Saturday, March 13, 2010

A rant upon so brief a presidency

If Obama passes this health care bill, that he began serious involvement in after a year of debate, he'll be a moderately insignificant two term president, maybe. At best...

If it fails, we'll elect a Martian, or a Panther, or Ray Lewis. Or a former governor of Alaska -- worst case.

But, this has been a presidency without thought. It has been based solely on the appearance of thought. On sounding intelligent, but generating nothing interesting. -- Like a blog!!

Goodwin wrote a book on Seward and the like, the ilk, and Obama stumbled toward a Clinton, and her husband's entire ill-fated economic team. A "team of rivals", cobbled from the old administration. Odd. Then they carried on with Dubya's economic banditry, only with closer ties to the incompetent stage coach thieves.

Very Odd.

Restored: all the old players, like a crooked banker in Monopoly. And then the posse belatedly ran at the -- of all things -- health care insurance companies... after he lost the argument. The drug companies and the medical supply companies far, far, far outstrip the insurance companies in profits and profit margins. But, in a sort of late in the game "yeah whatever" he goes for the financial health care sector (insurance) when he had their banking compatriots by the throat a year ago. The real profiteering, pirate, villains were there. He let them pass. Now he's going for the mediocre profit-margin insurance companies of health care. AIG collapsed. Harvard Pilgrim is OK. But, here he is... Torch and pitch fork in hand.

So these are the villains, which they are not. The greater evils will chuckle along and this will... probably... fail.

So the dream dies, in the first year. In the first year. An epic immolation. And this failed presidency shall be worthless. For quite some time. He got behind his own 8 Ball. At best, he will be known for continuing the decent ideas of Robert Gates. A placeholder in history, and capable of so much more.

It's a shame. So much ambition, it seemed, was so much fluff. Marc Antony pined for his dead chief, and said that his generosity showed that ambition should have been more tough. This time, we should wish for a sterner corpse more worthy of the fuss.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The 18th Brumaire of Barack Obama

[EC's note: I'll return to this blog infrequently. The amount of time I have (short term) to blog is adequate. By April or May, my posts will be very infrequent -- if at all.

My return is brought on by the occasional comments still received for this blog, and the present state of affairs within the Democratic party, the country as a whole, and our foreign policies.]


It was the place of origin of one candidate, then it was a campaign slogan for another.

The first "Man from Hope" oversaw the deregulation of Wall Street and fantastic asset bubbles pushed onto the country by unintelligent financiers, "philosopher" bureaucrats, and political expediency. (For more on just how arrogant and short-sighted Bill Clinton's financial team was, watch Frontline's "The Warning".) The second "Man of Hope" won a crushing electoral victory during the Great Recession. He formed a "team of rivals" (Read: the previous hope-based administration) and was photo-shopped as a sort of New FDR.

Barack Obama, contrary to what some people may say, is not a socialist. Even accepting the fast and loose political lexicon of our day, he does not remotely resemble a "socialist". The interconnections between Obama's administration and the Wall Street divines are staggering. Rolling Stone has gone so far as to say he sold out. Juxtapose the near transcendental photograph of the magazine (above) with the scathing article published approximately one year later, "Obama's Big Sell Out":

So on November 23rd, 2008, a deal is announced in which the government will bail out Rubin's messes at Citigroup with a massive buffet of taxpayer-funded cash and guarantees. It is a terrible deal for the government, almost universally panned by all serious economists, an outrage to anyone who pays taxes. Under the deal, the bank gets $20 billion in cash, on top of the $25 billion it had already received just weeks before as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But that's just the appetizer. The government also agrees to charge taxpayers for up to $277 billion in losses on troubled Citi assets, many of them those toxic CDOs that Rubin had pushed Citi to invest in. No Citi executives are replaced, and few restrictions are placed on their compensation. It's the sweetheart deal of the century, putting generations of working-stiff taxpayers on the hook to pay off Bob Rubin's fuck-up-rich tenure at Citi. "If you had any doubts at all about the primacy of Wall Street over Main Street," former labor secretary Robert Reich declares when the bailout is announced, "your doubts should be laid to rest."

It is bad enough that one of Bob Rubin's former protégés from the Clinton years, the New York Fed chief Geithner, is intimately involved in the negotiations, which unsurprisingly leave the Federal Reserve massively exposed to future Citi losses. But the real stunner comes only hours after the bailout deal is struck, when the Obama transition team makes a cheerful announcement: Timothy Geithner is going to be Barack Obama's Treasury secretary!

Any person who views Obama as either a "socialist" or a hope-inspiring "progressive" should read this article. The facts are clear. Neither interpretation is tenable. He is, clearly, one of the great politocrats of this farcical era. Never has Daniel Webster's words rung with more truth: “The world is governed more by appearance than realities so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it."

In this age, it is necessary to seem to believe something so as to contravene those beliefs.

The major domestic push in Obama's first year as president has been in health care. Even with the nominal "super majority" in the Senate, the Democrats have lost the initiative in the debate. They seem to be afraid to lose voters that would never vote for them in the first place. To counter this revolution that hasn't, there is the "Tea Party" movement. This movement has gathered steam, dubbed itself a revolution -- a leaderless one at that -- and clothed itself in the old fashions and rhetoric of an era long passed.

Karl Marx described a farcical ere in France almost two centuries ago in the 18th Brumaire:
A whole nation, which thought it had acquired an accelerated power of motion by means of a revolution, suddenly finds itself set back into a defunct epoch, and to remove any doubt about the relapse, the old dates arise again – the old chronology, the old names, the old edicts, which had long since become a subject of antiquarian scholarship, and the old minions of the law who had seemed long dead.
Both sides of the aisle are creating revolutions almost to match the daily overturning of the News Cycle, and each whatever-term election. But, it is almost entirely confined to rhetoric. The actual change is the mere motion between two chunks of the same administrative class, under the symbolic leadership of the next marketable politocrat. And for this reason, be wary of Sarah Palin in 2012.

Each half of the administrative class has its own populist, classist "political philosophy". Each side's political philosophy is steeped in a national myth that is at best incomplete. These are persuasive stories, meant to capture loyalty and muster the people. But, they are inspired by the same level of thought that goes into successful ad campaigns for potato chips. No wonder the country is approaching ungovernable. How much does one actually expect to see from the Senate before early 2013? And, what more can we expect then but the next marketing campaign?

James Surowiecki noted recently in the New Yorker "The Populism Problem". He got it half right. To him the present political impasse results from a contradiction:
But even here populist sentiment is at odds with itself. People want the government to help provide jobs, but they also want it to cut the deficit. Of course, one can worry about rising long-term debt and still think that, right now, more deficit spending is crucial to the nascent recovery. But angry voters aren’t that nuanced in their thinking: they want the government to tighten its belt and fight unemployment at the same time. Not that they believe that the government’s efforts will do any good...
The American people are not just "mad as hell" at two aspects of the country's economic situation. The problem is that the political powers that be, on both sides of the aisle, are following the same economic/political plan -- with at best a nuanced set of small differences -- while attacking the other side of the aisle. That small set of differences unique to each party and the rhetoric used to attack the other party coincide. Republicans say that Democrats "tax and spend". Democrats accuse the Republicans of supporting the rich. Republicans cut taxes and spend. Democrats expand social programs an iota and spend. The partisan on each side finds solace in the half-measure of his or her party that justifies the interpretation that he or she wants.

And every change, no matter how insignificant or timid, is called a revolution.

George W. Bush expanded entitlement programs and created huge deficits. Barack Obama appointed a cadre from Wall Street to oversee the government's response to Wall Street's crisis.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Clash

Should I stay, or should I go

For a few days, the United States asserted that Moqtada al Sadr was in Iran, and some Sadr loyalists said this was not the case. CNN has an Iraqi official, Sami al Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Maliki, confirming the assetions of the U.S. The Guardian has an unnamed high-level (such a description makes one wonder if this is also Askari) stating that Sadr and numerous Mahdi commanders are in Iran:
"Over the last three weeks, they [Iran] have taken away from Baghdad the first and second-tier military leaders of the Mahdi army," he said. The aim of the Iranians was to "prevent the dismantling of the infrastructure of the Shia militias" in the Iraqi capital - one of the chief aims of the US-backed security drive.

"The strategy is to lie low until the storm passes, and then let them return and fill the vacuum," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Tehran authorities were "playing a waiting game" until the commanders could return to Baghdad and resume their activities. "All indications are that Moqtada is in Iran, but that is not really the point," he added.


"They [the Iranians] are calculating that the security operation will continue for a certain period of time, and that it will do serious damage to the Sunni jihadists and the insurgents," the official said. "While in Iran they will be able to get more training and then once the Sunnis have been pacified, they plan to return."
The Washington Post had two intelligence officials on background:
"I believe that he went to Iran for a strategic session" with the Revolutionary Guard "and Iran's other proxies in Iraq to determine actually how they will undermine America's plans," the official said. Another source, an intelligence official in Washington, said Sadr is believed to have been in Iran for several weeks. The source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said speculation about the timing of his reported departure on the eve of the security plan might be overblown. "There could be any number of reasons for a trip there," the source said, noting that Sadr has traveled to Iran before. "He's got contacts and family in Iran."
When news of Sadr's flight first broke on CNN, unnamed administration officials were a little too boastful about the development. The administration continues to perceive what it wishes in Iraq, not what is actually happening.

Iran's machinations in Iraq are extensive. On Jan 16, I noted that Sadr has enjoyed close support in the Shiite faction of the Iraqi government for some time. There was also a reference to a late 2007 American departure date, which has been a persistent theme from Maliki for almost a year:
Sadr, according to these reports, expects this [American withdrawal] to happen at the end of 2007. This date is worth noting, because Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's (Shiite) national security adviser, wrote over the summer in the Washington Post that Americans would be gone by 2007. Rubaie was replaced by Ayad Allawi in 2004 because Rubaie argued for a compromise with Sadr while Allawi wanted a more iron fist approach, the New York Times.
In late January, the Washington Post reported that Sadr's followers were treated to medical care in Iran:
For more than two weeks last fall, Abbas, his sister and his mother were treated to free hotels, trips to the zoo and religious shrines, and his mother's $1,300 eye surgery at a hospital in Tehran, all courtesy of the offices of Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's ascendant Shiite Muslim cleric. Abbas returned to Najaf glowing over the technical prowess of Iran.
After Sadr's battles with American forces in 2004, al Qaeda in Iraq offered Sadr a truce. He declined. Shortly thereafter, he joined the government and has been a Maliki-man, or is Maliki a Sadr-man, ever since. Or... are they Iran's men?

Interesting how that works.

Tehran Calling

George W. Bush insists that the Quds Force, of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, is responsible for coalition deaths with sophisticated improvised explosive devices. However, he agreed with General Pace that there is no way to be certain how much control the Iranian government, at the highest levels, has had in these attacks.

The Los Angeles Times provides two anecdotes on the Quds Force. One shows them as the government's elite shock troops, the other as a band of sometimes problematic renegades:
Most notable, Pollack said, were the 1992 killings of an Iranian Kurdish separatist leader and three associates in Berlin by four gunmen led by an Iranian agent. In 1997, a German court found that the slayings had been ordered by a government committee in Tehran that included Khamenei and then-President Hashemi Rafsanjani.


In 1998, for example, thousands of Guard troops gathered on the border with Afghanistan in what appeared to be a move against the Taliban regime. There was suspicion that the Revolutionary Guard was working independently. The government later sent conventional forces to "keep a watch" on the Guard, Pollack said.
It now appears that the unnamed intelligence officials surpassed their mandate on Sunday, with a strong inference linking these devices to the Iranian government. Press coverage has portrayed President Bush as "walking back" from that assessment. The Los Angeles Times may explain how this inference came to be:
Rather, Army Maj. Marty Weber said, the weapons were similar to those that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia used against Israeli forces during Israel's late-1990s occupation of southern Lebanon.

The link to Iran was based on "historical knowledge of these types of weapons, having first seen their use by an Iranian surrogate terrorist group in 1998," Weber said.

The Iranian government has denied that it is sending weapons to Iran to kill U.S. troops or seeking to stir up trouble in Iraq, which is run by longtime Shiite and Kurdish allies.

Asked what assurances he could give about the accuracy of the intelligence on the Iranian explosives, Bush said: "We know they're there. We know they're provided by the Quds Force. We know the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. I don't think we know who picked up the phone and said to the Quds Force, 'Go do this,' but we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government."
The reference to Hezbollah type munitions is interesting. In late November a senior American intelligence official told the New York Times:
The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said.

Iran has facilitated the link between Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, the official said. Syrian officials have also cooperated, though there is debate about whether it has the blessing of the senior leaders in Syria.
Plausible deniability?

As predicted by none other than John Bolton, the Bush administration may have some trouble with the new North Korea nuclear deal. The Los Angeles Times:
TEHRAN — Iran is quietly accelerating efforts to negotiate a deal on its nuclear program, using this week's agreement to freeze North Korea's program as a model.

In the North Korea pact, the Bush administration signed a deal that provides significant incentives to Pyongyang even before the country completely steps back from its nuclear weapons program. The administration's willingness to agree to that probably will harden Iran's demands that it too should get tangible benefits as part of any agreement, analysts in Iran say.

Those rewards could include guarantees for the security of Iran's government, an end to economic sanctions and the right to continue developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

At the same time, some hard-liners in Iran appear to want to use North Korea's example as an opportunity to toughen Tehran's demands in the expectation that the United States eventually will be obligated to meet them.
Iran has their own Sunni terrorist problem, in the south east near Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Independent details Iran's trouble to the east:
A Sunni group calling itself the "soldiers of God", with alleged links to al-Qa'ida, has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a military bus in which at least 11 people were killed in a lawless region of Iran close to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The explosion yesterday spurred fears of ethnic and sectarian conflict in the mostly Shia Muslim country. Five men carried out the attack, using a car bomb that was detonated as the bus drove past. One was killed while the others escaped on motorbikes. Reports from the provincial capital, Zahedan, where the attack took place, said five men had been arrested.


The group, known by its Persian name Jundollah, shot dead 12 people last May on the Kerman to Bam highway in south-east Iran. Earlier, the group issued a video showing the execution of an Iranian officer. Other kidnapped soldiers have been beheaded.


Its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, is a Baluchi, an ethnic group from the south-eastern corner of Iran.


Official figures put Iran's Sunni population at 9 per cent but some independent demographers say it is higher. Sunnis, including Kurds from the west, Turkomans from the north and Baluchis, find it difficult to reach high positions in the Islamic republic, where authority rests with Shia clerics.

Sporadic episodes of unrest in Arab and Kurdish areas to the west over the past three years have been rapidly quelled by the authorities, who fear they are being fuelled by British and US forces in the Middle East. Rights groups have protested against the execution of Arabs held to be responsible for a series of explosions in the south-west last year.

The arid plains and low mountain ranges of Sistan-Baluchistan make up a largely lawless region where bandits and drug smugglers fight pitched battles with Iranian soldiers. Porous borders and tribal ties often allow them to escape into Afghanistan or Pakistan.

In the neighbouring Pakistani province of Balochistan, secessionists have been carrying out attacks. Police have been killed and gas pipelines blown up. A US under-secretary of state, Nicholas Burns, said last month that the Afghan Taliban movement had set up training camps in the Pakistani province.

Since the 1979 revolution, more than 3,300 Iranian soldiers have been killed fighting heroin smugglers, who use Iran as a main route between Afghan poppy fields and Europe. The trade has fuelled a heroin epidemic in Iran, with the number of injecting users said to be more than 200,000.
Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan seem capable of securing those border regions at this point.

Fourteen rockets posed quite a problem for a much needed reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. The rocket fire from Taliban insurgents lead USAid contractors to skedattle. The Times of London:
Royal Marine officers, whose men have been fighting the Taleban for weeks to push them back from the area of the dam, were clearly disappointed that the contractors were pulled out so hastily.

“Those rockets have a range of more than eight kilometres,” a commander said. “So if we clear the Taleban to that distance and next they use a heavy artillery piece, what then?”

USAid stipulated that a security zone with a radius of six kilometres (four miles) around the dam was cleared by the Marines before it brought in 50 Chinese engineers to the site in the first of a three-phase reconstruction plan. The Chinese are due to install a third turbine, a task that seems beset by difficulties. A team of security guards from USPI, the American company employed to protect the Chinese, was ambushed last week as it checked the turbine’s intended route towards Kajaki, suffering two casualties. USAid officials said last month they were confident that the Chinese would arrive at Kajaki by the end of February. They admitted yesterday that the schedule had shifted.
Fixing bayonets to fight the other line

Robert Fisk, of the Independent, writes on the somewhat surprising lack of a civil war in Lebanon. Christians claim to hold Syrian agents responsible for the attack on two buses on Tuesday. Walid Jumblatt continues to spew hot rhetoric. Fisk notes some irony in the Hairi rally: "Samir Geagea, the Phalangist - a convicted murderer whose party now supports the elected government - was self-assured enough to tell his audience that 'we will pursue the criminals across the world and to the end of time'." And then points to the economic woes in Lebanon as the tit-for-tat stumbles onward.

I have the will to survive

The Kurds are hedging their bets. The Boston Globe:
Qubad Talabani , the Washington-based representative of the Kurdish Regional Government, said he has met with White House and State Department officials to seek a public US commitment to intervene in the event of an invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan by outsiders from elsewhere in Iraq or neighboring countries, but that so far he has received no official response.

The remarks of Talabani, the son of Iraq's president Jalal Talabani, suggest that Iraq's peaceful Kurdish provinces are increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for a unified and stable Iraq. They also underscore a growing distrust of the United States among Iraqi Kurds, who say US officials have ignored or undermined their interests as Washington focuses on quelling the violence in Arab Sunni and Shi'ite areas.

Recent incidents, including a US military raid on Iranian diplomats in a Kurdish city, have further strained relations. Kurdish officials say they invited the Iranians to their region and dispute US assertions that the Iranians were involved in weapons smuggling at the time of their arrest.

Qubad Talabani said he plans to launch a major public relations campaign aimed at explaining to the American people why the United States should keep on protecting Kurdistan, even if US forces pull out of Iraq.
Based on the elder Talabani's history, this commitment would be a nice gesture to foster an Iranian counterweight. Perhaps the president cannot state that Kurdistan will be the fall-back position, but certainly someone can. The Los Angeles Times:
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, once told The Times that he planned military operations against Hussein with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's controversial president.
UPDATE 12:15: Reading the brillaint work of Nikolas Gvosdev, the Washington Realist, and Ray Takeyh at CFR reminded me that the Turks will not like Talabani's son on a PR tour in America for an even more autonomous Kurdistan.

UPDATE 16:10 EST: The Iraq Interior Ministry states that Iraqi Police killed al Qaeda in Iraq's number two and wounded al Masri, Abu Hamza al-Muhajerm, Zarqawi's successor, CNN.

Chad points out an important article on one of the weapons shipments into Iraq from Iran. The Telegraph reports:
Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids.
I have no doubt that Iran is supplying weapons to the Shiite militias. This would fit their m.o., look to Hezbollah, and is actually more likely based on Hezbollah's success in Lebanon. It is very likely that the IRG and the Quds Force are behind this, with some Hezbollah work as well. I am sure high-ranking, probably the highest ranking, Iranian officials know this is happening and either hinted that it should happen or explicitly ordered that this should happen.

However, the evidence is circumstantial. The intelligence presentation on Sunday was too bold in its inferences. Evidence for this is that the president now must clarify for his intelligence officials, and that GEN Peter Pace has been hectored on a trip around the world.

There are a few points which should not be forgotten in this coverage of Iran. First: there is a lot of Sunni money headed to the Sunni/Baath/Jihad insurgency in Iraq. Second: with insufficient American personnel and problematic Iraqi forces, the power vacuum in Iraq is encouraging entrance from both Sunni and Shiite neighbors -- they all seem to want a chunk of Iraq as a buffer from the other powers.

I fear we can anticipate that more Sunni money will head to that faction and more Shiite weapons will head to the militias.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rosetta Stone language software for free

Before I qualified for language training with the Army, I purchased set 1 and 2 of Rosetta Stone's language course in Arabic. The cost was just under $330. The program is one of the best ways to learn a language, though there is a serious time commitment required for success. This program has allowed me to learn some vocabulary and also grammatical rules.

If you are in the Army, you can use about 30 different Rosetta Stone courses for free. It is on the Army Knowledge Online website, under "Self Service". Select "My Education" and then click on "eLearning" on that page. There are other languages, including Farsi, Pashtu, Spanish, etc.

I'm selling my copy of Rosetta Stone on eBay. The level of interest is very high -- in one day 17 people have added this acution to their watch list. I have also received two messages, and this is why I am posting this on my blog. The first was from a Specialist in Baghdad that wanted to know how to get the software on AKO. The second was a woman who has a boyfriend in USAF deployed in Iraq. I am not sure if the USAF has this software available. My friend in USMC has tried to find it, but he's not had a great deal of luck.

My hope is that any soldier who is searching the web for this software will find this post and go to AKO. Please spread the word! I know how thin language training is right now. If anyone in the other branches knows where to find these programs, please send me a message.

Rosetta Stone and the Army have a website here.

News around the Middle East

George W. Bush insists that maybe the government of Iran is behind attacks in Iraq. The Washington Post: "What we don't know is whether the head leaders in Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did." He then asked, "What's worse? That the government knew or that the government didn't know?"

The Hairir memorial/protest in Lebanon brought tens of thousands of government supporters to Beirut, and peace was largely maintained, BBC News.

The United States claims that Sadr has left Iraq to avoid the surge. Sadr's office denies this. BBC News.

Borzou Daragahi notes that the border closing around Iraq are not likely to prevent all weapons from entering the country. But quotes a Sadrist lawmaker as saying, "One of the methods of this plan is using the psychological war against the terrorist." The Los Angeles Times.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard was attacked by a bomb (Sunni militants) in the Southeastern part of the country. The Christian Science Monitor has a recap. The Guardian reports that this is close to Baluchestan, the area of Pakistan not under government control. This could mean trouble along the Iran-Afghanistan border.

The French arrested 11 al Qaeda linked terrorists last year, International Herald Tribune.

A Saudi al Qaeda group called for attacks on U.S. linked oil interests, Reuters.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

At the very least, a tense day in Lebanon

Three died in two terrorist attacks on buses Tuesday. Robert Fisk:
Yet the politicians now talk openly of this terrible possibility and the rumours - through every community here - that large amounts of guns are being brought into the city can no longer be ignored.

The discovery by the Lebanese army of a truck load of weapons in the suburb of Hazmieh - weapons that the Hizbollah openly acknowledged belonged to them - caused a small earthquake in the hearts of those who most fear civil conflict.

Why did the Shia group need these guns now? And if these small arms had come from the Bekaa Valley, as apparently they did, why transport them through the mixed Muslim-Christian district of Hazmieh in Beirut? The Syrian government announced only a week ago that they, too, had stopped a shipment of weapons from crossing the border into Lebanon, a bit of law-and-order publicity which many Lebanese found very hard to take but which might well be true.

The Hariri camp has called for "massive" demonstrations today. Geagea, whose thugs once bombed a church north of Beirut in a vain attempt to persuade Christians that they were under attack by the Hizbollah, says that the protests "must be a civilized and peaceful expression of democracy and opinion... in the face of all those who are trying to frighten us". The Sunni Grand Mufti, Sheikh Mohamed Qabbani called for a collective Christian-Muslim prayer at 1pm - the time of Hariri's murder two years ago.

The murdered leader's widow Nazik - a woman of great dignity whom most Lebanese have forgotten is a Palestinian - urged the Hizbollah chairman Hassan Nasrallah to allow the event to unite the Lebanese.
Also, a group claiming the title of al Qaeda claims a bomb attack in Algeria, the London Times.

Stupid intelligence

The administration's and the military's intelligence that Iran is behind attacks on Coalition military personnel is a little thin at this point. There are artillery shells in Iraq from South Africa. That does not mean that we're going to be at war with that country in the near future.

However, before the intelligence can even be granted a proper airing, it is already a political football punted back and forth in our misguided times.

The International Herald Tribune:
Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that the White House was more interested in sending a message to Tehran than in backing up serious allegations with proof.
I wonder if Silvestre Reyes has "brushed up" on his sectarian history of Islam? Just a few months ago, he thought al Qaeda was a Shiite group.

Well, he said "Predominantly -- probably Shi'ite," to the Congressional Quarterly. Then he was given his new post on the Intelligence Committee.

I wrote in December that "Reyes has lost the political, moral and intellectual authority to conduct oversight in these matters."

Few in the Democratic caucus had a problem with him as a spokesman on these matters. I wonder if anyone on the right will point to his error when he continues to expel hot air?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Proxy battles

Patrick Cockburn, of the Independent, notes that Iraqi government security agents kidnapped the Iranian diplomat. Iran accuses the Ministry of Defense. That is near the end of his story, but deserves a lot of attention. The proxy struggle continues?

A Sadrist Iraqi health official was detained by American and Iraqi forces. The official, Hakim al-Zamili, was in the insurgent siege of the Ministry of Health in November, 2006. The New York Times story.

The Los Angeles Times reports "broad, open criticism" of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. Interesting then that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, issued the latest threat toward the U.S. -- he promised retaliation for any attacks on Iran. AP.

The Lebanese Army and the Israeli Defense Force exchanged fire overnight, CNN. This account states that the situation escalated rapidly from an apparent border incursion by a bulldozer to indirect fire to direct fire.

UPDATE: Abu Kais refers to reports that explosive devices were planted along the road. He also cites a Hezbollah linked paper stating that the organization has raised its alert level.

The New York Times speculates on the recent series of helicopter attacks. This account tilts toward the suggestion that it is a shift in insurgent skills and tactics, and not improved weaponry. Neither explanation is a positive development.

The BBC reports that NATO will seek to increase troop levels in Afghanistan by another 2,000. In the past nine months, this story reports, troop levels from NATO have increased about 350 percent. The Guardian reports that the U.S. wants a spring offensive from NATO against the Taliban.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Worth a read...

A Pakistani Muslim, who served in the British Army, explains why his brother -- who died in Afghanistan -- and he volunteered, the London Times.

Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online believes that the Taliban seizure of Musa Qala was a strategic error and may degrade their upcoming Spring offensive, if NATO makes them pay for violating terms of a treaty.

Gunman disguised as Iraqi security forces seized an Iranian diplomat today, BBC. The United States asserts that an Iraqi lawmaker in Maliki's faction is an embassy bomber, CNN.

LT COL Jimmy Phillips, of the 2nd ID, states that if his troops can operate without attack on a road south of Baghdad for two weeks, he'll push for reconstruction aid, Stars and Stripes. So far there have not been any attacks in two days.

The Associated Press reports that the new Baghdad security plan is starting: a "major new" checkpoint at the city's northern gate, police deploying in the Sadr city slum, and Lieutenant General Abboud Gambar staffed at a new command center.