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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Two big stories on TSP, and both just happen to "technically" exonerate Gonzales

I find myself pretty skeptical this evening reading the two big stories in the NYTimes and Washington Post on the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Neither contains any blockbuster new information, but both contain technical exonerations of Gonzales' apparent perjury this week on the Hill.

NYTimes: "If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct."

WaPo: "The report of a data mining component to the dispute suggests that Gonzales's assertion could be technically correct."

I don't know enough to challenge these statements, but the timing of these exonerating "leaks" to hit the papers before the Sunday talk shows smells pretty bad.

People in the White House are apparently willing to leak classified information to defend Fredo.

Think they'll call for investigations into these leakers these way they did with the secret prisons and Dana Priest?

(Josh Marshall has a pretty good look at the underlying programs.)

Dear NBC, Don't be Judith Miller.

CNN has a pretty important story. The TSA issued a recent security bulletin threatening that terrorists might be making "dry runs" at airports. The problem is that the TSA also knew that every specific example cited as a "dry run" in the bulletin was known to be an innocent circumstance.

Funny, though, the title of the memo doesn't seem to reflect that knowledge.
The bulletin is titled "Incidents at U.S. Airports May Suggest Possible Pre-Attack Probing." It is labeled "For Official Use Only."

In other words, a memo was written and sent out to TSA personnel citing examples of a threats that they knew weren't threats. Now, why would they do that?

According to the AP, the memo was originally written on July 20, but wasn't "noticed" until July 24th, (coincidentally) the evening after George Bush made his speech saying Al Qaeda and Bin Laden 118 times in 29 minutes with Karl Rove watching from the audience.

Somebody should ask NBC News who pointed them to this bulletin, because they were used by this administration to push this false terror threat to bolster this administration's efforts to prop up its Iraq policy.

(Also, who was responsible for the memo in the first place? On July 20th, the administration would certainly know that president was going to make the Al Qaeda speech.)

Who pumped up the threat so conveniently? Who brought it to national attention?

Dear NBC, don't be Judith Miller. Tell us what happened.

(The same evening after the Bush speech, the US Military NorthCom commander also spoke about Al Qaeda cells in the US, "As for attacks, he added: "Am I concerned that this will happen this summer? I have to be concerned that it could happen any day."

Just too convenient.)

Picture of the Day

Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani gives thumbs up as he speaks to a group of supporters in San Francisco, Monday, July 23, 2007. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Petraeus is no hero to the Iraqis

There's no way this would ever be allowed to reach the political level of Petraeus being asked to leave, but if there's that much tension there, how much is really getting done?
A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s relations with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington the withdraw the well-regarded U.S. military leader from duty here.

The Iraqi foreign minister calls the relationship “difficult.”

Petraeus says his ties with al-Maliki are “very good” but acknowledges expressing “the full range of emotions” on “a couple of occasions.”

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets together with al-Maliki and Petraeus at least weekly, concedes “sometimes there are sporty exchanges.”

The majority of the dispute seems to be over Petraeus' plan to arm the Sunni groups (outlined in the next post.) Second hand, we get a report that
“(Maliki) told Bush that if Petraeus continues doing that he would arm Shiite Militias. Bush told al-Maliki to calm down,” according to the lawmaker who said he was told of the exchange by al-Maliki.

According to this reporting, this is the context through which Maliki said American forces could leave earlier this month.

This is alot of heresay reporting, but it does fit with everything else we've heard.

The Saudis get their way, the US will fund the insurgency

Yesterday, administration figures openly criticized the Saudi government for its aid and support for the insurgency in Iraq.

Today, we find out that the Saudis will get rewarded, "U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia."

(The short explanation from the pro-Saudi US side is that this is an effort to buy off Saudi fears of Iranian influence.)

Far more troubling is the second leg of the US plan to assuage Saudi interests.
The U.S. military in Iraq is expanding its efforts to recruit and fund armed Sunni residents as local protection forces in order to improve security and promote reconciliation at the neighborhood level, according to senior U.S. commanders.....

The goal is to put the new, irregular forces in place quickly -- hiring them on contracts and providing them with uniforms without waiting for access to lengthy police and army training programs.

So, in effect, the US will take over the Saudi role of supporting Sunni groups. The idea, I assume, is that the US will have more control over who gets the money and thus have a greater influence on these groups, but this will also a return to the days of neighborhood protection groups when local Sunnis would fight any Iraqi government forces that tried to enter Sunni areas.

This will have an effect of curtailing some of the Shia militia neighborhood cleansing, but it will also create Sunni safe havens, even in the heart of Baghdad, outside of Iraqi government control.

(And, by the way, what in the hell does "bottom up reconciliation" mean? The US has been using this phrase to describe this program.
"This is a very, very important component of reconciliation because it's happening from the bottom up," (Petraeus) said in an interview Friday. "The bottom-up piece is much farther along than any of us would have anticipated a few months back. It's become the focus of a great deal of effort, as there is a sense that this can bear a lot of fruit."

This sounds more like trying to create a static balance of forces than reconciliation. These Sunni neighborhood groups are lessening their attacks against the US, not making peace with the Shia government.

This could be a preparatory step to the US pulling back, but I don't see how in the world the US's supporting of armed Sunni groups can be called reconciliation.)

The bottom line subtext of all of this is the assumption that the Iraqi government will not ever disarm/disband the Shia militias.

(PS. Is part of the arms deal that the Saudis and Egyptians will stay out of the nuclear pool?)

Reconstruction was wasted

(NYTimes) "Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars....

The conclusions.... include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3

He's trying so hard to look like a regular person.

(Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gets behind the counter to take orders at Memories Ice Cream in Kingston, N.H. on Sunday July 22, 2007. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter))

Political bits

(Politico) Another resignation and more trouble in Fred Thompson's (not yet) campaign. "Like Collamore, Frechhette was said to have chafed under the heavy influence of Thompson's wife, Jeri."

(Politico) "In a segment on "Morning Edition" today, NPR's Scott Horsley cited an anonymous "campaign adviser" as saying that Thompson "is holding off his official launch until after that last episode is broadcast, mindful of the paychecks of everyone involved with the show." (Thompson campaign denies this.)

(YouTube) Edwards should have gone on offense like this the day after the hair comments went critical mass. (Put on YouTube by his campaign?)

(CNN) Mitt Romney is looking likely to deliver "a speech explaining the role his Mormon faith plays in his political life." (Sounds to me like the polling is still showing this is still a problem.)

(WashWire) "Nine of 10 largest business sources of campaign cash were financial-services workers, says nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Goldman Sachs Group employees led with $930,000 in first six months of 2007; Obama’s $310,000 exceeded haul of all Republicans combined."

(AP) None of the Democratic candidates are going to the DLC's summer meeting. Not even Hillary Clinton.

(Politico) Illinois Republican Rep. Ray Lahood has announced he will not stand for reelection.

(PoliticalWire) "Republican Support Collapses Among Youth."

(Also, Is Bush going to Crawford this August? I haven't seen anything on it.)

Maliki refuses Sunni demands: Will they withdraw from government?

On Wednesday, the main Sunni bloc suspended their participation in the Maliki government and parliament threatening to walk away completely if the Shia government didn't meet certain reconciliation demands within a week.

Maliki has responded.
The Shiite-led Iraqi government issued a sharp response Friday to a Sunni political bloc that is threatening to pull out of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration, saying the group's "threatening, pressuring and blackmail" cannot impede Iraq's progress.

In a four-page written statement, Maliki spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh dismissed each of 11 demands made by the Accordance Front, Iraq's largest Sunni political group. Dabbagh accused the Accordance Front of working for its own political gains rather than for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

At the very least, it will take months to climb back from this showdown, and in the meantime, assuming the Accordance Front follows through and quits, there will be no Sunni representation in the government at all.

That means no political reconciliation, and the "breathing space" of the surge, paid for with US blood, is wasted.

We'll have to wait to see how this all plays out, but it's definitely not good.

Update: The Christian Science Monitor has a broader piece discussing the "crisis."

Picture of the Day - 2

A heavily armed Iraqi man attends a funeral in the holy city of Karbala Iraq, on Friday, July 27, 2007. Karbala citizens buried the victims of clashes between Shiite militia fighters and U.S. soldiers that broke early this morning and left nine people dead and nearly two dozen wounded, local officials said. (AP Photo/Ghassan al-Yassiri)

Who to believe and what are the facts?

Yesterday: (AP) "Washington's top envoy in Iraq (Ryan Crocker) said on Thursday that increased U.S. troop strength had brought down violence....."

Today: (AP) "With five days to go before the end of July, an Associated Press tally showed that at least 1,759 Iraqis were killed in war-related violence through July 26, a more than 7 percent increase over the 1,640 who were reported killed in all of June."

Also: US casualties are down this month as Lt Gen. Odierno said yesterday and that is undoubtedly good news, although that reduction is just back to April's pre-surge levels. (And we're still talking about at least 67 US soldiers killed this month.)

And, In a less life threatening measurement,
Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only "an hour or two a day" of electricity. That's down from an average of five to six hours a day earlier this year.

But that piece of data has not been sent to lawmakers for months because the State Department, which prepares a weekly "status report" for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.

But I think the kicker line is this,
The change, a State Department spokesman said, reflects a technical decision by reconstruction officials in Baghdad who are scaling back efforts to estimate electricity consumption as they wind down U.S. involvement in rebuilding Iraq's power grid.

The US is "winding down" efforts at rebuilding the electricity infrastructure? The Iraqis are just supposed to sit in the dark?

Later: While we're doing status reports,
Missing from Thursday's session of the Iraqi parliament were about half of the members, including the speaker, the former speaker and two former prime ministers.

The monthlong August vacation starts next week.

Gonzales gets the headlines, but the Bush administration criticizing the Saudis is big, too.

For some time now, I've been screaming for a more honest accounting of the Saudi role in Iraq. This isn't a full account, but it is a start.
Now, Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.”

Yes. Saudi Arabia is supporting the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Nearly half of the foreign fighters entering Iraq are Saudi. This "support" and these Saudi foreign fighters are killing US soldiers.

(Within the context of Saudi diplomacy, specifically naming their country like this is a pretty big deal, (perhaps because it's a monarchy,) even if it is done not for attribution.

But, then again, you don't criticize the Saudi monarch even off the record without checking upstairs first. You know?)

And, just as a general comment, I'm not at all saying bomb Saudi Arabia here, but we have to have a clear presentation in order to develop a good debate on Iraq policy and the region.

We can't talk about ending the Sunni insurgency, or defeating the foreign fighters, or resolving of the sectarian clash without recognizing the fact that the Saudis want all these things to continue at this point.

Picture of the Day

The author of "the Permanent Republican Majority."

Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President Karl Rove sits in a pool of reflected blue light while U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to the American Legislative Exchange Council Downtown in Philadelphia, July 26, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The administration finally fears the Gonzales story

Tony Snow was everywhere tonight trying to spin the Gonzales "contradiction" (that seems to be the press' term) as a purely partisan matter. He was on World News Tonight, Hardball, Wolf Blitzer, everywhere. I've never seen him make so many media appearances over anything.

From this, I would deduce that the White House is freaking out.

Political bits

FirstRead reports on problems in the Thompson (not yet) campaign. Fundraising has fallen off substantially and his wife is running the campaign. (Not well by one report.)

(WashWire) McCain loses more campaign staff.

The NYTimes reports on candidates' use of private jets. Clinton and Obama no. McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Edwards, yes.

Picture of the Day - 3

(Fill in your own dialogue.)

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales shakes hands with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice" on Capitol Hill in Washington July 24, 2007. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

FBI Director Mueller says Gonzales perjured himself

While the clock is ticking on whether Gonzales will change his testimony, the evidence for perjury continues to mount.
In his own sworn testimony Thursday, Mueller contradicted his boss, saying under questioning that the terrorist surveillance program (TSP) was the topic of the hospital room dispute between top Bush administration officials.

Mueller was not in the hospital room at the time of the dramatic March 10, 2004, confrontation between Ashcroft and presidential advisers Andy Card and Gonzales, who was then serving as White House counsel. Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee he arrived shortly after they left, and then spoke with the ailing Ashcroft.

"Did you have an understanding that the conversation was on TSP?" asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas in a round of questioning that may have sounded to listeners like bureaucratic alphabet soup.

"I had an understanding the discussion was on a NSA program, yes," Mueller answered.

Jackson sought to clarify: "We use 'TSP,' we use 'warrantless wiretapping,' so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?"

"The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes," Mueller responded.

(ThinkProgress has the video.)

What I don't understand on Gonzales is the "why?" Why did he perjure himself with so many easily accessible contradictory witnesses and at least one document even after Schumer gave him several opportunities to correct himself?

Given those circumstances, you have to assume it was an intentional act, but why?

Was he hoping to hide behind classification? Is there some nuance in this they're going to try to play? Is there some larger crime around the NSA wiretapping that this Gonzales' testimony hides?

I just don't get it.

Also Today, a subpoena was issued by the Senate Judiciary Committee "to compel the testimony of Karl Rove" regarding the US attorney firings.

Looking the other way on Al Qaeda's Saudi financial enablers

We live in a movie..... and it's not even a very good movie.

The "good guys" are always good and their white hats are unmistakably clean. The "bad guys" are are all pure evil without any patent motivation.

But this is a false image that is manipulated for political effect.

The Wall Street Journal has a very carefully written piece (they were apparently sued for the last one) looking at the terrorist financing ties of the Saudi based Al Rajhi Bank run by the $12 billion man, Sulaiman Al Rajhi.

You have to read between the lines a little bit, but it seems clear that that the US has not cracked down on this Saudi bank because of its ties to the Saudi royal family.

Al Rajhi was tied into both the BCCI, and "appeared on a list of regular financial contributors to al Qaeda that was discovered in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 2002." This bank was also used to funnel "charity funds" into Fallujah in 2004.

The Pakistanis and the ISI have ties into the Taleban (and most likely Al Qaeda) even today. Private Saudi citizens are bankrolling the insurgency in Iraq, and likely Al Qaeda, and yet these regimes have been bestowed with the white hats of "the good guys."

It's all a lie, and this "good vs. evil" presentation permeates so deeply into our understanding that it's nearly impossible for an honest discussion of terrorism to take place.

In the reality of this piece, George Bush (and his administration) are not heroes, and Iran is no more a villain than Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. We live in a world of Realpolitik, not in an action movie.

We're in a newer kind of war, a far broader complex than we'd ever imagined where state actors utilize the extrastate international entities classed under terrorism to achieve their goals.

The US is trying to battle these threats with a military complex designed to fight the Soviet Army in a standup war on the European plains. That's "the army we have."

In alot of ways, the presentation of the nations involved with terrorism as white hat/black hat is about as egregious and corrosive as the misrepresentations about WMD. It is manipulated and written like a script. The problem is, the script doesn't portray longterm blowback.

(Sorry for the ramble. I don't know where it came from. The WSJ piece on the al Rajhi bank is quite good, but it's tough to find a solid excerpt. I'd recommend it for a full read.)

Picture of the Day - 2

President Bush, center, walks, Wednesday, July 25, 2007, with wounded veterans Army Sgt. Neil Duncan, left, and Army Specialist Max Ramsey, right, after jogging with them on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington. Duncan lost both legs in Afghanistan and Ramsey lost his leg in Iraq. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)


(WaPo) The GAO is working to complete its own report on "benchmarks" that will make it far harder for the Bush administration to "nuance" Petraeus' September 15 report. The GAO report is due September 1, so the politics in that two week gap may render Petraeus' report somewhat moot.

(USNews) The ground commander in Diyala, Col. David Sutherland, says, "I can count them [foreign fighters] as a total I have engaged, dead or alive, in the 10 months I've been here on one hand."

(Same article) "People here are so disgusted and disillusioned by al Qaeda--no one here wants an Islamic state in Iraq," he says.

(Slate) Fred Kaplan does a pretty good job taking apart the Petraeus/Crocker plan for Iraq that was released in the NYTimes a few days ago.

(WaPo) More on the possible (likely?) Sunni abandonment of Maliki's government. (The deadline's a week away. This would end any pretense of reconciliation.)

(Iraqslogger) "According to Az-Zaman daily, the period of “entente” between the major political forces in Iraq, which started with the return of the Sadrist and IAF MPs to the parliament and the announcement of a round of meetings between political leaders, has reached a premature end."

(CSMonitor) The Iraqi US ambassador lays into the US for not equipping the Iraqi forces.

(Iraqslogger) Iraq privatizes its refineries? (If I'm reading this right, they're not giving up any of their facilities, but allowing foreign companies to (try to) build their own refineries in Iraq. Hah!)

And, in "The Other War," (TurkishPress?) The Italian Foreign Minister said the US should "wind down" its operations in Afghanistan in favor of the NATO/ISAF force.

Picture of the Day

"At a South Carolina Air Force base yesterday, Bush mentioned al-Qaeda and bin Laden 118 times in 29 minutes."

(White House political adviser Karl Rove listens to President Bush's speech at the Charleston Air Force Base, Tuesday, July 24, 2007, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Alan Hawes)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Intelligence officers contradict Bush's statements on Al Qaeda in Iraq

During that speech Tuesday, President Bush said that Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda in Pakistan are one and the same. The only problem is that his own intelligence officers testified before Congress today that that's not entirely true.

So, where did Bush get his information?

At least take the American flag off your lapel as you perjure yourself, Mr. Gonzales.

Not only do we have evidence Gonzales perjured himself, but he's still standing with that testimony.
Documents indicate eight congressional leaders were briefed about the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance program on the eve of its expiration in 2004, contradicting sworn Senate testimony this week by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.....

A Gonzales spokesman maintained Wednesday that the attorney general stands by his testimony.

The Bush administration has already claimed the power to refuse to let the DC prosecutors pursue contempt charges against Bolten and Miers, so why not just stick with the perjury?

Picture of the Day - 3

You'd think that a Secretary of State might be useful about now, eh?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice listens as President Bush meets with Polish President Lech Kaczynski, July 16, 2007. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Political bits

(AP) The House Judiciary Committee voted contempt of Congress citations Wednesday against Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers by a 22-17 party line vote. (Some Republicans didn't show for the vote?)

(CNN) "A woman screaming “you’re not a real conservative, sir” was removed by police from a welcoming reception for likely GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson Wednesday morning."

(Ambinder) Fred Thompson loses a top campaign aide who was hired just a week and a half ago. "The friend said that Mastranadi was "fed up" with the "lack of structure" and was unclear about his role in the coming campaign."

(AP) Rudy Giuliani, "If you are not a strict constructionist (judge,) I believe you imperil the American democracy because you take the role of a legislator."

(The Hill) "Some conservative activist leaders, fearing voter anger with the Iraq war, want President Bush and GOP leaders to begin emphasizing that U.S. troops will be “leaving Iraq” to give Republicans cover as they head into a tough political landscape in 2008." (Do you smell the panic?)

(SCBlog) An unsourced flyer is seen around the Dem debate tying Obama to Dukakis and Willie Horton.

And, The world is going to shit, and the White House is worried about its dress code.

You wait when we say you wait

As we listen to the pleas of "give the surge a chance to work," can we take a moment to remember that the "change in strategy" that later became the surge was originally put off for many, many months last year because the Bush administration wanted to wait until after the midterm elections?

Can we remember that the Bush administration didn't even allow planning on a "course change" to begin until after that election?

Soldiers were dying through last year's bloody summer and autumn in a strategy that was recognized to have failed, and yet planning was not allowed to be considered because it would have "politicized" the process.

I just wish someone would remember.

Picture of the Day - 2

A child holds up an expended round in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad, July 25, 2007, after clashes between suspected militiamen and a joint U.S.-Iraqi force backed by helicopter gunships. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Our allies

Beneath the radar, the British are in real trouble in Basra.

Since their slight drawdown and change in mission, their bases in Basra have been under multiple daily mortar and rocket attacks. The Mahdi and Badr are conducting a war over the city, and security forces in the area are so infiltrated, they can no longer really be called government forces.

The British soldiers are pretty much sitting ducks, stuck there in unchanging numbers and in an unchanging situation by US domestic and US-British politics.

The Sunnis set an end date for the "unity government"

The Sunnis suspend their membership in Iraq's government and threaten to walk away completely in a week if their fairly unmeetable demands are not met.
Iraq's largest Sunni Arab bloc said Wednesday it has suspended its membership in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government, dealing a serious blow to the Shiite leader's efforts to achieve national reconciliation.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, which has six Cabinet members as well as 44 of parliament's 275 seats, said it was giving al-Maliki a week to meet their demands or it would quit his 14-month-old Cabinet altogether.....

Reading from a prepared statement, Elyan said the front's demands included a pardon for security detainees not charged with specific crimes, a firm commitment by the government to human rights, the disbanding of militias and the inclusion of all parties in the government in dealing with the country's security situation.

If these are the true demands and the threat is sustained, this could be huge, putting to death even the slight hopes of political reconciliation.
The decision also threatened to undermine weeks of behind-the-scene negotiations to form a coalition of moderate parties from all sects — dubbed "the alliance of moderates." So far only two Shiite and two Kurdish parties have signed up and they had been urging Hashemi's moderate Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni Arab group, and independent Shiites to join them.

Wednesday's decision by the Accordance Front signaled that al-Hashemi had opted not to abandon his Sunni allies for the sake of joining the new group, which was to exclude al-Hashemi's militant partners as well as the Sadrists.

If the Sunnis are allowed to withdraw from the government, they will have only two levers of power left, the indirect leverage through the US who desperately needs reconciliation, and violence. Lots of violence.

Picture of the Day

15 months, patrolling everyday with two weeks off in the middle.

(A US soldier rests between patrols inside the Joint Security Site in Baghdad, 22 July 2007. The US military command in Iraq has drafted a plan that envisages US troops staying in the country for another two years. (AFP/File/Olivier Laban-Mattei))

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And now the choreographed follow on

So, today, Bush makes a speech saying Al Qaeda in Iraq is gonna getcha, and by nightfall, a spokesman of greater credibility just coincidentally appears to reinforce that message.
A top U.S. military commander said Tuesday he believes there are al-Qaida cells in the United States — or people working to create them — and the military needs to triple its response teams to counter a growing threat of attack.....

"I believe there are cells in the United States, or at least people who aspire to create cells in the United States," Renuart said in an interview with The Associated Press. "To assume that there are not those cells is naive and so we have to take that threat seriously."

As for attacks, he added: "Am I concerned that this will happen this summer? I have to be concerned that it could happen any day."

This is shameful.

Later: And this, "Airports warned about terror dry runs."

(CBS/AP) "U.S. officials stress that this is a routine advisory – one of about 90 similar "bulletins" the TSA has circulated to its workers since January."

But this one, issued July 20th, happens to get coverage today.

Did you get the message?

According to Iraqslogger, President Bush used the phrase "Al Qaeda" 85 times in his 30 minute speech today.

Picture of the Day - 3

(At least take the American flag off your lapel when you perjure yourself, sir.)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, July 24, 2007. (Molly Riley/Reuters)

Political bits

From Rawstory's coverage of the Al Gonzales hearing today,
(Sheldon Whitehouse) then pointed to a May 4, 2006 memorandum signed by Gonzales which showed that the Office of the Vice President had been granted parallel privileges with the Executive Office of the President on communicating directly with the Justice Department's staff on criminal and civil matters.

"What - on earth - business does the Office of the Vice President have in the internal workings of the Department of Justice with respect to criminal investigations, civil investigations, and ongoing matters?" the Senator asked.

Gonzales was stumped, "As a general matter, I would say that's a good question."

That would give Cheney's office access to the updates on cases at the very moment that Karl Rove was on the indictment bubble and Libby was doing pretrial procedurals. (That is a good question!)

(ThinkProgress) Also at the hearing, Arlen Specter vaguely threatened Al Gonzales with a Special Prosecutor. (Big headlines, but Specter will wuss out like he always does.)

(AP) Fred Thompson shakes up campaign staff. (Trouble in paradise for the still unannounced Thompson?)

(Politico) Another look at the Dem fundraising advantage.

And, I thought this bit on the Daily Show was pretty funny.

State secrets

From the press briefing this AM about Bush's speech on AIQ.
Q But did you declassify materials specifically to deliver it today?

MR. SNOW: Yes, there are a handful of things we're declassifying for today.

Just how secret were these facts that they were declassified for a presidential rallying speech?

He's a tricky little SOB

The reason Bush is talking about Al Qaeda in Iraq right now is to deflect the argument away from the fact that the Iraqi Parliament is about to begin their month long vacation.

This "Al Qaeda in Iraq related to Bin Laden" debate is intended to mask the real underlying political failures that continue the stagnation of Iraq.

It serves to frame a military answer to a political problem.

(Have you ever heard someone's patriotism challenged for not supporting the State Dept.?)

Later: Of course, it could also be a means to push the Gonzales hearing today down the page.

Picture of the Day

(U.S. and Iranian diplomats meet at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, July 24, 2007. (AP Photo/Iraqi Government))

(AP) "An Iraqi official who was present at the meeting room said Crocker and Qomi were involved in a heated exchange early in the talks.

Crocker confronted the Iranians with charges that Tehran was supporting Shiite militiamen killing U.S. troops, providing them with weapons and training.....

Qomi dismissed the allegations, saying the Americans had no proof."


(AFP) "A suicide car bomb exploded across the street from a children's hospital in the Iraqi city of Hilla on Tuesday, killing at least 26 people and wounding 69, police and medical officials said..... hours before the US ambassador to Iraq and his Iranian counterpart met."

(FT) "Despite pressure from Washington and Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, Iraq’s parliament appeared poised on Sunday to adjourn for the month of August, with debate on critical laws including draft oil legislation delayed until September." (Might I recommend getting out of the country for awhile?)

(AP) The US and Iraqis are blockading Husseiniyah, a Mahdi town just NE of Baghdad.
The Shiite-dominated parliament has said al-Maliki should intervene to end the crackdown.... The town is dominated by the Mahdi Army.... and straddles the highway to Baqouba, where U.S. forces are in the second month of a drive to cleanse that region of al-Qaida in Iraq.....

Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, spokesman for U.S. forces north of Baghdad, said American and Iraqi forces were now allowing "commercial vendors to bring food to the south of Husseiniyah. Civilians are authorized to walk to these vendors to buy food. Donkey carts may be used, but no vehicle movement is authorized. We are also allowing civilians that need medical aid, to walk to the Hamid Shaub Hospital for free treatment.

(Independent) With the Turkish elections over and more Kurds in the ruling coalition, expectations are that the Turks will lessen the pressure on the Iraqi border.

Iraqslogger has a map of the bodies found in Baghdad over the last month. Unsurprisingly, they're mostly in the Sunni border neighborhoods.

And, McClatchy has a very interesting read on the aftermath of one of yesterday's carbombings. US, civilians, medical, fire, Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army, Mahdi, and Badr were all on the scene, all working against each other.

Is it any wonder diplomacy is failing?

If this is verified as printed on the Washington Post's front page, this would be a very clear and direct violation of the Hatch Act, but let's not forget the bigger picture.

US diplomacy around the world is in the crapper with massive blowback effects, and this administration is asking State Department personnel to focus instead on electing Republicans.
White House aides have conducted at least half a dozen political briefings for the Bush administration's top diplomats, including a PowerPoint presentation for ambassadors with senior adviser Karl Rove that named Democratic incumbents targeted for defeat in 2008 and a "general political briefing" at the Peace Corps headquarters after the 2002 midterm elections.

(And please note that this isn't some ancient transgression. The last of these meetings cited took place Jan 4., 2007..... and Sarah Taylor was there, too.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail

The NYTimes tonight carries an article on the midterm planning being done by Petraeus and Crocker in Iraq.
While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years.

The classified plan.... calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document.....

The goals in the document appear ambitious.....

Gee, I wonder if Petraeus' September report will support this plan.

There's a far bigger issue here and it reflects the poorly adapted tools the US has left to leverage events in Iraq. The problems in Iraq are political, not military, and although security is important, there's nothing but hope to think that security will lead to political reconciliation.

The thing is, the US no longer holds any sway over the Iraqi politicians and sectarian groups, so they're using the one poorly fitting tool available, security where US troops stand, in order to try and sway events in Iraq.

The very real politics of divvying up the power and resources are driving the conflict, and there's no indication that easing the violence, assuming that "ambitious" goal is reachable, will lead to political reconciliation.

As soon as the US leaves, the real battle for Iraq will begin.

(Later: I should probably note this is a Michael Gordon byline.)

Picture of the Day - 3

President Bush gestures as he greets visitors at the White House upon arrival from Camp David, Md., Sunday, July 22, 2007, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(Just a weird picture. Look at the woman next to him ignoring the president.)

Political bits

No End in Sight, the Sundance award winning documentary about Iraq, is opening this weekend in a very small release. The trailer gave me a chill.

(Rawstory) From the new Cheney book, "I think we should have probably gone with the provisional government of Iraqis ... I think the Coalition Provisional Authority was a mistake."

(PS, I believe Leahy's account (not Cheney's) of the "Go fuck yourself" incident, supposedly prompted by a comment from Leahy on the mistreatment of Bunnatine Greenhouse after she got into the Halliburton contracts.)

(E&P) Condi Rice couldn't get an op ed placed.

(WSJ) The Democrats have outraised the Republicans by $100 million so far.

(CQPolitics) "Lately, though, Lieberman has taken his alliance with GOP leaders up a notch. During the abortive debate on the defense authorization bill, he attended daily tactical sessions to help them plan their strategy for combatting anti-war amendments and their rhetorical points for use against the Democrats."

(CNN) Brownback goes after Romney for being “hostile to Boy Scout leadership and principles.” (It's about Romney's past support for gay scout leaders.)

(WaPo) "Clinton has drawn criticism this year for refusing to apologize for her 2002 vote authorizing the use of force, but..... She has a 51 percent to 29 percent lead over Obama among those in favor of a complete, immediate withdrawal."

(Politico) "The wife of ex-Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) claims he was physically and verbally abusive to her, according to the Albany Times-Union.

Gayle Sweeney also told the paper that she made a “coerced” statement last fall to rebut a police report describing an episode of domestic abuse that surfaced just before Sweeney’s midterm loss last fall to Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand."

And, (ThinkProgress) Bob Woodward catches David Brooks pulling facts out of the air on Meet the Press. (Notice it wasn't the host who challenged.)

(Did anyone see the Dem ads on CNN today touting the minimum wage hike?)

Later: (Examiner) "Dismissing the GOP presidential field as a "pathetic" bunch of "pygmies," Newt Gingrich hinted Monday he might step in to beat Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama."

Two items misinforming the American debate

For some reason, both of these stuck out to my ear.

1) Yes, Turkey's Islamist party won their election, but calling them Islamist within the current context is deceptive. They are about as (or probably less) religiously active than the current US Republican party.

They aren't trying to legislate that god hates gays or abortion. They aren't trying to force the ten commandments or prayer into public spaces. They aren't denying evolution. They don't pick judges based on their religious beliefs......

Yes, they are the Islamist party of Turkey, but to call them Islamist echoes Iran's mullahs, Sharia law, and Saudi Arabia's culture police. (It does however represent a population shifting away from the US and the West.)

2) Regarding Pakistan, in all the "debate" over whether the US should conduct "targeted" attacks in Pakistan, no one seems to mention the fact that such attacks have already taken place several times.

Here's a few from a quick search: Oct 2006, January 2007, and June 2007.

How can that not get mentioned?

Picture of the Day

An Iraqi police academy graduate demonstrates his skills at a ceremony for over 500 cadets in Najaf, Iraq, Thursday, July 19, 2007. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)

The Iraqi strategic cul de sac

It's been reported before, but I still don't believe it. Implementation of "the surge" is putting us farther away from being able to leave Iraq responsibly.
Major military offensives and a changed focus on increasing security have slowed efforts to train Iraqi forces to take control of Iraq, the top U.S. training official said.....

Pittard, who recently returned to the USA after heading the Iraq Assistance Group, said the major U.S. priority has changed to protecting civilians and providing security instead of building Iraqi security forces and shifting responsibility to them....

"Transitioning [to Iraqi control] is not a main priority, but it's still a priority," Pittard told USA TODAY in an interview Thursday.

Is Iraq the Afghanistan in the 80's, only with the US playing the Soviets?

I don't know if there's any real level of involvement (this may be a tinfoil hat post,) but alot of those weapons coming across the Iranian border are manufactured in China, and if we're moving from small arms and explosives up to missiles, that might deserve a little notice.
The US military on Sunday said its troops had found Chinese-made missiles which they believe were smuggled into Iraq by groups in Iran in order to arm groups fighting US-led forces.

There's really not too much out there on the Chinese origin of some of these weapons flows. It's entirely plausible that that the Chinese government is not at all involved, but I'm finding an echo of Afghanistan in the 80's in Iraq.

A foreign occupier (Russia/US) frustrated by the interference of neighbor/proxy (Pakistan/Iran) which foments resistance movements based on religious fervor (Taleban/Mahdi/Badr.)

(Maybe it's the sudden, largely unprovoked, interest in banning, inspecting, etc. of Chinese products that got my antennae twitching. It may simply be that my tinfoil hat's too tight again.)

The one article George Bush read

A week ago, Bill Kristol wrote an editorial with this jawdropping lead,
I suppose I'll merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush's presidency will probably be a successful one.

Well, today we find out, perhaps unsurprisingly,
Bill Kristol's the-war-is-being-won piece in The Washington Post brought him plenty of ridicule, but at least one person liked it.

President Bush read the July 15 Outlook article that morning and recommended it to his staff.

(And I'm not going to directly link the Kristol piece. If you want the link, it's in the first line of the Kurtz piece.)

The administration's spin backfires

After the administration's overemphasis on Al Qaeda in Iraq and the reexamination of the group that has provoked, take a look at how Alissa Rubin now describes AIQ in the NYTimes.
In addition, a suicide truck bombing north of Baghdad was apparently aimed at a meeting of Sunni tribal sheiks who recently agreed to oppose extremists allied with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni Arab group with some foreign influence.

There's no way this descriptive clause would have been written (or allowed past editors) a month ago.

Whether this represents a small piece of a broader media rejection, I don't know, but the press has recently appeared much more dubious in the various press conferences to administration claims.

Just a few months ago, "the Iran arming everybody" press conference went largely unchallenged, but for some reason, this latest round of "Al Qaeda did it" is being spit back up.

Are we seeing a shift in the tides or am I imagining things?

Picture of the Day

President Bush smiles as he is introduced to speak at the New Jersey Republican State Committee reception in Edison, New Jersey, May 30, 2007. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

This is a tiny thing, but it speaks to a much bigger problem.

Iraqslogger has a very interesting comment on the Iraqi National Soccer team's success at the Asia Cup.
While the Iraqi and Western media are pouring flattery and good-wishes upon the national team. Many ignore the fact that this may be the last Iraqi team to compete seriously on the international scene for some time. While Iraq is achieving victories in Asia, the soccer federation in the country is in disarray and fraught with divisions, the league cannot be held under the current security conditions, and was replaced with a mini-competition held exclusively in Iraqi Kurdistan. At the same time, Iraqi youth today are receiving a mere fraction of the resources and training that was available to their older peers.

I know that's a small thing, but the same can be said of far more critical areas.

The exodus of doctors and lawyers, engineers and professionals will never be fully reversed, and the mechanisms for teaching and training the next generation of professionals has mostly broken down in the urban areas. How many future doctors are being lost to the violence?

How long will the Iraqis suffer for this?

Picture of the Day

(President George W. Bush plays around with boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 20, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Protecting the collaborators

For the last month, I've been talking about how Iraqis waiting for an announcement of a US withdrawal have virtually stalled every effort towards the US goals in Iraq. Tell me this doesn't say it, writ large.
The American ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan C. Crocker, has asked the Bush administration to take the unusual step of granting immigrant visas to all Iraqis employed by the U.S. government in Iraq because of growing concern that they will quit and flee the country if they cannot be assured eventual safe passage to the United States.

They don't see that peaceful Iraq coming about in anything near the short term, and these are the "optimists" who are working towards the US goals.

They're envisioning the helicopters of Vietnam and don't want to be the ones left at the embassy. Can you blame them?

Emphasis on unmeasurable reconciliation in Iraq.

One of the spin points the Bush administration is trying to push is the idea that reconciliation in Iraq can be seen and achieved in areas other than parliament. As one example, look at the asserted, but unprovable, claims of "bottom up reconciliation," the idea that the Sunni tribal deals represent progress towards Iraqi reconciliation.

(They don't. The "tribal deals" are a shaky alliance between Sunni militant groups and the US. The Sunni groups have given no indication that these deals mark any sort of change in intention towards the Shia dominated government, and there's some evidence the government is sending militia infiltrated government forces into some of these areas near west Baghdad.)

Another new reconciliation talking point is the idea of emphasizing the presidential council, but really, what is the level of cooperation there?
U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker told Congress on Thursday that the council is meeting weekly to deal with crises, and officials are hoping this will become a forum to develop consensus on broader political issues. Bush has taken to including the two vice presidents -- Adel Abdul Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi -- as well as Talabani in some of his regular video conferences with Maliki.

Sounds like they've almost settled the oil law, eh?

Stoking the fight.

Does anyone appreciate the fact that Israel and Syria are getting caught in the US/Iran conflict? In February (maintained in April) the US made every attempt to shut down Israeli attempts at negotiations with Syria.

Now, in July, there are rumors that the Iranians are trying to get the Syrians to shut down their side of negotiations with Israel.

Heaven forbid we get middle east peace before the US and Iran get their objectives.

((Reuters) The Syrians are currently stalling talks by requiring a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.)

While I'm making observations.....

It was just a few years ago that Pakistan's main defense interest was looking east at a very possible war with India.

Now, the giant sucking instability of an unresolved Afghanistan has forced a complete Pakistani pivot to the west.