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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The State Dept picks the wrong horse in Pakistan

Take a moment to read the first two paragraphs of this Newsweek piece on the State Dept's response to the Bhutto killing.
It was a decidedly odd moment. On Thursday, within hours of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters in Washington that his boss, Condoleezza Rice, had quickly made two calls. One was to Bhutto's bereaved husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Rice's other call, Casey said, was to the man he called Bhutto's "successor," Amin Fahim, the vice chairman of her Pakistan Peoples Party. Casey couldn't even quite master this obscure politician's name, but he said, "I'll leave it up to Mr. Amin Fahir—Fahim—as the new head of the Pakistan People's Party to determine how that party is going to participate in the electoral process."

The problem is, nobody but the State Department—especially not the political elites in Pakistan, even those within Bhutto's own party—sees Fahim in such a role, and certainly not so soon. Critics suggest that the administration is so eager to graft legitimacy onto President Pervez Musharraf, its ever-more-unpopular ally in the war on terror, that it is pressing too hard to move past Bhutto and continue with scheduled Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, even though riots are paralyzing the country. "They're trying to rush everything. This is a disaster," says Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Depratment official and current scholar at the Middle East Institute. "This is now our new game plan: We're working out a deal between Fahim and Musharraf after the election. They mention Fahim because they don't know any better. The fact is, she [Bhutto] didn't trust him."

This is classic Bush administration. Find someone who will cooperate in the trappings of political consensus, and elevate them regardless of the realities.

We've seen it several times with several different groups in Iraq, the elevation of Fatah and disregarding of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the disaster of Siniora in Lebanon, and of course there's the constituentless Karzai.

How is this developmental model working out?

Picture of the Day

Wouldn't you have expected that the Sec State to have a more public role after the Bhutto killing? This is the only photo appearance I can find.

(Condoleezza Rice signs a book of condolence at the Pakistan Embassy for former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S. Mahmud Ali Durrani looks on in Washington, December 28, 2007. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque))


(AP) The Islamic militant group blamed by the Pakistani government for the Bhutto killing says it didn't do it. Bhutto's aides doubted the government's claims as well. (Perception matters more than truth at this point.)

(AP) "A glance at major violence in Pakistan." (A "glance?")

(WaPo) A brief look at the fear of the US foreign policy establishment that Pakistan's turmoil will affect Afghanistan.
(It hasn't already?)

(Reuters) Lebanon's presidential election has been delayed again over a post-election powersharing arrangement. The president's office has been vacant since Nov. 23.

(AFP) "Turkey said Friday it would continue its military operations against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq."

(AP) Baghdadis shop along sectarian lines.

Huckabee's cash

The Huckabee campaign is crowing about their sudden fundraising, but if you compare the numbers to the other majors, it looks less impressive.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee bragged on a conference call Friday that he has raised about $5 million online in the past three months, and has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars more at fund-raising receptions.

For comparison, compare that to Romney and Giuliani who each raised about $5 million per month in their first three months in the campaign and together raised about $100 million total. Or compare it to Ron Paul who raised $4 million and $6 million online on two days.

My point is that this hardly represents some giant wave which matches his rise in the polls. How many individual donors are we talking about? How big is the average donation? How much could Huckabee go back to them?

The bottom line is that $5 million is barely enough to build organization and run ads in one early state, and 29 states hold their primaries in the next 6 weeks.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No way this is out of context.

Want to hear what's being said in the country clubs and Elks' lodges? Take a quick listen to this Giuliani campaign official from New Hampshire.

True, he's just some low level state guy, but it's no coincidence that this sort would back Giuliani after all the campaign speeches conflating Shia groups, Sunni groups, Al Qaeda, and all of worldwide Islam as a single hegemonic enemy.

This kind of thinking is a main element of Mr. 9/11's core support.

Picture of the Day - 2

1) First, Huckabee expresses “our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.”

2) Then, he says Pakistan is still under martial law.

3) Then, he misspeaks and talks about Pakistan's "eastern border" with Afghanistan.

4) Then, he swings around and says we need to be monitoring Pakistanis crossing our border.

5) Now we get reporting that Huckabee was taking speaker fees from stem cell and morning after companies. (Not that I care, but they do.)

6) Finally, we get a little better recounting of the "pheasant hunt," of Huckabee and party firing shotgun blasts over the heads of reporters. (Thanks, Jeff)

As Johnathan Martin points out at Politico, Huck needs the caucuses to be now (or yesterday.)

(Mike Huckabee wipes the sweat from his brow as he speaks at a campaign stop, Dec. 21, 2007, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green))

Picture of the Day

Pakistani anti-riot police in Rawalpindi. (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood))

As of now, Pakistani elections are still on.

With the PPP rudderless and Nawaz Sharif boycotting the elections...
Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro said Friday the government had no immediate plan to postpone Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, despite the growing chaos and a top opposition leader's decision to boycott the poll.

"Right now the elections stand where they were," he told a news conference. "We will consult all the political parties to take any decision about it."

Of course, if they cancelled them, all hell would break loose, too.

(AFP) "Authorities struggled to contain the seething anger, ordering paramilitary forces in Karachi, a Bhutto stronghold, to shoot rioters on sight and sending troops into several cities across the south."

Plan B

I'm not too sure of the characterization, but....
On Thursday, officials at the American Embassy in Islamabad reached out to members of the political party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, according to a senior administration official. The very fact that officials are even talking to backers of Mr. Sharif, who they believe has too many ties to Islamists, suggests how hard it will be to find a partner the United States fully trusts.

Rather than trying to find a new "partner" in Sharif the US might simply be trying to get a feel for the new playing field.

(Also: In all of this coverage, I have seen very little on the Pakistani military. One of the likely resolutions of this is for the military to usher Musharraf off stage to try and restore stability.)

A broad question

How could the US be caught seemingly flatfooted on the Bhutto assassination? It's not like this contingency wasn't clearly out there.

Backstage at the US machinations in Pakistan

The WaPo has a very interesting and detailed frontpager on the US's involvement in Bhutto's return to Pakistan.

(But be aware that it contains some of the same uncritical Bhutto characterizations we're seeing throughout the media. She was definitely more "moderate" and western-friendly, but she wasn't a flawless savior as most of the US coverage is portraying her.

She spent years marketing herself to US politicians and media, knowing that her best path to power lay through Washington.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Picture of the Day - 3 - Conventional Wisdom

I can't be surprised that a good part of the news analysis is handicapping how Bhutto's death will play into the US elections.

I mean, how many resources were chasing the candidates versus how many were covering Pakistan?

(PS. and here we are again saying how disastrous news will shape the choice of the next president. This is America now. We are a nation of reaction, not vision.)

(John McCain gestures towards the audience before the Republican Presidential Debate in Johnston, Iowa, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall))

Be suspicious of Americans analyzing Pakistan.

I'm not even going to try to dip into the ramifications of the Bhutto assassination, but I would say this: With the US media grading this assassination as a huge story, they suddenly have lots of airtime and column inches to fill. The majority of the analysis will be cribbed from the same sources and it will be fairly inexpertly extrapolated and reconveyed.

If we've learned anything over the past seven years, it's that the US media doesn't understand politics beyond near neighbors and European allies. The oversimplification and repeated trust in "the experts" has led to some very poor, misleading, and inaccurate coverage.

Just a word of caution.

(PS. When did "news" become predicting the future instead of reporting what happened?)

Picture of the Day - 2

(Barack Obama puts on a personalized identification badge during a stop at a grocery store in Webster City, Iowa, December 26, 2007. (REUTERS/Jim Young))

Political bits

(WaPo) Dana Milbank does an event with Giuliani in Florida that seems to capture the campaign's increasing slide.

(CNN) Giuliani goes back to 9/11 in his newest ad. (Recognizing he's a "single issue" candidate?)

(NYTimes) A look at Edwards and the 527's "not coordinating with his campaign." (Edwards is singled out because of his ant-527 rhetoric and friendly 527 support, but 527's are everywhere. Clinton and Huckabee also seem to have big 527 backing.)

(Politico) Mike Huckabee is still giving paid speeches at $25,000 per.

And, the Fred Thompson campaign grinds to a financial halt. No more TV ads in Iowa.

Later: (Politico) Only Romney and Huckabee are now running Iowa ads. McCain, Giuliani, and Thompson are all out for varying reasons.

(Politico) Romney is spending huge on Iowa TV. I would love to know how much of his money he is pouring into the campaign. (Could they be making the payments after Jan. 1 to push it into the next reporting period?)

Picture of the Day

Be vewwy, vewwy quiet......

It's good to see he's included the traditional hunter's media gaggle.

(I've noted before that the polling must show the "gun vote" up for grabs. Huckabee, McCain, and Thompson have all been seeking gun photos.)

(Mike Huckabee talks to members of the media during a hunting trip in Osceola, Iowa December 26, 2007. (REUTERS/Keith Bedford))

Later: Weird quotes from Huckabee out on the tundra. Or this one, "This is what happens…You vote for me, you live. You don't…there you go."

Iraq, Afganistan, and Pakistan.

After issuing a statement two days ago backing the Turkish attacks, (AFP) "The White House Wednesday said it had expressed concern to Ankara over the possible escalation of Turkey's attacks against Kurdish PKK rebels inside northern Iraq...."

(Haaretz) "Personnel from Israel's Aerospace Industries are assisting the Turkish army in activating Israeli-made unmanned aircrafts for use in military operations in Kurdish northern Iraq..." (Always good PR in the Arab world.)

(Reuters) The Kurdish parliament agreed to a six month delay on the Kirkuk referendum.

(AP) The US killed 11 from a Mahdi splinter group that was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of US soldiers in May.

(Same article) The amnesty bill passed by the cabinet looks likely to die in Parliament, and it's not likely to be brought until April anyway.

In Afghanistan, (BBC) The two diplomats accused of talking with the Taleban leave the country.

(Telegraph) "Gordon Brown is to face pressure to return to Parliament and explain what discussions are taking place with Taliban fighters after it was disclosed that MI6 is involved in secret negotiations in Afghanistan."

And, in Pakistan, I'm not too sure of the sourcing on this, The Nation second hand from the WaPo, but file it away as a possibility.
Early next year, US special forces are expected to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and support indigenous counter-insurgency forces and clandestine counter-terrorism units, according to American defence officials involved with the planning, reports Washington Post.

Of course, the big story is the killing of Benazir Bhutto.

Benazir Bhutto killed in bombing/ Gunfire at a Nawaz Sharif rally

The Guardian and AP are reporting Benazir Bhutto has died in surgery after a bombing on a campaign rally. At least 20 others killed.

The BBC is reporting that a Nawaz Sharif rally was also marked by gunfire before he arrived, at least 4 killed. (The circumstances are less clear.)

Still coming in. We'll get details and impact later. Longer AP.

WaPo reports that she was shot while leaving the rally, then the bomb went off.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Picture of the Day - 2

While the NYTimes is trying to crucify people for "experience...."

(Mike Huckabee walks by his campaign bus during a stop in Coralville, Iowa, December 21, 2007. (Jim Young/Reuters))

Iraq and the British secretly negotiating with the Taleban

(Reuters) The Afghan government expels a Briton and Irishman working for the UN charging that they have been meeting with the Taleban. (The meeting supposedly took place in Musa Qala, the district in Helmand the British keep retaking and losing.)

(Telegraph) Britain in secret talks with the Taliban.
It is thought that the Americans were extremely unhappy with the news becoming public that an ally was negotiating with terrorists who supported the September 11 attackers.

In Iraq, The WaPo has a longish story on the intraShia powerstruggle. (A good summary, but nothing new if you've been watching this.)

And, Juan Cole's 10 Myths about Iraq is definitely worth a read.

Do Hillary Clinton's 8 years as first lady count as experience?

The NYTimes frontpages with the big question: Do Hillary Clinton's 8 years as first lady count as experience? (not to mention getting this dig in on the first page,)
And during one of President Bill Clinton’s major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Mrs. Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal sizzled.

As a whole, it seems to me the NYTimes is holding up a very limited and unfair definition of experience to try and make a story. The article sets a ridiculously high bar for judging her "experience" that, without comparison, makes her look bad.

No other candidate Republican or Democrat has sat in on NSC briefings. No other candidate has been involved in presidential circle discussions of foreign policy. And, of course, the first lady wasn't there for that.

The Clinton's are somewhat to blame for this by framing "experience" primarily in terms of foreign policy, but, to me, her germane experience is a bit softer, but very real, and important in the judgment of the candidates.

She knows the White House, she knows the inside politics of power. She's dealt with the bureaucracies and the Congress from that side. I think there can be no question that she does have a more subtle understanding of how to work the system and get things done in Washington.

However, let me say that that's not the only factor in my judgments (I still haven't made up my mind.) It just seemed to me that this NYTimes frontpager was set up in such a way to make her look bad. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way.


Political bits

(WaPo) The early forecast for the Iowa Caucuses is 30/18 with no precipitation. It sounds silly to talk about this, but turnout will likely decide both races, and with Obama and Huckabee (and Clinton to a lesser extent) relying on first time caucusers. The weather may matter.

(AP) Will First-Time Caucus Goers Show Up?

(AP) Many Iowa conservatives still undecided.

And, Iowa will matter. (AFP) "USA Today said the main finding of its latest poll in New Hampshire was uncertainty, with more than four of 10 voters in each party saying they may change their minds before the primary election, leaving the race wide open."

The Union Leader follows the Concord Monitor in giving Romney a short, but scathing "anti-endorsement."

(NYTimes) Jon Bon Jovi as a political force? (WaPo) Democrats hunting for the Al Sharpton endorsement.

Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day. Things will be kinda slow around here.

The news folks will be doing "packages" they worked on before Christmas, and I'm still playing with the nieces, the nephew, and the new toys.

Plus, I'm an English soccer fan, and there will be 5 games back to back that will be running in the background all day.

So, light posting, but I'll try to put a few things up.

(Christopher Dodd gets out of the back seat of his car after reading to his daughters on the way to a Christmas Eve campaign stop in Carroll, Iowa. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green))

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Picture of the Day - 2

Brave, brave Christians in Baghdad.

(Iraqi Christians pass through heavy security after attending Christmas mass in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2007. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed))

Russia builds Iran relationship to win the "energy war"

If you're looking for something to read, check out this AsiaTimes article on the Russian victories over the past year in the great EuroAsian energy war. They've locked up Iran, largely controlled the giant developments in the Caspian, and established influence over almost all the pipeline routes out of the region.

As always with the AsiaTimes, it's long, but an interesting read.


(WaPo) Turkey bombs again.

(AP) "Turkish airstrikes and artillery have hit more than 200 Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq since Dec. 16, killing hundreds of insurgents, the military said Tuesday."

(BBC) "The president of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq has warned Turkey to halt its strikes against rebel Kurdish positions in the border area."

(HeraldSun) "US President George Bush has spoken with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip and gave his backing for military strikes by Ankara on Kurdish rebel rear bases in Iraq."

(WaPo) 13 Shia are kidnapped off a bus near Baquba.

(AP) "A suicide bomber exploded a pickup truck outside a residential complex belonging to a state-run oil company north of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 22 people and wounding at least 50, local officials said."

Picture of the Day

(A Bosnian Catholic nun is seen during a Christmas mass in Sarajevo's main cathedral, Dec. 25,2007.(AP Photo/Hidajet Delic))

Monday, December 24, 2007

Huckabee on MTP next week

Mike Huckabee is scheduled on Meet the Press next week. Is it a good idea for a frontrunner to go on that show 4 days before the Iowa caucuses?

Later: How's Huckabee's fundraising? You would think with his position in the polls he'd be raking it in, mitigating the need for this sort of risky free media.

I guess he's still not enjoying significant establishment support.

Christmas albums/Christmas songs

For me, it's never really Christmas until I hear a few select songs. James Brown's "Soulful Christmas" and "Santa Claus, Come Straight to the Ghetto." Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and The Charlie Brown/Vince Guaraldi "O Tannenbaum" and "Christmas Time is Here."

I don't know why, but that's my flavor of Christmas.

Picture of the Day - 2

(A U.N. peacekeeper in Santa Claus costume holds a child during a Christmas party at a school in Ible al-Saqi village in southern Lebanon December 22, 2007. (REUTERS/ Karamalllah Daher))

Billions "wasted" on Pakistan

I think this story misses the broader point. This deal with Pakistan was more of a payoff to the Pakistani government and military figures, than direct funding of an anti-Al Qaeda force.
After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money.

I mean, come on, it's Pakistan.

Political bits

In a WaPo article on Mitt Romney's strategy,
"Are there moments of quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet desperation? Of course," another longtime adviser said. "But . . . this is the strategy we have. We don't have the option of doing anything else."

(Reuters) Huckabee stops for a Christmas sermon at John Hagee's megachurch in San Antonio angering some Catholics because of Hagee's past writings.

And, The NYTimes has a piece looking at the international betting odds for the US presidential race. Clinton 3-1. Obama 7-5. Edwards 10-1. Romney 5-1. McCain 8-1. Giuliani 10-1. Huckabee 12-1.

Iraqi "reeducation" goes mainstream

Two weeks ago, I noted Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, the commanding general in charge of detainee operations in Iraq, and his attempts at "reeducating" Iraqis held in US custody.

Well, it sounds like his program has gotten full sanction; they've put out a contracting request.

Picture of the Day

(A Palestinian protester dressed as Santa Claus scuffles with Israeli border police officers during a demonstration against the controversial Israeli barrier, December 21, 2007.(REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun))

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Political bits

(AP) Micke Huckabee defends his "Christmas ad" by turning it into an attack on Christianity. (No, sir. The criticism is an attack on your exploitation of Christianity.)

(AP) Mitt Romney says Huckabee is liberal like Clinton. (I'm telling you, all the early signs indicate that the Romney attacks are landing.)

(ConcordMonitor) Mitt Romney gets shredded in what many are calling an anti-endorsement.

(Politico) Limbaugh accepts Huckabee's apology, but doesn't really seem to let it go.

Obama lands some first class snark against Edwards over the 527 group run by Edwards' former campaign manager,
"He said yesterday that he's going to ask [Baldick] to do it, and my attitude is that if you can't get your former campaign manager and political director to do what you'd like, then it's going to be hard to get the insurance companies and drug companies to do what you want."

In the ABC piece on the Dem 527's, we learn,
Any Iowa mom who Googles the word "recipe" should see an ad linking to YouGoGirl.com, which recruits women to caucus for Clinton. The ad is courtesy of the powerful abortion rights group EMILY's List, which works to elect Democratic women.

Even the Christmas meal isn't free from politics.

Picture of the Day

An employee checks a Mattel toy with lead before it is destroyed in November 2007. (AFP/Luis Acosta)

So, it's not "the surge"?

Despite all the claims of success by the administration, the reduction of violence in Iraq and shift among the Iraqi Sunnis towards working with the US has only been possible because of the relative stand down of the Shia militias towards the Sunnis.
The Iranian government has decided "at the most senior levels" to rein in the violent Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, a move reflected in a sharp decrease in sophisticated roadside bomb attacks over the past several months, according to (Ryan Crocker) the State Department's top official on Iraq.

As this article points out, Shia violence dropped precipitously after the incident around the Shia pilgrimage in Kerbala in August after which Sadr issued the stand down orders for the Mahdi army.

Remember how the beginning of "the surge" was so violent and then, suddenly in the fall, things started to improve? Well, that "turning point" was the Mahdi stand down.

It is essential for the Bush presidency to claim success for "the surge" before he passes Iraq to the next president. This will allow his defenders to say, "We had gotten Iraq under control. It was the next president who messed it up."

Whereas "the surge" was originally sold as a means of creating a temporary drop in violence to allow "breathing space" for the Iraqi government to enact political change, the goals have now obviously shifted. Most of the current policies, like empowering the Sunni militias or allowing the Kirkuk referendum to slide, are aimed at putting off the core conflicts for the next presidency.

After all, Iraq was stable when he left, right? "The surge" worked.

More torture tapes

NPR has a story about three more torture tapes in CIA possession made by a foreign government.

It's unclear exactly what is on these tapes, but NPR's guess seems to be that its people who were "rendered" to the Jordanians who tortured them for the US before returning them to US custody.