Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pakistan News Updated

By Carol Gee

Tangled foreign policy -- One of the consequences of the focus of our current president's obsessive focus on Iraq has been moving Pakistan and Afghanistan off the front pages of the news. Today's post is a composite of the most important developments in Pakistan in recent weeks. The balance of power has been changed as a result of general elections. Authority for governance switched, following the defeat of President Pervez Musharraf (currently on a trip to China). Yousaf Raza Gilani, a loyal member of martyred Benazir Bhutto's party, the liberal and secular Pakistan Peoples Party, was selected to be the new Prime Minister, according to The National Post (3/24/08). To quote:

Pakistan's National Assembly elected as prime minister on Monday Yousaf Raza Gilani, a top official in assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's party, five weeks after it won a general election.

. . . Mr. Gilani, a close aide to Ms. Bhutto and a vice chairman of her party and former National Assembly speaker, had been expected to win the vote with a big majority.

. . . There had been speculation the PPP would nominate a stop-gap prime minister and Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who now leads the party, would take over the post after entering parliament via a by-election.

But the News newspaper on Monday cited Mr. Zardari as rejecting such speculation, saying Mr. Gilani would be prime minister for a full five-year term.

Significant changes in Pakistan are already taking place. Barack Obama pointed that out in a speech last month, noting Pakistan's new "moderate majority." Parliament will act to remove restrictions on the press. At the end of last month the new PM ordered the release of the judges who had been deposed by Musharraf. Disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan also hopes to be freed by the new government.

At the same time the dilemma in the United States centers around what our dealings with the new PPP coalition government will look like, in relation to its dealings with the more extreme Taliban and tribal elements along the border with Afghanistan. An Asia Times article offers an excellent analysis of how this might play out in "The Taliban will talk, but no 'sugar-coating'," by Syed Saleem Shahzad. To quote:

While responding positively to the Pakistani government's offer of peace talks, the Pakistani Taliban have demanded the release of several key personalities in return for the Taliban freeing about 250 security personnel they are holding.

. . . The Taliban's demand is the first challenge to the new cabinet to make an urgent choice between internal peace on the one side and resentment from Islamabad's "war on terror" allies on the other. . . . Gillani has vowed to eradicate militancy from the country through dialogue.

. . . The government in Islamabad is now in the unenviable position of having to decide between giving in to the Pakistani Taliban's demands and releasing some of its most-wanted detainees, or submitting to inevitable war. Neither option is appealing.

. . . On Monday, the government announced the appointment of Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, retired Major General Mahmood Ali Durrani, as national security advisor to the prime minister. This indicates the PPP does not have any intention of pulling back from its "war on terror" commitments or from Washington's agenda in the region.

What we know for sure is that the same assumptions no longer apply no longer apply in Pakistan. This period of rapid change signals either good news or bad news for U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East and South Asia.

Miscellaneous references --

  • Australian Benjamin Gilmour's award winning movie, "Son of a Lion," was filmed in Pakistan's Northern Tribal Area: "The story of a boy in a gun-making village who fights his former Mujahedin dad's refusal to send him to school - the old man, once a warrior against the Russians, prefers to harden him for battle against the new infidels - was made with local (non) actors."

  • Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was recently acquitted of a murder charge after spending 11 years in jail awaiting trial.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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The mayor of Montreal is an idiot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I was born in Montreal. I spent much of my youth there. I played hockey. And I became a passionate, life-long fan of the Montreal Canadiens. (They and the Pittsburgh Steelers are my two great sports loves.) My favourite player was Guy Lafleur, #10, the great right-winger. I went to many games at the old Forum, usually with my dad, and I watched some of the greatest teams of all time win Stanley Cup after Stanley Cup, four in a row, in the late-'70s. I was even at Game 5 of the 1979 Stanley Cup finals between the Canadiens and New York Rangers. The Habs (les Habitants), as they are affectionately called, won the game, and the series, 4-1. And I saw them carry the Stanley Cup around the ice. It was incredible.

The Habs have won the Cup two times since then, in 1986 and in 1993. We've had some good teams over the years, since those great teams of the '70s, and the 1993 run was genuinely impressive, but there hasn't been as much excitement as there is now in a long time. The Habs finished first in the Eastern Conference after an improbably successful regular season, surpassing even such recent powerhouses as the Ottawa Senators. Before the season, some of the so-called experts didn't even think the Habs would make the playoffs (which is to say, finish in the top 8 in the conference). I watched the game Thursday night, the first game of their first round series against old foes the Boston Bruins, a decisive 4-1 victory, and, even on TV, the energy at the Bell Centre, the Habs' new home, was amazing to behold. Montreal is the best hockey city in the world. Habs fans are the best hockey fans in the world. And it was incredible. Even if they don't win the Cup, even if they don't make it to the finals, even if they don't make it that far in hockey's second season, it will have been a great year. There is excitement now, but there is even more promise for the future.

The city's mayor is seeing red -- and white and blue -- after firefighters painted several fire stations to show their
support for the Montreal Canadiens.

As the Habs prepared to face the Boston Bruins in the first game of their playoff series on Thursday, Mayor Gerald Tremblay was getting ready to send in work crews to clean up the impromptu paint jobs.

"And we're going to send the bill to the (firefighters') union... it's tolerance zero," he said.

As far as I'm concerned, the people of Montreal, and Habs fans everywhere, should have zero tolerance for such idiocy. Tremblay insists he has "Habs fever," it's just that he doesn't "put graffiti or paint in the windows of [his] house." Nonsense. It's not vandalism, it's the healthy spiritedness of the genuine fan. "It was simply to get caught in the hockey fever that's now sweeping Montreal," said one firefighter, and he's absolutely right. This isn't about the union, and no damage was done. "We just wanted to lighten the atmosphere," he said. Well, both the mayor and the city should lighten up. The people of Montreal and Habs fans everywhere are excited about their team. And rightly so.

Go Habs go!

Below, from the Globe: "Firefighters show their support for the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs at a fire station in east-central Montreal. The station has been ordered by the city to remove the 'graffiti.'"

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Friday, April 11, 2008

"He is Iraq's Katrina itself"

By J. Thomas Duffy

Just as New Orleans's Ninth War will still be a moonscape when Bush goes out of office, so will Iraq.

Sadly, it's looking less, and less, likely that we will see him exit the White House, handcuffed, in a perp walk - as he so richly deserves.

Mostly due to a brain-dead, Constitution-blinders-firmly-affixed-Congress (How big an outcry from our elected representatives have you heard about the bombshell news the other day, that the torture program was choreographed directly out of the Bush Grindhouse?), he gets to wear his real, and proverbial, flightsuit and play "The Commander Guy" for a number of dwindling months.

And inhabiting the Unreality Bubble he has ensconced himself in, Lord knows what further havoc he will reek.

Especially when he's running his policy speeches up the Neocon flagpole, before he gives them.

Wants to make sure, I suppose, there's enough warmongering in it.

Juan Cole writes/reports one of the best blogs on what's happening in Iraq (and the policies behind it; Another good one is Abu Aardvark).

Cole nails the Bush Legacy;

War turns Republics into dictatorships. The logic is actually quite simple. The Constitution says that the Congress is responsible for declaring war. But in 2002 Congress turned that responsibility over to Bush, gutting the constitution and allowing the American Right to start referring to him not as president but as 'commander in chief' (that is a function of the civilian presidency, not a title.)

So Congress abdicated to Bush. Bush has abdicated to the generals in the field.

That is not a Republic. That is a military dictatorship achieved not by coup but by moral laziness.

And, as Gene Robinson notes today, the Bush Grindhouse, cluelessly, is going through the motions, to pass this mess on to the next president.

Of course, Bush long ago lost any credibility with Congress and the American people on Iraq. It's understandable that he hides behind Petraeus's breastplate of medals and Crocker's thatch of gray hair, sending these loyal and able public servants to explicate the inexplicable: What realistic goal is the United States trying to achieve in Iraq? And in what parallel universe is this open-ended occupation making our nation safer?

Even the most basic question of any war is undefined: Who is the enemy? It was almost painful listening to Petraeus as he faced reporters yesterday and was asked whether Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army were friend or foe. His tortured answer, translated into English, was yes.

But thanks to Cole today, the Legacy Shopping is over.

Ironically, what officers like Petraeus need from Bush is not deference but vigorous leadership in the political realm. Bush needs to intervene to work for political reconciliation in Iraq if Petraeus's military achievements are to bear fruit. But Bush seems incapable of actually conducting policy, as opposed to starting wars. Bush happened to Iraq just as he happened to New Orleans. He cannot do the hard work of patiently addressing disasters and ameliorating them. He just wants to set people to fighting. Crush the Sadr Movement, perhaps the most popular political movement in Iraq? He's all for it. Risk provoking a wider conflagration in the Middle East by worsening relations with Iran? Sounds like a great idea to him. Bush campaigned on being a 'uniter not a divider' in 2000. In fact, he is the ultimate Divider, and leaves burning buildings, millions of refugees, and hundreds of thousands of cadavers in his wake. He is not Iraq's Brownie. He is Iraq's Katrina itself.

Just as New Orleans's Ninth War will still be a moonscape when Bush goes out of office, so will Iraq.


That's a nutshell, alright ... A pretty, darned good nutshell I would say.

Last summer, The Garlic put forth a proposal - and it's still open and viable - that could end this madness.

Please, someone, step up and go for it!

Bonus Links

Amy Goodman: “Iraq Does Not Exist Anymore”: Journalist Nir Rosen on How the U.S. Invasion of Iraq Has Led to Ethnic Cleansing, a Worsening Refugee Crisis and the Destabilization of the Middle East

Bob Herbert: The $2 Trillion Nightmare

12 Former Army Captains: The Real Iraq We Knew

Wanted Dead Or ... Ahh, The Hell With It .. I'll Let The Next President Get'em ...

New Bush Export - Preemptive Horseshit!

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Penn = Rumsfeld?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From Sam Stein at HuffPo:

Longtime Clinton adviser and confidant Paul Begala took full aim at Mark Penn on Friday, expressing scorn for the recently demoted strategist, and comparing his time with the Clinton campaign to that of Donald Rumsfeld's tenure as Secretary of Defense.

"I have nothing but contempt for Mr. Penn," said Begala at a New York City breakfast sponsored by the non-profit group Public Agenda. "And for those of us who wanted to see him out from the beginning, it became almost a Rumsfeldian thing. And he is not even fired. He has been demoted. How could this be?"

Seriously, Begala doesn't know how it could be? Is it really possible that someone who has spent so much time deep in the heart of Clintonworld, if not necessarily Hillaryland, could be so clueless? I mean, it's not like Penn has never been good for/to the Clintons and their interests. Remember 1996? Remember Bill's second term? Or how about his work for Clinton friend Tony Blair? (And, of course, he and Bill are on the same side with respect to Colombia and free trade. Penn may be too centrist/conservative for the liking of Hillarylanders, but is he not a rather good Clintonian?)

Penn may be a rather loathsome political creature, and many in Clintonworld/Hillaryland (like Begala) may dislike him intensely, and perhaps justifiably so, but "nothing but contempt" for a Clinton loyalist from another seems a bit strong -- not to mention disingenuous, opportunistic, and revisionistic.

(Penn = Rumsfeld? Ouch. But I'm not sure if that's more of an insult to Penn or Rumsfeld.)

(For a tempered defence of Penn, see The Plank's Josh Patashnik here.)

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Fisher of men

By Capt. Fogg

The country is all a-giggle about the reflection of Dick Cheney's hand in his sunglasses whilst on a Snake River fishing expedition, which if you're drunk or religious looks like anything from a naked woman to "never had sex" Mary.

Hardly anyone gives much of a second thought to further evidence and testimony on the AP wire today that the same hand gave a thumbs up to torturing people to get confessions.

"With each new revelation, it is beginning to look like the torture operation was managed and directed out of the White House,"

ACLU legislative director Caroline Fredrickson said. But of course the Media is "liberal" and the ACLU is "far left Liberal" and anyone is a Liberal if they're so conservative as to want to preserve and protect the Constitution. Who listens to them? Not us. Why ask the invisible man to damn America - we've done that all by ourselves.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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A principled man, my ass

By Creature

I don't have a lot of time to flesh this thought out, but the other day I was sitting around a table with important folks at my job and John McCain came up. Much to my dismay the consensus was that, at a minimum, John McCain was a "principled" man (the same couldn't be said about Hillary, and they were unsure about Obama).

I wanted to scream, but the setting didn't allow. I did manage to mention McCain's free media pass and how he's been wrong about almost everything.

I bring this up because, again, just yesterday, John McCain reversed himself. This time his reversal was about helping homeowners, which he is now for, except his plan is more GOP smoke and mirrors than anything else.

Now, the people I was with are smart and informed. It boggles that they could not get past the media shine on McCain. Was it principled to embrace the religious right after calling them agents of intolerance? Was it principled to embrace George Bush after Karl Rove smeared him relentlessly in 2000? Was it principled to go against torture?

I could go on, but like I said, time is short and so is my fuse. I just wish the media would do its fucking job and stop with the hero worship.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Told you so

By Creature

Monday I wrote this: "General Petraeus' Congressional testimony tomorrow is more about rattling a saber against Iran than it is about the war in Iraq."

Not groundbreaking insight, but certainly an aspect ignored by the media.

Today comes this from ThinkProgress: "Lieberman, Bennett, And Kristol See Petraeus Hearing As 'An Argument' For 'Going Into Iran'."

Remember, folks, a lame-duck Bush is still a dangerous Bush. Plus, I'm sure he'd love to help the McCain campaign out by starting a war in hopes of pushing the American people toward the straight talking military man and away from the wimpy woman or the Muslim terrorist.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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What do the protection from torture and the protection from the invasion of privacy have in common?

By Carol Gee

Building on Michael's post about torture from the top --

Where is the nexus between the right to privacy and the detainee torture question? Or is there any connection at all? The best example of the joining of the issues comes from a recent Washington Post article by Dan Eggen and Josh White on April 4. Titled, "AFTER 9/11, A SECRET MEMO -- Administration Asserted a Terror Exception on Search and Seizure," the story reveals that:

The Justice Department concluded in October 2001 that military operations combating terrorism inside the United States are not limited by Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, in one of several secret memos containing new and controversial assertions of presidential power.

The memo, sent on Oct. 23, 2001, to the Defense Department and the White House by the Office of Legal Counsel, focused on the rules governing any deployment of U.S. forces inside the country "in the event of further large-scale terrorist activities" by al-Qaeda, a Justice Department official said yesterday.

Administration officials declined to detail what domestic military operations were being contemplated at the time, and the legal status of the secret memo is now unclear. Although the memo has not been formally withdrawn, the Justice Department yesterday repudiated the idea that there are no constitutional limits to military searches and seizures in a time of war, saying it depends on "the particular context and circumstances of the search," according to a statement.

. . . Roehrkasse and other officials said the 2001 memo is not related to the administration's controversial warrantless surveillance program, which allowed a military organization -- the National Security Agency -- to monitor communications between the United States and overseas without warrants.

Justice Department officials also declined to explain a reference in Yoo's 2003 memo that said the Criminal Division "concurs in our conclusion" that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The division was led at the time by Michael Chertoff, now head of the Department of Homeland Security.

Attorney General Mukasey, before the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning, refused to say the Fourth Amendment has been withdrawn, according to TPM Muckraker.

The most obvious issue is the rule of law. The Justice Department's sanctioning of torture breaks both U.S. and international law, leading to behaviors that some call war crimes. headline (April 10): "National Lawyers Guild Calls On Boalt Hall To Dismiss Law Professor John Yoo, Whose Torture Memos Led To Commission Of War Crimes." Warrantless illegal wiretapping does not rise to the level of a war crime, certainly. But it has gotten enough the attention in the House of Representatives to stop the amendment of the Protect America Act for almost four months now. Greenwald, on March 14, posted that "House Democrats reject telecom amnesty, warrantless surveillance." Despite widespread fear mongering, the House leadership is looking to see that domestic surveillance operated fully under the rule of law. That should include the telecom industry that enables the government to spy on its own citizens. Complicit private industry must also be forced to comply with the laws of the land.

Another issue is the level of the U.S. government's perceived strength and use of power. A wonderful forum, Project Lucidity, to which I belong has had a magnificent discussion on this topic going on for several days. The topic is, "Thank Yoo: There's more than torture behind the memos." This wide ranging and thoughtful group discussion covers much of what is in the issue of the governments use of its power. If someone in the government has the ability to snoop in the passports of all three presidential candidates what does that say about the way the administrations feels about the idea of protecting civil liberties. It would seem that they hold that responsibility in very low regard. Glenn Greenwald, on March 21, wrote about "The Obama passport snooping and the unchecked surveillance state." Well put.

It occurs to me that an additional issue upon which both turn is secrecy. The current administration is perhaps the most secretive ever, always justifying it with the excuse of "national security." The current questions about who actually authorized the use of torture began anew with the release of the "John Yoo memo." Just recently ABC News revealed that approval of what was permitted in the treatment of detainees was given at the highest levels of government. The story is headlined: "Sources: Top Bush Advisors Approved 'Enhanced Interrogation' -- Detailed Discussions Were Held About Techniques to Use on al Qaeda Suspects," by Greenburg, Rosenberg and deVogue, on April 9. To quote: "At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft." Last month I took a second peek at the "Quantico circuit": A whistle blower has reported that wholesale data mining enables the FBI to intercept and screen content, not just who, where and how long were the conversations. It is still in the news: "Privacy Concerns Raised -- FBI Data Transfers Via Telecoms Questioned," by Ellen Nakashima at The Washington Post (April 8). At issue here is just how intrusive should the FBI wiretapping be, and how are court protections to be maintained. A whistle blower has reported that wholesale data mining enables the FBI to intercept and screen content, not just who, where and how long were the conversations.

There is also a nexus of the constitutionally apportioned powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The legislature has oversight responsibility over the executive branch of government. An example is contained in the story of how the Department of Homeland Security treats data mining, and how they report that to Congress. Firedoglake's "looseheadprop" says, "DHS Data Mining -- It's as Bad as You Thought" (March 19). A first report to the House was not accurate about the scope of the effort and privacy protections provided. Where the nexus of the courts and the executive intersect currently are the trials of detainees. For the most part the executive has sought to be lawmaker, judge and jury when it comes to all of those labeled as terrorists. However, the Supreme Court has already intervened in a number of cases and overruled the current administration. The New York Times reports that the torture "Tapes' destruction hovers over detainee trials." To quote:

But nearly four months after the disclosure that the tapes were destroyed, the list of legal entanglements for the C.I.A., the Defense Department and other agencies is only growing longer. In addition to criminal and Congressional investigations of the tapes’ destruction, the government is fighting off challenges in several major terrorism cases and a raft of prisoners’ legal claims that it may have destroyed evidence.

And finally there is the basic question of tyranny and freedom. The Declaration of Independence was written as a statement of the 13 colonies that they wanted no more of the tyranny of King George of England. They declared that we were independent and free to govern ourselves. Some years later the Bill of Rights spelled our HOW freedom and liberty are to be protected. Protection from torture, fair and humane treatment of those held by the government, along with the protection of citizen privacy have been in place in this country for centuries. Those same provisions have been under assault for the last seven plus years. Make no mistake about the seriousness of that fact.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Torturing from the top

By Michael J.W. Stickings

See, it's not all about John Yoo. The U.S. didn't just start torturing its detainees because a government lawyer said it was okay, or because some executive-branch extremist like David Addington determined that anything and everything was permissible in a time of war, or because some dim-witted troops at Abu Ghraib just didn't know any better. At some point, early on, a decision to allow torture, to enable it, must have been made -- and it must have been made at the highest levels of government. To put it another way, the decision to turn America into a nation that tortures must have been made at the top. The so-called "principals" must have signed off on it and Bush himself must have signed off on it.

And, it seems, they did just that. Here's ABC News:

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

That's right -- not underlings like Yoo, not lawyers and academics, not bureaucrats and soldiers, but the very top officials in the U.S. government: Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, and Ashcroft. They signed off on it. They were the enablers of torture. They were the ones who turned America into a nation that tortures.

And they must be held accountable.

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Canadians for Obama

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A new poll conducted here in Canada shows that Obama is well ahead of both Clinton and McCain in terms of support among Canadians. Clinton was ahead of Obama by 11 points in January, but he is now ahead of her by 9 points. More:

Obama's popularity was highest in Ontario and especially in Alberta, where he held a 23-point lead over Clinton.

He also led among all age groups, but his support was double that of Clinton's among respondents under age 25 -- 54 per cent to 27 per cent.

Obama had a huge lead among male respondents -- 44 per cent to 25 per cent -- but also held a one-point lead among women. Only four per cent of Canadian women support McCain, the poll suggests.

Obama also led with self-declared Conservative voters -- 36 per cent of whom expressed support for him, while 31 per cent supported Clinton and 19 per cent supported McCain.

Does it matter? Maybe not to most Americans -- after all, most Americans don't care about what Canadians think generally -- but certainly to us, we who live right next to the U.S., we who are so deeply connected to the U.S. in so many ways -- socially, politically, culturally, economically.

Yes, it matters to us who the next president is. And, it seems, we really want it to be Obama. Young and old, men and women, liberals and conservatives, all across this great country: our preference is clear. Americans may not care about what we think, and it may make no difference to them what we think, but we pay extremely close attention to political developments south of the border, and, overall, our views on American politics are well-informed, perceptive, and, while often critical, generally good-spirited. Most of us, I would say, only want the best for our American friends.

I'm Michael Stickings -- and I'm a Canadian (and an Ontarian) for Obama.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ambassador Crocker meets Eddie Izzard

By J. Thomas Duffy

Or, "The Lord almighty came down and sat in the middle of the table there and said ‘Mr. Ambassador you can eliminate every Al Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or every Al Qaeda personnel in Iraq,’ which would you pick?"

Sometime ago (nearly two-years) the Friedman Unit, after ol' Lead-Luvin' Tom, was established, designating the term to mark six-months as a unit of time for things to turn around in Iraq.

So, with the Golden Boy, General Petraeus yesterday, once again, calling for extra time, now 45 days (to evaluate things after they stop the troop pulldown), the question to be asked is, what do you call it in relation to the Friedman Unit?

The Petraeus Pint?

The Petraeus Horseshoe (both for his sunny optimism and with a nod to Colt 45 Malt Liquor)?

The Bush Grindhouse's marketing seminar didn't go so well.

In fact, if it were a sporting event, say, a basketball game, the various Senators could retire to the bench and bring in the second team scrubs to mop up.

We have heard, for years, that the bedrock principle for our being in Iraq (keep in mind, this has shifted many times) was that Iraq was the "Central Front on the War on Terror."

It was Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda, all the time.

If we moved one inch away from Iraq, teams of Al Qaeda would swoop in to that inch, and build a metropolis of terror in it.

Hell, even announcing that we would move that one inch out of Iraq, brought sordid tales of Al Qaeda, impatiently waiting at the border, moving van engines running.

Well, that got blown out of the water yesterday, and not by some "defeatocrat"or anybody "Feeling morally, intellectually confused?"

No, it came from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

From Think Progress:

SEN. BIDEN: Mr. Ambassador, is Al Qaeda a greater threat to US interests in Iraq, or in the Afghan-Pakistan border region?

AMB. CROCKER: Mr. Chairman, Al Qaeda is a strategic threat to the United States wherever it is, in my view–

SEN. BIDEN: Where is most of it? If you could take it out? You had a choice: Lord almighty came down and sat in the middle of the table there and said ‘Mr. Ambassador you can eliminate every Al Qaeda source in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or every Al Qaeda personnel in Iraq,’ which would you pick?

AMB. CROCKER: Well given the progress that has been made again Al Qaeda in Iraq, the significant decrease in its capabilities, the fact that it is solidly on the defensive, and not in a position of–

SEN. BIDEN: Which would you pick, Mr. Ambassador?

AMB. CROCKER: I would therefore pick Al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

SEN. BIDEN: That would be a smart choice.

Think Progress also has the video of it, so check it out.

And that brings us to our Eddie Izzard moment.

Writing in Salon today is Mark Benjamin, with "Sizing up Petraeus on Iraq; The top U.S. general gave Congress an upbeat assessment of the war Tuesday. Here's the reality behind the rhetoric."

And there's this gem:

Claim: The Iraqis have redesigned their flag -- which is a big deal because it suggests that Iraq is pulling together as a nation and that things will turn out well.

Crocker: "In January, a vote by the Council of Representatives to change the design of the Iraqi flag means the flag now flies in all parts of the country for the first time in years."

We now turn it over to Mr. Izzard:

Eddie Izzard -- Do you have a flag?

Time to cue up "Que Sera Sera"...

Bonus Through The Looking Glass Links

Ezra Klein: A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy; Our nation's favorite comic book hero might have had the right idea: Use power sparingly and judiciously

Barry Crimmins: Prevarication Nation

Robert Scheer: Everything His President Wants to Hear

Nicole Belle/C&L: The Situation Room: Michael Ware On Who Wields Power In Iraq

"What If Spartacus Had To Account For 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols..."

Tom Engelhardt: Launching Brand Petraeus

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Roundup on Iraq

By Libby Spencer

I didn't watch the hearings yesterday but fortunately all the wonks did and I've assembled some of the best analysis for you this morning. Forgive me if some of this is repetitive from my colleagues excellent prior coverage.

Democracy Arsenal has been liveblogging the hearings. Scroll through the posts for the details. On a quick scan, McCain of course played kissyface with Crocker and Petraeus. Hillary was pretty strong in her criticism. I thought Obama was better at scoring points having forced St. Pet to admit the idea of eliminating all AQ and any Iranian influence in Iraq was an impossible goal.

Points scored by others included the obvious lack of poltical progress towards reconcilation, the fact that we're spending our money while Iraq is sitting on $30 billion in reserves that are slated to grow to over $50 billion in the next year and neither Petraeus or Crocker can define what metrics would allow us to withdraw the troops nor can they say that staying is in the interests of our national security.

Jonathan Schwarz expands on the point that the majority of Iraqis want us out of there and their Parliament voted not to extend the US mandate to remain in occupation without parliamentary approval. Taking a cue from Bush, Maliki, who didn't support the legislation and lost in the vote, basically ignored it and went ahead and is making a deal with Bush anyway. Bush for his part, is wrongfully cutting Congress out of the negotiations on our side. [via]

And finally the Danger Room archives Gen. Petraeus' power point slides and prepared statement on pdf at their place. Cernig takes a closer look and sees a lot of smoke and mirrors that are covering up the ugly truth of where we are now.

(Cross-posted with slight modifications at The Impolitic.)


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I pledge allegiance to the bags of money...

By Carl

Here's another
interesting piece from Jake Tapper, who seems to be waking up to the Obama campaign, finally:

Despite his previous pledge to enter into the public financing system should he be the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has recently been reluctant to re-commit to entering the system.

This reluctance has coincided with his primary, caucus, and fundraising successes. For that reluctance, Obama has been hammered as hypocritical by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., not to mention impartial observers.

Tonight at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., at the National Museum of Women in the Arts -- at a $2,300-per-person event for 200 people held before a $1,000-per-person reception for 350 people -- Obama previewed his argument to justify this possible future discarding of a principle.

"We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it, and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally been reserved for the wealthy and the powerful," Obama said.

I think Obama assumes two things: one, the success of his primary fundraising will falter in the general election, as people whose spirit is willing but wallets faltering run out of money, and he has to rely then on assumption number two, that he'll gobble up the lion's share of Hillary's donor base in the general election.

You know, fat cat money.

His first assumption, that people will flat out run out of money, is spot on. Already, his monthly totals have plateaued, and even slipped, comparatively speaking. As the economy falters further and people start getting laid off and can't find work, his well runs drier each day.

Admittedly, with Super Tuesday being so early in the cycle, this is slightly skewed, but I think I'm not far off in the fund-raising activity area. Already, I'm getting money calls from Obama's campaign, and they know I'm in Hillary's camp.

His second assumption is dicey. It really depends on whether party loyalty and a dislike for McCain will translate into keeping Democrats, particularly traditional "Reagan Democrats Who've Got Bucks", in line. Given how hard he's hammered Hillary, and how close all three candidates are on so many issues (absent Iraq), it's not hard to see how people might defect.

Should both assumptions hold true, then we should expect Obama to raise an awful lot of money. If even the first assumption is untrue (not likely) and the second assumption is true (likely), he's going to outraise both party candidates from the 2004 general election.

However, if the nightmare scenario I've postulated-- first assumption true, second assumption untrue-- arises, Obama will be in deeply serious goo if he turns his back on his pledge.

A pledge is a promise. If he betrays that promise, and then it explodes in his face, it will be a long time before he can show up on the national scene again. He can betray that pledge by just raising money, lots of it, from people who will smell a chance to own a piece of a President.

But that's not going to sit well with the starry-eyed dreamers who have flocked to his candidacy in the forlorn and futile hope that somehow, a deeply ambitious, more ambitious than any other politico in history, politician would be "different".

(crossposted to
Simply Left Behind)


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The Condi-for-Veep non-story story

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There isn't much to it, but it isn't going away. I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, thinking that that would, for the time being, be that, but, well, that wasn't that.

Here's what we know: Condi went to Grover Norquist's weekly morning gathering for right-wing crackpots and wowed the head crackpot himself. Over the weekend, pro-Condi flack-hack Dan Senor told George Stephanopoulos that "Rice has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning for this," a campaign that has included cozying up to the Norquist crowd. In response to Senor, Foggy Bottom mouthpiece Sean McCormack said that "if she's actively seeking the vice presidency, then she's the last one to know about it," a too-cute evasion by far.

For his part, Norquist seems now to be pro-Condi himself: "If her goal was to convince everyone she would be a good president and, therefore, a good vice president -- she hit it out of the ballpark," he told WaPo's Sleuth. "Is she campaigning for it? I don't know. But if she is, she's doing it the right way." Not quite a full-out endorsement, as the misleading headline suggests, but not too shabby.

And what does Condi think: "Let me just say, first of all, that Senator McCain is an extraordinary American, a really outstanding leader, and obviously a great patriot. That said, I'm going back to Stanford or back to California, west of the Mississippi. I very much look forward to watching this campaign and voting as a voter."

Uh-huh. Sure. That's what they all say. Sounds to me like she wants the job.

And like we'll have to put up with more of this non-promotional self-promotion for quite some time to come. After all, she's got the buzz, she'd be a "sexy" pick, and she's got a whole group of Condistas behind her.

But will she get it? WaPo's Fix thinks not: "Putting Rice on the ticket would remind all of those voters about the war -- and McCain's stance on it. It would also provide a tangible link between the Bush administration and McCain's campaign. With Bush's approval numbers as low as they are (and have been for several years), being portrayed as seeking a third Bush term is a stone-cold loser for McCain... McCain is far more likely to opt for a big-state governor with chief executive experience rather than another candidates with strong ties to Washington and a long record of advocacy for an unpopular war."

Plus, she's pro-choice and, in some ways, even more un-Republican than McCain. At least McCain is trying to turn himself into a crackpot -- or to unleash the crackpot within. Even with Norquist's approval, is Condi crackpot enough for the Republicans? I suppose it's possible that she is, or could be. Besides, standing loyally by Bush and being one of the key architects of the Iraq War and Occupation suggest deep-rooted crackpottery within.

Condi may or may not want the job, but crazier things have happened than McCain-Rice '08.

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What the troops want

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Surprising Political Endorsements By U.S. Troops," reads the headline at ABC News. Correspondent Martha Raddatz asked some troops in Iraq about their views on the presidential race back home and found that they like Obama and want the war to end (or at least for the troops to be pulled out).

"Though the military is generally a more conservative group," writes Raddatz, soldiers... are just as eager for a pull-out as the Democratic candidates."

And this is somehow "surprising"?

Of course, it's an unscientific survey, but I think Will Bunch is right:

[T]his article is one more layer of evidence that those of us who say we support the troops by wanting them to end this misguided mission and return safely are, well, yes, supporting the troops.

And yet the ABC article says that what it found was "surprising" -- leaving the reader to assume that we should all be surprised that more troops aren't backing McCain and
his awesome surge. (It also notes, without any backup whatsoever, that "the military is generally a more conservative group." Maybe -- but prove it.) To me, there's only one thing "surprising" about the article.

That somebody asked our troops, what do you think?

The way this war has gone, supporting the troops means bringing them home.

That -- and not more and endless war -- is what they want and what they deserve.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXXXI

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The headline at Juan Cole's place sums it up:

Read the whole post, including the McClatchy round-up at the end, but here are a few key passages:

-- "Guerrillas killed 4 US troops in Iraq on Monday, bringing the 2-day total to 9."

-- "Robert Reid of AP reports that hundreds of Iraqis fled the Shiite districts of Baghdad that are under siege by American and Iraqi government forces. The US and its Iraqi allies engaged in firefights on several fronts in the Shiite neighborhoods. US helicopter gunships and fighter bombers also fired missiles into the civilian neighborhoods. The attacks left 14 dead in the Baghdad area. The US military denies that its bombing of civilian neighborhoods kills innocent civilians. While I know they try hard to minimize collateral damage, the blanket form of the assertion is not plausible."

-- "The Baghdad fighting is the worst in about a year."

-- "[T]he US press went wild for this supposed report that Muqtada al-Sadr said he would dissolve his militia if Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani ordered it. Folks, he always says that when there is a controversy. (He said the same thing in spring, 2004). He says it because he knows it makes him look reasonable to the Shiite public. He says it because he knows that the grand ayatollahs are not going to touch the matter with a ten foot pole... So the idea that, having lost militarily, al-Maliki and his political allies (who are a minority in parliament now) could just a couple of days later jawbone Muqtada into giving up his paramilitary was always absurd."

But, of course, so much of this war and occupation is absurd. We might as well stand around and hope that Godot shows up to save the day.

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Fragile and reversible

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Testifying before Congress yesterday, General Petraeus said that progress in Iraq is "fragile and reversible" and, according to the NYT, recommended that "consideration of any new drawdowns of American troops be delayed until the fall, making it likely that little would change before Election Day... [He] refused under persistent questioning from Senate Democrats to say under what conditions he would favor new troop reductions, adding that he would not take the matter up until 45 days after a current drawdown is complete in July. His recommendation would leave just under 140,000 American troops in Iraq well into the fall."

Three comments:

1) This may be good for Democrats in November. Scenes of troops returning home prior to the election would send a message that the war is going well and that the end is near. This way, if Petraeus gets what he wants, voters would go the polls with a clear-cut difference between Obama/Clinton on one side and McCain on the other. Obama/Clinton would be able to make the case that the war would go on indefinitely under McCain, while McCain would be forced to defend a war that is still going so badly that no troops can come home. (I am concerned about what is good for Democrats, but, needless to say, what is good for the troops, as well as for the U.S. generally, is for the war to end as soon as possible. The troops need to be brought home. The political calendar should not dictate when.)

2) This highlights a key tension for supporters of the war. On the one hand, they want to believe, and may actually believe, that the war, given the supposed success of the Petraeus-led, McCain-promoted surge, is going well enough for some troops to be brought home. On the other hand, they don't want the war to be brought to what they deem to be a premature end. Which is to say, they talk up success and progress and victory even as they demand ever more war. There is no way out of this: According to this view, it is precisely the surge (more war) that has brought about progress. (It hasn't.) But if the surge is ended and troops are brought home, all that has been gained (a modest and temporary improvement in overall security) could be lost, the progress reversed. In other words, to end the war, there must be more war, even though it is not at all clear that more war is actually doing anything to bring about the end. Support for the war in these terms is simply absurd -- not to mention reckless, destructive, and untenable.

3) The situation in Iraq is no doubt "fragile and reversible" -- from bad to worse, not (as Petraeus suggests) from good to bad -- but when will it not be? Iraq is nowhere close to being politically stable. If the U.S. means to stay in Iraq until the situation is no longer "fragile and reversible," it will be there for a long, long time. Which is, of course, precisely what McCain the Warmonger thinks should happen.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sunni. Shiite. Whatever.

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Uh-oh. Looks like McCain had another one of his "senior" moments today. Pressing General Petraeus on the state of al Qaeda in Iraq -- they're a threat, right, right, right? -- he suggested, in a typically leading question, that it is "[c]ertainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites overall."

Dear John: Pay attention, please. Al Qaeda in Iraq is neither obscure nor -- and this is the key point here -- Shiite. I know you've made this mistake before, over and over again, and I know it's not easy for you to get it right when you don't have your buddy Lieberman whispering in your ear, correcting you, but come on.

You pressed Petraeus to give you the answer you wanted to hear (i.e., that, with the "major" al Qaeda-in-Iraq threat, the Iraq War is part of the GWOT), and he gave it, more or less, but once again you exposed not just your bias but your utter lack of credibility on this issue. Do you really know what's going on in Iraq? Do you have any real understanding of Islam, the Middle East, and terrorism that isn't merely a reflection of your partisan warmongering?

Will the media call you out on this, what with the gaffes piling up. Well, they should. For it seems to me that you're looking rather unprepared for anything even close to the presidency.

John McCain, Republican for President:

Clueless? Confused? Indifferent? Incompetent? Senile?

You make the call.

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

One of my favourite recent musical discoveries -- and, at the moment, one of my favourites period -- is the post-rock Irish band God is an Astronaut. A couple of months ago, I posted the amazing video for "From Dust to the Beyond," from their first album, The End of the Beginning. I consider their second album, All is Violent, All is Bright, a masterpiece. It is astonishingly brilliant. Here, below, is GIAA performing "Radau," from their third and most recent album, Far from Refuge, in April 2007. The third album isn't quite as good as the second, but I recommend it highly. It requies patience and multiple listenings, and it is in heavy rotation in my musical world.

Radau Live


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The Petraeus-Crocker Show: Critics in the audience for the opening

By Carol Gee

9:00 AM. Washington D.C.

It will be SRO in a couple of Senate committee rooms today. Reporters, protesters, and perhaps even some other members of Congress may want to listen in on the performances. Senator Carl Levin will be the director, and Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain will have starring roles.

Critical candidates -- "With War in Senate Spotlight, Presidential Campaigns Converge in Washington." General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will be appearing before two Senate committees today, Armed Services at 9:30 am and Foreign Relations at 2:30 am. Elizabeth Buhmiller at The New York Times has the story. All three presidential candidates will get a chance to question them both. We can assume that at least two, and perhaps all three, will come across as critical at times. To quote (NYT links):

All three senators running for president — John McCain of Arizona, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, and Barack Obama of Illinois — will have a chance to question General Petraeus and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad. Each of the three is determined to use the spectacle to advantage, but all face political risks as well as opportunities in the back-to-back hearings before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.

“They’re going to be walking a tightrope over the Grand Canyon,” said Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming who was a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that in 2006 recommended a change of administration strategy in Iraq. “Everyone is going to be watching this like hawks.”

Over all, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama, both Democrats, are likely to criticize the costs of the war and a lack of political progress. Mr. McCain, an early supporter of the troop escalation who has acknowledged that his political fortunes are directly tied to American success in Iraq, will say that the “surge” is working, and is likely to add that the Democrats are ignoring the gains.

. . . “Petraeus is a master of his craft,” Mr. Simpson said. “He’s not only a brilliant military man but a damned fine politician. So here we go.”

Republican skepticism -- "Congress To Hear Of Gains In Iraq" via Memeorandum, Karen De Young has the story at The Washington Post. Even some Republicans are skeptical. To quote:

"I think all of us realize we're disappointed at where we are," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at a hearing last week. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) asked, "How do we get out of this mess?" While the cost in U.S. lives and money increases, said another senior GOP senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: "We cannot . . . just say we're coasting through and waiting for the next president."

. . . Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), the panel's ranking Republican, who projected that Iraqi oil income would reach $56.4 billion this year, asked the Government Accountability Office last month to investigate how much money the Iraqi government has.

. . . Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), a leading backer of President Bush's strategy and the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, one of four panels for which Petraeus and Crocker will testify over two days, said "I want to see the specifics" of Iraqi military performance."

. . . "The debate over how much progress we have made in the last year may be less illuminating than determining whether the administration is finally defining a clear political-military strategy," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

. . . Warner said he wants to ask Petraeus for a better answer to the question the senator posed in September: Is the administration's strategy in Iraq "making America safer"? Petraeus, Warner recalled, replied "I don't know."

This time, Warner said, he wants "a full and complete answer which will justify the sacrifice and courage that our troops have shown since his last appearance."

Update after the hearing -- Senator McCain made what I thought was a good but predictable "campaign" speech, not doing much questioning during his Ranking Member time of 6 minutes. Again forgetting that Shia are the ones who live in Iran, but quickly catching his own mistake, McCain aimed for a lofty tone, while making it clear that he could have done better than Bush.

Senator Clinton did a bit better at disguising her round of questions as a political speech. Using the correct military jargon, she was measured and serious in her tone, leaving no doubt of her "we need to withdraw from Irag" position. Her questions were sharp and reinforced her view that Congress should be in on any treaties, referring to the agreement currently beginning to be in negotiation between the Iraqis and the administration. Senator Obama has his turn with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon.

Also Of Note --

  • George Bush has 286 days left in office, according to my countdown clock in the column to the column to the right. $509,500,000,000+ has been spent on the war in Iraq.

  • (Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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To be a conservative

By Capt. Fogg

I don't want to speculate about how many of our publicly educated young people know who John Wilkes Booth was, but I'll bet that far fewer recognize the Englishman
John Wilkes and know about the part he played, by proxy, in shaping the fourth amendment to our Constitution. Because Wilkes ran afoul of the Crown by openly criticizing a treaty signed by George III, a general warrant for his arrest led to his apprehension along with the publishers of the paper that printed his argument. Wilkes had popular support in England and in the colonies and the notion that the King could authorize upon his own authority and without challenge from Parliament or the independent judiciary, a general search or fishing expedition to seek anything they could use to squelch protest, made him a bit of a hero and martyr.

We are no longer a group of colonies. We are no longer the nation that grew out of those colonies and we have another George who insists on the right to unrestricted, unsupervised and secret investigations without court oversight or any scrutiny at all. We are no longer a nation that objects. We are no longer a nation that values individual liberty to the point where we can accept the slight risk of crime rather than the security of a police state.

We've had so many examples of warrantless wiretapping and other acts of indignity without probable cause that anyone who doesn't know, isn't someone who cares, but
documents appearing in The Washington Post show how the FBI can and has been indulging in espionage of "suspects" without having to explain who they are or why they are or what they are suspected of by what evidence to any court. Only the federal government knows for sure; a Federal government that loves secrets and fights to keep them.

That they can use whatever they find for whatever purpose they wish seems to be evident in the case of Eliot Spitzer and the use of his ATM records to show that he cheated on his wife. I'm sure nobody believes that information was obtained for such purposes and we're just too delighted by the circus to care. If we don't send to know for whom the wires are tapped, the e-mails read, the bank records examined, the mail box inspected, the credit card receipts tallied, it none the less tolls for us.

If we're good subjects, the King will be good to us and protect us. He may or may not tell us what he's protecting us from or how or why, but we can trust George or pay the cost of being adjudged, like John Wilkes, a Liberal, a traitor, an enemy of the state.

Which side are you on, Mr. Conservative?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Interesting story, more interesting commentary

By Carl

I happened to run across
this rather interesting little tidbit along the journey through the news today:

"Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain," Obama said, according to the Huffington Post.

"It's ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags 'I've met leaders from eighty countries' -- I know what those trips are like! I've been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There's a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then -- you go."

"You do that in eighty countries," Obama said, "You don't know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa --knowing the leaders is not important -- what I know is the people...I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college -- I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."

This last part -- a college trip to Pakistan -- was news to many of us who have been following the race closely. And it was odd that we hadn't hear about it before, given all the
talk of Pakistan during this campaign.

So I asked the Obama campaign for more information.

Apparently, according to the Obama campaign, In 1981 -- the year Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University -- Obama visited his mother and sister Maya in Indonesia. After that visit, Obama traveled to Pakistan with a friend from college whose family was from there. The Obama campaign says Obama was in Pakistan for about three weeks, staying with his friend's family in Karachi and also visiting Hyderabad in Southern India.

Now, no big deal, right? I mean, after all, college kids travel and while many kids went off to the Bahamas or Florida, Barack Obama travelled to visit relations and friend's relations in South Asia. Not many of them claim a backpacking trip with friends yields more important foreign relations information than years of SFRC meetings, however...but that's a digression.

But Tapper's point is interesting: given how Obama all but
included either an invasion of Pakistan or a nuclear bomb drop on it in his vision of the Global War on an Emotion, you'd think at some point this little item would have come out from the candidate's camp long before this.

More intriguing is this comment in replies to the piece:

Jake, you said you were surprise (sic) to suddenly learn about this Obama trip, this goes a long way to show that the media has looked the other way while another arrogant and incompetent man runs close to the whitehouse (sic). While salivating and drooling, the media has failed to vet this man, just as they failed to ask GOP and Bush/Cheney tough questions about Iraq. It is the massive disinformation of the nation, stupid. Obama is a mediocre, smart but too shallow. His chances in this race is an indictment (sic) on the media's bias and incompetent.

- Posted by: Ed Banks Apr 8, 2008 9:33:25 AM

Obama has gotten a pretty fair shake by the media, practically kid gloves and all.

I recall that, when Obama was first gearing up his candidacy, many darkly shaded questions about his Muslim background were raised: that he was schooled in a Madrassah, that he's sworn allegiance to the Koran and converted to Christianity as a front.

OK, all crackpot theories, to be sure, but all deserving of at least a little fact-checking, you'd think. After all, this is the same media that went gangbusters when it was revealed during the 1992 campaign that Bill Clinton had
travelled to the Soviet Union as a college student!

How does a college trip to Pakistan a) pass under the simple fact-check of asking Barack Obama, "So where have you been in your life that you feel you can speak to foreign affairs issues?" and b) pass without mention in any of the books Obama has written to demonstrate his bona fides as a President?

Come on, it's not like Pakistan suddenly blipped on our radar in 2002 after the September 11 tragedies! During the 2000 campaign, much sport was made regarding the fact that George Bush couldn't even name the new dictator president of Pakistan, Pervez Mussharraf, despite the fact that, oh, THEY DETONATED NUKES

All these months, when people have harped and harangued on Obama about his inexperience and lack of foreign affairs standing, we're only just finding out now that he took a vacation in Islamabad and is claiming that as a notch in his bedpost????

This is pretty embarrassing, to be frank. How the media could miss this kind of at once laughable-yet-important story is beyond my understanding.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Putin's predictable prime ministerial power grab

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What Putin wants, Putin gets, right? And what he wants is power -- and to stay in power. His boy Medvedev won last month's presidential "election" -- and an election in quotation marks is exactly what it was -- and now, soon to become prime minister to (and in control of) President-"elect" Medvedev, he's angling for even more:

With slightly more than a month to go before he is to step down, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears poised for a power grab.

The mighty United Russia party, which controls 315 of the 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, will ask Mr. Putin to become leader, its chief said yesterday.

The role could greatly enhance Mr. Putin's influence when he becomes prime minister.


The news that United Russia will ask Mr. Putin to lead the party provided fresh speculation that he isn't keen to cede power to Mr. Medvedev, the protégé he groomed for years as an aide before giving him the nod last December to replace him.

Mr. Putin is constitutionally bound to step aside after eight years as president, but he has already agreed to serve as prime minister, a position that holds limited, mainly domestic, powers.

However, becoming leader of the pro-Kremlin United Russia would effectively give Mr. Putin control of Russia's lower house of parliament, or State Duma, given the party's massive majority.

Isn't Russian "democracy" awesome?

(For more reaction to Putin, see here.)

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