Sexy Claire McCaskill

Anyone who says we can’t cut money at the Pentagon doesn’t understand what’s going on with contracting at the Pentagon.”

—Sen. Claire McCaskill

It’s not exactly a sexy subject, like the ongoing and unseemly fiscal cliff fight, but it is the kind of stuff that politicians are supposed to be doing, instead of creating artificial austerity crises:

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a sweeping overhaul on Tuesday of the U.S. government’s wartime contracting procedures, the largest such reform in decades. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) amendment, included in the national defense bill, is aimed at improving oversight and cracking down on the rampant waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars in contracting practices.

Before Missourians sent her to Washington, legislatively sexy Claire McCaskill was our state auditor, and her concern for the government’s fiscal accountability and integrity inherent in that job has now borne some national fruit, that is if House Republicans, responding to contractor’s demands, don’t lop it off in the conference committee.

Five years ago she helped (along with Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia) pass legislation that created a commission to study waste and fraud involved in wartime contracting, and after years of investigation the commission found, according to McCaskill’s press release, that,

the U.S. had squandered up to $60 billion through waste and fraud on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The panel identified major failures in contingency contract planning, execution and oversight within the government. It concluded that such waste will increase if accountability across government is not improved as U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

Think about that: $60 billion down the drain, or, better put: in somebody’s pocket who didn’t deserve it. That $60 billion could more than pay for the federal government’s emergency sexy claireaid to areas hit by Superstorm Sandy (Obama is planning on requesting $50 billion or so from Congress).

And while we, day after day, witness what is going on in Washington over whether to fiscal-cliff ourselves into another recession, we can for a moment admire McCaskill’s political pugnacity on this issue:

While these wars wind down, we can’t lose the urgency to correct these mistakes and prevent them from being repeated in the future,” said McCaskill in a statement. “Protecting taxpayer dollars isn’t the flashiest issue. But it’s a promise I made to Missourians, and it’s something I pledge to continue fighting for, with dogged determination, until this legislation is signed into law.”

That, my friends, should be why we send people to Washington. Not to hold the economy hostage so rich people can save a few more dollars in taxes.

What Are The Troops Supposed To Think Now?

David Wood won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, after he published a series of articles on the severely wounded soldiers who have returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He has covered military and national security issues in a lot of dangerous places in the world for a number of publications. As his HuffPo bio reads:

He has been scared much of his professional life.

On this official-unofficial Veterans Day, Mr. Wood said the following on MSNBC about the implications of the David Petraeus scandal:

The thing that struck me about the Petraeus story is the damage that this puts on the troops and veterans. Because, look, the military for the last ten or fifteen years has emphasized that it’s a values-based organization. And the primary value that I hear talked about all the time, particularly in combat among what I call the working class of the military—the sergeants and lieutenants who do most of the heavy lifting in combat—the key value is, “doing the right thing when no one’s looking.” And there was nobody in the military, I think, who exemplified that more than David Petraeus. He talked about it all the time.

Now to find out that he was not only not doing the right thing, but lying about it, is, I think, devastating and will have a long-term, corrosive impact on the troops…I mean, think about the young kids who are in basic training now who are being taught, “do the right thing when no one’s looking.” Well, what are they supposed to think now?

While a lot of right-wing folks are wondering how Petraeus’s troubles figure into their wild conspiracy theory about a gigantic Obama administration cover-up of Benghazi, it’s nice to know someone is thinking about something else, something much more important.

A Tired, If Not Weary, Obama Comes To Joplin Today

Later today, after finishing the NATO summit in Chicago, Mr. Obama will touch down at the Joplin airport and soon thereafter speak to graduates of Joplin High School.

But he will no doubt arrive here tired, what with urging NATO on Sunday that there are still “great challenges ahead” in Afghanistan and,

Just as we’ve sacrificed together for our common security, we will stand united in our determination to complete this mission.

Yeah, well, France’s new president says he will get his troops out by the end of this year, almost two years ahead of time, and other NATO honchos are feeling the domestic pressure to get out, too.

As for Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, he said he can’t wait until his nation is “no longer a burden” to those nations who still care.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan:

Earlier this month, the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive. On Saturday, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people, a number of them children, at a checkpoint in the eastern province of Khost.

And so it goes.

On Saturday at the Camp David G8 summit, President Obama tried to be the pro-growth wind beneath the wings of world leaders, many of whom have advocated austerity or have had it thrust upon them.

Here’s the lede and more from the Associated Press on the gathering of the planet’s economic elite:

Confronting an economic crisis that threatens them all, President Barack Obama and leaders of other world powers on Saturday declared that their governments must both spark growth and cut the debt that has crippled the European continent and put investors worldwide on edge.

There’s now an emerging consensus that more must be done to promote growth and job creation right now,” Obama proclaimed after hosting unprecedented economic talks at Camp David, his secluded and highly secure mountaintop retreat.

That “emerging consensus” of promoting growth and job creation “right now” doesn’t include, of course, the Republicans in Congress, who are hell-bent on starving the economy of much-needed stimulus, just when it would be relatively cheap to borrow the money (interest rates are low) and when the money would do the most good (there are signs of life nearly everywhere).

Republicans have an election to win, you know.

And so it goes.

Mr. Obama, after a weekend of prodding world leaders to focus on economic growth and to keep NATO’s eyes on whatever the prize is in Afghanistan, will, when he arrives in Joplin later today, have a much easier task: tell high school graduates in a tornado-ravaged town why they are lucky to be FEMA-blessed Americans.

No Brag, Just Fact

Just to show you how the brains of Obama-haters get all tied up in knots when they are forced to utter one syllable of praise for our president, here’s a comment Sean Hannity made yesterday as part of his attack on Obama for making a “political” and “spiking the football” trip to Afghanistan on Dead bin Laden Day:

So, we got the one-year anniversary of the killing of bin Laden and I, I, I do give Obama some credit. He made a pretty gutsy decision. Although I don’t really see it as that gutsy because I think any president would have done it.

Yep, any president would have done it because all presidents are equally “gutsy” or, uh, not.

Gotta appreciate the mind that hatched that piece of dazzling commentary.

Speaking of Obama’s Dead bin Laden Day celebration, how can Americans of all stripes not admire the give-‘em-the-finger attitude of President Obama, who traveled to Afghanistan—where a breathing Osama bin Laden first met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and heard about and then later approved his plan to train pilots to crash planes into American buildings—to sort of rub it in a little bit.

Now, that’s proper American chutzpah.

Accelerate The Acceleration

From The New York Times:

PANJWAI, Afghanistan — Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early on Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said…

Coming after a period of deepening public outrage, spurred by the Koran burning by American personnel last month and an earlier video showing American Marines urinating on dead militants, the possibility of a violent reaction to the killings added to a feeling of siege here among Western personnel. Officials described growing concern over a cascade of missteps and offenses that has cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission and has left troops and trainers increasingly vulnerable to violence by Afghans seeking revenge.

From Bloomberg:

The fatal shootings of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by an American soldier, add to a series of incendiary incidents that threaten to drain remaining U.S. and European support for the decade-long mission…

Any violent backlash by Afghans to the shootings in the southern province of Kandahar may add to domestic pressure on President Barack Obama to speed troop withdrawals, ahead of the the security handover now set for 2014.

From The Los Angeles Times:

The killing of 16 civilians in Afghanistan, allegedly by a lone U.S. serviceman, is one more blow to President Obama’s hopes for an easy exit from a 10-year-old war and deepens doubts about U.S. plans to assign advisors to Afghan forces.

From The Washington Post:

The massacre of at least 16 Afghan civilians, apparently by an American soldier, forced the Obama administration Sunday to confront yet another nightmare from the war zone and fresh evidence that patience back home is increasingly wearing thin.

Cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission,” “pressure on…Obama to speed troop withdrawals,” “one more blow to President Obama’s hopes for an easy exit,” “patience back home is…wearing thin.”  Those phrases seem understatements of the sentiment here at home relative to what has so obviously become a no-win war.

In June of last year—against the advice of then-General Petraeus and then-Defense Secretary Gates—Mr. Obama prudently announced an acceleration of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and said most of our goals there were met. “The tide of war is receding,” he declared, adding,

America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home…We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.

Ironically, that New York Times story from last June included this:

…troops have succeeded in clearing many towns and cities of insurgents, and then keeping them safe…

And today’s Times story described the alleged shooter this way:

…he had been part of what is called a village stabilization operation in Afghanistan. In those operations, teams of Green Berets, supported by other soldiers, try to develop close ties with village elders, organize local police units and track down Taliban leaders.

Who can blame some Afghanis—especially those  in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province where this atrocity took place— for thinking that not only are they not “safe” from the Taliban, but it may not be the Taliban they have to fear.

For all of the good we have done there, for all of the costs in  lives and dollars, our efforts in Afghanistan seem now to be doing more harm than we could ever have imagined.

It is time for Mr. Obama to accelerate the acceleration and get out soon, very soon.

Murderous American Soldiers: Reason To Quit?

WARNING: The following post contains a disturbing photograph.

Syndicated columnist Dan Thomasson wrote in Sunday’s Joplin Globe that it is time to get out of Afghanistan. 

He makes the point that historically speaking the mission is hopeless. He touches on the cost. He mentions that, until the unwise Iraq invasion, early in the Afghanistan war there was a narrow window to get bin Laden and accomplish a “limited engagement there.”  But the time has long passed.

Notwithstanding those legitimate points, Thomasson’s biggest reason to get out seems to be the indisputable fact that the war is not popular with the American people.  He cited that fact twice.

Now, if the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan is strategically important and crucial to our national defense, then it follows that it shouldn’t matter much what the American people think, nor should cost play a major role in deciding to continue.  A leader leads on such matters. 

So, I don’t think the fact that the war has grown unpopular or that our finances are hurting should have an effect on our leaders’ decision to continue the war policy, if it can be demonstrated that the war is vital to our interests.

The question, as always, is how strategically necessary is the war and can we accomplish our goals there?

I submit that a Rolling Stone article published yesterday tells us more about why we may need to get out of Afghanistan than any poll or balance sheet.  The article, “The Kill Team,” featured this subtitle:

How U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan murdered innocent civilians and mutilated their corpses – and how their officers failed to stop them.

You can read the horrific details for yourself and look at the disgusting pictures, but the article begins with introducing us to the unbelievable story of American infantrymen in Kandahar Province discussing among themselves “the notion of killing an Afghan civilian,” essentially for the hell of it:

The poppy plants were still low to the ground at that time of year. The two soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes, saw a young farmer who was working by himself among the spiky shoots. Off in the distance, a few other soldiers stood sentry. But the farmer was the only Afghan in sight. With no one around to witness, the timing was right. And just like that, they picked him for execution.

That young farmer was a 15-year-old kid.  Cpl. Morlock admitted the boy was “not a threat.” The boy, Gul Mudin, followed the soldiers’ instructions. Then,

The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun.

Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head.

The top officer present, Capt. Patrick Mitchell, didn’t buy the soldiers’ story that the boy was about to attack them with a grenade, but instead of offering to help the kid, “whom he believed might still be alive,” he instead ordered another soldier to make sure he was dead.  He fired two more shots into his body.

A “local elder,” working in the poppy field, witnessed the murder and immediately accused Morlock and Holmes. They ignored him.  It turned out the elder was the father of the murdered boy.

After every battlefield death, the story continues, there is a routine Army procedure involving stripping the corpse and checking for tatoos that might identify him.  They “scanned his iris and fingerprints.”  The horror continues:

Then, in a break with protocol, the soldiers began taking photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. Holding a cigarette rakishly in one hand, Holmes posed for the camera with Mudin’s bloody and half-naked corpse, grabbing the boy’s head by the hair as if it were a trophy deer. Morlock made sure to get a similar memento.

No one seemed more pleased by the kill than Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the platoon’s popular and hard-charging squad leader. “It was like another day at the office for him,” one soldier recalls. Gibbs started “messing around with the kid,” moving his arms and mouth and “acting like the kid was talking.” Then, using a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears, he reportedly sliced off the dead boy’s pinky finger and gave it to Holmes, as a trophy for killing his first Afghan.

According to his fellow soldiers, Holmes took to carrying the finger with him in a zip-lock bag. “He wanted to keep the finger forever and wanted to dry it out,” one of his friends would later report. “He was proud of his finger.”

Failing to be punished for that killing, “the platoon went on a shooting spree over the next four months that claimed the lives of at least three more innocent civilians.”

The story doesn’t end there, including the sad fact that it appears “senior Army leadership” was aware of “the questionable nature of the killings,” but you get the idea.

I recommend you read the rest of the article on an empty stomach.

Something is wrong people.  Something is very wrong.  Is it any wonder that we seem to be making more enemies than friends in Afghanistan-Pakistan? 

Given that, how can we continue?

Time Will Tell

“We don’t know what the outcome will be.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

I remain agnostic about the wisdom of the United States—even with the United Nation’s resolution and international, including Arab, cooperation—intervening in Libya. 

At this time, there is no way of knowing whether what we are doing is the right thing to do.  In fact, we may not know for many, many years whether it was wise or foolish of President Obama to join in—lead, really—the international military operation against Gaddafi, and anyone who says they do know is not telling the truth.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen said on CNN this morning:

How this ends from the political standpoint, I just can’t say.

Of course not.  And here’s why:

…on a per capita basis, no country sent more young fighters into Iraq to kill Americans than Libya — and almost all of them came from eastern Libya, the center of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion that the United States and others now have vowed to protect, according to internal al Qaeda documents uncovered by U.S. intelligence.

That troubling bit of information was advanced in an article by David Wood, a seasoned journalist who has covered “military issues, foreign affairs, and combat operations” for Time and the Los Angeles Times, among others. 

Here is the title of his piece:

Anti-American Extremists Among Libyan Rebels U.S. Has Vowed To Protect

Wood references the Sinjar documents, a collection of al Qaeda computer data captured by Americans in 2007 in a predawn raid near Sinjar, Iraq, six miles from the Syrian border. The documents included background information on around 750 foreign fighters, who migrated to Iraq to kill American soldiers, many of those fighters coming from among the very people we are now pledging to protect. Wood wrote:

Almost one in five foreign fighters arriving in Iraq came from eastern Libya, from the towns of Surt, Misurata and Darnah.

On a per capita basis, that’s more than twice as many than came from any other Arabic-speaking country, amounting to what the counter terrorism center called a Libyan “surge” of young men eager to kill Americans.

Wood also notes:

Eastern Libya has been described by U.S. diplomats as a breeding ground for Islamist extremism. In diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, the region’s young men were said to have “nothing to lose” by resorting to violence. Sermons in the local mosques are “laced with phraseology urging worshippers to support jihad,” one diplomat reported.

As Wood is careful to point out,

extremist elements make up only a portion of the resistance to Gaddafi and have been present in every popular uprising in the region stretching from the Iranian revolution to the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

So it would be inaccurate to say that it necessarily follows from the continued destabilization of Libya that some kind of anti-Western coalition is waiting to replace Gaddafi. But it would be equally inaccurate to say a Western-style democracy will emerge.

The truth is that especially in that part of the world, no one knows what effect our action or inaction today will have on events tomorrow.  After all, it was just five years ago—five years ago—that the Bush administration normalized diplomatic relations with Libya and rescinded Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress at the time:

We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya’s continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 1, 2001.

Who could have predicted all the events that have happened in North Africa and around the Middle East since Rice’s announcement to Congress in May of 2006?

Not one pundit or politician, that’s who. The same number who can’t predict future events today.

Obama’s action is risky and only time will tell if it was worth the risk, but unlike the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this time there will be no ground invasion of Libya and thus no occupation.  However, if there ever were to come such an invasion and occupation, then the future following that decision becomes quite foreseeable.

Indeed, we can see it in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

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