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“I don’t think we should be setting artificial timelines as this is a very challenging undertaking and we need to work with our Iraqi counterparts and make sure that the steps that are being taken are going to work.”
-- Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, on Iraq, November, 2003
Part One: A Witness to History
Welcome to Sunday morning at The Church of What's Happening Now. Have a seat, get comfortable, we're just about to begin.
Good morning. Let's begin our Service with a hymn. (Skip it if you wish - though later you'll discover it wasn't chosen at random...)
Thanks to the choir, and thanks again to Mike Yon for use of the photos. Welcome home, Mike. Good to see you're back safely in America. And congratulations on the book. Just finished it last night myself - and if there are bags under my eyes today it's because a good book will keep you up late turning pages.
We'll begin today with a bit of history. But don't worry - here at the Church of What's Happening Now we only look back for context - we'll return to the present shortly.
And we're not going back to ancient history - we're just going back 12 years. Certain events from those days have gained some recent attention. You might think I'm going to jump on a bandwagon and start beating a dead horse by mentioning them here and now, but I assure you I am not - we're heading down a different path altogether here, and I think you'll find some new and surprising things along the way.
Speaking of Mike Yon, a lot of folks these days remark that he's one of the only reporters in Iraq covering the war from the perspective of the troops - something that guys like Ernie Pyle did back in World War II, something that most major news organizations used to do routinely.
The New York Times was certainly doing that as recently as 1996. (And thanks to brother Greg Pollowitz at Media Blog for bringing this to our attention.) Back in those days a civil war had threatened to tear a foreign country apart. It was religious-based conflict - members of two different "churches" were killing each other at an alarming rate. Then the United States stepped in, bombed the hell out of the place, and moved in ground troops to put a stop to it. The U.S. President assured Americans that stopping that civil war - even though it required putting U.S. troops in harms way far from our shores - was the moral and right thing to do.
The story was far more complex than that, of course, and I'm only reducing it to that level to provide brief background. Regardless of what the President had to say on the issue, in those days reporters knew how to tell a story from the perspective of the troops:
March 26, 1996If you're wondering why the President himself didn't go to Bosnia on that trip, it's worth noting that 1996 was a busy year in which he confronted many major foreign policy issues (and ran for re-election, too). I hate to get into too much detail, but here (from a more detailed collection here) are a few things the President might have considered more important at the time (if you're already familiar with those events, feel free to scroll on past them. Notice the five stars below? The 1996 part of our history lesson will end at the next group of five stars.)
In her appearance at Tuzla Air Base, the First Lady told a couple of thousand of the 19,300 Americans serving in Bosnia that they were using military power to advance United States interests and values. She said they were part of "the kind of peacekeeping mission every American should be proud of and support."
I just hope you have some feeling of how proud and grateful all America is," she said.
Today's visit came as some troops, living uncomfortably and often dangerously, continue to wonder about the value of their mission.
During her daylong visit to American forces at three bases in northeast Bosnia, Mrs. Clinton repeated that the United States had a genuine interest in keeping Europe stable. In addition, she said, the effort to stop the war here is the moral and right thing to do.
Among the troops, reaction to the visit ranged from great enthusiasm to only mild interest.
At another camp, named Alicia, from where 600 soldiers in the First Squadron, Fourth Cavalry patrol the zone of separation between the Bosnian Government and Bosnian Serb armies, many soldiers crowded in to see Mrs. Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea.
When they walked through the camp, there was an almost constant clicking and whirring as soldiers took photographs.
As soldiers nudged past each other for a chance to have their picture taken with Mrs. Clinton, Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, the commander of American forces in Bosnia, said: "Look at that. Look at those smiles. It really makes them happy to have her here."
Sgt. Errol Kennedy, from New York City, whooped to his friends: "She's the greatest First Lady we've ever had! I'm ready to spend another year here now."
The very month that Mrs Clinton was in Bosnia, Iraq had denied United Nations teams access to five sites designated for inspection in compliance with UN resolutions passed since the Gulf War of 1991. In response, the President of the U.N. Security Council issued a statement expressing the Council’s concern and demanding that Iraq allow UNSCOM teams immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to all sites designated for inspection. By the end of the month Security Council resolution 1051 was passed, approving the export/import monitoring mechanism for Iraq (for a program approved by the UN the year prior - but initially rejected by Saddam Hussein - that later would be known as "Oil for Food") and demanding that Iraq meet unconditionally all its inspection obligations. In May, Iraq accepted UN Security Council Resolution 986, the initial "Oil for Food" resolution passed over a year earlier in April 1995.
Nearly a full month would pass before Saddam again denied UNSCOM teams access to sites designated for inspection. In response, Security Council resolution 1060 (June 12, 1996) termed Iraq's actions a clear violation of the provisions of the Council's resolutions and demanded that Iraq grant immediate and unrestricted access to all sites designated for inspection by UNSCOM.
Saddam ignored that, so the President of the Security Council followed up with a statement in which "the Council condemns the failure of Iraq to comply with resolution 1060". The Council also asked that the Executive Chairman visit Baghdad with a view to securing access to all sites which the Commission designates for inspection. That visit was made less than a week later, and UNSCOM and Iraq agreed on a Joint Statement and a Joint Program of Action establishing "modalities for inspection of so-called "sensitive sites"". Iraq also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN implementing UNSCR 986, the Oil for Food program.
The next month (July) UN Inspector Scott Ritter attempted to conduct inspections on the Republican Guard facility at the Baghdad airport, but was blocked by Iraqi officials. By the time UNSCOM inspectors were allowed into the facility a few days later, they found nothing. In August the President of the Security Council issued a statement in which "the Council strongly reaffirms its full support of the Commission in the conduct of its inspections and other tasks and expresses its grave concern at Iraq’s failure to comply fully with resolution 1060. The Council also states that Iraq’s failure to grant immediate unconditional and unrestricted access to sites and its attempts to impose conditions on the conduct of interviews with Iraqi officials constitute a gross violation of its obligations."
Meanwhile, back in May, under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia, Sudan expelled Osama bin Laden, who then moved to Afghanistan. They had been willing to extradite him to America, but as President Clinton would later explain, "Mr. bin Laden used to live in Sudan. He was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991, then he went to Sudan. And we'd been hearing that the Sudanese wanted America to start meeting with them again. They released him. At the time, 1996, he had committed no crime against America so I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he wanted to commit crimes against America."
In June, a fuel truck carrying a bomb (estimated at between 5,000 and 20,000 pounds) exploded outside the U.S. military's Khobar Towers housing facility in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where U.S. troops had been stationed since the end of the Gulf war. The blast killed nineteen U.S. military personnel and wounded 515 persons, including 240 U.S. personnel.
That same month Osama bin Laden called for jihad. His fatwa, published in Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based newspaper, was titled, "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places" - a reference to Saudi Arabia, where US troops had been enforcing the "no-fly zone" and other sanctions on Iraq.
It is out of date and no longer acceptable to claim that the presence of the crusaders is necessity and only a temporary measures to protect the land of the two Holy Places. Especially when the civil and the military infrastructures of Iraq were savagely destroyed showing the depth of the Zionist-Crusaders hatred to the Muslims and their children, and the rejection of the idea of replacing the crusaders forces by an Islamic force composed of the sons of the country and other Muslim people......and so on.
Few days ago the news agencies had reported that the Defence Secretary of the Crusading Americans had said that "the explosion at Riyadh and Al-Khobar had taught him one lesson: that is not to withdraw when attacked by coward terrorists". We say to the Defence Secretary that his talk can induce a grieving mother to laughter! and shows the fears that had enshrined you all. Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 AD (1403 A.H). You were turned into scattered pits and pieces at that time; 241 mainly marines solders were killed. And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you to leave Aden in lees than twenty four hours!
But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge , but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.
In response to the Khobar Towers bombing, the Clinton administration launched "Operation Desert Focus" that same month, an effort in which US air assets in Saudi Arabia were relocated from Dhahran and Riyadh to the remote Prince Sultan Air Base.
And it's a good thing they were there! In September, Iraqi Army forces intervened in fighting between Kurdish factions, helping the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) capture Irbil, the main Kurdish city in northern Iraq - inside the Kurdish haven established above the 36th parallel in 1991 and enforced by the US military. The US launched Operation Desert Strike in retaliation. On September 3rd, American forces launched 27 cruise missiles against targets in southern Iraq. Two Navy ships launched 14 Tomahawk missiles, while two B-52s fired 13 conventionally armed cruise missiles. The US also extended the Southern Watch no-fly zone to include all areas of Iraq south of the 33d parallel, one degree further north then the original line and just south of Baghdad. The next day a US F-16 patrolling the extended Southern Watch no-fly zone fired a HARM at an Iraqi SA-8 air defense radar after the radar locked onto it, and four Navy ships launched 17 more cruise missiles against targets in southern Iraq. U.S. military airlift also successfully evacuated thousands of displaced Kurds from the war zone.
Following Operation Desert Strike, Kuwait agreed to a nearly continuous presence of a US military task force there, and the UN postponed implementation of UNSCR986 (Oil for Food).
In November 1996, as Bill Clinton was re-elected President over his Republican challenger Bob Dole, Iraq blocked UNSCOM from removing remnants of missile engines for in-depth analysis outside the country.
On December 10, 1996, the oil-for-food program began operation, and oil flowed from Iraq for the first time since 1990. The first shipments of food arrive in Iraq in March 1997. The first six months of activity under UNSCR986 (14Apr 95) would result in 1 billion dollars in revenue generated providing food and medicine for 18 million Iraqis living under Baghdad rule. Estimates of the death toll resulting from UN sanctions between 1990 and 1996 vary widely; some indicate that 750,000 people died through malnutrition and lack of medicines; and that the rate at this time was 10,000 a month.
As the year drew to a close, on December 30, 1996, the President of the Security Council issued a Statement in which "the Council deplores the refusal of Iraq to allow the Special Commission to remove certain missile engines from Iraq for analysis, and demands that Iraq allow such removal."
So as you can see, it was a very busy year - and one in which the importance of not fleeing from obligations was made clear. And twelve years later, American troops are still in Bosnia (and Kosovo) steadfastly stabilizing Europe and proving that lesson has not been lost.
Much has happened in the intervening decade plus (1998, for instance, was a banner year). But another thing that hasn't been lost is Hillary Clinton's courage to fly into a war zone to visit the troops and let them know how America feels. In fact, she did so in 2003:
TIM RUSSERT: There has been some reaction to comments you made on the ground in Iraq, and let me go through that. This is the dispatch from the Buffalo News: "'The morale of the troops," Senator Hillary Clinton said, "is very high,'" but she said the military personnel with whom she spoke in meetings and wanted to know, quote, 'how the people at home feel about what we are doing.' 'Americans are wholeheartedly proud of what you are doing,' Clinton said she replied, 'but there are many questions at home about the Bush administration's policies.'" Was it appropriate for you to criticize the president while in Iraq?Now, one could perhaps anticipate some discussion regarding the minor differences between that quote and assuring the troops in Bosnia that they were using military power to advance United States interests and values, were part of "the kind of peacekeeping mission every American should be proud of and support", hoping "you have some feeling of how proud and grateful all America is," and ensuring them that the United States had a genuine interest in keeping Europe stable, and that "the effort to stop the war here is the moral and right thing to do."
SEN. CLINTON: You know, I find this so interesting that this has now become an issue, and largely fueled by a lot of the talk shows and the other sort of right-wing apparatus. You know, when a soldier asks me a very direct question, you know, "How do people feel about us and what we're doing here, senator?" -- especially a soldier from the 10th Mountain Division, which as you know is based in Fort Drum, New York, I wasn't going to lie to that young man.
But you have to put those comments into their respective historical context of 1996 and 2003. Bear in mind that in 1996 the US was acting to prevent a religion-fueled civil war from destabilizing all of Europe, while in 2003 the US had unilaterally invaded Iraq based on administration lies/faulty intelligence (your choice) that Saddam Hussein had somehow then or in the future posed a threat to America and the rest of the world and you'll understand the degree of consistency - It really couldn't be more simple.
Still, the appropriateness of Senator Clinton's 2003 comments was questioned by a handful of pundits who were paying attention to her in those days (bear in mind she was not running for President in 2004 - though some claimed she was indeed even then already running for 2008). But before making up your own mind on that topic you might want to make sure you remember exactly what points she herself disagreed with President Bush about. This account of that same Iraq trip (originally appearing in the NY Post but now only available in it's entirety by following links to that old debate beginning here) might help jog those memories:
November 30, 2003—WASHINGTON: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ventured into Iraq’s dangerous northern region yesterday, as she took another shot at President Bush for trying to move too fast to get troops out of that country.So there you have it. And although she didn't put it in those terms I'd like to believe that in actuality Senator Clinton was demonstrating that the hard lessons learned - regarding abandoning missions all too rapidly - throughout her husband's term in office had not been lost.
As she has on each leg of her three-day trip, Clinton questioned the White House battle plan for restoring order and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s going to take more time than has been allotted for the process to take hold,” said Clinton, referring to the July deadline by which Bush aims to transfer power back to the struggling Iraqis.
“I don’t think we should be setting artificial timelines as this is a very challenging undertaking and we need to work with our Iraqi counterparts and make sure that the steps that are being taken are going to work,” added Clinton, who is due back in Washington today.
Clinton completed her tour of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq with a tense trip into Kirkuk, an oil-rich part of the country dominated by the Kurdish people who were oppressed under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
But enough of the past. It's time to talk here and now - though oddly enough, we're going to return to where we started in order to do so. First, a quick look at the U.S. plan for drawdown in Iraq - and this is the actual slide detailing the actual plan, as presented to Congress by General Petraeus in September, 2007:
One thing you might notice about this slide - the process is "conditions based" - not date based. Hence there are no dates beyond July of this year. (Note: there was no similar slide in his latest briefing package, however it is immediately apparent that those few target dates that are included above have been met thus far.) In reviewing the above, one could almost conclude that someone took Senator Clinton's advice - “I don’t think we should be setting artificial timelines as this is a very challenging undertaking and we need to work with our Iraqi counterparts and make sure that the steps that are being taken are going to work,” - to heart.
It's important that Americans have this fundamental understanding about the basic differences between that plan and those that this years Democratic candidates propose, since like the current administration both Senators Clinton and Obama also want to draw down the troop levels in Iraq, leaving only small advisory/security forces that don't actively participate in large scale combat ops. The difference is that they want to add specific dates to the above chart, creating a timeline rather than use a conditions-based approach.
I'll let Senator Clinton explain - and here's where we briefly return to the beginning of our sermon. This is from her March 17, 2008 speech at George Washington University. You can read the complete text on her web page here:
Good morning. I want to thank Secretary West for his years of service, not only as Secretary of the Army, but also to the Veteran’s Administration, to our men and women in uniform, to our country. I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia, and as Togo said, there was a saying around the White House that if a place was too small, too poor, or too dangerous, the president couldn't go, so send the First Lady. That’s where we went.That's not quite an accurate description (to put it mildly), but it's how the speech began, and it has most unfortunately distracted attention from the parts that mattered. For instance, her explanation of Senator McCain's plan for Iraq:
I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base. But it was a moment of great pride for me to visit our troops, not only in our main base as Tuzla, but also at two outposts where they were serving in so many capacities to deactivate and remove landmines, to hunt and seek out those who had not complied with the Dayton Accords and put down their arms, and to build relationships with the people that might lead to a peace for them and their children.
One choice in this election is Senator McCain. He’s willing to keep this war going for 100 years. You can count on him to do that.But actually, you can't - because that's not his position at all. As with the Bosnia story, I wouldn't want to call this a lie - she might be guilty only of believing what Senator Obama says:
Ever since John McCain said at a town hall meeting in January that he could see U.S. troops staying in Iraq for a hundred years, the Democrats have been trying to use the quote to paint the Arizona senator as a dangerous warmonger. And lately, Barack Obama in particular has stepped up his attacks on McCain’s “100 years” notion.Or she might have been confused by something Obama's campaign manager said:
But in doing so, Obama is seriously misleading voters—if not outright lying to them—about exactly what McCain said. And some in the press are failing to call him on it.
Here’s McCain’s full quote, in context, from back in January:Questioner: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for fifty years…
McCain: Maybe a hundred. Make it one hundred. We’ve been in South Korea, we’ve been in Japan for sixty years. We’ve been in South Korea for fifty years or so. That’d be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it’s fine with me. I would hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day.
The man who headed the U.S. Air Force during Desert Storm will tell you, over black coffee in a Lake Oswego cafe, that the potential attack on Iraq is "the fight you dream about, a wonderful kind of war to have."But regardless, she moved on to quick dismissal of Senator Obama's plan for Iraq:
"Everybody's going to get decorated out of this thing," says Tony McPeak, a four-star general who retired to Oregon in 1995. "Everyone comes home. It has a lot of appeal to me."
"We'll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right".
Another choice is Senator Obama who has promised to bring combat troops out in 16 months, but according to his foreign policy adviser, you can't count on him to do that. In uncertain times, we cannot afford uncertain leadership.In fairness, you can read Senator Obama's plan here on his own campaign web page. Key excerpt:
Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.And finally, Senator Clinton offers her own plan for Iraq:
As president, one of my first official actions will be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my Secretary of Defense and my National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to start bringing our troops home within the first 60 days of my taking office. A plan based on my consultation with the military to remove one to two brigades a month, a plan that reduces the risks of attack as they depart.And there you have it. Her plan differs from Senator Obama's in that while he will immediately began removing one or two brigades per month, she will begin within 60 days, and hers is better because he is not actually capable of doing it.
Again, it should be worth noting that both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have promised to leave some troops in Iraq - for security and to fight al Qaeda, etc. Neither has given a timeline for when those troops would eventually come home - for all we know, it might be 100 years. Perhaps some energetic reporter might ask them. Further, both Senators are promising more troops for Afghanistan - and once Iraq is abandoned that's probably going to be very critical, for reasons Osama bin Laden explained so carefully back in '96.
Now some among you might be shouting "hypocrisy" (or other less polite terms). Why, you might ask, would someone who cheered the troops in 1996 when the US was acting to prevent a religion-fueled civil war from destabilizing all of Europe, then refused to lie to them regarding American support for a 2003 unilateral invasion of Iraq based on administration lies/faulty intelligence (pick one) that Saddam Hussein had somehow then or in the future posed a threat to America and the rest of the world but who still called for an abandonment of artificial timelines for withdrawal now insist on just that?
Because now, you see,
"...as we continue to police Iraq’s civil war, the threats to our national security, our economy, and our standing in the world continue to mount."Iraq is a civil war now - and we have no business policing other countries civil wars. It really couldn't be more simple.
Anyhow, that doesn't matter - because how she or anyone else feels about the situation in January 2009 is all that matters - and anyone's guess.
Which is why, friends and neighbors, I stated this back in 2003, during the original discussion of Senator Clinton's visit to Iraq:
What I've told troops confronted with "protest" is a bit more simple: "America is with you. As far as the protestors, don't sweat it. You're making history; they're making noise."Which hopefully helps explain the story I tried to tell by including at least one of the pictures in the slide show accompanying this morning's hymn - a tune I wrote during my second tour of duty in Iraq during the surge.
A hymn we'll close with.
Thank you all for coming. Please offer something if you can...
And for further advanced discussion, be sure to consider why you can't pause a timeline that doesn't exist.
See you again soon.
Paypal link isn't working as of 5:30 CST. Don't know if it's you or them.Posted by MissBirdlegs in AL at April 13, 2008 10:33 PM
It was me. Fixed it - thanks!Posted by Greyhawk at April 13, 2008 11:26 PM
Excellent Sermon.Posted by Soldier's Dad at April 15, 2008 03:22 AM
You have the finest sense of history and one of the best, most logical explanations of how things occur in the world and how America has reached where She is today. I love your historical notes and perspectives.
Keep up the great work, GreyOne.
SubsunkPosted by Subsunk at April 15, 2008 05:42 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(4) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)