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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, November 18, 2006

From the limousine's window

I don't know why, but this seemed emblematic somehow.
In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi’s residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”

He continued: “I think he’s gotten a real sense of the warmth of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them.”

"On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command."

Also: The WaPo recaps all the different critics of Bush from Gingrich to Powell to Adelman. Nothing new except that it's a litany of criticism on the Sunday front page. Do I hear 29%?

Picture of the Day - 4

The blood of a wounded British security guard is seen on the stretcher that was used by British soldiers to carry him into a hospital in the southern Iraqi town of Al-Zubair. Security forces were hunting for two Westerners kidnapped in southern Iraq.(AFP/Essam Al-Sudani)

Picture of the Day - 3

Iraqi police officers rally in protest in Baghdad's, Iraq, Shiite district of Sadr City Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006. About 150 policemen rallied at the district's main police station, denouncing the interior ministry's orders to redeploy them in the western side of Baghdad where Sunni insurgents are active. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Saturday reading

A great NYTimes piece on Capt. Stephanie Bagley stationed as an MP commander training Iraqi police in Baghdad.

A shift towards N. Korea

So, after all this, the Bush administration is hoping the North Koreans will accept the Clinton deal?
(Hadley) declined to confirm three steps that American and Asian officials said were now being debated: an immediate shutdown of North Korea’s 5 megawatt reactor, whose spent fuel can be turned into weapons; closing of the reprocessing facility that manufactures plutonium fuel; and immediate inspections led by the International Atomic Energy Commission. The agency’s inspectors were thrown out of the country in early 2003.

Picture of the Day - 2

A relative attempts to climb on to the roof rack of a car carrying some of the eight victims of a bakery shooting in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

The South Koreans refuse full sanctions on N. Korea

The White House tried to spin this as not a big deal, but South Korean president Roh said yesterday that South Korea will not implement the sanctions on the North.
Roh said his country "is not taking part in the full scope" of the security initiative" but that it would "support the principles and goals of the PSI."

But perhaps most telling of all was this inclusion: After their meeting there was a joint appearance at which, "Neither leader took questions." (AP)

Think back through all the meetings and all the Bush appearances with even some of the most objectionable world leaders. Has there ever been one without "three questions a side?"


I had suspected that this was part of James Baker's role. Because of his "outside the government" position, Baker is able to conduct exploratory talks without any official commitment or recognition.
James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state who is now Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan group examining strategic options in Iraq, has met several times with Syrian officials to discuss how they might cooperate with the United States, the Syrian ambassador here said Friday.....

"An outside adviser to the group, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in an interview this week that the panel had also interviewed the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif."

After all, his experience is as Sec. State, not as military planner.

Picture of the Day

"Making no comment and asking no questions of his guides,..." (AP)

(U.S. President George W. Bush, left, is briefed by Dr. Bradley Sturm at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hanoi, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak))

(I guess they weren't happy with his Iraq/Vietnam comments either. - mike)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Quotes that are unintentionally ironic

"The Maverick" made this statement in front of the uber- conservative Federalist Society, a group so far to the right of the mainstream, that Alito had to deny he was a member.
“Hypocrisy, my friends, is the most obvious of political sins — and the people will punish it,” said Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona.

Watching you pull out your conservative kneepads, Mr. McCain, I can only hope that's true.

James Carville can kiss my ass - Part II

James Carville attacked Howard Dean the other day over "Rumsfeldian incompetence." (I have my own theory that Carville is trying to seize the party apparatus to benefit his '08 candidate.)

Anyway, Dean fired back today speaking in front of an adoring Association of State Democratic Chairs. (And Hotline analyzes and debunks Carville's criticisms.)

Look. The Dems were highly competitive in places where they hadn't been previously this year because Dean gave the money to the state parties and let them craft tactics and message that worked locally for them. And, yes, that means the Democratic party may change.

The Democrats are a populist party, and key in that is being responsive to the people. You can't cookie cut the DLC model across the country. In the Carville model, we probably wouldn't have McCaskill and definitely wouldn't have Webb or Tester.

Picture of the Day - 3

"Who here thinks my husband is doing a horrible job?"

(U.S. first lady Laura Bush, and a group of children wave to photographers after she finished reading a story book to them, at the National Library in Singapore, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006. (AP Photo/Andy Wong))

Rove leaving?

So, if Rove does leave the White House, what then?

A month or three "on the beach" and then into McCain '08?

McCain's already sold his soul to these guys, and I find it hard to believe that Rove would be left on the bench in '08. If he does go, whichever '08 campaign he lands in is suddenly the prohibitive frontrunner.

(Treat this as a shaky rumor.)

Some weight behind the Guardian's report

More weight to the the Guardian's recent report of a detailed plan of a "last big push" on Iraq including a temporary escalation. Tony Snow coyly dodges the question at the gaggle,
Q The Guardian had a report yesterday that Bush is considering sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq for one last push. Does that have any conception of reality?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to try to characterize anything. We saw the report, but I don't want to get into the thicket of trying to characterize it. The best thing to do on that is to throw that over to the Pentagon and let them give you the answer.

I believe -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- The Guardian story was based on at least what they considered a leak about Pentagon ruminations about possible ways forward, at a time when General Pace is conducting a comprehensive review. I think the best thing to do is to let General Pace do that review and provide a report and then we'll --

Q So it's just not true?

MR. SNOW: I don't know.

The plan/outline was prepared by Pentagon officials, but is part of the ISG's proposals and is being circulated in draft form in the White House.

According to the Guardian piece, "President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq." Not the Pentagon, Tony.

On the other side, at the hearing the other day, Abizaid comes out strongly against more troops.

So, after all this time influencing the generals not to ask for more troops, is the White House about to force more troops on them? Politicians dictating a ground strategy? No, it's nothing like Vietnam.

Now, with subpoena power

I'm sure the Bush administration will throw up every roadblock it can think of, but, come January, we may actually get a chance at oversight.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, soon to be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has requested the release of documents that outline the Bush Administration's interrogation policies.....

The companion document, the so-called “Yoo Two” document (named after legal counsel John Yoo) is believed to contain a list of actual techniques that have been approved by the Department of Justice—and which therefore are legally protected interrogation methods used by intelligence operatives against suspected terrorists.

Picture of the Day - 2

U.S. President George W. Bush, left, is seated beneath a large bust of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.... at the Communist Party Headquarters in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov. 17, 2006. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

"A baby boomer who came of age during the turbulent Vietnam era and spent the war stateside as a member of the Texas Air National Guard, the president called himself amazed by the sights of the onetime war capital."

Bush brewing up a fight with Dems

Despite all the happy talk from the administration about "bipartisanship," the Bush administration has been making lots of moves designed to provoke a response from the Dems.

Earlier this week, it was renominating John Bolton. Yesterday, it was nominating a number of judges who had been previously turned down by the Republican Senate as being too far out of the mainstream. Today,
The Bush administration has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked at a Christian pregnancy-counseling organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women."....

A Woman's Concern supports sexual abstinence until marriage, opposes contraception and does not distribute information promoting birth control at its six centers in eastern Massachusetts.

This nomination doesn't require confirmation, but the strategy is clear. Enact lots of controversial, under the radar admistrative moves to prompt a Democratic response, then, accuse the Dems of firing first and ruining the "new spirit of cooperation."

Later: EPM, spawned a point. It's in the administration's interest to create a sense of partisan rancor for political cover when Bush wants to veto the Dems broadly popular first 100 hours legislation, minimum wage, renegotiating the drug benefit, etc.

However, for that to work, it has to look like the Dems started it.

Picture of the Day

An Iraqi youth sits at the scene following an explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 16, 2006. Deadly attacks continued in the capital, with suspected insurgents and militias using guns, bombs and mortar shells. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Another massive operation by the Shia

Four US and one Austrian security contractors were seized in an attack on a supply convoy yesterday presumably by Shia forces near Basra. (In the effort to find tham, the British have cordoned off a section of Basra and the US has raided a police station in in nearby Zubayr.)

But take a look at the scale of this attack.
A U.S. Embassy official, who refused to be identified because he was not authorized to release the information, said the convoy included 43 heavy trucks and six security vehicles. Some of the hijackers were dressed as Iraqi police and those men took away 20 vehicles, he said.

This is not some small group of bandits; it is another large scale coordinated operation carried out by the Shia at 1PM in broad daylight. I think we need to make note of the significant growth in scale and sophistication of the Shia attacks, like the Education Ministry kidnappings, as it indicates greater training, larger unit size, better planning and communications, and far more freedom in their "safe" areas.

Over the last year, the Shia have gone from small, unit-sized death squad activities to fairly large coordinated operations. If the Iraqis, or the US, decides to "go after the Shia militias," and they decide to really fight, it is going to be very messy.

(It should probably be added that with all the reports of contractor violence, this could've been specifically targeted to one of these contractors (like Mahmoudiyah.) Nothing to indicate that at this point. Just a possibility I wanted to introduce.)

al Dhari is in Jordan?

Yesterday, the Shia Iraqi Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for Harith al-Dhari, head of the (Sunni) Muslim Clerics Association, seriously inflaming the Sunnis and putting the existence of the "unity" government at risk.

It has led to a call by the Muslim Clerics Association for Sunnis to withdraw from the government.

But, what caught my eye, was this item way buried deep in a Reuters article, "Sunni leaders like Dari, who is safe from arrest in neighboring Jordan,..."

So, for what purpose, other than angering the Sunnis, was this arrest warrant issued?

Also: What's really odd about this hugely divisive arrest warrant is that it comes right on the back of the Education Ministry kidnappings that had already led to calls for the Sunnis to abandon the government. It's almost like this is designed to get the Sunnis to withdraw. If the Shia want civil war, there will be civil war.

(Juan Cole: "Al-Dhari in opinion polling is among the most popular Sunni figures in the country.")

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

"....and implicitly cast himself as the one who can lead the party's rebirth....." (AP)

(U.S. Senator John McCain gestures as he steps on stage to speak to members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, at a hotel in Washington, November 16, 2006. McCain, taking the first step toward a 2008 White House bid, said on Thursday a return to principles of limited government and 'common sense conservatism' would carry Republicans back to power after last week's election drubbing REUTERS/Jason Reed)

How do you stop an insurgency without inflaming it?

Without any crackdown on the Shia militias, Bolani, the Shia interior minister, issued an arrest warrant for the top Sunni coalition leader, Harith al-Dhari.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant Thursday for the head of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars.....

Al-Dhari is the top leader for the country's Sunni minority, and the move against him was likely to inflame sectarian violence already ravaging Baghdad and central Iraq"

This is a big step in the politics of the civil war. If this warrant stands and is carried out, it will spawn even more bombings and attacks and more Shia death squad killings in response.

I hope those 2,200 hundred marines called into Anbar are ready.

So, Pelosi's a failure....

Before she's even in office, the people on my TV are telling me that Nancy Pelosi is a failure. Incredible.

Why don't we just go the whole road diminishing her and talk about what she's wearing before we talk about what she's saying?

(Oh, wait, the USAToday removed the reference. All I can find is this little excerpt off GoogleNews that links to the edited article, "...Pelosi, arriving for the closed-door gathering at the Cannon House office building wearing a bright red suit, declined to comment when asked if she had the ...")

A little Republican comic relief

All I can say is run, Bob, run. (Only because he can't win and would add so much to my viewing pleasure.)
I just got off the phone with former congressman and talk show host Bob Dornan, who is considering. . . a run for President.

“I can’t stand the thought of my party having as its three front-runners three open adulterers, Newt Gingrich, Giuliani, and McCain,” Dornan said.

Picture of the Day - 2

Want to know who is winning in Iraq? Their president is smiling. Ours is not.

As Pressure for Talks Grows, Iran and Syria Gain Leverage

(Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets the Iranian media before starting a news conference in Tehran, 14 November 2006. A senior State Department official who oversees Iraq policy said the United States was ready "in principle" for direct talks with Iran on Tehran's role in the US-occupied country.(AFP))

Siding with the Shia in Iraq's civil war

A day and a half ago, I wrote that the Shia option, "Stability First," was the most likely outcome of the current ISG/Bush administration reevaluation of strategy. Despite the post below about "one last push" on the current strategy, in the longer term, the Shia option in some form is the likely endpoint of US strategy in Iraq. It accepts the reality that the US can no longer shift the inertia of the conflict.
AS SECTARIAN violence rises in Iraq and the White House comes under increasing pressure to revamp its strategy there, a debate is emerging inside the Bush administration: Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot in with the Shiites?

A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda cells. But elements of the administration, including some members of the intelligence community, believe that such a tilt could lead to stability more quickly than the current policy of trying to police the ongoing sectarian conflict evenhandedly, with little success and at great cost.

Such a tilt could come in varying degrees. I would think the most likely would be a "stepping out of the cities" which would allow the Shia militias to consolidate (and ethnically cleanse) free of US interference, but maintaining the US/Sunni conflict in Anbar. (Watch for a shift in rhetoric using "Al Qaeda" much more.)

This is a very cold answer, but if withdrawal is not considered, and partition is a "non-starter," the "stability first" option is really the only thing left on the table.

(I would guess that the article below came about because of the "ugliness" of this option. The Bush administration thought they would float a trial balloon to see if they could give the current "balanced approach" one more shot before embracing this evil realism. (The other option is a failed state.))

The final outcome would be Shia dominance and the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis out into the western deserts.

How would the regional Sunni governments respond? What do the Saudis do with Shia militias just across their border? Will the Saudis and Syrians arm and equip the Sunnis? Does that create Al Qaeda in Iraq as the dominant Sunni political/militia force?

Later: Here's a sample of Saudi response, Saudi Arabia is experimenting with peaceful nuclear technology, Saudis to press ahead with Iraq border fence.

Later still: I guess we can figure out where CIA director Hayden falls in this argument. Al Qaeda in Iraq is committing "almost Satanic terror," and a doubt as to the possibility of any political solution.

Just in: CNN reports that John Abizaid has called for the deployment of 2,200 marines who had been in reserve to Anbar. No specifics. The Marines are attempting to retake Ramadi right now.

Picture of the Day

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton reaches out to shake hands with Vietnamese well-wishers from the balcony of a building across the street from the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, in this Nov. 17, 2000 file photo. It was a magic moment when Clinton came to Vietnam six years ago, drawing huge, jubilant crowds at every stop on the first visit by a U.S. president since the end of the war in 1975. U.S. President Bush who is coming to Vietnam for the Nov. 18-19 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hanoi is likely have a considerably cooler reception. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bush: "Stay the course," but harder

This is really unbelievable. Bush is planning an escalation.
President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.....

"You've got to remember, whatever the Democrats say, it's Bush still calling the shots. He believes it's a matter of political will. That's what [Henry] Kissinger told him. And he's going to stick with it," a former senior administration official said. "He [Bush] is in a state of denial about Iraq. Nobody else is any more. But he is. But he knows he's got less than a year, maybe six months, to make it work. If it fails, I expect the withdrawal process to begin next fall."....

Four-point strategy

· Increase US troop levels by up to 20,000 to secure Baghdad and allow redeployments elsewhere in Iraq

· Focus on regional cooperation with international conference and/or direct diplomatic involvement of countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

· Revive reconciliation process between Sunni, Shia and others

· Increased resources from Congress to fund training and equipment of Iraqi security forces

Incredible. So, it's try everything once more. It seems my prediction of a coming escalation point was unfortunately correct.

By the way, why does this leak? If this is the administration's plan, they'd need to lay some serious political groundwork in the current environment, so was this leaked this early by someone who recognizes the colossal mistake this would be and wants to torpedo it?

Later: Mephi points out the possibility of this as a trial ballon. That's not a bad guess considering the completeness of the leak (it's not just the worst part, escalation.) Also, the fact that it appears in the Guardian rather than the WaPo or NYTimes indicates that it's not intended for a massive debilitating effect. So, maybe that's the reason for the "leak."

If this is a trial balloon, we all need to scream like hell. We don't need a year more of death to know that this won't work.

James Carville can kiss my ass

I find this disgusting. James Carville and Stan Greenberg are going after Howard Dean. (video.)

If for a minute I believed they were doing this for the betterment of the Democratic Party, I would be more forgiving, but they're not.

They saw a wave of populism in that last election and it scared them. It's the same wave that Howard Dean harnessed in 2004 that brought all of these new Democrats into power, and Carville doesn't want that.

What Carville wants is to seize control of the party apparatus so that he can try to shape the party for his '08 candidate Hillary Clinton. That's why the Dem success in his view is only attributable to Rahm Emanuel, former Clinton official and prodigious fundraiser.

They're trying to shortcircuit the rise of populists like Obama and Edwards.

So, Carville is trying to drum up a fight about the '08 race at this critical time when Democrats are trying to show their effectiveness to the American people.

Now is not the time, Carville, so shut the hell up.

On Abizaid's bubble

After watching part of the Senate hearing today and reading some of the coverage, I got to wondering, has Abizaid been outside the Green Zone? Has he discussed Iraq with anyone who spends significant time outside the Green Zone?

I don't just mean US command, but also the Iraqis he speaks with. Maliki is a virtual prisoner, many of the top politicians and ministers can't freely travel outside their bubble or they'll be killed.

I mean, the opinions of the commanders bubbled in Saigon always trailed the reality on the ground.

Just a question.

(A little plug here for Gen. Casey, who during Forward Together, would occasionally go out, heavily protected of course, to talk with local shop owners, local religious leaders, etc. to get a sense of what was going on and try to exert influence.)

Picture of the Day - 3

Palestinians in Hebron
watching a Bush press conference, May 23, 2006.

This made me laugh

Headlines on the WaPo site right now, in this order.

Lott Elected Minority Whip

Neanderthal DNA Reconstructed

(I accept that it's petty, but it made me laugh.)

Bush's coming battle with the ISG?

Timeline: Top Whitehouse staff meets with the ISG on Monday probably getting some indication of the panel's current leanings. On Tuesday,
President Bush formally launched a sweeping internal review of Iraq policy..., pulling together studies underway by various government agencies, according to U.S. officials.....

The two reviews are not competitive, administration officials said, although the White House wants to complete the process before mid-December, about the time the Iraq Study Group's final report is expected.

This is completely independent from the ISG, so either, Bush is exploring whether the ISG's plan will work, or he is looking for ammunition with which to fight off their recommendations.

Also in the WaPo, don't miss the revelation that there is a signed Bush order to the CIA "governing aggressive interrogation and detention policies."

So, if retroactive immunity is not held up in court, we now know there is concrete evidence.

Picture of the Day - 2

(From two days before the election.)

A labor/business risk from Obama and Edwards

Separate from the rightness or wrongness of going after Walmart for their employee practices, I find this an interesting and risky pre-2008 move from Obama and Edwards.
Union-backed critics of Wal-Mart Stores are launching an advertising campaign, enlisting prominent Democrats, and attacking the company’s wages and benefits, as well as recently enacted attendance and salary policies, in a move timed to potentially disrupt the company’s holiday sales.

Edwards' positioning has been such that this will just emphasize his "two Americas" economic themes, but does Obama really want to risk being called anti-business/anti-economy at this point? Maybe. But if there is a "disruption" to sales, it could be wielded against him to donors and on the stump through Nov. 2008.

It just seems an interesting gamble.

Fox News

Two Fox News items. First, this wonderful internal memo at Huffington Post: "And, let's be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled Congress."

Second, an American source, presumably Foxnews, reportedly paid $2 million through an intermediary to a Gaza terror group for the release of their two reporters. (WND, so maybe not true.)

Frankly, I'm mixed on this one. I think Fox did what they should for their employees, but I'd still like to see the question asked,
"Excuse me, Mr. Snow? Yes, Tony, how does the President feel about $2 million being given to a violent anti-Israeli group?

For years, this administration has said they will not negotiate with terrorists because it encourages future acts. Has FoxNews encouraged future acts of terror?"

(I think Les Kinsolving is the best hope for this question.)

A little truth on lobbying

Reading this rather pointless piece on the lobbying firms changeover from Republican personnel to Democratic personnel, there was this little gem of blatant truth.
Steve Elmendorf .... said Democrats in the House and the Senate would operate differently.

“The Republicans’ view of lobbying is we give people money, we buy them lunch and then go up and tell them what to do,” said Mr. Elmendorf, whose client roster included Shell Oil and Ford before the election and has grown since then. “We go in and make public policy arguments. The business community is going to have to reorient their view.”

Not very clearly written, but I believe Mr. Elmendorf just told us that the Republicans were(are) available for a straight sale. "We give them money... and tell them what to do."

(I'm assuming the second quote is how the Dems operate.)

Picture of the Day

President George W. Bush makes a phone call from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, 10 November 2006. (AFP/Jim Watson)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

This is why I'm talking about Somalia

The Horn of Africa. The reason I keep mentioning it is that the rise of Islamic militias there is massively destabilizing creating a new safe haven/transfer point of sorts a la Afghanistan, but I didn't see this coming.
More than 700 Islamic militants from Somalia traveled to Lebanon in July to fight alongside Hezbollah in its war against Israel, a United Nations report says. The militia in Lebanon returned the favor by providing training and — through its patrons Iran and Syria — weapons to the Islamic alliance struggling for control of Somalia, it adds.

It also says Iran tried to trade weapons for uranium.

The Islamic militias are active from southern Somalia up to Eritrea across through Sudan and now reaching into Chad. They are receiving support from Iran, Hezbullah, Saudi, Egypt, and others.

Couple this new movement with the tribal areas along the Pakistan/Afghanistan borders, and you could argue that we're not just losing Iraq, but we're losing the broader war on terror.

I know that's heresy, but as the US is snatching up people, the Islamists are snatching up peoples. We're losing the war of ideas, and in the end, that is the GWoT battlefield.

Later: The BBC largely echoes the Telegraph article from a couple days ago.
The countries arming the (Somali) Islamists are Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, according to the report.

Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen are named as the countries supplying Somalia's interim government.

Again, this is roughly how Afghanistan formed, a weak central government overthrown by extremist Islamic militants, supported by several of these same countries, who promised order and an end to corruption.

The ugly truth about Iraq

Despite all the conversation among US politicians and "experts" as to what to do in Iraq, the reality is that at this point the US has very little impact upon the inertia of the country.

After Forward Together failed, it became apparent that the best the US could hope to do was shunt violence out of focus areas. Any hopes of a near term creation of a viable Iraqi security force who would fight "non-demoninationally" has pretty much evaporated.

With Maliki repeatedly ignoring US calls to disband the militias, and the escalating violence making a political settlement impossible, the US's relative influence on the political process has been reduced to ineffective persuasion.

And, with the choas in the streets, and the corruption in the government, any hope of an economic revival appears no more than a dream.

These were the three pillars of the Bush administration's "Strategy for Victory," and each one has been shattered in turn. The US, within the confines they've set, has not been able to significantly alter the trajectory of events on any of these fronts.

The US is no longer controlling events in Iraq.

Assuming the US is not going to stay in its current ineffective limbo, and Maliki is unwilling to go against the militias, what's left as an option?

I see three broad brush possibilities. 1) Straight out withdrawal either quickly or slowly. 2) Allow Maliki and the Shias to keep their militias and assist them in dominating the country. 3) Take on the Shia militias directly, and undermine the Maliki government.

I don't like any of these very much, and I think you can pretty much rule out number three because of the cost in casualties and the political anarchy that would come from undermining Maliki, the devil we know.

So, it's either help Maliki become a soft dictator, maybe just by standing aside, or leave and let the Shia fight amongst themselves for their own choice. This is the direction of Iraq's inertia. (With this probable outcome, it is imperative that the US hold talks with Iran as Iran will be the main outside influence on the shape of the Shia structure.)

Baker's ISG does not have a magic wand to wave, or a time machine to travel back to 2003 when the US still held cards in its hand. It is looking at these same choices. And with the Bush administration ruling out withdrawal, the "Stability First" option is really the only way the US will go forward. So, beyond the political cover offered by the ISG report, what are they waiting on? (There is already some evidence that the administration is fixing itself towards this new direction.)

At this point, I see it primarily as a question of how the impacts of this will play out regionally and how many graves will have to be dug before this happens. This is what's coming.

(Also: Take a moment to note Richard Haass' statement answering the question, "Is Iraq still winnable for the United States?"
Haass: We've reached a point in Iraq where we've got to get real. And this is not going to be a near-term success for American foreign policy. The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word "winnable." So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That's what you have to do sometimes when you're a global power.

Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, so when he says something like this, even far away from the American press, it means something. I wouldn't expect too many serving politicians to take up this line because of the politics of it, but Haas has broken the taboo here, and I would expect others to follow, introducing this idea into the American Iraq dialogue.)

Picture of the Day - 3

Arizona Cardinals fans cheer as a banner is unfurled revealing the name of former Cardinals player Pat Tillman as he is inducted into the team's 'ring of honor' during a halftime celebration in an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006, in Glendale, Ariz. Tillman was killed while fighting in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Roy Dabner)

Cryptic from Ahmadinejad - A shift on Iran?

Despite the absence of direct talks, it's quite certain that the US and Iran have been communicating through lower level contacts and intermediaries which makes this statement by Ahmadinejad very curious.
"Initially, they (the U.S. and its allies) were very angry. The reason was clear: They basically wanted to monopolize nuclear power in order to rule the world and impose their will on nations," Ahmadinejad told a news conference.

"Today, they have finally agreed to live with a nuclear Iran, with an Iran possessing the whole nuclear fuel cycle," he said. He did not elaborate.

What does that mean?

The AP also points to the prepared statement by Bush at the press conference yesterday. (Sitting next to Olmert, so you figure the language is pretty precise.)
We spent a great deal of time on Iran, and about how we can work together with other nations of the world to convince the Iranians to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.

Notice the careful way the language has been changed to "nuclear weapons ambitions." That's new.

With the Russians and Chinese digging in their heels over sanctions and the increasing pressure to negotiate with Iran over Iraq, maybe something has, in fact, changed.

(All of this coming in the context of the IAEA finding unexplained plutonium traces in an Iranian waste facility, so, maybe I'm extrapolating something out of nothing here.)


Just a bunch of stuff I couldn't fit anywhere else.

(AP) A $50,000 reward is being offered for information that helps locate the US soldier/translator that was kidnapped almost three weeks ago. (That doesn't sound like much, does it.)

(AP) The Pentagon is drawing up plans to exceed existing rules to send National Guard Units back to Iraq for a second tour.

(Reuters/IRIN) Karbala is refusing to take anymore refugees. 50,000 people are living in tents in a makeshift camp in the city's main park.

(NYTimes) Senior US military officers in Afghanistan have all said, anonymously, “Every single bomber or I.E.D. in one way or another is linked to Pakistan.”

(AP) Chad declares a state of emergency as the ethnic/religious violence from Sudan/Darfur is spills over.

Picture of the Day - 2

A relative mourns next to a body of a victim at the Kindi hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

150 kidnapped from the Education Ministry in Baghdad.

It's getting even worse.

150 kidnapped in Iraq from a government building of the Sunni Education Ministry. Women separated out and locked in a room. Shia divided from Sunni by about 80 gunmen. 150 Sunni men driven away. There were Iraqi police within sight who did nothing.

Enough trucks to transport 80 men and 150 captives "headed eastwards -- into Shi'ite east Baghdad -- followed by police units which later said they lost the trail."

(Reuters, AFP, AP)

Meanwhile: Abizaid presses al-Maliki to disband militias (again.)

(USAToday) The central government isn't arming or paying (Sunni) units in Anbar.

Update: How do the details on this get less clear? (AP) The Sunni Higher Education Minister puts the number kidnapped now at 130, while Maliki's office puts it at 45-50.

Five senior police officers have been arrested in connection incliding the Karrada police chief.

Maliki also tried to spin this off as "not terrorism, but the result of disagreements and conflict between militias belonging to this side or that." (What does that mean?)

(Reuters) Up to 100 kidnapped, all but 50 have been freed. "The interior minister hauled in police chiefs to explain how dozens of gunmen..."


So, with the Democrats taking the House and Senate, the entire Republican/Democrat ratio on Capitol Hill changes. Democratic Congressmen and Senators replace Republicans. Thousands of staff positions between members and committees switch parties. Suddenly, Republican dominated lobbying shops desperately race to find Democratic insiders.

So, it all turns over. The ratios quickly adjust.

So why do I suspect that the pundit ratio will remain the same?
(It's the safest job in Washington.)

If the contacts spawning "expert opinion" remain Republican insiders that will make for a very rough road.

No Habeus Corpus extends to all non-citizens

Then they came for the immigrants and I did not speak out because I was not an immigrant....
Immigrants arrested in the United States may be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism and may not challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts, the Bush administration said Monday, opening a new legal front in the fight over the rights of detainees.

Picture of the Day

Again the bodies are outside. They are overflowing the morgues.

(An Iraqi hospital worker inspects bodies brought to the morgue of a local hospital in the restive city of Baquba. (AFP/Ali Yussef))

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mel Martinez named as "token" RNC head

The announcement of first term Florida Senator Mel Martinez as the GOP's new chairman brings up all sorts of interesting questions, but I want to look at the way the job is being redefined.
Under the arrangement, Martinez will remain in office and serve as the party's lead spokesman as well as take a major role in fundraising and political outreach, while RNC General Counsel Robert (Mike) Duncan will oversee the committee's day-to-day responsibilities. Duncan is serving his fourth term as a RNC committeeman from Kentucky and was also elected the committee's Treasurer in Jan. 2001.

So, Martinez is going to be the part time "token" head of the GOP (the (brown) face of the GOP, if you will,) while Robert Duncan will actually be running things.

Later: The Republicans aren't even denying it.
GOP officials said it was not coincidental that both Steele and Martinez are minorities who have shown an ability to broaden the party's appeal. Republicans captured 10 percent of the African American vote last week, identical to the 2004 number.

At least Steele could've been a full time chairman. Of course, that's probably why he wasn't chosen.

McCain and Giulianai dancing at the Republican wake

In the wake of the Republicans' dispiriting election loss, both McCain and Giuliani declare their intention to run for president. I would guess the thinking in both camps is that they can take the dissatisfaction over the election and spin it to a more centrist direction/candidate.

I would expect a snap back from this centrist theory at some point a couple months into the Democrats reign when the crazy right candidates will step out. (But who?)

That's when we will really see the intra-Republican war.

(Although the 2006 election marks the starting point for this, its preconditions were set by Rove's abandonment of Reagan's big tent in favor of his divisive social issue "base" politics.

Everyone say "Thank you, Karl.")

(Insert your vilest personal obscenity here)

Now, Lieberman blackmails the Dems for a committee chair.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said yesterday that he will caucus with Senate Democrats in the new Congress, but he would not rule out switching to the Republican caucus if he starts to feel uncomfortable among Democrats.

Look, I didn't really care about the Connecticut Senate race, but this is vile politics.

Picture of the Day - 3

"It's been a bad week...."

President Bush looks down during his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Oval Office of the White House Monday, Nov. 13, 2006 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Bad Poodle (and bad scheduling)

So, Tony Blair Urges U.S. to Seek Help From Syria and Iran, saying "that Western strategy in the Middle East must evolve, possibly to include a “new partnership” with Iran."

(BBC) "His speech says that it is necessary to start with "Israel/Palestine" as it is "the core" but that progress is also needed in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran."

Wow. Tying Israel/Palestine to other problems in the Middle East, that's not going to go over well with the Bush administration who, when asked, repeated his no talks stance while sitting on stage with Olmert.

Take just a moment to look at this from the other side's propaganda.

Bush and his aides meet with the ISG to discuss Iraq, then meet immediately afterwards with the Israeli PM. (propaganda would say to seek his approval.) The US's top ally says that the US should engage in talks with Iran and Syria, and Bush, sitting next to Olmert, calls for the isolation of Iran.

This is a PR disaster allowing a direct propaganda linkage of the US's policies with Israel. Who allowed Olmert to come on the ISG day? It's almost like someone was intentionally trying to preemptively subvert any possibility of diplomacy in......

Oh, right.

Picture of the Day - 2

Kira Wolf, 19, from Arlington, Va., visits her boyfriend's grave, Lance Cpl. Colin J. Wolfe, at Arlington National Cemetery, Friday, Nov. 3, 2006, in Arlington, Va. Kira Wolf visits her boyfriend's grave every other day and offers flowers and talks to him. Lance Cpl. Wolfe, 19, of Manassas, Va., died Aug. 30th while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Is this really where the Republicans want to fight?

Dan Bartlett even discusses a possible veto.
The Bush administration said on Sunday that it would strenuously oppose one of the Democrats’ top priorities for the new Congress: legislation authorizing the government to negotiate with drug companies to secure lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.

In an interview, Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, said he saw no prospect of compromise on the issue.

This topic was polled by Newsweek last week.
The strongest support, 92 percent, was for lowering drug prices for retirees on Medicare by allowing the government to negotiate directly with drug companies. Some three-quarters of respondents said it should be a top priority, according to Newsweek.

This is where the White House fights? More Rovian genius?

Hmmmm.... Let's see....

Democrats are terrorists. Democrats are terrorists. Democrats are terrorists. Democrats are terrorists....

Crazy right winger sends a suspicious white powder and death threats through the mail to Olberman, Letterman, Pelosi, Schumer, Jon Stewart, and others.

I'm sure there's no connection.

Picture of the Day

Canadian soldiers line up in the deadly Panjwaii area of southern Afghanistan to pay their respects to lost comrades and friends on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006. They pinned the poppies they've been wearing for days on to a single wreath. Thirty-four Canadians have died in the volatile South since March. (AP Photo/Sue Bailey)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Afghanistan measurably worse

More than 20 attacks a day in Afghanistan, up from 4 a year ago. I thought someone should notice.
KABUL, Afghanistan - Insurgent activity in Afghanistan has risen fourfold this year, and militants now launch more than 600 attacks a month, a rising wave of violence that has resulted in 3,700 deaths in 2006, a bleak new report released Sunday found.

Picture of the Day - 3

A man inspects bodies in bags outside a morgue in Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006. (AP Photo/ Mohammed Adnam)

The anatomy of a massacre and the overflowing morgues

Yesterday, there was a report of 50 Shia workers being kidnapped near Latifiyah about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Today, 50 bodies were found executed in Baquba behind the offices of the electric company.

Two possibilities:
1) These are the same unfortunate individuals transported 50 miles as a Sunni act designed to inflame the city/province.

2) These deaths are a separate act of reprisal by a Shia militia for those 50 kidnapped and presumed dead.

Baquba/Diyala province is one of the most contested areas in Iraq right now, with parties on both sides trying to inflame the tensions. There's a real likelihood that Baquba may soon go the way of the much smaller Balad.

Probably the best observation I can offer is that we've reached a point where these massive events happen so frequently that there is no longer time to figure out what really happened in any of them. There is no more attempt to establish blame. It is just blood for blood.

Perhaps this story illustrates that better. At Baghdad's morgue, it is coming so quick and so fast, there is no longer even an effort to identify the bodies. They are photgraphed, numbered, thrown into piles, and then buried 50 at a time in government cemetaries.
"Every day, there are crowds of women outside weeping, yelling and flailing in grief. They're all looking for their dead sons and I don't know how the computer or we will bear up," Baghdad central morgue director Dr. Abdul-Razaq al-Obaidi.

The morgue in Kut is turning bodies away.

As you look at pictures (like the ones above and below,) notice how frequently you will see the bodies left outside. That's because the hospitals and morgues in Iraq are literally overflowing with the dead.
Abbas Beyat's joined the line outside Baghdad's central morgue after his brother Hussein disappeared a month ago....

"There were three piles, each with about 20 bodies," Beyat, 56, said, describing the scene inside the morgue.

"The clerk told me to dig through them until I found my brother. I had to lift them off until I found him," he said.

This is what we've given these people, average people who had nothing to do with the government of Saddam Hussein.

(At least 159 more bodies arrived in those morgues today.)

Picture of the Day - 2

A woman reacts as she looks at the body of her son-in-law, right, in a hospital yard in Baqouba, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, Thursday Nov. 2, 2006. A total of eleven bodies were discovered by police in Baqouba Thursday. (AP Photo)

Al Qaeda leaving Afghanistan - metastatizing?

Read past the first three "headline" paragraphs and you'll find a very intriguing article discussing the outflow of foreign Al Qaeda from Pakistan/Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence has been reporting on an outflow for awhile, but this article seems to present a more final and complete ordered dispersal.

The ideas given are that either they are leaving because the Taleban have Afghanistan going their way, or that Al Qaeda has dispersed its fighters for more offensive reasons.

Reagrdless of the reason, the return of thousands of trained, active, war experienced Al Qaeda to countries like Saudi, Yemen, Jordan, and Egypt does not presage a reduction of threat.

Low hanging fruit for the Democrats

I guess when you're out of power for so long, there's a pent up demand.
Huge majorities of those polled said they approved of the legislative priorities cited by Democratic leaders...

The strongest support, 92 percent, was for lowering drug prices for retirees on Medicare by allowing the government to negotiate directly with drug companies. Some three-quarters of respondents said it should be a top priority, according to Newsweek.

Americans also supported raising the federal minimum wage (89 percent), investigating government contracts in Iraq (89 percent) and cutting the interest rate of federal student loans (88 percent).

But, beware of "the set up,"

Another 69 percent said they were concerned that the new Congress would keep the administration "from doing what is necessary to combat terrorism,"


Picture of the Day (a)

Soldiers loyal to Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba take cover during a gun battle near his office in the capital Kinshasa November 11, 2006. Heavy gunfire and blasts rang out in Congo's capital in new clashes between the forces of contenders in historic elections meant to end a decade of war, and the government has threatened to send in the army. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (BBC Story.)

Picture of the Day (b)

A soldier loyal to Jean-Pierre Bemba is taken away by other soldiers after being wounded in heavy fighting in Kinshasa. Clashes between fighters loyal to rival presidential candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo left two civilians dead as fresh partial election results showed the gap between the contenders narrowing.(AFP/Lionel Healing)