Saturday, November 04, 2006

Time for Rumsfeld to go

From Air Force Times Monday, 06 November 2006

"So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth."

That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

But until recently, the "hard bruising" truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington. One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on "critical" and has been sliding toward "chaos" for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake.

It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

U.S. Central Command Charts Sharp Movement of the Civil Conflict in Iraq Toward Chaos

Published: November 1, 2006

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 — A classified briefing prepared two weeks ago by the United States Central Command portrays Iraq as edging toward chaos, in a chart that the military is using as a barometer of civil conflict.

A one-page slide shown at the Oct. 18 briefing provides a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.

The slide includes a color-coded bar chart that is used to illustrate an “Index of Civil Conflict.” It shows a sharp escalation in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, and tracks a further worsening this month despite a concerted American push to tamp down the violence in Baghdad.

In fashioning the index, the military is weighing factors like the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures, rather than more traditional military measures such as the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.

The conclusions the Central Command has drawn from these trends are not encouraging, according to a copy of the slide that was obtained by The New York Times. The slide shows Iraq as moving sharply away from “peace,” an ideal on the far left side of the chart, to a point much closer to the right side of the spectrum, a red zone marked “chaos.” As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.

An intelligence summary at the bottom of the slide reads “urban areas experiencing ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns to consolidate control” and “violence at all-time high, spreading geographically.” According to a Central Command official, the index on civil strife has been a staple of internal command briefings for most of this year. The analysis was prepared by the command’s intelligence directorate, which is overseen by Brig. Gen. John M. Custer.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, who heads the command, warned publicly in August about the risk of civil war in Iraq, but he said then that he thought it could be averted. In evaluating the prospects for all-out civil strife, the command concentrates on “key reads,” or several principal variables.

According to the slide from the Oct. 18 briefing, the variables include “hostile rhetoric” by political and religious leaders, which can be measured by listening to sermons at mosques and to important Shiite and Sunni leaders, and the amount of influence that moderate political and religious figures have over the population. The other main variables are assassinations and other especially provocative sectarian attacks, as well as “spontaneous mass civil conflict.”

A number of secondary indicators are also taken into account, including activity by militias, problems with ineffective police, the ability of Iraqi officials to govern effectively, the number of civilians who have been forced to move by sectarian violence, the willingness of Iraqi security forces to follow orders, and the degree to which the Iraqi Kurds are pressing for independence from the central government.

These factors are evaluated to create the index of civil strife, which has registered a steady worsening for months. “Ever since the February attack on the Shiite mosque in Samarra, it has been closer to the chaos side than the peace side,” said a Central Command official who asked not to be identified because he was talking about classified information.

In the Oct. 18 brief, the index moved still another notch toward “chaos.” That briefing was prepared three days before General Abizaid met in Washington with President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to take stock of the situation in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Central Command declined to comment on the index or other information in the slide. “We don’t comment on secret material,” the spokesman said.

One significant factor in the military’s decision to move the scale toward “chaos” was the expanding activity by militias.

Another reason was the limitations of Iraqi government security forces, which despite years of training and equipping by the United States, are either ineffective or, in some cases, infiltrated by the very militias they are supposed to be combating. The slide notes that “ineffectual” Iraqi police forces have been a significant problem, and cites as a concern sectarian conflicts between Iraqi security forces.

Other significant factors are in the political realm. The slide notes that Iraq’s political and religious leaders have lost some of their moderating influence over their constituents or adherents.

Notably, the slide also cites difficulties that the new Iraqi administration has experienced in “governance.” That appears to be shorthand for the frustration felt by American military officers about the Iraqi government’s delays in bringing about a genuine political reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. It also appears to apply to the lack of reconstruction programs to restore essential services and the dearth of job creation efforts to give young Iraqis an alternative to joining militias, as well as the absence of firm action against militias.

The slide lists other factors that are described as important but less significant. They include efforts by Iran and Syria to enable violence by militias and insurgent groups and the interest by many Kurds in achieving independence. The slide describes violence motivated by sectarian differences as having moved into a “critical” phase.

The chart does note some positive developments. Specifically, it notes that “hostile rhetoric” by political and religious leaders has not increased. It also notes that Iraqi security forces are refusing less often than in the past to take orders from the central government and that there has been a drop-off in mass desertions.

Still, for a military culture that thrives on PowerPoint briefings, the shifting index was seen by some officials as a stark warning about the difficult course of events in Iraq, and mirrored growing concern by some military officers.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

McCaskill will bring needed change

Both Claire McCaskill and Jim Talent bring hefty credentials to the U.S. Senate race in Missouri. Both can point to significant accomplishments in their political careers, and each speaks with authority on a wide range of issues.

But a critical difference between the two candidates has become increasingly clear this fall: Claire McCaskill, currently the Missouri auditor, seems far more interested than her opponent in bringing fundamental change to Washington.
Such change is essential. From the costly mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan to runaway deficit spending, from the ethics scandals and even criminal behavior in Congress to the administration’s scorn for key constitutional protections, the federal government is simply way off course.

That’s why public approval ratings for Congress are at rock bottom. Across the political spectrum, Americans want to see substantial change in Washington.
McCaskill gets it. That’s why the Democratic candidate is the best choice for the Senate seat.

On issue after issue, she identifies the fundamental problems and expresses enthusiasm — great enthusiasm, in fact — for tackling them.

On Iraq, she rightly criticizes the poor planning, corruption, human-rights abuses and diplomatic ineptitude that have undermined the U.S. military effort.

But she understands that immediate withdrawal would be a mistake. She suggests stronger international diplomacy, a two-year transition period to a multinational security force and a tougher approach to Iraqi leaders who should be doing more to build a stable democracy.

Among McCaskill’s other goals and positions: Better border and port security, greater fiscal responsibility, more equitable tax policies, serious health-care reform, strong support for lifesaving stem-cell research, a more level playing field for international trade, greater federal respect for civil liberties and a renewed U.S. commitment to human rights.

It’s an ambitious agenda. It is also a badly needed one.

Talent, the Republican incumbent, offers some good ideas, such as pushing for a larger military force.

Yet he often sounds complacent, overlooking Washington’s mistakes or even bragging about a fiasco like the costly, confusing prescription drug program in Medicare. He sometimes seems to focus on fairly narrow issues.

In Iraq, an upbeat Talent argues, U.S. troops would already be withdrawing if not for the recent upsurge in sectarian violence. But that’s hardly persuasive; it’s like saying that it would be a nice day outside if only it weren’t raining.
Talent’s shrill, deceptive campaign ads — over-the-top even by lax political standards — have been disconcerting. Pressed about them last week, Talent oddly sought credit for not using them earlier. He added with apparent pride that other candidates had run even worse material elsewhere.

That’s setting the bar pretty low, particularly for a U.S. senator who talks about the need for greater civility in American political life. It is something for voters to take into account.

Also on the ballot are Libertarian Frank Gilmour and Lydia Lewis of the Progressive Party.

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