Mission Accomplished: Iraq gets a $52.1 billion surplus and all we got was a lousy $13.4 trillion debt

A new Government Accountability Office report says that its analysis of Iraqi government data showed that Iraq generated an estimated cumulative budget surplus of $52.1 billion through the end of 2009.

Since 2003, the United States has reported obligating $642 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and provided about $24 billion for training, equipment, and other services for Iraqi security forces.

GAO believes that Congress should consider Iraq’s available financial resources when reviewing the administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request and any future funding requests for securing and stabilizing Iraq. Also, GAO recommends that the Departments of State and the Treasury work with the Iraqi government to further identify available resources.

There’s more:

According to State and DOD officials, the United States and Iraq have not yet defined their longer-term security relationship. However, the United States and Iraq signed two bilateral agreements in November 2008 that set the stage for Iraq to assume a greater role in providing for its own security and for cooperation between the two countries. The U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement requires the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq by December 31, 2011, and governs their presence in the interim. Within the security agreement, the Iraqi government requests the temporary assistance of U.S. forces to support its efforts to maintain security and stability in Iraq.

According to DOD and State officials, the U.S. and Iraqi governments may amend the security agreement by mutual agreement. Such amendments could include an extension of the withdrawal timetable or an authorization of a residual U.S. force to continue training the Iraqi security forces after 2011.

Excuse me — I had to this  Smiley or I’d be weeping silly here.

Dan Froomkin from HuffPo adds some more details, in case, we suffer from short term memory:

The report makes a direct link between U.S. government spending — including $642 billion on U.S. military operations there and $24 billion for training and equipping the Iraqi security forces — and Iraq’s cumulative surplus of $52.1 billion through the end of 2009.
For comparison purposes, Iraq’s annual gross domestic product is $65.8 billion. Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt has soared from $6.4 trillion to $13.4 trillion since former president George W. Bush invaded Iraq and decided to borrow the money for wars and slash taxes.
Days after the invasion began, Bush-era deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz famously told Congress that Iraq could “really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.”
The GAO now reports: “Iraq’s large oil reserves offer the government the potential to contribute to the country’s current and future security and stabilization requirements. Oil revenues account for over 50 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and about 90 percent of the government’s revenues.”

Meanwhile, Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning professor at Columbia University, and Harvard public policy expert Linda J. Bilmes, estimate that the true cost of the Iraq war to American taxpayers is more than $3 trillion.

Active links added above. Continue reading Iraq Posting Massive Surplus Thanks To U.S. Taxpayers

In related news, McClatchy is reporting that “The Obama administration, which has asked Congress to approve $2 billion for training and equipping Iraqi military and police in the 2011 fiscal year, said carrying out the GAO recommendation could put Iraq at financial risk and jeopardize U.S. interests in a country where it’s spent, by the report’s calculation, $642 billion in military operations since 2003.”

The Afghan Plan: Where the Marvelous Dakota Blogs from the Middle of Nowhere

You know you’re going to be reading something fun when you see the following disclaimer:

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent or reflect the views, opinions or policy of the United States Government. All names within this blog have been changed.

Then there’s a Cast of Characters. The author writes “I’m moving to a nickname-only policy in this blog.”

The following people have been mentioned thus far:

El Comandante — the Commander of the PRT.

Captain Firepower
— the plucky young Captain in charge of ensuring we have enough firepower on our missions.

Lieutenant Moneybags
— the First Lieutenant in charge of giving out money.

Ag –
– The Department of Agriculture Rep. I recognize that this nickname is hardly creative.

Sergeant Charlie
— a Vietnamese-American who labelled the fridge in his office area with “If you take a water, replace it: Charlie is watching you.”

Petty Officer Frying Pan
— Our PRT’s culinary specialist, a Johnson and Wales graduate.

He has already ranked his Meals Ready to Eat writing, “Given the new-found frequency of MREs in my diet, the time has come to definitively rank them by deliciousness.  #1 is beef enchillada “comes with a side of refried beans; what’s not to love?” Check out his list, if you expect to be eating MREs in the next year.

He has also included a list of Commonly Used Acronyms (this should make David happy!):

DCM — Deputy Chief of Mission; the second in command at most Embassies. Embasy Kabul has a larger management structure, and one of the five Ambassadors there plays the traditional role of DCM.

IED — Improvised Explosive Device; usually a roadside bomb.

MRAP — Mine Resistant Anti-Penetration vehicle; pronounced as “Em-Rap.”

SME — Subject Matter Expert. Not “Small-Medium Enterprise,” as one might think. Pronounced “Smee.”

SRAP — the President’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; currently Richard Holbrooke. Pronounced as “Es-Rap.”

I suspect that Dakota has been writing a few political cables (poloffs tend to insert phonetic guides in their cables 🙂

Below is an excerpt from Dakota’s first post in his blog,  The Afghan Plan. (excerpted with permission):

The process of getting to Afghanistan is far more daunting than the idea of going to war. The paperwork is incredible, so much so that State has hired contractors to help streamline in-processing. There are checklists upon checklists. Things that seem like they go without saying must be specifically requested, and if all the boxes aren’t checked, you’ll be denied landing permission. Do you need transportation from the airport? Do you need housing upon arrival? Will you be collecting danger and hardship pay? Request them in writing or expect to be be denied.

My favorite piece of paperwork was the gym membership waiver, reminding those of us headed to a war zone that moderate physical exercise can result in injury and the Embassy is not responsible should things go pear shaped. This was on top of the form reminding employees that Afghanistan is a hardship tour and we should be prepared to wear a minimum of 30 pounds of armor and expect our housing to be sub par.

There were weeks of training. My 39 weeks of Dari, the Afghan dialect of Farsi, ended three weeks ago and I’m already slipping, despite spending all my time chattering to myself in broken phrases.
And then there was Indiana, an intensive intro to Afghan village life and working with the US military — the ins and outs of protective details and how to be protected. It was taught at a mock Forward Operation Base (FOB) in rural Indiana, three hours from nowhere: FOB Panther, named for the local high school’s mascot.

The scope of the training was incredible. Groups of 8 civilians, each coupled with one military and two civilian “subject matter experts” (SMEs — “smees”) who had just returned from working in the field in Afghanistan. Each group of civilians was being protected by a small contingent of 6-12 National Guardsmen who’d been called up to spend two weeks learning personal protection tactics, as well as how to deal with the somewhat persnickety animal that is a Federal Civilian.

(“We should call this OEF-1,” one of the Guardsman said in reference to us and playing off the acronym for Operation Enduring Freedom. “That stands for ‘Over Educated Fucks.'”)

The bridge between each group of civilians and their protective soldiers was a Sergeant, tasked primarily with training the soldiers but also with making sure the civilians know their role in the game of personal protection — how to act, how to react, and how to be a help rather than a hindrance.

Our Sergeant was a Scottish immigrant who combined Hollywood-style drill sergeant gusto with a highland brogue. He had for a healthy contempt for civilians, and generally referred to us as “you lot” — as in, “what YOU LOT forget is that if you ask these people what time it is, they’ll tell you how to build a fucking watch!”. Having been tasked with molding us into war-ready team members in a scant six days, he was determined to make the best of it even if he couldn’t make us do pushups. He was, in short, awesome.

He spent a week berating us into being better protectees, lecturing us about how idiotic civilians always refuse to keep their helmets and body armor on (our military SME later conceded that it would be impossible to conduct a meeting with a helmet on). He drilled into us that if at any time he or another member of the security force barked out the code phrase “Bayonet! Bayonet! Bayonet!” (always three times, to be clear), that we should run for the door.

(“If YOU LOT were put in charge of selecting the egress word, you’d probably pick something STUPID. Like ‘lunchtime.’ If I called out “lunchtime! lunchtime! lunchtime!” would any of you be running?” And then gesturing to a more heavyset member of our group, he added, “Well, except him?”)
And then came a few days in West Virginia, at a State-contracted raceway in the middle of nowhere. First was offensive driving training. How to stop at high speed, reverse at high speed, use your car to ram another car out of the way. How to generally be street aware and keep one’s eyes peeled for potential insurgents, car bombs, IEDs, ambushes.

Did I crash the Crown Vic assigned to my group? Maybe. Maybe I lost control of the car while backing up at 40 miles an hour, and maybe I turned the wheel the wrong way and got a little panicky and maybe I slammed on the brakes (in contravention of everything they taught us) and maybe we had a little dust up with a concrete wall. And MAYBE the car stopped working after that and had to be towed off. The world may never know. (My colleague, taking a cue from me that speed kills, practiced escape by reversing at an outrageously slow pace. “Ah yes,” I said, “here we are escaping from the terrorists at a nice, leisurely pace.” Although by that point, I wasn’t really in a position to be making fun of anyone).
And finally weapons training. Three hours of classroom time taught by a firearms loving ex-marine. (My burning question: “With the exception of pulling the trigger, is there any way to make that gun go off?” The answer: an emphatic no). Then two magazines with five bullets each for five different guns; fifty rounds total. I started with a baretta, the service pistol carried by our troops. I waited in line, got to the front, and told the instructor that I’d never touched much less fired a gun and was skittish. He walked me through it: safety on, safety off; magazine in and out; hands here, second hand wraps around, grip tightly, aim through the sights and fire. He was extraordinarily patient. I think I hit the target once or twice.

Moved to the Glock and then on to one of two rifles — the M4, carried by our soldiers. I repeated my spiel: first time touching a rifle, third gun ever shot, kind of skittish. “Pffft. My fifteen year old daughter can shoot this gun,” the instructor sneered. “Ok, that’s not helpful,” I replied.

Reads like a novel? Yep. Read the rest here.

Also read his Here Today, Guam Tomorrow where he tagged along on Combat Life Support class and was told “good that you’re trying to be more than just self-loading baggage,” the XO said.

Looks like we’re double booked,” the instructor said. “You guys can go ahead and rotate.”

As soon as she said the word rotate, the Guam guys started shouting “GO! GO! GO!” again, and we were off, sprinting like idiots. The instructor for the next station was standing next to mound of dirt, not unlike a snow-fort you might make if were living in place that had snow instead of several inches of hot dust on the ground. “All right!” said the instructor. “One of you has been shot in the chest!” I clutched my chest and threw myself theatrically into the dirt, hyperventilating. “I’ve been shot in the chest!” I shouted. “DAKOTA’S BEEN SHOT IN THE CHEST!” the Guam guys shouted. “Bang bang!” said the instructor. “They’re shooting at you!”

One of the Guam guys grabbed me from behind, sliding his arms under my armpits and lifting me from the shoulders; another grabbed my legs at the knee, and the two of them picked me up more or less effortlessly and carried me behind the dirt pile. They dropped me and then joined the other guys, who were peering over the top of the dirt pile with index fingers and thumbs extended, pantomiming shooting and shouting “bang bang bang bang bang!” (Only one of the four pantomimed holding a rifle; finger pistols were the order of the day). “Ok!” shouted the instructor. “Treat the patient!”

An action movie, in words, definitely!  An eye for details and a gifted storyteller … in the middle of nowhere that’s also a war zone.

We look forward to reading some more stories during his one year (plus one) tour in Afghanistan. Visit his blog, leave him comments; we think he’ll appreciate the online company while he’s in the boondocks.

Stay safe, Dakota and keep writing!

Diplomacy and great knockabout entertainment

We have written previously about the dangerous mix of drinks and microphones, especially for diplomats.  Tim Collard, a retired British diplomat who spent most of his career in China and Germany heard about the rant that ricochet around the world from China’s John Bolton and recalled from memory a prior diplomatic encounter with the drink/microphone mix up, then blogged about it in the Telegraph. Excerpt below:  

When I worked in Beijing in the late 1990s Mr Sha was head of the Arms Control department of the Foreign Ministry, and an entertainingly robust opponent. The best performance I ever witnessed was in 1998, when he was guest of honour at a lunch given by Commonwealth diplomats.

Rather naughtily, we seated him directly opposite the Indian Ambassador, this being directly after India had declared itself a nuclear weapon state, to China’s fury. As expected, China’s fury erupted across the table in an impassioned rant, which the urbane Indian envoy took on the chin, responding with a few rapier thrusts of his own. It was great knockabout entertainment.
The spokesman who was wheeled out afterwards to give the official smoothing-over statement even went so far as to suggest Sha may have had a few drinks. Surely not, among senior diplomats on a “retreat”?

Actually, I’m not sure. The great thing about Sha Zukang, for those of us used to hearing Chinese officials droning predictably on, with all the real content having to be dug out with spades from between the lines, was that he was always capable of this kind of performance stone cold sober.

A more total refutation of the stereotype of Oriental inscrutability is hard to imagine. And far from being superannuated, he is only 62. Even Ban Ki-moon will surely come to appreciate a genuine original. Long may he continue to rage against the dying of the light. And the Americans – they can take it.

Stone cold sober, huh?  Diplomacy is 95% theatrical aplomb, too? Perhaps we should think twice about that dangerous mix ….

Read the whole thing here.