• Talk to the American People about Ukraine, Joe

    October 20, 2023 // 18 Comments »

    America needs to hear from its own president, not Volodymyr Zelensky, about what is going on in Ukraine.

    America just can’t get enough of Endless War it seems; otherwise why would it keep getting into one of them? Leaving aside ancient historical examples like Korea (still ongoing) and Vietnam (result was a complete defeat of the U.S. after decades of conflict preceeded by years of U.S. nearly completely funding the failed French war effort there) we have the more modern examples of Iraq and Afghanistan. The former sputtered to defeat for the U.S. after decades of war (counting Gulf War I and the bombing campaigns which accomplished little permanently and Gulf War II which led to empowering Iran in Iraq via Gulf War 2.5) and the latter concluding decisively on the TV August 2021 with the symbolically cluster-futzed final evacuation (memories of Saigon.) Each war started with no real practical goal in mind (remember nation building? The War on Terror, i.e., a war against a tactic?)

    With that kind of track record you’d think America would take a breather from Endless War, you know, take a few years off to get its head together, maybe work the fentanyl problem, get the economy together so people other than Democratic commentators can see it growing. But no. Just a scant six months after hosing the last Afghan dust off our boots the U.S. finds itself mired in Ukraine. No clear, realistic goal? Check. Open-ended commitment of U.S. resources? Check. Potential to suck U.S. forces directly into the conflict? Check. Dubious one man celebrity leader? Check. Unclear as hell how Ukraine fits into our national interest, how much more time and money will be expected to achieve whatever our objectives are, and how much Europe plans to contribute to the war taking place in its backyard? Check.

    It is time for President Biden to explain some things to the American people.

    1) What is the endgame, Joe? Is it democracy in Ukraine? If so, you’re off to a rough start. Zelensky over the past two years conscripted his own citizens, kept young males from the freedom to travel, done away with opposition parties, canceled all future elections indefinitely, consolidated all TV platforms in Ukraine into one state broadcast, dealt harshly with dissidents, and assumed practically one-man rule over the nation, certainly its war. Plus there’s all that about units of the Ukrainian military being actual Nazis. So Joe, what is the plan to bring democracy to Ukraine? It seems only that things have gotten worse since the U.S. intervened to prevent the Russians from doing many of the things Zelensky has already done to his own country. FYI Joe, you’ll recall military imposition of democratic values historically has failed.

    2) Or Joe, is the point of the war to force Russia out of what Ukraine claims as its territory? Does that include the territory the U.S. gifted a few years ago to the Russians in the Crimea when under another president all this seemed much less dire? Or just to retake the land back which Russia gained after February 2022? That was the point of the Great 2023 Spring Counter-Offensive, right? Be up front with the propaganda-weary American people about how things are going; the Ukrainians in their offensive using most of the conventional ground-force arms in America’s arsenal, gained back only 143 square miles. The Russians, supposedly on the defensive, gained 331 square miles of land. With the Counter-Offensive now clearly a failure, what is the next step? Is there a plan? How do we define win? “As long as it takes” is not a viable option, it’s just a recipe for another Vietnam, another Afghanistan.

    3) What role if any will diplomacy with Russia play in achieving this end game, whatever it is? Have the Russians sought to meet and discuss the war? Has the U.S. offered to meet? If not, why not? Diplomacy can end wars. We know your secretary of state can pick a fight but can he stop one, the real test for his profession? Because it is complicated, we’ll give you a pass on how our own government helped create this situation in the first place, something the American people need to know more about at some point.

    4) Speaking of things the American public needs to know about, who blew up the Nordstrom pipeline between Russia and Germany? Is this the kind of war America is in that we would blow up the pipeline to press Germany to further join the fight? Or is it the kind of war where Ukraine would somehow muster the technical know-how to blow up the pipeline to force Germany to further join the fight? Why would the Russians blow up a pipeline that supplies their gas to Germany, a significant source of revenue? Is this war that dirty?

    5) The U.S. has appropriated $113 billion dollars to Ukraine, paying for everything from tanks to ambulance drivers’ regular salaries. And what else Joe? What systems are in place for accountability for this money? Could it be that more money simply deepens the quagmire and pushes us closer to direct conflict with Russia? You’ve spoken in the past how accountability lies with the Inspectors General at the Department of Defense, State, and USAID. They point to “a decade of shared experience gained from joint oversight of eight different overseas contingency operations, forgetting the spectacular failure of oversight of these overseas contingency operations,” and how the same agencies covered up waste, fraud, and mismanagement and deliberately mislead the American public on the progress made in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Joe, you need to address opposition to the more formal structure of establishing a Special Inspector General for Ukraine (SIGUR), such as SIGIR in Iraq and SIGAR in Afghanistan. “As much as it takes” is a blank check the American taxpayer needs to know more about. Senator Rand Paul in the spring placed a temporary hold on a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, demanding unsuccessfully Congress insert a provision into the aid package creating an inspector general to oversee the distribution of the aid. As SIGAR noted, “While Afghanistan and Ukraine are very different countries with a history of facing very different threats, many of the challenges U.S. agencies faced in Afghanistan—coordinating efforts, dealing with corruption, and effectively monitoring and evaluating projects and programs—will be the same as the ones they will face in Ukraine.” And speaking of corruption, your own State Department has singled out Ukraine for its corrupt practices, which as you know from Iraq and Afghanistan will seriously dilute any aid. Why resist additional oversight?

    6) We know there are American Special Forces on the ground in Ukraine, and America forces in command and control roles in the ongoing fight. Are there redlines, either promised to Zelensky or just for yourself, Joe, to trigger a larger U.S. direct role in Ukraine? What would it take to have more “advisers” on the ground, or American air power, or American leadership embedded with Ukrainian troops in the field? At what point in escalation would you agree Congress needs to formally weigh in? And no fair making it all OK by calling the deployments “NATO” instead of American. A Russia-NATO scuffle is a Russia-U.S. scuffle.

    No more malarkey, Joe. Time to talk to the American people about Ukraine.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

    Today’s Benghazi Hearing: Quick Recap

    May 8, 2013 // 14 Comments »



    The State Department was beaten up pretty bad in today’s Benghazi hearing, with both Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Hicks (second in charge after the ambassador) and RSO (security guy) Ed Nordstrom from Libya contradicting earlier State Department remarks.

    Hicks in particular made it clear that there was absolutely nothing to justify Susan Rice’s September 2012 assertions that the attack had anything to do with an anti-Muslim video demonstration, and that all reporting from Libya, from the first phone call, claimed a terror attack was underway.

    Nordstrom was equally blunt that the State Department willfully understaffed security in Benghazi, and ignored evidence that the Consulate was vulnerable.

    Hicks, Nordstrom and the third witness, Mark Thompson, came off as credible, dispassionate and very serious. Meanwhile, while Republicans were accused going in of playing politics, it was the Democratic members of the committee who were shrill, crude and desperate in trying to degrade (as opposed to rebut) the witnesses.

    Most fingers pointed toward Under Secretary of Management Pat Kennedy and Hillary aid Cheryl Mills as acting as Hillary’s proxies to make the bad, tragic, decisions. Long-term fallout unclear, but a lot of angry people in Foggy Bottom right now. The State Department was portrayed as disorganized, and often far more concerned about political impressions than the safety of its people and informing the American public.

    A decent summary of what was said, from CNN.

    I live-Tweeted most of the hearing. Search Twitter for @wemeantwell or #Benghazi to review.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

    Libya Just Gets Uglier and Sleazier

    October 10, 2012 // 9 Comments »

    The evidence that State knew of the security issues in Benghazi, and ignored them, continues to accumulate.

    Word is that inside Foggy Bottom everyone is rushing around getting their ducks in line so that someone else takes the symbolic fall for the screw-ups. They’ve got time– the Accountability Review Board will certainly not release anything before the election. Look for a news dump maybe the Friday after Thanksgiving? 2015? The truth will be happily buried, but in reality should be something like this: heavy security cost too much, plus it would make the Clinton narrative that limited-scale intervention in Libya worked look really bad right when her boss is struggling in the campaign. Admitting failure in Libya would also limit options in Syria. So, try and blame it on some video, then on al Qaeda (damn, that always used to work, too) and then find some mid-level person at State to hang.

    It Was the Other Guy

    One person not allowing himself to be the sacrificial lamb is the former State security officer for Libya, Eric Nordstrom, who is running around Washington telling pretty much everyone who will listen that it was State Department official Charlene Lamb who wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi “artificially low,” according to a memo summarizing his comments to a congressional committee that was obtained by Reuters. Nordstrom has also implicated State Department management robot Pat Kennedy in the bloody decision-making. Such plain speaking will otherwise end Nordstrom’s State Department career, and so we welcome him here into liberated We Meant Well territory. Call us for recommendations for lawyers Eric.

    Kudos no doubt inside State for Susan Rice being willing to take a bullet in the early days to try and save her boss. Bot now even State is doing a little pointless damage control saying there never was a video-related protest in Benghazi. So Susan, what’s being thrown under the bus feel like?

    Whither Diplomatic Security?

    Meanwhile, attention once again focuses on State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the bully boys who seem much better at hassling diplomats for extra-marital sex than protecting them from terror.

    Bureau of Diplomatic Security saw its budget expand about tenfold in the decade after the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Contributing to that growth were the U.S.-launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks.

    So where’d all that money go to if not into protecting places like Benghazi? Former FSO Bill answers:

    Don’t be fooled into thinking that the increased budget went to increased personnel and better security. Most of the increased funding is dedicated to Special Agent pensions under Public Law 105-382, which establishes age 57 as the mandatory retirement age for Special Agents, and computes their annuity at 2.5% of high 3 average salary times number of years. This is far more generous, and far more expensive than pension benefits for other State employees. In the late 90s, both State and ICE scrambled to get their officers designated as Special Agents, a designation previously limited to fewer agencies. While it was a prestige and morale issue for both agencies, it has had a major impact on budget expenditures. Those who complain that military pensions are too generous should note that DS uses the same formula as the military, but DS average salaries are much higher than military salaries. Once they retire with a really good pension, they can come right back as contractors, who don’t have any requirement to retire at age 57. That’s where the money goes.


    And Hillary?

    On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing “The Security Failures of Benghazi,” featuring Pat “Blood on his Hands” Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene “It Wasn’t Me” Lamb, Eric Nordstrom and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who lead the security team in Libya until August. Be sure to set your bullshit detectors to stun.

    Expect Kennedy to say something like “who could have anticipated this?” Well, Pat old chum, in a country where you are paying staff 30% additional danger pay, it seems real to expect things.

    But where is Hillary? Turns out her last public statement on the Libya fiasco was October 3, a week ago, another empty promise that “the men and women who serve this country as diplomats deserve no less than a full, accurate accounting.”

    Despite her usual lofty rhetoric, Hillary has had nothing more to say and won’t testify before the House. As soon as the real scrutiny begins, Hillary dummies up.

    Looking ahead to the Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, opposition researchers, please bookmark this page.

    BONUS Editorial

    State needs to make a decision. If State wishes to populate diplomatic establishments in active war zones, it must a) wait to create a permanent secure facility; b) pay for what is needed to create an appropriate temporary facility; or c) simply accept that diplomats will die for these political decisions.

    State instead wants to fulfill the short-term political suck up goal of staffing hot spots without paying the cost of proper security. As such, it is just a matter of time and chance that more places are not overrun.

    State is trying to treat Benghazi as some grand exception/accident when in fact it is just the first of many possibles. Post 9/11 very little has changed in the internal architecture of Diplomatic Security. They are still using the pre-9/11 model of relatively low-key civilian security, host country support and on-the-cheap local guard hires.

    Instead, the nasty truth is that the new model is Baghdad– an armed camp inside hostile territory wholly independent of host government assistance, ’cause there ain’t gonna be none.

    Of course the other idea would be to abandon the wet dream that State needs to staff active war zones. What’s the point anyway? Prior to the Iraq war porn fantasy, diplomats were withdrawn until a country stabilized.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq