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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, May 12, 2007


After reading Josh Marshall's take on Giuliani's major speech saying he's still pro-choice, anti-gun, and moderately pro gay rights, I find myself wondering about a question,
The comparison to the JFK speech is intentional and has been picked up by the media. But the connection doesn't hold up -- JFK effectively told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, "We're together on the issues, but you need to get over my Catholicism." Giuliani effectively told the Houston Baptist College, "We're not together on the issues, but I'm strong on national security. 9/11, 9/11, 9/11."

So, the question: "Can Giuliani change the Republican religion to terror?"

This is petty, but it made me laugh

Earlier this week, the Giuliani campaign set up a visit/appearance with a couple in Iowa, the idea being to hold an event on their property and talk about the horrors of the inheritance tax and how it would destroy honest farmers like this couple.

But, after the campaign found out that the couple weren't rich enough to be adversely affected, they cancelled the event leaving the former supporters angry after all the effort they'd put in. Ugly, but not that big a deal.

NOW, it gets really funny, as McCain tries to horn in on the action, calling the family to apologize "on behalf of all politicians," and trying to publicly meet the couple himself. Obviously, McCain wants this story to have legs to point to Giuliani as coastal elitist, but really, isn't it early to be throwing this many barbs at Giuliani?

(Maybe it's because in his seventies, this is McCain's last chance.) These Republicans are fighting so hard to run as the Bush tied candidate.

Picture of the Day - 2

Meanwhile Dick Cheney makes a hawkish speech on Iran from the 100 degree hangar deck of USS Stennis.

Terror threats, carefully crafted military backdrops....They're going back to the old gameplan.

(Vice President Dick Cheney greets sailors and Marines during a rally on board the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier in In the Persian Gulf, Friday, May 11, 2007. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert))

Oh, and notice it's a "rally," not a speech.


(AP) Kurdish "Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Friday that his country may need U.S. troops for one or two more years."

(AP) David Satterfield admits that the Saudis don't want our current vision for Iraq. (It sure is a good thing that only Iran supports violence in Iraq then.)

And, Juan Cole has an interesting section about changes in SCIRI coming out of their annual party convention. He points out that the changes are aimed at "Iraqizing" what has historically been an Iranian influenced party.

But, what he doesn't go into is "the why." I would argue that these changes are a response to the creeping Shia nationalism being felt as the Iraqi Shia begin to realize their domination of the country. (and as a SCIRI response to their losses in the face of that new Iraqi identity.)

IraqSlogger has more on this significant development.

Winning the battles, but losing the war in Afghanistan

An excellent article on how civilian casualties in Afghanistan are undermining the effort.

The anger is visible here in this farming village in the largely peaceful western province of Herat, where American airstrikes left 57 villagers dead, nearly half of them women and children, on April 27 and 29. Even the accounts of villagers bore little resemblance to those of NATO and American officials — and suggested just how badly things could go astray in an unfamiliar land where cultural misunderstandings quickly turn violent.

The United States military says it came under heavy fire from insurgents as it searched for a Taliban commander and weapons caches and called in airstrikes, killing 136 Taliban fighters.

But the villagers denied that any Taliban were in the area. Instead, they said, they rose up and fought the Americans themselves, after the soldiers raided several houses, arrested two men and shot dead two old men on a village road.

After burying the dead, the tribe’s elders met with their chief, Hajji Arbab Daulat Khan, and resolved to fight American forces if they returned. “If they come again we will stand against them, and we will raise the whole area against them,” Hajji Daulat Khan warned. Or in the words of one foreign official in Afghanistan, the Americans went after one guerrilla commander and created a hundred more.

On Tuesday, barely 24 hours after American officials apologized publicly to President Karzai for a previous incident in which 19 civilians were shot by marines in eastern Afghanistan, reports surfaced of at least 21 civilians killed in an airstrike in Helmand Province, though residents reached by phone said the toll could be as high as 80.

This is happening because of the necessary tactic of using airpower to multiply a small US force tasked with a substantially large and difficult geography.

In Baghdad, 5 killed, 3 missing

(Reuters) "Seven U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi army interpreter were attacked while on patrol in an al Qaeda stronghold south of Baghdad on Saturday. Five were killed and three are missing, the U.S. military said.....

Residents in Mahmudiya said gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms had stopped a U.S. patrol comprised of three Humvees at a fake checkpoint before attacking the soldiers, an Iraqi army source told Reuters."

Picture of the Day

Pictures from the clashes in Pakistan between Musharraf supporters and Pakistan's People's Party in Karachi. (REUTERS/Zahid Hussein, AP Photo/Farid Khan, AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

Pakistan turns violent

The situation in Pakistan turns violent. AFP:
Rival political workers fought intense gunbattles Saturday ahead of huge rallies by Pakistan's suspended top judge and President Pervez Musharraf, leaving 15 people dead and scores more injured.

Black smoke billowed over the volatile southern city of Karachi as two months of tensions over Musharraf's removal of defiant Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry boiled over into violence.

Mobs also torched a police post, four buses and dozens of other vehicles despite the presence of 15,000 paramilitary troops and police on the streets of the port city of 12 million people.....

"There are many areas where injured people are lying in the road and ambulances cannot reach there."

In some of the bloodiest fighting, pro-government and opposition activists armed with assault rifles traded fire with assault rifles about half a mile from Karachi's international airport. A witness said three people traveling in a car were killed and a passer-by was wounded.

The only slightly positive thing that can be said is that the violence is between Musharraf backers and democratic centrists, lawyers, and Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, and does not yet involve the extreme Islamists.

Later: The death toll is up to 27.

The US loses on the Caspian pipeline

After years of dedicated US diplomacy attempting to bring the Caspian pipeline out of Russian control, the route has finally been settled. Putin won.

Related: (AP) Russian US relations soured under Bush. (Oh, and I'm so happy we're sending Condi Rice this week to clean it up.)

Condi Rice is useless (continued)

With perhaps the most significant negotiations on the US agenda being managed by Dick Cheney right now (isn't that a scary phrase,) once again, I gotta ask, where is Condi Rice?
US Vice President Dick Cheney heads to Saudi Arabia Saturday to seek its aid in Iraq, two months after close US ally King Abdullah slammed the "illegitimate foreign occupation" of that war-torn land.....

Over the weekend, Cheney was also to visit Egypt and Jordan to wrap up a week-long Middle East visit aimed at getting Washington's friends to help pull Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims into the country's fragile political process.

Condi Rice isn't even tasked to talk to our "friends." Instead, she's been tasked with an Israeli-Palestine conversation that's not supposed to produce results.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Picture of the Day - 4

(NYTimes) "At an appearance at Houston Baptist University, Mr. Giuliani said that he favors abortion rights, certain restrictions on gun ownership and gay rights."

What's the Italian equivalent of "oy vey?"

(Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani reacts during his speech at the Republican party of Iowa's Abraham Lincoln Unity Dinner, Saturday, April 14, 2007, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall))

(And, notice they dropped it on a Friday.)

Reality check

So, ABC's Blotter comes out with a sensationalist story of an imminent terror attack targeting Germany,
U.S. and German officials fear terrorists are in the advanced planning stages of an attack on U.S. military personnel or tourists in Germany.....

, as to the sudden headline grabbing warning.
"We're unaware of anything new. We have not changed our force posture," a U.S. defense official said on Friday.

In Germany, the Interior Ministry said there had been no change in the security situation.

"There is nothing new," a spokesman for the ministry said. "What we're looking at is the state of affairs that has been long since known. This caused the U.S. authorities to publish a warning to their own citizens in Germany." (On April 20.)

Let's see.... a terror warning that has been "long since known" suddenly appears, overhyped during a US debate over Iraq....

One more rather odd bit. In this Reuters story, the Germans and US officials seem to point towards the Kurdish group Ansar al Islam which is loosely tied to Al Qaeda.

Earlier today, Lebanon's Daily Star had an article about a sudden effort by the Kurds to crack down on Ansar al Islam. (The article has been scrubbed although the linking headline is still up on their site.)

I'm just finding that a very odd coincidence.

Diyala General goes public asking for more troops

Maj. Gen. Mixon, the commander in Diyala province was just shown on CNN saying he needed more troops. (CNN article.)

If the goal is to pacify that province, he is undoubtedly right, but why is he asking for more troops on TV rather than through channels?

Did he ask his superiors and get a no? Why would Mixon take the extreme step of going public? Was he told that the White House wouldn't authorize more troops?
(Later: He said he has been in touch with Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, about more troops in Diyala, even before the troop escalation that the administration calls a "surge" began in February. He said Odierno has been "providing them over time as they have become available.")

Publicly extorting against Bush's "support the troops," "commanders on the ground" politics is a huge step for a Maj. General.

Picture of the Day (in one explosion)

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Army, Cpl. Michael Pursel is shown. Pursel, of Lacey, Wash., was killed in an explosion Sunday, May 6, 2007, in Baqubah, Iraq. (AP Photo/Courtesy U.S. Army)

Picture of the Day (in one explosion)

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Joel Lewis is shown with his wife, Brandy. Lewis, of Sandia Park, N.M., was killed in an explosion Sunday, May 6, 2007, in Baqubah, Iraq. (AP Photo/Courtesy U.S. Army)

Picture of the Day (in one explosion)

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Army, Cpl. Matthew Alexander is shown. Alexander, of Nebraska, was killed in an explosion Sunday, May 6, 2007, in Baqubah, Iraq. (AP Photo/Courtesy U.S. Army)

Picture of the Day (in one explosion)

In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Jason Harkins is shown with his wife, Emily. Harkins, from Clarksville, Ga., was killed in an explosion Sunday, May 6, 2007, in Baqubah, Iraq. (AP Photo/Courtesy U.S. Army)

Unbelievable Cheney

In an interview with (who else?) FoxNews:

QUESTION: You are portrayed by your opponents and some in the media as this sinister figure, as this cold-blooded warmonger who doesn't care about the number of body bags going back. ..... But how do you feel about the cost of this war in blood and treasure four years later? And I guess the question most Americans have is how much is enough.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, any casualty is to be regretted. Nobody likes to be in the position where they have to make those kinds of decisions. Obviously, the President bears the major part of the burden. He's the man with the authority to commit the force.



(WaPo) "A majority of members of Iraq's parliament have signed a draft bill that would require a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq and freeze current troop levels."

(If this does work its way to a vote, it will certainly pass. In Iraq today, imagine the pressure of voting for a continuing occupation.)

(NYTimes) "The threat of a walkout by Iraq’s leading Sunni bloc in Parliament and the cabinet seemed to subside Tuesday after a meeting between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni." (So, Cheney's visit may have had a result.)

(LATimes) The Iraqi parliament broke down yesterday with the speaker eventually slapping a fellow lawmaker. "Bodyguards separated the two men."

(Stars and Stripes) Defeating the stated purpose of the 15 month deployment extensions, the Army is already sending a unit back to Iraq after only 9 months dwell time.

(Reuters) Unsurprisingly, Maliki's nominations to replace Sadr's 6 withdrawn ministers are facing problems getting confirmed after they are revealed to be Shia loyalists.

AND, (Haaretz) Administration official Elliott Abrams tells a group of "Jewish Republicans" that the current US effort on Israel/Palestine is about placating the Arab nations, not seeking peace.

Picture of the Day - 2

Apparently, it's Mitt Romney week. The coverstory of Time Magazine, 60 Minutes, prominent articles everywhere, NYTimes, AP..... I guess $26 million does buy you something when you're at single digits in the polls.

(Political activists Matthew Lesser of Middletown, Conn., right, and Shannon Matson of Westfield, Mass., wearing flip-flop costumes, protest outside a function hall where GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is scheduled to receive an award from an anti-abortion group in Agawam, Mass., Thursday May 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa))

(PS. I recognize that most of the articles are challenging the Republican candidates, but has anyone else noticed how many more headlines are going to the Repub candidates than the Dems?)

The Republicans have lost their mojo

It's always disgusting enough when you see a "menu" for political donations (really, take a look,) but how far into disarray have the Republicans fallen that their internal fundraising planners are showing up on the front page of the WaPo business section?
House Republicans are taking nothing for granted. Their leaders last month sent out a 28-page instruction kit laying out exactly what rank-and-file members have to do to reach the dinner's multimillion-dollar goal. ....

The document even tells lawmakers how they should phrase their telephone calls. A page with "suggested talking points for House Members" includes this: "Following a disappointing loss of our majorities in the House and Senate, we need to restore the faith of the American voters in us. We heard their message this past November that we need to re-commit our priorities for lower taxes, securing our boarders [sic], supporting our troops and fiscal responsibility."

Then it recommends the lawmakers add: "The odds are against Republicans as we take up the fight to strengthen and rebuild our majority" -- something Republicans do not generally admit publicly.

Wasn't it just a year ago they were talking about a "permanent Republican majority?"

Picture of the Day

An Iraqi woman who lost six family members lays on the ground as relatives mourn over coffin of a child killed in mortar attack, in Sadr City, Baghdad's Shiite slum, Iraq, Tuesday, May 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Adil al-Khazali

Thursday, May 10, 2007

US Attorneys

I'm sure the White House response will be that Rove and his aides were just "passing on concerns," but for that defense to work, Kyle Sampson has to be willing to take that weight.
Only weeks before last year's pivotal midterm elections, the White House urged the Justice Department to pursue voter-fraud allegations against Democrats in three battleground states, a high-ranking Justice official has told congressional investigators.

In two instances in October 2006, President Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, or his deputies passed the allegations on to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.


I'm often amazed at how short the attention span is

Tony Snow, April 30, 2007.

Q Setting benchmarks, not timetables -- political benchmarks for the Iraqis.

MR. SNOW: Well, if you set a political benchmark with penalties, that would imply that you have a timetable, that you have certain deadlines. ....

Do we want to see more rapid political progress? Yes. But do we want to be binding people on the basis of artificial deadlines? No.

President Bush today,
One message I have heard from people from both parties is that the idea of benchmarks makes sense. And I agree. It makes sense to have benchmarks as a part of our discussion on how to go forward. And so I've empowered Josh Bolten to find common ground on benchmarks, and he will continue to have dialogue with both Republicans and Democrats.

And nobody says a word

Welcome to "The State"

When Gonzales was asked whether any US citizens were being held for over a month having been denied habeus corpus and a lawyer, Gonzales said, “[Y]ou’re asking me a question I hadn’t really thought about.”

When asked if any US citizen was being held by a foreign government without these rights, Gonzales said again, “It’s just — quite frankly, I hadn’t thought about this.”

I think we have our answer.

Picture of the Day - 3

President Bush pauses while speaking to reporters about Iraq, Thursday, May 10, 2007, at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Someone in the White House turns the heat back on Gonzales

A rather significant story in the National Journal,
The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove's, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

But again, what often catches my eye is the sourcing.
Several of the e-mails that the Bush administration is withholding from Congress, as well as papers from the White House counsel's office describing other withheld documents, were made available to National Journal by a senior executive branch official, who said that the administration has inappropriately kept many of them from Congress.

So, what is a "senior executive branch official?" Is it a White House official they're trying to obscure? Whoever it is, they apparently had access to or a sympathetic conspirator in the White House Counsel's office, and that's a small office.

And, people in the White House still want Gonzales gone.
Two senior administration officials told National Journal they were frustrated with decisions by Gonzales not to release some of the documents held by the Justice Department. One of the officials charged that "Gonzales is doing this to save his own neck," at the expense of the administration. The same official said that senior aides to Gonzales have been refusing to turn over many relevant documents to Congress, and that the attorney general's top aides have been selectively leaking portions of them to the media to portray themselves in a favorable light.

I think the backstory may be more interesting than the headline.

Also: The House counsel is expected to file the paperwork for Monica Goodling's immunity on Friday.

The quiet truth?

Regarding the Republican Congressmen who spoke "frankly" with Bush about Iraq a couple days ago,
White House Watch reader Mark Fox e-mails me to say he doesn't think it's a coincidence that this breach of the bubble took place while Vice President Cheney was out of town: "My feeling is the 'Tuesday Group' choose a day when the VP was unavailable so that they could get their unvarnished message into and thru the 'Bush Bubble.' With Cheney gone, they wouldn't be bullied, and they could speak their mind."

Now it's Petraeus' plan

I just finished watching a Bush statement and a few questions at the Pentagon and was struck by how much the President seemed to stress that "the surge" is Petraeus' plan.

This marks such a turn from January/February when the White House portrayed a President weighing all the evidence in his seclusion and making a Solomon-like judgement. Now it's all Petraeus' plan.

Obviously it's an effort to gain distance for both Bush and the Republican party when "the surge" goes belly up, but I'm left wondering how Petraeus feels about this.

(Also, Bush hasn't spoken to Cheney at all since Cheney met with all the Iraqi principles over 24 hours ago? Not even curious?)

Picture of the Day

(AP) "Cheney spoke to several thousand mostly Army forces in a huge tent that is scheduled to be a gymnasium. He was enthusiastically cheered and greeted when he stepped up on stage, but only politely applauded when he talked about deployment extensions."

(General Petraeus hands out a purple heart in the Green Zone Hospital in early April. (Getty/Chris Hondros))

The Irony of Mitt Romney, Republican

How ironic is it that Mitt Romney's rise to prominence came about only because a liberal(Democratic) state was far more tolerant of his Mormonism than his own national party?

Try and convince me that Mitt Romney would've been elected a Mormon governor in South Carolina or Texas.

(Does anyone else find it offensive that in the discussion of Romney's "electability" as a Mormon in the Republican Party, there is no mention at all that such religious intolerance might be, you know, bigoted and wrong?)

Also: The Giuliani campaign decides to end the farce and come out as openly pro-choice.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

11 Republican Congressmen speak frankly with Bush about Iraq

On the NBC Nightly News, Tim Russert reported that 11 Republican Congressmen held a "candid" meeting with Bush about Iraq led by Mark Kirk of Illinois and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. ThinkProgress has the video.

Interestingly from the NYTimes version, House Minority Leader John Boehner was there, too. (To officiate or participate?)

Later: The WaPo has more on the meeting.
House Republican moderates, in a remarkably blunt White House meeting, warned President Bush this week that his pursuit of the war in Iraq is risking the future of the Republican Party and that he cannot count on GOP support for many more months.

Later Still: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell goes on the record in a similar tone.
"The Iraqi government hasn't done anything it said it would," McConnell said, pointing to lack of progress on oil revenue sharing and reducing sectarian violence. He added, "I don't think there are many Republican senators who are happy with what happened."....

Notice that all of these recent Republican complaints are not primarily criticisms about the war itself, but instead about the impact it's having on their party's political futures.

That's the sort of deep integrity we expect out of Washington.

Picture of the Day - 3

I believe the signs translate, "Welcome, Liberators," but I can't make them out through the burning effigies.

Followers of radical anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn effigies as they rally in Karbala, Wednesday, May 9, 2007. Hundreds gathered to protest against U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Iraq. (AP Photo/Ghassan al-Yasiri)

(There were several other protests in Baghdad and elsewhere.)

Alistair Horne on Iraq

I found this Salon piece interesting (you have to watch the ad.) It talks about a recent tea between Bush and "Bush's favorite historian," Alistair Horne, author of A Savage War of Peace about the FLN's inevitable victory in Algeria.

Starting on Page 2, Horne describes the similarities he sees between Iraq and Algeria. On every comparison, Iraq is worse.

I don't agree with it all, but if you've got a minute, it's fascinating.

The Saudi plan for Iraq

The tensions between the US and the Iranians over a future Iraq are getting alot of coverage, but, really, very little is being said of the Saudi intentions. If David Ignatius is to be believed, the Saudis are prepping to remove Maliki.
Abdullah's criticism of the "illegitimate" American presence in Iraq reflects the Saudi leader's deep misgivings about U.S. strategy there. Saudi sources say the king has given up on the ability of Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to overcome sectarian divisions and unite the country. The Saudi leadership is also said to believe that the U.S. troop surge is likely to fail, deepening the danger of all-out civil war in Iraq.

The Saudis appear to favor replacing the Maliki government, which they see as dominated by Iranian-backed Shiite religious parties, and are quietly backing former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and ex-Baathist who has support among Iraqi Sunnis. Allawi's advisers say that his strategy is to exploit tensions within the Shiite religious alliance and form a new ruling coalition that would be made up of Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shiites. Allawi's camp believes he is close to having enough votes, thanks in part to Saudi political and financial support.

The Bush administration appears to have little enthusiasm for an Allawi putsch, despite its frustration with Maliki. U.S. officials fear that a change of government in Baghdad would only deepen the political disarray there and encourage new calls for the withdrawal of troops.

I've seen a number of allusions to this, but it's never very clear how viable the Allawi plan is, or when it would take place, but I would think the recent hostility of Tariq Hashemi towards the government has been given Saudi backing.

This "Saudi concern" is what Cheney has been sent to try and sort out.

(Same column: "To dampen such speculation, Bush is said to have told the Saudis that America will not withdraw from Iraq during his presidency. "That gives us 18 months to plan," said one Saudi source.")

Picture of the Day - 2

Medics clean the emergency room after trying to revive a gravely-wounded soldier at the Ibn Sina Hospital in the heavily-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq Sunday, May 6 2007. Since the U.S. security crackdown in Baghdad, medics are seeing an increase in the number and severity of wounded American soldiers. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

It's going to get worse before it gets better

Certainly the headline is that US commanders in Iraq want an escalation not a "surge,"
U.S. commanders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that heightened troop levels, announced by President Bush in January, will need to last into the spring of 2008. ....

"The surge needs to go through the beginning of next year for sure," said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander for U.S. military operations in Iraq.

But don't miss the significant reporting below that.
Commanders said that even with the ongoing increase in Iraq of tens of thousands of American troops, violence could increase in coming months, and some indicators in Baghdad suggest that is already happening.

Partial data on attacks gathered from five U.S. brigades operating in Baghdad showed that total attacks since the new strategy began in February were either steady or increasing. In some cases, certain kinds of attacks dipped as the U.S. troop increase began, only to begin rising again in recent weeks. Overall, "the number of attacks has stayed relatively constant" in Baghdad, said one U.S. officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted by name.

The U.S. military commands that oversee Baghdad and Iraq as a whole have so far failed to meet requests to release current statistics on attack trends, with some U.S. officers voicing concern that the information would be skewed by critics to argue that the strategy is not working.

The attacks are continuing unabated, and the US military is withholding data because it doesn't show the picture they want.

Are we to body counts yet?

More Afghan civilians killed

Just a day after a US brigade commander offered an apology for the killing of civilians in Afghanistan's Nangahar province ("a terrible, terrible mistake,")
Airstrikes called in by U.S. Special Forces soldiers fighting with insurgents in southern Afghanistan killed at least 21 civilians, officials said Wednesday. One coalition soldier was also killed.

The killing of civilians is becoming a top issue in Afghanistan and is now undermining US efforts there.

The problem is, that with the relatively small number of US forces in their sector of Afghanistan, airstrikes are a necessary tactical requirement.


(McClatchy) "On five of the last seven days, the number of unidentified bodies found on Baghdad's streets has surpassed 25, a significant increase over previous weeks." (The death squads are creeping back.)

(BBC) "An attack by a US helicopter against suspected insurgents in Iraq has killed a number of children at a primary school, Iraqi security sources say."

(AP) The US version: "two children were among five people killed when a helicopter fired at militants operating an illegal checkpoint and planting a roadside bomb near Mandali."

(AP) A Kurdish lawmaker claims of Al Qaeda linked insurgents
"During questioning they confessed that were getting training lessons in a neighboring country and that was Iran," he said.

(Reuters) "Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has offered the United States Tehran's cooperation in developing a U.S. exit strategy from Iraq"

(AFP) "In the central Iraqi city of Samarra, insurgents destroyed two police stations belonging to the National Police just days after a deadly assault left 12 policemen dead, including their chief."

(Reuters) Constitutional reforms will be submitted next week.

(USNews) The Phase II report on Feith and prewar intel will be released soon.

(WaPo) Employees at the Commerce Department show little enthusiasm for going to Iraq.

Picture of the Day

Vice President Dick Cheney is greeted by General David Petraeus as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport May 9, 2007. REUTERS/Gerald Herbert

(So, whattya think? Is the bullet proof vest a 56 short?)

Seriously, though, watch this visit closely. Cheney is there to head off the Sunni withdrawal from the government. Bush invited Hashemi to Washington, but Hashemi refused, so in goes Cheney. This is an important visit.

He's meeting with Maliki, then with the top politician for each faction, the Kurdish President, Sunni VP Hashemi, and the SCIRI VP, then on to Saudi Arabia in an effort to stop this Sunni withdrawal.

Later: Photo ops only in Baghdad, no questions, and a (predictably regular) distant explosion shook the building.

I don't think Dick Cheney's going to fix that

The CNN/Opinion Research poll got some discussion yesterday,
Now that the veto has been cast, 57 percent of Americans said they want Congress to send another spending bill with a timetable for withdrawal back to the White House, the poll found -- but 61 percent would support a new bill that dropped the timetables in favor of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet to maintain American support.

But, now, add to it USAToday/Gallup.
Most Americans don't believe that the continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is the key to preventing a full-scale civil war there or protecting the United States from new terrorist attacks, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds.....

Six in 10 support setting a timetable for withdrawal and sticking to it regardless of what's happening in Iraq; 36% say the United States should keep troops in Iraq until the situation there improves.....

Only 22% of Americans accept the administration's argument that U.S. forces in Iraq are preventing new terror attacks on the United States; 17% say the troop presence is making those attacks more likely. Another 58% say the U.S. deployment doesn't affect it either way.

America no longer believes them.

Also, notice the minority (presumably hard core, primary voting Republican) position still stands intact.

If I'm an '08 Republican candidate, how do I straddle this position? Go the McCain route saying, in effect, I believe the all administration's talking points but disagree with their "mistakes?"

Or if I'm a Congressman facing reelection, do I stand in front of my base voters and tell them I've been wrong (and they've been wrong) for four years when they still believe the President's position?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Picture of the Day

President Bush lifts his bicycle before taking a mountain bike ride in Beltsville, Md., Saturday, May 5, 2007. Before his morning ride Bush encouraged all Americans to take time out of their schedule for exercise. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(CNN) Gas predicted to hit $4 this summer.

The Saudis who fund terrorism

Aside from this definitely significant point that Saudis are funding terrorists who are killing several Americans a day, take a minute to read the reportorial "out" that Thomas Ricks cites for not reporting on this Saudi money being used to kill Americans.
Austin, Texas: We often see the press repeat the White House talking point about Iran supplying the insurgents with weapons, but we hardly ever see the press actually ask about the pretty well-known trail of money that leads from Saudi Arabia to the insurgents so they can buy those weapons. Is the press afraid of offending Saudi Arabia? Does that go against some establishment policy? Are they unwilling to investigate the source of insurgent funding for that reason?

Thomas E. Ricks: Your question goes to one of the vulnerabilties of journalism. There was a lot of quiet talk among US officers in Iraq about the role Iran was playing in Iraq, especially with sophisticated bombs, but you didn't see much talk in the media about the Iranian role until top US officers and and the Bush Administration started talking about it.

Likewise, if they started talking about the money trail from Saudi Arabian citizens, you'd see more stories about it. But they don't like to talk about it. It is something that many journalists ask about, but you have to have something to print beyond rumor.

I respect Thomas Ricks, and understand the argument that "you can't print rumor," but, you know, he is a reporter, isn't he? When did "the news" become what the government wants to talk about?

(And, citing the US claims on Iran is a very bad example of "publishing on fact" as the early reporting of that infamous Baghdad briefing has now been almost entirely debunked.)

A Soldier's Lament

This struck me. It gives voice to the thoughts that must be in so many helmeted, slightly concussed heads.
What do you want us to accomplish over here? We aren't hearing any end state. We aren't hearing it from the president, from the defense secretary," Sgt. 1st Class Michael Eaglin said in a room cluttered with bunk beds, rucksacks and weapons at the Sadr City outpost. "We're working hard and the politicians are arguing. They don't have bullets flying over their heads. They aren't on the front lines, and their buddies aren't dying," he said, echoing the sentiments of a group of soldiers around him.

"It's almost like the Vietnam War. We don't know where we're going," Spec. Adam Hamilton agreed.


Picture of the Day - 2

(NYTimes) "But few experts in the Bush administration are reassured, saying that their fear is not only leakage (of nuclear technology) from Pakistan, but a takeover of the government of the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. It is a subject they will never discuss on the record, but one that is the constant topic of study and assessment."

See you in September

The WaPo makes it official. The White House has won their battle. No "sensible person" should even discuss changing the president's Iraq policy until September.

Yes, certain significant Republican Congressional members have said they will "reevaluate" in September, but ask yourself this: Will the evidence be any more clear in September than it is today?

Do you really expect Petraeus' September report to clearly admit failure, or will it more likely echo the current convoluted reporting, that despite significant setbacks, there are "promising signs," and given more time....?

In the meantime, every single political element in Iraq is moving further and further away, (The Mahdi's agitating, the Sunnis are talking about withdrawing completely from the government, the Saudis seem to have given up on the US, the Turks want to invade Kurdistan....)

But, hey, we can wait until September. It would be irresponsible not to give this plan a chance to work. Right?

(Later: (AP) "The Pentagon has notified more than 35,000 Army soldiers to be prepared to deploy to Iraq beginning this fall, a move that would allow commanders to maintain the ongoing buildup of troops through the end of the year if needed.")

Is the Mahdi returning?

AP has this interesting article about a truce of sorts developing between the US command and the Mahdi Army which allows Mahdi militiamen to patrol and protect the Imam Kadhim mosque in Baghdad. (It doesn't sound like this is the only place with such an arrangement.)

More troublingly, in describing a US Mahdi clash a few days ago,
During the two-hour fight, some Iraqi soldiers fought alongside Mahdi Army gunmen, according to the Iraqi officer in charge of security in the area.

He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his life. But his account was corroborated by U.S. officials, who said some Iraqi soldiers took off their uniforms and tossed weapons to militiamen.

Pay attention. Since Sadr's withdrawal from the government, the Mahdi Army is growing more active, and the bound and tortured bodies are returning to Baghdad's streets.
In all, at least 68 people were killed or found dead nationwide Monday, police said. They included the bullet-riddled bodies of 30 men found in Baghdad — the apparent victims of sectarian death squads.

All but two were found in west Baghdad, including 17 in the Amil neighborhood where Sunni politicians have complained of renewed attacks by Shiite militiamen, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release those details.

It still doesn't appear they're looking for direct confrontation with the US, but the Mahdi is creeping back out onto the streets.

McCain is going dirty very early

Put these two together, both from yesterday.

(AP) "Presidential hopeful John McCain said Monday that although it's not impossible for a Republican candidate who favors abortion rights to win the nomination, such a candidate would face long odds."

(Politico) "The returns have been on the public record for years, but the detail about Giuliani's support for Planned Parenthood -- along with e-mailed copies of the returns -- was provided to The Politico by aides to a rival campaign, who insisted on not being identified."

McCain is proving that he's willing to do anything to be president, but it's awfully early to get this deep in the weeds. (Does McCain feel the need to "surge" before Fred Thompson jumps in?)

McCain also fired his political director yesterday.

Later: Reality Based Educator points out that both the Giuliani story, and this NYSun blog post showing Fred Thompson supporting abortion in 94 (also from yesterday) both appear prominently on Drudge.

I find this particularly curious because of Drudge's longstanding antipathy towards McCain, but maybe McCain is Drudge's choice out of the current field. McCain is the only solidly prolife top tier.

If McCain is going to play dirty, there's no better ally than Drudge.

Picture of the Day

U.S. Senator John McCain speaks to supporters at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire April 25, 2007. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Monday, May 07, 2007

Maliki's government may fall one week from tomorrow

Below, I noted Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashemi's threat to withdraw from Maliki's government if constitutional changes are not enacted by May 15. (One week from tomorrow.)

LATER: He's talking about pulling out of the parliament, too.

I don't see any way that such changes could be enacted within a week when even the Constitutional Committee hasn't yet reached agreement on the issues. After the committee, it would then have to go to the parliament for a 60% (?) vote, and in Iraq's fractious system, I just don't see that happening in a week.

So, what is Hashemi's game? This would be a very big and public position for him to back down from and he's given the Iraqi government a nearly impossible hill to climb. Is this all pretense to allow a pullout or does he really expect concessions?

This would be a far bigger deal than Sadr's withdrawal because it would strip away any pretense (and any hope) of a Sunni/Shia reconciliation government.

So, is this posturing by Hashemi or is this real? Is Maliki's government now scheduled for irrelevance or collapse beginning next Wednesday?

Did Hashemi pick this spot because the US is at its political weakest and most likely to force concessions out of the Shia?

Probably most worringly to me was the CNN interview with Iraq's National Security Advisor Mowaffak Al Rubaie who seemed shaken and nearly frantic, trying to steer the interview away from the topic.

Sorry to ponder so long, but this could be hugely significant.

(And, after all the criticism Zalmay Khalilzad took for "favoring the Sunnis," I find myself wondering about the efforts of his replacement, Ryan Crocker, who arrived on post six weeks ago.)

Later: One possible avenue of escape might be an agreement to keep Iraq whole rather than partitioning it into three separate entities.

That would give Hashemi a win and it would, in theory, be the quickest change to pass, however, both SCIRI and the Kurds favor leaving this option on the table.

One week.

The Turks launch an operation against the PKK

(Reuters) "Turkish troops backed by helicopters have launched an operation against Kurdish separatist rebels, security sources said on Monday, after two soldiers and five rebels were killed over the weekend.

They said thousands of soldiers were taking part in the operation involving Cobra and Sikorsky helicopters against rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the valleys of mountainous Sirnak province, near the Iraqi border."

Picture of the Day - 2

U.S. soldiers secure a residential area hit by mortar attack in Baghdad April 30, 2007. (Ali Jasim/Reuters)

As if you didn't already know......

Two articles from the "we already knew that" department.

1) "Over the past year, U.S. intelligence agencies have completely revised their assessment of al Qaeda and reached an alarming conclusion: Bin Laden already has a safe haven-in Pakistan-and may be stronger than ever." (USNews)

2) "The governments of Saudi Arabia and the United States are working with other states in the Middle East region to sponsor covert action against Iran, according to a report in this month's edition of The Atlantic. The report also suggests that covert attacks may occur against Iran's oil sector." (The Atlantic via Rawstory)

The cost of war

I made a similar argument to this some years ago regarding the opportunity cost of DoD spending, but this blurb in the Boston Globe realy puts the misallocation of resources into the Iraq war in perspective.
According to World Bank estimates, $54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015, while $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth.

At the upper range of those estimates, the $456 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world's poor for five and a half years.

Which would have a greater effect on US world standing, the war in Iraq or feeding and educating the world?

Hashemi puts a deadline on pulling the Sunnis out of Maliki's government?

On CNN just now, Nick Robertson reported that Tariq Hashemi, the Sunni VP and top Sunni mainline politician, reiterated his threat to pull the Sunnis completely out of the Iraqi government if constitutional reforms aren't immediately undertaken.

This could completely demolish Maliki's government by removing any claim of non-sectarianism.

AP reports that the deadline for constitutional changes is May 15.

I assume this is the imposition of a deadline on the threat first voiced on Apr. 30.

Picture of the Day

Did you ever have a stupid boss? You know, that unintelligent frat boy who somehow made it to management that takes joy in belittling others?

If you've ever had that guy as your boss, you recognize the look on Gonzales' face.

(President Bush, right, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, attend a celebration of Cinco de Mayo, Friday, May 4, 2007, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak))

Decisions have consequences

(AP) "The rebuilding effort in tornado-ravaged Greensburg, Kansas, likely will be hampered because some much-needed equipment is in Iraq, said that state’s governor.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius said much of the National Guard equipment usually positioned around the state to respond to emergencies is gone. She said not having immediate access to things like tents, trucks and semitrailers will really handicap the rebuilding effort."

(ThinkProgress has an interview where Sebelius reiterates this.)

Condi Rice is useless

Condi Rice was just at the Iraq regional conference in Sharm al Sheik where virtually nothing got done. The most recent diplomatic disappointment has been the shift of the Sunni powers away from the Maliki government.

The Saudis refused to meet with Maliki on his recent regional tour, and then openly rejected debt relief at the conference saying that Maliki was favoring the Shiites.

So, with a major diplomatic problem as the top issue of the day and Condi Rice in the region what does the administration do? It sends Dick Cheney.
US Vice President Dick Cheney leaves Tuesday on a four-country visit of the Middle East, looking to shore up support for Iraq among its neighbors and increase pressure on Iran, US officials say.

Cheney's May 8-14 trip to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan comes amid tensions between the United States and its staunch Saudi allies over Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's fragile government.

Condi Rice is useless. She's perceived as powerless and mostly patronized on her visits. She doesn't make deals, she doesn't negotiate. Anybody who wants to get anything done deals with either Cheney or Hadley.

And, yet, she's safe in her job.

An odd little article.

The WaPo has an odd little article looking at the different versions of history taught by Douglas Feith and George Tenet in their Georgetown courses. I mention it just for this anecdote.
On Douglas Feith's first day as a visiting professor at Georgetown last year, he dropped in on another new professor down the hall. George Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, was friendly and welcoming, Feith recalled. Feith.... suggested they get together for lunch.

Not long afterward, Tenet moved his office, four floors down. He told friends he wanted to be as far away as possible from Feith.

If that isn't Tenet all over. The guy Tenet says pushed the administration (and him) into the Iraq war comes by and annoys him, but instead of saying something, Tenet quietly cedes the ground.

Have we reached this point?

11 soldiers died in Iraq just yesterday, and it's not a top ten headline on AP, Reuters, AFP, USAToday, or on the front page of the NYTimes, or the LATimes.

11 in one day.

(The WaPo has it on page A01.)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Picture of the Day - 2

3,373 - 11 US soldiers killed Sunday.

11 US soldiers died Sunday in multiple incidents.

6 soldiers killed in an IED attack in Diyala, 2 more soldiers killed in Baghdad in two bombings, 2 Marines died in a bombing in Anbar, and 1 soldier died in a non-combat incident.

"But in Baghdad, an American general warned of more casualties to come as the U.S. steps up its campaign to restore stability to Baghdad and surrounding areas."

(CNN is reporting that 2 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.)

The Joy of Sects

Insurgency, Al Qaeda, Islamofascism, civil war, sectarian conflict, death squads, war on terror, global struggle against violent extremism, Shia forces trained in Iran.....

The fact that we do not even have the language to describe the conflict in Iraq, tells me, more than anything else, how deeply screwed we really are.

They didn't plan for so many names....

(McClatchy) "Congress already has run out of space on a memorial created last year to honor all of the U.S. service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a grim sign of the times, the "Wall of the Fallen," set up by House Republican leaders in June, is almost full. The mounting death toll from Iraq has forced U.S. House staffers to study how to reconfigure the display in the lobby of the Rayburn Building - the largest office building for members of Congress - to squeeze in more names."

Picture of the Day

Residents gather at the scene of a car bomb blast in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 6, 2007. A car bomber ripped through a commercial district in western Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 27 people and wounding dozens, in one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in recent days. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)


(AP) There's still no "War Czar."(The longer the search goes on, the bigger a joke the position becomes.)

(Reuters) "The surge" will be fully in place in less than a month. ("U.S. President George W. Bush is sending 30,000 extra troops to Iraq for the security offensive in Baghdad. A U.S. military spokesman, Major-General William Caldwell, said those reinforcements would all be in place by June 1.")

(NYTimes) An Iraqi court is attempting to strip immunity from parliamentarian Adnan Dulaimi, putting the entire "deBaathification" and reconciliation effort under some question.

(WaPo) A story of what happens to Iraqi soldiers after they get wounded.

(NYTimes) US "senior officers" attempted to cover up the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha because they feared its propaganda value. (As opposed to the later propaganda value of US military command covering up civilian killings?)

And, I found this story very interesting. It's about the robots used in battle, but instead of looking at them technically, it explores their anthropomorphization by their handlers.

It's an intriguing topic. Facing very real physical threats, the soldiers seem to be projecting life onto their robots, naming them, and, to some degree, treating them as if they're fellow soldiers.

It's an interesting projection which indirectly explores the "band of borthers" relationship on the front lines. (Maybe more later on this. The psychology of this relationship is fascinating.)

Hiding the suffering of the troops

Regarding the MHAT-IV report which showed so many mental issues suffered by the US troops in Iraq, it now comes out that the Army has been sitting on these explosive results since November.
The report was provided in November to Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then the senior American commander in Iraq.

Pentagon officials have not explained why the public release of the report was delayed, a move that kept the data out of the public debate as the Bush administration developed its plan to build up troops in Iraq and extend combat tours. Rear Adm. Richard R. Jeffries, a medical officer, told reporters on Friday that the timing was decided by civilian Pentagon officials.

Don't you think the argument over "the surge" would have been significantly different had the American people been made aware of the official Army assessment saying longer deployments/multiple deployments are causing a significant increase in PTSD and other mental issues?

How about the increase of deployment length to 15 months?

Let's remember that this six month delay has taken place almost exclusively under the "responsible" Sec Def Gates.

At what point does the Department of Defense separate its political and warmaking roles?

Gates not on board with surge?

On the other hand, a fascinating LATimes article looking at all the tea leaves that indicate Sec Def Robert Gates is not on board with the "surge" plan. It's an interesting read.