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Saturday, 6 May 2006
Cheney: looking for oil in all the wrong places.
Topic: Bush Administraiton

Dick Cheney is stirring up a whole bunch of dust during his present "oil tour '06." On Thursday, he accused the Russians of using their energy resources to blackmail other countries and re-impose authoritarian rule at home. Just to make sure the Russians got the message, Cheney chose to tell the Russians to 'go fuck themselves' at a conference of pro-Western former Soviet republics in Lithuania.

Nice work Trigger Finger! The reaction from the government of Russia has been muted so far, but there are rumblings of the Kremlin not being very happy about the speech, to put it mildly. Vladimir Isachenkov of the AP reports that some in Russia are likening the speech to Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain” speech. Isachenkov writes that, "the prominent business daily Komersant said Cheney's comments marked 'the beginning of a second Cold War.'"

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the guy that we're counting on to convince the Iranians to play ball with us, explained the Russian mood like this:

"Over the past years, many forums have been created that reflect the desire of the respective states...to pool their efforts to achieve common benefits. But there are forums that create an impression...that they are convened...for the sake of uniting against someone." Where would he ever get an idea like that? Gosh, the Russians are so paranoid.

Just because Cheney then moved on to Kazakhstan to convince Nursultan Nazarbayev to build pipelines that bypass Russia and go directly to the West shouldn't give the Russians the idea that we're up to no good. So we have a few military bases in Central Asia and we're parked on their southern border with 130,000 troops and we're training troops in Georgia...what's the big deal? Surely they're not feeling slightly hemmed in by us, are they?

While Cheney had some tough words for the authoritarian tendencies of Vlad "the Impaler" Putin, it was all puppies and kittens for Nazarbayev. Before he even met with a delegation of opposition leaders ---some of whom weren't able to make it because the government wouldn't let them travel --- Cheney was saying of Nazarbayev's dictatorial rule:

"I have previously expressed my admiration for what has transpired here in Kazakhstan over the past fifteen years, both in terms of economic development as well as political development."

Indeed, Nazarbayev just got voted back into office for the third time for other six-years with 91% of the vote. (Those are Ilham Aliyev numbers.) That's quite a bit of political development...for him. But we're not really too concerned about Nazarbayev being a serial election fixer, Kazakhstan is right in between Russian and China and they're slated to be pumping 3m barrels of oil a day by 2015. We're going to just quietly urge him to give up power eventually or just turn the reins of power over to his son at some point down the road.

One of Kazakhstan's opposition leaders, Oraz Jandosov, of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, who was to meet with Cheney for an hour said, "We're going to try to explain deplorable situation in this country. After Cheney's speech yesterday (in Lithuania), it will be difficult for him to be unsympathetic to us." [NYT]

How sad...if this poor sucker only knew!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:15 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006 6:10 PM EDT
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Friday, 5 May 2006
A PKK update.
Topic: Iraq

The other day I was warning about the "doomsday scenario" in which Turkey crosses the northern Iraqi border to deal with their PKK insurgency problem and, apparently as I was writing about his, the Iranians were dealing with their own Kurdish problem.

The FT reported on the 2nd that, "Iraqi Kurdish officials yesterday reported Iranian artillery shelling of positions held by fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) inside Iraq. This was a day after the Iraqi defense ministry said Iranian troops had recently attacked PKK positions inside Iraq, crossing 5km into Iraq territory near Haj Umran." Another group associated with the PKK, Pejak, has been fighting with Iranian forces for over year the FT writes.

Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, the Iranian Interior minister says northern Iraq is the "center for terrorist attacks" and that Tehran and Ankara are committed to "intelligence co-operation and increasing border guards."

It’s still a little difficult to see what we're doing about this PKK problem in the north of the county. We've got by far the biggest military force in Iraq but we're pretty much doing nothing about a situation that is continuing to escalate. The fact that the Iranians have actually gone over the border should be quite an eye opener for whoever is running Iraq policy in the administration. (Who is running Iraqi policy anyway?)

Another thing they should be concerned about is the extremely low esteem that the U.S. is currently held in Turkey. They used to be our best friends in the world, but after the whole pre-Iraq invasion arm-twisting and insulting that went on trying to get them to let us use their territory, relations between us have deteriorated quite a bit.

Along with all the "thousands of tactical errors" we've made probably one of the most important strategic mistakes we've made is alienating the Turks. This will come back to haunt us down the road. And it doesn't help that Iran supplies a significant amount of natural gas to Turkey. A reminder of this was a few months back when Iran turned off the spigot, just to focus Turkey's attention on making sure the do the right thing as far as the Iranians are concerned.

Stay tuned and keep your eyes on Turkey.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:05 PM EDT
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Iraq and Rummy:
Topic: Iraq
OK, so things aren't going as well as we might have expected in Iraq after this latest 'turning point' in Iraqi politics. The new PM, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, promises he'll have his government up and running before the 30-day deadline, but I don't know...where have we all heard that before? While the various factions continue to squabble over the democratic spoils, the violence keeps getting worse.

We lost another 2 soldiers yesterday bringing the number of U.S deaths to 2,409: 43 more corpses were found in the streets of Baghdad, that's on top of the 50 or so the day before and the 34 before that: The police in Ramadi said U.S. aircraft bombed two houses killing 13 Iraqis and wounding four: and a suicide bomber blew himself up on Palestine Street in Baghdad killing 10 and wounding 50. [AP]

In another sign of progress and not of an impending civil war: the Red Crescent reported this week that more than 100,000 Iraqis has been displaced since the Feb 22 Shia shrine bombing in Samarra. The FT reports that the RC claims:

"11,391 families totaling 20,240 men, 27,765 women and 55,199 children had fled their homes by April 26. It said the number was increasing and might soon total 180,000 people." These refugees that have been moving have "fled from mixed Sunni-Shia areas, with both Shia militias and Sunni insurgents telling members of the other group to leave or be killed." [BBC]

It appears that Iraq's demographics are being realigned for a future splitting up of the country into solid ethnic enclaves. That can't be good, right? But let’s not talk about the Shia militias being the most dangerous threat to peace in Iraq: Let’s talk about Abu al-Zarqawi. He's the real danger, isn't he?

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch showed out-takes of the latest Zarqawi video where he's shown to be decked out in New Balance tennis shoes and fumbling with his machine gun. Good stuff! Too bad they can't actually capture him, instead of his video making equipment. Not that it would make a difference anyway. And besides, he's such a good bogeyman they may not want to capture him. It’s hard to figure out that message the pentagon is trying to send here.

On the one hand, Zarqawi is the biggest threat to the U.S. since OBL, but on the other he's making videos out of "desperation," according to Gen. Lynch, and he can't even fire a gun. And how much of a threat can "al-Qaeda in Iraq" be if, as Gen Lynch claims, they have killed or captured 161 "al-Qaeda leaders?" According to AP, these military successes are "seriously undercutting the group's capabilities."

I don't mean to be a kill-joy here, but they can't all be "leaders," can they? We've been hearing a lot about Zaqawi's #2's being captured or killed for a pretty long time now and the suicide bombings and car bombings just keep coming. Remember before Zarqawi was the main problem; it was Udey and Qusey who were behind the violence, which was defiantly not an insurgency ----but rather a small group of "rejectionists" and "dead-enders." After they got killed it was Saddam who running the show and after he got caught, Zarqawi suddenly became the big man in Iraq. I swear this Zarqawi is almost super human, if unable to fire a machine gun.

They've really got Zarqawi on the brain at the pentagon as well. Just yesterday Rummy was trying to convince an audience in Atlanta that he didn't lie about Iraq's WMD and the first thing he came up with was Zarqawi. [Inquirer] An ex-CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, had challenged Rummy in a question and answer session ---which Rummy is usually so good at --- asking him:

"Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kinds of casualties and was not necessary?"

Rummy motioned off the security guards who were about to escort McGovern out ---negative guest ions not allowed! --- and said:

"I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were."

(At that point Rummy's pants burst into flames.)

McGovern answered that ridiculous statement by saying, "You said you knew where they were ---Tikrit, Baghdad, northeast, south, west of there. Those were your words....we're talking about lies and your allegation there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq."

[Note: Rummy on March 30, 2003: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat."]

Rummy: "Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the pre-war period. That is a fact."

McGovern: "Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam had no rule"

Rummy: "He was also in Baghdad.

McGovern: "Yes, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story."

Rummy went on to say that the soldiers actually did believe that Saddam had chemical weapons; why else would they wear protective suits? "Because they liked the style?" he asked.

McGovern: "That is what is called a non sequitur. It doesn't matter what the troops believe; it matters what you believe."

Oh no, Rummy isn't taking credit for anything these days; it was Colin Powell, he knew. "Colin Powell didn't lie," he said. "I'm not in the intelligence business. [Clearly] They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there." It appears? Is there still some question about this?

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:02 PM EDT
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W. down on the Kowtow ranch:
Topic: Bush Administraiton

Not so with China, though. After the fiasco that was Hu Jintao's visit to Washington DC, the U.S. is once again saying 'we're very sorry.' Taiwan's president Chen Shui-bian had thought that he could stop over in the U.S. for a little schmoozing with his neocon buddies on his way to South America for an official visit, but the U.S. denied his request. Instead, he was given the option of either stopping in Alaska or Hawaii for a quick refueling stop. The NYT reports that the U.S. is "eager to avoid antagonizing China," especially after the whole yelling-Falun-Gong-lady incident.

The official reason we're treating Chen this way is because the administration is mad at him for "abolishing" the National Reunification Council, which apparently, was long moribund: but the move was nevertheless one that greatly torked off the Chinese. At the time the U.S. State Dept. issued a rebuke to Chen to show they were onboard with their Chinese masters.

Plus, we need them in the Security Council to help us out with Iran....oh yeah, and North Korea and Sudan.

Besides all the money we owe them, it seems like every week there's another thing we need them to do for us. Another year of this sort of thing and they can just march right into Taipei and we won't lift a finger. Hell, we might even let them use some of our planes to land their troops; they basically paid for them anyway!

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:55 PM EDT
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Cheney goes ballistic on Russia:
Topic: Bush Administraiton
This administration has a funny way of running its diplomacy. While the president and secretary of state are trying to get the U.N. Security Council to go along with issuing a Chapter IV resolution that would call for Iran to immediately cease its uranium enrichment program --- under pain of sanctions or worse --- Dick Cheney is in Lithuania firing broadsides at Vladimir Putin. I thought we sort of needed the Russians to go along with our plans for Iran (call me crazy!). Telling them that they're using their energy resources as "tools of intimidation or blackmail" against their neighbors isn't the way I would have gone about wooing them on to our side. [AP]

Of course, they are using their oil and gas for blackmail and Vladimir Putin does fancy himself a modern day Czar, but going into his backyard and telling him that isn't going to exactly get him to change his behavior. Once again we have this weird situation where the president is doing one thing and the other president is doing another thing. After all, it's W. that has to go to Petersburg in two months for the G-8 summit, not Cheney. And the Russians were already saying 'nix' to the sanctions plan, to even discussing Iran in the Security Council, so what do you think they're going to do now?

If the initial reaction by Mikhail Gorbachev, not a Putin guy, is any indication things are about to get more chilly between us. Gorby said, "Cheney's speech looks like a provocation and interference in Russia's internal affairs in terms of its content, form and place." Hmmm...does he really think so?

What I always wonder about is: does Cheney ever run any of this stuff by anyone in the president's office before he goes out and blurts it out? I'm not surprised that the administration's tone is getting more negative when it comes to Russia; I've been writing for months that W. & CO. appear to have gotten over the idea of the Russians being of any use in the Iran standoff, but actually coming out and lecturing Vlad in front of a bunch of leaders of Russia's former satellites really going that extra mile to be offensive.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:53 PM EDT
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Monday, 1 May 2006
Ignoring the PKK in Iraq: Another
Topic: Iraq
[Note: I wrote this last week just before I came down with the flu and I didn't get a chance to post it, but its still kind of timely.]

So Rummy and Condi have made another "surprise visit" to Iraq, which the administration says is intended to show the Iraqis our support for their new government. I'm not buying that explanation, though. Such a high level visit can only mean that there's some very serious news coming. My guess is that they're there to let the Iraqis know that we have to start pulling out a large number of troops.

After all, as Rummy said:

"We now are moving through another important milestone -- the formation of a new government, a sovereign government of Iraq, the first government that doesn't have a qualifier in front of it. It's not a transitional government. It's not an interim government. It's not a governing council. It's a government, a government of Iraq, and that's an important thing. This is a sovereign country, and they're making impressive progress." [defenselink]

So that means we should be able to pack up and leave right?

The midterms are coming up and I expect the pressure coming from the Republican members on the Hill is really starting to become too much to bare. Naturally, this administration makes never makes a policy decision that isn't solely for political reasons, so you've got to figure that Karl Rove has done the math and decided that cutting and running is less harmful than staying the course and getting creamed in November.

They'd better hurry up and get busy though, because the doomsday scenario is about to come crashing down on them. From the moment we invaded Iraq there was always the danger that the Turks might at some point decide to move troops into Iraq to deal with their Kurdish insurgency. [They actually did in March of 2003] Such a move would upset the whole regional applecart, pulling in the Iranians, the Syrians and God knows who else. This would also put us in the position of having to choose between our Turkish NATO ally or our Iraqi Kurdish allies, who currently are the best friends we have there.

The Iraqi Kurds don't exactly get involved with the fighting between the Kurds and the Turks, but they --and we --- have looked the other way as the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, has used bases inside Iraq just over Turkey's southern border, to attack Turkey. The Turks have been complaining bitterly about this for a few years now to the Bush administration, but they've essentially done nothing about it because they've been too busy with the Sunni insurgency to worry much about it.

The administration had been holding them off by promising that an Iraqi government of "national unity" would ensure that the Kurds didn't break off and declare their own independence -- a move that Turkey considers a red-line --- but the four month delay in forming a government has allowed a vacuum to develop that the PKK has taken full advantage of.

Now its all coming to a head. In fact, the Turks last week moved about 50,000 troops close to the Iraqi border and the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, told Condi just yesterday -- while she was in Ankara for a little chitchat --- that the PPK had turned Iraq into a "training ground" and that Turkey would now "take her own precautions." [AP] Condi admitted that the U.S hadn't done enough ---another tactical error? ---but that "We believe that it is important that we make a joint effort through information sharing and other means to prevent any vacuum from being used as a way to inflict harm here in Turkey." Too late, the Turkish media is full of stories about Turkey's military build-up along the Iraqi border and I'd say it's just a matter of time before they go on over.

If Turkey were to launch an incursion into northern Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds would immediately meet them with force. The Iraqi army would pretty much cease to exist because most of the best units it has are made up of the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga, the Kudish resistance fighters that spent decades fighting Saddam, are the best fighters the army has and they would all head north to defend Kurdistan.

There's any number of variables involved with a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, and none of them are good. So, here's yet another fine mess W. & Co. have gotten us into.

[For further reading on this issue read the United States Institute of Peace report]

Posted by bushmeister0 at 3:07 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006 3:09 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Egypt, Iraq and Iran: One big mess.
Topic: War on Terror

As we're all digesting the news of yet another series of bomb attacks in Egypt, the third attack on the tourist industry in 18 months, I think back to the recent elections where the police beat opposition voters to prevent them from casting ballots for the Muslim Brotherhood. One would have thought Mubarak & Co. would have preferred a moderate secular party to deal with in parliament to counter the Brotherhood, but even Kafia's candidate, Ayman Nour, is now behind bars on a trumped up forgery charge. And local elections have been postponed for two years, in order to prevent the Brotherhood from gaining any more power, so we're pretty much back to square-one in Egypt; democracy is decidedly not on the march there.

The security forces seem to be real good at beating up voters but not so much with stopping terrorism. The government will undoubtedly call for the renewal of emergency powers, but the bombings will continue. You'd think with all the resources at the deposal of the Egyptian government they could at least protect their cash cow, the tourist industry. I think this is what happens when you have such a calcified regime that is solely focused on just holding on to power. The problem with this scenario is that, regardless of all of the American money flowing in and Egypt's strategic importance, it could all go kablooee without a whole lot of effort a la the Shah's Iran.

In this case, I guess Condi has opted for stability over democracy, unlike in Iraq, but Egypt probably would have been the better candidate for a little democratic instability. As things stand now, it's just a matter of time and the fallout could be even more catastrophic for the Middle East powder-keg than it currently is in Iraq.

Terror up in 2005:

According to a Knight/Ridder article last Friday, a new intelligence report says that terrorist attacks rose sharply in 2005, up to 10,000. Counterterrorism officials say, though, the stunning increase ---up from 3,192 in 2004 --- is due partly to "a change last year in how terror attacks are counted, coupled with a more aggressive effort to tally such violence worldwide." That's reassuring, isn't it?

The Article goes on to say that, "officials confirm, that some of the rise is traceable to the war in Iraq, where foreign terrorists, a homegrown insurgency and sectarian strife all have contributed to political bloodshed." I guess it’s lucky that we're fighting them over there instead of here, because the report also says that 85% of American citizens killed last year in terror attacks died in Iraq.

And what about OBL, by the way, is his still running or is he hiding, I can't keep track? State Department counterterrorism coordinator Henry Crumper told a congressional committee this month that al-Qaeda "may be isolated under pressure, unable to communicate effectively." But still able to carry out attacks all over the world and make audiotapes. Other than that, the struggle against violent extremism is going just grand!

In Iraq:

Especially, in Iraq, where the battling Bickersons are well on the way to forming a new government of national unity which will usher in a new dawn of democracy and peace! Not quite yet, though: Yesterday insurgents, or al-Qaeda, or someone, launched seven car bomb attacks that killed at least 10 and injured 80 in Baghdad and Mosul; at least 15 others were killed in bombings and shootings, and 15 more bodies of police recruits were found in a pick up truck in Ramadi. The body count since the new PM, Jawad al-Maliki, was sworn in is at 70 so far, according to AP. So overall, I'd say 'staying the course' is showing some great results.

On the Iran front:

Mamoud Amadinejad had another press conference yesterday and it was a whopper! I don't know about you, but I could stand for a lot more press conferences from W. and a lot less from crazy Mamoud. This time around he said that the Iranians wouldn't be answering questions about his reference to their supposed second nuclear program involving a faster enrichment method they may have gotten from Pakistani A, Q. Khan; he wouldn't be talking to the Americans about Iraq, now that they have a new government; and that sanctions or attacks on Iran would lead to them pulling out of the NPT.

The IAEA decided last week not to go back for more inspections and Mohammed ElBaradei is expected to tell the UN that Iran isn't complying with last month's stern non-binding presidential order to stop enriching uranium; which sets the stage next week for more wrangling over what to do about Iran between us, the EU, Russia and China.

There was a very interesting column by Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, in the Inquirer on Monday that pretty much lays out what can and can't be done about Iran. Certainly, we need much more of this type of reasonable discourse and a lot less of Paul Kane's Totale Krieg fire breathing.

Sadjadpour points out that Iran isn't a monolith, that there are elements within the leadership that could opt for a civilian program down the road, under the right conditions. Right now, the hardliners in the Ahmadinejad camp are successfully arguing "with some plausibility," that:

"Nothing short of regime change will satisfy the United States and that retreating form the nuclear guest ion would only display weakness and invite further pressure. Believing a clash with the United States inevitable, Tehran's hardliners want it to occur on their terms, when oil prices are high and the Americans are bogged down in Iraq." The only way out of this mess, Sadjadpour writes, is to appeal to the moderates and pragmatists by the U.S. offering direct talks.

"Timing is key: Offering incentives prematurely, without modified Iranian behavior, may well validate the confrontationists' approach; refusing to offer genuine incentives will undermine the pragmatists appeal. With oil prices souring and Iraq in chaos, continuing to insist on zero enrichment for zero incentives...holds little promise. The United Stats must come to terms with a reality that European, Russian, and Iranian officials privately admit: If a nuclear Iran is to be avoided, the answer lies not in European economic overtures or a Russian led technical solution, but American-led diplomacy, starting from the premise that Iran's leadership is neither monolithic nor impossible intransigent."

The only problem with this thinking is that the crazy people on both sides are in the ascendant. Mamoud Ahmadinejad is waiting for Mehdi to return and W, is waiting for the Rapture. (And in a funny way both are banking on the destruction of Israel.)

Posted by bushmeister0 at 11:44 AM EDT
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Monday, 24 April 2006
The problem with Hamas.
Topic: Israel

Back when Hamas won the elections in the PA, I thought this might be a good omen for the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, such as it is. I congratulated the Palestinian people for their enthusiastic embrace of democracy and hoped that having won such an overwhelming mandate Hamas would moderate their ideology, continue to honor agreements that the previous Palestinian governments had worked out with Israel and get the ball rolling on finally resolving this decade's long mess. [LTAD]

Briefly, it seemed like a new dawn might be emerging in the Middle East, with Sharon having left the scene and a new regime in the PA. Not that I thought Hamas was any great bargain, but it looked like they could pull off the Nixon-going-to-China thing, they having the ideologically approved credibility to negotiate with Israel in the eyes of the Palestinians.

The one little fairly important piece of the puzzle I was missing was that this is the Middle East, common sense doesn't work there. Hamas came right in and refused to recognize the existence of Israel and the various Israeli political parties vying for election were provided with an excellent whipping boy to show how tough they could be against Palestinian terror.

Now that all the political players are in place; the U.S. and the E.U have decided to pull the plug on funding for the PA, until the Hamas-led government either collapses or acquiesces to Israel's demands for recognition and a renunciation of terror. Israel is withholding the millions of dollars it takes from taxes for the PA, so money the PA actually makes itself is also gone. Hamas hasn't reacted well to the pressure and isn't really picking up the whole political give and take thing very quickly. Last week, a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv killed nine Israeli citizens. Even though the bombing was carried out by Islamic Jihad, a faction of Fatah ---our buddy Abu Mazen's outfit ---Hamas got blamed for it and didn't do themselves any favors by not condemning it.

How Hamas might have been able to stop such a bombing with no security forces under its control is a guest ion I have. One would have thought if anyone was in a position to prevent this sort of thing from happening it would have been Abu Mazen, whose Fatah party runs the security forces and has links to the party that carried out the attack. In any case, whoever controls the security forces at this point is to be getting more and more of an academic guestion because they haven't been paid in two months. Soon there may not be any security forces.

Unless, the U.S., the E.U. and Israel are prepared for a complete breakdown of all law and order in the PA, someone has to step in and make a deal with Hamas. Various leaders of Hamas have hinted that they might tolerate the existence of Israel if a deal can be made on borders and money. As usual there are no go options in this on-going conflict, but there are always worse ones. The PA descending into civil war would seem to be a lot worse than trying to meet Hamas half way on some sort of deal to restore funding for a pledge to make their cease-fire permanent and negotiations down the road.

Who knows what the real answer is, I'm just crank who writes a blog, what do I know? The best diplomatic minds in the world have spent decades banging their heads against a wall trying to cut this Gordian's knot, but I do know that one side has to blink, and I say the sooner the better.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 1:17 PM EDT
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Saturday, 22 April 2006
A breakthrough in Iraqi politics?
Topic: Iraq

Or more of the same with different characters?

Word came down from Najaf and Ibrahim al-Jaafari decided to step aside after months of holding up the formation of a new government with his obstinate refusal to get lost. Jaafari said on Iraqi TV on Wednesday, "I cannot allow myself to be an obstacle, or appear to be an obstacle." (He certainly never did that!) "The one thing I cannot compromise is my dedication to this heroic people," Right, all this trouble he's caused was all in the name of democracy and the Iraqi people.

It's not going to go over well in the White House that it took Ashraf Qazi, a U.N. envoy, and a visit by him to Ayatollah ali-Sistani to get the ball rolling again. Remember, earlier on this month Condi Rice and British Foreign Secretary had made a "surprise visit" to Baghdad to try and get al-Jaafari to leave and they left empty handed. ( See, W. was right, diplomacy never works!) It looks like the Brits and the U.S. don't have too much credibility or clout when it comes to Iraqi politics these days.

Ali-Sistani does however: Robert Reid writes for the AP that, "Sistani's role was another sign of the Shiite clergy's political power. Shiite politicians turn frequently to the clergy for the politically tough decisions that they cannot make." So who's running the show over there, the democratically elected leadership or the turbaned Taliban? I'm sure all the people who have lost loved ones over there will be happy to know all their sacrifice has led to this.

Supposedly, the politicians are now on the fast track to forming new government. One little sticking point might be that part of the reason the Kurds wanted al-Jaafari out in the first place was because he had reneged on his promise to help them grab Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city that they want rolled into their autonomous region. There isn't any guarantee that the next PM, Jawad al-Maliki, is going to be any more accommodating on that score. To be sure, any future government is going to have to deal with Turkey, if the Shiites do accede to Kurdish demands for Kirkuk. [Note: Turkey has moved 50,000 troops closer to the Iraqi border. AP]

When and if we ever leave, it looks like the militias might be ones who we leave in control. There's the Badr brigade, which is the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution; the Mehdi army, of Muqtada al-Sadr, who we fought to a standstill twice back in 2004 and whose numbers have exploded to maybe 15,000 fighters; and a new player on the scene, the Facilities Protection Services, which Newsweek says numbers about 146,000.

The funny thing about he FPS is that no one knows exactly where they came from or who controls them. This shadowy organization was apparently the offspring of groups of armed men who were known to be "night watchmen" for the various Shiite mosques around the country under threat form the Sunni insurgents. Now, they roam around Baghdad in police pickups, in blue police uniforms and, naturally; they're armed to the teeth. The crazy Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, denied that he has any connection to them and tells Newsweek that "they are dong some bad." He says that one element of the FPS, Battalion 16, is responsible for "sectarian killings, explosions and mortar attacks."

So even the Interior Minister, who is very likely behind many killings himself, says they're out of control. Tim Keefe, a military spokesman says, "We really don't get anywhere near them." Another American official who didn't want his named used said, "The FPS has basically become the private army for the ministries. They have no accountability."

We're pretty busy with the Sunnis and al-Qaeda, so we're staying clear of the Shiite militias and, for the moment, they're staying out of our way while they consolidate their hold over the entire country. This could change at anytime, particularly if we attack their benefactor Iran.

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:49 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 22 April 2006 2:53 PM EDT
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Iran: all options are radioactive
Topic: Bush Administraiton

On the diplomatic track, we're getting nowhere fast. After another fruitless get-together on Iran in Moscow, the under-secretary of state, Nicholas Burns, said yesterday that all sides agreed that Iran should stop its enrichment program...and that's about it. Burns offered that if the UN wouldn't do anything maybe individual countries could. Russia should stop selling missiles to Iran, for a start, and he said: "Its time for countries to start using their influence." Burns prefers to go through the UN Security Council, but "it's not beyond the realm of the possible that at some point in the future" other countries might, "take collective economic action or collective action on sanctions." (Or not.)

The NYT reports that the European chief negotiator, Javier Solana, has advocated penalties on Iran that would include, "stricter export controls on high technology shipments to Iran and revocation of visas for Iranian officials linked to the nuclear program." The Times noted, though, that another official pointed out that Solana had said these proposals were "options for reflection" not "options for action." For the Russian's part, Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov said he would need proof that Iran is actually building a bomb before he would support sanctions.

While Burns is getting nowhere on convincing the rest of the world to do anything about Iran, the State Department's top arms-control official, Robert Joseph, is pushing the panic button. He says, "In terms of activities on the ground in Iran, it's fair to say, I believe, that the Iranians have put both feet on the accelerator." He also went on to say that, "We are very close to that point of no return." (Isn't that what the Israelis have been saying for the past year?)

Rummy backed up this assertion, in the friendly confines of the Laura Ingrahm show, by saying he has no confidence in the CIA's estimate that Iran is five to ten years away from having a bomb. "I think it's very difficult target for our intelligence community. They work hard at it, and they're fine people, but it's a difficult thing to do. Our visibility into their circumstance is imperfect." In other words, "the absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence."

Regime change, again:

And even if the CIA's intelligence is correct, that doesn't mean we're not going to go in with guns blazing anyway. Today the NYT reports that yet another former CIA official has come out to say that Rummy & Co. ignored evidence that Iraq didn't have WMD. Tyler Drumheller, the CIA's former head of the European operation, is going to say on 60 Minutes this Sunday that a paid informant in Saddam's inner circle, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, told the CIA in September of 2002 that Iraq had no WMD. [Reuters]

CIA chief George Tenet, Bush and Cheney all knew this, so Drumheller thought the war must be off. He was surprised to find out shortly afterwards that it wasn't. Drumheller recalled, "And we said, 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said, 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change."

That's the plan in Iran, too: Regime change. The U.S. going to spend $80 million to broadcast anti-regime propaganda into Iran and support organizations that want democracy in Iran. Of course, this type of thing could backfire. Michael Hirsh in an article in Newsweek points out that, "outside interference tends to enrage Iranians, who have never forgiven Washington for the CIA-assisted coup that toppled elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953."

Iran's ambassador to the UN, Javad Zarif, says, "It’s not new. They increased their activities in Iran two or three years ago and now instead of a reformist president we have a conservative president. That tells you how successful they were." Remember, Bush came out before the Iranian elections and questioned their legitimacy, which just pissed Iranians off even more. Hirsh writes that, "Even affluent voters who said they hated the Shiite mullahs told a Newsweek reporter in Iran at the time that American arrogance so angered them that they decided to vote for Ahmandinjad, the radical candidate."

So, what are the options here? Trying to force democracy down the Iranian's throats doesn’t seem to be going too well and the rest of the world doesn't appear to be buying the line that Iran is the biggest threat to world peace since Hitler, either. The military option is "on the table," but that would be a catastrophe of biblical proportions if we used it, so the only other option is talking to the Iranians one-on-one. If W. & CO. were really as interested in a peaceful solution as they profess to be, they would do everything possible, including talking to the Iranians.

But U.N. ambassador John Bolton told the Inquirer yesterday that "we have nothing to say to them." Bolton complains that, "One of the ironies here is that the Bush administration so often is criticized for being unilateralist cowboys, but we've been trying for 3 1/2 years to work our way through the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency and [are] now trying to work our way through the U.N Security Council. But the purpose of these efforts is not just to chitchat about the Iranian nuclear-weapons efforts, but to bring them to a halt."

Of course, the truth is that for the past five years, beyond calling Iran part of the "axis of evil," the Bush administration has done zilch on Iran. They haven't been "trying for 3 1/2 years" to do anything, they've outsourced the diplomacy to the Europeans. W. & Co. have been dithering on Iran the entire time they've been in office and it's just now that they've gotten around to developing a policy of their own and, typically, it's all big sticks and no carrots.

I'm with Tom Friedman on this, if there's a "choice between another Rumsfeld-led confrontation and just letting Iran get nukes and living with it, we should opt for the latter."

Posted by bushmeister0 at 2:44 PM EDT
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