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January 14, 2007

Comments

"Note to Congressman Murtha: if you want to do something that's more than symbolic, close Bagram."

You might want to clarify whether you mean the detention facility at Bagram, and only the detention facility, or all of Bagram, the largest air base in Afghanistan (originally built by the Russians, and then Americanized). And a lot of intelligence, and other non-air related American military assets are there, last I looked.

Closing Bagram, which is primarily known as an air base, would make fighting the Taliban pretty difficult, if I understand correctly; it's one of the two logistical hubs of the American military effort. Maybe it could all fall back on Kandahar; I don't know; I'm no expert. The only other alternative would be to truck all supplies through either Iran or Pakistan; this seems an unlikely strategy to come to fruition. (Ditto building a massive new facility from scratch, though it would presumably be a possibility.)

Closing the detention facility is a fairly different question.

Gary: the detention facility. I have no problem with air bases.

Great post. You know - I'm wondering sometimes whether it's genuine stupidity and incompetence, or some sort of deliberate attempt to avoid confronting the Whitehouse that makes it so difficult for the Congress to issue ultimatums like that.

I mean, since the DOD budget isn't auditable, this kind of suggestion can't be enforced for a long while. So I guess that could be it. Same goes for all the separate projects that do get funding in different states under the existing regime.

But.. you have the opportunity now to pressure your congress to do something about it. To make it evident that "their reelection is ensured" if real steps are taken to bring this to some sort of foreseeable end.

I don't understand, fleinn, what you mean: GAO can certainly audit DOD.

No, they can recommend looking at improperly allocated funds. Like in the so- called "high risk reports", which I'm sure noone actually reads. But this is about funds which people like Murtha are signing off for on additional funding- bills and appropriations connected (at least through the bills) to the war, among other things. Currently there are some billions that cannot be properly audited, or which is impossible to really trace. So "properly" here means something like relatively unambiguous and clear, not "auditable" as in: "these funds have been, spent, you know, on stuff, like".

But because of this, I am very certain that several senators would be a bit unwilling to do anything about it, as they would not be rewarded for cutting the legs off their state's various associated programs - just because they want to "defend the terrorists who are being tortured for our safety". Or probably.. "because they hate Bush and america". Or even "for their liberal niceties".

On the other hand, misappropriations and serious waste is usually the result in the end, so it should be in everyone's interest to actually end this eventually.

I.e, your senators need some encouragement to do that. So the question, really, is whether you will give them that. And for the time being, the opportunity is still there.

Cheney today:

And Congress obviously has to support the effort through the power of the purse. So they've got a role to play, and we certainly recognize that. But you also cannot run a war by committee.
...
"They have absolutely nothing to offer in its place," Cheney said of Democratic leaders. "I have yet to hear a coherent policy from the Democratic side."

Well gee, Dick, how can they have a coherent policy if you "cannot run a war by committee"?

On the Iran:

Iran is fishing in troubled waters inside Iraq.

Hadley:

We know there are jihadists moving from Syria into Iraq. ... We know also that Iran is supplying elements in Iraq that are attacking Iraqis and attacking our forces.

What the president made very clear is these are activities that are going on in Iraq that are unacceptable. They put our people at risk. He said very clearly that we will take action against those. We will interdict their operations, we will disrupt their supply lines, we will disrupt these attacks.

Cause, up til now, we've just left all those things alone.

I guess my fears that electing Democrats to Congress would ruin my entertainment were unfounded.

Actually I do think that the Democrats need to find a way to succintly present an alternative. The Republican line about not presenting an alternative will stick if the Deomcrats don't get more effective about saying what their alternative is.

The Democrats need to be more open about the negative consequences of withdrawal and their plans for how to deal withh thhe consequences. There needs to be more of a discussioon of how to protect thhe Sunnis from genocide after we leave.

I knnow that Demcrats are thinking about these things but thhey also nneed to come up with a way to present a united front and a unified alternative that thhe public can understand. Righht now it's just widely understood that the Republicans want to stay and the Democrats want to leave . That isn't good enough. There needs to be a wide understanding of a Democratic policy that includes taking responisbility, for and mitigating as much as possible, the consequences of our withhdrawal.

"I.e, your senators need some encouragement to do that."

I'm another person who can't make out what you feel "that" is, or quite what you're saying, other than the general sentiment that Congress Should Do Better On This (withdrawal/winding down American military involvement in Iraq).

Lily: "There needs to be more of a discussioon of how to protect thhe Sunnis from genocide after we leave."

So, discuss: how do you think we might be able to do that?

So, discuss: how do you think we might be able to do that?

According to my Senator, once we leave the international community will realize that we don’t intend to occupy Iraq forever, then poof! – they will step in and set things right. (from memory, pre-election, but that is the gist of what he claimed.).

I misremembered that you were a Californian, OCSteve: which state are you in, again (if you don't mind saying; if you do, never mind)?

MD. It was Cardin on MTP a couple of weeks before the election.

It was a very weird statement, like the international community was just chomping at the bit to lend a hand, and as soon as we got out of there they would.
If only…

"....other than the general sentiment that Congress Should Do Better On This (withdrawal/winding down American military involvement in Iraq)."

I'm just saying that if Congress is supposed to have the power of the purse, they need to know where the money goes first.

And ending the supplemental bills, as well as the current practices with the DOD's budget (..perhaps in an attempt to move some ways back to what the national security act says, what would I know) might be a small step in the right direction. Since then the congress would actually be able to control where the money goes, as well as what the money would be used for.

At that point Murtha could be demanding facilities to be closed on certain conditions, or, say, predict no more funds for troops and supplies /in a predefined scenario that funds were previously appropriated for/ if no justification for an increase would be offered.

Otherwise, this is doomed from the beginning, since congress is reduced to "forbidding" certain specific facilities, particular operations, etc. Pinning the tail on the donkey, more likely. And doing that, either in a broad sense (should not torture, no more open- ended war on molerats), or in a detailed and more specific sense(close Bhagram detention facility, do not attack Iran), is undoubtedly going to dig into the president's war- powers anyway, or can be worked around.

Meaning that threatening with the "power of the purse" is an empty threat in the current scenario. Or, the current reality. Most likely for years to come.

And I'm just saying that you should not expect the democrats or the congress to jump at the opportunity to change any of this. Because they all benefit from the way things work at the moment - with open- ended budgets, ceremonial bills and loads of supplements and ear- marks for the well- connected. As does anyone who are supported by funds appropriated through these bills connected to the war on terror.

Because that's how things work. That's how it's done. Jobs depend on it, etc. And changing this, imo, is going to be as appealing as forcing 435 children to eat their meals properly by appealing to their good moral sense.

So before anyone starts to expect Murtha to stare down the Bush- administration.. and convince them of the error of their ways.. upon which they vow to tear down the Whitehouse and replace it with a garden.. and a ceremonial tipi where the Rose- garden used to be... just be clear on how much will have to be turned around before these threats about cutting funding will have any weight. Or what kind of constitutional crisis would happen if a confrontation on actual appropriations (rather than rhetoric) were to happen.

But it should, in my opinion, not be very difficult to see the point of why the tentative steps taken by the democrats so far has to lead to some serious reform - as unauditable budgets, impossible, semi- official projects, etc, is not going to mean your tax- dollars are well spent.

I mean, I, as someone who does not live in the US, of course sees this as an imperative because the foreign policies are becoming more insane than usual, lately.

And I'm obviously completily blind to whatever details about corruption and so on that has to be done away with - along with such things as conforming the rules for supplements, committee- work, or public records, etc. And of course see this as a mere coincidental bonus along with stopping the Bush- administration from blowing up the world, and so on...

"Since then the congress would actually be able to control where the money goes, as well as what the money would be used for."

Setting aside that supplemental bills should be as limited as possible, and naturally only to genuine emergencies, I'm unclear why you feel that it would be harder or easier to "be able to control where the money goes" in the regular budget versus a supplemental appropriation; in both cases it's just a matter of writing the legislative language; why Congress couldn't, if it desired, do the same in one as in the other, I'm not following, I'm afraid. (I'm perfectly willing to believe there are technical aspects I'm unaware of that you are not.)

"Otherwise, this is doomed from the beginning, since congress is reduced to
'forbidding' certain specific facilities, particular operations, etc."

There actually seem to be a considerable variety of legislative options possible, so far as I'm aware, for limiting and/or directing broadly, operations in Iraq, just as there are for Congress regarding almost any aspect of the government. I'm rather baffled at your assertions otherwise.

"Meaning that threatening with the 'power of the purse' is an empty threat in the current scenario."

This seems quite inaccurate to me, I'm afraid. The crucial factors seem to me to be the political calculations of the Democratic Congressional leadership, and how they respond to popular desires amongst the public -- not some technical or legal inability on Congress's part. (I'm quite sure that a crucial part of the leadership's calculations is their fear that what's popular now -- drawdown/withdrawal -- might conceivably come back to bite them and be much less popular in four or six years or so; such fears might or might not be entirely in error, but I'm pretty sure some folks have them.)

Of course, perhaps you are right.

Gary: I think fleinn is right on two counts: first, DoD is a financial nightmare so horrible that it prevents the books from being audited. This obviously interferes with any attempt at oversight: if no one has any clue how money is being spent, it's hard to enforce restrictions. GAO:

"Overhauling the financial management and related business operations of DOD-—one of the largest and most complex organizations in the world—represents a daunting challenge. DOD continues to face financial management problems in this high-risk area that are pervasive, complex, long-standing, and deeply rooted in virtually all its business operations. The department's financial management deficiencies adversely affect DOD's ability to control costs, ensure basic accountability, anticipate future costs and claims on the budget, measure performance, maintain funds control, prevent fraud, and address pressing management issues. Moreover, the lack of adequate accountability across all of DOD's major business areas results in the waste of billions of dollars annually at a time of increasing fiscal constraint. GAO has made numerous recommendations intended to improve DOD's financial management. The department is in the very early stages of a departmentwide reform that will take years to accomplish. Additional information on DOD's financial management can be found in High-Risk Series: An Update ( GAO-05-207 )." (link is to pdf from Nov. 17, 2006.)

Two more sources: one, two.

Second, I think supplementals are harder to impose oversight over, since they don't normally get the full deliberative budget treatment (hearings, stuff broken down into tiny little categories, etc.)

"Second, I think supplementals are harder to impose oversight over, since they don't normally get the full deliberative budget treatment (hearings, stuff broken down into tiny little categories, etc.)"

But that's a choice of Congress, and nothing more, is it not? It's not the President, nor God, nor anyone or anything else, restricting them from writing the bill as they wish, holding hearings as they wish, investigating as they wish, and so on.

It's only harder in the sense that Congress is free not to bother if they don't want to bother.

And I don't see why the new Democratic majority should be bound or constrained to take the behavior of the Republican majority, or that of any other past Congress (other than the norms of law and historic practice, of course) of the last 12 years as a model in this.

Let's try that last sentence again: And I don't see why the new Democratic majority should be bound or constrained to take the behavior of the Republican majority of the last 12 years, or that of any other past Congress (other than the norms of law and historic practice, of course), as a model in this.

Random aside: does anyone else feel tempted modify the title of this post to include the phrase "...be a shame if anything happened to it"?

"...be a shame if anything happened to it"?

I actually thought it was there. You read something quick and your mind fills in what you expected to see. I had to re-read to convince myself it wasn’t there.

"I'm unclear why you feel that it would be harder or easier to "be able to control where the money goes" in the regular budget versus a supplemental appropriation"

..well, if the budget had a bit that said "The Laire for containement offe Evil indefinitely & forceful extracting of usefulle Informationes", then it wouldn't be a problem.

But all of these things were justified in the supplementals and emergency bills, and the general unspecified appropriations before that. So removing funds, or stopping the funds - that's not cutting off funding for mismanaged and failed projects, it's... a bit like a rejection of the current policies in the White House instead. So between the constitutional crisis and the congress that is now sleepily returning from an extended lunch.. there aren't that many choices. Since the funds have been appropriated already for the remainder of the Bush- presidency or so..
"This seems quite inaccurate to me, I'm afraid. The crucial factors seem to me to be the political calculations of the Democratic Congressional leadership, and how they respond to popular desires amongst the public(...)"
If the rhetoric is backed up with real steps towards achieving something - such as strict parliamentary rules, no more anonymous ear- marks, no more secret committees, or last minute additions - and "the public" will appreciate all the difficult deliberations that has to take place instead of someone simply saying "everything's fine, trust me!" - then the rhetoric will have an impact on the White House, sure.

If not, a push now would be justifiably called "pandering to the base", no?

I'd guess that the funding for Bagram is at such a high level that one cannot, for example, de-fund the brig, or prison, or whatever they call it, specifically. Not a bad concept, but I don't think it's going to work.

So, about that thing that couldn't be done....

My previous comment was in response to fleinn, not Slart, I should note.

More from Walter Pincus, including:

[...] on ABC's "This Week."

Appearing on the same program, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said he would not limit funds for the troops already in Iraq but would try to put language in the bill carrying supplemental funds for the war that could prevent the final two U.S. brigades from going over in April and May.

His vehicle would be the roughly $100 billion in supplemental funds for the war that the White House has said it would send Congress in February.


(same article:)

White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters last week that Mr. Bush already has the funds needed to support a troop surge. "Funding for the forces and to dispatch them to the region, it's already in the budget," he said. "So we're going to proceed with those plans."
But Mr. Murtha told ABC, "We're going to have extensive hearings, and we're going to look at exactly how much money he has."

Best guess? They're calling a redistribution of troops to the "greater Bagdad area" a "surge", and have already started with the kind of operations we've all been fearing there'd be more of. Such as "clearing blocks" in populated areas. What we're hearing now is, as usual, the sell of the already decided plan.

And, imo, the idea that they can be stopped in any way by holding back a new emergency- appropriation seems unlikely.

But I really do hope I'm wrong.

Best guess? They're calling a redistribution of troops to the "greater Bagdad area" a "surge", and have already started with the kind of operations we've all been fearing there'd be more of. Such as "clearing blocks" in populated areas.
There are a fair number of good reporters in Baghdad, with many Iraqi stringers. If American and/or Iraqi forces had started "clearing blocks" already, it would go neither unobserved nor unreported on.

"And, imo, the idea that they can be stopped in any way by holding back a new emergency- appropriation seems unlikely."

I could take Murtha's view, or I could take yours; I'm absent, I'm afraid, good cause for thinking you are closer to the Congress, and in a better position to judge, than he is. No offense intended.

I'd just suggest that one possible good reason is that even if it were impossible, it is hard to imagine Murtha saying 'Well, nothing we can do, sorry'. IOW, Murtha is pursuing this line not because it is possible, but because it is impossible, but it's the only thing that can be done. I don't know if that is correct, but I'm feeling sufficiently cynical to think that is strongly possible.

"I could take Murtha's view, or I could take yours; I'm absent, I'm afraid, good cause for thinking you are closer to the Congress, and in a better position to judge, than he is. No offense intended."

lol. None taken.

But just work with me for a while here - noone denies that the constitutional power is there for Congress to regulate and control war- spending - in principle.

The question is if the "surge" can be opposed. And in this case, unless there were some new and hitherto unused means to shuffle in new troops, the Congress has no power whatsoever to oppose it. This isn't opinion, it's simple fact.

So the way in which Murtha and Biden and so on may be able influence the situation, is by making it plain that any future appropriations will be given on different conditions. This would then set the stage for a confrontation on any, in real terms, increases in troop- levels. Or an escalation of the conflict, for instance to Iran.

But as I'm vaccinated against believing in miracle- solutions, specially when the civil service is involved, I'm simply saying that the natural goal of these first steps, or bringing the DOD budget under some sort of reasonable standard, will take time. A long time.

So the actual impact on what is in place now will be that everyone involved in the "war- effort", so to speak, knows that there will be shorter projects, and that the house- party may indeed be over once Bush leaves office. Meaning that: nothing whatsoever has changed in any way in actual terms in years.

So the question here is if there is any interest in actually doing something about this situation, instead of simply spouting off rhetoric and crocodile- tears about all the troops that will die because of "recklessness"(pfah!), about a manufactured (as in made up) "surge" that serves only to avoid the actual question on where the accountability for this lies now, once the money is appropriated: in the White House alone, with no strings attached.

And this is the problem. The Congress has no authority to change the White House's policies by cutting off funding now. It's water under the bridge.

And I mean, when it comes to changing this set- up - personally, I wouldn't trust that to happen in a million years. But I never was an optimist, obviously, and things certainly do change.. from time to time.

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