Senator Lieberman: Let's Kill More Afghanis to Boost Morale

Those weren't his exact words but that would be the net effect of his suggestion made on Sunday during an appearance on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Speaking from Kabul, the Senator from Connecticut urged the newly appointed ISAF commander General David Petraeus to change the rules of engagement "as soon as possible" for US troops in Afghanistan, saying the strict policy has "hurt morale" among American military.

Lost in the kerfuffle over now former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal's and his staff's explosively derisive comments in Rolling Stone towards the President, the Vice President, the US Ambassador in Kabul Karl Eikenberry, the National Security Advisor General Jim Jones and especially towards the US Special Envoy for South Asia Richard Holbrooke was a debate over the strict rules of engagement that General McChrystal had imposed to protect Afghani lives in the hopes of keeping the Afghan civilian population from turning against the occupying forces and supporting the Taliban insurgency. That portion of Michael Hastings' piece is worth revisiting and from my perspective contained the most shocking comments.

Despite the tragedies and miscues, McChrystal has issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties that the U.S. military has ever encountered in a war zone. It's "insurgent math," as he calls it – for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. He has ordered convoys to curtail their reckless driving, put restrictions on the use of air power and severely limited night raids. He regularly apologizes to Hamid Karzai when civilians are killed, and berates commanders responsible for civilian deaths. "For a while," says one U.S. official, "the most dangerous place to be in Afghanistan was in front of McChrystal after a 'civ cas' incident." The ISAF command has even discussed ways to make not killing into something you can win an award for: There's talk of creating a new medal for "courageous restraint," a buzzword that's unlikely to gain much traction in the gung-ho culture of the U.S. military.

But however strategic they may be, McChrystal's new marching orders have caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire, soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. "Bottom line?" says a former Special Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I would love to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers' lives in even greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing."

In March, McChrystal traveled to Combat Outpost JFM – a small encampment on the outskirts of Kandahar – to confront such accusations from the troops directly. It was a typically bold move by the general. Only two days earlier, he had received an e-mail from Israel Arroyo, a 25-year-old staff sergeant who asked McChrystal to go on a mission with his unit. "I am writing because it was said you don't care about the troops and have made it harder to defend ourselves," Arroyo wrote.

Within hours, McChrystal responded personally: "I'm saddened by the accusation that I don't care about soldiers, as it is something I suspect any soldier takes both personally and professionally – at least I do. But I know perceptions depend upon your perspective at the time, and I respect that every soldier's view is his own." Then he showed up at Arroyo's outpost and went on a foot patrol with the troops – not some bullshit photo-op stroll through a market, but a real live operation in a dangerous war zone.

Six weeks later, just before McChrystal returned from Paris, the general received another e-mail from Arroyo. A 23-year-old corporal named Michael Ingram – one of the soldiers McChrystal had gone on patrol with – had been killed by an IED a day earlier. It was the third man the 25-member platoon had lost in a year, and Arroyo was writing to see if the general would attend Ingram's memorial service. "He started to look up to you," Arroyo wrote. McChrystal said he would try to make it down to pay his respects as soon as possible.

The night before the general is scheduled to visit Sgt. Arroyo's platoon for the memorial, I arrive at Combat Outpost JFM to speak with the soldiers he had gone on patrol with. JFM is a small encampment, ringed by high blast walls and guard towers. Almost all of the soldiers here have been on repeated combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and have seen some of the worst fighting of both wars. But they are especially angered by Ingram's death. His commanders had repeatedly requested permission to tear down the house where Ingram was killed, noting that it was often used as a combat position by the Taliban. But due to McChrystal's new restrictions to avoid upsetting civilians, the request had been denied. "These were abandoned houses," fumes Staff Sgt. Kennith Hicks. "Nobody was coming back to live in them."

One soldier shows me the list of new regulations the platoon was given. "Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force," the laminated card reads. For a soldier who has traveled halfway around the world to fight, that's like telling a cop he should only patrol in areas where he knows he won't have to make arrests. "Does that make any fucking sense?" asks Pfc. Jared Pautsch. "We should just drop a fucking bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?"

The rules handed out here are not what McChrystal intended – they've been distorted as they passed through the chain of command – but knowing that does nothing to lessen the anger of troops on the ground. "Fuck, when I came over here and heard that McChrystal was in charge, I thought we would get our fucking gun on," says Hicks, who has served three tours of combat. "I get COIN. I get all that. McChrystal comes here, explains it, it makes sense. But then he goes away on his bird, and by the time his directives get passed down to us through Big Army, they're all fucked up – either because somebody is trying to cover their ass, or because they just don't understand it themselves. But we're fucking losing this thing."

While the takeaways in the above paragraphs are numerous, the most striking to me were the comments made by PFC Jared Pautsch and Staff Sargent Kennith Hicks. Their comments paint a picture of a military gone rogue, of bloodthirsty individuals who joined the US Military not out some of patriotic calling but out of a desire to get their "fucking gun on." PFC Pautsch suggestion that we should drop a "fucking bomb on this place" is simply appalling but then again Senator Lieberman too shares a callous disregard for human life when that life happens to be an Afghani one.

Nor should we think such bloodthirsty comments are simply the province of enlisted personnel. Back in 2003, USMC Lt. General James Matthis caused a stir when he told a mixed military-civilian audience in San Diego how much he enjoyed killing. "Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling." In spite of his candor, Matthis was later promoted to General.

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Tomorrow's War

Quoting an unnamed Administration official, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said this on Fox News Sunday, "Iraq was yesterday's war, Afghanistan is today's war. If we don't act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow's war." Endorsing that view, Senator Lieberman went on to note that unless we act preemptively now the US is likely to find itself in a war in the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula. Senator Lieberman argued that the US will have to take an active approach in Yemen after multiple recent terrorist attacks were linked back to the small, deeply divided and desperately poor nation.

From The Hill:

Lieberman, who is known to be hawkish on security issues, said that Yemen needs to be a focal point because two recent attacks were linked back to a growing al-Qaeda presence there.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan -- the Army officer who killed 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in November -- was linked to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric now based in Yemen.

The senator said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused of attempting to set off a plastic-explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Friday, "reached out to Yemen" but was "not sure" if he contacted al-Awlaki. Abdulmutallab reportedly told authorities he traveled to Yemen and met al-Qaida figures there.

The U.S. earlier this month launched cruise missiles at two al-Qaeda targets in Yemen. The attacks represented a major escalation of U.S. efforts against al-Qaeda in Yemen.

One of the reasons I like Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, is that for quite some time now almost alone in the Washington wilderness he has been talking about the threat emanating from failed states. "In recent years, the lines separating war, peace, diplomacy and development have become more blurred and no longer fit the neat organizational charts of the 20th century," Secretary Gates noted in a speech in Washington in July 2008 when he was still serving in the Bush Administration.

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The Ben and Joe Pony Show

Let's begin with the fact that Senator Joe Lieberman was asked to be a member of the so-called Gang of Ten composed of five left to progressive Democratic Senators and of five centrist to conservative Democratic Senators last week to hammer out a compromise in the healthcare bill but he failed to show up to two of the meetings and was replaced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. Despite his no-show, the Democratic leadership believed that they had secured Senator Lieberman's agreement to go along with a compromise the Gang of Ten had reached to overcome the impasse. Apparently not.

The story in the New York Times:

on Sunday, Mr. Lieberman told the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, to scrap the idea of expanding Medicare and to abandon the idea of any new government insurance plan, or lose his vote.

On a separate issue, Mr. Reid tried over the weekend to concoct a compromise on abortion that would induce Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, to vote for the bill. Mr. Nelson opposes abortion. Any provision that satisfies him risks alienating supporters of abortion rights.

In interviews on the CBS News program "Face the Nation," Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Nelson said the bill did not have the 60 votes it would need to get through the Senate.

Senate Democratic leaders, including Mr. Reid and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, said they had been mindful of Mr. Lieberman's concerns in the last 10 days, so they were surprised when he assailed major provisions of the bill on television Sunday. He reiterated his objections in a private meeting with Mr. Reid.

A Senate Democratic aide, perplexed by Mr. Lieberman's stance, said, "It was a total flip-flop, and leaves us in a predicament as to what to do."

Here's what it would take to get Joe's vote:

Mr. Lieberman described what it would take to get his vote. "You've got to take out the Medicare buy-in," he said. "You've got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit."

The Class Act refers to a federal insurance program for long-term care, known as Community Living Assistance Services and Supports.

Mr. Lieberman said he would have "a hard time" voting for bill with the Medicare buy-in.

"It has some of the same infirmities that the public option did," Mr. Lieberman said. "It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It's unnecessary. The basic bill, which has a lot of good things in it, provides a generous new system of subsidies for people between ages 55 and 65, and choice and competition."

Mr. Lieberman cautioned Senate Democrats to limit their appetite for expansive new programs.

"The bill itself does a lot to bring 30 million people into the system," Mr. Lieberman said. "We don't need to keep adding onto the back of this horse, or we're going to break the horse's back and get nothing done."

I wouldn't be bringing up horse parts there Joe, otherwise we might tempted to compare you to one.

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All About Joe

This 30 second spot is from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. You can sign a petition and help keep this ad on the air at All About Joe.

And over at Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler has more on when it comes to the public option, it really is all about Joe.

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Lieberman Must Go

Dolting Joe certainly had himself a memorable Sunday morning, one that none of us should ever forget. On Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, the independent Senator from Connecticut said "If the public option plan is in there, as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote."

A matter of conscience? More like a matter of protecting the pockets of Connecticut's insurance citadel.

Then on the recent tragedy in Fort Hood that left 13 dead and injured another 30, Senator Lieberman seems to have all his facts in and drawn his own conclusions. The chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security committee said that the deadly shooting at Texas' Fort Hood military base was an act of "Islamist extremism."

Senator Lieberman said while it was too early to definitively state the motives of Nidal Hasan in very his next breath he notes that the clues pointed to terrorism. The Senator who heads the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said initial evidence suggested that the alleged shooter, Army Major Nidal Hasan, was a "self-radicalized, home-grown terrorist."

"There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act," he told Fox News.

"It's clear that he was, one, under personal stress and, two -- if the reports that we're receiving of various statements he made, acts he took are valid -- he had turned to Islamist extremism," he said.

"If that is true, the murder of these 13 people was a terrorist act."

I would think that one would wait until all the evidence is in before making such pronouncements. He intends to launch a congressional investigation into the motives behind "the worst terrorist attack since 9/11."

Meanwhile the New York Times reports that there's little evidence of terrorist plot in the Fort Hood slayings.

After two days of inquiry into the mass shooting at Fort Hood, investigators have tentatively concluded that it was not part of a terrorist plot.

Rather, they have come to believe that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the shootings, acted out under a welter of emotional, ideological and religious pressures, according to interviews with federal officials who have been briefed on the inquiry.

Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that Major Hasan believed he was carrying out an extremist's suicide mission.

But the investigators, working with behavioral experts, suggested that he might have long suffered from emotional problems that were exacerbated by the tensions of his work with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who returned home with serious psychiatric problems.

They said his counseling activities with the veterans appear to have further fueled his anger and hardened his increasingly militant views as he was seeming to move toward more extreme religious beliefs -- all of which boiled over as he faced being shipped overseas, an assignment he bitterly opposed.

Investigators have gleaned most of their findings from Major Hasan's computer use and from interviews with his family members, co-workers and neighbors. One significant investigative thrust has involved determining whether Major Hasan had contact with extremists who preyed on his increasingly angry and outspoken opposition to American policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But so far, investigators have unearthed no evidence that he was directed or steered into violence or ever traveled overseas to meet with extremist groups, as defendants in some recent terrorism cases are accused of doing, the officials said.

The officials emphasized that their findings were preliminary and that the investigation was fluid. New information could alter their perceptions of Major Hasan's motives. But the early conclusions are already influencing the course of the inquiry, including which law enforcement agencies lead it.

I think it is too early to draw definitive conclusions. The investigation remains fluid. But it is long overdue to act on Joe Lieberman. It is time to strip Dolting Joe from his chairmanship and oust him from the Democratic caucus.

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