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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, April 22, 2006

When you're the Defense dept., every problem has a military solution.

Is it really surprising with Rumsfeld's Dept. of Defense taking over more and more of other agencies turf that the US has become more militarily aggressive? Pre-Iraq, the State Dept was sidelined and removed from it's traditional role in foreign policy development. Plans and policies came mostly out of the Dept. of Defense spearheaded by the Vice President's office. The State Dept is yet to reclaim its traditional role.

Since the intelligence restructuring, a process very similar has been going on between the DoD and the CIA. When Negroponte took the job coordinating and overseeing all intelligence matters, budgetary matters for the Pentagon's massive intel arm were left outside his umbrella offering no practical way for him to exert control.

Then we had reports of the Defense Dept. placing military spec ops troops in US embassies working independently from the CIA personnel, forming plans, making contacts, executing operations all within what has traditionally been the CIA's domain. In this WaPo article tomorrow, it becomes apparent that the same spec ops teams can now act independently of the local ambassadors making the State Dept's top reps in country absolutely meaningless as well.

My point in all this is to show the massive shift of power that has taken place from the traditional diplomatic and spy agencies to the DoD which is having real consequences on policy.

For example, if the State Dept was running Iran policy right now, we would probably be pursuing significant efforts at a negotiated solution. If the CIA were put in charge of Iran policy, their solution would probably be operations targeting the scientists and support staff to compromise them and sabotage the program.

But, instead, the Department of Defense, again in conjunction with the VP's office, appears to be playing the majority role in setting Iran policy. So, should we be surprised that the main proposed solution appears to be no negotiations followed by military strikes?

For example, SOCOM has dispatched small teams of Army Green Berets and other Special Operations troops to U.S. embassies in about 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America, where they do operational planning and intelligence gathering to enhance the ability to conduct military operations where the United States is not at war.

And in a subtle but important shift contained in a classified order last year, the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform -- rather than gain the approval of -- the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country, according to several administration officials. "We do not need ambassador-level approval," said one defense official familiar with the order....

"SOCOM is, in fact, in charge of the global war on terror," Brown said in testimony before the House last month. In this role, SOCOM directs and coordinates actions by the military's regional combatant commands. SOCOM, if directed, can also command its own counterterrorist operations....

But SOCOM's more robust role -- while adding manpower, specialized skills and organization to the fight against terrorism -- has also led to some bureaucratic tensions, both inside the military with the joint staff and regional commands, as well as with the CIA and State Department. Such tensions are one reason SOCOM's plan took years.

This usurpation of more and more power by the DoD from other executive branches is a significant story that has serious impacts. In many ways it mirrors the claims of extraordinary executive powers made by the president and the effect is similar. And, I would assume this claim of power is planned to last throughout the duration of this "generational war."

I'm tired. I hope that made sense.

(UPDATE: The DoD is gutting the CIA's role while Porter Goss's main priority is plugging leaks.)

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Alot of little interesting items,

The Iraqis finally came to an agreement on their government. The politicians sequestered in the Green Zone have all agreed, we'll have to wait and see what the rest of the Iraqis out in the "red zone" make of the deal.

This article over at antiwar has about the most complete listing and details of likely permanent US bases in Iraq that I've seen.

The Army suicide rate is up again. I don't have enough of a sense of the data to say if this is significant, but it is noteworthy.

You may have seen this, but during President Bush's trip to California, protesters managed to block the President's passage, forcing him to move the meeting he had scheduled at Stanford.

Russia and Iran have reportedly come to an agreement on enriching uranium in Russia for Iranian reactors. My question on this is how they then transport it back to Iran. None of the routes look particularly secure to me.

And, lastly, Nigeria is buying itself out of its Paris Club debt. This is significant because it reflects a growing trend. For generations, the US has controlled second world nations through incredible amounts of debt, forcing privatization and other neoliberal economic policies. Argentina bought its freedom after the IMF collapsed their economy, and Russia bought it's freedom a couple of years ago.

Katrina and Bush's legacy

After watching bits and pieces of the various documentaries produced around the 100 year anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, I got to thinking this morning how historically enduring the failures of Katrina will be and the real magnitude of what we witnessed.

The videos we watched of the Superdome and the Convention Center will be the historical record of the event. The failures in the response effort will be outlined in detail(hopefully more detail as the records become public.)

My point is that one hundred years from now, the response will still be seen as inadequate. The magnitude of the failure will be a part of Bush's legacy long after Iraq becomes historically condensed like Korea.

(Also, just a local side note. In 1900 a Category 4 hurricane struck Galveston Island just south of Houston which was the wealthiest and most developed city on the Gulf Coast parallel to New Orleans. The storm surge completely subsumed the island and 6,000 to 8,000 of the 37,000 residents died. 3/4 of the buildings were destroyed. I mention this because it is possibly the highest fatality natural disaster in American history and rarely gets mentioned compared to the 1906 quake or the Chicago fire.)

Just a question.

With ethanol all the rage as "the answer" to our oil dependency(really, probably not), what are the ethics of using our agricultural capacity to grow corn for ethanol to fuel our cars when people around the world are dying of starvation?

I'm not sure how I feel, but I've not heard it mentioned in the debate and I think it's a question that needs to be discussed.

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The failure of the 'War on Terror'

The number of world wide terror attacks tripled from 2004 to 2005 from 3,194 to more than 10,000. Iraq is counted in the numbers, comprising roughly half of the 10,000, but it does not count attacks against US, Iraqi, or other coalition forces.

If, in the wake of 9/11 the Bush administration had chosen to wage a war on terrorism, rather than masking their middle east policy under the rhetoric of terrorism, we would all be better off.

Too complex a topic for a bumpersticker, but this is the ultimate incompetence of this administration from which most of their other mistakes have flowed.

Crooked to the end.

As Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, and Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, have not held any investigations in so long, they seem to have forgotten they have that power.

Oh, wait. This isn't really about an investigation at all, is it? It's about reducing EPA restrictions on donors, (erm) American businesses.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) are preparing to send a letter to the president Monday asking him to direct the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to investigate alleged price gouging and instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to issue waivers that might make it easier for oil refiners to produce adequate gasoline supplies, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said.

But I guess they did manage to get the friendly headline "Leaders Question Gasoline Prices," rather than the more accurate "Amidst Record Prices, Republicans Seek Favors for Oil Giants."

Picture of the Day

Friday, April 21, 2006

Remember Cheney's secret energy task force?

Bob Shrum mentioned it on Hardball. That may be the lever the dems use to go after the administration on gas prices. It emphasizes culpability, secretiveness, and corruption all reinforced during the repeated angry thoughtful moments as people fill up their gas tanks. And then there's this....
(CBS 11 News) DALLAS High gasoline prices are causing some people to take desperate measures. Pawn shops say their business is increasing, with some customers saying they're selling things to buy gas. ...

“We've always had a clientele of the young kids, or middle age kids, and now we’re getting an older generation. Which, it just seems wrong that they have to pawn things just to get gas, or ya know, to make ends meet on things like that."

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From the funeral of Aaron Sissel who died in Iraq.

Plame Gossip

The grand jury was scheduled to meet again this morning in the Rove case.(Can I call it that now?) This from ABCnews's The Note, but no more detail than that.

(Am posting too much, or is there just a ton of stuff going on today?)

The leakers are out for Bush.

This is a more open and detailed description of what happened with the intel provided by Naji Sabri, the former Saddam official tasked with giving the rebuttal to Colin Powell's UN presentation, and why it was ignored. Short version: the White House knew the WMD intel was bad, but went ahead anyway.
"The [White House] group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested. And we said 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.' "

They didn't want any additional data from Sabri because, says Drumheller: "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy."

The revelation that the White House was not interested in contrary intel is not a surprise, but it is another confirmation from a very knowledgable source.

(The interview will be on 60 Minutes.)

Also: A CIA employee has been fired for leaking the secret CIA prisons story to Dana Priest of the WaPo. How did we find out about this? A CIA leak of a Porter Goss memo. Hah! The irony overwhelms me.

John Dean's column

John Dean only publishes on findlaw every other friday so it's hard to remember to check, but this one is worth it. It's really too complex to just lift out an excerpt, but I found it fascinating reading.

Catty Politics

Just a few little catty politics things.

Josh Marshall has a funny post on the amzing imploding Katherine Harris Senate campaign. Funny if you're not Katherine Harris, that is.

In the wake of the SD abortion ban, one local lawmaker says, “I think ‘rape and incest’ is a buzzword,” said Rep. Joel Dykstra about not including those conditions in the abortion bill. “It’s a bit of a throwaway line and not everybody who says that really understands what that means. How are you going to define that?”

This picture of Cheney asleep during Hu's visit is gonna make the rounds. (Later: Here's a better picture. Tell me again how you were reading your notes, Mr. Cheney?)

Stations out of gas on the east coast.

Stations running out of gas on the east coast, shortages expected to last weeks, and this is taking place without an oil embargo.

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I gotta say, Michael Brown cannot be forgiven for presiding over the failed response to the worst natural disaster in history, but his post Katrina comments have been fun to watch.
Michael D. Brown, who "resigned" from FEMA after the botched Katrina recovery effort, had some advice for Rumsfeld. "I think I should call the secretary," he told FOX News Channel's Neil Cavuto the other day, "and say watch your back, because you never know. . . . We laugh about this in Washington and you serve at the pleasure of the president, but that's the absolute truth -- here today, gone tomorrow."

As Stephen Colbert once said of Brown, "scapegoating doesn't work if the goat keeps wandering back in the village."

Jaafari's replacement

From Juan Cole on the possible replacements for Iraqi prime ministerial candidate Jaafari.
The chief candidates of the UIA now seem to be Jawad al-Maliki, a long-time Dawa Party activist exiled for decades to Syria, and Ali al-Adib of the Dawa Party's Tehran branch. It is so amusing that the saviors of the Bush administration's political process in Iraq are beholden either to Syria or Iran-- Bush's chief targets for demonization-- for their political survival in the Saddam years.

Update: A little more on the candidates from this AP article.

Al-Adeeb was a member of the political bureau of Dawa based in Tehran in the 1980s — a time when Western governments considered the party little more than an instrument of the Iranian intelligence service.

Al-Maliki was deputy chairman of the committee charged with purging officials of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from government service and politics. Many Sunnis believe the committee's goal was to strip Sunnis of their rights.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top religious figure and kingmaker favors Al-Adeeb supposedly because he would be more palatable to the Sunnis and Kurds, but I can't help myself from thinking that it's because it's Iran's choice.

It's Al-Maliki who was Jaafari's choice. The early reports are that the Sunni politicians support this, but reading the above excerpt, I would say, wait and see. More detail on this guy will come out over the next day, and we should have a better idea exactly how this projects.

Only 11,998,813 more illegal immigrants to go.

This set of immigration arrests is just so obviously political despite Chertoff's claims. (Color coding DHS wouldn't lie to us, would they?)

Despite the obvious efforts to placate the anti-immigration zealots, this will not be enough for them. The "minuteman" group is now talking about building its own fence along the border.

That's the problem with catering to zealots, be it abortion, immigration, or whatever. Their entire movement is predicated upon the maintaining the problem. If, for instance, abortion were suddenly banned, gays were stoned in the streets, and women were returned to a subjugated role in our society, do you think that the "religious" factions would suddenly disappear?

No. The leaders and the groups would be unwilling to give up their positions of power and influence. Their entire power structure is based upon the maintenance of the perception that there is a problem, and they would find another issue to keep the donations flowing in.

It's not about issues or people anymore, it's about gaining a place at the luxurious Republican table.

The Minutemen aren't there yet, but give them a few election cycles and they will be. They will be the racial version of the religious right.

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This is Iraq.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

And you think your life is hard.

From Supreme Court nominee to out on her ass? Harriet Miers is having a really bad year.

UPDATE: Here's the NYTimes piece Rawstory was teasing. (Also, more solid bits on Tony Snow replacing McClellan.)
Mr. Bolten is said by a number of Republicans in Washington to feel that Ms. Miers is indecisive, a weak manager and slow in moving vital paperwork through the system.....

It was not clear whether Mr. Bolten was floating a trial balloon to gauge White House reaction to the idea, or whether he might have been intending to send a signal to Ms. Miers that he would like her to think about leaving on her own.

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1 working day without a nuclear security breach

I don't know if you saw this story yesterday, and I haven't done any followup, but the short version is two men drove into a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania to pick up tools, set off a security alarm, were questioned then released, only to be stopped by the state police with $500,000 small bills.

Where the money came from, whether they knew about it, is unimportant. Effectively these guys smuggled a large dufflebag full of cash past the security of a nuclear plant going both in and out. It could've been anything.

UPDATE: dqueue posted a link to this, which highlights many more variations in the story, and also points out the possibility that the $500K in small bills could have been a bribe or nuclear "buy money." No proof for the latter, but an intriguing possibility I left out. Thanks, dqueue.

Plame Gossip - Grand Jury hears evidence against Rove

Now that Fitzgerald has finished the Conrad Black case and the Geroge Ryan case, there's only one thing left on his plate.
Just as the news broke Wednesday about Scott McClellan resigning as White House press secretary and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove shedding some of his policy duties, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met with the grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case and introduced additional evidence against Rove, attorneys and other US officials close to the investigation said.

The grand jury session in federal court in Washington, DC, sources close to the case said, was the first time this year that Fitzgerald told the jurors that he would soon present them with a list of criminal charges he intends to file against Rove in hopes of having the grand jury return a multi-count indictment against Rove.....

Fitzgerald is said to have introduced more evidence Wednesday alleging Rove lied to FBI investigators and the grand jury when he was questioned about how he found out that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA and whether he shared that information with the media, attorneys close to the case said.

Now, certainly, this doesn't mean that an indictment of Rove for perjury is right around the corner, but it does greatly raise the odds. Also, it does put Rove's White House "demotion" to campaign matters only(read as dispensible to White House operations,) in a very different light.

It looks like Luskin's Viveca Novak defense isn't gonna fly.

So, this could be plea deal pressure to get Rove to turn on the folks in the VP's office about the 250 "missing" emails(Link here and here,) or it could represent just a straight up effort to indict Rove. The bet is on the second as "Luskin said Rove has not discussed any plea deal with Fitzgerald." (Mike's note: countering this statement, there was fair evidence that Luskin did discuss a plea deal with Fitzgerald around the Libby indictment.)

Bottom line, don't expect it tomorrow, but soon, this White House may be rocked again in a big way.

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This was less than a month ago.
(photo source: whitehouse.gov)

Is this the conventional wisdom now?

Three months ago, the conventional wisdom among the commentariat seemed to be that the Dems would need a lot of breaks to retake the house or senate.(I still think that's somewhat true if you go district by district.)

But in the wake of this White House "shuffle," general opinion seems to be crystallizing around something like this.
While that goal remains central to those closest to Bush, the focus at the White House for the foreseeable future will be trying to revitalize this presidency quickly enough to avoid crippling GOP losses in November that could thrust Bush into instant lame-duck status.

If this shift in the narrative is maintained, it is important. If the Dems winning becomes the expected result, it will give them all the momentum and have the Republicans fighting a defensive, uphill battle. Every interview will begin with questions over whether they can "manage to win enough seats," and "how damaging is the 'Bush factor'" forcing them to start from that position.

The irony of a situation like this is that the repetition of the conventional wisdom will further weaken the president politically as candidates try to distance which will further reinforce the cycle. Ask John Kerry about the power of conventional wisdom and having to defend allegations of weakness that never had any real basis.

The election is a long way away, but....

Jaafari has agreed to submit to a revote

This could be a really big deal, we'll have to wait and see if the politics actually match the rhetoric, but what caught my eye was the reporting of the mechanism by which this was brought about.

The AP, Reuters, NYTimes, and I'm sure others, all report this shift in position only in the context of Bush's "forceful statements" yesterday. But Bush has been making "forceful statements" for three months, so what really changed. Let's go to the AFP.
US President George W. Bush on Wednesday renewed calls for the formation of the government while the UN special envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qazi held talks with Shiite clerics in an attempt to break the impasse.

"We fully recognize that the Iraqis must step up and form a unity government. Vacuums in the political process create opportunity for malfeasance and harm," Bush said.

Qazi met revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and radical cleric Moqtada Sadr Wednesday.

"I spoke to Ayatollah Sistani about forming a national unity government as soon as possible to accept the challenges faced by the country," Qazi said.

So, what do you think was the cause of the shift? Another in a series of "forceful statements" by Bush in Washington, or perhaps the UN envoy who met with Sistani and Sadr(who have both repeatedly refused to meet directly with US personnel managing all contact through "envoys?")

But I saw a picture of Bush on an aircraft carrier and he looked so tough.....

(In a larger sense, we'll have to wait to see what this really means. Jaafari won the initial Shia bloc caucus by one vote after being backed by Sadr. So, the question is where Sadr's votes will go. It's not too likely that they would go to a moderate so we'll have to see how the politics will play out.

The Sunnis are trying to force an immediate decision by calling a quick parliament to force the Shia to pick one of the other two more moderate candidates currently on the table rather than allowing Sadr to build consensus for his own candidate to replace Jaafari. Oh, and there is a chance Jaafari could win a second vote, but if that happens, it is a sign that the Shia are displeased with Sunni maneuvering.)

(Also of note. Juan Cole is not reflecting this change yet. He is portraying a very different political situation in a post just a couple hours old, so this storyline certainly bears watching as what we're getting may not reflect the complexity of what's really going on.)

Also, there's this report today that 19,548 people have been kidnapped in Iraq since the beginning of 2006. That sounds like an awful lot, but at the same time, that's a pretty exact number, so it's certainly based on something.

UPDATE: Apparently, I'm not the only one who noticed the AP's misrepresentation. Their current article, by the same reporter but completely rewritten, puts the UN meeting in the second paragraph where it wasn't even mentioned before.

Picture of the Day

"That sure is a lotta shit. Do you think any of it is gonna land on us?"

"I don't know, George, I just don't know."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

And these guys have real secrets to leak

I have been anxiously waiting all week for somebody to deliver the knockout blow to Rumsfeld though some kind of leak. I figure there must be all sorts of skeletons and insinuations on Rumsfeld throughout Washington file cabinets, Abu Ghraib, torture, renditions, bad intel, bad policy, the list goes on and on.

The strategy could vary, but if you wanted to get rid of Rumsfeld, a classic military strategy would be to fire the first shots(the general's criticism,) make the Rumsfeld supporters show their defense, then attack with a second round from a second direction while they're unsettled. (An augmented version of this could be aimed at Bush as well, by getting him way out on the defending Rumsfeld limb before hacking down the tree.) So, all week this week I've been looking for leaks. Nothing yet.

But then I come across this.
But what's been little noted thus far is what looks to be a similar revolt brewing at the CIA. An ex-senior agency officer who keeps in contact with his former peers told me that there is a “a big swing” in anti-Bush sentiment at Langley. “I've been stunned by what I'm hearing,” he said. “There are people who fear that indictments and subpoenas could be coming down, and they don't want to get caught up in it.”

This former senior officer said there “seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people” at the agency to avoid involvement in some of the particularly nasty tactics being employed by the administration, especially “renditions.”

I don't know about the sources or connections of Ken Silverstein, but the administration is not in a position to handle any serious leaks on any of the programs the CIA has been involved in, renditions, secret prisons, torture, pre-war intel, surveillance....

This could be a second blow.

Also, interestingly, the way this piece describes the resistance is very similar to the military resistance to Rumsfeld. It seems that those who disagreed with the policies are now trying to bail off the sinking ship so that the blame, for policies they opposed, stays affixed to the Bush administration. No more "bad apples" arguments will be allowed.

I'm reading pretty deep beneath the text, but I think all of this may be telling.

Also of interest, and in the same vein, check out this little clip of Tim Russert on Imus where he says that alot in the military supported the Murtha plan, and that Bush “won’t fire Rumsfeld because it would be the equivalent of firing himself.”

In other words, again, Bush will continue to allow Rumsfeld to make policy costing lives solely out of Bush's concern for his domestic political standing. For the third time, technically not a crime, but it should be.

$10 Billion a Month

The cost of the war in U.S. fatalities has declined this year, but the cost in treasure continues to rise, from $48 billion in 2003 to $59 billion in 2004 to $81 billion in 2005 to an anticipated $94 billion in 2006, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The U.S. government is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from $8.2 billion a year ago, a new Congressional Research Service report found.

And this doesn't even include either the repair/replacement costs to refill the military's euipment pipeline, or the longterm costs of medical treatment for those who have been wounded both physically and metally.

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Rove's new position, a change in security clearance?

I'm just going to point on this one to Think Progress. I don't know if I buy the argument, but, being a blogger and thus untethered by ethics, I just find it too salacious when coupled with the Plame and related leaks not to mention it.

Frankly, I'm more prone to believe that Rove gave up his Deputy Chief of Staff title as a condition of Josh Bolten taking the Chief of Staff job.

Also: Two more thoughts on the White House "shakeup." Greyhair pointed me to the idea that who in the world would want to take a job at this whitehouse right now. Besides the scandal and the taint, you're not even going to be able to cash in on your connections when you leave in Jan 2009.

Second, anybody who is to come in at a high level, cabinet secretary(Rumsfeld) or other significant post would have to go through a confirmation. Is the Bush administration really in a position to answer questions or politically push an appointee through right now?

UPDATE: Rove will keep his security clearance. As I said above, it was just unfounded speculation.

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Seeya, Scotty. Now, come back to Texas and help your mom, Carole Strayhorn, beat corrupt crazy christian Texas governor Rick Perry.

It could be your redemption.

On the great White House "shakeup"

The phrase that pays around the White House staff changes seems to be "reenergize," or maybe "new blood," but so far, in all the changes that have hit the media threshold not one new person has been brought into the administration.

Andy Card goes, but Josh Bolten, previously OMB, takes his place.

Bolten's OMB job goes to Trade Rep Bob Portman.

McClellan resigns to be likely replaced by former CPA spokesman Dan Senor.

Karl Rove is supposedly giving up his deputy chief of staff role to focus on the midterms(probably a condition of Bolten taking the job.) That job is being given to Joel Kaplan, now the White House's deputy budget director.

And do you really expect Bush to fill the role of domestic policy chief, replacing Claude Allen involved in the "refund scam" shoplifting at Target, with anybody Bush doesn't "know."

If you move everybody up one notch and replace the mail room guy, I don't think you can refer to it as reenergized or "new blood." That mail room guy may be excited about his new job, but I just don't see the impact.

Throw out Rumsfeld, or Condi Rice, or Rove, or even Cheney. That would make a difference.

I just keep going back to what my tennis buddy Don told me on Sunday, "George Bush is far more capable at judging loyalty than merit."

The Bush administration is all about loyalty over competence. And we're all paying the price.

Did you see the Rolling Stone cover for this week: The Worst President in History?

One more version of events from Iraq

"The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. … We are today not far from a disaster."

- T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia), The Sunday Times, August 1920

Dahr Jamail, one of the few western reporters who has worked unembedded in Iraq paints a different picture of recent US military activities in Iraq. In the Adhamiya event I was writing about yesterday, Jamail claims that the US was fighting with the Interior Ministry forces and Sadr militias against the local Sunnis.

At the end of this article, he also offers a evidence that the US is reengaging in Fallujah and quotes this email from one of his sources in the area. (This supports what I was getting at by looking at the US casualty data on Sunday.)

"Resistance [in Fallujah] is very active and all the destruction to the city by American soldiers did not succeed to stop them. You know the city was totally destroyed in the November attack and is still surrounded and closed for anyone other than citizens of the city. What is going on now is that the Americans are trying to conceal their failure here by not letting anybody in. There were at least five explosions today and more than one clash between resistance fighters and U.S. soldiers. So all the military procedures, together with the thousands of casualties, were in vain. In short, the American Army seems to be losing control in this country and God knows what they will do in revenge. I expect the worst to come."

The Russian money Republicans

Josh Marshall has a good post on how huge amounts of money from some pretty dubious Russian characters filtered through the Delay machine to other Republican representatives.

You've got a friend

If you ever thought that all your blogging was just going off into the ether unread, take comfort from this.
President Bush and U.S. policy-makers are receiving more intelligence from open sources such as Internet blogs and foreign newspapers than they previously did, senior intelligence officials said.

The new Open Source Center (OSC) at CIA headquarters recently stepped up data collection and analysis based on bloggers worldwide and is developing new methods to gauge the reliability of the content, said OSC Director Douglas J. Naquin.

"A lot of blogs now have become very big on the Internet, and we're getting a lot of rich information on blogs that are telling us a lot about social perspectives and everything from what the general feeling is to ... people putting information on there that doesn't exist anywhere else," Mr. Naquin told The Washington Times.

See, the CIA is reading your stuff. Now, don't you feel better?

McClellan Resigns

Thinkprogress has a one sentence post up saying Scott McClellan has resigned. Previous speculation elsewhere has had Dan Senor ex Iraq CPA spokesman taking over the job. After defending Paul Bremer's mistakes for so long, he should be well qualified to defend Bush's.

Here's confirmation from CNN.

Picture of the Day

A US soldier tries to decoy an enemy sniper into revealing his position.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Update on Adhamiyah battle

This morning I wrote about a battle in the Baghdad Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah that Reuters said, "smacks of open civil war." This is an update on that story.

The WaPo has a very disturbing piece in tomorrow's paper(A10) which talks about the total confusion about what actually went on in the 9 hour battle. Beyond the US, it is not even clear who the combatants were.
U.S. and Iraqi soldiers thought they were shooting at insurgents who were trying to ambush them. Local men on neighborhood watch in the predominantly Sunni Arab area thought they were shooting at Shiites who were coming to kidnap and kill them.....

Kadhimi's account, vague as it was, was about as much as anyone outside Adhamiyah could figure out for certain. With rumor, speculation and fear filling the void of actual knowledge, the conflicting accounts resembled "Rashomon," the classic Akira Kurosawa film in which a crime takes place and each witness tells a completely different story of what happened.....

An Associated Press report, quoting a resident, said that Sunni gunmen went from house to house, pressing young men to join the fight.

Some residents, whose accounts could not be verified, said the Iraqi army came to the aid of Adhamiyah residents and fought off a coalition of Interior Ministry police, Shiite militiamen and "Iranians" -- a term many Iraqi Sunnis use to refer to Shiites, whom they suspect of loyalty to the Shiite theocracy in neighboring Iran.

So, this was possibly a seven sided battle in which US forces, Iraqi army, Sunni "town watch," Sunni insurgents, Shia militia, Interior Ministry police and/or Iranian sympathizers were all possible combatants(and individuals may overlap groups just to add to the confusion.) But no one seems to be sure just who was shooting at who and why over the 7-9 hour battle.

Also of note, I think it's telling that the Iraqi Army may have been engaged against the Interior Ministry police who have reportedly been no more than a government run Shiite militia. (That's one of the main Sunni objections to Jaafari, by the way.)

Iraqi government forces engaged with other Iraqi government forces in open street warfare in the middle of Baghdad with partisans, guerillas and civilians all milling about in the mix.

What's the mission here, Mr. Rumsfeld? One day, US soldiers are sent out to fight Sunni insurgents, the next day "Al Qaeda terrorists," the next day, Shia militiamen. Who are we fighting for, Mr. Rumsfeld? Who are we fighting against? Does anyone even know anymore?

It's a civil war and the US soldier is stuck in the middle. I fear there is no more winning available for US forces, just killing and staying alive.

(Again, sorry for so much Iraq blogging today, but with open factional warfare in the streets of Baghdad and Iraq's government forces fighting openly with each other, I feel we're at a critical point.)

Bernstein calls for "THE INVESTIGATION"

In Vanity Fair, Karl Bernstein wrote an opinion piece calling for one large overarching investigation into all of the Bush administration's lies, scandals, and illegal acts.

Bernstein's premise is that such an investigation could be undertaken by the current Republican congress and thus carried out in a fair, bipartisan fashion. His argument is that the Republicans might launch this endeavor in an effort to save their own political skins in the 2006 midterms. (He's still an idealist, isn't he?)

Outlining the possible illegal activities and claims of power, NSA warrantless wiretapping, torture, Abughraib, and Guantanamo, for example, as well as systemic lying and unnecessary claims of privilege, both to advance policy and cover political embarrassments, Bernstein asserts that the time has finally come for a reckoning.

After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned.

The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard.

There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived.

Purity Balls

I fell I've been a little heavy today and Iraq obsessed, so as a lighter distraction, let me introduce you to Purity Balls, the latest effort by the crazy Christians to control other people's sexuality.
(Note: Balls in this case refers to dances.)

Picture of the Day - 3

From the funeral of Nicholas Anderson who died in Iraq.

The Iran/Iraq connection - Why Iraq hasn't formed a government yet?

Over the last four months since the Iraq parliamentary elections were held, I have read a number of explanations by experts, almost all of them focusing on the "sectarian divides" and "historical animosities" that preclude a consensus on a unity government.

But, today, I came across a working theory at Steve Gilliard's blog that makes more sense than anything I've heard out of any of the commentariat.

"The reason they aren't forming a government is that the Iranians don't want one formed."

This is almost a throwaway line at the end of a long post, and I don't completely concur with what is written later, but it is the utter simplicity of this statement that overwhelmed me. It served as a eureka moment in my understanding of the current foreign policy.

Think about the suituation the Bush administration has created through their middle east foreign policy. The Iraq war cannot resolve itself until a unity government is formed. The Iranians hold sway over the majority party and can guarantee through them that no government will form. And, the Bush administration is ratcheting up pressure on Iran over its nuclear program giving Iran every incentive to keep Iraq an open wound for the Americans.

Now, if this is true, the only resolution for "victory" in Iraq would be a resolution in Iran that would cripple the Iranians ability, or willingness, to keep the US deeply mired in its current conflict. I see only two possible resolutions that would cause the Iranians to back off.

The rational choice would be a negotiated diplomatic settlement with Iran, and a staged withdrawal from Iraq. But with this administration's current stance of no direct negotiations with Iran and avowal to not allow a nuclear Iran, not to mention the political considerations that render an Iraq withdrawal unthinkable to this administration, that leaves only one other option on the table for this administration.

Regime change in Iran. A war. A really big war.

In other words, the short sighted Bush foreign policy has created a situation where every pressure is for Iraq to get worse and the only way to resolve Iraq within the current foreign policy would be to attempt to topple the Iranian regime.

So we're going to war.

And we did not have to be here.

(Let me state very clearly that I favor a negotiated settlement with Iran and a staged withdrawal from Iraq. The "call to war" in this piece is solely framed within what I believe to be the Bush foreign policy thinking for this region. It doesn't have to be this way, but this is where I think we are with Iran.

Also, let me remention the "Date the Iran Bombing" contest. I still haven't decided on a prize, but we've got 20 entries so far. To participate just leave a comment on this post or that one and I'll add you to the list.)

Picture of the Day - 2

Fallujah, Iraq, Tuesday, November 16, 2004.

Baghdad street battle smacks of open civil war (Reuters)

Open street battles are beginning in Iraq.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Snipers held rooftop positions as masked Sunni Arab insurgents said they were gearing up for another open street battle with pro-government Shiite militiamen in Baghdad's Adhamiya district on Tuesday.

And, just of observational interest, compare the Reuters article above, written by Omar al-Ibadi, which paints a picture of open street warfare and civil war, to an earlier Reuters article on the same incident written by Micheal Georgy which doesn't includes the phrase "as Iraqi leaders struggle to form a unity government they hope can avert a sectarian civil war."

I think it's no coincidence that the first is apparently written by an Arab reporter with quotes from the participants, and the second is written by a westerner, constructed mainly from US military accounts.

When is a civil war officially a civil war? Who gets to decide?

They NYTimes is reporting that US forces have "sealed off" the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya where this took place. "A spokesman for the American military said Monday evening that American troops had been active in Adhamiya but declined to give details." It looks like the "second liberation of Baghdad" may be proceeding a bit ahead of schedule.

Also, via Juan Cole, "Arabic sources such as Al-Zaman , al-Hayat and Aljazeera reported in such a way as to make it look like the brave stand of local (Sunni Arab) men against the predations of (Shiite) death squads masquerading as police."

From Knight-Ridder's incredible Tom Lasseter, (Long piece, but a fair amount of detail on the militias, their role and formation, and the US actions regarding them.)
BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. officials were warned for more than two years that Shiite Muslim militias were infiltrating Iraq's security forces and taking control of neighborhoods, but they failed to take action to counteract it, Iraqi and American officials said.

(I know I've been doing alot more on Iraq lately, but I think we're at the critical point. Also today, the Shia block reformed in refusing to name another prime ministerial candidate besides Jaafari, while the Sunni/Secularist alignment appeared to break down.)

Another Bush accomplishment in question.

One of the few domestic accomplishments claimed by the Bush administration has been closing the "achievement gap" in school performance by minorities. But I think even that achievement may fall into question considering this story that 2 million minority students may have been misdesignated in the "No Child Left Behind" statistics.

How much is Bush's "get tough" with Iran costing you?

Oil prices set a new record crossing $72/barrel based almost solely upon concerns about US policy towards Iran.

There is another way to deal with Iran, but to this administration, the military is always the only answer under consideration. How much is that going to cost you?

Awards for Times-Picayune.

Just a quick congratulations to the Times-Picayune for their well deserved Pulitzer, they deserve every award that can be bestowed upon them. With their homes and city in ruins, their offices and printing presses underwater, their advertisers and paychecks washed away, a small group of reporters and staff kept on, publishing online when they could do nothing else.

It really reflected true journalistic heroism, a dedication above and beyond the call of duty to the job of information.

Picture of the Day

"Does anybody else see a giant rabbit?" - or -

President Bush stages his own personal revival of "Harvey." - or -

"It's nice to see John Snow still has a job in the administration." - reality-based educator.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Quickhits again

It's late, so here's a quickhits post.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asserted today that "progress has been good" in the war in Iraq.

Apparently Dick Cheney's massive tax refund of $1.8 million was achieved by using the Hurricane Katrina Tax Relief Act. The only problem, apparently "none of the charitable contributions actually went to Katrina-related charities."

At the Security Council today, the Israeli Ambassador, warning of a "new axis of terror," said,
"A dark cloud is looming above our region, and it is metastasizing as a result of the statements and actions by leaders of Iran, Syria, and the newly elected government of the Palestinian Authority," Gillerman said.

"These recent statements are clear declarations of war, and I urge each and every one of you to listen carefully and take them at face value."

Hmmmm.....The Palestinians, Iranians, and Syrians haven't taken any terror actions against the US. I wonder if Israel wants the US to attack another one of its enemies.... Paging Bill Kristol. Bill Kristol to the courtesy phone.

If I go offline for awhile

If I go offline for awhile over the next couple of days, this is why.
Unseasonably hot temperatures forced power utilities around the Houston area and Texas to conduct rolling blackouts on Monday.

Of course, from past power outages I know that I'm on the same grid as one of the wealthiest areas, so, America being what she is, I probably won't be affected.

Picture of the Day - 3

"Which brings us to Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Miscalculation. Rumsfeld is a menace not because he is mean to the generals, and not because he practices a ruthless, even if it is counter-productive, form of civilian leadership. He is a menace because he seem incapable of learning from his mistakes. " - William Arkin, today

The evil that is Richard Bruce Cheney

I have read tens of thousands of stories about politics and this administration, but rarely have I come across one that paints such a convincing picture of Cheney as a Rasputin like courtier working his tendrils of co-conspirators to commandeer US foreign policy.
But officials who have opposed Cheney believe that President Bush has “views” only about basic principles, and that in making dozens of complex decisions he relies on pre-determined staff papers. Says one insider deeply involved in U.S. policy toward North Korea: “The president is given only the most basic notions about the Korea issue. They tell him, ‘Above South Korea is a country called North Korea. It is an evil regime.’ … So that translates into a presidential decision: Why enter into any agreement with an evil regime?”

Last fall, when U.S. envoy Christopher Hill was planning to visit North Korea to try to resolve the impasse over that country’s nuclear weapons, Cheney’s staff intervened to kill Hill’s mission, according to sources involved in planning his trip. That the Office of the Vice President can kill a major initiative by the State Department and the NSC, on an issue of the highest priority, is stark testament to the sustained power of the vice president’s office.....

(The article closes)The true measure of how powerful the vice president’s office remains today is whether the United States chooses to confront Iran and Syria or to seek diplomatic solutions. For the moment, at least, the war party led by Dick Cheney remains in ascendancy.

There are several other fairly concrete examples of hijacked policy and undue influence in this article, but I thought this version of Bush as the foolish king might inspire a few more people to read it.
This article depicts the halls of power as Shakespearean or operatic....

It's long, but if you've got a little time......

The night of the tiny little knives?

This morning, new chief of staff Josh Bolten told the White House staff to expect changes. Do you think Bush is going to allow the real problems to be changed? Cheney? Rice? Rove? Rumsfeld?

No. It will, at most, be secondary players. (It doesn't even look like Bush is going to let Bolten get rid of Treasury Secretary John Snow.)

Josh Bolten is about to orchestrate the night of the tiny little knives.

Picture of the Day - 2

"How long do you think this oversight thing is going to take? I have a 2:30 bombing."

Several Iraq stories that caught my eye this morning.

In response to the Sunni's attempted rejection of Jaafari, the Shia's have started rejecting the Sunni's proposed governmental appointments, as example, the rejection of Tariq al-Hashimi, the proposed nominee for parliament speaker. Perhaps this move by the Shia is why US darling Adnan Pachachi backed down from his call to have parliament meet today.

Newsweek has an interesting article on the devolution of the Iraqi FPS(Facilities Protection Service) to armed bands being funded and run by the respective ministries although "Not one ministry contacted by NEWSWEEK would accept overall responsibility for the FPS." This is a force that "now apparently numbers a staggering 146,000 men." Just another account of another unaccountable armed force inside Iraq.

Also, did you know that 2006 is designated as "the year of the police?"

From yesterday in the Boston Globe, contractors who committed fraud against the Iraqi government(stole reconstruction funds) are getting off scott-free becauuse of "an Iraqi law created by the Coalition Provisional Authority days before it ceded sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004 gives American contractors immunity from prosecution in Iraq." Bremer strikes again.

LAST, and probably the spookiest one, the Guardian tells this story...
Lieutenant Arjuman of the Kirkuk police lay unconscious in the recovery room after a successful operation to remove an insurgent's bullet from his chest. His weary surgeons had gone home for the night, satisfied a life had been saved.

Al-Jumhuriya hospital - Kirkuk's largest and busiest - was quiet. At 10.30pm, a doctor moved along the corridor on the second floor and entered the recovery room. He leaned across the bed and turned off the oxygen supply. Half an hour later, Lt Arjuman was dead.

This guy killed 43 that they know of. How deep is the hatred in Iraq?

Tax policy

I'll leave the judgement up to you....
As a result, people with income between $500,000 and $1 million owed the same share of their income in combined federal income and payroll taxes — 22% — as did taxpayers reporting at least $1 million in income, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Taxpayers in the $100,000 to $200,000 range paid nearly the same rate, 20.6%. Those in the $50,000 to $75,000 range paid 17.4%; taxpayers in the $40,000 to $50,000 range paid 15.8%; and those in the $30,000 to $40,000 range paid 13.6%.

Picture of the Day

US troops wearing protective gear in a bunker in Kuwait, May, 2003.

(Reuters - Russell Boyce)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sorry, nothing to blog

I try pretty hard to put at least an interesting article link up several times a day, but I just haven't been able to find anything that I didn't think was a waste of your time.

The only interesting thing of note from this afternoon's web wanderings is that the majority of US deaths in Iraq this month still seem to be coming mainly from the Sunni majority Anbar province. If you accept that "west of Baghdad" counts as Anbar, the provinces meet there, 36 fatalities have taken place in Anbar, 9 in the entire rest of the country, and 5 were listed as taking place in a military hospital. (Using Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.)

So, after 3 years of the operations to "clear and hold" Ramadi, Fallujah, Tal Afar, and all the other smaller towns from Baghdad west to the Syrian border, Anbar is still producing the vast majority of US fatalities.

(What got me thinking about this is that every story I read over the last week about marines dying, several a day, seemed to have happened in Anbar.)

Picture of the Day - 3

If you liked the assault on Fallujah and Tal Afar....

This may be a necessary step, but I don't see how it goes down without alot of blood on all sides being shed. So many questions on this. Notice the inclusion of political considerations later in the article.
THE American military is planning a “second liberation of Baghdad” to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed.

Pacifying the lawless capital is regarded as essential to establishing the authority of the incoming government and preparing for a significant withdrawal of American troops.

Strategic and tactical plans are being laid by US commanders in Iraq and at the US army base in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, under Lieutenant- General David Petraeus. He is regarded as an innovative officer and was formerly responsible for training Iraqi troops....

President George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, are under intense pressure to prove to the American public that Iraq is not slipping into anarchy and civil war. An effective military campaign could provide the White House with a bounce in the polls before the mid-term congressional elections in November. With Bush’s approval ratings below 40%, the vote is shaping up to be a Republican rout. .....

The operation is likely to take place towards the end of the summer, giving the newly appointed government time to establish itself. If all goes to plan, US troop withdrawals could take place before the end of the year. In the absence of progress by then, the war may come to be seen by the American public as a lost cause.

So many questions on this. At the same moment that Rumsfeld is being criticized for "micromanaging" and taking decision making away from the generals in the field, this is being planned by one of Rumsfeld's darlings in Leavenworth, Kansas. Also, I would question how "highly regarded" Petraeus should be if his claim to fame is the training of Iraqi forces.

The plan supposedly calls for lots of US close air support including F-16's and AC130s FIRING INTO BAGHDAD. Petraeus's theory is that it will be possible to cordon off areas and fight small battles comprising only a few blocks, that the fight will be containable. The intent is to let the Iraqis do the fighting.

I really don't know of a better solution, but in the mire of Baghdad, just how are they supposed to determine who is a combatant and who isn't? If this is a real effort, I don't know how there will not be massive civilian casualties. I don't see how this doesn't create a backlash.

I'll leave the domestic politics to you, but this may a battle we win to lose the war.

There's alot in this article, it's worth a read.

Quote of the Day

From my tennis buddy Don this morning as we were discussing Rumsfeld's possible retirement and who else should maybe go.

"George Bush is far more capable at judging loyalty than merit."

Picture of the Day - 2

(AP-Gerald Herbert)

Arkin on Iran planning

Bill Arkin has an article in the WaPo on the planning of a full-scale military campaign to attack Iran. Arkin's piece is well worth a read, but the detail is spread out, so, for brevity's sake, here's a clip from an AFP summary piece.
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States began planning a full-scale military campaign against Iran that involves missile strikes, a land invasion and a naval operation to establish control over the Strait of Hormuz even before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a former US intelligence analyst disclosed.....

In June 2004, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld alerted the US Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska, to be prepared to implement CONPLAN 8022, a global strike plan that includes Iran, according to the scholar.

"The new task force, sources have told me, mostly worries that if it were called upon to deliver 'prompt' global strikes against certain targets in Iran under some emergency circumstances, the president might have to be told that the only option is a nuclear one," Arkin said.

Arkin reports that planning was initiated by Rumsfeld in 2002 but was begun in earnest in May 2003, three months after the invasion of Iraq, and , not coincidentally I'm guessing, just after the May, 1, 2003 "mission accomplished" speech. (Maybe they really did believe they had "won" Iraq at that point. Fools.)

Also, it appears that in June 2004 in the form of CONPLAN 8022, the administration put emergency attack plans on a ready status, emergency attack plans that apparently involve nukes.

Elsewhere, Tony Blair has publicly refused to participate in any miltary action against Iran.

And repeating yesterday's post, as reported by Seymour Hersh, there's a growing murmur that US troops are already operating inside Iran.

A whiff of desperation from Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld is circulating talking points on why he shouldn't be fired.
WASHINGTON, April 15 — The Defense Department has issued a memorandum to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts that offers a direct challenge to the criticisms made by retired generals about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The one-page memorandum was sent by e-mail on Friday to the group, which includes several retired generals who appear regularly on television...

If you read the article, the purpose of the "memorandum" is abundantly clear. Packed with tight, convenient, repeatable details(aka talking points,) the memorandum is intended to help fight the impression that Rumsfeld is "micromanaging."

So, in order to prove he is not "micromanaging," Rumsfeld sent out a memo telling his generals exactly what to say. I find the irony overwhelming.

AND, of course, there at the bottom, defending the administration as always, is my state's shame, Senator John Cornyn.

Iraq's security forces

How far are the poor Iraqi forces from being ready? Take a read of the first five paragraphs of this NYTimes article to get an anecdotal sense.

More than 100 Iraqi police officers made a trip from Najaf to Taji to pick up some vehicles. When the arrived at the American base in Taji, they requested to stay the night because they did not want to make the trip back in the dark. On the way back, this convoy of more than 100 was attacked, 1 dead, 18 wounded, and 40 "were missing and presumed to be kidnapped, dead, hiding or to have not yet reported for duty in Najaf, officials said."

A convoy of 100 Iraqi police officers in new vehicles was overtaken by insurgent forces.

Elsewhere: "BAGHDAD, Apr 14 (IPS) - As sectarian killings continue to rise in Iraq, the central morgue in Baghdad is unable to keep up with the daily influx of bodies." An estimate put the average at 85 bodies a day.

Picture of the Day

From the Iowa tornado aftermath.

(AP - Kevin Sanders)