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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, May 26, 2007

101 US soldiers have died this month

101 US soldiers have died in Iraq this month.

How very Vietnam....

There's something about this quote that, to me, echoes Vietnam.
This month it's a little bit higher, maybe about 20 or 30 higher than it was at this time last month," Pace said, but he did not give a current total.

Pace offered no explanation for the rise in May and said he could not break them down into sectarian killings and deaths due to other reasons.

"It's difficult to parse out some of the deaths from other deaths," he said.

Perhaps it's the casualness with which he's "parsing" deaths. After all, we're talking about "metrics" here, not thousands upon thousands of dead bodies.

Picture of the Day

Melissa Storey combs her daughter Adela's hair into pony tails while her son Clint II sits in Melissa's lap on Dela's bed Wednesday, May 16, 2007. Storey's husband, Staff Sgt. Clint J. Storey, was killed in Iraq in August 2006. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Slapping back Sadr?

This could just be coincidental, but I find it interesting that the US conducted two high profile raids against Sadr's operation in the days after his publicized return.
On Friday, "About the time he was delivering a sermon at Friday prayers in the holy city of Kufa, Iraqi special forces killed a top leader of his feared Mehdi Army militia in southern Basra."

On Saturday, "American forces raided his Sadr City stronghold and killed five suspected militia fighters in air strikes Saturday.

I'm not trying to argue that these weren't strategic targets, I just find it interesting that the US conducted these Iraqi high visibility operations targeting Sadr's Mahdi in two of their three strongholds upon his return.

Apropos of nothing

Why in the world is The History Channel broadcasting Planet of the Apes?

I know I skipped a few classes in college, but....

Why was the Senate intel report a Friday release?

I have been wondering why the Dems in charge of the Senate Intelligence Committee released the pre-Iraq intel report on Memorial Day Friday.

You would think they would want to play up the fact that the Bush administration ignored loads of intelligence that predicted, with some precision, the current Iraqi chaos, but instead, it's buried on a holiday Friday.

Was that part of the Iraq funding "deal?" Bush doesn't crow if they bury this report?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Big Headline, but take a minute to look underneath

Boy, that's some big and newsmaking headline,
White House Said to Debate ’08 Cut in Troops by 50%

The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.

But let's take a minute to look at what's really going on here.

Look at the sourcing for instance. "The officials declined to be quoted for attribution because they were discussing internal deliberations that they expected to evolve over several months."

That certainly seems to suggest an authorized "leak," (watch for the White House's non-outraged reaction,) but why would the administration want this out there, and why now?

I would argue that they have come to the conclusion that "the surge" will fail, and are now trying to present the impression that "the surge" was never the final answer they previously said it was, but merely a bridge in a broader plan.

Take a look at that key section on Baker Hamilton at Bush's press conference Thursday,
The President: As I have constantly made clear, the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appeal to me, and that is to be embedded and to train and to guard the territorial integrity of the country, and to have Special Forces to chase down al Qaeda. But I didn't think we could get there unless we increased the troop levels to secure the capital. I was fearful that violence would spiral out of control in Iraq, and that this experience of trying to help this democracy would -- couldn't succeed.

To my memory, that is a complete rewriting of history, although I'll leave it to others to dig up the quotes to prove it. My memory is that this administration completely disavowed the ISG in an effort to push "the surge."

(Also notice that this appears to be a coordinated rollout. The President makes a statement, supporting facts are coincidentally leaked, etc...

By Sunday, I would expect some key talking heads to be full on Orwellian, "The President believes in Baker Hamilton, he has always believed in Baker Hamilton.")

Their strategy is to try and shift into the Iraq Study Group as a Plan B, but to do so in such a way that the failure of "the surge" will be absolved as a necessary step, not as the horrifically wrongheaded decision that it was.

He's also trying to seize Baker Hamilton as his idea, so that when the idea is thrust upon him by Republicans looking at elections, he can claim that was his intention all along.

Remember this as we pass through the "bloody -- it could be a very difficult" summer.

(It should also, of course, be noted that we've heard "significantly lower troop levels next year" more than a few times before.)

SAT AM: Let's also take a step back and look at the reason this is being discussed. (From an AP condensation,)
Several officials said the hope was that a troop reduction would shift the campaign debate over Iraq from a time frame for a pullout to what long-term presence the United States should have there. Democrats in Congress have been pushing for setting deadlines to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from the unpopular war.

See, this new plan is all about domestic politics. It's about developing a plan that will allow Republican presidential candidates and Congressional members something to run on.

Also: I'm curious at the appearance of timing from the Iraqi side. Sadr returns Thursday, makes a "fiery"speech calling for US withdrawal at about 5 AM US time, and then, 14 hours later the Bush administration is in the papers talking partial withdrawal.

Certainly, the US discussions were taking place before yesterday, but from a Sadr supporter's viewpoint, it looks like the man with the big eyebrows scared the US.

Picture of the Day - 4

An Iraqi teenager throws a rock at a burning vehicle after a roadside bomb attack in Basra May 25, 2007. A sports utility vehicle of a foreign security company in Basra was destroyed after a bomb attack by insurgents, a British spokesperson said. REUTERS/Atef Hassan

A teenager chants slogans near a burning vehicle after a roadside bomb attack in Basra May 25, 2007. Police said, a sports utility vehicle of British forces in Basra was destroyed after a bomb attack by insurgents but no casualties were reported. REUTERS/Atef Hassan

More on Cheney's "end run" to war with Iran

Yesterday, I posted with some skepticism about the idea of Cheney colluding with the Israelis to draw the US into open conflict with Iran. (accidentally running down Clemons in the process.)

Today, we have Clemons telling Juan Cole that this comes from multiple sources, so, I'm putting a little more creedence in it.

(Could this plan go down with the current Israeli government, or would Olmert have to be replaced first? I'm looking for milestones to watch.)

What're the odds....?

Without much notice yesterday,
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken their toll on the National Guard's readiness, leaving some units with insufficient equipment to respond to a domestic catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina, top Guard officers told lawmakers Thursday.

"While most adjutant generals believe they have sufficient equipment to deal with single disasters common to their states, they fear ... having to send equipment to support a regional disaster such as Katrina," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Roger Lempke, president of the Adjutants General Association of the United States.

This seems like quite a gamble with American lives. A gamble taken largely without our consent.

Which '08 candidate would you most like as a neighbor?

Just for a bit of Friday fun, which '08 presidential candidate would you most like to have as a neighbor? (Just the Dems today, we'll do the Republicans sometime later.)

My vote would be Dennis Kucinich. Sure his wife would bring by those godawful carob/vegetarian cookies and he'd always be hitting you up for some cause, but, at the same time, if you ever needed a hand, you know Dennis would be the first one standing there waiting to help out.

Bill Clinton would be a great neighbor, but then there's Hillary and the security and all the parties and parking problems.

I think the Obamas wouldn't be too bad, probably a little stuffy.

The Edwards would be nice to my face, but would probably complain to others about my lawn.

Bill Richardson would be kinda fun and funky except that you know he would always be telling those jokes he thinks are funny and nobody else gets.

And, God forbid I get stuck talking to Joe Biden taking out the trash. I'd be there for hours trying to get away.

(This undated photo released by the Kucinich campaign shows Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich with two of his three dogs George, center, and Lucy, both rescued from the pound. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Dennis Kucinich))

Another part of the Phase II report today

Just a heads up that another element of the SSCI Phase II intelligence report is due out today.
In a move sure to raise even more questions about the decision to go to war with Iraq, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will on Friday release selected portions of pre-war intelligence in which the CIA warned the administration of the risk and consequences of a conflict in the Middle East.....

In January 2003, two months before the invasion, the intelligence community's think tank — the National Intelligence Council — issued an assessment warning that after Saddam was toppled, there was “a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other and that rogue Saddam loyalists would wage guerilla warfare either by themselves or in alliance with terrorists.”

It also warned that “many angry young recruits” would fuel the rank of Islamic extremists and "Iraqi political culture is so embued with mores (opposed) to the democratic experience … that it may resist the most rigorous and prolonged democratic tutorials."

Later: Here it is in .pdf. I would expect significant excerpts to begin showing up in articles this afternoon and tomorrow.

Here's a first AP take, "Report says Iraq problems were expected."

What is real on Iran?

I'm not sure what to make of this CBS report of "covert efforts by U.S. and other allied intelligence agencies to actively sabotage the country's (Iran's) nuclear program."

You would certainly expect the US, Israel, and everyone else to be attempting sabotage on the Iranian program, but, at the same time, in light of the recent finding signed by the President to authorize covert operations including disinformation campaigns, I don't know what to trust anymore.

Pointing a false finger at "intelligence operatives involved includ(ing) former Russian nuclear scientists and Iranians living abroad," would certainly serve the purpose of slowing the Iranian program as they would have to chase the sabotage angle in every problem they come across.

Just something to think about, I guess.

Picture of the Day - 2

Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks in Kufa, near Najaf, May 25, 2007. Powerful anti-American Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr appeared in public for the first time in months on Friday and again demanded that U.S. troops get out of Iraq. REUTERS/Ali Abu Shish

Sadr returns

Michael Gordon of the NYTimes reports that American intelligence believes that Moqtada al Sadr has returned to Iraq.

Later: The AP has a more direct article.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appeared in public for the first time in months on Friday, delivering a fiery anti-American sermon to thousands of followers and demanding U.S. troops leave Iraq.....

His associates say his strategy is based partly on a belief that Washington soon will start reducing troop strength, leaving behind a hole in Iraq's security and political power structure that he can fill.

Al-Sadr also believes that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government may soon collapse under its failure to improve security, services and the economy, al-Sadr's aides say. A political reshuffle would give the Sadrist movement, with its 30 seats in the 275-member parliament, an opportunity to become a major player.

During his absence Sadr supporters quit Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government and now claim to have recruited 148 members of Iraq's 275-member parliament to support a law demanding the expulsion of US forces....

This week, a delegation of Sunni tribal sheikhs met a group of their Shiite counterparts in Sadr City and vowed to work together for national unity.

Sadr's movement is wooing Sunni leaders and purging extremists in his Mahdi Army militia in an attempt to strengthen his image as a nationalist who can lead all Iraqis at a time when antiwar sentiments are growing in the United States and Iraq's political landscape is increasingly fractured.....

There are growing signs that extremists in Sadr's militia are disobeying his orders to stand down, as U.S. troops raid and patrol their strongholds.... Sadr's aides have described the cleric's orders as intended to improve his credibility and dispel allegations that the Mahdi Army was fueling sectarian violence.

So, with the US looking at a possible political collapse in September, and Maliki looking at one perhaps sooner than that, with Kurdish power broker Talabani outside the country for three weeks, and with Shia/SIIC leader al Hakim absent for months, Sadr has returned to take advantage of the vacuum.

That's the general analysis from the US perspective. If I see something substantially different from the sites that watch the Iraqi press, I'll post it.

(And, the NYTimes has a revised version adding Jon Elsen to the byline.)

Picture of the Day

Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani laughs in reaction to comments from Winifred Stearns of Hanover, N.H. during a campaign stop in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, May 23, 2007. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

(Does it look like Winifred is making a joke?)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It made me laugh

Talking about Bush's efforts at the press conference to cow reporters by saying their children were at risk, Dana Milbank minces,
"It's a danger to your children, Jim," Bush informed the New York Times' Jim Rutenberg.

This last warning was perplexing, because Rutenberg has no children, only a brown chow chow named Little Bear. It was unclear whether Bush was referring to a specific and credible threat to Little Bear or merely indicating there was increased "chatter in the system" about chow chows in general.

Oscar Wilde would be proud.

(Later: Because of all the debate in the comments, here's a link to a video of Bush talking about the threat to reporter's children. It's not some vague "all our children" use. It's specific and intentional.)

Political bits

John Boehner cries today, again.

(CNN) "Following his speech on the House floor, Boehner wiped his eyes and told CNN's Andrea Koppel, "It's been a long month."

(CNN) McCain finally stops fundraising long enough to cast his first vote in a month.

(ABC) The Firefighters Union sent out 280,000 copies of a video attacking Giuliani's conduct after 9/11, and families of 9/11 victims have been protesting outside his fundraisers.

(CNN) Ron Paul held an "Educating Rudy" press conference today with Michael Scheuer saying that Giulaini was misinformed about US foreign policy.

(Politico) In the new Diageo poll, the "Right Track/Wrong Track" number is 18% / 71%.

(Just as a general aside, I'm disregarding all the '08 Republican versus Democrat head to head matchups, because thus far, the Republicans haven't really had to defend Bush, running within their own party. When they run against Dems, they are going to have to defend supporting Bush's policies on Iraq, the economy, etc.)

And, I think this ABC video is worth a quick look.

Picture of the Day - 3

Staff Sgt. Nathan Brooks, 25, from Vergennes, Ill. of Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division rests after a long mission eleven days after a May 12 attack that left four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi soldier dead and three comrades missing, Wednesday, May 23, 2007.

Cheney to "end run" Bush for a hot conflict with Iran?

I don't know if I buy this idea that Cheney would "end run" Bush and collude with elements in the Israeli government to force a hot war with Iran, but here's Steve Clemons saying it's being discussed by "a senior aide on Vice President Cheney's national security team."

Clemons has been very right and very wrong in the past, so don't take this as fact.

From today's press conference

First, the question that wasn't, and will never be, answered,
Q Mr. President, moments ago you said that al Qaeda attacked us before we were in Iraq. Since then Iraq has become much less stable; al Qaeda has used it as a recruiting tool, apparently with some success. So what would you say to those who would argue that what we've done in Iraq has simply enhanced al Qaeda and made the situation worse?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, so, in other words, the option would have been just let Saddam Hussein stay there? Your question is, should we not have left Saddam Hussein in power?

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I'd like to ask you about the Petraeus report, which as you say, will be in September, and report on the progress. Doesn't setting up the September date give the enemy exactly what you've said you don't want them to have, which is a date to focus on, and doesn't it guarantee a bloody August?

THE PRESIDENT: .... And so, yes, it could be a bloody -- it could be a very difficult August, and I fully understand --

I imagine the White House staff waving wildly in the background. "Don't say bloody! Don't say bloody!"

Polling, for what it's worth

Not a surprise, but still....
Americans now view the war in Iraq more negatively than at any time since the war began, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Six in 10 Americans surveyed say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, and more than three in four say that things are going badly there — including nearly half who say things are going very badly, the poll found.

Also of note, 63% disapproval of Bush.
President Bush’s approval ratings remain near the lowest point of his more than six years in office. Thirty percent of poll respondents approve of the job he’s doing overall, while 63 percent disapprove. Majorities of those polled disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq, of foreign policy, of immigration, of the economy and of the campaign against terrorism.

Picture of the Day - 2

Pfc. Samuel Rhodes, 25, from Albuquerque, N.M. of Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division cuddles the company's mascot, Pork Chop, eleven days after a May 12 attack that left four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi soldier dead and three comrades missing in Quarghuli village, near Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, Wednesday, May 23, 2007. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

The data begins to show a "surge" failure

Yesterday I noted that it appeared the Bush administration and military command structure were exploring alternatives to "the surge" in a seeming admission that the strategy for Iraq we were "giving a chance" is not working.

Today, we have a little more data to back up that impression.

The WaPo has a frontpager pointing out that sectarian deaths are once again on the rise in Baghdad, although it doesn't really offer the critical analysis of where it's happening.

Also today, McClatchy has an analysis of its own data that shows a broader return of violence in Baghdad.
Statistics on the numbers of car bombs, roadside bombs, people wounded and people killed show that May is likely to be the bloodiest month so far this year. The number of anonymous bodies found on Baghdad's streets, victims of what U.S. officials call sectarian murders, is averaging 22.5 a day, up nearly 50 percent from April and March and equal to the rate in January, before the troop buildup began.

UPI also has it's own (always stilted) way of analyzing at US casualties.

The narrative

Check out how "the narrative" is woven into this AP piece.
President Bush forced Congress to back down from deadlines in Iraq. On Thursday, he scheduled a news conference to talk about the unpopular war and the relentless violence.

That's a long way from last year.

The Iran covert op "leak"

Just a quick word on the Iran covert op "leak."

The GOP candidates are making absolute hay trying to claim that ABCNews jeopardized national security in its story, but I'd like to point something out.

ABC contacted the Bush administration a bunch of times over six days and was never told not to run the story. Also, notice there's no administration outcry about its publication. (Remember the White House response on the NSA spying and secret prisons?)

I have no concrete evidence, but it looks to me like this "leak" was authorized.

So, although the "traitors among us" rhetoric may play well with the troglodyte base, I would guess that this story is a "leak."

Question on gas prices (and then a rant.)

Okay, I admit I'm not an economic expert, but if the current gas price rise is truly due to "limited refining capacity" as is being claimed by the oil companies, and since a good part of the costs of refining are more or less fixed costs, doesn't the majority of this increase in gas price due to "market forces" go directly to the bottom line?

The GAO estimates that the "The jump in U.S. gasoline prices this year has so far drained consumers of an extra $20 billion, or about $146 for each passenger car in the country." (Reuters)

Extrapolating loosely, I figure that should be about $45-50 billion.

Now, to the politics, George Bush is making it a point to defend this "free market," threatening vetos on a price gouging bill and the "nopec" bill removing the cartel protections of OPEC.

Look, I'm not a big fan of the idea of legislation interfering with the markets, but, at the same time, so long as the Bush administration guarantees protection, the oil profiteers have no reason to even concern themselves.

(If I'm way off here, forgive me. This is definitely outside my comfort area. But when you're talking about a regressive $300 per car "tax" that goes to the oil companies just from the profit excuse "refining capacity," I think this issue becomes a big deal.

Especially since the oil companies do not really pay the externalized geopolitical costs for our "national security" interest in oil. We do. How much of our societally funded military, foreign aid, and government cost accrues a disproportionate benefit to the oil company business model?

If we assessed the costs of our interests in the middle east to the oil companies, they would be losing money at a greater clip than the US car companies. Instead they report record profits.)

On a societal level the current model of an oil driven society is broken and unprofitable, yet because of the way the costs are allocated, it appears falsely profitable, and those false profits then filter back to affect politics protecting that system and inefficient structure.

Worst of all, because of this misallocation of costs, the market cannot correct itself to develop realistic alternatives.

Picture of the Day

(AP) "A body recovered by Iraqi police from the Euphrates River south of Baghad Wednesday was identified as one of three American soldiers abducted in an ambush claimed by al-Qaida, relatives and officials said.....

Military officials told the family of Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. of Torrance, Calif., that a commanding officer identified the remains recovered from the river, but that DNA tests were still pending."

(Photo: Army Pfc. Joseph Anzack, 19, from Los Angeles, Calif. of Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, left, relaxes in the company barracks near Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq in this Friday, Feb. 2, 2007 file photo. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo))

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Missing US soldiers found?

Iraqslogger is reporting that the bodies of possibly all three missing US soldiers may have been found. There are signs of torture.

The AP reports that internet services have been cut off at some bases to limit rumors after the first body was recovered. “We will give the truth to the families first.”

Also: Iraqslogger also has this memo to personnel in Iraq warning of "theater wide delay in food delivery." No idea.

(Later: WaPo has an article on the food shortages. "Convoy problems," specifically "visibility" coming out of Kuwait. Right.)

Picture of the Day - 3

President George W. Bush poses for a thumbs-up photo using US Coast Guard Ensign Steven Matthew Volk's sunglasses during graduation ceremonies at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. (AFP/Paul J. Richards)

The Bush administration knows "the surge" isn't working

Looking at the stories today, it seems apparent that the Bush administration has come to the realization that "the surge" isn't going to work.

First, we have the front page WaPo story this morning saying that Petraeus and the commanders in Iraq are developing a "New Strategy for War." (But... But.... I was told to wait on my criticism because this strategy wasn't fully implemented yet.)
Top U.S. commanders and diplomats in Iraq are completing a far-reaching campaign plan for a new U.S. strategy, laying out military and political goals and endorsing the selective removal of hardened sectarian actors from Iraq's security forces and government.

To me, this "new plan" sounds like a recipe for a Lebanon style government with US forces taking on the "policing Hezbullah" role. (and that's going so well...)

Next, we have this Guardian report, that White House figures are exploring ways to "internationalize" the war.
The Bush administration is developing plans to "internationalise" the Iraq crisis, including an expanded role for the United Nations, as a way of reducing overall US responsibility for Iraq's future and limiting domestic political fallout from the war as the 2008 election season approaches.

, we should probably also add yesterday's Hearst article pointing out that the deployment schedules are structured such that there's also the availability for a substantial increase in ground combat troops.

Surge 1.0 was theorized to create some improvement in security, "a breathing space" during which the Iraqi government would rapidly resolve their political issues. That's not happening, and now it looks like different elements in the command structure are trying to set up alternatives for what to do next.

Meanwhile in Iraq....
An Iraqi parliamentary committee has failed to finalise an agreement on amending key articles in the constitution, one of the political benchmarks Washington says are important to end sectarian violence.

(And, while we're being told to wait another six months, "With eight days still to go, May 2007 caps the deadliest six-month period for America of the entire Iraq war...")


Monica Goodling is trying to blame everyone else, McNulty, Sampson, but she is admitting illegal acts. (Later: video.)
Rep. Bobby Scott , D-Va., hammered Goodling on her decisions to hire prosecutors who favored Republicans.

"Do you believe they were illegal or legal?" Scott asked.

"I don't believe I intended to commit a crime," Goodling, a lawyer, answered.

"Did you break the law? Is it against the law to take those considerations into account?" Scott said.

"I believe I crossed the line, but I didn't mean to," she responded.

I'm yet to see or read anything that seems to justify the grant of immunity. I would expect something more.

Later: She was only granted "Use Immunity?"

Picture of the Day - 2

(From the Jamestown celebration May 13, 2007. (AP Steve Helber))

A window into Monica Goodling.

From a pre-testimony WaPo article on Goodling not hiring Dems.
"All I ever wanted to do was serve this president, this administration, this department," Goodling tearfully told a senior Justice official shortly before she quit.

Notice that it's not "serve my country."

The next level on Iran

Last night it was "leaked" that President Bush signed a finding authorizing nonlethal covert operations intended to destabilize Iran.

Today, in a show of force, the navy sent two carrier groups into the Strait of Hormuz.
"What is special about this is that you have two strike groups. Everybody will see us because it is in daylight." (Rear Admiral Kevin Quinn)....

U.S. and Iranian ambassadors are due to meet on Monday in Baghdad to discuss security in Iraq...

I'm not touching you. I'm not touching you. I'm not touching you.

Nine more US soldiers killed in Iraq

(AFP) "Three soldiers were killed when their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb attack south of Baghdad, one was shot dead in the capital and another hit by a booby trap as his unit operated near where the men went missing.

Two more soldiers were killed by another roadside bomb north of Baghdad, while two marines died in action in the restive western province of Anbar."

(Also: A very well written point of view article by Damian Cave about losses in the search for the three missing soldiers in Mahmoudiya.

Later: (WaPo) "U.S. officials are examining the body of a man that Iraqi police found in the Euphrates River this morning and believe to be one of three missing American soldiers." )

Picture of the Day

Army Brig. Gen. Keith McNamara, left, hands a flag that was placed over the urn containing the ashes of Army Cpl. Michael A. Purcel, to his mother Air Force Reserve Capt. Teresa Dutcher, Monday, May 21, 2007, at Arlington National Cemetery. Cpl. Purcel died May 6, the youngest of the six soldiers killed when a homemade bomb exploded near their vehicle during combat operations in Baqubah, Iraq. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Very quietly, underneath it all

The Bush administration sets forth to let the START treaty lapse.
The United States plans to let a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia expire in 2009 and replace it with a less formal agreement that eliminates strict verification requirements and weapons limits, a senior U.S. official says....

In the post-Cold war era, many provisions of the 1991 START accord, which mandated deep nuclear weapons cuts, "are no longer necessary. We don't believe we're in a place where we need have to have the detailed lists (of weapons) and verification measures," added DeSutter, who handles arms control and verification issues.

After all, who needs to keep track of those pesky Russian rogue nukes. We're going to pursue a non-functional missile defense.

Bush authorizes covert operation against Iran

ABCNews is reporting.
The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, say President Bush has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" that puts into motion a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions.....

This report speculates that this is a rebuff to Cheney who has been pushing a military strike. Elliot Abrams and Stephen Hadley "signed off."

This is likely in response to the recent report of steps forward in the Iranian nuclear program.

I'm sure the Iranians will take this lying down. (Video here.)

(There's also the mention that the US has been indirectly supporting the "cross border" Sunni terror group Jundullah.

Take a look at the Hersh post below to see the wisdom of this.)

(Also today, Bush declassified one piece of intel linking Bin Laden, Zarqawi, and the US ahead of his speech at the Coast Guard commencement.)

Ralston pleads the fifth and Goodling to testify tomorrow

With former Abramoff aide/former Rove aide Susan Ralston now claiming the fifth amendment before Congress in an apparent attempt to extract immunity, and Monica Goodling having been granted immunity to testify tomorrow, the circle around Rove appears to be closing.

(The Ralston fifth amendment claim was revealed in a memo released by Waxman's Government Oversight Committee not coincidentally the day before Goodling is to testify. Before the Goodling show starts, all of the papers will have the headline, Former Rove Aide Claims Fifth Amendment.

Not that Waxman is trying to prejudice public opinion.....)

Also: EmptyWheel has a good post on Waxman refusing Ralston's immunity plea.

Picture of the Day - 3

People gather around a a bomb crater after a deadly blast occurred in the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Amil, Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday, May 22, 2007, killing 25 people and injuring 60 others. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Jesus Christ

I don't even know what to say....
Authorities arrested a Liberty University student for having several gasoline-based bombs in his car.

The student, 19-year-old Mark Ewell of Amissville, Va., reportedly told authorities that he was making the bombs to stop protesters from disrupting (Falwell's) funeral service.....

Three other suspects are being sought.

Troops in Iraq to reach 200,000?

I'm not so sure about this. I would have thought this would have been leaked earlier if it were true.
The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday.

This "second surge" of troops in Iraq, which is being executed by extending tours for brigades already there and by deploying more units, could boost the number of combat troops to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year. When support troops are included, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 -- the most ever -- by the end of the year.


Picture of the Day - 2

(REUTERS/Ihlas News Agency)

(AP) "A bomb exploded Tuesday in one of the Turkish capital's busiest commercial centers, killing five people and wounding about 80, authorities said.....

Private NTV television, quoting police sources, said the bomb was made of plastic explosives, the type favored by separatist Kurdish rebels. Militant leftists and Islamic extremists also operate in Turkey.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

A long time

From a Bush interview with Reuters:
Q: What would you say would be your top successes and top things that you wish had gone better?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we haven't -- I mean, I'm not through being President yet. ....

So give me a chance to finish the last 20 months. We've had a very-- 20 months is a long time during this presidency.

It sure is.....

Political bits

Bush at new alltime low in Rasmussen and tied one in ARG.

(WaPo) Froomkin asks a good question: Why isn't Bush out pushing the immigration deal?

(Rawstory) Monica Goodling is withholding documents. (Unredacted versions of already released documents?)

(Reuters) The Dems propose a "NOPEC" bill to remove the legal protections from the OPEC cartel. Not likely to pass, but it is making the Bush administration defend OPEC in this high oil price summer.

(USAToday) Sen. Kyl feels blowback from the immigration deal.

And, what does the LATimes' Ralph Vartabedian have against John McCain? Last week it was McCain's too old, today it's that McCain's too angry.

PS. The McCain campaign is getting "angry." (Chicago Tribune)
That hasn't stopped the McCain campaign from taking shots at Romney. "Mitt Romney has been consistent in one regard: that nearly every position he holds now is opposite of what it was when he was governor of Massachusetts," Jones (McCain's spokesman) said.

Surprising coverage

In its Lebanon coverage, CNN (Your World Today) just did a long interview with Sy Hersh regarding his substantial February article reporting that, in an effort to offset growing Iranian influence, the Bush administration, through the Saudis, is running "off the books" operations supporting Sunni extremist groups like the one currently fighting in Lebanon.

That's a long way from the blind "Al Qaeda did it" CNN coverage from yesterday.

Update: Here's the video.

Picture of the Day

A portion of the new U.S. embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad, Saturday, May 19, 2007. (AP Photo)

Increasing pressure on the Iraqis by discussing "Plan B"

Wherever you stand on the Iraq war funding debate, there can be little argument that the Democrat's position has significantly increased the pressure on the Iraqis to move forward.
Iraq's military is drawing up plans to cope with any quick U.S. military pullout, the defense minister said Monday, as a senior American official warned that the Bush administration may reconsider its support if Iraqi leaders don't make major reforms by fall.

Notice the anonymously "senior American official" sourced warning. In an effort to increase pressure, the administration is beginning to "leak" lots of Plan B scenarios like in this David Ignatius piece yesterday.
President Bush and his senior military and foreign policy advisers are beginning to discuss a "post-surge" strategy for Iraq that they hope could gain bipartisan political support. The new policy would focus on training and advising Iraqi troops rather than the broader goal of achieving a political reconciliation in Iraq, which senior officials recognize may be unachievable within the time available.....

Senior officials discussed the outlines of a "post-surge" policy late last week in what they said was an effort to build bipartisan support from Congress and the American public. Their comments appeared to be a trial balloon aimed at testing whether a Baker-Hamilton approach could gain traction in Washington.

NPR has a piece on the Pentagon's planning for a "withdrawal." Surprise, surprise, permanent military bases.
A series of military installations could be maintained around Iraq, with a total of total of 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops, for a long period of time — maybe a few decades.

Also today
, we might be able to get some sense of just how far the Iraqis are from that "political reconciliation."
Parliament was due to sit on Tuesday to discuss several important issues including constitutional reform, one of Washington's benchmarks.

And, as per the ungodly usual, on a day when political deliberations are set to take place, a mass casualty bombing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

That Al Gonzales is one creepy dude

Take a minute to read CNet's highlights of Al Gonzales' proposed anti-piracy law. Beyond the fact that it could have been written by the lobbyists themselves (I know,) take a look at the last bullet point featured.
Require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America. That would happen when CDs with "unauthorized fixations of the sounds, or sounds and images, of a live musical performance" are attempted to be imported.

Take minute with that. The Attorney General wants software on your computer that would report you to Homeland Security. Then, Homeland Security would collect this information and forward it to a Trade Association, a private business group, who would then use it in civil cases against you.

The DHS would be the investigative arm of the RIAA.

This will likely never come into law, but it does say alot about Gonzales.

Picture of the Day - 3

(CNN) "Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has met privately with Bush a handful of times, but never before at the president's getaway in central Texas. The invitation was meant to be a special treat, an offer of extended personal time with Bush."

(U.S. President George W. Bush gives NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer a lift in his truck upon his arrival at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas May 20, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Political bits

Bush today: "Now, you asked about Alberto Gonzales. He has got my confidence. He has done nothing wrong. There's been enormous amount of attention on him -- that there's been no wrongdoing on his part."

(NYSunblog) "Maybe I should wait a couple weeks and see if it changes," Mr. McCain said of Mr. Romney's position on immigration this week. "Maybe he can get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his yard."

(ThinkProgress) The American Center for Voting Rights which pushed Republican voter fraud charges, has been completely scrubbed.

(AtlantaJC) "Delegates to the (Georgia) state Republican convention unleashed a rare chorus of boos and hisses at U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss on Saturday, as he spoke up for a bipartisan immigration reform package unveiled in Washington this week."

(Funny, you court bigots in a "southern strategy," and then they turn out to bigots. Who knew?)

All Lebanon, All the time

The way that CNN is giving non-stop coverage to the violence in the Lebanese refugee camps, you would think we were in a war....

Picture of the Day - 2

"My husband does hate immigrants. He really does.... C'mon Mitt, stand up there and tell them how much you hate immigrants.... "

(Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with his wife, Ann, speak to the delegates Saturday, May 19, 2007, at the Republican Party State Convention in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain))

"A second Fallujah" in Sadr City

The WaPo outlines the delicate efforts to move US and Iraqi forces into Sadr City, but also includes "the stick" behind the negotiations.
If political avenues are exhausted, the U.S. military has formulated other options, including plans for a wholesale clearing operation in Sadr City that would require a much larger force, but commanders stress that this is a last resort.

"A second Fallujah plan exists, but we don't want to execute it," a military officer in Baghdad said.

Take a moment to look at the satellite photos of Sadr City as you contemplate this "second Fallujah plan."

I'm not sure if this was "leaked" to pressure the folks in Sadr City, but if they're serious, they'd better look again. Fallujah had only 400,000 residents at the time, and the city is far more spread out.

Sadr City is 2 million people stacked into an apartment block slum.

"Clearing" Sadr City would be impossible with the forces currently available. (Really, take a look at the satellite photos.)

Is Immigration a White House respite or a devious Democratic plan?

Regardless of how messy the debate gets, the proposed immigration legislation is a political "favor" for the Republicans and the White House.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell suggests that debate will need to "go on for at least a couple of weeks," but during that time, most Republicans will attack the plan, shoring up their "base" credentials and proving their distance from the White House on this very public issue.

The White House, on the other hand, is guaranteed lots of headlines around something it would rather talk about than Iraq, Gonzales, etc.

What do the Dems get out of doing this now?

Later: A theory inspired by Atrios: Immigration separates the "money/business" side of the party from the "nativist" elements, so maybe, for the Dems, this is about separating the business donors from the Republican party?

Are the Dems that smart?

(Later: Or, maybe the Dems are going to cave on the Iraq war funding, and wanted all the Republican rancor to cover their concession.)

I think I was wrong

The AP is reporting that SCIRI (SIIC) party members are telling them that al Hakim has lung cancer. Al Hakim has travelled from Houston to Iran for chemotherapy.
Al-Hakim's absence could last several months or longer, said the officials, thus robbing Iraq from a key political player who has been a major partner in U.S. efforts to build a democratic system following Saddam's ouster in 2003, despite his ties to Iran.

The fact that al-Hakim will be more or less absent from Iraqi politics for months tells me that I was likely wrong in guessing his trip to Houston was a cover story.

Sorry. Sometimes the tinfoil hat pinches around the temples.

(Also, Powerful Kurdish leader Talabani will also be absent for three weeks for medical care at the Mayo Clinic.

Then it's the Iraqi parliament's two month break.

Juan Cole has more on the absence of major players.)

Also: (LATimes) "As Iraq's government compiles a record of failure, the Bush administration is under growing pressure to intervene to rearrange Baghdad's dysfunctional political order, or even install a new leadership."

Picture of the Day

Have you ever noticed that Laura Bush never touches the dogs unless it's a "faithful homemaker" photo op?

(U.S. President George W. Bush carries dog Barney as he and first lady Laura Bush descend the steps of Air Force One upon their arrival in Waco, Texas, May 18, 2007. At top is the President's valet carrying their other dog Miss Beazley. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lindsay Graham got booed over immigration

At the South Carolina State Republican Convention, Lindsey Graham got roundly booed, and somehow flipping Mitt came out as the big hero.

I'm waiting for some sort of dustup at a McCain event. (As far as I can tell, he doesn't have any open public appearances coming up.)

Kinda creepy

I understand what Petraeus is trying to accomplish, and I have no doubt his motives are anything but pure, but take away the American element and imagine that you live in an occupied country whether it's Vichy France, Eastern bloc under the Soviets or whatever, and you saw this letter posted by the top occupying military commander.

Picture of the Day - 2

President George W. Bush greets soldiers wounded in Iraq who are warded at Walter Reed Medical center on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure May 18, 2007. Bush is going to attend a Republican Party fundraiser in Richmond, Virginia and spend weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Tell me again how Iraq helps against Al Qaeda

This war in Iraq has been a disaster on so many fronts, but what it's done for Al Qaeda, and violent groups in general, is unconscionable.
In one of the most troubling trends, U.S. officials said al-Qaida's command base in Pakistan increasingly is being funded by cash from Iraq, where the terrorist network's operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity.....

Al-Qaida in Iraq has drawn increasingly large contributions from elsewhere in the Muslim world — largely because the fight against U.S. forces has mobilized Middle East donors, officials said.

The Iraq invasion has helped terrorist recruiting, enhanced their fundraising, and raised their profile in the broader Arab world.

Al Qaeda was something of a fringe group before George Bush decided to invade Iraq. Now, you will find T-shirts with Bin Laden's face in street markets from Mogadishu to Indonesia.

Also in this article, it's good to know that Bin Laden wasn't a top priority from 2002 to 2006....
....an aggressive effort launched last year to intensify pressure on bin Laden and his top deputies.....

The officials were charged with reinvigorating a search that had atrophied when some intelligence assets and special-forces teams were pulled out of Afghanistan in 2002 to prepare for war with Iraq.....

President Bush is given detailed presentations on the hunt's progress every two to four months, in addition to routine counterterrorism briefings, intelligence officials said.

Is an Iraqi "grand bargain" in the offing?

This time it's the British who are engaging in "secret talks" to try to peel away the Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups from Al Qaeda in Iraq.

But what caught my eye in this article is that Kurdish President Jalal Talabani is the one brokering the talks, the same Jalal Talabani who is arriving in the US Sunday for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

Now, Talabani had a very serious medical problem just a few months ago, so I don't greet his medical visit with the same skepticism as Shiite leader al Hakim's, but, it should be noted that the interests of Iraqi Sunni groups, the Kurds, and the largest government supporting Shia group are all in the US this weekend for "medical treatments".

Some coincidence, eh?

6 more killed in one attack in Iraq today, 8 on Saturday, 7 on Friday,

(AP) "A roadside bomb that exploded in the western section of Baghdad killed six U.S. soldiers and one interpreter, the U.S. military said Sunday."

(Per Iraq Coalition Casualties. At least 7 US soldiers killed today, 8 killed on Saturday, 7 US soldiers killed on Friday, 6 killed on Thursday.)

Picture of the Day

Staff Sgt. Richard Kellar, seated in a wheelchair at left, looks on as a photo of U.S. Army Cpl. Anthony Bradshaw is displayed at a memorial service Tuesday, May 15, 2007, at Fort Lewis, Wash., to honor Bradshaw and five other Fort Lewis soldiers killed earlier this month in a bombing in Iraq. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Bye-Bye Britain.

No idea if this is true, but it does seem likely that this would be briefed at least as a possibility.
US President George Bush has been told to prepare for a British U-turn on Iraq once Gordon Brown becomes prime minister, a Sunday newspaper reports.

Bush has been briefed by White House officials to expect an announcement on British troop withdrawals during Brown's first 100 days in office, The Sunday Telegraph said.

Later: (Scotsman) "Gordon Brown will remove all British forces from Iraq before the next election under a plan to rebuild support among disillusioned Labour voters."

Sadr makes his move

The Washington Post has a big front page article about Sadr's recent political shift towards Iraqi nationalism. Although I would argue that this shift is not as absolute as the Post portrays it, it does represent a broad effort on his part to reach across the IED strewn aisle to establish himself as the alternative candidate to Maliki's tarnished government.

This has been going on for at least six months and was made most public when Sadr withdrew his ministers to remove his movement from any association with the current government and the Americans.

The interesting thing to me is the apparent traction Sadr's efforts are having, and the ripple effects flowing from it. Probably most notable were the recent SCIRI "reforms" enacted in an apparent effort to show distance with Iran, but also, as significantly, to react to the resonance of Sadr's new message and stance.

Sadr appears to be trying to set up a constituency for an alternative power structure to the current government. At this point, it's unclear whether this is designed to actively replace the Maliki government, or to simply "be available" as the alternative when Maliki falls. (I don't think Sadr wants power until after the US leaves, because dealing with the US would hobble his nationalist stance.)

(Regarding the absolutism of this shift. The level of control Sadr directly exercises over the Mahdi is never quite clear. Some elements of Mahdi (splinters?) are receiving direct support and orders from Iran. Also, what about the Mahdi clashes with Iraqi forces and SCIRI (SIIC) security forces in the south?)

Make no mistake, though, this broad turning of the Sadr ship really does represent a significant effort towards power.