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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sistani aide stabbed to death,

In Iraq, it could always get worse.
A top aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was stabbed to death in what Sistani's supporters believe was a warning to Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, authorities said Saturday.....

A representative from Sistani's office expressed concern that an armed attacker had gained entrance to the heavily guarded compound and said he suspected that one of the cleric's bodyguards aided the killer. He said officials close to Sistani interpreted the attack as a threat to the ayatollah and are considering moving him out of Najaf.

Picture of the Day - 2

Very classy, Mitt. (Pictures from TMZ.)


Unsold and second hand clothing is often shipped from the US to be sold or distributed in third world nations. For some reason this morning, I got to wondering if somewhere in Africa or Thailand or Indonesia, little children are walking around in T shirts that say "United we stand."

Picture of the Day

It really is great that the Harry Potter books make kids want to read and all, but aren't we also teaching a very different lesson to the kids?

The lesson that it's okay to discomfit oneself for a consumer good? The idea that a product will make you happy? A need for product immediacy?

Yes, I am being a grinch, but these "consumer frenzies" are growing more and more frequent, be they for an iPhone, an Xbox, or just a "doorbuster" Christmas deal at Walmart. It's definitely marketing, and deliberate, but it says something about our society.

And now we're teaching that to our kids.

(Fans of the Harry Potter book series gather at an Indigo bookstore before the release of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in Toronto July 20, 2007. REUTERS/Mark Blinch)


(Reuters) "Attacks in Iraq last month reached their highest daily average since May 2003, showing a surge in violence as President George W. Bush completed a buildup of U.S. troops, Pentagon statistics show.....

The June numbers showed 5,335 attacks against coalition troops, Iraqi security forces, civilians and infrastructure..... the average daily number of attacks was 177.8, higher than the 176.5 last October and 173.1 in May."

(AP) "Iraq's national security adviser expressed doubt Friday that Iraqi forces will be able to assume security control of the whole country by the end of the year, a goal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government."

A Reuters article accepts the propaganda that "the surge" didn't start until June, "The so-called "surge" force has been in place for about a month, but Democrats and some Republicans have stepped up calls for a strategy change leading to withdrawal."

(CNN) Lt. Gen Odierno is forced to "clarify" his remarks about needing until November to issue an assessment.

(TimesOnline) A very interesting "slice of life" piece on the multiple, daily indirect fire sirens.

(Reuters) New UN ambassador Khalilzad makes a plea to the UN to "to play an expanded role in Iraq as a mediator both internally and with neighboring countries." (Please talk to Iran for us.)

And, (Youtube) MadMustard found a slightly edited version of the CNN/Michael Ware video showing some of the tactics of the Sunni tribal groups. (In the earlier version, there was a segment about these "tribal forces" turning on and slaughtering Shia civilians.)

Think before you threaten

Degree of difficulty:

Iraq: 27 million people, military broken by war and 11 years of sanctions, and no extramilitary forces.

Iran: 70 million people, military lessened by US and irregular sanctions from other countries, Hezbullah and Al Quds force.

Pakistan: 170 million people, military equipped with current US, Chinese, and Russian weapons, Al Qaeda, Taleban, Pashtun tribal fighters, Kashmiri fighters, ISI.

(Oh, and, no WMD/ chemical weapons, nuclear program/ nuclear tipped medium range missiles.)

It sure is fun to talk tough, though.....

Friday, July 20, 2007

Political bits

(CNN) Cheney will be president for a few hours tomorrow while Bush gets a colonoscopy. (They're going to have to shove that tube pretty far up there to get it past the president's head.)

(ThinkProgress) A Novak rumor that Denny Hastert "is likely he will not run for a 12th term... and may even resign from Congress before his present term concludes." (Atrios very obliquely suggests he might be on the DC Madam's list.)

(RadioIowa) At the somewhat silly, but widely covered Iowa Ames straw poll, after people have cast their ballots, "they'll have to dip their finger Iraqi style" in ink. (Is that really the image the GOP wants to be summoning right now?)

Serving 8 masters

In the earlier post on Pakistan, Anonymous pointed to this Asia Times article on the Chinese influence on Musharraf's government. The short analysis: China is getting their terrorists taken care of, and the US, despite a $1 billion, is getting next to nothing.

Picture of the Day - 2

(President George W. Bush looks up as he speaks about his health care initiatives during a visit to Man and Machine Inc. in Landover Maryland July 18, 2007. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

The Poodle gets slapped

Tony Blair just keeps going back to his abuser.
Tony Blair was told by the United States yesterday that he had no authority to tackle political negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians as he spent his first full day as special envoy to the Middle East.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, insisted that America would retain leadership of the "political track" while Mr Blair would work on raising funds for the Palestinians, as well as building their economy and infrastructure.

Only you can make the change, Tony.

Musharraf in trouble

Musharraf plays up the "Islamic threat" to his government, but in reality, despite the numerous destabilizing bombings, he is far more likely to be overturned by the military or centrist parties.
Pakistan's Supreme Court has ruled that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry should be reinstated.

He was suspended in March by President Musharraf, after being accused of misusing his office for personal gain.

Supreme Court judges ruled by 10 to three to quash all charges against the chief justice and reinstate him, calling his suspension "illegal".

: Will the Pakistani military allow Musharraf to lose an election or will they depose him before that? And where does the US fall on that question?

Crocker calls it on the benchmarks. Time of Death: July 19.

Here's a question: Why do we need to wait until September (or now November according to Odierno) for a report on Iraq's progress when the top US politician in Iraq told us yesterday that there would be none?
The US ambassador to Baghdad Thursday warned Iraq was unlikely to hit its targets under the American "troop surge" plan by September, but said he knew of no 'Plan B' alternative war strategy.....

A US defense official said Crocker made clear "the benchmarks are going to be difficult to meet in all likelihood by September, and we should all be cognizant of that fact."

But we have to wait until September, right?

And what have I been saying for the last month?

Nothing is going to get done politically in Iraq until either the US commits to withdrawal or Maliki's government falls. The Iraqis are no longer looking to the present construct, there are planning for what comes next.
As Washington wrestles over the future of the Iraq war, Iraqi leaders already have resigned themselves to the likelihood that the Americans soon will withdraw at least some of their troops, the country's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday.....

"Most Iraqi leaders have now come not only to acknowledge but almost to accept the inevitability of some level of drawback of American troops in the not-too-distant future," said Sumaidaie, who was previously Iraq's interior minister and United Nations envoy. "And there's a lot of thinking about how to deal with that … how to adjust ourselves to that reality."

By not making the changes now (or at least announcing them) the US is guaranteeing political stagnation. The way forward is to announce the way forward. You know?

(But, of course, that would also be admitting failure....)

Picture of the Day

US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testifies from Baghdad via video conference during a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington DC. (AFP/Getty/Mark Wilson)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

If you've got two minutes....

If you've got two minutes, take them to watch this video of Robert Gates at the Marine Corps Association's annual dinner in Virginia as he remembers Robert Zembiec. (The video link is under the headline.)

This is the first time I've ever seen anyone in this administration reflect even the slightest genuine emotion at the damage they've done.

Just another "drop dead" date

(AP) "Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno told reporters after a Senate hearing Thursday that he would need beyond September to tell if improvements in Iraq represent long-term trends.

"In order to do a good assessment I need at least until November," said Odierno."

(At the present rate, September to November would cost the lives of just less than 200 US soldiers.)

Picture of the Day - 3

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - JULY 16: A sign at the entrance to the Green Zone , now called the "International Zone" by the military, stands July 16, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. (Chris Hondros/Getty)

Chris Matthews is gonna plotz

Again and again, Chris Matthews interjects his own biases towards the '08 candidates, substituting his own bizarre preferences for, you know, what America actually thinks.

He often says the democrats lose the "who do you want to have a beer with" question. Well, Chris, maybe that's just you.
When voters are asked which one candidate they would pick to sit down and have a conversation with, 26 percent say Clinton, 18 percent Obama, 12 percent Giuliani, 8 percent McCain and 7 percent Thompson.

By the way, in this FoxNews poll, Clinton and Obama beat all the Republicans head to head.

Picture of the Day - 2

Former President George H.W. Bush takes a last look before donating his World War II service revolver to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 18, 2007. (AP Photo/George Widman)

Sadr and the Sunnis jostle for life after

Over the last month, I have been making the point that Iraqi political movement has ground to a halt because the Iraqis no longer look to their government or the US for any sort of progress. Expecting Maliki to fall and a likely US drawdown, all of their efforts are now about positioning themselves for what comes next.

Today, we have two articles describing some of that positioning. The NYTimes looks at the latest iteration of Sadr,
After months of lying low, the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has re-emerged with a shrewd strategy that reaches out to Iraqis on the street while distancing himself from the increasingly unpopular government.

Mr. Sadr and his political allies have largely disengaged from government, contributing to the political paralysis noted in a White House report last week. That outsider status has enhanced Mr. Sadr’s appeal to Iraqis, who consider politics less and less relevant to their daily lives.....

Experts in Shiite politics believe that efforts to isolate Mr. Sadr are bound to fail.

“Sadr holds the political center in Iraq,” said Joost Hiltermann, the director of the International Crisis Group’s office in Amman, Jordan. “They are nationalist, they want to hold the country together and they are the only political organization that has popular support among the Shias. If you try to exclude him from any alliance, well, it’s a nutty idea, it’s unwise.”

The Guardian has a major move among the Sunni resistance,
Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the Guardian.

He (Wayne White) added: "This does reveal that despite the widening cooperation on the part of some Sunni Arab insurgent groups with US forces against al-Qaida in recent months, such cooperation could prove very shortlived if the US does not make clear that it has a credible exit strategy.

"With the very real potential for a more full-blown civil war breaking out in the wake of a substantial reduction of the US military presence in Iraq, Shia and Kurds appreciate that the increased ability of Sunni Arabs to organise politically and assemble in larger armed formations as a result of such cooperation could confront them with a considerably more formidable challenge as time goes on."

(White's theory is that the byproduct of the US "tribal strategy" is to create a stronger, unified Sunni front for the coming civil war? Interesting. That's what the Saudis have been asking us to do for years.)

The bottom line is that everyone is waiting for Maliki to fall or the US to announce withdraw. Politically, not much significant is going to happen in the interim.

This is bizarre

In an AP article covering what may be Gen. Peter Pace's last visit to Iraq, there's this strange bit.
And then there is his other trademark: "coining" every troop he can find — from officers to privates.

It's a sight to behold: the four-star general spinning in every direction, shouting for all to hear: "Did I miss anyone? Anyone not get a coin?"

Aides lug bags full of Pace's commemorative coin, pentagonal shaped. He hands them out by the thousands on his regular visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. On one side is depicted the blue-and-white flag of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs; on the other side are four small stars surrounded by the insignia of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

"These things go for about 5,000 bucks on eBay," he jokingly tells troops before he begins dishing them out. "Does anybody within the sound of my voice not have a coin?"

Weird, huh?

Picture of the Day

The distribution of NATO force commands in Afghanistan.

(With all the talk of the Afghan/Pak border regions, I thought it might be interesting. One lonely US command bordering Iran.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A political response to a geopolitical problem.

Look, I don't have an answer for the Pakistani border territories, but I find it highly disingenuous for the administration to be suddenly talking like this.
The Bush administration, after publicly demanding that Musharraf rein in militants linked to al Qaida, on Wednesday threatened to launch attacks into Pakistani territory if it sees fit.

"We certainly do not rule out options, and we retain the option especially of striking actionable targets," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "But it is clearly of the utmost importance to go in there and deal with the problem in the tribal areas."

(Or maybe you prefer Francis Fragos Townsend on Good Morning America.)

This is obviously a political response to the declassification of the NIE, but it's not like the intelligence in the NIE suddenly surprised this administration. The NIE is just a formalization of what they've been hearing for months, and it's only now that the political pressure has turned against them that they start with this rhetoric.

It's not helpful. Even if they are going to "strike actionable targets," speaking about it in the hypothetical doesn't help anyone. It only helps them politically here.

Political bits

(WaPo) Henry Waxman looks at another likely Hatch Act violation involving officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy being sent to help Republican Congressional candidates. Karl Rove's assistant Sarah Taylor was behind a memo.

(AP) Mitt Romney spent substantially more than he raised in the second quarter using a $6.5 million personal loan to cover the difference. (Romney's campaign is trying very hard to hide his funding of his own campaign.)

(AP) Oprah is hosting a fundraiser for Obama. (I think Oprah is a good friend for a candidate to have.) (CNN has more.)

(Politico) Romney's targeting Fred Thompson in an effort to turn it back into a Romney/Giuliani campaign.

(AP/Ipsos) "None of the Above" led the most recent '08 Republican presidential poll.

(Politicalwire) Larry Flynt claims he has 30 more names in the DC Madam case including one Senator which will "shock" us.

And, I'm going to defer coverage of the Reid Levin overnight debate to the larger sites, but I did want to point one thing out.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee in the last election, had the floor as the sun started rising over Capitol Hill.

I can barely stay awake listening to a Kerry speech at noon....

The art of the carefully crafted denial. Sen. Stevens edition.

Sen. Stevens is facing allegations that contractors paid for remodelling on his house. Check out this denial with the giant gaping hole in it.
"As a practical matter, I will tell you. We paid every bill that was given to us," Stevens said, referring to himself and his wife, Catherine. "Every bill that was sent to us has been paid, personally, with our own money, and that's all there is to it. It's our own money."

If an oil services company is doing work on your house with the intent of bribing you, would they send you a bill?

Picture of the Day - 3

(Senators Gordon Smith, R-OR, Olympia Snowe, R-ME, John Kerry, D-MA, Jack Reed, D-RI, and Carl Levin, D-MI, listen to questions during a news conference on the war in Iraq on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, 17 July 2007. (AFP/Getty/Alex Wong))

Oh please, let this just be a rumor

(IraqSlogger) "A source inside the Iraqi Interior Ministry has told Al-Melaf that the ministry has obtained information about the existence of an American plan to send Sunni tribal fighters to at least four Baghdad districts."

(CNN had a video report from Michael Ware looking at these tribal forces and their tactics and how they're now beginning to turn (militia-like) on innocent Shia. If I find the video, I'll link it.)

Quote of the Day

David Corn begins his response to Bill Kristol's WaPo editorial "Why Bush will be a winner" like this,
Who knew Bill Kristol had such a flair for satire?

Picture of the Day - 2

(Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gestures as she and U.S. President George W. Bush take part in a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Nobel Prize winner Dr. Norman E. Borlaug July 17, 2007. Borlaug won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his work in agriculture that helped prevent hunger and famine around the world. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

And right on cue.....

The day after the NIE is released challenging the administration's presentation of Al Qaeda and its relationship in Iraq,
The U.S. command said Wednesday the highest-ranking Iraqi in the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq has been arrested, adding that information from him indicates the group's foreign-based leadership wields considerable influence over the Iraqi chapter.

Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid, was captured in Mosul on July 4, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a military spokesman.....

"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al-Qaida in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq," Bergner said.

So, suddenly we have military spokesman Brig. Gen. Bergner telling us that Al Qaeda in Iraq is controlled entirely by Al Qaeda main despite the fact that this is contradicted by almost all other intelligence.

(Bergner does have a bit of a "neocon" problem, often saying things that are quite inflammatory, but not precisely true. Let's remember that prior to this current posting as military spokesman, he was "with the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq."

Does that seem a normal career progression to you? Working at the NSC, then becoming the Baghdad spokesman?)

Picture of the Day

Has anyone else noticed that everytime Iraq moves to the center of the debate, Rudy Giuliani suddenly disappears from the national stage?

(AP Photo - Paul Sakuma)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hiding outside Bin Laden's apartment making hangup calls

Frances Fragos Townsend held the top administration press conference on the NIE today, and take a look at how much the language has changed.
Q -- the President was warned before the war that this was actually going to help al Qaeda gain influence. And now you have a report suggesting maybe it has gained influence from the war in Iraq. Isn't that something that the President ignored?

MS. TOWNSEND: But you're assuming it's a zero-sum game, which is what I don't understand. The fact is we were harassing them in Afghanistan, we're harassing them in Iraq, we're harassing them in other ways, non-militarily, around the world. And the answer is, every time you poke the hornet's nest they are bound to come back and push back on you. That doesn't suggest to me that we shouldn't be doing it. It suggests -- you hardly need to be warned that they're going to use this for propaganda purposes. They're going to.

We're no longer "defeating Al Qaeda", or "fighting Al Qaeda," or even "got them on the run." Our current policy is to "harrass" them, to "poke" them with a stick.

Bush administration in no hurry to battle Al Qaeda

In an interesting article discussing an admission of "failure" by this administration in the battle with Al Qaeda along the Pakistani border regions, I was really struck by the unimaginable lack of urgency.

Just last week, Michael Chertoff and several other administration officials were speaking of a "summer of threat" and similarities between their intel now and in July/August of 2001.

Today, in the wake of the NIE, we get a quote like this,
“We’ve seen in the past that he’s sent people in and they get wiped out,” said one senior official involved in the internal debate. “You can tell from the language today that we take the threat from the tribal areas incredibly seriously. It has to be dealt with. If he can deal with it, amen. But if he can’t, he’s got to build and borrow the capability.”

No hurry, guys. It's not like you're warning of an imminent threat.

In the NIE headlines, the key word is leverage

A very politically cautious section of the NIE on Al Qaeda was declassified today (pdf.) Perhaps the most convoluted section is the one on Al Qaeda in Iraq.
(W)e assess that al-Qa'ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa'ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attack.

The key word in that section is leverage. The NIE does not say that Al Qaeda in Iraq intends to attack the US, just that it is "known to have expressed a desire." The NIE does not say that "corporate" Al Qaeda in Pakistan intends to utilize AQI to mount attacks on the US.

Very carefully obscured by the use of the word "leverage," this NIE says that the "corporate" Al Qaeda wants to attack the US, is planning such attacks, and that the battle in Iraq is helping them gain recruits, support, and resources for that attack.

Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq until the invasion.

Side Notes: 1) This NIE was completed June 21, so everytime over the last month that this administration spoke of Al Qaeda, AQI, and the Iraq war, they knew what was in this and told their lies anyhow. From Pres. Press Conference July 12, 2007.
My attitude is we ought to defeat them there so we don't have to face them here....

The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th...

2) Also with this NIE in hand, the US administration is more or less allowing the Pakistanis to try and revive the "peace deal" in the tribal provinces which would continue the current Al Qaeda safe haven. (NYTimes, AFP)

Picture of the Day - 2

Come a little closer, I want to tell you a secret.

Your Daddy was smarter than you are.

(PS. Reuters, do you really you need to designate which one is Dugout "(R)"? Or are you telling me that Dugout is a Republican?)

(U.S. President George W. Bush talks to Dugout (R), the Little League mascot, after a tee ball game on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 15, 2007. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

But what do the experts say on withdrawal?

The WaPo has a frontpage piece looking at what the wargamers and experts not politically involved in the Iraq propaganda see as the likely outcome of a US withdrawal.
If U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq in the near future, three developments would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become three separate nations.....

What is perhaps most striking about the military's simulations is that its post-drawdown scenarios focus on civil war and regional intervention and upheaval rather than the establishment of an al-Qaeda sanctuary in Iraq.

Generally speaking, yeah, but frankly, there seems to be no likelihood that the US is looking at total withdrawal anytime soon. Consensus seems to be gathering around some sort of downsized redeployment focusing on borders, training, and Al Qaeda. (I would ask that someone look to see if this downsized mission is any more achievable than the overreach we're currently on.)

The real questions going forward revolve around future foreign involvement. If the US backs off, will the Shia factions need to rely on Iran as much? Or will one faction turn to Iran to win the intraShia disputes (and would that work over Iraqi nationalism?)

The Sunni will be unable to win this war no matter how much outside support they receive, so will the Saudis, Jordanians, and Syrians, pump in support to maintain a bloody stalemate, tying up Iran?

The Kurds, of course, will secede during the chaos creating complications with the Turks and Iranians.

It's going to be bloody, but everything we're talking about represents long built up tensions that were resisted only by the brutality of Saddam. These forces are going to play out sooner or later.

(Note: In my opinion, these forces of "sectarian" conflict are still a late resolving remnant of colonialism. The policies of late colonial style control often involved promoting a minority group into a country's leadership leaving them reliant on an outside power to help them maintain control. When this situation reverses itself, it can be either relatively peaceful (often through transitionary period of military control ) or as bloody as Rwanda.

This "snap back" to majority Shia control in Iraq is bound to be fairly violent as the savagery of Saddam's majority suppression is recent enough to still reside pronouncedly within living memory.

I don't know if this side note is relevant, it's just something that's been on my mind lately.)

(Second note: I think the Iraqi endstate will end up being something resembling the chaos of the current Lebanon. The religious and factional alliances will be markedly different, but the same sorts of destabilizing, outside supported, minority groups will be maintained in Iraq.)


(AP) A second massacre as Sunni extremists rampage through the small village killing "dozens." (This is the second of these in a week.)

(Iraqslogger) The US launches a new 8,000 soldier offensive, "Marne Avalanche" southwest of Baghdad targeting Sunni extremists. (Notice in these new operations there's no longer any pretense of fighting "side by side" with the Iraqi forces.)

(LATimes) NCO's are leaving the Army at a troubling pace.

(WaPo) Sadr ends his parliamentary boycott. (But is getting the votes back worth it when Sadr stands opposed to the oil law and other "benchmarks?")

(CBS/AP) UN Chief Ban Ki-moon weighs in on US Iraq policy. (Can you imagine the anti-UN Republican outcry if he wasn't speaking in support of the President's position?)

And, from a USAToday editorial regarding MRAPs
It has become routine to criticize the Bush administration for bad planning, denial and a lack of imagination in failing to anticipate the difficulty of the Iraq mission. That certainly applies here. When President Bush told troops' families in December 2004 that "we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones," it simply wasn't true.

Picture of the Day

Smoke billows from damaged buildings hit by a Lebanese army artillery shell, during fighting with Islamic militants, at the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, in Tripoli, Lebanon, Sunday July 15, 2007. (AP Photo)

Monday, July 16, 2007


I don't really give a crap about this stuff, but after the repeated FRONT PAGE coverage John Edwards' haircut got, I'll be very curious to see if Mitt Romney's $300 makeup gets the same treatment. I'm betting not.

Because Mitt has such a manly smell.

Also. It is interesting that Ron Paul has garnered 52.5% of all Republican campaign contributions by military personnel.

Picture of the Day - 4

"Mr. Romney, Does your wife let you......

But, but, but, wait.... The sign says "Ask Mitt anything....."

(Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses a group of Republican supporters in West Palm Beach, Fl. Saturday, July 7, 2007 urging their support in his bid for the presidency. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter))

Political bits

If you're nerding on the '08 Presidential financial reports, CNN has it all by candidate. (2nd Qtr contributions, YTD, debt ratio, total debt, Cash on Hand, 2nd quarter spending, Spending to date.)

(LATimes) $9.7 million of Obama's $33 million 2nd quarter came in increments of $200 or less. 260,000 people have donated to the Obama campaign so far. (Ryan Lizza claims it's an accounting trick.)

(CNN) "In private, Voinovich is more blunt, using a profanity to describe the White House’s handling of Iraq by charging the administration “f—ed up” the war." (He also lectured Karl Rove on legacy.)

(ABCNews) McCain's communications team quits.

(Newsweek) Richard Wolffe has a little more "inside" on the McCain exodus.

(USAToday) "McCain insists he is in the presidential race to stay — only a "fatal disease" could prompt him to withdraw, he says." (Should he really be temting fate right now?)

And, David Vitter is finally coming out of hiding to hold a press conference tonight. (Do you think he'll do what NY Rep Reynolds did during the Foley thing, and hide behind children?)

Harry Reid calls the bluff.

Hot Damn!!!! I've been wanting someone to do this for quite some time. Instead of simply accepting the formality of the 41 vote cloture motion, Harry Reid is actually going to require the Republicans to pull an old school filibuster to prevent a vote on Iraq.

I want to see the image of Republicans standing in the Senate reading the phonebook to preserve Bush's surge.

(I assume that this move by Reid is also in response to this,

Reid will let them get a taste of filibustering on high profile Iraq to see if they really want the politics of being that obstructionist.)

A three state solution

Notice that in the big announcement of a middle east peace conference that the Gaza strip and Hamas are completely ignored.

The US appears to be making every effort to bestow legitimacy (and tons of money) on the Fatah government in the West Bank, but amid the current political stresses in the Palestinian territories, I find it difficult to believe that Fatah can take even one step towards Israel without risking instability.

But, with Condi Rice in charge of the talks, they won't have to. Rice has not struck a single significant deal since she was installed as Sec. State.

Picture of the Day - 3

A wounded man and his son rush to a hospital after a bomb attack in Kirkuk, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, July 16, 2007. (Slahaldeen Rasheed/Reuters)

A girl lies wounded after twin suicide car bombings exploded within 20 minutes of each other in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Monday, July 16, 2007, killing at least 80 people and wounding around 150 in attacks targeting a Kurdish political office and ripping through an outdoor market, police said. (AP Photo/Emad Matti)

Picture of the Day - 2

Kirkuk, IRAQ: Iraqi medics treat a wounded girl at a hospital.(Photo by Marwan Ibrahim/AFP-Getty Images)


(Reuters) "At least 85 people were killed on Monday by a suicide truck bomb in the volatile Iraqi city of Kirkuk, some of them trapped on a bus where they burned to death, according to a witness."

(AP) "The U.S. military's top general said Monday that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is weighing a range of possible new directions in Iraq, including, if President Bush deems it necessary, an even bigger troop buildup."

(McClatchy) "Police found 22 dead bodies throughout the capital today."

(AFP) "Top US commanders in Iraq said on Sunday they need more Iraqi troops to sustain ongoing security operations that could eventually help their own forces withdraw."

(AP) A spokesman says Maliki was simply misconstrued when he said "international forces can withdraw anytime the want." What he really meant was " Iraq's security forces would continue "side-by-side with the withdrawal." (Now that's spin!)

(McClatchy) Another round of memos telling State Dept personnel in the Green Zone that they have to wear kevlar and helmets all the time. "Remain within a hardened structure to the maximum extent possible and strictly avoid congregating outdoors. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is mandatory until further notice."

(Timesonline) Mongolia's tiny participation in Iraq becomes a moneymaker.

And, in "The Other War," (Timesonline) "Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, survived an assassination attempt yesterday after Taleban militants fired rockets at him while he was giving a speech in a district known as one of their strongholds."

(And, if I can blogwhore just a little bit, I think this post I wrote yesterday on Maliki and motivation is pretty good.)

Picture of the Day

(Mr. Cheney will now do the same trick while drinking a glass of water.)

U.S. President George W. Bush and members of his staff take part in video teleconference with Iraq provincial reconstruction team leaders, embedded provincial reconstruction team Leaders, and brigade combat commanders in the White House inWashington July 13, 2007. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Sunday, July 15, 2007


If you've got a minute, take it to read this NYTimes article by Richard Oppel describing the balance between the new Sunni insurgents who have signed up with the US to provide security, and the Shia government forces who have been sent in by Maliki seemingly with the intent of disrupting the Sunni group working with the Americans.

This article captures alot about the complex environment. The Americans on the ground, "remain conflicted about the risks of joining forces with men who may have attacked them before," (Sunnis,) and yet their partnership with these Sunnis, has led to open hostilities with the Shia government forces.

What a freakin' mess.


Juan Cole looks at the numbers in this LATimes piece, "of 19,000 "insurgents" held by the US military in Iraq, only 135 are foreigners," and shreds the Bush administrations claims regarding Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The LATimes article in question (which is worth a read) leads with the politically unspeakable headline, "Saudis' role in Iraq insurgency outlined: Sunni extremists from Saudi Arabia make up half the foreign fighters in Iraq, many suicide bombers, a U.S. official says."

(It would be my hope that this brings a broader discussion of the Saudis involvement in Iraq.)

Also, (WaPo) Thomas Ricks looks at Bush's repeated invocation of Petraeus and asks whether Petraeus is being set up to take the fall.

And, not an endorsement, but it's out there, The Nation has a massive article interviewing 50 Iraq war vets on some of the worst stories out of Iraq.

Later: Jim Webb vs. Lindsey Graham on Meet the Press.

Picture of the Day

Marie Cunningham, of Abington, Mass., reacts during a farewell ceremony for the 972nd Military Police Company of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, Saturday, July 14, 2007. The soldiers, including her son Christopher Cunningham, are being deployed to Iraq. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)

Motivation - The problem is Maliki

"There is more than ample evidence that Iraqis are willing to fight and die, they are just not willing to fight and die for us." - Mike

There are a ton of things working against us (going wrong) in Iraq, but one that seems to get very little coverage is the diversion of interests between the US goals and the Iraqis themselves.

In the coverage of Iraq, exampled especially sharply in the "benchmark" stories this week, there is very little exploration of the motivations of the Iraqis. The backline assumption seems to be that the Iraqis want the same things that the US does, but lack the coordination/will/competence to pull it off. That is wrong.

Perhaps the best immediate example is the existence of the Maliki government itself. The US is trying to push "political reconciliation" within the current governmental construct, but the Iraqis see no point to this process. The Maliki government lacks legitimacy, and the general expectation in Iraq is that this government will, sooner more likely than later, fracture and fall.

There is no clear sense among the Iraqis what might come next and because of the political stakes of laying out claims to the power and economic wealth for the next half century, they are far more concerned with positioning themselves within the post Maliki context than they are trying to hit some sort of external governmental "benchmarks" provided by the US.

This is why nothing is getting done. Why should politicians, or for that matter any Iraqi, commit themselves to this government when it lacks any real legitimacy? How can you ask Iraqis to join the military and police and risk their lives for a government that is perceived to be on the edge of collapse?

Right now, the tribal and factional groups are substantially more stable entities and that's why they have so little trouble finding support.

Maliki was originally brought forward to lead the country as a relatively unknown precisely because he had no large political constituency. The thinking was that this lack of backing would force him to knit a coalition without significant favor to any particular faction. Instead, what has developed is weak government unable to accomplish even basic tasks.

The Iraqis are now simply waiting. Waiting for Maliki to fall, waiting for the US to withdraw, waiting for whatever comes next. Their concern is not US declared benchmarks or the US conception of a unity government. Their concern is positioning themselves for what comes after.

And all the effort, and all the lives spent in the interim are just wasted.