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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

Searching for relatives in Baghdad.

Reading outside the mainstream

An interesting observation from within a subpar editorial on Al Jazeera.
The fact that the west is arming the un-elected regime in Saudi Arabia against the elected regime in Iran serves as an emphatic indicator of American wishes in the region. ....

On one hand we have Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah, all of whom were brought to power through an electoral process to greater or lesser degrees. In the case of Hamas and the regime of Ahmadinejad in Iran, we have majority elected governments, in the case of Hezbollah we have a popular organisation elected as a part of a government.

On the other hand we have Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a couple of un-elected kings and an unelected ruler standing side by side with the United States, the supposed champion of democracy in the region, acquiescing in Israeli aggression.

Bush: But... Freedom. Freedom.

Coup in Iraq

I don't know what to make of this. My guess is that these "rumors" are just propaganda for the Shia militias to justify their continued violence in the face of growing US pressure on Maliki to rein them in.
A Shiite Muslim political leader said Friday that rumors were circulating of an impending coup attempt against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and warned that "we will not allow it.".....

Hadi al-Amiri, a member of parliament from Iraq's most powerful political party, said in a speech in the holy city of Najaf that "some tongues" were talking about toppling al-Maliki's Shiite-led government and replacing it with a "national salvation government, which we call a military coup government." He did not detail the allegation.

(Hadi al-Amiri is a parliamentarian and a top official in the Badr Brigade which is SCIRI's militia. SCIRI is the main pro-Iranian party in Iraq and one of the key Shia factions in al-Maliki's governing coalition.)

Later: CBSNews reported tonight that this is a "widespread rumor" throughout Iraq.

Later still: As a likelihood or as an expression of fact, I don't give this all that much creedence, but the fact that this rumor has legs tells me that it plays on some belief within at least a segment of the Iraqi people.

Picture of the Day - 2

Hearts and F***ing Minds!!!

Among the target audience, this will be believed.
(Nasrallah) "The Israelis are ready to halt the aggression because they are afraid of the unknown. The one pushing for the continuation of the aggression is the U.S. administration. Israel has been exposed as a slave of the U.S.," he said.

With every bomb that falls on Lebanon, the US loses a little more in the war on terror. Just like Iraq, the Israeli attacks on Lebanon will lead to an increase in support. This is the basic flaw in the underlying Bush strategy in the war on terror.

Hezbullah will not be broken so long as its banner is carried in the streets of Palestine and Egypt and Indonesia. It is impossible to kill an idea. (even with freedom.)

If there's one thing the middle east needs.....

It's more weapons. Tanks to Saudi Arabia, Blackhawks to UAE and Bahrain, missiles to Oman, APC upgrades to Jordan, and, of course, everything to Israel. Notice all of these countries are Sunni and "played ball" in condeming Hezbullah.

So, "plan A" failed (Iraq,) and the US is now trying to use the Sunni southern Gulf states to counterbalance Iran?

Saint Mel loses his patina

When he got nailed for drunk driving I decided not to point out that Saint Mel, maker of the Jesus movie, got busted for drunk driving, BUT, when Saint Mel starts shouting about "f***ing Jews" controlling the world, I'm going to point it out.

For some reason, I keep thinking of Eric Cartman.

Picture of the Day

Uh oh

Anybody who has been watching knew this was coming, but it is still not good news as housing values were propping up consumer spending against the slowest wage growth in any post-WWII recovery.
The housing industry — which largely carried the American economy through the tribulations of the 2000 stock-market crash, a recession and climbing oil prices — has lost its vigor in recent months and now has begun to bog down the broader economy, which slowed to a modest 2.5 percent growth rate this spring.

Friday, July 28, 2006

How does "freedom" stop terrorism?

I was rereading the Bush-Blair press conference, and that's what popped into my mind. The mantra has been repeated enough by the administration and its supporters that this equation has gained enough weight to be passed unchallenged through the media.

If you look through recent history, there have been plenty of counter examples to this credo. The IRA, Greece's November 17, Bader Mainhoff and the Red Brigade in Germany, Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, Tim McVeigh in the US, just as a few off the top of my head examples.

All of these existed within very western, very open societies. For god's sake, the London tube bombers.

As this belief that "freedom" defeats terrorism is the underpinning justification for the entire radical Bush foreign policy that has led us to where we are now, why does no one ask the president to explain the freedom/terror relationship as he understands it?

How exactly does freedom defeat terrorism?

(Josh Marshall has a Youtube video up of the relevant section.)

Picture of the Day - 4

Bush lied

Okay, I know this one is a relatively small item in the Museo de Bush Lies, but remember on Tuesday's visit when Bush said the increase in forces around Baghdad would represent a redeployment, not a raising of the troop levels? Well, he lied.

If the increase around Baghdad is 4,000 troops, and the total number of US troops is increasing from 127,000 to 130,000 immediately, and targeted at 134,000 by the end of August.... (AFP) That sounds like a troop increase to me.

Taking into account yesterday's article on poor morale, can you imagine getting the news that your tour has been extended for 120 days?

Poison Pill

The Republicans do play their politics well. (It's because they're shameless.)
Republican leaders are willing to allow the first minimum wage increase in a decade but only if it's coupled with a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates, congressional aides said Friday.

So, the Democrat's choice is to either vote for the inheritance tax cut or give the Republicans a talking point that neutralizes the minimum wage issue. Yeah, I know, but nuance doesn't play well on the campaign trail.

(A significant majority of Americans supports a rise in the minimum wage.)

Oh, and speaking of shameless, Sellout McCain removed his name from the lastest campaign finance reform legislation. This is a big deal because he has put his name on almost every piece of campaign finance legislation that has come down the pike since he narrowly escaped in the Keating 5 affair.

I guess there's no room for ethics as the "Straight Talk Express" eyes the White House.

Picture of the Day - 3

It's time to have that talk with the advance team again, eh?


Do you think the Israeli offensive will calm down early next week and the US will agree to a UN Security Council resolution?

President Bush is scheduled to begin his vacation on August 3rd.

Even the Israelis know, you don't disturb Bush's vacation.

(And did you see the Bush Blair press conference? Under sharp questioning, Bush became more and more strident. My favorite question, "Mr. President, you spoke of having a plan to rebuild houses in Lebanon. Wouldn't the people of Lebanon rather know when you're going to tell the Israelis to stop destroying the houses?"

ThinkProgress already has the David Gregory question up.)

Transcript up at the WaPo.

Picture of the Day - 2

European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, center, confers with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before the start of the 13th ASEAN Regional Forum. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

War Crimes

I've tried to write this post three times, so we're going to do it quickhits style.

The WaPo has a front page article describing Bush administration efforts to overturn a 1996 law which states that violations of detainee rights under the Geneva Conventions makes US military personnel legally liable in US courts. (This stems from the Hamdan decision that detainees are held under the Geneva Conventions.) The legislative effort also includes a retroactive immunity.

I think this very clearly indicates that the Bush administration is now very aware that it has authorized illegal behavior regarding detainees. If they can immunize the lower level personnel, there will be no chain of culpability leading up to their policy decisions.

The NYTimes has an article in which two defendents in a detainee death case claim that their captain and colonel issued an order to “kill all military-age men.”

It must pointed out that this is a statement in their defense, so it must be viewed in that context, but the colonel at the point of the allegations "has indicated that he will not testify at the Article 32 hearing — the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing — or answer any questions about the case." This is very unusual.

Last, (Reuters) "The U.N. Human Rights Committee on Friday told Washington it should immediately shut all "secret detention" facilities and give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to anybody held in armed conflict."


I don't know if anybody's noticed, but the third front in the war on terror, the horn of Africa is spiralling out of control. The Somali conflict has now drawn in Ethiopia and Eritria, 20 members of the Somali parliament have resigned, and another was shot outside his mosque.

Somalia, a country singled out by Bin Laden, is rapidly becoming a failed state and future safe zone for Islamic extremists.

Picture of the Day

Before Lebanon, there was Fallujah.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

In the land of good and evil

Is Hezbullah winning? I think that's a real question right now. Every day that they are perceived to still be fighting and their leaders are free, they gain more and more support from the Arab world to their cause.

Can the Israelis defeat Hezbullah? Yes, and no. Yes, the Israelis could win this localized battle by loading massive fire upon Hezbullah's strongholds followed by a large scale invasion and kill a fair majority of the Hezbullah fighters in the region at a significant cost in civilian and IDF lives.

But, no, the Israelis would lose the war, as all of their efforts to kill the Hezbullah forces concentrated in southern Lebanon would generate more fighters and more political, financial, and weapons support from other Arab groups and nations.

It's very similar to what the US faces in Iraq. For every insurgent killed, more are created. For every action in the war on terror, a reaction is created. That's why having a "decider" living in the land of absolutes, the land of good and evil, has made our situation worse.

One of the early errors in Vietnam was Westmoreland's strategy to attempt to destroy men and assets faster than they could be replenished. This was also the early concept in the "War on Terror" that we might round up all the assets of Al Qaeda. It failed in both applications because it did not take into account the underlying momentum of the movement.

Al Qaeda does not engage in "evil" acts because they are evil. They represent the extreme end of a political movement, and, thus far, many of the actions taken in the war on terror have pushed more towards that extreme end, thus, replenishing them.

In wars like these, civilians are not background. They are the battlefield.

I've been thinking alot about the limits of modern military power lately. Modern militaries are largely built to take ground. Against actors with a strong hierarchical structure and territory to defend, the modern military, with the US as a prime example, is very well equipped. Tell the US military to take the ground to Baghdad and seize x number of key buildings, and they will do it with a remarkable speed, effectiveness, and agility.

But what if there aren't any objectives? What if there isn't a hierachical structure?

There's been alot written about assymetrical warfare, but I've seen very little describing it as an inevitable development. Faced with overwhelming US (or Israeli) might, a decentralized, low cost, resiliant fighting structure was bound to develop. It is the only effective means of real resistance available.

The US Pentagon spends just south of $500 billion a year, and that does not include the now $100 billion a year in special allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Did you know that in 2001, Iraq's total GDP was $59 billion? (CIA factbook.) $94 billion in 2004? (although I find that hard to believe.)

Appreciate that for a minute. Even if you split the Pentagon budget so that only a portion is going towards Iraq, the US is still spending significantly more than Iraq's GDP and is still "not losing."

My point in this long rambling compilation of stray thoughts is that we can't win. Not through military force. Our military that is constructed to kill people and break things does not fit this problem. And time will not resolve it, and money will not resolve it, and more troops will not resolve it.

The only way to resolve Iraq is to have Iraqi opinion turn favorably toward the US. The only way to win the war on terror is to have Muslim opinion turn towards us. And that will not happen through the application of more force.

I know that doesn't make sense to a president who lives in the land of good and evil, but that dichotomy is a false construct thrown up by a simple mind. Iraq is not good versus evil, it is a problem to be solved. Parties that need to be accomodated.

(Please forgive the rambling post. It's just a collection of stuff that's been in my head for a couple of days. I know it says alot "we already know," but I felt the need to get it out.)

Now the fire's spreading

I wrote the previous post just before reading this. I guess I'm not the only one feeling the tide.
Now, with hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hezbollah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military for 15 days, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the organization, transforming the Shiite group’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, into a folk hero and forcing a change in official statements.

Picture of the Day - 6

Today, Karrada district, Baghdad, Iraq.

Picture of the Day - 5

A woman holds her grandchild as she looks through the rubble for her daughter after a rocket attack on her apartment building. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) - Karrada, Iraq

Picture of the Day - 4 - This is her apartment building

Karrada, Iraq.

Has anyone else noticed the gloom?

It may just be Houston. It may just be that it's rained here for a couple days, and it may well be my own projections, but does it seem to anyone else that a great gloom has crept over the country?

There's ample reason for it. I'm not arguing that. It just seems that over the last few days I'm seeing a shift in people as I walk about in the world. Less laughter, less activity, less life.

I don't know. It could just be me.

Picture of the Day - 3

Photo Op

Charleston attorney John Miesner’s 8-year-old daughter, Mary Melinda, set up a lemonade stand at their home on Bedford Road, but moved it Jim and Jean Miller’s property on Loudon Heights Road after the Secret Service asked them to move it......

Bush did not drink the lemonade himself, telling the kids he had to watch his weight since he turned 60, Miesner said. Capito drank up, complimenting the kids.

More on the Iraq reversal

In the LATimes, Army Lt. Gen Chiarelli talks about the redeployment out of superbases and back into the neighbohoods of Baghdad. He actually give something approaching firm numbers.
"Nine thousand U.S. soldiers, 8,500 Iraqi soldiers and 34,000 Iraqi police officers provide security in Baghdad. Military officials plan to bolster those numbers with 4,000 additional U.S. troops and 4,000 more Iraqi soldiers."

But I think the telling quote is at the end.
"Quite frankly, in 33 years in the United States Army, I never trained to stop a sectarian fight," he said. "This is something new."

Meanwhile in Baghdad, the violence goes on with an attack that killed 31 and injured 153 in the wealthy Karrada district. (Reuters - "Karrada was regarded as one of the few remaining relatively safe areas of the city.")
(AP) The explosion occurred about 200 yards from the house of Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite and a senior figure in the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's biggest Shiite party. One of the mortars exploded about 150 yards from SCIRI's headquarters in Karradah.....

The district, a mixed but mostly Shiite neighborhood, is also home to President Jalal Talabani and SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.

So, the Sunnis targeted the Shia leadership? In other violence, ethnic cleansing and highway robbery($1.3 million) in government uniforms and vehicles.

(And, Juan Cole may have something big brewing. While the US is concentrating in Baghdad, tensions are rising (street warfare) in Basra between the British and the Mehdi militia, but the key thing to note is that, maybe, the four top Shia clerics including Sistani agree with this statement,
"We fear the coming of a day when we cannot restrain a revolution of the people, with all its unsavory consequences." He said that the Iraqi government must take over security altogether from the foreign forces in Iraq.

Is this a negotiating point, a concerned statement, or a warning of the future?

Picture of the Day - 2

Paul Wolfowitz talks to a soldier injured in Iraq.

"Driving around waiting to get blown up"

The WaPo has a great article chocked full of quotes from US soldiers on the ground in Baghdad. Morale in Baghdad is low and falling. As the the description of fighting has shifted from "fighting terrorists" to "preventing sectarian violence" they seem to have a growing sense of lack of mission.
Steffey said he wished "somebody would explain to us, 'Hey, this is what we're working for.' " With a stream of expletives, he said he could not care less "if Iraq's free" or "if they're a democracy."

I'll repeat what I've been saying for months(April, June, July,) "Mr. Bush, Mr. Rumsfeld, what's the mission?" These guys will fight like hell if you tell them what they're supposed to do. And the fact that they don't know, says alot about the leadership.

Driving around waiting to get shot at is a very poor tactic.

(Notice that these guys were willing to go "on the record." That didn't happen a year ago which tells me this is very widespread.)

A story in excerpts

Kind of an experimental post. As I was reading and clipping this morning, I realized that the clippings alone told the story.

(Guardian) The split within the international community over the Lebanon war was clearly exposed yesterday when the US and Britain combined at a Rome summit to block a move by European and Arab countries to demand an immediate ceasefire.

(AP) The position isolated her (Rice) from nearly all U.S. allies, who are seeking a quick end to the fighting that has cost millions of dollars and hundreds of lives.

(AFP) International talks in Rome, which broke up without agreement on a ceasefire call, gave Israel "authorization" to press its offensive in Lebanon, Justice Minister Haim Ramon said.

(NYTimes)With the fighting in Lebanon threatening to spin out of control, sectarian violence approaching civil war in Iraq and increased militant activity in Afghanistan, a security conference in Asia might not seem to be Rice's top priority right now.

(WaPo) But the current secretary of state said that given world events, a lighthearted skit wouldn't be appropriate. Instead, Rice, an accomplished pianist who has performed with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, said she'll play a Brahms piece to fit her "serious mood" at the (ASEAN) dinner Thursday.

(Reuters) Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al Zawahri warned his group would not stand by and watch Israel bombard Lebanon and the Palestinians, calling on Muslims in a video aired on Thursday to fight attacks on their countries.....

"How can we remain silent while watching bombs raining on our people," he asked. "Oh Muslims everywhere, I call on you to fight and become martyrs in the war against the Zionists and the Crusaders,"

(And not in the straight story line, but in the area, (AFP) The UN Security Council will seek again to find an acceptable way of condemning the killing of four UN observers in Lebanon, after the United States rejected any criticism of the Israeli attack.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

People wait to board the last official vessel evacuating American nationals and relatives of American citizens in Beirut for their trip to Cyprus July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Froomkin nails it

This is a massive ground shift, an admission by the White House that we are no longer fighting terrorists in Iraq. We are a component in a factional (civil) war.
President Bush and national security adviser Stephen Hadley yesterday for the first time publicly acknowledged the momentous shift in the role for U.S. troops in Iraq, from fighting terrorists to trying to suppress religious violence.

This sea change was described in such understated terms that it was eclipsed by news about the crisis in Lebanon. Bush described a change in tactics; Hadley called it a repositioning.

But it's a historic admission: That job one for many American troops in Iraq is no longer fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, or even insurgents. Rather, it is trying to quell an incipient -- if not already raging -- sectarian civil war, with Baghdad as ground zero.

Certainly this has been the reality for awhile, but it marks a significant change in a now problematic administration narrative. This is the first, albeit oblique, admission of civil war.


Reuters: "The U.S. military, faced with unrelenting violence in Baghdad, may boost its force in Iraq by delaying the scheduled departure of some troops involved in routine rotations, officials said on Wednesday." (But note the military's position: It is not a troop increase even though more troops will be there. -mike)

Reuters: In an article on the rising global anti-US sentiment, "In South Korea, traditionally a U.S. ally, two-thirds of people under 30 said in a recent poll that if there were war between North Korea and the United States, they would side with North Korea."

Ken Silverstein: Bush is considering sending US troops to the Israel Lebanon border?

Rolling Stone: The headline story is elements of the Neocons planning for war with Iran in 2003, but to me, the AIPAC executives using Larry Franklin as an agent for their cause is far bigger deal.

And, there's an Enquirer reader in all of us. (81-38=43)

Picture of the Day - 2

Code Pink Rocks.

Capitol police remove Medea Benjamin from the House gallery after she disrupted a speech by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, July 26, 2006, as the prime minister addressed a joint meeting of Congress. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

(One of my favorite old Pictures of the Day is CodePink's June Brashares fighting to be heard at the 2004 Republican Convention.)

Anybody else?

Is this whole Lieberman/Lamont thing going to be over soon? I'm really, really sick of it.

And, if you want an interesting read, Juan Cole has a post describing Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's Dawa party's long ties to Hezbullah back into the 80's.

Back to inkblots in Baghdad

The NYTimes has an article interpreting Bush's description from the press conference yesterday as a return to the "inkblot" strategy for defeating the Iraqi insurgency. This is pretty interesting because it represents something of an about face in tactics.

Previously, the US had been working to consolidate US forces in "superbases," large concentrations from which reaction missions could be conducted, but this shift would've required the Iraqi forces to capably do the day to day work of patrolling the streets. (I discussed the shift from inkblots to superbases in this post.)

This marks a substantial shift in tactics, and a severe setback in the assessment of those who are supposed to be "standing up." I think the forced inclusion of American MP's into Iraqi units shows that lack of trust.

(Also note that for the inkblot strategy to work, the residents of the area must be "converted" to support the military force rather than the insurgents.)

Picture of the Day

More sabre rattling from the Turks

Newsweek has a good article on the increasing pressure from within Turkey to conduct military strikes in northern Iraq to put an end to the PKK guerilla attacks. (Some in the administration want to keep the PKK active so that they can be utilized to destabilize Iran.)
July 31, 2006 issue - Israel launched airstrikes on Lebanon in response to attacks by Hizbullah earlier this month, and George W. Bush called it "self-defense." But what to tell the Turks, who over the last week lost 15 soldiers to terror attacks launched by separatist Kurds from neighboring Iraq? Many Turkish leaders are pressing for cross-border tactical air assaults on the guerrillas......

Meanwhile, Ankara's frustration with Washington has grown palpable. For all the Bush administration's repeated promises to crack down on the PKK, little if anything has happened. With elections coming next year, Erdogan could be pardoned for soon concluding that his forbearance might prove politically dangerous. "Moderate, liberal people in Turkey are becoming increasingly anti-American," warns Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. "That isn't good." ....

By contrast, Iran last week began shelling PKK positions around Kandil Mountain on northern Iraq's Iranian and Turkish border. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also called Erdogan to assure him of Teh-ran's willingess to help quell the guerrillas —unlike the United States.

Military action by the Turks is not highly likely at this point, but if there were a significant event or provocation, this tension point may release quickly.

The coming vote on the minimum wage

I'm not sure if this is a result of electioneering by the Republicans, or an honest reflection of positions in the house, but either way, House majority whip Blunt says that an increase in the minimum wage is very likely.

Eritrea aiding the Somali Islamists?

The Somali government is claiming that it is the Eritreans who are arming the Somali Islamic Courts Union. I'm not sure if the claim is true, but, with Ethiopian troops inside Somalia, it further complicates the situation by adding components of the longstanding and violent Ethiopian/Eritrean war to the Somali conflict. (BBC has certainty on both points.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

You know I don't believe in coincidences

After facing accusations that the US and Israel want the violence in Lebanon to continue, is it just coincidence that within hours of Condi Rice proposing this,
BEIRUT—A U.S. ceasefire plan calls for an international peacekeeping force to be posted initially in Lebanon's war-ravaged south and later extended throughout the country to disarm the Hezbollah militia, a Lebanese government source says.

This took place?
JERUSALEM (AP) - A United Nations-run observation post just inside Israel was struck during fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants on Friday. The army blamed Hezbollah rockets but a UN officer said it was an artillery shell fired by the Israeli Defence Force.

There was already some speculation that filling out a multinational force was going to be difficult, but this action by the Israelis will delay any such force, and a peace settlement, even further.

(CNN: Lebanese sources say that it was an airstrike and 4 UN observer troops have been killed.)

Also, FoxNews "The United States has given Israeli forces between 10 and 14 days to finish dealing Hezbollah "a strategic blow."

UPDATE: (AFP) Kofi Annan expressed shock at the "apparently deliberate targeting," while Israeli Ambassador Gillerman accused Anan of making "premature and erroneous assertions".

Pakistan's nuclear reactor

Lost in all the blogging that the Bush administration hid from Congress the existence of the new Pakistani nuclear reactor is the fact that this new reactor has the capacity to produce enough plutonium for 40-50 new warheads a year. I'm sure that's an optimum number, but even if you half it, it is still outrageous.

Also, consider this administration concealment of the new Pakistani reactor in the context of the F-16 sales the Bush administration is trying to rush through Congress.

(The Pakistani reactor story just happened to break on Monday of this week when the Congressional deadline on the F-16 sales runs out. Amazing coincidence, no?)


Dahr Jamail - "BEIRUT - About 55 percent of all casualties at the Beirut Government University Hospital are children of 15 years of age or less, hospital records show."

Harris Poll (July 2006) - Despite being widely reported in the media that the U.S. and other countries have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, surprisingly; more U.S. adults (50%) think that Iraq had such weapons when the U.S. invaded Iraq. This is an increase from 36 percent in February 2005.

TimesOnline - Maliki's message for Bush may have been a near ultimatum on Lebanon.

CNN header - Iraq: The Forgotten War.

AFP - As a new day revealed another crop of tortured corpses, Maliki met Bush at the White House, where officials had earlier expressed "disappointment" with the failure of a six-week-old operation to restore order in Baghdad.

And, there's a little Enquirer reader in all of us.

Bush Maliki Press Conference - first impressions

Did Bush look rattled to you? He seemed to alternate between rattled and angry. I would love to know just what took place in that room. Bush made a rueful face as he mentioned the "frank exchange" on Lebanon.

There was also an interesting section where Bush kept talking about why he listens to "generals on the ground." Something in that section made me wonder if Maliki tried to go over Gen. Casey's head?

Also, watching Bush, I kept wondering if he had suddenly become aware of just how bad Iraq really is. Did Maliki pierce the bubble? Has Gen. Casey been passing back "happy news?"

This was hardly the triumphant appearance the administration would've wanted. I would go as far as to say this was was a very bad day.

I'll probably post more when the transcript goes up later.

Picture of the Day - 2

Anonymous Republican complains about Bush

I found this fascinating. A Republican Senate candidate holds a luncheon briefing for 9 reporters and blasts Bush but insists that his name be held back.

Do you really think his identity is going to stay confidential after this? So, he gets on the record criticizing Bush to his voters, but tries to maintain deniability to the White House and leadership.

This is desperate and a sign of things to come.

(Later: Confirmed. Michael Steele, the Maryland Lt. Gov. running for Senate. )

Dear Democrats,

You don't release your centerpiece economic plan in the middle of 24/7 war coverage. The idea of campaign messages is to get your plan out to the voters, and perhaps you should choose a time when the news networks will let you on the air to talk about it.

But what do I know?

Rice's message

First, it must be a new speechwriter attempting to use her gender for effect, but I find it odd that the unattached and childless Condoleeza Rice has suddenly started using "motherly" metaphors for the Middle East. However, the usage sounds "male" to me.

On Saturday, "What we're seeing here ... are the birth pangs of a new Middle East and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one."

Today, "I have no doubt there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib," Rice said.

Second, did anyone else notice that Condi Rice wore sunglasses on top of her head for the entire meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora even sitting inside for formal consultations? I think that's one of those dubtle diplomatic messages. (Also notice there are no Lebanese flags in the Rice pictures in Lebanon, but there are lots of flags in the background when she meets with Olmert.)

(Last, was Rice's trip scheduled to take some attention away from Maliki's visit?)

Picture of the Day (a)

Sept 23, 2004, President Bush welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to the White House.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you all for coming. I'm honored to stand with the Prime Minister of a free and sovereign Iraq. Welcome, Mr. Prime Minister. I applaud your leadership and your courage. It's my honor to welcome a friend to the White House.....

Picture of the Day (b)

June 24, 2005, President Bush welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to the White House.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, I am honored to welcome you to the White House. As the leader of Iraq's first democratically elected government in more than 50 years, you are helping to lift your country from decades of fear and oppression.

Picture of the Day (c)

July 25, 2006, President Bush welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to the White House.

(Picture not yet available.)


Monday, July 24, 2006

The "new" new Baghdad security plan

We'll find out tomorrow, but right now, the pre-press for Maliki's visit seems to indicate that the "new" security plan for Iraq will consist of shifting US forces into Baghdad and shifting Iraqi forces out into the rest of the country.

I see two potential problems here: 1) The US forces creating more chaos and more resentment in Baghdad. 2) The insurgency shifting, as insurgencies do, to the less well defended rest of the country.

Maybe I'm just a pessimist.

(Also, notice how quickly the debate on troop levels has changed. Remember it was just a month ago that the White House was floating stories about a coming pre-election withdrawal. If politicians no longer feel they can even tell a credible lie about Iraq being a success, that should tell you how bad Iraq really is.)

Later: In the NYTimes pre-press piece, they have a lengthy section on the Iraqis' desire to end the legal immunity enjoyed by US troops, and present this as an issue that Maliki intends to bring up with President Bush. But it was my impression that all such SOF agreements are passed through the host country's legislature, and it would seem to me that they could be similarly voided. So does he really need to ask? Couldn't they just do it(even though they wouldn't be able to enforce it?)

I don't know if there is an SOF with Iraq or under what legal construct this immunity has been granted or claimed. Anybody know?

More dangerous, not less

From the Department of "Duh."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration's tacit support for Israeli military strikes on Lebanon may have increased the danger of militant retaliation against the United States and U.S. interests abroad, some experts say.

This is the bottom line. This "grand plan" to remake the middle east, this pipe dream which was sold to a quaking underprepared president on Sept. 12, has put all our asses in greater jeopardy.

Picture of the Day - 3


I've been watching the CNN coverage on and off all day, maybe an hour total, and in that spread out hour I have seen a boy in a hospital howling with hallucinations with his face burned so badly that he can't open his eyes, several other seriously wounded children in and out of hospital, and several corpses among the wreckage of Lebanon.

Just now, they did a piece on Lebanese bloggers and broadcast an extremely graphic image of two children's corpses in the street on fire.

So, the question is, what is it about dead Lebanese babies that makes them suitable for broadcast, while dead Iraqis are not?

The long stated rationale by the networks for not broadcasting graphic images from Iraq (although that restriction has loosened a bit) has always been that they were too graphic and might upset viewers.

So the second question is whether this self censorship by the networks on Iraq was not enacted to prevent viewer "upset" at the graphicness of the images, but instead to prevent the "upset" that might be caused by the realization that those injuries are a direct result of US policy.

Because the truth, you see, is unpatriotic.

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When tax cuts aren't enough

There were only 345 to begin with.
WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- The Bush administration plans to cut nearly in half the number of auditors who review tax returns of some of the wealthiest U.S. taxpayers.....

However, six IRS estate tax lawyers whose jobs are at risk told the newspaper the cuts are part of a behind-the-scenes move at the IRS to shield people with political connections and complex tax-avoidance devices from thorough audits.

For some reason, I feel the need to add include a clip from an article in today's LATimes to this post.
Wage stagnation, long the bane of blue-collar workers, is now hitting people with bachelor's degrees for the first time in 30 years. Earnings for workers with four-year degrees fell 5.2% from 2000 to 2004 when adjusted for inflation, according to White House economists.

Cloak and dagger

If you like questionable suicides by people involved in very secret things, this one might be right up your alley.

Adamo Bove, the Italian official who was absolutely key in building the case on the rendition of Abu Omar which has led to the issuance of arrest warrants for CIA personnel and the arrest of several high ranking Italian Sismi officials, "fell to his death on a motorway in Naples."

Also, in another related incident, "He also admitted that Kostas Tsalikides, a top technician at the company - found dead a day after Vodafone reported the wiretaps to the government last March - may have stumbled across the high-tech surveillance devices."

I know very little about this, but if you're into this kinda thing, this one is probably worth a look.

The arms race in the far east.

There's a WaPo article on Pakistan's new plutonium reactor this morning. Alot of the early blogging I've read seems to focus on the potential shift in the balance between Pakistan and India, but I would argue that it's part of a much larger militarization across the entire far east.

Beyond this mention of a Pakistani nuclear buildup, and the Bush administration's well discussed deal to exempt India from nuclear development and import controls, I think you need to add the growing rumbles of militarization coming out of the Japanese.

The direct cause of growing Japanese militarism is the threats and presence of North Korea, however, I don't think you can look at these developments separate from China. China's two main rivals, India and Japan are making moves to up their regional military capabilities forcing China to increase its capabilities.

My point is that at the same time the US is complaining about growth in the Chinese military, it is support for Pakistan and the failures on North Korea that are causing this coming far eastern arms race. And if you add tensions in that region, sooner or later they are going to release.

(Similarly, it is the US's blind eye towards Israel's nukes that is fostering their development in Iran.) Proliferation is a very delicate and dangerous game.

Picture of the Day

I think I've been blogging a year today.

(And, yes, that is the McCain birthday cake that George Bush and John McCain shared while New Orleans was flooding.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Latenight Quickhits

Just stuff I didn't get to today.

I heard this report on NPR this morning and something about it caught me. (They've been doing some very good "day in the life" type stuff on Iraq lately.)
There are volunteers of local Iraqi men who line the river bank in Kadhimiya; they are volunteers on the lookout for the bodies that float downstream and sometimes get caught in the reeds. One man, 18-year-old Ali Ghanem, has been doing this every day since last winter. He's said to be the best swimmer of the group.

The Boston Globe had a piece today on the continued American "logistical support" for the Iraqi forces. Whenever you hear or see the phrase "logistical support," remember that it very often means that the Iraqis cannot supply food or water or gasoline or ammunition to their own forces. Whenever I hear talk of Iraqi "readiness" I think of stories like this.

In Stars and Stripes there is a frightening look at the strength of the resurgent Taleban in southern Afghanistan, massing in large numbers, advancing "within yards of defensive positions," surrounding positions, better armed, better equipped, with more support from locals.

A little clip

I guess this is based on the internal polling they don't release.
As for Bush himself, he is curtailing his traditional August working vacation at the ranch so that he can barnstorm before the midterm elections. Their outlook thus far seems so ominous for the G.O.P. that one presidential adviser wants Bush to beef up his counsel's office for the tangle of investigations that a Democrat-controlled House might pursue.

Hiring people to defend the president "just in case"?

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Crazy theory #385

Just a bit of a stray thought that I haven't seen elsewhere. Perhaps the Israelis' use of "disproportionate" force in Lebanon is intended to lay the groundwork for something else.

For example, if there were to be attacks on Iran or her nuclear facilities, either by the US or the Israelis, one of Iran's primary possible responses would be to use Hezbullah to launch missiles into Israel.

In this logic, the Hezbullah threat would have to be degraded and pushed back out of range from Tel Aviv before any actions against Iran were undertaken. Also, cutting roads and bridges would prevent Hezbullah, or Syria itself, from rapidly flowing to Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

This could also explain the Bush administration's willingness to let this go on. (per Haaretz, for another week?) I mean, if the US or Israel are going to initiate a military conflict with Iran, the ill feelings generated by this Lebanon action will be relatively small potatoes.

No backing for this, and there are some good counter arguments against it, it's just something floating around in my head this morning.

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Fundamentally flawed?

In an LATimes piece discussing Maliki's upcoming visit to Washington, I came across this,
Iraqi forces have taken over security responsibilities in several Baghdad neighborhoods in recent months.

Asked whether the shift in strategy could lead U.S. forces to reassume control of those areas, the (senior administration) official said, "That certainly would be an appropriate thing … to discuss."

So, the US plan is to bring more US troops into Baghdad and sideline the Iraqi security forces? That has big implications for the overall "stand up/stand down" strategy.

Also, it appears the Bush administration is going to frame this as a "hard work" visit rather than the "triumphal establishment of an Iraqi government" visit they had initially envisioned when they scheduled the thing five weeks ago after the new Defense and Interior Ministers were named.

It's such a shame when reality interferes with your photo ops.
(AP - "WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is moving ahead with scheduled troop deployments to Iraq next month as the U.S. military struggles to gain control of the escalating violence in Baghdad, according to a senior defense official.....

But in a reflection of the increasing violence, one brigade that had been stationed in Kuwait as a reserve force earlier this year is now almost entirely in Iraq, and at least one of its battalions was sent to Baghdad to bolster security.

Meet the Press this morning

I don't normally do this, but then again they don't normally convey actual information on Meet the Press.

WaPo military reporter Thomas Ricks is going to be on Meet the Press this morning presumably to talk about his new series of articles discussing the strategic missteps in Iraq. The first in the series was out yesterday(in this morning's paper) titled "In Iraq Military Forgot the Lessons of Vietnam." It isn't excellent, but it's quite good.

It might actually be worth watching if you can choke through White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. (I use the DVR.)

And, if anybody's still paying attention, another sixty people died in Iraq in three car bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk, with 243 wounded. That's of course on top of the daily retribution, death squad, and factional killings.