Thursday, May 03, 2007

Republicans Conflicted, Moving Toward Benchmarks

The LATimes reports that Republicans say a new spending bill should include benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet:
Distressed by the violence in Iraq and worried about tying their political fate to an unpopular president, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to move away from the White House to stake out a more critical position on the U.S. role in the war.

These lawmakers are advocating proposals that would tie the U.S. commitment in the war to the Iraqi government's ability to demonstrate that it is working to quell the sectarian conflict.

One of my favorite comments comes from Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine):
"Obviously, the president would prefer a straight funding bill with no benchmarks, no conditions, no reports. Many of us, on both sides of the aisle, don't see that as viable."

The fact is that even when conditions have been put into legislation, Republicans have ignored them, and enabled Bush make Iraq into a hell on earth.

From AUMF or HJ resolution 114 (the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq that Congress gave Bush on October 16, 2002):
(a) REPORTS.—The President shall, at least once every 60 days,
submit to the Congress a report on matters relevant to this joint
resolution, including actions taken pursuant to the exercise of
authority granted in section 3 and the status of planning for efforts
that are expected to be required after such actions are completed,
including those actions described in section 7 of the Iraq Liberation
Act of 1998 (Public Law 105–338).

You can read the rest (AUMF) here to learn what else was required of Bush that he has never complied with.

The Republican-controlled Congress let it slide. There have been none of these required reports to Congress in the more than 4 years of this war in Iraq.

If you've read any of the books that have detailed what's been going on in the Bush administration and how it's conducted the war, I think you'd notice exactly what the problem is. Aside, of course, from the fact that the war never should have happened in the first place, or that neocons like Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Hadley had an impossible ideological dream of Iraq as their incubator for conservatives' economic theories (privatization). What is the problem?

It's that everyone in the Bush administration is a dilettante. They're all big on theory, but they haven't any practical experience actually working.

It's a pattern that's evident from all of the accounts of this administration. You can even pick it up in the 9/11 Commission's Report. The ordinary people doing the work in government, career workers, civil servants (and in Iraq, the troops), all did (and are doing) their jobs superbly. It's that middle level, the appointees, the political players right up through Bush, that have failed miserably.

Some of the books published so far make for extremely frustrating reading for people trained and experienced in breaking down tasks and communications to their most basic, direct and efficient steps. I don't think that the authors themselves realize that what they have revealed in their books, of the failures of the Bush administration, all have this common thread.

Bob Woodward goes into some detail in "State of Denial" about some of the efforts undertaken to identify why the invasion of Iraq wasn't going as had been sold to Congress and the American people. Woodward describes Condoleeza Rice at loggerheads with Rumsfeld. In March, 2004, Rice sends her senior director for defense at the NSC, Frank Miller, to Iraq to find out what's really going on. Miller headed the Executive Steering Group which was to coordinate Iraq issues among the different federal agencies.

On one trip, Miller spent a week traveling all over Iraq and seemed to get a sense of the problem: "Bremer didn't delegate and he doesn't have time to do everything."
Though Bremer tried to control things, on so many issues, Miller said, the staff at CPA was playing to run out of the clock. They kept deferring to the iraqi Governing Council, which was slow or stagnant in making decisions-communications, regulatory policy, police code of conduct, hiring former officers, firing the Kirkuk teachers. It was always the same story. People in the CPA are tired, bitter and defeatist. There are few problem-solvers there, and the Iraqi ministries aren't much help.

"We need to pick our top 10 issues," he advised, things that needed to be accomplished before the handover of sovereignty was schedule to take place.

Miller listed the top 10 issues, and included five more - all general complaints, with no concrete recommendations:
First they shouldn't underestimate how many Iraqis were watching Al Jazeera on satellite TV. Electricity is a problem, he added, not just because they didn't have enough of it, but because to Iraqis it was seen as something that should be free.

Second, Sanchez and Bremer aren't talking. And Sanchez and his division commanders aren't communicating effectively enough.

Third, CPA never leaves the Green Zone. Their regional offices in all 18 provinces outside Baghdad are worth their weight in gold, but the folks in the green Zone were not doing anything

Fourth, de-Baathification is a mess. There are some good people with only tenuous Baathist connections who are not being allowed in, Miller said. He wasn't sure whether it was the CPA or the de-Baathification group run by the nephew of Ahmed Chalabi who was responsible, but Chalabi was hoarding files from the old iraqi intelligence service-a prime source of information on who had been a true-believer Baathist under Saddam-making it almost impossible to determine levels of involvement.

Fifth, they needed to put contracts on a wartime footing. CPA was sending out requests for proposals with 90-day timelines. That was pointless, bureaucratic busywork. In 90 days, CPA would be nearly extinct.

On page 294, Woodward writes:
Miller repeated his briefing to most of the deputies on the NSC, including Armitage and Pace. He talked with Scooter Libby, hoping his most salient points would make their way to the vice president.

At the Pentagon briefing for Wolfowitz, it was standing room only, with lots of straphangers from Feith's policy shop and the CPA-Washington liaison. There's not a single person in this room who will do a thing about what I have to say, Miller thought, even if they believe it. The problem as always was implementation.

He started putting these items on the deputies committee agendas. How do we cut contracting time? How do we get more CERP funds for military commanders? Can't we standardize the training for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps? How do we weed out the bad apples so we have a better, saner, quicker de-Baathification process?

"I will fix it," Rice told Miller. She called Bremer. "You will give the division commanders more money." The division commanders got another billion dollars in CERP funds.

This story continues with success in Iraq being no closer, actually getting worse, and repeats itself just about every six months to a year. Rice sends Miller to find out "What's really going on in Iraq?", Miller returns, reports, more money is sent, lather, rinse, repeat. Reading this, I became increasingly annoyed that at no point did anybody with authority actually hand-carry the money through, find out just what and where the bottlenecks are, and make on-the-spot decisions to break through them. There are no Lt. General Russel Honores involved anywhere in this quagmire of Iraq.

And after four years of it, I believe that it's by design.

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