rich
Everything I desire
Light bulbs with shades
in every room
And work is play–believe me
Nothing must come too hard
It comes in the mail
Maybe our leaders should find a more representative, and morally balanced, set of leaders for the future.]
As I posited yesterday, Pakistan appears to be putting together a US-style counterterrorism structure. This morning, we see even stronger hints that a full-blown military offensive against the Taliban may soon be launched by Pakistan. Although we have not seen any evidence that they have done so yet, I fully expect Pakistan to include both the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network among their targets in this operation. In fact, the Washington Post article mentions that Pakistan “would ‘not discriminate’ among the TTP, the Haqqani network and other militant groups in North Waziristan, including al-Qaeda”. In return for this offensive, look for Pakistan to get a massive amount of US financial and intelligence assistance. The US also appears to be making a renewed push against the Haqqani network inside Afghanistan and this report from Missy Ryan and Phil Stewart describes that effort while noting that the US wants Pakistan to take on the Haqqanis and any other groups that use Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
These moves by Pakistan and the US make more sense when we see that the US has come to the realization that an ongoing troop presence in Afghanistan is increasingly unlikely. There was significant movement on that front yesterday, with President Obama speaking to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the telephone. From the White House readout of the call:
President Obama called President Karzai today to discuss preparations for Afghanistan’s coming elections, Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts, and the Bilateral Security Agreement.
With regard to the Bilateral Security Agreement, in advance of the NATO Defense Ministerial, President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the BSA, the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning. Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014. At the same time, should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan. Therefore, we will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year. However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission. Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.
The United States continues to support a sovereign, stable, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and will continue our partnership based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. We remain fully supportive of our partners in the Afghan security forces, and we continue to proudly work side by side with the many Afghans who continue to work to ensure the stability and prosperity of their fellow citizens.
Although there is no clear deadline date, this phone call has the hallmarks of a “final warning” to Karzai. If the US doesn’t see movement from him on the BSA soon, look for the zero option of a full US withdrawal from Afghanistan to take place. As noted in the readout, the lack of a signed BSA is causing trouble for NATO, as well. A NATO gathering (called a Defense Ministerial) opened today, but with no BSA in place, Afghanistan planning can’t be done, prompting a very uncomfortable opening press conference for Secretary General Rasmussen.
Ken Dilanian has a very interesting article in the Los Angeles Times outlining the latest failure in Congress’ attempts to exert oversight over drones. Senator Carl Levin had the reasonable idea of calling a joint closed session of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees so that the details of consolidating drone functions under the Pentagon (and helping the CIA to lose at least one of its paramilitary functions) could be smoothed out. In the end, “smooth” didn’t happen:
An effort by a powerful U.S. senator to broaden congressional oversight of lethal drone strikes overseas fell apart last week after the White House refused to expand the number of lawmakers briefed on covert CIA operations, according to senior U.S. officials.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, held a joint classified hearing Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA and military drone strikes against suspected terrorists.
But the White House did not allow CIA officials to attend, so military counter-terrorism commanders testified on their own.
But perhaps the White House was merely retaliating for an earlier slight from Congress:
In May, the White House said it would seek to gradually move armed drone operations to the Pentagon. But lawmakers added a provision to the defense spending bill in December that cut off funds for that purpose, although it allows planning to continue.
Dilanian parrots the usual framing of CIA vs JSOC on drone targeting:
Levin thought it made sense for both committees to share a briefing from generals and CIA officials, officials said. He was eager to dispel the notion, they said, that CIA drone operators were more precise and less prone to error than those in the military.
The reality is that targeting in both the CIA and JSOC drone programs is deeply flawed, and the flaws lead directly to civilian deaths. I have noted many times (for example see here and here and here) when John Brennan-directed drone strikes (either when he had control of strike targeting as Obama’s assassination czar at the White House or after taking over the CIA and taking drone responsibility with him) reeked of political retaliation rather than being logically aimed at high value targets. But those examples pale in comparison to Brennan’s “not a bake sale” strike that killed 40 civilians immediately after Raymond Davis’ release or his personal intervention in the peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP. JSOC, on the other hand, has input from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which, as Marcy has noted, has its own style when it comes to “facts”. On top of that, we have the disclosure from Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald earlier this week that JSOC will target individual mobile phone SIM cards rather than people for strikes, without confirming that the phone is in possession of the target at the time of the strike. The flaws inherent in both of these approaches lead to civilian deaths that fuel creation of even more terrorists among the survivors.
Dilanian doesn’t note that the current move by the White House to consolidate drones at the Pentagon is the opposite of what took place about a year before Brennan took over the CIA, when his group at the White House took over some control of JSOC targeting decisions, at least with regard to signature strikes in Yemen.
In the end, though, it’s hard to see how getting all drone functions within the Pentagon and under Senate Armed Services Committee oversight will improve anything. Admittedly, the Senate Intelligence Committee is responsible for the spectacular failure of NSA oversight and has lacked the courage to release its thorough torture investigation report, but Armed Services oversees a bloated Pentagon that can’t even pass an audit (pdf). In the end, it seems to me that this entire pissing match between Congress and the White House is over which committee(s) will ultimately be blamed for failing oversight of drones.
Don’t look for this important bit of news in the New York Times or Washington Post. At least at the time I started writing this, they hadn’t noticed that Senators Jeff Merkley, (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Rand Paul (R-KY) put out a press release yesterday calling for a Congressional vote on whether to authorize keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. President Barack Obama and the Pentagon have been bargaining with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for over a year now to get a Bilateral Security Agreement that will authorize keeping US troops there after the current NATO mission officially ends at the end of this year, but we have heard almost nothing at all from Congress. Well, we did have some hypocrisy tourists calling for Karzai to sign the agreement immediately or suffer the financial consequences, but they didn’t call for using their Constitutional role in authorizing use of troops.
This bipartisan group had some pretty strong language about the push to exclude Congress from the decision-making on keeping troops in Afghanistan:
Today, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Rand Paul (R-KY) announced the introduction of a bipartisan resolution calling for Congress to have a role in approving any further United States military involvement in Afghanistan after the current mission ends on December 31, 2014. The Administration is reportedly negotiating an agreement that could keep 10,000 American troops or more in Afghanistan for another ten years.
“The American people should weigh in and Congress should vote before we decide to commit massive resources and thousands of troops to another decade in Afghanistan,” Merkley said. “After over 12 years of war, the public deserves a say. Congress owes it to the men and women in uniform to engage in vigorous oversight on decisions of war and peace.”
“After over a decade of war, Congress, and more importantly the American people, must be afforded a voice in this debate,” Lee said. “The decision to continue to sacrifice our blood and treasure in this conflict should not be made by the White House and Pentagon alone.
“After 13 years, more than 2,300 American lives lost and more than $600 billion, it is time to bring our brave warriors home to the hero’s welcome they deserve and begin rebuilding America, not Afghanistan,” Manchin said. “We do not have an ally in President Karzai and his corrupt regime. His statements and actions have proven that again and again. Most West Virginians believe like I do money or military might won’t make a difference in Afghanistan. It’s time to bring our troops home.”
“The power to declare war resides in the hands of Congress,” Paul said. “If this President or any future President has the desire to continue to deploy U.S. troops to this region, it should be done so only with the support of Congress and the citizens of the United States.”
After 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the Administration has declared that the war in Afghanistan will be wound down by December 31, 2014. However, the Administration is also negotiating an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan that would set guidelines for U.S. troops to remain in training, support, and counter-terrorism roles through at least 2024.
In November, the Senators introduced this bill as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, but it wasn’t allowed a vote. In June, the House of Representatives approved a similar amendment to the NDAA stating that it is the Sense of Congress that if the President determines that it is necessary to maintain U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, any such presence and missions should be authorized by Congress. The House amendment passed by a robust, bipartisan 305-121 margin.
But Merkley added yet another zinger. From the AFP story on the move, as carried in Dawn (emphasis added):
“We are introducing a bipartisan resolution to say before any American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is committed to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, Congress should vote,” Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley told reporters.
“Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it isn’t the right approach when it comes to war.”
Wow. What a concept. Continue reading
It seems that Mike Rogers lately is aiming to take over the Emptywheel blog. When he’s not yapping about criminalizing journalism or dissembling about Congressional briefings on the Patriot Act renewal, he’s putting out bloodthirsty endorsements of drone violence. When we last heard from him on the drone front, he was joining the mad rush to come up with the most damning indictment of Hakimullah Mehsud after the US disrupted Pakistan’s plans to start peace talks the very next day with a Taliban group headed by Mehsud. Yesterday, Rogers used a hearing of his House Intelligence Committee as a venue in which to pitch a tantrum over the US daring to adjust its drone policy, leading to fewer strikes.
Now, almost exactly three months after the Mehsud drone strike, we see the prospect for peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban disrupted again. As I mentioned yesterday, Taliban negotiators fear that Pakistan’s government may be planning to scuttle the talks in order to launch an offensive against the Taliban in tribal areas, which might also play into a desire by Sharif’s government to be in line for counterterrorism funds which the US might not be spending in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post has Rogers’ tirade. First, there is news of a pause in drone strikes in Pakistan:
The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.
“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.
Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
Oooh, look! There’s Marcy’s favorite word again, “imminent“. But this lull in drone strikes, coupled with the explanation offered in the Post, tells us that no suitable al Qaeda targets with credible plans against the US presented themselves in Pakistan’s tribal areas for over a month. That didn’t deter Rogers; he’s upset that any potential targets aren’t blasted immediately: Continue reading