Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More speeches, more nonsense:

W. is back on the road again speechifying' and Oh-pinin' on Iraq and his domestic spying program. Yesterday in Kansas he said he'd talked to a whole bunch of lawyers and they said it was legal to make an end 'round the courts to spy on American's communications. He said, "If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?"

Of course, he really didn't brief Congress, which is the rub. The Congressional Research Service in their second opinion on the NSA spying program said the president appeared to have violated the National Security Act of 1947 by limiting its briefings to congressional leaders. Dan Eggen in the WaPo wrote on the 19th that, "The amended 1947 law requires president Bush to keep all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees 'fully and currently informed' of such intelligence activities as the domestic spying effort." National security specialist Alfred Cummings wrote in the CRS memo that the law requires the president to inform both committees, not just the leaders, because the program involves intelligence gathering. If the program is considered to be covert, the so-called "Gang of Eight," House and Senate leaders including the heads of the intelligence panels, would have to be informed. Egan writes, "The administration can also withhold some operational detail in rare circumstances, but that does not apply to the existence of entire programs. Unless the White House contends the program is covert action, the memo said, 'limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight...would appear to be inconsistent with the law.'" [WaPo]

I don't know, W. might want to think about firing "a whole bunch of lawyers" because someone gave him bad advice. His old lawyer, Alberto Gonzalez, is making the rounds on the talk shows and in speeches claiming that the president has the perfect right to do anything he wants based on the congressional authorization to use force after 9/11, but a lot of the congressmen who signed off on it say they never gave the OK for domestic spying. The previous CRS report found no evidence that congress intended to authorize warrentless wiretaps in its 2001 resolution, either. It seems like W. & Co. want it both ways: On the one hand some presidential powers are "beyond Congress' ability to regulate," according to a 42-page DOJ legal analysis sent up to the Hill last week, but on the other hand, authorization from the Congress to "use all means necessary" "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing NSA activities." So, when Congress givith, the president likes the law, but when Congress taketh away again, then he's a unitary power above Congress and the courts. [Interestingly, W. isn't arguing FISA is an unconstitutional infringement on presidential power, which the law is duly passed by Congress saying he can't wiretap without a warrant.]

I'm not lawyer, but it looks like to me he's guilty as hell. It's just a matter of whether the Republican Congress can live with a president who breaks their laws. In the DeLay and Abramoff cases I've heard a lot of right wing pundits say they 'support the principle not the man;' we'll see how that very high minded position works out when it becomes very clear that the president is spying on people illegally. I swear, if the Democrats can at least win one of the houses of Congress back, we could have president Dennis Hassert finishing out W.'s term.

Back to Iran:

This morning on Radio Times, Patrick Clawson and Joseph Cirincione made a lot of sense on the whole Iranian nuclear issue. The main thing Patrick Clawson focused on was keeping the Strait of Hormuz open and he thought if it came down to the military option, industrial sabotage would be a much more effective tool than air strikes, which could backfire in Iraq. (In that regard, it appears Muktada al-Sadr is in the news again, having spent some time in Tehran recently vowing to start up his rebellion again if the US or Israel attacked Iran.) Joseph Cirincione was of the opinion that Ahmadinejad was skating on thin ice and the powers that be in Iran would only tolerate him as long as he was successful in preventing Iran from going to the Security Council. He pointed out, as I have, that Hashemi Ali Ransanjani has been appointed to lead the Expediency Council (even though, I got the name wrong) which was a move to check Ahmadinejad and that in a few months he and his band of nut jobs could be out of the picture entirely.

If sanctions were to be imposed it was both their views that "smart sanctions" targeted at particular members of the Iranian government would be the most effective method. Cirincioni was really more concerned about proliferation and the real possibility of al-Qaeda getting their hands on a nuke. He pointed out, that there wasn't any way a terrorist organization would have the industrial wherewithal to build a bomb---look at how long it's taken Iran---but that terrorists might be able to get their hands on loose Russian nukes or Muslim sympathizers in Pakistan might be able to pass one on to them. After all, as I've said before, we wouldn't be in this situation with Iran if it hadn't been for A.Q. Khan and Pakistan in the first place.

Back to Pakistan:

Speaking of Pakistan, they're a real big help, aren't they? After the CIA's failed attempt to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri in Damadola, a town in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Pakistani response was so muddled that to this day no one really knows what the hell happened. First they said 11 civilians were killed, then they said 18 were killed and maybe four al-Qaeda types might have been there as well, but the bottom line is their credibility is pretty much shot. I don't know if taking a chance at killing a few al-Qaeda types is such a good bet when the result is undermining Musharraf's credibility and violating Pakistan's sovereignty, which inevitably leads to inflaming the Pakistani radicals who are always looking to overthrow his government.

Musharraf is playing a very dangerous game trying to play both sides and since he hasn't done anything to really promote democracy or reach out to moderate elements in society, we have nothing to fall back on if al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or name the radical organization in Pakistan, finally gets him one day. Talk about the Islamic Bomb! Joseph Cirincione made an interesting point when he compared Iran to Pakistan. In Iran the young walk around with their Nike shoes and listen to American music, but in Pakistan, which is supposedly our good ally in the war on terror, everybody hates us. And they're not exactly doing a great job in getting their border under control.

The NYT reported the situation in the FTA is completely out of control with thousands of fighters from Central Asia, Arab countries, the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants running rampant. Carlotta Gall and Muhammad Khan write that, "Pakistani officials who know the area say the military campaign is bogged down, the local political administration is powerless, and the militants are stronger than ever." (Hmmm...why does this sound familiar?) But not to fear, Maj. General Shaukat Sultan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani military says the 'accounts of the size of the militants' forces was exaggerated. He put the number of foreign militants in the whole tribal areas at '100, plus or minus.'"

In Iraq:

Well, it's good to see there's a reality check going on there just like here at home with W. now coming out of his bubble and talking straight to the American people about Iraq. And how is that national unity government getting on in Baghdad? It looks like the Shia and Kurdish blocs are just 10 seats short of a majority and they might be able to sign up a few of the other non-Sunni parties and bypass the Sunnis entirely. (Or just change the electoral law and get 10 more seats that way.) And even though the Americans, through Zalmay Khalilzad, are hoping Sciri leader Abdul Aziz Hakim was just posturing when he said they wouldn't be amending the constitution like they had promised, to allay Sunni fears of a break up of the country into ethnic zones, it appears that this might be just what he meant.

Jalal Talibani, the Iraqi president and Kurdish leader, said he was aware that running rough shod over the Sunnis, completely out of power, would not be "the correct way to rule the country." But all bets were off if the Sunnis tried to deal politically while being a front for the insurgency. "They must be clear they are with the terrorists, or with the political process. We will never accept this dirty game. If they are with the political process, they are welcome. If they are with the terrorists, they will lose everything. This is my advice to them." If the Sunnis were out of the political picture Talibani said the Kurds and Shiites would "rule the country in a democratic way. And we will impose peace and freedom on the country." (Yeah right, just like we've been imposing peace and freedom for the past three years.) [NYT]

So, that sounds like a prescription for success in Iraq, eh? Some how I don't see the Sunnis just sitting back and letting the Shiites and the Kurds split the country up into two independent oil kingdoms and leaving them to the desert. The Turks and the Saudis won't, either, which is why Zalmay better come up with a plan pretty quick. If not, if he can't get all the various factions together to form a stable government, I begin to see an Iraqi future without us coming very soon.

There's already talk that the Iraqis are getting the message from the Americans that the money spigot might be turned off soon. If things keep going on the way they have been into the '06 midterms, Congress is going to be hard pressed to keep signing W.'s checks, so I don't know what kind of leverage we'll have with these crazy people as they position themselves in their life or death struggle for power. They know we're leaving sooner or later, so they're really not going to listen to us forever. Theoretically, if we were to leave sooner; the Badr brigade, the Medhi Army and the Peshmerga could probably hold their own against the insurgents. One could envision this new government holding on to power in most of the country, even without the US military. In order to keep Iran's greedy hands out of the pot I could see us continuing to provide logistical and diplomatic support, but in the long run we're already out of the game. The only question is when W. is going to get the message.


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