.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rumor - Gonzales to leave?

Very, very, very rumory.....
The buzz among top Bushies is that beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finally plans to depart and will be replaced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

I'll believe it when I see it.

"Sprint to the finish," right?

Picture of the Day - 2

I don't get the Thompson "mancrush." Even in his suit, he just does not look presidential to me. He looks old.

(I liked this photo because it captures the lie of the red pickup. He's in his Iowa state fair clothes with his hokey popcorn about to board his private jet.)

(Former Tennessee U.S. Senator and potential Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson holds a bag of popcorn before boarding his plane at the Des Moines International Airport after visiting the Iowa State Fair August 17, 2007. The picture was taken through a fence. REUTERS/Joshua Lott)


Just think what we could accomplish in another year.

(AP) "Iraq body count running at double pace."
• Iraq is suffering about double the number of war-related deaths throughout the country compared with last year — an average daily toll of 33 in 2006, and 62 so far this year.

• Nearly 1,000 more people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2006. So far this year, about 14,800 people have died in war-related attacks and sectarian murders. AP reporting accounted for 13,811 deaths in 2006. The United Nations and other sources placed the 2006 toll far higher.

• Baghdad has gone from representing 76 percent of all civilian and police war-related deaths in Iraq in January to 52 percent in July, bringing it back to the same spot it was roughly a year ago.

According to the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, the number of displaced Iraqis has more than doubled since the start of the year, from 447,337 on Jan. 1 to 1.14 million on July 31.

A taste of the future

A preview of the next two weeks from the President's Saturday Radio address.
We are still in the early stages of our new operations. But the success of the past couple of months have shown that conditions on the ground can change -- and they are changing. We cannot expect the new strategy we are carrying out to bring success overnight.

They're beginning to try out the spin points. I'd expect to see this one again.

Picture of the Day

"This guy, this guy right here, tanked his presidential campaign to support us."

(In this photo provided by CBS, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and White House political adviser Karl Rove talk in the Green Room before their separate appearances on CBS's 'Face the Nation' in Washington, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. (AP Photo/CBS Face the Nation, Karin Cooper))

(PS. As a sign of just how far McCain has fallen, let me ask this: Did you see a single story on his speech about Iraq at the VFW?

When he was considered a contender, every word he said on Iraq got coverage, but now he makes an Iraq policy speech and is completely ignored.)

Using reserve officers to promote White House policy

There is a much larger and more overt example of using the military for pro-surge propaganda below, but in some ways, I find Tony Snow and the White House Press Office mining for surge proponents among the Reserve Officers Association (retired from active duty) much more creepy.

(And, of course, the AEI is setting up its own propaganda surge.)

Against all this, what chance does the truth have? (NYTimes)
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate has effectively discredited the dominant American hypothesis of the past seven months: that safer streets, secured by additional troops, would create enough political calm for Iraq's leaders to reconcile.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Petraeus report is a farce. Are you surprised?

From the Department of Duh.
Despite political pressure for a change of course in Iraq, the White House hopes to keep in place its existing military strategy and troop levels there after the mid-September report from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, administration officials said.....

One senior White House official expressed the prevailing mood, saying he does not expect a "wholesale change in plans" next month.....

Another senior official... said he expects the U.S. presence to return to pre-buildup levels of 15 combat brigades and about 130,000 troops a year from now, down from about 160,000. "We all know where we want to get to," this official said. "We all know that there will be a long-term robust troop presence that will outlast this president."

That's the strategy. To leave a "presence that will outlast this president" regardless of the circumstances.

(Oh, and since the White House is writing Petraeus' report, what recommendations do you think it will shade?)

The apparatus is being set up

The Pentagon is putting together a "war room" to distribute information out of Baghdad.

Despite their denials, the real purpose appears to be to provide fact ready talking points to administration spokespeople.
Defense officials familiar with the plan said it will provide information to other federal agencies, including the White House and State Department, so that officials can speak more consistently and accurately about the war.

No, says the Pentagon. It's not a propaganda tool. We just decided to set it up now. (Because no one ever wanted information out of Baghdad before, apparently.)

(And notice that their customers are not Congress or the press.)

Picture of the Day - 3

Every once in awhile, I find myself thinking back to the much hyped release of The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq in November 2005.

(All of these sets are from late 2005 when signage was the currency for maintaining war support.)

Picture of the Day - 2

Workers of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society prepare to bury 25 unidentified and unclaimed bodies of victims of violence from the central morgue in Baqouba, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007. (AP Photo)

Peter Pace to recommend cutting US force in Iraq in half

Now we know why the White House didn't want a "bruising" Pace reconfirmation hearing. It would be "bruising" for them.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war.

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military....

According to administration and military officials, the Joint Chiefs believe it is of crucial strategic importance to reduce the size of the U.S. force in Iraq in order to bolster the military's ability to respond to other threats, a view that is shared by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Pace is expected to offer his advice privately instead of issuing a formal report.

When the yes man (politely referred to in this article as "a consensus builder who is loath to confront civilian leaders on war strategy") comes out against "the surge," the game is over.

(Question: Who leaked this? My first thought was Pace or someone else at the Joint Chiefs, but let's not leave out the possibility that this was an immunizing leak from the White House.

If Pace was planning to drop this on the front page of the NYTimes the day before the Petraeus' testimony, somebody at the White House might have figured an early Friday in the LATimes might be better. This allows time for all the followup articles to be done Saturday.

Just asking.)

Picture of the Day

Joanne Butler, the widow of retired Air Force Col. Michael W. Butler, 53, from Rembert, S.C., who was killed by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq while working as a private contractor, grieves at Arlington National Cemetery, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Why Bush went to Vietnam (in his speech. not for real, of course.)

The reason the White House suddenly shifted to comparing Iraq to Vietnam is well revealed in this AP article, "Iraq report may bolster surge policy."

Among all the disasters and bleak outlook in the NIE, the only element that can possibly be extracted to support current policy is "A change of mission ... would place security improvements at risk."

The White House knew the NIE was going to be declassified and knew the contents. The White House is actually writing the "Petraeus" and "Crocker" reports. They went to this Vietnam analogy of disaster on leaving because it is the only semi-externally supported defense continue their policy.


(NYTimes) The number of "internally displaced," Iraqis fleeing their homes, "has more than doubled, to 1.1 million from 499,000" since the US troop buildup began. (There's a sharply ramping graph.)

(AFP) US generals continue to warn of a "Tet" like offensive. This one is unique though because he cites Sept. 11 as the likely cause. (Have the Iraqis ever done anything on Sept. 11? No, because they still have nothing to do with it.)

(McClatchy) Local Kurdish officials claim, "Iranian soldiers crossed into Iraq on Thursday and attacked several small villages in the northeastern Kurdish region." (No Iranian statement in the article?)

(Guardian) The British are close to leaving their last base in Basra, and the BBC has some pretty shocking comments from British soldiers.

(Reuters) Allawi formally withdrew his three members from the Iraqi cabinet. (Did Haley Barbour get paid?)

(WaPo) The "third leg" of the Nov. 2005 Iraq plan has failed miserably. The plan for the US military to take over and run factories has been hampered by a lack of security and electricity. (I like how they try to blame US companies for not buying Iraqi.)

And, if you haven't seen it elsewhere, Josh Marshall,
By that I do not mean we, as America, are bigger or better than Iraq as a country. I mean that that sum of our national existence is not bound up in what happens there. The country will go on. Whatever happens, we'll recover from it. .....

Not so for the president. For him, this is it. He's not bigger than this. His entire legacy as president is bound up in Iraq. Which is another way of saying that his legacy is pretty clearly an irrecoverable shambles. That is why, as the folly of the enterprise becomes more clear, he must continually puff it up into more and more melodramatic and world-historical dimensions. A century long ideological struggle and the like. For the president a one in a thousand shot at some better outcome is well worth it, no matter what the cost. Because at least that's a one in a thousand shot at not ending his presidency with the crushing verdict history now has in store.....

And when you boil all this down what it comes down to is that the president now has very different interests than the country he purports to lead.

There's an Iran NIE coming, too

There's a second NIE focusing on Iran that could be coincidentally timed to come out in the next few weeks, and someone's leaking the early findings.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just what is Giuliani's claim on terror?

Time Magazine has a big, if unresolving, piece that actually asks questions about Giuliani and his claims of expertise on terrorism. It doesn't answer a damn one of the questions, but it is the beginning of the mainstream process challenging Giuliani's claims.

This will be brought up periodically throughout the campaign. The question is whether any of it will ever catch fire.

Here's what the NIE says

Here's what the NIE says: We're in an unwinnable quagmire.

Anyone surprised?

(Key Judgments, AP, Reuters, NYTimes, WaPo.)

Picture of the Day - 2

Behold, the 30% Bush supporter. White, male, median - some college, hasn't travelled abroad in the last ten years.

Audience members take photos of President George W. Bush, as he delivers his remarks Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Kansas City, Mo. (White House photo)

Is the Iraq/Vietnam comparison post Rove?

One thing I haven't seen discussed is the genesis of the new Iraq as Korea/Vietnam marketing strategy. I'm assuming this is the new post-Rove team led by Ed Gillespie wanting to make changes.

(No coincidence that Bush gave his big "redefining" speech the day before the NIE hit the streets.)

Allawi gets US lobbyists

It's rather significant that Ayad Allawi has hired big time Republican lobbyists (Haley) Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers in his effort to try to reclaim leadership of Iraq. Robert Blackwill, former White House envoy in Iraq from 2004 is involved in the deal.

My observation is this: Within the violent cauldron of Iraqi militias and politics, Allawi sees his best opportunity for power, not by influencing Iraqis, but by targeting Washington politicians.

Allawi is a man without an Iraqi constituency which is exactly how we got Maliki and the stagnation that now permeates Iraqi politics. Allawi has no chance without a US installation.

(By the way, I wouldn't hire BGR. I would seek out the guys who promoted Chalabi. They did a hell of a job. They generated an entire war and nearly installed Chalabi as president.)

Later: CNN headlines, "Major Republican firm lobbying to undermine Maliki."

Picture of the Day

"Regular people give me gas...."

"How much longer til I get to go back to my "nonntraditional" campaign away from voters? Those chairs at FoxNews are nice."

(Fred Thompson smiles during a break in a live radio broadcast at the Iowa State Fair Friday, Aug. 17, 2007, in Des Moines. (AP/M. Spencer Green))

(A question for the captioner: That's a smile?)


(CNN) Two suicide vehicle bombers struck a U.S.-Iraqi military outpost in Taji on Wednesday night, the U.S. military said in a statement. The attack killed four Iraqi soldiers, the military said, and wounded 11 U.S. soldiers and four Iraqi soldiers.

(Reuters) Al Qaeda fighters kidnapped 15 Iraqi women and children after rival Sunni Arab militants repelled their attack on two villages in a fierce battle on Thursday in which 32 people were killed.

(AP) The (redacted, executive summary of the) Iraq NIE is due to be released today.

And, Juan Cole talks about new rumors of a military coup in Baghdad. In this version, the country would be ruled by a six member military commission with all political parties banned from the government for two years. The government would be run by expat "technocrats." (In other words, we're back to a different version of Chalabi.)

"It is said that the Americans are supporting this behind the scenes."

Treat it as a rumor.

DNI McConnell allows local reporter to blow the lid off of warrantless wiretapping?

Okay, we knew that Dick Cheney had declared the right to unilaterally declassify, but did DNI Mike McConnell just pass the declassification torch to a local reporter at the El Paso Times?

After an interview in which McConnell revealed several previously classified details regarding the warrantless wiretapping program, MSNBC reports,
At the end of the interview, McConnell cautioned reporter Chris Roberts that he should consider whether enemies of the U.S. could gain from the information he just shared in the interview, Roberts said. McConnell left it to the paper to decide what to publish.

This is in the same interview that McConnell said, "Part of this is a classified world. The fact that we're doing it this way (publicly discussing it) means that some Americans are going to die."

So he left it to the El Paso Times reporter to decide which of these previously classified details to publish? Did they serve drinks at the conference?

(PS. In this interview McConnell more or less confirmed the claims in the lawsuits against the carriers, one of which is the existence of the "NSA closets" in AT&T switching offices which were allegedly used to conduct vast datamining on citizens email and phone content.)

Unprecedented fundraising

We're a long way out from the '08 elections, and there are alot of Republican deep pockets as yet untapped, but I really am amazed by the broad differences in the Democratic and Republican fundraising totals even down into the Congressional races.

Congressional elections in Presidential years are always a little weirder because of "coattails," but just as a read of sentiment, these fundraising gaps are significant.

I'm really wondering how it's going to play out into next summer. Do a small number of wealthy Republicans try to level the field by massively funding a few 527's? If there is no "moral values" candidate, do the Scaife's, etc, sit this one out?

Or is the whole thing just a "business expense," with funding flowing to the likely winner?

(Also, I'd be really curious how many current Dem funders have donated to Republicans in the past. Does this represent a shift from party to party or just a change of response rate within the traditional donors?)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Remember when we were told that electricity meant success?

Remember when we were told not too long ago that only Baghdad was suffering severe electrical problems, and that outside Baghdad some areas were enjoying 24 hour electricity?

This was touted as a success, and that, if we just waited through the surge, electricity would flow into Baghdad like the success in the countryside.

Well, read this closely. The Electricity Minister, Karim Wahid, blew the top off of a press conference today that was supposed to tout the reconstruction successes.
The government lost the ability to control the grid centrally after the American-led invasion in 2003, when looters destroyed electrical dispatch centers, the minister, Karim Wahid, said in a briefing with United States military officials.

The briefing had been intended, in part, to highlight successes in the American-financed reconstruction program here.

But it took an unexpected turn when Mr. Wahid, a highly respected technocrat and longtime ministry official, began taking questions from Arab and Western journalists.

Because of the lack of functioning dispatch centers, Mr. Wahid said, ministry officials have been trying to control the flow of electricity from huge power plants in the south, north and west by calling local officials there and ordering them to physically flip switches.

But the officials refuse to follow those orders when the armed groups threaten their lives, he said, and the often isolated stations are abandoned at night and easily manipulated by whatever group controls the area.

This kind of manipulation can cause the entire system to collapse and bring nationwide blackouts, sometimes seriously damaging the generating plants that the United States has paid millions of dollars to repair....

In some cases, Mr. Wahid and other Iraqi officials say, insurgents cut power to the capital as part of their effort to topple the government.

But the officials said it was clear that in other cases, local militias, gangs and even some provincial military and civilian officials held on to the power simply to help their own areas.

With the manual switching system in place, there is little that the central government can do about it, Mr. Wahid said.

In Basra, they're even coordinating blackouts to coincide with attacks.
“They were really controlling the whole area, turning the lights on and off at will. They would shut down one area of the city, turn it dark, attack us from there, and then switch off another one and come at us from that direction.

“What they did was very well planned.”

(Just to fill in the background, Mr. Wahid was listed as "UIC (Shia coalition), Sadr trend" when the government was formed.)

Now Hillary Clinton says the Iraqis should throw Maliki out

This is some interesting politics the Dems are playing. They are forcing President Bush to repeatedly endorse Maliki before the disaster that will be the (White House written) Iraq political report.

Bush really has no choice here because of the larger situation in Iraq, but these pro-Maliki statements will be dragged back up to bite him.

Picture of the Day - 3

A U.S. doctor cleans the wounds of a U.S. soldier in the emergency room of 28th Combat Support hospital in Baghdad August 21, 2007. (REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

An historically bad decision.

After listening to NPR do a piece with historians trying to reach a historical parallel for Iraq (none claimed a close parallel,) I got to really thinking about this, and realized there really is no good modern parallel for the catastrophe that is the US in Iraq.

Why? Because no other leader or country was foolish enough to invade a country creating this multisided, anti-US, regionally powered civil/guerilla/insurgent war. It's really unprecedented.

Although a fair number of countries have walked into the death by a thousand cuts of a unified nationalist or religious guerilla insurgency, no other country has intentionally cast itself into a multisided conflict and tried to fight all sides at once.

There really is no parallel.

As if Bush didn't have enough enemies.

Yesterday there was the news that a new pro-war astroturf media campaign called "Freedom Watch" was spending $15 million on television advertising promoting the president's "stand and bleed" Iraq policy.

Today, we get a breakdown (chart near bottom) of where they're spending their first $5.8 million, and (per Moveon's analysis) alot of the targets appear to be, in part, standing Republican Congressmembers.

(One note. Don't take the Moveon analysis of the "targets" as exact. Running ads in Philadelphia reaches far more than the politicians listed here, and in some cases, they list the House member without the Senator and vice versa.)

But, still, (from CNN) Freedom Watch's intent is fairly clear.
Freedom's Watch's web site also encourages grassroots action, calling on supporters to lobby their members of Congress to support the war in Iraq and "to protect America against the global war on terror."

Do you think they're really expecting grassroots pro-war action to influence the Dem representatives in all these ad markets?

So, what we have is a mysteriously funded astroturf group, being run by a Bush crony, running ads that in effect are targeting sitting Republican Senators and Congressmen.


Later: A little more from Politico, "The big ad buy, funded by high-profile Republicans who were aides and supporters of President Bush..." (They have a list of some of the donors.)

The claim is that this group intends to exist as a longterm entity. Looks like Ari Fleischer has figured out how to feather his nest.

Later Still: Squamus mentions in the comments that if you call their 800 number, they'll connect you to you Congressman if you agree with their position. If not, it's "Have a nice day."

Picture of the Day

I'm sure other blogs will do a far better job pointing out the historical inaccuracies of Bush comparing the Iraq war to Vietnam, but I'm left with two very basic questions.

1) Isn't Bush admitting that he led us into another Vietnam?

2) Isn't he saying that he would have stayed in Vietnam into the 80's (or 90's) regardless of the cost of another 100,000, 200,000, or even 500,000 US lives?

(President Bush waves as he steps off Air Force One in Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007. The President will overnight in Kansas City and speak to the VFW convention Wednesday morning before traveling on to Crawford, Texas. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner))

Later: Too funny. CNN cut away from the "major" speech. If you ever wanted to see a president in decline....

Did Ryan Crocker just say the President is full of crap?

Buried beneath all the anti-Maliki headlines, Ryan Crocker said something significant yesterday,
Crocker acknowledged Tuesday that the decision by some Sunni tribes in Anbar to align themselves with the United States against al Qaida in Iraq wasn't a sign of reconciliation between Iraq's Sunni minority and the Shiite-led government.

"It is probably an essential prerequisite for reconciliation," he said. "But it isn't reconciliation."

Beyond reinforcing what I've been saying for weeks, this is a rather substantial statement which contradicts the administration's (and President's) recent claims that the intraSunni changes in Anbar represent "bottom up reconciliation."

(As I've said before, the only "reconciliation" in Anbar is between the Sunnis and the US. The main Sunni motivation is to stop US attacks and receive arms and training so that they will be better prepared against the Shia when the US surge ends.)

Related: Residents in Ghazaliya held a public demonstration against the "Ghazaliya Guardians," a US armed Sunni group that is engaging in cleansing of that neighborhood.

The Maliki response to US criticism?

Looking at the AP version of Maliki's response to Levin and Bush's criticism of his government, two interesting coded bits jumped out at me.

"Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria." (Within the context, this is Maliki making a coded reference to US supporters of Israel and attributing Levin's anti-Maliki comments to the fact that he's Jewish.)

"We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere," Maliki said. (Obviously a veiled threat of a turn towards Iran.)

(In some ways, all of this does play to Maliki's advantage by giving him "independence" at this critical moment of the "crisis talks," but I don't think it's part of some complex plan. I really believe that the Bush administration is giving Maliki a soft ultimatum. Give us political progress by Sept. 15 or else.)

Also yesterday, Ryan Crocker reinforced the new message.
"The progress on the national level issues has been extremely disappointing and frustrating to all concerned— to us, to Iraqis, to the Iraqi leadership itself," Crocker said.

"We do expect results, as do the Iraqi people, and our support is not a blank check."

The article is titled, "U.S. ambassador rates Iraq progress as poor."

14 US soldiers die in a helicopter crash

(AP) 10 soldiers and 4 crew died today when a Blackhawk went down during operations in Task Force Lightning. (North of Baghdad.)

(NYTimes) The death toll for the bombing of the Yazidis last week has reached "more than 500 dead and 1,500 wounded."

Picture of the Day

(Spc. Tyson Johnson, 22, wounded in a mortar attack on Abu Ghraib prison. (Photo: Nina Berman))

Take a moment to look at this picture gallery. It's only 10 photos and it's some amazing work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The domestic politics of Iraq

The papers are filled with prepress for another "major" Bush speech on Iraq tomorrow in front of the VFW convention.
President Bush plans to argue today that a hasty "retreat" from Iraq would lead to the kinds of bloodbaths that followed U.S. withdrawals from Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s.

In a speech he is to deliver here at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, Bush will also say that the recent increase of U.S. troops is producing military progress in the war-racked country.

"Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they are gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq?" Bush says in prepared remarks released by the White House late Tuesday.

But what I think is actually more interesting than Bush is telling us he would have stayed in Vietnam regardless of the casualties, is the fact that this administration push will be backed by an astroturf "private" advertising campaign led by none other than Bush friend and loyalist, Ari Fleischer.

Freedom's Watch, a conservative group, plans to launch a $15 million advertising campaign in 20 states today. The group's spokesman, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, says the goal is to tell people that the buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq is working.

"We want to get the message to both Democrats and Republicans: Don't cut and run, fully fund the troops, and victory is the only objective," Fleischer says.

I'd love to know where that $15 million is coming from.

(The only thing I can gather from all this is that the administration has been hearing back early from the Congressional Republicans who have been getting pounded during this August recess.

I imagine the message is, "I can't stand out in front and defend your position, but I will vote with you if you can generate the support.")

Picture of the Day - 2

So, I guess the question is, if the Bush administration steps back from supporting Maliki, what's his next move? Does he turn to Iran to try and survive?

(Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks to reporters after meeting with Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara in Damascus. (AFP/Louai Beshara))

Normalizing the conversation about attacking Iran

Far more than the actual rhetoric from the administration regarding attacking Iran, I'm watching the tone of the coverage.

I don't know if anyone's noticed lately, but the conversation has subtly shifted into a different framing. The question has shifted from "Should the US attack Iran?" to "Will the US attack Iran?"

The latter presumes that all criteria of justification and forethought have already been met. Once the conversation is on that ground, it's a very different debate.

Bush backs away from Maliki

It's all coming down.
"The fundamental question is, will the government respond to the demands of the people," the president said. "And if the government doesn't ... respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government. That's up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians."

This is in response to Levin's comments yesterday that the Iraqis should replace Maliki, but, again, what a climbdown from this administration's previous endorsements of Maliki.

Picture of the Day

Five year-old Abby O'Brien waits for Republican presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to arrive for a campaign stop in Derry, New Hampshire August 16, 2007. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

(I don't know why this one spoke to me, but, boy, did it.)

Really? Limiting child healthcare?

The White House really wants its only domestic agenda item this whole year to be limiting healthcare to children of families making $21,000 a year?

Of all the problems we face, the biggest worry is that poor kids are getting too much healthcare? That's the priority? That's the line in the sand?

I'm not sure on Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan

I'm not an expert on Al Qaeda figure Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan who was just "released" by Pakistan, but my memory falls back to the circumstances of his arrest.

It was right after the terror warnings on financial institutions before the 2004 Democratic convention, and the Bush administration leaked his name to the NYTimes on background to defend their seemingly political use of terror. If you'll remember, this was the leaked name that controversially forced the Pakistanis and British to arrest a bunch of people before they were ready.

But the reason I'm even mentioning Khan is the still open case as to how much information he was providing when he was burned for political reasons. (CNN from 2004)
The effort by U.S. officials to justify raising the terror alert level last week may have shut down an important source of information that has already led to a series of al Qaeda arrests, Pakistani intelligence sources have said.

Until U.S. officials leaked the arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan to reporters, Pakistan had been using him in a sting operation to track down al Qaeda operatives around the world, the sources said.

I don't really know what I'm getting at here, but I'm amazed that this part of the history is being left out of the stories on his release.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Calling for the overthrow of Maliki?

I saw the excerpts of Sen. Levin criticizing the Iraq strategy and troop surge, but did he really call on the Iraqi assembly to throw Maliki out as reported in this AP story?
In a joint statement Monday, Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that while the military buildup has "produced some credible and positive results," the political outlook is darker. The senators said that during their visit to Iraq last week they told Iraqi leaders of American impatience with the lack of political progress, and "impressed upon them that time has run out in that regard."

In a separate telephone interview with reporters, Levin urged the Iraqi assembly to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and replace his government with one that is less sectarian and more unifying.....

In response to Levin's remarks about dumping al-Maliki, Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, noted that Iraqi leaders have been holding talks in recent days on ways to move toward a unified government.

Maybe the notable thing in this is that the White House's first response wasn't to jump to attack, but instead to say, "we're working on something different to change the government."

Is there a much clearer declaration that the age of Maliki is over?

(Later: The NYTimes and WaPo have more.)

More: BostonGlobe has a bit about US efforts to prop up Maliki.
That has led some analysts to question the diplomatic efforts of Crocker and O'Sullivan.

"Meghan O'Sullivan has been there doing negotiations for several days, and all they can come up with is this tiny group" of parties to back Maliki, said Reidar Visser, a historian who edits the Iraq-focused website historiae.org.

Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department official who followed internal discussion about Maliki, said that Iraqi politicians appear to preparing for a "post-Maliki future," anticipating his downfall.

As I've been saying for months, the Iraqis themselves gave up on Maliki months ago and have been preparing for a post-Maliki Iraq. US efforts to prop him up have wasted what little US influence was left.

Picture of the Day - 3

World War II veteran Frank Brown, from Sun Prairie, Wisc., listens as Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention Monday, Aug. 20, 2007 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Musharraf loses the tribal regions

From the "In case anyone cares anymore" category, the second major peace deal in Pakistan's tribal regions has collapsed.
For the second time in two months, a truce designed to curb militancy in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan was declared void this weekend by Taliban fighters.

The apparent collapse of the deal in the restive South Waziristan area followed the scrapping of a similar deal in neighboring North Waziristan in July, and comes as there are escalating tensions in both areas. On Sunday, the Pakistani military reported killing 15 insurgent fighters near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan.

Look, I'm more than willing to accept the argument that these peace deals were next to nothing, but, with the Pakistani military unable to substantially enter these regions and a commitment from the Bush administration not to enter these regions, we now have actually nothing.

The betting window is open

Anybody want to take bets on "significant" terror warnings between now and the GAO's Sept. 1 Iraq report?

How about between now and the Sept. 15 Petraeus appearance?

Later: You've got to be kidding me, Petraeus is now scheduled to make his testimony on Sept. 11, so we're going to cut from Petraeus' testimony to the remembrance events in New York.

Picture of the Day - 2

Senator Barack Obama with his daughter, Sasha at the Iowa State Fair. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"There will be an attack on Iran"

With the sourcing anonymous, there's no way to judge this statement, but when you read this in relation to the recent decision to designate the IRGC as a terror group, you gotta take notice.
An Administration official told me it's not even a consideration. "IRGC IED's are a casus belli for this administration. There will be an attack on Iran."

But who is the enemy?

But I think the question is, who is "the enemy?"

The Maliki government has never said word one about stopping Iranian influence or weapons, and now they're inviting Ahmadinejad in for a state visit.

In the "those that harbor terrorists" formulation, doesn't that make the Iraqi government an enemy as well?


(AP, AFP, BBC, Reuters) The SIIC governor in Muthanna province has been killed by a motorcycle bomb. This is a huge deal within the Mahdi/SIIC intraShia war coming about a week after the SIIC/Badr governor of Diwaniyah was killed about two weeks ago.

To me, the question in these bombings is whether they are discreetly targeted to remove these two leaders or whether they are intended (as "terrorist acts") to draw the SIIC into an open direct conflict with the Mahdi. My guess is the latter.

(BBC) British General hints at Iraq pullout.

(WaPo) Maj. Gen. Lynch, in charge of US operations just south of Baghdad, says the Iranians are running militia training camps there, although, "Lynch said that no Iranians have been captured in his area of command and that U.S. troops have never found any illegal weapons in two months of patrolling 125 miles of the Iran-Iraq border." (But print it as fact anyway, WaPo.)

(McClatchy) Military spokeswoman Maj. Alayne Conway on the Iranian weapons in Iraq, "Just because we're not finding them doesn't mean they're not there."

(Reuters) Meanwhile Ahmadinejad is being invited into Iraq to meet with the Shia government.

(Independent) "Lebanon's Hizbollah has trained Shia fighters from Iraq in advanced guerrilla warfare tactics, according to Mehdi army militants...."

(BostonGlobe) The Army is cutting short training to get soldiers into Iraq.

(Guardian) The Iranians are shelling Iraqi Kurdish villages.

(VOI) The Kurds claim to have brought down an Iranian helicopter inside Iraq.

And, it's a sad day for Iraq watchers. Iraqslogger has decided to turn itself into a pay site on Sept. 1. From their point of view, I understand, but I gotta say, less available information will not help.

The US has no combat troops ready to go

You would think that someone might mention the fact that there no US troops available not already committed to Iraq, and that might represent some sort of, you know, huge national security risk.

Picture of the Day

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt takes a bite of an ear of Colorado corn during a tour of a Homeland grocery store in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007. Leavitt is leading a team assembled by President Bush last month that is examining import safety issues. (AP Photo)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

He read it in a book

I found this WaPo frontpager on the collapse of the "freedom agenda" fascinating.

I think the description of the genesis of this policy says a whole lot about how this administration works. George Bush read a book by neocon idol Nathan Sharansky, and decided unilaterally that he alone would free the world.

No discussion with the policy makers or implementers. Bush just read a book and decided he was the Jesus.

Now, the Bush people try to spin the failure of "the freedom agenda" as a problem of bureaucratic inertia, that there were those in the government who just didn't buy into the idea, but really, isn't the problem a president who decides to throw out most of the foreign policy conducted since the second world war more or less on a week long personal whim?

This hits on an underlying flaw in this administration that has created so much wreckage: The concept that ideas are stronger than reality. How many times has this administration set off on a course before any real consideration of the reality the policy will be operating in? No plan survives contact with the enemy? That's bull. Good plans do.

It speaks to a vast egotism of infallibility.

(Oh, and no mention in the article that Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others get a free pass on "freedom"?)

Picture of the Day - 2

Visual metaphor.

Republican presidential hopeful, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson R-Tenn., holds a baby pig at the Iowa State Fair Friday, Aug. 17, 2007, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)


(NYTimes) Six infantrymen blast holes in the claims of progress in Iraq on the NYTimes Sunday editorial page. (Now it's time to watch the war supporters try to attack soldiers who are finishing their deployments.)

(Telegraph) A "must read" about the tensions between the US command and the British commanders in Basra.
"It's insufferable for Christ's sake," said one senior figure closely involved in US military planning. "He comes on and he lectures everybody in the room about how to do a counter-insurgency. The guys were just rolling their eyeballs.....

A senior US officer familiar with Gen Petraeus's thinking said: "The short version is that the Brits have lost Basra, if indeed they ever had it. Britain is in a difficult spot because of the lack of political support at home, but for a long time - more than a year - they have not been engaged in Basra and have tried to avoid casualties.

(Independent) "Senior military commanders have told the Government that Britain can achieve "nothing more" in south-east Iraq, and that the 5,500 British troops still deployed there should move towards withdrawal without further delay."

(WaPo) Iraq's "crisis talks" between the factional leaders have yielded "scant results."

The NYTimes looks at Maliki's failures and other possible governments.

(AP) Sunni parliamentarian Hashemi during his visit to Sunni prisoners, many of whom he admits are innocent, "Those who are outside are not much better off than you. It is true that you are in prison, but at least you live in safety here, believe me you are more secure than those outside," he added.

(AP) A story on the increasing Mahdi influence in Hurriyah. ("The U.S. Army still runs regular patrols.... And Iraqi police, on the streets, are nominally in charge. But underneath the calm, an armed group hostile to the United States holds a firm grip on power.")

And, don't miss President Bush trying to talk his way away from "the benchmarks" in the Saturday Radio Address. It's the first wave in the September report prespin.

Picture of the Day

Soldiers participate in a parade to mark Afghanistan's independence from British rule in 1919 in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)