Saturday, August 18, 2007
By Jonathan Finer
Saturday, August 18, 2007; A13
Late last month the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon, just back from a quick trip to Baghdad, proclaimed in the New York Times that "we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq." In June, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, fresh from his latest whirlwind tour of the war zone, described in the Wall Street Journal a "dramatic reversal" in the security situation in restive Anbar province. As Washington anticipates a September report assessing the troop surge, there is good reason to be skeptical of such snapshot accounts.
A dizzying number of dignitaries have passed through Baghdad for high-level briefings. The Hill newspaper reported this month that 76 U.S. senators have traveled to Iraq during the war, 38 in the past 12 months. Most never left the Green Zone or other well-protected enclaves. Few, if any, changed the views they held before arriving.
Reporters based in Baghdad rarely pay much attention to these visits, often skipping the news conferences that conclude most visiting delegations' itineraries. Since leaving Iraq last year, I've been surprised by the impact these choreographed tours have had on domestic discourse about the war. First come opinion pieces full of bold pronouncements of "what I saw" at the front. Next, the recent returnees appear on late-night cable programs or the Sunday talk . Those with opposing views respond, and soon the echo chamber is drowning out whatever's really happening.
This practice ought to have been (finally) discredited by Sen. John McCain's trip to Baghdad in the spring, after which he all but declared that Freedom had marched alongside him as he strolled through a marketplace, chatting with shopkeepers. That McCain had been trailed by an armada of armored vehicles and Black Hawk helicopters was only later reported by "60 Minutes."
The most frustrating such visit during my time in Iraq was that of radio host Laura Ingraham, who rarely, if ever, spent a moment outside the protection of U.S. forces or a night outside a military base. While in Baghdad in February 2006, she wrote on her Web site that the training of the Iraqi army "continues apace" and that "you wouldn't know it by reading the New York Times, but IED attacks are actually down since December." After returning, she continued criticizing Baghdad-based journalists -- almost all of whom operate without military protection -- telling an NBC audience that "to do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military, to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off."
Opponents of the war are also guilty of using visits to gain credibility. On a trip soon after the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry decried the "horrendous judgments" and "unbelievable blunders" made by President Bush. At a news conference I attended in Baghdad last summer, Sen. Russ Feingold, a longtime proponent of withdrawal, said that continued U.S. troop presence "may well be destabilizing." Little surprise that his travel companion, McCain, who attended the same briefings at the same bases, drew opposite conclusions.
"I've been a member of the military when the senators come in," replied Webb, who has not visited Iraq but fought in Vietnam during a long military career. "You know, you go see the dog-and-pony shows."
That's probably overstating things. Those who visit Iraq undertake significant risks, which are inherent in traveling to Baghdad, no matter who's providing their security. Policymakers should be commended for refusing to blindly trust accounts from diplomats, soldiers or journalists. But it's worth remembering what these visits are and what they are not. Prescient insights rarely emerge from a few days in-country behind the blast walls.
Lieberman, who tirelessly campaigned to sustain the war effort, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in November 2005 that "I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in 17 months and can report real progress there." Three months later -- about two weeks after Ingraham's optimistic observations -- came the bombing of a mosque in Samarra that ignited the grisliest sectarian violence of the war to that point.
The Brookings pair, self-described in their Times op-ed as "two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq," are also longtime backers of the invasion and the recent troop surge. Before the war Pollack wrote a book subtitled "The Case for Invading Iraq," and he has found fodder for hope on every visit.
It goes without saying that everyone can, and in this country should, have an opinion about the war, no matter how much time the person has spent in Iraq, if any. But having left a year ago, I've stopped pretending to those who ask that I have a keen sense of what it's like on the ground today. Similarly, those who pass quickly through the war zone should stop ascribing their epiphanies to what are largely ceremonial visits.
The writer was a Post correspondent in Baghdad from May 2005 to July 2006. He is currently covering the Balkans for The Post.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Karl Rove was not a "great political mind". His sole contribution to the nation was getting the worst president in history elected on a campaign of unabashed bullcrap, then proceeding to help guide that president into foreign and domestic policy failures at every opportunity. If that's what passes for Republican brilliance, then it explains... well, pretty much everything, actually. Point taken.
Last night's carefully managed leak from the White House that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is being designated as a global terrorist group is a story that -- while in a sense you could see it coming for months -- seemed to also catch a lot of the major news media off guard. On CNN this morning, Kiran Chetry kept referring to it as a "bold move," "bold" meaning CNN knew it was important but it really wasn't sure why.
Here's what it means on the surface, that U.S. -- which increasingly blames Iran for terrorist meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan -- can try to go after those who do business with the Iranian military unit. Still, it's clearly not a normal move -- the first time that a government military has received this terrorist designation -- something that's usually reserved for non-state actors like al-Qaeda. And so no one seems sure what this morning what the concrete impact of this unexpected move will be.
Nowhere yet have I seen what it seems clear Bush's Iran move is really all about.
The White House hawks in Dick Cheney's office and elsewhere who want to stage an attack on Iran are clearly winning the internal power stuggle. And an often overlooked sub-plot on the long road toward war with Tehran is this: How could Bush stage an attack on Iran without the authorization of a skeptical, Democratic Congress?
Today, the White House has solved that pesky problem in one fell swoop. By explicitly linking the Iranian elite guard into the post 9/11 "global war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's lawyers would certainly now argue that any military strike on Iran is now covered by the October 2002 authorization to use military force in Iraq, as part of their overly sweeping response to the 2001 attacks.
This has clearly been the thinking for some time, particularly with talk -- unfulfilled, of course -- by some Democrats on Capitol Hill of either revoking the 2002 authorization or placing explicit curbs on attacking Iran.
In fact, concern that Bush would seek to tie a new war in Iran to the 2002 authorization is exactly what was on the mind of Va. Sen. Jim Webb when he sought legislation in March to bar any funding for a strike on the Tehran regime:
Webb told FOX News last week that his concern came about when he compared the 2002 authorization to go to war in Iraq with the presidential signing statement accompanying it clarifying prerogatives the administration deemed permissible under the authorization.
He said the ambiguity in the signing statement leaves room for the president to interpret the authorization as authorizing war with Iran. And, Webb said, according to the signing statement, the president retains the right to take military action "to respond to threats against American military interests."
This Mother Jones article, also published this spring, lays out the whole scenario:
Both of the Authorizations to Use Military Force (aumfs) passed by Congress—in September 2001 for Afghanistan, and October 2002 for Iraq—contain language that might conceivably be used to justify an attack on Iran. The 2001 aumf authorized the president to use force not just against the perpetrators of 9/11 but also against anyone who "harbored such organizations or persons." After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran arrested several senior members of Al Qaeda. Though they are apparently being held as bargaining chips with the United States, someone could argue that Iran is in fact "harboring" them.
Attacking Iran under the 2002 AUMF, which gave the president power to defend against "the continuing threat posed by Iraq," is even more of a reach. But squaring that kind of circle is what executive branch lawyers are for. As a former Bush administration official told me, "If I had to make the case for war with Iran, I would definitely look to the 2002 authorization. So that's one loophole Congress would want to nail shut." Congress would be prudent to rewrite both AUMFs to explicitly exclude action against Iran.
Of course, Congress has not done that. And now it may be too late -- yet again, the Democrats (and the mainstream media) have been outfoxed by a strategy that was clearly telegraphed months ago. So over the course of today, you may here a lot of blather about "economic sanctions" and what not -- pay it no heed.
This is about one thing, and one thing only:
A prelude to a new war.
A couple of footnotes. If this worst-case scenario does indeed come to pass, how will it play out on the Democratic campaign trail when we're embroiled in a war with Iran that, in essence, was voted for by Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Joe Biden?
Also, for all the mystery surrounding Karl Rove right up to his departure, most observers saw him as at odds with the ultra-hawkish Cheney faction, and "Bush's Brain" was also probably bright enough to realize that a new war isn't great politics for the GOP.So do you think this has anything to do with his sudden resignation?
"Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and last time I checked he was sleeping with your boss" Bob Murray to Mine Inspector
August 14, 2007 08:42 PM
In 2003, when safety inspectors ordered the owner of a Utah coal mine where six workers have been trapped for more than a week to shut down one of his Ohio operations because of repeated safety problems, local press reports say he did not hesitate to flex his political muscle to get the inspectors off his back.
West Virginia Public Radio reporter Jeff Young filed a story at the time that said Murray Energy Corp. CEO Bob Murray had a meeting in Morgantown, W. Va. with Tim Thompson, then a district manager for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Young obtained notes from the meeting which showed Murray threatening to have MSHA employees fired.
"I will have your jobs. They are gone. The clock is ticking," Young quotes Murray as saying at the meeting.
The notes then go on to say Murray dropped the name of a pair of powerful Republicans in order to underscore his own political clout.
"Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and last time I checked he was sleeping with your boss," Murray told the inspectors, referring to the senior GOP senator from Kentucky. The quote was repeated in an Oct. 2006 Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader article on McConnell's political influence.
McConnell - the Republican leader in the Senate - is married to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who oversees MSHA. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McConnell has received $176,800 in campaign donations from mining interests since 2001.
Thompson was later transferred to an office away from Murray's mines, and retired from MSHA in 2006.
The Bush Administration denied that Murray played a role in Thomspon's reassignment.
Murray has personally donated $115,050 to Republican political candidates over the past three election cycles. He has given another $724,500 to the GOP over the past ten years through political action committees connected to his businesses.
"The ironic part is I am a Republican," Thompson told the Herald-Leader's John Cheves in October 2006. "But I don't think you should bring up politics in a meeting like that, involving safety."
A belt foreman at the mine in question - Powhatan No. 6 in Belmont County, Ohio - bled to death in 2001 after a conveyor belt had ripped off his arm.
A judge later ruled that the company had not been negligent in that case.
Murray's safety record has come under fire at several other mines he owns through at least a half dozen mining companies.
Mines owned by Murray's companies produce more than 20 million tons of coal annually, according to a tally by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. His companies include Ohio Valley Coal Co., Maple Creek Mining, Inc., KenAmerican Resources, Inc., American Coal Co. and PennAmerican Coal.
Robert Gehrke at the Salt Lake Tribune reported over the weekend that Murray's Galatia mine in southern Illinois has racked up 2,787 violations over the past two years. MSHA has proposed more than $2.4 million in fines at Galatia, according to Gehrke's reporting.
Another Murray-owned company - Ken American Resources - and four of its top employees were convicted in a federal court in Kentucky of conspiring to violate federal mine safety rules.
A judge later threw out part of the verdict, but the company was ordered to pay $306,000 in fines, an amount federal prosecutors considered too lenient.
Speaking to The Huffington Post last week, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America labor union - which does not represent workers at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah - called Murray a "volatile" personality who routinely opposed increased safety regulations.
"Anything that will cost Bob Murray any extra money he will find reason to find fault with it," said Phil Smith, the union's communications director.
Utah Mine Collapse... 324 Safety Violations... Mine Safety Inspectors Removed at the request of Bob Murray (big Republican contributor)...
Posted August 14, 2007
Why are the New York Times and (So Much of the MSM) Neglecting a Vital Part of the Utah Mine Collapse Story?
Yesterday, while speaking at the Aspen Institute's Forum on Communications and Society, I commented on how the mainstream media have, with a few exceptions, been focusing on only one aspect of the Crandall Canyon Mine tragedy -- the desperate attempt to rescue the trapped miners -- while paying scant attention to investigating the reasons why these miners were trapped in the first place.
I specifically mentioned Sunday's New York Times piece by Martin Stolz, who had been dispatched to Huntington to cover the story. Stolz's report was filled with details about the progress rescuers had made through the collapsed mine (650 ft), and the capabilities of the hi-res camera being lowered into the mine (can pick up images from 100 ft away) -- but not one word about what led to the collapse, including the role retreat mining might have played in it, or the 324 safety violations federal inspectors have issued for the mine since 2004.
The story, like most of the TV coverage, featured Bob Murray, the colorful co-owner of the mine. Stolz painted a picture of Murray emerging from the mine "with a coal-blackened face and in miner's coveralls to discuss the latest finding with the families of the missing miners."
Cue the swelling music and start the casting session. Your mind reflexively begins to wonder who would play Murray in the Crandall Canyon TV movie. Wilfred Brimley? Robert Duvall? Paul Newman?
Of course, Murray's role in all this is much darker than that of the compassionate boss given to delivering script-ready lines like, "Conditions are the most difficult I have seen in my 50 years of mining" and "There are many reasons to have hope still" (as he has been quoted saying in two other Times stories).
He is a politically-connected Big Energy player whose company, Murray Energy Corp., has 19 mines in five states, which have incurred millions of dollars in fines for safety violations over the last 18 months.
Probably won't see that in the TV movie.
So why has so much of the coverage focused on folksy Bob Murray, the stalwart and kindly mine owner, instead of mining mogul Robert Murray, who may have been at least partly responsible for decisions that led to the disaster?
It's because, as Jon Stewart has put it, one of the best ways to deal with members of the media is show them a shiny object over here, which distracts them from investigating the real story over there. And the hopeful, coal-covered, and always camera-ready Murray has been very shiny indeed. Especially when his face is blackened from a recent PR stint down the mine.
Back in Aspen, at a party for conference participants last night, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who had been in the room during my panel, came up to me and told me -- more than a little defensively -- that the Times had in fact reported on the safety violations last Wednesday.
Yes, I replied, but that was a few paragraphs in a single story five days ago. But while the Times has continued to cover the rescue, there was no follow up on the possible causes on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.
During that time, the Times has been thoroughly scooped by the Salt Lake Tribune, which uncovered a memo revealing that there had been serious structural problems at the Crandall Canyon Mine in March -- in an area just 900 feet from the section of the mine that collapsed last week. And even AP did much better than the paper of record. AP reporter Chris Kahn wrote about the role retreat mining -- "a sometimes dangerous mining technique that involves pulling out leftover sections and pillars of coal that hold up the roof of a mine" -- might have played in the collapse.
Despite so many questions left unanswered about the mine's safety and the decisions the mine's owners made, the Times did no follow up. Indeed, New York Times readers -- and shareholders -- would have been better (much better) served if Times editors had spared the expense of sending reporters to Huntington and had just republished the reports from the Salt Lake Tribune and AP.
Instead, last night, Sulzberbger preferred to rationalize away his paper's choices. "I'm told that 324 violations are not a lot," he said to me.
Maybe not if you work in an office on West 43rd Street; but if you make a living by going underground to excavate coal, even one serious safety violation is one too many. And of the 324 violations, 107 were considered, in the words of a federal mine safety agency spokesman, "significant and substantial."
And if, as Sulzberger claimed, 324 violations are not a lot, why not do a story on that -- questioning whether we should be wasting taxpayer money looking for insignificant and insubstantial transgressions?
Let me stress that I am only focusing on the Times because of my exchange with Sulzberger; in fact, most of the MSM's coverage of the tragedy has tilted towards the shiny objects causing them to neglect the issues that might help prevent yet another story about the desperate attempt to rescue yet another group of trapped miners.
So we continue to get cloying coverage like the segment on AC360 last night. This is how Anderson Cooper introduced Murray: "He's really been the public face of this ordeal, keeping the families up to date -- he meets with them once or twice a day -- trying to explain the latest rescue efforts." So Murray got to go all aw shucks: "Mr. Cooper, I appreciate you having me on your program. And I appreciate the interest of all Americans in our tragedy."
But we get precious little on the Murray who had enough political muscle to get a Mine Safety and Health Administration district manager who had cracked down on safety issues at one of Murray's mines reassigned (clearly, contributing $213,000 to Republican candidates over the last ten years, as well as another $724,500 to Republican candidates and causes through political action committees connected to Murray's businesses, has its benefits). The Murray who rails against the United Mine Workers Association, claiming it wants "to damage Murray Energy, Utah American and the United States coal industry for their own motives." The Murray who called Hillary Clinton "anti-American" for saying America needs a president who will fight for workers' rights, and telling a Senate committee this summer that Al Gore and Congressional Democrats are bent on "the destruction of American lives and more death as a result of his hysterical global goofiness with no environmental benefit."
So many angles for the media to pursue -- and that's before we even get to the miners' families. A couple of family members have already spoken out about the fears for the mine's safety circulating in the community prior to the collapse.
If these stories and preliminary reports are right and it is proved that the tragic collapse at Crandall Canyon was caused by the owners' decision to proceed with retreat mining despite concerns about structural safety at the mine, then Mr. Murray should be spending less time talking to reporters, and a lot more time talking to his lawyers.
HuffPost's Max Follmer has more on Bob Murray here.
Petraeus Report TO BE WRITTEN BY THE WHITE HOUSE. These guys don't even FAKE it anymore.
Petraeus is expected to tell Congress that Iraqis can assume duties in some areas, freeing U.S. troops for other uses.
By Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
August 15, 2007
WASHINGTON -- -- Intent on demonstrating progress in Iraq, the top U.S. general there is expected by Bush administration officials to recommend removing American troops soon from several areas where commanders believe security has improved, possibly including Al Anbar province.
According to the officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus is expected to propose the partial pullback in his September status report to Congress, when both the war's critics and supporters plan to reassess its course. Administration officials who support the current troop levels hope Petraeus' recommendations will persuade Congress to reject pressure for a major U.S. withdrawal.
The expected recommendation would authorize U.S. commanders to withdraw troops from places that have become less violent and turn over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.
But it does not necessarily follow that Petraeus would call for reducing the overall number of troops in the country. Instead, he could move them to another hot spot, or use them to create a reserve force to counter any rise in violence.
"That is the form of the recommendation we are anticipating him to come back with," a senior administration official said. But referring to the redeployment options, the official added, "I just don't know which of those categories he is going to be in."
Petraeus has not told the White House where he might recommend reductions. But military commanders have indicated in recent briefings that Nineveh province in northern Iraq and its capital, Mosul, like Al Anbar in the west, could be an area from which it might be suitable for the U.S. to withdraw.
American commanders have found that pulling out too soon and leaving pacified areas to unprepared Iraqi troops can lead to a resurgence of militant activity. In the north, where U.S. officials have reduced the number of combat troops, devastating bomb attacks Tuesday killed at least 175 people.
Tall Afar, a town about 40 miles west of Mosul that had been cited by President Bush as a key U.S. success, has seen a rise in violence since the spring after a period of stability.
Petraeus has been keeping a "close hold" on the recommendations he intends to deliver next month, according to a senior military officer in Baghdad. But the officer said Petraeus wanted to ensure that any moves he made did not cause violence to flare up again.
"He doesn't want to lose the gains we have made," said the military officer who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because the report is still being developed.
Some officials say they expect Petraeus to push for maintaining the current force level for at least six additional months to build upon security improvements in Baghdad.
U.S. force levels reached nearly 162,000 this month, an increase of about 30,000 from the beginning of the year, when the American military's troop buildup began.
Another Defense official, who has been part of Iraq planning but skeptical of the troop increase, said moving forces out of Al Anbar could make sense to the White House, because doing so would enable the administration to show that improved security translates into a reduction in troops.
Cutting the number of troops in Al Anbar would also eliminate the need to request more forces to secure areas around Baghdad, where the U.S. has been focusing much of its military effort.
"If the Marines are having so much success in Al Anbar, maybe we redeploy them to some other hot spot," said the Defense official. Administration officials have cited improved ties with Sunni Arab leaders in Al Anbar with helping reduce violence and curb the power of the insurgents.
Not all military commanders favor reducing the number of troops in more stable areas. In a news conference last month, Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, the commander of U.S. forces in Al Anbar, cautioned against cutting back forces there too quickly.
Gaskin argued that the added forces had allowed the Marines to eliminate havens used by the insurgent group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Iraq.
A "persistent presence" of U.S. forces, he said, would help give Iraqi security forces more experience and confidence, and the ability to keep militants out.
"It takes time to gain experience," he said. "I see that experience happening every day, but I don't see it happening overnight. I believe it's another couple of years in order to get them to do that -- and that's not a political answer, that's a military answer."
But division and brigade commanders in other parts of Iraq have said they anticipate recommending further reductions in the months to come. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon, the American division commander for northern Iraq, said last month that he expected to cut the number of troops in his area, but emphasized that reductions should be made slowly.
The Army 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade has moved soldiers out of combat roles in Mosul and other cities, and into assignments such as full-time advisors with Iraqi units.
Col. Stephen M. Twitty, the brigade commander, said in an interview before the bombings Tuesday that the U.S. combat force in Mosul had been reduced from the size of a division, or nearly 20,000, to that of a battalion, typically about 1,000.
The senior officer in Baghdad said the military was still debating whether Petraeus should make his detailed strategy recommendations to Congress in an open or closed session.
The officer said that though Petraeus would discuss his broad recommendation for adjusting operations, he would avoid detailed public discussion of where he intended to reposition specific brigades.
The officer said Petraeus would not go deeply into detail in an open session.
"The future plan, how he thinks we can move forward, you really do not want to broadcast that to the world," he said.
Administration and military officials acknowledge that the September report will not show any significant progress on the political benchmarks laid out by Congress. How to deal in the report with the lack of national reconciliation between Iraq's warring sects has created some tension within the White House.
Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.
And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report's data.
The senior administration official said the process had created "uncomfortable positions" for the White House because of debates over what constitutes "satisfactory progress."
During internal White House discussion of a July interim report, some officials urged the administration to claim progress in policy areas such as legislation to divvy up Iraq's oil revenue, even though no final agreement had been reached. Others argued that such assertions would be disingenuous.
"There were some in the drafting of the report that said, 'Well, we can claim progress,' " the administration official said. "There were others who said: 'Wait a second. Sure we can claim progress, but it's not credible to . . . just neglect the fact that it's had no effect on the ground.' "
The Defense official skeptical of the troop buildup said he expected Petraeus to emphasize military accomplishments, including improving security in Baghdad neighborhoods and a slight reduction in the number of suicide bomb attacks. But the official said he did not believe such security improvements would translate into political progress or improvements in the daily lives of most Iraqis.
"Who cares how many neighborhoods of Baghdad are secured?" the official said. "Let's talk about the rest of the country: How come they have electricity twice a day, how come there is no running water?"
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Why are there more "private contractors" in Iraq than actual U.S. Troops? 160,000 Troops 200,000 Private Contractors? What the fuck?
Flush with Profits from the Iraq War, Military Contractors See a World of Business Opportunities
The Mercenary Revolution
If you think the U.S. has only 160,000 troops in Iraq, think again.
With almost no congressional oversight and even less public awareness, the Bush administration has more than doubled the size of the U.S. occupation through the use of private war companies.
There are now almost 200,000 private "contractors" deployed in Iraq by Washington. This means that U.S. military forces in Iraq are now outsized by a coalition of billing corporations whose actions go largely unmonitored and whose crimes are virtually unpunished.
In essence, the Bush administration has created a shadow army that can be used to wage wars unpopular with the American public but extremely profitable for a few unaccountable private companies.
Since the launch of the "global war on terror," the administration has systematically funneled billions of dollars in public money to corporations like Blackwater USA , DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Erinys and ArmorGroup. They have in turn used their lucrative government pay-outs to build up the infrastructure and reach of private armies so powerful that they rival or outgun some nation's militaries.
"I think it's extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource its monopoly on the use of force and the use of violence in support of its foreign policy or national security objectives," says veteran U.S. Diplomat Joe Wilson, who served as the last U.S. ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War.
The billions of dollars being doled out to these companies, Wilson argues, "makes of them a very powerful interest group within the American body politic and an interest group that is in fact armed. And the question will arise at some time: to whom do they owe their loyalty?"
Precise data on the extent of U.S. spending on mercenary services is nearly impossible to
obtain - by both journalists and elected officials-but some in Congress estimate that up to 40 cents of every tax dollar spent on the war goes to corporate war contractors. At present, the United States spends about $2 billion a week on its Iraq operations.
While much has been made of the Bush administration's "failure" to build international consensus for the invasion of Iraq, perhaps that was never the intention. When U.S. tanks rolled into Iraq in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of "private contractors" ever deployed in a war. The White House substituted international diplomacy with lucrative war contracts and a coalition of willing nations who provided token forces with a coalition of billing corporations that supplied the brigades of contractors.
'THERE'S NO DEMOCRATIC CONTROL'
During the 1991 Gulf War, the ratio of troops to private contractors was about 60 to 1. Today, it is the contractors who outnumber U.S. forces in Iraq. As of July 2007, there were more than 630 war contracting companies working in Iraq for the United States. Composed of some 180,000 individual personnel drawn from more than 100 countries, the army of contractors surpasses the official U.S. military presence of 160,000 troops.
In all, the United States may have as many as 400,000 personnel occupying Iraq, not including allied nations' militaries. The statistics on contractors do not account for all armed contractors. Last year, a U.S. government report estimated there were 48,000 people working for more than 170 private military companies in Iraq. "It masks the true level of American involvement," says Ambassador Wilson.
How much money is being spent just on mercenaries remains largely classified. Congressional sources estimate the United States has spent at least $6 billion in Iraq, while Britain has spent some $400 million. At the same time, companies chosen by the White House for rebuilding projects in Iraq have spent huge sums in reconstruction funds - possibly billions on more mercenaries to guard their personnel and projects.
The single largest U.S. contract for private security in Iraq was a $293 million payment to the British firm Aegis Defence Services, headed by retired British Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, who has been dogged by accusations that he is a mercenary because of his private involvement in African conflicts. The Texas-based DynCorp International has been another big winner, with more than $1 billion in contracts to provide personnel to train Iraqi police forces, while Blackwater USA has won $750 million in State Department contracts alone for "diplomatic security."
At present, an American or a British Special Forces veteran working for a private security company in Iraq can make $650 a day. At times the rate has reached $1,000 a day; the pay dwarfs many times over that of active duty troops operating in the war zone wearing a U.S. or U.K. flag on their shoulder instead of a corporate logo.
"We got [tens of thousands of] contractors over there, some of them making more than the Secretary of Defense," House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Penn.) recently remarked. "How in the hell do you justify that?" In part, these contractors do mundane jobs that traditionally have been performed by soldiers. Some require no military training, but involve deadly occupations, such as driving trucks through insurgent-controlled territory.
Others are more innocuous, like cooking food or doing laundry on a base, but still court grave risk because of regular mortar and rocket attacks.
These services are provided through companies like KBR and Fluor and through their vast labyrinth of subcontractors. But many other private personnel are also engaged in armed combat and "security" operations. They interrogate prisoners, gather intelligence, operate rendition flights, protect senior occupation officials and, in at least one case, have commanded U.S. and international troops in battle.
In a revealing admission, Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing Bush's troop "surge," said earlier this year that he has, at times, been guarded in Iraq by "contract security." At least three U.S. commanding generals, not including Petraeus, are currently being guarded in Iraq by hired guns. "To have half of your army be contractors, I don't know that there's a precedent for that," says Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating war contractors.
"Maybe the precedent was the British and the Hessians in the American Revolution. Maybe that's the last time and needless to say, they lost. But I'm thinking that there's no democratic control and there's no intention to have democratic control here."
The implications are devastating. Joseph Wilson says, "In the absence of international consensus, the current Bush administration relied on a coalition of what I call the co-opted, the corrupted and the coerced: those who benefited financially from their involvement, those who benefited politically from their involvement and those few who determined that their relationship with the United States was more important than their relationship with anybody else. And that's a real problem because there is no underlying international legitimacy that sustains us throughout this action that we've taken."
Moreover, this revolution means the United States no longer needs to rely on its own citizens to fight its wars, nor does it need to implement a draft, which would have made the Iraq war politically untenable.
'AN ARM OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'
During his confirmation hearings in the Senate this past January, Petraeus praised the role of private forces, claiming they compensate for an overstretched military. Petraeus told the senators that combined with Bush's official troop surge, the "tens of thousands of contract security forces give me the reason to believe that we can accomplish the mission."
Taken together with Petraeus's recent assertion that the surge would run into mid-2009, this means a widening role for mercenaries and other private forces in Iraq is clearly on the table for the foreseeable future.
"The increasing use of contractors, private forces or as some would say 'mercenaries' makes wars easier to begin and to fight - it just takes money and not the citizenry," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, whose organization has sued private contractors for alleged human rights violations in Iraq.
"To the extent a population is called upon to go to war, there is resistance, a necessary resistance to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement, foolish wars and in the case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist wars. Private forces are almost a necessity for a United States bent on retaining its declining empire. Think about Rome and its increasing need for mercenaries."
Privatized forces are also politically expedient for many governments. Their casualties go uncounted, their actions largely unmonitored and their crimes unpunished. Indeed, four years into the occupation, there is no effective system of oversight or accountability governing contractors and their operations, nor is there any effective law - military or civilian being applied to their activities. They have not been subjected to military courts martial (despite a recent congressional attempt to place them under the Uniform Code of Military Justice), nor have they been prosecuted in U.S. civilian courts. And no matter what their acts in Iraq, they cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi courts because in 2004 the U.S. occupying authority granted them complete immunity.
"These private contractors are really an arm of the administration and its policies," argues Kucinich, who has called for a withdrawal of all U.S. contractors from Iraq. "They charge whatever they want with impunity. There's no accountability as to how many people they have, as to what their activities are."
That raises the crucial question: what exactly are they doing in Iraq in the name of the U.S. and U.K. governments? Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which is responsible for reviewing sensitive national security issues, explained the difficulty of monitoring private military companies on the U.S. payroll: "If I want to see a contract, I have to go up to a secret room and look at it, can't take any notes, can't take any notes out with me, you know - essentially, I don't have access to those contracts and even if I did, I couldn't tell anybody about it."
'A MARKETPLACE FOR WARFARE'
On the Internet, numerous videos have spread virally, showing what appear to be foreign mercenaries using Iraqis as target practice, much to the embarrassment of the firms involved. Despite these incidents and the tens of thousands of contractors passing through Iraq, only two individuals have been ever indicted for crimes there. One was charged with stabbing a fellow contractor, while the other pled guilty to possessing child-pornography images on his computer at Abu Ghraib prison.
Dozens of American soldiers have been court-martialed - 64 on murder-related charges alone - but not a single armed contractor has been prosecuted for a crime against an Iraqi. In some cases, where contractors were alleged to have been involved in crimes or deadly incidents, their companies whisked them out of Iraq to safety.
U.S. contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto: "What happens here today, stays here today." International diplomats say Iraq has demonstrated a new U.S. model for waging war; one which poses a creeping threat to global order.
"To outsource security-related, military related issues to non-government, non-military forces is a source of great concern and it caught many governments unprepared," says Hans von Sponeck, a 32-year veteran U.N. diplomat, who served as head of the U.N. Iraq mission before the U.S. invasion.
In Iraq, the United States has used its private sector allies to build up armies of mercenaries many lured from impoverished countries with the promise of greater salaries than their home militaries can pay. That the home governments of some of these private warriors are opposed to the war itself is of little consequence.
"Have gun, will fight for paycheck" has become a globalized law.
"The most worrying aspect is that these forces are outside parliamentary control. They come from all over and they are answerable to no one except a very narrow group of people and they come from countries whose governments may not even know in detail that they have actually been contracted as a private army into a war zone," says von Sponeck.
"If you have now a marketplace for warfare, it is a commercial issue rather than a political issue involving a debate in the countries.
You are also marginalizing governmental control over whether or not this should take place, should happen and, if so, in what size and shape. It's a very worrying new aspect of international relations. I think it becomes more and more uncontrollable by the countries of supply."
In Iraq, for example, hundreds of Chilean mercenaries have been deployed by U.S. companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy, despite the fact that Chile, as a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council, opposed the invasion and continues to oppose the occupation of Iraq. Some of the Chileans are alleged to have been seasoned veterans of the Pinochet era.
"There is nothing new, of course, about the relationship between politics and the economy, but there is something deeply perverse about the privatization of the Iraq War and the utilization of mercenaries," says Chilean sociologist Tito Tricot, a former political prisoner who was tortured under Pinochet's regime.
"This externalization of services or outsourcing attempts to lower costs - third world mercenaries are paid less than their counterparts from the developed world - and maximize benefits. In other words, let others fight the war for the Americans. In either case, the Iraqi people do not matter at all."
NEW WORLD DISORDER
The Iraq war has ushered in a new system. Wealthy nations can recruit the world's poor, from countries that have no direct stake in the conflict, and use them as cannon fodder to conquer weaker nations. This allows the conquering power to hold down domestic casualties - the single-greatest impediment to waging wars like the one in Iraq. Indeed, in Iraq, more than 1,000 contractors working for the U.S. occupation have been killed with another 13,000 wounded. Most are not American citizens, and these numbers are not counted in the official death toll at a time when Americans are increasingly disturbed by casualties.
In Iraq, many companies are run by Americans or Britons and have well-trained forces drawn from elite military units for use in sensitive actions or operations. But down the ranks, these forces are filled by Iraqis and third-country nationals. Indeed, some 118,000 of the estimated 180,000 contractors are Iraqis, and many mercenaries are reportedly ill-paid, poorly equipped and barely trained Iraqi nationals.
The mercenary industry points to this as a positive: we are giving Iraqis jobs, albeit occupying their own country in the service of a private corporation hired by a hostile invading power.
Doug Brooks, the head of the Orwellian named mercenary trade group, the International Peace Operations Association, argued from early on in the occupation, "Museums do not need to be guarded by Abrams tanks when an Iraqi security guard working for a contractor can do the same job for less than one-fiftieth of what it costs to maintain an American soldier. Hiring local guards gives Iraqis a stake in a successful future for their country. They use their pay to support their families and stimulate the economy. Perhaps most significantly, every guard means one less potential guerrilla."
In many ways, it is the same corporate model of relying on cheap labor in destitute nations to staff their uber-profitable operations. The giant multinationals also argue they are helping the economy by hiring locals, even if it's at starvation wages.
"Donald Rumsfeld's masterstroke, and his most enduring legacy, was to bring the corporate branding revolution of the 1990s into the heart of the most powerful military in the world," says Naomi Klein, whose upcoming book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, explores these themes.
"We have now seen the emergence of the hollow army. Much as with so-called hollow corporations like Nike, billions are spent on military technology and design in rich countries while the manual labor and sweat work of invasion and occupation is increasingly outsourced to contractors who compete with each other to fill the work order for the lowest price. Just as this model breeds rampant abuse in the manufacturing sector - with the big-name brands always able to plead ignorance about the actions of their suppliers-so it does in the military, though with stakes that are immeasurably higher." In the case of Iraq, the U.S. and U.K. governments could give the public perception of a withdrawal of forces and just privatize the occupation. Indeed, shortly after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he wanted to withdraw 1,600 soldiers from Basra, reports emerged that the British government was considering sending in private security companies to "fill the gap left behind."
THE SPY WHO BILLED ME
While Iraq currently dominates the headlines, private war and intelligence companies are expanding their already sizable footprint. The U.S. government in particular is now in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in its history. According to a recent report in Vanity Fair, the government pays contractors as much as the combined taxes paid by everyone in the United States with incomes under $100,000, meaning "more than 90 percent of all taxpayers might as well remit everything they owe directly to [contractors] rather than to the [government]."
Some of this outsourcing is happening in sensitive sectors, including the intelligence community. "This is the magnet now. Everything is being attracted to these private companies in terms of individuals and expertise and functions that were normally done by the intelligence community," says former CIA division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman. "My major concern is the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility. The entire industry is essentially out of control. It's outrageous."
RJ Hillhouse, a blogger who investigates the clandestine world of private contractors and U.S. intelligence, recently obtained documents from the Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) showing that Washington spends some $42 billion annually on private intelligence contractors, up from $17.54 billion in 2000. Currently that spending represents 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget going to private companies.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that the current head of the DNI is Mike McConnell, the former chair of the board of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the private intelligence industry's lobbying arm. Hillhouse also revealed that one of the most sensitive U.S. intelligence documents, the Presidential Daily Briefing, is prepared in part by private companies, despite having the official seal of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
"Let's say a company is frustrated with a government that's hampering its business or business of one of its clients. Introducing and spinning intelligence on that government's suspected collaboration with terrorists would quickly get the White House's attention and could be used to shape national policy," Hillhouse argues.
Empowered by their new found prominence, mercenary forces are increasing their presence on other battlefields: in Latin America, DynCorp International is operating in Colombia, Bolivia and other countries under the guise of the "war on drugs" - U.S. defense contractors are receiving nearly half the $630 million in U.S. military aid for Colombia; in Africa, mercenaries are deploying in Somalia, Congo and Sudan and increasingly have their sights set on tapping into the hefty U.N. peacekeeping budget (this has been true since at least the early 1990s and probably much earlier). Heavily armed mercenaries were deployed to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while proposals are being considered to privatize the U.S. border patrol.
Brooks, the private military industry lobbyist, says people should not become "overly obsessed with Iraq," saying his association's "member companies have more personnel working in U.N. and African Union peace operations than all but a handful of countries." Von Sponeck says he believes the use of such companies in warfare should be barred and has harsh words for the institution for which he spent his career working: "The United Nations, including the U.N. Secretary General, should react to this and instead of reacting, they are mute, they are silent."
This unprecedented funding of such enterprises, primarily by the U.S. and U.K. governments, means that powers once the exclusive realm of nations are now in the hands of private companies with loyalty only to profits, CEOs and, in the case of public companies, shareholders. And, of course, their client, whoever that may be. CIA-type services, special operations, covert actions and small-scale military and paramilitary forces are now on the world market in a way not seen in modern history. This could allow corporations or nations with cash to spend but no real military power to hire squadrons of heavily armed and well-trained commandos.
"It raises very important issues about state and about the very power of state. The one thing the people think of as being in the purview of the government - wholly run and owned by - is the use of military power," says Rep. Jan Schakowsky. "Suddenly you've got a for-profit corporation going around the world that is more powerful than states, can effect regime possibly where they may want to go, that seems to have all the support that it needs from this administration that is also pretty adventurous around the world and operating under the cover of darkness.
"It raises questions about democracies, about states, about who influences policy around the globe, about relationships among some countries. Maybe it's their goal to render state coalitions like NATO irrelevant in the future, that they'll be the ones and open to the highest bidder. Who really does determine war and peace around the world?"Jeremy Scahill is author of The New York Times-bestseller "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.". He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute. This article appears in the current issue of The Indypendent newspaper. He can be reached at jeremy(AT)democracynow.org
Monday, August 13, 2007
Karl Rove Resigns. Good Riddance, you parasite.
by Jim Moore at HuffPo
When I first started reporting on Karl Rove in the late 1970s, I was impressed by his singularity of purpose and his willingness to say or do whatever was necessary to succeed. This amorality, a complete lack of concern for right or wrong or harm done, will be his legacy in the American political process. Lives and careers might be destroyed, great institutions compromised, the truth sullied until it is unrecognizable, but all of that will be acceptable collateral damage to Karl as long as he and his party and candidates have won the day.
Nothing has ever mattered to Karl Rove beyond the accumulation of political power. And every move he has made during the political ascension of George W. Bush has been about gathering the kind of influence that is necessary to build a political dynasty. While it is too easy to call him a liar and a cheat, the narrative evidence and the facts leave the conclusion unavoidable. If we were to stipulate that Rove did not conduct the purge of US attorneys or organize and execute the leak of Valerie Plame's name to his old friend Robert Novak, we are left with the question of who in Washington might have put together those schemes. Isn't he the most likely suspect?
The latest suspicions that Rove wasn't just dumping politically incorrect US attorneys but was also indulging in selective prosecutions like the one of former Alabama Governor Don Seligman prompted memories of what happened here in Texas late in 1980s. Two employees of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Pete McRae and Mike Moeller, were drawn into a federal court because a contractor they had hired was, unknown to them, raising political money at the end of his work day while traveling at the state's expense. Of course, that only happens about a thousand times a day in Texas and every other state in the union and nobody has done a better job than Karl Rove of arranging to have his candidates and officeholders travel on taxpayer money for government work and then turn the trip into a fundraiser. Is there a better tool for churning up donations than Air Force One?
Although he has thus far managed to avoid charges, Rove will always be connected with the treasonous act of leaking the name of a CIA agent. People who buy into the notion that it was an accidental slip by Richard Armitage in a conversation with Novak are perpetuating the kind of naiveté that makes Rove's work easier. Armitage had the expertise, political convictions, connections to Novak, and the separation from the White House to make him the perfect person to deliver the information about Ms. Plame. Rove developed the plan and used the zealousness of Vice President Dick Cheney, his myopic attorney David Addington, and Scooter Libby to execute the scheme. While our nation is in a war that is largely a product of Rove-designed deceptions, he leaked the name of an agent who has put her life at risk to protect our country from weapons of mass destruction and he did so for no other reason than silence future critics of the administration and exact revenge. The fact that Karl Rove has not been tried for sedition and treason ought to trouble every American who still believes in those things that have long been held to be good and right and true about our country.
Rove's great mind might have been put to great use. Instead, he has decided to view as an enemy any fellow citizen who doesn't think like him and his party. All of the institutions of our government, like our judicial system, which used to be considered politically sacrosanct, have now been polluted by his political ambitions. Changes in environmental regulations allowing the clear-cutting of forests have been renamed The Healthy Forests Initiative while deregulation of factories discharging dangerous particulates into the air has taken on the Roverian brand of The Blue Skies Initiative. He hides our own complicity in his disgusting work through the manipulation of language and we are comforted and less resistant. We all ought to be ashamed; not just Karl.
People wonder what his future will be and I'd like to think there will be a moment of atonement for Karl but he has not shown a shadow of conscience. He will command great fees for public speaking and is likely to be on retainers to dozens of corporations seeking his influence and insights. Of course, he will write a book and offer his perspective on the Bush administration; he cannot stop himself from spinning. I, however, still believe in the truth and its survivability and am confident history will condemn Rove and view him as a man who divided his own country to win and cared not a scintilla about the consequences of his actions beyond political victory. I have been accused for more than 25 years of overstating Karl's importance and his influence but I am certain history will judge him the most profoundly disturbing political force our country has seen in almost 100 years.The image I see of Karl Rove as he leaves Washington is of a man carrying a gas can and a box of matches as the city burns behind him and yet no one has thought to blame him for the great blaze sundering our democracy. In his parting news conference with the president, Rove readily invoked the name of an Almighty but even this act was hypocritical. He told his friend Bill Israel years ago that he was agnostic and that "he wished he could believe, but he cannot." Karl Rove, though, can turn even religious agnosticism into a political advantage. Were he to eventually confront a judgmental deity, that may be the one place where he will finally discover the justice he has long managed to avoid.
These people are morons:
BAGHDAD, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Years of economic policy mistakes after the fall of Saddam Hussein left unemployed young Iraqis easy targets for recruitment by al Qaeda and other insurgents, a U.S. Defense Department official said on Sunday.
Brinkley said early economic planners had made the understandable mistake of assuming that a free market would rapidly emerge to replace what he described as Saddam's "kleptocracy", and create full employment.
This mistaken assumption led to a series of decisions which "sowed the seeds of economic malaise and fuelled insurgent sympathies" after industrial production collapsed and imports flooded in to replace locally made goods.
Labels: free market fairies
"How Many Dead Americans is Saddam Worth?" - Dick Cheney 1994
By E&P Staff
Published: August 12, 2007 10:20 AM ET
NEW YORK It's not the first time that citizen "investigative journalists" have uncovered some embarrassing, or telling, nugget from the past that apparently remained buried for years. But it has happened again with the posting of a now wildly popular video on YouTube that shows Dick Cheney explaining in 1994 that trying to take over Iraq would be a "bad idea" and lead to a "quagmire."
The people who put it up come from a site called Grand Theft Country, the on-screen source appears to be the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and the date on the screen is April 15, 1994. That looks right, by the age of Cheney.
Posted on Friday, it had received over 100,000 hits by this morning, after being widely-linked around the Web. The transcript of this segment is below.
Cheney had helped direct the Gulf War for President George H.W. Bush. That effort was later criticized for not taking Baghdad and officials like Cheney had to explain why not, for years. Some have charged that this led to an overpowering desire to finish the job after Cheney became vice president in 2001.
Here is the transcript. The YouTube address is at the end.
Q: Do you think the U.S., or U.N. forces, should have moved into Baghdad?
Q: Why not?
A: Because if we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.
Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it -- eastern Iraq -- the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.
It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.
The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families -- it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?
Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.