Friday, April 28, 2006

Why I support James Webb

The Washington Post covers two Mid-Atlantic candidates:
Virginia Democrat James H. Webb Jr.'s early warnings about invading Iraq are the main reason he has been so embraced by the liberal bloggers who started a draft movement to get him into the race. Maryland candidate Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin was one of 133 House members who voted against the original resolution authorizing President Bush to take action -- and he might be the most conservative on the issue among Democrats seeking to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D).
I do not identify myself with the so-called liberal blogosphere, though I am a liberal and a blogger.

I believe James Webb's bid for a Senate seat can be a crucial vehicle for a robust foreign policy debate. For too long, this administration has dictated a foreign policy monologue to the American people. Their ill-conceived ambitions have lead to great suffering. Prominent conservatives have broken ranks with the administration.

My thoughts on Iraq have shifted dramatically as I blog on news coverage. It is my belief that any force in the region beyond those outlined by Jack Murtha do more harm than good.

The Iraqi insurgency is consistently estimated in the 15,000 to 20,000 range, and may actually be far larger. Though the American military has inflicted tremendous casualties on the fighters, attacks remain consistent in number and effect. The ultimate question in this conflict must be: are we creating more harm than good for America and for Iraqis?

If we were to kill more insurgents than we create, we could justify a period of high-activity in the country. We cannot assert this based on the numbers, though.

American forces are necessary to assist the Iraqi government forces for some time to come, in air power and logistics. However, current force strength in the country is insufficient for a counter insurgency and yet too large for our own good.

In the monologue of the past few years, George Bush has dictated policy. Senator Allen, Webb's rival, has concurred. Webb's candidacy in the commonwealth of Virginia could be a crucial step toward a better American foreign policy.

Lastly, I have and will continue to put my money where my keyboard is.

Rove indictment seems more possible

Combine these two ledes to get an idea about what is going on in the CIA Leak case.

Bloomberg News:
April 28 (Bloomberg) -- Presidential adviser Karl Rove faces the prospect of either remaining under a lingering legal cloud or indictment in a special counsel's investigation of the disclosure of a covert CIA agent's identity, according to people familiar with the case.
The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, April 27 — Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case, is expected to decide in the next two to three weeks whether to bring perjury charges against Karl Rove, the powerful adviser to President Bush, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

Some good news in Iraq

Whatever positives may still come from the Iraq war will be the results of numerous military personnel far removed from the Pentagon and the White House and Sistani.

The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Iraq's senior Shiite Muslim religious figure Thursday called on the country's controversial militias to disarm, marking one of the most overt forays into matters of politics and policy by the influential cleric.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, regarded as the moral voice of Iraq's Shiite majority, called for a government of technocrats rather than political loyalists or sectarian interests and said that only government forces should be permitted to carry weapons on the streets.

The rise of terrorism

The Boston Globe:
WASHINGTON -- A pair of terror attacks in Egypt this week are the latest sign that Al Qaeda is successfully exploiting the war in Iraq to win new adherents and is outsourcing its wider struggle against the West to home-grown militant groups in other Arab countries, according to US intelligence officials and terrorism specialists.

Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, have effectively used the carnage in Iraq through the Internet and other means, the analysts said, to inspire grass-roots militant groups with grievances of their own to destabilize Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other key US allies.
The National Journal:
Terrorists killed 14,602 people and carried out approximately 11,000 attacks last year, according to a report [PDF] scheduled for release Friday morning by the State Department and the National Counterterrorism Center. That's more than double the incidents and fatalities in 2004, when 3,192 attacks killed 6,060 people, NCTC reported last July.

The report cautions that numbers from the two years are not "meaningfully" comparable because of the "substantial" increase in effort devoted to counting all incidents this year. In previous years, the report had counted only international terrorist incidents; in both 2004 and 2005, the report counted all terrorist incidents, whether domestic or international.

Fatalities in Iraq, where the report concludes that terrorist attacks on noncombatants "significantly" increased last year, drove much of the jump, accounting for 8,299 deaths. India had the second most fatalities, with 1,357 dead, followed by Colombia, with 810, and then Afghanistan, with 682.

Substantial insurgent attack on Iraqi police

In late March, Iraqi insurgents launched two attacks on police stations. (Link, Link) Those attacks were of a degree not seen since Fallujah in early 2004.

Another substantial attack was launched yesterday. The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Clashes broke out Thursday in the ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, with more than 30 people reported killed in intense fighting.

Witnesses said that at least 100 insurgents attacked police stations and checkpoints in enclaves near the provincial capital of Baqubah, leaving at least a dozen dead. Gen. Adnan Bawi, provincial police commander, said the attackers came in six waves in an attempt to take over the city.

U.S. helicopter gunships launched airstrikes on suspected insurgent positions in the dense thicket of orchards surrounding the area, police said.

American military officials said 21 insurgents were killed and 43 captured in the fighting. At least seven members of the Iraqi security forces and two civilians were injured, a news release said.

Authorities established a curfew until 4 p.m. today.
The skirmish appears to have been decided only with the introduction of American technological and military superiority. This yields two lessons: the Iraqi police cannot stand alone without suffering substantial casualties, and the insurgency remains capable of large attacks.

Today: Iran and the Security Council

The diplomatic process with Iran crosses another line today.

Where Hashemi stands, so stands the Iranian street. Not because he is a visionary, but rather because he reacts consistently to popular opinion.

Bloomberg News:
April 28 (Bloomberg) -- Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani rejected a United Nations demand that Iran halt its nuclear program by today, underlining President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pledge to expand the enrichment of uranium.

``We will continue on this path,'' Rafsanjani told thousands of believers during a Friday sermon in Tehran, capital of the Islamic Republic. ``Iran does not have military aims.''
The Washington Post: "U.N. Agency Finds Iran Noncompliant"

The Los Angeles Times:
SOFIA, Bulgaria — On the eve of a United Nations deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday called for diplomatic action against Tehran, warning that the U.N. Security Council cannot permit the regime to "simply ignore its will and its word."
"Those who want to prevent Iranians from obtaining their right, should know that we do not give a damn about such resolutions," Ahmadinejad said, Reuters reported, citing the state-run IRNA news agency.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mitt Romney's religion

Bob Novak references unnamed sources:
The U.S. Constitution prohibits a religious test for public office, but that is precisely what is being posed now. Prominent, respectable Evangelical Christians have told me, not for quotation, that millions of their co-religionists cannot and will not vote for Romney for president solely because he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If Romney is nominated and their abstention results in the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton, that's just too bad. The evangelicals are adamant, saying there is no way Romney can win them over.
And instructs the potential candidate:
But the intense reaction Romney will meet almost surely will require a stronger response than he now envisions. He has supporters who believe that he must go before the public and declare that the imposition of a religious test on U.S. politics is unfair, unreasonable and un-American.

The crisis with Iran

Iran will be revisted by the U.N. Security Council tomorrow.

CNN/A.P.: "Iran vows to keep nuke program"

The Financial Times:
Russia and China on Thursday warned against escalating the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme. The call came on the eve of an eagerly awaited report on whether the country has met United Nations demands.
The Christian Science Monitor:
The confrontation returns Friday to the United Nations Security Council, where the Iranian regime is hoping a divide-and-conquer strategy will prevent the UN body from taking any coercive action to limit its nuclear program. It may be a bold gambit: Just a month ago, the Council acted - unanimously - to give Iran 30 days to show it had ceased uranium enrichment.
The Washington Post: "Iran tells U.S.: We'd hit back twofold"

Our difficulties in Iraq, and continued commitments to that country, leave the United States in a weakened position. Moreover, George W. Bush's haste to launch the Iraq war, resulting in diplomatic fissures, reinforced a vulnerability within the U.N. Security Council.

One must ask: would the situation with Iran be this difficult if the Iraq war did not happen?

Rice, Rumsfeld and political progress

I posted yesterday that Rice and Rumsfeld were sent to Iraq on a political photo-op to present as much good news on the conflict as possible. I also noted that General Casey's timeline for withdrawing troops has been consistent for a year now.

The White House is using only the most simplistic "political progress", however. This may be unavoidable given the circumstances in that country. But, it should be noted that only senior level Iraqi leaders are making the political gains, and only junior level combat officers and units are securing small sections of the country. The root-deep political, social and economic progress necessary throughout the country is not occurring.

The Los Angeles Times shows just how little the administration grasps this:
BAGHDAD — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid a surprise visit to Baghdad on Wednesday to express support for Iraq's new leaders, but drew criticism from Iraqi politicians who said they feared the unannounced visit might do more harm than good.

"We didn't invite them," said Kamal Saadi, a Shiite legislator close to the new prime minister-designate, Nouri Maliki.

Senators to push for $100 gas rebate checks

Let's see:

There's tension in Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Summer driving season has yet to begin. China is working diligently to secure more oil resources around the world. Hurricane season is closing in. And, it's an election year.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Every American taxpayer would get a $100 rebate check to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.
The Washington Post:
Anger over gas prices is gaining traction in many midterm races around the nation as Democrats attack Republicans for being too close to oil companies. With many in the GOP growing uneasy, President Bush this week called for price-fixing investigations. Political analysts say the rising prices could dovetail with growing public concern over the war in Iraq to give Democrats an opening in several key races.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Scuttle FEMA?

Hurricane season is just over a month away.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's disaster response agency should be abolished and rebuilt from scratch to avoid a repeat of government failures exposed by Hurricane Katrina, a Senate inquiry has concluded.

Crippled by years of poor leadership and inadequate funding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot be fixed, a bipartisan investigation says in recommendations to be released Thursday.

Taken together, the 86 proposed reforms suggest the United States is still woefully unprepared for a disaster such as Katrina with the start of the hurricane season a little more than month away.

Bush's first veto?

The president has been pushed into a corner by fiscal conservatives to veto the next war appropriations bill if it contains too much pork. There have been two Senate votes today that seem to force the issue.

Will Bush veto a bill that would continue funding his war, and numerous pork projects?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate voted Wednesday to divert some of the money President Bush requested for the war in Iraq to instead increase patrols against illegal immigrants on the nation's borders and provide the Coast Guard with new boats and helicopters.

An amendment cutting Bush's Iraq request by $1.9 billion to pay for new aircraft, patrol boats and other vehicles, as well as border checkpoints and a fence along the Mexico border crossing near San Diego widely used by illegal immigrants was adopted on 59-39 vote.

Later, the Senate voted by a veto-proof 72-26 margin to kill an attempt by conservatives to cut the overall bill back to Bush's request -- just a day after the White House issued a toughly worded promise to veto the $106.5 billion bill unless it is cut back to below $95 billion.

Troop draw down (maybe)

The Bush administration seems to be on a political offensive in regards to Iraq. Rice and Rumsfeld were scheduled to visit once the formation of a permanent government began. Now, General Casey offers the following from CNN (my emphasis):
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has tentative plans to reduce U.S. troops levels in Iraq by about 30,000 by the end of the year, senior military officials said Wednesday.

Casey said he is still on his "general timeline" for recommending further U.S. troop reductions.

The officials said that Casey is considering reducing troop levels from 15 brigades to about 10 brigades.

That would mean U.S. troop levels could be under 100,000 by year's end, officials said. About 160,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq in December, when security was tightened for the country's parliamentary elections. About 130,000 are in the country now.
The Guardian from August 2005 (my emphasis):
American generals hope to withdraw up to 30,000 troops from Iraq by next spring, signalling increasingly firm plans for a phased US pull-out.

In a classified briefing to senior Pentagon officials last month General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, reportedly said the equivalent of more than 20 brigades would leave if conditions were right.

The assessment tallied with last week's statement by General George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, that there could be "some fairly substantial reductions" in troops by next spring and summer.

Both men cautioned that shrinking the 138,000-strong US force would happen only if the political process was on track and Iraqi forces became better at handling security.
And (same source):
The New York Times quoted Gen Abizaid as saying the number of US troops would rise to 160,000 for elections scheduled in December but quickly return to its current size.

If conditions allowed, the force would diminish by 20,000-30,000 by spring and, possibly, tens of thousands more later in 2006.
And February 2005's Washington Post:
Buoyed by a higher turnout and less violence than expected in Sunday's Iraqi elections, Pentagon authorities have decided to start reducing the level of U.S. forces in Iraq next month by about 15,000 troops, down to about 135,000, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said yesterday.
Whether the situation on the ground warrants a draw down to early 2005 levels (and below) is at best debatable.

Snow storm

The Swamp (Chicago Tribune's blog) has the DSCC snowflake (stretch the term) on Tony Snow:
Considering how critical he has been of George Bush and his handling of fiscal spending, security, and domestic policy, it will be curious to see how Tony Snow steps into his role as White House spokesman. The following is a short compilation of some of Snow’s greatest hits on George Bush and the White House as well as a collection of his more memorable quotes on a number of social issues, including a defense of David Duke and his claim that “racism isn't that big a deal anymore.”


2006: Snow Said Bush Looks “Guilty.” In light of Bush’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, the Dubai ports deal, and plummeting approval ratings, Snow said “…you ever seen those guilty guys in a court case, you know, the guilty guys are sitting passively? That's what the president looks like…” [Fox News, 3/4/06]

2005: Snow Said Bush Looks Impotent. “No president has looked this impotent this long when it comes to defending presidential powers and prerogatives.” [Snow Column, 9/30/05]

2006: Snow Said Bush “Lost Control” of Budget. In his syndicated column, Snow wrote, “A Republican president and a Republican Congress have lost control of the federal budget and cannot resist the temptation to stop raiding the public fisc. George W. Bush and his colleagues have become not merely the custodians of the largest government in the history of humankind, but also exponents of its vigorous expansion.” [Snow Column, 3/17/06]

2005: Snow Called Bush an “Embarrassment” Following the Democratic electoral wins in 2005, Snow said that “…George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.” [Snow Column, 11/11/05]

2006: Snow Criticized Bush’s Domestic Policy Commenting on Bush’s State of the Union Address, Snow called Bush’s domestic policy “listless.” [Snow Column, 2/3/06]

2000, 2003: Snow Found Fault with Bush’s Fiscal Policies. Snow has sharp words for Bush on his lack of “spending restraint.” In 2003, Tony Snow said, “When it comes to federal spending, George W. Bush is the boy who can’t say no. In each of his three years at the helm, the president has warned Congress to restrain its spending appetites, but so far nobody has pushed away from the table mainly because the president doesn’t seem to mean what he says.” In 2000, Snow said Bush “will shovel money into programs that enjoy undeserved prestige, such as Head Start.” [The Detroit News, 12/28/03; Snow Column, 8/25/00 ]

2000: Snow Took Bush to Task On His Grammar. In 2000, Snow said Bush got “his father’s syntax. At one point last week, he stunned a friendly audience by barking out absurd and inappropriate words, like a soul tortured with Tourette’s.” In the same column, Snow wrote that “The English Language has become a minefield for the man, whose malaprops make him the political heir not of Ronald Reagan, but Norm Crosby.” [Snow Column, 8/25/00]

2004: Snow Criticized Bush’s CIA. Snow said, “We have now got a CIA that is largely incapable of putting human assets, spies on the ground, and seeing things. And furthermore, there's a huge deficit of people who can even speak languages, such as Arabic, to be able to blend in with the local culture.” [The O'Reilly Factor, 7/9/04]


2003: “Racism Isn’t That Big a Deal Anymore.” In October 2003, Snow defended Rush Limbaugh’s controversial comments that Donovan McNabb was overrated and that reporters are disposed towards black quarterbacks. “The comment wasn't racist,” Snow said, “but that did not stop political opportunists from accusing Rush of bias.” Snow added, “Racism isn't that big a deal anymore.” [“Fox News Sunday,” 10/5/03, emphasis added]

1991: Snow Defended David Duke. In 1991, then-White House speechwriter Tony Snow defended former KKK leader David Duke, saying, “Duke is talking about things people really care about: high taxes, crummy schools, crime-ridden streets, welfare dependency, equal opportunity. A lot of politicians aren't talking about these things.” [Chicago Tribune, 11/20/91]

2005: Snow Thinks Calling Racism Systemic Is “Making Excuses” In June 2005, Snow said that calling racism and poverty systemic is “making excuses” for cultural problems in the U.S. rather than trying to understand the situation of the poor. “When you say systemic, it sounds like you're trying to make excuses…in other words, it sounds like you're giving people a copout.” [The O’Reilly Factor, 6/30/05]

1999: Snow Said Keyes “Cries Racism” Too Often. In a discussion on the Republican presidential primary candidates, Snow accused Republican Alan Keyes of “crying racism” too often. Snow said, “He does have a penchant for crying racism … When he was at the State Department and he was the hot – the higher-ups there were not listening to him, he blew up and accused them of racism as well.” [Fox Special Report With Brit Hume; 12/3/99]

1998: Snow Loves The “Least Politically Correct” Holiday. In 1998, Tony Snow commented that he loves Thanksgiving because it is “the least politically correct” holiday. Snow said, “I love Thanksgiving. It is the least politically correct of all our holidays. It celebrates the old-fashioned bourgeois family. It praises God, who's creator non grata in most of our public schools, and it bespeaks our national faith in higher truths and greater goods, as well as in our neighbors and ourselves.” [Fox News Sunday, 10/30/98]

2000: Snow Knows of No Examples of Wrongful Execution. Snow said on Fox News that he has “never heard anybody come up with proof of anybody since 1976 who's been executed wrongly.” [Fox News: The Edge with Paula Zahn, 6/21/00]

1995: Snow Said Anti-Smoking Campaign “Federal Nannyism” Tony Snow wrote in a 1995 USA Today column that the government’s anti-smoking effort was “federal nannyism.” [USA Today, 4/14/95]

The GOP's latest bid to control the GOP's spending

The Hill has an interesting anecdote:
On a flight back from Las Vegas aboard Air Force One on Monday, Sen. John Ensign urged President Bush to issue a veto threat against the $106.5 billion emergency war-funding bill under Senate consideration this week.

The Nevada Republican carried a message that many of his conservative colleagues and their constituents hoped would move the president to aid them in trimming the spending package, which also contains money for hurricane relief, fighting avian flu, port security and farm programs, by as much as $14 billion.
The A.P. shows the results:
WASHINGTON — The White House promised Tuesday to veto a huge Senate bill that would pay the rising costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and repair Hurricane Katrina damage unless the cost to taxpayers was scaled back to President Bush's original requests.
The editorial page of the Washington Post places blame on everyone:
The Bush administration is at fault here for insisting on financing the war, four years into the conflict, as if it were an emergency. As Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) noted in a Wall Street Journal column last week, the size of supplementals has grown nearly fivefold, from an annual average of $22 billion during the 1990s to more than $100 billion in recent years.

But Congress has seized gleefully on the opportunity to spend even more. After the Bush administration requested $92.2 billion in extra spending, the Senate Appropriations Committee matched that and raised it $14.3 billion. (The House actually came in just below the president's request.) CongressDaily calculated that the Senate added money at a rate of more than $80 million per minute during the two-hour markup.

Even more may end up being added on the Senate floor. We hope a majority will show enough restraint to strip out some of the worst pork. And we hope that President Bush, whose budget office said last night that he "strongly objects" to the railroad money and would veto the measure if it exceeds his original request, manages to stop this irresponsibility.

Rumsfeld, Rice and Iraq

The secretary of defense sees "impressive progress" in Iraq, CNN.

Here are some interesting excerpts about the rare visit of two senior cabinet members to a war zone.

The Washington Post:
It is highly unusual for the two most senior Cabinet officers to make a joint visit to a country. President Bush -- whose approval ratings have sunk to new lows because of the war -- last week secretly directed Rice and Rumsfeld to make the trip as soon as the four-month political impasse over the selection of Iraq's prime minister was broken, officials said. The mission is an intended to be "an important message to the American people," Rice said, in part because it will demonstrate the Pentagon and State Department are working together to assist the new government.
The New York Times:
Nevertheless, an air of tension persists between the two departments and, despite denials, between the two secretaries. It was manifested last month when Ms. Rice commented that the United States had made "thousands of tactical errors" in Iraq and Mr. Rumsfeld said he did not know what she was talking about.
Bloomberg News:
``There is no question but that as the new government is formed and the ministers are in place, that it's appropriate for us to begin discussions with the new government about the conditions on the ground and the pace at which we'll be able to turn over responsibility in the provinces,'' Rumsfeld was cited as saying by AP.
The A.P.:
"We just want to make sure there are no seams between what we're doing politically and what we're doing militarily," Rice told reporters on her plane en route to Iraq. "Secretary Rumsfeld and I are going to be there together because a lot of the work that has to be done is at that juncture between political and military."
The actual state of affairs in Iraq is far from what Don Rumsfeld appears to perceive.

Spreading conflict throughout the Middle East

The Los Angeles Times:
QATIF, Saudi Arabia — The conflict in Iraq has begun to spill over onto this hardscrabble, sunburned swath of coast, breathing new life into the ancient rivalry between the country's powerful Sunni Muslim majority and the long-oppressed Shiite minority in one of the most oil-rich areas of the world.

"Saudi Sunnis are defending Iraqi Sunnis, and Saudi Shiites are defending Iraqi Shiites," said Hassan Saffar, Saudi Arabia's most influential Shiite cleric. "There's a fear that it will cause a struggle here."
The A.P.:
ANKARA, Turkey - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged only modest U.S. help yesterday as Turkey tries to counter a threat from Kurdish rebels using bases across its border with Iraq. She asked for patience with the new Iraqi government.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) had free run of a swath of northern Iraq and had set up training camps and bases. Turkey fears that civil unrest in Iraq could lead to the fragmentation of the country and often has called on the United States to stop PKK fighters from using Iraq as a base to stage attacks inside Turkey.
The Christian Science Monitor:
The Kurdish desire for independence, however, still runs deep. And with parts of Iraq increasingly unstable and growing more Islamic, experts say the Kurds, who are relatively secular, are working quietly to consolidate and extend the autonomy they have enjoyed since 1991.

The Kurdish Regional Government, which has run the Kurd's autonomous zone in northern Iraq since the early 1990s, recently has signed contracts with foreign oil companies to explore for new oil fields in Kurdish-ruled areas of Iraq. Experts say they hope the revenue generated from these deals could provide greater economic, and thus political, independence from Baghdad.

"The Kurds are offering attractive terms to companies that are willing to take a gamble on the legal situation," says Rafiq Latta, a Middle East editor of the Argus Oil and Gas report in London. "And some small oil companies are prepared to take the bait."
Recall yesterday's Washington Post: "Shiite Militias Move Into Oil-Rich Kirkuk, Even as Kurds Dig In"

One should also pour over every detail of Borzou Daraghai's near daily offereings. The Los Angeles Times:
Government workers in Ramadi have gone on strike to protest the alleged killings of five Iraqis by U.S. forces, said Abdul-Sattar Arrawi, a professor at the local university. "The strike will continue until U.S. forces leave the city and confess to their crime," said Mohammed Ahmed Dulaimi, a member of the City Council.
Impressive progress indeed.

The headlines should read: Fox News' Tony Snow...

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush announced his new White House press secretary on Wednesday: former Fox News host Tony Snow.

"As a professional journalist, Tony Snow understands the importance of the relationship between government and those whose job it is to cover the government," Bush said during a White House appearance.
It should be noted that Tony Snow was V.P. Cheney's pick for the post-shooting interview. It should also be noted that Snow did a fairly good job.

So, is this a play to the GOP base that would listen to Snow subbing for Rush?

Is this a confirmation of Cheney's influence in the White House, as the V.P. only watches Fox News?

The most important question: will this improve Bush's dismal ratings? One can answer that without much speculation and with a firm "no." Those ratings are a result of the Iraq war among other problems.

One of those problems is Don Rumsfeld. CNN:
The defense secretary, who flew to Baghdad on orders from President Bush, arrived in Iraq on a C-17 military transport. Rice arrived six hours later, flying in from Turkey.

At a news conference with Casey, Rumsfeld said Iraq is moving forward.

"This is a sovereign country, and they are making impressive progress," he said.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

News roundup 04.25.2006

Bush's approval rating

In the telephone poll of 1,012 adult Americans carried out Friday through Sunday by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN, 32 percent of respondents said they approve of Bush's performance, 60 percent said they disapprove and 8 percent said they do not know.
The cost of gas and energy

The Washington Post: "Bush Orders Probe Into Gas Pricing"

The Boston Globe: "GOP leaders urge probe of gas prices"

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has decided to temporarily halt deposits to the nation's strategic petroleum reserve to make more oil available for consumer needs and relieve pressure on pump prices, a senior administration official said Tuesday.
The Boston Globe:
CARACAS -- Leftist President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela said yesterday he would greatly expand the discounted home heating oil program he started last year for needy people in Massachusetts and other northeastern states.
The long war in Iraq

Borzou Daragahi in the Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — The U.S. ambassador here on Monday urged war-weary Americans to dig in for the long haul: a years-long effort to transform Iraq and the surrounding region, now one of the world's major trouble spots.

"We must perhaps reluctantly accept that we have to help this region become a normal region, the way we helped Europe and Asia in another era," Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Now it's this area from Pakistan to Morocco that we should focus on."
The Washington Post:
KIRKUK, Iraq -- Hundreds of Shiite Muslim militiamen have deployed in recent weeks to this restive city -- widely considered the most likely flash point for an Iraqi civil war -- vowing to fight any attempt to shift control over Kirkuk to the Kurdish-governed north, according to U.S. commanders and diplomats, local police and politicians.
The New York Times: "Rebuilding of Iraqi Pipeline as Disaster Waiting to Happen"

The Hill:
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he wants to divide his panel’s inquiry into the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq-related intelligence into two parts, a move that would push off its most politically controversial elements to a later time.

The inquiry has dragged on for more than two years, a slow pace that prompted Democrats to force the Senate into an extraordinary closed-door session in November. Republicans then promised to speed up the probe.
The Iranian nuclear "crisis"

Bloomberg News: "Iran, Russia Donate to Palestinians After Cuts by Europe, U.S."

TEHRAN -- Iran's hard-line president said yesterday he is thinking about withdrawing from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty if the UN atomic agency tries to prevent his country from enriching uranium.
The Guardian:
Iran will withdraw from all cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency if the UN security council imposes sanctions, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator warned today.

The New York Times: "In Immigration Remarks, Bush Hints He Favors Senate Plan"

The Washington Post:
IRVINE, Calif., April 24 -- Under pressure from Republicans to play a bigger role in the immigration debate, President Bush will begin meeting key lawmakers Tuesday to help forge a bipartisan agreement by Memorial Day to offer some undocumented workers a path to citizenship.
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Bush came to Orange County, a flash point for tensions in the national debate on the issue, as Congress geared up for another effort to overhaul immigration laws. Although Bush insisted that any immigration bill should include a guest-worker program, he resisted calls for more direct presidential involvement in trying to reach a legislative compromise.
(CNN) -- More than three-quarters of Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants who have spent many years in the United States to apply for citizenship, according to a poll conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corp.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"Hit the ground and brace yourself with your weapon!"

If this does not demonstrate to you the situation that confronts infantry units because of Iraq, nothing else can. (Hat tip to Kvatch.) The Houston Chronicle:
FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Navy sailors are trading their sea legs for dry land combat skills to help them survive in war zones, and the training is coming from an unusual place _ the Army.

The Navy is sending thousands of men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan to relieve pressure on Army and Marine ground forces, some of whom have faced repeated deployments to the region.

"Hit the ground and brace yourself with your weapon!" Army senior drill instructor Warren Brown yelled at a dozen Navy trainees slithering across a mud-soaked field. "Look around, pick yourself up and go! You're under fire!"

News roundup (domestic)

Blogger continues to vex... Anyone else having problems?

Here is a handful of stories I found interesting today.

The USA Today:
WASHINGTON — The White House and Senate Republican leaders are gearing up to oppose a $106.5 billion spending bill for the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina this week because some lawmakers have added unrelated aid for farmers and fisheries, highways and ports.

The unusual battle pits President Bush and Republican leaders concerned about rising federal budget deficits against members of the Senate Appropriations Committee who have attached dozens of items sought by individual lawmakers. Even more new spending will be sought by senators during the weeklong debate. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wants to add veterans health care; Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., wants to add border security.
Bloomberg News: "Bush Faces Dissent From Republicans on Climate Change"

The Washington Times: "Specter suggests 'windfall' tax on oil"

Bob Novak:
This column, echoing many well-placed Republicans, was wrong in originally interpreting Bolten's shift from director of the Office of Management and Budget to chief of staff as a confirmation of Rove's dominance. Bolten, who is deceptively low-key, really appears in the mold of such powerful past Republican White House chiefs as Sherman Adams, James Baker, Donald Regan and John Sununu -- who all were intimately involved with policy.

The problem is the change in the White House probably comes 1-1/2 years too late. No matter what his desires, Bolten is no longer able to draw upon the political capital from Bush's re-election to take the initiative. Facing intransigent Democrats and uncooperative Republicans, Bush's reshaped team at best can try to minimize damage and hope for the best in the midterm elections. But at least that effort looks more realistic than it did a month ago.

News roundup 04.24.2006 (foreign policy)

Blogger has been problematic and I have only now been able to post this -- 1350 EST

Lots of news, so two posts.

The long war in Iraq

The most important story of the day is Ellen Knickmeyer's account in the Washington Post of continued abuse in Iraqi detention centers, and whether the United States is doing enough to stop it.

The USA Today: "'Difficult job ahead' for Iraq's PM-designate"

The Christian Science Monitor: "New Iraqi leader seeks unity"

The Los Angeles Times:
In one of his first public speeches after his endorsement, Maliki promised to rein in the militias, but he said he would do so by adhering to a controversial law that requires making them part of the government's security forces.

"It's a message in two directions," said Hassan Bazzaz, a political analyst in Baghdad. "One to those who are scared of the militias and the other message is to the militia people: 'We will take care of you.' "
The Los Angeles Times: "Bush Counsels Iraqi Leaders on Their `Awesome' Duties"

A.P.: "Bush urges Iraqi leaders to act quickly to form new government"

The New York Daily News:
According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, the combined costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan this year will hit $117.9 billion - about $9.8 billion a month - if Congress passes the White House's emergency money request, as is virtually certain.
The Chicago Tribune:
WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq has ordered sweeping changes for privatized military support operations after confirming violations of human-trafficking laws and other abuses by contractors involving possibly thousands of foreign workers on American bases, according to records obtained by the Tribune.
The Washington Times:
Pentagon reconstruction officials are privately complaining that the special inspector general for Iraq is drafting error-prone reports and hampering their work in Iraq, according to defense officials.

But the office of Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the White House-appointed special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, rejects the complaints, saying Mr. Bowen issues accurate reports and solid advice.

Ahmadinejad addressed a group of Iranian and international journalists -- only the second time since taking office in August that the Iranian leader has allowed foreign media into a news conference.

"Our activity is quite transparent," he said, according to a translator. "We are not like others, which work in shadows. Everything is out in the open, and this in itself is a witness to the fact that we are fully peaceful."
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday there was no need for U.S.-Iran talks now that a permanent Iraqi government was in place.
Anybody see that coming?

A narrative lede of note from the Christian Science Monitor:
TEHRAN, IRAN – Kaveh Ahmadi, a taxi driver and veteran of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, was quivering with indignation as he wove his aging Iranian-made Paykan at high speed through the heavy evening traffic of Iran's capital, Tehran. An ad on the side of the road read "Nuclear energy is our indisputable right," a slogan now seen frequently on television and at public events.

"I've got two Iraqi bullets in my leg," he says. "It was Western countries that supported [Saddam Hussein] when he used chemical weapons against us. Now they destroy Iraq and lecture us on human rights. America killed more than a hundred thousand people when it dropped atomic bombs on Japan, but they won't even let us have nuclear energy."
The Financial Times: "Bush adviser dismisses call for talks with Iran"

From Russia with Weapons

The Christian Science Monitor:
MOSCOW – The cold-war paradigm of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) between the US and Russia never really went away, and experts warn of a replay of the old superpower arms race.

"There are many nuclear-armed countries in the world, but only Russia and the US have this MAD relationship, in which each sees it as necessary to maintain the means to deter the other," says Dmitri Suslov, an analyst with the independent Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. "We need to get away from that, to find a new basis of stability, but I'm afraid we're not going in that direction right now."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Detention centers, disaster relief and God

Hat tip to Zen for the inspiration on this post. He blogged about Halliburton's contract for a nearly $400 million detention center to handle a rush of immigrants.

This has been one of the most vocally religious presidencies since perhaps Abraham Lincoln. Yet, for all the pretension of holiness, this administration has been Godless in its results: Divisive election politics. Wars. New Orleans.

On Sunday's Meet the Press, Sister Joan Chittister said one of those phrases that resonates (my emphasis for the phrase):
SISTER CHITTISTER: ... I’m agreeing that we’re in this together, that, that we have to see life as, as our basic value that we have. We’re politicizing religion. Having religion in the public arena is one thing, politicizing it is another. If we, if we do that, we’ll lose pluralism for Puritanism. We don’t want to do that. We’re risking the country at the same time.

The function of the church is to form and shape consciences. We have two different kinds of laws. We have laws that require and laws that permit. Nobody—when Catholics did not believe in divorce—do not believe in divorce.

We never asked the United States government to outlaw the divorce procedure. We never said that’s the only way this can be an honorable nation. Now we’re back into those kinds of questions. If we’re looking for, for, for a moral standard, we have to do something about looking at the national budget. Your national budget is theology walking. If we’re really a pro-life country and not a pro-birth country, we, we won’t be taking from all the life bodies in order to feed a war body. Somehow or other, we have got to be willing to live in our denominations the best we can in those denominations, growing—open to growing into answers that are coming to us from other people, other places, other sciences. That’s, that’s my great concern. I believe it’s you all come. I don’t want anybody in a, in a time of great newness and emerging ideas to say, “Everybody, but you.”
The previous religious president, the Great Emancipator, never declared who was right or who was wrong. He delineated clearly the differences in position, but never ascribed the Almighty's judgment from his own knowledge. From the great Second Inaugural:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Studied, sincere humility would have been a gracious addition to this presidency. It is far too late to recover what has been lost. But, as the Clinton administration taught that moral failings can imperil a chief executive's agenda, may we now learn that false religiosity can be as distateful as excessive secularism.

Note: I will be unable to blog over the coming days due to family matters.

The state of Iraq

I would anticipate this latest report will garner a great deal of attention. The Australian:
NEARLY 20,000 people have been kidnapped in Iraq since the beginning of the year alone, according to a report published today on violence in the war-torn country.

The survey, which underscores the massive social upheaval caused by rebel activity and increasing sectarian conflict, does not give the number of people killed. However, it says 15,462 people have been wounded.

The 19,548 people kidnapped includes 4959 women and 2350 children, according to the report prepared by a group of 125 non-governmental organisations and made public in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala.
Meanwhile, the A.P.:
WASHINGTON Apr 19, 2006 (AP)— President Bush said Wednesday he didn't expect to get unanimous support at home for the decision to invade Iraq and said failure there "is not an option."
Actually, Mr. President, failure is an option made more likely by your incompetence and in particular by the continued employment of Donald Rumsfeld.

News roundup 04.19.2006

The long war in Iraq

Let's begin with the president's constant analysis.

Bloomberg News:
April 19 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President George W. Bush said Iraqis must move swiftly to form a new government lest the ``vacuum in the political process'' produce further instability and violence.
The president has channeled PoliSci 101 in the past. The present courses of action by both the elected Iraqis and the United States is not resolving this vacuum. Today's news stories provide a clear demonstration.

A.P.: "Iraq PM: Quitting 'out of the question'"

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Iraqis finger-point; stalemate drags on"

Meanwhile sectarian violence and a sort of He-Said/He-Said of this insurgency continues.

The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Urban clashes continued for a second day in a volatile Sunni Arab neighborhood of northern Baghdad, leaving at least five Iraqis dead and 20 wounded in fighting Tuesday between gunmen and Iraqi security forces.

Witnesses described the hostilities as sectarian gun battles between Sunni Muslim residents and the Shiite Muslim-led security forces. But Iraqi officials said outside insurgents had infiltrated the capital's Adhamiya quarter and provoked clashes with police and the army. Fighting in the district Monday left at least three people dead.
Residents said the attack was clearly carried out by Shia militia.

"I have seen these members of the Badr militia and Mehdi Army wearing Iraqi Police (IP) uniforms and using IP pick-up trucks roaming our streets," said Abu Aziz, "They tried to reach our sacred Abu Hanifa mosque, but they were stopped before they could do so, thanks to god. Some were just wearing civilian clothes with black face masks, others were definitely commandos from the ministry of interior."
The Washington Post:
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have abandoned their homes and moved into makeshift housing in the last few weeks because of death threats from organized Sunni and Shi'ite militias and gangs, the president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society said yesterday.
The Los Angeles Times has this development likely to fuel the ire of Sunnis:
BAGHDAD — Leaders of Iraq's Kurdish north have unveiled a controversial plan to consolidate their hold on the region's future petroleum resources, raising concerns about how the ethnically divided nation will share its oil revenue.
Nation builders

This is an interesting study because so many pundits and administration hawks like to comment on World War Two and post-WW2 reconstruction. From the Boston Globe:
The nearly 400-page report by the government-funded RAND Corporation compared the successful rebuilding of post-World War II Germany and Japan with more recent nation-building efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans.

It found that those earlier reconstruction efforts put healthcare -- including nutrition, basic sanitation, and medical care -- at the top of the rebuilding agenda. But those efforts have not been replicated in recent nation-building efforts.

CNN: "China's leader begins U.S. visit"

The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, April 18 — The competition for access to oil is emerging high on the agenda for President Hu Jintao's visit to the White House this week. President Bush has called China's growing demand for oil one reason for rising prices, and has warned Beijing against trying to "lock up" global supplies.
The Christian Science Monitor:
BEIJING – Feted by Bill Gates, anticipating a 21-gun salute at the White House, spending $15 billion on US aircraft, software, farm and other goods, China's president Hu Jintao intends to show Americans this week that the world's fastest-rising power is not a threat. Mr. Hu is giving three speeches in four days, "more talking than he has done to the Chinese people all year," as a Western diplomatic source here puts it.
Bloomberg News:
April 19 (Bloomberg) -- China, which up to now has relied on U.S. presidents to keep Congress from derailing bilateral relations, is turning to lobbyists to burnish its image with increasingly assertive lawmakers.
The Financial Times:
The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday stepped up the pressure for far-reaching shifts in exchange rates, declaring that the dollar will have to depreciate “significantly” over the medium term if global economic imbalances are to be resolved in an orderly fashion.

In its clearest statement to date on this highly-charged subject, the IMF said it was essential that currencies in Asia and of oil exporters were allowed to appreciate as part of the required “realignment of exchange rates”. But it shied away from giving any specific figures as to the extent of appreciation required.
Staff shake up?

The story is really how little has changed, in both personnel and policy, despite how much change is clearly necessary. AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Continuing a shakeup in President Bush's administration, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday he is resigning, while longtime Bush confidant Karl Rove will lose his policy portfolio.
Reprint Karl Rove's business cards once again!!!1


A.P.: "US envoy says sanctions debated against Iran"

A.P.: "Bush: 'All options on the table' in dealing with Iran"

The Guardian:
Relations between the west and the hardline Iranian regime are set to worsen after a Tehran-based group claimed yesterday it was trying to recruit Iranians and other Muslims in Britain to carry out suicide bombings against Israel.
(I'm starting to think the Mullahs want a war.)

The Washington Times:
The Bush administration yesterday was at a loss to explain the rare presence in Washington of an Iranian government official who slipped into the United States under mysterious circumstances, apparently to attend a scholarly conference.
Rumsfeld's job

The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, April 18 — It has become a daily ritual, the defense of the defense secretary, complete with praise from serving generals, tributes from the president and, from the man on the spot, doses of charm, combativeness and even some humility.
The Chicago Tribune:
WASHINGTON -- Embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went on the offensive Tuesday, suggesting that a group of retired generals who have criticized his management of the Iraq war are actually upset about changes within the military during his five years as the Pentagon chief.
GOP budget

The Christian Science Monitor:
WASHINGTON – Remember Alaska's "bridge to nowhere"? It's about to be topped by what critics call Mississippi's "railroad to nowhere," which is quickly becoming the poster child for excessive spending by the Republican-controlled Congress.

The project, which was added to a $106.5 billion emergency defense spending bill in the Senate, would relocate a Gulf Coast rail line inland, to higher ground. Never mind that the hurricane-battered line was just repaired at a cost of at least $250 million. Or that at $700 million, the project championed by Mississippi's two US senators is being called the largest "earmark" ever.
The new OMB chief's tenure is prognosticated by the Hill:
But Portman’s good relationships could face a strain in his new position, with restive Republicans pushing for reform of the administration’s budgetary policy and a more concerted effort to rein in runaway federal spending. Portman’s nomination is the first White House shakeup under new Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, who officially moved up from the helm of OMB on Monday and already has reached out to congressional leaders.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Know your enemy, know yourself

The situation in Iraq continues to resemble the period known as the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland.

The New York Times:
Adhamiya remained quiet most of the night, but residents awoke shortly after dawn today to muezzins' cries for help. "Allahu akbar!" they called through loudspeakers on the minarets of neighborhood mosques. "God is great!" The phrase has become a code in some Sunni neighborhoods for young men to take up arms against an enemy attack.

Gunfire sounded as Iraqi Army troops pressed in from their perimeter positions around the neighborhood, in northeastern Baghdad. Some of the shooting was from jumpy residents firing into the air. The shooting quieted down by early afternoon, residents said, yet the streets remained empty.

Some Sunni Arab leaders placed the blame for the clashes on Shiite militias. "What happened in Adhamiya is an evil act by an armed militia backed by security and government operatives," Dhafir al-Ani, a spokesman for the largest Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Consensus Front, told a news conference.
The Financial Times:
The prominent Iraqi newspaper al-Zaman claimed that the “people of Adhamiya had foiled a night assault” by a ‘’death squad’’ whose members were disguised as police” and quoted members of the “Adhamiya Defense Committees.”

Reporters trying to get into the district said US and Iraqi forces had sealed off the area yesterday, while witnesses claimed insurgents were again being deployed on rooftops in possible preparation for another round of fighting.

There were reports that at least one civilian was killed and five others wounded in the fighting.

It is significant that the street fighting in Adhamiya has been portrayed, by the Iraqi media and Sunni leaders, as neighbourhood self-defence rather than an insurgent attack on security forces. It could strengthen the insurgents’ claim to be fighting for the Sunni population as a whole.
The Provisional IRA adopted the claim of neighborhood self-defense against the mostly Protestant and unionist Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The Catholic Provos fought an insurgency for almost 30 years, a period known as the Troubles. It did not begin with a hatred of the British, but it soon evolved to that. At present, this administration is entangling the American military in a similar fight, perhaps only different in the degree of carnage; Iraq looks like it may be far worse.

Know your enemy 2.0

MikeVotes has blogged on this all morning and done a far better job than I. Some more news stories.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Snipers held rooftop positions as masked Sunni Arab insurgents said they were gearing up for another open street battle with pro-government Shiite militiamen in Baghdad's Adhamiya district on Tuesday.
The New York Times:
The closing of Adhamiya, in northern Baghdad, seemed to signal deteriorating security in a neighborhood where attacks on American and Iraqi forces had ebbed in recent months. The area is home to hard-line Sunni Arabs who remain hostile to the Shiite-led government and the American presence. At its center is the well-known Abu Hanifa Mosque, where Saddam Hussein made his final public appearance in April 2003 before fleeing Baghdad and the American invasion force.

Know your enemy

Professor Cole has some comments (and different sourcing) on a link I posted in my News Roundup today. The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — Intense fighting broke out between Iraqi security forces and gunmen in a volatile Sunni Arab section of the capital, leaving at least three people dead and terrifying residents during a battle that began during the night and extended into the daylight hours Monday.

Authorities said about 50 Sunni gunmen had fought the country's Shiite-dominated security forces for nine hours in the northern neighborhood of Adhamiya, forcing U.S. troops supporting the Iraqi forces to close down streets and entrances to the area.

Some residents entered the clash, exchanging gunfire with Iraqi soldiers and police they believed to be members of a death squad.

The violence, with its sectarian overtones, highlighted how fractured and fearful the city has become and overshadowed a brief resumption of the trial of former President Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants on human rights abuse charges.

"No one can trust anybody now," said Ali Ubaydi, an Adhamiya resident who said the gunmen had fired heavy machine guns at the Iraqi soldiers guarding the neighborhood.

"No one knows what happened or who they were," he said of the gunmen.
Professor Cole:
American sources say that in the northern Baghdad district of Adhamiyah, a neighborhood militia fought a 9-hour-long pitched battle with Iraqi troops and police, with the Americans coming in to settle it.

But Arabic sources suc (sic) as Al-Zaman , al-Hayat and Aljazeera reported in such a way as to make it look like the brave stand of local (Sunni Arab) men against the predations of (Shiite) death squads masquerading as police. The latter were accused of coming into Adhamiyah in order to kidnap, kill and pillage. The special police commandos of the minstry of the interior are widely believed to comprise Shiite militiamen.
Here's al Jazeera's English report on what I believe was the same battle:
According to unnamed police sources, residents of Adhamiya, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents, began fighting to prevent a Shia militia from entering alongside Iraqi security services.

Also on Monday, one civilian was killed and three others wounded when a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol blew up in central Baghdad.

"Adhamiya residents have taken up arms to prevent the Shi'ite militia from entering. There are bodies on Omar bin Abdul Aziz street but police forces can't get to the area," the source said.

A resident of Adhamiya who gave his name only as Ghina said "fierce clashes" were taking place in the area.

"I heard explosions. Fighting is still taking place but it is not as heavy," Ghina said.

Sunni leaders accuse the Iraqi interior ministry of sanctioning Shia militia death squads, a charge the government denies.
That report was assembled from "agencies".

It has been noted again and again, but the developing complexity of militias within and supporting ISF formations can imperil the perception of American forces throughout the Sunni-Islamic world. We are treading on very, very dangerous ground with few friends.

News roundup 04.18.2006

The long war in Iraq

The Los Angeles Times recounts a lengthy battle between Iraqi security forces and insurgents.

The Philadelphia Inquirer:
BAGHDAD - U.S. officials were warned for more than two years that Shiite Muslim militias were infiltrating Iraq's security forces and taking control of neighborhoods, but they failed to take action to counteract the threat, Iraqi and American officials said.
Rumsfeld's job

The Washington Post's editorial:
PRESIDENT BUSH'S stubborn support for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has compounded U.S. troubles in Iraq, prevented a remedy for the criminal mistreatment of foreign detainees and worsened relations with a host of allies. Now it is deepening the domestic political hole in which the president is mired.
The New York Times: "Rumsfeld Says Calls for Ouster 'Will Pass'"


The Guardian: "Oil prices rise amid Iran fears"

The Times of London:
Iran staged a show of military might today as thousands of its troops paraded with guns, rockets and even small submarines through central Tehran.
Reuters via the Boston Globe:
MOSCOW -- The United States will press other major world powers today to consider what it calls targeted sanctions against Iran as an April 30 deadline nears for Tehran to demonstrate to the UN that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

Michael Binyon in the Times of London:
The clear aim of those behind the bomber was to heighten the tension both within Israel and among the Palestinians and sabotage any de facto accommodation with Hamas. It is no coincidence that this comes after renewed calls by Iran’s President for the destruction of Israel and after Iran offered to step in to fund the Hamas Government.
The Boston Globe: "Hamas defends restaurant bombing"

The Philadelphia Inquirer:
Unlike the larger Islamist group Hamas, which declared a temporary halt to suicide bombings last year, Islamic Jihad has pressed on, claiming responsibility for most of the nine suicide bombings that have struck Israel in the last 15 months. Thirty-six people have died in those attacks.
A.P.: "Qatar pledges funds to Hamas"

The Christian Science Monitor: "Attack tests Israeli response to Hamas"

The Times of London: "Israel rules out retaliation strike against Hamas"

Staff shake up?

The Washington Post:
Newly installed White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten sent a clear signal on his first full day on the job yesterday that a broader shake-up of President Bush's politically troubled operation is imminent, asking aides who are thinking of leaving sometime this year to submit their resignations right away.
The Chicago Tribune:
But experts said they don't foresee significant changes in policy. And unless one of the new faces is a jarring choice, the adjustments are unlikely to give President Bush's ailing poll numbers a strong boost.

A.P. via Los Angeles Times:
UNITED NATIONS — Russia and China on Monday blocked proposed sanctions against four Sudanese accused of interfering with peace efforts and violating human rights in Darfur.

Monday, April 17, 2006

We'll stand down when they stand up

Hat tip to the Cunning Realist, A.P. reports:
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River here will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq's turbulent future.

The new U.S. Embassy also seems as cloaked in secrecy as the ministate in Rome.

"We can't talk about it. Security reasons," Roberta Rossi, a spokeswoman at the current embassy, said when asked for information about the project.

News roundup 04.17.2006

The long war in Iraq

The Los Angeles Times: "Najaf's Elite Clerics Playing Key Role in Iraq Now"

The Washington Post:
BAGHDAD, April 16 -- Iraq's top legislator postponed the meeting of parliament scheduled for Monday, putting off "for a few days" an attempt to resolve a months-long deadlock over the formation of the country's new government.

The move was not entirely unexpected, but it still represented a setback for U.S. officials and an Iraqi public losing patience with four months of political paralysis since Dec. 15, when the country held elections to form a long-term government.
The Christian Science Monitor:
Created by Congress, the ISG aims to make a forward-looking, independent assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq. Like the 9/11 commission, also co-chaired by Mr. Hamilton, it ruled out any interest in assigning blame.

Indeed, some prominent experts wouldn't be part of the group, because they had already taken a position on the war.

"We are looking for insights and advice that might be helpful to the president," said former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, the other cochair, on Tuesday.
Reuters: "IRAQ: Sectarian violence continues to spur displacement"


The Los Angeles Times: "Iran Pledges $50 Million to Cash-Strapped Palestinians"

The New York Times:
Iran has consistently maintained that it abandoned work on this advanced technology, called the P-2 centrifuge, three years ago. Western analysts long suspected that Iran had a second, secret program — based on the black market offerings of the renegade Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan — separate from the activity at its main nuclear facility at Natanz. But they had no proof.

Then on Thursday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran was "presently conducting research" on the P-2 centrifuge, boasting that it would quadruple Iran's enrichment powers. The centrifuges are tall, thin machines that spin very fast to enrich, or concentrate, uranium's rare component, uranium 235, which can fuel nuclear reactors or atom bombs.
Reuters via the Boston Globe:
VIENNA -- Iran has expanded uranium conversion facilities in Isfahan, and has reinforced an underground uranium enrichment plant, a US think tank said. The report arose amid growing concern over possible US military action.
The Financial Times: "Crude oil touches post-Katrina highs"

A.P.: "Senators urge direct diplomacy with Iran"

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Pope's speech decries nuclear impasse / Without mentioning countries by name, Benedict XVI urged diplomacy in the U.S.-Iranian standoff."


TEL AVIV, Israel -- A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a fast-food restaurant in a bustling commercial area of Tel Aviv during the Passover holiday Monday, killing seven other people and wounding at least 49, police said.

The Boston Globe: "Rumsfeld gets more backing over Iraq"

Bloomberg News:
April 17 (Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be permanently damaged by failed U.S. planning for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion even if he survives calls for his resignation from seven former military commanders, defense analysts said.
Shake up?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Signaling a possible shake-up among President Bush's senior advisers, the new White House chief of staff told top presidential aides Monday to expect changes that "refresh and re-energize the team." He invited anyone who is thinking of leaving before year's end to do so now.

WASHINGTON Apr 16, 2006 (AP)— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an architect of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, says incumbents sometimes forget they are in office to change the government, not to be changed by it.

And he is worried that the GOP is in for a bad time in the fall elections.

"When you get poll after poll telling you basically the same thing, you have to respect the right of the American people to say they want change," Gingrich said on "Fox News Sunday."

Friday, April 14, 2006

News roundup 04.14.2006

The long war in Iraq (and who conducts it)

The New York Times: "Al Qaeda's Man in Iraq Gets Encouragement From His HQ"

A.P. via the Boston Globe: "US faltering in Iraq, Qaeda deputy declares"

Al Jazeera:
Leading Shia politicians are to meet Iraq's president to decide the fate of the embattled prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Bassem Sharif, spokesman of the Fadila party, said on Friday: "This afternoon at 4pm (1200 GMT) the seven heads of Shia parties within the alliance will meet the president to discuss the issue of prime minister."
A.P. via the Chicago Tribune:
ABU GHRAIB, Iraq -- U.S. and Iraqi commanders are increasingly critical of a policy that lets Iraqi soldiers leave their units virtually at will -- essentially deserting with no punishment. They say the lax rule drains Iraqi ranks confronting the insurgency, in some cases by 30 percent or even half.
Don Rumsfeld

A.P. via the Baltimore Sun
WASHINGTON // Crusty and unapologetic, Donald H. Rumsfeld is the public face of an unpopular war and a target of unrelenting criticism. A growing number of commanders who served under him say he has botched the Iraq operation, ignored the advice of his generals and should be replaced.
The New Yok Times: "More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation"

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, one of several retired generals who has recently called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said Friday there is no coordinated anti-Rumsfeld effort among the generals, and that he hasn't talked to the others.

BBC News: "US in warning to 'defiant' Iran"

The New York Times: "Meeting Yields No Progress on Curbing Iran Nuclear Bid"

The Independent:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a typically inflammatory statement only hours before Mr ElBaradei arrived in Tehran. "Our answer to those who are angry about Iran obtaining the full nuclear cycle is one phrase, we say: Be angry and die of this anger," he said.
A.P. via the Washington Post:
MOSCOW -- Russia will host another round of talks next week with the United States, the European Union and China on Iran's nuclear program, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.
The Baltimore Sun:
WASHINGTON // The government has far greater confidence in the assessments of Iran's weapons capabilities than it did in those on Iraq because analysis has improved as a result of "lessons learned" from the Iraq intelligence failures, senior U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday.
Reuters: "Oil rises as Iran jitters trump swelling stocks"

The Christian Science Monitor:
"After 9/11, there was an awakening," says analyst Richard Perle, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board from 2001 to 2003. "The administration has to believe that it's possible to wait too long to deal with a problem, the contours of which could have been seen easily before. Is it safe to do that again?"

Just the international major stories for today.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Speak softly. Carry big stick. Save money at the pump.

I can think of a number of reasons why the situation with Iran requires more quiet diplomacy than this administration seems capable of conducting. Iran is, by estimates, a decade away from the necessary steps to build a bomb. Foreign powers have acted, though not always on the same page with the White House, in a promising manner. Our current disposition in Iraq leaves us vulnerable to immediate military action -- which is not necessary based on the above assumptions.

Those reasons are all inter-related and derive from global politics. The other major reason to be diplomatically prudent with Iran is the cost of oil and energy in general. We know from the experience of last year's Gulf hurricanes that the cost of oil can increase quickly. The effects are well known as well.

The nuclear impasse is not the only source of high oil prices. But, they are a source. TMCNet:
"The ongoing Nigerian output losses and continued concern over Iran are unlikely to be resolved in the near future," the IEA said in its monthly report. "For now, actual and potential supply disruptions and falling US product stock levels are driving the oil price rally."
It is sound diplomatically to incremently increase pressure on Iran, and to not stoke the oil market with tough public talk -- tough public talk that is dubious militarily.

News roundup 04.13.2006

The long war in Iraq

The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — As a political deadlock continues over the formation of a new Iraqi government, Shiite Muslim leaders have launched a new offensive in favor of beleaguered Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari by trying to drive a wedge between Kurds and Sunni Arabs who oppose Jafari's winning a full term in office.
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
After three years in which the U.S. government allocated more than $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction, a bill making its way through Congress adds only $1.6 billion this year, just $100 million of it for construction - not of schools or power stations, but of prisons.
The Washington Post: "Iraq Reconstruction Teams Delayed at State Department"

The Christian Science Monitor:
The escalation of sectarian bloodshed that followed the bombing has driven 6,600 families from their homes, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent and the Iraqi government. The houses mushrooming around this neighborhood are an indication that the separation of Iraq's Arab Shiites and Sunnis is accelerating, threatening the country's long-term unity.
The Jerusalem Post:
The Arab League called the meeting to work up ways to form a "united front" to help stabilize the country. But Mubarak's comments this weekend stoked concerns among Iraq's Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders that the Sunni-dominated league, which is based in Cairo, is biased against them.

The New York Times:
Still, nuclear analysts called the claims exaggerated. They said nothing had changed to alter current estimates of when Iran might be able to make a single nuclear weapon, assuming that is its ultimate goal. The United States government has put that at 5 to 10 years, and some analysts have said it could come as late as 2020.
BBC News:
So given these limitations, the IISS believes it would take Iran at least a decade to produce enough HEU for a single nuclear weapon.

Dr Barnaby agrees.

"The CIA says 10 years to a bomb using highly enriched uranium and that is a reasonable and realistic figure in my opinion," he said.
The A.P. via the Washington Post: "Iran Vows Not to Back Away From Enrichment"

The Baltimore Sun:
TEHRAN, Iran // A day after Iran announced that its engineers had reached a new, more advanced stage in uranium enrichment, a top nuclear official said yesterday that the nation planned to expand its nuclear program by installing and operating thousands of centrifuges in the coming years.
Knight Ridder via the Boston Globe: "US urges a strong response to Iran"

Bloomberg News: "ElBaradei Visits Iran Seeking Controls on Uranium Enrichment"

BBC News: "UN watchdog puts pressure on Iran"

Reuters via China Daily: "China to send envoy to Iran, urges restraint"

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad congratulated the Iranian nation and government on the occasion of IRI's joining of the world nuclear club here Wednesday in a meeting with Chairman of Iran's Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
The L.A. Times via the Baltimore Sun:
If President Bush were to order military action, most respondents said they would support airstrikes against Iranian targets, but only about one in four said they would support the use of American ground troops in Iran.
Knight Ridder via the Seattle Times:
TEHRAN, Iran — Apart from a few schoolyard rallies and celebratory newspaper headlines Wednesday, Iran's first day in the nuclear club was subdued, with workaday Iranians still more preoccupied with pollution and unemployment than possible retaliation from U.S.-led Western powers.
Leaker in chief

The Washington Post: "Libby Wasn't Ordered to Leak Name, Papers Say"

The A.P. via the San Francisco Chronicle:
"We have found the weapons of mass destruction," Bush said in an interview with a Polish TV station. "We found biological laboratories."

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Bush was relying on information from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency when he said the trailers seized after the 2003 invasion were mobile biological laboratories. That information was later discredited by the Iraq Survey Group in its 2004 report.
Fire Rummy

The Los Angeles Times on the latest general to call for a new SecDefense:
In an interview, Batiste said negative feelings about Rumsfeld were widespread among generals he served with. He added that there was an almost universal belief that the secretary did not treat military leaders and their opinions with respect.

"It speaks volumes about the leadership climate within the Pentagon," Batiste said. "Civilian control is absolutely paramount, but in order for it to work, there is a two-way street of respect and dialogue that has to exist."
Massachusetts healthcare

The Los Angeles Times (campaign move):
But Romney exercised his line-item veto power to overturn eight portions of the bill, including a $295-per-worker assessment on businesses that was seen as essential to the bill.

Some critics described the fee as a tax on business, and in call-in radio shows over the weekend many small-business owners told the governor that the assessment was a burden. In vetoing the provision, Romney said the fee was "not necessary to implement or finance healthcare reform."

The governor also vetoed a section of the bill that would have extended dental benefits to adult Medicaid recipients, at an annual cost of $75 million.

Legislative leaders have vowed to override Romney's vetoes.
The Boston Globe on the financial difficulties that may be in this bill's future: "As Romney signs bill, doubts arise about revenues"


The A.P. via the San Francisco Chronicle: "Brown Won't Serve As La. Parish Adviser"


Bloomberg News:
A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll this week shows most Republicans support proposals to give legal status to undocumented workers and legislation that combines tougher enforcement of immigration laws with new temporary-worker programs.

That 64 percent of Republican voters support this two-part approach may be good news for President George W. Bush, who has endorsed a similar proposal. These results indicate Republican voters are at odds with legislation approved by party lawmakers in the House of Representatives last year that only emphasized tougher enforcement and the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border.
The Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — Most Americans say the United States should confront the challenge of illegal immigration by both toughening border enforcement and creating a new guest-worker program rather than stiffening enforcement alone, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

By a solid 2-1 margin, those surveyed said they would prefer such a comprehensive approach, which a bipartisan group of senators has proposed, to an enforcement-only strategy, which the House of Representatives approved in December. Support for a comprehensive approach was about the same among Democrats, independents and Republicans, the poll found.
The Congress

Bloomberg News:
The poll found that registered voters favor Democrats by 49 percent to 35 percent as the party they would like to see win their congressional district this year. Democrats are preferred even on issues that often favor Republicans, such as taxes and the budget deficit, and lead by wide margins on traditional Democratic strengths like Social Security and health care.
The Los Angeles Times:
SAN DIEGO — Voters replacing the disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham were swayed more by party labels and name recognition than boiling issues like corruption and immigration, analysts said Wednesday.

As a result, two familiar faces — Democrat Francine Busby and Republican Brian Bilbray — will probably face each other in a June runoff that, for all intents, could look a lot like Tuesday's free-for-all.