How Much Longer in Iraq? | The Military’s Lower Standards for Recruits | An EPA Whitewash

Refrigerator Note—At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on January 17, committee chair Ike Skelton (D-MO) told Lt. General James Dubik and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Mark Kimmitt that he wanted “some sense of a timeline” on Iraq. Iraq’s Defense Minister had told Skelton that Iraq’s army would be able to handle internal security by 2009 and external security by 2018. Skelton wanted a similar commitment from the Pentagon.

Maryland Republican Roscoe Bartlett was more prosaic. “I think all Americans would like to have on their refrigerator a chart which they can follow that looks to a time that we can get out,” Bartlett said. “So what is that number that they can have on the refrigerator that we’re marching toward that when we get there we’re coming home?”

Bartlett got no refrigerator number. Instead, Kimmitt said, we need to sit down “with the government of Iraq on one side of the table and the United States on the other side of the table to work towards a more SOFA-like relationship between our two countries.” An Iraq SOFA (status of forces agreement) is one of the most important policies the Bush administration will impose on the country while he remains in office. In a conference call with reporters organized by the Center for American Progress, Rand Beers of the National Security Network said administration officials insist that a SOFA would not require the approval of Congress, as a treaty would. Yet since World War II, agreements establishing longtime security and political relations with foreign countries have been treated as treaties and have required approval by the Senate.

The White House knows it cannot muster a two-thirds vote to ratify long-term bases in Iraq, so Bush is pushing an “executive agreement,” which would not require Senate action. The top three Democratic presidential candidates all insist on a Senate vote. Republican John McCain has staked out the most extreme position of any major candidate, telling Meet the Press‘s Tim Russert that he would be comfortable with U.S. troops based in Iraq for 100 years. “Congress,” Beers said, “has to make a statement.”

Chilling Numbers—Rand Beers also warned that the war in Iraq is damaging the Army, as the number of enlist-ees with a high school diploma dropped to 70 percent in 2007. The numbers-crunching National Priorities Project paints an even darker picture. Recruits who have graduated from high school, it said, fell from 83 percent in 2005 to 70.7 percent in 2007—a twenty-year low.

Even if Beers was .7 off, the Army is in trouble. The Armed Forces Qualification Test is a predictor of “trainability,” and the Army watches scores carefully. Until 2006 it required at least 67 percent of its recruits to score above the fiftieth percentile on the test. That number fell to 60.7 percent in 2007—an indicator that 39.3 percent of active duty recruits are only marginally qualified for service. The Army has also granted “moral waivers” to 11 percent of recruits, allowing them to enlist even if they have committed a felony.

Yet drill sergeants must be grading on a curve, as fewer recruits are washing out of basic training. The trend has worried Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served at the Pentagon and State Department with Colin Powell. “How is it,” Wilkerson asked two years ago, “that we are lowering our standards but increasing our graduation rate?”

Chilling Effect?—After EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson overruled his technical and legal staffs and denied California a waiver that would have allowed it to impose tougher fuel standards on cars, Los Angeles Congressman Henry Waxman and California Senator Barbara Boxer demanded to see the documents that had informed Johnson’s decision [see the Washington SpectatorJan. 15, 2008].

A week after the deadline Boxer had set, the EPA delivered boxes of documents so badly blacked out by the government that they proved to be useless. In one PowerPoint presentation the EPA sent to Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sixteen of forty-three pages were redacted, including a blank page below the heading “EPA likely to lose suit.” EPA associate administrator Christopher Bliley told Boxer in a letter that releasing the information would discourage EPA staffers: “EPA is concerned about the chilling effect that would occur if agency employees believed their frank and honest opinions and analysis expressed as a part of assessing California’s waiver request were to be disclosed in a broad setting.”