Monday, December 19, 2005

Cheney in Iraq

Cheney Fields Tough Questions From Troops
- By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
Sunday, December 18, 2005

(12-18) 12:18 PST AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AP) --

Facing tough questions from battle-weary troops, Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday cited signs of progress in Iraq and signaled that force changes could come in 2006.

Cheney rode the wave of last week's parliamentary elections during a 10-hour surprise visit to Iraq that aimed to highlight progress at a time when Americans question the mission. Military commanders and top government officials offered glowing reports, but the rank-and-file troops Cheney met did not seem to share their enthusiasm.

"From our perspective, we don't see much as far as gains," said Marine Cpl. Bradley Warren, the first to question Cheney in a round-table discussion with about 30 military members. "We're looking at small-picture stuff, not many gains. I was wondering what it looks like from the big side of the mountain — how Iraq's looking."

Cheney replied that remarkable progress has been made in the last year and a half.

"I think when we look back from 10 years hence, we'll see that the year '05 was in fact a watershed year here in Iraq," the vice president said. "We're getting the job done. It's hard to tell that from watching the news. But I guess we don't pay that much attention to the news."

Another Marine, Cpl. R.P. Zapella, asked, "Sir, what are the benefits of doing all this work to get Iraq on its feet?"

Cheney said the result could be a democratically elected Iraq that is unified, capable of defending itself and no longer a base for terrorists or a threat to its neighbors. "We believe all that's possible," he said.

Although he said that any decision about troop levels will be made by military commanders, Cheney told the troops, "I think you will see changes in our deployment patterns probably within this next year."

About 160,000 troops are in Iraq. The administration has said that troop levels are expected to return to a baseline of 138,000 after the elections, but critics of the war have called for a significant drawdown.

More than 2,100 troops have died in Iraq since the U.S. invaded in March 2003.

The round-table with the vice president came after hundreds of troops had gathered in an aircraft hangar to hear from a mystery guest. When Cheney emerged at the podium, he drew laughs when he deadpanned, "I'm not Jessica Simpson."

Shouts of "hooah!" from the audience interrupted Cheney a few times, but mostly the service members listened intently. When he delivered the applause line, "We're in this fight to win. These colors don't run," the only sound was a lone whistle.

The skepticism that Cheney faced reflects opinions back home, where most Americans say they do not approve of President Bush's handling of the war. It was unique coming from a military audience, which typically receives administration officials more enthusiastically.

Cheney became the highest-ranking administration official to visit the country since Bush's trip on Thanksgiving Day 2003. It was his first visit to Iraq since March 1991, when he was defense secretary for President George H.W. Bush.

The tour came on the same day that President Bush was giving a prime-time Oval Office address on Iraq. Cheney's aides said the timing was a coincidence, yet the two events combined in a public-relations blitz aimed at capitalizing on the elections to rebuild support for the unpopular war.

The daylong tour of Iraq was so shrouded in secrecy that even Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani were kept in the dark. The prime minister said he was surprised when he showed up for what he thought was a meeting with the U.S. ambassador and saw Cheney.

Talabani, his finger still stained purple as proof that he had voted three days earlier, was clearly delighted. He thanked Cheney profusely for coming and called him "one of the heroes of liberating Iraq."

Cheney had an hourlong briefing on the election from Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, top U.S. commander Gen. George Casey and Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. He emerged saying he was encouraged by preliminary results showing high turnout about Sunni Muslims, who make up the backbone of the insurgency.

His next visit was to Taji Air Base, where he saw tanks that Iraqis had rebuilt and watched while they practiced a vehicle sweep at a security checkpoint.

U.S. forces guarded Cheney with weapons at the ready while Iraqi soldiers, who had no weapons, held their arms out as if they were carrying imaginary guns.

"The Syrian border is back under Iraq control now," U.S. Lt. Gen. Marty Dempsey told the vice president, pointing to a map of Iraqi troop locations. "When people say, 'When will Iraq take control of its own security?' the answer truly is it already has."

Cheney lunched on lamb kebobs, hummus and rice with raisins along with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers who helped secure polling sites. Then he headed to his third and final stop in Iraq at al-Asad.

Cheney flew over Baghdad in a pack of eight fast-moving Blackhawk helicopters, following the airport road that has been the site of so many insurgent attacks and passing the courthouse where Saddam Hussein is being tried.

The unannounced stops in Iraq came at the beginning of a five-day tour aimed at strengthening support for the war on terror. Stops include Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Cheney's staff kept the Iraq portion secret from reporters, waiting to reveal the plans when Air Force Two was preparing to refuel in the United Kingdom. Once on the ground, the entourage transferred from his conspicuous white and blue 757 to an unmarked C-17 cargo plane that would fly overnight to Baghdad International Airport.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rice Spinning

Rice on Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace
Monday, 19 December 2005, 9:52 pm
Press Release: US State Department

Interview on Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
December 18, 2005

QUESTION: We're joined now by Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Secretary Rice, welcome back to Fox News Sunday.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Nice to be with you, Chris.

QUESTION: As we said, the President has confirmed that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on people, including U.S. citizens in this country, without a court warrant. Why was that necessary?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what the President authorized is for the National Security Agency to be able to collect information on a limited number of people with links to al-Qaida. This is about the geographic space of the United States. People may or may not be American. But if you'll remember, Chris, probably one of the most compelling outcomes of the 9/11 Commission was an understanding that our intelligence agencies looked outward, our law enforcement agencies looked inward, and a seam had developed between them.

And so, using his constitutional authorities, using authorities granted to him, the President wanted to make certain that that seam did not exist, that people could not communicate inside the United States about terrorist activity with people outside the United States, leaving us vulnerable to terrorist attack.

We simply can't be in a situation in which the President is not responding to this different kind of war on terrorism. We exist now in a world in which terrorist attacks are taken from within the United States and that's what the President addressed. He is fully not just aware of, but determined to uphold, his responsibilities and his obligations to protect America and to protect our civil liberties as well.

QUESTION: But let me ask you about what I think concerns some people. Historically, the Executive Branch has had to go to a court to get approval from a judge, get a warrant, before it could spy domestically in this country on people. It's part of our separation of powers. Why not go to the courts? Why not get a warrant before you engage in this kind of activity?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, the Administration is using FISA and using it very actively to try to deal with the threats. But the President also has additional authorities and he's drawing on those to deal with this different kind of war. I'm not a lawyer, Chris, but the President --

QUESTION: What I'm asking was a policy question.

SECRETARY RICE: No, but the President has been very well informed (Since when?) that he has the constitutional and other authorities to do this.

QUESTION: So is the point that -- because there is a system in place, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which can grant emergency wiretaps. Was the feeling that the existing system was too slow?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the intelligence professionals here do use FISA and we've used FISA, but FISA is a 1978 act; it does relate to a time when we were principally concerned about the activities of people working on behalf of governments or the activities of governments. This is a different circumstance and the President, in order to discharge his obligations to detect and thereby prevent terrorist attacks inside the United States, has drawn on additional authorities that are granted to him in the Constitution and in other statutes as well.

QUESTION: You didn't have to be an expert in body language to see that the President was not too pleased yesterday when he had to acknowledge the existence of this top secret program. Is the Administration going to investigate who leaked this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that is something that is going to be left up to people to discuss. But let me just say, it is really a serious matter when we get the disclosure of a program like this because, after all, what we must do is protect from those who are trying to hurt us knowledge of how we follow them, how we follow their activities. Because we once knew about Usama bin Laden's communications because we knew about his telephone; we were able to track it. And then a story appeared in the newspapers and we stopped using it.

QUESTION: All of this comes in a week when the President had to give in to overwhelming support in both houses of Congress among both parties, for the McCain amendment, which sets new limits on the treatment of U.S. detainees anywhere in the world. And the Senate, with four Republicans going along, voted to block, continue to block, renewal of the Patriot Act. Why do you think that there is growing concern in Congress across party lines with whether this President is exceeding his powers in conducting the war on terror?

Well, the debate that took place around the McCain amendment and the eventual outcome, I think was, in fact, good for the country because the President and --

QUESTION: You guys fought it for months.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, but the President and the Congress came to a place where I think the President believes that he can protect the country and we can continue to live up to our international obligations and to our laws here in the country. But the fact is we're in a new era, Chris, and I'm not surprised that people are going to debate and discuss how we prosecute the war on terrorism -- the war on terror.

I do know that as the President sits in the Oval every day and he sees a stream of terrorist threat information coming in, most of it, by the way, not specific enough to act on, and so your desire or your obligation as President, your obligation as an officer serving the United States, is to get as much information as possible about what those threats might be and prevent an attack. The President does that cognizant of, determined to respect, his obligations under the Constitution not just to protect the country but to protect civil liberties, to protect our international obligations and to live within our laws. But this is a different kind of war and perhaps it's not surprising that we are having some discussion of how to fight this war.

QUESTION: The President says that he will not agree to a three-month extension of the Patriot Act while Congress works to try to formulate a compromise; that he will let at the end of the year when it's due to expire, he will let those provisions expire. Isn't he playing politics with national security?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President feels very strongly that the Congress needs to renew this act which has helped to save lives. We have to remember that immediately after September 11th the Administration and the Congress were united in the notion that additional tools were needed to close some of these gaps between what our intelligence agencies were doing outside and what our law enforcement agencies were doing inside. Chris, we set up this system of intelligence and law enforcement and walls between them at a time when the paradigm was threats come from the outside, attacks come from the outside; and then, on September 11th, the very terrible surprise was that these attacks came from within the United States by people who had been sitting here for months, who knew our system and who were communicating outside --

QUESTION: But would you really let the -- the Patriot Act, if it's so important, would you really let it expire rather than just allow a three-month extension?

SECRETARY RICE: I think the President feels very strongly that we need to do this now and we need to confront this issue now.

QUESTION: All right, let's turn to Iraq. And you know, it is so amazing -- the news business -- because it's been a remarkable week in Iraq.

SECRETARY RICE: Hasn't it, yeah.

QUESTION: Eleven million people voted, more than 70 percent turnout. But after the election last January, it took Iraqis almost three months to create a new government. Can we afford that same kind of a delay this time?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, when you talk to Iraqis, they recognize the need to sustain the momentum out of this election, they need to sustain momentum for the expectations of the Iraqi people, they need to sustain it because of the insurgency and the terrorists, they need to get a strong message that the political system is moving forward. Yes, they are trying to do something very difficult, which is to overcome a lot of fissures -- historical fissures, traditional fissures -- through a political process. And so they will need to take the time to make sure that that's done, but I think they all understand that they should do it as quickly as possible.

It's also the case that this election is different than the January election because this time Sunnis voted in very large numbers.

QUESTION: Let's engage in what I know is your favorite part of appearing on Fox News Sunday, and that is a lightning round with quick questions and brief answers, if you will, Madame Secretary.


QUESTION: The trial of Saddam Hussein. Iraq's Vice President has said that this has become a platform for Saddam and wonders who is the genius who is producing this farce. Do you share any of his concerns that Saddam is seizing control of the trial?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, these are difficult -- these big trials are -- as we've seen with Milosevic in The Hague. So it's difficult. But you have to say that the tremendous courage of this judge who sits there and confronts Saddam Hussein, I think that's what's really coming through, not Saddam Hussein and his rantings.

QUESTION: All right. Iran's new President says that Israel should be wiped off the map, that the Holocaust is a myth. You've been talking about this for months, that we've got to do something about this. And I must say, I looked back at an interview that we did in June; we were talking about this. How frustrating for you that you can't get the European allies, Russia, China, to go along to isolate Iran by imposing sanctions?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I am convinced that this will end up in the Security Council if Iran doesn't change course, and I see no evidence that Iran is going to change course.

QUESTION: If you'll forgive me, you were saying that last June.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, diplomacy takes some time and it is important that we do this at a time of our choosing. Right now, the Iranians are not enriching and reprocessing. That's good. But the more that we hear from this Iranian Government, the more that people recognize and acknowledge publicly that this is a government that shouldn't even expect the international community to trust them with technologies that might lead to a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: All right. And finally, because the one time I don't ask you, you're going to have something to say on this subject. Are you still ruling out a run for President in 2008?

SECRETARY RICE: I guarantee I'm not going to have anything more to say on that subject. That's not my calling.

QUESTION: All right. Now, having said that, I've got a new one for you.

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, goodness.

QUESTION: If the Republican nominee for President in 2008 came to you and said, "Condi, we need you on the ticket as the Vice President."
SECRETARY RICE: We've got an awful lot of good people who can run at the top of the ticket and in the second spot. I'm somebody who wants to go back to California or maybe to the NFL.

QUESTION: To the NFL? The commissioner, not a player, right?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, that's great. Not a -- well, last time I looked, I'm not really qualified to be a linebacker.

QUESTION: Any pick in the Washington Redskins-Dallas game today?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, that's dangerous territory, Chris.

QUESTION: Forget the Middle East.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, forget the Middle East. Right. I'll say that I think the Redskins will win this one.

QUESTION: Well, we'll see. Secretary Rice, thank you so much for coming in and, as always, please come back.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Great to be with you.


Released on December 18, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

All who have gone before will share the blame for mistakes made by the new recruits

By Tom Bowman
Baltimore Sun

Army accepts more low-aptitude recruits

WASHINGTON – The Army met its recruiting goal for November by again accepting a high percentage of recruits who scored in the lowest category on the military’s aptitude tests, Pentagon officials said Thursday, raising renewed concerns that the quality of the all-volunteer force will suffer.

The Army exceeded its 5,600 recruit goal by 256 for November, while the Army Reserve brought in 1,454 recruits, exceeding its target by 112. To do so, they accepted a “double digit” percentage of recruits who scored between 16 and 30 out of a possible 99 on the military’s aptitude test, said officials who requested anonymity.

Last month, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Army reached its recruiting goals in October by accepting 12 percent from these low scorers, known as Category IV recruits. The Army may accept no more than 4 percent annually, according to Defense Department rules. While officials last month disclosed the percentage accepted in October, Thursday they refused to reveal the November figure.

“We are not giving out (aptitude test) categories during the course of the year,” said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

Still, Army officials continue to say that at the end of the recruiting year, next Sept. 30, the total percentage of Category IV soldiers will be no more than 4 percent.

For more than a decade, the Army kept its Category IV soldiers to 2 percent of its recruitment pool.

But last year, faced with a difficult recruiting climate because of the war in Iraq, Army Secretary Francis Harvey decided to double the number of Category IV soldiers.

“We will be at 4 percent at the end of the fiscal year, that’s what matters,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for Army personnel.

The increasing reliance on the lowest-scoring recruits is troubling to former officers who fear that the quality of the force will erode.

They say that the increasingly high-tech Army needs even more qualified soldiers. And with troops facing more complex duties involving nation building and peacekeeping duties, good judgment is more important.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Good guys in a Bad War

"No True Glory is the gripping account of the valor of the Marines in the fiercest urban combat since Hue. Yet, the even-handed description of the vacillation regarding policy will likely please neither some of our senior officers nor the White House." --Former Secretary of Defense, James R. Schlesinger

"No True Glory is the best book on the U.S. military in Iraq to emerge so far." --Tom Ricks of The Washington Post

The finest chronicle of the strategy behind battle and the fighting during battle that I've ever read!" --General Carl E. Mundy, former Commandant of the Marine Corps

"A remarkably detailed, vivid firsthand account of the American military experience…. West’s focus is on the “frontline,” putting the reader at the negotiating table with U.S. military commanders and Fallujan sheiks, imams, and rebel leaders; in the barracks; and on the street, fighting hand to hand, house to house, in some of the fiercest battles of the Fallujah campaign and the Iraq war." --Booklist

West describes the fury of the fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi in a style that makes him part historian, part novelist — the grunts' Homer.” --LA Times Book Review

“West successfully brings the war back home in all its agonizing and illuminating detail. From the combat stories of those on the ground all the way up to the White House, West [is] uniquely placed to write a chronicle of the fight. The narrative truly shines." --The Christian Science Monitor

Exhaustively reported...West paints a picture of highly capable Marines struggling to make the best of untenable political circumstances.”--Washington Post Book World

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