Friday, July 27, 2007

Iraq snapshot: It's 130 degrees over there!

CNN reports:

"The U.S. troop casualty figures in Iraq that jumped this spring have been gradually dropping because U.S. and Iraqi forces are stabilizing volatile and dangerous areas, a U.S. commander said Thursday. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commanding general of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, called the development in recent weeks 'an initial positive sign. This is what we thought would happen once we get control of the real key areas that are controlled by these terrorists,' Odierno said at a press conference."

AFP reports:

"Six more US troops have been killed in Iraq, including three marines and a sailor killed in a day of fighting in the restive province of Diyala north of the capital, the military said on Thursday. . . The latest fatalities took the US military's losses in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 3,640, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures."


"Security progress in Iraq is undeniable, Iraqi and American leaders in Baghdad said today. Iraqi army Lt. Gen. Abood Qanbar, commander of the Baghdad Operations Center, said sectarian violence is decreasing and his country will not slip in civil war. . . Abood said the number of bodies discovered by authorities has decreased by 90 percent. He added that improvised explosive devices are down 40 percent, and car bombs are down 15 percent."

George Bush in Philly yesterday:

"I believe it's in the interest of this country, for our own security, for the United States Congress to fully support General Petraeus in his mission and to give him time to come back and report to the United States Congress the progress that he's making."

AP reports:

"With five days to go before the end of July, an Associated Press tally showed that at least 1,759 Iraqis were killed in war-related violence through yesterday, a more than 7 percent increase over the 1,640 who were reported killed in all of June. Victims of sectarian slayings were also on the rise. At least 723 bodies were found dumped across Iraq so far in July, or an average of nearly 28 a day, compared with 19 a day in June, when 563 bodies were reported found, according to the AP tally. . . The actual number is believed to be higher, as many killings go unreported or uncounted."

Now, that's progress!!

Meanwhile, in another AP report:

"Jordan and Syria complained yesterday that they had been abandoned by the West to deal with more than two million Iraqi refugees who have fled the violence in their homeland . . . About 1.5 million Iraqis have also fled to Syria, and 200,000 to both Egypt and Lebanon. By contrast, the United States has accepted only 133 Iraqi refugees, citing security concerns, but it recently said it would resettle about 7,000 more by the end of September. . .

'The U.S. offer to take in 7,000 refugees is symbolic,' said Iraq's deputy foreign minister, Mohammed Haji Hmoud. 'This is not a solution. Seven thousand is nothing.'"

The Guardian:

"In Baghdad, cleanup crews used tractors and cranes to clear out the debris from a highly sophisticated simultaneous truck bombing and rocket attack on a Shiite market district in one of the capital's safest central neighborhoods Thursday. Rescue workers pulled three more bodies from the rubble, and police raised the casualty toll to at least 31 people killed and 104 wounded.

Residents angry about the lack of security in the neighborhood - which was hit by a double car-bombing earlier this week -threw stones and empty cans at U.S. soldiers arriving at the scene of the blast, according to a police officer and a witness, who declined to be identified because they feared retribution. The soldiers left the area."

Again, W. in Philadelphia yesterday:

"It's really interesting to watch this counterinsurgency strategy work. I mean, when people on the ground begin to have confidence, they, all of a sudden, start making good decisions for a state that will represent their interests. There is such a thing as top-down reconciliation -- that's the passage of law. And the Iraqi parliament has passed quite a few pieces of legislation, and they're working, trying to work through their differences.

UPI reports:

"Iraq's largest Sunni political group gave Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki one week to respond to demands or the group said it would boycott the government. 'After one more week, we'll give the prime minister a chance to show us and the elected people a real direction for improvement or we will leave altogether,' said Alaa Maki, a senior member of the Accordance Front, which has six Cabinet ministers. . . One of Maliki's advisers, Sadiq al-Rikabi, told the newspaper the group's deadline was counterproductive. 'The Iraqi people would like to see the politicians stand strongly together to push forward and make real progress,' Rikabi said. 'And yet all we hear from them are threats.'"


"The White House said Friday that Iraq's parliament may take the month of August off but downplayed the impact on political reconciliation efforts seen as key to quelling deadly violence.
'My understanding is at this juncture they're going to take August off, but you know, they may change their minds. . . You know, it's 130 degrees in Baghdad in August."

It's going to be hot at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport Maine, too.


"Mr. Bush is getting ready to take his vacation up in Maine at the Bush Family Compound in Kennebunkport, recreating (as his daddy said back in 1990) while Baghdad burns. However, Mr. Bush won't be alone. In fact, in what organizers hope will be an even larger manifestation of the last two previous protests in that bucolic playground of the rich, a broad coalition of antiwar groups are holding a protest and convergence over the August 24 - 26 weekend."


That'll be something to look forward to. Too bad our guys in Iraq will be sweating it out under 60 pounds of equipment this August, hoping this time that their 15 month deployments are really only 15 months.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Al-Qaeda and the Iranians; the new axis of WMD. 9/11!!!

AP reports that Raymond Odierno says militants are getting better at shelling the "heavily fortified" Green Zone because of training provided by Iran.

Odinero says, "In the last three months we have seen a significant improvement in the capability of mortarmen and rocketeers to provide accurate fire into the Green Zone and other places. We think this is directly related to training conducted inside Iran."

Of course, that must be the reason! It couldn't be that among the 100,000 or so Iraqi soldiers L. Paul Bremer fired there could be a few who might have known how to use a rocket launcher or a mortar, right? I mean, to listen to the pentagon and the administration, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Iranians are under every bed. They're responsible for all the blunders this administration has made in Iraq since 2003 and they even made it rain on W.'s golf game at Camp David once.

Give me a break!

And what about all this "significant success" Odierno is talking about in Iraq? Seems to me common Baghdadis still can't even go out and celebrate a soccer victory without getting blown up. Oh, but Peter Pace was able to walk down a street in Ramadi -- under heavy guard, naturally - but then again US diplomats in the Green Zone have to go everywhere -- even to a restaurant -- hunkered down in their PPEs.

In Baghdad there are 30,000 US troops, and whatever the fantasy number of Iraqi troops is this week, and they still can't prevent the various Shiite and the Sunnis insurgents, or whatever we're calling this month, from shelling the Green Zone in the very heart of the capital of Iraq? And we're supposed to believe things are looking up?

And since the Sunnis are also taking part in the shelling, does that mean the Iranians are training them, too? That scenario makes for a strange alliance of bed fellows. Maybe OBL -- who W. says he doesn't think about much anymore -- is calling in the firing co-ordinates from North Waziristan, as well.

General Kevin Bergner said a week or so ago that since the capture of the highest ranking Iraqi AQI member on July 4th, the military has found out that, "There is a flow of strategic directions of prioritization, of messaging [Myspace?] and other guidance that comes from al-Qaeda senior leadership to the al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership." [AP]

If this is so, then shouldn't we be doing more to go after al-Qaeda Core (AQC) in Pakistan? If there's all this "strategic directions of prioritization" coming from OBL central, then wouldn't it make more sense to decapitate [Cheney's favorite word] the leadership there, instead of wasting our time going after these mere automatons in Iraq?

More Gonzales follies

It looks like the worm is turning for AG Alberto Gonzales again. On Tuesday he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that his briefing to members of Congress in the so called Gang of Eight in March of 2004 was not about the NSA domestic spying program. Several Democratic members of the group have said since Tuesday that his characterization of the secret briefing is totally off base, that they did discuss the spying program. Now, according to the WaPo, comes the revelation of a 2006 2-page memo written by then DNI John Negroponte that also says the briefing was "on the Terrorist Surveillance Program."

In claiming that the secret briefing was not about the NSA program, that it was about other "intelligence activities" in legal dispute within the DoJ, Gonzales was apparently trying to parse his previous lie to the Committee in April that there was "no serious disagreement" in the DoJ about the warranties wire-tapping program, despite subsequent revelations since then that he got six memos detailing some pretty "serious disagreement" within the agency.

Of course, this entire matter is so absolutely convoluted from Gonzales' repeated lies that who knows what the hell really happened at this point? No wonder he can't even keep his lies straight. [If Scooter Libby was half the liar Gonzales is, it's not difficult to see why Patrick Fitzgerald couldn't get the goods on Rove and Cheney in the Plame leak case.]

Gonzales also claimed that his and Andy Card's visit to a groggy John Ashcroft in the middle of the night was merely to inform Ashcroft that Congress fully supported certain other "intelligence activities" that he wouldn't discuss. Contradicting his former deputy's eye witness account of Gonzales and Card's attempts to strong-arm Ashcroft into over-ruling Comey, Gonzales testified that he and Card "didn't press him. We said 'thank you' and we left."

That sounds credible, right?

He knew Ashcroft was sick and that Comey was in charge, but he still thought that he needed to inform Ashcroft of Congress' opinion on the subject of other "intelligence activities?" Naturally, Gonzales in particular has always respected the constitutional authority of the Congress and has never spent every waking hour trying to come up with ways to circumvent it, so it's totally plausible that he felt the need to rush right over the Ashcroft's sick bed to make sure he knew what Congress was thinking.

In any case, Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter have told Gonzales he's got until next week to revise his testimony or the Senate will call on DoJ IG Glenn Fine to conduct a perjury investigation. DoJ spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, whose nose has become strangely elongated recently, says the AG "stands by his testimony" (which he keeps changing every time he speaks).

Judging by previous experience, I'm thinking Gonzales isn't going to get back to the Judiciary Committee any time soon. Remember a couple of weeks ago when Leahy sent Gonzales a letter demanding that the AG answer a list of detailed questions, which Leahy wanted cleared up before Gonzales showed up again? Well, Gonzales didn't exactly get around to answering any questions; he just sent a self-serving letter saying nothing.

Why am I getting the feeling that Gonzales will just turtle at this point? He's going to go even deeper under ground and let the administration spin machine do the talking for him. You know, he's busy fixing things at the DoJ, he doesn't have time for this. And he's got to get to that finish line.

The great Iraqi bate and switch

Am I crazy or do I remember hearing General David Petraeus saying last March that by mid-summer he'd have some sort of an idea of how well the Surge was going in Iraq? Now that we're into mid-summer and well over 500 dead soldiers into it, statements from the commanders over there and W. & Co. over here, seem to be saying it's much too early to make any hasty judgments about the Surge. (My gosh, the last brigade just got there!)

A couple of days ago, on the heels of the release of an interim report-card on the Surge -- which showed absolutely no progress being made by the Iraqis to kiss and make up -- Lt. General Raymond Odierno said that -- contrary to the blue skies his boss was selling in January -- he'd need "at least until November" to figure out if things were really going well or not. He claims there's so much "significant success" going on in Iraq that he wants to make sure it's not "just a blip" and, naturally, he can't do that until November. [NYT]

Of course, the military will still be reporting to Congress on the progress of the Surge on September 15th -- Odierno says "there is no intention to push our reporting requirement beyond September" -- but the catch is, anything it says won't be worth the paper its written on (this is what happens when you allow the generals to write their own report cards).

The fact I don't see most folks getting is that the general's idea of the significance of the report is radically different from the impression they left us and the Congress with at the beginning of this whole Surge scam. I thought the idea was that by September we'd know one way or the other how this massive build up of troop strength had affected the situation in Iraq and then we'd either be moving on to Plan-B -- or moving out.

Almost a week after Odierno's November prediction, AP reported that a new "revised" military plan has US troops staying on in Iraq at present levels until the summer of 2008 and finally turning security duties over to the Iraqis some time in 2009.

That is a bit longer than Odierno said he'd need, isn't it? And didn't Ambassador Ryan Crocker tell Senator Richard Lugar last Friday that there was no planning going on in the National Security Council, State Department or Pentagon for a revised strategy in Iraq? In response to Lugar's inquiry about rumors of such plans, he said: "I am not aware of these efforts and my whole focus is involved in the implementation of Plan A." [Uh huh.]

That was last week, though, the sands of Iraq keep shifting. Am I the only one who sees a bait and switch in the making?

The writing is on the wall and it's 'murder.'

I would expect the generals to be focused on getting the job done, which is what they do so well, and perhaps they really feel they need more time, but their time has run out. Even Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says, "I think the key time for the vast majority my members is September, and it certainly is for me."

The writing is on the wall; 65% of Americans have lost faith in the president's ability to conduct this war and there are 22 Republican Senate seats up for grabs in just over a year. You'd be hard pressed to find many Republican Senators savoring the prospect of going back to their home states next summer trying to explain why our troops are still dying in Iraq, a year and a half after the Surge began.

In my opinion, the generals are forgetting a fundamental maxim of the modern American all volunteer Army, which arose out of the ashes of Vietnam: 'Never fight a war without public support.' The other rules they've already violated, with the assistance of the skilled arm-chair generalship of Rummy and Wolfy are: 'Don't go into a conflict without overwhelming force' and 'Have an exit strategy.'

From a military standpoint, waging this war any longer is not a viable option. Public support at home has evaporated, equipment and personnel are at the breaking point, and the continuation of aggressive military action only results in digging the hole deeper, making the inevitable withdrawal that much bloodier.

The Republicans in Congress can afford to posture for their ever shrinking base and obstruct the will of the American people at the cost of many hundreds of more young Americans coming home in body bags -- and many thousands more on crutches and in wheelchairs -- but for general officers like David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, who are honor bound to protect those under their command, prosecuting this war any further is simply murder.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Unitary Executives strike again.

The WaPo reports:

"The House Judiciary Committee voted today to issue contempt citations for two of President Bush's most trusted aides, taking its most dramatic step yet towards a constitutional showdown with the White House over the Justice Department's dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys. . . The panel voted 22-17, along party lines, to issue citations to Joshua B. Bolten, White House chief of staff, and Harriet E. Miers, former White House counsel. Both refused to comply with committee subpoenas after Bush declared that documents and testimony related to the prosecutor firings were protected by executive privilege."

And it looks like the Senate is probably close to following suit very soon. So, all of this sounds all well and fine but who is going to enforce the contempt citations? Even if this whole business was to wind up in a U.S. attorney's hands there's still one little fly in the ointment; Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department says the law on Congressional criminal contempt "does not apply" in the case of the president or his aides if W. invokes his executive privilege. One has to wonder these days what power Congress has that ever applies to the executive branch.

At one point or another, I do recall our government having three power centers. What happened to that little arrangement? This White House's attitude on anything that involves their affairs being scrutinized under the cleansing rays of sunlight is -- as his satanic majesty Dick Cheney once so elegantly put it -- "Go fuck yourself!" The unitary executive is untouchable, just look it up, it says so right there in the constitution.

The funny thing about that unitary executive thing, though, is that there are, apparently, two unitary executives. There's the president -- and then there's the Veep. In the past six years the office of the vice president has gone from being a political backwater Jack Garner once described as a warm cup of piss to an unassailable redoubt. Cheney's Rasputin, David Addington, has the amazing ability to twist and contort law and objective fact into any shape he desires, thus insulating his Dark Master from every check and balance known to man and, quite possibly, the laws of nature, also.

His legalistic legerdemain is equaled only by this country's top cop. Yesterday, in yet another fruitless effort by the Senate Judiciary Committee to get AG Alberto Gonzales to answer any question about anything, Arlen Specter asked Gonzales if he thought a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate the White House's role in the firing of the federal attorneys and Gonzales -- big shocker here -- refused to answer. "You're asking me a question that's related to an ongoing controversy," Gonzales told Specter. [AP]

Specter tried his best to get Gonzales to admit that that sort of blanket immunity for the executive kind of eliminated the checks and balances the very fabric of our government is based upon, but eventually he just gave up in exasperation, "I'm not going to pursue that question, Mr. Attorney General, because it's hopeless."

Yes, it is hopeless. The only thing to do at this late date for Congress to do is either, "compromise" with the unitary executive and wave the agreement in the air on the steps of Congress like Neville Chamberlin -- 'peace in our time' -- or really go after this lawless administration with all the tools the constitution gives it. Specter hinted at the possibly of conducting a trial in the Senate if the DoJ refuses to haul Miers and Bolton into court. I'd say the quicker they get started the better.

Although, I'd love to see Karl Rove sweating it under one of Patrick Leahy's prosecutorial carpet-bombings, I have to think if the situation got to the point of a trial actually taking place in the well of the Senate W. & Co. would have to blink. Because, if it comes down to a question of who the American people would support in such a constitutional confrontation, I'd have to say even W.'s handlers -- who, naturally, never read the polls -- would have to admit their position was pretty much analogous to the fly vis a’ vis the windshield.

I'm really going on a limb here, but I think the vast majority of Americans are royally PO'd with this bunch in the White House and wouldn't lose too much sleep over seeing Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House -- this time for real. The obvious fear the administration must have regarding the specter of a special prosecutor or a trial in the Senate is how quickly things could go from simply investigating the great prosecutor massacre to how we got into this disastrous war in Iraq. Something tells me Dick Cheney on the stand would make a somewhat less than sympathetic witness.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Gonzales on the Specter Grill.

Wow, I almost feel sorry for Alberto Gonzales, he is taking a beating in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I said almost, I'm really enjoying seeing him get savaged.

Arlen Specter, of all people, is really going to town on him. Specter was beside himself as Gonzales tried to talk his way around the visit to John Ashcroft's sick bed back in 2004. When Gonzales wasn't stammering or being mocked by the people in the gallery, he was trying to say that he was just trying to carry out the wishes of Congress. He explained that he went to a meeting with the so-called Gang of Eight to discuss " very important intelligence activity," and he said, "The consensus in the room was that we should continue the activities, at least for now. We felt it was important that he [Ashcroft] knew of the opinion of the leadership."

Yes, I could see how that would be crucial. I mean, the guy just had his gall bladder out, so he was obviously ready to get back in the saddle. That's why he turned over power to James Comey, right?

Gonzales says, "We never had any intent to ask anything of him if we did not feel he was competent." My gosh, the depth of concern for the man is truly touching. Gonzales claimed Ashcroft was "lucid" and did most of the talking in the meeting, but he wasn't able to explain to Specter's satisfaction why he wen to see a sick man in the hospital who had no authority to do what Gonzales was there to ask him to do.

Arlen Specter must have taken his Viagra this morning because the WaPo reports that:

"Specter raised the prospect of calling for a special prosecutor to press a potential contempt-of-Congress citation over the White House's refusal to provide certain documents and sworn testimony regarding the firing of nine federal prosecutors last year."

A special prosecutor! Say it ain't so!

Monday, July 23, 2007

The problem with Pakistan. Back to the stone age.

"We were sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it. It was very doubtful whether Congress would declare war; but if Mexico should attack our troops, the Executive could announce, 'Whereas, war exists by the acts of, etc.,' and prosecute the contest with vigor. Once initiated there were but few public men who would have the courage to oppose it. Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation in engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate 'war, pestilence, and famine,' than to act to obstructionist to a war already begun."

--- Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs (chapter IV, pg 30)

It looks like the advocates for "war, pestilence and famine" were out in full force on the Sunday yack shows yesterday. While he's supposedly trying to end one war in Iraq, Harry Reid is all for starting another one in Pakistan. Regarding al-Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas on the Afghan border, Reid said on Face the Nation: "I don't think we should take anything off the table. Wherever we find these evil people, we should go get them."

Yes, escalating the war in Afghanistan by overtly launching attacks into Pakistan won't destabilize that rock of stability in South Asia at all. As if we don't have enough problems right now, let’s get tangled up in Pakistan's ethnic and religious gumbo. We've done such a great job of decoding Iraq's intricate tapestry of tribal and ethnic alliances, Pakistan should be a cake walk.

I'm all for going after the real al-Qaeda, the ones who attacked us on 9/11, but the strategy of taking pot shots from Predator Drones at mud huts in Pakistan where OBL may or may not be staying is not a winner. More than likely we'll just kill more civilians like we did in October of '06 when we had Ayman al-Zuwahiri in our sites. One really bad mistake involving scores of dead Pakistani women and children could bring Pervez Musharraf's teetering house of cards down on our heads.

Sending in the Special Forces is an equally rotten idea, although, we're already doing that so go 'war, pestilence and famine!'

Francis Townsend, W.'s Heitmat security adviser, kind of let the cat out of the bag saying, "Just because we don't talk about things publicly doesn't mean we're not doing things you talk about."

The Times of India reports today:

"American air power, special forces, and intelligence operatives have begun operating inside pakistan’s [sic]western borders in their hunt for fleeing al-qaeda fighters, extending the war on terrorism . . . washington has forced the musharraf regime to open its border territory for u.s scrutiny. . . the secret deal will allow u.s. troops to hunt the fighters on the ground and fire on them from the air, but it will also be on a case-by-case basis, with the united states required to ask permission each time . . . pakistan had begun its 'cooperation' in the war on terrorism by offering intelligence and over-flight facilities to the u.s, but rejecting operations by ground forces or attacks on its territories . . . it now appears all bets are off as washington gradually expands its sphere of action into pakistani territory."

And if this pussy footing around with Musharraf doesn't work, ANI reports:

"American intelligence officials have said that should a resurgent al-Qaeda think of attacking the United States again after a gap of six years from Pakistan's volatile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the Bush Administration would not hesitate to move in troops to 'flatten' the area."

Back to the stone age, again.

How about helping the Pakistanis get their democratic house in order by talking to Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. A huge turn out for the return of democratic rule in Pakistan would be a lot more effective than sending more bombs.
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