Thursday, May 31, 2007

Iraq Benchmarks - Actuals

Congress passed a new bill authorizing extra spending on military operations in Iraq, and it's been signed into law. They have not changed at all from the previous version I reviewed here, and it includes the get-out-of-jail-free card for Bush pushed by Sen. Warner.

The benchmarks, from HR 2206, Title 1 section 1314 (b) 1.

There are two noteworthy processes included in the legislation.

One, it requires the Comptroller General to review the benchmarks in parallel with the President. That position is currently held by David M. Walker. He (and the GAO) are independent of the President, he works for Congress and there is at least the potential for an interesting comparison of his answers to the President's.

Second, is this provision in section 1314 (d) :
(d) Redeployment of U.S. Forces From Iraq- The President of the United States, in respecting the sovereign rights of the nation of Iraq, shall direct the orderly redeployment of elements of U.S. forces from Iraq, if the components of the Iraqi government, acting in strict accordance with their respective powers given by the Iraqi Constitution, reach a consensus as recited in a resolution, directing a redeployment of U.S. forces.

That seems like a straightforward requirement that we withdraw or disengage if the Iraqi parliament passes a bill asking us to. I think that is more likely then Congress passing a withdrawal bill.

Gordon Smith supported it. My thoughts on the bill haven't changed, I give credit to Wyden for opposing it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bacevich Op-Ed

Andrew Bacevich, author of many books on foreign policy and father of a son killed in Iraq two weeks ago has an op-ed in the Washington Post (reg. required).
Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check.

New Book Analysis and Notes

I finished reading Paul Boyer's By the Bomb's Early Light. Notes and references here. The book describes a world of people scrambling to catch up with the changes they wrought. Quite relevant today. I don't necessarily recommend reading it straight through- a lot of material from the scientists and other fringe peace groups can be skipped. The best chapters are the first on public reaction and the last on government disinformation. Funny to see that Gen. Groves personally chose Dagwood as the official cartoon character of propaganda.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Iraq Benchmarks

Here are the benchmarks proposed by John Warner. This amendment got shot down, but I'm posting these because there is far too little discussion of what the benchmarks actually ought to be. To put the question differently, what actions should we encourage (or coerce) the Iraq government into pursuing? My comments are in red.


(a) IN GENERAL.--(1) The United States strategy in Iraq, hereafter, shall be conditioned on the Iraqi government meeting benchmarks, as told to members of Congress by the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and reflected in the Iraqi Government's commitments to the United States, and to the international community, including:

(A) Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the Constitutional review; [What, so we can have another national vote? Haven't we established that Iraqi elections contribute nothing to stability? More pictures of purple thumbs do not cut it.]

(B) Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification; [This is meaningless. De-Baathification could mean anything from genocide to total amnesty. What does the U.S. want done with former Baathists? Answer that before you push this.]

(C) Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner; [Because there isn't enough corruption in Iraq, and oil companies aren't making enough money.]

(D) Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions; [What does this mean? How big are the regions? Is this just a sop to the Kurds? Besides the Kurds, are there any regional authorities capable of managing better then the feds?]

(E) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission; provincial elections law; provincial council authorities; and a date for provincial elections; [See comments on (A)]

(F) Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty; [Amnesty can be a useful tool in counter-insurgency. Assuming it's done right, i.e. part of a program that provides jobs and income to former combatants, this could help.]

(G) Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the Constitution of Iraq; [This is clearly NOT something that can be accomplished with legislation.]

(H) Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan; [Huh? I'll give Warner a pass and assume Iraqis will know what he's talking about. I'll even further assume this will somehow encourage insurgents and militias to throw down their weapons and sing Kumbaya.]

(I) Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations; [I think this was supposed to have happened three months ago, but better late then never.]

(J) Providing Iraqi commanders with all authorities to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias; [For the sake of argument, let's assume that currently Iraqi commanders do not have authority to make tactical and operational decisions without political intervention, and that if they had such authority they would use it to pursue all extremists including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Given the overlap between militias and the government at all levels, wouldn't this of necessity require the Iraqi military to launch a coup? We can encourage a coup, it may not even be the worst strategy now, but why exactly would we encourage the Iraqi Government to encourage a coup against itself?]

(K) Ensuring that the Iraqi Security Forces are providing even handed enforcement of the law; [Let's see, a benchmark that cannot be reasonably measured and is no one's responsibility. Yeah, that will work. ]

(L) Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Maliki said ``the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation''; [This makes no sense as written. Assuming it's supposed to mean no amnesty for militias and insurgents, doesn't it directly contradict item F above? ]

(M) Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security; [See comments on (K)]

(N) Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad; [Works for me.]

(O) Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently; [Works for me.]

(P) Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected; [This furthers our objectives by...?]

(Q) Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis; and [This would work if it could be verified that the money wasn't going into someone's pocket. I don't see why we're benchmarking the funding level at all, shouldn't the focus be on ensuring the funds go to the specified purposes?]

(R) Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the ISF. [Seriously? This is a problem so pressing it needs to be addressed in the benchmarks, our last best hope for securing a good outcome in Iraq? See comments on (J).]

Of the proposed benchmarks I saw 4 (F, I, N, O) that were useful, and three that could be useful(D, H, Q). So out of 18 proposed benchmarks 11 are useless or worse.

I think Congress ought to have a debate and resolution defining benchmarks for success before we try to implement them. I think everyone can agree that for benchmarks to work, they need to be

1) Clearly defined.

2) Advance our highest priority objectives in Iraq.

3) Be assigned to specific positions or groups, i.e. national congress, Prime Minister, Leader of ISF, etc.

4) Be measurable.

5) Be achievable by the assigned party.

Is this really such a foreign concept to the Senate?

Gordon Smith Files

Two Iraq votes to add to Smith's record.

First, a vote against cutting off funding for Iraq operations after 3/31/2008.

Impact: If passed it would have been a big step towards actually ending the occupation. No one expected that though. Too many conservative Democrats, and too little trust in Bush to manage the withdrawal or aftermath. So the vote was in essence a platform for Democratic presidential candidates to go on record opposing the war.

Guts: Zero. Smith played the dead fish*.

Second, an alternative funding measure intended to tie Iraq reconstruction funds to benchmarks. Only John Warner amended it so that Bush could arbitrarily ignore it:


(a) LIMITATION.--No funds appropriated or otherwise made available for the ``Economic Support Fund'' and available for Iraq may be obligated or expended unless and until the President of the United States certifies in the report outlined in subsection (2)(b)(1) above and makes a further certification in the report outlined in subsection (2)(b)(4) above that Iraq is making progress on each of the benchmarks set forth in Section 2 above.

(b) WAIVER AUTHORITY.--The President may waive the requirements of this section if he submits to Congress a written certification setting forth a detailed justification for the waiver, which shall include a detailed report describing the actions being taken by the Unites States to bring the Iraqi government into compliance with the benchmarks set forth in Section 2 above, The certification shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex,

Impact: Benchmarks are one of the strategies intended to improve Iraq. The concept is that by tying the performance of the Iraq government to reconstruction funds, the Iraqis will 'stand up'. If that sounds like someone using an analogy to cover up ill-conceived strategy, give yourself a cigar. With respect to Warner giving Bush an escape clause, really, was that necessary? Like Bush wasn't going to put that in a signing statement? Who says appeasement is a dirty word? Sadly, Smith voted for the amendment.

Guts: -10. A bill only a dead and rotting fish could love.

Not a good day for Smith

*Dead fish is a term coined by Bill Fleckenstein to describe stock analysts who just go with the flow. I think it quite accurately describes the Republican congress of the Bush years.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Recommended Podcast

Podcast of the week: Robert Hormats speaking to the Carnegie Council about his book, The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars. Hormats thesis is that how America pays for war matters.

Past conflicts were funded by bond drives, higher taxes or cuts in entitlement spending. Either way, civilians were forced to engage or sacrifice for the war. This morale element is as important as the actual finances. When an income tax targeting the wealthy was imposed in the Union during the Civil War it was not expected to provide significant revenue. It was expected to ameliorate strife between the lower classes which provided the bulk of soldiers and the upper classes which did not. In a long and painful conflict morale can be the difference between success and failure.

To date American civilians have not contributed in a meaningful way to the war in Iraq. Instead of belt tightening Bush sent everyone a check for $300 and told us to go shopping. Five years into the war it is still being funded through slap-dash emergency measures. They are not part of the regular budget, making it impossible to compare or prioritize spending much less balance the budget. The emergency war funding is a testament to Bush's unwillingness or inability to think long term.

Beyond Bush, the question of war funding is useful in assessing the 2008 presidential candidates. It's a simple question that says a lot about how seriously candidates will handle responsibility.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New Book Analysis and Notes

I read the essay by Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power. My extended comments are here. I can remember people lauding this as fine analysis. History has not been kind to it or the philosophy that backed it, and after reading it I see why.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

New book

I couldn't find the Willis book at the library, so I backed up. Am currently reading By the Bomb's Early Light, by Paul Boyer. I remember this book from college, not because I read it but because it seemed like everyone I knew had it on their coffee table. The hip 80's cover stood out.

I picked it up from a reference by Stewart Udall's Myths of August. As I recall, many of Udall's citations for whacked out projects (atomic airplane, nuclear dynamite, rearranging the Mediterranean Sea) came from this book.

My first-first thought after a couple chapters is that the bomb had a 9/11 type effect on America, people were terrified that the end of the world was nigh. Remarkable considering we had a monopoly on the technology and had just used it to liquidate an enemy.

My second-first thought is that the cold war could be interpreted as America's response to the USSR's rejection of American hegemony, a hegemony the U.S. sought in desperation out of fear of the bomb. With the end of the cold war people took it for granted that the threat had passed. Then 9/11, and we party like it's 1945.

Friday, May 4, 2007

New Book Analysis and Notes

Finished reading Every War Must End. My notes and analysis here. In short, the book is brilliant and everyone should read it.

The first follow up book I'd like to read is the Willis book referenced on the failure of British democracy during WWI. How relevant is that today?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Good Quote

From "Every War Must End" page 61

The English language is without a word of equally strong opprobrium to designate acts that can lead to the destruction of one's government and one's country, not by fighting too little, but by fighting too much or too long. "Adventurism" - much too weak a word - is perhaps the best term to describe this "treason of the hawks."
The more I read this book the more mind-boggling it is that Ikle ran with neocons.