Sunday, November 20, 2011

Enduring bases, staging platforms, continued war

Dona: Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee held a full committee hearing entitled "Security Issues Related To Iraq." In this community, it was covered by C.I. in Tuesday's "Iraq snapshot," Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot," Thursday's "Iraq snapshot," by Ava in "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," by Wally with "The costs (Wally)" and by Kat in "Who wanted what?" It was 'covered' elsewhere as well -- mostly miscovered. As a woman who holds a masters in journalism, the bulk of the coverage was utter crap. Reporters and outlets should be ashamed. In one of the snapshots, C.I. offers a working definition of news and notes that actual news took place at the hearing. Instead the bulk of the coverage revolved around a testy exchange -- an often misreported testy exchange. Jim and I are moderating this piece which is a discussion with Kat, Wally, Ava and C.I. about the hearing's first panel consisting of the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Jim?

iraq war

Jim: Dona and I caught the hearing Saturday by streaming the archived broadcast. You can do the same by clicking here. And having gone to the trouble of streaming it, I want to call out John Glazer bulls**t at where he writes, "But McCain, and others in Congress, didn’t see it as their decision to make, and argued the administration should have strong-armed their way into a new security agreement in Iraq." Wally, I know C.I.'s already explained this in a snapshot but how about you respond to that assertion by Glazer?

Wally: Okay. Kat, Ava, C.I. and I attended Tuesday's hearing. We were there for the full hearing, first and second panels. There's some stuff from the second hearing that C.I. might pick up on next week. As it is, she's already devoted 3 snapshots to it and several other entries at The Common Ills. But Glazer's stating that McCain -- I'll ignore others for this response -- wanted the administration to "strong-arm" is bulls**t. McCain was very clear that the Iraqi politicians he spoke to wanted to make a deal. This was not one time. This was in 2010 and in 2011. And the assumption was that a deal would be made -- a deal to keep a significant number of US troops -- 16,000 was the average of the numbers noted and it was the one General Dempsey was comfortable with in the hearing -- on Iraqi soil beyond 2011. In the spring of 2011, John McCain was one of the senators who began hearing from Iraqi leaders who wanted to make the deal about how the US wouldn't present them with a plan. The Iraqis wanted to know how many the US was willing to leave and what the mission for these troops would be. They wanted a proposal to be presented. McCain went to the administration and informed them of this. In July, he found that there was still no proposal. He found that out from Iraqis and the White House. He never stated that a deals hould have been pushed off on the Iraqis. His point was that the Iraqi leaders wanted to make a deal and the US didn't do it.

Dona: McCain had a theory as to why that was. Let's stay with Wally, what was his theory?

Wally: John McCain was of the belief that the administration intentionally botched the deal and did so because they wanted to pull US troops out of Iraq -- against all the recommendations of the military commanders -- US military commanders.

Dona: That brings up several things but let's go with the most newsworthy from that response. McCain's accusation lodged against the White House didn't get press traction and that's in part because the press failed to report the dispute between Panetta and McCain in the first round accurately. But McCain has accused the administration of ignoring military command's recommendations and acting in bad faith to end the Iraq War. Wally, what's your take on that?

Wally: John McCain was the only senator to lodge that accusation in that manner. Do I believe it? No. I don't feel the case was made. I do think the administration did a poor job of negotiations but I think that the administration does a poor job on most things. Over and over. They're still learning on the job apparently and there are too many competing forces within the administration. I didn't buy it.

Jim: Kat, on the previous topics is there anything you want to add?

Kat: We all feel as Wally did, that the administration did not deliberately torpedo the deal. To make sure that something is on the record, I will note that McCain was correct about the US command's recommendations. While Panetta tried to skirt that issue throughout the hearing, General Martin Dempsey agreed repeatedly with McCain that there was no recommendation to pull troops. 16,000 was the number he'd heard from others and he, himself, felt US troops needed to remain in Iraq.

Dona: Kat, I'm opposed to the Iraq War as are our readers. Some reading this will wonder, why should I care about this hearing or about what was discussed.

Kat: I want to toss that to C.I. because she was actually asked something similar on Friday when we were speaking to a group of college students.

Dona: Okay. C.I., as someone opposed to this hearing, why should I care what was discussed?

C.I.: There is the issue of the historical record but more pressing right now is the fact that what's being presented to the American public by Barack and the bulk of the press is not what will be taking place in Iraq. There's a world of difference between his pretense that all US troops will be coming "home" from Iraq and what's actually taking place. This hearing was about what's actually taking place. It would have been great if the press could have paid attention and focused on the realities. Back to Kat.

Kat: I just want to underscore that the hearing was so different from what was reported. You and Jim know that, Dona, because you streamed it. If someone wasn't present, I would urge them to go stream it now because there was so much misreporting on that. I still can't believe how bungled their report -- they only did one report and its full of lies. Not only is it full of lies, they miss all the important moments of the hearing. You and Jim are debating the title for this piece. What I wish you'd do is call it "Congress Discusses the Enduring US Bases In Iraq." That's what most people have no idea about and how the hell can call itself "antiwar" and not report on the enduring bases is beyond me.

Jim: You're saying "enduring bases." Throughout Wednesday's snapshot, C.I. used that term. And she noted, "'enduring' US bases (and that's a US general, not me, calling them 'enduring') will remain in Iraq" -- the US general being Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint-Chiefs. That's pretty big and it's pretty sad that it was so universally ignored. And we'll do a piece on just that. But there was a great deal addressed in the hearing. Ava, how do you judge the coverage outside the community?

Ava: Well Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) filed a report worthy of praise as did Laurence Vance ( But that really was it. John McCain and Leon Panetta had an exchange that -- Wally's was going McCain's side which was to note what Iraqi leaders told him -- and this was backed up by Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, John McCain's comments about what Iraqi leaders were saying -- and on Panetta's side he would say that wasn't true that the US had bungled the deal and then he'd look at his list of prepared sentences and pull one to read. I'm not joking. Leon Panetta carried a list of talking points into the hearing and referred to it frequently. Even when it wasn't a response to what McCain had said. And so many in the press ran with Panetta's comment as though it were a response to something McCain had just said. The coverage was awful. I'm glad that we can name Bumiller and Vance as doing strong reports but that we can only name two people is very disappointing. I want to say it's 2006, maybe it's 2007, but I think it's 2006, that I start going to the hearings with C.I. and Kat and Wally and I don't think in all that time I've ever seen a hearing so misreported. Usually what happens is that a hearing has a main point and the press gloms on that and you wish they'd also noticed one or two minor points in the hearing. In this case, they went to town on trivia -- testy words between McCain and Panetta! -- while ignoring all the truly important things about the hearing.

Dona: And as they rushed to portray the hearing as about a confrontation between McCain and Panetta, they missed what on those two, C.I.?

C.I.: The exchange the press focused on was in the first round and in the second round McCain and Panetta were laughing about that exchange. In other words, the great conflict, according to the press, was a blip to the two men. It didn't matter after it was over to either. To read the coverage, you would have thought McCain was going to call for Panetta to resign.

Dona: So, Ava, tell me some minor points that were ignored. And when we say "minor points" in journalism, we generally are referring to when humanity was touched upon.

Ava: Good point. Well Carl Levin, Senator Carl Levin, is the Chair of the Committee. He was the only one who brought up the plight of Iraqi Christians and voiced his concern for them. He and Senators Lieberman, McCain and Graham raised the issue of the residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian dissidents first welcomed into Iraq in the 1980s who now are covered under the Geneva Convention and have protected status but Nouri al-Maliki's government in Iraq is refusing to recognize that and has twice attacked them and is now attempting to force them out of the country. Carl Levin made it very clear that if Iraq did not keep their word to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf, the US Congress would feel a promise had been broken and that Nouri al-Maliki's government could no longer be trusted. I'd say that last part especially was pretty big news.

Jim: Kat, I've got the others working on a short piece right now about the enduring bases. That was a good point, thank you. C.I. Okay, we knew "all" US troops weren't "coming home" despite Barack's lies. We knew that, for example, several hundred would remain in Iraq under the umbrella of the State Department. We knew that Kuwait would be used as a staging area. With that in mind, what did those of us paying attention learn that we might not have known before?

C.I.: Well the State Department will have the US troops we knew of already. In addition to those, there will be US troops in Iraq under the umbrella of the Defense Department. They will be on the ten enduring bases General Dempsey testfied to. They will do training. They will stay on these based. The bases will be protected by contractors. These contractors will be working under DoD. We already knew the US State Dept's 16,000 force in Iraq would include some contractors but the DoD keeping contractors was news. Ten bases in Iraq. There's an effort -- outside the hearing -- to lie and claim that it will only be 200 soldiers. That's a lie. Why would you have ten bases if you were only keeping 20 soldiers on each. What is that? The Alamo? You're going to want a stronger force than that. I don't buy the lie -- presented by an anomyous source after the hearing -- that it will only be 200. I would expect the minimum number to be more like 500 and I wouldn't be surprised if it were higher.

Dona: And on the staging platforms, where are they?

C.I.: Secretary Panetta testified, in response to questions from Senator Lieberman, that there are 29,000 in Kuwait and that there will be further discussions with Kuwait about a larger number, that there will be 258 in Saudi Arabia, almost 7,000 in Bahrain, 3,000 in the UAE and 7,000 in Qatar. There will be at least 40,000 in the region. He didn't name other areas, what I just gave you were the numbers and sites he supplied in the hearing.

Jim: C.I., what's the other big takeaway from the hearing?

C.I.: US negotations have not stopped. It's a lie to say that they have -- especially with a delegation still on the ground in Iraq negotiating as we do this roundtable. Panetta testified that US negotations are ongoing. He testified that he felt a deal would be made in the new year for US troops in Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki's trip to DC next month was noted as well as part of the ongoing negotiations.

Dona: And we could continue down this vein and that's the problem with the bulk of the coverage, it didn't cover any of this. It pretended to be 'reporting' while working to titilate and to share gossip. News is that which effects lives. The topics we've discussed here will effect US and Iraqi lives. It's a shame that so-called reporters -- at NPR, at The Los Angeles Times, POLITICO and elswhere -- were more concerned with gossip than with what actually matters to and in our lives.
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