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US Wasting Money on Afghanistan Infrastructure While US Infrastructure Continues Decline

Joshua Foust tweeted a link to a story in today’s Washington Post about the most recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Foust’s tweet succinctly summed up the situation: “#SIGAR body slams the war in Afghanistan… again, and no one will probably ever care.” He followed that up with more: “This will destroy you if you dwell on it too much, but the blithe way DC encourages zero memory and zero accountability really is awful.”

Coming on the heels of the exposure of General William Caldwell’s disgusting 2010 coverup of hellish conditions at Afghanistan’s Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul, it’s hard to see how Foust can be wrong in his pessimism. Where was the outrage over such horrid coniditions? Why is Caldwell still in the military?

The SIGAR report eviscerates the US counterinsurgency strategy that is based on the assumption that building a Western type of “infrastructure” will produce an Afghan populace that develops such adulation for the purveyors of such cultural “improvement” that they will immediately in fall in line with all other desires of the West.

The Post story opens:

A U.S. initiative to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction projects in Afghanistan, originally pitched as a vital tool in the military campaign against the Taliban, is running so far behind schedule that it will not yield benefits until most U.S. combat forces have departed the country, according to a government inspection report to be released Monday.

A few paragraphs later, we get more of the explanation of how the strategy was supposed to work:

Many U.S. military commanders, diplomats and reconstruction experts have long believed that large infrastructure projects were essential to fixing Iraq and Afghanistan.

The next sentence, however, suggests that David Petraeus saw through this strategy and understood what really mattered in the “battle for hearts and minds”: Read more

Nearly Eight Years After Petraeus’ “Tangible Progress” WashPo Op-Ed, Iraq Security Training Still a Failure

Petraeus likes pineapple, but only if it's fresh. (Kyle McDonald photo, Creative Commons license)

One of the topics I seem to find myself posting on the most frequently is the remarkable lack of accountability for the spectacular failure of David Petraeus’ efforts to train the Iraqi security apparatus. Petraeus has repeatedly touted how wonderfully his training work went and yet whenever the failures of this training actually make it into corporate journalism, Petraeus’ name is nowhere to be found.

Such is the case again today. An article titled “U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police” appears on the front page of today’s New York Times and it shows, once again, that the tremendous amounts of money and effort that have gone into “training” in Iraq are a complete waste (and since training is shown to be a failure in this article, Petraeus’ name does not appear):

In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.

But wait, this is the State Department. How did the effort get in their hands? It turns out that they started it originally, turned it over to Petraeus and then recently took it back:

Since 2003, the American government has spent nearly $8 billion training the Iraqi police. The program was first under the State Department, but it was transferred to the Department of Defense in 2004 as the insurgency intensified. Yet the force that the American military left behind was trained to fight a counterinsurgency, not to act as a traditional law enforcement organization. Police officers here, for example, do not pull over speeding drivers or respond to calls about cats stuck in trees.

Petraeus burst onto the scene politically in September of 2004, when he penned an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he praised himself for his wonderful work in training Iraqi security forces:

Helping organize, train and equip nearly a quarter-million of Iraq’s security forces is a daunting task. Doing so in the middle of a tough insurgency increases the challenge enormously, making the mission akin to repairing an aircraft while in flight — and while being shot at. Now, however, 18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress. Read more

Lt. Col. Daniel Davis’ Truth-Telling Continues: Long Report Published by Rolling Stone

Speaking truth to power is a brave act wherever it is carried out. But when that power is the strongest military force on earth and the one speaking truth is coming from within the ranks of that force to point out blatant lies promulgated at the very top of the organization, then it is indeed a rare form of bravery.

Earlier this week, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis published a short report in the Armed Forces Journal and coupled that with discussions with the New York Times’ Scott Shane for an article hitting on the same subject area. In those reports, we learned that Davis had prepared much longer reports, both a classified one which he shared with several members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and a non-classified one which he intended to publish. In the Armed Forces Journal piece, Davis noted that he intended to publish the longer report at his afghanreport.com website, and in an editor’s note, it was pointed out that “At press time, Army public affairs had not yet ruled on whether Davis could post this longer version.” In a very interesting twist, Davis’ long report now has been published, but not at his website. Instead, Michael Hastings, whose The Runaway General article at Rolling Stone eventually resulted in the firing of Stanley McChrystal, has posted Davis’ report (pdf) at the Rolling Stone website, along with a brief introduction from Hastings. There will be a post soon from bmaz addressing Davis’ approach to whistle-blowing and his treatment of classified information.

The ANSO figure on which Davis based his final point. Link to original ANSO (pdf) report: http://www.ngosafety.org/store/files/ANSO%20Q1%202011.pdf

The Lies

Davis’ thesis in the longer report remains unchanged from the original. He maintains that despite persistent claims by top military brass that progress is being made in Afghanistan, there is in fact no progress. Violence continues on a steady increase and Afghan forces are nowhere near a point where they can maintain security in the absence of ISAF forces. On the final page, he has this to say about his “final take-away” from the report. He prepared a graphic based on the one reproduced above:

If there were only one thing I could ask you to take away from this rather lengthy brief, it would be this one page. Below you see charted over time, the rising violence from the end of 2005 through the first quarter 2011 (chart source: ANSO, 2011). All spin aside, you see regardless of who was in command, what strategy they used, or what claims they made, nothing impacted the rising arc of violence from 2005 through today. The one thing, however, that has never changed: the upward arc of violence, which continues its rise and is expected to continue at least through this summer. Read more

Not So Great Expectations: Paying the Price of Hubris in Iraq, Afghanistan

Developments over the past few days on several different fronts are coming together in a way that outlines just how arrogantly the US conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the consequences of that hubris are now diminishing the previously dominant role for the US in the region going into the future. At the same time, these developments drive home the message of the terrible waste of lives and money the war efforts have been.

In today’s New York Times, we learn that the staff at the gargantuan US embassy in Baghdad is about to be cut in half. It appears that one of the driving forces behind these cuts is that the Iraqis are not making it easy for embassy personnel to move freely into and out of the country:

At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.

Perhaps Mr. al-Maliki should study the activities of the US Customs Service if he really wants to learn how to make it even clearer to selected foreigners that he doesn’t want them in his country.

But al-Maliki is not the only elected Iraqi official who sees an opportunity to repay the US for the hubris it has shown the region, as the Times quoted Nahida al-Dayni, whom they described as “a lawmaker and member of Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament” with regard to the embassy compound:

The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.

That US actions in the Middle East would have prompted such an attitude among local officials should have been foreseen, but the Times article informs us that the State Department seems to have been hit by a bit of shock and awe: Read more

“More Respected Around the World”? Really?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwPEHeRa39k[/youtube]

Political speeches, by nature, push the limits of truth. Because of that, the process of sorting out truths from lies in political speeches has become something of a cottage industry. The bald-faced lie lie that Obama told in only his third sentence of last night’s State of the Union speech, however, doesn’t need a dedicated fact-checking organization to see the dishonesty. As Marcy has already pointed out, Obama framed his speech entirely around chest-thumping over the killing of Osama bin Laden. But let’s look only at that third sentence:

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.

I won’t even go into the issue of whether the US is now safer due to the military misadventures started by the Bush-Cheney administration and continued enthusiastically by Obama. But the claim that the US is more respected around the world because of “this generation of heroes” displays the very militaristic arrogance that is the chief reason Americans are attacked. Because the bulk of these military activities take place in the Arab world, that seems the most appropriate place to look for evidence of Obama’s claimed “respect”. On July 13, 2011, the Arab American Institute Foundation released the results of a Zogby poll (pdf) conducted on their behalf. From the executive summary:

With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. more than doubled in many Arab countries. But in the two years since his famous “Cairo speech,” ratings for both the U.S. and the President have spiraled downwards. The President is seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his speech, and the vast majority of those surveyed disagree with U.S policies.

In five out of the six countries surveyed, the U.S. was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France—or Iran. Far from seeing the U.S. as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed “U.S. interference in the Arab world” as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.

But Obama’s tone deafness in using the bin Laden killing as evidence for US respect is especially galling, since we have this:

The killing of bin Laden only worsened attitudes toward the U.S.

In touting how the US is “more respected”, Obama is relying on the most prominent recent event that has caused a worsening of opinion of the US in the Arab world. It is behavior like this that has put the US now at an approval level in the Arab world that is ” lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran’s favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia)”.

Of course it’s not just the killing of bin Laden or Obama’s chest-thumping that have angered the Arab world. Just in the last few days, there are numerous examples of US behavior that can only result in resentment in the Arab world.

On Monday, we heard from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights: Read more

Now That Training in Iraq is a Failure, Petraeus No Longer Mentioned

Screen grab of glorious General Petraeus from US Army recruiting video

A remarkable story in this morning’s Washington Post addresses a report released today from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.  The report details that the training of police forces in Iraq has been a failure:

Over the course of the eight-year-old war and military occupation, thousands of U.S. troops have spent considerable time and effort wooing and training police recruits, but Iraqi officials have often accused the United States of not providing much more than basic training.

In an August interview, Akeel Saeed, inspector general of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said that in the past, the U.S. military was too often “implementing what they wanted, without acknowledging what the Iraqis wanted.”

The article discloses that despite all of this basic “training” that the US has provided over the years, now that the program has been handed over to the State Department, they will use the bulk of their $887 million budget this year on private security contractors.  That fact alone is all the proof we need that there is no confidence at all in Iraqi security forces, or there would be little to no need for the mercenaries:

But a government report set for release Monday found that the department is spending just 12 percent of money allocated for the program on advising Iraqi police officials, with the “vast preponderance” of funds going toward the security, transportation and medical support of the 115 police advisers hired for the program. When U.S. troops leave, thousands of private security guards are expected to provide protection for the thousands of diplomats and contractors set to stay behind. For security reasons, the State Department has declined to specify the cost and size of its anticipated security needs.

However, the SIGIR report (pdf) itself provides more background for understanding why such a large mercenary force is needed.  First, the report documents the handing over of responsibility for police training to DoD back in 2004 [INL is the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs]: Read more

Did BP Have Special Reason to Worry about the Iraq War for Oil?

The Independent reveals what we’ve always known: the Iraq War was about oil. Or rather, there were significant discussions in Fall 2002–the period when the US and UK were busy lying us into war–about who would get Iraq’s oil. (h/t Susie)

The article describes BP’s judgment that Iraq was “the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there” and “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time.”

Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.

The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office’s Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”

Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time”.

But the article doesn’t comment on why BP might be so concerned that the US would lock BP (and Shell and British Gas) out of Iraqi oil development.

Perhaps this might explain it:

From the beginning, it was clear that Cheney was running the show, chairing meetings of the task force — comprised of about a dozen Cabinet officers and senior officials — in his ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Much of the task force’s work was done by a six-person staff, led by its executive director, Andrew Lundquist, a former aide to Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski of Alaska. In 2000, Lundquist was the Bush campaign’s energy expert; Bush nicknamed him “Light Bulb.”

Today, Lundquist is a lobbyist and has represented some of the companies who appeared before the task force, such as BP, Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute. He did not return phone calls for this article.

[snip]

Cheney appears to have played a more behind-the-scenes role in the task force’s deliberations, the document indicates, listing only a handful of meetings with the vice president. Those included a previously reported meeting with Lay, who died last year; a meeting with officials from Sandia National Laboratories to discuss their economic models of the energy industry; and two sets of meetings with lawmakers. Cheney had other meetings, such as with John Browne, then the chief executive of BP, that were not listed on the task force’s calendar. [my emphasis]

So in addition to the March 22, 2001 meeting that a bunch of BP folks had as part of the “official” Energy Task Force meetings, BP’s CEO John Browne had his very own meeting with Cheney during the Energy Task Force discussions. And among other things the Task Force was discussing were Iraq’s oil fields and the companies already trying to develop them.

Now, frankly, it wouldn’t take a smarty pants to worry about Americans seizing Iraq’s fields. Only very naive people believed the Iraq War was not about oil. But BP, which–aside from a number of Canadian companies–was almost the only nominally foreign company to be included in the Energy Task Force discussions (two Shell people had a meeting after the report was substantially finished), almost certainly had its own reason to worry about Americans looting Iraqi oil after regime change.

That Iraq Withdrawal We Elected in 2008?

Not gonna happen.

I have sent the enclosed notice to the Federal Register for publication, continuing the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq. This notice states that the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq declared in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, as modified in scope and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13315 of August 28, 2003, Executive Order 13350 of July 29, 2004, Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004, and Executive Order 13438 of July 17, 2007, is to continue in effect beyond May 22, 2010.

Obstacles to the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Accordingly, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to this threat and maintain in force the measures taken to deal with that national emergency.

Love, Barack Obama.

So even as Obama asks for more money for Afghanistan, he’s officially telling Congress the  national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq Iraq War isn’t going to end anytime soon, either.

The Guardian reports the same, though from the perspective of Odierno, not Obama, missing deadlines.

Update: I was too snide when I wrote this. The fatigue of watching the President’s deficit committee argue that we need to cut Social Security just as we’re about to get a $30 billion supplemental (remember, we weren’t supposed to get anymore of those?) to fight a war in Afghanistan many think we can’t win really got to me.

At one level, this appears to be fairly nondescript: it simply says that certain financial arrangements in place today will extend out past ten days from now. So it’s not an indefinite extension, it’s a bureaucratic detail.

But this language does worry me:

The Iraqi government continues to take steps to resolve debts and settle claims arising from the actions of the previous regime. Before the end of the year, my Administration will review the Iraqi government’s progress on resolving these outstanding debts and claims, as well as other relevant circumstances, in order to determine whether the prohibitions contained in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, as amended by Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004, on any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process with respect to the Development Fund for Iraq, the accounts, assets, and property held by the Central Bank of Iraq, and Iraqi petroleum-related products, should continue in effect beyond December 31, 2010, which are in addition to the sovereign immunity ordinarily provided to Iraq as a sovereign nation under otherwise applicable law. [my emphasis]

That is, it’s not just a bureaucratic extension of financial protections for Iraq past the next ten days. It’s a formal notice that Iraq will have its financial training wheels on until December, maybe, or maybe longer. It seems like it’s for the interest of Iraq, but I worry that it’s for the interest of ongoing US control over Iraq’s finances.

Dick Cheney, Torture, Iraq, and Valerie Plame

I’ve been reluctant to embrace suggestions that torture, Iraq, and Valerie Plame were all going to coalesce into one linked story. After all, it would be too easy for me, of all people, to argue these stories were linked. But I increasingly suspect they are.

First, let me pull together some data points.

Nancy Pelosi and Bob Graham are linking the non-briefings on torture with the Iraq NIE

Now that they are explicitly stating that CIA lied in its September briefings on torture, Nancy Pelosi and Bob Graham are also both linking those lies with the lies they were telling–at precisely the same time–in the Iraq NIE. Here’s Pelosi:

Of all the briefings that I have received at this same time, earlier, they were misinforming the American people there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and it was an imminent threat to the United States. I, to the limit of what I could say to my caucus, told them, the intelligence does not support the imminent threat that this Administration is contending. Whether it’s on the subject of what’s happening in Iraq, whether it’s on the subject of techniques used by the intelligence community on those they are interrogating, every step of the way, the Administration was misleading the Congress.

And that is the issue. And that is why we need a truth commission.

And here’s Graham:

Yes, they’re obligated to tell the full Intelligence Committee, not just the leadership. This was the same time within the same week, in fact, that the CIA was submitting its National Intelligence Estimate on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which proves so erroneous that we went to war, have had thousands of persons killed and injured as a result of misinformation.

Now, it’s quite possible Graham and Pelosi are tying these two lies together just to remind reporters how unreliable the CIA is. Perhaps they’re doing it to remind reporters of how they got burned leading into the Iraq War, trusting the spin of the Administration.

But perhaps they’re trying to say there’s a direct connection, an explicit one, between the NIE and torture. We know Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s claims appeared in there. Did anything that came out of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation? Or Ramzi bin al-Shibh? 

Did CIA not reveal they were torturing detainees to dodge any question about the accuracy of claims about Iraq intelligence?

The proposal to waterboard Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi

Then there’s not just the revelation, by Charles Duelfer, but the timing he describes of OVP proposals to waterboard Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi, a Mukhabarat officer. Read more

AJ Rossmiller: Why Bloggers Are Better Informed than Condi Rice

still-broken.jpgAJ Rossmiller (of AmericaBlog fame) nailed the results of the 2005 Iraqi election. You might recall that as the election where, after it had long become clear Ahmad Chalabi had little base of support in Iraq, some anonymous sources in the Administration nevertheless had great hopes that somehow Chalabi might end up as Prime Minister.

Though he lacks any mass appeal, some U.S. diplomats even cite the secular Shi’ite as a possible compromise candidate for prime minister in a coalition government.

But Chalabi won just .5% of the vote. Iyad Allawi, in whom the Administration also invested their hopes, won just 8% of the vote. And the Shiite coalition dominated by SCIRI and the Sadrists got 41% of the votes. In his book, Still Broken, AJ describes that he saw this coming.

After Iraq’s winter elections, the results validated the predictions contained in the paper I’d written in the fall. It created something of a stir because the paper turned out to be remarkably accurate, far more so than the forecasts of other agencies and departments. Before the election occurred, a high-ranking official requested a follow-up evaluation of our assessments, and I wrote a memo that described our precision. The memo made its way up through the chain, and a few days later the office got a note from Stephen Cambone, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, praising both the prediction and the self-evaluation.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the last half of AJ’s book describes how such accurate predictions are generally weeded out by higher-ranking analysts worried that their office’s work product might piss off the Administration. For example, AJ describes some of the conversations leading up to the election (edited to take out classified information), where people argued against his analysis because it didn’t accord with that of other intelligence agencies.

"You’re being too pessimistic. [The secularists] are gaining strength."

"There’s no way Iraqis will vote for [those in power] again. We can’t pass this up the chain."

"[Other agencies] are predicting something totally different and we need to make sure we’re not too far off message with this."

Read more