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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Romney wins the CPAC straw poll

Romney wins the CPAC straw poll. This is huge for Mitt Romney's campaign. If he'd gotten creamed, it was over for him. Now, we will have the three way McCain, Giuliani, Romney sniping going on through the summer.

Drudge has it,

Mitt Romney 21%
Rudy Giuliani 17%.
Sam Brownback 15%
Newt Gingrich 14%
John McCain, 12%,

(Of course, let's remember that the Romney campaign shipped in and payed for busloads of college Republicans who voted for him. (I can't find the link easily, you'll have to trust me.))

Do you figure McCain saw this coming and that's why he chose not to attend?

Also: Newsweek has Giuliani +25 on McCain.

I keep getting this feeling that the McCain campaign is one of those bloated whales they keep poking holes in, waiting for it to sink, but because of all the money and years of organization, it just won't go down.

McCain has to do something drastic. He can't wait for "the surge."

Picture of the Day - 3

Sometimes the photo op works

And, sometimes it really doesn't.

(Two photos from Bush's consoling visits today. The top one is from Americus, Ga. The lower photo is from Enterprise Ala.

The bottom photo was early in the day. The top photo, I'm guessing, came after somebody talked to the advance team. Bush is joking on the phone with her boyfriend. Both photos AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Walter Reed story gets messier

The first figure to resign in the Walter Reed disgrace was Maj. Gen. Weightman, however, Weightman had been in charge of Walter Reed for a little over six months.

Now, CNN reports that shortly after Weightman took over, one of his deputies penned "an internal memo from the commanding officer expressed concern that care provided there was suffering because of the Army's decision to privatize support services."

The memo was sent to the Army's medical command which was then led by Lt. Gen. Kiley who was the previous commander at Walter Reed.

So, Weightman walked into the Walter Reed job, saw alot of problems in the privatization and care, and saw that his channel of remedy was the same guy who had left the problems to him. So, he filed a CYA memo that would be available if the situation blew up. (Not noble, but it does give a paper trail.)

There's also the larger question that I would expect Waxman to focus on more, the allegation that the contract led to the poor veteran care.

In a letter to Weightman, Waxman pointed out that when the contract was signed, the number of workers went from 300 federal employees to 60 contract workers.

More: ABCBlotter has more,
In the letter, Waxman charged that the Army used an unusual process to award a five-year, $120 million contract to manage the center to a company owned by a former executive of Halliburton....

In 2004, the Army determined that Walter Reed's federal employees could operate the medical center more efficiently than IAP Worldwide Services, which is operated by the former Halliburton executive, Al Neffgen, Waxman wrote. After IAP protested, the Army "unilaterally" increased the employees' estimated costs by $7 million, making IAP appear cheaper, Waxman said. Rules barred Walter Reed employees from appealing the decision, Waxman wrote, and in January 2006 the Army gave the contract to IAP.

So, what I want to know, and presumably what Waxman wants to know, is who in the Army made the decision to revalue employee costs effectively granting IAP the contract?

Hearings on Monday.

(I'm really glad we have a Democratically controlled Congress.)

Picture of the Day - 2

(An Iraqi car dealer was comforted by relatives at a hospital in Baghdad Friday after he was wounded in a car bomb attack in the capital.)
(Wissam al-Okaili/AFP) (Bigger if you click it.)


(AP) "Six Sunni men who received death threats for meeting with local Shiites were killed Saturday in execution-style slayings, police said."

Same article: "The U.S. military said it killed "key terrorists" who were using anti-aircraft artillery to fire at American military helicopters near Taji, north of Baghdad."

(WaPo) The "key terrorists" had been attacking US helicopters "with heavy machine guns mounted on the back of truck." (They were killed by bombs from planes. Gonna need a bigger "technical" for that.)

The NYTimes gives an eyewitness account of a Sunni killing.

(AFP) An Iraqi General and senior advisor to the defense minister was kidnapped. (Imagine living in a country where this isn't the top story.)

(WaPo) Three US soldiers died in a roadside bombing.

(Keep an eye on the Saudi-Iran meeting today. The US is using the Saudis as a negotiating channel.)

Relax. Relax. It's only the end of the world.

Spiegel has a leak of an unpublished draft of the second part of the UN's report on climate change. It's bad. It's really, really bad.
Many natural resources are likely to fall victim to climate change according to the IPCC draft report:
* Some 20 to 30 percent of all species face a "high risk of extinction" should average global temperatures rise another 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius from their 1990 levels. That could happen by 2050, the report warns.
* Coral reefs are "likely to undergo strong declines."
* Salt marshes and mangrove forests could disappear as sea levels rise.
* Tropical rainforests will be replaced by savanna in those regions where groundwater decreases.
* Migratory birds and mammals will suffer as vegetation zones in the Artic shift.

The IPCC expects the following world regions to suffer the most due to climate change:
* The Arctic due to the greatest relative warming
* Small island states in the Pacific as sea levels rise
* Africa south of the Sahel zone due to drought
* Densely populated river deltas in Asia amid flooding

This list alone makes abundantly clear that mankind will not escape these changes unscathed.....

Several hundred million people in densely populated coastal regions...are threatened by rising sea levels and the increasing risk of flooding. More than one-sixth of the world's population lives in areas affected by water sources from glaciers and snow pack that will "very likely" disappear.

But, let's not do anything now. After all, if Katrina has taught us anything, it's that spending money "on levees" now is a waste. Right?

Conservative hypocrites - Giuliani

Giuliani is running for President in the "family values party," after not speaking with his son for a year? And, the source of of this "estrangement" is Rudy's divorce of the kid's mother and remarriage?
Mr. Giuliani once prided himself on attending all his children’s events and went to Andrew’s high school football games and Caroline’s plays. But he stopped at some point after his marriage to Ms. Nathan in 2003. He missed his son’s graduation, in 2005, and his daughter’s plays in the last 18 months, said people who attended those events.

There's those family values we can get behind.

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

(Last night, I mentioned the more than coincidental timing of the "Obama's family had slaves" story. With the CPAC vote today, I would class this story as equally timed. Politics has become such a nasty business in the interconnected "new media" world. It's so easy to rapidly spread dirt.)

Also: I think it's telling that the NYTimes article on the CPAC conference and the conservative frustration with the "moral values" their candidates begins by talking about a poker game they hold every year. Gambling. How does that leadership behavior go down with the faithful?

Picture of the Day

The "Romney Dolphin" at CPAC. (Get it? Flipper? Flip flop?)

This stunt was paid for by the Brownback campaign.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Obama's family owned slaves ("The report carries a disclaimer that it is a "first draft")

This is politics from the sludge pits.

A geneologist claims that somebody on Obama's mother's side owned slaves, but "The report, on Reitwiesner's Web site, carries a disclaimer that it is a "first draft."
Reitwiesner, the researcher, declined to be interviewed for this article. "I'll let my Web page speak for itself," he said in an e-mail. The Obama report contains a disclaimer that appears on all of Reitwiesner's work: "The following material ... should not be considered either exhaustive or authoritative, but rather as a first draft."

I have no idea if it's true or not, but this story is printed when even its "proponent" claims it's not certain and he won't do interviews? (And, of course CNN's political blog picked it up, and now it's everywhere. AP, NYTimes, FoxNews, etc.)

AND, This story just happens to hit the press the day right before Obama's speech at Selma commemorating the bloody civil rights march. And the papers that morning, and every story after the event will say Obama's family owned slaves.

Maybe it's true and maybe it's not, but with all the talk of Obama's "blackness" and the high profile appearance in Selma, the timing on this is just too good to be an accident.


It's a spectacular day here, so it's just quickhits.

(World Tribune) Only 2 of 3 Iraqi battalions have shown up in Baghdad, and those are between 43 and 82% manning.

(AP) The 14 kidnapped policeman have been found dead. (The claim was that this was retaliation for the rape charge.)

(WaPo) The Secretary of the Army resigned today over the Walter Reed scandal. Reportedly Gates "resigned" him because he reappointed Lt. Gen Kiley who had ignored the complaints from 2004 to 2006. Kiley served one day and was replaced by Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, Pete Schoomaker's brother. (I think it's in better hands now.)

(AP) "The Bush administration took a major step Friday toward building a new generation of nuclear warheads, selecting a design that is being touted as safer, more secure and more easily maintained than today's arsenal."

(WaPo) Elliot Cohen has been brought into a key position in Condi Rice's State Department. (The article offers praise because he disagrees with the administration. It doesn't make clear that he disagrees from the Neocon right.)

And, at CPAC, "Giuliani spoke of two former presidents who weren't afraid to buck public opinion in order to fight for their "ideas."" Reagan and Lincoln.

(Funny he didn't mention the current president, no?)

Picture of the Day - 4

A member of the Marine Honor Guard escorts Sue Hill out of St. Paul Tabernacle Church following the funeral of her grandson 19-year-old Marine Pfc. Tarryl Hill in Detroit, Michigan February 16, 2007. Hill was killed in Fallujah. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Why US soldiers are still dying in Iraq

Wesley Clark was on Democracy Now this morning and during his extended interview, he made an argument as to why he felt the US has to stay in Iraq.

If the US were to withdraw, Saudi Arabia would be forced to fill some of the vacuum for their own interests in offsetting Shia power in Iraq and the region. The most likely way the Saudis would accomplish this is by arming Sunni groups in the Iraq civil war. (No surprises yet.)

But then Clark pointed out that the Saudis would likely fund the best trained, most committed Sunni fighters, Al Qaeda.

So, the argument is that US soldiers are dying because "our ally" is threatening to fund, arm, and train the next generation of Al Qaeda who, after fighting US marines for four years, has more than enough hatred and recruits to terrorize the US for a generation.

Not exactly the clean, "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" argument, eh?

(I am struck by the parallel that we are also confronting Iran over its nuclear program to prevent the Israelis from "confronting" Iran.)

Note: This post is not an endorsement of Clark's argument, just a presentation of a Democratic rationale for staying in Iraq.

Also, as Matteo pointed out in the comments, there's already ample evidence that "private citizens" in Saudi Arabia are funneling tens of millions to Iraqi Sunni groups, money that funds attacks on US Marines.

Picture of the Day - 3

Gen. Petreaus awards Purple Hearts in Baghdad. (Chris Hondros/Getty)

Picture of the Day - 2

(Chris Hondros/Getty)

Iraq and other wars

(Reuters) "U.S. and Iraqi troops will soon launch a major sweep in the Shi'ite militia bastion of Sadr City, military officials said on Thursday."

(The goal is to set up a "joint security station" in Sadr City. As long as the Mahdi stays demobilized, that's not too big a deal, but if things turn ugly that joint security station will be the worst place in Iraq. The mayor of Sadr City attended the meeting.)

AFP looks at the Iraqi released casualty numbers. (Feb is 10% shorter than January, so an 8% fall isn't really there. 3 times last year's number, twice as many Iraqi forces killed as January.)

(AP) A Sunni group claimed Friday that it kidnapped 18 government workers and soldiers in retaliation for the alleged rape of a Sunni woman.

Afghanistan: (NYTimes) Pakistan seizes Taleban number 3, (yes, another number 3.) “He’s a big fish, but nobody around here thinks this will deal a permanent blow to the operations of the Taliban,” said one American government official. (How long until the Pakistanis release him?)

(BBC) A Pakistani "anti-terror judge" was injured by a roadside bomb. "Two of Judge Bhatti's guards and his driver were killed."

(AP) "American forces on Afghanistan's eastern border routinely fire upon and pursue Taliban enemies into Pakistan, defense officials told Congress on Thursday, offering the most detailed description to date of U.S. action in that region."

(WaPo) Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated "not ready."

Picture of the Day

(Iraq Body Count documents every death reported by at least two sources in the press. This total of 55, 131 is well below the Iraqi Interior Ministry's 100,000-150,000, but it is a concrete bottom on the estimates.

If you look at Anbar, for example, there's no way the number is as low as 2,634. It's just that there was/is no reporter access, especially in the worst periods like the US assaults on Fallujah, so the deaths don't show up in their body count.)

And, what does it say that we have no idea what the true numbers are?

(Graphic from BBC.)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

'08 Republicans eat their own

Romney spreads lies about Giuliani on the 700 club.

He slammed McCain over gay marriage, too.

(Examiner?) Draft questions cloud Giuliani’s chances

(Politico) Anyone but McCain, Santorum Says

Interestingly, Giuliani actually has the most to lose among the '08 candidates. His hugely profitable consulting firm and extravagant lecture fees are all built on the semi-mythological image of him and his actions on 9-11.

By front running for president, he opens up all of that image to attack and scrutiny. I find it hard to believe that he comes out of this with as good a reputation as when he came in. It could be very costly.

Just a thought.

(Later: Despite the Republican candidates 'eating their own' at CPAC, the chosen front page story is that Clinton and Obama are actually going to be in the same place!!!! OMG OMG OMG OMG.)

Later Still: The Boston Globe has a piece with Richard Viguerie at CPAC telling "conservatives" that they should not support any of the '08 Republicans, and not even support the party right now.

More artillery in Baghdad

This is the second report of US artillery use in Baghdad. NPR just reported conflicting accounts as to whether it was 2, 4, or 6 neighborhoods spread around the city that were targeted. (All Sunni, I think.)
But the calm was broken after nightfall. The rumbling of artillery fire was heard throughout Baghdad.

In recent days, U.S. gunners have pummeled areas of south Baghdad used as suspected staging ground for car bombings and other attacks.

There was no immediate word from the military on the latest apparent barrage. Residents said the shelling was concentrated on the mostly Sunni area of Dora.

We don't have enough information to know the density of the areas they're firing into, but, again, artillery is a fairly blunt replacement for helicopters.

On the other hand, artillery doesn't get shot down.

Picture of the Day - 4

War is funny.

(Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace laugh before testifying at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing February 27, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Political bits

The Obama team is sharp. While all the Dems pile on McCain for saying US soldiers were wasted in Iraq, Obama defends McCain, adding that "we are honoring their sacrifice by giving them missions in which they can succeed. I'm positive that was the intent in which he meant it."

Let everyone else get dirty, let them do the damage, and look magnanimous yourself while putting words in your opponents mouth. The Obama team is so good.

Also: Nobody wants to hire Ken Mehlman? A massive Republican presidential field, 21 Senatorial campaigns, and nobody wants Mehlman? Nobody?

Picture of the Day - 3

I told Scooter he didn't have to get me a gift.

(President Bush holds up a personalized license plate given to him by Biloxi mayor A.J. Holloway. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak))

When you see it everywhere else, remember, I was first.

Whoring both political and literal

It's looking more and more like the US attorneys were fired for purely political reasons which means Al Gonzales lied (perjured himself) before Congress. It also looks very likely that New Mexico Congressmen Heather Wilson (R) and Pete Domenici (R) attempted illegal influence on the New Mexico US attorney.

Congressional hearings are highly likely which will probably dig up all sorts of other dirt on the other firings.

The tentacles of this thing are going to stretch into the White House, DOJ, and possibly the CIA/Intel/Cunningham/Wilkes/Foggo nexus. So, keep watching. There may be a big story here.

Also: I can't look away from this one. A DC "Madam" who is possibly linked to Foggo/Wilkes/Cunningham is blackmailing her former clients saying she might have to sell 13 years of phone records if her defense fund runs short.

I'll bet her lawyers will soon have gilded legal pads and coffee flown in fresh from Kona. (more here.)

The politics of personal destruction.

After Hillary Clinton used a remark by an Obama donor to "defend herself," and the media went all gaga over a tiff so early between the Democrats, I think maybe we should take a step back and look how it's really done as the Republicans target McCain.

An unattributable group spreads a misrepresentative message which is then promoted by a talking head (who I'm sure had no prior knowledge.) We'll call it the "Drudge model."

Picture of the Day - 2

Provides safe haven for Al Qaeda and the Taleban. Attacks against US personnel currently being launched from his territory. Attacks against the US mainland being planned. His intelligence agencies are deeply involved with Al Qaeda/Taleban. Proven nuclear weapons and missile proliferation. Terrorist training camps, Al Qaeda leadership, and indubitable nuclear weapons with long range missiles.


Soldier humor: In a WaPo peice describing life at a joint security outpost, there's this, "Positioned next to him was a life-size mannequin dressed in U.S. military fatigues, its middle fingers extended, that is used as a decoy for gunmen on the street."

(No showers, no toilets, constant risk, and they set up the mannequin to flip off the enemy. That's a soldier moment.)

(BBC) Reportedly, Iraqi President Talabani is "almost back to normal health" in Jordan, but still no appearance, no statement, no video, no reporters allowed in. (I hear Castro is doing nicely, too.)

(WaPo) The medical leadership at Walter Reed had been told repeatedly about problems with outpatient care.

McClatchy digs into the numbers on the Sunni/Shia IED/EFP situation. "a review of bombings by location shows that less than 10 percent of attacks that killed at least two American service members in the past 14 months were in areas where Shiite militias are dominant."

(CNN) Another helicopter goes down, pilots injured. (It's Kirkuk, so probably mechanical.)

(Reuters) Ahmadinejad is set to visit Saudi. (Are they acting as a negotiating cut out?)

And, (AP) "A roadside bomb in western Afghanistan left three civilians dead and 48 wounded, including 10 children, officials said Thursday.

Picture of the Day

A woman with mud on her clothes cries with her daughter after her son was killed and another son wounded in a bomb attack in Mahmoudiya, February 28, 2007. REUTERS/Ibrahim Sultan

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Preemptively disowning the North Korean nuclear intel

The NYTimes has an article on the shenanigans that have been played on North Korea intelligence. The short version of the story is that intelligence officials are quickly backing away from their previous "certainty."
In other words, while the agencies were certain of the initial purchases, confidence in the program’s overall existence appears to have dropped over the years — apparently from high to moderate.

It is unclear why the new assessment is being disclosed now. But some officials suggested that it could be linked to North Korea’s recent agreement to reopen its doors to international arms inspectors. As a result, these officials have said, the intelligence agencies are facing the possibility that their assessments will once again be compared to what is actually found on the ground. “This may be preventative,” one American diplomat said.

So, after years of using the intel to support hostile diplomacy, suddenly, with inspectors getting ready to go back in, the intel backs off. This "unnamed diplomat" (State Dept.) may blame the intelligence agencies, but I would point to the intel heads who are political appointees of the administration.

I guess this does save that embarassing Iraq WMD moment.

And, you're not going to believe this, aluminum tubes....
His report zeroed in on thousands of aluminum tubes that the North Koreans bought and tried to buy in the early 2000s. The C.I.A. and the Bush administration, the report said, pointed to these tubes as the “smoking gun” for construction of a large-scale North Korean plant for the enriching of uranium.....

In the North Korea case, intelligence analysts saw the tubes as ideal for centrifuges. But Mr. Albright said the relatively weak aluminum tubes were suitable only for stationary outer casings — not central rotors, which have to be very strong to keep from flying apart while spinning at tremendous speeds.

How are these guys still in office?
“The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizeable arsenal if this had been handled differently,” a senior administration official said this week.

Ya think?

One last Friedman before Iraq's collapse?

Reportedly, the military experts advising Petraeus have said he has one Friedman left.
An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

For summary value, it's well worth a read.

Picture of the Day - 4

"I did what they told me, but it doesn't smell like freedom..."

(President George W. Bush smells a bottle of ethanol as he tours Novozymes North America Inc. in Franklinton, North Carolina, February 22, 2007. (Jim Young/Reuters))


Doug Feith has launched a website to try to clear his "inappropriate, but not illegal" name.

Josh Marshall has been all over the US attorney firings today, after the New Mexico US attorney alleged that he was fired for not rushing indictments in time for the GOP midterm election effort after possibly illegal calls from Congressmen. (Right now, the spotlight is on Heather Wilson.) WaPo, too.

(WaPo) The first Marine injured in Iraq comes out as gay.

(Bloomberg) "President George W. Bush's plan to revamp the health-care system would increase taxes on Americans by $526.2 billion over the next decade, according to a congressional estimate....."

(AFP) Disguised Israelis kill militants in West Bank raid

Before turning the gun on himself.....

There are some stories that make my head explode.

Bob Woodward "urges more aggressive media."

Bob Woodward, who sat on stories for years that could have altered the course we've been on, is urging other reporters to do their jobs?

Are you f***ing kidding me?

(As a secondary WTF, why in the hell was Cheney briefing as "a senior administration official?" (and not very well at that.))

Picture of the Day - 3

A man carries his daughters away from the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, February 27, 2007. At least two persons were killed while four others were wounded in an attack which targeted a car park in Baghdad's commercial district of Karrada, police said. REUTERS/Ali Jasim

Picture of the Day - 2

Residents flee the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, February 27, 2007. (Ceerwan Aziz/Reuters)


Laura Bush said it's one bombing a day, right? Yesterday there were so many targeting "eateries" that the LATimes just groups them. (Reuters recaps the major violence.)

(Reuters) Gen. Odierno says the Iraqi units aren't infiltrated because they don't do anything in front of US soldiers. "There still are some that are infiltrated by militias but we're finding the large majority of them are not." (Despite every previous report.)

(AKI? - via Juan Cole) "Iraq's deputy president Adel Abdel Mahdi has said a 'top official in the public works ministry' was behind an assassination attempt against him on Monday...."Police investigations show that the person who placed the bomb was a top official of the ministry," Abdel Mahdi told al-Zaman."

(IraqSlogger) One rumor is that the Mahdi assassination attempt was carried out by Sadrists "with the possible knowledge of PM Maliki." The reasons speculated are that Abdul Mahdi has been informing on the Sadrists with his eye on the PM's chair. (Real or not, this rumor will have effects.)

(McClatchy stringers blog) A near riot in an Iraqi bank for $7.75 Iraqi government assistance.

Riots in the bank for ID 10 000, $ 7.75. And for $100; what would they be prepared to do? For $500? For $1000?? How many will cross that line? It’s not easy to see your family starve for principles. Mercenaries on Iranian payroll. Mercenaries on American payroll. Mercenaries on ANY payroll.

(IraqSlogger) Iyad Allawi talks about withdrawing from Maliki's government.

(Stars and Stripes) Attacks on US forces in Iraq hit the highest level since the invasion, double last year.

The Army tells Walter Reed wounded to shut up

There's nothing like the feel of a good, heavy handed hush campaign.
(Army Times) Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

Picture of the Day

These are the copper "caps" for EFP's that are supposedly so technical and well machined that they could only be manufactured in Iran.

I'm sure there's not a single Iraqi machinist who could ever produce something so complex, so..... Bomb Iran.

(Copper disc plates, which the U.S. military said are used in making roadside bombs, are seen on the ground during a news conference at a U.S. military base in Baghdad February 26, 2007. The U.S. military showed on Monday what it said was further evidence of Iranian-made weapons being used by Iraqi militants. REUTERS/Ali Jasim)

Noah Shactman at Wired takes a shot at the argument, as does Kevin Drum. Here's mine from yesterday.

No headlines for the truth

Very quietly yesterday, new Director of National Intelligence and top US intelligence official Michael McConnell repeated the truth about Iran and no one noticed.
"While our information is incomplete, we estimate that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon by early to mid next decade," he said.

No front page NYTimes story on this.

They find some machined copper discs and we get headlines for days, but Iran still 5-10 years from a nuclear weapon and it's buried deep in the bottom of an AFP article.

(By the way, I would suggest keeping an eye on Michael McConnell. If the Seymour Hersh report is to be believed, John Negroponte left that job because he wasn't willing to play "Iran Contra" dirty with the Vice President and current covert actions.

Presumably, by his nomination as replacement, McConnell is.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

An Iraqi soldier stands next to the body of a boy on the eastern side of the Tigris River in the Zafraniyah area, in southern Baghdad, February 23, 2007. The boy was killed and two other boys wounded as U.S. soldiers searched for two suspected insurgents thought to be armed, who were seen crossing the river in a boat, a Reuters photographer said. The photographer together with a U.S.-Iraqi patrol he was embedded with, arrived on the scene after hearing gunfire for around 15 minutes and two explosions. It was unclear who fired the shot that killed the boy. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Associated Reuters article.)

The US enters the forest.

Little noticed among all the other chaos today, US troops conducted targeted raids in Sadr City resulting in 16 arrests.

Three US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb outside Baghdad.

(And, US troops are rushed for the surge so they don't receive full counterinsurgency training.)

Taleban attack Cheney

I don't really know about the rumors/claims that the Taleban had intel about Cheney's visit. (After all, wasn't it highly predictable that he would travel to Afghanistan after very publicly meeting with Musharraf?)

What intrigues me more is the timing. Many other officials, including Bush, Rice, and others, have made the double visit with Sec Def Gates doing it just two weeks ago.

I find it a little more than coincidental that this visit, right after Cheney blasted/threatened the Pakistanis for allowing safe havens in the tribal areas, was the one where this attack takes place.

Nothing concrete, it just seems very funkily timed, no?

Picture of the Day - 2

"Many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, uh, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everyone." - Laura Bush on Larry King last night.

(Scattered human remains lay on a street after a car bomb attack in Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007. A suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint Wednesday killing at least 11 people. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani))

(Frankly, there are multiple civilian bombings each day, we only get major reporting on the large casualty attacks.
I'm sorry for the graphic image, but I thought it was the only way to convey my point.

The reality is far worse than the "one bombing a day" coverage we do get.)

Stretching the facts to show Iranian involvement in Iraq

The NYTimes has another skeptical article looking at the latest "Iranian" weapons find in Iraq.

The biggest unanswered question to me is left open more explicitly in this AP piece on the same presentation. This find was made in definitively Sunni territory in Diyala, but the miltary officers doing the briefing are unable to identify whether Sunni or Shia were using the Iranian (and UAE, and Iraqi manufactured) weapon parts.
Officials declined to link the find in Diyala to the Iranian government but said it was further proof that weapons were coming from the neighboring country, which is locked in a standoff with Washington over allegations it is fueling the violence in Iraq and seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

"It's proof beyond a doubt that there's Iranian manufactured weapons being used by insurgents in Iraq," military spokesman Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle said in Baghdad. "But we can't say based on what we had and what we found who's involved in it."

(Again, there is little reasonable doubt that there are Iranian weapons in Iraq, but there are also weapons from just about everywhere in Iraq. Right now, the nongovernmental combatants in Iraq are the prime destination for "legitimate" and "black market" weapons suppliers around the world.

I'm sure if you wanted, you could probably build a similar "serial number" case against Russia, China, and a half dozen other countries.

With the underlying bias in this administration towards villifying Iran, we're going to need some hard evidence of intention by the Iranian government.)

Talking to the Iranians and Syrians. (sort of)

Some sort of "regional meeting" is going down in mid-March. It will be a Baghdad meeting hosted by the Iraqis which will include the UN Security Council members and "regional governments" including Iran and Syria. (WaPo, Reuters)

This sounds like a relatively low level meeting involving "envoys" and ambassadors, but at least it's a start. (although not much of one.)
Though it will bring together American, Syrian and Iranian representatives, the Baghdad meeting doesn’t signal a direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria. A senior State Department official said Monday night that it wasn’t likely there would be separate bilateral meetings with Iran or Syria. Rather, the planned Baghdad meeting is an extension of the administration’s current policy of using the Iraqi government as the channel for discussions with Iran and Syria about Iraqi security.

I would also note that any progress from this construction assumes the Iraqis are working as "honest brokers" on our side.

Little things

In a ridiculously forgiving USAToday piece on McCain, "Now, a statewide survey by the University of New Hampshire this month found seven in 10 independents plan to vote in the Democratic primary in 2008." (Assuming a 38D-35R-27I breakdown, that's a big swing independent vote affecting the Dem primary in NH.)

After the attack on Bagram airbase, "Cheney flew out for Oman aboard a military C-17 Globemaster named "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond" after the staunch conservative politician." (picture.)

In his report citing "significant risk" to the US, Peter Pace takes a shot at the State Dept. "And it said the decline in readiness is also affected by whether other federal agencies and other nations are fulfilling their commitments. There have been long-standing complaints that the State Department has not met its responsibilities in Iraq..."

Picture of the Day

Seems like everybody else at the table has a friend, doesn't it?

(President Bush passes a plate of ribs as he sits down for an unscheduled lunch with patrons at Porker's barbecue restaurant in Chattanooga, Tenn., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak))

Monday, February 26, 2007

No diamonds. (Blood diamonds?)

Just a weird little aside. I didn't watch the Oscars, but my mom had the red carpet on in the background. Somebody in our group noticed that almost none of the women were wearing diamond necklaces, and we got to wondering if that was a fashion statement or a political statement.

With the new awareness of "blood diamonds," are diamonds becoming the new fur?

The "surge" thus far

If you're not willing to wait the six months Joe Lieberman and the other Bush loyalists encourage, Reality Based Educator pointed to this McClatchy article in the comments that takes a detailed look at some of the "metrics." (That's what you call dead bodies when you're a cool defense expert.)

Short version, "the surge" thus far is having little significant effect, death squad killings are down, bombing fatalities are up, and the overall level of reported violence in Baghdad is more or less the same.

The timespans involved are pretty short, so I don't know about hard conclusions, but there has not been any appreciable dip in violence thus far.

But, maybe if we wait six more months.......

Picture of the Day - 2

(From the funeral of Matthew Fenton.)


(ABC) Iraq moved more troops into Baghdad. 130, and they had to bribe them with a months pay.

FoxNews brings back the gas mask image. (to remind us of why we're supposed to be in Iraq?)

(BBC) Four French nationals in a much larger group were gunned down in Saudi Arabia. "A French diplomatic source, quoted by the French news agency AFP, said an unknown number of attackers "machine-gunned them while they got out [of their vehicle] to go for a walk".

(WaPo) "The Post-ABC poll found that 53 percent of Americans favored setting a deadline for troop withdrawals." (45% said within a year.)

(CNN) Notice the backhanded slam by Condi Rice speaking about Obama's race and the presidency.. "And it will not be long, I think, before it's no longer a barrier to being president of the United States." (Clearly implying that it now still is.)

"Significant Risk"

On CNN right now, Barbara Starr just reported that Joint Chief Chairman Peter Pace has forwarded an appraisal to the White House of US military readiness which assesses that the ability of the miltary to respond to a crisis has been significantly lowered. The headlining phrase is "significant risk."

This matters because this finding of "significant risk" requires a response from Sec Def Gates to resolve the situation. It's binding in a sense, and because of this, it is a huge move by Peter Pace.

How does this affect further deployments in "the surge?" Is the finding equipment or personnel or both? (It could also deter any other foreign interventionism.)

Later: There's the video. I really think this may be a big deal. It's a willfull decision made by Pace to make this determination now.

Picture of the Day

A protester wears a banner at the start of the 'No Trident, Troops Out of Iraq' demonstration in London, February 24, 2007. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Two bombs targeting SCIRI leadership in Iraq

In the last two days, there have been two bombing attacks aimed at SCIRI's two top leaders.

Yesterday there was an attempt to get a car bomb into SCIRI leader Al Hakim's compound, and now today, there was a bombing attempt against SCIRI's political number two, Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

First guess would of course be Sunnis, but these actions would be strategic for anyone trying to undermine the Iraqi side of the current Baghdad security plan. If SCIRI/Badr were to "go hot" again, the whole "surge"/security plan is over almost immediately as is any hope of a political solution.

(Of course, there was also the US arrest of Al Hakim's son and heir by the US the other day at the Iranian border. I don't think it's connected, but it's another emasculation of SCIRI related to their ties to Iran.)

And, 73 year old Iraqi president Talabani appears to be recuperating from a heart problem in Jordan.

With all these politicians under pressure and Sadr blasting the security operation yesterday, the political situation is getting very treacherous.

Pay attention.

UPDATE: (Reuters) The Abdul-Mahdi bombing was close enough that the Iraqi vice president took light shrapnel wounds.

UPDATE: President Talabani has been placed in intensive care.

(Can you imagine the process and politics of replacing even one of these top government officials?)

Bush warns(?) Pakistan

So, regarding the conversation with Pakistan, is the White House position, "Please don't let the Democrats be tougher on terrorism than we are?" Or this a more darkly veiled threat to Musharraf?
President Bush has decided to send an unusually tough message to one of his most important allies, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces became far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda, senior administration officials say.

And let's not forget that Defense Secretary Gates was in Pakistan two weeks ago today.
Gates said the meeting, held at one of Musharraf's homes, was not aimed at securing assurances of action from the Pakistanis, who have been criticized for failing to adequately secure their border. Musharraf, he added, has been meeting with his military commanders to see how they can improve their operations along the border.....

Gates also said he hopes the U.S. can play a constructive role in improving the often rocky relationship between the Afghans and the Pakistan government.

Was the Gates' meeting a factfinding trip which spawned this new policy, or was Gates genuine and is now undermined after Cheney won the argument? (We know they're disagreeing on Iran.)

Just one more wrinkle, let's take a look back exactly one week when the NYTimes published this story "Terror Officials See Al Qaeda Chiefs Regaining Power," sourced this way.
The intelligence and counterterrorism officials would discuss the classified intelligence only on the condition of anonymity. They would not provide some of the evidence that led them to their assessments, saying that revealing the information would disclose too much about the sources and methods of intelligence collection.

That sounds like a sanctioned release, doesn't it? (Mark Mazzetti on the byline for both.)

So, the administration releases intel in line with what they want to accomplish, start a furor, then exactly a week later supply a solution of sorts. Interesting.

NYTimes skeptically reports more Iranian bomb parts in Iraq

If you're watching the reporting on Iranian bomb parts in Iraq, the NYTimes has a good story on a new presentation by the US military today. It's got pretty good detail.

But, what I found more interesting was the skepticism laid throughout the article. (justified in my opinion.) It's a nice balanced article with the bottom line, "probably, but still not certain."

The reason this is notable is that the NYTimes and its reporter Michael Gordon got absoluely torn apart for their story preceding the last major briefing. (Michael Gordon was also second on the byline on the Judy Miller "Iraq aluminum tubes" story.)

So, after getting blasted for questionable presentation and ethics in the last article, the NYTimes took this story away from Michael Gordon and gave it to James Glanz. Good job.

If they had done that with Judy Miller in 2002, we might not be in this war, and by doing it now and returning to a neutral "report all sides" journalism, you're giving us a chance to really evaluate before being l(i)ed into the next war.

Good Job, NYTimes. A little late, but the right move.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

(Old, from an insurgent propaganda video.)

Funding "resistance" in Iran - Cheney's secret/illegal war?

There seems to be little question that the US is protecting and funding the terror group MEK for its operations against Iran. (1, 2) Also, there seems to be little question that the US is also tacitly allowing anti-Iranian Kurds safe haven. Whether the US is offering support for the terrorists who have conducted operations in SW Iran is still open.

I mention all this because we have two interesting articles today.
America is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear programme.

In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions.

The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime.

A clear line needs to be drawn between funding/bribing groups and funding terrorism.

But, from Sy Hersh's latest piece.
Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)

The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”

The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House’s policy goals but “wanted to do it by the book.” The Pentagon consultant also told me that “there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn’t fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives.” It was also true, he said, that Negroponte “had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East.”

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions,” he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

“This goes back to Iran-Contra,” a former National Security Council aide told me. “And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it.” He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, “The C.I.A. is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ They’re concerned, because they think it’s amateur hour.”

(Sorry for the long excerpt, but if the office of the Vice President is running "off the books" operations that neither Negroponte or the CIA want to touch, is laundering Congressionally appropriated money through fraud in Iraq, and is hiding these illegal actions from Congress, that's a pretty big deal.)

Later: Sy Hersh on CNN this morning speaking about Iran attack planning. And, Watch this one on Negroponte.

Iraq - Political problems

(AP) President Jalal Talabani falls suddenly ill and heads immediately to Jordan. ((AFP) Kidney problem.)

(Later: (AP) "unconscious.")

(AP) A statement by Sadr condemning the Security plan was read in Sadr City. ("Al-Sadr urged Iraq's mostly Shiite security forces to "make your own Iraqi plans independent of the Americans.")

(AFP) "I say to the Iraqi security forces, police and army: 'You are able to protect Iraq and the Iraqi people with your faith, your sacrifice, and your patience and your unity. You don't need the occupiers with their tanks and their planes."

(PressTV?) A carbomb aimed at Al Hakim's compound detonated at a checkpoint.

Picture of the Day - 2

(AP) "A suicide bomber struck Sunday outside a college campus in Baghdad, killing at least 38 people and injuring dozens as a string of other blasts and rocket attacks left bloodshed around the city."

Wissam al-Okaili/Agence France Presse

Artillery in Baghdad?

Is this part of the "change in tactics" after the helicopter downings?
But a resident of the area told AFP that insurgents had fired mortar shells and that US troops appeared to have responded with artillery.

US spokesmen were not immediately willing to comment, but AFP reporters in downtown Baghdad heard the rumble of more than three dozen powerful blasts in rapid succession at around 10:00pm (1900 GMT).

Even with the US' precision artillery, this is a pretty blunt instrument to use in and around Baghdad. (Confirmed by AP, AFP)

(The area in question was referred to as a "rural suburb." I don't know what that means. The blasts were heard in downtown Baghdad.)

Update: An Iraqi spokesman says it was American aircraft bombing targets. Who knows.

Insider politics. Obama, Clinton, and Walter Reed

Does anybody else find it interesting that Barack Obama and Claire McCaskill have been given sponsorship on the legislation to reform Walter Reed?

You have to figure that this certain to pass, popular legislation is being coordinated by the Senate leadership and would be a major achievement for any Democrat running for President.

So, why was it given to Obama and not Hillary Clinton?

Probably because she's been on the Armed Services Committee since Jan. 2003, before the Iraq war started and could not escape some responsibility for the conditions there.

Still, her camp cannot be happy that, out of the 48 other Democratic Senators, protecting wounded vets has been given to Obama.

I always imagine that Hillary Clinton suffers from Bruxism.

(Claire McCaskill is also on the Armed Services Committee, but she has only been in office for a month. After her relatively slim win in centrist Missouri, I'm sure the leadership thinks this would help shore her up.)

(This is a cold political look at a very serious issue. Support the reforms no matter whose name is on them.)

Picture of the Day

LTC Valery Keaveny (R) and CPT Matt Gregory (L) of 3-509th, Regimental Combat Team 6, which discovered a car bomb factory 4 km east of Karmah on February 21, are questioned by journalists during a video press conference in Baghdad February 24, 2007. Reuters-Ali Abbas/Pool

(I don't know what I found so interesting about this picture, but it grabbed me. I think it's the looks on their faces, like this is an intrusion.)