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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Souring on the war.

(NYTimes) The soldiers and their families are turning away from Bush's war.

(WaPo) The midwest sours on the war.

And, of course, polling shows Americans as a whole are against this war. (Newsweek)

Picture of the Day - 2

(Busy today, so just a quick picture.)

Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona talks with attendee John Barnes JR., before speaking at a Concord Chamber of Commerce event, Friday, July 13, 2007, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

Robbing Peter to pay Petraeus in Iraq

So, not only is the surge failing to achieve significant results, but its implementation has seriously degraded the efforts to train the Iraqi forces.
American commanders said Friday that the effort to train Iraqi Army and police units had slowed in recent months and would need to be expanded to enable any large-scale reduction in American force levels.

The problem has arisen, several senior officers said Friday, in large part because preparing Iraqi units to operate without American backing had become a secondary goal under the current war strategy, which has emphasized protecting Iraqis and the heavy use of American combat power.

Let's remember that the "surge" strategy is still some version of clear, hold, retain with the Iraqis staying in the "joint security stations" to retain the ground US soldiers died for.

Later: Here's some very ugly math. A battalion is between 500-700 men.
Moreover, the Pentagon on Friday conceded that the Iraqi army has become more reliant on the U.S. military. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, said the number of Iraqi battalions able to operate on their own without U.S. support has dropped in recent months from 10 to six, though he said the fall was in part due to attrition from stepped-up offensives.

So, that would mean that somewhere between 3,000 and 4,200 Iraqi soldiers are ready to go.

I would wager that 4,200 "prepared" Iraqi forces don't match one US brigade of 3,500. "The surge" is 5 brigades, and there are a total of 21 US combat brigades currently stationed in Iraq.

There are some definitional questions about "able to operate on their own," but this really says alot about the poor management of the war.

The US's recent efforts to enlist tribal forces in Anbar, and now elsewhere, indicate the longer term direction of the effort. The US has, for the time, practically given up on the idea of an Iraqi government force in the short term, and is now attempting to strike deals with local tribal leaders and militias.

This might allow a boost in short term security, but you're also organizing and elevating these local armed groups. When the political divisions often framed as sectarianism once again exacerbate, local and regional leaders will go back to using these militias as politics by other means.

Any realistic assessment of Iraq in the midterm would see that the militias (definitionally including Sunni tribal groups) will be the strongest and most effective fighting forces in the country, so an effort to try and work with these groups does make short term operational sense. However, in the longer term, these elements will become the military arm in the civil war.

We hear alot of rhetoric that Al Qaeda and Iran are the main agitators in Iraq, and this local strategy may be somewhat effective at dislodging those groups temporarily, however, by abandoning the larger effort to train a "nonsectarian" Iraqi government force, the US is largely ignoring the longer term civil war.

Even assuming this current effort to expunge Al Qaeda and Iran is temporarily successful, support from Al Qaeda and Iran will be inevitably invited back in because because they offer skills, training, money, and supplies that the US will not.

This entire "surge" strategy is built upon the precept that the Iraqis will make political reconciliations within the "breathing space" the US is creating, but that's not happening. Instead, the Iraqis are positioning for the collapse of the Maliki government, and the US is in the process of organizing their military arms.

The Iraqi Parliament will be taking the month of August off.

Later: One more thought. The deals with the tribes in Anbar are being branded as "bottom up reconciliation" but that is hugely (and intentionally) misleading. Those Sunnis in Anbar have not entered into a political reconciliation with the Iraqi government, they have entered into a joint cause with the US.

There is no evidence that they have any intention of reconciling with the Shia led Iraqi government.

And, Maliki says his country can manage without the US. That's true. Once the pretense of a non-sectarian military is dropped, the combination of Iraqi police and militias can likely manage quite well in the civil war.

Picture of the Day

U.S. Marines carry the casket from the church after the funeral for Staff Sgt. Faoa Apineru at First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 13, 2007. Apineru, who suffered a brain injury in Iraq in 2005, died July 2, 2007, at a veterans facility in California, his family said. (AP Photo/Deseret Morning News, Laura Seitz)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Jawdropping Tony Snow.

Sometimes with Tony Snow, the FoxNews pundit comes out, and a flip, dismissive response is offered to a very serious question. It's a pundit trick used to belittle your opponent and move on. Martha Raddatz was having none of it. Worth a watch. (Video/Transcript)

Q Is the Iraqi government and the Iraqi parliament taking the month of August off?

MR. SNOW: Probably, yes. Just not --

Q They're taking the entire month of August off, before the September deadline?

MR. SNOW: It looks like they may, yes. Just like the U.S. Congress is.

Q Have you tried to talk them out of that?

MR. SNOW: You know, it's 130 degrees in Baghdad in August, I'll pass on your recommendation.

Q Well, Tony, Tony, I'm sorry, that's -- you know -- I mean, there are a lot of things that happen by September and it's 130 degrees for the U.S. military also on the ground......


Picture of the Day - 2

Tancredo finds it lonely in the GOP's big tent.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. stands before the delegates at the NAACP convention in Detroit, Thursday, July 12, 2007. Tancredo was the lone GOP presidential hopeful at the forum. All candidates were invited. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Serious people now dislike the war

I haven't done all the reading on this, but at first blush it sounds more like a reprimand to Bush than any sort of binding legislation.
Two prominent Senate Republicans have drafted legislation that would require President Bush by mid-October to come up with a plan to dramatically narrow the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq.....

"Given continuing high levels of violence in Iraq and few manifestations of political compromise among Iraq's factions, the optimal outcome in Iraq of a unified, pluralist, democratic government that is able to police itself, protect its borders, and achieve economic development is not likely to be achieved in the near future," the Warner-Lugar proposal said.

Of course, this legislation would allow Republicans to vote against Bush, but not really vote for change. (How do you enforce a "requirement" to narrow the mission?)


(WaPo) Iraq's military readiness slips.
Despite stepped-up training, the readiness of the Iraqi military to operate independently of U.S. forces has decreased since President Bush's new strategy was launched in January, according to the White House progress report released yesterday.

Respected AP military reporter Robert Burns finds evidence in the Iraq report that the Bush administration intends to extend "the surge" into the spring of '08.

(AP) US forces "battled" Iraqi Police while trying to arrest an IP lieutenant accused of militia activity.

Picture of the Day

This undated photo released by the Harbuck family shows Army Spc. Michelle Ring with her two sons, Marc Stearns, 7, left, and Brandon Cole, 5. Ring was killed July 5, 2007, by mortar fire while serving with 92nd Military Police Battalion in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Harbuck Family)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

They're admitting Al Qaeda is propaganda.

The WSJ blog Washington Wire truthsquadded some of the Bush press conference today, challenging the claims about Al Qaeda. But buried in there is an admission of "the big lie."
The president spoke of the group as the main driver of violence in Iraq, even though U.S. commanders say Shiite groups — which have ethnically cleansed entire regions of Iraq of most Sunni inhabitants — have been responsible for more of the country’s bloodshed in recent months. Bush’s comments were also at variance with the interim report itself, which acknowledged that al Qaeda in Iraq “may not account for most of the violence of Iraq.”....

Still, expect to hear more about al Qaeda — both the main organization led by bin Laden and the largely-unconnected Iraq franchise — in the weeks ahead.

With support for the war evaporating at home and on Capitol Hill, administration officials say they plan to play up al-Qaeda in Iraq even further in their public comments about the war there. “It’s a name that really resonates, like the boogeyman,” said one aide.

They're lying. They admit to reporters off the record they're lying, and yet that's not a big story.

Later: (AP) "Al-Qaida works to plant U.S. operatives"

(NYTimes) "Bush Distorts Qaeda Links, Critics Assert"

(ThinkProgress) Tony Snow on FoxNews says an Iraq withdrawal would bring terrorism "to our shores, to a shopping mall near you."

Political bits

If you want see something disturbing, take a look at this CNN video of "Christian" protesters disrupting a Hindu chaplain trying to deliver a historic first Hindu morning prayer in the Senate.

(Politico) Fred Thompson now says he might have lobbied for an abortion rights group, but he has "no recollection."

(Same piece) Thompson's advisors, facing many negative stories, are now looking to push back his Aug. 5 announcement even further. (He was originally rumored to announce July 4.)

(Politico) "In what one senator called "the most serious fight that I have seen in my time in the Senate," McCain clashed with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) over the Arizona senator's assertion that the most dangerous threat facing U.S. troops in Iraq was Al Qaeda members. "

(Politico) The Romney's recommend that we ask Rudy Giuliani how he and his present wife met.

And, Maybe I'm just a male dominant hetero, I'm willing to accept that label, but reading about McCain's Florida co-chair being busted for solicitation got me to wondering: Isn't it customary to pay people to supply oral sex not pay them to receive it?

Picture of the Day - 3

(AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

(AP) A House panel cleared the way Thursday for contempt proceedings against former White House counsel Harriet Miers after she obeyed President Bush and skipped a hearing on the firings of federal prosecutors.

The White House wins on headlines.

By the construction of the Iraq report, terming progress "satisfactory," the White House is able to claim "mixed" results.

In reality, no benchmarks have been met, but the White House has won the headlines war with much of the media even adopting the White House's word "mixed" success.

(AP) Report on Iraq shows mixed results
(Reuters) Bush says no shift on Iraq yet, report is mixed
(WaPo) White House Gives Iraq Mixed Marks in Report
(NYTimes) Report on Iraq Sees Progress; Bush Rejects Troop Pullout

The White House couldn't have hoped for better. I'll be curious to see the level of truthsquadding.

(And, why do we love McClatchy? Because they're actually doing the "on the ground" analysis.

From yesterday: "Here is the full list of 18 benchmarks set by Congress in May, with a short description by McClatchy of the status of each.")

The Libby stance.

We will not comment on an ongoing investigation. We will not comment on an ongoing investigation. We will not comment on an ongoing investigation. I'm commuting Libby.

Now, we'll no longer talk about it because it's time to move on.

Picture of the Day - 2

President George W. Bush listens to a question during a White House Conference on the Americas in Arlington, Virginia, 09 July 2007. Opposition to the Iraq war in the United States has hit a record high while President George W. Bush's approval ratings have plunged to new low, according to a poll released on Tuesday.(AFP/File/Jim Watson)

One Quick Aside

I know a large number of people were quite unhappy that the new Democratic Congress ended up funding the war in the last round of the Iraq debate, (they didn't have to votes to stop the war,) but I do want to point out that this round of "benchmark" reporting that is fuelling today's Iraq debate is solely due to Democrats being in control of Congress.

There would not be this July report, or the September report, without the Dems in control and that has set fixed debate points to keep returning the Iraq debate and pressure.

It was a decent play with the votes they had.

Compare and Contrast

In the same vein, the Dems in Congress have fairly successfully used their committe chairmanships to shape the debate. As the "mixed success" (yeah, right) report comes out on Iraq, Thomas Fingar, the DDNI and NIC chief, was on the Hill yesterday saying this,
Meanwhile, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, senior intelligence officials said there has been no meaningful positive change in Iraq since January, when a starkly pessimistic National Intelligence Estimate warned that even if security improved, violent sectarian divisions threatened to destroy the government.....

"The analysis that the community made in January . . . appears to be borne out by events since then," he said. "That assessment focused on the imperative for reducing levels of violence in the country as a prerequisite for beginning to restore confidence among the competing, fractured body politic and the groups in the political system." While the increase in U.S. troops is "having an effect, it has not yet had a sufficient effect on the violence, in my judgment, to move the country to a place that the serious obstacles to reconciliation can be overcome," Fingar said.

I'll be very curious how credibly the media treats the claims of Iraq success in the administration's report.

The Iraq Study Group leaks itself into the Iraq debate

The WaPo has a front page article this morning highlighting CIA Director Michael Hayden's testimony to the ISG from November 2006. It's quite inflammatory, but being 7 months old, this leak is more about shaping the debate today than assessing Iraq.

So, the interesting question is not so much what Hayden said in November, but who leaked it? (It's bylined Bob Woodward so it's a narrative someone powerful wants to tell.)
Hayden said "the inability of the government to govern seems irreversible," adding that he could not "point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around," according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants.

"The government is unable to govern," Hayden concluded. "We have spent a lot of energy and treasure creating a government that is balanced, and it cannot function."...

"The levers of power are not connected to anything," he said, adding: "We have placed all of our energies in creating the center, and the center cannot accomplish anything."...

"It's a legitimate question whether strengthening the Iraqi security forces helps or hurts when they are viewed as a predatory element," he said. "Strengthening Iraqi security forces is not unalloyed good. Without qualification, this judgment applies to the police."

One substantial element of this leak is to obliterate the President's credibility by contrasting Hayden's "candid" testimony from November with the president's presentations.
For more than an hour, they listened to President Bush give what one panel member called a "Churchillian" vision of "victory" in Iraq and defend the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "A constitutional order is emerging," he said.....

Bush was joined in the interview by Vice President Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and Hadley, but they did not speak. "We thought with that whole group there, we were going to get briefings, we were going to get discussions," said Perry. "Instead the president held forth on his views on how important the war was, and how it was tough."

So, somebody on the ISG is playing hardball. I guess it's not coincidental that this also comes as James Baker said he will not reconstitute the ISG without Bush's blessing.

Picture of the Day

Republican Presidential hopeful, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, right, accompanied by his wife Judy, gestures during his visit to the Pan-American Pancake and Omelet House in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Friday, July 6, 2007. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is the White House about to lay a time bomb?

In an effort to not portray Iraq as a complete failure today, the NYTimes reports that the White House is going to try and emphasize the statistics that are currently trending to support their argument. Over the last month or two, death squad killings are down from a peak, car bombings are down from a peak, etc.

However, after hearing for so long how militants in Iraq conduct "spectaculars" just to get on the news and influence policy, isn't this emphasis on the number of bodies almost a guarantee that we'll see a surge in violence?

Many times, this administration has said that emphasizing the violence just causes more attacks. Isn't the same true here?

Just who are we supposed to be fighting anyhow?

Amid all the debate about Iraq, we shouldn't lose the bigger picture, the fact that we're losing the bigger war.
U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded al-Qaida has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, The Associated Press has learned.....

Counterterrorism analysts produced the document, titled "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West.".....

Al-Qaida is "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," the official said, paraphrasing the report's conclusions. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."

Oh, and in that country where we're supposedly fighting Al Qaeda....
While the military has maintained that al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, by any number of measures the terror group and its affiliates are as strong as ever, and June was the most violent month since the start of the war, a senior U.S. military official told ABC News.

"Despite our successes in taking out leaders and infrastructure," said the official, "al Qaeda's operational capability appears to be undiminished."

Pre-debunking the Iraq report.

ABCNews just carried a small piece by Jonathon Karl saying that one of the signs of measured progress that will be cited in Friday's Iraq assessment is the fact that the Iraqis supplied 3 brigades into Baghdad as part of the surge. This is deceptive on two points.

First, the Iraqi brigades arrived late and never reached their full complement.

Second, all three brigades involved were Kurdish Peshmerga which operate virtually independently of the Iraqi government and military structure, so their organization and performance do not reflect the broader status of the Iraqi forces.

Picture of the Day - 2

A U.S. military Humvee destroyed by a roadside bomb burns in eastern Baghdad, Iraq Wednesday, July 11, 2007. One civilian close to the blast was killed and two were injured, police said. There was no information on U.S. casualties. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Political bits

So, I go to John McCain's site trying to find the text of his pro-Iraq floor speech yesterday and the last speech listed is from June 20th. His "newsroom" only has two items since July 6, and the blog has only one post this month. (Their web guy went in yesterday's clearout.)

(Politico) Romney's the first reported to be trying to poach McCain backers.

(MarcAmbinder) Estimates 10 "senior" McCain staff leaving.

(CNN) Tancredo claims "some credit" for McCain's downfall.

(TheHill) David Vitter is "hiding."

(CNN) One of the four "Dinner with Barack" winners pulled out after it was revealed she used to be a man. (The Obama campaign classily reextended the invitation, but she declined.)

(NYTimes) "Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional panel Tuesday that top Bush administration officials repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.....

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings."

And, (WashTimes) Bush unintentionally made some poor girl cry.

"Take that hill"

I'm very sick of the argument that Iraq policy should be determined by "commanders in the field."

The truth is that politicians are supposed to play a key role in defining the goals which the military then undertakes. The construction of our government is such that the politicians set the goals, and the military is then tasked with executing those goals.

(I do find it odd that with all the other grabs for unitary power, this president is willing (rhetorically, at least) to cede the fundamental executive power of civilian control over the military.)

I keep thinking back to some of the battles in Vietnam and Korea when units were told to "take that hill."

Even in the most hopeless situation, you can always find some officer who is willing to try to "take that hill" no matter the cost, but finding an officer willing to try does not in fact mean that the goal is achievable or advisable.

We now have military officers in charge in Iraq who say that they can "take that hill" (increasingly tepidly I've noticed,) but it is their superiors' job to determine if taking that hill is worth the cost.

Because of his personal involvement, Bush has developed a near monomania about that hill named Iraq, and that has skewed his evaluation of benefit versus cost. At this point, Bush is willing to listen to anyone who claims to be able to take that hill, and, because of this misallocation of resources and effort, we're losing the broader war.

(Sorry, I try not to editorialize too often, but this one came out.)

Picture of the Day

"See, the problem is you're setting the bar way up here...."

President George W. Bush speaks while participating in a discussion panel at the White House Conference on the Americas, in Arlington, Virginia July 9, 2007. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Gonzales lied to Congress, defense number 2

Yesterday we learned that Al Gonzales very likely lied to Congress when he said that there had been no abuses of civil liberties during his testimony seeking the renewal of the Patriot Act. The defense offered was that Gonzales was incompetent and hadn't read the half dozen reports before his testimony.

Today, we get reports that he did, in fact, have numerous and fairly specific conversations about this, while a Gonzales aide trots out a second "definitional" defense.
Two senior Justice Department officials said yesterday that they kept Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales apprised of FBI violations of civil liberties and privacy safeguards in recent years.....

Wainstein said Gonzales was saying only that there had been no intentional acts of misconduct, rather than the sorts of mistakes the FBI was self-disclosing. "That is why I cited the definition of 'abuse,' which in Webster's . . . implies some sort of intentional conduct. And I think that is sort of the common understanding of the word 'abuse,' " Wainstein said.

(I don't know why I'm blogging this, nothing changes. I guess it's some reflection of the world I'd like to live in where an Attorney General would be held responsible for commiting a felony by perjuring himself before Congress.

But, you know, that's just me dreaming again.....)

Navy pullback in the Persian Gulf?

I'm certainly not an expert on such things, but reading about this pullback from two to one carriers in the Persian Gulf, I have to figure its more about policy than resources. (Reuters, AP, NYSun)

So, less pressure on Iran?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Another allegation against David Vitter

Reading this latest allegation against David Vitter by a New Orleans Madam, I find myself asking the question, "What the hell is "a fishing rodeo" and why would it attract politicians and whores?"


Picture of the Day - 3

"See, Mr. President, your problem is that you have a lower level of activity right here in the prefrontal cortex which causes a lack of empathy and makes you prone to impetuous decisions and emotional outbursts......." -or-

"So, all I have to do is turn this dial and they'll do whatever I say?" -or-

"Deep inside the volcano hideout of Dr. Blofeld...." -or-

"Abbie someone.... Abbie Normal...."

Later: "So, just by turning this dial I can cause a detainee unimaginable pain without the risk of organ failure or death?"

I figured everybody was going to jump on this one so I had better get my cracks in early.

(President George W. Bush uses a remote control to deliver a simulated pacemaker to a part of a mockup human brain at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio July 10, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed)


(DenverPost) Rove on Guantanamo at the Aspen ideas festival, "Our principal health problem down there is gain of weight, we feed them so well," he said as many in the audience shook their heads and groaned in unison."

(USAToday) David Vitter got busted in the DC prostitute ring.

(CNN asks Giuliani about his SC campaign manager being busted for distributing coke and his Southern regional campaign director visiting prostitutes. Oh, then there's mobbed up Bernie Kerik.)

(AP) Sunni militants went on a rampage in a small unguarded village in Diyala killing "dozens."

(Reuters) A barrage of 30 mortars and rockets rained down on the Green Zone killing 3 and wounding 25. "
It was one of the biggest barrages ever against the heavily fortified zone."

And, yet another poll showing Bush approval in the 20's. (Datapage for the USAToday poll.)

Picture of the Day - 2

Presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 10, 2007, to discuss changes to his presidential campaign staff. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

(NYTimes) "After Mr. McCain completed his speech, he walked through the Capitol, where he sharply dismissed questions about whether his campaign was in trouble and insisted that he had not fired either Mr. Weaver or Mr. Nelson.

“No, no, no, no,” Mr. McCain said. “I’d describe the campaign as going well. I’m very happy with it. People are free to make their own assessments. I think we’re doing fine.”

Politico has a good post on the departures at the McCain campaign.

Chris Cilizza counts 5 top campaign staffers leaving.

Later: A second Politico post hinting that McCain was unhappy over where all his money went.

Iraqi no confidence vote

All this debate in the US over benchmarks may soon be moot. I would still put this at the rumor stage, but there does seem to be alot of movement around a no confidence vote on Maliki.

The Top Sunni politician said he would sign on to such a vote if it came from another bloc (Read Shia opposition,) and now we have an Iraqslogger report that the Sadrists are beginning to approach a no confidence proposal.

This could all be high stakes politics trying to exact concessions from Maliki, but it does appear that Sadr has once again headed towards the safety of Iran.

I wrote about the Iraqi politics of this possibility on Sunday, but today, let me ask this question: "What would the US politics look like if a no confidence measure was proposed against Maliki?"

(As of now, the Iraqi parliament is still set to take the entire month of August as a recess.)

Picture of the Day

A car bomb exploded in central Baghdad on Monday, killing two people, wounding six and causing heavy damage to this apartment building. (Reuters/Cerwan Aziz) Bigger if you click it.

Gonzales caught lying to Congress?

This is a piece by the now infamous hit artist John Solomon, so I'd like to see it under someone else's byline before I'm sure, but this does seem to indicate that Gonzales may have lied to Congress.
As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse," Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Gonzales defense is that he never read the reports.

Bush shifting emphasis on Iraq, not strategy.

Bush will use a speech in Cleveland today in an attempt to defuse the defections on Iraq. Despite a possible shift in wording or emphasis, this speech represents a political shift, not a real shift in strategy. (And don't miss the plea to ignore the evidence right before your eyes.)
Bush plans to lay out what an aide called "his vision for the post-surge" starting in Cleveland today to assure the nation that he, too, wants to begin bringing troops home eventually.....

To do that, Bush intends to argue that Congress and the public should look past this week's scheduled status report on Iraq and wait for the fuller assessment due in September. A drawdown, administration officials said, must be the result of the troop increase, not in place of it. "The drawdown is an effect," the official said. "It's not a cause."

The target of this speech is not the persuasion of Capitol Hill, but the American people. This speech is an effort to generate political cover for the next wave of Republicans who are on the fence.

But this political problem is not about the facts. This is about the administration's credibility, and no speech can reclaim that.

Reading this excerpt, you can almost hearing the Peter Baker asking his source that question, "Really? You really expect people to buy this?"
But Bush aides said they are acutely aware that every forecast they have made for Iraq over the past four years has proved wildly optimistic.

Later: Really? You really expect people to believe this?
A report citing a lack of progress by the Baghdad government is only "a look at the starting line" of the U.S. troop surge and shouldn't be used by critics to demand withdrawal, President Bush's spokesman said Tuesday.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Not one benchmark met.

If you've been paying attention this isn't at all a surprise.
A progress report on Iraq will conclude that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not met any of its targets for political, economic and other reform, speeding up the Bush administration's reckoning on what to do next, a U.S. official said Monday.

But what I think is more important, and thus far seems to be missing from all the coverage, is that there are almost no prospects for any of the benchmarks being met by the end of this year.

Picture of the Day baquba

Baquba: Iraqi hospital workers inspect bodies for victims of violence at a hospital in the restive city of Baquba June 26, 2007. US and Iraqi troops are conducting a major operation in the area, which has become an Al-Qaeda stronghold. (Photo by stringer/AFP-Getty Images)

A matter of perspective

Turkey has amassed 140,000 mostly combat soldiers along the northern Iraqi border to deal with an estimated 4,000 PKK militants basing themselves out of Iraq.

The US has 70,000 combat troops in all of Iraq (20 brigades?) to deal with thousands(?) of foreign fighters, tens of thousands of Sunni resistance, 40,000-60,000 Mahdi militia, tens of thousands of Badr corps, and god knows how many smaller sectarian militias, crooked government forces, and criminal gangs, all in the middle of an ongoing civil war.

The NATO Afghanistan force is somewhere around 22,000 intending to deal with all of the melange of Taleban, tribal figures, and Al Qaeda across Afghanistan into western Pakistan.

(ABCNews) The Army missed its recruiting goal for the second month in a row. June/July/August are critical months to miss because of heavy recruiting of graduating high school seniors.

(AFP) US General Dan McNeill, head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, says he's seeing an inflow of foreign fighters into Afghanistan.

Two interesting reads on combat outposts in Iraq

First, the LATimes had a piece yesterday collecting an interesting argument from some of the "on the ground" soldiers and NCO's involved in the current "surge strategy."
Although senior U.S. commanders and mid-level officers say they believe the bases are starting to work, many soldiers stationed at the outposts are doubtful, arguing that the burden of protecting the bases means they spend less time on the streets....

Moving soldiers to smaller bases inside Baghdad, according to the counterinsurgency experts, would allow them to spend more time interacting with the population. Regular contact with U.S. troops would make people feel safer, the main mission of counterinsurgency operations.

In practice, however, the outpost strategy has a key flaw: As many as half of the soldiers there at any one time are dedicated to protecting the outpost.

"In my tactical opinion, the combat outpost hasn't worked," said one junior officer stationed in east Baghdad. "It's not a bad idea, but we are doing it wrong. We have a bigger presence but we have less boots on the ground. You only have one platoon that can maneuver tactically at a time."

Interesting argument, and very counterintuitive to the way "the surge" has been packaged and sold.

Second, in the WaPo, stepping back from the "why" Alpha Company is travelling four miles from their "neighborhood combat outpost" to the nearest base, I found the story of their journey compelling.

Picture of the Day

President George W. Bush jokes with the White House visitors after his return to Washington from Camp David July 8, 2007. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

More like Churchill every day.....

Is McCain preparing to bolt on Iraq?

Tell me this didn't catch my eye in that big NYTimes article.
“Everyone’s particularly worried about what happens when McCain gets back from Iraq,” one (White House) official said, a reference to the latest trip to Baghdad by Senator John McCain, who has been a stalwart supporter of the “surge” strategy. Mr. McCain’s travels, and his political troubles in the race for the Republican nomination for president, have fueled speculation that he may declare the Iraqi government incapable of the kind of political accommodations that the crackdown on violence was supposed to permit.

Do you think they'd be worrying about McCain flipping if the rumors weren't already floating in the Washington air?

The Republicans that are stepping away from the Bush plan appear to using some combination of two excuses to justify their change in position.

1) It's the Iraqis fault for not holding up their end.
2) It's the Dems, "certain elements in Washington," "politics in Washington,"etc.

It is absolutely necessary for the fleeing Republicans to find someone to blame because it vitiates their earlier mistake in supporting Bush's policy. The construction being, "My previous support was correct and would have succeeded if only X hadn't spoiled it."

(Interesting that no one's blaming the American people anymore, "failing US support." I think that says alot about the depth and the demographic breadth of the anti-war feelings. They can't even blame the hippies without touching their own base.)

Later: The McCain campaign says there will be no "radical departures" as he returns from Iraq.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The White House is losing control

Indubitably, the top headline tomorrow will be this NYTimes piece revealing internal White House discussions about some sort of redeployment in Iraq. (Read it carefully, because it's not really talking withdrawal, but "gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.")
White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

This is mainly a political piece describing the White House trying to get out in front of the crumbling Republican support for the President's policy.

One more observation: This is the second example in a few weeks of very "internal deliberations" being leaked. (Deliberations over closing Guantanamo were leaked to the AP.)

The balance of power has shifted with the addition of a Washington savvy Sec Def Gates in place of Rumsfeld and a diminishing Cheney. The power squabbles are now more intense and bubbling out into the press.

Later: Within the context of these White House divisions, was the Libby commutation a sop to Cheney?

Isikoff: "I'm not sure Bush had a choice," says one of the advisers. "If he didn't act, it would have caused a fracture with the vice president."

The Sadr/Maliki split and Sadr returns to Iran

Maliki and Sadr may have now irrevocably split. Sadr's bloc was intially the driving force that brought Maliki and his small Dawa party to power. Sadr liked Maliki because he was not the SIIC, and the Americans liked Maliki (as a second choice) because he was not in either of the major Shia blocs allowing the possibility (pretense) of a multifactional unity government.

But, alot of water has passed under that bridge, and now the milk has soured in Maliki and Sadr's relationship. Sadr has grown increasingly hostile as Maliki has slowly moved his government towards the more US favored SIIC, increasing his anti-government rhetoric and withdrawing his bloc's participation in Maliki's government.

Two days ago, Maliki cast the final straw, calling for the Sadrists to put down their guns, but also accusing them of being no more than criminal gangs and being infested by Sunni Saddamists and Baathists (a mortal insult in Shia militiadom.)

Since then, Sadr's bloc has responded. (AFP,BBC,Iraqslogger.)

To get some sense of the level of hostilities, the US military is reporting that Sadr has returned to Iran, presumably to dodge a possible Iraqi or US arrest.

Maliki to face a no confidence vote July 15?

I know this rumor has been popping around for awhile, but this iteration has a firm date on it. CBSNews is reporting that a group of mainly Sunni legislators intend to call for a no confidence vote in Maliki on July 15.
That has led senior Iraqi leaders to demand drastic change. CBS News has learned that on July 15, they plan to ask for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament as the first step to bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Presumably, this approaching deadline is why Maliki is desperately trying to create a new "moderate" governing coalition, and why he has suddenly spoken very publicly against Sadr's Mahdi Army. (Sadr's group has been trying to build its own Iraqi nationalist coalition to replace Maliki and may well vote no confidence.)

The politics of this could get disastrously messy. Regardless of the larger affiliations, if you were an Iraqi parliamentarian, would you really want to go on the record supporting this Maliki government?

My guess is that if they kill it, they will try to do so by denying a quorum. I don't know their parlamentary procedure, but I would assume that this would also deadlock any other pending legislation.

As of today, the Iraqi parliament is still planning to take their month long August break.

Later: Can't find the link, but neither Sunni VP Adnan Dulaimi or a Sadr spokesman would go on the record for or against a no confidence vote. When asked, both blasted Maliki and the current government, but didn't specifically answer yes or no.

Here's the BBC and Iraqslogger on the very hot Maliki/Sadr split.

Picture of the Day

Sgt. Bruce Harrington, from Buzzards Bay, Mass., comforts his wife Sheila Harrington following a deployment ceremony for the Rhode Island Army National Guard's 169th Military Police Company in Warren, R.I., Thursday, July 5, 2007. Harrington, on his first tour, will be training Iraqi police with the rest of the 169th M.P. Company. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Pretty Day Quickhits

It's not raining here in Houston for the first day in what seems like a month, 2 of the last 26 days, so I'm not going to spend too much of the sunshine blogging. Here's some quickhits/interesting reads.

The NYTimes comes out with a big editorial calling for a complete and immediate withdrawal from Iraq. We'll see if it's significant, or just another ignored voice.
It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.

(By the way, bravo for waiting so long until the waters grew safe.)

The NYTimes Ombudsman has a nice piece critical of his paper's inexact and deceptive over use of the word "Al Qaeda" in relation to the Iraq conflict.

(TimesOnline) Colin Powell continues to try to clear his name, “I tried to avoid this war,” Powell said....

(Reuters) A Sunni member of the Iraqi Parliamentary Energy Committee resigns over the oil law draft.

(Sorry, this may be all you get from me until late afternoon.)

Caution: Bar Lowers Without Warning

See there's progress and then there's progress.
The Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy, according to senior administration officials closely involved in the matter. As they prepare an interim report due next week, officials are marshaling alternative evidence of progress to persuade Congress to continue supporting the war.

Yet, against the failure of virtually all political progress, the administration is still making the same argument,
According to several senior officials who agreed to discuss the situation in Iraq only on the condition of anonymity, the political goals that seemed achievable earlier this year remain hostage to the security situation. If the extreme violence were to decline, Iraq's political paralysis might eventually subside.

I think the key thing to note is that "at best," the violence has diminished a bit, but that level cannot be held for more than a few months. That "best case" progress is what will be cited to justify continuing the surge.
Not even the most optimistic commanders contend that the offensive is allowing for political reconciliation. At best, Petraeus is likely to report in September, security will have improved in the capital, perhaps returning to the level of 2005, when the city was violent but not racked by low-level civil war.....

Regardless of what decisions are made in Washington and Baghdad, the U.S. military cannot sustain the current force levels beyond March 2008 because of force rotations. Long-term holding of cleared areas will fall to Iraqi soldiers and police officers.

PS. the Hadley memo comes back to haunt us,
Late last year, amid strong doubts about Maliki's leadership capabilities, senior White House officials considered trying to engineer the Iraqi president's replacement. But most have now concluded that there are no viable alternatives and that any attempt to force a change would only worsen matters.

If you wonder why Maliki is not hitting the "benchmarks," keep in mind that he is using some of the current sectarian conflict to maintain his governing coalition.