Monday, September 24, 2007

Anti-Iran Info Op Reported by MSM

This is the first MSM mention of the anti-Iran Info Op that has been long discussed on "the best IO-related blog ever."

Or this Newsweek piece part of the Info Op?

One U.S. official who preferred not to be identified discussing sensitive policy matters said he took part in a meeting several months ago where intelligence officials discussed a "public diplomacy" strategy to accompany sanctions. The idea was to periodically float the possibility of war in public comments in order to keep Iran off balance. In truth, the official said, no war preparations are underway.

There are still voices pushing for firmer action against Tehran, most notably within Vice President Dick Cheney's office. But the steady departure of administration neocons over the past two years has also helped tilt the balance away from war. One official who pushed a particularly hawkish line on Iran was David Wurmser, who had served since 2003 as Cheney's Middle East adviser. A spokeswoman at Cheney's office confirmed to NEWSWEEK that Wurmser left his position last month to "spend more time with his family." A few months before he quit, according to two knowledgeable sources, Wurmser told a small group of people that Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz—and perhaps other sites—in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out. The Iranian reaction would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Dan Rather -- the longtime face of corporate/government influence over the U.S. mass media -- is still angry at how he was treated by the network, and is looking to get even.

The subtext of his lawsuit is that he may decide to let the country in on certain arrangements that have been in effect since the Eisenhower administration.

Prediction: CBS will settle.

Dan Rather said Thursday that the undue influence of the government and large corporations over newsrooms spurred his decision to file a $70 million lawsuit against CBS and its former parent company.

"Somebody, sometime has got to take a stand and say democracy cannot survive, much less thrive with the level of big corporate and big government interference and intimidation in news," he said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

In the suit, filed a day earlier in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Rather claimed CBS and Viacom Inc. used him as a "scapegoat" and intentionally botched the aftermath of a discredited story about President Bush's military service to curry favor with the White House. He was removed from his "CBS Evening News" post in March 2005.

"They sacrificed support for independent journalism for corporate financial gain, and in so doing, I think they undermined a lot at CBS News," he told King.

Rather didn't mention other instances in which he believed news organizations bowed to corporate and government pressure.

CBS spokesman Dana McClintock did not return an after-hours call seeking comment Thursday. He has called Rather's complaints "old news" and said the lawsuit was "without merit." A spokesman for Viacom declined to comment.

Journalism ethics scholar Bob Steele said Rather would have a difficult time proving that the White House or other political operatives exerted undue influence on CBS.

"It would be naive for us to believe that there was no influence from powerful institutions and individuals on journalism," said Steele, a scholar at the Poynter Institute, a journalism foundation in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Still, he said: "For the most part, the journalists who run news organizations and who report the news fight hard to protect the independence of the journalism, and most of the time succeed."

Rather narrated the September 2004 report that said Bush disobeyed orders and shirked some of his duties during his National Guard service. It also said a commander felt pressured to sugarcoat Bush's record.

The story relied on four documents, supposedly written by Bush's commander in the Texas Air National Guard, the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. Critics questioned the documents' authenticity and suggested they were forged.

A panel selected by the network to investigate the story determined that it was neither fair nor accurate. CBS fired the story's producer and asked for the resignations of three executives because it could not authenticate documents used in the story. Rather was forced out of the anchor chair he had occupied for 24 years.

On CNN, Rather dismissed the panel's review, claiming it was not impartial.

"This was in many ways a fraud. It was a setup," he told King.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Triple Threat

A better combination of wishful thinking, risible cluelessness, and getting off-message would be hard to come by:

Gates Warns Shiite militias against alienating Iraqi civilians.

In an interview, Pentagon chief observes the Mahdi Army may be making same mistakes that caused Sunnis to turn against al Qaeda. "The excesses of force and violence...may have caused people to start to think," he says.

Though it's too early to tell whether that will happen in majority-Shiite country, he adds, "This is one of those things...just bubbling under the surface." Gates concedes an irony of terror war is the U.S. has "eliminated Iran's two worst enemies in the Taliban and Saddam Hussein."

But Iraqi leader al-Maliki hasn't gotten "enough credit...(for) pushing back on the Iranians," he concludes.

Another Fake Bin Laden Video

New releases from the Osama Bin Laden propaganda machine are often timed to coincide with important political developments in the U.S. and elsewhere. The 2004 U.S. presidential election-eve video comes to mind.

References to current events in the al-Qaeda video that came out during the Petraeus/Crocker appearences in Washington was said to prove that the elusive terrorist mastermind was still alive. That is, until some analysts pointed out that the picture on the video just happened to freeze each time that Bin Laden said anything topical. An easier method for inserting dubious statements has never been invented.

Bin Laden's latest release -- yesterday -- targeted Pakistani President Musharraf in the weeks before crucial elections there. There were no live action shots of Bin Laden at all on this video. Just a still picture with narration. Pakistan is taking it with the due grain of salt:

Pakistan on Friday dismissed Osama bin Laden as a terrorist whose "ridiculous" call for holy war against its U.S.-allied leader will find little echo, despite growing concern that al-Qaida is regrouping near the Afghan border.

In a recording released Thursday, bin Laden urged Pakistanis to wage jihad against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf because of his alliance with the U.S. against Islamic militants.

The al-Qaida chief's message received wide but short-lived media coverage in Pakistan. Attention quickly returned to Musharraf's disputed re-election bid and fast-rising food prices.

But it could feed into a growing debate here about whether Pakistan is sacrificing its own stability by playing such a prominent and prolonged role in a U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

Officials on Friday played down the possible impact of the al-Qaida leader's call.

"If Osama bin Laden has spoken to the people and urged them to rise, and the people were really following him, they would have done so much earlier," said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad. "He doesn't have much following here."

Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi said the government wanted to avoid giving bin Laden any more publicity.

"I think a response to such ridiculous rhetoric is just dignifying it. We don't want to do that," Qureshi said.

Bin Laden's message was the third this month after a long lull and came in a flurry of al-Qaida propaganda marking the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Talat Masood, a retired Pakistan army general turned security analyst, said bin Laden may have singled out Pakistan in order to associate himself with rising anti-Musharraf and anti-American sentiment here.

Bin Laden, whose voice was heard on a video tape showing previously released footage of the al-Qaida leader, branded Musharraf an infidel for attacking Islamabad's Red Mosque, a militant stronghold in the Pakistani capital overrun by commandos in July.

The battle killed more than 100 people, including Abdul Rashid Ghazi, one of the militants' leaders.

The siege "demonstrated Musharraf's insistence on continuing his loyalty, submissiveness and aid to America against the Muslims," bin Laden said. "It is obligatory on the Muslims in Pakistan to carry out jihad and fighting to remove Pervez, his government, his army and those who help him."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

State Dept. IG Skullduggery

Howard J. Krongard, the State Department's inspector general, has repeatedly thwarted investigations into contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and censored reports that might prove politically embarrassing to the Bush administration, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform charged yesterday in a 13-page letter.

The letter, addressed to Krongard and signed by the committee chairman, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who released it yesterday, said the allegations were based on the testimony of seven current and former officials on Krongard's staff, including two former senior officials who allowed their names to be used, and private e-mail exchanges obtained by the committee. The letter said the allegations concerned all three major divisions of Krongard's office -- investigations, audits and inspections.

Waxman demanded documents and testimony for a hearing next month into Krongard's conduct. A copy of the letter was sent to the committee's top Republican, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.). ...

The letter alleges that Krongard "interfered with ongoing investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment." It said that "your strong affinity with State Department leadership and your partisan political ties have led you to halt investigations, censor reports and refuse to cooperate with law enforcement agencies." ...

Krongard's brother, A.D. "Buzzy" Krongard, served as the No. 3 CIA official under then-Director George J. Tenet.

Waxman accused Howard Krongard of:

  • Refusing to send investigators to Iraq and Afghanistan to investigate $3 billion worth of State Department contracts.

  • Preventing his investigators from cooperating with a Justice Department probe into waste and fraud in the construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

  • Using "highly irregular" procedures to personally exonerate the embassy's prime contractor of labor abuses.

  • Interfering in the investigation of a close friend of former White House adviser Karl Rove.

  • Censoring reports on embassies to prevent full disclosure to Congress.

  • Refusing to publish critical audits of State's financial statements.

Among the e-mails obtained by the committee are exchanges in which staff members discussed Krongard's decision not to cooperate with the Justice Department on the embassy investigation. ...

The embassy, whose cost of more than $600 million has made it the most expensive U.S. diplomatic mission in the world, has been the subject of repeated congressional questioning and allegations of wrongdoing in both construction and hiring practices.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

International Security 101

This is exactly what one lone analyst has been saying ever since the Bush administration began getting its panties all bunched up about the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

Right down to the "rational actor" argument.

Every effort should be made to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but failing that, the world could live with a nuclear-armed regime in Tehran, a recently retired commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Monday.

John Abizaid, the retired Army general who headed Central Command for nearly four years, said he was confident that if Iran gained nuclear arms, the United States could deter it from using them.

"Iran is not a suicide nation," he said. "I mean, they may have some people in charge that don't appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon."

The Iranians are aware, he said, that the United States has a far superior military capability.

"I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear," he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.

"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blackwater License Yanked By Iraq (For Now)

A good test of Iraqi sovereignty will be to see how long it takes the U.S. to persuade Iraq's government to rescind this order.

Hint: It won't take long.

The Interior Ministry said Monday that it was pulling the license of an American security firm allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a U.S. State Department motorcade in Baghdad.

The ministry said it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force in the Sunday incident.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said eight people were killed and 13 were wounded when security contractors working for Blackwater USA opened fire in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad.

"We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities," Khalaf said.

Blackwater, based in North Carolina, provides security for many U.S. civilian operations in the country. Phone messages left early Monday at Blackwater's office in North Carolina and with a company spokeswoman were not immediately returned.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman said witness reports pointed to Blackwater involvement but said the incident was still under investigation. It was not immediately clear if the measure against Blackwater was intended to be temporary or permanent.

U.S. troops are immune from prosecution in Iraq under the U.N. resolution that authorizes their presence, but Khalaf said the exemption does not apply to private security companies.

The U.S. Embassy said a State Department motorcade came under small-arms fire that disabled one of the vehicles, which had to be towed from the scene near Nisoor Square in the Mansour district.

An embassy official provided no information about Iraqi casualties but said no State Department personnel were wounded or killed. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

He said the shooting was being investigated by the State Department's diplomatic security service, and law enforcement officials working with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki late Sunday condemned the shooting by a "foreign security company" and called it a "crime."

Tens of thousands of private security contractors operate in Iraq -- some with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bulletproof vehicles.

The contractors, including many Americans and Britons, provide protection for Westerners and dignitaries in Iraq as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war.

Many have been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys, but none has faced charges or prosecution.

Iraqi police said the contractors were in a convoy of six sport utility vehicles and left the scene after the shooting. A witness said the gunfire broke out following an explosion.

"We saw a convoy of SUVs passing in the street nearby. One minute later, we heard the sound of a bomb explosion followed by gunfire that lasted for 20 minutes between gunmen and the convoy people who were foreigners and dressed in civilian clothes. Everybody in the street started to flee immediately," said Hussein Abdul-Abbas, who owns a mobile phone store in the area.

The wartime numbers of private guards are unprecedented -- as are their duties, many of which have traditionally been done by soldiers. They protect U.S. military operations and have guarded high-ranking officials including Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Baghdad.

They also protect journalists, visiting foreign officials and thousands of construction projects.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Greenspan on the Reason for Iraq War

Buried in a Bob Woodward article about Alan Greenspan's new book on his years as Fed Chairman:

Without elaborating, he writes, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Civilian Death Toll Numbers in Iraq Grim

A new survey says that the civilian death toll from the Iraq war could be more than 1 million.

The figure from ORB, a British polling agency that has conducted several surveys in Iraq, followed statements this week from the U.S. military defending itself against accusations it was trying to play down Iraqi deaths to make its strategy appear successful.

The military has said civilian deaths from sectarian violence have fallen more than 55% since President Bush sent an additional 28,500 troops to Iraq this year, but it does not provide specific numbers.

According to the ORB poll, a survey of 1,461 adults suggested that the total number slain during more than four years of war was more than 1.2 million.

ORB said it drew its conclusion from responses to the question about those living under one roof: "How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003?"

Based on Iraq's estimated number of households -- 4,050,597 -- it said the 1.2 million figure was reasonable.

There was no way to verify the number, because the government does not provide a full count of civilian deaths. Neither does the U.S. military.

Both, however, say that independent organizations greatly exaggerate estimates of civilian casualties.

ORB said its poll had a margin of error of 2.4%. According to its findings, nearly one in two households in Baghdad had lost at least one member to war-related violence, and 22% of households nationwide had suffered at least one death. It said 48% of the victims were shot to death and 20% died as a result of car bombs, with other explosions and military bombardments blamed for most of the other fatalities.

The survey was conducted last month.

It was the highest estimate given so far of civilian deaths in Iraq. Last year, a study in the medical journal Lancet put the number at 654,965, which Iraq's government has dismissed as "ridiculous."

Telling It How He Sees It

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday U.S. President George W. Bush's Middle East policies had failed and he and others would one day be put on trial for "the tragedies they have created in Iraq."

"America has failed in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. America's policies have failed in the Middle East region," Khamenei told worshippers at Tehran University in a speech broadcast live on state television.

Washington accuses Shi'ite Muslim Iran of providing funds, arms and training to Iraqi Shi'ite militants and of supporting terrorism across the Middle East.

Iran denies the charge and blames the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 for the bloodshed between Iraq's majority Shi'ite and minority Sunni Arabs.

"I am certain that one day Bush and senior American officials will be tried in an international court for the tragedies they have created in Iraq," Khamenei said.

Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to hear the supreme leader, who has the last say in all state matters, mark the first Friday prayer of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

"America's power in the region is waning ... they (U.S.) are looking forward to pulling out of Iraq," Khamenei said.

The mass audience, including senior state officials, clerics and wheelchair-bound veterans of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, responded with chants of "Death to America. Islam is victorious."

Iran and the United States cut diplomatic ties shortly after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. They have held rounds of talks in Baghdad to find ways to restore security in Iraq but relations remain very strained.

Khamenei condemned the Middle East peace process, Israel and some European countries as well as the United States as he described a "psychological war" he said had been waged against the Islamic republic of Iran.

President's Propaganda Performance Panned

An old rule in creating effective propaganda is that you stick to the truth as much as possible -- it makes the necessary exaggerations and manipulations of fact more believable. Absolutely critical in effective perception management.

Last night, in his address to the nation, President Bush clearly didn't have much positive material to work with, so he (and his speechwriters) made the amateur mistake of excessively padding the presentation with bullshit.

It didn't fly. If even the pro-war Washington Post is calling him on it, this has to be really embarrassing for the White House.

In his speech last night, President Bush made a case for progress in Iraq by citing facts and statistics that at times contradicted recent government reports or his own words.

For instance, Bush asserted that "Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done," such as "sharing oil revenues with the provinces" and allowing "former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions."

Yet his statement ignored the fact that U.S. officials have been frustrated that none of those actions have been enshrined into law -- and that reports from Baghdad this week indicated that a potential deal on sharing oil revenue is collapsing.

In a radio address to the nation less than a month ago, the president himself complained that the Iraqi government was failing to address these issues. "Unfortunately, political progress at the national level has not matched the pace of progress at the local level," Bush said on Aug. 18. "The Iraqi government in Baghdad has many important measures left to address, such as reforming the de-Baathification laws, organizing provincial elections and passing a law to formalize the sharing of oil revenues."

Bush also asserted that Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, was once an al-Qaeda stronghold but that "today, Baqubah is cleared." But in a meeting with reporters on Aug. 27, the head of the State Department team in Diyala said the security situation was not stable, hampering access to food and energy, though he acknowledged that commerce was returning to Baqubah.

"Everything is based around security; if we have security, then we can bring in agencies like USAID," John Melvin Jones said, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Development. "It's going to take a while before the security situation gets stable enough so that you can have a lot of these other agencies involved."

Bush also thanked "the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq." But the State Department's most recent weekly report on Iraq said there are 25 countries supplying 11,685 troops -- about 7 percent of the size of the U.S. forces.

At one point, the president cited a recent report by a commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, saying that "the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police."

But the report said Iraq's army will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven." It also described the 25,000-member national police force as riddled with sectarianism and corruption, and it recommended that it be disbanded.

The commission also recommended that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning responsibility for security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies -- advice the president did not follow in last night's speech.

The president also painted a relatively favorable picture of Baghdad, saying that a year ago much of it "was under siege" but that today "ordinary life is beginning to return." He did not mention that much of the once-heterogeneous city has been divided into Shiite and Sunni enclaves.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A New NeoCon-Driven Information Campaign

It looks like the NeoCons -- with an indispensable assist from Israel -- are again trying to exploit President Bush's flawed good vs. evil worldview to their insidious ends.

A reliable play.

It will probably work.

North Korea may be cooperating with Syria on some sort of nuclear facility in Syria, according to new intelligence the United States has gathered over the past six months, sources said. The evidence, said to come primarily from Israel, includes dramatic satellite imagery that led some U.S. officials to believe that the facility could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons.

The new information, particularly images received in the past 30 days, has been restricted to a few senior officials under the instructions of national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, leaving many in the intelligence community unaware of it or uncertain of its significance, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Some cautioned that initial reports of suspicious activity are frequently reevaluated over time and were skeptical that North Korea and Syria, which have cooperated on missile technology, would have a joint venture in the nuclear arena. ...

Israel conducted a mysterious raid last week against targets in Syria. The Israeli government has refused to divulge any details, but a former Israeli official said he had been told that it was an attack against a facility capable of making unconventional weapons.

Others have speculated that Israel was testing Syria's air defenses in preparation for a raid on Iran...

Syria has signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty but has not agreed to an additional protocol that would allow for enhanced inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency., which offers information on weapons of mass destruction, said that "although Syria has long been cited as posing a nuclear proliferation risk, the country seems to have been too strapped for cash to get far."

To corroborate today's thesis that it is a NeoCon-driven information campaign behind the NK/Syria "alliance", one of the usual suspects makes an appearance:

John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a critic of the administration's dealings with North Korea, said that given North Korea's trade in missiles with Syria, it is "legitimate to ask questions about whether that cooperation extends on the nuclear side as well."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

U.S. Dealing With Mookie

U.S. diplomats and military officers have been in talks with members of the armed movement loyal to Muqtada Sadr, a sharp reversal of policy and a grudging recognition that the radical Shiite cleric holds a dominant position in much of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

The secret dialogue has been going on since at least early 2006, but appeared to yield a tangible result only in the last week -- with relative calm in an area of west Baghdad that has been among the capital's most dangerous sections.

The discussions have been complicated by divisions within Sadr's movement as well as the cleric's public vow never to meet with Iraq's occupiers. Underlying the issue's sensitivity, Sadrists publicly deny any contact with the Americans or British -- fully aware the price of acknowledging such meetings would be banishment from the movement or worse.

The dialogue represents a drastic turnaround in the U.S. approach to Sadr and his militia, the Mahdi Army. The military hopes to negotiate the same kind of marriage of convenience it has reached in other parts of Iraq with former insurgent groups, many Saddam Hussein loyalists, and the Sunni tribes that supported them. Both efforts are examples of how U.S. officials have sought to end violence by cooperating with groups they once considered intractable enemies.

In 2004, U.S. officials branded Sadr an outlaw and demanded his arrest, sparking two major Shiite revolts in Baghdad and in the southern shrine city of Najaf that left more than a thousand dead. Last year, as the Bush administration developed its "surge" strategy, military planners said the campaign would also target Shiite militias involved in sectarian killings. U.S. commanders later accused Iranian-backed elements of the Mahdi Army of carrying out deadly bomb attacks against U.S. forces and spearheading sectarian violence.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The September Petraeus Charade

If the Iraq war was winnable, we would have won by now.

The whole premise that we would be able to set up a client-state from scratch in that part of the world, and especially in a Shiite-majority nation, was wrong from the get-go.

The longstanding sectarian conflicts there were also not conducive to such an endeavor, and should have been an early danger sign.

And the harsh view from the Middle-East "street" of U.S. support for Israel's treatment of the Palestinians didn't (and doesn't) strengthen our odds of success in the Iraqi political sphere either.

The administration's game at this point is to drag things out and hope that our luck changes for the better. This is not a viable strategy.

The whole September Petraeus charade is to manipulate the public to accept White House claims of progress in Iraq. An objective appraisal of the situation belies these assertions.

The Bush administration's top two officials in Iraq answered questions from Congress for more than six hours on Monday, but their testimony may have been as important for what they didn't say as for what they did.

A chart displayed by Army Gen. David Petraeus that purported to show the decline in sectarian violence in Baghdad between December and August made no effort to show that the ethnic character of many of the neighborhoods had changed in that same period from majority Sunni Muslim or mixed to majority Shiite Muslim.

Neither Petraeus nor U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker talked about the fact that since the troop surge began the pace by which Iraqis were abandoning their homes in search of safety had increased. They didn't mention that 86 percent of Iraqis who've fled their homes said they'd been targeted because of their sect, according to the International Organization for Migration.

While Petraeus stressed that civilian casualties were down over the last five weeks, he drew no connection between that statement and a chart he displayed that showed that the number of attacks rose during at least one of those weeks.

Petraeus also didn't highlight the fact that his charts showed that "ethno-sectarian" deaths in August, down from July, were still higher than in June, and he didn't explain why the greatest drop in such deaths, which peaked in December, occurred between January and February, before the surge began.

And while both officials said that the Iraqi security forces were improving, neither talked about how those forces had been infiltrated by militias, though Petraeus acknowledged that during 2006 some Iraqi security forces had participated in the ethnic violence.

Both officials said they believed that Iraq was on the path to potential success. Petraeus said that "the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met." Crocker was similarly optimistic: "In my judgment, the cumulative trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upwards, although the slope of that line is not steep."

They both pleaded for more time, even as Petraeus said that the U.S. should begin pulling troops out, with the goal of being back to the pre-surge level of 130,000 troops by next July. Further reductions would be considered next spring, as conditions allow, he said.

Both men celebrated their plan's success in encouraging residents in once-restive Anbar province to work with U.S. troops against al Qaida in Iraq.

Petraeus conceded that that success didn't extend to Ninevah province, where progress "has been much more up and down." But he didn't say that many believe that al Qaida numbers increased there only after the surge began. Ninevah is where some of the largest bombings of the year occurred, including the attack on the Yazidis, which killed more than 300.

He also offered a tepid endorsement of the Iraqi security forces, at times saying that they were increasingly capable of defending Iraq, while conceding that they needed to show more progress.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sharif Gets Off Easy

It could have been worse.

He could have been Aquino-ed.

Nawaz Sharif's attempt to return to his homeland to overthrow President Pervez Musharraf ended in ignominy this morning, when the former Pakistan Prime Minister was arrested, bundled onto a plane and deported to Saudi Arabia.

After seven years in exile and weeks of anticipation of his return, Mr Sharif spent just four hours on his native soil.

On arrival at Islamabad aboard a Pakistan International Airlines flight from London, he was surrounded by black-uniformed commandos then shifted to the airport’s VIP lounge, where a senior investigator from Pakistan's anti-corruption body served an arrest warrant.

The investigator, Azhar Mahmoud Qazi, said that Mr Sharif was being held on money-laundering and corruption charges stemming from a sugar mill business several years ago. He is accused of laundering 1.2 billion rupees (£9.8 million).

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the president of Pakistan’s ruling party, said that Mr Sharif had been given a choice this morning of going into exile again or being arrested. He said that Mr Sharif had chosen detention – but it emerged soon after that he was being deported anyway.

As his followers in Pakistan clashed with police, who had set up roadblocks to prevent crowds from reaching the capital to acclaim him, Mr Sharif was quickly spirited to another plane and flown out of the country towards the Red Sea port of Jeddah, a close aide to General Musharraf confirmed.

He had intended to spend the afternoon travelling in a grand motorcade to his home and political base in Lahore, about 290 km (180 miles) to the south of Islamabad, to kick-start his campaign against General Musharraf.

Mr Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who stayed behind in London, said that their political party would challenge the deportation through the courts. ...

This morning's deportation appears to sideline General Musharraf's most powerful political enemy. It is likely however to deepen the President's growing unpopularity, and to reinforce public perceptions that he is an authoritarian ruler, ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Political Sloganeering in Lieu of a Sane Iraq Policy

From Scott Ritter:

It should come as no surprise that the Bush administration's newest military-man-of-substance-turned- political lapdog, General Petraeus, maintains that the situation in Iraq is not only salvageable, but actually improving, due to the "surge" of U.S. combat troops into Iraq over the past year. All the president and his collection of GI Joe hand-puppets ask for is more time, more money and more troops.

There is no reason to believe that the compliant war facilitators who comprise the "anti-war" Democratic majority in Congress will do anything other than give the president what he is asking for. No one seems to want to debate, in any meaningful fashion, what is really going on in Iraq.

Why would they? The Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, have invested too much political capital into fictionalizing the problem with slogans like "support the troops," "we're fighting the enemy there so we don't have to fight them here," and my all-time favorite, "leaving Iraq would hand victory to al-Qaida."

There simply is no incentive to put fact on the table and formulate policy that actually seeks a solution to a properly defined problem. Like the Republicans before them, the Democrats today seek not to govern with the best interests of the people in mind, but rather to game the system in order to consolidate political power. Political sloganeering has so trumped reality that any political backlash that is generated from the so-called "Petraeus Report" will be limited to how the Democrats could better sustain a conflict that kills American troops, since no main-stream Democratic leader has expressed a true "get out of Iraq now" policy. ...

The compliant mainstream media, of course, is no help. The war in Iraq has become a major generator of advertising revenue for these corporations, so there is no incentive to actually report the truth, but rather manipulate the fiction. Iraq has become a prestige destination for every aspiring journalist or struggling anchor, determined to get "the big story." The most recent manifestation of this syndrome is CBS News anchor Katie Couric, who earlier this week travelled to Iraq because she was (in her own words), "Curious about very basic questions regarding living conditions, about how much fear there is in the street, about how the soldiers really are doing." That the situation in Iraq has been boiled down to these three big, burning issues (living conditions, fear in the streets, and how the troops are really doing), and that CBS is sending their multi-million-dollar investment to investigate, speaks volumes about the truly degenerate state of American journalism today.

The real big three she should be addressing are "Why do Americans keep dying?" "Who is killing them?" and "Why?" Of course, answering these questions would undermine the very fantasy world Couric is being sent to cover, one where Americans are doing good deeds in the name of peace and justice for downtrodden Iraqis. Couric's jaunt is fraud on a massive scale. Ironically, she herself acknowledged this when she admitted that her up-beat reports from Iraq were reflective of what the US military wanted her to see, and not honest 'reporting' on her part.

Read more Reporting from Baghdad by Scott Ritter.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How To Lie With Statistics

It would be a challenge even beyond the Stalinist-like deniers of reality in the administration to portray the political situation in Iraq as improving, given the public nature of the evidence.

So they are doing the next best thing, dicking with the (mostly classified) official measurements of violence to claim military progress.

The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.

Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration's claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease.

Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory. "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree," Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.

Senior U.S. officers in Baghdad disputed the accuracy and conclusions of the largely negative GAO report, which they said had adopted a flawed counting methodology used by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Many of those conclusions were also reflected in last month's pessimistic National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian," the official said. "If it went through the front, it's criminal." ...

Challenges to how military and intelligence statistics are tallied and used have been a staple of the Iraq war. In its December 2006 report, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group identified "significant underreporting of violence," noting that "a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the sources of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the data base." The report concluded that "good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals." ...

When a member of the National Intelligence Council visited Baghdad this summer to review a draft of the intelligence estimate on Iraq, Petraeus argued that its negative judgments did not reflect recent improvements. At least one new sentence was added to the final version, noting that "overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks."

A senior military intelligence official in Baghdad deemed it "odd" that "marginal" security improvements were reflected in an estimate assessing the previous seven months and projecting the next six to 12 months. He attributed the change to a desire to provide Petraeus with ammunition for his congressional testimony.

The intelligence official in Washington, however, described the Baghdad consultation as standard in the NIE drafting process and said that the "new information" did not change the estimate's conclusions. The overall assessment was that the security situation in Iraq since January "was still getting worse," he said, "but not as fast."

Since a counterinsurgency must be ultimately won in the political arena of the host country, hanging your hat on claims of ephemeral military gains is a pretty disingenuous tactic intended for domestic U.S. consumption.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks

The GAO report on the progress made by the Iraqi government with the breathing room given them by the surge has just been released.

As the earlier draft report indicated, the Iraqi government failed to meet most of the benchmarks.

Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks (100-page pdf).

The January 2007 U.S. strategy seeks to provide the Iraqi government with the time and space needed to help Iraqi society reconcile. Our analysis of the 18 legislative, security and economic benchmarks shows that as of August 30, 2007, the Iraqi government met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks. ...Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds. These results do not diminish the courageous efforts of coalition forces.

The Iraqi government has met one of eight legislative benchmarks: the rights of minority political parties in Iraq’s legislature are protected. The government also partially met one other benchmark to enact and implement legislation on the formation of regions; this law was enacted in October 2006 but will not be implemented until April 2008. Six other legislative benchmarks have not been met. Specifically, a review committee has not completed work on important revisions to Iraq’s constitution. Further, the government has not enacted legislation on de-Ba’athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty, or militia disarmament. The Administration’s July 2007 report cited progress in achieving some of these benchmarks but provided little information on what step in the legislative process each benchmark had reached.

Two of nine security benchmarks have been met. Specifically, Iraq’s government has established various committees in support of the Baghdad security plan and established almost all of the planned Joint Security Stations in Baghdad. The government has partially met the benchmarks of providing three trained and ready brigades for Baghdad operations and eliminating safe havens for outlawed groups. Five other benchmarks have not been met. The government has not eliminated militia control of local security, eliminated political intervention in military operations, ensured even-handed enforcement of the law, increased army units capable of independent operations, or ensured that political authorities made no false accusations against security forces. It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased—a key security benchmark--since it is difficult to measure the perpetrator’s intent and other measures of population security show differing trends.

Finally, the Iraqi government has partially met the economic benchmark of allocating and spending $10 billion on reconstruction. Preliminary data indicates that about $1.5 billion of central ministry funds had been spent, as of July 15, 2007. As the Congress considers the way forward in Iraq, it must balance the achievement of the 18 Iraqi benchmarks with the military progress, homeland security, foreign policy, and other goals of the United States. Future administration reporting to assist the Congress would be enhanced with adoption of the recommendations we make in this report.

Bremer Calls BS on Bush's Pass-The-Buckism

As a direct rebuttal to the statement by President Bush (mentioned here yesterday, see Say What?) that his policy was to keep Saddam's vanquished Iraqi Army on duty to help provide security for the occupation, the senior American official at the time sets the record straight.

A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to "dissolve Saddam's military and intelligence structures," a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.

Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been "to keep the army intact" but that it "didn't happen."

The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents. In releasing the letters, Mr. Bremer said he wanted to refute the suggestion in Mr. Bush's comment that Mr. Bremer had acted to disband the army without the knowledge and concurrence of the White House.

"We must make it clear to everyone that we mean business: that Saddam and the Baathists are finished," Mr. Bremer wrote in a letter that was drafted on May 20, 2003, and sent to the president on May 22 through Donald H. Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense.

After recounting American efforts to remove members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein from civilian agencies, Mr. Bremer told Mr. Bush that he would "parallel this step with an even more robust measure" to dismantle the Iraq military.

One day later, Mr. Bush wrote back a short thank you letter. "Your leadership is apparent," the president wrote. "You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence."

On the same day, Mr. Bremer, in Baghdad, had issued the order disbanding the Iraqi military. Mr. Bush did not mention the order to abolish the military, and the letters do not show that he approved the order or even knew much about it. Mr. Bremer referred only fleetingly to his plan midway through his three-page letter and offered no details.

In an interview with Robert Draper, author of the new book, "Dead Certain," Mr. Bush sounded as if he had been taken aback by the decision, or at least by the need to abandon the original plan to keep the army together.

"The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn't happen," Mr. Bush told the interviewer. When Mr. Draper asked the president how he had reacted when he learned that the policy was being reversed, Mr. Bush replied, "Yeah, I can't remember, I'm sure I said, "This is the policy, what happened?'"

Mr. Bremer indicated that he had been smoldering for months as other administration officials had distanced themselves from his order. "This didn't just pop out of my head," he said in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that he had sent a draft of the order to top Pentagon officials and discussed it "several times" with Mr. Rumsfeld.

A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House is not commenting on Mr. Draper's book, said Mr. Bush indeed understood the order and was acknowledging in the interview with Mr. Draper that the original plan had proved unworkable.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Say What?

Drug and alcohol-induced memory impairment?

Or deliberate obfuscation?

One of the most heavily criticized actions in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was the decision, barely two months later, to disband the Iraqi army, alienating former soldiers and driving many straight into the ranks of anti-American militant groups.

But excerpts of a new biography of President Bush show him saying that he initially wanted to maintain the Iraqi army and, more surprising, that he cannot recall why his administration decided to disband it.

"The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen," Bush told biographer Robert Draper in excerpts published in Sunday's New York Times.

Draper pressed Bush to explain why, if he wanted to maintain the army, his chief administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, issued an order in May 2003 disbanding the 400,000-strong army without pay.

"Yeah, I can't remember; I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?'" Bush said, adding: "Again, Hadley's got notes on all this stuff" -- a reference to national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley.

Spokesmen for the White House and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declined to comment about the excerpts Sunday. Bremer could not be reached for comment.

The Forgotten War

More evidence that putting Afghanistan on the back burner to conduct the misadventure in Iraq was a strategically unsound decision:

Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that U.S. and NATO officials declared a success story last fall in their campaign to clear out insurgents and make way for development programs, Afghan officials say.

A year after Canadian and U.S. forces drove hundreds of Taliban fighters from the area, the Panjwai and Zhare districts southwest of Kandahar, the rebels are back and have adopted new tactics. Carrying out guerrilla attacks after NATO troops partly withdrew in July, they overran isolated police posts and are now operating in areas where they can mount attacks on Kandahar, the largest city in the south.

The setback is part of a bloody stalemate that has occurred between NATO troops and Taliban fighters across southern Afghanistan this summer. NATO and Afghan army soldiers can push the Taliban out of rural areas, but the Afghan police are too weak to hold the territory after they withdraw. At the same time, the Taliban are unable to take large towns and have generally mounted fewer suicide bomb attacks in southern cities than last summer.

The Panjwai and Zhare districts, in particular, highlight the changing nature of the fight in the south. The military operation there in September 2006 was the largest conventional battle in the country since 2002. But this year, the Taliban are avoiding set battles with NATO and instead are attacking the police and stepping up their use of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices or IEDs.

"It's very seldom that we have direct engagement with the Taliban," said Brigadier General Guy Laroche, the commander of Canadian forces leading the NATO effort in Kandahar. "What they're going to use is IEDs."

The Taliban also wage intimidation campaigns against the population. Local officials report that one of the things that the insurgents do when they enter an area is to hang several local farmers, declaring them spies.

"The first thing they do is show people how brutal they are," said Hajji Agha Lalai, the leader of the Panjwai district council. "They were hanged from the trees. For several days, they hung there."

NATO and U.S. military officials have declined to release exact Taliban attack statistics, and collecting accurate information is difficult, particularly in rural Afghanistan. According to an internal UN tally, insurgents have set off 516 improvised explosive devices in 2007. Another 402 improvised explosive devices have been discovered before detonation.

Reported security incidents, a broad category that includes bombings, firefights and intimidation, are up from roughly 500 a month last year to 600 a month this year, a 20 percent increase, according to the United Nations.

The rising number of attacks are taking a heavy toll. At least 2,500 to 3,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence so far this year, a quarter of them civilians, according to the UN tally, a 20 percent increase over 2006.

NATO and U.S. fatalities are up by about 20 percent this year, to 161, according to Iraq Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Afghan police continue to be devastated by Taliban bombings and guerrilla strikes, with 379 killed so far this year, compared with 257 for all of last year.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Peace Enforcement Mission May Become New Iraq Strategy

In an internal assessment given to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, a senior intelligence analyst and a military planner for the U.S. command in Baghdad call for shifting U.S. strategy in Iraq away from counterinsurgency and toward peace enforcement, and they suggest that the Shiite-led ruling coalition is involved in the country's "low-grade civil war."

The Aug. 15 briefing, titled "Resolving the Conflict in Iraq: An Alternative Peacemaking Strategy," offers an unusual glimpse into the intellectual debate within the U.S. military over the way forward in Iraq, and it comes just days before Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there, is scheduled to testify before Congress on the progress of President Bush's war strategy.

It also reveals how military officers in Iraq are wrestling with how to define the conflict -- whether as a counterinsurgency, civil war or some combination of several contests -- all with major implications for troop deployments and strategy. ...

This briefing, provided to The Washington Post by a third party, represents the authors' personal views and is not official policy.

The 19-page briefing casts doubt on a cornerstone of the U.S. approach in Iraq: the assumption that the Iraqi government seeks to build a multi-sectarian society. The report says that the U.S. troop increase this year has reduced violence and led many insurgent groups to seek reconciliation, but that in response the government has shown "little enthusiasm." Instead, it describes elements of the Shiite-dominated ruling coalition as at least tacitly supporting sectarian violence as a way to solidify its power.

"Rather than conducting a counterinsurgency that supports a sectarian driven Iraqi government, the coalition should focus all elements of power on activities that facilitate a long-term peace or we risk becoming/remaining a part of the civil war," the briefing says. ...

The authors argue that a shift in strategy on the ground could help forge a new consensus on Iraq in Washington: "The peacemaking process should be well underway by January 2008 or we may find that we have tactically created the space and time necessary but there has been insufficient progress towards reconciliation and reintegration -- resulting in a total collapse of political support in both the domestic public and the US Congress."

The briefing calls for a shift to a strategy of peace enforcement, starting as early as this month, that would emphasize "balanced targeting" of fighters from all sects and protecting the population from "any and all threats," including, if necessary, Iraqi security forces. It describes the Iraqi local and national police as sectarian and untrustworthy forces that need overhauling or disbanding. ...

The briefing's authors -- one military and one civilian -- emphasized that their unclassified report was intended for internal discussion only. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of their positions with the military division that oversees Baghdad, and they said their perspective is drawn from conditions in Baghdad rather than from Iraq as a whole.

A copy of the briefing was given to the U.S. commander for Baghdad, Army Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., and to Petraeus.

The Washington Post article also mentions the new classified Joint Campaign Plan:

A campaign plan adopted this summer by Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker departed from the idea that the Iraq conflict is simply a counterinsurgency that requires wholesale support for the government.

"What we did with the campaign plan is recognize that you can't do unconditional support of the government," said a senior military official involved with planning in Iraq. "There are certain elements that are interested in a sectarian agenda."

Friday, August 31, 2007

U.N. Says Jury Still Out on Iran Nuclear Program

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency gave an upbeat assessment of Iranian cooperation with international inspectors in a new report Thursday that could make it more difficult for the United States to win tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna also concluded that while Iran continues to enrich uranium in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, its fuel enrichment plant has produced "well below the expected quantity for a facility of this design." The quality of the uranium also was lower than expected, the IAEA said.

The report praised Iran for taking "a significant step forward" by agreeing to a new work plan and timelines for resolving numerous questions about the history of its nuclear program. Separately, U.N. officials said that Iran had slowed construction of a new plutonium-fuel reactor in Arak. ...

The report suggests that if Iran adheres to the program and timelines, the agency could resolve its remaining questions about the nature of the country's nuclear program by the end of the year and close the file.

"For the first time in a couple of years, we have been able to agree with the Iranians on a working arrangement, on how to resolve the outstanding issues," the U.N. agency's deputy director, Olli Heinonen, told reporters in Vienna. "What Iran is now facing is actually a litmus test" on whether it will deliver what it has promised, because its failure to do so in the past triggered Security Council action, Heinonen said.

If the IAEA concludes that Iran has not engaged in a covert program to develop nuclear weapons, it could raise new questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence in the Middle East. ...

Longtime observers of Iran's program were struck by the report's revelations of slow progress of uranium enrichment. Iran appears to be running well behind its own self-imposed schedule for building new centrifuge machines, and its existing machines are operating well below capacity.

Based on IAEA figures, Iran is producing low-enriched uranium at a rate of about 31 pounds a month, compared with an expected rate of nearly 200 pounds a month, according to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based research group.

The low output suggests that Iran is either experiencing technical difficulties or has perhaps decided to slow production to "forestall negative reactions that would lend support for further sanctions," the institute said in a report released Thursday. Low-enriched uranium is used for making nuclear power and cannot be converted for weapons use unless it undergoes further processing. ...

The report "indicates that Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities, which is a violation of U.S. Security Council resolutions." Such a step is necessary "for the international community to gain confidence that Iran's nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes."

France said that it would continue pursuing sanctions as long as Iran continued enriching uranium, and a statement by the British Foreign Office said that it also lacked confidence in Iran's nuclear intentions. ...

The report cites several contentious issues that have been resolved recently through a renewed dialogue with Iran and the work program that Iranian and U.N. officials agreed to in a series of meetings in July and August.

"This is the first time Iran is ready to discuss all the outstanding issues which triggered the crisis in confidence," Mohamed ElBaradei, the I.A.E.A. director general, said in an interview. "It's a significant step."

But the Bush administration and its allies, which have won sanctions in the United Nations Security Council in an effort to stop Iran's uranium enrichment, saw the latest report as more evidence of defiance, not cooperation.

"There is no partial credit here," a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said Thursday. "Iran has refused to comply with its international obligations, and as a result of that the international community is going to continue to ratchet up the pressure." ...

Dr. ElBaradei suggested that he would welcome a delay in the American-led strategy to impose new sanctions, saying, "I'm clear at this stage you need to give Iran a chance to prove its stated goodwill. Sanctions alone, I know for sure, are not going to lead to a durable solution."

The agreement, announced Monday, laid out a timetable of cooperation with the goal of wrapping up by December nuclear issues that have been under investigation for four years. By then, Dr. ElBaradei said, the agency will know whether Iran was "serious" or "was trying to take us for a ride."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Draft GAO Report Says Iraq Government Not Meeting Expectations

The reason that the U.S. endeavor in Iraq was doomed to fail from the very beginning was that the goal -- to establish another U.S.-client state in the Middle East, and in a Shiite majority country at that -- was unrealistic in the extreme. We have been lowering our expectations and objectives as we go along.

An unvarnished appraisal of the current Iraqi government is being prepared by the GAO, and a pre-redaction version has been leaked to the Washington Post.

The report doesn't provide evidence for those who are insisting that things are improving to the point that something resembling success might transpire someday. The "pro-victory" crowd (who are actively harming U.S. national security by trying to keep U.S. forces tied down in Iraq) are deluding themselves and others.

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration. ...

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."

"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. ...

A GAO spokesman declined to comment on the report before it is released. The 69-page draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is still undergoing review at the Defense Department, which may ask that parts of it be classified or request changes in its conclusions. ...

The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version -- as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Congress requested the GAO report, along with an assessment of the Iraqi security forces by an independent commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, to provide a basis for comparison with the administration's scorecard. The Jones report is also scheduled for delivery next week. ...

One of eight political benchmarks -- the protection of the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature -- has been achieved, according to the draft. On the others, including legislation on constitutional reform, new oil laws and de-Baathification, it assesses failure.

"Prospects for additional progress in enacting legislative benchmarks have been complicated by the withdrawal of 15 of 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet," it says. An internal administration assessment this month, the GAO says, concluded that "this boycott ends any claim by the Shi'ite-dominated coalition to be a government of national unity." An administration official involved in Iraq policy said that he did not know what specific interagency document the GAO was citing but noted that it is an accurate reflection of the views of many officials.

Overall, the draft report, titled "Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq," says that the Iraqi government has met only two security benchmarks. It contradicts the Bush administration's conclusion in July that sectarian violence was decreasing as a result of the U.S. military's stepped-up operations in Baghdad this year. "The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July," the GAO draft states. ...

The GAO draft also says that the number of Iraqi army units capable of operating independently declined from 10 in March to six last month. The July White House report mentioned a "slight" decline in capable Iraqi units, without providing any numbers. The GAO also says, as did the White House in July, that the Iraqi government has intervened in military activities for political reasons, "resulting in some operations being based on sectarian interests." But its discussion of Iraqi security forces is often veiled, as when it states that the determination that the security forces benchmark was not met "was based largely on classified information."

The description of the Iraqi military's shortcomings contrasts with comments from many senior U.S. commanders who say that they are pleased with its progress. "Although we still have a ways to go, Iraqi security forces are making significant, tangible improvements," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said earlier this month.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Two Key Reports on Tap for Next Week

The House will hold hearings next week on two key reports assessing political and military conditions in Iraq, jump-starting the debate over President Bush's strategy even before long-awaited testimony by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, due the following week.

A completed 70-page report by the Government Accountability Office, to be delivered to Congress next Tuesday, paints a bleak picture of prospects for Iraqi political reconciliation, according to administration officials who have seen it. The second report, by an independent commission of military experts, is being drafted. But a scorecard on the Iraqi security forces released yesterday by an adviser to the group concluded that the Iraqis are years away from taking over significant responsibility from U.S. combat forces. ...

Administration officials said yesterday that the Petraeus-Crocker testimony will closely follow the National Intelligence Estimate judgments released last week, which predicted continued political deterioration in Iraq but cited "measurable but uneven improvements" in the security situation.

The NIE, requested by the White House Iraq coordinator, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, in preparation for the testimony, met with resistance from U.S. military officials in Baghdad, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence officer there. Presented with a draft of the conclusions, Petraeus succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months, the official said. ...

In its benchmark legislation last spring, Congress arranged for its own security report, appointing a commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones to assess the Iraqi forces. Strategic and military expert Anthony Cordesman, a commission adviser, previewed that assessment in a report yesterday saying it will be years before the Iraqi army and police forces will be capable of taking over

Monday, August 27, 2007

The American Idiot

How bizarre:

President Bush's Iraq strategy faces a crisis of faith these days — from the American public. And he is confronting it the way he has previous crises: with a relentless campaign to persuade people to see things his way.

Mr. Bush interrupted his annual August retreat here last week for a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars replete with historical references to Vietnam, including a surprising citation from Graham Greene's "The Quiet American."

"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," he quoted from the book, criticizing Mr. Greene for portraying an American character as naïve and dangerous.


I would have sooner expected to hear that Bush had quoted William S. Burroughs than Graham Greene.

Who will he decide to quote next? Regis Debray?

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Going Away Present to the White House From Gen. Peter Pace

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war.

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond.

Petraeus is expected to support a White House view that the absence of widespread political progress in Iraq requires several more months of the U.S. troop buildup before force levels are decreased to their pre-buildup numbers sometime next year.

Pace's recommendations reflect the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who initially expressed private skepticism about the strategy ordered by Bush and directed by Petraeus, before publicly backing it.

According to administration and military officials, the Joint Chiefs believe it is of crucial strategic importance to reduce the size of the U.S. force in Iraq in order to bolster the military's ability to respond to other threats, a view that is shared by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Pace is expected to offer his advice privately instead of issuing a formal report. Still, the position of Pace and the Joint Chiefs could add weight to that of Bush administration critics, including Democratic presidential candidates, that the U.S. force should be reduced.

Those critics include Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, who on Thursday called on Bush to begin withdrawing troops in September to pressure the Iraqi government to move toward political compromise.

Any discord among the top U.S. generals could be awkward for Bush, who professes to rely heavily on advice from military leaders. But there also is tremendous pressure for military officers to speak with one voice and defer to Petraeus and other field commanders. It remains possible that the Joint Chiefs may opt to weaken their stance before approaching Bush.

According to a senior administration official, the Joint Chiefs in recent weeks have pressed concerns that the Iraq war has degraded the U.S. military's ability to respond, if needed, to other threats, such as Iran.

The chiefs are pushing for a significant decrease in troop levels once the current buildup comes to an end -- perhaps to about half of the 20 combat brigades now in Iraq. Along with support units, that would lower the U.S. presence to fewer than 100,000 troops from the current 162,000.

But military leaders in Iraq, as well as senior officials in the White House, are pushing for troop levels to return to the prior level of about 15 brigades, or about 134,000 troops, once the current buildup is over. ...

Pace was not nominated by Bush for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs and will leave the post at the end of September. He is being succeeded by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the current Navy chief, who has been even more vocal in his concerns about the stresses on the Army.

Although the role of Defense Department civilian leaders has been highly controversial since the start of the Iraq war, strains between ground commanders and the Pentagon's military brass have been comparatively rare. Previous U.S. commanders in Iraq, such as Petraeus' predecessor, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., emphasized low force levels, in part to ensure the overall health of the Army.

Pace has gained a reputation as a consensus builder who is loath to confront civilian leaders on war strategy. With his term nearly up, he is facing his last opportunity to affect the war effort and is stepping up the involvement of the Joint Chiefs in planning for Iraq.

Pace has assigned a handpicked group of high-ranking Iraq combat veterans, known as his "council of colonels," to help formulate the Pentagon military leadership's assessment of current strategy, according to military officials.

Pace created the council last year. Although the chiefs' specific recommendations to Bush were pushed aside then in favor of the troop buildup ordered in January, Pace has asked the council to look at various military problems since then. The process has been credited with reinvigorating the relevance of the Joint Chiefs.

Membership on the council has shifted since last year, and Pentagon officials say Pace now has a fresh group, convened this summer, examining potential changes to Iraq strategy. Past council members have included Army Col. Peter R. Mansoor, who is now Petraeus' executive officer in Baghdad. Officials would not identify the officers now on Pace's panel.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New NIE On Iraq -- Key Judgments

The Key Judgments section (sans portion markings) of an updated NIE on Iraq has been released this afternoon, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive (10-page PDF).

Key Judgments (all emphases in original):

There have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq’s security situation since our last National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in January 2007. The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now, and overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks. Coalition forces, working with Iraqi forces, tribal elements, and some Sunni insurgents, have reduced al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s (AQI) capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied it grassroots support in some areas. However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. There have been modest improvements in economic output, budget execution, and government finances but fundamental structural problems continue to prevent sustained progress in economic growth and living conditions.

We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance. Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.

Political and security trajectories in Iraq continue to be driven primarily by Shia insecurity about retaining political dominance, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in armed conflict, and the actions of extremists such as AQI and elements of the Sadrist Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia that try to fuel sectarian violence. Two new drivers have emerged since the January Estimate: expanded Sunni opposition to AQI and Iraqi expectation of a Coalition drawdown. Perceptions that the Coalition is withdrawing probably will encourage factions anticipating a power vacuum to seek local security solutions that could intensify sectarian violence and intra-sectarian competition. At the same time, fearing a Coalition withdrawal, some tribal elements and Sunni groups probably will continue to seek accommodation with the Coalition to strengthen themselves for a post- Coalition security environment.

• Sunni Arab resistance to AQI has expanded in the last six to nine months but has not yet translated into broad Sunni Arab support for the Iraqi Government or widespread willingness to work with the Shia. The Iraqi Government’s Shia leaders fear these groups will ultimately side with armed opponents of the government, but the Iraqi Government has supported some initiatives to incorporate those rejecting AQI into Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry elements.

• Intra-Shia conflict involving factions competing for power and resources probably will intensify as Iraqis assume control of provincial security. In Basrah, violence has escalated with the drawdown of Coalition forces there. Local militias show few signs of reducing their competition for control of valuable oil resources and territory.

• The Sunni Arab community remains politically fragmented, and we see no prospective leaders that might engage in meaningful dialogue and deliver on national agreements.

• Kurdish leaders remain focused on protecting the autonomy of the Kurdish region and reluctant to compromise on key issues.

The IC assesses that the emergence of "bottom-up" security initiatives, principally among Sunni Arabs and focused on combating AQI, represent the best prospect for improved security over the next six to 12 months, but we judge these initiatives will only translate into widespread political accommodation and enduring stability if the Iraqi Government accepts and supports them. A multi-stage process involving the Iraqi Government providing support and legitimacy for such initiatives could foster over the longer term political reconciliation between the participating Sunni Arabs and the national government. We also assess that under some conditions "bottom-up initiatives" could pose risks to the Iraqi Government.

• We judge such initiatives are most likely to succeed in predominantly Sunni Arab areas, where the presence of AQI elements has been significant, tribal networks and identities are strong, the local government is weak, sectarian conflict is low, and the ISF tolerate Sunni initiatives, as illustrated by Al Anbar Province.

• Sunni Arab resistance to AQI has expanded, and neighborhood security groups, occasionally consisting of mixed Shia-Sunni units, have proliferated in the past several months. These trends, combined with increased Coalition operations, have eroded AQI’s operational presence and capabilities in some areas.

• Such initiatives, if not fully exploited by the Iraqi Government, could over time also shift greater power to the regions, undermine efforts to impose central authority, and reinvigorate armed opposition to the Baghdad government.

• Coalition military operations focused on improving population security, both in and outside of Baghdad, will remain critical to the success of local and regional efforts until sectarian fears are diminished enough to enable the Shia-led Iraqi Government to fully support the efforts of local Sunni groups.

Iraqi Security Forces involved in combined operations with Coalition forces have performed adequately, and some units have demonstrated increasing professional competence. However, we judge that the ISF have not improved enough to conduct major operations independent of the Coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations and that the ISF remain reliant on the Coalition for important aspects of logistics and combat support.

• The deployment of ISF units from throughout Iraq to Baghdad in support of security operations known as Operation Fardh al-Qanun marks significant progress since last year when large groups of soldiers deserted rather than depart their home areas, but Coalition and Iraqi Government support remains critical.

• Recently, the Iraqi military planned and conducted two joint Army and police large-scale security operations in Baghdad, demonstrating an improving capacity for operational command and control.

• Militia and insurgent influences continue to undermine the reliability of some ISF units, and political interference in security operations continues to undermine Coalition and ISF efforts.

• The Maliki government is implementing plans to expand the Iraqi Army and to increase its overall personnel strength to address critical gaps, but we judge that significant security gains from those programs will take at least six to 12 months, and probably longer, to materialize.

The IC assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shia factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki.

• The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decisionmaking, and increased Maliki’s vulnerability to alternative coalitions.

• We judge that Maliki will continue to benefit from recognition among Shia leaders that searching for a replacement could paralyze the government.

Population displacement resulting from sectarian violence continues, imposing burdens on provincial governments and some neighboring states and increasing the danger of destabilizing influences spreading across Iraq’s borders over the next six to 12 months. The polarization of communities is most evident in Baghdad, where the Shia are a clear majority in more than half of all neighborhoods and Sunni areas have become surrounded by predominately Shia districts. Where population displacements have led to significant sectarian separation, conflict levels have diminished to some extent because warring communities find it more difficult to penetrate communal enclaves.

The IC assesses that Iraq’s neighbors will continue to focus on improving their leverage in Iraq in anticipation of a Coalition drawdown. Assistance to armed groups, especially from Iran, exacerbates the violence inside Iraq, and the reluctance of the Sunni states that are generally supportive of US regional goals to offer support to the Iraqi Government probably bolsters Iraqi Sunni Arabs’ rejection of the government’s legitimacy.

• Over the next year Tehran, concerned about a Sunni reemergence in Iraq and US efforts to limit Iranian influence, will continue to provide funding, weaponry, and training to Iraqi Shia militants. Iran has been intensifying aspects of its lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants, particularly the JAM, since at least the beginning of 2006. Explosively formed penetrator (EFP) attacks have risen dramatically.

• Syria has cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability, but the IC now assesses that Damascus is providing support to non-AQI groups inside Iraq in a bid to increase Syrian influence.

• Turkey probably would use a range of measures to protect what it perceives as its interests in Iraq. The risk of cross-border operations against the People’s Congress of Kurdistan (KG) terrorist group based in northern Iraq remains.

We assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI from establishing a safehaven would erode security gains achieved thus far. The impact of a change in mission on Iraq’s political and security environment and throughout the region probably would vary in intensity and suddenness of onset in relation to the rate and scale of a Coalition redeployment. Developments within the Iraqi communities themselves will be decisive in determining political and security trajectories.

• Recent security improvements in Iraq, including success against AQI, have depended significantly on the close synchronization of conventional counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. A change of mission that interrupts that synchronization would place security improvements at risk.

Grasping at Historical Straws

President Bush's address to the VFW yesterday was a typical [for him] exercise in shamelessness. His comparison of the noble Iraq war to previous U.S. wars was historically and conceptually flawed, to put it mildly.

The American withdrawal from Vietnam is widely remembered as an ignominious end to a misguided war — but one with few negative repercussions for the United States and its allies.

Now, in urging Americans to stay the course in Iraq, President Bush is challenging that historical memory.

In reminding Americans that the pullout in 1975 was followed by years of bloody upheaval in Southeast Asia, Mr. Bush argued in a speech on Wednesday that Vietnam's lessons provide a reason for persevering in Iraq, rather than for leaving any time soon. Mr. Bush in essence accused his war critics of amnesia over the exodus of Vietnamese "boat people" refugees and the mass killings in Cambodia that upended the lives of millions of people. ...

President Bush is right on the factual record, according to historians. But many of them also quarreled with his drawing analogies from the causes of that turmoil to predict what might happen in Iraq should the United States withdraw.

"It is undoubtedly true that America’s failure in Vietnam led to catastrophic consequences in the region, especially in Cambodia," said David C. Hendrickson, a specialist on the history of American foreign policy at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

"But there are a couple of further points that need weighing," he added. "One is that the Khmer Rouge would never have come to power in the absence of the war in Vietnam — this dark force arose out of the circumstances of the war, was in a deep sense created by the war. The same thing has happened in the Middle East today. Foreign occupation of Iraq has created far more terrorists than it has deterred." ...

[T]he American drawdown from Vietnam was hardly abrupt, and it lasted much longer than many people remember. The withdrawal actually began in 1968, after the Tet offensive, which was a military defeat for the Communist guerrillas and their North Vietnamese sponsors. But it also illustrated the vulnerability of the United States and its South Vietnamese allies.

Although American commanders asked for several hundred thousand reinforcements after Tet, President Johnson turned them down. President Nixon began a process of "Vietnamization" in which responsibility for security was gradually handed to local military and police forces — similar to Mr. Bush's long-term strategy for Iraq today.

American air power was used to help sustain South Vietnam's struggling government, but by the time of the famous photograph of Americans being lifted off a roof in Saigon in 1975, few American combat forces were left in Vietnam. "It was not a precipitous withdrawal, it was a very deliberate disengagement," said Andrew J. Bacevich, a platoon leader in Vietnam who is now a professor of international relations at Boston University.

Vietnam today is a unified and stable nation whose Communist government poses little threat to its neighbors and is developing healthy ties with the United States. Mr. Bush visited Vietnam last November; a return visit to the White House this summer by Nguyen Minh Triet was the first visit by a Vietnamese head of state since the war.

There is one Vietnam analogy that unfortunately does apply. U.S. frustration over Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's failures surely rivals the disdain President Kennedy had for the first South Vietnamese president, Ngo Dinh Diem. We can only hope the Maliki-Diem analogy proves false, because Diem was ousted in a CIA-approved military coup, then executed. Perhaps Maliki is better compared with the last South Vietnamese leader, Nguyen Van Thieu? The hated Thieu never managed to make "Vietnamization" work -- and the U.S. refused to keep 500,000 troops in South Vietnam for another decade or three to help him.

The real lesson of Vietnam is that its civil war was a nationalist struggle that toppled no communist "dominoes" across Asia. Bush's rhetoric implying an Al Qaeda "domino effect" in the Middle East has the same false ring.

President Bush also tried to make a misleading analogy yesterday between the Iraq war and the Korean conflict. A rebuttal:

Eisenhower ran on a promise that he would go to Korea personally with the purpose of ending what had become an extremely unpopular war.

Eisenhower did just that, traveling to Korea before he was even sworn in as president. By the following summer, with his support and encouragement, a rough peace was achieved. Unfortunately, more than half a century later, the U.S. continues to spend billions of dollars annually to maintain a massive military presence in the region.

Bush did not criticize Eisenhower in his speech to the VFW, presumably because he is no more familiar with the 34th president than he is with I.F. Stone. But if he does actually develop an interest in the period of history he referenced today, the current president might be intrigued by two of his predecessor's statements from the era.

"When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. ... War settles nothing," explained the old military man.

Eisenhower rejected the argument that keeping up the fight in Korea was necessary to protecting America, and he counseled that a permanent commitment to fighting abroad would ... cost America dearly.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," Eisenhower declared in the spring of 1953, as he was dialing down the Korea conflict. "This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. [...] This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."