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Author: TriSec    Date: 04/04/2017 10:17:22

This isn't right.

Before we get to our topic, let's visit a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

When Senator Palpatine came to power in that fictional space, he was surrounded by many sycophants, loyalists, and power-grabbers. Most of them remain nameless, even in a universe where everything has a backstory.

You're probably not familiar with the character named "Sly Moore". She remained at the emperor's side, yet always in the background. But because she was the closest member of his inner circle, and controlled all access to the Emperor, she became the most powerful member of that particular governing elite. I want you to keep that in mind as we return to the real world.

Somewhat unusually, we'll start this morning in Iraq. A member of Mr. Trump's inner circle received a personal invitation from the Pentagon, and as such, he spent much of this past weekend touring the country in order to make a report, I would presume.

But it wasn't the Secretary of State, Defence, or any other high official. It was the Mr. Kushner, who presently holds a mysterious and undefined office in the White House. (Note - the source is Buzzfeed, so make of this what you will.)

WASHINGTON — Within the halls of the Pentagon, the decision to invite Jared Kushner, the senior adviser to the president who just happens to be his son-in-law, on a military trip to Iraq was heralded as an unconventional — yet brilliant — political move.

After all, Kushner, perhaps more than any other White House adviser is responsible for a seemingly limitless portfolio of matters, both foreign and domestic – Middle East peace, the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Mar-a-Lago, reforming the entirety of the federal government, and combating opioid addiction to name a few. And while past administrations depended on the National Security Council or a coterie of long-time political operatives, the early days of the Trump administration suggests that to reach Trump, one must travel through the36-year-old man married to the president’s daughter, herself now a senior aide.

Given the Trump White House’s thwarting the conventional chains of command, the Pentagon has decided to go along, in the hopes that the face time — coupled with the experience of traveling to the front lines of the war against ISIS — will become leverage in the discussions about the way ahead.

“You have to understand where the levers are. You don’t have to like it, but that is where they are,” a defense official told BuzzFeed News. “It’s in our interest.”

Kushner, who has no political, military or diplomatic experience, got a crash course on the war from the highest-ranking military leader, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The trip came with all the trappings of military showmanship — military aircraft shuttled Kushner above the Iraqi capital; he spoke with men and women in uniform serving in often rustic conditions. The White House confirmed on Monday that he'd even met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The Joint Staff was quick to tweet out pictures Monday of the two together on the ground:

The pair were scheduled to depart after only four hours on the ground, ensuring Kushner is back in time to manage Xi Jinping’s visit later this week. A visit that brief is not enough to understand the complex situation in Iraq, but for a fleeting moment for first-time visitors, it can feel like it. Dunford said in a statement released Sunday night that he invited Kushner to see events on the ground, "first-hand and unfiltered."

Dunford stood to gain something as well. For him, it was hours of direct access to arguably the most influential White House adviser — 16 hours sealed inside a plane to be exact.

“That is a looong time to have someone’s ear,” a second defense official explained to BuzzFeed News.

Defense officials said while according to the official story, Dunford invited Kushner, they are not sure if the idea was that simple. Rather it was “DoD initiated,” the first defense official said. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis already had extended a similar invitation to Kushner and Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist.

Top White House advisers in previous administrations have visited Iraq before but were often accompanied by the president when they did. (Neither Trump nor Secretary of State Rex Tillierson have so far visited Baghdad.) Kushner was traveling on behalf of the president, the department said. In addition to Kushner, Dunford also traveled with Thomas Bossert, Trump’s Homeland Security Adviser.

And while Kushner’s role is currently both vast and poorly defined, the White House bypassing the State Department is not unprecedented. Under the Obama administration, for example, bilateral relations with Cuba began with Ben Rhodes, then deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

Moving on to some *actual* veteran's news, our new Secretary of Veteran's Affairs has issued a pronouncement that the VA "is on a path to recovery". But we've heard this repeatedly uttered by officials under Bush and Obama without any concrete results to show for it. I doubt this is anything factual as well.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin says the Department of Veterans Affairs "is on a path toward recovery."

"We have a clear mandate to do better, [and] to make sure that we're honoring our mission to serve our veterans," Shulkin told NPR's Morning Edition.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., are asking the Senate to approve an extension of the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act. The bill, passed in 2014, provided billions of dollars to the VA and was supposed to help veterans get medical care more quickly.

Three years later, VA hospitals are still struggling to add staff, and many veterans still face long wait times to see a doctor, as NPR has reported.

Shulkin discussed his current priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including how the money from the Veterans Choice program has been spent, and his approach to the persistently high rate of suicide among military veterans, with NPR's Rachel Martin. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. (note - do go and read it if you have the time.)

Finally this morning - we'll visit our friends at IAVA. With the new administration in place, you may have seen Mr. Rieckhoff posting recently that the group has issued a new policy and position statement. I was looking over their website, and unfortunately didn't find a pithy bullet list with the highlights - but doing actual work instead of making flowery promises is hard.

There is a list of sorts - you can scroll through the advocacy page at IAVA, which is full of fine photos, large-print notes, and sublinks, or if you are interested you can take a look at the entire 88-page report. We here at AAV have recently downloaded it for review, so I'd say there will be more information posted as we plow through.


27 comments (Latest Comment: 04/04/2017 18:53:51 by livingonli)
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