Tips, questions, and suggestions
Sign up for emails
StateSide:Policy
Archive: February 2007
View by
   Reset

U.S. Military
First Marine Injured in Iraq War Comes Out of Closet
02/28/2007 4:50 PM ET
Staff Sgt. Steve Alva
Human Rights Campaign
Staff Sgt. Steve Alva

Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first US Marine seriously wounded in Iraq, appeared on Good Morning America this morning to speak out in opposition of the military's policy on on gays, and to discuss his own experience as a homosexual Marine.

Alva said that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is sweeping up good people whose skills often serve a critical function for US national security needs. From his own experience, it didn't seem that he had felt compelled to keep his own sexuality much of a secret. As he said in his GMA interview:

"I told tons of people. A lot of my friends, my buddies, my closest Marines, people I had served in combat with. Straight guys, married, with children and everything, three of them which I have become their sons' godfather now. Everybody was just respectful and was just like ordinary. 'That's it? That's your big news?'"

He also dispels the notion that homosexuality causes any troop morale problems or discomfort among the rank-and-file.

"Being on the front lines and serving with the people who even actually knew that I was gay, you know, that was never a factor. We were there to do a job. We were to do a mission. I don't think people would have a hard time with it because they know that the person right next to them is going to be there to protect them, in our terms, 'have their back.'"

Alva will stand with Rep. Marty Meehan, (D-MA) today for the introduction of bipartisan legislation aimed at allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Blunder
White House Press Office Transcript Leaves Cheney "On Background"
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/28/2007 11:15 AM ET
Ian Waldie/Getty

Last night, the White House press office issued a release labeled "Interview of a Senior Administration Official by the Traveling Press Aboard Air Force Two en Route Muscat, Oman."

According to the transcript, among other things this "anonymous" senior official told the press corps:

"My point was that if we follow what I believe Speaker Pelosi really wants to do in terms of withdraw, that that would validate the al Qaeda strategy. I was very careful in those words I selected. I didn't say 'give aid and comfort to terrorists.' I didn't say 'unpatriotic.' I said it would validate the al Qaeda strategy."

It's not clear why the White House press office decided to make Cheney's comments available to the press strictly "on background," and even less clear why they even bothered, since the only obvious thing about this episode is the identity of the "senior Administration official."

The attempt to mask his identity becomes even more ludicrous when compared to Cheney's officially-released comments.

The "senior official" answered questions from 3:07 to 3:25, based on the timestamp on the transcript. The Q&A goes on uninterrupted until a spot near the end where **** indicates a section has been removed.

Coincidentally, the White House transcript of the Vice-President's "Remarks to the Traveling Press" run from 3:19 to 3:22, and correspond nicely to the content gap in the interview with the "anonymous" official.

I couldn't find the transcript of the "senior official's" interview on the White House site, so I've posted the full press release here.

U.S. Politics
Warns Effort Must Be Sustained to Proceed Beyond Just Talk
02/28/2007 09:53 AM ET
Lee Hamilton, January 2007
Mark Wilson/Getty
Lee Hamilton, January 2007

Lee Hamilton, retired Congressman and chair of the Iraq Study Group, talked to Guy Raz on NPR this morning to voice support for Secretary Rice's announcement that Iran and Syria would be invited to a regional "neighbors" meeting in March.

"I think it's a very important and a very positive first step to take a diplomatic offensive. What it indicates to me is that we are beginning to move beyond purely a military solution. We understand that at the end of the day you are going to have to solve these problems in that region diplomatically. So it's a positive and a constructive step.

Now there are a lot of things that have to happen here. The parties just sitting down and talking will not solve the problem. These diplomatic efforts will have to be sustained.... I hope at some point the contacts will proceed to a very high level."

The rest of the short interview can be listed to on NPR's website.

DC Buzz
Iraq to Host Regional Gathering in March With US, Others
02/27/2007 6:04 PM ET
Condoleeza Rice Speaking to the Senate
Chip Somodevilla/GETTY
Condoleeza Rice Speaking to the Senate

In a dramatic softening in the Bush Administration's most recent comments on Iran, Secretary Condoleeza Rice used her appearance today in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee to announce what sounds like a new kind of rapprochment toward the Islamic Republic.

Prime Minister Maliki believes and President Bush and I agree that success in Iraq requires the positive support of Iraq's neighbors. This is one of the key findings, of course, of the Iraq Study Group and it is an important dimension that many in the Senate and in the Congress have brought to our attention and I've had very fruitful discussions about how to do this. So I'm pleased to inform you that the Iraqis are launching a new diplomatic initiative which we are going to fully support.

The Government of Iraq is preparing for an expanded neighbors meeting first at the sub-ministerial level that will take place in Baghdad in the first half of March. Invitees would include Iraq's immediate neighbors, as well as representatives from other regional states, multilateral organizations and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council including of course the United States. This initial meeting will be followed perhaps as early as the first half of April by a ministerial level meeting with the same invitees that is regional states, neighbors, international organizations and the Permanent 5 of the UN, as well as perhaps the members of the G-8.

I would note that the Iraqi Government has invited all of its neighbors, including Syria and Iran, to attend both of these regional meetings. We hope that all governments will seize this opportunity to improve the relations with Iraq and to work for peace and stability in the region. I'm pleased that the Government of Iraq is launching this new diplomatic initiative and that we will be able to support it and participate in it. The violence occurring within the country has a decided impact on Iraq's neighbors. And Iraq's neighbors as well as the international community have a clear role to play in supporting the Iraqi Government's efforts to promote peace and national reconciliation within the country.

State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack went into further detail at an afternoon press conference, though declined to speculate on whether or not the US would allow for any bilateral discussions with the Iranian delegation.

The Iraqi Government has issued invitations to its neighbors, the UN Security Council Permanent 5 as well as some other international organizations, to attend a regional meeting in Baghdad at the envoys level. That would happen the first half of March. There is also an intention to hold another meeting with the same group, however, at the ministerial level and adding in the G-8 countries. So that will pick up Canada, Italy, Germany, and Japan.

The Iraqis are going to set the agenda for both of these meetings. We would expect that it would focus on all the issues that are important to them, as well as others who are there to support the Iraqis' national reconciliation, building the economy, and security issues. So we're going to have these meetings in March and the second one in -- as early as April.

In terms of the diplomatic interactions, I'm not going to try to predict what the course of those diplomatic interactions might be. Security is clearly an important issue for the Iraqis. It's going to be at the top of the agenda. There are clearly issues that we have with respect to security in Iraq. IEDs, EFPs are certainly at the top of our list. This isn't, however, our meeting. Should the topic come up, of course we are going to engage on that issue. And I'm not going to exclude any possible discussions at a regional level that would include -- on a topic that is that important to us and to our troops.

So I can't predict exactly what sort of discussions or diplomatic interactions that we're going to have. Let's let the meeting take place. Again, the focus is on Iraq and we think it is important for all the states that attend this meeting to take the opportunity to demonstrate that they want to play a responsible role in Iraq's future; they want to play a positive role. That would be our hope for this -- for these meetings.

Rice's complete opening remarks and a transcript of today's press briefing can both be found on the State Department's website.

Eye on Congress
Gates, Rices, Pace Scheduled to Appear This Afternoon
02/27/2007 12:38 PM ET
This week's Senate committee hearings promise to be a lot more incendiary than the usual ho-hum Hill gatherings. Starting at 2:30 p.m today, the Senate Appropriations Committee will convene to consider the Bush administration's latest proposal for a $100 billion supplemental spending bill to fund the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Appropriations chairman Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), a long standing Congressional opponent of the Iraq war, will be flanked by several leading anti-war Democrats such as Senators Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Appearing to testify on behalf of the president's latest extraordinary funding request, and to answer some pointed questions, will be Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

The most hotly debated topic is sure to be the president's decision to send an additional 21,500 troops into Iraq as part of the much vaunted "surge plan". The questions fielded won't be new: namely, what's the plan; how long are we going to be there; and how much is this going to cost?

Watch it live on the Senate Appropriations Committee website.

The Bush Plan
Restates Responsibility to Fund Troops for His Plan
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/26/2007 7:24 PM ET
Without specifically weighing in on the recent Cheney-Pelosi spat, President Bush, speaking in front of an audience at the Republican Governor's Gala Monday evening, did state that he would never question the patriotism of anyone who disagreed with his policy decisions.

He then continued on to reject ideas floated by Democrats trying to assert control over the war by proposing restrictions on funding for future operations:

"This Congress will have to make a decision that will have real consequences: whether or not to fund the troops we have sent into harm's way....Wherever members may stand on my decision, we have a solemn responsibility to give our troops the resources and the flexibility they need to prevail."

Blogosphere
Politico Lays Out Communications Strategy for Coming Weeks
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 02/26/2007 5:32 PM ET
Over the past few weeks, Republicans have been on the defensive, confronted by an onslaught of Democratic proposals for the Iraq war.

The Republican leadership's attempt to spin the debate coverage to their own political advantage has been fairly obvious. Based on his own sources, the Politico's Roger Simon has developed a convenient 5-point Republican communications strategy for Hill watchers' reference, summarized below.

1. History Lesson: Take stand against "micro-managing" of war. Remind public of consequences of LBJ picking bombing targets inside northern Vietnam.

2. Constitutional Protection: The Constitution does not allow role for Congress in prosecuting war on day-to-day basis.

3. Legal Protections: It is unprecedented for Congress to revise a use-of-force resolution during a war.

4. Military Matters: Petraeus just assumed command and must be given time to see if the new plan will work.

5. Political Play: Charge that anything the Dems try to do is effectively selling out the troops.

Simon has a more complete description and analysis of his theoretical Republican Iraq-debate talking points over at The Politico.

U.S. Politics
Advocating Pullout Has Become Most Popular Political Position
02/26/2007 11:47 AM ET
With support for the Iraq war having already plummeted into the minority, Democratic presidential hopefuls are jockeying for position as the public leader with the clearest vision on how to bring American soldiers home.

Only Dennis Kucinich has advocated immediate withdrawal of all troops. The rest of the field tries to carve out separately distinct strategies, though all hope to achieve the same purpose: winning electoral support from an American public made weary by war.

Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a good short piece describing the basic differences between the candidates' current stated positions on the war:

• New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson favors a pullout in this calendar year.

• Obama proposed a March 2008 withdrawal date, though he and three other candidates in the race voted in June against a one-year deadline for U.S. withdrawal. (The others were Clinton, Dodd and Biden).

• Dodd came out in the fall for a 12- to 18-month timetable for "repositioning" troops (moving them out of urban centers to other areas inside or outside Iraq).

• Biden has proposed pulling out most forces by the end of 2007, along with decentralizing the country to mitigate civil war.

• Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, has been calling for an immediate reduction of 40,000 to 50,000 troops, saying the rest could be withdrawn over a year or so.

• Clinton has consistently opposed an end date for withdrawal but recently proposed a start date (within the next 90 days).

Exclusive
New Contract RFP's Call for Iraqi Handover
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/19/2007 4:10 PM ET
Expat Security Contractors May Be a Dying Breed
Getty Images
Expat Security Contractors May Be a Dying Breed

Slogger is getting reports that the new round of RFP's for major security and training contracts in Iraq have a new wrinkle: Complete handover to Iraqis at end of contract.

One of the major bids that have contracting companies locked away working on bids is the largest single security contract currently run by Aegis.

The Aegis contract is the overall coordination of reconstruction security and maintainance of Regional Operational Centers or "ROC"'s. The Aegis contract is a cost plus contract worth around $100 million a year. The awarding of the contract causes quite a stir when it was awarded to the tiny UK based Aegis Defence run by former mercenary Tim Spicer. Many of Aegis' staff were former South African mercenaries, themselves under fire due to legislation in South Africa banning them from working overseas. Many Iraqis refer to all foriegn security contractors as mercenaries and there has been a slow move to hiring lower priced Iraqis. Now it appears that the U.S. is looking to transition to mostly Iraqi presence in reconstruction and training contracts.

The other major contract is the three year Counterinsurgency Center for Excellence run out of at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, which is devoted to joint U.S.-Iraqi training. Both contracts are not only carefully worded according to Slogger sources but ask how the winner intends to have a fully Iraqi system in place at close of contract.

Currently there is no clear estimate of how many security contractors are in Iraq. The numbers range from 70,000 from the PSCAI to the IPOA's conservative estimate of 5,000 maximum. Non security contractors hover around 100,000 to 60,000 depending on the source of the estimate. Currently Aegis estimates they have 1000 contractors in country of which two thirds are expats, the rest are Iraqi's.

The contract specs could herald the beginning of the end for the golden years of Americans and foriegn security contractors in Iraq.

New Foreign Affairs Piece Urges U.S. Step Back From Conflict
02/19/2007 11:22 AM ET
"Even if the coming 'surge' in U.S. combat troops manages to lower the rate of killing in Baghdad, very little in relevant historical experience or the facts of this case suggests that U.S. troops would not be stuck in Iraq for decades, keeping sectarian and factional power struggles at bay while fending off jihadist and nationalist attacks. The more likely scenario is that the Bush administration's commitment to the 'success' of the Maliki government will make the United States passively complicit in a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing."

From the conclusion of his newest piece in Foreign Affairs, it's clear that James Fearon, professor of political science at Stanford, does not have much optimism for the plan currently in place for the Iraq war. Not only does he not approve of the surge, but he does not even agree with the terms under which the plan has been defined.

He says the Bush Administration refuses to acknowledge that there is a civil war at play because that would confuse voting Americans about whose side they are on and why U.S. soldiers have to take on someone else's fight. According to Fearon, the civil war can't be denied--by ignoring the real circumstances of the current fight in Iraq, the U.S. risks gettting even more deeply embroiled in the fight, while siding with Iran's allies in what could turn into even bloodier ethnic warfare against Sunnis.

"In fact, there is a civil war in progress in Iraq, one comparable in important respects to other civil wars that have occurred in postcolonial states with weak political institutions. Those cases suggest that the Bush administration's political objective in Iraq -- creating a stable, peaceful, somewhat democratic regime that can survive the departure of U.S. troops -- is unrealistic. Given this unrealistic political objective, military strategy of any sort is doomed to fail almost regardless of whether the administration goes with the "surge" option, as President George W. Bush has proposed, or shifts toward a pure training mission, as advised by the Iraq Study Group.

"Even if an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops reduces violence in Baghdad and so buys time for negotiations on power sharing in the current Iraqi government, there is no good reason to expect that subsequent reductions would not revive the violent power struggle. Civil wars are rarely ended by stable power-sharing agreements. When they are, it typically takes combatants who are not highly factionalized and years of fighting to clarify the balance of power....

"As the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad proceeds, the weak Shiite-dominated government is inevitably becoming an open partisan in a nasty civil war between Sunni and Shiite Arabs. As a result, President Bush's commitment to making a "success" of the current government will increasingly amount to siding with the Shiites, a position that is morally dubious and probably not in the interest of either the United States or long-term regional peace and stability....

"As long as the Bush administration remains absolutely committed to propping up the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or a similarly configured successor, the U.S. government will have limited leverage with almost all of the relevant parties. By contrast, moving away from absolute commitment -- for example, by beginning to shift U.S. combat troops out of the central theaters -- would increase U.S. diplomatic and military leverage on almost all fronts. Doing so would not allow the current or the next U.S. administration to bring a quick end to the civil war, which most likely will last for some time. But it would allow the United States to play a balancing role between the combatants that would be more conducive to reaching, in the long run, a stable resolution in which Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests are well represented in a decent Iraqi government. If the Iraqis ever manage to settle on the power-sharing agreement that is the objective of current U.S. policy, it will come only after bitter fighting in the civil war that is already under way."

Fearon spends the bulk of the piece examining other civil wars and the involvement of outside powers. He points out that most attempts to negotiate a power-sharing agreement while fighting continues have been unsuccessful, and that in most cases war has raged until the clear dominance of one party has been established.

The fatalistic view Fearon puts forth of the prospects for Iraq is disconcerting in its anticipated bleakness, but based on his knowledge of similar case studies, he proposes the best option for long-term success to be a strategic redeployment.

The comparisons are not always exact, but after reviewing so many plans whose primary goals have been to please Maliki, or Bush, or American voters, or Democratic leaders, it's refreshing to read a new idea that looks to history for a source of authority instead.

The Bush Plan
Vote on Cloture Fails to win 60 Votes
02/17/2007 2:46 PM ET
Sen. Harry Reid
Getty Images
Sen. Harry Reid

The count is in on the procedural measure that would have allowed the Senate to move forward on the non-binding resolution voicing disapproval of President Bush's planned surge. Again, in a deja ju of last week, the Democrats failed to get the 60 votes needed to bring cloture, allowing the Republicans to again block a vote on what could pose an embarassing dilemma for their party, particularly those Senators facing re-election in 2008.

The final count was 56-34, with seven Republicans breaking ranks with their leadership, as compared to only two--Senators Coleman (MN) and Collins (ME)--in the vote last week. Today, five more broke ranks with Minority Whip Mitch McConnell (KY), Chuck Hagel (NE), Arlin Specter (PA), John Warner (VA), Olympia Snowe (ME), and Gordon Smith (OR).

Introduced by Armed Services Committee chair Ike Skelton (D-MO), Foriegn Affairs committee chair Tom Lantos (D-CA), and Walter Jones (R-NC), the resolution they would have voted on if the Dems had succeeded is a tightly-worded comdemnation of the Presdident, with lip service paid to support for the troops.

1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

The House passed the measure on Friday, with 246 voting for it and 182 opposing it.

Harry Reid, speaking at a news conference after the Senate voted to adjourn for a one-week recess, said that the Dems intend to re-group over the break and will continue debating Iraq after they return.

Commentary
Rep. Schmidt: "There WIll Be No Victory When Our Votes Are Tallied"
02/16/2007 5:43 PM ET
Of all the mind-numbingly dull speeches made on the floor of the House during the past three days, one stands out as having been the most well-reasoned objection to the debate.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) used her few moments on C-SPAN to express disappointment about the current level of debate:

"Madam Speaker, I rise tonight after another long day out of disappointment--disappointed that we are not having a real debate about how we win in Iraq. We have spent countless hours in what is little more than political theater.

This body is scheduled to meet 145 days this year. Just to open our doors, we spend over $8 million for each legislative day. This debate will cost some $30 million, yet it will yield nothing but a partisan vote on a nonbinding resolution after literally hundreds of speeches designed to do no more than charge up one's own political base.

I am deeply disappointed. The people expect more from us. They expect solutions, not grandstanding. They expect both parties to work together. There will be no victory when our votes are tallied. We will have every problem we began with, but be even further apart politically.

Tonight, I believe we embarrass ourselves before our brave men and women in uniform, before the American people and before our enemies."

Rep. Schmidt longs for a more serious discourse about what to do in Iraq, but has yet to offer any proposals of her own. Schmidt would obviously declare illegitemate any debate whose overriding theme did not involve discussing "how we win in Iraq," but that doesn't make the point that she raised any less valid.

If her numbers are correct, Congress just expended $30 million so that each member would have his/her own tightly-worded soundbite for a press release. None of those statements swayed any votes; they just provided political news feed for the local nightlies and cable networks.

The Dems obviously wanted dramatically-embellished condemnations to win them support from an electorate becoming increasing disillusioned by the war. Their majority party political maneuverings also afforded the opportunity to force Republicans to go on the record for or against the surge--an uncomfortable decision for some party loyalists facing a majority of voting constituents personally, and often strongly, opposed to any escalation of the war.

For those with an uncertain hold on their seat, statements made a delicate dance around support for the troops, sending signals of weakness to the enemy, and criticizing the Democrats. But for the Yea or Nay portion of the quiz, none could avoid being anything but direct.

Of course Schmidt voted against the resolution, as did all but 17 Republicans.

Political theater is right. One with an estimated $30 million production value, whose audience--next year's voters--slept through until the finale.

The critics--27 other geeks like me who watch way too much C-SPAN--wish the script had been written with greater depth and meaning. The performances were shallow, blustering, laughable. This week may have only been the rehearsal, if the Dems decide to revise and try again for something with more substance.

DC Scoop
Final Vote: Yeas 246, Nays 182
02/16/2007 3:39 PM ET
Nancy Pelosi Walks to Vote
Getty Images
Nancy Pelosi Walks to Vote

As expected, the House has passed the nonbinding resolution condemning the President's proposed surge plan. The three days of debate ended with 246 voting to support President Bush's surge, and 182 opposing it.

Falling roughly along party lines, only 17 Dems voted against the measure and 2 Republicans opposed it. Full breakdown of the roll call vote can be found here.

This now sets the stage for tomorrow's Senate showdown, with Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, facing down Democrats, led by Harry Reid. More on that soon...

Exclusive
A Conversation with Sarah Holewinski of CIVIC
02/15/2007 10:03 PM ET
One of the most painful aspects of armed conflict remains the destruction it wreaks on local civilian populations. Regardless of how advanced targeting technology has become, the slightest error can lead to great tragedy.

Some conservative military analysts assert that acknowledging "collateral damage" would be a sign of weakness that could play into the hands of enemy propagandists. However, in recent years a new kind of perspective has been overtaking the conventional wisdom on the issue.

Effective counterinsurgency strategy requires support from the local population, to ensure they don't shelter, aid, or join the enemy. Drawing from the wisdom of the U.S. Army's Counterinsurgency Manual states:

"Killing every insurgent is normally impossible. Attempting to do so can also be counterproductive in some cases; it risks generating popular resentment, creating martyrs that motivate new recruits, and producing cycles of revenge."

Sarah Holewinski, executive director for the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), joined Iraqslogger to discuss the issue of civilian casualties, and what the United States is doing to address their needs.

Estimates for civilian casualties in Iraq have ranged from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. What do you consider the most accurate estimate for the civilian toll of this war?

The answer is that there is no answer. The United States does not keep public record of innocent civilians harmed in Iraq. One source counts deaths through media reports – a good baseline but a bare minimum. Another source statistically calculates Iraqis who’ve died in total since 2003. How many of those are innocent civilians? We simply don’t know. What we do know is that every estimate represents real lives just like yours and mine, devastated by war and deserving of recognition.

Beyond the simplistic justification that we should fix anything we accidentally destroy, what is the thinking that makes civilian casualty assistance a new element of U.S. military strategy?

Helping innocent civilians is strategically important to US troops. Combat is no longer about massive military force rolling through a country; it’s about fighting insurgent groups, usually in densely populated urban areas, and coming face-to-face with the local population.

The best thing the US military can do is to win the support of those civilians, many of whom want nothing more than to keep their families safe and to go about their lives. Giving a father, a mother or a family suffering a tragic loss a compensation payment and humanitarian aid to help them rebuild says, “We are sorry, we did not mean for this to happen.” That shows our humanity and it mitigates their resentment.

Has it always been a policy of the U.S. government or military to make monetary payments, or otherwise lend assistance, to repair the "collateral damage" created by U.S. operations?

When the US invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, CENTCOM--the main decision making body for our troops--did not approve this type of help to civilians. Finally, in September 2003, the US recognized the need to do something to recognize civilian suffering and Congress authorized compensation payments. CIVIC has been working these past years to make sure civilians harmed by American forces are helped by our government. Mainly, we want these ordinary people to be ‘compensated’, or given a direct cash payment for their injury, family death or property damage.

The program is a good one but doesn’t work as well as it should. After a stilted beginning, the system is too ad hoc to really work the way it should on the ground in Iraq. Some people get paid. Others don’t. That’s why we need the United States to adopt a permanent condolence payment system. With that in place, the U.S. military will be in a better position to assist innocent civilian victims, and well-equipped with a strong weapon to “win hearts and minds.”

How do civilian victims go about applying for assistance? How are they verified as meriting payment, and how is the money disbursed to them?

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military has set up claims centers where civilians can go to file a claim for an injury, a death in the family or property damage. The civilian must have certain documents to verify the incident, such as a death certificate, a witness account, etc. Military lawyers can then piece together the picture of what happened and make a determination on payment. Dispersing the payments is the tricky part, particularly in Iraq where there is no banking system and cash is a sought-after and therefore dangerous commodity.

How does American policy towards civilian casualties of war compare to that of other nations?

It might surprise some to know that America is leading the way on the question of how to treat civilians in wartime. The US has two programs to help innocent people harmed by its bullets and bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. One I’ve already mentioned is a direct cash payment, or compensation, for an injury or death. The second is humanitarian aid--the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund and the Leahy Initiative help rebuild families and communities devastated by US operations. Compare this to NATO forces in Afghanistan that do not currently have a collective way of helping civilians it harms while trying to shut down the Taliban.

Life Goes On
New Refugee Plan Most Generous Yet, But Barely Stanches War Exodus
02/15/2007 3:48 PM ET
The Bush administration plans to allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees to settle in the U.S. over the next year and pledge millions of dollars for international relief and resettlement programs. In an AP story, Anne Gearan reports: "The United States has allowed only 463 Iraq refugees into the country since the war began in March 2003, even though some 3.8 million have been uprooted." Jordan has taken in 700,000 Iraqis since the start of the war, while Syria has taken in 1 million. Iraqis continue to flee the war in numbers of 40,000 to 50,000 a month. Click here for the full AP report.
Commentary
Political Hardball Playing to Full Effect in Congress
02/15/2007 3:42 PM ET
Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) is upping the ante of an Iraq discourse that has already engendered much bitterness between the parties.

At a Brookings Institute event today, Biden announced, "The 2002 (Use of Force) authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq. I am working on legislation to repeal that authorization and replace it with a much narrower mission statement for our troops in Iraq."

This professed effort has no chance of achieving its stated cause, but the timing of such a bold statement must be taken into consideration to determine its true intent.

Tomorrow the House will be voting on a non-binding statement of principles that voices disapproval for Bush's proposed surge, and Sen. Harry Reid just announced that the Senate intends to take up that measure on Saturday.

Republicans have thus far successfully prevented the Senate from undertaking an Iraq debate on the floor, and the Dems probably want to ensure that they don't have to face the kind of resistance they had last week.

More than anything, Biden's announcement today is a warning for Senate Republicans to go along with the program or face an onslaught of much more embarassing legislative initiatives.

Here's a lengthier excerpt of Biden's prepared comments, with the complete transcript available on Brookings' site.

"The House is about to pronounce itself on the President’s surge plan for Iraq and the Senate will, too. Some minimize the significance of a non-binding resolution. If it is so meaningless, why did the White House and the President’s political supporters mobilize so much energy against it? Opposing the surge is only a first step. We need a radical change in course in Iraq. If the President won’t act, Congress will. But Congress must act responsibly. We must resist the temptation to push for changes that sound good but produce bad results. The best next step is to revisit the authorization Congress granted the President in 2002 to use force in Iraq. That’s exactly what I’m doing. We gave the President that power to destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and, if necessary, to depose Saddam Hussein. The WMD were not there. Saddam Hussein is no longer there. The 2002 authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq. I am working on legislation to repeal that authorization and replace it with a much narrower mission statement for our troops in Iraq. Congress should make clear what the mission of our troops is: to responsibly draw down, while continuing to combat terrorists, train Iraqis and respond to emergencies. We should make equally clear what their mission is not: to stay in Iraq indefinitely and get mired in a savage civil war."

DC Scoop
Announces Saturday Vote on Iraq Resolution
02/15/2007 3:14 PM ET
Getty Images

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has given up trying to convince Senate Republicans to allow a floor debate on pending resolutions supporting and/or condemning President Bush's surge plan.

Opting for the path of least resistance, and expecting the non-binding resolution currently under discussion in the House will pass with ease, Reid is moving to schedule an up-or-down vote on the ten lines that voices support for troops, but not for Bush's proposed surge.

If they do want to prevent the spectacle of U.S. senators lambasting the President during scheduled debate times for the proposal, Republicans will have to again request a 60-vote majority for passage of the measure. Though McConnell could attempt the move again, he would most likely face the prospect of more potential defectors than last week.

In a statement just released, Reid says:

"For nearly four years, the Republican-controlled Senate stood silent on the President's flawed Iraq policies and watched as the situation deteriorated into a civil war. The American people have chosen to change course. Democrats have chosen to change course. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have chosen obstruction. Almost every Republican who expressed concern about the escalation chose to block the Senate from debating the issue.

"Today, Democrats offered Republicans another chance for compromise, suggesting the Senate debate one resolution in favor of escalation and one resolution opposed to escalation. Once again, Senate Republicans refused.

"Democrats are determined to give our troops and the American people the debate they deserve, so the Senate will have another Iraq vote this Saturday. We will move for a clear up or down vote on the House resolution which simply calls on Congress to support the troops and opposes the escalation.

"Those Republicans who have expressed their concern over the Senate's failure to debate the war in Iraq will have another opportunity to let their actions speak louder than their words."

quote of day
Civil War in Iraq? Hard to Say "Living in This Beautiful White House"
02/14/2007 9:04 PM ET
President Bush at news conference
Photo by Jim Watson/AFP
President Bush at news conference
On MSNBC tonight, Newsweek correspondent Howard Fineman said his Republican sources "cringed" in response to this comment by President Bush during his news conference today:

QUESTION: Do you believe it's a civil war, sir?

I can only tell you what people on the ground whose judgment -- it's hard for me, you know, living in this beautiful White House, to give you a first-hand assessment. I haven't been there. You have. I haven't. But I do talk to people who are -- and people whose judgment I trust -- and they would not qualify it as that. There are others who think it is.

Transcript
Contradicts Sunday's Official Assertions of Top-Level Iranian Orders
02/14/2007 1:33 PM ET
President Bush at White House News Conference Today
Photo by Jim Watson/AFP
President Bush at White House News Conference Today

President Bush is minimizing charges that his administration is skewing intelligence to implicate the Iranian government in the funneling of weapons to anti-US forces in Iraq.

Speaking at a White House news conference today, Bush admitted that he could not confirm the complicity of the top levels of the Iranian government.

As he said: "There are weapons in Iraq that are harming U.S. troops because of the Qods force. The Qods force is part of the Iranian government."

But he admitted: "We don't know if the Qods force was ordered from the top echelons of government or not." In Bush's view, whether or not it was an official order seemed inconsequential: "What's worse--them ordering it, or them not ordering it?"

When asked if he was aligning himself with Peter Pace's comments from Monday, which directly contradict things stated by U.S. officials in Sunday's Baghdad briefing, Bush testily replied, "There is no contradiction that the weapons are there and they were provided by the Qods force."

Bush just couldn't go on to say that the top level of the Iranian government was calling the orders, as was described in Sunday's briefing.
HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT:

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you all. Please be seated. Thanks for coming in on a icy day.

I have just finished a conversation with General David Petraeus. He gave me his first briefing from Iraq. He talked about the Baghdad security plan. It's the plan that I described to the nation last January. It's a plan that's beginning to take shape.

General Petraeus and General Odierno talked about how the fact that the Iraqi government is following through on its commitment to deploy three additional army brigades -- Iraqi army brigades -- in the capital.

We talked about where those troops were being deployed, the position of U.S. troops with them, as well as the embeds with the Iraqi troops.

And we're going to talk about the plan.

He also talked about the new Iraqi commander. And the commander who Prime Minister Maliki picked to operate the Baghdad security plan is in place. They're setting up a headquarters. And they're in the process of being in a position to be able to coordinate all forces.

In other words, there's still some work to be done there to get these -- to get the command and control center up and running in Baghdad.

We talked about the fact that our coalition troops that are heading into Baghdad will be arriving on time. In other words, I'm paying attention to the schedule of troops deployments to make sure that they're there so that General Petraeus will have the troops to do the job -- the number of troops to do the job that we've asked him to do.

We talked about the coordination between Iraqi and coalition forces. And I would characterize their assessment as: The coordination's good. In other words, there's good conversation, constant conversation between the commanders of the -- of our troops and their troops.

And that's a positive development.

The Operation Secure Baghdad is going to take time, and there will be violence. As we saw on our TV screens, the terrorists will send car bombs into crowded markets.

In other words, these are people that will kill innocent men, women and children to achieve their objective, which is to discourage the Iraqi people, to foment sectarian violence -- and to, frankly, discourage us from helping this government do its job.

Yesterday there was a suicide bomber. In other words, there's an active strategy to undermine the Maliki government and its Baghdad security plan. And our generals understand that. They know that they're all aimed at, frankly, causing people here in America to say it's not worth it.

And I can understand why people are concerned when they turn on your -- the TV screens and see this violence. It's disturbing to people. And it's disturbing to the Iraqi people.

But it reminds me of how important it is for us to help them succeed. If you think the violence is bad now, imagine what it would look like if we don't help them secure the city, the capital city of Baghdad.

I fully recognize we're not going to be able to stop all suicide bombers. I know that.

But we can help secure that capital, help the Iraqis secure that capital so the people have a sense of normalcy; in other words, that they're able to get a better sense that this government of theirs will provide security.

People want to live in peace. They want to grow up in a peaceful environment. And the decision I made is going to help the Iraqi government do that.

When General Petraeus' nomination was considered three weeks ago, the United States Senate voted unanimously to confirm him. And I appreciated that vote by the senators. And now members of the House of Representatives are debating a resolution that would express disapproval of the plan that General Petraeus is carrying out.

You know, in recent months I've discussed our strategy in Iraq with members of Congress from both political parties. Many have told me that they're dissatisfied with the situation in Iraq. I told them I was dissatisfied with the situation in Iraq.

And that's why I ordered a comprehensive review of our strategy. I've listened to a lot of voices. People in my administration heard a lot of voices. We weighed every option.

I concluded that to step back from the fight in Baghdad would have disastrous consequences for our people in America. That's the conclusion I came to. That's the conclusion members of my staff came to. It's the conclusion that a lot in the military came to.

And the reason why I say disastrous consequences, the Iraqi government could collapse, chaos would spread. There would be vacuum. Into the vacuum would flow more extremists, more radicals, people who have stated intent to hurt our people.

I believe that success in Baghdad will have success in helping us secure the homeland.

What's different about this conflict than some others is that, if we fail there, the enemy will follow us here. I firmly believe that. And that's one of the main reasons why I made the decision I made.

And so we will help this Iraqi government succeed. And the first step for success is to do something about the sectarian violence in Baghdad so they can have breathing space in order to do the political work necessary to assure that different factions in Baghdad, factions that are recovering from years of tyranny, that there's a hopeful future for them and their families.

I would call that political breathing space. And by providing this political breathing space -- in other words, giving the Maliki government a chance to reconcile and do the work necessary to achieve reconciliation -- it will hasten the day in which we can change our force posture in Iraq.

A successful strategy obviously -- a successful security strategy in Baghdad requires more than just military action. I mean, people have to see tangible results in their lives. I mean, they have to see something better.

They not only have to feel secure where they live, but they've got to see positive things taking place.

The other day, the Iraqi government passed a $41 billion budget; $10 billion of which is for reconstruction and capital investment.

There's a lot of talk in Washington about benchmarks. I agree. Benchmarks mean that the Iraqi government said they're going to do this; for example, have an oil law as a benchmark.

But one of the benchmarks they laid out, besides committing troops to the Iraqi security plan, was that they'll pass a budget in which there's $10 billion of their own money available for reconstruction and help.

And they met the benchmark.

And now, obviously, it's important they spend the money wisely. They're in the process of finalizing a law that will allow for the sharing of oil revenues among Iraq's peoples.

In my talks with members of Congress, some have agreed with what I'm doing; many who didn't. They all, though, believe it's important for the Iraqi government to set benchmarks and achieve those benchmarks.

And one benchmark we've all discussed was making it clear to the Iraqi people that they have a stake in the future of their country by having a stake in the oil revenues.

And so the government's in the process of getting an oil revenue law that will help unify the country.

The Iraqi government's making progress on reforms that will allow more of its citizens to re-enter political life. Obviously, I'm paying close attention to whether or not the government is meeting these benchmarks, and will continue to remind Prime Minister Maliki that he must do so.

We've given our civilians and commanders greater flexibility to fund our economic assistance money.

Part of the strategy in Baghdad is to clear, and then to hold, and then to build. We've been pretty good about clearing in the past. We haven't been good about holding; "we" being the Iraqi and coalition forces. So we spent time today talking to General Petraeus about the need -- his need and his understanding of the need to hold neighborhoods so that the people themselves in the capital city feel more secure.

But also part of the strategy is to make sure that we build. So we're giving our commanders flexibility with reconstruction money that they have at their disposal.

We're also sending more PRTs, provincial reconstruction teams, into Iraq. We're trying to speed up their arrival into Iraq so that the Iraqi people see tangible benefits from the government that they elected under one of the most progressive constitutions in the Middle East.

Later this week, the House of Representatives will vote on a resolution that opposes our new plan in Iraq before it has a chance to work. People are prejudging the outcome of this. They have every right to express their opinion, and it is a nonbinding resolution.

Soon, Congress is going to be able to vote on a peace of legislation that is binding, a bill providing emergency funding for our troops.

Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., to provide them with the support they need to do their mission. We have a responsibility, all of us here in Washington, to make sure that our men and women in uniform have the resources and the flexibility they need to prevail.

Before I'm going to take some questions, I'd like to comment about one other diplomatic development, and that took place in the Far East.

At the six-party talks in Beijing, North Korea agreed to specific actions that will bring us closer to a Korea Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons.

Specifically, North Korea agreed that within 60 days, it will shut down and seal all operations at the primary nuclear facilities it has used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. It has agreed to allow international inspectors to verify and monitor this progress. It has committed to disclosing all of its nuclear programs as an initial step toward abandoning these programs.

In exchange, five other parties at the table -- that would be China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States -- have got commitments. We will meet those commitments as this agreement is honored.

Those commitments include economic, humanitarian and energy assistance to the people of North Korea.

This is a unique deal. First of all, unlike any other agreement, it brings together all of North Korea's neighbors in the region, as well as the United States.

The agreement is backed by a United Nations Security Council resolution. That resolution -- or these sanctions came about as a result of the resolution because of a unanimous vote on the Security Council.

This is good progress. It is a good first step. There's a lot of work to be done to make sure that the commitments made in this agreement become reality. But I believe it's an important step in the right direction.

And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions, starting with you.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on Russia, is the Vladimir Putin who said the United States is undermining global security and provoking a new arms race the same Vladimir Putin whose soul you looked into and found to be trustworthy?

QUESTION: Has he changed?

Are U.S.-Russian relations deteriorating?

I think the person who I was referring to in 2001 is the same strong-willed person. He is a person with whom I have had agreements and disagreements throughout the course of my presidency and his.

We disagreed on the utility of NATO. I've tried to convince Vladimir that NATO is positive; it's a positive influence; that democracies on your border are good things to have.

Democracies tend not to fight each other. And I firmly believe NATO is a stabilizing influence for the good, and that helps Russia.

Evidently, he disagrees with that assessment.

That's part of his speech -- expressing concerns about NATO.

There's a lot we can work together on. And that's what's important for the American people to understand.

In other words, we've got common goals that make sense for both our peoples. Two such goals are Iran, convincing the Iranians to get rid of its nuclear weapons; and Russia.

Russia's leadership on this issue is very important to getting a Chapter 7 resolution out of the United Nations.

And, by the way, they were constructive in terms of the resolution I just described about North Korea.

In other words, where we have common interests and we work together on those common interests, we can accomplish important things for the security of our own people as well as the security of the world.

And, secondly, Russia and the United States work very closely on proliferation concerns. We're both concerned about the proliferation of technologies that could end up hurting our people and other people in the world.

So it's a complicated relationship. It's a relationship in which there are disagreements. But there's also a relationship in which we can find common ground to solve problems. And that's the spirit I'll continue to work with Vladimir Putin on.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

General Pace says that these bombs found in Iraq do not, by themselves, implicate Iran. What makes you so certain that the highest levels of Tehran's government is responsible?

Yes...

QUESTION: And how can you retaliate against Iran without risking a war?

What we do know is that the Quds Force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. We know that.

And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. That's a known. What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did.

But here's my point: Either they knew or didn't know. And what matters is that they're there.

What's worse: that the government knew or that the government didn't know?

But the point I made in my initial speech in the White House about Iraq was -- is that we know they're there and we're going to protect our troops. When we find the networks that are enabling these weapons to end up in Iraq, we will deal with them.

If we find agents who are moving these devices into Iraq, we will deal with them. I have put out the command to our troops -- I mean, to the people, our commanders, that we'll protect the soldiers of the United States and innocent people in Iraq, and we'll continue doing so.

Now, let me step back on Iran itself. We have a comprehensive strategy to deal with Iraq. There's a variety of issues that we have with Iraq.

One, of course, is influence inside of Iraq.

Another is whether or not they end up with a nuclear weapon.

And I believe an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be very dangerous for world peace, and have worked with other nations of like mind.

And it turns out there's a lot of countries in the world that agree with that assessment. After all, we did get a Chapter 7 resolution out of the United Nations that included E.U.-3, as well as Russia and China.

That's a positive development.

The message to the Iranian people is that: Your leaders are making decisions that are isolating you in the world, thereby denying you a brighter future.

And I believe Iran is a unbelievably vital nation. It's got a great history. It's got wonderful traditions. It's got very capable, smart people.

There is -- I believe there's also a desire to not be isolated from the world. And our policies are all aimed at convincing the Iranian people there's a better way forward. And I hope their government hears that message.

Yes, anyway, that's a long answer to a short question. And now you're trying to get me another, aren't you?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I'd like to follow on Iran.

Critics say that you are using the same quality of intelligence about Iran that you used to make the case for war in Iraq -- specifically about WMD -- that turned out to be wrong, and that you are doing that to make a case for war against Iran.

Is that the case?

I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops.

And I'd like to repeat: I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of government.

But my point is: What's worse -- them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it's happening?

And so we will continue to protect our troops.

We -- our strategy is comprehensive in order to resolve problems that will affect our own peace and the peace in the world.

And the biggest problem I see is the Iranians' desire to have a nuclear weapon. And, as you know, we've been dealing with this issue ever since you've been covering me, and pretty much ever since I've been the president.

And we've made it very clear to the Iranians that, if they would like to have a dialogue with the United States, there needs to be a verifiable suspension of their program.

I would hope that they would do that. I would like to be -- have been -- given a chance for us to explain that we have no desire to harm the Iranian people.

But my focus is on making sure that this weapon is dealt with, the program is dealt with in a constructive, peaceful way.

And we'll continue to work toward achieving our common objectives, with other nations in the world, in a peaceful way.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the intelligence to provoke Iran?

Well, no I heard your question. And I told you, I was confident that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, was providing weaponry into Iraq.

And to say it is "provoking Iran" is just a wrong way to characterize the commander in chief's decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm's way.

(CROSSTALK)

And I will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on the North Korea deal, the former U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, yesterday said, quote, "It's a bad, disappointing deal, and the best thing you can say about it is that it will probably fall apart."

QUESTION: This is from a man you repeatedly praised for his judgment and leadership at the United Nations.

His main criticism is that the financial pressure led North Korea back to the table and now it's being released.

How do you respond to that?

I strongly disagree -- strongly disagree with his assessment. I have told the American people, like the Iranian issue, I wanted to solve the North Korean issue peacefully, and that the president has an obligation to try all diplomatic means necessary to do so.

I changed the dynamic on the North Korean issue by convincing other people to be at the table with us, on the theory that the best diplomacy is diplomacy in which there is more than one voice that has got an equity in the issue speaking.

And so we had a breakthrough as a result of other voices in the United States saying to the North Koreans, "We don't support your nuclear weapons program and we urge you to get rid of it in a verifiable way."

Perhaps the most significant voice that had been added to the table was China, but the South Korean voice was vital, as was the Japanese and Russian voices, as well.

So the assessment made by some that this is not a good deal is flat wrong.

Now, those who say the North Koreans have got to prove themselves by actually following through on the deal are right, and I'm one. This is a good first step. It will be a great deal for the North Korean people if their government follows through with the agreement, which, by the way, started in September of 2005.

The agreement that we announced the other day was a continuation of the initial agreement in September of 2005.

And for those who say that, "Well, this is an interesting moment and now it's up to the North Koreans to do that which they say they will do," I couldn't agree more with you.

And the first phase is to shut down and seal their facility -- their main weapons manufacturing facility, and then disclose their programs. And for that, they'll receive some help from the South Koreans: the equivalent of 50,000 tons of fuel.

At the second phase is to disable and abandon their facilities.

In other words, this is a phased approach that will enable all of us to say to our respective populations, we're watching carefully and that there's an opportunity for the North Koreans to prove that this program can work.

If they do the second phase, there will be about the equivalent of a million tons, minus the 50,000 tons, available of food, economic assistance and fuel.

I am particularly interested in helping get food to the North Korean people. Now, that's not going to happen until there's some verifiable measures that have been taken.

The financial measure that you're speaking about are really a separate item, because it has everything to do with -- it's a banking issue that our Treasury Department is analyzing to determine whether or not funds were illicitly moved through the bank.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

I want to follow up on Iran one more time. Are you saying, today, that you do not know if senior members of the Iranian government are, in fact, behind these explosives?

That contradicts what U.S. officials said in Baghdad on Sunday. They said the highest levels of the Iranian government were behind this.

It also -- it seems to square with what General Pace has been saying, but contradicts with what your own press secretary said yesterday. What...

Can I -- let me -- I can't say it more plainly: There are weapons in Iraq that are harming U.S. troops because of the Quds Force.

As you know, I hope, the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. Whether Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds Force to do this, I don't think we know. But we do know that they're there.

And I intend to do something about it.

And I've asked our commanders to do something about it. And we're going to protect our troops.

QUESTION: But given some of those contradictions, Mr. President...

There's no contradiction that the weapons are there and they were provided by the Quds Force...

QUESTION: What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time will be accurate?

We know they're there. We know they're provided by the Quds Force. We know the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. I don't think we need who picked up the phone and said to the Quds Force, "Go do this," but we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government.

What matters is, is that we're responding. The idea that somehow we're manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous. My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we're going to do something about it, pure and simple.

Now, David says: Does this mean you're trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I'm trying to protect our troops. That's what that's means. And that's what the family members of our soldiers expect the commander in chief and those responsible for -- responsible for our troops on the ground. And we'll continue to do so.

Yes, ma'am.

You're not a ma'am.

Martha?

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you agree with the national intelligence estimate that we are now in a civil war in Iraq?

And, also, you talk about victory -- that you have victory in Iraq; it would catastrophic if we didn't. You said again today that the enemy would come here. And yet you say it's not an open-ended commitment.

Yes.

QUESTION: How do you square those things?

You know, victory in Iraq is not going to be like victory in World War II. And it's one of the challenges I have: to explain to the American people what Iraq will look like in a situation that will enable us to say we have accomplished our mission.

First, the -- Iraq will be a society in which there is relative peace.

I say "relative peace" because if it's, like, zero car bombings, it never will happen that way.

It's like, you know, the fundamental question is, "Can we help this government have the security force level necessary to make sure that the ethnic cleansing that was taking place in certain neighborhoods is stopped?"

But there's criminality in Iraq as well as the ethnic violence. And so we've got to help the Iraqis have a police force that deals with criminals.

There's an Al Qaida presence in Iraq, as you know. I believe some of the spectacular bombings have been caused by Al Qaida.

As a matter of fact, Zarqawi, the terrorist Zarqawi, who was not an Iraqi, made it very clear that he intended to use violence to spur sectarian -- car bombings and spectacular violence to spur sectarian violence.

And he did a good job of it.

And so, there -- and then there's disaffected Sunnis, people who believe that, you know, they should still be in power in spite of the fact that the Shia are the majority of the country. And they're willing to use violence to try to create enough chaos so they get back in power.

The reason I describe that is that no matter what you call it, it's a complex situation, and it needed to be dealt with inside of Iraq. We've got people who say "civil war." We've got people on the ground who don't believe it's a civil war.

But nevertheless it is -- it was dangerous enough that I had to make a decision to try to stop it, so that a government that is bound by a constitution, where the country feels relatively secure as a result of a security force that is evenhanded in its application of security, a place where the vast resources of the country -- this is a relatively wealthy country, in that they've got a lot of hydrocarbons -- is shared equally amongst people, that there is a federalism that evolves under the constitution where the local provinces have got authority as well, and where people who may have made a political decision in the past, and yet weren't criminals, can participate in the life of the country and as an ally in the war on terror.

In other words, there is a bulwark for moderation as opposed to a safe haven for extremism, and that's what I would view as successful

QUESTION: Do you believe it's a civil war, sir?

I can only tell me what people on the ground whose judgment -- it's hard for me, you know, living in this beautiful White House, to give you a first-hand assessment. I haven't been there. You have. I haven't.

But I do talk to people who are -- and people whose judgment I trust -- and they would not qualify it as that. There are others who think it is.

It is, however, a dangerous situation, thereby requiring action on my part.

Listen, I considered several options: One, doing nothing. And that if you don't believe the situation was acceptable, then you should do something -- and I didn't believe the situation was acceptable.

Secondly, I would have listened to the advice of some and pulled back and hoped for the best.

I felt that would be extraordinarily dangerous for this young democracy; that the violence in Baghdad could escalate mightily and then spill out across the country, creating chaos, vacuums into which extremism would flow -- or make the decision I made, which is to reinforce the troops that were on the ground to help this Iraqi government and security force do what they're supposed to do.

Sir? You dropped?

QUESTION: Bad hands. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You got the BlackBerry and everything -- yes.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask you about troop morale.

Yes.

QUESTION: As you know, a growing number of troops are on their second, third or fourth tour in Iraq. There have been a growing number of reports about declining morale among fighting men.

I spoke personally to an infantry commander, tough guy, patriot, who says more and more of the troops are questioning what they're doing here.

Does this come as a surprise to you?

QUESTION: Are you aware of this? Is it a minority opinion? Is it a growing opinion? And does it concern you?

What I hear from commanders is that the place where there is concern is with the family members; that our troops, who have volunteered to serve the country, are willing to go into combat multiple times, but that the concern is with the people on the home front. And I can understand that. And that's one reason I go out of my way to constantly thank the family members.

You know, I'm asking -- you know, you're obviously talking to certain people, or a person. I'm talking to our commanders. Their job is to tell me the situation on the ground.

I know there's concern about the home front. I haven't heard, you know, deep concern about the morale of the troops in Iraq.

QUESTION: Would a commander tell you that if he...

Yes, they'd tell me that.

Sure. Absolutely. Just like they told me that they thought they needed extra troops to do the job. Sure.

Listen, I want our troops out of there as quickly as possible. But I also want to make sure that we get the job done. And I made the decision I made in order to do so.

QUESTION: You spoke positively about the role of diplomacy in North Korea. And you, obviously, gave it a long time to work. Where does diplomacy fit in, in terms of Iran? And do we have any leverage if we try diplomacy there?

Well, I guess you could call getting the E.U.-3, China and Russia on the same page on a Chapter 7 resolution successful diplomacy. I thought that was diplomacy. And it took a long time to get there.

I mean, we're working hard to send a concerted message to the Iranians -- a focused, unified message -- that the world believed you should not have a nuclear program.

And so I think -- this is a multilateral approach to try to get the government to alter its course on a nuclear weapons program.

I can't think of any more robust diplomacy than to have more than one party at the table, talking to the Iranians. And we did so through the United Nations, in this case.

If they want us at the table, we're more than willing to come, but there must be a verifiable suspension of this weapons program that is causing such grave concern.

We'll continue to work with other nations. As a matter of fact, I believe that it is easier for the United States to achieve certain diplomatic objectives when we work with other nations, which is precisely why we adopted the strategy we did in dealing with the Iranians.

QUESTION: Mr. President, it seems pretty clear where this Iraq vote in the House is headed.

Yes.

QUESTION: Your press secretary has said repeatedly that members of Congress ought to watch what they say and be concerned about the message that they're sending to our enemy.

I'm wondering: Do you believe that a vote of disapproval of your policy emboldens the enemy?

Does it undermine your ability to carry out your policies there?

And, also, what are you doing to persuade the Democratic leadership in Congress not to restrict your ability to spend money in Iraq?

Yes, thanks.

A couple of points -- one, that I understand the Congress is going to express their opinion, and it's very clear where the Democrats are, and some Republicans. I know that. They didn't like the decision I made.

By the way, that doesn't mean that I think that they're, you know, not good, honorable citizens of the country. They just have a different opinion.

I considered some of their opinions and felt like it would not lead to a country that could govern itself and sustain itself and be an ally in the war on terror, one.

Secondly, my hope, however, is that this nonbinding resolution doesn't try to turn into a binding policy that prevents our troops from doing that which I have asked them to do.

That's why I keep reminding people -- on the one hand, you vote for David Petraeus in a unanimous way; and on the other hand, you say that you're not going to fund the strategy that he thought was necessary to do his job, a strategy he testified to in front of the Senate.

I am going to make it very clear to the members of Congress starting now that, you know, and they need to fund our troops and they need to make sure we have the flexibility necessary to get the job done.

Secondly, I find it interesting that there is a declaration about a plan that they have not given a chance to work. Again, I understand. I understand.

The other part of your question?

QUESTION: Bolton...

Oh yeah. The only thing I can tell you is that, when I speak, I'm very conscious about the audiences that are listening to my words.

You know, the first audience, obviously, is the American people. My second audience would be the troops and their families. That's why I appreciate the question about the troops morale. It gave me a chance to talk to the families and how proud we are of them.

Third, no question, people are watching what happens here in America. The enemy listens to what's happening. The Iraqi people listen to the words, the Iranians. People are wondering. They're wondering about our commitment to this cause.

And one reason they wonder is that, in a violent society, people sometimes don't take risks for peace if they're worried about having to choose between different sides, different violent factions.

As to whether or not this particular resolution is going to impact enemy thought, I can't tell you that. But I can tell you that people are watching the debate. I do believe that the decision I made surprised people in the Middle East.

And I think it's going to be very important, however, that the Iraqi government understand that this decision was not an open-ended commitment, that we expect Prime Minister Maliki to continue to make the hard decisions he's making.

Unlike some here, I'm a little more tolerant of a person who has been only in government for seven months and hadn't had a lot -- and, by the way, a government that hadn't had a lot of experience with democracy.

And on the other hand, it's important for him to know, and I believe he does know that the American people want to see some action and some positive results.

And, listen, I share that same desire.

The faster that the Maliki government steps up security in Baghdad, the more quickly we can get to what Baker-Hamilton recommended, and that is embedding and training an over-the-horizon presence, protection of the territorial integrity of Iraq, and a strong hunt for Al Qaida and terrorists who would try to use that country as safe haven.

I thought that Baker-Hamilton made a lot of sense -- their recommendations. We just weren't able to get there if the capital was up in flames. And that's why I made the decision I made.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Sir, we've now learned through sworn testimony that at least three members of your administration other than Scooter Libby leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the media.

QUESTION: None of these three is known to be under investigation.

Without commenting on the Libby trial, then, can you tell us whether you authorized any of these three to do that or

I'm not going to talk...

QUESTION: ... whether they were authorized without your permission?

Yes, thanks. I'm not going to talk about any of it.

QUESTION: They're not under investigation, though, sir.

I'm not going to talk about any of it.

QUESTION: How about pardon, sir? Many people were asking whether you might pardon somebody...

I'm not going to talk about it.

(LAUGHTER)

Would you like to think of another question? Being the kind man that I am, I will recycle you.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You like that one, huh?

(LAUGHTER)

Yes, recycling him.

QUESTION: That took care of one of my questions as well, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

If that's the case, sit down. Next question.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: A lot of our allies in Europe do a lot of business with Iran. So I wonder what your thought are about how you further tighten the financial pressure on Iran, in particular, if it also means economic pain for a lot of our allies.

It's an interesting question. One of the problems, not specifically on this issue, just in general, that -- let's put it this way: Money trumps peace, sometimes.

In other words, commercial interests are very powerful interests throughout the world. And part of the issue in convincing people to put sanctions on a specific country is to convince them that it's in the world's interest that they forego their own financial interest.

And that's why sometimes it's tough to get tough economic sanctions on countries, and I'm not making any comment about any particular country, but you touched on a very interesting point.

You know -- so, therefore, we're constantly working with nations to convince them that what really matters in the long run is to have the environment so peace can flourish.

In the Iranian case, I firmly believe that, if they were to have a weapon, it would make it difficult for peace to flourish, and therefore I am working with people to make sure that that concern trumps whatever commercial interests may be preventing governments from acting.

I make no specific accusation with that statement. It's a broad statement. But it's an accurate assessment of what sometimes can halt multilateral diplomacy from working.

QUESTION: Iraq's not only being debated in Congress, but it's going to be debated in the presidential election that's coming ahead.

Is that debate -- is there a chance that that is going to hurt your progress in Iraq?

QUESTION: And is it appropriate at some point, perhaps, for the government to brief the presidential candidates so they have a better understanding of what it is you're trying to do?

Thank you for that question. I thought for a minute you were going to try to get me to comment on the presidential race, and I'd just like to establish some ground rules here with those of you who are stuck following me for the next little less than two years.

I will resist all temptation to become the pundit-in-chief and commenting upon every twist and turn of the presidential campaign.

As much as I like politics and I'm intrigued by the race, it's very similar to how I deftly handled Baker's question. I won't comment.

Secondly, I remember a member of Congress came to me before one of my speeches -- I think it was the Iraq speech as opposed to the State of the Union speech -- and said, "You better be eloquent in order to convince the American people to support this plan."

He didn't say "articulate"; he said "eloquent." And...

(LAUGHTER)

And my point to the person was, what really matters is what happens on the ground. I can talk all -- all day long. But what really matters to the American people is to see progress.

This leads to your point. And that is: Progress can best be measured by whether or not the people can see noticeable changes of security inside the capital city; in this case, the security -- Baghdad security plan has got to yield, you know, peace in certain mixed neighborhoods, for example.

Now, what -- and so, therefore, to the effect, to the extent that it affects votes, speeches, perceptions, elections, what really is going to matter is what happens, ultimately.

And that's all I really care to comment about it. I -- you know, it's...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

I'm not running.

(LAUGHTER)

And I know that's going to disappoint some of you.

But, anyway, that's a pundit-in-chief-type question, so I'm not going to answer -- pundit -- trying to get me to be pundit-in- chief.

QUESTION: Good morning. I'd like to follow on her question about undermining the troops.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have to support the war to support the warrior? I mean, if you're one of those Americans that thinks you've made a terrible mistake that's destined to end badly, what do you do? If they speak out, are they, by definition, undermining the troops?

No, she actually asked the enemy, not the troops.

(LAUGHTER)

But I'll be glad to answer your question. No, I don't think so at all. I think you can be against my decision and support the troops, absolutely. But the proof will be whether or not you provide them the money necessary to do the mission.

And I said early in my comment -- my answer to her was that -- somebody who doesn't agree with my policy is just as patriotic a person as I am.

And, you know, your question is, you know, valid. I mean, can somebody say, "We disagree with your tactics or strategy, but we support the military"? Absolutely. Sure.

But what's going to be interesting is if they don't provide the flexibility and support for our troops that are, you know, that are there to enforce the strategy that David Petraeus, the general on the ground, thinks is necessary to accomplish the mission.

Michael?

Michael, who do you work for?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. President, I work for Politico.com.

Pardon me? Politico.com?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

Do you want a moment to explain to the American people exactly...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you for the question.

(LAUGHTER)

Quit being so evasive.

Is it good? Do you like it?

QUESTION: Yes, of course, I...

David Gregory likes it. I can see the making of a testimonial.

(LAUGHTER)

Anyway, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You spoke hopefully about your ability to work with Democrats, their willingness to work with you in this new world.

I wonder how that's going to far, what you've learned about how they think, and does the current debate constitute grounds for divorce?

Interesting way to put it.

First of all, I think they're patriotic people who care about our country, back to his penetrating comment, or question. I do.

I was very appreciative of the reception I got at the State of the Union. It was a cordial, respectful reception that gave me a chance to talk about what I believe.

I was also very grateful for the reception I received at the Democratic retreat that I went to, there in Virginia.

You know, my impression of the meeting there was that we share a lot in common. We're a people that actually put filing papers down and ran for office. We're willing to put our families through the grind of politics. We wanted to serve our country that we care deeply about, what takes place in Washington, America and the world.

And my hope is that we can get, you know, positive pieces of legislation passed. Because I think there's a lot of expectation that the difference of opinion on Iraq would make it impossible for us to work on other areas.

I disagree with that assessment. And I hope I'm right. And the best way to determine whether I'm right is: Will I be able to sign legislation that we have been able to work on?

One such piece of policy is a balanced budget. There seems to be agreement that we should have a balanced budget. I laid out one way forward to achieve that balance.

And it shows that we can balance the budget without raising taxes and do so in a five-year horizon.

And I would like to work with the Democrat leadership as well as, obviously, my Republican folks, to get it done.

Secondly, an interesting opportunity is immigration. As you know, I strongly believe that we need to enforce our borders and that -- and have taken steps to do so.

But I also believe that, in order to enforce the borders, we need a temporary worker program so that people don't try to sneak in the country to work; that they can come in in an orderly fashion and take the pressure off the Border Patrol agents that we've got out there, so that the Border Patrol agents don't focus on workers that are doing jobs Americans aren't doing, but are focusing on terrorists and criminal elements, gun-runners, to keep the country -- both our countries safe -- Mexico and the United States safe.

I also know that we need to deal with the people who are here -- the 12 million people who are here illegally.

I have said multiple times that we can't kick them out of our country. That doesn't make any sense to me to try to do that, and I don't think -- maybe some feel that way, but I don't feel that way.

But I also don't believe we should give them automatic amnesty -- automatic citizenship, which I view as amnesty. And we look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to have a comprehensive immigration plan.

Energy is an opportunity for us to work together. We've done a lot of work in the past on promoting alternative sources of energy. America has done more than any nation in the world in promoting alternatives and renewable, all aiming to make sure that our economy grows, that we have energy independence and that we're good stewards of the environment.

And I look forward to working with the Democrats on the energy independence initiative I laid out.

One such initiative was the mandatory fuel standards that relies upon alternative fuel to power automobiles. Ethanol is the first and most notable place where we can start, but we also need to spend monies to develop, you know, technologies that will enable us to make energy out of products other than corn; switchgrass or wood chips, for example.

The problem with relying only on corn is that -- by the way, the -- when the demand for corn stays high, the price tends to go up and your hog farmer gets disgruntled with the alternative energy plan.

And, therefore, what's going to matter is that new technologies come on-line as quickly as possible to take the pressure off of corn ethanol -- or corn as a result of being used in ethanol.

And we work with Congress to do that. That's an area we can work.

Health care -- I got a letter the other day from a group of Republican and Democrat senators talking about the desire to work on health care. And they liked some of my ideas and -- but my only point is is that if there's an opportunity for us to -- to work together to help the uninsured have private insurance so they can get good health care.

And there's an opportunity to work together there.

The governors are coming into town soon. And I'll have Secretary Leavitt describe to them the affordable grants program that is a part of our comprehensive approach, including rewriting the tax code.

Finally, No Child Left Behind needs to be reauthorized. I fully understand that, you know, if you read your newspaper articles, which I -- I do sometimes...

(LAUGHTER)

... and listen carefully, you'll hear voices in both parties saying they don't like No Child Left Behind: you know, "It's too much testing," or, you know, "We don't want to be held to account," or whatever they say.

The bill's working. It makes a lot of sense.

You know, there's an income gap in America that I talked about when I went to Wall Street. And what's clear to me is, you know, our kids have got to have education, so that in this, you know, global economy, the jobs of the 21st century stay here at home. And it starts with good education.

And, therefore, I will argue vociferously that No Child Left Behind Act needs to be reauthorized. It's working. It's an important piece of legislation.

And we'll reach out to Democrat members as well as Republican members to get this bill reauthorized.

And so, there's a lot of areas. I'd say it's a little early in the process. This is a two-year term. We've got time to work together to get important pieces of legislation done.

And I like the start. As a matter of fact, this afternoon I've got members of both parties, both chambers coming down to visit about how we can continue to work together to get some legislation done.

As I told the Democrats, and as the Democrats have made clear to me in my visits, that neither of us are going to abandon our principles, that I don't expect them to change their principles and they shouldn't expect me to.

But there's ways for us to work together to achieve legislative successes for the common good. That's what the American people want to see, and that's what I believe we can do.

Is it going to take work? Yes, it's going to take work. But that's OK. That's why you pay us all this money.

QUESTION: Mr. President...

Last question, then I got to go have lunch with Bob Gates, secretary of the defense.

What are you looking at? Checking the time?

For the viewer out there -- you're getting -- timekeeper, you know, and everything.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I didn't mean to interrupt.

(LAUGHTER)

I just thought he was looking at the watch because he was getting bored. I wasn't sure, you know.

QUESTION: I'm never bored.

Remember the debates?

QUESTION: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. President, Republican and Democratic presidents before you sat down with face-to-face talks with the Soviet Union, a nation that was clearly hostile, tyrannical and had a huge nuclear arsenal.

Why do you think that face-to-face talks between yourself and the leadership of Iran would be any more compromising for you?

If I thought we could achieve success, I would sit down. But I don't think we can achieve success right now -- and, therefore, we'll want to work with other nations. I think we're more likely to achieve our goals when others are involved as well.

I really don't want to put the situation -- let me put it this way: I want to make sure that, in the Iranian issue, that the whole world stays engaged. I believe that's a more effective way of convincing the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. That's why.

Look, I know this is a world in which -- I'm not suggesting you're this way, but this is a world in which people say, "Meet!"

(LAUGHTER)

"Sit down and meet!"

And my answer is: If it yields results, that's what I'm interested in.

And so I believe the strategy that -- and, by the way, I remember this during the North Korean debate. People kept saying: Well, all you've got to do is sit down with the guy.

And I kept saying, well, I think it's going to be more effective if we have other people at the table with us, saying the same thing, so that just in case he decides not to honor the agreement, there will be other people saying the same thing I'll say, which is: You said one thing; you did another.

It will make it easier for us to send that message that the world is pretty well united in solving this problem peacefully.

And so that's why I made the decision I made.

It sounds tempting for somebody to say, "All you got to do is sit down with the people."

I'm in a little different position in that I'm trying to achieve certain objectives.

And we are making progress on the Iranian issue. If you step back to early on in the process, there was doubt as to whether or not the world would come together -- sometimes because of the reasons John mentioned -- in other words, conflicting interests.

And I believe we are making good progress toward solving this issue peacefully. And we'll continue to try to solve the issue peacefully.

It's an important issue: whether or not Iran ends up with a nuclear weapon. It's one of these issues that people are going to look back and say, "You know, how come they couldn't see the impending danger? What happened to them?"

You've heard me say that often about what would happen if we don't -- if we were to abandon our efforts in the Middle East for stability and peace through forms of government that are more likely to defeat an extremist ideology that would like to be able to prevail.

And it's a -- at any rate, that's why I made the decision I made. It's -- presidents have to weigh different options all the time. And -- but, look, I fully understand there are some who are -- don't agree with every decision I make. I hope the American people understand I make those decisions because I believe it's going to yield the peace that we all want.

Listen, thank you for your time. Enjoyed it very much.

Insight
Scheuer: "Not Analysis On Which Decisons...Should Be Made"
02/14/2007 10:46 AM ET
With all the current controversy following on the DoD IG report on Doug Feith's alternative intelligence assessments in the run up to the war in Iraq, I thought it might be appropriate to re-visit some things that Michael Scheuer has said on the subject. (Disclaimer: I worked with Scheuer on Through Our Enemies' Eyes and Imperial Hubris.)

In late 2002, as Feith's report asserting a relationship between bin Laden and Saddam was making its rounds through the intelligence community, George Tenet assigned a small group of experienced CIA officers with the task of re-evaluating every available piece of intelligence on the subject to see if there was any merit to the new conclusions, which contradicted the CIA's understanding at the time.

Scheuer was tasked to head the group, and they worked for a month reviewing approximately fifty thousand pages of material extending back nearly a decade. The result of that exercise led them to reject Feith's conclusions and re-affirm the CIA's stance that there was not a working relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.

The group wrote up a new CIA assessment and turned it in to their superiors. Scheuer can only assume it went up the chain-of-command intact, and was presented to the White House with the same conclusions it had when it left the unit.

As Scheuer told me, the early 2003 report concluded that while certain accounts indicated there may have been meetings between alleged "members" of al Qaeda and Iraqi officials, they could find no evidence of those fleeting contacts to have evolved into any kind of substantial partnership.

In the 2006 revised edition of Through Our Enemies' Eyes, Scheuer even rescinded the items in the first edition (which had been based strictly on open sources--i.e. media accounts) that indicated there had been significant contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda, citing his experience in the CIA's comprehensive 2002-03 review as having convinced him that he had been wrong in the first issuance of his book.

In a passage discussing why he was making that critical update, he made a few relevant comments about the contradicting assessments that had come out of Doug Feith's unit. As he wrote:

"While I do no claim to have read all of the unit's papers, those I did read struck me as rather amateurish. The bane of the professional intelligence officer's life is that data are available to support virtually any line of analysis one wants to present, or, more dangerous, any line of analysis politicians want to have delivered....

"The analysis of Iraq-al Qaeda cooperation that came from Mr. Feith's unit struck me as either being prepared by inexperienced analysts--those not yet comfortable in discerning quality from inferior information--or by solid analysts who were ordered to produce analysis that would mesh with and support the decisions policy makers intended to make. I have no way of knowing which of the two factors were at play. I would argue, however, that it would be a stretch to describe the analysis from Mr. Feith's unit on Iraq and al Qaeda as a professional product. It certainly was not analysis on which decisions about peace and war should be made."

Always having an almost irrationally unwavering belief in President Bush's honesty and integrity, Scheuer could never bring himself to conclude that this debacle of an assessment had been crafted with a specific intent in mind.

The one thing that shook his confidence the most, however, was his confusion as to how Colin Powell could have presented such an extensive case for cooperation in his speech to the UN after the CIA had produced its report condradicting much of the presented evidence. As Scheuer told me, "He must not have gotten the memo."

Document PDF
One Sentence Makes for Simple Rebuke of President's Plan
02/12/2007 3:05 PM ET
In an attempt to sidestep the kind of procedural confrontation the Senate faced last week, House Democrats have introduced a most concise resolution stating disapproval of Bush's plan.

(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

Introduced by Armed Services Committee chair Ike Skelton (D-MO), Foriegn Affairs committee chair Tom Lantos (D-CA), and Walter Jones (R-NC), the non-binding resolution would have no legislative impact, but does give the issue three days of debate during which the Dems will be granted ample opportunity to rail against the president.

The legislative maneuver will also compel those members who might otherwise prefer to avoid the discussion to go on the record with their position on the surge. This will be a very uncomfortable week for those Republicans who want to support the president, but whose constituents might not favorably view such a vote in the next election.

A vote on the resolution is expected on Friday. If anyone feels compelled to write their Congressional Representative to give him/her guidance on how to vote, you may send your comments through the house.gov "Write Your Representative" system.

Here is a PDF of the actual resolution: Skelton__Lantos__Jones_resolution.pdf

Document PDF
Say DoD Should Not Provide "Independent" and "Flawed" Intel Assesments
02/12/2007 1:46 PM ET
House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, Ike Skelton, chairman of House Armed Services, and Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the intel committee, have forwarded a sharply-worded request to SecDef Robert Gates and DNI John Negroponte regarding the alternative intelligence apparatus established by Douglas Feith when he was the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

Sen. Carl Levin released the DoD Inspector General report last Friday, which concluded that Feith's late 2002 report asserting there to be a "mature, symbiotic relationship" between al Qaeda and Saddam was based on "reporting of dubious quality or reliability."

Now Hoyer, Skelton, and Reyes are requesting the Pentagon avoid the practice of providing alternative intelligence assessments supporting Bush Administration policy goals. As they write:

"We firmly believe that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy should not be in the business of conducting its own intelligence assessments. The office should be focusing its attention on providing sound policy advice to the Secretary of Defense, not providing independent, and flawed, intelligence assessments. Responsibility for intelligence assessments should be left to the professionals--the brave and patriotic men and women of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Therefore, we would like to know what procedures your respective offices have put in place to eliminate the possibility of any future occurrences of similar incidents."

Here is a PDF of the letter: HoyerSkeltonReyesLetter.pdf

U.S. Politics
Howard: Iraqi Terrorists Surely Rooting for Obama to Become President
02/11/2007 11:18 AM ET
Howard, Bush Meeting May 16, 2006
White House photo
Howard, Bush Meeting May 16, 2006
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally of President Bush, has prompted an outcry in Australia and the US after suggesting Iraqi terrorists are rooting for Democratic Senator Barrack Obama to be elected the next US president.

Howard denounced Obama's call for a US military withdrawal from Iraq by March 2008 and said he (Howard) hoped Obama would not become US president.

Choice Howard quotes:
-- "If I were running al-Qa'ida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."
-- "I think that (March 2008 withdrawal deadline) would just encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory."
-- "If they think the next President of the US is going to pull out early in 2008, they will hang on and they will live for the day that that happens because they know then they will have won," he said.
-- "I hope Mr Obama does not become President of the US."
-- "I hope the next President of the US, and I don't know who he or she may be, has a more responsible attitude towards terrorism than that."

In Australia, opposition lader Kevin Rudd labeled Howard's comments "short-sighted and irresponsible" and called on Howard to withdraw the remarks. Rudd added:

"The Prime Minister's partisan attack on Mr Obama and the Democratic Party risks the strength of the US alliance. Mr Howard must not allow his personal relationship with President Bush to impact on Australia's long-term alliance relationship with the US"

Howard's comments have the blogosphere in the US abuzz.

Full Text
February 7, 2007 Wednesday, HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOV. REFORM COMMITTEE
02/10/2007 00:23 AM ET
FULL TRANSCRIPT AS A PDF:February_7__2007__HOUSE_OVERSIGHT_ON_FRAUD.pdf

The following is just the beginning of the 145 page document:

February 7, 2007 Wednesday COMMITTEE HEARING

HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE

REP. HENRY A. WAXMAN HOLDS A HEARING ON IRAQ PRIVATE CONTRACTOR OVERSIGHT

SPEAKER: REP. HENRY A. WAXMAN, CHAIRMAN

LOCATION: WASHINGTON, D.C.

WITNESSES:

KRISTAL BATALONA, DAUGHTER OF BLACKWATER EMPLOYEE WESLEY BATALONA KATHRYN HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL, MOTHER OF BLACKWATER EMPLOYEE STEPHEN HELVENSTON RHONDA TEAGUE, WIFE OF BLACKWATER EMPLOYEE MICHAEL TEAGUE DONNA ZOVKO, MOTHER OF BLACKWATER EMPLOYEE JERRY ZOVKO TINA BALLARD, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE ARMY FOR, POLICY AND PROCUREMENT ANDREW HOWELL, GENERAL COUNSEL, BLACKWATER USA TIMOTHY TAPP, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS OPERATIONS, REGENCY HOTEL & HOSPITAL CO. STEVE MURRAY JR., DIRECTOR OF CONTRACTING, ESS SUPPORT SERVICES WORLDWIDE GEORGE SEAGLE, DIRECTOR OF SECURITY, GOVERNMENT AND, INFRASTRUCTURE DIVISION, KBR TOM FLORES, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE SECURITY, THE FLUOR CORPORATION ALAN CHVOTKIN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND COUNSEL, PROFESSIONAL SERVICES COUNCIL

BODY:

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM HOLDS A HEARING ON IRAQ PRIVATE CONTRACTOR OVERSIGHT FEBRUARY 7, 2007 SPEAKERS: REP. HENRY A. WAXMAN, D-CALIF. CHAIRMAN REP. TOM LANTOS, D-CALIF. REP. EDOLPHUS TOWNS, D-N.Y. REP. PAUL E. KANJORSKI, D-PA. REP. CAROLYN B. MALONEY, D-N.Y. REP. ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, D-MD. REP. DENNIS J. KUCINICH, D-OHIO REP. DANNY K. DAVIS, D-ILL. REP. WILLIAM LACY CLAY, D-MO. REP. DIANE WATSON, D-CALIF. REP. STEPHEN F. LYNCH, D-MASS. REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-MD. REP. BRIAN HIGGINS, D-N.Y. DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, D-D.C. REP. PAUL W. HODES, D-N.H. REP. CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY, D-CONN. REP. BRUCE BRALEY, D-IOWA REP. PETER WELCH, D-VT. REP. JOHN YARMUTH, D-KY. REP. BETTY MCCOLLUM, D-MINN. REP. JIM COOPER, D-TENN. REP. JOHN SARBANES, D-MD. REP. JOHN F. TIERNEY, D-MASS. REP. THOMAS M. DAVIS III, R-VA. RANKING MEMBER REP. DAN BURTON, R-IND. REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS, R-CONN. REP. JOHN M. MCHUGH, R-N.Y. REP. JOHN L. MICA, R-FLA. REP. MARK SOUDER, R-IND. REP. TODD R. PLATTS, R-PA. REP. CHRIS CANNON, R-UTAH REP. JOHN J. "JIMMY" DUNCAN JR., R-TENN. REP. MICHAEL R. TURNER, R-OHIO REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-CALIF. REP. KENNY MARCHANT, R-TEXAS REP. LYNN WESTMORELAND, R-GA. REP. PATRICK T. MCHENRY, R-N.C. REP. VIRGINIA FOXX, R-N.C. REP. BRIAN P. BILBRAY, R-CALIF. REP. BILL SALI, R-IDAHO

*

WAXMAN: The meeting of the committee will come to order.

Today the committee will investigate potential fraud, waste and abuse in the almost indecipherable world of contractors and subcontractors.

For the last two years, I've tried to get a clear answer to what I thought was a simple question -- how much money the Halliburton subsidiary, named KBR, and private securities subcontractors were making under the Army's troop support contract, called LOGCAP.

We know that the war in Iraq has given private contractors an unprecedented role in providing security services. Almost $4 billion taxpayer funds has been paid for private security services in the reconstruction effort alone.

But sorting out overhead, subcontracts, sub-subcontracts, profit and performance has been nearly impossible.

For over 18 months, the Defense Department wouldn't even respond to my inquiry. When it finally replied last July, it didn't even supply the breakdown I requested. In fact, it denied that private security contractors did any work at all under the LOGCAP contract.

We now know that isn't true and today we will try to understand the layers of subcontractors, with a particular emphasis on the Blackwater Company.

On March 31, 2004, four Americans working as private security personnel for Blackwater, all of whom were military veterans, were ambushed and killed in Fallujah while on a protection mission.

Their tragic death became a turning point in public opinion about the war and directly resulted in a major U.S. military offensive, which is known as the first battle of Fallujah.

Twenty-seven American soldiers and over 800 insurgents and Iraqi civilians died in that battle and military observers believe it helped fuel an escalation of the insurgency.

It is now almost three years later and we still don't know for sure the identity of the prime contractor under which the four Blackwater employees were working.

What we do know is that Blackwater was providing security services under a contract with a Kuwaiti company called Regency and that Regency was itself a subcontractor for ESS Support Services Worldwide, which, in turn, was a subcontractor providing dining services and construction services for other contractors, such as KBR and Fluor Corporation.

We also know that both Blackwater and Regency were adding significant markups to the cost of providing the security services. And on top of that, the prime contractor, whoever it was, was making its own percentage off the contract.

Blackwater initially indicated that it believed KBR was the prime contractor under the LOGCAP contract. Three months ago, however, ESS told the committee that the Fluor Corporation was actually the prime contractor for Blackwater working Fallujah.

The Fluor Corporation disputes this and the Defense Department doesn't seem to be sure what's going on.

It's remarkable that the world of contractors and subcontractors is so murky that we can't even get to the bottom of this, let alone calculate how many millions of dollars taxpayers lose in each step of the subcontracting process.

But the impacts of contracting waste go beyond just dollars and cents. Today, four family members of the four murdered Blackwater employees will share their testimony with us.

They believe Blackwater sent their relatives into Fallujah unprepared and without armored vehicles, a rear gunner for each vehicle or heavy automatic weapons to defend against attacks.

Their experience tells them that tax dollars never reached the security personnel on the ground. They believe that the money for protective equipment took a backseat to the multiple layers of contractor profits.

I don't know if we will be able to resolve that issue today, but I'm deeply troubled by one document we have found in preparing for this hearing.

The day before the four soldiers were killed, a Blackwater employee sent an e-mail alerting superiors that a lack of equipment, armored vehicles and other safety equipment left the team unprepared to begin its mission.

That warning was seemingly ignored and we need to explore that further.

And without objection, this e-mail will be made part of the hearing record today.

I've already learned that sorting out the webs of subcontracts is confusing work, but our committee has an absolute obligation to the taxpayers to make sure their tax dollars are well spent and not siphoned off into billions of dollars of unnecessary overhead.

And even more important, we have an inviolate obligation to the men and women in harm's way and to their families to make certain that their safety doesn't take a backseat to corporate profits or wasteful spending.

I look forward to learning more from our witnesses this morning.

I want to now call on the ranking member of this committee, Mr. Davis.

T. DAVIS: Well, thank you, Mr. Waxman, and thank you for holding this hearing.

We once again meet to examine the challenges of managing contracts in Iraq. Since 2004, the committee has been engaged in continuous and vigorous oversight of contracting activities in the war zone.

That oversight involved five full committee hearings, 14 subcommittee sessions, numerous briefings from the agencies involved and review of thousands of documents the committee obtained from key federal agencies.

Those efforts focused on contracts for logistical support of U.S. military operations and for reconstruction efforts.

Throughout this review, it's been our goal to move beyond just the charged rhetoric and easy generalities that swirl around the topic and get to the underlying realities of acquisitions in Iraq.

The truth is gritty enough. No one needs to embellish or exaggerate it. Still, some prefer to oversimplify and distort and prejudge the outcome of complex contracting processes to fit the preordained conclusion that nothing goes right in Iraq.

I'd rather pursue a more constructive mode of oversight that looks beyond the headlines to make a lasting difference in our policies and save taxpayers money.

Some of today's testimony will focus on a brutal incident in 2004 in which four civilian security personnel retained by Blackwater USA, a security contractor, were ambushed and killed in Fallujah.

Our hearts go out to the families of those four men.

Committee members should keep in mind that liability of the Fallujah incident is the subject of pending civil litigation and I'd ask unanimous consent at this point to put in the record a letter from Callahan and Blaine to Speaker Pelosi on this matter.

WAXMAN: Without objection, the letter will be made part of the record.

T. DAVIS: Thank you.

In view of the court actions, I know that the longstanding committee policy still applies. This is not the forum to prosecute private lawsuits or the place to exploit the tragic events, but there are some unanswered questions, Mr. Waxman, and I applaud you for trying to get to some closure on these issues.

A separate focus of this hearing is on management and oversight of private security agreements, specifically the allegation that tiering of personnel charges by layers of security subcontractors exorbitantly inflated the price paid by the government under cost-plus agreements.

Tiering could be pernicious if each party was free to mark up their invoices and pass them on. But so far, we've found that subcontractors had fixed price contracts with the DOD prime contractor, KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary.

So the subcontractors would not pass on costs beyond the fixed unit prices, mostly competitive bid, in their contracts.

In those cases at least, the alleged profiteering shouldn't be possible. There's no legal way to profit from tiering under that scenario.

Even so, there remains the question of whether KBR may have acted improperly by allowing its subcontractors to use any type of security services at all or for not knowing whether the third and fourth tier subs included any security costs in their competitively bid fixed price contract costs.

The prime contract includes a generic prohibition against employees carrying weapons without special permission. Whether this prohibition can be stretched into a specific band or implicit security charges by remote subcontractors operating in a war zone will likely be the subject of intense discussion between the Army and KBR.

Make no mistake, there are still too many problems with contracting in Iraq. Just look again at the mess made through the Baghdad police college, with raw sewage surging through classrooms.

More recently, we heard about unauthorized VIP trailers and Olympic-size swimming pools paid for with U.S. tax dollars.

With that in mind, I look forward to exploring solutions to the constant security and logistical challenges that make contract oversight in a war zone so challenging.

How do we get the right number of acquisition professionals and auditors with the right skills to the operational theater in time to prevent and not just chase costly mistakes?

In previous hearings, we heard that emergency short-term contracting gave way to longer contingency agreements. Then many sustainment contracts were entered into using full and open competition.

The process needs to mature and stabilize even further. I hope these hearings help us get to that end. We're looking for a slope to the acquisition learning curve, evidence that lessons learned are being applied.

Thank you.

WAXMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Davis.

By the announcement yesterday, all members who had made an opening statement will not be called on today for an opening statement.

Mr. Towns was not here yesterday and has requested that he be given an opportunity for an opening statement.

TOWNS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I had a conflict yesterday and, of course, wasn't able to be present.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding these hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in federal contracting.

Today's hearing focuses on military contracts in Iraq, but the problems identified are not unique to the Pentagon or the war. In fact, we see exactly the same type of waste in contracts of Hurricane Katrina and in other areas.

The American people and Congress have been very, very generous, but not nearly enough of the money has been sent into the places that need the help, especially the victims of Katrina.

One of the biggest problems I see, Mr. Chairman, and something that I plan to look into in my subcommittee, as the chair, the layers and layers and layers of middlemen, each taking a cut of the money before it gets to the people who are actually doing the work.

If we could cut out these middlemen and middlewomen, we could get more funds applied to the problems we are trying to solve and save some money while we are dealing with the problem.

This problem is more than just wasted dollars. With so many layers of subcontractors, the government cannot monitor the work and hold people accountable.

This absence of accountability has real, real human costs. People who lost homes in Hurricane Katrina tell us how many different contractors they had to deal with just to get a trailer to live in or to put a roof over their heads, and relatives of Blackwater employees will tell us today how the lack of oversight and planning can contribute to a tragedy.

Mr. Chairman, I'm glad that we have the chance today to question some contractors and finally do some oversight. But the same type of wasteful contracting happens so often that this is not just a problem with a few bad apples.

The federal contracting system is broken and we must fix it. In this Congress, we need to pass a bill that closes loopholes and requires more competition.

We need to take oversight and control out of the hands of huge contractors and have government officials supervising the people who are actually doing the work and we need to make sure that we're not outsourcing work that should be done by government employees.

I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, and with the members of this committee on both sides of the aisle to pass some real contracting reform as soon as possible.

On that note, Mr. Chairman, I yield back and I'm eager to hear from the witnesses.

WAXMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Towns.

The chair would note that Ms. Foxx did not have an opportunity for an opening statement and want to see if she wishes to make one today.

FOXX: I do, Mr. Chairman, and thank you very much for this opportunity.

As our country engages in a historic struggle against evil and terror, some publicly question whether our efforts are being properly administered and operated.

While constructive criticism and genuine critical analysis help ensure transparency and proper management, some partisan rhetoric can actually compromise the good work that's being accomplished in places like Iraq.

Many contractors operating in Iraq have been subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. While I understand there may be some waste of contractors operating in a war zone, a vast majority of the work done by our military contractors is praiseworthy.

American contractors deliver critical supplies, infrastructure and security in an incredibly hostile environment.

One of these contractors, Blackwater USA, is headquartered in my home state of North Carolina. Today they are facing accusations of negligence and profiteering.

But I see another side of this company that often remains unmentioned in the media. For example, many Blackwater security personnel were previously honorable law enforcement and military personnel, professionals.

These folks are well trained and well equipped, as they work tirelessly side-by-side with our military as they pursue victory over vicious, heartless attacks of violence.

Furthermore, in response to emerging threats arising in the war on terror, Blackwater is developing a number of technologies which can serve to protect our brave servicemen and women fighting overseas.

Given the tremendous personal sacrifices and acts of patriotism made every day by the brave folks who work for contractors such as Blackwater, I hope that today's hearing will provide an opportunity for a fair defense against some of the accusations which have been leveled against them.

I look forward to the testimony of today's witnesses.

And I want to add one comment to these prepared statements. I appreciate very much what Mr. Towns was saying about how we should be looking at waste, fraud and abuse throughout the federal government.

I will tell you that this is an issue near and dear to my heart, but one of the problems that we have is we are doing too much at the federal level and Congress is not exercising its appropriate oversight authorities and I think many times we're working with systems that simply don't work.

Having hearing after hearing is not as productive as it should be in terms of our looking at that.

But I think one of our biggest problems is that the federal government tries to do things it's got no business doing and we simply cannot do the proper oversight and we need to reduce the role of the federal government instead of increasing the role of the federal government.

Thank you.

WAXMAN: Thank you very much for your comments.

We'll now turn to the witnesses. But before that, we have a memo that's been circulated to the members of the committee. It's additional information for the hearing on private security contractors and, without objection, we'd like to make that part of the record.

We'll receive testimony from the first panel of witnesses and let me introduce them.

On March 31, 2004, four men working as private security personnel for Blackwater USA were securing a convoy when they were killed as they traveled through Fallujah.

These brave and patriotic men were Scott Helvenston, Wesley Batalona, Jerry Zovko and Michael Teague.

We have with us today family members of all four men.

Kathy Helvenston-Wettengel is the mother of Scott Helvenston. Scott was a former Navy SEAL and a SEAL instructor, a world class athlete, and the father of two young children.

Donna Zovko is the mother of Jerry Zovko, a former Army Ranger, who was fluent in four languages and was just 32 at the time of his death.

Rhonda Teague is the widow of Michael Teague, who is also survived by his son. Mike had served as a member of the Army's elite helicopter unit, known as the Night Stalkers. He had completed tours of duty in Afghanistan, Panama and Grenada. He was awarded the bronze star.

Kristal Batalona is the daughter of Wesley Batalona, a 20-year veteran of the Army Rangers, who took part in the 1989 invasion of Panama, the first Gulf War in 1991 and the 1993 humanitarian mission in Somalia. Ms. Batalona heard the news of her father's death on her 22nd birthday.

Before we begin, I would like to express, on my behalf of myself and the entire committee, our deepest condolences. Our hearts go out to all of you for your loss.

As Americans, we all felt the pain that came across when we saw the horrific images, but none of us can truly know your anguish and loss.

And, second, I'd like to thank you for being here today. Just like your husbands, your fathers and your sons, you are also very brave to testify before Congress. It's not an easy thing to do, so we thank you very much for it.

It's the custom of this committee to swear in all witnesses that appear before us. So if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you to stand.

Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Thank you very much. The record will note that each of the witnesses acted in the affirmative.

For all of you to be here today, I understand that you have a joint statement that all four of you signed and want to provide to the committee.

Normally, we'd give each witness just five minutes, but if one of you would like to read the statement, we'd like to recognize you to do that and to take as much time as you need to read this statement.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman, I'd like unanimous consent to place into the record two documents pertinent to this hearing, one addressed to you and Mrs. Pelosi, in which it's cited that the hearing should go after the Blackwater, the serious lead by extremely Republican companies such as Blackwater, and, secondly a memorandum of the funds given specifically to Democratic causes by the law firm that represents these three women.

WAXMAN: OK, without objection.

(UNKNOWN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

WAXMAN: We'll accept those and make them part of the record.

Please proceed however you wish and thank you very much for being here. If you would, there's a button on the base of the mike. Press it in and then pull the mike as close to you as possible.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I would like to start off by sincerely thanking the committee for inviting each of the families of the four men who were killed in Fallujah.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Although everyone remembers those images of the bodies being burned, beaten, dragged through the streets and ultimately hung from a bridge, we continue to relive that horror day after day, as those men were our fathers, sons and husbands.

Following that horrific incident, on March 31, 2004, we turned to Blackwater for answers. What we received was appalling.

We were told that the information surrounding the circumstances in which our loved ones were killed was confidential.

When we insisted on seeing the report concerning the incident, Blackwater told us that we would have to sue them to get it.

Having just lost the most important people in our lives, a lawsuit was the last thing on our minds. Instead, our focus was concentrated on finding out just what happened.

However, the people in the best position to tell us what happened refused to do so.

It was not as if Blackwater was claiming that it did not know what happened, but instead Blackwater concealed the information from us that we needed so desperately to understand why our loved ones were dead.

Imagine having the people so near and dear to your hearts killed overseas in a foreign country and then having the employer tell you that the details are confidential and that it would take a lawsuit to turn the information over.

There is no accountability for the tens of thousands of contractors working in Iraq and abroad. Private contractors like Blackwater work outside the scope of the military's chain of command and can literally do whatever they please without any liability or accountability from the U.S. government.

WAXMAN: I wonder if you might move the mike just a little bit back away from you.

UNKNOWN: Too close?

WAXMAN: Yes, too close. Thank you.

UNKNOWN: I'm not familiar with speaking on microphones.

WAXMAN: You're doing just fine.

UNKNOWN: Yet, they also work in countries like Iraq, which are not currently capable of enforcing the law and prosecuting wrongful conduct, such as murder.

Therefore, Blackwater can continue accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money from the government without having to answer a single question about its security operators.

It is our understanding that Blackwater has lost more operators than any other U.S. security company working in Iraq. The inherent flaw in the manner in which private contractors are being used is that there is no accountability or oversight.

If the U.S. military was performing the job that it now farms out to the private sector, there would always be someone to answer to, all the way up to the president of the United States.

More important, those in the chain of command would be looking out for the best interests of the soldiers in their country.

In the case of Blackwater, the people making critical decisions are those in corporate America, whose focus is often on cutting costs and making profits.

When the decision was made to save millions of dollars by not buying armored vehicles, our husbands, fathers and sons were killed. Blackwater gets paid by the number of warm bodies it can put on the ground in certain locations throughout the world.

If some are killed, it replaces them at a moment's notice. What Blackwater fails to realize is that the commodity it trades in is human life.

While maybe just a statistic to Blackwater, the four men killed in Fallujah were exceptional special forces, who collectively gave decades of military service to our country.

My son, Scotty, became the youngest Navy SEAL ever at the age of 17. He was fluent in five dialects of Spanish. He served as a Navy SEAL from Europe to Central and South America. He helped trained embassy staffs and even set up the security for President Ronald Reagan's summit meeting in Venice, Italy.

Before leaving the Navy, Scott rose to the level of teaching Navy SEAL courses and was ultimately offered a promotion. Scott was also at a gold medal winner at the world pentathlon. That year, he won two golds, a silver and a bronze, out of five events.

Mike Teague served in the U.S. Army for 15 years in the 160th Special Operations community. He had deployed in Panama, Grenada, Spain, Somalia, and other places that constantly immersed him in covert operations.

AS a civilian, Mike taught gun training classes for the state of Tennessee, provided security for high profile celebrities and athletes, and worked as a police officer for the Federal Reserve.

He was reactivated during the war in Iraq and spent 12 months in the Army's Special Forces in Afghanistan.

Jerry Zovko and Wesley Batalona were similarly former Special Forces with the U.S. Army. Jerry was a member of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division and the Army Rangers. He served in Bosnia and in the Sinai Peninsula.

Wesley joined the Army after high school and quickly became an Army Ranger. He gave 20 years of service to our country by serving all around the world.

The talents of highly skilled special forces personnel do not always translate well into civilian life. However, Blackwater provided a high paying alternative to the routine jobs that former military personnel usually resort to.

Blackwater offered our men $600 per day to work private security in Iraq. More importantly, Blackwater also promised our men certain protections which were critical in determining whether to accept such a high paying job to work in a war zone.

All four men were told they would be working in armored vehicles, with no less than six operators in each detail. There were supposed to be at least three people in each vehicle.

This would have provided for a driver, a navigator and a rear gunner, who would have heavy machine guns to fight off any attacks.

Our men were also told that they would be able to learn the routes through Iraq prior to going on any missions and to conduct a risk assessment of each mission to determine if it was too dangerous to go.

Blackwater did not provide our men with any of these protections. It is undisputed that they not have armored vehicles. They did not have a team of six. They did not have three people per vehicle. They did not have a rear gunner. They did not have heavy machine weapons.

They were not able to conduct a risk assessment of the mission. They did not have a chance to learn the routes before going on the mission.

In fact, when Scotty asked for a map of the routes, he was told, "It's a little too late for a map now."

Ultimately, all four men died before the contract they were working under was even scheduled to begin.

Lack of preparation and the strive to make as much money as quickly as possible, even if not 100 percent ready, is Blackwater's style of business.

This style was confirmed just last month when Blackwater's president, Gary Jackson, told the "Harvard Business Review," quote, "I constantly push for the 80 percent solution that is executable now over the 100 percent solution we might be able to devise in another three weeks," unquote.

An 80 percent solution means that 20 percent of the operators are dead.

Blackwater actually lost nine of its 34 operators in just over two months. That means that only 74 percent survived, which is pretty close to Blackwater's goal of 80 percent.

Our men were told that they would be performing work that would make a difference, such as guarding Ambassador Paul Bremer. Instead, they died escorting empty trucks that were going to pick up kitchen equipment.

Once the men signed on with Blackwater and were flown to the Middle East, Blackwater treated them as fungible commodities. For example, Scotty was physically and verbally attacked one night by a Blackwater program manager.

When Scotty indicated that he was not well enough to leave the following morning on the mission, despite two other Blackwater operators offering to go in Scott's place, the Blackwater manager burst into Scott's room late at night, confiscated his weapon and told Scotty that if he personally did not go on the mission the following day, he would be fired.

It was under this threat of being fired and abandoned in Iraq that forced Scott to leave for Baghdad the following morning.

However, late that night, Scott sent his last e-mail. It was addressed to the owner, president and upper management of Blackwater security.

The treatment of the security operators was so bad that after working for Blackwater for just 11 days, Scott felt compelled to write an e-mail to the owner and president of the company that began, "It is with deep regret and remorse that I send you this e-mail. During my short tenure here with Blackwater, I have witnessed and endured some extreme unprofessionalism," unquote.

In this lengthy e-mail, Scott detailed all of the problems with the entire program and the treatment of the operators. There was no response from Blackwater's management to this call for help. Instead, our men were dead four days later.

After the incident, Blackwater held a small memorial service for our men and the other Blackwater operators who were killed.

During our time at the Blackwater compound, there were guards assigned to each of the families. The guards were with us at all times and did not let us speak with the other family members in private.

Ultimately, Blackwater refused to tell us anything about how our men died.

For six months after the incident, Blackwater did not return telephone calls or inquiries about the incident. Ultimately, I tracked down a direct number for Blackwater's owner, Erik Prince.

When I called it, Mr. Prince actually answered the phone. We had a brief conversation and I asked Mr. Price for a copy of Scott's contract and the incident report. He told me that I should receive them with a couple of weeks. No documents ever came.

Although Blackwater told us that we would have to file a lawsuit to obtain a copy of the incident report, Blackwater has done everything possible to prevent the disclosure of any information.

During the past two years that the lawsuit has been pending, Blackwater has not answered a single question or produced a single document.

Instead, Blackwater has appealed every single ruling all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When we attempted to take the deposition of a key witness, Blackwater sent him out of the country just days before his deposition. When he recently returned to the United States after working for Blackwater for the past two years, we obtained another court order to take his deposition. Blackwater has now appealed that order, as well.

Thus far in our legal quest, Blackwater has hired five different law firms to fight us, including such politically connected lawyers as Fred Fielding, White House counsel, and Kenneth Starr.

It appears that Blackwater will go to any lengths to prevent us from finding out why our men were killed and to avoid any accountability for its actions.

Through it all, Blackwater has never denied that it was obligated to provide our men with certain protections. More importantly, Blackwater has never denied that it did not provide our men with these protections.

Instead, Blackwater has simply said that it cannot be sued for its conduct.

As appalling as it may seem, Blackwater also recently filed a $10 million claim against us for bringing our lawsuit. First and foremost, we are seeking answers from Blackwater as to how and why our loved ones are dead.

Why were not they in armored vehicles? Why were they not in a team of six? Why were there not three operators in each vehicle? Why were they not provided heavy weapons? Why were they not permitted to learn the routes in Iraq before going on their mission?

Why were they not allowed to gather intelligence from the outgoing security company? Why was the risk assessment not performed prior to that mission?

Why were they not given 24-hours notice before their mission? Why were they lost in the middle of Iraq? Why did they drive through the center of Fallujah at a time when even U.S. military would not go through?

Why were they lied to about the weapons and protections they would have?

In short, why did Blackwater choose to make a profit over the safety of our loved ones?

Second, we are seeking accountability for the wrongful conduct of Blackwater. Private contractors such as Blackwater are being paid millions of dollars of our taxpayer money to line their own pockets and jeopardize the safety of the men and women working for them.

There needs to be accountability for their conduct. While Blackwater is a private North Carolina company and should be held to answer to a North Carolina jury, the government should also create some type of accountability and oversight for private contractors.

Third, we are seeking to prevent other families from receiving that dreadful telephone call explaining that a father, a son or a husband has been killed.

If the message is sent throughout the industry that private contractors will be held accountable for their wrongful conduct abroad, the companies may devote more attention to the safety of their workers and less to the amount of their profits.

Having lost those close to our hearts and then having experienced the callous indifference of Blackwater, we sincerely hope that Congress will take action by creating accountability for the private contractors and not continue to allow them to make millions of dollars at the cost of the American lives.

WAXMAN: Thank you very much for that statement on behalf of all of you.

I know that up here we have the Democrats and we have the Republicans. I don't know whether you're Democrats or Republicans. I don't know whether you're sons or husbands or family members were Democrats or Republicans, and it doesn't make any difference.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: No, it doesn't.

WAXMAN: They were American patriots. They were veterans of our armed services.

We want to know some of the things that you want to know, because we ought to know what's happening with our young men and women who are in the military and who are on the front line risking their lives working for private contractors paid by the United States taxpayers.

So we want to get some of the answers to some of the same questions, but we have an obligation beyond that to the taxpayers of this country to know how this whole operation works, where you have a contractor, a subcontractor, a sub-subcontractor, and who is responsible, who is accountable.

If you're loved ones had been members of the military, put into battle, I can't imagine you would have had to go through all that you seen to have had to go through just to get answers to what happened to them. It's really conceivable to me.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I agree. It's unconscionable.

WAXMAN: Let me ask you some questions, because we're trying to get a record which we'll share with our colleagues and help us get the information that we need to try to understand what's been happening.

Some of these questions you may have answers to and some you may not, and I'm asking anybody on the panel who wants to give us their views.

Were your family members traveling in armored vehicles the day in Fallujah when they were killed, to your knowledge?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: They were Mitsubishi Pajeros with reinforced back bumpers.

WAXMAN: And how about the number of team members that were in each vehicle?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Well, when they originally started to pull out, there were three. At the last minute, Joseph McGowan (ph) pulled out the rear gunner in each vehicle, claiming that they needed to have them there to help them do some clerical work.

WAXMAN: What was that third person supposed to do in the vehicle?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: He was the one that would save them if they got in trouble. He was the one to protect them.

WAXMAN: Did they have machine guns?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I don't think Scotty ever got his own gun back. I don't think the navigators fired one bullet. The people in Fallujah literally just walked up to these vehicles and shot them at point blank range.

But then what they did after was just horrendous. Scotty lived a short while after the initial shooting. I was told he was still alive when they tied him to the back that truck and drug him through the streets of Fallujah.

And that was before they decapitated him, dismembered him and torched him.

WAXMAN: Do you know whether they had him -- I assume that...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I have no idea. I know they didn't have the big guns.

WAXMAN: If there's any difference among the others, because what you're saying, I assume you're speaking for all of them.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Well, no, ask them. Was it any different for you?

WAXMAN: If there are any differences, please let us know.

Did they have maps of the area?

TEAGUE: I'm not aware that they had any maps.

WAXMAN: Did any of you know whether they had maps?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I was told Scott specifically asked for a map and he was told it was too late for a map.

WAXMAN: So it appears, from what all four of you know, they were not traveling in armored vehicles. They were traveling in teams of two, in cars, instead of three and they didn't have a rear gunner and they didn't have heavy machine guns and they didn't have a map.

Is that a correct statement?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: That is my understanding.

WAXMAN: All of you agree.

And you believe it was Blackwater's responsibility to provide these items to your family members, is that right?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Well, by just removing the armored vehicle, I was told it gave Blackwater a profit of $1.5 million.

WAXMAN: We don't know. That's something you've heard.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes.

TEAGUE: I'm unsure of the profit gained by not providing these men with armored vehicles, but I have watched extensive footage of other contractors in Iraq taking heavy fire in fully armored vehicles that can sustain 20 to 30 minutes.

And that's a possibility that our men could have gotten out, but we'll never know, because they did not have those.

WAXMAN: You've wanted to know information from Blackwater. What information did you want to get from Blackwater that you still feel you haven't received?

I think, Ms. Zovko, you had some specific information, is that right? Questions.

ZOVKO: Not information, but questions.

WAXMAN: Pull the mike a little closer.

ZOVKO: What and why were they sent, what led them into the mission that they were going to or the job that they were on, for three days or four days prior to the contract actually going into effect.

Why not prepare them? Why not give them time to prepare and get to know the route? All of these things that they were supposed to have been allowed to do prior to doing the job.

So a thousand and one questions and no answers.

WAXMAN: Did you talk to anybody from Blackwater?

ZOVKO: Did I? Actually, I did. On March 31, in the late evening, I spoke to a young woman by the name of Susan, who had, after three phone calls, confirmed that, yes, Mr. Prince will be coming to our house to tell us that our son was dead.

And I had talked to her a couple of times about the body coming home and then all of a sudden she disappeared. The only contact and good ears that I had there to listen to me were not there anymore. I've lost contact with them.

My son had time to talk to Blackwater and had communicated with them more so than I did after that. I met with the Blackwater employees at the memorial that they had in October, which is six months after the death of my son, and, after that, nothing.

WAXMAN: In the joint statement, at least one of you was told to sue Blackwater in order to get information.

ZOVKO: Yes.

WAXMAN: Is that something that they told to you?

ZOVKO: Ann told us to sue. I was under the impression that all the families, the families of my Jerry's coworkers and the families of the other young men that were killed that worked for Blackwater in Iraq will have the opportunity to go into this boardroom meeting for answers and questions, actually.

That's the impression that I was under. Well, after lunch and after everything that we went through that we did at the Blackwater facilities, my husband, my son and I were escorted to this meeting, to where it was only the three of us and four of the Blackwater employees.

There was no questions and answers really.

WAXMAN: Tell me about somebody telling you you have to sue them to get answers.

ZOVKO: Ann told us. My husband was asking, "Where are my son's personal things? Where are things that belong to my son? How did my son die?"

And she said that that was confidential. It was the information that if we wanted to know, we need to sue, and she actually was sitting on this side of the table, at the end of the table or head of the table. We were on the side.

She stood up and she said that if we wanted to know that, that we needed to sue, that was confidential.

WAXMAN: And was there anybody else there in that room from Blackwater?

ZOVKO: Yes, there was Mr. Rush.

WAXMAN: That's mike Rush?

ZOVKO: Yes. There was...

WAXMAN: He's a very senior Blackwater official, according to our information, and he's the deputy director for operations at their North Carolina headquarters.

What did he have to say?

ZOVKO: Maybe at that time he wasn't so high in the position and chain of command, if you will. But, no, he was the person that we had met that had spent time with the families and he was sitting there. He was sitting to the right of Ann and right next to him was a gentleman by the first name of Dave that was the fastest gun in Iraq, that was a joke.

This is supposed to make me feel like smiling or laughing because we're sitting at this table and they're introducing this gentleman that just came back from Iraq and he was the fastest gun in Iraq.

But we were told to sue and we have gotten no information. We did receive a copy of a flag that people that live near the Blackwater headquarters have made for our sons or it could have been the employees of Blackwater that were in Baghdad and Iraq, but it did have my son Jerry's name, Scotty's, Wesley's and Mike's on that flag and that was the only thing that we have gotten out of that answers and questions session with Blackwater.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I would like to add something about the flag. It was crocheted by a 70-some-year-old woman that lived near the Blackwater compound and she crocheted it.

It's a very large flag. But Blackwater had nothing to do with that. She just wanted to do something and she thought that might help us feel better. But Blackwater had nothing to do with it.

WAXMAN: Thank you.

Mr. Davis, I want to recognize you.

T. DAVIS: Thank you. I join Chairman Waxman in expressing our appreciation for their patriotism and trying to honor their memories in an appropriate fashion.

I'm having a hard time even understanding the contractual vehicle as we look at all the documents, too, if this was an ESS LOGCAP or ESS Fluor. They were a fourth or fifth tier subcontractor, and I hope we can get to the bottom of that.

But one question I have is we understand that families ought to be entitled to and receive compensation under the insurance that contractors are required to carry pursuant to the Defense Base Act.

Have each of you received those benefits?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: The widows and minor children receive those benefits.

T. DAVIS: Correct.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I don't receive any.

TEAGUE: I personally never applied for those benefits. That has been brought to my attention several times as we've asked questions.

That, to me, has nothing to do with who's accountable for not providing the things to my husband and those other men that they were promised for their protection.

T. DAVIS: I agree.

ZOVKO: I receive no benefits.

BATALONA: My mother receives benefits.

T. DAVIS: Thank you.

I will yield to Mr. Issa.

ISSA: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I guess I have one opening question -- well, first, a comment. Although I don't think your testimony today is particularly germane to the oversight of this committee, I am deeply sorry for the losses that you've had.

Camp Pendleton is the center of my district and so Fallujah was particularly painful for all of us in the community there, because during the same period, obviously, the Camp Pendleton Marines were heavily engaged in a dangerous zone.

One question I have is, the opening statement, who wrote it?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: It was a compilation of all four of us. We all sent in our thoughts and feelings to Dean Callahan and he compiled it, because we were told we only had five minutes.

I have my own personal statement, if you'd like it.

ISSA: It was well written and I ask because it did appear as though it was written by an attorney who had obviously slipped in a lot of things that they believe would be facts in the lawsuit now pending.

And, certainly, I think it's regrettable that a family should have to sue to get information.

I guess one question. All four of these men were experienced, seasoned people who understood the military and law enforcement. Is that fair to say?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes.

ISSA: In a sense, and hearing some of the biographies, these were people who would have been able to set policy, set the terms, if you will.

I see you shaking your head, but think about this before you answer.

These are people who, in fact, trained other people, particularly Scotty.

So as I understand, what we're talking about are professionals, highly skilled, going into a combat situation with experience about combat.

Would that be fair to say?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: No experience would have protected them that day.

ISSA: But that's not the question. Were these four...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: They were very experienced, they were definitely.

ISSA: OK, I think it's important, because one thing that is legitimate to this committee's oversight is does Blackwater, who I don't know from Adam, basically, but do they hire topnotch skilled professionals that come prepared with skills commensurate with those of the U.S. military if they're to do similar jobs.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: May I answer that?

ISSA: Please.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Well, they do hire very highly trained people, but they also are in Africa in these little villages hiring these men at $30 a month and are told that if they die, their families will get $1 million.

And there was a man from Africa that came and interviewed me. I've done interviews, two of them from Korea, because they're hiring there and Japan.

ISSA: Sure, sure, but you're experts on your children, your husbands, your father, your loved ones. They were highly qualified and highly skilled.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: They certainly were.

ISSA: They were the type that we should want to have doing security and assisting our military in this combat zone. Would that be fair to say, for all four?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Those four were very highly trained, but I cannot say that for all of Blackwater's employees.

ISSA: It's a great loss obviously to you and...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes.

ISSA: ... the work that they were doing.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I'm a widow.

ISSA: And I'd like to thank you for the service they provided and, again, express our sympathies for their loss.

I yield back.

WAXMAN: I just want to take exception to the idea that it's not germane to our inquiry.

The taxpayers are paying for layers and layers and layers of private bureaucracy and if somebody who's getting taxpayers' dollars tells even highly trained American veterans that they're going to have body armor, they're going to have armed vehicles, they're going to have special people with them to help them carry out their job, we ought to know whether they failed to do that because of indifference of negligence or incompetence.

That is very much our job in oversight. It seems to me sometimes those who are criticizing our oversight didn't think we were actually going to do oversight.

This is part of our job.

SCHAKOWSKY: Will the gentleman yield for just a second?

WAXMAN: Let me ask unanimous consent that Ms. Schakowsky, who's not a member of this committee, be able to sit with us. Without objection, that will be ordered.

I do want to recognize members in order.

SCHAKOWSKY: Could I just -- in that regard, I also wanted to take exception to the question about who wrote the testimony, because I think clearly the implication was that somehow these wonderful women couldn't possibly have written that wonderful, heartfelt testimony and that it took a lawyer in order to put it together, and I resent that very much and I wanted to just put that on the record.

Thank you.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I do have my personal testimony, if you'd like to see it.

WAXMAN: Well, whatever you have we'll be happy to receive for the record.

Mr. Tierney?

TIERNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

In your testimony that was given, you had a written question that you wanted Blackwater to answer and it essentially was why did Blackwater not listen to its own manager in charge in Kuwait who had warned of all the problems well in advance of the deaths of your relatives.

Ms. Helvenston-Wettengel, who was this manager?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Justin McGowan.

TIERNEY: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: His name was Justin McGowan. He was Scott's immediate superior.

TIERNEY: And what concerns did he raise with Blackwater?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: John Potter was...

TIERNEY: And what concerns did Mr. Potter raise with Blackwater?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Apparently, it's my understanding that the guarantees that were given to our four men were not allowed in a subsequent contract that was signed with ESS.

In the ESS contract, they deleted the word "armored."

TIERNEY: They deleted the word "armor."

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes.

TIERNEY: From the vehicles and from the...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: In the ESS contract that Blackwater signed after Scotty had signed this contract.

TIERNEY: And you've had some difficulty getting the answers to these questions from Blackwater. So what was their response to Mr. Potter's concerns, if you know?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Well, they fired him initially.

TIERNEY: They fired him?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Initially, yes, because he was very upset because the word "armored" was deleted and he argued for that. He said, "We have to have armored vehicles." And he subsequently was fired.

TIERNEY: And have you had any communications with him since he was fired by Blackwater?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes.

TIERNEY: OK, and you know where he is.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes.

TIERNEY: Now, you brought a lawsuit against the company and their response was what?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: They were outraged that we had the audacity to sue them. They claim that they cannot be sued because they're a defense contractor.

TIERNEY: And did they take any action against you?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Personally, $10 million is something kind of personal.

TIERNEY: The countersuit.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes. That's pretty personal.

TIERNEY: And if I understand it, the countersuit asserts that you had no right to sue them under the terms of the contract and, therefore, you're responsible to them for $10 million.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes, basically.

TIERNEY: And where in the court process is that suit and countersuit right now? How far along are you?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: That was fairly recently that they did that. I don't know how far it's progressed.

TIERNEY: Now, if I discuss with you...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Well, after three years, they've yet to give us any kind of document or deposition.

TIERNEY: That's exactly where I was going to go.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Yes.

TIERNEY: So your lawyers have asked for written documents to be produced.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: We've received nothing.

TIERNEY: And you've received nothing. Have you had depositions or times where you come in before...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: At one point, Marc Miles, who works with Dan on this case, he flew all the way to Norfolk. He scheduled...

TIERNEY: All the way to Norfolk?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Norfolk. He had deposed a number of Blackwater employees and they just didn't show. And so Marc sat in this hotel room for 2.5 days and he kept faxing their attorneys, saying, "At least give me the courtesy, if no one is going to show all the way through Friday, please just let me know, sign it, and I'll go home."

And after I think it was the third day, they finally gave him that courtesy that nobody that had been deposed would be there.

TIERNEY: In the course of your lawsuit, do you know whether or not your counsel have sought to have documents produced by any government agency, the Department of Defense, for instance, or taken any testimony from any government individuals?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I have no knowledge. I'm not saying that they didn't, I just have no knowledge of it.

TIERNEY: I want to thank all of you for your testimony today, saying how sorry we all are.

I think most people in this country, if not all, understand that while your family members may have been serving as private individuals or citizens, in this case, that they were working in the interest of our country and we all feel that they deserve the same protections and regard as people in the military, whether from our own Department of Defense or from their contracting agent.

So you have your sympathies. Thank you.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: They were all very proud, patriotic men who loved their country.

TIERNEY: As are you. Thank you very much.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: You're welcome.

TIERNEY: Yield back.

WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Tierney.

ISSA: Mr. Chairman, point of order.

While I was out of the room voting in judiciary, I understand that there was what I would consider a disparaging comment implying that my question to the witness was related to having been a woman outside the ordinary course of business.

Would that be correct?

WAXMAN: Well, it's not a point of order, but do you want to make a statement?

ISSA: I would like to have the words taken down.

WAXMAN: We'll check with the parliamentarian to see if that's appropriate in a committee.

But meanwhile we have witnesses here and I want to pursue...

ISSA: I look forward to hearing their testimony.

WAXMAN: Mr. Westmoreland?

Mr. Bilbray?

Mr. Platts?

TEAGUE: Congressman Waxman?

WAXMAN: Yes.

TEAGUE: I would just like to go back for a second to the point simply to try to make it a little bit clearer about the Congressman's point in these are men that are highly skilled, familiar with combat, the kind of men you would want in these positions, and I agree with that.

But I don't know if this is made clear. All four of these men had not been with Blackwater, my husband had been with them literally -- I put him on the plane March 26. He arrived in Kuwait March 29 and he was killed March 31, had never done a mission with Blackwater before.

Her son had been with Blackwater 11 days, her son about three months, I believe.

ZOVKO: Two weeks.

TEAGUE: Two weeks. So here you have four men, highly skilled, yes, understand combat, yes, but they're sent out on a mission, my understanding, no map, no prior time to assess the situation.

Could someone that has not worked with this company for some time go with them or help them or sort of take the lead in that?

You are all very well versed in this community and in this building. But if you'd never been here before, wouldn't you need someone to show a few things?

So whether they're highly skilled or not does not take away from providing them with maybe just the operations of that company. That's different than active military.

There's several things that were different that they were not privy to.

WAXMAN: Thank you very much. That's a good clarifying point.

Mr. Platts?

PLATTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I would like to make one more statement.

WAXMAN: respond in the question period and then if you want to make a statement, I'm sure that those of us who are proceeding with questions would be pleased to allow you to do that.

Mr. Platts?

PLATTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. No questions. I'd just convey my deep sympathies to you and your families on the loss and for the service or your loved ones to our nation and to the cause of freedom.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I'm having trouble hearing you, sir.

PLATTS: I say no questions, just convey my sympathies to you and your families on your loss and to the sacrifices that your loved ones made to our nation and to the cause of freedom.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Thank you.

WAXMAN: Thank you.

Mr. Lynch?

LYNCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also want to thank Ranking Member Davis for helping on this.

First of all, very appreciative that you have come here today to help the committee with its work.

I do want to go to the germaneness issue, because it's been raised by my colleague.

First of all, we've got a situation here where there's a growing tendency for the military or for the administration to subcontract out work that has traditionally been performed by our military, instead using private contractors.

And while the very tangled web of subcontractors and sub- subcontractors has been noted here this morning, it certainly is germane when American citizens are put in a very difficult situation without adequate protection.

With respect to the gentleman's comments, he initially raised the fact that the germaneness may not be to this committee's jurisdiction, but may instead be connected to a civil lawsuit. That was the gentleman's comments.

And then the question was whether or not the opening statement of the witnesses here had been drafted by a lawyer, presumably with the same lawsuit.

That was the inference that was left here. I've only been a member here for five years. I've only sat through several hundred, maybe 1,000 hearings, and that is the first time as a member of Congress that I have heard any witnesses asked who wrote their opening statements.

And I might say, also, that if that question is a fair one, then you might ask how many members up here at this table wrote their own opening statements. You might be surprised at those answers.

But I do want to ask...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Good point.

LYNCH: ... the witnesses this. There's an inference here by the attorney for Blackwater, in a letter they've presented to us, that by coming forward and filing a lawsuit on behalf of your loves ones -- and, you know, I've been to Fallujah a couple of times.

I've actually been under escort with Blackwater security forces in Afghanistan, as well. So I understand how brave your loved ones were and how patriotic they were, with the same fervor that those who -- the same patriotism as those who serve in American military uniforms, I understand that.

But the inference is there in the letter from Blackwater's counsel that by their contract, somehow your husbands, sons, relatives, gave away the right for you to sue in the event that negligence or extreme negligence caused their death.

Can you tell me where that...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: They were also guaranteed certain provisions. Had they had any of those provisions, I know in my heart they would be alive today.

But a few minor things that they were promised when they took that employment were taken away from them, every single one of them.

If they had had that armored vehicle, if they had had that rear gunner, if they'd had a map, I think it's referred to as -- is it a black zone or a red zone?

The military would not even go in there with the heaviest equipment over there, it was so dangerous.

LYNCH: And I do realize, at this point, when their convoy had gone through Fallujah, the Marines hadn't been into central Fallujah before your husbands and your loved ones took that convoy through.

But with respect to the inference that there's a bar on your lawsuit because of the contract that your loved ones signed, is there any more information that you have on it?

And I realize that there are allegations and there's certainly evidence that Blackwater didn't fulfill their part of the contract, but this bar on your lawsuit, that's something that concerns me for other employees in the same situation that your loved ones were in.

I want to try to make sure that there's no assertion to other families that they can't bring lawsuits because of something that was put in that contract.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I'm not familiar with this bar that you refer to. I'm not sure what that means.

LYNCH: OK, all right, that's fair enough. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.

WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Lynch.

Mr. Issa, you're recognized on your own time.

ISSA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And perhaps I'll use a little of it to straighten out two things.

My understanding is that the U.S. Congress has put into law prohibitions on lawsuits for government contractors operating as agents of the U.S. government in a combat zone.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Sir, I cannot answer any legal questions. I don't have the knowledge.

ISSA: No, and I'm not asking. I'm making a statement just to set the record straight. I have reviewed some of that.

And that bar might be something that this and other committees should look at. Obviously, when a company bids, they bid based on the assumption that relevant U.S. law would be there, in other words, that their losses would be limited to whatever they contracted for in the case of a death.

Having said that, I did ask an appropriate question, I believe, of who wrote the opening statement for you, not because it's without any -- I mean, it's very common for attorneys or organizations, in- house people to write opening statements.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: Why are you dwelling on that?

ISSA: I'm dwelling on it because, in fact, there is a real question not as to whether or not we should oversee Blackwater and other contractors, but the role of having you three bereaved women here...

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: There's four of us.

ISSA: I'm sorry, thank you. It's a good thing I learned to count early, but not well.

Having you here to tell us about your loss, when, in fact, it's the subject of a lawsuit that's ongoing and, in fact, this committee has no jurisdiction here to change the outcome of your loss today or to settle your lawsuit.

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: And why is that? We're subcontracting out our war.

I understand there's 100,000 contractors over there and there doesn't seem to be a law that applies. They literally can get away with murder and it's happening over and over again. It didn't just happen to our four men.

It's a wild west over there and there is no accountability.

ISSA: Right. I would gather that all four of you would like us to cease using contractors wherever possible. You think it inappropriate. Is that spoken for all of you?

HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL: I have found it difficult to understand why they do, because they're paid so much more than the military and the military resents them for that.

They're taking jobs that the military had been trained to do and they're giving it to Blackwater and they're being p

DC Scoop
Government Releases Proof of Iran's Complicity This Weekend
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/09/2007 11:02 PM ET
This weekend the U.S. will reveal a laundry list of evidence that Iran is involved in Iraq's violence.

Highlights will include proof that Iran is supplying support to Shia groups. The much awaited evidence seems to support much of an orchestrated campaign and steady build up to a confrontation with Iran. The evidence was supposed to be released last week but official decided to make sure there were no errors. The evidence comes from interrogations, serial numbers, captured documents, weapons and personnel. In all there is supposed to be a pile of documents two inches thick that supports the administrations claims.

Among the hard evidence there will be proof of Iran supplying:

- Money - Weapons Components - Explosively Formed Projectiles - Bomb Components - Surface to Air Missiles - Weapons - Explosives - Training and Personnel

The U.S. will also assert the elements of the Revolutionary Guard are operational inside Iraq. The Iranians deny that they are involved or have people inside Iraq. There is no mention of support of other groups by other outside sources like the Sunnis in Al Anbar province. The information will not explain how the recent rash of helicopter crashes happened in Sunni neighborhoods. The Iraq Study Group pointed (on page 29) that "Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia".

Syria, Israel, Kurdish Diaspora, weathly Gulf Patrons, Shias and many others have also been accused of meddling (or helping) in Iraq's internal affairs.

Full Report PDF
Steve Simon: U.S. "Already Achieved All That It Is Likely to Achieve"
02/08/2007 3:09 PM ET

The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a new report by senior fellow, Steven Simon: "After the Surge: The Case for U.S. Military Disengagement From Iraq."

If anyone wonders what Simon thinks will happen because of the surge, his views can be summed up by the following quote: “Staying in Iraq can only drive up the price of these gains in blood, treasure, and strategic position.”

More excerpts below, and full report available here. CFR_Simonreport.pdf

“The United States should...make clear now to the Iraqi government that, as the results of the anticipated surge become apparent, the two sides will begin to negotiate a U.S. military disengagement from Iraq,” says a new Council on Foreign Relations Special Report. “The proposed military disengagement would not be linked to benchmarks that the Iraqi government is probably incapable of fulfilling....The U.S. drawdown should not be hostage to Iraqi performance.”

“The United States has already achieved all that it is likely to achieve in Iraq: the removal of Saddam, the end of the Ba’athist regime, the elimination of the Iraqi regional threat, the snuffing out of Iraq’s unrequited aspiration to weapons of mass destruction, and the opening of a door, however narrow, to a constitutionally-based electoral democracy.”

Disengagement “would entail withdrawing the bulk of American forces from Iraq within twelve to eighteen months (that is to say, over the course of calendar year 2008); shifting the American focus to containment of the conflict and strengthening the U.S. military position elsewhere in the region; and engaging Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, members of the UN Security Council, and potential donors in an Iraq stabilization plan,” Simon writes.

“The crisis has now moved beyond the capacity of Washington to control on its own,” says the report. “The United States lacks the military resources and the domestic and international political support to master the situation.” And “even if the United States had the abundant ground forces and reconstruction teams necessary, it is not clear that the situation in Iraq today is retrievable.”

Simon argues that any realistic reckoning for the future will have to acknowledge “six grim realities:” --“The United States cannot determine political outcomes or achieve its remaining political aims via military means.”

--“Leaving U.S. forces in Iraq under today’s circumstances means the United States is culpable but not capable—that is, Washington bears substantial responsibility for developments within Iraq without the ability to shape those developments in a positive direction.”

--“The ongoing war has empowered and advanced the interests of the chief U.S. rival in the region, Iran.”

--“By siphoning resources and political attention away from Afghanistan, a continuing military commitment to Iraq may lead to two U.S. losses in southwest Asia.”

--“The Iraq war constrains the U.S. military, making it very difficult if not impossible to handle another significant contingency involving ground forces.”

--“The implosion of domestic support for the war will compel the disengagement of U.S. forces; it is now just a matter of time.”

“The bleak truth remains that the United States is incapable of restoring Iraq even to the relative stability of the Ba’athist era...The even bleaker truth is that continued U.S. military operations on Iraqi territory might well leave Iraqis even worse off. In that light, for the U.S. government to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers in the pursuit of an unattainable objective (a stable, pluralistic Iraq aligned with U.S. interests), or an inappropriate one (reputation for toughness and reliability) would be the least morally defensible course that Washington could take.”

The United States should:

--Declare its intention to disengage the majority of U.S. combat forces from Iraq within twelve to eighteen months, to begin once the results of the surge become known.

--Retain the forces necessary to secure Baghdad International Airport, the Green Zone, and access routes that connect them.

--During the disengagement period, stage the drawdown to maintain the forces in Iraq needed to protect or relocate vulnerable minority populations and suppress insurgent activity in the largely Sunni provinces. Shift focus to containment of the conflict and strengthen the U.S. military position elsewhere in the region.

--Plan for humanitarian contingency operations.

--Refocus on containment of the war in Iraq.

--Reinforce the U.S. military presence elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, for example, Kuwait; explore options for increasing special operations forces deployed to Jordan; increase the number of rotational deployments to the region, including joint exercises.

--Engage Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, members of the UN Security Council, and potential donors in a stabilization plan for Iraq.

--Prepare to provide Jordan with help in managing the cross-border refugee flow.

--Work with the UN secretary-general to form an Iraq stabilization group, including Iran and Syria, with an emphasis on control of borders, management of refugees, economic and technical assistance to Iraq, and diplomatic support for political reconciliation.

--Work with the UN, NATO, and neighboring states on plans for humanitarian intervention in the event that violence in Iraq becomes genocidal.

--Act decisively elsewhere in the region, particularly on the Palestine-Israel impasse by articulating a vision for final status, and on support for Lebanese sovereignty.

“Having staked its prestige on the intervention and failed to achieve many of its objectives, the United States will certainly pay a price for military disengagement from Iraq. But if the United States manages its departure from Iraq carefully, it will not have lost everything. Rather, the United States will have preserved the opportunity to recover vital assets that its campaign in Iraq has imperiled: diplomatic initiative, global reputation, and the well being and political utility of its ground forces.”

Fewer Graduates, More Criminals Added to Rolls
02/08/2007 11:08 AM ET
Ken Silverstein over at Washington Babylon recounts what he learned from an Army recruiter friend about the U.S. Army's lowering standards for enlistees.

In 2005, Flyer noted, the Army fell far short of its goal of attracting 80,000 enlistees. It managed to meet that same target last year by deploying about 1,400 new recruiters, by offering larger enlistment bonuses and other incentives, and by systematically lowering educational standards for new recruits. For example, the portion of non–high school graduates in last year’s enlistee pool was 27.5 percent, up from 17 percent in 2005. In the 1990s, non-grads (most of whom do have a G.E.D.) made up only about 5 percent of new Army recruits.

That, along with information about the increasing use of "moral waivers" for people with criminal pasts or other problems, is not really news.

However, Ken's friend also says the Army has made basic training easier, so it doesn't weed out as many new recruits.

I thought weeding out the not-quite physically fit was the point of basic training, and kind of important for an incoming class of soldiers. What next? Basic training in front for a Nintendo Wii?

Exclusive Photo
Alleges BW Outsources Security Work to Poor Africans
02/07/2007 1:44 PM ET
Blackwater Legal Counsel Andrew G. Howell
www.house.gov
Blackwater Legal Counsel Andrew G. Howell

According to Stephen "Scott" Helvenston's mother, testifying to Henry Waxman's House Oversight Committee today, Blackwater has been going to small African villages and offering men $30/day for work as security contractors.

As a bonus, their families are told that if killed, their heirs will be given $1 million dollars. That's big money in Africa. Unfortunately, she wasn't more specific on which country she thought they were targeting for their recruitment efforts.

Thirty dollars a day saves Blackwater big money in their expenses, considering that an American contractor might make $350-$650/day (or more if they're working "black" contracts).

But a $1 million dollar death benefit could be paid by insurance. That's another example of the cost-savings brilliance of Erik Prince.

UPDATE: In a later question, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) asked the four relatives of the Blackwater contractors killed in Fallujah if they thought Congress should pass legislation requiring that American contracting companies hire only American security contractors.

They all said yes, until Mike Teague's wife, Rhonda Teague, wisely said she would agree, with the added caveat that--for intelligence gathering purposes--contractors should be able to hire locals.

UPDATE 2: I asked our resident expert, Robert Young Pelton (author of Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror), what he thought about the comment.

"Blackwater, like other companies, hires Third Country Nationals or TCNs through brokers, never directly. It would be unusual and unlikely if an employee of Blackwater recruited or hired foreign nationals directly. In any case Greystone (an offshore company owned by Blackwater) would be the usual vehicle for hiring TCNs."

Stay tuned: RYP will be posting his own assessment of today's hearing, as soon as we get off this Slogger conference call--San Diego (RYP), San Francisco (Greg), Atlanta (Eason), Anna (NY), Nir (Beirut), Ali (Iraq), and me (DC). All hail Skype!

Civilian Agencies Urged to Do More in Iraq.
02/07/2007 00:34 AM ET
New York Times describes how administration wants civilian agencies to "step up".

As Congress points out the failings and excesses of the reconstruction, the U.S. State Dept and military are concerned that "a military buildup alone cannot solve Iraq’s problems".

Condi Rice has promised to "surge" civilian efforts in Iraq to make sure the reconstruction money is applied properly. Anonymous sources told the NYTimes that "engineers, lawyers, veterinarians and accountants — are still conducted by military personnel at a time when the armed services are stretched thin."

Jobs are seen as a key part to pacifying Iraq. In a study done by the military found that "a 2 percent increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30 percent decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17 percent decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence." Unemployment in Iraq hovers between 20 and 40%.

In reality, the Waxman hearings seem to highlight the fact that although $16.5 billion dollars have been poured into Iraq, there is little proof that there is any abatement of violence. Currently the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies have shifted to micro financing local business and individuals, a move away from the multi million dollar Beltway contracts favored by the Administration. Timothy M. Carney has been appointed specifically to coordinate U.S. and Iraqi reconstruction projects. Carney has served in a similar function under Jay Garner and Paul Bremer. Although there is a call for more civilian aka contractor help, the regional teams tasked with reconstructing Iraq will number less than 400 and over 30% of their budgets is drained by security costs.

Insight
Tracking the Push Towards Confrontation With Iran
02/06/2007 4:11 PM ET
Vanity Fair's Craig Unger has written a piece examining the development of the growing chorus of those who would like to see the demise of Iran's current regime.

Though it has little in the way of original reporting or groundbreaking new information, Unger does a good job of tracking the "noise machine" making the case for war against Iran, and comparing it to the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.

The way he lays it out makes it seems as if some kind of military action against Iraq is all but inevitable, and cites secondhand information from former CIA officer Philip Giraldi: "I've heard from sources at the Pentagon that their impression is that the White House has made a decision that war is going to happen."

Unger fingers the intellectual progenitor of recent U.S. policy in the Middle East as a 1996 policy paper authored by Neocon hawk and former Pentagon official Richard Perle. Published by the Israeli-American think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic Political Studies, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," advocated war as a means for eventually establishing stability in the region.

The most intriguing part of the article comes from an admission by Uzi Arad, former Mossad director of intelligence.

Long before the Iraq invasion, Israeli officials had told the Bush administration that Iran was a far greater threat than Iraq. "If you look at President Bush's 'axis of evil' list, all of us said North Korea and Iran are more urgent," says former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Netanyahu's foreign-policy adviser. "Iraq was already semi-controlled because there were sanctions. It was outlawed. Sometimes the answer was 'Let's do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we'll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.'"

Arad doesn't specifically articulate that the intent would have been to "handle the Iranians" with force, but since Administration officials constantly echo the sentiment that the military option is on the table, that would have to be the potential endgame implication of such an apporach.

It's also problematically unclear who exactly "the neocons" were that led Arad to believe that the U.S. would confront Iran once it had established a bulkhead in Iraq.

If it was only Reuel Marc Gerecht venting about his dreams for the downfall of Iranian mullahs, that can be considered more hot air from a notorious blowhard.

But if it was Paul Wolfowitz giving a preview of the long-range strategic plan for U.S. forces in the Middle East, that's significantly more serious.

DC Scoop
$12 Billion Unaccounted For in Early Days of Reconstruction
02/06/2007 1:54 PM ET
Bloomberg's update on Senator Waxman's hearings revealed that over half of the money spent under Ambassador Paul Bremer's stewardship cannot be accounted for. Bremer insists that they took their responsibilities seriously, the money belonged to Iraq and that "where we may have fallen short, I accept the responsibility"

Colorful descriptions of shrink-wrapped money being shuttled around in go-bags sound dramatic but the complete lack of banking facilities and the preponderance of U.S. money left behind by Saddam's regimes are sure to provide colorful anecdotes.

AP talks of 363 tons of cash being loaded up on aircraft and flown into Iraq in the early days of the war. The average U.S. or Iraqi citizen might find that much cash hard to imagine, but Bremer defends it by maintaining they were trying to kick start the Iraqi economy and support the dinar.

Hearings continue tomorrow with the focus on Blackwater USA and the deaths of four employees in Fallujah. Although Slogger was informed that Erik Prince and Vice President Chris Taylor were invited by the committee to present their side of the story, it appears the reclusive billionaire or his normally gregarious PR person will not appear.

Defense Budget is Missing Replacement and Repair Costs
02/06/2007 10:00 AM ET
DoD

David Isenberg makes a strong point in the Asia Times about the effect of the Iraq war on U.S. material and equipment.

Isenberg researches a number of recent reports to point out the harsh effects of the war in Iraq on future budgeting and readiness of the U.S. military:

- Over 1000 vehicles have been destroyed in Iraq.

- The Marines estimate it would cost $12.8 Billion just to re-equip, repair and replace their equipment affected by the war.

- The U.S. Army requested $9 Billion to "reset" its war depleted stocks.

- Since fall of 2003, the U.S. Army alone has lost 20 M1 Abrams tanks, 50 Bradley fighting vehicles, 20 Stryker wheeled combat vehicles, 20 M113 armored personnel carriers, and 250 Humvees.

- Equipment is being deployed longer and in harsher conditions. It is estimated that a year in Iraq is equal to five years of normal wear and tear. Tanks designed to operate on softer, open ground are used on paved roads, helicopters are operated at double tempo, trucks are used at ten times their peacetime rates.

- Total cost to make the military equipment whole could be between $60 and $100 billion.

The Bush Plan
Final Count 47-49
02/05/2007 6:12 PM ET
The vote is in: the Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking efforts to bring the non-binding bipartisan Iraq resolution to the Senate floor for a full debate and vote.
Reid Offers Up-or-Down Vote on Warner, McCain, Gregg
02/05/2007 5:47 PM ET
Today's Iraq debate is winding down and it looks like things have reached a stalemate.

Majority leader Reid agreed to allow the Warner-Levin, McCain-Lieberman, and Gregg resolutions on the floor for an up-or-down vote, or alternately the first two for a 3/5 majority.

This wasn't enough for the Republicans, who are insisting that the Gregg resolution also be held to a 60-vote standard.

Thus, the Senate still has to vote on whether or not to allow the debate to proceed.

Vote will be completed in a few minutes. Stay tuned....

Transcript
"Got to Get This Plan in Place as Quickly as Possible"
02/05/2007 1:30 PM ET
Transcript of President Bush's Q & A with journalists during his cabinet meeting this morning

Q Mr. President, thank you. You oppose setting time lines for withdrawal in Iraq, yet your new budget plan assumes that war spending will be down to $50 billion by 2009 and none beyond that. Are you, in effect, sir, setting a time line for the end of the war?

THE PRESIDENT: Ben, we've had years of projections in the past. We've said to the Congress, here's what our anticipated expenditure is in the short-term. And we've been able to manage our budgets with five years of war behind us, and we'll manage the budgets in the out-years. There will be no timetable set. And the reason why is, is because we don't want to send mixed signals to an enemy, or to a struggling democracy, or to our troops.

Toby.

Q Mr. President, how do you respond to some criticism from the Iraqis that the reason for the recent escalation of violence in Iraq is because the United States has been too slow to implement its new strategy?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, General Petraeus is heading to Iraq this week, early this -- tomorrow. And my message is, is that both of us, the Iraqis and the U.S. and coalition forces, have got to get this plan in place as quickly as possible. Of course, we want the plan to work, and we want to make sure that the strategy we've implemented -- or the strategy we've outlined is implemented properly.

I appreciate the fact that the Iraqi government is anxious to get security inside the capital of the country. That's a good sign. It's a good sign that there's a sense of concern and anxiety. It means that the governments understands they have a responsibility to protect their people. And we want to help them.

What we're trying to do with this reinforcement of our troops is to provide enough space so that the Iraqi government can meet certain benchmarks or certain requirements for a unity government to survive and for the country to be strong.

I had to make a decision as to whether or not we were going to allow the status quo to continue. And the status quo wasn't acceptable. I listened to a lot of people in Congress as to whether or not we ought to slowly withdraw and redeploy troops. My worry about that was that the capital would get worse, and out of that chaos would come grave danger to the United States. And so I listened to a lot of other folks, including our military, and said, look, we got to take care and help these Iraqis take care of the violence inside of Baghdad.

And that's why I made the decision I made, and we're in the process of implementing that plan. We'd like to do it as quickly as possible. The success of that plan is going to depend upon the capacity and willingness of the Iraqis to do hard work, and we want to help them do that work. And the fact that government officials are now saying that it's time to start implementing the plan is a good sign. It shows that they understand that now is the time to do the things necessary to protect their people.

Thank you.

Full Report PDF
Republicans Attempting to Block Vote on Warner-Levin Resolution
02/05/2007 1:20 PM ET
Capitol Hill watchers are eagerly anticipating the expected drama that will begin in a couple of hours as the Senate takes up the issue of pending Iraq resolutions.

The show is scheduled to begin sometime after 2, and will be broadcast live on C-SPAN 2 .

The first order of business will possibly include an attempt to fillibuster, led by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

McConnell said Friday that Republicans would vote against bringing the Warner-Levin resolution to the floor unless Majority Leader Harry Reid also allowed for votes on other more Bush-friendly bills--including the McCain resolution that would voice support for the surge plan and establish 11 benchmarks the Iraqi government must meet.

It would take sixty votes to knock down McConnell's attempt to block debate on the Warner-Levin resolution. McConnell has claimed that he will have the support of all 49 Republican senators, including even Senator Warner, so the threat of fillibuster is real.

The Dems can count on all their party members falling in line; even Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold--who both oppose the Warner-Levin resolution--have said they would vote to overcome any Republican procedural moves attempting to block a vote on the measure. With Sen. Tim Johnson still on medical leave, that leaves Harry Reid in need of at least ten Republican defectors.

In most cases, invoking the spectre of the dreaded fillibuster is enough to force difficult compromises to appease political opponents, and that's the kind of negotiating that has been frantically going on outside the media's eye this weekend.

Democratic leadership desperately wants to avoid allowing McCain's offering to compete with the Warner-Levin measure, since that would put the debate squarely in the realm of pro-surge/anti-surge. It's difficult to argue with the benchmarks McCain has outlined, but voting for his benchmarks would require voicing support for Bush's plan.

There are a number of ways things might shake out this afternoon, but these are the most likely.

If the Democratic leadership manages to garner enough votes to overcome McConnell's attempted fillibuster, it should be expected that the text of the Warner-Levin resolution will be altered to reflect whatever dealmaking had to occur in order to secure certain Republican's cooperation. Most likely change would be to further water down the language voicing opposition to the proposed surge.

If the Dems fail to secure 60 votes, they could table the entire debate until they can reach a compromise that would allow them to move forward.

McCain could conceivably remove the pro-surge language from his proposal, in which case Reid would happily let it proceed to the Senate floor. However, if McCain does not budge on that issue, and the Dems feel pressured to push forward with their agenda immediately, it should be expected that Reid would bring more items to the floor than McConnell is demanding.

Most likely another Democratic senator would introduce a binding resolution that echoes McCain's benchmarks without articulating support for Bush's plan.

Also, as Diane Feinstein warned on CNN's Late Edition this weekend, Republican "obstructionism" could lead to the introduction of more aggressive Democratic measures against the war.

Full text of Warner's proposed resolution "expressing the sense of Congress" is available here. Warner_LevinRes.pdf

Full Report PDF
Negative Current Assessment, Future Outlook Even More Bleak
02/02/2007 12:52 PM ET
The declassified versions of the National Intelligence Council estimates are usually scrubbed of all the most provocative key judgments, and this one seems no different. It will take a few more weeks for a member of Congress to leak word of the most damning conclusions to a journalist or blogger (hint, hint).

Even so, the just-released NIE makes it clear that things are not going well in Iraq, and they are not likely to get any better in the near future.

Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006.

The bulk of the estimate tells us things we already know--that the Shia were repressed under Saddam and are now suspicious of Sunni power, that the Sunnis don't like their newly-discovered minority status, that Kurds will not give up their autonomy--but there are a few interesting nuggets.

In support of an enduring American presence in Iraq:

If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the ISF would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries—invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally—might intervene openly in the conflict.

However, Iraqis don't need help from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia; they're capable of wreaking mass devastation all by themselves:

Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics.

This isn't a civil war, it's much, much worse:

The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.

See here for a .pdf of the complete declassified version. nie_iraq.pdf

The Bush Plan
Total Number of Additional Troops May Be 48,000, Not 21,500
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/01/2007 2:32 PM ET
Thanks to Noah Shachtman at DefenseTech.org for catching this non partisan government study that estimates the number of surge troops may be double what was revealed to the public. The estimate of almost 50,000 troops would push the current number of 140,000 to almost 200,000. If contractors are tossed in thats almost 300,000 foreign bodies on the ground in Iraq.

Today's letter from the Congressional Budget Office to the Congressional Budget Committee says serves as fair warning that the Administration is playing hide the pickle. By pointing out that there has been no hard estimate or agreement on the number of support troops needed to back up the combat brigades, the administration has grossly underestimated the true cost to the taxpayer at $5.6 billion.

The CBO estimates that cost will more likely range " from $9 billion to $13 billion for a four-month deployment and from $20 billion to $27 billion for a 12-month deployment."

The full CBO Letter:

Troop_Increase_Spratt_Letter.pdf

DC Scoop
Rangel Introduces Bill for a National Draft
02/01/2007 11:36 AM ET
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 11, 2007 Contact: Emile Milne (202) 225-4365

CONGRESSMAN RANGEL INTRODUCES NEW BILL TO REINSTATE THE MILITARY DRAFT Legislation Would Require National Service for All U.S. Residents, Including Mandatory Military Service for Some During Wartime

WASHINGTON - I have reintroduced my bill to reinstate the draft, not because I support the war in Iraq or the President's plan to escalate the conflict. The reason is my belief that if Americans are to be placed in harm's way, all of us, from every income group and position in society, must share the burden of war.

That has not been the case so far. The overwhelming majority of our troops fighting in Iraq are young men and women who have chosen to enlist because military service is an economic opportunity. They are motivated by enlistment bonuses up to $40,000 and additional thousands in scholarships to attend college. They are from urban and rural communities where there is high unemployment and few opportunities to pursue the American Dream. My colleague, Congressman Ike Skelton, has confirmed that fact while pointing out the patriotism of these young men and women, and I agree with him.

It is time that all Americans--including the wealthy--be given the opportunity to prove their patriotism as well, by saluting when the flag goes up and defending their country in wartime. A military draft would ensure that.

My bill requires that, during wartime, all legal residents of the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 42 would be subject to a military draft, with the number determined by the President. No deferments would be allowed beyond the completion of high school, up to age 20, except for conscientious objectors or those with health problems. A permanent provision of the bill mandates that those not needed by the military be required to perform two years of civilian service in our sea and airports, schools, hospitals, and other facilities.

I don't see how anyone who supports the War in Iraq would not support reinstatement of the draft.

The President announced last night his intention to send an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to Iraq. The military is at the breaking point with more than 50 percent of our combat troops already deployed in Iraq. The question is: where will the additional troops--including those that may follow if the war is escalated further--come from?

The 21,000 soldiers that the President was talking about will not be fresh troops. Many of them are already on the ground in Iraq and will have their deployments extended. Almost 250,000 of the troops currently deployed in Iraq have served more than one tour, and some have been deployed as many as six times.

Since the start of the war, more than 14,000 discharged army veterans--members of the Individual Ready Reserve--have been called back from their jobs and families to serve in Iraq. Thousands have had their tours extended under so-called stop-loss orders.

The forced, repeated deployments of nominally volunteer troops not only violates the spirit of the contract with these soldiers, it is a cruel and unfair erosion of the principle of shared sacrifice which has been totally absent in the prosecution of this war.

Last night President Bush warned the nation that we are in for further sacrifices in Iraq. But the truth is, the sacrifice is being borne exclusively by the 1 million-plus troops who have served, and their families. Three thousand have made the ultimate sacrifice and 22,000 have been wounded and maimed.

The rest of us have not been called upon to make any sacrifice at all. It is the first time in an American war in which the populace has not even been asked to bear the burden of the war's cost. Fighting this war with borrowed money, we are leaving our children and their children to pick up the check that as of now is roughly $500 billion, and counting.

###

WASHINGTON, DC OFFICE 2354 Rayburn House Washington, DC 20515 (202) 225-4365

NEW YORK OFFICE 163 W. 125th Street #737 New York, NY 10027 (212) 663-3900

Universal National Service Act of 2007 (Introduced in House)

HR 393 IH

110th CONGRESS

1st Session

H. R. 393

To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, to authorize the induction of persons in the uniformed services during wartime to meet end-strength requirements of the uniformed services, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the favorable treatment afforded combat pay under the earned income tax credit, and for other purposes.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

January 10, 2007

Mr. RANGEL introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Armed Services, and in addition to the Committee on Ways and Means, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned

A BILL

To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, to authorize the induction of persons in the uniformed services during wartime to meet end-strength requirements of the uniformed services, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the favorable treatment afforded combat pay under the earned income tax credit, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE; TABLE OF CONTENTS.

(a) Short Title- This Act may be cited as the `Universal National Service Act of 2007'.

(b) Table of Contents- The table of contents for this Act is as follows:

Sec. 1. Short title; table of contents.

TITLE I--NATIONAL SERVICE

Sec. 101. Definitions.

Sec. 102. National service obligation.

Sec. 103. Induction to perform national service.

Sec. 104. Two-year period of national service.

Sec. 105. Implementation by the President.

Sec. 106. Examination and classification of persons.

Sec. 107. Deferments and postponements.

Sec. 108. Induction exemptions.

Sec. 109. Conscientious objection.

Sec. 110. Discharge following national service.

Sec. 111. Registration of females under the Military Selective Service Act.

Sec. 112. Relation of title to registration and induction authority of Military Selective Service Act.

TITLE II--FAVORABLE TREATMENT OF COMBAT PAY UNDER EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT MADE PERMANENT

Sec. 201. Favorable treatment of combat pay under earned income tax credit made permanent.

TITLE I--NATIONAL SERVICE

SEC. 101. DEFINITIONS.

In this title:

(1) The term `contingency operation' has the meaning given that term in section 101(a)(13) of title 10, United States Code.

(2) The term `military service' means service performed as a member of an active or reserve component of the uniformed services.

(3) The term `national service' means military service or service in a civilian capacity that, as determined by the President, promotes the national defense, including national or community service and service related to homeland security.

(4) The term `Secretary concerned' means the Secretary of Defense with respect to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the Coast Guard, the Secretary of Commerce, with respect to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, with respect to the Public Health Service.

(5) The term `United States', when used in a geographical sense, means the several States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.

(6) The term `uniformed services' means the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and commissioned corps of the Public Health Service.

SEC. 102. NATIONAL SERVICE OBLIGATION.

(a) Obligation for Service- It is the obligation of every citizen of the United States, and every other person residing in the United States, who is between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform a period of national service as prescribed in this title unless exempted under the provisions of this title.

(b) Forms of National Service- The national service obligation under this title shall be performed either--

(1) as a member of an active or reserve component of the uniformed services; or

(2) in a civilian capacity that, as determined by the President, promotes the national defense, including national or community service and service related to homeland security.

(c) Age Limits- A person may be inducted under this title only if the person has attained the age of 18 and has not attained the age of 42.

SEC. 103. INDUCTION TO PERFORM NATIONAL SERVICE.

(a) Induction Requirements- The President shall provide for the induction of persons described in section 102(a) to perform their national service obligation.

(b) Limitation on Induction for Military Service- Persons described in section 102(a) may be inducted to perform military service only if--

(1) a declaration of war is in effect;

(2) the President declares a national emergency, which the President determines necessitates the induction of persons to perform military service, and immediately informs Congress of the reasons for the declaration and the need to induct persons for military service; or

(3) members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps are engaged in a contingency operation pursuant to a congressional authorization for the use of military force.

(c) Limitation on Number of Persons Inducted for Military Service- When the induction of persons for military service is authorized by subsection (b), the President shall determine the number of persons described in section 102(a) whose national service obligation is to be satisfied through military service based on--

(1) the authorized end strengths of the uniformed services; and

(2) the feasibility of the uniformed services to recruit sufficient volunteers to achieve such end-strength levels.

(3) provide a mechanism for the random selection of persons to be inducted to perform military service.

(d) Selection for Induction-

(1) RANDOM SELECTION FOR MILITARY SERVICE- When the induction of persons for military service is authorized by subsection (b), the President shall utilize a mechanism for the random selection of persons to be inducted to perform military service.

(2) CIVILIAN SERVICE- Persons described in section 102(a) who do not volunteer to perform military service or are not inducted for military service shall perform their national service obligation in a civilian capacity pursuant to section 102(b)(2).

(e) Voluntary Service- A person subject to induction under this title may--

(1) volunteer to perform national service in lieu of being inducted; or

(2) request permission to be inducted at a time other than the time at which the person is otherwise called for induction.

SEC. 104. TWO-YEAR PERIOD OF NATIONAL SERVICE.

(a) General Rule- Except as otherwise provided in this section, the period of national service performed by a person under this title shall be two years.

(b) Grounds for Extension- At the discretion of the President, the period of military service for a member of the uniformed services under this title may be extended--

(1) with the consent of the member, for the purpose of furnishing hospitalization, medical, or surgical care for injury or illness incurred in line of duty; or

(2) for the purpose of requiring the member to compensate for any time lost to training for any cause.

(c) Early Termination- The period of national service for a person under this title shall be terminated before the end of such period under the following circumstances:

(1) The voluntary enlistment and active service of the person in an active or reserve component of the uniformed services for a period of at least two years, in which case the period of basic military training and education actually served by the person shall be counted toward the term of enlistment.

(2) The admission and service of the person as a cadet or midshipman at the United States Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, or the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

(3) The enrollment and service of the person in an officer candidate program, if the person has signed an agreement to accept a Reserve commission in the appropriate service with an obligation to serve on active duty if such a commission is offered upon completion of the program.

(4) Such other grounds as the President may establish.

SEC. 105. IMPLEMENTATION BY THE PRESIDENT.

(a) In General- The President shall prescribe such regulations as are necessary to carry out this title.

(b) Matter to Be Covered by Regulations- Such regulations shall include specification of the following:

(1) The types of civilian service that may be performed in order for a person to satisfy the person's national service obligation under this title.

(2) Standards for satisfactory performance of civilian service and of penalties for failure to perform civilian service satisfactorily.

(3) The manner in which persons shall be selected for induction under this title, including the manner in which those selected will be notified of such selection.

(4) All other administrative matters in connection with the induction of persons under this title and the registration, examination, and classification of such persons.

(5) A means to determine questions or claims with respect to inclusion for, or exemption or deferment from induction under this title, including questions of conscientious objection.

(6) Standards for compensation and benefits for persons performing their national service obligation under this title through civilian service.

(7) Such other matters as the President determines necessary to carry out this title.

(c) Use of Prior Act- To the extent determined appropriate by the President, the President may use for purposes of this title the procedures provided in the Military Selective Service Act (50 U.S.C. App. 451 et seq.), including procedures for registration, selection, and induction.

SEC. 106. EXAMINATION AND CLASSIFICATION OF PERSONS.

(a) Examination- Every person subject to induction under this title shall, before induction, be physically and mentally examined and shall be classified as to fitness to perform national service.

(b) Different Classification Standards- The President may apply different classification standards for fitness for military service and fitness for civilian service.

SEC. 107. DEFERMENTS AND POSTPONEMENTS.

(a) High School Students- A person who is pursuing a standard course of study, on a full-time basis, in a secondary school or similar institution of learning shall be entitled to have induction under this title postponed until the person--

(1) obtains a high school diploma;

(2) ceases to pursue satisfactorily such course of study; or

(3) attains the age of 20.

(b) Hardship and Disability- Deferments from national service under this title may be made for--

(1) extreme hardship; or

(2) physical or mental disability.

(c) Training Capacity- The President may postpone or suspend the induction of persons for military service under this title as necessary to limit the number of persons receiving basic military training and education to the maximum number that can be adequately trained.

(d) Termination- No deferment or postponement of induction under this title shall continue after the cause of such deferment or postponement ceases.

SEC. 108. INDUCTION EXEMPTIONS.

(a) Qualifications- No person may be inducted for military service under this title unless the person is acceptable to the Secretary concerned for training and meets the same health and physical qualifications applicable under section 505 of title 10, United States Code, to persons seeking original enlistment in a regular component of the Armed Forces.

(b) Other Military Service- No person shall be liable for induction under this title who--

(1) is serving, or has served honorably for at least six months, in any component of the uniformed services on active duty; or

(2) is or becomes a cadet or midshipman at the United States Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, a midshipman of a Navy accredited State maritime academy, a member of the Senior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or the naval aviation college program, so long as that person satisfactorily continues in and completes at least two years training therein.

SEC. 109. CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION.

(a) Claims as Conscientious Objector- Nothing in this title shall be construed to require a person to be subject to combatant training and service in the uniformed services, if that person, by reason of sincerely held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.

(b) Alternative Noncombatant or Civilian Service- A person who claims exemption from combatant training and service under subsection (a) and whose claim is sustained by the local board shall--

(1) be assigned to noncombatant service (as defined by the President), if the person is inducted into the uniformed services; or

(2) be ordered by the local board, if found to be conscientiously opposed to participation in such noncombatant service, to perform national civilian service for the period specified in section 104(a) and subject to such regulations as the President may prescribe.

SEC. 110. DISCHARGE FOLLOWING NATIONAL SERVICE.

(a) Discharge- Upon completion or termination of the obligation to perform national service under this title, a person shall be discharged from the uniformed services or from civilian service, as the case may be, and shall not be subject to any further service under this title.

(b) Coordination With Other Authorities- Nothing in this section shall limit or prohibit the call to active service in the uniformed services of any person who is a member of a regular or reserve component of the uniformed services.

SEC. 111. REGISTRATION OF FEMALES UNDER THE MILITARY SELECTIVE SERVICE ACT.

(a) Registration Required- Section 3(a) of the Military Selective Service Act (50 U.S.C. 453(a)) is amended--

(1) by striking `male' both places it appears;

(2) by inserting `or herself' after `himself'; and

(3) by striking `he' and inserting `the person'.

(b) Conforming Amendment- Section 16(a) of the Military Selective Service Act (50 U.S.C. App. 466(a)) is amended by striking `men' and inserting `persons'.

SEC. 112. RELATION OF TITLE TO REGISTRATION AND INDUCTION AUTHORITY OF MILITARY SELECTIVE SERVICE ACT.

(a) Registration- Section 4 of the Military Selective Service Act (50 U.S.C. App. 454) is amended by inserting after subsection (g) the following new subsection:

`(h) This section does not apply with respect to the induction of persons into the Armed Forces pursuant to the Universal National Service Act of 2007.'.

(b) Induction- Section 17(c) of the Military Selective Service Act (50 U.S.C. App. 467(c)) is amended by striking `now or hereafter' and all that follows through the period at the end and inserting `inducted pursuant to the Universal National Service Act of 2007.'.

TITLE II--FAVORABLE TREATMENT OF COMBAT PAY UNDER EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT MADE PERMANENT

SEC. 201. FAVORABLE TREATMENT OF COMBAT PAY UNDER EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT MADE PERMANENT.

(a) In General- Clause (vi) of section 32(c)(2)(B) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (defining earned income) is amended to read as follows:

`(vi) a taxpayer may elect for any taxable year to treat amounts excluded from gross income by reason of section 112 as earned income.'.

(b) Effective Date- The amendment made by subsection (a) shall apply to taxable years ending after December 31, 2006.

02/01/2007 00:00 AM ET
THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary ________________________________________________________________ Internal Transcript February 28, 2007 INTERVIEW OF A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL BY THE TRAVELING PRESS Aboard Air Force Two En Route Muscat, Oman 3:07 P.M. (Local) SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The reason the President wanted me to come, obviously, is because of the continuing threat that exists in this part of the world on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border -- a threat to Afghanistan, clearly, in our efforts there, the Taliban, cross-border operations; a threat to Musharraf and his government. There were something like seven or eight suicide bombings in the last week or two in Pakistan. And obviously also, the threat to the homeland from the standpoint of operations and activities of al Qaeda in this part of the world -- for example, you go back to the airliner plot last fall, second generation Pakistani militants living in the U.K., but with ties back in al Qaeda areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border. So we've all got an interest, obviously, in trying to address those issues. Let me just make one editorial comment here. I've seen some press reporting says, "Cheney went in to beat up on them, threaten them." That's not the way I work. I don't know who writes that, or maybe somebody gets it from some source who doesn't know what I'm doing, or isn't involved in it. But the idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business. I would describe my sessions both in Pakistan and Afghanistan as very productive. We've had notable successes in both places. I've often said before and I believe it's still true that we've captured and killed more al Qaeda in Pakistan than anyplace else. And I think we're making progress in Afghanistan. My sense of it was Karzai was more positive and optimistic than I'd seen in my recent visits. That doesn't mean that there's no threat. That doesn't mean -- no rosy scenario. There's a hell of a lot of work to be done. The point is a lot of work has been done. I was struck by the luncheon we had with Karzai, he started reciting all the things that had been accomplished since we moved into Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 -- in terms of economically, socially and so forth. He told a story to the group there about -- this was the immediate aftermath of 9/11 -- about meeting with a group of tribal elders in one of the remote parts of Afghanistan. He was trying to get them organized to participate in going after the Taliban and governing Afghanistan. And he said the only question they wanted to ask me was, is the United States with you. Before we launched into Afghanistan, that was a big item with respect to the attitude of the Afghan people. Q Sir, did you say, is the United States with you? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. I'm struck also by the extent to which both of these governments signed on as allies in the war on terror. It has real meaning to them in their respective countries. If you look at Karzai, folks in Afghanistan and the fact of the presence of the United States, our military role, the economic aid and assistance we're providing, all of this is absolutely vital to their ability to continue to improve the circumstances on the ground, to train their own Afghan forces, and to take on more and more responsibility, viable functioning governments. I've often spoken and would reiterate again today, when you think about the debate at home, some of my friends on the other side of the aisle arguing that we need to get out of Iraq, then you go spend some time with our allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, you can't help but be convinced that that would have a devastating impact, devastating consequences for what they're trying to do, what they've agreed to do in terms of their ongoing efforts with us as allies in these struggles in this part of the world. Q Could you elaborate on that just a little bit? What sorts -- do you think they see a lack of will on the part of the United States to stick with them as well? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. One of the reasons I think Karzai was upbeat was because of the United States' economic and financial commitment. We've asked for significant sums for him this year in the budget, the commitment of an additional brigade of troops to beef up what's already there, that's all taken as a sign of our commitment, specifically to Afghanistan. They worry about that. They look over their shoulders, obviously, and if they see weakness on the part of the United States, or an unwillingness to carry through on our commitments, they automatically raise questions about how good our commitment to them is. In Pakistan, a slightly different situation, obviously. We don't have U.S. forces on the ground in Pakistan. But Musharraf, of course, has been the target of assassination attempts. He's been closely allied with us going after al Qaeda. And, again, you've got people who, in effect, are betting the farm, so to speak, that they can count on the United States to be there, and to support them, and in many cases provide the leadership necessary to prevail in this global conflict with these extreme elements of Islam. And it would be difficult to sustain that conviction on their part if the United States were to suddenly decide that the problems in Iraq are too tough; we're going to pack it in and go home. So there are consequences in this part of the world for a course of action that some people are advocating in the U.S. Q In your discussions with them, do you still get a sense that they're still not taking responsibility on each side of the border for themselves, and that there's still kind of finger-pointing going on about who is in charge and who is enforcing the border? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there's a certain amount of tension there. No question about it, but we are working hard at getting them to work together. We've had some success in that area. There's clearly more to be done. Q Do you feel like you made headway on that particular issue in these meetings? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think so, but you don't know -- the test will be in terms of whether or not, we're able to see results on the ground. These are age-old problems. You sit down and talk with Karzai, he'll talk about the history of Pashtun rule in the region for 500 years. He can tell you what the Durand Treaty was all about between Afghanistan and India in 1889 or whenever it was, and why that's important to today's conflict and so forth. So this is not a problem that just sort of developed on the spur of the moment. A lot of Afghans living in Pakistan during the Soviet era because they were refugees. A lot of them have gone home now, but there's still some who haven't. There's still some in those refugee camps. So movement back and forth across that border is nothing unusual, nor is it very recent. It's been going on for ages. Q How much did the current debate in Congress, all the talk about restricting the surge, or revising the resolution, all of that, how much did that contribute to the necessity of your coming here and now? In other words, absent that debate, would there have been a different scenario? Have they forced you to sort of step forward and say, look, don't worry about what you're hearing? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. Q You've spoken also, though, about some of the things that Speaker Pelosi and Representative Murtha have said how that does play to the hands of -- SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was asked by one of your colleagues. Q But your answer was very articulate. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I responded very carefully. Q And you suggested that they make -- they lend comfort to terrorists, essentially. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, what I said was that that the al Qaeda strategy is based on the notion that they can break the will of the American people. They know they can't beat us in a stand-up fight. But they do believe -- and I think there's evidence to support this -- that they can, in fact, force us to change our policy if they just kill enough Americans, create enough havoc out there. And they cite Beirut in 1983; Mogadishu, 1993, kill Americans, America changes its policy and withdraws. And Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri believe this. They talk about it. It's not a mystery. And my point was that if we follow what I believe Speaker Pelosi really wants to do in terms of withdraw, that that would validate the al Qaeda strategy. I was very careful in those words I selected. I didn't say "give aid and comfort to terrorists." I didn't say "unpatriotic." I said it would validate the al Qaeda strategy. Q Back to meeting with President Musharraf, does he understand the failure of the peace deal with tribal leaders? Were you able to present him with evidence of just how much al Qaeda activity is now present in that region? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would describe it -- I don't want to base this on conversation with him. I don't want to talk about my conversation with him. But he is on record as saying it has produced fewer results than he had expected. Q But you're sense of him -- but your sense talking to him and showing him the considerable evidence that al Qaeda has gotten -- we're seeing training camps once again in this region, does he understand the depth of the problem? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to go beyond where I am, and I don't want to talk about intelligence. * * * *

Q Do you expect the spring offensive -- the Taliban has made threats, this is going to be their bloodiest year -- SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there's always a spring offensive. This is a weather-dominated battlefield. And what usually happens is things quiet down in the wintertime, and then pick up again once the spring thaw comes. And spring and summer are times of considerably more activity. But I think last year we were very successful at meeting that. I think we will be this year, too. I spent over a hour with our senior military commanders yesterday there in Bagram getting briefed. I think they're ready for whatever the Taliban has to offer. One more question. Q If I could change the subject to something that came up earlier in the trip. You've talked about Iran and the other threat the U.S. faces there, to what extent do you think your -- it's been described as hawkish, or you're keeping the military option on the table puts a level of risk into the equation that oil markets, for example, factor in and actually help the Iranian government because they're so reliant on oil? Is there a -- SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's a bit of a stretch. All I said is what we've said consistently for months, even years now, which is that all options are on the table. We haven't taken any option off the table. Q If you took the military option off the table, markets around the world -- SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What do you think would happen? Q I don't know what would happen. But people say oil prices go down 10 percent or 15 percent and that would start to hurt Ahmadinejad. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't buy it. All right, thank you all very much. END 3:25 P.M. (Local)

SloggerHeadlines






































































Wounded Warrior Project