Back in June, I wrote about the deceit employed by the Pentagon in going against the advice of SIGAR (pdf) and explicit language in the NDAA to purchase Russian Mi-17 helicopters through the arms dealer Rosoboronexport. Because Rosoboronexport has been supplying weapons to the Assad regime in Syria, the helicopter purchase took on additional levels of outrage. It appears that the Pentagon did get about half of the helicopters it wanted by claiming to use leftover 2012 funds (use of 2013 funds for the helicopters was banned in the NDAA), but they have now cancelled plans to use 2014 funds for the remaining helicopters that had been planned.
Both AP and Reuters inform us of the cancellation of the order. The Reuters story notes that the procurement system for the helicopters is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation:
Reuters reported in August that the Defense Criminal Investigative Service had opened a criminal probe into the Huntsville, Alabama, Army aviation unit that oversees the Mi-17 program, and ties between the unit’s former chief and two foreign subcontractors.
Texas Senator John Cornyn did a bit of a victory dance over the cancellation. As described in the AP story:
Bipartisan opposition to the Mi-17 acquisition grew as the violence in Syria escalated and U.S. relations with Russia deteriorated. A growing number of lawmakers from both political parties objected to acquiring military gear from Rosoboronexport, which has provided Assad’s regime with weapons used against Syrian civilians.
“I applaud the Defense Department’s decision to cancel its plan to buy 15 additional Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in an emailed statement. “Doing business with the supplier of these helicopters has been a morally bankrupt policy, and as a nation, we should no longer be subsidizing Assad’s war crimes in Syria.”
But this victory by opponents of the sale comes after a large victory by the Pentagon in the earlier battles:
Rosoboronexport announced Monday that 12 of the Mi-17s had been delivered to Afghanistan in the month of October. The shipments, the export agency said, reflected the joint effort between Russia and the U.S. to combat international terrorism.
Reuters has a riveting exclusive today in which they have been given a treasure trove of documents from which they have reported on documentation that a contractor involved in USAID highway construction in Afghanistan is employing a subcontractor who is a member of the Haqqani network:
Much of the evidence against Zadran is classified, but the cache of documents given to Reuters by U.S. officials on condition of anonymity show that he has close business ties with the Haqqani network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
The Haqqanis, Islamist insurgents who operate on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are believed to have introduced suicide bombing into Afghanistan.
The links between Zadran and the insurgency include him teaming up with Saadullah Khan and Brothers Engineering and Construction Company (SKB), believed to be one of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s companies.
Together they won a $15 million contract to help build a road between the towns of Gardez and Khost in Afghanistan’s east for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2011.
“The owners of these companies are facilitators and commanders of the Haqqani Network,” one U.S. government memorandum says.
This problem fits into the overall work that SIGAR has been doing recently in which they comment on the lack of control and auditing on funds once they are turned over from USAID and other agencies to the Afghan government for disbursement. And huge amounts of money are involved:
The inability over many years to stop firms believed to be supporting the insurgency from winning multi-million-dollar contracts exposes the lack of control that donors have over cash once it is handed over to the Afghan government.
Those transfers make up an increasing proportion of aid. U.S. federal agencies want more than $10.7 billion for reconstruction programs in 2014, SIGAR says, and the government has promised at least half will be granted directly to Afghan institutions to spend as they see fit.
SIGAR has clearly upset a number of folks with their work on this front. Back on October 10, the Atlantic carried a hit piece against SIGAR (I owe Marcy a huge thank you for alerting me to the article) in which we are supposed to believe that USAID has built a public health system in Afghanistan that in just a few years has added 20 years to life expectancy while dropping child mortality by half. And the article would have us believe that this wonderful new system is at risk of being shut down because of SIGAR’s campaign against funds being disbursed by the Afghan government without an audit trail:
John Sopko is the U.S. government’s chief auditor for Afghanistan and a former prosecutor with years of experience on Capitol Hill. In September, Sopko’s office—the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR—issued a report calling for the suspension of USAID’s $236 million in aid for basic health care in Afghanistan.
Why shut down such a successful program? The short answer is that SIGAR’s is a peculiar concept of caution.
Strikingly, the auditors’ report calling for the funding freeze for the health program doesn’t claim any evidence of serious fraud or waste. Instead, it raises hypothetical concerns about the Afghan government’s ability to manage aid money well, including evidence that some salaries were paid in cash, as well as the absence of double entry bookkeeping.
There is a huge problem with the underlying premise of “such a successful program”, though. It is fabricated bullshit. Here is how the hit piece frames their argument on the successes: Continue reading →
A shiny new Mobile Strike Force Vehicle in Afghanistan.
A single line item in the latest quarterly report from SIGAR (pdf) has my blood boiling. The report states that among the up to $7.73 billion that the Defense Department has requested for fiscal 2014 in Afghanistan, a single item of $886.9 million is listed as being for Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. A quick look with teh Googler gives us this page where we see details on just what the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle is. A Marine Corps photo of an MSFV appears here to the left. Here is the caption that the Marine Corps provided for the photo on Flickr:
Cpl. Damario Tillman, vehicle commander, Mobile Strike Force Advisor Team, observes his surroundings as a Mobile Strike Force Vehicle assigned to the Afghan National Army (ANA) Mobile Strike Force Kandak, navigates through a series of obstacles at a rough terrain driving course on Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 13, 2013. The course was part of a three day training package that the Marines with Mobile Strike Force Advisor Team conducted for their ANA counterparts.
The stupidity of spending nearly a billion dollars on new armored vehicles for Afghanistan is mind-boggling. I have been haunted for several months by this photo:
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles wait in a staging area for onward movement at an undisclosed base in Southwest Asia March 20, 2013. The joint team of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Central Command’s DDOC will play a major role in moving the more than 50,000 Coalition (U.S. and NATO, of which 28,000 are U.S.) military vehicles in Afghanistan that will need to be recovered or pre-positioned in contingency stocks abroad.
Although I am far from an expert on defense equipment, it appears to me that the MSFV is merely the latest version in the wide array of MRAP vehicles. Here is a snippet from a press release relating one of the major purchases of MSFV’s:
Part of the TM&LS COMMANDO Select line of armored vehicles, the MSFV is derived from the combat-proven M1117 Armored Security Vehicle (ASV). All MSFVs are configured with Enhanced Survivability (ES) capability, which increases blast protection to mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) levels. The ES-equipped vehicles continue to possess the ASV’s original, all-important V-shaped hull design, in addition to innovative protection design features that enable them to meet MRAP blast protection standards.
Note that the date given for the photo of MRAP’s that have already been shipped out of Afghanistan is March 20 of this year. It would appear that the Defense Department is engaging in a bit of misinformation to make it look like there isn’t an excess of usable MRAP’s, given this Marine Corps Times article dated less than a week later on March 26. The title of the article is “Most MRAP’s won’t be coming home from Afghanistan” and it is accompanied by this photo of several disheveled, out of service MRAP’s that look nothing like the shiny, functional ones already shipped out of the country in the March 20 photo.
The Marine Corps wants us to think this is what the MRAP’s in Afghanistan look like so that we can send new MSFV’s to the ANA.
The article states:
Very few of the Marine Corps’ 1,200 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles still in Afghanistan will be traveling back to the U.S., the Corps’ deputy commandant for installations and logistics said this week.
Speaking at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gen. William Faulkner revealed elements of a plan to donate unwanted MRAPs to partner nations within Central Command as Marines balance efforts to retrograde from Afghanistan with a mandate to get lighter and more compact as a service.
“The bottom line is, we don’t need them,” Faulkner said of the MRAPs remaining in Afghanistan. “We don’t need as many as we have today.”
The Marine Corps has about 4,000 MRAPs in its inventory, Faulkner said, and officials have calculated they want to keep fewer than 1,500 of the 14-ton machines after Operation Enduring Freedom draws to a close in 2014.
So the Marines have an excess of 2500 MRAP’s and Faulkner even admits we want to give them away. So why haven’t these MRAP’s been donated to the ANA instead of the US sending them brand new MSFV’s?
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has discovered that the State Department has awarded a sole source contract for nearly $50 million to provide training on the rule of law in Afghanistan. Remarkably, the State Department ignored its own rules for contracting and provided no mechanism for verifying spending under the contract. SIGAR also has found that the International Development Law Organization, which was awarded the contract, is particularly ill-equipped to manage such a large contract and is refusing to cooperate with SIGAR’s investigation.
From the alert letter (pdf) sent to Secretary of State John Kerry from Special Inspector General John Sopko:
I write to alert you to serious deficiencies related to the Afghanistan Justice Training Transition Program administered by the Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). In the course of performing an audit of rule of law programs managed by INL, SIGAR became aware of INL’s sole source award to the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) for Afghan justice sector training services. This award does not appear to contain basic provisions that would allow INL to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation of a project expected to cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $50 million.
On December 27, 2012, INL offered IDLO $47,759,796 in exchange for work on a project titled, “Completing the Transition in Afghanistan: Justice Training Transition Program (JTTP)” (see attached). On January 2, 2013, IDLO accepted INL’s offer by initialing a two-and-a-half page Letter of Agreement. According to INL, this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on and the United States has already obligated $20 million towards its completion.
It is very easy to see that this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on. Their website is pathetic. The “people” section lists only one person, Irene Khan, noting that she served as Director General of Amnesty International from 2001-2009. The page fails to mention that she was removed from that post and caused quite a scandal with the huge payout she forced Amnesty International to give her in order to leave.
Returning to Sopko’s letter, we see that IDLO was chosen to replace another organization, PAE (whose new Executive Chairman just came from CACI, scary folks there…) and that SIGAR had “significant concerns raised regarding award and management of the PAE contract”. It appears that the State Department can’t quite figure out how to observe the law in giving out grants to train Afghans on the administration of justice. Further, SIGAR found that the State Department ignored its own rule in awarding this contract in a manner that makes oversight almost non-existent, even though it did require oversight on the portion of the program that is contracted to the Afghan government.
An Mi-17 undergoing maintenance. Most maintenance within SMW is carried out by contractors because SMW lacks the expertise. (SIGAR photo).
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, (SIGAR) issued a report (pdf) yesterday that serves as microcosm of the bumbling ineptitude and denial of reality that has characterized the entire US military’s misadventure in Afghanistan. Subtexts running through this scandal run the gamut from US think tanks cooking up unworkable plans to the vast network of international arms dealing (replete with counterfeit parts), Russia supplying arms to Syria, possible blow-back from the arrest of Viktor Bout, the US Congress remarkably trying to exert a bit of power and finally DoD declaring that they will continue with their schedule for claiming Afghanistan can provide its own defense operations despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
At issue here primarily is a contract for 30 Russian Mi-17 helicopters. Despite the fact that the US has been at war in Afghanistan continuously for almost twelve years now, and despite the spectacular failure of US helicopters under haboob (dust storm) conditions in the failed April, 1980 Iran hostage rescue attempt, it appears that Russian helicopters are more reliable in desert conditions and easier to maintain in flying order with a less sophisticated ground crew than US helicopters
The route by which we got to this contract is remarkable. The helicopters are to be supplied to the Special Mission Wing, which is the air support group for Afghanistan’s Special Operations forces. But how this group came into existence is very important to the current scandal. From the report (footnotes removed in this and all subsequent quotes):
At a December 2011 Special Operations Summit, ISAF senior leadership identified the development of air support capacity as a priority for improving Afghan military capabilities for counterterrorism and other special operations missions. To respond to this need, NTM-A [NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan] sponsored a RAND study to assess requirements and provide recommendations. The study’s recommendations discussed different scenarios for the planned size—in terms of both personnel and aircraft—of air support, the command structure, and scope of operations.
NTM-A determined that the Afghan Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) existing Air Interdiction Unit, a counternarcotics-focused unit, would provide the best foundation to develop an Afghan counterterrorism and special operations aviation capability, while maintaining critical counternarcotics efforts. On May 12, 2012, NTM-A issued a military order identifying its concept for the establishment of the SMW. On July 18, 2012, the ANA commissioned the SMW, which replaced the Air Interdiction Unit.
That’s all fine and dandy, except that the geniuses at RAND didn’t allow for the fact that they created a destructive turf war inside the Afghan government. The new SMW is to be housed within Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) since that is where Afghan Special Operations resides. The turf war over moving the existing unit has not yet been resolved: Continue reading →
Yesterday, Major General Tony Thomas, who heads US Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, fielded questions via satellite from a number of reporters gathered in Washington. The transcript of the session can be found here. One claim by Thomas that stood out to me as I listened was an assertion that Afghan Special Operations Forces do not suffer the same high level of attrition that is seen generally for ANSF. Here is the exchange, where Thomas’ response to the first half of the question has been edited out and emphasis has been added:
Q: General, it’s Luis Martinez with ABC News. Can I ask you about what your command’s role is going to be after 2014? What — will there be a shift in emphasis? What exactly will your operators be doing?
And also, the Afghan national army as a whole seems to suffer from attrition and retention problems. How does that manifest itself in the commando kandaks, if at all?
MAJ. GEN. THOMAS:
We are not suffering similar attrition or, as we prefer to look at it, retention challenges with the commandos and with other formations. But again, here again, we’re lucky. We’ve been working with them for a while. They are on a cycle which has a built-in break, so it’s a great, amber, red cycle, where green, combat is on the schedule, they are going into operation and they know that they’ll have, you know, a — they’ll be applied in the hardest possible scenarios. But on the other cycles, they’ll have a chance to recoup, take leave. They’ll also have a chance to train as they come back into green cycle.
And I know that others are attempting to apply that same cycle to the rest of the force. That’s been the great challenge for the rest of the Afghan security forces, is they’re almost in a relentless combat cycle, and it’s breeding some of the retention challenges. But we are — we are looking to fix that over time, and, again, the special operations example is applicable to the rest of the force. We just need to bring that into line.
I noted at the time Thomas said this that it should be fairly easy to fact-check Thomas on his claim that Afghan Special Forces do not suffer the same high attrition rate as the rest of ANSF. One reason for my thinking this is that Afghan Special Forces are not nearly as highly trained as US Special Forces. There is only a twelve week extra training period for Afghan troops to be classified as special. I have a hard time seeing how such a short period of additional training will add significantly to retention rate.
ANASOC continues to develop its institutional capacity to conduct training programs. Currently, a majority of courses taught at the Division School of Excellence are Afghan-led, with minimal Coalition Force oversight. The ANASOC has produced 11,710 Commandos and 955 ANASF. Graduation rates for both CDO and SF operators remained steady and are on schedule to meet end-strength targets. From April through September 2012, the School of Excellence produced a total of 621 new CDO, and 282 new SF operators. Based on current recruiting and graduation trends, ANASF are anticipated to achieve their end-strength force level of 1,863 personnel by the 4th quarter of 2013. ANA Commandos (ANACDO) are currently at their endstrength force level of 12,525. Staff training at all levels is occurring through uniformed and civilian mentorship programs; the target of ANASOC reaching FOC for all units is 2014, with the exception of the SMW.
There are several different categories of ANSF troops described in the paragraph, but from the context of Thomas’ remarks and the reports analyzed here, the category of commando is what is relevant. Note that this Defense Department report claims 621 new commandos trained in an approximately five month period and that the commandos are at the endstrength force level of 12,525.
However, if we check these numbers against the more independent information from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, we find both Thomas’ claim of low attrition for commandos and the current force level for commandos in the Defense Department report to be misleading. Continue reading →
When we last heard from General Joseph (We Are Winning in Afghanistan, We Really Are!) Dunford, he was showing total incompetence in terms of budget awareness in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had announced on March 28 that DoD was $7 billion over budget in Afghanistan. By the time Dunford was asked about the over-budget situation during the hearing on April 16, Mike Lee stated that the overage had grown to $10 billion. Despite being in charge of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Dunford professed complete ignorance of the over-budget situation. That is a stunning lack of situational awareness for someone who is supposed to be in charge. After bumbling on a bit, Dunford did promise to eventually get back to Lee on the budget issue.
It would appear that even if he has gone back and looked over his own money management failures, Dunford has looked no further than the DoD budget. The New York Times posted a story yesterday based on an interview with him, and Dunford made another statement that is mind-boggling in terms of its lack of awareness of budget realities for the region. Recall that back in February, NATO defense ministers proposed that instead of allowing Afghan National Security Forces to drop by about a third after the end of 2014, the full force size of “352,000″ (that’s in quotes because I think the SIGAR audit is going to finally destroy the 352,000 force size myth) should be maintained through at least 2018. My response to this suggestion was that it appeared to be a $22 billion bribe being offered to Afghan authorities in return for their agreeing to a Status of Forces Agreement that would grant criminal immunity to US forces remaining after the end of the official NATO mission at the end of 2014.
In the interview with the Times, Dunford continued his previous agreement with the concept of extending the time frame for the larger ANSF force size, but then made a suggestion that is stunningly stupid regarding how the extended force size should be funded:
He has concluded as well that plans to reduce the number of Afghan security forces — the army and police combined — to 228,000 after 2015 from the current target level of 352,000 are not realistic, given the threats in the country. “The consensus now both from the Afghans and certainly from us is that we ought to sustain that for some period time to come,” said General Dunford, referring to the 352,000 head count.
What is less clear is how such a force could be paid for. The international community, led by the United States, has agreed to pay roughly $4.1 billion in aid per year for the Afghan security forces after 2014, based on estimates of what a smaller Afghan security contingent would cost. If the Afghans want to keep a larger force, they will either have to field a cheaper army and police force or come up with more money themselves to pay for it. General Dunford suggested that the Afghans could economize, although he did not give examples of where they might find the savings.
That’s right. A totally dysfunctional, stunningly corrupt government should just somehow “economize” and find an additional $22 billion to fund a mythically large defense force.
The Afghan government is supposed to cover less than half its own bills this year, yet achieving even that modest goal is proving an unexpected challenge, Afghan and Western officials said.
A confidential assessment of Afghan finances by the International Monetary Fund said the potentially severe cash crunch was caused by widespread tax evasion abetted by government officials, the increasing theft of customs revenues by provincial governors and softening economic growth.
The I.M.F. assessment, which has not been publicly released but was described by American and European diplomats who were recently briefed on its findings, estimated that Afghan revenue in the first quarter of the year was roughly 20 percent to 30 percent short of an informal target the fund had set for the government.
Yeah, sure. With revenues already 20 to 30 percent short of projections, that’s a government that can just poke around a bit and find another $22 billion in the SOFA.
A central tenet of DoD dogma regarding withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan rests on Afghan National Security Forces reaching a force size of 352,000 and taking over full responsibility for security in the country as US forces leave at the end of 2014. There are multiple problems surrounding the myth of ANSF force size of 352,000. As reported last quarter by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the “official” force size reported by DoD relies on self-reporting by Afghanistan and can not be validated. Further, NATO ministers proposed back in February that financial support for the 352,000 size should be extended through 2018, rather than allowing the force size to drop by about a third at the end of 2014. I equated this offer to dangling an extra $22 billion in front of Afghan government officials for embezzling in return for a grant of criminal immunity for US forces remaining behind after the official withdrawal.
SIGAR released its latest quarterly report yesterday (pdf), covering the first quarter of 2013, and we see that the problems surrounding the myth of 352,000 ANSF force size persist and show no prospect of improving.
From the report, we see that even with Afghanistan self-reporting in an unvalidated way, and with US goals clearly known, force size falls short of the goal:
Although the reported force size is only about 5.5% below the goal, it seems remarkable that Afghan officials developing their own numbers in a non-validated way were not able to reach the goals that are clearly known to them.
This process of developing the ANSF has drawn the largest portion of US funds that have been allocated to Afghanistan. Here is how funds have been allocated since the beginning of the Afghan war:
As of March 31, 2013, the United States had appropriated approximately $92.73 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since FY 2002. This total has been allocated as follows:
• $54.27 billion for security
• $22.97 billion for governance and development
• $6.39 billion for counter-narcotics efforts
• $2.43 billion for humanitarian aid
• $6.66 billion for operations and oversight
Of all the funds allocated to Afghanistan by the US, over half have gone to developing ANSF. Here is how security money breaks down from 2005 to the present time:
Note that since the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year, we have provided nearly $14 billion in salaries for troop sizes that are self-reported in a non-validated system and therefore ripe for embezzlement. Further, another $13.8 billion was provided for “equipment and transportation” of ANSF, which would also seem a good source for corruption. That is a huge amount of money and it appears to be very poorly spent, given the lack of preparedness for ANSF.
SIGAR calls DoD into question on its claims that the 352,000 ANSF force size has been met: Continue reading →
The January 2013 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report has been out for some time now, but @SIGARHQ has still been tweeting about it regularly. One of their tweets yesterday brought my attention to the section of their report (pdf) where they discuss force size for Afghan National Security Forces. Since the interruption in training brought about by decreased interactions between US and Afghan forces during the massive outbreak of green on blue attacks, I have maintained that the claim of 352,000 for ANSF force size was no longer credible. It appears that my skepticism is well-founded, as the pertinent section of the SIGAR report bears this heading:
ANSF NUMBERS NOT VALIDATED
The section begins:
Determining ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and coalition forces rely on the Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers. Moreover, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) noted that, in the case of the Afghan National Army, there is “no viable method of validating [their] personnel numbers.” SIGAR will continue to follow this issue to determine whether U.S. financial support to the ANSF is based on accurately reported personnel numbers.
There are several important bits to unpack in that paragraph. First, note that even though the US (well, officially, NATO) is training the Afghan forces, it is the Afghans themselves who report on their force size. It appears that our training of the Afghans, however, has not trained them on how to count personnel in a way that can be validated. But the end of the paragraph is the kicker, because it appears that our financial support of the Afghans is based on their own reporting of the force size. Since we are paying them for the force size they report, why wouldn’t they inflate the numbers to get paid as much as possible? The Afghans know that the bulk of US policy is built around the 352,000 force size myth, so they know that there will be absolutely no push-back (aside from an obscure SIGAR report that only DFH’s will read) for inflating the number to get the result the US desires. For further enticement, recall that NATO has proposed extending the time over which a force size of 352,000 will be supported, in a move that I saw as a blatant attempt to dangle an additional $22 billion ready for embezzling in front of Afghan administrators.
It comes as no small surprise, then, that SIGAR has found that the Afghan-reported numbers somehow manage to include over 11,000 civilians in the reports for security force size that is specifically meant to exclude civilian personnel.
A related area in which SIGAR has found a disgusting level of dishonesty is in how the US goes about evaluating Afghan forces in terms of readiness. Because it became clear to the trainers in 2010 that they had no hope of achieving the trained and independent force size numbers that NATO planners wanted (and because SIGAR found that the tool they were using at the time was useless), they decided that the only way to demonstrate sufficient progress was to redefine the criteria for evaluating progress. From the report: Continue reading →
The disgusting bullying of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during his hearing yesterday on his nomination to be Secretary of Defense is demonstrated clearly in the short clip above where Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet) asks Hagel to “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s been intimidated by the Israeli lobby.” Hagel said he couldn’t name one. A quick look at this word cloud from the hearing, though, or at this tweet from the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.
Hagel did himself no favors when he stumbled badly on one of the few substantive and relevant topics brought up. On Iran’s nuclear program, even after being handed a note, he bungled the Obama administration’s position of prevention, stating first that the US favors containment. [His bungled statement of the Obama administration's position should be considered separately from the logic of that position, where containment of an Iran with nuclear weapon capability is seen by some as a stabilizing factor against Israel's nuclear capabilities, while prevention could well require a highly destabilizing war.]
Overall, however, the combative nature of Republican questioning of Hagel was just as hostile as the questioning last week of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi incident. Why would Republicans turn on one of their own with a vengeance equal to that shown to their long-term nemesis? Writing at Huffington Post, Jon Soltz provides an explanation with which I agree when he frames yesterday’s hearing as a referendum on neocon policy (emphasis in original):
“Tell me I was right on Iraq!”
Essentially, that’s what Sen. McCain said during most of his time in today’s confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel. And that sums up why the die had been cast on the Hagel nomination, before we even got to these hearings today, which I am currently at. This vote, I believed (and now believe more than ever) is a referendum on neocon policy, not on Chuck Hagel.
Much of McCain’s bullying of Hagel was centered on McCain trying to get Hagel to admit that he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge. This clinging to the absurd notion that the Iraq surge was a success sums up the bitter attitude of the neocons as the world slowly tries to emerge from the global damage they have caused. And that this view that the surge was a success still gets an open and unopposed position at the Senate Armed Services Committee highlights the dangerous dysfunction of one of the most influential groups in Washington.
A functional SASC would have spent much time in discussion with Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who provided a meticulous debunking of the myth that the Iraq surge was a success. His report, however, has been quietly ignored and allowed to fade from public view. Instead, this committee has essentially abandoned its oversight responsibilities in favor of pro-war jingoism. That Hagel refuses to engage in their jingoism is at the heart of neocon hatred of him.
Hagel would have done himself and the world a favor by turning the tables on the Committee during the hearing. A report (pdf) released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights a massive oversight failure by the Senate Armed Services Committee that lies at the juxtaposition of US defense policy in both Iran and Afghanistan. Despite long-standing sanctions against US purchases of Iranian goods, the Committee has allowed the Department of Defense to purchase fuel for use in Afghanistan that could well have come from Iran. Here is the conclusion of the report (emphasis added):
DOD’s lack of visibility—until recently—over the source of fuel purchased for the ANSF raises some concerns. DOD lacked certification procedures prior to November 2012 and had limited visibility over the import and delivery sub-contracts used by fuel vendors. As a result, DOD is unable to determine if any of the $1.1 billion in fuel purchased for the ANA between fiscal year 2007 and 2012 came from Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. Controls—recently added by CJTSCC to the BPAs for ANSF fuel—requiring vendor certification of fuel sources should improve visibility over fuel sources. To enhance that visibility, it is important that adequate measures are in place to test the validity of the certifications and ensure that subcontractors are abiding by the prohibitions regarding Iranian fuel. Recently reported steps to correct weaknesses in the fuel acquisition process may not help U.S. officials’ in verifying the sources of fuel purchased with U.S. funds for the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s continued challenges in overseeing and expending direct assistance funds, it will become more difficult for DOD to account for the use of U.S. funds as it begins to transfer funds—in March 2013—directly to the Afghan government for the procurement and delivery of ANSF fuel. In light of capacity and import limitations of the Afghan government, the U.S. government may need to take steps to place safeguards on its direct assistance funding—over $1 billion alone for ANSF fuel from 2013-2018—to ensure that the Afghan government does not use the funds in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.
Imagine the sputtering that would have ensued if Hagel had managed to ask Graham or McCain why the committee had failed to enforce the sanctions against purchasing Iranian fuel by the Defense Department. While he was busy singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” on the campaign trail in 2008, McCain was failing in his responsibility to see that Iranian fuel wasn’t purchased by the Defense Department.