Friday, September 7, 2007

More Reports on Iraq: Day 2, the Independent Commission Report

First, I've got some philosophizing to get out of my system.

"Ownership or participation in ownership of a publication or broadcasting property is a sacred trust and a great privilege." ("The Standards of Ownership / Nelson Poynter's guide for the ownership of the St. Petersburg Times," August 6, 1947)

I wish that journalism lived up to such high ideals. Then, statements like, "it must be true: it's in the news," wouldn't be so grimly funny.

Even the most believable, perhaps especially the most believable, news reports should be viewed with deferred judgment.

For example: "Everybody knows" how wild and crazy rock bands are, so there's no reason to question news reports from 1981, which stated that Van Halen did thousands of dollars of damage to a New Mexico venue, just because they were given brown M&Ms, and their contract demanded a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones removed.

According to an autobiography by one of the band members, the brown M&M restriction was there to make sure that promoters of Van Halen concerts actually read the contract. No brown M&Ms meant that a full system check of the facilities was necessary. A place in Colorado had tens of thousands of dollars of damage, because the floor wasn't strong enough to support the V.H. stage equipment.

Now, About the "The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq," that I call the General Jones report.

I had a little trouble with the report by General Jones. CBS News didn't name it, but gave this description: "The study, conducted by a 20-member panel led by retired Gen. James Jones, is one of several independent studies Congress directed in May. A copy of the 37-page report was obtained by The Associated Press."

I found a report which was
  • Conducted by a 20-member panel
  • Chaired by General James L. Jones, USMC (Ret.)
  • Directed by Public Law 110-28, enacted May 27, 2007
It didn't have 37 pages, though. The report I found was 153 pages long, including the cover sheet.

Maybe the report "obtained by The Associated Press" was some sort of special summary. It wasn't the "Executive Summary" in the report: that wasn't anywhere near 37 pages long.

Maybe retired General Jones was working with another 20-person panel, on a nearly identical project.

That's not likely.

My working assumption is that the "37-page" part of the CBS News report is one of those little slips that happen now and again, like the Van Halen M&Ms.

As with the GAO report, the report shows that Iraq has problems. Lots of problems.

My original plan, when I thought I'd have 37 pages to deal with, was to look over the whole report, and discuss it.

153 pages is too much for that: I don't have the time, and I doubt that you'd want to sit still, reading what I think about it.

So, after a quick skim, I picked one topic: Corruption.

On page 123, I found "Corruption" as a heading. "Corruption is a serious problem at many land prots of entry. This fact has not yet been adequately addressed," the report said.

Reading on, I think "not yet been adequately addressed" was an understatement. The problem is that the central Iraqi government can't collect tariffs, stop contraband, or expect their Department of Border Enforcement to work properly.

One of the issues seems to be that several Iraqi ministries bump into each other at land ports of entry: and try to out-maneuver each other for a piece of the action.

Then, there's the matter of kickbacks. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) isn't always as helpful as it should be, to put it mildly.

Iraqi and Coalition officials told members of the Commission that "personnel at the border crossings are often discouraged from doing their jobs 'too well,' lest they disrupt lucrative smuggling operations that benefit senior-level officers in the MOI."

To its credit, the Iraqi government has tried to fix the problem, even changing leadership in some areas.

One way of looking at corruption in Iraq is to decide that it's a cultural norm, something which Americans must accept as part of the rich heritage of the region: one mustn't be ethnocentric!

I don't buy that. Although parts of the Middle East have earned a reputation for corruption, they have quite a bit of competition for most-corrupt-country, globally.

A list of Transparency International's CPI, or Corruption Perception Index, is at

According to the CPI, Finland is the least-corrupt country that was studied, with a score of 9.7 (out of 10). Bangladesh the most corrupt, with a score of 1.3.

Countries more-or-less in the Middle East had a pretty wide range of scores. This list is a sampling, I may have missed some:
  • Israel 7.0
  • Oman 6.3
  • Bahrain 6.1
  • Kuwait 5.3
  • United Arab Emirates 5.2
  • Jordan 4.6
  • Saudi Arabia 4.5
  • Syria 3.4
  • Egypt 3.3
  • Turkey 3.1
  • Iran 3.0
  • Lebanon 3.0
  • Palestine 3.0
  • Yemen 2.6
  • Pakistan 2.5
  • Kazakhstan 2.4
  • Uzbekistan 2.4
  • Iraq 2.2
  • Kyrgyzstan 2.1
  • Azerbaijan 1.8
  • Tajikistan 1.8
(Syria is near the mid-point of the list, a score shared by China, Panama, and Sri Lanka.)

I said before that Iraq has many problems. That doesn't mean that I want to see America, and the other coalition countries which are still involved in Iraq, say, "good luck," and pull out before the wild collection of
  • Decent, patriotic Iraqis
  • Crazed religious fanatics
  • My-tribe-first fossils who didn't notice the rise of nation-states
  • The usual bunch of big-shot wannabes
...have a chance to thrash out a reasonable facsimile of a funcional national government.

I think I've said this before, but it bears repeating. It was 11 years before the American colonies dropped what hadn't been working, and developed the Constitution that America has now. These things take time.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.