Saturday, December 31, 2005


This photo on CNN struck me as a powerful representation of 2005.

CNN's caption: A Kashmiri child tries to stay warm in Srinagar, two months after the South Asian earthquake. Article Link.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The myth of Katrina aid

Thomas Oliphant in the Boston Globe today:
That number is $29 billion.

This is presumably the sum just voted for the task of shifting from cleanup to actual reconstruction -- of both properties and lives.

I say presumably because the number turns out to be a fraud. In fact, it represents the allocation of large sums of money that Congress has already appropriated. More precisely, much less than half of it -- about $11.5 billion -- is what they call ''new" grant money. The rest is simply the result of the reshuffling of already appropriated sums.

Perhaps you recall the atmosphere in September in the immediate aftermath of the horror that Katrina wreaked. Within three weeks, Congress had passed, and Bush had signed into law, roughly $62 billion in appropriations to pay for the massive cleanup .

Nearly four months later, depending on which agency's figures you prefer, no more than a third of that money has been spent. The list of cleanup tasks not completed is prodigious -- from piles of debris to polluted neighborhoods to tent cities and trailer park communities to the tens of thousands of families still huddled in motels.

Always inventive, what the government really did was repackage all this ''assistance" for the purpose of creating the illusion in the current budget mess that something meaningful is happening when nothing could be further from the truth.

Morning copy 12.29.2005

The war over the war in Iraq

Peter Baker and "Diamond" Jim VandeHei, in the Washington Post, have a story on the Bush administration's internal debate concerning the war on Iraq. What is not surprising is Karl Rove's plan. What is worthy of note is the other voices to whom George W. Bush listened:
President Bush shifted his rhetoric on Iraq in recent weeks after an intense debate among advisers about how to pull out of his political free fall, with senior adviser Karl Rove urging a campaign-style attack on critics while younger aides pushed for more candor about setbacks in the war, according to Republican strategists.

The result was a hybrid of the two approaches as Bush lashed out at war opponents in Congress, then turned to a humbler assessment of events on the ground in Iraq that included admissions about how some of his expectations had been frustrated. The formula helped Bush regain his political footing as record-low poll numbers began to rebound. Now his team is rethinking its approach to his second term in hopes of salvaging it.
The (Horrible) Washington Times reports that Bush and Cheney are "closer" now. Their source is an anonymous official in Cheney's office:
"I don't think the relationship is strained at all," said a senior administration official in the vice president's office on the condition of anonymity. "Every once in a while, I see stuff written to that effect, but ... I think it's closer than it has ever been."
Not only is a blind quote as the basis for a story dubious at best, but that quote should not come from a clearly interested party. At least the Washington Times went so far as to leave the conflict of interest present by citing the source so clearly.

The U.N. backs the Iraq vote, A.P.

The housing market in Iraq is explored in the Washington Post, hat tip to Abhinav Aima.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the potential deal making in the next Iraqi government.

Los Angeles Times: Pentagon believes its pro-America websites to be legal, but their efficacy is called into question.

New Orleans and the Gulf region

When it comes to news, nothing can trump Iraq. However, the slow and problematic recovery efforts in the Katrina region are shameful.

The New Orleans Times Picayune goes to great lengths to mention what the Marshall plan meant to Europe, and the implication is clear: Do more for the Gulf.

A.P.: Major management problems are symptomatic to Homeland Security and FEMA, so says an internal report.

Border security

Chris Hawley has a must read in the Arizona Republic:
U.S. spending on military and police aid to Mexico has more than tripled in the past five years to $57.8 million with the hope it will help protect America's southern flank. But the funding also marks a dramatic shift in the relationship between the two countries, as Mexico, long wary of accepting military and police aid from its northern neighbor, becomes the third-biggest recipient in Latin America behind Colombia and Peru.
The press and alliteration

Yes, Virginia, there is a "Bistro Bandit," San Diego Union Tribune.

Robert Novak (or: The press and notable quotables)

Chicago Sun Times:
If there ever was a golden age of Congress, it preceded my time in Washington. More likely, Bismarck's admonition that "laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them being made" always applied to Congress. Nevertheless, with bipartisan responsibility, Congress functions more poorly today and looks worse doing it.

Typical of what ails Congress was consideration of the Patriot Act last week as Congress finished for the year. A strong consensus wanted to extend the act that broadened anti-terrorist police powers. An outsider watching the Dec. 21 debate on the Senate-House conference would have heard mostly sloganeering without exposition of the issues, a congressional failing that is worse than ever.

When Democrats were joined by four conservative Republican senators to reject ending debate on the conference report, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist immediately suggested the absence of a quorum -- a device increasingly used to avoid debate. Nothing happened on the Senate floor during a quorum call lasting nearly seven hours.

Typically, the real debate took place outside of public view as senators agreed on a six-month extension of the act pending final negotiations.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

From Russia with Democracy

Today's New York Times:
"Six years ago, when I took up this post, I devoted my work to creating the conditions for increasing economic freedoms in Russia," he said, according to the news agency Itar-Tass. "In the last year it has become clear that not only has economic policy become different, but the economic model itself in the country has, too."

Mr. Illarionov also struck at the Kremlin's centralization of power and muzzling of critics. "There has been a change in the political regime," he said. "It is one thing to work in a partly free country such as Russia was six years ago. But it is quite another when the country has ceased to be politically free."
Yet another foreign policy problem that this administration will leave for the next president.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A long political tradition of mishandling terror

Erik Spanberg reviews Richard Reeves' book on Ronald Reagan, Christian Science Monitor. For all the saber rattling we see on the right, and the slings and arrows thrown at Clinton and Kerry, let us not forget this:
Perhaps most jarring to the memory is Reagan's contradictory policy on terrorism, rampant with gunslinger rhetoric but often bereft of hard-hitting deterrence. Two decades later, how many Americans remember the president's decision not to retaliate when 241 US Marines were killed in Beirut?
Both the left and the right have failed and continue to fail in the fight against terror. Each side has its own, unique blend of failure, however, neither side is blameless. Neither side, at least in the executive office since the late 1970s, has been all that encouraging.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Morning copy 12.26.2005

The war over the war in Iraq

The A.P.'s analysis of Rumsfeld's recent activity:
That doesn't mean Rumsfeld believes the Iraqis are yet capable of making it on their own. There is still the potential for civil war, and a resilient and deadly insurgency is still alive. But it explains Rumsfeld's frequent assertion that success in Iraq will be decided by the Iraqis.

It also explains why Rumsfeld and his commanders are now scaling back the U.S. presence in Iraq by canceling the deployment of two Army brigades that had been scheduled to deploy in coming weeks. Fewer U.S. combat troops are needed because the Iraqis will be doing more of the fighting.

"We'll keep passing off responsibility to them," as Rumsfeld put it more than once while in Iraq.
Let's get the ticker tape ready for General Tommy Franks, Paul Bremer and the whole lot of nitwits who have handed a portion of Iraq over to Iran.

Bloomberg News on two generals:
Pace and Powell, a former Joint Chiefs chairman, said progress was being made to have Iraq forces take over the defense of their country. Pace warned that a sudden increase in violence could lead to additional U.S. troops, not a decrease.

``The enemy has a vote in this,'' Pace said on today's ``Fox News Sunday.'' ``If they were to cause some kind of problems that required more troops, then we would do exactly what we've done in the past, which is give the commanders on the ground what they need. And in that case, you could see troop levels go up a little bit to handle that problem.''
Boston Globe on the most recent violence:
The violence occurred after more than a week of discontent and acrimony among some voters over the preliminary results of the Dec. 15 balloting for the first permanent national government since the US-led 2003 invasion.

With those early tabulations showing a likely landslide victory for Shi'ite religious parties, losing slates and their supporters have cried foul. More than 1,000 fraud complaints have been filed with Iraqi election officials and waves of protests have been held in and around the capital.

''With these election results, you're giving the resistance a reason to continue their resistance," said Nabeal Mohammad Younis, a professor of political science and a Sunni Arab nationalist.
Domestic spying

Colin Powell via the New York Times:
"My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants," Mr. Powell said. "And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that."

But Mr. Powell added that "for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way."

"I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions," he said.

The New Orleans Times Picayune reports that local leaders are trying to keep FEMA trailers out of their communities.

Granite State GOP

Rick Klein, in the Boston Globe, writes that Democrats are gaining in New Hampshire, and the state's GOP delegation is becoming a problem for the GOP Congress.

The Senate's Lott

Robert Novak, in the Chicago Sun Times, writes:
Trent Lott within the next week plans to decide between seeking a fourth term in the U.S. Senate from Mississippi or retiring from public life. That could determine whether Republicans keep control of the Senate in next year's elections. For the longer range, Lott's retirement and replacement could signal that Southern political realignment has peaked and now is receding.

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Diamond" Jim and the record

Note these two on the record quotes that Diamond Jim and Charles Babington got in the Washington Post. The article is about the Bush administration's trouble -- to a degree -- with Congress in 2005.
"What you have seen is a Congress, which has been AWOL through intimidation or lack of unity, get off the sidelines and jump in with both feet," especially on the national security front, said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).


"This is partly a function of approval ratings," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "People pay attention [to polls] and start saying, 'Lets take a more independent tack.' It is frankly self-interest, self-preservation."

O Leader! My Leader!

Bloomberg News has a story today advancing the possibility that the recent GOP flops in the Senate will negatively impact Majority Leader Bill Frist's campaign for president, should he decide to run in 2008. It ledes:
Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last week rejected anything less than a full renewal of the Bush administration's anti-terror legislation. He said he had ``made it very clear'' he wouldn't accept a temporary extension of the USA Patriot Act, as Democrats were demanding.

Six days later, after threatening to allow the law to lapse, Frist accepted a short extension of the law. The Republican leader was forced to swallow that reversal because eight members of his own party had joined with Democrats to support an extension.
It is entirely possible that the recent defections in the GOP will undermine Frist's ability to seem like a potential presidential candidate, which could limit financing and serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, like a lot of "end of the year: what can we do?" stories, this one falls apart before it even gets going.

The most prominent "expert" referenced is Charles Cook:
The Dec. 21 defeat capped a year of setbacks for Frist, whose leadership has been weakened by a series of missteps, divisions within his own Senate Republican caucus and a probe of his stock trades by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most Capitol Hill observers now regard Frist as ``the weakest majority leader in perhaps 50 years,'' said Charles Cook, editor of the Washington-based Cook Political Report.
Cook's eye-catching quote, deeming this the weakest leader in 50 years, shows little appreciation for the true, inherent limits within the position of majority leader. The Senate's own website references the odd position; a rank that sounds like power but is truly power of a limited sort:
Although party floor leadership posts carry great responsibility, they provide few specific powers. Instead, floor leaders have largely had to depend on their individual skill, intelligence, and personality. Majority leaders seek to balance the needs of senators of both parties to express their views fully on a bill with the pressures to move the bill as quickly as possible toward enactment. These conflicting demands have required majority leaders to develop skills in compromise, accommodation, and diplomacy. Lyndon Johnson, who held the post in the 1950s, once said that the greatest power of the majority leader was "the power of persuasion."
Cook's comment implies the position has a storied lineage of power over the decades, which it does, but this is a recent innovation in our political system. It is a position of power because it is a podium and it can sway the purse strings. The media fixes its gaze on the leader, and so the leader becomes a leader. In the bid to see who is in charge, the leader promises that he can get things done. If people believe him, he or she becomes the leader.

The Senate's summary states that the majority leader must "develop skills in compromise, accommodation, and diplomacy." Has Senator Frist demonstrated those skills in working with the Democrats and defecting GOP members? Most certainly not. The man is not seeking reelection, and he will be a candidate for the presidency. He is acting in an un-leader like manner precisely for these reasons. Bloomberg and Cook have their concepts inverted.

Frist is stepping down in a public, political sense. He is standing alongside the base with the primaries in mind. "Stem cells?" you may ask. Doctors make for good donors for this potential president and medical doctor.

Onward toward democracy!!

If you think everything in Iraq is going just plain swell:
Baghdad -- A coalition of more than 60 political parties threatened Thursday to boycott Iraq's new parliament and warned of a surge in violence if new elections were not held throughout the country.

The group, led by top Sunni Arab parties and the secular coalition led by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, issued a statement denouncing last Thursday's election as fraudulent and listing demands they said must be met before they would participate in the new legislature.

-- Via San Francisco Chronicle.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Two fewer brigades in Iraq

This was already reported by the A.P. as a possible drawdown, but now we know the brigades are from the 1 ID and the 1st Armored. New York Times:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hinted Thursday that the U.S. military will soon begin reducing its troop strength in Iraq below 138,000, the level it has considered its core force in the country for most of this year.
This is, of course, interesting. In addition, my friend's USAR unit (do not know the intended deployment size) has been drawdown from Afghanistan.

"Depends from what network"

Some interesting reading, sometimes hilarious, from Hardball.

Baer is a former CIA field worker. Gaffney is a former assistant secretary of defense:
MITCHELL: Do you have any indication that journalists are being eavesdropped upon?

BAER: I‘ve seen it happen, yes. Not usually intentionally, but if you‘re going to track a terrorist or somebody with one of these organizations, the journalists are getting close to them, you would follow the journalist. But how ...

GAFFNEY: No, but Bob, I think if you were doing the field operations, you would almost certainly want that journalist, if you could figure this trail out, to help lead you to where the terrorist is and put him out. That would certainly be, I think part of field—the trade craft of this.

MITCHELL: Bob, would you have hesitated to follow a reporter if you thought the reporter would lead you to Osama bin Laden?

BAER: Well, we could have. John Miller from ABC went to Iraq. Peter Bergen did for CNN. They met bin Laden and we could have, you know, fired a hellfire down the signal and killed both the journalist and bin Laden. Of course you have to have ...

GAFFNEY: Would have waited till the journalist got out of the way.



BAER: Depends from what network.

MITCHELL: But Bob, seriously, do you really think—how do you think people in the field feel about all this because the “New York Times” reported that its initial sources of the James Risen story included intelligence officers who were very concerned about this program. They felt it went too far.

BAER: They‘re upset. There‘s a revolt in the intelligence community against torture, against tapping American citizens‘ phones.

MITCHELL: Now, wait a second. The White House says we don‘t torture.

BAER: Well, we outsource it to countries like Syria and Egypt. You know, call it what you will. Yes, people are upset. They‘re upset in the intelligence community. You see a lot of people leaving. I hear a lot of complaints myself, and people in the CIA that are involved in interrogations are, you know, running for their lawyers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NYC Strike

Sometimes I am struck by a news photo...

More on the NSA and spying

This issue has certainly captivated the attention of a few readers of this blog. More from Lichtblau and Risen in today's New York Times:
But in at least one instance, someone using an international cellphone was thought to be outside the United States when in fact both people in the conversation were in the country. Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified, would not discuss the number of accidental intercepts, but the total is thought to represent a very small fraction of the total number of wiretaps that Mr. Bush has authorized without getting warrants. In all, officials say the program has been used to eavesdrop on as many as 500 people at any one time, with the total number of people reaching perhaps into the thousands in the last three years.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Helping ourselves by helping others

Via Daniel Drezner.

Terror Free Tomorrow has a report (.pdf) on improving popular opinion in Pakistan concerning America. It is a result of our earthquake relief efforts, and shows how dynamic and oportunistic the war on terror really is:
Key Findings of the Poll:

· 73% of Pakistanis surveyed in November 2005 now believe suicide terrorist attacks are never justified, up from 46% just last May.

· Support for Osama Bin Laden has declined significantly (51% favorable in May 2005 to just 33% in November), while those who oppose him rose over the same period from 23% to 41%.

· US favorability among Pakistanis has doubled from 23% in May to more than 46% now, while the percentage of Pakistanis with very unfavorable views declined from 48% to 28%.

· For the first time since 9/11, more Pakistanis are now favorable to the United States than unfavorable.

· 78% of Pakistanis have a more favorable opinion of the United States because of the American response to the earthquake, with the strongest support among those under 35.

· 79% of those with confidence in Bin Laden now have a more favorable view of the US because of American earthquake aid.

· 81% said that earthquake relief was important for them in forming their overall opinion of the United States.

· The United States fared better in Pakistani public opinion than both other Western countries and radical Islamist groups.

Why I'm not going to work on Thursday

This post contains language some might find offensive.

"Why I'm not going to work on Thursday," by Keith W. Hammond

I'm not going to go to work on Thursday.

I know my absence won't be taken too kindly by my co-workers. After all, these few weeks right in the middle of the holiday season at the end of the year are traditionally when most journalists take their time off. Because of it, the staff can have a pretty tough time actually coming up with a daily newspaper. To be sure, I'm really screwing over some of the folks I work with by not showing up for work on Thursday.

I mean, I'm really screwing them over. Like, spit lube style.

The best part? I don't even have any vacation days left. No sick days left, either. I'm totally tapped out for the year. And, until last Friday, I was doomed for perfect attendance at my job until the New Year.

But then, thank God, I found the loophole I was searching for and I immediately made plans with the woman to get wasted at my local watering hole Wednesday night.

My reason for ditching work? It's simple.

I believe that Congress' approval of the measures to wage war against Afghanistan in 2002 gave me the Constitutional right to skip work Thursday.

You know what? Fuck it. I might even take Friday off, too.

The way I figure it, thanks to the recent inventive Constitutional interpretation by President George W. Bush, none of us have to do anything anymore. Apparently, when Congress gave the president the thumbs up to wage war against the tyrannical Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002, they also accidentally allowed for all of us to do whatever the hell we want!


Who knew approving war measures was so awesome? To think, that idiot F.D.R. could have walked around (well, maybe not literally) doing whatever he wanted during World War II. The gimp was just too stupid to realize it! Ditto Presidents Lincoln, H.W. Bush, Wilson... the list goes on and on. These guys could have, like, shot people and it would have been cool!

If I understand correctly, Bush's genius gambit of pinning the blame on the N.S.A.'s unimaginable spying on U.S. citizens without a warrant on Congress means that, basically, we're all free to do whatever we like. When The New York Times printed an article about the spying last Friday, all those tree-hugging fans of "civil liberties" (and, to quote Axl Rose, what's so civil about liberties, anyway?) came out of the woodwork to rank on the guy.

What's the deal? Congress clearly said we could use military action against Afghanistan in 2002. That means we can spy on these ragheads living in the U.S., too! OBVIOUSLY.

Never mind that this kind of spying of citizens without a warrant is completely illegal, as per the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Never mind that there are courts set up to approve warrants for federal surveillance at virtually any time of day, sometimes in just minutes.

A few minutes could mean the difference between Sept. 11 and Sept. 10!

You DO remember 9-11, right?

As President Bush said last week, he clearly has "legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force."

You hear that? It's in the Constitution! I'm not sure where, exactly. I've never read the thing front to back. Hey, have you? I bet you haven't.

Don't like the anonymous wire-taps, Congress? Well, stuff it! You approved it! Honestly, this might have been the greatest "fuck you" in the history of politics. Go screw yourself, Congress! And just in time for the holidays! I mean Christmas.

So now, thanks to Congress, everything is game! Including me taking Thursday off.

The way I see it, if I show up for work on Thursday, the terrorists have already won.

Never forget 9-11.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Senator Rockefeller protested in 2003

His office has released this:
December 19, 2005


--Senator Releases His ’03 Letter to White House Raising Questions About White House Actions and Need for Congressional Oversight--

Washington, DC -- Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today released the following statement regarding the President’s decision to publicly confirm the existence of a highly-sensitive National Security Agency (NSA) program for intercepting communications within the United States. Additionally, Senator Rockefeller released his correspondence to the White House on July 17, 2003 – the day he first learned of the program -- expressing serious concerns about the nature of the program as well as Congress’ inability to provide oversight given the limited nature of the briefings.

“For the last few days, I have witnessed the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General repeatedly misrepresent the facts.

“The record needs to be set clear that the Administration never afforded members briefed on the program an opportunity to either approve or disapprove the NSA program. The limited members who were told of the program were prohibited by the Administration from sharing any information about it with our colleagues, including other members of the Intelligence Committees.

“At the time, I expressed my concerns to Vice President Cheney that the limited information provided to Congress was so overly restricted that it prevented members of Congress from conducting meaningful oversight of the legal and operational aspects of the program.

“These concerns were never addressed, and I was prohibited from sharing my views with my colleagues.

“Now that this issue has been brought out into the open, I strongly urge the Senate Intelligence Committee to immediately undertake a full investigation into the legal and operational aspects of the program, including the lack of sufficient congressional oversight.”
Rockefeller's letter can be read at TPMCafe.

"Look for the person who will benefit, and, uh, uh..."

Initial results have been reported across a number of media outlets.

The Washington Post ledes:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 19 -- Initial results of Iraq's national election from more than half the country's provinces brought a strong showing by Shiite and Kurdish parties, Iraq's electoral commission announced Monday, underscoring the secular divisions of the country.
Professor Cole gets the nod for the following link:

The Guardian:
Suspected polling violations on voting day last week far exceeded the number in Iraq's first election in January, local and international monitors said yesterday.
On the deadline for filing complaints, the number of alleged violations which could swing results in the 275-seat parliament was "well into double figures", an accredited international election observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

In January there were only five of these "red" complaints, the observer added. Red complaints are alleged breaches serious enough to potentially hand a seat to a party or election bloc unfairly.
There is a lot riding on this election for America. There is a lot riding on it for Islamist Shiite and Iran as well.

Bush's new tone

The sheer quantity of rare presidential events in recent weeks has been stunning. A rare, live radio address. A rare, unscripted Q&A with civilians after a rare, candid speech. A rare Oval Office address with an open-minded tone. Now, a rare press conference with a wide range of questions today, CNN.

I still think at best Iraq is 3:1 and probably much worse than that. I still think the fact that Iran has more reason to be optimistic with Iraq than we do is alarming. (If you contend that, don't comment. Unless you are Robert Baer recanting or General Wesley Clark, you don't know what you are talking about. I don't either... but...)

George W. Bush has struck a much more presidential tone. I think there are a few JFK photos that are illustrative of how a president in the 20th/21st century should act. One is the photo slumped on the desk. One is chatting outside with Bobby. One is the press conference shot.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

George the Second

The New York Times ran a story Friday that detailed more than three years of spying on Americans approved by the Bush administration and not reviewed by courts:
Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.
This prompted a rare, live reading of the president's weekly address, White House link, in which George W. Bush said that this report is accurate, but that these measures are needed for the war on terror -- just like we need to stay in Iraq until it is a Western democracy.

Senator Russ Feingold has a response posted on his website, link, in which the senator references the filibuster of the Patriot Act:
The President's shocking admission that he authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens, without going to a court and in violation of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress, further demonstrates the urgent need for these protections. The President believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed. This is not how our democratic system of government works. The President does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king.
More reactions are available in this New York Times follow up, including comments from Senator Arlen Specter.

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau follow up on their original scoop in the New York Times this weekend:
In the early years of the operation, there were few, if any, controls placed on the activity by anyone outside the security agency, officials say. It was not until 2004, when several officials raised concerns about its legality, that the Justice Department conducted its first audit of the operation. Security agency officials had been given the power to select the people they would single out for eavesdropping inside the United States without getting approval for each case from the White House or the Justice Department, the officials said.
The matter of Congressional involvement is hotly debated, analysis in the Washington Post has:
A high-ranking intelligence official with firsthand knowledge said in an interview yesterday that Vice President Cheney, then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and Michael V. Hayden, then a lieutenant general and director of the National Security Agency, briefed four key members of Congress about the NSA's new domestic surveillance on Oct. 25, 2001, and Nov. 14, 2001, shortly after Bush signed a highly classified directive that eliminated some restrictions on eavesdropping against U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

In describing the briefings, administration officials made clear that Cheney was announcing a decision, not asking permission from Congress. How much the legislators learned is in dispute.

Former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Senate intelligence committee and is the only participant thus far to describe the meetings extensively and on the record, said in interviews Friday night and yesterday that he remembers "no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of U.S. citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States" -- and no mention of the president's intent to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Dana Milbank, also in the Post, writes that Congress may begin to perform more oversight of the White House.

Also in the Post, Charles Babington writes that this will affect the drama over the Patriot Act.

Condoleezza Rice, who was NSA to Bush when this spying began, was asked on Meet the Press about this report:
MR. RUSSERT: The law is very clear that a person is guilty of an offense unless they get a court order before seeking to wiretap an American citizen. Why did the president not get a court order?

SEC'Y RICE: The FISA is indeed an important source of that authority, and in fact, the administration actively uses FISA. But FISA, in 1970...

MR. RUSSERT: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

SEC'Y RICE: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, exactly. FISA, which came out of 1978 at a time when the principal concern was, frankly, the activities of people on behalf of foreign governments, rather stable targets, very different from the kind of urgency of detection and thereby protection of a country that is needed today. And so the president has drawn on additional authorities that he has under the Constitution and under other statutes.

MR. RUSSERT: What are the other authorities?

SEC'Y RICE: Tim, again, I'm not a lawyer, but the president has constitutional authority and he has statutory authorities.

MR. RUSSERT: But no one's explained that. No one has said what is--in fact, in 1972...

SEC'Y RICE: Tim...

MR. RUSSERT: ...President Nixon tried to wiretap American citizens and the Supreme Court ruled he violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans.

SEC'Y RICE: Tim, let's remember that we are talking about the ability to collect information on the geographic territory that is the United States. Some people are American citizens; others are not. What the president wants to prevent is the use of American territory as a safe haven for communications between terrorist operating here or people with terrorist links operating here and people operating outside of the country.

You know, I sat through the 9/11 Commission, and in the 9/11 Commission, one of the biggest and most compelling concerns was that we had to understand the link between what terrorists were doing abroad and what terrorists were doing here. Prior to September 11, there were people sitting inside the United States--the president talked about two of them, Mitar and Hamzi, who were operating inside the United States, communicating outside of the United States. That's a scene that you cannot allow to exist in a time when if somebody now commits a crime, where this is not law enforcement of the kind where people commit a crime, you then investigate that crime and bring them to justice. This is a case where if people commit the crime, then thousands die. And that's what we learned on September 11 and so the president under his authorities – he is commander in chief; he needs to protect this country – has authorized this program. But he is also very concerned about civil liberties and it is why there are so many safeguards attached to this program and why, frankly, several members of Congress were briefed.

It is clear that the "briefing" of Congress was minimal at best, and perhaps intentionally an effort to minimize the degree of this measure.

President Bush has consistently pushed the envelope on executive power. The creative and manipulative assertion that as commander-in-chief he somehow has the power to conduct intelligence missions on U.S. citizens is a dangerous precedent. It is, moreover, an offense to the best traditions of this country and Republican democracy in general.

41 and 42

In this week's TIME:
BUSH President Clinton has shown a certain deference to me based perhaps on me being the older guy. And I appreciate that. It's something I've seen firsthand many times, in very subtle ways, like today, walking in, "You go first." That kind of stuff. We come from an old line, my family, kind of courteous kind of guys, and this means something to me. It's not just social niceties. There are many ways he makes me feel that this is a two-way street and that he's enjoying it.

There will be differences. He's still active. He's still a guy who's going to be in the political arena, and so there will be differences between him and certain members of my family, but that can be handled. It doesn't have to interfere or ruin our personal relationship.

CLINTON The interesting thing is his son is the President and my wife is a Senator—

BUSH [Half-joking] I'd like to speak to you about that in the future.

CLINTON—and we made this work anyway. It's been a joy. I even like the arguments we have.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Building a stable government in Iraq

The most sensible tone after tomorrow's electoral success is caution.

Bloomberg News:
While the election was a major step toward constitutional democracy in Iraq, the central dilemma for President George W. Bush remains: The longer U.S. troops stay, the more they are a target for insurgents; yet a hasty withdrawal could undermine the government the U.S. is trying to build and reduce American leverage.

The election ``is not a `turning point,' but a trigger'' for a lengthy political process, Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote in a report on the election. ``The election will not resolve any major issue confronting the Iraqi people.''
Washington Post:
In Baghdad for election day, Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said the vote provided a "second chance," but he also warned that the successful day should not be interpreted as a solution to Iraq's problems. "Really, in many ways, they're just beginning," he said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show.
The New York Times:
"There's a lot of joy, as far as I'm concerned, in seeing the Iraqi people accomplish this major milestone in the march to democracy," Mr. Bush said in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon, about three hours after the polls had closed in Iraq. "Millions of people voted. And I haven't seen all the tabulations of the vote, but we're certain that the turnout was significant and that the violence was down."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush's first veto won't be on humane treatment.

From CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After months of opposition, the White House agreed Thursday to Republican Sen. John McCain's call to ban torture by U.S. personnel.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Virginia, and McCain, R-Arizona, met with President Bush to discuss the deal, which Warner said he expects to be finalized by the end of the day.

On Wednesday evening, the House voted 308-122 to urge negotiators to include McCain's torture ban in the final version of a defense spending bill.

After the meeting with President Bush, McCain said "this is a done deal."

Morning copy 12.15.2005

The war over the war in Iraq

Senator Joe Biden (D., Del.) said, on CNN's American Morning, that the difference between his view on Iraq and Rep. Jack Murtha's view is like the difference between the 8th inning and the bottom of the 9th, respectively.


New York Times: "Split Between Secular and Islamist Parties Is Seen in Election"

Reuters: "Scattered attacks fail to disrupt big Iraq vote"

Guardian: "Strong Sunni turnout as Iraqi elections begin"

Washington Post (not on the elections, but a headline of note):"In Four Speeches, Two Answers on War's End"

Al Jazeera: "Explosions as Iraq votes"
That explosion appears to have been a mortar attack on the Green Zone as the polls opened.
Globe and Mail: "Iraq goes to the polls"

BBC News: "Iraqis vote in landmark election"

Lede of the day goes to Thanassis Cambanis of the Boston Globe: "BAGHDAD -- The simplest thing about today's Iraqi election will be the voting."

On the whole, the main stream media in the United States is portraying these elections as a potential turning point, though with questions and risks. Not the doom and gloom upon which some say the MSM dwells.

The Washington Times:
BAGHDAD -- After months of painstaking dialogue, U.S. officials have persuaded most of the main insurgent groups to cease violence for today's election and its immediate aftermath, U.S. officials said yesterday.
David Sanger has news analysis in the New York Times:
But it is the longer term - the next year - that worries many of Mr. Bush's advisers and the United States military. Amid insurgent attacks and warnings of civil war, the government may take months to form, and many officials wonder whether that lag will distract the Iraqis from leaping the hurdles that Mr. Bush wants them to clear before he will begin withdrawing American forces next year.

Taken together, Mr. Bush's speeches and document lay out just how high those hurdles are: building a new government strong enough that "terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy," Mr. Bush said; strong enough to make sure terrorists cannot use Iraq as a place to plot attacks against the United States; and with an Iraqi security force strong enough to protect its own people.
Peggy Noonan of Opinion Journal:
The Bush White House--and the president--have in the same way made Iraq a Bush drama. Bush won't cut and run, Bush has personal relationships, Bush is like Harry Truman, Bush will hold to his word. Look, he's landing on an aircraft carrier. It's all about Bush.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has an opinion in the Washington Post:
Our strategy in Iraq is putting us on a path toward success, though many challenges lie ahead and much hard work remains to be done by Americans and Iraqis alike. But the benefits of success are worth the effort. Success in Iraq will advance American interests and values. It is a linchpin in the needed transformation of the broader Middle East, which is the defining challenge of our time.
Dear Mr. President,

Chuck Schumer (D., NY.) would like President Bush to explain why Robert Novak said that the president would know his source and should be the one asked, News & Observer.

Mitt Romney

Governor Mitt Romney (R., Mass) says he will not run for a second term in 2006 -- which is of course an indication of presidential ambitions, Boston Globe.

The viability of his candidacy is reviewed in this Globe story.


Times Picayune: Rumsfeld called by committee. Also in the Times Picayune: Insurance money may fall short for rebuilding effort.

The New York Times calls the loan system for recovery into question:
Hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast families, hoping to rebuild their homes after the hurricanes using low-interest government loans, are facing high rejection rates and widespread delays at the federal agency that administers the disaster loan program.
McCain torture amendment

New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - In an unusual bipartisan rebuke to the Bush administration, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly endorsed Senator John McCain's measure to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners in American custody anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Team Bush and damage control

What am I describing?

President George W. Bush is widely viewed as out of touch and, worse, wrong concerning a major news event.

The response is:

1. A series of speeches detailing plans for recovery.
2. One on one interaction with regular Americans. Water bottles or casualty figures, depending on the need.
3. Accept responsibility for a component of the problem. Federal response or faulty intel. By doing so, you undercut the opposition and reduce their advantage.

Katrina or Iraq? Different problems, same playbook

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the eve of Iraq's historic election for a four-year parliament, President Bush on Wednesday praised U.S. efforts in Iraq to fight terrorism and to create a new Mideast democracy....

Bush also accepted responsibility for invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence.
However, it is still only a political playbook.

1330 UPDATE: Speech is here. May feature this president's best one-liner (though I did not see the delivery):
Thank you very much. Please be seated. Thank you for the warm welcome. I'm delighted to be here with the men and women of the Wilson Center. According to your mission statement, the Center was created to bring together two groups -- political leaders and scholars. I see some of the political leaders who are here, and I presume you've invited me to uphold the scholars' end.

Iraq and a hard place

CNN's lede:
(CNN) -- As President Bush prepares to make his final speech on the strategy for winning the war in Iraq, a recent poll indicates that fewer people are opposed to the U.S. presence there, but they don't think the U.S. is winning the effort.
I think there are two reasons for this. First, the president has done relatively well in his speeches; he can give a good speech -- and a good q&a it seems -- when it really matters. However, this poll may have moved because of the recent framing of the debate: should we stay or should we go?

Most Americans want troops home but in a gradual redeployment. The debate has been framed -- by Murtha, Dean, Pelosi, Bush, Kerry, Rumsfeld and Cheney (et al) -- as exit now or finish the job. That is not a good construct for the Democrats to gain support.

The few who have not framed it in this manner are Wesley Clark, Jack Reed and Hillary Clinton. Clark and Reed are pragmatic and thoughtful. Hillary is more of a non-entity.

As with any poll, what matters is the tone of the question. Add to that the tone of the debate around the issue.

Morning copy 12.14.2005

The war over the war in Iraq

Michael Rubin, an AEI "scholar", in OpinionJournal:
Not only has the Iraqi march toward democracy proved naysayers wrong, but Iraqis' growing embrace of democracy demonstrates the wisdom of staying the course. Iraqis are changing political culture. Howard Dean and John Murtha may believe that the U.S. military has lost. Brent Scowcroft may think Arab democracy a pipe dream. They are mistaken.
Democracy is working in Iraq. Prove it? I did, I just wrote it.

New York Times, headline: "Police Seize Forged Ballots Headed to Iraq From Iran." More:
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Iranian truck driver told the police under interrogation that at least three other trucks filled with ballots had crossed from Iran at different spots along the border.
Paul Starobin writes the cover story this week for National Journal:
The Pentagon, meanwhile, months ago began reviewing the question of whether the Iraqi conflict could be seen as a civil war. Back in the spring, Army Col. Bill Hix, then the chief of strategy for multinational forces in Iraq, initiated a conversation with two political science professors at Stanford University about applying the civil-war prism to Iraq. The discussion centered on the questions of how, and how quickly, a low-grade civil war can become full-blown. The Stanford duo, James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, told Hix, who left his position in August, that civil wars have often occurred despite the presence of "foreign stabilization forces," and they encouraged him to look at past civil wars in such oil-rich countries as Algeria, Angola, and Nigeria. "I understand that by your metric, we are already in the midst of a civil war," Hix replied to the professors in a May e-mail, "but for reasons that are both operationally convenient and, I also think, valid ... I disagree."
Christian Science Monitor on Sunni voter participation (remember to keep telling yourself, "democracy is working"):
In some cases, they are being driven to participate by a sense of disenfranchisement and a desire to gain more political sway in a country many see as being dominated by a powerful Shiite and Kurdish alliance.

They are also motivated by a strong anti-US sentiment that runs throughout much of the Sunni community. In fact, some Sunni politicians are even using images of dead insurgents to attract support among those who are sympathetic to Iraq's violent rebellion.
The New York Times:
They have been frustrated by the rule of the religious Shiite parties, fearful of their Iranian-trained militias and galvanized by anger over mass arrests and detentions - especially in light of the recent disclosures of mistreatment of prisoners by official Iraqi forces.

"Most of the leaders feel abandoned by the national government," said Capt. Chris Ortega, 28, the head civil affairs officer for the Second Battalion, Seventh Cavalry Regiment of the Third Infantry Division, charged with securing Tikrit. "They feel that because this is Saddam's hometown and province, they're being punished by the national government. They feel they're not getting the proper allocation of resources."
Washington Post:
Although U.S. officials consider the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq a model of what the rest of the country could someday become, the attacks last week were another reminder that Iraqis have been slow to discard the politics of force and intimidation in the country's lurch toward democracy.
Bloomberg News has a more sensible "scholar" who realizes that the election and subsequent political developments in Iraq could break either way:
``We're now going to see the beginning of the process of governing,'' Magnus Ranstorp, a Middle East analyst at the Stockholm-based Swedish National Defense College, said in a telephone interview. ``The question is: will the groups be able to come together and work for the benefit of all by moving beyond ethnicity?''
Salam Pax via the Guardian:
I have to admit, it is pretty confusing. We Iraqis went from absolutely no elections for 30 years to having to vote three times within an 11-month period. I tell you, we're exhausted. And just as you expect some nasty ingredients in your fast food, so it is the case with instant democracy - it looks good, but you don't really want to know how they cooked it.
The Pentagon is increasing the priority given to "nation building" to make that effort equivalent to combat operations, Washington Times.

The Hill notes Senator Jack Reed's role as a Democratic pointman on Iraq:
But Democrats say his mix of military background, dedication to policy and lack of any obvious ambition for higher office lend credibility to his arguments on Iraq. It is a combination that sharply contrasts with the personas of many Democrats who have chosen to engage in the debate over the war.

A.P. on Detlv Mehlis' investigation into Syria's actions in the death of Rafik Hariri:
"It remains to be seen whether the Syrian cooperation will be in full and without any conditions," Mehlis told the council as he presented his latest progress report on the probe. He later added: "We definitely are not seeing full cooperation because that would be cooperation in a timely manner."
Domestic politics

On the McCain torture amendment, New York Times:
Some military officials said the new guidelines could give the impression that the Army was pushing the limits on legal interrogation at the very moment when Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, is involved in intense three-way negotiations with the House and the Bush administration to prohibit the cruel treatment of prisoners.

In a high-level meeting at the Pentagon on Tuesday, some Army and other Pentagon officials raised concerns that Mr. McCain would be furious at what could appear to be a back-door effort to circumvent his intentions.

"This is a stick in McCain's eye," one official said. "It goes right up to the edge. He's not going to be comfortable with this."
The U.S. House of Representatives is close to passing a very tough anti-immigration law, conceptually different from George W. Bush's proposal in substantial ways (read: bad for business. bad for immigrants. bad for earning sympathy from the largest growing minority population that has a religious streak and conservative family values, generally speaking. read: what are they thinking, as everyone in the Congress has a pretty safe seat, save for a few.) Immigrants not in the country legally will become felons overnight, New York Times.

The USA Today on journalism and the Pentagon:
WASHINGTON — A $300 million Pentagon psychological warfare operation includes plans for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing the U.S. government as the source, one of the military officials in charge of the program says.
The USA Today also has a story on Senator Arlen Specter (R., Penn.), who says he is not sure how he will vote on Samuel Alito's nomination.

Maybe I should just quit...

The New York Times says that conservative bloggers are more effective.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Morning copy 12.13.2005

The war over the war in Iraq

The Times of London has an important, must read story that hints at substantial troop withdrawals in 2006:
A senior Western diplomat in Baghdad said yesterday: “One of the first things we will talk about (with the new Iraqi government) is the phased transfer of security, particularly in cities and provinces. It will happen progressively over the next year.”

America has more than 160,000 troops in central and northern Iraq, and Britain about 8,000 based in four southern provinces. Contingency plans are already in place for the small British contingents in the two provinces of Dhiqar and Muthana to go as early as the spring.

The third to go will be Misan province, a far more restive region. A senior British officer said that Iraqi security forces might be able to “keep a lid on the violence” by the end of this year.
The Technorati for the London Times link, which will show the latest comments in the blogosphere.

This story reminded me, to a degree, of Robert Baer on Hardball last week:
BAER: I think, Chris, we are going to see worse problems after the election, because the Shia are going to say we are the legitimate rulers, we are taking the oil, we‘re taking the power and oh, by the way, you Americans, thanks a lot, now leave. And it‘s—you‘re going to have a radical government ...

MATTHEWS: Well, that would be interesting. Do you really believe that the Shia would feel themselves confident enough to hold the place once we leave?

BAER: With Iran‘s backing, why not? Muqtada al-Sadr was put in by Hezbollah. He‘s been told to back off until after the 15th. I think pretty well the best prediction after the 15th, he is going to say all right, thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: I‘ve never heard this before. You believe, Bob Baer, based upon your knowledge, that the government they elect in Iraq and we supervise next Thursday will have enough self confidence to say we can leave?

BAER: I think they will. And I think their plan will be—is to go into Ramadi and Fallujah and take care of business.
Rep. John Murtha has also insisted, several times, that substantial withdrawal will happen within a year.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry has denied recent claims of torturing detainees, New York Times. The Washington Times has a major scoop as well today:
Gen. al-Samarrai said the Iranian intelligence officer, Tahseer Nasr Lawandi, works directly under the Kurdish deputy minister, Gen. Hussein Kamel, and is known throughout the ministry as "The Engineer."

"The Engineer was behind the torturing and killing in the ministry and was also in charge of Jadriya prison," said Gen. al-Samarrai, who left the ministry after a dispute with superiors and is now living in Jordan.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has an opinion piece in the San Diego Union Trbune:
A responsible exit strategy can only emerge from a subtle interplay of political and security elements – above all, the consolidation of a national government. Real progress requires that the Iraqi armed forces view themselves – and are seen by the population – as defenders of the national interests, not sectarian or regional ones.
Bloomberg News on sectarian paramilitary formations:
Bush insisted yesterday that Iraq was moving steadily toward political unity even amid violence and turmoil. Fears ``that Iraq could break apart and fall into civil war'' are unjustified, he said during a speech in Philadelphia.

Some analysts don't share his optimism. ``The situation continues to deteriorate,'' said Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``It's a matter of the militias, new political organizations, Shiite groups'' and Iraqi security forces becoming ``forces for revenge or reprisal.''
The Christian Science Monitor:
Marine Capt. Clinton Culp doesn't waver. "I know sir. I've lost men, too. But if we beat [up] the enemy, then we are no better than him." The two detainees in question are clearly insurgents and deserved the beating he gave them, Captain Hussein argues. But he begrudgingly agrees to let Captain Culp take them into Marine custody.

In encampments like this one, established after a US operation last month near Iraq's border with Syria, US marines and Iraqi soldiers are working side by side. And it's here where the fundamental differences - on such issues as treatment of detainees - between Iraqis and US commanders illustrate the difficulty of training Iraqi forces to take over US operations.
The Washington Post profiles a unit's tour in Iraq. There is also the most touching photo I have seen in this conflict.

Joe Klein, in TIME, assails both the right and the left on Iraq. "These are not clever times in Washington," he writes. Howard Dean and John Kerry are put in their proper place by Klein.

The latest poll, USA Today, has Bush at 42 percent. Gas prices. Acting like a president (instead of a rancher). Holiday season bounce (just like the stock market -- well, historically).

Tookie Williams

Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed about half passed midnight, Los Angeles Times.

Henry Weinstein and Peter Nicholas, also in the Los Angeles Times, write that "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not just reject Stanley Tookie Williams' request for clemency, he aggressively attacked the central element of the former gang leader's case: Williams, he said, had never really reformed."

Don't mess with Texas

Jonathan Weisman is placed on page 01 of the Washington Post with his story on the Supreme Court's review of Tom DeLay's redistricting:
Justice Department lawyers initially recommended rejecting Texas's plan, saying it would harm black and Hispanic voters, but were overruled by senior Justice officials. A special three-judge panel has upheld the redistricting map in two rulings.
The Houston Chronicle:
After taking an unusually long time to decide what to do with the appeals, discussing the issue in private over the past six weeks, the justices have put the cases on the fast track, scheduling two hours of arguments for March 1. A decision is expected by July.

That time frame means the outcome of the cases could affect the 2006 elections — if the plaintiffs are successful in getting the new map thrown out. Next year, every seat in the U.S. House is on the ballot, and Democrats will be seeking to cut into the Republican majority.
The torture amendment

President Bush says he is confident an agreement will be reached on the amendment advanced by Senator John McCain to prevent inhumane treatment of all detainees in U.S. custody, New York Times.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bush's best case scenario

President George W. Bush delivered his third speech in a series of four meant to bolster his poll numbers and to build support for his policies concerning war in Iraq. (Transcript)

It seems that Bush is most interested in changing his tone, admitting mistakes and acknowledging the costs of the war, but not the substance of his policies -- at least that is what I derive from the rhetoric. David Gergen, on Hardball tonight, said that Bush may be preparing to leave Iraq in a violent state, perhaps not even a united country. That may assume a little too much. What we can say with certainty is that Bush wants to open political options to play in 2006 and 2007.

But his speech today does not make me believe that Bush has fully addressed the problems, which I believe requires a change in strategy. These speeches on Iraq remind me of the post-Katrina, post-Heck-of-a-job president. He was willing to promise big changes and accept blame, but not much more than that.
I've come to discuss an issue that's really important, and that is victory in the war on terror. And that war started on September the 11th, 2001, when our nation awoke to a sudden attack.
The conceptual framework that Bush brings to this conflict is not encouraging. Terror qua terror is a tactic, wars are fought against organizations or states. Moreover, this war on terror -- if we forgive the clumsy name for the conflict -- did not begin on that terrible day in 2001. Al Qaeda was founded in 1988. Ten years later, Osama bin Laden said he would attack U.S. citizens. Months later, bombs killed scores at American embassies in Africa. The attack on the Cole happened about a year before September 11. (BBC Timeline)

The president could have, and has, invoked September 11 without referring to it as the start of the war on terror. It was certainly the most important event in that conflict. But, it was not the start. Another problematic historical reference from the president was the invocation of the founding fathers.
Our founders faced many difficult challenges, they made mistakes, they learned from their experiences and they adjusted their approach.
This oversimplified and marginally interesting parable teaches us little. It could convince some that the struggles one expects in an emerging democracy somehow make the violence in Iraq understandable in a Western democratic sense. This anecdote about our founding fathers contains more deception than historical analysis.

The French in the late 18th century had a number of advantages to develop democracy. They had assisted the American founding fathers, working close to George Washington. They had Benjamin Franklin as an ambassador socializing in Paris. Many of the philosophers of France influenced the development of Enlightenment thought in Europe. Yet, France's republic devolved into Napoleon's empire.

A better understanding of the "fits and starts" of our founding fathers must contain not only the turbulent times of the Articles of Confederation, but also the period of Cromwell and the Commonwealth. From this perspective, Bush's analysis seems naive -- either from ignorance or by design.

Most of Bush's speech today detailed goals, a description of the result he'd like to see. Perhaps the result he believes he will see. However, the planning is insufficient.
Today, I want to discuss the political element of our strategy: our efforts to help the Iraqis build inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all the Iraqi people.
The structure of this "political element" is teleological -- it can only be evaluated based on results. The absence of "inclusive democratic institutions" would mean that the efforts mentioned were unsuccessful. At present, it is impossible to determine that there are sufficient democratic institutions. The same can be said to the contrary.

Bush's best defense for his assertion may be this from his speech:
Many Sunnis voted against the constitution, but Sunnis voted in large numbers for the first time. They joined the political process and by doing so they reject the violence of the Saddamists and rejectionists.
It is true that Sunnis have and will continue to participate more in the elections. But, it does not follow that they therefore reject all of the violence in the country. One new element in Bush's speech, new to me at least, does sound like a good idea:
Now Iraq has a new electoral system where seats in the new council of representatives will be allocated by province and population, much like our own House of Representatives.
However, the result in Iraq is far from clear. Bush presents, to this day, far too optimistic of a picture. It is a shame that so many people, Senator Lieberman and the Wall Street Journal, are so willing to believe the best case scenario -- just as too many were willing to believe the worst case scenario of Saddam's regime.

Bush claimed today:
By helping Iraqis to gain a democracy, we will gain an ally in the war on terror.
The truth is that Iran has a better chance of gaining an ally, a splintered Shiite Iraq region with oil reserves and a foothold in Arabic lands. It would suit Iran's apparent ambition to rise on the global stage as a regional power.

Morning copy 12.12.2005

The war over the war in Iraq

President George W. Bush will deliver a midday speech on Iraqi democracy today. Recent polls are in the low 40s for the president, indicating some progress in persuading the people about his policy in Iraq. TIME has a story about Bush's minor restoration -- by no means complete -- and I find this quote most troubling:
"It's time for the Bush comeback story!" one coached TIME for this article. "The perfect storm has receded. We have better news in Iraq, oil prices are down, and Katrina has kind of fallen off the radar screen in terms of public concern."
This administration member seems to be glad that Katrina recovery no longer matters to the public, so that the president doesn't have to deliver on much that he promised.

Roads, airports and the borders are to be shut down in Iraq as this week's election approaches, Washington Times.

Another Iraqi run prison was the scene of "severe torture," Washington Post. The New York Times' account.

A prominent Shiite (and SCIRI) Iraqi VP pictures several semi-autonomous regions that share oil wealth alone, USA Today.

Newsweek has a story on the expected participation of Sunnis in this election:
But the consequences for Adhamiya were severe: shadowy religious militias with ties to the Shiite-dominated government began arresting, kidnapping and sometimes murdering young Sunni men in the neighborhood; Duraid felt unprotected, even abandoned, by the country's new leaders. "We didn't participate, and the others took power alone, and this is the result," Duraid told NEWSWEEK.
The New York Times has an interesting story on the use of the word "caliphate" by prominent administration members:
A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration's warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War. They say that although Al Qaeda's statements do indeed describe a caliphate as a goal, the administration is exaggerating the magnitude of the threat as it seeks to gain support for its policies in Iraq.
Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi is profiled in TIME.

Newsweek identifies the nature of Bush's governing style, the bubble, and some of the problems it can create:
A White House aide, who like virtually all White House officials (in this story and in general) refused to be identified for fear of antagonizing the president, says that Murtha was a lost cause anyway and dismisses the notion that Bush is isolated or out of touch. Still, the complaints don't just come from Democrats: Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointedly told reporters that Bush needs to "have much more of a cadre of people in both houses, from both parties" visiting the White House "very frequently." Lugar cited Bill Clinton as the model.
Opinion Journal implies that Jack Murtha is a "sunshine patriot" and says that the United States can win militarily in Iraq. The devil is in the definition, of course.

Note these two grafs from a widely circulated A.P. story this moring:
WASHINGTON - Moderates are imploring colleagues in Congress to tone down the rhetoric on Iraq as debate about President Bush's war policies has become increasingly bitter and partisan.

Their pleas are likely to be ignored.
McCain's torture amendment

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said that an agreement would be reached on the amendment, but those involved in the negotiations are more cautious, New York Times.


Another massive car bomb has killed a prominent anti-Syrian leader in Beirut, CNN.

The Congress

Ronald Brownstein, in the Los Angeles Times, writes that the nomination of Samuel Alito will test if well definied nominees are possible for a president to select, or if more stealth candidates are required. Robert Novak writes that Alito's supporters are fighting for their pick, Chicago Sun Times.

House Republicans are moving toward tougher immigration laws, without a worker program to help illegals find a lawful way to participate in the economy, Washington Post.

House and Senate negotiators are looking to resolve "huge differences" in the Medicaid bill, New York Times.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Travis county prosecutors must prove that Tom DeLay knowingly raised cash with the intent of breaking the law.

GOP Senator Lincoln Chafee is called out by Opinion Journal. (With friends like this...)


Dan Balz, in the Washington Post, writes that Hillary Clinton's Iraq stance is "in the shadows."

A task force of Democrats has approved a scaled-down effort to expand the early stage of the 2008 primaries, Washington Post. The Manchester Union Leader ledes with angry New Hampshire politicos.

Virginia's governor, Mark Warner, tries to expand his national profile, New York Times.

New Orleans

New Orleans Times Picayune on the disaster response:
The documents show that the White House delayed its decision to deploy federal troops while it pressured the nation's senior National Guard official to persuade Blanco to accept the president's hand-picked commander to run the entire response effort.

The records also reveal a Democratic administration in Baton Rouge seized with anxiety that the media, swayed by a Republican spin machine, would make it appear that the relief effort would improve overnight if the president took control, and that Blanco was dragging her feet to invite federal help.

From Knight Ridder:
A FEMA program to reimburse applicants for generators and storm cleanup items has benefited middle- and upper-income Floridians the most and has so far cost taxpayers more than $332 million for the past two hurricane seasons, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found in a continuing investigation of disaster aid.
Eugene McCarthy

David Broder on the former Senator who passed away on Saturday.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Another split decision on Iraq

Much has been made, and for good reason, about the split in the Democratic party on strategies for Iraq. Much has been made about the anxiety in the GOP concerning a difficult war and elections in 2006. Another split is evident between European politicos and the people they represent. Today's Washington Post:
But among policymakers and politicians, there is a consensus that a quick withdrawal of troops from Iraq would only make matters there worse. Such a move could hand a victory to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and plunge the country into civil war, many have said. It could also create an Iranian client state, or a theocracy run by the country's majority Shiite Muslims, or a breeding ground for Islamic extremism that could spread through the Middle East and beyond, the analysts said.

"I think most Europeans are against the war in Iraq and feel that the U.S. is part of the problem now and is causing more damage by staying and should just admit it got things wrong and leave," said Daniel Keohane, a research fellow at the Center for European Reform in London. "But when you talk to leaders, it's more maintenance," he said, explaining that to leaders who feel Iraqi forces are not ready to control the country, "it makes sense for the U.S. to stay there and finish the job."

Morning copy 12.09.2005

ABC's The Note asked yesterday: "what [sic] national Democrat has the most credibility with the media and the public on national security issues these days?"

Senator John Kerry (D., Mass.) gave a speech in front of the Council on Foreign Relations, the same prominent thinktank that hosted George W. Bush earlier in the week. The coverage is underwhelming, with 15 stories on Google News at 0620 EST. Even the left-leaning Boston Globe -- the major daily from the Senator's home state -- uses the A.P. version of the story. And, former presidential candidate Kerry said that "at least" 100,000 U.S. troops need to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006, which would leave about 60,000 in the country -- or less.

If THAT is not news, I do not know what is.

Contrast Kerry's numbers (where they come from, I do not know) with Rumsfeld's own expectation that 20,000 could return home after the elections and more after that in 2006, as conditions dictate, A.P.

It is hard to get a good read on the media or the public insofar as Iraq. Just this week we have seen a Howard Dean "moment", a major speech by President George W. Bush, an indirect reference to the Irish Brigade by Dick Cheney, new polls, Rumors of Rumsfeld's retirement ... et cetera, et cetera.

The war over the war in Iraq (and wars in general)

Yesterday's New York Daily News story on Sec. Defense Donald Rumsfeld's rumored retirement caused a bit of a stir. "Those reports have been flying around since about four months after I assumed my post in 2001," Mr. Rumsfeld said to the New York Times. "I have no plans to retire," he also said.

On the very day that the Daily News ran rumors that Senator Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.) would replace Rumsfeld, the two had a one-on-one breakfast. The New York Post quotes: "Rumsfeld 'has breakfast with members of Congress all the time,' Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said."

Lieberman's political proximity to the president has resulted in frequent mention of the Senator by both the vice president and his boss. There have also been quips from Mr. Quip himself, Howard Dean -- who set Lieberman up as a rare example of Democratic difficulty on an Iraq consensus, which of course was nothing but spin.

Lieberman's luck just can't get any better. Who rises to his support? Fellow Connecticutian and congressional colleague Rep. Chris Shays (R., Conn.). David Lightman in the Hartford Courant: "Shays, in comments made at the end of an hour-long breakfast with national reporters, said, 'Joe Lieberman is one my heroes.'"

The Christian Science Monitor recounts recent events among the politicos, noting that the fracture lines are most noticeable in the Democratic caucus, but that the Republicans also are not racing to the defense of the president en masse. One expert tells Bloomberg News that the Democrats are "cross-pressured" between their reputation as soft on security and their constituents.

The Christian Science Monitor notes how frequently the word "victory" has been used by the president:
But the Bush team's definition of what would constitute victory in Iraq remains fuzzy, say critics. And in using such a powerful word - especially in phrases such as "complete victory" - US officials may have set themselves a dauntingly high goal. As the president himself has said, the nature of the Iraqi conflict means it won't end, as World War II did, with the finality of a signing ceremony on the deck of a US battleship.

"Ending any war is hard," says Lee Feinstein, executive director of the Task Force Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. "He'd have been better off to say, 'We'll leave Iraq better than we found it.'"
A U.S. official tells the A.P. that Iraq's economy will grow by 4 percent in 2006. A prominent London financial institution says that Iraq's oil production in 2005 will be less than 2004, A.P. The production level today is about half of what it was in 1990.

USA Today reports on an American military founded and funded press club in Iraq:
The Army acknowledges funding the club and offering "reporter compensation," but insists officers did not demand favorable coverage. "Members are not required nor asked to write favorably," said Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone. "They are simply invited to report on events." He said the military exercised no editorial control over the coverage.
A congressional committee is at a deadlock in Iraq documents, New York Times:
The resolution, proposed by Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, Democrat of New York, asks the president to turn over drafts and documents related to his October 2002 speech in Cincinnati and his State of the Union address in January 2003. Democrats want to find out why the president omitted from the earlier speech any reference to allegations that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa but included such a claim in the State of the Union address.
Bush's approval rating in Iowa is at an all-time low, Des Moines Register.

The Washington Times reports that the Pentagon will stick with the plan (or the intention) to be able to fight two wars at once.

Reuters reports that negotiators are near a deal that will preserve most of John McCain's language in the so-called Torture Amendment, rebuffing the vice president and perhaps explaining Condoleezza Rice's statements that U.S. personnel shall not be inhumane. This lengthy lede from Catholic News Service shows some of the pressure the administration faces on this:
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Policies that are unclear about the torture of prisoners damage U.S. international interests and credibility and are an offense against human rights, said panelists who included a retired Army general, a former adviser to the departments of State and Defense and representatives of Jewish and Catholic organizations.
In an item related to torture's efficacy, the New York Times reports that current and former government officials say the link between al Qaeda and Iraq was established by a detainee who did not want "harsh treatment":
The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of Iran, suggested that Israel be moved to Europe and that the Holocaust never happened, Washington Post. Not related, except for the fact that it is troubling, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said this week that Iran is the "winner" with the U.S. in Iraq, Iran Focus. That is the point-of-view among some of their leadership. It is also the point-of-view of a former National Security Advisor, a former NATO commander, a former CIA officer. Need I continue?

More news...

Two more GOP congressmembers say that they want an election for a new majority leader, which would mean Tom DeLay's rule has ended, Houston Chronicle. Hmm.

GOP reaches a deal on Patriot Act, and a handful of Senators have protested already, CNN. The Washington Post: "But the agreement faces an uncertain future. No Democratic negotiators in the House or Senate embraced the bill that emerged from the conference committee, and a bipartisan group of senators complained that the proposed revisions do too little to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans."

Sec. State Condoleezza Rice appears to have done well with NATO allies on the issue of inhumane detainee treatment, A.P.

"Diamond" Jim notes that GOP members value the president's cash appeal, if not his approval rating.

Another former partner of Jack Abramoff may soon have a plea deal, Washington Post.

The Manchster Union Leader on the "threat" of western primaries taking a great deal of focus off the Granite State.

Your dividends are safe, Boston Globe.

The NAACP and president Bush had a private meeting, as the relationship moves from arctic to, well, not quite luke warm, Baltimore Sun.

Senator Barack Obama (D., Ill.) has been nominated for a spoken word Grammy, Chicago Tribune.

New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson (Dem.) says that his party must establish a broad message on security, economics and morality, Denver Post.

The Wall Street Journal is in favor of a guest worker program.

Only 12 percent of respondents say that they have done a great deal to prepare for a disaster, St. Louis Post Dispatch.