Saturday, December 02, 2006

A new way forward?

I think the only person more deluded than W. about the hopeless situation in Iraq is Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. After meeting W. on Thursday, Al-Maliki told ABC News that Iraqis forces would be ready to take over the fight in seven months. "I can say that Iraqi forces will be ready, fully ready to receive this command and to command its own forces, and I can tell you that by next June our forces will be ready." Ready for what? To take on Moqtada al-Sadr's Madhi army? Ready to fight the Sunnis in Anbar province? Ready to take on the Badr brigade in Basra? In which alternate universe does al-Maliki see Iraqi's ragtag army of deserters and Ali Babas taking full control of the security situation by next June? He'll be lucky if he's still the PM by June, never mind being able to extend the writ of the Iraqi government beyond the blast walls of the Green Zone. Doesn't he realize his government exists on paper only?

To paraphrase National Security Adviser Steven Hadley: does this guy really know what's going on, is he lying, or is it that he really believes what he's saying but just doesn't have the power to do anything about it. I think the most likely explanation is that he's woefully misinformed. In another less quoted portion of his now infamous leaked memo Steven Hadley writes, "The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Dawa advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality." If anyone would know about a leader's interpretation of reality being skewed by a small circle of advisers it would be Hadley. He sees it first hand every day at the president's National Security briefing. He could just as easily be talking about W. in this memo.

This president is not only unwilling, but is also unable to make any rational decisions about Iraq policy. The question is can we afford two more years of this? The situation in Iraq goes from bad to horrific and every time you think it couldn't get any worse, it does. Just imagine where we'll be by the time W. is on his way back to the ranch in 2008. Even before the terrible bombing in Sadr City last week, which killed over 200 Iraqis in one day, the death toll for the previous two weeks was over 800. On November 20 AP reported:

"The numbers are staggering: In the last eight days, 715 Iraqis have fallen victim to the country's sectarian bloodbath. They have been beheaded, tortured and blown up while looking for work. They have been shot, kidnapped and felled by mortars. The number of killings in the last eight days is more than all but a few U.S. states see in a year. Iraq's death toll has reached at least 1,320 in November - well above the 1,216 who died in all of October, which was the deadliest month in the country since the Associated Press began tracking the figure in April 2005."

The killing might not be always as spectacular as the bombings in Sadr City, but they are constant and increasing expodentially every day, every week, every month. How long can this go on? And as the Pentagon begins pumping more troops -- sorry, "advisers" -- into Iraq to "train" Iraqi forces the insurgents are, as usual, one step ahead.

Ed Wong in the NYT reports:

"Sunni Arab militant groups suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have established training camps east of Baghdad that are turning out well-disciplined units willing to fight American forces in set-piece battles, American military commanders said Thursday.

American soldiers fought such units in a pitched battle last week in Turki, a village 25 miles south of this Iraqi Army base in volatile Diyala Province, bordering Iran. At least 72 insurgents and two American officers were killed in more than 40 hours of fighting. American commanders said they called in 12 hours of airstrikes while soldiers shot their way through a reed-strewn network of canals in extremely close combat.

Officers said that in that battle, unlike the vast majority of engagements in Diyala, insurgents stood and fought, even deploying a platoon-size unit that showed remarkable discipline. One captain said the unit was in 'perfect military formation.'"

So, just as we're starting to get our act together on fighting an insurgency, some insurgent groups now apparently able to build bases and actually train troops in traditional military techniques!

But, not to worry, Steven Hadley says the president has now realized that "things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough in Iraq." So he's begun trying to find a "new way forward." That's great, but do we really believe it, and if it is true W. is going to turn a new leaf on Iraq, then why has it taken almost four years and the deaths of 2,901 US deaths to get him to this point?

Friday, December 01, 2006

More Litvinenko:

The Litvinenko story just get's wierder and weirder. Today, the BBC reports:

"Italian Mario Scaramella, a contact of dead ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, has tested positive for polonium-210. . .Mr Scaramella is involved in an Italian parliamentary inquiry into KGB activity and was sufficiently worried by the contents of an e-mail to ask for advice from Mr Litvinenko. The e-mail said that he, Mr Litvinenko and an Italian senator, Paolo Guzzanti, were possible targets for assassination. Mr Scaramella and Mr Litvinenko met at Itsu on 1 November, although in the aftermath the Italian academic suggested he had not eaten anything. An HPA spokesman refused to confirm that the positive test related to Mr Scaramella, but said the amount found was "likely to be of concern for their immediate health. . . It has also been revealed that a family member of Mr Litvinenko has tested positive for traces of polonium-210."

OK, could these assassins be any more careless? I mean, it's only polonium 210, no need to worry about spreading it around.

In a further developement the Guardian reports:

"Detectives investigating the death of the 43-year-old, who died last Thursday, are investigating letters smuggled out of Russia. The letters purportedly show the existence of a secret squad set up to target him and others, it was claimed today.

Scotland Yard has been passed copies of two letters apparently written in jail by the former Russian intelligence officer Mikhail Trepashkin. In one, Mr Litvinenko is warned that he and his family are at risk. Scotland Yard has been passed copies of two letters apparently written in jail by the former Russian intelligence officer Mikhail Trepashkin. Mr Trepashkin - who worked for the KGB's successor, the FSB, until 1997 - was tried in 2004 on accusations of being a British spy and passing secret information to Mr Litvinenko and his close friend Boris Berezovsky, the tycoon in exile in the capital."

The pplot thickens!

It has also been revealed that a family member of Mr Litvinenko has tested positive for traces of polonium-210.

The pointless Iraq Study Group:

The WaPo reports today that the Jim Baker's Iraq Study Group will recommend "withdrawing nearly all combat troops by the end of 2008 while leaving behind troops to train, advise and support the Iraqis, setting the first goal of a major drawdown of U.S. forces, sources familiar with the proposal said yesterday." That might sound like a great idea, pulling our people out and training-up the Iraqis, but isn't this what we've been doing for at least the past two years? According to the Pentagon, there are 300,000 Iraqis armed and ready to go, so why wait until 2008? What good will another year and a few billion dollars more going to do? But I digress . . .

According to the WaPo's sources, the ISG report does not propose that the 2008 date be a firm timetable for withdrawal, because in Iraq anything could happen between now and then, but the Iraqis need to be made to feel a sense of urgency about getting themselves together. "This is no longer an open-ended commitment and we're going to get this done whether the Iraqis like it or not," the source says. "Everybody understands that we're at the end of the road here."

'Everybody,' that is, except W. At yesterday's press conference with al-Maliki, he went out of his way to make sure everyone knew he wasn't buying this we-need-to-get-the-hell-out-of-this-mess stuff. "I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington means there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism at all." [If anyone would know about the realism of the situation, it's W.] To put a finer point on where W.'s thinking on Iraq is, in Latvia earlier this week he said, "There is one thing I'm not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

I don't know, I might be wrong, but this doesn't exactly sound like a person who has clued into which way the prevailing political winds are blowing. Apparently, the lose of the Congress and the pressure being brought by those in his own party to change course before he destroys any prospect the GOP might have of keeping the White House in '08, hasn't made much of an impression on him. He's on a mission, he's not running for election and he's the Decider.

In the NYT David Sanger writes that member of the ISG are acutely aware of the problem of W. and his fanatical devotion to the war. "In private, some members of the Iraq Study Group have expressed concern that they could find themselves in not-quite-open confrontation with Mr. Bush. He's a true believer,' one participant in the group's debates said. 'Finessing the differences is not going to be easy.'"

That's something of an understatement. Convincing W. and his dark master Dick Cheney that they need to finally face up to stark reality that everything they've done in Iraq has been a monumental failure of epic proportions, is simply a bridge too far. It is just never going to happen. Beyond the fact that they'd have to admit that their perfect little war has turned into the worst military blunder in US history, which is a tall enough hurtle to jump in itself, they'd also have to suffer the ignominy of embracing the policy recommendations of Jim Baker & Co. That would be a bitter pill to swallow. The Rummy/Cheney cabal's entire rationale for maneuvering W. into office in the first place was to have another go at proving 43 and Baker were wrong on Iraq and that they, naturally, were right.

The more speculation there is about the ISG's report and chatter in the media and punditry about Daddy's wire men swooping in to save Shrub's sorry butt, the more W. will resist their ideas and the deeper Cheney & Co. will descend into the bunker. While everyone is waiting for Baker to come down from Mount Sinai with the tablets, Cheney and the White House are hatching new schemes to get around Baker's fix-it job. That mysterious trip he made to Saudi Arabia last week was apparently a bid to rope the "moderate" Sunni Arab's into using their influence on the "moderate" Iraqi Sunnis to support al-Maliki. Helene Cooper writes in the NYT that if this strategy works it would "theoretically give Mr. al-Maliki the political strength necessary to take on Mr. Sadr's Shiite militias." The quid pro quo for the Arabs would be that the administration would actually work on the Palestinian problem for the first time since they took office.

Talk about hair-brained schemes! Getting the Arabs to agree on which day it is tough enough, getting the Saudis and the Egyptians to work together to pull W.'s Iraqis chestnuts out of the fire is such a ridiculous notion that it would be funny if it wasn't so serious. These are the lengths the true believers in the White House and in Cheney's bunker are willing to go to avoid having to deal head-on with the consequences of their serial screw-ups.

The attitude of the ISG members, judging from the quotes popping up in the press recently, seems to be that they're pretty convinced the president is going to follow through on their recommendations. They are the adults, after all, why wouldn't W. & Co. do what they're told? If the resignation Philip Zelikow, Condi's Foggy Bottom brain truster, is any indication, however, I'd say they're in for a rude awakening. Zelikow says he's quitting because he's got to put his kids through school, but the scuttle-butt is that he's given up on trying to get these bozos to see sense. Zelikow is also not known for being a yes-man*, an unfortunate character trait which is not tolerated in the Bush administration. Helene Cooper in the NYT writes that, "one administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly noted that Mr. Zelikow had been frustrated with the slow pace of the administration's diplomatic efforts on the Middle East, Iran and North Korea."

Of course, this presupposes there actually have been any diplomatic efforts on those issues, which is debatable, but in any case, he's out the door. It is interesting to note that it was Zelikow who said two months ago that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict was the "sine qua non" to get "moderate" Arab governments on board to "cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things we care about." This line of thinking seemingly has been co-opted by Cheney & Co. -- in a twisted way, back asswards way -- in their efforts to sucker the Saudis and the Egyptians into helping us out in Iraq. Since W. doesn't talk to people he doesn't like, this is the only course his administration is going to follow until they're yanked from office, kicking and screaming in 2008. I'm afraid the sorry reality is that the ISG's recommendations are off the menu until then. So, would you like to try the duck instead?

* Note on Zelikow: In a speech he gave at the University of Virginia in 2002 Zelikow said:

"Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell."

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The new Furher of Russia; Cleaning House.

After the news hit the fan that Alexander Litvinenko had died from radiation poisoning last week, the UK's Health Protection Agency came out to assure the public there was not health risk to the general public. Sure there were a few public places where Litvinenko might have recieved a lethal does of Polonium 210, like a hotel and a sushi resturaunt, but nothing at all to worry about. Move along now, nothing to see here.

Today the BBC reports:

"Experts probing the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko have found traces of radioactivity at 12 locations, the home secretary has said. Among them are two British Airways (BA) planes. A third one is awaiting checks. . . BA is contacting 33,000 passengers from 221 flights."

Along with these three planes there also two Russian planes the British authorities are looking at. Home Secretary John Reid says, "There may be other aeroplanes of which we don't at this stage know, but those are the five that we know of."

OK, again, that's 33,000 people on 221 flights who might have been exposed to a radioactive isotope that can kill in tiny doses and for which there is no cure. But, again, there's nothing to worry about. Reid says the raditation found on the planes poses "no residual public health risk." I believe him, don't you? I'm feeling better about the whole thing.

Well, except for the other major news of the day that former Yelsin era Russian PM Yegor Gaidar, another Putin critic, has fallen seriously ill from an unknown cause.

The BBC:

"Mr Gaidar became violently ill during a visit to Ireland last week, and his daughter Maria told the BBC that doctors believe he was poisoned. Mr Gaidar, 50, fell ill a day after Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko died of radiation poisoning in London. . . Ms Gaidar, an anti-Kremlin activist, told the BBC doctors in Moscow had been unable to find any other cause except poisoning. 'The doctors think that they don't find any other reason of his condition that he was poisoned with some strange poison they cannot identify.'" She says doctors are trying to treat what they say are "rather strange symptoms."

Rather strange like 'radioactive strange?'

Is Putin the new Furher of Russia?

Yes, this is all rather stange, isn't it? Another Russian "reformer" of the Yeltsin era, Anatoly Chubais, -- who, incidentally, was also a target of an assassination attempt, tells CNN that:

"Yegor Gaidar on 24 November was in the balance between life and death. Could this be simply some sort of natural illness? According to what the most professional doctors, who have first-hand knowledge of the situation, say: No. For me there is no doubt that the deathly chain Politkovskaya-Litvinenko-Gaidar, which miraculously was not finished, would have been extremely attractive for the supporters of an unconstitutional, forceful change of power in Russia."

'A forceful change of power in Russia?' You mean Putin might have larger ambitions, perhaps even plans to stay on as Czar in chief after his term expires in 2008? Masha Lipman wotre last year that:

"The idea that the Kremlin might use the risk of a nationalist takeover as a justification for scrapping the election and extending Putin's tenure is but one of several 2008 scenarios thought to be circulating in that body. It's telling that the one scenario missing from the political rumor mill and analysts' forecasts is a democratic transfer of presidential authority, something that has never occurred in Russia.. . .Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Russian upper house, was talking recently about the 'real threat of a fascist putsch in Russia' -- 'a new fuhrer with fascist-type, nationalist ideology' emerging in the 2008 presidential campaign."

Could all these poisonings be simply house cleaning by Vald for his upcoming PUTIN '08: TODAY and FOREVER campaign? This might tend to explain a few things. The question is what is the West going to do about it? If at this point W. keeps making kissy faces at Putin and continues to push the fiction that he's really commited to democracy, then he's really the appeaser he accused his Democratic opponests of being in the WOT.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Another bad plan by the same folks who brought you Iraq.

Amidst all the chatter about Jim Baker's ISG and its forthcoming recommendations for getting us out of the mess in Iraq, the fact remains that Cheney -- despite the loss of Rummy -- is still in the saddle. While the pundits discuss the ISG's likely call for talks with Iran and Syria, the Vice President's office is still working on a "victory strategy."

This strategy apparently bypasses the unpaletable notion put forward by Baker & the "realists" of having to be forced into a major back down by actually speaking to our enemies. Instead, this new strategy contemplates getting our "moderate" Sunni Arab allies in the region to pressure "moderate" Sunni elements within Iraq to back Nuri al-Maliki, in an attempt to peel him away from the hammerlock Moqtada al-Sadr has on him and his government.

The NYT reports today that a leaked memo written by NSA Steven Hadley -- the guy that took the fall for the infamous 16-words in W.'s SOU speech back in 2003 -- spells out a plan that includes providing "monetary support to moderate groups" within the Iraqi government and putting in a whole lot more troops to prop-up al-Maliki.

The deal W. is basically going to give al-Maliki is this: [If he ever actually meets him, that is.]

'If you can't get a handle on the situation, real quick, we're going to push you to drop al-Sadr and his support of you in the Parliament and in the cabinet and start serioulsy cracking down on his Madhi army. Don't worry, though, we'll make up the difference by buying off enough "moderate" Sunnis with our money --along with politcal support from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan -- to provide the patina of a democratic process (and incidently, allow you to keep your head.)'

The pay off for the Arab states involved is that W. will promise to finally start to do soemthing about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Of course, the only problem with this whole master plan is that W. and his administration don't have a shred of credibility left in the Middle East. Especially after the summer war between Lebanon and Isreal.
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