The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.
And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.
Today’s News — and Some History
The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refueling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.
A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.
Iraq Redux (Yet Again)
On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.
In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now a de facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.
And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.
You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidi people from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?) The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandoned four key northern cities to Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.
Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.
The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.
At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of the Libyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.
The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.
Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. As a start, in 2003 the United States eliminated Iran’s major border threats: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the west and the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east. (The Taliban are back of course, but diligently focused on America’s puppet Afghan government.) The long slog of Washington’s wars in both those countries dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for yet more of the same, and cooled off Bush-era plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (After all, if even Vice President Dick Cheney couldn’t pull the trigger on Iran before leaving office in 2008, who in 2015 America is going to do so?)
Better yet for the Iranians, when Saddam was hanged in 2006, they not only lost an enemy who had invaded their country in 1980, launching a bitter war against them that didn’t end for eight years, but gained an ally in the new Iraq. As U.S. influence withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi elections to produce a broadly representative government, Iran stepped in to broker a thoroughly partisan settlement leading to a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad bent on ensuring that the country’s minority Sunni population would remain out of power forever. The Obama administration seemed nearly oblivious to Iran’s gains in Iraq in 2010 — and seems so again in 2015.
Iran in Iraq
In Tikrit, Iranian-led Shia forces recently drove the Islamic State from the city. In charge was Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Qods Force (a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards), who had previously led the brutally effective efforts of Iranian special forces against U.S. soldiers in Iraq War 2.0. He returned to that country and assembled his own coalition of Shia militias to take Tikrit. All of them have long benefited from Iranian support, as has the increasingly Shia-dominated Iraqi army.
In addition, the Iranians seem to have brought in their own tanks and possibly even ground troops for the assault on the city. They also moved advanced rocket systems into Iraq, the same weapons Hamas has used against Israel in recent conflicts.
Only one thing was lacking: air power. After much hemming and hawing, when it looked like the assault on Tikrit had been blunted by well-dug-in Islamic State fighters in a heavily booby-trapped city, the Obama administration agreed to provide it.
On the U.S. side, the air of desperation around the decision to launch air strikes on Tikrit was palpable. You could feel it, for instance, in this statement by a Pentagon spokesperson almost pleading for the Iraqi government to favor Washington over Tehran: “I think it’s important that the Iraqis understand that what would be most helpful to them is a reliable partner in this fight against IS. Reliable, professional, advanced military capabilities are something that very clearly and very squarely reside with the coalition.”
Imagine if you had told an American soldier — or general — leaving Iraq in 2011 that, just a few years later in the country where he or she had watched friends die, the U.S. would be serving as Iran’s close air support. Imagine if you had told him that Washington would be helping some of the same Shia militias who planted IEDs to kill Americans go after Sunnis — and essentially begging for the chance to do so. Who would’ve thunk it?
The Limits of Air Power 101
The White House no doubt imagined that U.S. bombs would be seen as the decisive factor in Tikrit and that the sectarian government in Baghdad would naturally come to… What? Like us better than the Iranians?
Bizarre as such a “strategy” might seem on the face of it, it has proven even stranger in practice. The biggest problem with air power is that, while it’s good at breaking things, it isn’t decisive. It cannot determine who moves into the governor’s mansion after the dust settles. Only ground forces can do that, so a victory over the Islamic State in Tikrit, no matter what role air strikes played, can only further empower those Iranian-backed Shia militias. You don’t have to be a military expert to know that this is the nature of air power, which makes it all the more surprising that American strategists seem so blind to it.
As for liking Washington better for its helping hand, there are few signs of that. Baghdad officials have largely been silent on America’s contribution, praising only the “air coverage of the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.” Shia militia forces on the ground have been angered by and scornful of the United States for — as they see it — interfering in their efforts to take Tikrit on their own.
The victory in that city will only increase the government’s reliance on the militias, whom Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi now refers to as “popular volunteers,” rather than the still-limited number of soldiers the Americans have so far been capable of training. (The Pentagon might, by the way, want to see if Iran can pass along any training tips, as their militias, unlike the American-backed Iraqi army, seem to be doing just fine.) That also means that the government will have no choice but to tolerate the Shia militia atrocities and acts of ethnic cleansing that have already taken place in Sunni Tikrit and will surely follow in any other Sunni areas similarly “liberated.” Claims coming out of Washington that the U.S. will be carefully monitoring the acts of Iraqi forces ring increasingly hollow.
What Tikrit has, in fact, done is solidify Iran’s influence over Prime Minister al-Abadi, currently little more than the acting mayor of Baghdad, who claimed the victory in Tikrit as a way to increase his own prestige. The win also allows his Shia-run government to seize control of the ruins of that previously Sunni enclave. And no one should miss the obvious symbolism that lies in the fact that the first major city retaken from the Islamic State in a Sunni area is also the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.
The best the Obama administration can do is watch helplessly as Tehran and Baghdad take their bows. A template has been created for a future in which other Sunni areas, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and Sunni cities in Anbar Province will be similarly retaken, perhaps with the help of American air power but almost certainly with little credit to Washington.
Iran in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen
Tehran is now playing a similarly important role in other places where U.S. policy stumbles have left voids, particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
In Syria, Iranian forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Qods Force, and their intelligence services, advise and assist Bashar al-Assad’s military. They also support Hezbollah elements from Lebanon fighting on Assad’s side. At best, Washington is again playing second fiddle, using its air power against the Islamic State and training “moderate” Syrian fighters, the first of whom refused to even show up for their initial battle.
In Yemen, a U.S.-supported regime, backed by Special Forces advisers and a full-scale drone targeted assassination campaign, recently crumbled. The American Embassy was evacuated in February, the last of those advisers in March. The takeover of the capital, Sana’a, and later significant parts of the rest of the country by the Houthis, a rebel Shiite minority group, represents, in the words of one Foreign Policy writer, “a huge victory for Iran… the Houthis’ decision to tie their fate to Tehran’s regional machinations risks tearing Yemen apart and throwing the country into chaos.”
The panicked Saudis promptly intervened and were quickly backed by the Obama administration’s insertion of the United States in yet another conflict by executive order. Relentless Saudi air strikes (perhaps using some of the $640 million worth of cluster bombs the U.S. sold them last year) are supported by yet another coalition, this time of Sudan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni powers in the region. The threat of an invasion, possibly using Egyptian troops, looms. The Iranians have moved ships into the area in response to a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen.
No matter what happens, Iran will be strengthened. Either it will find itself in a client relationship with a Houthi movement that has advanced to the Saudi border or, should they be driven back, a chaotic state in Yemen with an ever-strengthening al-Qaeda offshoot. Either outcome would undoubtedly discombobulate the Saudis (and the Americans) and so sit well with Iran.
To make things even livelier in a fragmenting region, Sunni rebels infiltrating from neighboring Pakistan recently killed eight Iranian border guards. This probably represented a retaliatory attack in response to an earlier skirmish in which Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed three suspected Pakistani Sunni militants. Once started, fires do tend to spread.
For those keeping score at home, the Iranians now hold significant positions in three Middle Eastern countries (or at least fragments of former countries) in addition to Iraq.
Iran Ascending and the Nuclear Question
Iran is well positioned to ascend. Geopolitically, alone in the region it is a nation that has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically stable and religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, Iran has seen evolving democratic electoral transitions at the secular level. Politically, history is on Iran’s side. If you set aside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and put the U.S.-backed Shah in power for a quarter of a century, Iran has sorted out its governance on its own for some time.
Somehow, despite decades of sanctions, Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, has managed to hold its economy together, selling what oil it can primarily to Asia. It is ready to sell more oil as soon as sanctions lift. It has a decent conventional military by local standards. Its young reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. Unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one — 36 years ago.
Recently, the U.S., Iran, and the P5 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) reached a preliminary agreement to significantly constrain that country’s nuclear program and lift sanctions. It appears that both the Obama administration and Tehran are eager to turn it into an official document by the end of June. A deal isn’t a deal until signed on the dotted line, and the congressional Republicans are sharpening their knives, but the intent is clearly there.
To keep the talks on track, by the end of June the Obama administration will have released to the Islamic Republic a total of $11.9 billion in previously frozen assets, dating back to the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In addition to the straight-up flood of cash, the U.S. agreed that Iran may sell $4.2 billion worth of oil, free from any sanctions. The U.S. will also allow Iran approximately $1.5 billion in gold sales, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.” Put another way, someone in Washington wanted this badly enough to pay for it.
For President Obama and his advisers, this agreement is clearly a late grasp (or perhaps last gasp) at legacy building, and maybe even a guilty stab at justifying that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The urge to etch some kind of foreign policy success into future history books that, at the moment, threaten to be grim reading is easy enough to understand. So it should have surprised no one that John Kerry, Obama’s once globetrotting secretary of state, basically took up residence in Switzerland to negotiate with the Iranians. He sat at the table in Lausanne bargaining while Tikrit burned, Syria simmered, his country was chased out of Yemen, and the Saudis launched their own war in that beleaguered country. That he had hardly a word to say about any of those events, or much of anything else going on in the world at the time, is an indication of just how much value the Obama administration puts on those nuclear negotiations.
For the Iranians, trading progress on developing nuclear weapons for the full-scale lifting of sanctions was an attractive offer. After all, its leaders know that the country could never go fully nuclear without ensuring devastating Israeli strikes, and so lost little with the present agreement while gaining much. Being accepted as a peer by Washington in such negotiations only further establishes their country’s status as a regional power. Moreover, a nuclear agreement that widens any rift between the U.S., Israel, and the Saudis plays to Tehran’s new strength. Finally, the stronger economy likely to blossom once sanctions are lifted will offer the nation the possibility of new revenues and renewed foreign investment. (It’s easy to imagine Chinese businesspeople on Orbitz making air reservations as you read this.) The big winner in the nuclear deal is not difficult to suss out.
What Lies Ahead
In these last months, despite the angry, fearful cries and demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saudi royals, and neo- and other conservatives in Congress, Iran has shown few signs of aspiring to the sort of self-destruction going nuclear would entail. (If Iran had created a bomb every time Netanyahu claimed they were on the verge of having one in the past two decades, Tehran would be littered with them.) In fact, trading mushroom clouds with Israel and possibly the U.S. never looked like an appealing goal to the Iranian leadership. Instead, they preferred to seek a more conventional kind of influence throughout the Middle East. They were hardly alone in that, but their success has been singular in the region in these years.
The U.S. provided free tutorials in Afghanistan and Iraq on why actually occupying territory in the neighborhood isn’t the road to such influence. Iran’s leaders have not ignored the advice. Instead, Iran’s rise has been stoked by a collection of client states, aligned governments, sympathetic and/or beholden militias, and — when all else fails — chaotic non-states that promise less trouble and harm to Tehran than to its various potential enemies.
Despite Iran’s gains, the U.S. will still be the biggest kid on the block for years, possibly decades, to come. One hopes that America will not use that military and economic strength to lash out at the new regional power it inadvertently helped midwife. And if any of this does presage some future U.S. conflict with an Iran that has gotten “too powerful,” then we shall have witnessed a great irony, a great tragedy, and a damn waste of American blood and resources.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Here’s one of those “Now what could possibility go wrong?” stories.
Drones for Everyone
Reversing years of restricted sales of America’s robot drone killers, the Obama administration announced it will begin allowing sales of armed drones to some friendly and allied countries. Until now, only the UK has been allowed to purchase armed drones, though select other countries have bought unarmed craft.
The change comes as China begins exporting its own drones. Sales of drones could be worth billions to American companies.
In the published policy, the State Department (which ostensibly controls arms export policy but hah hah) did not specify which countries would be considered for armed drone sales, but unnamed officials told U.S. media previous requests by Italy and Turkey would be considered. The United Arab Emirates is also being considered, though only for the unarmed versions which could never at all in no way be modified to carry weapons, no siree.
But don’t worry, because the State Department sales rules have safeguards against drone misuse built right in:
– Countries purchasing drones must sign agreements that the aircraft will only be used for military campaigns and not to, say, wipe out political opponents;
— Certain drones capable of carrying a payload of 500kg (1,100lb) will still be barred from export except under undefined “highly unusual circumstances.”
— The recipient will be required to use drones in accordance with international law (hilarious given how the U.S. does not follow international law in its own drone use);
— Drone owners must promise not use the aircraft “to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations.”
So that’s all covered. Or maybe not. The full rules for drone sales are classified.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The flow of money from foreign governments seeking influence over Candidate/President Hillary Clinton continues at a steady pace; get used to it folks, it could be a long eight years of influence-buying.
And have you money ready people, and step right up! No need to push and shove, there’s enough sleaze available for everyone!
We start with the most current example, a $1 million donation from OCP, a phosphate exporter owned by Morocco’s leaders, to hold a high-profile conference next month in Marrakech. According to Clinton Foundation records, OCP previously donated between $1 million and $5 million to the charity in 2013.
The OCP firm’s CEO is Mostafa Terrab, who also lobbied on behalf of the Kingdom of Morocco in 2013 and 2014, according to Justice Department records. Terrab filed papers under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act showing that he worked for Morocco between November 2013 and May 2014, advising Moroccan government officials and helping them prepare for meetings with U.S. officials about economic development issues relating to Africa.
Hillary is currently still scheduled to appear at what is called the Clinton Global Initiative Middle East and Africa Meeting, on May 5-7. Even if Hillary bows out, Bill and Chelsea will join Moroccan King Mohammed. Who else is expected? Executives from OCP and Coca-Cola, as well as the presidents of Rwanda and Tanzania, and senior officials from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Who are these nice folks Hillary will be hanging out with? The president of Rwanda, according to Human Rights Watch, heads a country where “freedom of expression and association remain tightly controlled. The government obstructed opposition parties and independent civil society organizations, and threatened its critics. Parliamentary elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for the ruling party, with no meaningful challenge. The leadership of one of the last remaining independent human rights organizations was taken over by pro-government elements.”
Given Hillary’s campaign meme of support for women and girls, she probably already knows that “child marriage in Tanzania limits girls’ access to education and exposes them to serious harm. Human Rights Watch documented cases in which girls as young as seven were married.”
At least everyone will have plenty to talk about as they stand around counting the money.
So how’d the Clinton’s get hooked up with all these nice folks? OCP, the company who shelled out the $1 million on behalf of the government of Morocco, was connected with the Clinton Foundation by longtime Clinton supporter Stuart Eizenstat, of the powerhouse law firm Covington and Burling, which represents OCP in Washington.
Eizenstat is a major Democratic donor who maxed out to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and gives generously himself to the Clinton Foundation. And small world — During Clinton’s State Department years, OCP paid a team led by Eizenstat $760,000 to lobby federal agencies. Eizenstat previously served as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, among other jobs, in the Bill Clinton administration. Oh, and remember Coca Cola, who’ll be at the conference? Eizenstat sits on their International Advisory Board.
Colombian Oil Money
According to International Business Times, as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed reports of labor violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011 (the photo shows Clinton on a visit to Colombia as Secretary), urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded with silence. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.
At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation.
IBT claims after millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation, supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself, Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact.
Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton promoted it as Secretary of State, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.
The examples of Morocco and Colombia are only the most recent; read more about the way money flows from foreign governments and corporate donors through the Clinton charities.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The American reconstruction campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have, and continue, to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on pointless projects seemingly designed solely to funnel money into the pockets of U.S. government contractors.
These projects (Iraq War examples are detailed in my book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People seem to bounce between the merely pointless, such as dams that are never completed and roads to nowhere, to the absurdly pointless.
One ongoing theme under the absurdly pointless category has been the “empowerment of women.” In both countries, the U.S. has acted on the assumption that the women there want to throw off their hijabs and burkas and become entrepreneurs, if… only… they knew how. Leaving aside the idea that many women throughout the Middle East and beyond prefer the life they have been living for some 2000 years before the arrival of the United States, the empowerment concept has become a standard.
However you may feel about these things, and the programs are in some part designed as “feel good” but cynical gestures to domestic American politics, the way “empowerment” is implemented is absurd. Lacking any meaningful ideas, women are “empowered” by holding endless rounds of training sessions, seminars, roundtables and hotel gatherings where Western experts are flown in laden with Powerpoint slides to preach the gospel. Over time, in my personal experience in Iraq at least, these proved so unpopular that the only way we could draw a crowd (so we could take pictures to send to our bosses) was to offer a nice, free lunch and to pay “taxi fare” far in excess of any reasonable transportation costs; bribes.
One Army colonel I worked with was so into the goals of the program that he called these things “chick events.”
Women’s Empowerment in Afghanistan
So much for Iraq. How’s it going for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan?
Not well, at least according to the latest report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Some highlights from that report include an inquiry into USAID’s Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), which has been highlighted as USAID’s largest women’s empowerment program in the world. Promote has left SIGAR with a number of “troubling concerns and questions,” to wit:
–SIGAR is concerned that some very basic programmatic issues remain unresolved and that the Afghan women engaged in the program may be left without any tangible benefit upon completion. SIGAR is also concerned about whether USAID will be able to effectively implement, monitor, and assess the impact of Promote.
–Many of SIGAR’s concerns echo those of Afghanistan’s First Lady. To quote Mrs. Ghani, “I do hope that we are not going to fall again into the game of contracting and sub-contracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else.”
–Promote has been awarded to three contractors: Chemonics International, Development Alternatives, Inc., and Tetra Tech, Inc. The overall value of the contracts is $416 million, of which USAID is funding $216 million and other—still unidentified—international donors are expected to fund $200 million.
–USAID does not have any memoranda of understanding between any of the three Promote contractors and the Afghan government.
Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
We’ve shared with you that of the 425 large corporate donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Wall Street Journal found 60 of those donors lobbied the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure.
We’ve shared with you how Candidate Clinton, who cites the rights of women as a cornerstone of her campaign, accepted millions through her charities from governments who oppress women.
We’ve also shared how Clinton lied about her promise to disclose her donors, and how she would have the State Department review things and then did not.
We have even offered up Bill’s explanation about why all this was somehow “OK.”
Meet Your Little Sis
But you said “Oh, pish-posh.” You wanted someone to draw you a picture. And now someone has.
Little Sis is a database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations. Their goal is to bring transparency to influential social networks by tracking the relationships among politicians, business leaders, lobbyists, financiers, and their affiliated institutions. In other words, they try and follow the money.
So here’s the Little Sis interactive graphic of the flow of money between corporations that lobbied the State Department, contributions to the various Clinton charities, and the nice things Hillary did as Secretary of State on behalf of those generous donors. It’s just like when you give $25 to PBS; you get a tote bag and they buy up more episodes of Downton Abbey.
Use the + and – buttons in the upper left hand corner to scroll around. If the graphic is too small as it is embedded here, jump over to the Little Sis site and see it full-size.
But He Does it Too!
Someone out there is saying “But ________ does it too!”
There is probably some, or even a lot, of truth there. Politics in America is controlled by money in America. But of course none of that, however accurate, makes it right.
I think also that since everyone does it, it may then be important to look another level deeper, to how they do it. What is clear is that the Clinton candidacy is built on a global network of organizations (“charities”) that act as fronts and cut-outs to move large sums of money between wealthy corporate and foreign government donors who benefit from being nice to one or more of the Clinton’s. Apart from any good work the Clinton charities may or may not accomplish, they seem to have at least a secondary purpose as a huge money funnel.
See, there’s crime, there’s organized crime, and there’s big league, global organized Bond-villain crime. That might help in sorting out how to think in an age when everyone commits crimes.
Please note that the files, including emails sent and received, for WeMeantWell.com, as well as The We Meant Well Foundation and the Peter, Hillary and Miley Global Initiative and Crime Syndicate, are maintained on a private server unguarded by pretty much anyone except this one dude who comes in Tuesdays and Thursdays.
As such, all such files, should they in fact exist, are private property and not subject to any existing disclosure laws or regulations, should those exist. Since I forgot to sign any release forms when leaving the Department of State, the eight bazillion gigabytes of files that stuck to the bottom of my shoe as I was frog-marched out of the building are also not subject to disclosure. Those files are now held in a paper bag in the former Benghazi Consulate and Shoulder-to-Air Missile Emporium. Since as of 2012 that facility is no longer U.S. property, they are not subject to Congressional subpoena. If Trey Gowdy freaking wants them, he can go to Libya himself and demand them from the militias there.
However, in the interest of full disclosure, I have instructed my intern, who unfortunately does not read English, to carefully review every file in my possession and turn over to the Department of State any she finds that are work-related. How you want to play this is up to you– either she’ll learn English first before getting right to work, or we’ll just shred the files. Either way, don’t expect jack sh*t out of me.
Sorry, my lawyer just advised me to rephrase that. The review process will be robust, ongoing, and comprehensive.
Quick Note: Any State Department folks reading this, I sorta left something behind when I last left the office. It is stuffed between my old desk and the wall, a manila folder marked “Stuff I Gave to Wikileaks.” It’s next to the “Snowden” things. I don’t need those, they’re on the web now. If you could grab the Wikileaks thingie for me, I’ll buy coffee!
There’s a point where the game has been decided, and the teams are just running down the clock. We’re there with Hillary. She won.
A Largely Ceremonial Position
In 2008 some deal with the Obama campaign landed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. It was the perfect platform for her to work from toward 2016, when she expects to be selected as president of the United States. Secretaries of State these days are not really expected to do much, not like the old days. Most foreign policy is run out of the White House directly, and with communications as they are the president just interacts directly with foreign leaders as he choses.
In such a largely ceremonial position, Clinton was able to keep herself in the public eye, creating B-roll footage for her 2016 campaign in exotic locales, making “fun” memes like “Texts from Hillary,” running up some faux foreign affairs credibility and achieving “accomplishments” on soft, feel-good, working on can’t go wrong issues like stopping AIDS, helping poor kids and empowering women. None of those things ever really end, so you are always moving forward and can’t really fail. It’s all about progress.
Let’s go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and quote Hillary Herself, from a speech summing up her own version of accomplishments as “…hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.”
Her Greatest Accomplishment
We now know that Hillary was working the biggest accomplishment of her tenure at the State Department behind the scenes: eliminating any hint of a politically-dangerous or embarrassing paper trail by using her own personal email server, perhaps alone in the Federal government. This is evil genius at a Bond-villain level.
Clinton maintained 100 percent control over everything she wrote, and, with the State Department’s conveniently antiquated policy of not archiving its own senior officials’ record communications, everything that was written to her. For the most sensitive communications, between Hillary and her personal aides, she controlled every aspect of the process. Her server, her email addresses, no outsiders.
When she left the State Department, everything left with her. When no one asked about the emails for a couple of years, Hillary just held on to them. When someone did ask, she culled out her choice of what constituted official messaging, consulting no one outside her own inner circle, and then delivered those to the State Department on paper. No metadata.
When Congressional committees and the media came looking for the official messages, Clinton referred them to the State Department, where the emails were supposedly going to be “reviewed,” perhaps for a very long time. Any release or withholding would come from State; Hillary could stand back and call for “full disclosure” knowing a) only what she already selected could ever be disclosed and b) even that will take a long time, nothing she could do about it, check with Foggy Bottom.
She Nuked the Email Server
Then the final stroke of brilliance. We learned only on March 28 that after selecting the emails to turn over to State, Clinton nuked her email server and any backups. Congress and the media can subpoena and FOIA from now until the end of time, but there is nothing to seek. It. Is. All. Gone.
“Thus, there are no email@example.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized,” her attorney said in a letter to the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
Bonus points to Clinton: Before having her lawyer announce the server was blanked back in 2014, she obtained a two-week extension on the 2015 subpoena asking for its contents, you know, just to mess with Congress, let ‘em know who’s the boss. FYI: There is speculating that the server was only nuked recently, after Clinton’s March press conference.
And oh yes, at her one and done tell-all press conference about the email issue, Clinton never mentioned she had had the server wiped clean three months earlier. Cleverly, she said only that the emails she did not turn over to State would remain “private.” And indeed they will.
Computer hackers of the world: you can bet your stash of black T-shirts that when the decision was made in December to get rid of the emails, someone with a suitcase of cash showed up wherever the server and the backups where and purchased the physical hard drives and tapes. Those rest, in small pieces, at the bottom of the Potomac.
You Have No Other Choice
So there you have it. Heading into the campaign, all anyone will know of Hillary’s four years as Secretary of State is what she wants us to know. The photo ops she scheduled, the communications she chose for you to know about, nothing more. And with the emails deleted, there is not a thing anyone can do about it. There never can be a smoking gun, should one ever have allegedly existed.
The whole thing was planned from Day One, six years ago, just for this moment. It represents a giant, cynical, raised middle finger to the concept of open government and democracy. You see what she wants you to see, know what she wants you to know. You have no other choice. Hillary Clinton got exactly what she planned to get.
So how’s that war on terror going? Well, it may not be very successful in actually stopping any terrorism, but it sure as hell has been profitable for America’s arms manufacturers. I was on Chinese CCTV recently to discuss the issue.
State Department spokesdrone Jen Psaki is now just straight out making things up to explain away the questions surrounding Clinton and her email, and the State Department’s complicity.
Her “misstatements” can now be debunked with a click of a mouse, which we will do in a moment.
The devil is in the details on these things, as no one expects to find a notarized document that reads “Yes, I did it all to hide embarrassing stuff from the Freedom of Information Act because dammit it is my turn to be president, signed, Hillary”).
So let’s drill down.
The OF-109 Form
Outgoing State Department personnel are required to sign a statement called an OF-109. I signed one when I retired from the State Department.
Though the possibility exists some folks get out the door without signing for whatever reason, mostly negligence, I can find no stated exceptions to having to sign. The document is straightforward; read it here. Basically it says you turned over “all [classified and] unclassified documents and papers relating to the official business of the Government acquired by me while in the employ of the Department or USIA.” The rest has to do with acknowledging you understand disclosure laws relating to those documents.
Clinton, somewhat infamously, never signed an OF-109. Had she done so, she would have committed perjury, at the minimum, because as we now know she did not turn over her emails upon exiting the job. She did not do what every other outgoing State Department person is required to do. Clinton has a large staff, and no doubt had the attention of State’s HR people, so it seems there was near zero chance her not signing was some mere oversight.
What Jen Psaki Said
But here’s what Jen Psaki said instead of all that:
The State Department spokesperson also explained why Clinton would not have signed the OF-109 separation statement. Psaki said that former secretaries of state “want to remain accessible” to future secretaries and presidents, which is why they maintain their security clearance. Psaki added that former secretaries may also want access to their files for future books.
See, none of that is true. Signing the OF-109 has nothing at all to do with retaining one’s security clearance. That is a fully separate, independent process. Signing the OF-109 has nothing at all to do with remaining accessible to future secretaries and presidents. Signing the OF-109 has nothing to do with accessing files for future books. As a private citizen, Clinton has no more special access to State Department files than you do.
It was all a lie. Psaki is the spokesperson. She has been asked about this matter numerous times, and has the full resources of the State Department behind her to research an answer. There is near zero chance she was uninformed. She just lied.
But It’s Just Some Form
One true thing Psaki did say was “that there has long been a responsibility placed on the outgoing employee to account for his or her emails.” Indeed. That accountability is embedded in the OF-109 form; that’s where the outgoing employee certifies she has done what she is required to do.
Of course signing or not signing the form does not change the underlying law and regulation requiring outgoing personnel to turn over their stuff, so there is also that independent of the form itself.
In rebuttal you will no doubt hear someone say “Yeah, yeah, it’s just another government form, so let’s focus on the important stuff.” This is the important stuff. Judging character, honesty and intent requires understanding the details.
BONUS: Sounds like somebody is leaning forward hoping for that sweet, sweet White House spokesperson job in 2016. Also, an unexplored side of all this is the complicity of the State Department in Clinton’s email “issues.” State allowed her to operate outside its rules and regulations, perhaps outside the law, for four years.
Negotiations require some back and forth, demonstrations of good will and good intent, and massive pay offs.
The Obama administration in January handed over $490 million in cash to Iran, and will have released a total of $11.9 billion to the Islamic Republic by the time nuclear talks are scheduled to end in June, according to the State Department. The January release is the third such payment. The release of funds was agreed to by the Obama administration in November as part of another extension in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran will receive an additional ten payments from the United States through June 22, when talks are currently scheduled to end.
Iran received $4.2 billion in similar payments under the 2013 interim agreement with the United States, and was then given another $2.8 billion by the Obama administration last year in a bid to keep Iran committed to the talks through November, when negotiators parted ways without reaching an agreement. The deal also gives Iran access to $4.2 billion from oil sales, with approximately $1.5 billion more from imports of gold and other precious metals, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.”
The money does not come from taxpayers’ pockets, but rather represents Iranian assets frozen in the U.S. as part of various sanctions imposed on Tehran. Most of the money was frozen in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that saw Iranians storm the U.S. Embassy and capture 52 American hostages.
Not everyone outside of Tehran is happy about the arrangement. Some Republican lawmakers tried, but failed, to pass legislation last year to prevent the release of cash due to a lack of restrictions on how Iran can spend the money. They were concerned Iran could use the funds to finance terror or purchase weapons. Several Senators unsuccessfully asked the White House to certify Iran was not using the money to support terrorism.
Republican statements aside, in negotiations the rule of thumb is to get something for everything you give. As best we can tell, what the U.S. has gotten for all that money so far is not much more than Iran’s willingness to keep sitting at the table. After all, there are ten payments left to be handed out before the negotiating process is considered a failure. The old adage may be worth remembering: if you’re not sure who the sucker at the table is, it’s you.
A State Department Diplomatic Security employee with high-level access to government IT and security resources was arrested in Broward County, Florida on a federal charges of possessing child pornography.
FBI agents took Peter Meyers, 53, pictured, into custody. Law enforcement officials stated they found 50 video files and eight image files depicting child pornography on Meyers’ computers and laptops. Meyers was making the videos and images available to pedophiles worldwide via file-sharing networks.
Some of the files were named “Bedtime Rape” and “Camping Tent Incest” and showed girls and boys, including toddlers and children as young six and nine years old, being sexually abused. Meyers said the computers were for personal use, agents said.
Investigators said he came to their attention in February when they identified an Internet address in Broward County that was sharing computer files depicting the sexual abuse and exploitation of underage children.
According to his Facebook and LinkedIn pages, Meyers has worked as a security technical specialist for the U.S. Department of State since 2003. His work duties included testing security systems, assisting in the technical aspects of criminal investigations and traveling to overseas embassies and consulates, according to his online resume.
A State Department spokesperson said “The employee’s security clearance will be suspended and he will be put on administrative leave while this proceeds through any judicial process.
Want more State Department sleaze? Here you go.
We all remember proud steward of the taxpayer’s money and the State Department’s secrets Daniel Rosen (pictured.) Dan the Man, recently the State Department’s top counter-terrorism official, was arrested just recently for allegedly soliciting sex from a minor.
If found guilty, Rosen faces up to 30 years in prison. Fairfax County, Virginia law enforcement officials say Rosen, age 44, was arrested at his home after he sought sex with a minor. A female officer working in the county’s Child Exploitation Unit had been posing as the minor in online exchanges with Rosen, police said.
Rosen made bail and was out enjoying perhaps his last taste of freedom before his trial commences. And, allegedly, enjoying it he was. In a sick, perverted way.
The official was arrested again in Washington, DC, on Sunday, this time accused of secretly videotaping two dozen women while they undressed in their homes. Police say they found evidence of 40 separate incidents over the past six months when Rosen used his cellphone to film the women, including through pulled curtains or shades.Police found the videos on Rosen’s phone after it was searched following his arrest last month on solicitation charges. He had been out on bail.
Rosen was charged with voyeurism as well as stalking, since he had apparently filmed some of the women more than once. Police said all the victims were over 18 years old, so there’s a big relief.
It is unclear Rosen will be granted bail a second time.
The Process as Stated
Here is how Clinton described the “process” by which her own staff determined which of the 60,000 emails on her personal server were work-related, and thus turned over to the State Department for even further review, and which were not work-related and deleted.
I am very confident of the process that we conducted and the e-mails that were produced… I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department… My direction [was] to conduct the thorough investigation to err on the side of providing anything that could be possibly viewed as work related.
The image created was one of completeness, and complexity, of interns and lawyers, perhaps Clinton herself for the tough calls, working their way painstakingly through four years worth — 60,000 messages — one-by-one, always erring on the side of caution to ensure a complete record before things were (perhaps) forever deleted.
But like seemingly everything else connected with the Clinton speech and the email server, it was all a fudge. What she said was not what really happened.
The Process in Reality
According to David Von Drehle of Time, the process used was actually as follows:
She commissioned a review of the 62,320 messages in her account only after the Department — spurred by the congressional investigation — asked her to do so.
And this review did not involve opening and reading each email; instead, Clinton’s lawyers created a list of names and keywords related to her work and searched for those. Slightly more than half the total cache, 31,830 emails, did not contain any of the search terms, according to Clinton’s staff, so they were deemed to be “private, personal records.”
And then deleted.
So instead of answering any questions, Clinton’s actions only create more. Would someone in the media please acquire some brass and ask Clinton:
— Give us the list of keywords and names.
— Question why XYZ was not on the list, as appropriate.
— If someone’s full name was “William Jefferson Clinton,” was a search also run on “Bill,” “William J. Clinton” and the like? Did they run searches for “WH” and “White House,” “ISIS, IS, ISL, Islamic State, Daesh”?
— Ask if the keyword search process was set up to catch “Obama” as well as “Obbama” like Google, or only exact matches, like Microsoft Word does. Upper and lower case? Names as part of email addresses?
Other issues with even a decent keyword search done fairly are that people don’t always write emails in complete, referential sentences. Sometimes they write things like “I hope the press never hears about that thing from yesterday” or “As I told you on the phone, time to act” that can be critical when matched against events and other information.
Jeez, everyone who has ever watched a gangster movie knows they say things like “We’re gonna have to pay a visit to our friend in Yonkers” before they put out a hit.
You get it. Running a keyword search is not a process that could create “absolute confidence” on a potential world-leader scale. Claiming it does is prevarication of the worst kind, deliberate manipulation of expectations and words. There is no basis on which to trust, not even a decent feint at creating trust. Just smoke and mirrors and misdirection.
Here it is in a clearer way: No one looked at more than 30,000 emails before they were deleted. No one.
There is a crushing certainty to Clinton’s supporters, and I hear that from many of them in explicit terms, that eliminates doubt. It troubles me greatly. Because if you people keep dismissing these signs of what is headed our way with silly tropes like “everybody does it” and “it’s a partisan attack,” we are all going to pay for it.
Police Interrogation Room, 50th Precinct
“She gonna roll over?” Captain Media said.
“Don’t know Captain. So far she’s sticking to her story. The whole email server thing for four years as Secretary of State was just for her personal convenience.”
“And she expects us to buy that and let her walk? In the office she would have used one computer for two accounts, same as the average Joe, so the story doesn’t hold up there. That carrying two pocket-sized devices only outside the office, that’s more convenient that setting up a whole parallel system? C’mon, I’ve been on these streets for 20 years, that doesn’t fly.”
“I hear you Captain, but she’s lawyered up. Sticking to the story like glue on sticky flypaper.”
“That’s a load of horse hockey pucks. Everybody else in the State Department deals with it, and so does every other Cabinet secretary we know of, never mind 90 percent of the corporate world. Lemme see her exact quote again.”
Cop flips open notebook.
“Here it is, verbatim. ‘First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.'”
“OK, time to hit her with the information we have. Show her the video.”
“Now that was just two weeks ago, at a fluff Q and A. You heard her, right? She flat out said she carries two devices, an iPhone and a Blackberry. Doesn’t that shoot down her case, make her a liar?”
“I hear you Captain, but her people say ‘That’s now, not when she was Secretary of State.’ Maybe some folks are that gullible.”
“Hit her with her own quote: ‘Well, I have a quite large purse… So in addition to makeup and all that goes with that, usually my Blackberry and papers of all kinds… And my iPod, just the usual wonderful musical “interluding” diversions that we all need, a wide variety. And on my iPad… ‘”
“That’s, lemme see, three devices at one time. Blackberry, iPod and iPad. iPad’s can access email just fine. So she was carrying three devices at once, two of which could access email.”
“But is that quote new? Did it come from some Republican attack group?”
“The quote is from November 2011, while she was Secretary of State.”
“And the source?”
“An official State Department transcript. It’s online. Anyone can see it.”
“So she lied. We got her. Bulletproof.”
Later that Same Day, Captain’s Office
“Captain, good news. We just heard from Clinton’s lawyer. They want to retract all her statements. They wanna talk. She’ll plead.”
(Theme music, Ba Bum…)
Hillary needed a home run, and she only even tried for a safe infield hit. That, in this case, is the same as a strike-out.
She needed to do two things in her brief press conference March 10 about her use of personal email to conduct four years of Secretary of State business and the aftermath. Primarily, she needed to lay out an explanation that made enough “sense” that her Democratic supporters could get behind her on this issue, and she needed to explain enough to take the wind out of future press stories, create a “nothing to see here” meme. We all can expect the Republicans to try and work the issue no matter what she says, and we can all expect her strongest supporters did not need convincing.
Hillary’s task was to hold the center. Let’s look at what she said, and didn’t say, in light of those two themes.
What She Said
— Clinton said she “opted out” of using an official email system for her convenience, stating she did not want to use two email devices.
— She said that the “vast majority” of her official emails were sent to official government addresses and thus archived somewhere no matter what she did.
— Clinton claimed she turned over any work-related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.”
— She said she has asked State to review and ultimately release the releasable emails.
— She said she would not allow any third party review of her server (such as the State Department’s Inspector General) because it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails, and it is a moot point anyway because she has already deleted the 30,000 emails she determined were not work-related.
Looking at What She Said: Convenience
The “two devices” would have been inconvenient argument is very weak.
One does not have “two devices,” one has two accounts. Do you have separate computers for your Gmail and your Yahoo mail? State employees are allowed to access private webmail on their official desktop computers. State employees access web mail on their official Blackberrys, though it is slow. Many State Department employees do carry two devices.
There is also no prohibition from receiving and sending personal email from an official account as long as one does not misrepresent a personal message as an official State Department document. Indeed, in some overseas posts where decent Internet service does not exist because of limited infrastructure, or because of security concerns, all personal messages travel through USG accounts. It is encouraged.
And who is ready to believe Clinton as Secretary of State needed to carry her own devices anyway? She has people for that; she doesn’t carry her own luggage, does she?
And is setting up and maintaining in secret a personal server in some way “convenient?” How do all other Cabinet officials handle this? Do they all have personal servers? Why not? If this Clinton-only technique is so handy, why didn’t she share it with others in government as some sort of best-practice? How does Bill Gates or George Clooney handle such issues? We know Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for one, had a single device with both a personal email account and a work email account.
Can Democrats answer Clinton critics with concerns about transparency, mistrust and prevarication simply by saying, “Well, it was convenient for her. Accept that, OK?”
Looking at What She Said: Archiving
That the emails were archived “somewhere” because she sent the “vast majority” to someone else’s government accounts is also weak. Many FOIA requesters to the State Department for Clinton’s emails were told no records exist. Any emails archived at the Pentagon, or the UN or the White House would have to be FOIA’ed agency-by-agency — you can’t send a FOIA request to “the government.” Any let’s not forget the term “vast majority.” How many emails are not archived anywhere?
There also appears to be some questions. Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.” – See more at: http://wemeantwell.com/blog/#sthash.YUWe4QIz.dpuf
Looking at What She Said: Other Points
Clinton claimed she turned over her any work related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.” Left unanswered is why State had to ask in the first place, and of course the way the statement “after I left office” will only beg the question someone else will need to answer of how Clinton can characterize waiting to be asked two years later as “after I left office.”
Good for Hillary to ask State release all her emails. That is what the law behind the many FOIA requests now pending at State demands anyway. What is missing is a timeframe; no one seems to know when that release might take place, though State has suggested it will be months. Remember too that first Clinton had a cut on which emails were to her mind “work related,” and then the State Department gets to make a second cut and/or redact portions of those emails for sensitive or personal information. The “release them all” line sounds good but does not parse out well.
Clinton’s final point that it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails is sort of true but largely a fudge. State Department regulations make it clear that government email must be used whenever possible for official business. While not explicitly forbidden, there is no section of law, regulation or practice that allows an employee to “opt-out” of the system. Hillary’s assertion that the decision on what is and is not work-related is based on the premise that almost everything work-related is already on a government server, and the culling of personal email for archiving is a minimal task. State Department practice is that a personal email deemed work-related be forwarded to the employee’s official account as soon as possible to create a single archive.
What She Didn’t Say
Clinton’s omissions and non-answers are however more troubling.
— She did not answer a question about whether or not she sought or received guidance from State’s IT, Diplomatic Security or legal staff on her use of a personal email server.
— She did not answer a question about whether or not she had been briefed on possible security issues regarding her use of personal email.
— She did not say why she curated her email archive herself and did not involve a neutral third party.
— She did not demand State commit the resources necessary to get her emails out before the primaries, or before the convention, or even before the election.
— She did not say why, after holding them for two to six years, she only after the recent notice decided to delete all of her personal, non-work-related emails.
— She did not say why she did not hand over her emails and/or discuss the issue of a personal server for the two years since leaving office, the seven months since this became known to Congress, the three months since she delivered her email tranche to the State Department, the eight days since the story broke widely in public or two days after members of her own party asked her publicly to do so.
On another topic, she did not answer a question about the foreign money, particularly from Middle Eastern countries oppressive to women, that has poured into the Clinton Foundation.
The Biggest Omission
There was no action statement, no suggestion Clinton would do anything more in regard to all this. She spoke for about 18 minutes, including taking eight questions, and seems to have left us with “that is that.”
It appears unlikely that “that is that,” with important questions still unanswered. It is unclear that Clinton gave her own centrist supporters enough red meat to get behind her on this issue. It seems instead that Democrats are left wondering what else is out there, and whether a Clinton candidacy, or a Clinton administration, will not look far too much like Bill’s time, herky-jerking from crisis to scandal to crisis, both real and imagined. That will be hard to get behind.
We told you about how the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation accepts donations from foreign governments, including the United Arab Emirates (somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, the Clinton’s only report ranges) and Saudi Arabia (total between $10 million and $25 million). At least $1 million more was donated by the group Friends of Saudi Arabia, co-founded by a Saudi prince.
The donations raise concerns. Was the UAE and Saudi money simply because those nations believe in the good work the Clinton Foundation does, or were the donations a conflict of interest, an advance pay off, given that Clinton Foundation principle Hillary intends to be the next president?
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
Fair question. But here’s another.
You know, just this week Clinton commemorated her 1995 women’s rights speech in Beijing with back-to-back events in New York. However, no one raised this question: How ethical is it for a candidate who cites her global activism and support for women’s rights to accept huge donations from countries that have some of the most abysmal global records for the treatment of women? It seems almost like a double-standard or something.
But maybe Clinton didn’t know how things really are in those nasty places that shower her in cash. Let’s turn to the Human Rights Reports from her own former employer, the Department of State, for a quick glimpse into where all that moolah comes from.
Women’s Rights in Clinton Donor Countries
So in Saudi, “Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties from flogging to execution. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal ‘mixing of genders,’ even when there was no conviction for rape… Most rape cases were unreported because victims faced societal reprisal, diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery.” Also “Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their unequal rights. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and society treats them as unequal members in the political and social spheres.”
But Clinton has taken hard stands against the Saudis, at least when it wouldn’t put her on the spot. In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton tells of intervening when Saudi courts wouldn’t block the marriage of an 8-year-old to a 50-year-old man. “Fix this on your own, and I won’t say a word,” she recalled telling the Saudis.
But it’s better in the UAE, right? State says “The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. There were reports that employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers… female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex instead of receiving assistance from government authorities.” Also “For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove that her husband had inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, had abandoned her for at least three months, or had not maintained her upkeep or that of their children. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands.”
The Clinton Foundation has also taken in chunky donations from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei, none of whom ever begin to respect the rights of women.
You get the picture. But does Clinton? Hey, it’s just money right, and what do women know about that stuff anyway?
Though Madame herself has said nothing out loud (she did send one Tweet) about the bubbling scandal that she used private email to conduct four years’ of official business as Secretary of State, perhaps to help shield her communications from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, there has been no shortage of third-party defenders.
Let’s take a look at their arguments, and see how they sound.
It’s Not Illegal
Clinton supporters fired their first shots claiming she did nothing illegal, that current laws on using personal email were enacted only in 2014. And so if you have done nothing illegal, by definition your actions are legal.
As to the rules/laws/regulations, there are some clear issues.
Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).” Those regs have been in place since at least 2009, most since 1995. There’s also another section that’s relevant. The State Department through a series of memos and internal interpretations clarified that persons using personal email for government business should forward copies to their official account as soon as practical. There are no provisions for maintaining a private archive at home and turning over a curated selection years later when asked.
There is also what the official custodian of U.S. government records, the National Archives and Records Administration, in the 2009 National Records Act, has to say, specifically in 44 U.S.C. Chapters 31 and 33 and the regulations issued in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically Subchapter B – Records Management of 36 (CFR) Chapter XII. See Records management by agency heads; general duties (§ 3101), Establishment of program of management (§ 3102), Transfer of records to records centers (§ 3103) and Certifications and determinations on transferred records (§ 3104). Read as much of it as you care to; the requirements are long, specific and mandatory. A personal email server in your home does not fit the bill.
Here’s the shortest version: In 2009, regulations required that any emails sent or received from personal accounts be preserved as part of the agency’s records.
Everybody Does It
The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.
There also exists an important question of degree. Though Condi Rice denies ever using any personal email for official business, and Colin Powell famously used an AOL account more than ten years ago as part of his attempt to drag State into the late 20th century vis-vis technology, no previous government official in the known history of the United States has set up his/her own personal email server and used that exclusively for four full years. The scale sorta really matters.
The other side of the “everybody does it” argument is that it is a really poor argument. Anyone who has been a teenager has likely tried it (“But Mom, everybody drinks beer at my age, yeah I know I’m not 18 but everybody does it!”) and seen it fail. Defendants who went on to become convicted felons also know how unconvincing judges find it when people offer as their criminal defense that others have committed the same offenses but just didn’t get caught.
It seems sad that such an excuse is even thrown out there for a presidential contender, never mind that some are willing to accept it.
What Does it Matter?
Absent someone starting an actual courtroom prosecution, this is not about whether an actual crime per se has been committed. It is about what Clinton’s image of open, good government looks like, what her plans for a transparent administration in line with America’s democratic principles might come to be. It is about whether what she says connects tightly to what she does.
It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the media learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story. It could not have; she still held the emails at that time.
She still has not spoken about all of this, despite it being one of America’s top news stories.
Will she tell the electorate why she set up a personal server and did not use government email? For argument’s sake we’ll agree she was allowed, but that does not tell us why, and why matters.
Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently,and only when asked?
As president of the United States, will she encourage or condone Cabinet level officials to employ personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?
How did she weigh out the security risks of using a personal email service? Yes, the emails were said to be unclassified, but if they were indeed not sensitive enough to warrant high levels of security, then one hopes they will all be released now, unredacted.
Is the way she handled her email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of her approach to public service?
Those things are in part what people are supposed to be assessing when they vote.
Suck It People, and Just Trust Me
Clinton’s people have said they combed through all of the (unknown amount) of emails and pulled out 55,000 pages, delivered literally on paper to the State Department so as to impede electronic searches (sorry to the intern who has to scan them) and of course eliminate the metadata. They all swear cross-their-fingers-hope-to-die that those are all the official emails in the stash. Honest sir, there can’t be even one more we might’ve missed.
But… Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.”
So maybe Clinton’s staff missed just a few?
It’s All Republican Attack Cheap Shots
Which brings us to the all-purpose Clinton excuse: whatever bad things have happened to her and/or are being said about her are all a partisan attack, perpetrated by her Republican enemies, just like everything else from Vince Foster/White Water to 2008’s lying about being under fire in Bosnia to everything Benghazi.
And there is truth in that. It is without question that the Republicans will seize on anything negative about Clinton they can find. It is also without question that the Democrats will seize on anything negative about Bush or whoever they can find. Such is the nature of politics in America.
But that doesn’t mean what is under discussion is not true and it does not mean it does not matter. The easiest way for Clinton to escape answering questions is to stifle any discussion (“What does it matter anymore anyway?”) There are things that are worth talking about here, questions that need answers, regardless of whether you lean right or left. Don’t get sucked down the tunnel of partisan politics encouraging you to shut your brain off.
Think about it.
BONUS THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Wouldn’t it be great is some mid-level State Department staffer set up her own email server in her apartment next week and sent a message to everyone at work she interacts with saying she was no longer going to use her official email account? Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
Hillary Clinton announced in a Tweet that she wants her former employer, the Department of State, to review her emails with an eye toward releasing them. Here, she said it herself, on The Official Twitter:
I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible. — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2015
So accepting the fact that it took Clinton almost three full days’ worth of controversy to get around to saying even that, that’s it, right? Problem solved? Maybe not.
I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2015
Who Will End Up Holding the Bag?
The key part of what Clinton no doubt feels is some pretty slick sleight of hand is that State only has in its possession some fraction of all of her emails sent while Secretary of State. The emails State does have were hand-picked by Clinton, curated by her staff, from the total.
Clinton, alone in the entire U.S. government, has left herself in the unique position of being the only one to determine what records the American people are entitled to see. Her basis for her decisions? Trust me.
Even at that, she now throws State under the bus, thinking anytime between now and inauguration day anybody asks about a missing email or ten, Clinton will just “refer them” back to State, who of course decided what to withhold from what Clinton personally chose not to withhold. Clinton no doubt thinks herself clever with this bit of political jujitsu, turning the State Department into her campaign spokesperson. But putting the burden on State is a red herring; this isn’t really the State Department’s dog.
Her attempt to use the White House this week in the same capacity has only returned mediocre results. The Counsel’s office there claimed it had no knowledge of Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email system, and quickly mentioned once it found out that it had directed the State Department to make sure all appropriate rules were followed (CYA.) They also made clear that the administration gave “very specific guidance” that employees should use official accounts when conducting government business.
Obama’s spokesman was careful to note “There was not an Obama administration official that was responsible for reviewing those emails.”
While trying to avoid doing political damage to Clinton, the White House has put the onus on her aides to explain exactly what happened. If there is gonna be a bag of sh*t to hold at some point, the White House does not want to get stuck with it.
State, ever the lap dog to the rich and famous, is ready to do its part in dragging its feet. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Riyadh Thursday that his department “will undertake this task as rapidly as possible in order to make sure that we are dealing with the sheer volume in a responsible way.” State spokeswoman Marie Harf warned that the review could “take some time to complete” while other officials indicated it could take months. And, surprise! State’s current review personnel are already overwhelmed with nearly 11,000 other pending requests, which for complex cases can take an average of more than 18 months to complete.
Maybe first-come, first-serve will get the Clinton emails reviewed at least in time for her second term.
Perhaps State will want to turn its attention to previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. More than 75 separate requests for her emails were filed with the State Department between 2009 and 2013 by media organizations and other parties. Associated Press requests for Clinton emails and other documents have been delayed for more than a year — and in one case, four years — without any results. All “answered” FOIA requests were told that the State Department did not have any emails from Clinton to consider releasing, sort of true in that State had no Clinton emails on file; they were all held on her private server. The AP says it is considering legal action against the department to compel responses.
And that all leads deep into another can of worms. FOIA requests are strictly limited to U.S. government documents. You cannot FOIA Michelle Obama’s personal NetFlix viewing list. A very tricky legal question arises about whose emails those are on Clinton’s private mail server. Google and other tech companies have regularly won legal challenges to say that the Gmail you send actually belongs to Google, not you. It resides on their server, after all. Much of the NSA’s quasi-legal ability to gobble up your emails rests on the same premise, as they request “your” email not from you but your internet service provider. Requests for Clinton emails not turned over to State could be refused based on the fact that they are her private property.
The Trouble with Republicans
Meanwhile, Clinton’s troubles with the Republicans are just starting.
The Republican National Committee on Thursday asked the Inspector General of the State Department to investigate Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct government business. RNC Chief Counsel John Phillippe wrote in a letter that the investigation should focus on whether Clinton violated department policies or caused the department to violate the requirement to archive emails. Such inspections can take a long time, but in this case, those delays could easily help keep the email issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, and the Republicans know it.
The Inspector General should also look into where State Department management and security were sleeping while all this email fun transpired. One can speculate that if a mid level employee proposed to do all his official work off a personal email server they would have had something to say about that. Oh wait, they already did, roundly criticizing one State Department ambassador for bypassing State’s email system.
The House committee investigating Benghazi also just got a new lease on life. The committee announced Wednesday it has issued a subpoena to Clinton for all of her communications relating to Libya, including emails from her personal server, texts, attachments and pictures. New emails mean new hearings, new questions for Clinton, new demands for in-person testimony and new accusations of information being withheld or scrubbed. This clearly will keep the red-meat-to-the-base Benghazi issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, even if nothing substantive emerges. And if it does…
Clinton, in her own sense of transparency, has issued only the Tweet (above) as her sole public response to all this. Her spokesperson disingenuously claimed Clinton had complied with both the letter and the spirit of the law, a tough one to swallow even for a group of supporters used to swallowing.
Clinton has announced in advance that she will take no questions at her next scheduled public appearance, somewhat ironically the March 23 ceremony celebrating the winner of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
But here are a few very simple questions we’d like Clinton to answer:
— Why did you alone in the State Department not use official email and only use private email run off a private server?
— Why didn’t you turn over your full set of emails to State for review?
— Why did you wait until your private server was disclosed publicly to turn over even the subset of emails you did? Why didn’t you turn them over during your tenure as Secretary?
— As president of the United States, will you encourage or condone your Cabinet level officials employing personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?
— Is the way you handled your email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of your approach to public service?
That’ll be a good start.
That sound you hear?
That’s Republicans dancing a merry jig, and Benghazi investigators sharpening their subpoenas, because 2016 just got a lot more interesting with the revelation that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton conducted all official business using a personal email account on her own web domain.
Here’s what happened, and why it matters. A lot.
Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, violating federal regulations that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record and thus subject to Freedom of Information Act and Congressional requests. Clinton did not have a government email address during her entire four-year tenure, and her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.
It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Clinton’s personal advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the Department. The contents of the rest are known only to Clinton insiders. The process Clinton’s advisers used to determine which emails related to her work at the State Department were turned over has not been explained.
Instead, Clinton appears to have used email service through her own domain, clintonemail.com under the name firstname.lastname@example.org. The domain was created on January 13, 2009, just before Obama was sworn into office, and the same day that Clinton’s confirmation hearings began before the Senate.
In March 2013, an adviser to Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, had his e-mail through the clintonemail.com domain hacked.
The Clinton email domain is officially registered to a Jacksonville, Florida company called PERFECT PRIVACY, LLC. The company advertises itself by saying “By signing up for Perfect Privacy when you register your domain, our information is published in the WHOIS database, instead of yours.” That means Perfect Privacy acts as a cut-out, hiding the actual person or organization that set up the domain by sticking its own information online instead.
Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).”
It is also apparent no one at State raised any questions. A large number of IT staff must have been aware that Clinton had no official email address, as must have security staff. Everyone who traded email with Clinton also knew. And no one said anything.
Why It Matters
The most basic reason this all matters is because it is the law. As Secretary of State, Clinton was required to maintain her emails as official records. She did not. She choose not to follow the law. Saying “everybody else did it” does not work for teenagers, felons in court or Secretaries of State. Since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.” The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.
It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the New York Times learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story.
That review clearly did not represent the full story, in that it did not include any of Clinton’s emails. The review also did not note that the documents it had access to somehow did not include any emails from the Secretary of State. A careful analysis of Clinton’s testimony on Benghazi will need to be made to look for signs of possible perjury. If anything in the Clinton emails is new and relevant to understanding what happened in Benghazi, she should be held to explain why it was not revealed at the time of her testimony.
The contents of whatever small portion of Clinton emails released to State, and questions about what is in the tens of thousands of pages withheld, will revive hearings into what happened in Benghazi and what role Clinton played. There remain questions about what information was withheld from Congress. Even of the thousands of pages State received from Clinton, only 900 have been turned over to Congress.
Use of personal email to conduct government business in the age of hacking raises serious security questions, and calls into question Clinton’s commitment to protecting America’s secrets. According to The New York Times, Clinton also used a gmail account, email@example.com, to conduct her official business.
With no oversight, the only check on Clinton not discussing classified information in her emails was Clinton herself. “We have no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal e-mail account for anything but unclassified purposes,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said Tuesday. “While Secretary Clinton did not have a classified e-mail system, she did have multiple other ways of communicating in a classified manner (assistants printing documents for her, secure phone calls, secure video conferences).” Of course, since no one at State has seen the bulk of Clinton’s emails, they indeed may have “no indication.”
2016 just got much more interesting. Republicans will raise the email issue in great detail, especially since Jeb Bush has already released his own email stash from his time as governor. Clinton does not seem prepared to address the question; her spokesperson said incongruously that her use of a personal email account was in compliance with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”
Clinton as a leader allowed herself to be held to lower standards than that of her own rank and file. This, along with the decision to hide the emails itself and the violations of law, will raise questions about what type of president she might make.
Not the First
[In 2009, as Clinton took office] The Bush administration had just left office weeks earlier under the shadow of, among other things, a major ongoing scandal concerning officials who used personal email addresses to conduct business, and thus avoid scrutiny.
The scandal began in June 2007, as part of a Congressional oversight committee investigation into allegations that the White House had fired U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. The oversight committee asked for Bush administration officials to turn over relevant emails, but it turned out the administration had conducted millions of emails’ worth of business on private email addresses, the archives of which had been deleted.
The effect was that investigators couldn’t access millions of internal messages that might have incriminated the White House. The practice, used by White House officials as senior as Karl Rove, certainly seemed designed to avoid federal oversight requirements and make investigation into any shady dealings more difficult. Oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman accused the Bush administration of “using nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.”
That scandal unfolded well into the final year of Bush’s presidency, then overlapped with another email secrecy scandal, over official emails that got improperly logged and then deleted, which itself dragged well into Obama’s first year in office. There is simply no way that, when Clinton decided to use her personal email address as Secretary of State, she was unaware of the national scandal that Bush officials had created by doing the same.
Clinton knew what she was doing, and was aware of the consequences for herself and the White House. She did it anyway. Under such conditions, people will be muttering “Hey, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
One of the main reasons government officials use personal email is because it is not clearly subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as it is not a government document. Since Clinton now admits at least some of her personal email is indeed part of her official record as Secretary, will does emails become subject to FOIA? One assumes most major new organizations are drafting their FOIA requests as we speak.
And speaking of FOIA, since many/most of Clinton’s emails were not a part of official State Department records until recently means they would not have been identified in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoenas or other document searches conducted over the past six years. Is anyone planning to reexamine those requests in light of developments?
There is also the question of how many email accounts where. Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House committee investigating Benghazi stated Clinton had more than one private email account. “The State Department cannot certify that have produced all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails because they do not have all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails nor do they control access to them,” he said.
Who administered Clinton’s personal email network? S/he was not a government employee but had unfettered, Snowden-like access to government information conveyed at the Cabinet-level. As she also used a Gmail account, an unknown number of Google employees enjoyed a level of access unavailable to Clinton’s own State Department staff. Clinton’s personal email server backed up to a Google drive, wide-open to hackers both foreign and domestic.
Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently?
Instead of focusing on the “but was it illegal?” smokescreen, ask the simpler question: why did Clinton alone in her State Department rely 100 percent on a personal email account?
And what about that famous Clinton Blackberry? Blackberry messages go through a special server run by an organization itself. State maintains such a server for its staff’s required use. Did Hillary’s Blackberry run through a State server or a private one? Let’s ask.
The micro-review of Dennis Jett’s American Ambassadors: The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Diplomats is this: Since 1960, 72 percent of America’s ambassadors to Western Europe and the Caribbean have been political appointees, their primary if often only qualification being that they donated obscene amounts of money to the guy who won the presidency. America is the only first world country that hands out ambassadorships as overt prizes of corruption. Many/most of these political ambassadors have done mediocre-to-poor jobs, and no one does much of anything about that, or even seems to care. Likely the only way to reform this sad system is to reform big money politics in America.
Getting to Know Our Ambassadors
Author Dennis Jett, himself a two-time career ambassador (meaning he served as a State Department diplomat, rising through the ranks to one of its highest positions) is now a professor of international relations and founding faculty member of the School of International Affairs at Penn State University. His book is one of the few (only?) volumes that parses the idea of politically-appointed ambassadors outside of a partisan rubric, and is the only one I am aware of that fully details the actual process and mechanics of becoming an ambassador. It also manages to be a quick, entertaining read, all at the same time. While Jett does not traffic in gossip, his book is filled with anecdotes and details that reveal the at times pathetic actions of America’s representatives abroad.
How about the one whose signature accomplishment was a new mattress for her residence? The one who was absent from her assigned country almost half the time? The ones who stumbled in front of the very host country officials they were supposed to get to know? The one who insisted on singing popular tunes at all of his formal dinners, drowning out critical sidebar interactions? The one who… well, you get the idea.
A Little History
Professor Jett’s book begins with a history of America’s ambassadorship, noting that an early attempt to reform the spoils system so angered one job-seeker that he assassinated President Garfield. Things only went downhill from there.
Various well-meaning moves by Presidents from Taft to Teddy Roosevelt failed to budge the spoils system through Republican and Democratic administrations. Along the way presidents stopped trying to change the system and began to openly embrace it as a tool to reward both individual donors and, the whales of any campaign, the “bundlers,” those connected individuals who not only drop off millions of their own money, but get their wealthy friends to do the same.
It would be foolish to expect someone not to want something in return for their cash.
The Best and the Worst
To be fair, Jett offers his share of criticism to ambassadors in general (about 70 percent are in fact State Department careerists, though as noted, career diplomats are disproportionately assigned to hardship posts; some 14 percent of African embassies are run by career Foreign Service Officers.)
One of the most overriding criticisms is the lack of standards and definitions of success for an ambassador. Easier to delineate are the points of failure, and Jett’s book has far too many examples for any taxpayer to be happy about. The problems range from ambassadors who seem to have little-to-no interest in the job save some social aspects and the title itself, to those who hamstring an embassy through mis- or micromanagement.
The better ambassadors (surprise!) use the resources at hand well, rely on their career No. 2 (the Deputy Chief of Mission, or DCM) to handle most of the internal embassy management, and respect the chain of command. Add to that an ambassador who is willing to work with not only the State Department personnel under his/her direct authority, but also the many other Federal workers in a modern embassy, never mind the ever-growing military presence abroad, and you have a recipe for success. The book is clear what happens in the inverse.
American Ambassadors is also an excellent resource for those seeking to learn more of the inside baseball side of the American ambassador game. Jett surveys the roles of women, African-Americans and gay ambassadors, and charts the changing way race and religion have played out in assignments. Readers get to see the lengthy actual questionnaire used to vett Obama’s appointees, guidelines drawn up for successful ambassadors by informed third parties, and examples of the Letters of Instruction three presidents wrote as “marching orders” to their new envoys. These resources are likely of more use to a student, researcher or potential political appointee than a general reader, but are not uninteresting to browse.
Reform to a spoils system so deeply embedded in the way someone gets elected to the White House depends on reform of how someone gets elected to the White House. This is a task far beyond the scope of Jett’s book, though he touches on some ideas. Recent Supreme Court decisions that allow virtually unlimited corporate funds to flow nakedly into the system won’t help.
So if you can’t do away with the spoils system, the only alternative left is to better prepare the political appointees. Making Dennis Jett’s American Ambassadors required reading for every person up for consideration would be a hell of a start.
Full Disclosure: Like Jett, I also was a career Foreign Service Officer. Unlike Jett, I never rose beyond the middle ranks. Jett also cites my issues with the Department of State as an example of the perils of dissent inside the organization.
The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a scathing report showing the Department of State gave a staggering 87 percent of all Afghan reconstruction funds to only five recipients.
In fact, 69 percent of all taxpayer money spent went to just one contractor.
Much Money into Few Hands
SIGAR tells us the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients, who averaged about $676,000 each in total obligations.
Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp) was the single largest recipient of State department funds, receiving $2.8 billion in contracts, or 69 percent of total awards. Dyncorp contracts dealt principally with training and equipping the Afghan National Police and counternarcotics forces. Dyncorp contracts included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure, and fielding police equipment and vehicles. Dyncorp played a similar role, with similar results, in the Iraq Reconstruction.
Next in line at the trough were PAE Government Services Incorporated at $597.8 million, Civilian Police International Limited Liability Company with $53.6 million, the Demining Agency For Afghanistan at $28.3 million and Omran Consulting Company, in the number fifth slot, with only $22.8 million in taxpayer funds awarded.
Including all the smaller awardees, between 2002 and 2013, State dropped about $4 billion on Afghan reconstruction. That sounds bad enough given the near-complete lack of meaningful progress in
Iraq Afghanistan, until you realize Congress appropriated $96.57 billion in that same time period for Afghanistan reconstruction spread among the Departments of Defense, State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The Bigger Picture
The implications are three-fold.
The smallest issue seems to be the massive hemorrhaging of money into just one corporate pocket. Given the amounts, one looks forward to future SIGAR reporting about how this came to be. How many non-competed contracts? How many insider deals? How much unaccounted for money? The appearance of corruption, as well as the opportunities for corruption, are evident.
The next issue of course is what, if anything, was accomplished with all that taxpayer money absent enriching a few large corporations. Pick your trend line, and it is hard to find much bang for the buck(s) in Afghanistan. Here are some examples to get you started.
Lastly, we are left with what economists call “waste and mismanagement” the concept that money spent in one way precludes other spending that might have been more beneficial. What might have happened if instead of the U.S. spending extraordinary amounts of money to hire police, build roads, schools and factories in
Iraq Afghanistan, that money would have been spent here in America on roads, schools and factories?
Who are the real terrorists threatening actual citizens?
Daniel Rosen, the State Department’s top counter-terrorism official, was arrested Tuesday for allegedly soliciting sex from a minor. If found guilty, Rosen faces up to 30 years in prison.
Fairfax County, Virginia law enforcement officials say Rosen, age 44, was arrested at his home after he allegedly sought sex with a minor. A female officer working in the county’s Child Exploitation Unit had been posing as the minor in online exchanges with Rosen, police said.
The State Department’s spokeswoman said “We are aware that a State Department employee has been arrested and charges have been issued. For issues related to Department personnel and for privacy reasons, we are not able to confirm the identity of the individual or specific charges. His security clearance will be suspended and he will be put on administrative leave while this proceeds to its end through any judicial process. We are following standard procedure in this case.”
“Administrative Leave” means that Rosen will be paid his full salary and accrue benefits for the indeterminate future.
Fox News reports a source with Diplomatic Security, the State Department internal police force, said that law enforcement officers were “hitting [Rosen’s] phones,” meaning that a search warrant had been issued so police could examine the devices for additional evidence.
The Los Angeles Times reports that it is unclear whether Rosen is alleged to have used personal or State Department-issued devices to troll for underage sex online.
Rosen’s LinkedIn profile claims he is responsible for all of State’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau’s strategic planning, policy planning, program and budget planning and oversight, and legislative relations and interaction, and that he oversees a budget of $300 million per year. He is State’s primary representative on terrorism at interagency and international meetings, conferences, and Congressional briefings.
It appears Rosen is not a career State Department employee, having been with the agency since 2008. It is unclear whether he is a Civil Servant or a political appointee. His name appears to have quickly been deleted from the State Department website.
BONUS: Rosen joins a long list of alleged and actual State Department employees involved in sex crimes!
“I’m not getting into that level of detail,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “There are thousands of attacks from many sources that we deal with every single day, and a reason why I think there has been a focus on this particular incident is because of its extent and how broad it was. Obviously, we took steps to combat that, but it is something we work on every day.”
The November Shutdown
In November, the State Department shut down its unclassified e-mail system as a result of the hack. At the time, a senior department official said that the breach was detected in the system around the same time as a previously reported incident that targeted the White House computer network.
The State Department, using outside contractors, has repeatedly scanned its network and continues to see signs of the hackers, the Wall Street Journal reports. Each time investigators find a hacker tool and block it, the intruders tweak it slightly to attempt to sneak past defenses.
They Were Warned
In January 2014, a State Department inspector general report said the integrity of the Department’s information security program is at significant risk because of recurring weaknesses the agency continues to fail to address. Among the recommendations was that the NSA conduct penetration tests on State Department systems. The State Department declined the NSA’s help, saying its own Diplomatic Security Service could conduct penetration tests.
Bruce Brody, a former Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at both the Energy and Veterans Affairs departments, said he understands why hackers could be found lurking in systems months after their initial discovery. “Government agency networks are somewhat of a work in progress. Each agency has subordinate operating administrations, each of which has their own appropriation, and almost none of them fall under the governance of the Chief Information Officer. These networks all operate in their own way, usually with their own rules, with power and authority resembling medieval fiefdoms rather than coherent top-down management. Any bad guy can get into any government agency almost at will.”
During her term as Secretary of State, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation did not accept donations from foreign governments. Now, with Hillary is a pseudo-candidate for president, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation has started to accept donations from foreign governments. Still Ready for Hillary in 2016? ‘Cause here’s what you’re gonna be getting.
Conflicts of Interest?
According to The Wall Street Journal, the foundation has already received funding from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, and Germany. A Canadian government agency that supports the Keystone XL oil pipeline has also given money to the foundation.
No potential conflicts of interest here, right? Let’s see:
– The Canadian Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development agency donated between $250,000 and $500,000 (the Clinton’s only report donations in such ranges.) The Journal, however, claims the exact amount of the donation was somewhere around $480,000.
— Last year, the United Arab Emirates donated somewhere between $1 million and $5 million.
— Saudi Arabia’s donations total between $10 million and $25 million.
— The Australian government has given between $5 million and $10 million in 2014. It also gave in 2013, when its donations fell in the same range.
— Qatar’s government committee preparing for the 2022 soccer World Cup gave between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014. Qatar’s government had previously donated between $1 million and $5 million.
— Oman, which had made a donation previously, gave an undisclosed amount in 2014. Over time, Oman has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million.
A Familiar Face
But of course, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation is a stand-alone charitable organization, not a campaign PAC. Funny thing — earlier this month the Clinton Foundation’s chief development officer Dennis Cheng left the organization to serve as the finance director for Clinton’s expected presidential campaign. Since joining in 2011, Cheng raised $248 million for the foundation. He also worked as deputy chief of protocol in Clinton’s State Department and was Clinton’s New York State finance director on her 2008 campaign.
Is it Just Me?
The Washington Post had this to say:
The [Bill, Hillary and Chelsea] Foundation of course provides luxury travel for Hillary Clinton and her spouse, a high-visibility platform and access to mega-donors. She is beholden in a meaningful sense to its donors. No presidential candidate can justify a conflict of interest of this magnitude; it is not merely the appearance of conflict but actual conflict of interest. (emphasis in the original)
Travel expenses for the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation last year totaled more than $8 million, a greater amount than the nonprofit reported in previous years, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. That figure represents 10 percent of the Foundation’s total expenses.
The travel expenses listed did not cover Hillary’s public travel for paid speeches, which were covered by the entity she was speaking to, according to contract terms.
The fact that the foundation previously stopped seeking such donations on the grounds that it would be improper given her role as Secretary of State only makes things worse… The problems with this move are so obvious that it naturally raises questions about the quality of the advice that Clinton is getting. Has she surrounded herself with people who aren’t comfortable telling her she’s making a mistake? Is she ignoring people who are raising obvious red flags? Is her husband and whoever he relies on for counsel just off the reservation? Whatever the answer, it doesn’t look good. Her 2008 campaign famously suffered from discipline and cohesion problems and this is not a great start to 2016.
The American Embassy in Yemen is closed and the American staff evacuated. Houthi officials say the evacuation was unnecessary and claim it is largely a political act seeking to undermine their legitimacy. Is closing an embassy a political act? What happens when an embassy is evacuated? What happens to private Americans in-country?
A Political Signal
The decision to close an embassy rises to the Secretary of State for approval. An embassy evacuation really is a virtual chess match that some State Department critics say is as much about political signals as it is about the safety of America’s diplomats. In cases where the United States wants to support the host government, an embassy closure cuts off most interaction and will eliminate on-the-ground reporting. An evacuation can trigger the fall of the host government based on the perceived loss of American confidence, or may encourage rebels to attack private American citizens seen as less-protected. In that one point of having an embassy at all is symbolism, closure is without a doubt a political act. Reopening the embassy brings up all those factors in reverse.
How Do You Close an Embassy?
The mechanics of closing an embassy follow an established process, with only the time line varying.
All embassies have standing evacuation procedures, called the Emergency Action Plan, that are updated regularly. A key component is the highly-classified “trip wires,” designated decision points. If the rebels advance past the river, take steps A-C. If the host government military is deserting, implement steps D-E, and so forth.
Early actions include moving embassy dependents out of the country via commercial flights. Incoming staff can be held in Washington and existing tours cut short. Non-essential official personnel (for example, the trade attache, who won’t be doing much business in the midst of coup) are flown out. Some sort of public advisory must be issued by the State Department to private American citizens under the “No Double Standard” rule. This grew out of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight, where inside threat info was made available to embassy families but kept from the general public.
These embassy draw-down steps are seen as low-cost moves, both because they use commercial transportation, and because they usually attract minimal public attention.
The next steps typically involve the destruction of classified materials. The flood of sensitive documents taken from the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 remains a sore point inside State even today. Classified materials include mountains of paper that need to be shredded, pulped or burnt, as well as electronics, weapons, encryption gear and hard drives that must be physically destroyed. Embassies estimate how many linear feet of classified paper they have on hand and the destruction process begins in time (one hopes) to destroy it all.
Send in the Marines
Somewhere in the midst of all this, the Marines come into the picture. Embassies are guarded only by a small, lightly armed detachment of Marines. As part of their standard Special Operation Capable (SOC) designation, larger Marine units train with their SEAL components for the reinforcement and evacuation of embassies. They maintain libraries of overhead imagery and blueprints of diplomatic facilities to aid in planning. Fully combat-equipped Marines can be brought into the embassy, either stealthily to avoid inflaming a tense situation, or very overtly to send a message to troublemakers to back off. Long experience keeps Marine assets handy to the Middle East and Africa.
What is done to support private American citizens varies considerably. Planning and putting into action support for our citizens was a major part of my work at the State Department. The rule of thumb is if a commercial means of departure exists, private citizens must utilize it, sometimes with the assistance of the embassy. Loans for tickets can be made, convoys organized and so forth. In cases where the major airlines refuse to fly but the airport is still usable, the State Department can arrange charters. In extreme cases only (Yemen is not such a case) the Marines conduct a Noncombatant Evacuation Order (NEO) to pull citizens out of the country using military assets. At times Americans are simply told to “shelter in place” and ride out a crisis. State will ask a neutral embassy in-country, such as the Swiss, to look after them to the extent possible.
Sorry, Local Staff
Almost always left out of the mix are the embassy local staff, the cooks, drivers, and translators. Rarely are they evacuated, and are usually left to make their own way in what can be a very dangerous environment for someone seen as an American collaborator. Some have compared this to the poor treatment military translators from Iraq and Afghanistan have received trying to secure visas and refugee status to the United States.
Closing an embassy is often a tacit admission that America’s policies toward the host government failed. For example, Yemen represents the third American embassy in an Arab Spring country, following Syria and Libya, now closed. Images of an empty embassy are not what the American government looks forward to seeing spreading across social media. A closure is indeed a political act.
Libya is the perfect storm example of the failure of U.S. interventionist policy in the Middle East.
The Obama-Clinton Model
In 2011, Libya was to be the centerpiece of Middle East Intervention 2.0, the Obama-Clinton version.
Unlike the Bush model, that of Texas-sized land armies, multi-year campaigns and expensive reconstruction efforts, the Obama-Clinton version would use American air power above, special forces and CIA on the ground, and coordinate local “freedom fighters” to overthrow the evil dictator/terrorist/super-villain of the moment. “We Came, We Saw, He Died,” cackled then-Secretary of State Clinton as Libyan leader Moamar Quaddafi was sodomized by rebels on TV.
The idea was that the U.S. would dip in, unleash hell, and dip out, leaving it to the local folks to create a new government from scratch. So how’d that strategy work out in Libya?
Benghazi Only A Sign
Benghazi was only a sign of the chaos to come.
Here’s the state of Libya today. Several Islamist groups vying for control in Libya have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and carried out barbaric executions, as in Iraq and Syria. The growth and radicalization of Islamist groups raise the possibility that large parts of Libya could become a satellite of the Islamic State where one never previously existed.
Libya’s official government, led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, has only tenuous authority, having been run out of Tripoli last summer amid fighting between rival militias formed during the 2011 civil war.
The shell government Thinni leads, pathetically still recognized by the international community, operates out of the eastern city of Bayda. The Libya Dawn movement, a coalition of militias and political factions, has wrested control of the capital and established a rival government.
Fighters who identify themselves as part of the Islamic State have killed journalists and many other civilians. They took credit for the November 13 bombings targeting the Egyptian and United Arab Emirates embassies in Tripoli. Last month, fighters linked to the Islamic State kidnapped Egyptian Coptic Christians and bombed the Corinthia Hotel in the capital, killing ten people.
And according to the New York Times, the chaos in Libya has paralyzed the economy. The one industry that is booming is human smuggling. Taking advantage of the lawlessness, smugglers who use Libya as a way station in moving impoverished sub-Saharan Africans and Syrian refugees to Europe have become increasingly brazen and reckless in their tactics, sending hundreds to their deaths.
Egypt Bombs Libya after 21 Beheaded
In what is only the latest evidence of the failure of the 2011 intervention, Egyptian jets bombed Islamic State targets in Libya recently, a day after the group there released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. That forced Cairo directly into the conflict across its border. While Cairo is believed to have provided clandestine support to some former-Libyan general fighting the rogue government in Tripoli with his own militia, the mass killings pushed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi into open action.
The Obama-Clinton Model
While Libya is the perfect storm example of what happens when the U.S. clumsily intervenes in a Middle Eastern country, it is certainly not the only example. The evacuation of the American embassy in Yemen is the marker for America’s policy failure there. The U.S. is again at war in Iraq, trying the new interventionist model as a recipe to rescue the old one. That conflict alone threatens to inflame the entire region, pulling in Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others.
Want to see the future? Look to the recent past. Look at Libya.
Brian Williams was seduced.
He is a liar of course, someone who did not tell the truth no matter the reason or excuse, a bad trait for a journalist. Williams lied about being RPG’ed in a helicopter over Iraq; he did not see any variant of what you can see in the photo above. And that’s not a hard thing to “misremember.”
But if there is any reason to forgive Williams, it was that he was seduced by both his own conflation of his sad little life as a talking head and the “brave troops,” and, more clearly, by the process of embedding with the military. I know. I saw it.
Journalists into Liars
What is it about the military that turns many normally thoughtful journalists into liars? A reporter who would otherwise make it through the day sober spends a little time with some unit of the U.S. military and promptly loses himself in ever more dramatic language about bravery and sacrifice, stolen in equal parts from Thucydides, Henry V, and Sergeant Rock comics.
I’m neither a soldier nor a journalist. I was a diplomat who spent 12 months as a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) leader, embedded with the military in Iraq, and let me tell you that nobody laughed harder at the turgid prose reporters used to describe their lives than the soldiers themselves. They knew they were trading hours of boredom for maybe minutes of craziness that only in retrospect seemed “exciting,” as opposed to scary, confusing, and chaotic. That said, the laziest private knew from growing up watching TV exactly what flavor to feed a visiting reporter.
In trying to figure out why journalists and assorted militarized intellectuals from inside the Beltway lose it around the military, I remembered a long afternoon spent with a gaggle of “fellows” from a prominent national security think tank who had flown into Iraq. These scholars wrote serious articles and books that important people read; they appeared on important Sunday morning talk shows; and they served as consultants to even more important people who made decisions about the Iraq War and assumedly other conflicts to come.
One of them had been on the staff of a general whose name he dropped more often than Jesus’s at a Southern Baptist A.A. meeting. He was a real live neocon. A quick Google search showed he had strongly supported going to war in Iraq, wrote apology pieces after no one could find any weapons of mass destruction there (“It was still the right thing to do”), and was back to check out just how well democracy was working out for a paper he was writing to further justify the war. He liked military high-tech, wielded words like “awesome,” “superb,” and “extraordinary” (pronounced EXTRA-ordinary) without irony to describe tanks and guns, and said in reference to the Israeli Army, “They give me a hard-on.”
Fearing the Media vs. Using the Media
Such figures are not alone. Nerds, academics, and journalists have had trouble finding ways to talk, write, or think about the military in a reasonably objective way. A minority of them have spun off into the dark side, focused on the My Lai, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon-style psycho killers. But most spin in the other direction, portraying our men and women in uniform as regularly, daily, hourly saving Private Ryan, stepping once more into the breach, and sacking out each night knowing they are abed with brothers.
I sort of did it, too. As a State Department Foreign Service Officer embedded with the military in Iraq, I walked in… er, deployed, unprepared. I had never served in the military and had rarely fired a weapon (and never at anything bigger than a beer can on a rock ledge). The last time I punched someone was in ninth grade. Yet over the course of a year, I found myself living and working with the 82nd Airborne, followed by the 10th Mountain Division, and finally the 3rd Infantry Division, three of the most can-do units in the Army. It was… seductive.
The military raised a lot of eyebrows in my part of the world early in the Iraq invasion with their policy of embedding journalists with front-line troops. Other than preserving OpSec (Operational Security for those of you who have never had The Experience) and not giving away positions and plans to the bad guys, journalists were free to see and report on anything. No restrictions, no holding back.
So, in 2003, we diplomats sat back and smugly speculated that the military didn’t mean it, that they’d stage-manage what embedded journalists would see and who they would be allowed to speak to. After all, if someone screwed up and the reporter saw the real thing, it would end up in disaster, as in fact happened when Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings got Afghan War commander Stanley McCrystal axed as a “runaway general.”
We were, however, dead wrong. As everyone now agrees, journalists saw what they saw and talked to whomever they chose and the military facilitated the process. Other than McCrystal (who was redeemed by the same president who fired him), can anyone name another military person whacked by reporting?
Embed in Action
I saw it myself in Iraq. General Ray Odierno, then commander of all troops in Iraq, would routinely arrive at some desert dump where I happened to be, reporters in tow. I saw for myself that they would be free to speak about anything to anyone on that Forward Operating Base (which, in acronym-mad Iraq, we all just called a FOB, rhymes with “cob”). The only exception would be me: State had a long-standing policy that on-the-record interviews with its officials had to be pre-approved by the Embassy or often by the Washington Mothership itself.
Getting such an approval before a typical reporter’s deadline ran out was invariably near impossible, which assumedly was the whole point of the system. In fact, the rules got even tougher over the course of my year in the desert. When I arrived, the SOP (standard operating procedure) allowed Provincial Reconstruction Team leaders to talk to foreign media without preapproval (on the assumption that no one in Washington read their pieces in other languages anyway and thus no one in the field could get into trouble). This was soon rescinded countrywide and preapproval was required even for these media interactions.
Detouring around me, the reporters would ask soldiers their opinions on the war, the Army, or even controversial policies. The reporters would sit through the briefings the general received, listening in as he asked questions. They were exposed to classified material, and trusted not to reveal it in print. They would go out on patrols led by 24-year-old lieutenants, where life-and-death decisions were often made, and were free to report on whatever they saw. It always amazed me — like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where everything suddenly changes from black and white into color.
Fear Not: The Force Is With You
But the military wasn’t worried. Why? Because its officials knew perfectly well that for reporters the process was — not to mince words — seductive. The world, it turns out, is divided into two groups, those who served in the military and those who didn’t. For the rare journalists with service time, this would be homecoming, a chance to relive their youth filtered through memory. For the others, like me, embedding with the military felt like being invited in — no, welcomed — for the first time by the cool kids.
You arrive and, of course, you feel awkward, out of place. Everyone has a uniform on and you’re wearing something inappropriate you bought at L.L. Bean. You don’t know how to wear your body-armor vest and helmet, which means that someone has to show you how to dress yourself. When was the last time that happened? Instead of making fun of you, though, the soldier is cool with it and just helps.
Then, you start out not knowing what the hell anyone is saying, because they throw around terms like FOB and DFAC and POS and LT and BLUF and say Hoo-ah, but sooner or later someone begins to explain them to you one by one, and after a while you start to feel pretty cool saying them yourself and better yet, repeating them to people at home in emails and, if you’re a journalist, during live reports. (“Sorry Wolf, that’s an insider military term. Let me explain it to our viewers…”)
You go out with the soldiers and suddenly you’re riding in some kind of armored, motorized monster truck. You’re the only one without a weapon and so they have to protect you. Instead of making fun of you and looking at you as if you were dressed as a Naughty Schoolgirl, they’re cool with it. Bored at only having one another to talk to, fellow soldiers who eat the exact same food, watch the exact same TV, and sleep, pee and work together every day for a year, the troops see you as quite interesting. You can’t believe it, but they really do want to know what you know, where you’ve been, and what you’ve seen — and you want to tell them.
Even though you may be only a few years older than many of them, you feel fatherly. For women, it works similarly, but with the added bonus that, no matter what you look like, you’re treated as the most beautiful female they’ve seen in the last six months — and it’s probably true.
The same way one year in a dog’s life equals seven human years, every day spent in a war zone is the equivalent of a month relationship-wise. You quickly grow close to the military people you’re with, and though you may never see any of them again after next week, you bond with them.
You arrived a stranger and a geek. Now, you eat their food, watch their TV, and sleep, pee, and work together every day. These are your friends, at least for the time you’re together, and you’re never going to betray them. Under those circumstances, it’s harder than hell to say anything bad about the organization whose lowest ranking member just gave up his sleeping bag without prompting because you were too green and dumb to bring one with you.
Why It Matters
So, take my word for it, it’s really, really hard to write about the military objectively, even if you try. That’s not to say that all journalists are shills; it’s just a warning for you to take care when you’re hanging out with, or reading, our warrior-pundits.
It is also to say that journalists who embed and do write objective pieces are to be read, revered and respected.
And yet having some perspective on the military and what it does matters as we threaten to slip into yet more multigenerational wars without purpose, watch the further militarization of foreign affairs, and devote ever more of our national budget to the military. War lovers and war pornographers can’t offer us an objective look at a world in which more and more foreigners only run into Americans when they are wearing green and carrying weapons.
I respect my military colleagues, at least the ones who took it all seriously enough to deserve that respect, and would not speak ill of them. Some do indeed make enormous sacrifices, including of their own lives, even if for reasons that are ambiguous at best to a majority of Americans. But in order to understand these men and women and the tasks they are set to, we need journalists who are willing to type with both hands, not just pass on their own wet dreams to a gullible public.
Civilian control of our military is a cornerstone of our republic, and we the people need to base our decisions on something better than Sergeant Rock comic rewrites.
The U.S. military decided it will no longer release facts and figures about America’s costly effort to assist Afghan security forces.
(As this goes online, the military has announced, having been called out, that it is backtracking on parts of the classification)
Information that has been made public for the past 12 years is now classified. The fact that the information has generally made the military (and the State Department, who helps spend the money) look like fools may have something to do with the decision.
The move marks an about-face for the Pentagon, which for the past years has more or less bragged about the $65 billion program to build up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the Afghan Police. The data now being withheld as classified from the American public is how taxpayers’ money has been spent and the state of the troubled forces. Presumably the Afghan side already knows.
“The decision leaves the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) unable to publicly report on most of the taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip and sustain the ANSF,” said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General.
But What About the Troops?
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, defended the change, saying the information could prove helpful to Taliban insurgents and needed to be kept secret. “With lives literally on the line, I am sure you can join me in recognizing that we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly information that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks,” Campbell wrote.
The now-classified data also hides the results of the $107.5 billion U.S. reconstruction program that, adjusted for inflation, has surpassed the price tag of the Marshall Plan. For example, the classified data includes the total amount of U.S. funding for Afghan forces for the current year, details of contracts for literacy training and an assessment of anti-corruption initiatives. It remains unclear how such information could endanger lives or aid the Taliban. Also, Afghan officials do not consider the information secret and have discussed it with media.
The State Department was also not forthcoming about its aid projects when contacted by the inspector general’s office. Despite a legal obligation for federal government agencies to provide requested information to the inspector general, “the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.”
What Information? You Mean, Like This?
The possibility that the information on ANSF and police readiness might be being withheld simply because it is bad news remains.
Afghan war blog Sunny in Kabul (which, if you have any interest at all in events in Afghanistan you should be reading) says the military isn’t hiding money, it’s hiding people. Specifically, the lack of Afghan soldiers on the job.
Sunny in Kabul concludes “Based on the numbers publicly reported last fall, there won’t be an army left to fight the insurgency by the end of 2015. That’s not a metaphor or commentary on their professionalism. I mean there won’t be an army at all.”
“The ANSF lost 27 percent of its fighting force to attrition from October 2011 to September 2012. For the same period the previous year, the ANSF lost 30 percent of its personnel due to attrition, which means that 57 percent of the ANA has been lost to attrition over the last two years. It gets worse: if the time period from March 2010 until September 2012 is considered, that number climbs to 72 percent. So nearly three quarters of the ANSF’s total force over the course of 31 months was lost.”
Basically, despite extraordinary sums of money being spent to train and equip the ANSF, they are quitting, deserting, getting killed or running away.
About That Other Stuff Being Hidden
Despite the very clear case that all this newly-classified information is designed to hide people, not money, a compelling argument can be made that the point is to hide people AND money.
For just a few examples, pick from this list:
– A failed $7.3 million police headquarters;
— $700 million spent on sending Afghan jewelers on lavish “gem training” junkets to India, Paris, and Milan;
— $300 million annually for police salaries with no audits to assure the funds are going to active police personnel;
— A five-year-old State Department effort to upgrade Afghanistan’s largest prison has been halted with only half the contracted work performed. Some $18 million was wasted on a project that will never be finished and will never serve any need.
— For unclear reasons, the U.S. Air Force destroyed $468 million of aircraft purchased for the Afghan military by America’s taxpayers, and sold off the scrapped metal for all of $32,000.
— The U.S. spent $34 million on a “Regional Command and Control Facility” that will never be used. The Marines this week forever abandoned/withdrew from the base that houses that facility.
— The U.S. spent another $771.8 million on aircraft the Afghans cannot operate or maintain.
— Some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics and even fire stations built by the Army are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.
— A USAID program designed to promote stability in Afghanistan spent its entire $47 million budget on conferences and none on grants to accomplish its aim.
And much, much more!
Not that anyone likely cares anymore, but all this classification seems to have as its primary goal preventing American taxpayers from drawing informed conclusions as to how their money has been spent. Whatever.
Hillary Clinton has agreed to testify before a House committee investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi ahead of her expected 2016 presidential run.
Clinton Says Yes
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters Clinton was ready, after he reached out to Clinton at the request of committee Chairman Trey Gowdy.
Gowdy reiterated on Tuesday that he would like to hear from Clinton but said the panel needed additional documents from the State Department before he would ask her to appear. The State Department has sent the Benghazi panel more than 40,000 documents — including 15,000 never previously sent to Congress — but Gowdy and House Republicans have dozens of standing requests State hasn’t filled.
Clinton Previously Said No
Clinton says she won’t “be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans” over the 2012 Benghazi attacks,” though she devotes a full chapter to the incident in her book Hard Choices, from which the quotes below are drawn.
It is very, very difficult to discuss Benghazi and Clinton without almost immediately dipping deep into partisan politics, and no doubt any hearings she will testify at will be ugly and deeply partisan.
That said, there are important questions about what Clinton’s handling of Benghazi that are relative to her desire to be president. Here are some of them.
1) Where was Clinton?
The Benghazi attack unfolded from about 4pm in the afternoon until very late at night, Washington time. Clinton said she was first told of the incident as it began. She has refused to be specific about her whereabouts and actions that night. Where was Clinton between 4pm and say midnight? The State Department Operations Center was on the phone live with officials in Benghazi, Tripoli or both locations and may have been monitoring live TV pictures fed to them from a drone. Was Clinton in the State Department Operations Center? If not, why not? When did she leave the State Department? Why did she leave? Did she go to the White House Ops Center, who no doubt was monitoring the situation? If not, why not?
Senator Charles Schumer was called to the White House, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, as the Benghazi attack unfolded. Clinton would be an unlikely source to explain Schumer’s presence, but certainly should be asked to explain her own non-presence.
For example, the CBS timeline for the attack states that 4 a.m. Washington time Obama was told of Ambassador Stevens’ death. Where was Clinton at that time? If she was asleep, at home or elsewhere, why did she chose that over staying at the State Department?
Clinton has refused to explain where she was the night of the Benghazi attack. CNN asked her, and here is her response:
QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on… So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting… So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.
Why It Matters: A Commander-in-Chief is responsible for lives and decisions. She has to be present and ready to make the “hard choices” in real time. If Clinton was elsewhere and not directly monitoring Benghazi in real-time (as opposed to getting periodic “briefings” aside some other event), how will she act as president in a similar crisis?
2) About That Anti-Muslim Video
In her book Hard Choices Clinton states about Benghazi:
There were scores of attackers that night, almost certainly with differing motives. It is inaccurate to state that every single one of them was influenced by this hateful video. It is equally inaccurate to state that none of them were. Both assertions defy not only the evidence but logic as well.
What evidence can Clinton present that any Benghazi attackers were directly motivated by the video so offensive to Muslims? The attacks appear to have been well-coordinated and goal-oriented, not the faceless mobs content to tear down the American flag as seen in Cairo. Some were certainly angry about the video, but was it truly a “motivation?”
For example, at 6:07 p.m. Washington time an alert from the State Department Operations Center stated the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli reported the Islamic military group “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack”… on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli. It did not appear that the offensive video was cited.
The UK’s Independent noted the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who are working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts.
Why It Matters: If you cite evidence, put up or shut up. The president must speak precisely, both to avoid misunderstandings and to preserve her credibility.
3) What is Responsibility?
As Secretary I was the one ultimately responsible for my people’s safety, and I never felt that responsibility more deeply than I did that day.
Define “responsibility.” Many definitions imply some sort of relationship between being responsible, making decisions and accepting consequences. What decisions did Clinton make as Secretary of State vis-vis security in Benghazi? If delegated, to whom? What controls, management tools or other means did she employ to assure those delegates acted out her intentions?
Why It Matters: As president, Clinton will need to delegate almost everything. If she is unable to manage that, simply saying she takes “responsibility” while shucking off consequences will undermine her leadership.
4) More About Responsibility
In Hard Choices, Clinton writes about the messages from Benghazi before the attack requesting more security:
The cables were addressed to her as a ‘procedural quirk’ given her position, but didn’t actually land on her desk. “That’s not how it works. It shouldn’t. And it didn’t.”
Fair enough. Obviously the Secretary cannot read even a fraction of what pours into the State Department. So, who were the highest level people to see those cables? What were their instructions on which issues to elevate to the Secretary and which to deal with themselves? Clearly the need for more security at Benghazi was not addressed. Following Benghazi, did Clinton initiate any internal review, leading to changes? Details are important here.
Following Benghazi, no one in the State Department lost his/her job. No one was fired. Several people were placed on administrative leave, a kind of purgatory, until media attention focused elsewhere. All were eventually reinstated. The one person who claimed to have resigned actually just changed job titles, “resigning” from one to take on another.
At the time, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “the discipline is a lie and all that has happened is the shuffling of the deck chairs. That will in no way change [the] systemic failures of management and leadership in the State Department.”
Why It Matters: God alone knows how much paper, how many memos and reports, arrive at the White House daily. The president must have staff and a system that filter the right things up and down. The country needs to have confidence that President Clinton will be able to handle that to prevent bad decisions that may lead to more tragedy. And when things go wrong, the president must be willing to shed ineffectual people and replace them with better ones.
Clinton writes of her non-appearance on television, with Susan Rice taking the lead:
[People] fixate on the question of why I didn’t go on TV that morning, as if appearing on a talk show is the equivalent of jury duty, where one has to have a compelling reason to get out of it. I don’t see appearing on Sunday-morning television as any more of a responsibility than appearing on late-night TV. Only in Washington is the definition of talking to Americans confined to 9 A.M. on Sunday mornings.
At the time, Susan Rice was America’s ambassador to the UN, what many saw as an unusual choice for a spokesperson for such a State Department-specific tragedy with little UN touchpoint.
Clinton was Secretary of State, the leader of the State Department, which had just had one of its consulates overrun, and two of its employees killed, one an ambassador. Clinton admits she held “responsibility” for this. Why wouldn’t she be the person to speak of this to the American people? Indeed, it was Clinton, not Susan Rice, in the foreground of the serious, patriotic photos taken later at the Dover Air Force base when the remains of the dead were returned to the U.S. in their flag-draped coffins.
Clinton went on to miss numerous opportunities to speak of her role regarding Benghazi.
Why It Matters: The buck stops here, said president Harry Truman. The president needs to be the one who speaks to America, explains things that happened to Americans, the one who shows by example her role, her compassion, for those whom she sent into harm’s way. The president, to lead, can’t duck that.
6) Information and Disinformation
Clinton writes in her book:
[There is a] regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media, but new information from a number of reputable sources continues to expand our understanding of these events.
Can Clinton be specific about what new information she is referring to, and from what sources? Can she explain how she determined these sources are reputable as opposed to those she characterizes as “flat-out deceit”?
One Democratic talking point opposing additional investigation into Benghazi is that the event has been dissected fully and we know all there is to know, that a new hearing in Congress is simply partisan politics. But if there is new information, as Clinton says, it seems more investigation would be helpful.
Why It Matters: A president’s word choice is very important. Precision is important and establishes credibility.
Clinton writes that the Accountability Review Board (ARB), State’s after-action process following any tragedy abroad as significant as two employees being killed by terrorists, did not interview her for their report, by their own choice. She does not know why they did not call on her. The report was bland and singled out no one for discipline or sanction despite the deaths and the decisions (by someone) not to increase security as personnel on the ground demanded.
Given the central role the Secretary of State and her office, delegates and staffers played in Benghazi before, during and after the crisis, how could this possibly be true? Assuming that the ARB truly found no reason whatsoever to speak to the head of an organization about arguably the most significant event of her term as head of that organization, why didn’t Clinton seek them out? Why didn’t she prepare a written statement, ask to add in her recollections? Get her role on record? Make sure history was recorded.
The Accountability Review Board personnel were hand-selected by Clinton.
And as John Kerry said (about Edward Snowden) “patriots don’t run away.”
Why It Matters: Not participating in such a review process, and then dismissing such non-participation simply as “they didn’t ask,” even if true, raises significant credibility questions about the validity of the ARB and the leader who did not participate. Credibility to her own staff, as well as to the American people, is a critical thing for a president.
If either lose faith in her, she cannot be effective. Leaders lead without excuses.
OK, let’s get this out of the way. It is impossible to divorce an attempt at serious, dispassionate discourse about Benghazi from the political side promoted by Republicans and Democrats. And yes, of course, it is aimed at Hillary 2016.
But Hillary 2016 is a big deal. If the election were held today, she’d likely be the next president. So maybe, albeit with some of the inevitable political mud slung alongside, we should pay attention to how she acted, if she failed to act, and whether she enjoyed some sort of cover-up/soft-sell over what really happened in Benghazi.
To paraphrase Mrs. Clinton’s own political rhetoric as directed at then-candidate Obama, we need to know how she’ll act when that tragic 3 a.m. phone call comes through. While past performance is no guarantee of future success or failure, it is how the smart money should bet.
What kind of president would Hillary Clinton be? Let’s ask some real questions, and hold out for real answers.
The current American war in Iraq is a struggle in search of a goal. It began in August as a humanitarian intervention, morphed into a campaign to protect Americans in-country, became a plan to defend the Kurds, followed by a full-on crusade to defeat the new Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS, aka ISIL), and then… well, something in Syria to be determined at a later date.
At the moment, Iraq War 3.0 simply drones on, part bombing campaign, part mission to train the collapsed army the U.S. military created for Iraq War 2.0, all amid a miasma of incoherent mainstream media coverage. American troops are tiptoeing closer to combat (assuming you don’t count defensive operations, getting mortared, and flying ground attack helicopters as “combat”), even as they act like archaeologists of America’s warring past, exploring the ruins of abandoned U.S. bases. Meanwhile, Shia militias are using the conflict for the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis and Iran has become an ever-more significant player in Iraq’s affairs. Key issues of the previous American occupation of the country — corruption, representative government, oil revenue-sharing — remain largely unresolved. The Kurds still keep “winning” against the militants of IS in the city of Kobani on the Turkish border without having “won.”
In the meantime, Washington’s rallying cry now seems to be: “Wait for the spring offensive!” In translation that means: wait for the Iraqi army to get enough newly American-trained and -armed troops into action to make a move on Mosul. That city is, of course, the country’s second largest and still ruled by the new “caliphate” proclaimed by Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All in all, not exactly inspiring stuff.
You can’t have victory if you have no idea where the finish line is. But there is one bright side to the situation. If you can’t create Victory in Iraq for future VI Day parades, you can at least make a profit from the disintegrating situation there.
Team America’s Arms Sales Force
In the midst of the December holiday news-dumping zone, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) quietly notified Congress of several pending arms deals for Iraq. DSCA is the Pentagon office responsible for coordinating arms agreements between American defense contractors and foreign buyers.
Before those thousands of not-boots-on-the-ground troops started hemorrhaging back into Iraq late last year, DSCA personnel made up a significant portion of all U.S. military personnel still there. Its staff members are, in fact, common in U.S. embassies in general. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the sales of weaponry and other kinds of war equipment are big business for a range of American companies, and the U.S. government is more than happy to assist. In fact, there is even a handbook to guide foreign governments through the buying process.
The DSCA operates under a mission statement which says the “U.S. may sell defense articles and services to foreign countries and international organizations when the President formally finds that to do so will strengthen the security of the U.S. and promote world peace.” While the Pentagon carries out the heavy lifting, actual recommendations on which countries can buy U.S. gear are made by the secretary of state, and then rubber-stamped by Congress.
As for countries that can’t afford U.S. weaponry, Washington has the Foreign Military Finance program up its sleeve. This opens the way for the U.S. government to pay for weapons for other countries — only to “promote world peace,” of course — using your tax dollars, which are then recycled into the hands of military-industrial-complex corporations.
Iraq’s Shopping List
Here’s part of what the U.S. is getting ready to sell to Iraq right now:
* 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks;
* 15 Hercules tank recovery vehicles (you can’t have a tank without the tow truck);
* 55,000 rounds of main gun ammunition for the tanks (the ammo needed to get the biggest bang for your bucks)
And what will all that firepower cost? Just under $3 billion.
Keep in mind that these are only the most recent proposed sales when it comes to tanks. In July, for example, General Dynamics received a $65.3 million contract to support the existing Iraq M1A1 Abrams program. In October, the U.S. approved the sale of $600 million in M1 tank ammunition to that country. There have also been sales of all sorts of other weaponry, from $579 million worth of Humvees and $600 million in howitzers and trucks to $700 million worth of Hellfire missiles. There are many more examples. Business is good.
While the collapse of the Iraqi army and the abandonment of piles of its American weaponry, including at least 40 M1s, to IS militants, helped create this new business opportunity for weapons-makers like General Dynamics, the plan to cash in on Iraq can be traced back to America’s occupation of that country. Forward Operating Base Hammer, where both Private Chelsea Manning (she collecting State Department cables for WikiLeaks) and I (supervising State Department reconstruction efforts) lived for a year or so, was built across the street from the Besmaya Firing Range. That testing grounds was U.S.-outfitted not just for the live firing of artillery, but for — you guessed it — M1 tanks. It was to be part of the pipeline that would keep an expensive weapons system heading into Iraq forever. In 2011, as U.S. troops left the country, both facilities were “gifted” to the Iraqis to serve as logistics bases for training in, and the repair of, U.S.-sold weapons.
As I write this, American contractors still live on the remnants of Hammer, supporting the Iraqi army’s use of whatever M1 tanks they didn’t turn over to the Islamic State. On a contractor job-review site, “job work/life balance” at the base gets an acceptable 3.5 stars from those working there and one American trainer even praises the fact that work starts and ends before the heat of the day (even if another complains that the only toilets available are still port-a-potties).
The new tank sales to Iraq will, of course, keep Besmaya humming and are significant enough that the Motley Fool, an investment advice website, offers this background information:
“This is about more than just immediate sales and profits for General Dynamics. Currently, the U.S. Army has all the M1A1 tanks it needs… Last year, General Dynamics successfully lobbied Congress to provide $120 million for upgrading Abrams tanks, just to ensure the factory remains at least partially open (and avoid having to pay the expense of restarting production from zero at a later date). In 2012, similar logic caused Congress to spend about $180 million on the tanks, despite Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno telling lawmakers at the time: ‘…these are additional tanks that we don’t need.’ Luckily for General Dynamics, though, Iraq does need tanks. And at the Lima plant’s recent production rate of 10 tanks per month, the Iraq order should keep General Dynamics’ tank business running well into 2016.”
Would You Like the Extended Warranty?
Iraqis have a saying: “The rug is never sold.” It means that there’s always more money to be made from any transaction. General Dynamics would agree. Arms sales work remarkably like consumer electronics (and Iraqi carpets). Want the extended warranty for your new smartphone? Extra battery? Accessories? Insurance against loss or damage? Suddenly the cost of your phone doubles.
Same for tanks. The M1 is a complex beast. You’ll need to pay General Dynamics for trainers to teach your guys to operate its systems. You’ll need lots of spare parts, especially operating in the desert. And it won’t be long before you’ll want to do some upgrades — maybe better computers or a faster engine. The U.S. is currently working on “urban warfare” upgrades for the 140 M1s the Iraqis have hung onto. In the defense world, these after-sales are known as the “tail.” And the longer the tail, the bigger the profits.
For example, built into the contract for the new M1 tank sale is the provision that “approximately five U.S. Government and one hundred contractor representatives [will] travel to Iraq for a period of up to five years for delivery, system checkout, program support, and training.” And that isn’t going to come cheap from General Dynamics, though the five government employees may be a bargain financed by American taxpayers.
None of this even touches on the potential for repeat sales. After all, most of the Islamic State’s heavy gear comes from stuff the Iraqi army abandoned or somehow lost in their headlong flight from the country’s northern cities. And keep in mind that every tank and shell IS pulls out of that inventory means more business for General Dynamics and similar firms. Essentially selling weapons to both sides of a conflict is smart business.
Big, heavy military equipment, however, takes months to manufacture. So even a quick order placed today doesn’t mean your gear will arrive in time for that promised spring offensive. So why not buy, or have gifted to you, something pre-owned and ready for immediate delivery? If you’re the government of Iraq, the U.S. military is already way ahead of you on this.
Since June, the U.S. has been stockpiling massive amounts of gear coming out of Afghanistan at Shuaiba, a port in Kuwait, in preparation for ultimately shipping at least some of it across the border into Iraq. The depot already houses 3,100 vehicles, mostly the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles ubiquitous in America’s wars. MRAPs are useful for protecting troops from roadside bombs, including the Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) versions made in Iran that took the lives of many Americans during Iraq War 2.0. That must take a weight off Iraqi minds.
Another thing that may help: The United States has already donated 250 MRAPs to Iraq as well as $300 million in weapons handed over free-of-charge by the Department of Defense in 2014. And don’t forget: Into an omnibus spending bill Congress passed last month is tucked $1.2 billion in future training and equipment for Iraq. And let’s not forget either all those need-to-be-replaced bombs being regularly dropped on Iraq by the U.S. Air Force at a cost of up to one billion dollars and counting.
Are Tanks Good for Anything Other Than Profits?
For Congress to approve the DSCA arms deals, the Department of Defense must certify that “the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” So the tanks to fight IS will have to be certified in writing not to affect the regional situation.
Whatever the Iraqis think they need the tanks for, America’s nine-year-long slog through Iraq War 2.0 should have offered a lesson in how relatively useless heavy armor is for the kind of urban fighting and counter-insurgency warfare usually seen against a foe like IS. In fact, the logistics needed to maintain an M1 in combat can actually slow an advance, while the steel beasts are relatively easy targets in the confines of a Middle Eastern city like Mosul.
Maybe, in the end, some of those M1s will even land in Iranian hands, given the robust role that country is playing in the current Iraq war. America’s front-line military technology could, in other words, find its way into the hands of people capable of a little reverse engineering to mine technology for Iran’s own tank corps or to sell on the world market. It seems Baghdad is already sharing other U.S.-supplied weapons with Iranian-influenced Shia militias, so why not tanks?
Let’s put it this way: From any point of view except General Dynamics’s, the Islamic State’s, or maybe the Iranians’, these tank sales don’t add up.
Call Your Broker
It’s easy enough to toss around terms like “military-industrial complex” and equally easy to slip from there into what some might consider blood-for-oil conspiracy theories or suggestions that Iraq War 2.0 was all about the mega-contractor Halliburton’s bottom line. While oil and Halliburton were certainly part of that past war’s calculus, they can no more account for it than the piles of money General Dynamics is about to make selling tanks can alone account for Iraq War 3.0.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the way defense companies find themselves buried in cash from selling weapons that aren’t needed to people who can’t use them, sales that are, in the end, likely to harm, not help, America’s geopolitical interests. Perhaps it is better to see the immediate profits from such deals as just a part of a much bigger process, one that demands America have enemies to crusade against to ensure the survival of the national security state.
To such a “wartime” paradigm one just needs to plug in new bad guys from time to time, which is proving an ever-easier venture, since each of our previous wars and conflicts seems to offer a remarkably helpful hand in creating them. In this way, radical Islam has proven, with Washington’s help, a worthy successor to the Soviet Union, itself once a superb money-making venture and a great way to build a monumental national security state.
Even as the Obama administration stumbles and bumbles along in search of a magical political strategy in Iraq that would make sense of everything, American weapons-makers can expect a bountiful future. In the meantime, Washington is putting forces in place that, by doing more of the same for the third time in a disintegrating Iraq in the middle of a fracturing region, guarantee more of the same. In that sense, you might say that American forces are partly in place to help promote the investment. If one needed an example of how the military-industrial complex works today, that might be it. Every mistake by Washington is a boon for future arms sales.
So if you’ve got money to invest in General Dynamics, you might want to call your broker.