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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Palestine ignites

It's late, so just the links.

(AFP) "Political tension has gripped the Palestinian territories after president Mahmud Abbas called for early elections, dramatically raising the stakes in a long-running power struggle with the ruling Hamas party."

(AP) Abbas guard base in Gaza City attacked

(Reuters) Officer loyal to Abbas killed after election call

Later: (AP) "Fighting between Hamas and Fatah escalated Sunday, as the foreign minister's convoy and the president's Gaza residence came under attack. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas will boycott an early election called by the president."

Picture of the Day - 2

Bodyguards of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas, not seen, stand on his car as he arrives to speak at a rally at the Yarmouk in Gaza City, Friday, Dec. 15, 2006. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)


I understand the principle behind the Hadley memo strategy, but, like so many other US actions in Iraq, knowing that the US is pulling the strings only serves to undermine the resultant government.
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a moderate Sunni, said Thursday that President Bush told him the administration wants Iraqi politicians to form a coalition of "moderate parties." Al-Hashimi met with Bush on Tuesday.....

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said the administration was not telling Iraqis what to do but the "object of the moderate Iraqi leaders coming together is to stop the violence and create an Iraq that can govern, sustain and defend itself."

Asked whether that meant removing al-Sadr's faction from government, Johndroe said the Iraqis Bush had consulted are "serious about taking action against those who would operate outside the rule of law."

So, is al-Hashimi, the "moderate" Sunni faction leader targeted by the Bush administration, talking about this to torpedo it?


(AP) The 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne is being moved to Kuwait, arguably for the "surge." (More deeply described in this NYTimes article.)

(AP) Maliki's reconciliation conference is ongoing, but Sadr, Allawi, and one of the main Sunni blocks didn't attend. Maliki is also reintroducing his plan to bring ex-Baathists into the army or buy them off with pensions which got a tepid response the last time.

(AP) "Gunmen killed a Shiite tribal sheik linked to British forces in a drive-by shooting Friday in the southern city of Basra."

(UPI) A Two Part in depth look at Iraqi oil smuggling.

(WaPo) The MNF command (US) is taking bids to up armor 1,300 Iraqi Police trucks. (and you wonder why they don't want to patrol.)

(LATimes) They saw the uniforms and knew to run: Describing the recent mass kidnapping at a Baghdad market "just a few hundred yards from the edge of the U.S.-guarded Green Zone."

NBC's Blogging Baghdad has a post on the lull during the Iraq/Qatar Soccer final in the Asian Games. "But, within minutes of the (final) whistle, the explosions began. First a car bomb. Then a mortar round. Before long the war we seem to hate to call “civil” was back to normal."

And, what does it say about the lack of faith in this presidency that Senator after Senator is going to talk to Syria? (Today's entry, Specter.)

Picture of the Day

Maj. Gen. Dale Eulberg, left, presents a flag to the parents of Air Force Capt. Kermit Evans, Hollandale, Miss., Charles Evans, right, and Margaret Evans, second from right, during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., in this Dec. 12, 2006 file photo. Evans was killed in Iraq. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The AP tracks Guantanamo releases

If I'm reading this right, either the US detained hundreds of innocent men at Guantanamo for years, or US allies have released hundreds of active terrorists. (Depending on the country, I think both are probably true.)
The Pentagon called them "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth," sweeping them up after Sept. 11 and hauling them in chains to a U.S. military prison in southeastern Cuba. Since then, hundreds of the men have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to other countries, many of them for "continued detention." And then set free.....

But through interviews with justice and police officials, detainees and their families, and using reports from human rights groups and local media, The Associated Press was able to track 245 of those formerly held at Guantanamo. The investigation, which spanned 17 countries, found:

_Once the detainees arrived in other countries, 205 of the 245 were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention at Guantanamo. Forty either stand charged with crimes or continue to be detained.

_Only a tiny fraction of transferred detainees have been put on trial. The AP identified 14 trials, in which eight men were acquitted and six are awaiting verdicts. Two of the cases involving acquittals — one in Kuwait, one in Spain — initially resulted in convictions that were overturned on appeal.

_The Afghan government has freed every one of the more than 83 Afghans sent home. Lawmaker Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the head of Afghanistan's reconciliation commission, said many were innocent and wound up at Guantanamo because of tribal or personal rivalries.

_At least 67 of 70 repatriated Pakistanis are free after spending a year in Adiala Jail. A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official said investigators determined that most had been "sold" for bounties to U.S. forces by Afghan warlords who invented links between the men and al-Qaida. "We consider them innocent," said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

_All 29 detainees who were repatriated to Britain, Spain, Germany, Russia, Australia, Turkey, Denmark, Bahrain and the Maldives were freed, some within hours after being sent home for "continued detention."

On the other side, the NYTimes has an article this morning talking about the "toughening" of conditions at the new facility in Guantanamo. "“They’re all terrorists; they’re all enemy combatants,” Admiral Harris said in an interview. He added, “I don’t think there is such a thing as a medium-security terrorist.”

But, there's just one thing, that's not true.
Still, about 100 others who had been cleared by the military for transfer or release remained here while the State Department tried to arrange their repatriation.

[Shortly after Admiral Harris’s remarks, another 15 detainees were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where they were promptly returned to their families.]

Look, I'm all for "tough" treatment, I believe that real terrorists should be tried and executed, but justice is not what is going on at Guantanamo.

"Kneepads" McCain, the "more troops" fairy

Making promises he doesn't have to keep, now in Afghanistan.
Washington will send more troops to Afghanistan "if it's necessary," U.S. Senator John McCain said Saturday, while urging European allies to send their troops to the country's restive south.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The illogic of a "surge"

Question: If we can't announce a timetable for withdrawal because it will allow the bad guys/insurgents/militias to "wait us out," how does that same problem not exist in the case of a 3 month "surge?" Why wouldn't they just wait that out?

(I don't believe either of these are true, but it does seem a gaping and unexplored hole in the logic.)

Picture of the Day - 3

My favorite Rumsfeld photo.

(U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld departs after speaking at a town hall meeting at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia September 22, 2006. REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst)

The Tenet of Presidential Infallibilty

Last night we learned that Bush sleeps untroubled by the consequences of his decisions. Today, we learn why,
But to those who know Bush best, the president's approach is not surprising. Bush's former chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. , who was by Bush's side as he formulated many of his key decisions on the war, said Bush hears many opinions and thus believes that "his knowledge is more complete than anyone who is advising him."

It's not a question of whether Bush has more knowledge about US military or diplomatic actions, it's about whether any policy figure in his administration understands the region. There's a reason so many middle east experts have been right in their predictions of outcome even if they lack Bush's "complete" knowledge,

And there's a reason this administration has so often been wrong.

Picture of the Day - 2

Members of the Palestinian security forces clash with Hamas supporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah December 15, 2006. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)


McClatchy has a very interesting article on the military leadership changeover. Chiarelli, one of the biggest proponents of hearts and minds counterinsurgency is being replaced by Lt. Gen Raymond Odierno, "We'll figure out what the solution is, and we will try to attain that solution aggressively," Odierno said. Interesting article.

(USAToday) In the face of so many vehicle bombings, the Pentagon is trying to rush Nomex (fire resistant) uniforms into Iraq. (I've worn Nomex. It's not comfortable, but it will not burn.)

(AFP) According to military spokesman Maj. Gen. Caldwell, one of the main roles of the US "trainers" will be to monitor the sectarianism of the units they're embedded with.

(AP) "Harassment from U.S. forces is a greater threat to the work of the Iraqi Red Crescent than insurgent attacks, a senior official of the Red Cross-linked humanitarian organization said Friday."

(AFP) Zogby has a new poll on Arab attitudes towards the US. (I'm sure more troops into Iraq will make it better, though.)

Picture of the Day

A wounded man rests at a hospital in Baghdad. A pair of suicide car bombs killed at least 70 Iraqis, mostly Shiite day labourers, in downtown Baghdad as the country's divided government struggled to deal with the escalating violence.(AFP/Wissam al-Okaili)

More troops

So, the decider has decided what he wants: More troops. What we're seeing right now is the administration, through its own officials and people like McCain, pushing the trial balloon.

(McClatchy) Bush weighing deeper commitment in Iraq, officials say. (Most detail on the plan.)

(WSJ) Call to Add U.S. Forces Is Resisted at Home, in Iraq.

(NYTimes) Military Considers Sending as Many as 35,000 More U.S. Troops to Iraq, McCain Says.

I found the NYTimes article interesting for two reasons.

First, the more you deny that your position is political, Mr. McCain, the more obviously it is political.

Second, check out how the NYTimes spins the "no more troops" position.
General Casey, the top commander here, is said to be cautious, arguing that an increase could lower violence in Baghdad, at least temporarily, but that it could also encourage Iraq’s feuding political leaders to delay tough decisions needed to stem the slide toward anarchy.

See, it's not that Casey, and presumably Abizaid, believe that more US troops will exacerbate the situation, it's that they want to maintain (or increase) the sectarian violence to put pressure on the government.

I find myself wondering who explained their position to the NYTimes that way? It's just an article about McCain pushing for more troops. I wonder who?

Also: Josh Marshall makes the point on the WSJ article, if the Iraqis are against more troops, and the generals are against more troops, "Who's for this exactly?.... Who's on this bandwagon beside the president and the pundits?"

Rice outlines the Bush plan in Iraq

Holy crap.
Rice said the administration's goal over the next two years is to give Iraqis the space to marginalize extremists and create a moderate middle that can hold the country together. The violence may not have ended before the administration leaves office, she acknowledged, but she said she hopes that Iraqis would "get to a place that is sustainable" by the end of 2008.

We knew the administration's plan was to tread water for two years, but to actually read that they're willing to allow the deaths of another 1,000 US soldiers simply on the "hope" that Iraq might "get to a place that is sustainable...."

That's the "victory" they're spending American lives for.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How does Bush sleep at night?

Bush answers the question in his year end People interview,

“I must tell you, I'm sleeping a lot better than people would assume,” he said.

(From ABC's Political Radar.)

I wonder if the woman in the next picture is sleeping well.

Picture of the Day - 4

Lannette Wood, 34, holds a photo in her home in Humboldt, Kansas, on December 8, 2006, of her husband Kansas National Guard specialist John Wood who was killed in Iraq October 7, a month before his tour of duty was to end. Woods was one of 106 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq in October, one the deadliest months for U.S. soldiers since the U.S. launched the Iraq war in March 2003. (Carey Gillam/Reuters)

Our Saudi allies

OPEC announced another production cut designed to keep oil prices above $60/barrel, and apparently, we're expected to thank the Saudis. (Thank you, sir. May I have another?)
“I hope the market appreciates we are working so diligently to bring supply and demand in balance, to have inventories at a reasonable level so that we do not have gyrations,” Ali Al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, told reporters at the meeting, held in Abuja, Nigeria.

Also: Through the AP, we have another possible reason for the sudden departure of Turki al-Faisal, "he was not succeeding at building strong ties with the United States." "Many in the royal family concluded that if he stayed longer, things might even get worse."

Later: The Saudis make their pitch to the Americans that they can responsibly support the Sunnis.
A Saudi intelligence official told ABC News that if his government decided, as King Abdullah has threatened, to help the Sunni community defend itself against Shia militias in Iraq, they would start by "cleaning up" the volatile Anbar province of its al Qaeda networks.

"We will clean up Anbar village by village because we don't want them to have a rear base in Iraq to attack Saudi Arabia," says the source, who adds that Saudi intelligence has already laid out extensive networks in Anbar province, where a Sunni insurgency has gained a stronghold.

Later Still: Steve Clemons sees the resignation of Turki al Faisal as part of an internal battle over how to handle Iran. In this version, Bandar and his aide are winning and pushing to join with Cheney for a more militaristic approach to Iran.

Micheal Hirsh sees the surge

Two bits from the Michael Hirsh article on Bush's delay.
But there may be another reason why Bush is waiting a bit to speak to the nation. Inside the Pentagon, some experts think he may intend to launch a new offensive in Baghdad, and that he doesn't want to talk about it until it happens. It's a safe bet that, faced with irreconcilable advice, this president will always revert to his default position, which is to do whatever makes him look leaderlike and tough......

Bush's biggest problem right now is that most of what he is considering has been tried before. And that includes a new offensive. In early August, Operation Forward Together—the deployment of about 8,000 more U.S. troops into Baghdad—was also supposed to produce secure areas of the capital....

But if Bush is about to launch a new, bigger Operation Forward Together, that will allow Maliki to relax again. It will put off training the Iraqi Army and further delay the day we can leave. And that will mean, in some distant month, a whole new round of advice will begin in Washington.

What's that they say about doing the same thing over and over again?

Picture of the Day - 3

A woman grieves after her daughter and husband were killed in a car bomb attack, outside a hospital morgue in Baghdad December 13, 2006. The car bomb exploded in a crowded area of Kamaliya in eastern Baghdad, killing 10 people and wounding 25, police said. (Kareem Raheem/Reuters)

The secondary story in the Iraq consultations

Just another item that shouldn't be lost in the will he/won't he increase troop levels coverage.
A constant subtext in the meeting yesterday, and in the ongoing White House review, is the Joint Chiefs' growing concern about the erosion of the U.S. military's ability to deal with other crises around the world because of the heavy commitment in Iraq and the stress on troops and equipment, said officials familiar with the review. The chiefs planned to tell Bush of the significantly increased risk to readiness in the event of a new emergency, rather than push for a timeline to leave Iraq.

I think we need to remember that "a new emergency" doesn't only include a political miscalculation on N. Korea or Iraq, but could also include respose to a terror attack or natural disaster.


(AP) "Gunmen in military uniforms kidnapped dozens of people Thursday" in the mixed Baghdad neighborhood of al-Sanak.

Same article: "Another police officer said authorities had stepped up security in Sadr City after receiving tips that 10 car bombs had entered the area and militants were trying to smuggle more in."

(Reuters) "Gunmen attacked the convoy of Iraq's Shi'ite vice president, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in Baghdad on Thursday, but there were no injuries."

(UPI) The NYTimes front page report of an oil deal last week was decidedly premature.

(Reuters) Bush plans on asking for another $100 billion in "emergency" funding for Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the fiscal year total to $170 billion. ($30 billion less than the military requested.)

(NYTimes) The Dems, however, are going to try to end the "emergency" funding and force the war's costs into the budget.

(TimesOnline) "British troops to be 'out of Basra soon'"

And, as for the overall strategy, I have no idea. Bush seems to want to "surge" extra troops, but Abizaid and the Joint Chiefs seem to think that is a really bad idea. So, which "generals" do you listen to on troop levels? Obviously the ones who tell you what you want to hear.

Picture of the Day - 2

Angelle Couvillon from Houma, La., places her hand on the casket of her cousin Army Sgt. Jay Ryan Gauthreaux after reading a poem during services at of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie, La., Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006. Sgt. Gauthreaux was killed in Iraq Dec. 4 when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle while on patrol. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Worries in the background - Egypt

Egypt detained 10 prominent Muslim Brotherhood members, as well as maybe hundreds of more radical students. What caught my eye, though, was this,
Officials have not said why the latest arrests were carried out, but correspondents said it might be related to recent newspaper reports suggesting the movement was setting up a military wing.

I would put this way down the list of worries, but I hadn't seen it before.

Picture of the Day

Amidst everything else, I do find these pictures of the German Chancellor and Israeli Prime Minister having so much fun together somewhat hopeful. Admittedly, it's sixty years, but still.....

REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Waiting for the coming storm in Somalia

You know Somalia has gotten bad when an article on the coming battle between the Islamists and Ethiopians makes the top box of the front web page of the NYTimes.

It's actually a pretty good piece, although I find the inclusion/exclusion of the secondary parties very interesting. They make about as concrete a statement of US support for the Ethiopians as I've seen in any mainstream press while not really mentioning that the Islamists are being armed and funded by our "allies" Saudi and Egypt, and other Sunni powers Syria, Sudan, and even Hezbullah. Just interesting.

(Two articles from a month ago on the Islamic militia's backers. Telegraph, BBC.)

Yesterday, the Islamists gave Ethiopia a one week deadline to withdraw troops. (AFP)

Thursday: The WaPo too, although it's A19.

Picture of the Day - 5

Rumsfeld: "It's your problem now, Bucko."

Bush: "I am so screwed."

Cheney: "13 across.... eight letters, first letter Q...."

U.S. President George W. Bush is joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a meeting with Department of Defense officials on Iraq at the Pentagon in Washington December 13, 2006. REUTERS/Jim Young

Senator Johnson has a stroke and who cares?

Democratic Senator Tim Johnson apparently had a stroke this afternoon. I've been reading for hours at the big sites about how this could shift the Senate, and reading as people rush to examine South Dakota election law. But you know what I didn't read?

There did not seem to be one iota of concern for the man.

Shouldn't the first concern be wishing him and his family well? Couldn't the politics have waited a couple of hours behind the real issue?

Rattled, Tired?

Read or watch Bush's press appearance after today's "consultation" at the Pentagon. His speech is broken into a series of oddly connected short phrases with long pauses.

I tried to read it first and it barely made sense to me.

(He's hoarse, too, so they were talking alot.)

Quickhits, priorities, and con men

A little more on Cheney's trip to Saudi from CNN: A senior American official "said the king "read the riot act" to the vice president." (What other world leader could do that?)

Bush is consulting with "top" Pentagon officials today about Iraq, but as we learned yesterday, they only have until 3:30PM. Priorities.

And, from the NYSun, the roach that won't die,
"A little-noticed visit by Ahmad Chalabi to Syria is igniting speculation that the former Iraqi exile leader is emerging as a key channel between Damascus and Washington.

After a weekend meeting with the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, Mr. Chalabi announced that Syria and Iraq would formally open their respective embassies in Damascus and Baghdad on Monday. An American diplomat said yesterday that Mr. Chalabi also was gauging the interest of the Assad regime in a limited rapprochement with America."

Picture of the Day - 4

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meets, from left, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and SenatorJohn McCain (R-Arizona), in Baghdad, Iraq. Wednesday Dec. 13, 2006. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, Pool)

What is Karzai doing?

It appears Karzai has decided that his interests are best served by going directly after the government of Pakistan.

In the last 24 hours, the Afghan state-run paper said that "Pakistan's government is equipping and sending militants into Afghanistan."

This was followed by Karzai himself saying that the Pakistan government is trying to retake his country to turn his countrymen into "slaves." He also reiterated the charge that it is the Pakistani government is directly behind the Taleban.

All of this may well be true, but I don't see the "play" here by Karzai. Is he trying to rally Afghanis against the Taleban? Is that effort worth shredding whatever remained of the key Pakistan relationship?

This is a pretty big bridge to burn, I hope he's right in his evaluation.

Picture of the Day - 3

(WaPo) "In addition, the Army will press hard for "full access" to the 346,000-strong Army National Guard and the 196,000-strong Army Reserves by asking Gates to take the politically sensitive step of easing the Pentagon restrictions on the frequency and duration of involuntary call-ups for reservists, according to two senior Army officials."

(The picture is actually from mid-2003.)

"A chance for victory"

This is what the military is down to, planning for a "chance for victory."
As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in U.S. troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff will present their assessment to President Bush at the Pentagon today. Military officials, including some advising the chiefs, have argued that an intensified effort might be the only way to get the U.S. strategy in Iraq right and provide a chance for victory.

As I was trying to say in the post below, the problem with "doubling down" is that if you lose, you lose big. There is no safety net.

Picture of the Day - 2

An Iraqi woman carries her son who was injured in one of three car bomb attacks on Wednesday in Baghdad, December 13, 2006. (Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters)

Who will be the first to say that we've lost in Iraq?

The Bush administration is having relatively good luck operating in the political space between winning and losing. Admittedly, almost nobody believes they are winning in Iraq, but, at the same time, almost no politician/major pundit is currently willing to say that Iraq has been lost. Not in those harsh final words.

The reasons are sheerly political, being the first major voice to say flatly that the US has lost the war would have long term political consequences for that individual so the major figures are unwilling to transfer the tense from "failing" to "failed" and from "losing" to "lost."

But this political cowardice and self interest is precisely what has allowed this administration to continue flailing in the tarpit for so long.

By allowing the open possibility that Iraq is failing and not absolutely failed, politicians are allowing the Bush administration to string along this continuing tragedy so long as they continue to fill their proposals with affirmative language such as "prevail" and "success."

We will not prevail. There will be no success. Iraq has been lost. The only question left is how bad of an outcome we face.

The truly frightening thing to me is that this political space is being used to undertake one last great gamble by the administration for the possibility of "victory." But the problem with that gamble is that it positions troops, policies, and diplomacy in such a way that a soft landing is even more difficult.

It's a long way down from here, but every day we delay with the fantasy of victory, the bottom gets even lower.

Picture of the Day

This undated photo released by Camp Pendleton Public Affairs, shows Capt. Megan M. McClung, 34, of Coupeville, Wash., who was killed Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 in Iraq. McClung, who was a public affairs officer and recently promoted to major, assigned to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters, Camp Pendleton, Calif., was the first female Marine officer killed while supporting combat operations in the Al Anbar Province, Iraq. (AP Photo)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Strange signs from Saudi

Just a bunch of odd bits out of Saudi.

First, there was the sudden, unexpected, unannounced departure of Turki al Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the US. The WaPo theorizes its about Saudi family succession. Josh Marshall sees it as Iraq politics, but Chris Nelson pooh poohs both ideas.

The interesting bit to me in the Nelson entry is that it speaks of this as a personal matter centering around Bandar's jealousy, but reading between the lines, I wonder if it was a personnel problem.

If the criticism that brought him home was that he was too candid, maybe he was revealing too much to the Bush administration about the Saudi hand. Nelson's source specifically mentions the recent report that "a Saudi operative raised the possibility of cutting the price of oil as a way to counter Iran’s increasing belligerency."

And then, you have tomorrow's report,
Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh.

I don't really know what to make of all this, but maybe the Saudis thought al Faisal was being too "candid" with the US, revealing more about the Saudi positions than they wanted the US to know.

If true, it would cast an increasingly antagonistic light on the relationship.

Later: BBC seems to say that the resignation is because of Bandar interfering/not supporting al Faisal

Are there any military historians out there?

In modern history, has escalation by a western power against a non-western guerilla/insurgency/civil war ever turned the tide? Russians in Afghanistan, France in Algeria, US in Vietnam....

I'm certainly not an expert, but it would seem there are a lot of counter examples to the idea of a troop surge being successful at regaining control.

Picture of the Day - 4

Bush Delays Speech on Iraq Until January.

An injured Iraqi youth sits inside a hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006 after he was injured in a mortar attack in northern Baghdad's neighborhood of Kazimiya. Three mortar rounds landed in Kazimiya killing two civilians and wounding four. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Picture of the Day - 3

(From Paul Bedard's giddy post .)

Bush not to announce Iraq plan until next year

Why has the White House changed its mind to now announce the "new" Iraq plan until after the New Year?

Is it simply procedural, to allow more lower level planning as the White House claims? Is it PR/politics, to allow the debate to reset away from the ISG report? Or is there more merit to the story of a planned ouster of Maliki than previously thought?

My bet is on the politics, but there is the overwhelming coincidence that this was announced on the same day the second alleged coup plotter, Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi was in the White House meeting with Bush.

I'm quite sure Maliki didn't miss that.

(Oh, and I do hope this delay allows Bush to enjoy a peaceful family Christmas looking across the table at his military aged daughters.)

Later: According to Tony Snow, the reason for the delay is that people came into those meetings with answers, Bush didn't like those answers, and he sent them back out to find answers that are "satisfactory to him."
Tony Snow: The Baker-Hamilton commission certainly looked at it, and the President appreciates their efforts. But it's important for the President to go ahead and to continue to task people who work for him to continue asking tough questions and seeking answers that are satisfactory to him......

(later) MR. SNOW: There was some discussion of the realities on the ground, and it was more of the President posing the what if X, please tell me, get back to me.

So, he's not listening, is he? He's tasking.

Snow also went to great lengths to express support for Maliki.

One More: John King on CNN said the delay was for Bush to find a way to get 20,000 more troops into Baghdad, and the the "after Christmas" was indeed politics to get distance from the ISG report.

Picture of the Day

An Iraqi grieves over the bodies of his dead relatives at Al-Kindi hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006, following two synchronized explosions that occurred in Iraq's capital. Suspected insurgents set off two bombs in a main square of central Baghdad where scores of Iraqis were waiting for jobs as day laborers, killing at least 59 people and wounding 153, police said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

((Reuters) 60 dead, 221 wounded.)

Sunnis shooting down aircraft in Anbar with missiles?

Another helicopter went down in Anbar, no fatalities, 18 wounded. This is the third aircraft to go down in Anbar in two weeks.

At this point there's no evidence to say that these were shot down, the military holds that all three went down for mechanical reasons, but I do want to point back to this unconfirmed AP report four days ago. (UPDATED LINK.)
In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in (private) Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said....

The U.S. military said it had no information about the cause of the (F-16) crash. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said he would be surprised if the jet was shot down because F-16's have not encountered weapons capable of taking them down in Iraq.

But last week, a spokesman for Saddam's ousted Baath party claimed that fighters armed with a Strela missile had shot down the jet.

"We have stockpiles of Strelas and we are going to surprise them (the Americans)," Khudair al-Murshidi, the spokesman told the AP in Damascus, Syria. He would not say how the Strelas were obtained.

Saddam's army had Strelas; it is not known how many survived the 2003 war. The Strela is a shoulder-fired, low-altitude system with a passive infrared guidance system.

I would treat this as iffy rumor at this point, but even the threat of an effective anti-aircraft missile would be disastrous for the US.

If you look back to the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, it was the arrival of the US made Stinger AA missiles that really crippled their operations by limiting air mobility, not to mention the atrocious large scale casualties. The inability to move troops by helicopter put every mission at risk on the road, and rapid response and reinforcement was crippled.

So this maybe nothing, but keep an eye open.

(And, I'm not an expert in the area, but here's the FAS page on the SA-7 Strela 2 and the SA-14 Strela 3.)


(WaPo) "That recommendation is likely to fuel Pentagon rumors that Bush and his new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, may decide to replace Marine Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

(AFP) Condi Rice: "If you are at all responsible for the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, you feel a personal responsibility for what's going on there every day," she said. .... "I'm sure there are many, many things that we could have done differently, maybe should have done differently," but she said she has no regrets.

(WaPo) Saudi Ambassador Abruptly Resigns, Leaves Washington.

(Reuters) "A group of prominent Saudi clerics have called on Sunni Muslims around the world to mobilise against Shi'ites in Iraq, although a statement they issued fell short of calling for a jihad, or holy war."

Overheard at the White House

"I'm sorry, Mr. President. Mr. Kissinger said he would have to postpone his consultation until Wednesday. He had to attend the funeral of a close friend in Chile......"


CBS: 75% disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq.
62% - It was "a mistake" to send troops to Iraq.

WaPo: "Seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the way the President is handling the situation in Iraq." (36% Bush approval.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

I'm guessing the DoD didn't hand out pictures of Rumsfeld with soldiers wounded on the camera side.

This image provided by the US Defense Department shows Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld meeting with wounded troops at Balad Air Base during a surprise visit to Iraq, Saturday Dec. 9, 2006. (AP Photo/US Defense Dept.- Cherie A. Thurlby)

Spinning while the bodies pile up in Iraq.

The White House is very publicly portraying the president as "listening" in these three days of "intensive consultations" on Iraq, but in reality it's all just cover for not embracing the ISG report.

Read Bush's words. The important thing in these consultations is not to actually look at Iraq, but to assure the American people that he's "listened" before continuing on.
"There is no question we've got to make sure that the State Department and the Defense Department -- the efforts and their recommendations are closely coordinated, so that when I do speak to the American people, they will know that I've listened to all aspects of government and that the way forward is the way forward to achieve our objective: to succeed in Iraq."

It's a PR show while people are dying.

(Also, notice that he appropriated "The Way Forward" from the title of the ISG report to indicate his own plans.)

Picture of the Day - 2

U.S. Army Sgt. Yevgeniy Ryndych was killed in action on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq. His family and fiancee were told of his death the same day she got a package with the engagement ring that Ryndych ordered for her over the Internet, said the soldier's brother, Ivan. (AP Photo/U.S. Army)

US to oust Maliki?

There's nothing directly in this article saying the US is behind this, but it's the Hadley memo writ large and follows shortly after Bush's meeting with Al-Hakim and just before "a key figure in the proposed alliance, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, left for Washington on Sunday for a meeting with Bush at least three weeks ahead of schedule."
Major partners in Iraq's governing coalition are in behind-the-scenes talks to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amid discontent over his failure to quell raging violence, according to lawmakers involved.

The talks are aimed at forming a new parliamentary bloc that would seek to replace the current government and that would likely exclude supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a vehement opponent of the U.S. military presence.

The new alliance would be led by senior Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who met with President Bush last week. Al-Hakim, however, was not expected to be the next prime minister because he prefers the role of powerbroker, staying above the grinding day-to-day running of the country.....

They said al-Maliki was livid at the attempt to unseat him.

"We know what's going on and we will sabotage it," said a close al-Maliki aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivities involved. He did not elaborate.

A senior aide to al-Sadr, who insisted on anonymity for the same reason, said the proposed alliance was primarily designed to exclude the cleric's backers and they would resist.

In order for this to come together, you're still going to have to resolve the same bottom line problem of establishing a Sunni-Shia power balance.

Broken By War, And Ordered Back

A rough, very close up story on Damian Fernandez, discharged from active service, diagnosed with severe PTSD, and involuntarily recalled for deployment.

The forgotten war on terror

Pakistan's "peace agreement" with the tribal areas is allowing the Taleban and foreign fighters safe haven. It's also serving as a breeding ground as the various Islamic groups mix and reinforce.
The tightening web of alliances among these groups in a remote, mountainous area increasingly beyond state authority is potentially disastrous for efforts to combat terrorism as far away as Europe and the United States, intelligence officials warn.

They and western diplomats say it also portends an even bloodier year for Afghanistan in 2007, with the winter expected to serve as what one official described as a “breeding season” to multiply ranks.

And Bin Laden and Al Qaeda drift further and further away.


(Retuers) In Algeria, "a bus carrying foreign oil workers was bombed in the first attack on Western expatriates in many years."

(FT) "Oil producing countries have reduced their exposure to the dollar to the lowest level in two years and shifted oil income into euros, yen and sterling."

(AFP) At the Gulf summit (all Sunni,) the Saudi King said, "Our Arab region is besieged by a number of dangers, as if it was a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode."

(Reuters) The Italian case against CIA and Italian personnel over the rendition of Hassan Nasr is still moving forward. The most notable thing is that the Italians have cooperating witnesses.

Picture of the Day - "Rockstar"

We have not seen such fawning coverage of a Presidential candidate since a certain "brash" "maverick" ran for the Republican nomination in 2000. (AP, Reuters, AFP, NYTimes, WaPo)

Bayh, Vilsack, or even Clinton would give anything for this early coverage, but I keep thinking that it's a long way down from here.

(In N. H. yesterday. (AFP/Getty Images))

Today at the UN

Kofi Annan going out swinging.
In a farewell speech on U.S. soil today, retiring United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to deliver a tough critique of President Bush's policies. He will accuse the administration of trying to secure the United States from terrorism in part by dominating other nations through force, committing what he termed human rights abuses and taking military action without broad international support.

And, as an extra twist, to a President and White House have spent a week telling us that Bush is right but simply misunderstood like Harry Truman,

The speech, to be delivered at the presidential library of the late Harry Truman in Independence, Mo., contrasts Truman's support for the United Nations with the Bush administration's unilateral actions.

UPDATE: Here's the text of the speech.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

Head of a Sunni family kisses a copy of Quran presented by a representative of powerful anti US radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, sheik Rahim Al-Alaaq, in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Sunday Dec. 10, 2006. Shiite delegation visited few remaining Sunni families in Sadr City, Iraq, to express support and solidarity on a day when Baghdad has been suffering from a series of attacks aimed at driving Sunnis or Shiites out of neighborhoods of the capital where they form a minority. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Imagine that moment. By his presence, you have just been assured your family will live.

The battle against Islamic militias

In Afghanistan, the Taleban have refused participation in a Pakistani effort to limit violence and cross border activities.

The AP has an article on a new set of "rules" issued out of a "high Taleban meeting." The most atrocious is that all schools should be burned and all teachers should be killed.

In Somalia, the UN approved a peacekeeping force, although who is going to staff it is still unknown.

Within days, Ethiopian troops conducted their first attack on the Islamic militias about 70 miles south of the remaining government holdout Baidoa. (AFP version)

Around southern Sudan, the civil war has spread into "heavy fighting" in Chad, and a lawless refugee/militia/deprivation chaos in border region of the Central African Republic.

The "US backed" government in Lebanon

I just want to point out again the increasing intrusion of the phrase "US backed" or "Western backed" when referring to the Lebanese government.

Picture of the Day - 2

(NYTimes) Two “giving kiosks” sit outside the church’s chapel in East Georgia, high-tech collection plates that allow people to swipe their credit or debit cards and instantly send donations. Marty Baker, the church’s pastor, likes to call the terminals A.T.M.’s: “automatic tithe machines....”

The results encouraged Mr. Baker and his wife, Patty, to form a for-profit company, SecureGive, that sells the terminals for $2,000 to $5,000 apiece and charges a $50 monthly subscription fee. By the end of the year, they expect to have terminals in 15 spots across the country.....

At the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, it was the price that was galling, not the concept. The church considered buying the kiosks before deciding to build a homemade version for a few hundred dollars

Buying the presidency

In an article about the Republican '08 candidates trying to "woo" the big money Republican donors, WaPo's Chris Cillizza speaks the truth,
Bush's 2000 campaign forever changed the fundraising dynamic for presidential races, showing that an enormous early financial advantage was the same as winning an "invisible primary." In that race, there are no voters, elections or overt campaigning -- just the wooing of fabulously rich people with the rewards of insider status, complete with fancy titles.

Cillizza is saying that the first (and most important) primary is in the tiny, but incredibly influential, state of oligarchy.

(I hate to tell Mitt, the subject of this article, but McCain has been meeting with Bush donors for almost a year, and Bush/Rove already gave McCain their direct mail list. Good luck with that fundraising, though.)

(Aside: This isn't just Republican. That's why Obama is considered as a real threat to Hillary Clinton. He's the only one out there who has a shot at raising money with her. This is our democracy.)

Picture of the Day

Haqi Ismaeel closes the eyes of his killed three-year-old daughter Shayma, outside a hospital in Baqouba, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006. (AP Photo/Adam Hadei)

Stay the Course

In the NYTimes this morning, "senoir administration officials," presumably "including people in the National Security Council and the vice president’s office" push back hard against the ISG report.
"In interviews over the last two days with officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and foreign diplomats, President Bush and his top aides were described as deeply reluctant to follow the core strategy advocated by the study group: to pressure Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to rein in sectarian violence faced with reduced United States military and economic support.....

And they took issue with the decision by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and the nine other members of the commission to make no mention of promoting democracy as an American goal in the Middle East, and to drop any suggestion that “victory” was still possible in Iraq when they presented their findings to Mr. Bush and to the public on Wednesday...."

“You saw that the president used the word ‘victory’ again the next day,” said one of Mr. Bush’s aides. “Believe me, that was no accident.”

Read: Stay the Course.

Hiding behind Christmas

Has it occurred to anyone else, that if Bush is "consulting" about Iraq this week, but still plans to release his strategy before Christmas, that he is picking next week, the time when newsrooms are incredibly light staffed, editorials are largely prewritten and Congress and a Democratic response, will be scattered across the country in their home districts?

How much more "Stay the Course" indication do you need?