Friday, January 05, 2007

Bungling on the Gallows:

The story of Nuri al-Maliki's bungling of Saddam's execution goes on. One would have thought that by now we'd be on to some new disaster in Iraq. But no. The political reverberations from the rush-job to kill Saddam haven't ended yet. Even the arrest of a few of the usual suspects hasn't stemmed the avalanche of condemnation raining down on the Iraqi and U.S. governments. (Imagine that!) The NYT reports today that as W. prepares to begin the sales pitch for his New Way Forward in Iraq, Republican and Democratic lawmakers were still expressing "dismay at the scene surrounding the final minutes of Mr. Hussein's life." Even John McCain, 'Mr. Surge,' said "It's a very bad thing, it's harmful and I'm sorry it happened." Gosh, it's bad enough the Dems are in control of Congress, but when you've got McCain saying stuff like that you know you've got a serious PR problem that's sure to make the selling of the NWF a lot more difficult.

W.'s handlers at the White House have apparently finally gotten the message that no one is willing to put this behind them and move on quite yet. So yesterday, W. for the first time acknowledged that something had actually gone wrong -- though, naturally, he hadn't seen the video -- but the best reaction he could muster was to say that he wished that the execution had "been done in a more dignified way." By "dignified," I guess he really means that he wishes the sordid nature of the killing hadn't been broadcast all over the world. I don't see how hanging someone, even a brutal tyrant, is ever dignified.

The White House still insists that everything was all legal and on the up and up. There are all these questions floating around, though, about whether all the i's were dotted and all the t's were crossed on the death warrant. The AP reported on Wednesday that U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, had asked Nuri al-Maliki to delay the execution until after the Islamic festival of Eid to avoid a "negative reaction in the Islamic world" and "because of unresolved constitutional and legal questions that the Americans believed threw the legitimacy of the execution into doubt." According to the official quoted by AP, "we said we thought it would be better if they delayed until after Eid and use the delay to resolve the legal issues." Zalmay Khalilzad, soon to be our new U.N. ambassador, is said to have also appealed to al-Maliki to stop the execution, but relented when he was told it was all legal. (Oh sure, just take their word for it.) Out of respect for "Iraqi sovereignty" the decision was made to turn Saddam over to his Shiite executioners. Tellingly, "the Americans would not say whether the decision was made in the White House." [Hmmm... I wonder.]

It's very interesting to me that while State and the Pentagon came right out and tried to distance themselves from this horrific episode, it took until yesterday for the president to say anything about it at all. Sure, Tony Snowjob has been using the fog machine to try and move everyone's eye off the ball, invoking the gassing of the Kurds etc, but the fact remains that it is the president who is calling the shots in Iraq; not Condi or the generals. His silence on the issue speaks volumes. We've got over 140,000 troops in the Iraq and we've just hit the 3,000 mark in U.S. deaths. Something tells me that if W. had really wanted to delay the execution, he could have convinced al-Maliki to cool his heels a bit longer. That's not the way they do things in Texas, though. Stays of executions are for winnies.

The New Way Forward falls apart before it's even begun:

The mind boggles at what in the hell they're thinking up there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Did it not occur to anyone in the White House that the Sunnis might take the very sectarian nature of Saddam's hanging the wrong way? I thought part of the New Way Forward involved bringing the Sunnis into the political fold in order to help peel al-Maliki away from Muqtada al-Sadr and his powerful political bloc in the parliament. What was the point of Cheney's trip to Saudi Arabia and Condi's trip to the other "moderate" Sunni governments in the region late last year?

From what I've read, the idea was for the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Egyptians to provide the Iraqi Sunnis with political cover, and possibly money, to give peace and politics another chance. At the same time we'd send more troops into Iraq to get a handle on the security situation. Specifically, to shut down al-Sadr's Madhi army and the death squads running amok in Baghdad. A video of Saddam with a noose around his neck being taunted with chants of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada" isn't exactly the message you want to send if you're really serious about convincing the Sunnis to put down their AKs and IEDs.

I'd say the entire strategy, such as it was, has now been blown out of the water. Saddam went from being a historical footnote -- a bedraggled old man being pulled out of his 'spider hole' -- to a martyr for the cause. Our good friend Hosni Mukarak told the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot as much today. "No-one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed - they turned him into a martyr, and the problems in Iraq remained." [BBC] Overnight he's turned into a potent symbol of the Shiite oppression of the Sunnis, which al-Qaeda and every other insurgent group will exploit to the hilt. Hanging Saddam was like throwing a stone into a still pond, the ripples of which will wash over the Sunni world. The next time Condi shows up in Amman or Riyadh with her hand out, she's likely to get the back of theirs.

More troops should require more oversight:

According to the NYT, W. is expected to call next week for sending another five brigades to Iraq and will also add two battalions of reinforcements to Anbar province. 3000 more soldiers from the 82nd Airborne are already in route to Kuwait. But at this point, what is the point? The WaPo reports the point is that "he has few other dramatic options available to signal U.S. determination in Iraq, officials said." That's reason enough to send more US troops to die, right?

There is no military solution to the Iraq problem; everyone with the slightest clue about what's going on over there knows this. With the "moderate" Sunnis in the government now completely alienated over this Saddam fiasco, what kind of political solution remains to be worked out? Al-Maliki has now shown his true colors, he's Muqtada's puppet pure and simple. The die has been cast, the line has been drawn. There is no possibility the Sunnis are going to sit down and break bread with a man who provides political cover for the Shiite death squads.

And the departure of Zalmay Khalilzad, also complicates the situation. From what I can see, he's the only one who has managed to keep the roof from blowing off. Once he's gone there's no telling what will happen. And John "I'm tired of this job, give me another one" Negroponte as Condi's number two doesn't instill a great deal of confidence in what's coming down the pike at State.

The only thing sending in more troops is going to accomplish is to help recruit more insurgents and increase the demand for flag draped coffins and prosthetic limbs. This new Democratic Congress ought to really hold W. & Co.'s feet over the fire on this new "surge" plan. I don't hold any truck with Cindy Sheehan & Co. calling for the Democrats to withhold funding for the war, but they must insist that these "emergency" funding requests from the Pentagon end immediately. We're hearing a lot about how this new Congress is going to exercise its oversight prerogative, so they'd better make sure every dime is accounted for. Allowing the American people to see where their money is going will greatly increase the pressure on the administration to wrap it up in Iraq, I think. No more Taxpayer money down the black hole!


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