Saturday, March 31, 2007

If you can't fix it, spin it.

Hey, what do you know, W. finally found the time to drive the couple of miles over to Walter Reed to see what the Democrats are making such a fuss about. Even though W. didn't get a chance look around the now notorious Building 18 he did talk to some of the guys who were housed there and he says he's "disturbed by their accounts." (I bet.) W. vowed that, "We're not going to be satisfied until everyone gets the kind of care that their folks and families expect." [What is it with him saying "we" all the time when he's talking about himself? Next thing you know he'll be parading around in purple robes and appointing horses to be senators. ]

Didn't W say something similar about New Orleans and how's that going, by the way? Anyway, W is shocked, shocked about what has happened at Walter Reed and he's not going to rest until the problems are fixed. First things first, though, he's just hired a PR firm.

PR Week USA reports:

"The Washington Headquarters Services (WHS), a provider of operational support to several Department of Defense agencies, has hired a PR agency on behalf of the President's Commission on Care for Americas' Returning Wounded Warriors in the aftermath of the controversy that has erupted over conditions at Walter Reed hospital. According to the Federal Business Opportunity database, the government has awarded LMW Strategies, based in Bethesda, MD, a no-bid contract through August 1 of this year."

Hey what do you know, another no bid contract. And how much is the American taxpayer getting soaked for this time, to be lied to by their own government? Sourcewatch says "O'Dwyer's PR Daily reported that the contract was worth $100,000."

Just what our wounded vets need at Walter Reed another freakin' contractor. Wasn't outsourcing,the Republican holy grail, one of the problems at WR? MSNBC reported a while back that:

A contract "went to a company --International American Products, or IAP -- that played a major role in the ice fiasco during Hurricane Katrina, when trucks roamed the country, delivering little and running up costs to taxpayers. 'They didn't seem to be doing a very good job even delivering the ice, and from what we now see, they didn't do a very good job at Walter Reed, either,' says Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee."

Congress is trying to pass a bill to get things rolling with this situation of lousy care for our soldiers and vet but the White House says 'not so fast. AP reported:

"The White House, in a statement, said that while those goals were commendable, the legislation is premature. It suggested that Congress wait for a report from a presidential commission and a task force on the war-wounded created after the exposure of poor outpatient living conditions and treatment at Walter Reed. Those findings are expected by the end of July." [The wounded can wait]

Here the good part:

"The White House also objected to a provision imposing a one-year moratorium on a program letting private companies compete with public agencies for military hospital work contracts. The administration said the program, criticized for contributing to substandard conditions and inadequate non-medical staffing at Walter Reed, is generating billions in savings."

How much did that PR contract cost again?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Abu Ghraib Iraqi style: Rounding up the usual suspects . . . and torturing them.

This post subtitled "Where's my propeller-hat?

I'm glad to see all the training we've been providing to the Iraqi security forces is finally paying off. The NYT reported two days ago that this new security plan in Baghdad is filling up the prisons and the Iraqis are apparently intent on out-Abu-Ghraibing us. Kirk Semple and Alissa J. Rubin report:

"The security plan's emphasis on aggressive block by block sweeps of troubled neighborhoods in the capital had flooded Iraq's frail detention system, and appeared to confirm the fears of some human rights advocates who have been predicting the new plan would aggravate already poor conditions. . . In one of the detention centers, in the town of Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, 705 people were packed into an area built for 75. . . The other center, on Muthana Air Base, held 272 people in a space designed to hold about 50."

Included in that number, according to Maan Zeki Khadum, an official with an Iraqi government monitoring group, were "two women and four boys who were being held in violation of regulations that require juveniles to be separated from adults and males from females." These human rights types, what's the big deal? I mean, we lock up entire families here in the good old US of A and we're the beacon of freedom and human rights, right?

Khadum says the detention system suffers from the problem of "fast detention and very slow release, especially for those who are not guilty." Hey, just like Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Where do you think they got the idea to round up people willy nilly and cram them into prison, anyway? I seem to remember the general in command of the fourth ID back in 2004 not caring so much about the niceties of due process and just tossing hundreds of military age men into Abu Ghraib. When it was suggested to him that this tactic might tend to create more insurgents than it stopped he said he didn't care. Even a lowly Army lieutenant could figure out that cramming Abu Ghraib with hajis might not be such a hot idea: After hearing the news about Abu Ghraib, Second Lt. Brian Smith wrote home on May 11th 2004:

"What did Haji learn that week? First, the U.S. can be defeated. Second, that if he surrenders he will be stripped naked, have electrodes attached to his testicles and [be] made to stand in a tub of water. Fucking brilliant. Where's my propeller-hat? I need to get into the spirit of things." [Smith was shot dead in Al Habbaniyah August 2004 -- Newsweek]

Now, who was that general again? Oh yes, Major General Raymond Odierno, who just happens to be in over all command of day-to-day operations in Iraq under David Patreaus. Looks like we've really learned out lesson. Of course, its the Iraqis doing it this time, so you can't blame Odierno. But not to worry, the Iraqi government has set up a committee to keep an eye on these types of abuses. The group contains 17 lawyers who liaise between the government and the community and which "is charged with trying to win popular support for the security plan." [Just give me a minute, I'm trying to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes!]

Now, according to the NYT article, "Sunni Arab leaders have accused to government of repeatedly turning a blind eye to widespread abuses of Sunni detainees." Therefore, they've gone ahead and put -- wait for it -- "Shiite politician Ahmad Chalabi" in charge of the monitoring group. The mind boggles.

Chalabi said in an interview that "The idea is to fix the system, not to shame them and expose them." Heaven forefend! We wouldn't want to punish anyone for torturing prisoners or anything like that or hold anyone accountable for putting 705 human beings into a space made for 75. That would just be wrong.

How are the prisons in Jordan, by the way, Ahmad? Don't they have a cell with your name on it waiting for you? How on earth does this charlatan keep getting jobs? What, does he have pictures of al-Maliki screwing sheep or something? His de-Baathification job was a rousing success and they're still trying to account for all the missing silverware at the oil ministry, so what gives? Remember in the heady days of 2004 when the State Department types used to refer to the Iraq government as 'Ahmad Chalabi and the 20 thieves?' Those were the days!

W. is running out of time on Iraq: Time for something riskier?

It looks like W.'s news surge plan is going pretty much the way of the last four or five surges. In scenes reminiscent of operation Pull Together Forward I and II from last summer and fall, the military touts progress and urges patience and then over 300 people get killed blown up or shot in just four days. Yesterday, on the heels of the multiple massacres in supposedly secure Tal Afar on Tuesday and Wednesday, five suicide bombers killed 122 people and wounded 150. On top of that, another 178 Iraqis were otherwise killed or found dead around the country. [AP]

Ah, but the surge hasn't quite got going yet; now they say the 30,000 extra troops will be in country by June. Remember when it was going to be 21,500 soldiers in country by May? Whenever the troops do get there the total number of US forces in Iraq will be about 165,000. Ironically, that's almost the exact number of GIs we had in Iraq in 2003 after the invasion -- we're back to square one. My question is, if we already know that we started out with grossly insufficient troop levels to secure the newly liberated Iraq in 2003, when the insurgency was in its infancy, what makes anyone think the same numbers now will do a lick of good with a full blown rebellion -- and with a brutal sectarian civil war thrown in just for fun?

W. is rallying the faithful, though: For the first time in his presidency he had the entire GOP caucus over to the White House for a visit yesterday. Just as the Senate passed the war spending bill calling for a withdrawal by March of next year, W. was urging his fellow Republicans in Congress to pull together forward. He's going to use his veto for only the second time to prevent any pullout language and as the WaPo explains: "As long as Republicans stick with him, Democrats will be unable to muster the two-thirds majority they need to overturn his veto."

The question is will they stick with him? If Karl Rove read this quote in the WaPo from an un-named GOP House member, understanding the thinking behind the little White House pow wow becomes clear: "We've toed the line enough for this president, and we have gotten no thanks or gratitude. By and large, Republicans are sick of defending an ungrateful president."

Ouch! You think they're panicking just a bit down there at 1600? Oh, I'm sure W.'s speech to the congressmen reassured them and they can be counted on to hold the line, right? Peter Baker writes that when John Boehner "turned to his colleagues to ask if they would stay with Bush, they gave him a standing ovation." Yes, mission accomplished!

"But," Baker writes,” two Republican lawmakers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush spent much of his talk stressing that he still believes in the ideals of freedom and democracy for Iraq, and exhorting lawmakers to disregard the polls and the editorial pages that have scoffed at those notions."

OK, he probably should have just left it at fighting the pork in the bill and left out all that stuff about freedom and democracy. I hope, though, that the Republicans go right ahead and ignore the polls and editorial pages and plunge right to the bottom with the unsinkable George W. Bush.

I'm thinking time is not on W.'s side. God knows what the situation in Iraq will be like by the time Congress gets back from its recess on April 16th . . . or the situation in Iran for that matter. As I pointed out a while back, between April 14th and 18th the Farmer's Almanac says there will be a new moon. What better chance to take advantage of dark moonless nights to launch shock and awe? I'm sure we can engineer some sort of incident in the Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz to get this show on the road, it's been done before. If Karl Rove senses the headcount isn't going his way on over turning a presidential veto, who knows what they might do? And if Al Gonzales can hang on until then -- which is looking more and more unlikely -- his big day in Congress on the 17th might not go that bad after all.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Iran's capabilities to make more USS Coles.

And what's up with that armada anyway? The US just began an "exercise" in the Gulf which the papers say is the largest since 2003 (and you know how that turned out). Supposedly, this doesn't have anything to do with the Iranians taking the Brits; this was all planned along ago. Maybe. But an article by Michael Gordon in the NYT in yesterday's edition has me puzzled. Gordon writes that "American officials said the deployment was planned before the capture of 15 British sailors and marines last week," but at the same time he writes: "A scheduled port call by the U.S.S Stennis aircraft carrier was canceled so the exercise could get under way."

So, which it is, is it just an odd coincidence or did they rush these ships into maneuvers to rattle some sabers -- and possibly goad the Iranian navy into doing something provocative? What troubles me about Gordon's article also is attributing a quote to a "senior American official, who declined to be identified because he does not customarily speak to the news media." What the hell does that mean? Is this Cheney dropping his targeted leaks again? I seem to remember Michael Gordon sharing a lot of bylines with Judith Miller before the Iraq invasion, is this deja vu all over again?

If you read the article, you'll see that there are plenty of quotes but they're all by un-named officials:

"'It's not a precursor to war, ' said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was no authorized to speak to the press."

"This whole thing is designed to send a message to the region, ' the official said, referring to the naval exercise.’ We are sending a message that we're here to stay.'"

"'We don't want them to determine what we do when we think we are within our rights to do it,' a senior Bush administration official said, referring to the Iranians."

Gordon writes that the military "made an effort to facilitate news coverage of its two-day carrier exercise," inviting Middle East news organizations to board the ships. "The goal, according to military officials [there are those "officials" again], was to reassure 'regional audiences' of the capability of American naval forces and Washington's determination to keep forces in the region."

Yes, I'm sure all the countries in the region are very reassured that we're crashing through their china shop threatening to start a war that could put them all in Iran's cross hairs.

But what about this capabililty question?

Bloomberg News reported last week:

"The U.S. after nearly six years of warnings from Pentagon testers, still lacks a plan for defending aircraft carriers against a supersonic Russian-built missile, according to current and former officials and Defense Department documents. The missile, known in the West as the 'Sizzler,' has been deployed by China and may be purchased by Iran.

Thomas Christie, the Defense Department's top weapons-testing official from mid-2001 to early 2005, said in an interview. "The Navy recognized this was a major issue, and over the years, I had continued promises they were going to fully fund development and production of missiles that could replicate the Sizzler to help develop a defense against it,' Christie said. 'They haven't.'"

No one knows if the Iranians have this missile, but the Chinese do. The main concern for the Navy right now is the People's Liberation Navy [PLAN] "sea denial" strategy in the Taiwan Straits and South China Sea, which is sort of like their Mare Nostrum. describes the "Sizzler" like this:

"These Russian-designed SS-N-27B 'Sizzler' missiles are armed with a 70-kilogram (kg) high explosive warhead and can reach a target 16 nautical miles away. The missile flies near the surface of the ocean at subsonic speed until it nears its target, when it becomes supersonic and flies in an evasive flight path specifically designed to defeat the Aegis weapons systems that the aircraft carrier’s escorting ships are equipped."

"PLAN strategists believe that aircraft carriers are both the strength and the weakness of the U.S. Navy, the 'mainstay of the military power by which the United States maintains its worldwide presence' They recognize the firepower that a carrier is capable of wielding, but also understand that with just 11 deployable carriers, the United States cannot afford to lose even one to hostile action. [My italics] Hence, in addition to its frequent anti-carrier exercises, China has focused on the development of submarines--the platform that it believes is the most effective measure to counter aircraft carriers."

From these submarines they'd fire the Sizzler. The Iranians have a few submarines, but nothing really to write home about, although, last August the Boston Globe reported that Iran fired a "Thaqeb" missile, "Iran's first missile that is fired from underwater and flies above the surface to hit its target, distinguishing it from a torpedo. A brief video showed the missile exiting the water and hitting a target less than a mile away."

Even if the Iranian navy is not quite the PLAN, they still have their little speed boats. Newsweek reported this week that Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. chief of Naval Operations fears their ability,' as he put it, 'to swarm.'"

Either way you look at it, we could wind up with a glowing nuclear pile of junk sitting at the bottom of the Strait of Hormuz if we're not careful.

Kraziest Kountry award goes to . . . Iran!

Well, it appears that the Iranians are bucking for the "Kraziest Kountry" trophy again this year. This latest incident in the Shatt al-Arab involving the seizure of 15 UK sailors and royal marines, I think, has really put them over the top. Last year, I thought North Korea was a mortal lock but then, again, Mamoud Ahmadinejad in the end just ran away with it. Back then, though, W. & Co. weren't exactly going out of their way to say they didn't want the prize for themselves.

The administration was giving a lot of lip service to "diplomacy" while they threatened shock and awe and John Bolton was rampaging through the halls of the UN doing his level best to convince the world we were about to attack Iran at any moment. Condi and the Russian foreign minister were at each other's throats and Iran had managed -- even with Ahmadinejad rolling around the decks firing off salvos -- to have elicited a lot of sympathy from much of the world. That sympathy has pretty much evaporated at this point.

Iran's intransigence on the nuclear issue and Ahmadinejad's outbursts have seen to that, but I have to give some credit to Condi Rice, too (grudgingly). Her efforts on the diplomatic front, over the past six months or so, have started to pay off. She's been able to finally peel Russia away from its policy of giving Iran political cover, no matter what, and she has been able to get the UN to impose a number of sanctions on Tehran that are really starting to bite. [The Chinese remain, typically inscrutable.] Her surprise announcement a while back that we'd sit down and talk to Iran about Iraq was a welcome departure from business as usual (threats backed up by more threats).

Naturally, the picture isn't all rosy for sanity and eventual peace: In the mean time, W. has declared war on Iran inside Iraq and sent the gunboats into the Persian Gulf. It's not like Dick Cheney isn't still there, after all. I'm sure he and his dwindling cohort of neocons are banking on Rice's failure so they can get on their plans for regime change. With Ahmadinejad on the other side, it's probably a safe that Iran will do something stupid that'll send Condi's work up in smoke.

Like, for instance, taking a bunch of British sailors hostage? I've heard some experts theorize that this has something to do with the US capture of five Iranian "diplomats" in Iraq that a straight up swap might be what Tehran wants. This type of thing is similar to what Hamas and Hizbollah pulled last summer, kidnapping Israeli soldiers to trade for hundreds of their people in Israeli prisons. Of course, that didn't turn out very well for either of them, did it? Well, it might be more accurate to say it didn't work out so well for Palestinian or Lebanese civilians, who bore the brunt of Israel's bombs. Hassan Nasrallah became a hero and Hamas is back in business in Gaza.

In any case, terrorist groups taking hostages is one thing, a sovereign nation taking hostages is quite another. Whichever faction of the Iranian government signed off on this bone-headed maneuver, they've really put their country in a tough spot. Iran's options are narrowing by the day; it's diplomatically isolated, now more than ever, and it's surrounded on three sides by the United State's military. What do they think this is going to achieve by ramping up the tension-level? Do they really think Tony Blair is going to say the sailors were in Iranian waters and ask for forgiveness? Someone is going to have back down and it's highly unlikely to be the side with the armada brimming with weapons.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Simply murder:

Will wonders never cease? The WaPo reports: "Senate Democrats scored a surprise victory yesterday in their bid to force President Bush to end the Iraq war, turning back a Republican amendment that would have struck a troop withdrawal plan from emergency military funding legislation." (With the help of Chuck Hagel, of course, bless his heart.)

What a stunning victory for the Dems! And this was in the Senate no less; I thought we were all going to die of old age before they'd get around to doing anything. The vote this time around was 50-48 (the opposite of two weeks ago), the result of which was that Darth Cheney, reportedly lurking nearby, didn't get a chance to cast a tie breaking vote. Things were looking so bad for the Republican's attempt to block the language at the beginning of the week, in fact, that according to the WaPo, John McCain "canceled a series of fundraisers and meetings in Florida to return to Washington." Skipping fundraisers is serious business, but McCain said he needed to "beat back this recipe for defeat that the Democrats are trying to foist on the American people."

You know, if anyone is doing the foisting here it's deadenders like him and Joe Lieberman -- who's stand on this issue is rapidly losing Joe-mentum -- backing a war and a president that's lost the support of 60% of the American people. Despite McCain's increasingly fevered delusions about the surge achieving "significant success," the body count of US soldiers tells a different story.

AP reports that since the surge began on Feb. 14 we've lost 114 GIs, four just this past weekend in one IED attack. [78 soldiers for March so far] And the civil war goes on, too: AP reports two truck bombs in Tal Afar -- A city W. just said gives him "confidence in our strategy" -- killed 63 Iraqis and wounded 150 others on Tuesday, the second attack in the past four days. Also yesterday, another Marine was killed in Anbar and a soldier and a civilian contractor were killed inside the Green Zone from yet another rocket attack on the supposedly heavily secured enclave. Around Iraq, Iraqi police said 109 people were killed or found dead.

Naturally, since the IP are riddled with Shiite militiamen, that number probably only accounts for Shiites killed, not all the Sunnis they slaughtered. And today the LA Times reports: "Shiite militants and police enraged by massive truck bombings in Tal Afar went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents in the northwestern town today, killing as many as 60 people, officials say." All in all, truly a dazzling success; why wouldn't the American people want to keep sending GIs into the Iraqi meat grinder?

Strangely, they don't, though. About two thirds of us seem to of the mind that sending more young Americans to die for Nuri al-Maliki and his band of ethnic cleansers isn't in our national interest anymore.

The argument on the other side -- growing weaker by the day -- is that if we announce that we're going to start the process of pulling out in four months, that'll embolden the insurgents to wait us out. My question is; isn't that what they've been doing for the past four years anyway? Regardless of what all we've thrown at them since the insurgency began, which is the might of the most powerful military the world has ever seen, they've adjusted to every tactic and hung on. Hanging on is all they have to do, after all, that's the nature of the war W. landed us in: They win by not losing.

And, by the way, regardless of when we leave, whether it's next year or ten years from now, we're going to leave eventually. They'll still be there no matter what happens, they live there. So, if we do what some Republicans want to do, give Patreaus' plan more time to work , say until sometime around Thanksgiving, then revisit the withdrawal idea if things don't turn out they way we know they will -- a dazzling success- by then, the way things are trending, we will have lost another 700 soldiers dead with perhaps another 10,000 wounded, who will be shuffled off to bat infested VA hospitals.

That's not a strategy for victory, that's a date certain for ignomious defeat (to paraphrase John McCain). I suggest he and Lieberman read "The War in the Words of the Dead" in the current issue of Newsweek and tell me if keeping those who are still there, hoping to return home to their wives and children in one piece, indefinalty is in any way morally justified. They've done all they were asked to do deployment after deployment and they've done it in the finest American tradition, it's time to bring them home.

George W. Bush's threat to veto any bill that requires a pull out is, I think, somewhat equavilent to Ulysses S. Grant's ill-concieved assault on Confederate entrenchments at Cold Harbor in 1864, which cost the Union Army 7000 dead in the matter of a few minutes. Grant said of the attack afterwards: "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. . . no advantage was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained."

Oh, for such honesty nowadays! Recognizing mistakes and not repeating them is a sane course of action. Repeating mistakes and expecting different results is insanity and in this case is, like Cold Harbor, is simply murder.
hit counter script Top Blog Lists Favourite Blogs Top List
My Zimbio
Top Stories