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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, July 15, 2006


I don't know if I buy all of this, but I found the thesis quite thought provoking. Is Israel Trying to Curb America's Deal-Making in Middle East?

If true, it'd be an interesting use of the military and the media to accomplish goals, a "shock and awe" that is changing regional politics.

Schoomaker on Iraq: "We're not losing."

If the generals are this optimistic....
It seemed like a routine question, one that military leaders involved in prosecuting the war in Iraq must ask themselves with some regularity: Is the U.S. winning?.....

During a Capitol Hill briefing for an audience mostly of congressional aides, Schoomaker paused for more than 10 seconds after he was asked the question — lips pursed and brow furrowed — before venturing:

"I think I would answer that by telling you I don't think we're losing." ....

"The challenge … is becoming more complex, and it's going to continue to be," Schoomaker mused. "That's why I'll tell you I think we're closer to the beginning than we are to the end of all this."

Also: I took a stab at analyzing Iraqi troop readiness awhile back, but those numbers were largely Pentagon estimates based on "trained" Iraqis and didn't really take desertions into account. Iraqis who have been trained, but desert, are classified into categories 3 or 4.
RAMADI, Iraq - Their televised graduation was supposed to be a moment of national celebration: A class of 1,000 Sunni Arab soldiers emerging from basic training would show Iraqis that the country's worsening religious divide was not afflicting the national army. Two months later, only about 300 of them have reported for duty, U.S. officials say.

Lastly, I'm not a tactician, so I don't know, but I found interesting Rumsfeld's revelation that there are 55,000 American troops in the Baghdad area up from 40,000, with only 8,000 "patrolling the streets of the city along with Iraqi security forces in what has so far proven an unsuccessful crackdown by the new government to restore security." (I'm not clear whether that's 8,000 patrolling with Iraqis, or only 8,000 patrolling the streets of Baghdad.)

General Casey says we may need still more US troops in Baghdad.

Picture of the Day - 3

Second hand story.

I just talked with my father and found out that a family friend was on the last flight out of Beirut the other day. Apparently, he and his son were able to look out the window and see the smoke rising off the runways. The claim is they even heard the explosions dimly inside the plane. Second hand, but still amazing.

Putin's smackdowns continue

Obviously, Vladimir Putin has decided he's not going to take anymore crap from the Bush administration. First, there was his mention of the Vice President shooting a man in the face, and now this:
During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same," Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly."

Snap. It must be nice to have a smart leader. (The White House transcript adds "(Laughter.)" after the comment.)

I'm going to leave aside the obvious "looked into his soul" snark and point out that the US blocking Russia's entry into the WTO does not point to a warming relationship.

(Maybe it has something to do with this: "Russia's World Trade Organization bid hinges on a gas trade pact with the United States that both sides want to reach before this weekend's Group of 8 summit. The deal would also have ramifications for at least two U.S. oil companies....")

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(As you may know, I have been digging through the wire photos from Iraq for years, and I have never seen as many graphic depictions on the wires as I have seen from Lebanon just today. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Just noting the difference.)

The fire's not spreading yet.

Well, a little good news of a sort. The street demonstrations against Israel in other Arab countries appear to be pretty small thus far.

And, is Elliot Abrams really the best person for the US to send to talk to Israel?

Boehner outraises Delay

The NYTimes has a piece on House Majority Leader John Boehner, his golf trips on private jets and his fundraising from lobbyists. He is getting contributions of about $10,000/day, a higher pace than Tom Delay.

I think we know why he allowed lobbying reform to stall.

Picture of the Day

Anybody remember Iraq?
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 14 — The radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr said Friday that Iraqis would not “sit by with folded hands” while Israel struck at Lebanon, signaling a possible increase in attacks from his mercurial militia, the Mahdi Army.

In a written statement, Mr. Sadr also said that he considered the United States culpable in the conflict unfolding in Lebanon, since America was the largest foreign ally of Israel.

And, as if it needs to be said: US hopes of Iraq troop reductions deferred by sectarian violence.

(The picture is from a Mehdi militia rally in Kut, Iraq.)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Anthrax sent to the NYTimes

I'm quite sure that the rightwing media figures who called the NYTimes traitors for printing the banktapping story (which was already very public,) will take no responsibility for this.

After all, it was satire; they didn't really mean it when they screamed treason at the NYTimes editor and reporters. Right?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Times on Friday received a letter containing a suspicious white powder and a copy of a recent editorial in which the paper defended its coverage of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism programs. Tests found the powder to be harmless.....

Mathis confirmed that the envelope included a copy of a June 28 editorial entitled "Patriotism and the Press" with an "X" marked through it.

Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary on June 26, "But the New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public’s right to know in some cases might override somebody’s right to live."

Picture of the Day - 3

Despite being closely vetted by both the U.S. secret service and German intelligence agents, the startled infant voiced a noisy protest as it was handed to George Bush.....

Eventually shielded from the noise by 40 tons of barbed wire and 12,000 policemen, the pair (Bush and Merkel) sat down to dine on a roasted wild boar slaughtered earlier that day, uninterrupted by protesters.

A book I would read

I'm telling you. I would read a book on Crazy Katherine's campaign run.
Katherine Harris' floundering U.S. Senate campaign lost its high-level staff again this week and is groping for a message -- which doesn't surprise Republican insiders who trace the seeds of her trouble to the story of ``Joe's dead intern.''...

Harris called major donors and suggested Scarborough would have to answer questions about the strange death of a former staff member in 2001, according to two former high-level Harris staff members, a GOP donor and Scarborough.

(The link is to the Miami Herald, but it's registration. Shorter version at TPMmuckraker.) (And if you want to dust off your tinfoil hat on the death, this isn't a bad place to start.)

Israel/Lebanon Quickhits

Israel bombed Hizbullah headquarters in Beirut. On CNN right now, there is a live statement by the head of Hizbullah from Lebanese TV, I assume to prove he's alive. In the statement, "Nasrallah said his group is ready for "open war" with Israel."

At the UN this morning, Dan Gillerman, the Israeli UN ambassador, made the charge that the missiles falling on Israel are "Iranian missiles, made by the same regime that is now trying to possess nuclear weapons." He also said, "Do we dare to ask ourselves how many families in Lebanon today are being prepared to house dirty bombs and other weapons of mass destruction courtesy of Iran?"

The US State Dept. issued travel warnings and authorized the evacuation of embassy personnel.

Hundreds of people have streamed into Gaza from Egypt after a hole was blown in the border wall. (This may just be Palestinians returning home. The border crossing has been closed for some time.)

I actually woke up this morning feeling better about this situation, that it was still containable, but it's spinning out. Thus far, nothing has been done that is irreversible, but I'm not sure where the lines on that are. Right now, the Israelis could take the steam out of the whole thing if they wanted, as could Hizbullah by releasing the two kidnapped soldiers.

But at what point does the momentum of the situation take away the choices of the actors?

Also: A question I keep asking myself, "How different would this situation be if Iran had nuclear weapons?"

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The President and "the pig."
(If this doesn't make sense, see this Daily Show clip for context.)

Detaining family members in Iraq.

There have been allegations of this floating around for awhile. (It's Salon, so you have to watch the little ad.)
Congress has demanded that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hand over a raft of documents to Congress that could substantiate allegations that U.S. forces have tried to break terror suspects by kidnapping and mistreating their family members. Rumsfeld has until 5 p.m. Friday to comply.

It now appears that kidnapping, scarcely covered by the media, and absent in the major military investigations of detainee abuse, may have been systematically employed by U.S. troops. Salon has obtained Army documents that show several cases where U.S. forces abducted terror suspects’ families.....

As to a specific. (This is single source from a whistleblower.)
Provance also made the disturbing allegation that interrogators broke an Iraqi general, Hamid Zabar, by imprisoning and abusing his frail 16-year-old son.....

But, Provance said, interrogators grew frustrated when the boy's father, Zabar, wouldn't talk, despite a 14-hour interrogation. So they stripped Zabar's son naked and doused him with mud and water. They put him in the open back of a truck and drove around in the frigid January night air until the boy began to freeze. Zabar was then made to look at his suffering son.....

Similar allegations have shown that kidnapping may have been a systematic practice. Special Operations troops, working with an elite unit called Task Force 6-26, allegedly abducted the 28-year-old wife of a suspected Iraqi terrorist during a raid on a house in Tarmiya, Iraq, in May 2004.

There have also been similar allegations made by Charles Graner who was convicted for actions at Abu Ghraib. "Cpl. Charles Graner, the alleged ringleader at Abu Ghraib, told investigators the military routinely kidnapped family members to force suspects to turn themselves in."


Two editorials this morning describing how the administration's "push for democracy" to reshape the middle east has been a vast failure. EJ Dionne in the WaPo, and Yochi J. Dreazen in the WSJ.

Less than two months after voting overwhelmingly to build 370 miles of new fencing along the border with Mexico, the Senate yesterday voted against providing funds to build it. (Moonie Times)

New AP-Ipsos polling is good news for the Dems in the midterms, small sample, though. The poll was conducted after the Shia neighborhood killings in Iraq, but before the current Israeli attacks on Lebanon.

The NYTimes obliquely connects the rape and killings in Mahmoudiyah to an increase in the "moral waivers" allowed by the army in its recruiting desperation.

Picture of the Day

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel/Lebanon Quickhits

Israel has been dropping leaflets in a southern Beirut suburb called Hizbullah's stronghold, possibly presaging bombing of the capitol.
"For your own safety and because of our desire not to harm any civilians who are not involved (with Hizbollah), you should refrain from staying in areas where Hizbollah is present and operating," said the Arabic-language leaflets, signed "The State of Israel".

The US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution regarding Israeli actions in Gaza. The US was the sole no vote, 10 voted for, 1 abstention.

Iran warns Israel not to attack Syria.

NBC reported that "so far" (their words) 50 have died and 120 have been wounded on the Lebanese side of the border.

(And it's probably time for the "AIPAC Challenge" again. Can anybody find any negative statements against Israel by any US national politician? Extra points for a "major" or 2008 presidential aspirant. No prize, just a thought experiment on the state of our democracy.)

Picture of the Day - 3

A masked man holds a weapon while providing security to the al-Muhajeeren Sunni mosque in the Ghazaliya district west of Baghdad July 11, 2006. In Baghdad, it seems everyone these days is armed, a mark of violence that is ever more anarchic and prompting efforts by the government, U.S. military, and even militia leaders, to curb rogue gunmen. (Thaier al-Sudani - IRAQ/Reuters) (Their caption, not mine. - mike)

Oversight Sham on NSA Wiretapping

Arlen Specter has done it again.
WASHINGTON - The White House has conditionally agreed to a court review of its controversial eavesdropping program, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter said Thursday.

Specter said President Bush has agreed to sign legislation that would authorize the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's most high-profile monitoring operations.....

"If the bill is not changed, the president will submit the Terrorist Surveillance Program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," Specter said. "That is the president's commitment."

Specter said the court would make a one-time review of the program rather than performing ongoing oversight of it.

Effectively Specter's offer allows the administration to push into the FISA court which accomplishes several things in their favor. 1) It pushes the hearing into a court more likely to favor, or at least not be shocked by, secret montoring programs like a normal federal judge would be.

2) It pushes a hearing to a court whose constitutional expertise is around the Fourth Amendment, not separation of powers issues.

3) According to the "agreement" with Specter, it offers a one time OK for all monitoring going forward into the future, effectively cutting out any future oversight by courts or legislators.

4) As all proceedings of this court are highly classified, any embarrassments or other disclosures would be contained.

5) It's fully unclear who will represent the anti-government side. Will it be a representative of the Congress, chosen by the Republican majority? Or maybe someone from the justice department? Certainly, any litigator chosen under this deal is likely to be far less zealous than an independent ACLU lawyer.

And, finally, and most importantly, 6) "the bill also would give the attorney general power to consolidate the 100 lawsuits filed against the surveillance operations into one case before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court." So, all the civil cases would be rolled up and thrown away.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's senior Democrat, said Bush could submit the program to the court right now, if he wished. He called the potential legislation "an interesting bargain."

"He's saying, if you do every single thing I tell you to do, I'll do what I should have done anyway," Leahy said.

One more note: "An administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the bill's language gives the president the option of submitting the program to the intelligence court, rather than making the review a requirement."

Way to go, Arlen. Way to go.

Iraq's sectarian violence in four pages

This is a great article on Iraq in Salon. It's a very casual, non judgemental look at some of the lower level players on the Shia side. There's nothing really revelatory, but it adds a lot of depth. I "couldn't put it down."

(I know. It's Salon. Watch the little ad and you can read it.)

Are you kidding me?

I know nothing of this organization, this event, or its history. I would guess that it's one of those deals where each side submits "honorees" without challenge, but still.... (From The Hill)

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society will hold a reception next week to honor a select group of lawmakers “for their hard work, service, time and the sacrifices made in upholding the office with which they were entrusted.”

One of the people slated to receive such accolades is former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.).....

Another honoree is former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas)....

The co-hosts of the event will include members of leadership, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Picture of the Day - 2

Katherine Harris meets with supporters in Little Havana. The crowds at her appearances have been getting smaller and smaller.

A book I would buy

Not normally a buyer of political books as most of their revelations are put forward in the prepress, I would pay good money if someone wrote a kiss and tell book about the perpetual drama and train wreck that has been the Katherine Harris Senate campaign.

After losing all of her top staff in April, and blindly maintaining that she will win, even claiming to put in $10 million of her own money, she loses a whole 'nother bunch of top staff now, in July. She trails by 33 points in the race, and, despite statements against her by major players in her own party, there have been reports as recently as last month that she honestly believes that she's going to win.

How interesting would it be to watch the details unfold as her personality becomes increasingly delusional while she continues to campaign? I would buy that book.

Is it a civil war yet?

Prime Minister Maliki says the Sunni violence in Baghdad is, in fact, territorial and not random.
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday that insurgents are trying to take control of western Baghdad, but he vowed they won't succeed. ....

"They have intentions to occupy Karkh (west Baghdad) but be sure that Iraqi forces are capable of repulsing them and have started striking them," he said.

"The government cannot protect every child and every woman," al-Maliki said. "Military forces will deter anyone who tries to occupy any area."

The first territorial handover is today.
Britain has handed over responsibility for security in one of Iraq's 18 provinces to local forces for the first time since the country was invaded......

The numbers involved in the handover were small - just 700 British and Australian soldiers......

Muthanna, a sparsely populated desert area with a population of little over half a million, was chosen as the first because it has been one of the quietest areas of the country.

Israel, Lebanon, Saudi, and Egypt

I have more questions than answers at this point on the current mideast flareup. I've not been following it closely lately, so I'm lacking some framework, but the question that crossed my mind this morning was how will it play in Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

Thus far, both governments have issued statements to the US asking Israel to practice restraint, but how far does that go with their citizens? Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have large populations of fairly extreme Islamists who represent a possible challenge (possibly violent) to their current governments, and if the Israeli invasion of Lebanon stretches for some time, it will certainly create pressures.

Overnight, the Israelis bombed the Palestinian foreign ministry in Gaza, bombed the Lebanese airport, and stated an intent to blockade air and ship traffic into Lebanon.

(Again, sorry, I don't really have a good broad sense on this story yet, so I'm posing the questions as they cross my mind.)

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Does the "Cedar Revolution" look as good today?

I'm not an expert in the region, but it would seem that the current activities in Lebanon come, at least partially, as a result of the "Cedar Revolution" in February, 2005, much supported and heralded by the Bush administration in its fresh from reelection "freedom agenda."

One of the main results of the Lebanese uprising was the removal of about 35,000 Syrian troops who had been stationed in southern Lebanon at the Israeli border. This removal left Hizbullah unchecked as the only military force in the region. The Israelis claim that the Lebanese government should have moved troops into southern Lebanon, but to do so would've fractured the coalition government and potentially led to an open civil war.

Syria was by no means a good actor, but in its presence, it both protected and restrained Hizbullah. It protected them by acting as a counterbalancing force against Israeli operations and incursions, and it restrained them by putting Syria's chips on the table. Without Syrian troops in the region, they suffer no direct repurcussions for Hizbullah's acts.

On the other hand, it must be said that some part of Syrian influence over Lebanese politics has been removed, and to the people of Lebanon who opposed that influence, that's a very good thing.

I think it's another idealist vs realist foreign policy conflict, and I don't know the right answer.

(This is just off the top of my head. I thought I'd start some thoughts as the Cedar Revolution may become a topic if the Israeli offensive continues. Comments are appreciated.)

Iran referral under section 7?

An agreement has been reached in Paris to refer Iran to the UN security council. What caught my eye is the oblique, very diplomatic mention during the announcement of section 7 of the UN charter. Invocation of this section is very significant as that is the portion under which military action can be taken.

But it wasn't done directly although all veto wielding security council members signed on to the statement. Take a look at how carefully it's being framed as a "statement" not a draft document,
(AP)If Iran does not comply, the group said it would then seek harsher action. The group's short statement give no specifics, but it cited a section of the world body's charter that could open the door to economic or other sanctions. The group said it could stop the Security Council actions at any time should Iran cooperate.

It reads more like a threat than a direct invocation. NYTimes version.
Russian officials were also concerned that any resolution not open the door for eventual military action against Iran.

There is some concern among European leaders that radical elements in Iran might use the six-nation group’s statement to prod Iran’s ruling clerics to increase support for Hezbollah and other radical groups, and perhaps cause other trouble.

Still, another European official said, the statement was a watershed — “the first time Russia and China have agreed to go to the Security Council under Chapter 7.”

What this sounds like to me is a joint statement ordering Iran to comply with a mention of possible, later, Security Council action under Section 7.

This is a diplomatic coup for the Bush administration as it allows them to claim a total win, although if it's a two part action or not binding, it's not quite that clean.

UPDATE: This morning, the NYTimes has a new version of this story that is much more tepid. "Though punitive sanctions are in no way certain, agreeing to start down a road that could lead to them is a huge step for Moscow and Beijing."

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Israeli artillery firing across the Lebanese border.

So, this is "The New American Century"

Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, N. Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, China.

With the US foundering in Iraq, every country is carving out their own little bit. This is what an overextended empire looks like.

I honestly didn't expect it to come this quickly.

(The G8 meetings this weekend should be significant.)

(Later: Sorry, just kinda got overwhelmed as I watched the Israelis roll into Lebanon.)

Stray thought

Is the relatively sudden capture of two Israeli soldiers by Iranian linked Hezbullah connected to the possible Iran referral to the Security Council?

Certainly it's possible that this action is wholly independent, or perhaps was conducted in sympathy to the Palestinians in Gaza, but I can't stop myself from wondering if the Iranians are putting out small warnings to the US through this act, and the increased Shia activity in Iraq.

Picture of the Day - 2

"The 'Man of the House.'"

GAO says the "Strategy for Victory" is a failure

I think this is pretty big. Not that GAO reports have any real impact in themselves, but this gives cause and backing for real questions about the current "stand and bleed" Iraq strategy which now is locked in as a political element in the Republican's 2006 midterm campaign. (Good article, worth a read.)
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The investigative arm of the US Congress has openly questioned if victory in Iraq can be achieved without a significant overhaul of President George W. Bush's strategy, arguing the outcome of the war was presently "unclear".....

"It is unclear how the United States will achieve its desired end-state in Iraq given the significant changes in the assumptions underlying the US strategy," the GAO wrote in its report unveiled Tuesday at a hearing in the House of Representatives.

The review focuses on the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," a glitzy document released by the White House with great fanfare last November.

The strategy charted what was described at the time as a sound course for overcoming the Iraqi insurgency and turning the country in the first true democracy in the Arab world.

Nine months later, congressional investigators found these high hopes were resting on shaky premises that are quickly melting away.

Perhaps more signage would solve the problem. (November, March)

in Iraq news, it appears the US may be moving more troops into Baghdad. From what "secure area" will they be drawn?

Maliki has no plan B: "Maliki said a national reconciliation plan he has promoted was Iraqis' "last chance" to stem the violence. "If it fails I don't know what the destiny of Iraq will be."

The Army is discontinuing Halliburton's exclusive support contract. They'll be okay, though. With oil prices where they are, their construction and field services divisions will carry them just fine.

And Republicans in congress are itching to "cut and run": "While Washington has resisted setting a timetable for withdrawing troops, many of President George W. Bush's Republican allies are anxious to show progress before the elections in November."

(Also, Juan Cole mentions some quiet discussions that Kurdish troops might be deployed to Baghdad to act as an "honest broker" between the Shia and Sunni. I would presume the cost of this would be Kirkuk and it's oil fields going to the Kurds.)

Off the freakin' rails

The Senate passed an exemption to the FDA ban on importing drugs from Canada as an amendment to the Homeland Security bill. (That's not as strange as it sounds because it was tacked into the section on Customs and Border Protection.)

This is politically interesting as it throws a very popular measure towards the House in this year of contentious midterm elections. Republican leadership has resisted this in both houses because of pressure from the pharma industry, but their cover story has been concerns about safety of the drugs.

But we've got a new cover story. If you ever need an example of the misuse of the terrorism threat to justify completely unrelated political goals, I offer this:
But Republican leaders vociferously opposed the plan for fear, they said, the drugs could be unsafe for consumers — or even present a terror risk.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said the proposal was an attempt to push the FDA into reversing itself while "creating a massive hole on our capacity to secure our borders and protect ourselves."

"If I were a creative terrorist, I would say to myself, 'Hey, listen, all I've got to do is produce a can here that says 'Lipitor' on it, make it look like the original Lipitor bottle, which isn't too hard to do, fill it with anthrax," Gregg said.

Right, because manufacturing anthrax into pill form in a garage or basement would be so much easier than putting it into a baby power container, or hiding a package the size of a pill bottle on one of the unchecked NAFTA trucks, or swallowing it in a condom, or mailing it Fed Ex, or hiding it in a car tire, or carrying it on a ferry, or.....

Oh, and I think you just gave the Bush administration their next argument in the softwood lumber dispute with Canada in front of the WTO.

Dear Mr. Greg, marijuana comes across the northern border by the truckload. Just admit that you are a drug company shill and move on.

As a runnerup for rhetorical misuse of terrorism, perhaps I should add Rep Peter Hoekstra who is calling for a crackdown on leaks saying that such leaks are a nefarious plot by intelligence agencies sympathetic to Al Qaeda. (According to Hoekstra's theory, Dana Priest's and Eric Lichtblau's and Ron Suskind's sources must have all been an Al Qaeda sympathizers.)

Key line: "I don't have any evidence. But from my perspective, when you have information that is leaked that is clearly helpful to our enemy, you cannot discount that possibility," he added."

Picture of the Day

Floor seats, and still nobody wants to sit with Bob Novak.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

John Dean on Countdown

I thought this was a very interesting segment on Hardball last night with John Dean discussing the premise of his new book, that there is a certain segment of the right in America that is drawn into the Leader/Follower(Authoritarian) archetype.

This was presented as scientific in nature. Not having read the book or seen the methodology or data, I'm not going to go too far down the road, but it did resonate with me. (video - transcript)

Establishing a new baseline in Iraq

Whatever window there was, is closing.
BAGHDAD, July 11 — At least 50 people were killed in Baghdad today in a stunning array of violence that included a double suicide attack near busy entrances to the fortified Green Zone, beheadings, shootings, a series of car bombs, mortar attacks and the ambush of a bus carrying Shiite mourners on their way to a burial.

The day’s killings, many of them clearly carried out as sectarian vengeance, raised the three-day death toll in the capital alone to well over 100, and deepened the sense among residents that the violence was not going to ebb anytime soon — and that Iraqi and American security forces were powerless to stop it.

And Maliki broods in his tent.
Amid the spike in violence, however, Mr. Maliki himself has been remarkably quiet. On Monday, he made an appeal for unity during a speech in Iraqi Kurdistan, and late today his office issued a brief written statement condemning the attack on the bus carrying the mourners. Efforts to seek additional comment from his office today were unsuccessful.

Scenes from India

Watching CNN, in the video underneath their coverage of the train bombings in Mumbai, I noticed something that moved me alot.

I saw a man in shock staggering through the chaos of the crowd with a very bloody head wound who was then stopped by several men and ushered into a cab. The driver got in and the men hurriedly motioned him to go, presumably to take the man to the hospital.

Then, another man came forward out of the crowd helping an injured woman along who couldn't walk without help. The same group of men helped her into another car, one of the men got in and rapidly drove away, and two of them then started forcing their way through the crowd back towards the train.

These guys weren't police or fire or ambulance services, they were just citizens who stepped forward to help the wounded.

It moved me.

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Rumsfeld in Afghanistan

Apparently, Afghanistan opium production is now Europe's problem.
Rumsfeld also called on Europe to provide a "master plan" to Afghanistan to help curb its massive drug trade, which has seen heroin flood Europe and Russia.

Two other interesting inclusions in this article:
Rumsfeld's remarks at a news conference came hours after the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the rise of Taliban resistance in southern Afghanistan reflects the weakness of the government more than a strengthening of the fundamentalist movement that once sheltered Osama bin Laden.....

Eikenberry would not discuss any plans to increase or decrease U.S. troop levels, which now stand at about 23,000. Last December, on his most recent previous visit to Kabul, Rumsfeld announced that U.S. troop levels would drop from 19,000 at that time to 16,000 by this summer.

Also, there was this diplomatic slap in the middle of Rumsfeld's central Asia trip. (He didn't stop in Kyrgyzstan.)
Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry has decided to expel two U.S. diplomats from this ex-Soviet republic for ''inappropriate'' contacts with nongovernment organizations, an official said Tuesday.

More on the claim of connection

Several times I've mentioned a possible connection between the rape and killings in Mahmoudiyah and the capture, killing, and torture of Pfc's Tucker and Menchaca. (1, 2, 3) This morning that claim has gone mainstream after a video, purportedly from Al Qaeda, was posted on the web. (Warning: graphic descriptions, AP, Reuters)

I do still believe that there is probably a connection, but I do not believe that this group was involved. Their video footage apparently shows the horrifically tortured bodies where they were dumped in the street and not the soldiers when they were captured or alive, (I'm not going to watch the video to check this out.) so it appears to me that this is just a propaganda piece made by a group who came across the bodies.

AP presents the group claiming credit for the killings, while Reuters buries this well down in the article.
The militant statement specifically described the release of the video, rather than the soldiers' killing, as the "revenge."

The NYTimes reports this video as a claim of the killings as well. The WaPo is more circumspect about a connection.

Huzzah! We're only $300 billion below water level

I'm a budget hawk and have always had trouble with Bush's "goal" of halving the deficit by the end of his presidency when his decisions and policies created the deficit in the first place, but the chutzpah of this just amazes me.
WASHINGTON - The budget deficit won't be as President Bush predicted earlier this year.

A surge in taxes paid by corporations and the wealthy promises to bring the budget deficit to less than $300 billion instead of the $423 billion forecast by the White House in February.

Bush himself was trumpeting the good news Tuesday morning as a validation of his pro-growth tax cuts and his clampdown on domestic agencies funded by Congress.....

Even before the release of the figures, critics poked at the White House figures, citing, for example how they are at odds from Bush's original budget released in 2001, which predicted a $305 billion surplus for the current year, even after accounting for tax cuts.

In the face of all the reports of stagnant wages among the middle class, "corporations and the wealthy" are making enough money to surprise the government with an extra $123 billion in tax payments, but their tax cuts are needed.

Picture of the Day

"That's just a standard primacy clause saying that, should there be any dispute, I have first claim on the soul in question...."


Faust in the Age of Oil.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Did you know?

Did you know that Ramadi, the center of the Sunni based insurgency in Iraq and the focus of US military efforts in Anbar, was a city of only 400,000?

That puts it on par with Tulsa, Omaha, or Sacramento.

(This post is mostly a space filler between pictures.)

Also, a flashback. Remember in August of election year 2004, Bush called Iraq a "catastrophic success?" I went looking for that article tonight (it's been archived,) but the Time magazine title line tells us enough about that election year.

Inside the Mind of George W. Bush
For this President, the essence of wisdom lies in knowing when not to change
By Nancy Gibbs and John F. Dickerson

Picture of the Day - 3

Repackaging the spin

Shouldn't he be more worried about fixing the problems than framing his failures to make them look better to history.
President Bush. Insiders say that he's been working on the project for a year. "He's doing a memoir," one insider says. "He's keenly interested in it." But here's the odd part: Bush hasn't actually written a word yet. Instead, he and his aides have been packaging the stuff he wants to reference so that he'll be ready to write when the project moves into that stage. And that probably won't happen until after he leaves office.

Nixon's memoirs sold quite well from what I remember.

Kyl and Graham try to snow the Supremes

Frankly, I don't know enough about the mechanics of either lawyering or lawmaking to make a complete judgement, but this stunt by John Kyl and Lindsey Graham to insert a backdated, fictional colloquy into the Senate record in an attempt to deceive the Supreme Court regarding legislative intent seems to cross a line.

A better description here. And if you actually do know about this stuff, John Dean's column is probably the place to go. (about half way down.)

Picture of the Day - 2

(From the funeral of Nicholas Whyte.)

Japanese start to talk preemptive strike

The Japanese are making even more noise about the possibility of stretching their pacifist constitution to justify a "defensive" preemptive strike against North Korea.

Repeating yesterday's thoughts, I really think this is an effort at indirect pressure on the Chinese. The regional balance of the China/Japan relationship is critical to China, and a threat by Japan to militarize shifts Chinese interests.

State Department Undersecretary Nicholas Burns claims the US has the votes to pass sanctions on N. Korea, but that vote counting leaves out the possible veto votes of Russia and China. So, we'll have to wait and see if Japan's sabre rattling continues after the Security Council vote.

And, if the US is behind this, I think we can put to bed all those claims of a new, "non-cowboy" foreign policy. Maybe I'm wrong, but indirectly threatening a regional proxy war with the world's second superpower seems pretty "cowboy" to me.

UPDATE: It may have worked. The UN vote was delayed at Chinese request to the Japanese until a Chinese delegation leaves Pyongyang.

Also, thinking about it a little more, I would guess the Indian nuclear capable missile test was probably a part of this as well. After all, India is our newest BFF since we freed them from any nuclear development and trade restrictions, and the Chinese don't want them militarizing either.

While looking at pressure points, let's add the largest US carrier excercise since Vietnam and another huge multinational naval excercise in the "western Pacific."

Basayev killed

Within the Russian context, Shamil Basayev was their great terrorist, claiming responsibility for the Beslan school massacre and the Moscow theater attack. Basayev has been killed in Ingushetia.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

The two tortured soldiers were a response for Mahmoudiyah

While everyone is focusing on the broadening of charges of the rape and killings in Mahmoudiyah to five more soldiers, this story seems to have slipped by. Local Sunnis are saying that the capture, torture, and apparent beheading of Pfc.'s Tucker and Menchaca were a direct response to the rape and murders.

I don't know how much credibility to place in the local's claims, but, remember, they were in the same platoon.
The American soldiers accused of raping an Iraqi girl and then murdering her and her family may have provoked an insurgent revenge plot in which two of their comrades were abducted and beheaded last month, it has been claimed.....

US army officials have already begun a separate inquiry into possible links between the two cases, although they insist at this stage that it is purely "speculation". However, locals in Mahmoudiyah, a Sunni market town in the heart of the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad, say relatives of the dead girl's family with contacts to insurgent groups asked them to take a "blood for blood" revenge.

There's also a threat that 8 more Americans will be similarly killed.

Stray thought.

Does a president who is enacting widely popular programs end up feuding with the press? On Iraq coverage? The economy? Leaks?

If you weren't already hopeless on Iraq....

The LATimes has an article looking at the problems among the Iraqi (non-army) security forces. Remember that "U.S. officials declared 2006 "the year of the police." (I'm linking to the Baltimore Sun version because it's no registration required. LATimes original here.)
Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq's police force, with abuses including the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes, assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings, according to confidential Iraqi government documents detailing more than 400 police corruption investigations.

A recent assessment by State Department police training contractors underscores the investigative documents, concluding that strong paramilitary and insurgent influences within the force and endemic corruption have undermined public confidence in the government.

This is bigger than just fixing the problems of abuse and torture within the security forces. One of the reasons that Iraqis have turned to the militias, and in the Sunni case neighborhood protection groups, is because they have no faith in the Iraqi security forces. Even if you did, somehow, remove all of the bad elements, it would take years to reestablish any sort of trust among the citizenry.

According to the "Strategy for Victory," these are the forces that are to take over security in order for US troops to be brought home.

Also: The Sunni boycott of parliament in the wake of the kidnapping of Tayseer Najah al-Mashhadani is still continuing, and they are now talking about withdrawing their ministers from the "unity government."

(I'm turning into an Iraq blog right now. I don't mean to be, but I have this feeling that we're right on another turning point.)

Picture of the Day - 2

An Iraqi man hugs a body at a funeral.

Massive Shia attack in Baghdad

Shia militias staged a major operation in the Jihad section of Baghdad, killing at least 40 Sunnis. Initial reports are that this is in response to a mosque bombing yesterday. At militia checkpoints, ID's were examined and individuals with Sunni names were taken away and killed.

Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, a Sunni, blamed "Iraqi security forces that are widely believed to have been infiltrated by Shiite militia." (AP) The Sunnis are blaming "rogue police commandos and the Mehdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr," although Sadr is denying any involvement. (Reuters)

But, while Sadr is denying that his Medhi militia is behind this, "A senior Shiite politician said Mehdi Army fighters from eastern Baghdad had moved into Jihad on Sunday but insisted they were only taking on Sunni militants responsible for killing Shiites: "There are many terrorist groups in Jihad who are killing Shiite families so they went to fight them," he said. (Reuters)

(Also a report from AFP "They also went into certain Sunni houses and killed everyone inside," said one witness who declined to be named.")

Most troublingly to me, "An Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said Shiite militiamen wearing masks and black uniforms were roaming the neighborhood, checking people's identity cards, presumably for Sunni names. "They are killing civilians according to their identity cards." (AP) (An Interior Ministry official can't even comment on what happened for fear of his life? He's not naming names; he can't even say the above without fear of retribution.)

This is all taking place in the middle of the "security crackdown" in Baghdad when the top Iraqi troops and an increased number of US troops are present. The neighborhood of Jihad is just miles from the Green Zone.

Later: The AP has a much more concrete version of the story.

The Japanese repond (politically) to N. Korea

Just found this interesting in the dynamics of the N. Korean situation and the overall politics of Asia.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo had the right to carry out a preemptive attack in the face of a serious threat despite its pacifist post-World War II constitution.

"It is impossible for us to do nothing until we are attacked by a country which says it has nuclear weapons and could fire missiles against Japan," Aso, an outspoken hawk, told NHK public television.

With US urging, the Japanese government (under Bush's friend Koizumi) has been pushing quite hard against the military limitations outlined in their constitution. Sending troops to Iraq was a big step in this direction.

Later: After thinking about this a little bit, I think this may be an effort at indirect pressure on the Chinese. The regional balance of the China/Japan relationship is critical to China, and a threat by Japan to militarize shifts Chinese interests.

Picture of the Day