Friday, June 22, 2007

Gen. Pace: Progress in Iraq is 100% mental

Foot in mouth alert!

General Peter Pace, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offeredsome interesting thoughts on progress in Iraq yesterday:

"If you had zero violence and people were not feeling good about their future, where are you?" said Pace, emphasizing that the sentiment of the Iraqi people is a much better measurement than the number of attacks. "So it's not about levels of violence. It's about progress being made, in fact, in the minds of the Iraqi people, so that they have confidence in their government in the way forward."

Is this the same Pace who unapologetically labeled homosexual acts "immoral" a few months ago? Our newly unbound hedonist - finally approaching the end of his service under the teetotaling Bush Administration - is only concerned about people "feeling good." And who can blame the guy for wanting to let his hair down after seven years in the on-message-but-horribly-disconnected-from-reality Bush Administration?

According to Pace, "it's not about levels of violence." Okay, if quantifiable metrics don't matter, what should replace them? The perception of progress "in the minds of the Iraqi people," Pace suggests, is the path to the promised land.

You have got to be kidding me. Pace now prefers Iraqis' feelings to real-life, measurable levels of violence? Did he hire a new policy advisor or something?

I know successful counterinsurgency requires winning hearts and minds, but that doesn't mean you ignore the dozens of Iraqis and Americans being killed every day in the streets of Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. Or the terrorist attacks and spectacular car bombings that continue to widen the chasm between Iraq's sects and make political reconciliation - and the emergence of Iraq as a stable political entity capable of providing basic protection to its citizens - less and less likely.

Pace's reaffirmed 100% commitment to mental progress in Iraq as the "way forward" brings to mind the classic quip from the late Rodney Dangerfield inBack to School (1986):

Dr. Phillip Barbay (Paxton Whitehead): “Now, notwithstanding Mr. Melon’s input the next question for us is where to build our factory.”

Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield): “How about Fantasyland?”

The Administration seems intent upon keeping its Iraq policy shop in the same location.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Soldiers, civil servants feel the strain in Iraq

On Tuesday, acting Army Secretary Pete Geren told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Army may have to extend the combat tours of U.S. troops in Iraq once again if President Bush insists on maintaining his surge into spring of 2008.

Geren said that the military is also considering relying more heavily on Army reservists or Navy and Air Force personnel as alternatives to extending active Army combat tours.

"It's too early to look into the next year, but for the Army we have to begin to plan," Geren told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We have to look into our options."

Earlier this year, combat tours were extended to 15 months from 12 months, with 12 months at home guaranteed between tours. This extension infuriated lawmakers who wanted to adhere to the previous standard of soldiers having as much time at home as at war.

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), for example, asked "Who was talking for the well being and the health of the Soldiers when this requirement was put down?" referring to the 15-month combat tours. After four years of combat, the strategy in Iraq cannot "justify doing this to the Soldiers in the Army and the families back here," Webb said.

American civil servants in Iraq are suffering too. The Washington Postreported yesterday that 40% of State Department diplomats who have served in danger zones abroad suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

State started an internal poll to try and assess the prevalence of PTSD in its ranks. "Preliminary results from the State Department survey suggest that it may affect some 40 percent or more, similar to what has been reported for the U.S. military," Steven Kashkett, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday.

Kashkett also said that some 2,000 diplomats have volunteered to serve in Iraq since 2003. At least 20% of the U.S. Foreign Service has already served in Iraq according to the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.

In a memo obtained by the AP, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice laid out a new policy for assigning diplomats to Iraq that could essentially block appointments to other posts and force, or "direct," some diplomats to accept positions in Iraq:
"We must ensure that these top priority requirements are met before any other staffing decisions are made," Rice said in the cable. "To that end, we have decided to take the unprecedented step of creating a special country-specific assignment cycle for Iraq, commencing with the release of this message."

Rice's dynamic action comes in response to a plea from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who two weeks ago complained that "Simply put, we cannot do the nation's most important work if we do not have the Department's best people." Crocker has achieved some success in increasing his staff in Baghdad, including adding 11 additional political officers and 12 economic officers.

Iraqi civilians continue to suffer - and so do we.

Retired generals discuss Iraq exit in New Hampshire

Brig. General John Johns, a Council for a Livable World board member, and Lt. General Robert Gard, Senior Military Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, are up in New Hampshire right now speaking about responsible U.S. exit strategies from Iraq.

The trip, organized by a number of activist groups, is explained in greater detail at StandUpCongress.

The AP ran a nice piece on Johns and Gard this morning that was printed in the Concord Monitor, Foster's Daily Democrat, and Nashua Telegraph in NH. That's what I call targeted messaging.

Here are some highlights from the press coverage:

Retired generals against the Iraq war are bringing their message to New Hampshire, the first primary state and home to vulnerable Republican U.S. Sen. John Sununu. 

Gen. Robert Gard and Brig. Gen. John Johns, both retired, are teaming up with Win Without War, a group pushing for American withdrawal from Iraq within one year, and are scheduled to speak at a town-hall-style meeting today in Manchester. Win Without War was founded in 2002 and counts, NAACP, Sierra Club, National Organization for Women and several church groups among its coalition members.


Johns, 79, said he is an independent who voted for Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. But he said his opinion of President Bush did not sour until 2002, when talk surfaced of invading Iraq. 

"It was one of the great blunders of history to go in the way that we did," said Johns, who retired from the military in 1978. 

"I was indifferent until 2002, when it became clear that he planned to go unilaterally into Iraq. . . . At that point, I became an activist."

Gard said he voted for Bush in 2000. "That was a bad mistake on my part, and I knew it as early as 2002," Gard said, echoing Johns's comments. He said increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq now is not a solution that can lead to a military victory or stabilizing the country. "It's not winnable with military force. We are exacerbating, not solving, the problem," Gard said.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How much money should the U.S. pay Iraqi and Afghan civilians?

On Monday, Walter Pincus wrote an interesting piece in the Washington Post: “The Measure of a Life, in Dollars and Cents.” Pincus discussed anew GAO report detailing how the U.S. government makes condolence payments to the families of civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on Pincus's article, I tracked down the GAO report and read it for myself. Here is my analysis.

Programs for Compensating Iraqi and Afghan Civilians

The U.S. has several programs in place to compensate Iraqi and Afghan nationals for damage, injury, or death that occurs due to U.S. actions.

Foreign Claims Act (DoD) - Covers adjudication of claims up to $100,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan. (GAO, 49) DoD paid about $26 million to settle approximately 21,450 claims under the Foreign Claims Act from FY2003 to FY2006 in Iraq and Afghanistan. (GAO, 50)

Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund (USAID) - Funds projects to assist Iraqi civilians, institutions, and communities directly impacted by the actions of U.S. forces. (GAO, 53) The fund has paid $17.8 million for 768 projects since 2005. (ibid.)

Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (USAID) - Funds projects to assist Afghan civilians, institutions, and communities directly impacted by the actions of U.S. forces. (ibid.) The fund has paid $2.3 million for 51 projects since 2003. (ibid.)

Claims and Condolence Payment Program (State Dept.) - Makes condolence payments resulting from harm caused by State Department protective security details in Iraq. (GAO, 51) There is no comparable program in Afghanistan. There is no explicit maximum payment level, but the payments tend to be $2,500, the maximum condolence payment level established by DoD. State has paid $26,000 for 8 claims since FY2006. (GAO, 52)

Solatia Payments (DoD) - Token or nominal payment for death, injury, or property damage caused by U.S. forces during combat. (GAO, 13) Solatia payments in Iraq were only used for a short period of time and DoD isn't obligated to report solatia payments, although commands in Afghanistan track this information. Maximum payments in Iraq were $2,500 for death, $1,500 for serious injury, and $200 (or more) for minor injury. The Marines reported making $1.7 million in solatia payments in Iraq from FY2003 to FY2005. $141,466 was paid in Afghanistan in solatia payments during FY2006. (GAO, 42)

Condolence Payments (DoD) - Expression of sympathy for death, injury, or property damage caused by U.S. forces. Also sometimes given, at commander's discretion, to Iraqi civilians assisting U.S. forces who are harmed by enemy action. Maximum payment is $2,500 for each instance of death, injury, or property damage. DoD paid $29 million in condolence payments in Iraq and Afghanistan during FY2005 and FY2006. (GAO, 43)

GAO also provides a chilling example of the calculation that goes into condolence payments:
Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in CERP condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage). (GAO, 25)

Solatia payments were made out of units' operations and maintenance (O&M) funds while condolence payments are made out of the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds. CERP funds have nineteen prescribed uses. Number 16 reads: "Condolence payments to individual civilians for death, injury, or property damage resulting from U.S., coalition, or supporting military operations." (GAO, 19)

Funding for Condolence Payment Programs in Iraq

Here are charts provided by GAO that break down condolence payments as a proportion of total CERP disbursements in FY2005 and FY2006:
Thus, condolence payments represented 8.2% of total FY2005 CERP disbursements in Iraq, compared to 5% in FY2006. Why did total CERP disbursements decrease between FY2005 and FY2006? Why did the proportion of CERP disbursements set aside for condolence payments decrease during the same time?

One answer to both questions might be that the money wasn't reduced but merely redirected into other similar DoD programs focusing on supporting Iraqi civilians. In his article, however, Walter Pincus insinuates that this isn't the case: "In 2005, the sums distributed in Iraq reached $21.5 million and - with violence on the upswing - dropped to $7.3 million last year." Pincus seems to think DoD took money out of condolence payments and didn't redeposit it somewhere similar.

Here is a look at where condolence payment disbursements in Iraq have gone geographically:

These numbers are very interesting. The high level of FY2006 condolence spending by Multinational Force-West likely reflects the attention paid to Anbar province by coalition forces during that time. American commanders were trying to make inroads with tribal leaders in Anbar and condolence payments were an integral part of that mission.

The recent reduction of violence in Anbar may be partially explained by the effectiveness of CERP and condolence payments, although it would be a stretch to stay that CERP single-handedly quelled the violence in Anbar.

dollars in the near future as In fact, it appears now that insurgents merely migrated from Anbar to Diyala and other provinces, the proverbial "whack-a-mole" phenomenon. Currently increased levels of insurgent activity in Diyala and the corresponding increase in the American troop presence as part of Operation Arrowhead Ripper may mean that Multinational Division-North receives more CERP disbursements as reconstruction and stabilization efforts unfold. (See this morning's Times and Post articles for more information on Arrowhead Ripper)

It is surprising that Baghdad received only 10% ($3 million) of total condolence payment disbursements ($28.8 million) in Iraq during FY2005-FY2006. Roughly 6 million people live in Baghdad - out of a total Iraqi population of 27.5 million - meaning Baghdad contains about a quarter of all Iraqis. Furthermore, violence levels in Baghdad have been consistently higher than other parts of Iraq.

With more people and more violence, why didn't Multinational Division-Baghdad receive more condolence payment disbursements ?

Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) Funding

The FY2007 war supplemental spending package (HR 2206) signed into law by President Bush on May 25, 2007, provides $456.4 million for CERP in Iraq and Afghanistan. (see my analysis of the Supplemental)

The House passed its version of the FY2008 Defense Authorization bill (HR 1585) with a recommendation to extend the CERP program through FY2009. (Sec. 1205)

The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended $977.4 million in CERP funding for Iraq and Afghanistan in its marked-up but yet to be considered version of the Defense Authorization bill (S 1547). (Sec. 1203)

To date - including the recently passed FY2007 Supplemental spending package - the U.S. has spent approximately $610 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (see my analysis of the Supplemental)

Here is what the U.S. spent on condolence payments according to the most recent numbers provided in the GAO report (numbers from above):

Foreign Claims Act (DoD) - $26 million
Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund (USAID) - $17.8 million
Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (USAID) - $2.3 million
Claims and Condolence Payment Program (State Dept.) - $26,000
Solatia Payments (DoD) - $1.8 million
Condolence Payments (DoD) - $29 million
...for a grand total of $76.9 million. That is roughly 0.013% of total spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We owe innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians harmed as a result of U.S. actions more than 0.013% of our total war spending.

The proportion of CERP disbursements going towards condolence payments should be restored to Iraq's FY2005 level of 8%. Based on this percentage, if the House and Senate agree to adopt the Senate Armed Services Committee's $977.4 million recommendation for CERP, DoD should pay out $78.2 million in condolence disbursements in Iraq and Afghanistan during FY2008.

This increased condolence payment funding would be combined with funding in other programs - like Foreign Claims - to far surpass anything that has spent up until this point.

In Iraq, if the U.S. truly hopes to transition the mission, condolence payments will help achieve two goals: 1) Engender goodwill within the Iraqi populace by providing some concrete recognition that the U.S. has made mistakes while occupying Iraq; and 2) Prime the pump of the Iraqi economy by providing desperately needed capital for personal and community investments.

While handing out money is not a panacea, the commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan regularly report that CERP is one of the most effective hammers in their toolkit. Congress should listen to U.S. commanders on the ground and invest in Iraqi and Afghan civilians' well-being, as opposed to funding only the bullets and bombs that drive civilians further into the hands of terrorist groups and sectarian militias.

The path to justice in the post-George W. Bush world begins in Iraq and Afghanistan with increased condolence payments to innocent civilians harmed by U.S. military actions.

Soccer unites Iraqis, if only for a moment

As a former competitive - and now not so competitive, although active nonetheless - soccer player, I love it when I get to mix the beautiful game with the not so beautiful game, i.e. work.

Dan Murphy had a great article in the Christian Science Monitor yesterday on soccer in Iraq and the greater Middle East. He starts with some subtle snark: "The new Iraq that America's 'neocons' once dreamed of – undivided by sectarian animosities and proudly looking toward the future – was finally on display at a soccer match."

Here are some highlights from Murphy's piece:
Flags waved amid a sea of Iraqis Saturday night. A middle-age Shiite shop-owner and the Rolex-wearing Sunni businessman sitting next to him joined the throng in the latest chant of "We'd give our blood so you can live, Iraq."

Hamid Shukri, a doctor from Baghdad, leaned over to me when he realized I'm an American. "Don't worry," he shouted above the din, grinning ear to ear. "There are no terrorists here."


But on nights like Saturday, the exiles' shared common plight allows them to set aside whatever sectarian animosities that might linger below the surface and just be Iraqis. "Shiite, Sunni, no one cares here tonight," says Mohammed, who asked that his full name not be used. He is from just outside Baqubah, Iraq, which has been the scene of major sectarian cleansing in the past few years.

Soccer is so complex in that it can unify nations and people but also intensify nationalism and patriotic sentiment. We miss out on so much of it here in the U.S., but elsewhere in the world soccer and politics are inextricably interwoven. Intrigue, betrayal, heroism - these are words that describe the sometimes overwrought but always addictive realm of soccer and politics abroad.

If you're interested in the connection between soccer and politics, I highly recommend How Soccer Explains The World by Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic.

Although I haven't seen it yet, Offside is a new movie by director Jafar Panahi about six Iranian women who try to sneak into a World Cup qualifying match in Tehran (read a review on Alternet here). Women are expressly forbidden from entering sports stadiums in Iran.

Finally, I highly, highly recommend The Other Final, "a film about love, football and a faulty loudspeaker." This awesome documentary chronicles a game between Bhutan and Montserrat, the bottom-ranked teams in the FIFA world rankings at the time it was filmed (202 and 203, respectively). My college coach made us go watch it in what we thought would be another corny team outing, but we actually enjoyed it and some of the funnier catchphrases even supplanted Old School and Anchorman for awhile.

Well, a short while...