Saturday, December 16, 2006

Gone quiet

Gone quiet - "(CNN) -- It's quiet. Almost too quiet.

That's what you get in a horror movie, just before something bad happens. But does the same cliché hold true in the world of al Qaeda, whose leaders have gone very quiet?"

We had a flurry of messages from al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, around the time of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. There was an al Qaeda propaganda video about the 9/11 plot, a message to Americans urging them to convert and another message bemoaning the fate of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad who was captured in 2003. There was even an al Qaeda-conducted interview with al-Zawahiri.

We seemed to be getting a little bit of everything, except for a message from bin Laden himself. But since September there has been nothing at all.

CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen points out that it's not unusual for bin Laden to go long periods of time without talking publicly. It had been more than a year from the previous message when he put out an audiotape in January and there hasn't been a video of him since his election-eve message of October 2004.

But January's tape was followed by four more audio messages and Bergen says he was a little surprised that bin Laden -- who was rumored to have become ill -- had nothing to say on the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

Rapid response tactic

More surprising, perhaps, is that al-Zawahiri has gone quiet in the last 10 weeks.

Nothing about Iraq. Nothing about Afghanistan. Nothing about al-Zawahiri's frequent target, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and his book tour of the United States. Nothing about the pope's visit to Turkey -- though al Qaeda in Iraq took the opportunity to denounce that.

Nothing, most strikingly, about the attack on a madrassa in Pakistan's tribal areas on October 30 that killed some 80 people.

Al-Zawahiri was quick to respond after a U.S. missile attack in January narrowly missed killing him.

In a video that appeared little more than two weeks later, he taunted President Bush: "I will meet my death when God wishes ... but if my time hasn't come, you and all the Earth's forces can't change it, not even by a second. Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses enjoying their care with God's blessings and sharing with them their holy war against you until we defeat you."

Message received?

Until the sudden silence, the tapes had been coming in at an unprecedented rate. And not just messages from al Qaeda's leaders. There also was a series of battlefield tapes from As Sahab, al Qaeda's production company.

"Al-Zawahiri is feeling the heat," says Bergen, adding that it is possible that a tape was made after July but lost before it could be delivered and aired.

He points to a recent report by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times that the January attempt on al-Zawahiri's life missed him only by a few hours.

It isn't clear whether al-Zawahiri was anywhere near the madrassa in Bajaur hit by missiles in late October -- an attack announced by the Pakistani military which said it was being used as a training base for militants on the Afghan border.

Nevertheless, Bergen sees it as "message received."
Perhaps, he believes, the latest missile attack convinced al-Zawahiri it was time to go quiet.

As for bin Laden, Bergen believes we will hear from him when he has something to say. That may be a week from now or it may be a year from now.

Not everyone thinks the recent attacks or even security concerns are why al Qaeda's leaders have gone quiet.

"I would not infer anything from it," says New York University Professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on the Taliban, who just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan. "I have seen nothing to suggest they [al Qaeda] conform to the expectations of the Western media."

Bin Laden in the archives

Perhaps because of the video void, a different picture of bin Laden appeared on the Internet this week, one that shows him before the founding of al Qaeda.

One of the many Web sites where insurgents and their sympathizers post messages is now carrying a 49-minute film from the late 1980s.

You have undoubtedly seen clips from it before on CNN. It shows a very young bin Laden during the war to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. You see him in a cave with some of his fellow Arabs, as well as sitting with a microphone.

His message then had not yet evolved into full-scale hatred of the West; instead he was trying to rally Arab support for the jihad against the Soviets.

This came at a time when bin Laden was morphing from a fundraiser for the cause to a military leader of Arabs aiding the Afghans.

He was comfortable in front of the camera and, in hindsight of course, it is worth paying attention to what he said.

"I advise my Muslim brothers to put wrong things right, since there is no means to hoist the banner of jihad and Islam better, quicker, and stronger than the cause of jihad.

"Deterring the flow of infidels can only take place in the manner by which God has taught us in his direct and clear Koranic verses," he said.

"It is high time to stop turning backs on and disappointing Muslims after the banner has been hoisted, by God's blessing ... Those who missed the chance should seize the opportunity now."

Nearly 20 years later, while the words may have changed, his conviction of the rightness of his actions hasn't. Nor has his desire to get the message out, even if he's gone silent recently.
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Bush's 'new way forward' is into quicksand

McClatchy Washington Bureau 12/13/2006 Bush's 'new way forward' is into quicksand: "The power brokers in Washington spent the week carefully arranging fig leaves and tasteful screens to cover the emperor’s nakedness while he was busy pretending to listen hard to everyone with an opinion about Iraq while hearing nothing. "

Sometime early in the New Year, President Bush will go on national television to tell a disgruntled American public what he's decided should be done to salvage "victory" from the jaws of certain defeat in the war he started.

The word on the street, or in the Pentagon rings, is that he'll choose to beef up American forces on the ground in Iraq by 20,000 to 30,000 troops by various sleight-of-hand maneuvers - extending the combat tours of soldiers and Marines who are nearing an end to their second or third year in Hell and accelerating the shipment of others into that Hell - and send them into the bloody streets of Baghdad.

These additional troops are expected to restore order and calm the bombers and murderers when 9,000 Americans already in the sprawling capital couldn't. They're expected to do this even when Bush’s favorite (for now) Iraqi politician, Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al Maliki, refuses to allow them to act against his primary benefactor, the anti-American cleric Moqtada al Sadr and his Shiite Muslim Mahdi Army militiamen who kill both Americans and Sunni Arabs.

This hardly amounts to a "new way forward" unless that definition includes a new path deeper into the quicksand of a tribal and religious civil war where whatever President Bush eventually decides is already inadequate and immaterial.

The military commanders on the ground, from Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, to his generals in Iraq, have said flatly that more American troops aren't the answer and aren't wanted. For them, it's obvious that only a political decision - an Iraqi political decision - has even the possibility of producing an acceptable outcome.

The White House hopes that its much-trumpeted reshuffling of a failed strategy and flawed tactics will buy time for their bad luck to change miraculously. That this time will be bought and paid for with the lives and futures of our soldiers and Marines - and their families - apparently means little to these wise men who've never heard a shot fired in anger.

This president has made it painfully obvious that he has no intention of listening to anyone who doesn’t believe that he's going to win in Iraq. He'll march stubbornly onward without any real change of course until high noon on January 20, 2009, when his successor will inherit both the hard decision to pull out of Iraq and the back bills for his reckless, feckless misadventure.

The midterm election that handed control of Congress to the Democrats can be ignored. His own approval rating in the polls, now at an all-time low of 27 percent - likewise means little or nothing.

Only President Bush’s definition of reality carries any weight with him and therein lies the tragedy - both his and ours.

James Baker was sent to Washington by the original George Bush, No. 41, to salvage something out of the mess that his son, Bush No. 43, has made of his presidency and the world. The Baker Commission labored mightily and produced, if little else, some truth: That the situation in Iraq is dire and rapidly growing worse.

It's also clear, however, that Bush the son is paying no more than lip service to the Baker report. He doesn't want Dad’s help, and the idea that he once again needs to be rescued from the consequences of his mistakes - as he had to be so often back in Texas - can only have hardened his resolve to stay the course.

This is akin to a drowning man who pushes away a life preserver just before he sinks for the last time.

Can nothing save this man from himself - from the voices that only he hears telling him that he, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, will have his reputation and his place in American history restored and burnished long after his death?

What will happen to that impossible dream in the coming year if the congressional Democrats begin to do their job, issuing subpoenas and holding oversight hearings into the looting of billions from the national treasury by defense contractors and other fat-cat donors to the Republican Party?

What will happen if everything that George Bush does to string things along in Iraq fails, as has everything else he's done there so far, and the Iraqis ask, order or drive us out of their country?

Did you notice that at every stop on the President’s information-gathering tour this week, there was a very familiar face looming over his shoulder? There was Vice President Dick Cheney, looking as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Should the president suddenly have an original thought or seem to be going wobbly, Cheney will be right there to squelch it or to set him straight.

It can be argued that George W. Bush understood little about war and peace and diplomacy and honesty in government. Cheney understood all of it, and he bears much of the responsibility for what's gone on in Washington, D.C. and in Iraq for the last six years. Keep a sharp eye on him. Desperate men do desperate things.


ABOUT THE WRITER Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail:
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'Taleban law' blocked in Pakistan

BBC NEWS World South Asia 'Taleban law' blocked in Pakistan: "Pakistan's Supreme Court has blocked a fresh attempt to enact a Taleban-style law to enforce Islamic morality in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The court instructed the provincial governor not to sign the bill, which is opposed by President Pervez Musharraf"

North West Frontier Province, which is governed by an alliance of religious parties sympathetic to the Taleban, passed the legislation last month.

Last year a similar bill was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court

President Musharraf, who says he wants Pakistan to espouse an enlightened, moderate form of Islam, has denounced the bill as fundamental breach of human rights.
Correspondents say it is almost unheard of for the same bill passed by a provincial assembly to be challenged twice in the courts by the federal government.
The Supreme Court ordered the NWFP governor not to sign the Hisba (Accountability) bill into law until the case had been decided.

It said it would take up the matter again in the third week of January, when the NWFP government is to be given a chance to defend the bill.

The ruling came after a petition from President Musharraf, Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan said.
NWFP Information Minister Asif Iqbal Daudzai, a member of the ruling alliance of religious parties, accused the government of being undemocratic.

"We are really surprised. We drafted the bill in light of the Supreme Court's directives," he told Reuters news agency.

"The federal government's decision to go to the court exposes their claims that they believe in democracy."

The bill adopted by the NWFP assembly last month was a watered-down version of the legislation rejected by the Supreme Court last year, again after a petition from the president.

The key difference between the bills is that the proposed department to be set up to enforce morality will not have its own police force.

But it would, however, be able to requisition police "to promote virtue and prevent vice".
'Talebanisation' fears

The plan is reminiscent of the infamous Department for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, set up by Afghanistan's former Taleban rulers.

It became a focus of criticism by human rights organisations.

Religious police would patrol the streets in Afghanistan, forcing women to adhere to a strict dress code and men to pray and grow their beards, among other things.

Observers say the battle in the courts reflects a struggle between moderates and conservatives over the direction of Pakistan.

Two of the country's four provinces are governed by the six-party Islamic alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA).

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says President Musharraf has had a tacit alliance with the Islamic parties but he has become increasingly critical of them.

His recent support for amendments to hardline Islamic laws on rape despite their strenuous objections prompted some analysts to think he might keep quiet about the Hisba bill as a trade-off.

The fact that he has not, our correspondent says, will only fuel speculation that he is seeking to replace the Islamists with more moderate allies.
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Diplomat's suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war

Independent Online Edition > UK Politics: "The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. "

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

Mr Ross revealed it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained".

He also reveals that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. "I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed)," he said.

"At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos."

He claims "inertia" in the Foreign Office and the "inattention of key ministers" combined to stop the UK carrying out any co-ordinated and sustained attempt to address sanction-busting by Iraq, an approach which could have provided an alternative to war.

Mr Ross delivered the evidence to the Butler inquiry which investigated intelligence blunders in the run-up to the conflict.

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, "there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material" held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. "There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US," he added.

Mr Ross's evidence directly challenges the assertions by the Prime Minster that the war was legally justified because Saddam possessed WMDs which could be "activated" within 45 minutes and posed a threat to British interests. These claims were also made in two dossiers, subsequently discredited, in spite of the advice by Mr Ross.

His hitherto secret evidence threatens to reopen the row over the legality of the conflict, under which Mr Blair has sought to draw a line as the internecine bloodshed in Iraq has worsened.

Mr Ross says he questioned colleagues at the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence working on Iraq and none said that any new evidence had emerged to change their assessment.

"What had changed was the Government's determination to present available evidence in a different light," he added.

Mr Ross said in late 2002 that he "discussed this at some length with David Kelly", the weapons expert who a year later committed suicide when he was named as the source of a BBC report saying Downing Street had "sexed up" the WMD claims in a dossier. The Butler inquiry cleared Mr Blair and Downing Street of "sexing up" the dossier, but the publication of the Carne Ross evidence will cast fresh doubts on its findings.

Mr Ross, 40, was a highly rated diplomat but he resigned because of his misgivings about the legality of the war. He still fears the threat of action under the Official Secrets Act.

"Mr Ross hasn't had any approach to tell him that he is still not liable to be prosecuted," said one ally. But he has told friends that he is "glad it is out in the open" and he told MPs it had been "on my conscience for years".

One member of the Foreign Affairs committee said: "There was blood on the carpet over this. I think it's pretty clear the Foreign Office used the Official Secrets Act to suppress this evidence, by hanging it like a Sword of Damacles over Mr Ross, but we have called their bluff."

Yesterday, Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons who was Foreign Secretary during the war - Mr Ross's boss - announced the Commons will have a debate on the possible change of strategy heralded by the Iraqi Study Group report in the new year.
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Douglas Farah: The Generational War

Douglas Farah: The Generational War: "It is not a popular thing to say in public circles, but there is a growing awareness of the the nature of the Islamist threat to the United States and the West in the Pentagon and elsewhere. "

In an interview with the Washington Times, Brig. Gen. Mark O. Schissler, deputy director for the war on terrorism within the strategic plans office of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, stated that the enemy is “absolutely committed to the 50-. 100-year plan” to establish a caliphate.

This is not news. But this type of public assessment has been sorely lacking since 9-11. People in the Intelligence Community here and abroad, who read the jihadi literature and pay attention to what they say, know this. But there has been an extreme reluctance to make this case publicly and constantly, so people are aware of not only what the stakes are but of the need for an over-arching, long-term strategy.

There is very little work being done in looking at the 10 to 20 year horizon on where Islamists are now, where they are moving and what the potential future threats and opportunities are for moving against them. Almost everything in the Pentagon and IC are geared to the 3 to 5 year horizon. In real terms, this is extremely short.

Most of the thinking that does exit over longer periods are for the military component-that is, where to have troops, where to be prepared to deploy, what the direct military threats can be.

While this is necessary, it is not a strategic plan to counter the Islamist plan and agenda. There is no real public diplomacy component that is functioning, no way to reach out to the moderate Arab and Islamic world without burning them to a crisp on contact.

Furthermore there is no real understanding now of where the jihadis are, what their relative strength in different regions is, how the Sunni and Shia groups cooperate and compete in different areas of the world, no map of the infrastructure of NGOS and mosques. This is a huge setback after 5 years.

Knowing the order of battle of the enemy, in any war, is crucial. We do not know the order of battle of our enemies. At least we are now willing to say they have a plan to carry out, and we better get one too.

[bth: The public is prepared to acknowledge this problem once a solution is conceivable. Our government simply has not plan whatsoever to address this conflict beyond next years troop deployment, so we look for our car keys under the lamp post.]

Douglas Farah: Why Jihahdis Are Feeling Good

Douglas Farah: Why Jihahdis Are Feeling Good: "Several developments towards the year’s end show what a good few months it has been for the worldwide jihadi movement. These are not marginal shifts in the success of the Salafist military project, but significant gains that demonstrate some of the contours of the growing, armed movement that would like to eliminate us."

Among them:

Significant advances in Somalia, creating a geographic base and state absent since being driven from Afghanistan;The succeessful establishment of a virually independent Taliban state in northern Pakistan, allowing for a constantly-growing ability to challenge NATO militarily and the coordination of training and fighting with foreign fighters;

The dominance of the political discourse by violent Islamists and by their allies in the debate over Islamism in Europe and the United States;The successful creation of an information and education sharing network that allow successful tactics in one region to be exported in short order to other groups-i.e. from Iraq to Afghanistan;

The weakening of the central governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq, enhancing the law-and-order appeal of the Islamist groups;

The continued penetration of sub-Saharan Africa through NGOs, the building of mosques and the export of radical imams in the hopes of radicalizing potential recruits;

And the survival of key leaders such as bin Laden and Zawahiri.

That is just on the Salafist/Sunni side. On the Shi’ite side there is the emergence of Hizbollah again as a significant military force, Iran’s unhindered nuclear ambitions and understanding that the international community will remain hardpressed to actually take any action to deter these ambitions, and the growing alliance between Iran and Venezuela, to oil-rich states.

On the terrorism side, this is extremely dangerous because Hezbollah has both people and a financial network in Latin America, and getting a state backer for its enterprises there, through the Iranian alliance with Chavez, would be most useful. Chavez has already shown his support for violent groups by his friendship with the FARC in neighboring Colombia. Not much of a stretch to make Hezbollah feel at home at the request of his primary international ally.

There have been some military victories against these advances. But what comes across from the U.S. and European side is the ongoing dithering over words and definitions-global war on terrorism, Islamofascism, radicalism etc. For example, is the Muslim Brotherhood a radical enough movement to be included in the global war on terror?

While definitions are useful, five years of dithering over them is dangerous. There has yet to be a clearly defined strategy to take on radical Islam in its different guises. There is no coherent message except the overly simplistic, almost meaningless phrase that these people hate freedom, therefore they hate us.
Almost nothing further has been articulated, pushed into the public arena for debate, for to help shape the debate or establish a credible alternative to the Islamist narratives about what is happening. And that makes it a bad few months for those of us who do not wish to convert to Islam or live under the new caliphate.

posted by Douglas Farah

Douglas Farah: A Chilling Look at the Taliban's Success

Douglas Farah: A Chilling Look at the Taliban's Success: "In a fascinating find Newsweek has published a nine-page “book of rules” that the Taliban is distributing in its areas of control in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

The list itself is not earth-shattering, a list of principles to guide its militants on everything from what infidels can be executed to moving from one unit to another.

But what is shows is that the Taliban leadership has the time and space to fashion such a handbook, something a group cannot do when it is seriously pressed militarily or living primarily on the run.

It also clearly demonstrates a coherent command and control structure, with orders coming down, written permission being needed for specific actions (merging units etc.) and a vertical structure that can impose punishment as well as reward. The duties and sole responsibilities of senior commanders, junior commanders and the supreme commander (Mullah Omar) are laid out quite clearly.

It also shows that they may have learned over the years that keeping the population on their side, with measures other than straight coercion, is necessary in to long-term survival. Taking boys without beards to the battlefield, taking weapons and goods from civilians and mistreatment of civilians are all explicitly banned.

It is not a benevolent list, however. How and whom to execute, how to handle kidnap victims and other detainees dominate. It is a matter of who can make the decision to impose Taliban justice-usually death-rather than the form the justice takes, that is outlined.

Of interest is the desire to end education by infidels across the board, both in madrassas and regular school. The fact that teaching to read, write or think is such a threat in an interesting statement on its own. Teachers can be warned before being killed, but if they teach “against the Qoran” they can be executed.

The list shows that the movement has enough penetration in areas outside its direct control to need to give guidence to commanders.

While Iraq has been worse than most people imagined, Afghanistan is the place that baffles me. How it was possible to allow the Taliban to snatch some sort of victory from the jaws of defeat, is really beyond me. That unfinished business will haunt us for many years.
posted by Douglas Farah

[bth: fascinating observations. too bad our government leaders don't see things as they are after 5 years. We must finish the Taliban/al-Qaida/Pakistan problem before anything else.]
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Options Sought for Surge in U.S. Troops to Stabilize Iraq

Options Sought for Surge in U.S. Troops to Stabilize Iraq - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 — Military planners and White House budget analysts have been asked to provide President Bush with options for increasing American forces in Iraq by 20,000 or more. The request indicates that the option of a major “surge” in troop strength is gaining ground as part of a White House strategy review, senior administration officials said Friday."

Discussion of increasing the number of American troops, at least temporarily, has coursed through Washington for two months, as a possible way to reverse the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad.

But the decision to ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff to specify where the additional forces could be found among overstretched Army, Marine and National Guard units, and to seek a cost estimate from the White House Office of Management and Budget, signifies a turn in the debate.

Officials said that the options being considered included the deployment of upwards of 50,000 additional troops, but that the political, training and recruiting obstacles to an increase larger than 20,000 to 30,000 troops would be prohibitive.

At present, only about 17,000 American soldiers are actively involved in the effort to secure Baghdad, so even the low end of the proposals being considered by military and budget officials could more than double the size of that force. If adopted, such an increase would be a major departure from the current strategy advocated by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., which has stressed stepping up the training of Iraqi forces and handing off to them as soon as possible.

The details of the plan under study by the White House are not known, but in most scenarios the troop increase would be accomplished in large part by accelerating some scheduled deployments while delaying the departure of units in Iraq.

President Bush has made no final decision, the White House said. Gordon Johndroe, the National Security Council spokesman, said that no memorandums outlining the options for increasing troop strength had gone to the president. But one senior official said the subject was discussed at length on Wednesday during Mr. Bush’s briefing at the Pentagon, and the president has reportedly asked detailed questions that some officials have interpreted as suggesting that he is strongly leaning in that direction.

American military officials said Friday night that the Pentagon was planning to send the Second Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait in January. The brigade, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., would serve as a reserve that commanders in Iraq could draw on.

American military commanders have been operating without such a reserve since the Marine unit that had been on call was dispatched to Anbar Province in western Iraq. The Army brigade could become an element of a larger troop deployment to Iraq if the White House decided to increase troops there.

That option has been central to a broader debate in Washington. Advocates of a troop increase say the aim would be to reverse the slide toward an all-out civil war and give the new Iraqi government more time to consolidate control, while training of Iraqis is stepped up.

At the same time, American and Iraqi forces would try to tamp down strife in neighborhoods that contain Shiites and Sunnis, and slow insurgent attacks. To be effective, proponents say, these tactics would need to be married to a broader political and economic strategy to generate employment in Baghdad and stabilize Iraq.

Critics of a surge approach have argued that any American troop increase would lead to more American casualties and merely put off the day when the Iraqis need to assume responsibility for their own security.

There is also concern that the military benefits would be short-lived unless the higher troop levels were sustained for a long period, adding to the strain on American forces. Alternatively, critics say, if the surge in troop levels was too brief, adversaries could simply wait for the reinforcements to leave.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said during a visit to Baghdad this week that American military commanders were discussing the possibility of adding as many as 10 more combat brigades — a maximum of about 35,000 troops — to establish some of control while Iraq’s divided political leaders seek solutions to the mounting violence.

On Friday, however, one administration official said that additional work was needed to fit a troop increase into the larger strategy, as well as on technical aspects about how the operation would be carried out. “There has not been a full articulation of what we would want the surge to accomplish,” he said.

Strikingly, the surge proposal has not been actively promoted by the top commander in Iraq. General Casey, the senior American commander in Baghdad, has emphasized faster training of Iraqi security forces, an effort that would be supported in part by converting existing combat forces into trainers.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, has said that the advantages of a surge in troop levels would be temporary, and that it might dissuade Iraqis from doing more to provide for their own security.

Some of the chiefs of the services that would supply forces for the surge have spoken about it in hedged terms. “We would not surge without a purpose,” Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told reporters on Thursday. “And that purpose should be measurable.”

But Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who is assuming day-to-day command of American troops in Iraq from Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, is said to be sympathetic to the idea.

The surge proposal has also gained greater support among recently retired officers who served in Iraq, particularly if carried out as part of a broader political and economic strategy.

Two retired Army veterans who served in the unit that took control of the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005 — Col. Joel Armstrong and Maj. Daniel Dwyer — helped draft a new study issued Thursday by the American Enterprise Institute that called for sending an additional four or five combat brigades, or some 14,000 to 17,500 troops, to Baghdad.

The study determined that the military could sustain a surge of that level, but that it would require sending several Army brigades back to Iraq a couple of months early and extending the customary yearlong Army tour to 15 months.

In its report last week, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group rejected the idea of a “substantial” force increase on the order of 100,000 to 200,000 troops, saying that those levels were not “available for a sustained deployment” and would feed fears in Iraq that the United States was planning a long-term occupation.

“We could, however, support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad,” the report added, “or to speed up the training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective.”

Bush Speaks With Maliki

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 — President Bush held a videoconference with the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, on Friday, the eve of a Baghdad conference aimed at cooling sectarian violence.

At the conference, Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni Arab politicians are expected to discuss a reconciliation plan that includes possible amnesty for insurgent fighters and proposals to curb militia violence.

White House officials said Mr. Bush spoke by secure video with Mr. Maliki for roughly half an hour.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Mr. Maliki talked about his desire “for a larger core of Iraqi political leaders to come together for the common objective of stabilizing Iraq.”

The Bush administration has been encouraging Mr. Maliki to rely less on the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Damaged or destroyed humvees awaiting money to repair or replace them. Thousands are parked in terrible conditions in army depots. Posted by Picasa
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General Says Army Will Need To Grow

General Says Army Will Need To Grow - "Warning that the active-duty Army 'will break' under the strain of today's war-zone rotations, the nation's top Army general yesterday called for expanding the force by 7,000 or more soldiers a year and lifting Pentagon restrictions on involuntary call-ups of Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops."

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, issued his most dire assessment yet of the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the nation's main ground force. At one point, he banged his hand on a House committee-room table, saying the continuation of today's Pentagon policies is "not right."

In particularly blunt testimony, Schoomaker said the Army began the Iraq war "flat-footed" with a $56 billion equipment shortage and 500,000 fewer soldiers than during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Echoing the warnings from the post-Vietnam War era, when Gen. Edward C. Meyer, then the Army chief of staff, decried the "hollow Army," Schoomaker said it is critical to make changes now to shore up the force for what he called a long and dangerous war.

"The Army is incapable of generating and sustaining the required forces to wage the global war on terror . . . without its components -- active, Guard and reserve -- surging together," Schoomaker said in testimony before the congressionally created Commission on the National Guard and Reserves.

The burden on the Army's 507,000 active-duty soldiers -- who now spend more time at war than at home -- is simply too great, he said. "At this pace, without recurrent access to the reserve components, through remobilization, we will break the active component," he said, drawing murmurs around the hearing room.

The Army, which had 482,000 soldiers in 2001, plans to grow temporarily to 512,000. But the Army now seeks to make that increase permanent and to continue increasing its ranks by 7,000 or more a year, Schoomaker said. He said the total increase is under discussion.

"I recommend we continue to grow the Army so that we have choices," Schoomaker said, cautioning that it is ill advised to assume demand for American troops overseas will decrease. "Our history is replete with examples where we have guessed wrong: 1941, 1950, 2001, to name a few," he said. "We don't know what's ahead."

In light of such a sober assessment, Schoomaker voiced skepticism about the idea of an infusion of U.S. ground troops into Iraq, a message sources said he and the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered to President Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

"We should not surge without a purpose, and that purpose should be measurable and get us something," he told reporters after the hearing.

Schoomaker's highly public appeal for more troops and reserve call-ups appeared to be part of an Army campaign to lobby incoming Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is to be sworn in Monday, to approve the desired policy changes as well as a significant increase in the Army budget.

The Army estimates that every 10,000 additional soldiers will cost about $1.2 billion a year, up from $700 million in 2001 in part because of increased enlistment bonuses and other incentives. The Army will have to "gain additional resources to support that strategy," Schoomaker acknowledged.

Democrats, who will take charge of Congress next month, said yesterday that they plan to hold hearings on the "urgent" and "critical" readiness problems of the Army and Marine Corps. "Readiness levels for every unit must be raised and maintained at the highest possible level," Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Tex.), incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness panel, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) said in an opinion article released yesterday. Two-thirds of Army units in the United States are now considered not ready to deploy.

The Army's manpower dilemma stems in part from current Pentagon policies: Although 55 percent of soldiers belong to the National Guard and the reserve, Defense Department guidelines require that reservists be mobilized involuntarily only once, and for no more than 24 months.

As a result, out of the total of 522,000 Army National Guard and reserve members, only about 90,000 are still available to be mobilized, according to Army data. "We're out of Schlitz," declared an Army chart depicting the shortage as a depleted barrel, saying this leaves "future missions in jeopardy."

Compounding the problem, the Pentagon has restricted repeated involuntary call-ups, leading to deeper and deeper holes in Army Guard and reserve units. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers have been mobilized for Iraq and Afghanistan. So when a unit is called to deploy, the only soldiers who can go are volunteers and new soldiers. The remainder are often drawn from dozens of units across the United States.

The result is systematically "broken" and "non-cohesive" units, said another Army chart titled "OSD-mandated Volunteer Policy Stresses the Force," referring to the office of the secretary of defense.

For example, Army Reserve units now must take an average of 62 percent of their soldiers for deployments from other units, compared with 6 percent in 2002 and 39 percent in 2003, according to the Army data. In one transportation company, only seven of 170 soldiers were eligible to deploy. The other 163 came from 65 other units in 49 locations, said the commission chairman, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, who quoted a Marine Reserve officer as calling the policy "evil."

"Military necessity dictates that we deploy organized, trained, equipped cohesive units -- and you don't do that by pick-up teams," said Schoomaker, a decorated veteran of the Army's Delta Force who served in the ill-fated Desert One rescue mission in Iran in 1980.

"We must start this clock again . . . and field fully ready units. . . . We must change this policy," he said, banging his hand on the table for emphasis. He said later that he had detected "some movement" by Pentagon policymakers who have so far rejected a change on the politically sensitive issue.

In an interview yesterday on C-SPAN, Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said that under the current authority Bush can mobilize up to 1 million reservists for no more than two "continuous" years, but the Pentagon policy under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been more restrictive, limiting the time to two "cumulative" years. "The law does say 'continuous,' so you could have a break and recall them," Hall said.

Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, chief of the 346,000-strong Army National Guard, said yesterday that his force is "poised for remobilization."

Vaughn said he thinks state Guard leaders will accept fresh call-ups sooner than planned as long as the deployments are limited to 12 months and draw on units that have been home the longest. He said the Guard could tolerate having units deploy for one year out of every five, instead of out of every six.

"One year is absolutely critical," he said, explaining that the 18 months it currently takes for a Guard unit to mobilize, train and deploy means too much time away from jobs and families. Schoomaker indicated that the Army is working on reducing the duration of Guard and reserve deployments to one year.

Since 2001, the Army Guard has deployed 186,000 soldiers and the Army Reserve 164,000 soldiers for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and in homeland-defense missions.

[bth: so in 2003 when congress asked the joint chiefs to confirm one by one that they had sufficient men and equipment to do the job, why did they unanimously answer yes?

And why did it take a change in congress for these leaders of men to find their voice? Its been damned obvious to anyone that bothered to look that we have had insufficient troops in Anbar province since at least Feb. 2004.

The military has got to prioritize itself as well. Unfettered air force and navy requests are not realistic in this environment. For the military to say they deserve the peak cold war percentage of our GDP is not realistic given the social network in this country. For the politicians to give the rich tax cuts in this environment is simply criminal but that's the way the president runs this country.

The problem the generals now have is that congress which probably is willing to expand the army is scared to do it until they understand what the president is going to do with regard to Iraq - sending all remaining reserves into Iraq is their fear. If the president surged with say national guard troops, he might get away with it though 2008 but then the guard and reserve component would be worn out too.

That would leave ALL the problems - taxes, worn out equipment, lack of troops - everything - on the next administration. ... I personaly think this is the direction the decider and chief is heading. ... Its going to be the biggest pass the buck in US history.]
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Arab attitudes toward U.S. grow more negative: poll

Arab attitudes toward U.S. grow more negative: poll - Yahoo! News: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new survey shows Arab attitudes toward American people, products and culture grew increasingly negative last year, a finding that underscores the need for a change in U.S. Mideast policy, a leading expert on the region said on Thursday. "

James Zogby, the head of the Arab American Institute, said the annual survey of opinion in five Arab countries found that U.S. policy toward Iraq' and the Palestinian conflict were the main issues driving deteriorating Arab opinion.

"Our policies have not only had a worsening impact in terms of attitudes toward us but also in dampening confidence in the prospects for development and political stability and are therefore, I think, a real concern to countries in the region," Zogby said.

In previous years, Americans themselves had been viewed positively in most Arab countries, his group said.

President George W. Bush' is preparing a change of course for the Iraq war after a bipartisan panel said U.S. strategy was not working and warned that Washington was losing its influence in the region.

The panel, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, also called for a renewed U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way to defuse regional tensions.

"What the poll says to me is Baker-Hamilton are right," Zogby said.

"If America wants to salvage itself and improve its standing and get the credibility and legitimacy it needs to lead in Iraq, it needs to do something to earn the trust of allies in the broader region," he said.

The survey released by the Arab American Institute found that more than 80 percent of people in Saudi Arabia and Egypt had negative opinions of the United States, similar to previous years, but attitudes worsened in Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon.

The biggest increases were in Jordan, where negative U.S. ratings climbed to 90 percent from 62 percent and Morocco, where they grew to 87 percent from 64 percent.

Attitudes toward American people, movies and democracy were more negative than positive in most of the five countries.

Only U.S. education was viewed more positively than negatively in the five countries.

Notably, residents had negative attitudes toward most U.S. policy in the region. Opinions were most negative about the Iraq war and the Palestinian conflict, but also opposed the United States' policy on Lebanon, its promotion of democracy in the region and its challenge of Iran''s nuclear program.

The surveys were conducted in mid-November in face-to-face interviews. Sample size ranged from 600 to 800 in each country, and the margin of error for each sample was between 3.5 percent and 4.7 percent.
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Troops in Iraq to get fire-resistant uniforms

Troops in Iraq to get fire-resistant uniforms - "WASHINGTON — Flame-resistant uniforms will be standard issue for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by early 2007, Pentagon officials say."

More than 160,000 suits made of the flame-retardant fabric NOMEX will be sent to combat zones, said Thomas Edwards, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army logistics.

The Pentagon moved quickly, Edwards said, because Iraqi insurgents are using homemade bombs and targeting the fuel tanks of vehicles. The bombs, called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are the top killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.

"Guys in the area of operations said, 'Give us all the fireproof uniforms you can find and then kick up production,' " Edwards said.

After receiving the Army's request Sept. 21, the Pentagon shipped 70,000 suits by Oct. 13 to outfit troops who patrol outside U.S. bases, Edwards said. It will cost about $70 million for the uniforms, hoods and gloves.

NOMEX, a DuPont-manufactured fiber, resists burning for about 9 seconds, long enough to allow troops to escape from a burning vehicle, Edwards said.

Troops are urged to drink extra liquids to keep from overheating because of the suits' added layer of protection, said Lt. Col. Carl Ey, an Army spokesman.

Margo Hughey, a 68-year-old grandmother from Columbus, Ind., said she has raised $2,000 to buy the suits for troops after learning of attacks with diesel-soaked explosives from relatives serving in Iraq. She and friend April Johnson, 41, also contacted Indiana's two senators — Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh — because they did not believe the Pentagon had acted quickly enough.

"When I learned our own family members were in extreme danger, and it did not look like they would be supplied by the DOD (Department of Defense) or the Army I knew I must do something," Hughey said.

Lugar contacted the Pentagon but had not received a response, spokesman Andy Fisher said.

Edwards said the Pentagon moved quickly: "I don't know how long it took Granny to raise that two thousand bucks, but it couldn't have been a helluva lot faster than we did in getting these uniforms."

[bth: on behalf of Granny and other family members - You can kiss my pimply redneck ass you arrogant prick. The pentagon has only had the entire length of WWII to fix this problem. Kids and their families have been buying this kind of protection for several years. ... At least granny's procurement cares about our troops and because of that she'll beat your fat ass even if she has to do it in a walker and hosts bake sales in front of the grocery store to pay for it.]

Families mourn lost soldiers, question war

Families mourn lost soldiers, question war - Yahoo! News: "HUMBOLDT, Kansas (Reuters) - U.S. Army National Guard Spc. John Wood is everywhere inside the quiet clapboard house just off the main street in Humboldt, Kansas. "

Pictures of him in uniform in Iraq' or smiling at home with his kids cover walls and tabletops. Wood's medals share a corner cabinet with a white teddy bear that reads "Hurry Home," and a folded American flag in a glass case rests on a windowsill.

On a December day, Wood's wife, Lannette, rests on a sofa with a flag-embroidered afghan around her shoulders and waits for delivery of his death certificate. Because even though Wood is everywhere, he is nowhere.

A day before he would have turned 38, on October 7, Woods, the father of four children ages 8 to 16, was killed by a roadside bomb. He was one of 106 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq in October, one the deadliest months for American soldiers since the United States launched the Iraq war in March 2003.

"He was supposed to be home on November 10," Lannette Wood, 34, said. "I could almost feel him home."


More than 2,925 U.S. soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq, according to the Defense Department and more than 22,000 have been wounded. Over recent weeks, on average, 2 to 3 have died every day.

The mounting loss of life and uncertainty about how to bring the conflict to a close spurred voters in
November to shift power in Congress to opposition Democrats, drove last month's ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and has pushed President George W. Bush' to seek a new war strategy.

Polls now show broad support for a quick withdrawal of troops and several groups of military families are among those calling for withdrawal.

As the casualties rip holes into families and communities throughout the nation, the deaths are forcing a growing number of military families to re-evaluate their views on the war.

Some find solace in a belief that their soldiers died protecting America from otherwise certain attacks. Others say the fighting in Iraq is a failure and a waste of lives.

But many agree that whether they mourn privately, enveloped in tight circles of church and military support, or with fanfare honoring a "war hero," the war is exacting a price they increasingly see as too high.

"Something's got to change. We've got to get someone in there who knows how to make a difference and try to get it going for the better instead of all this violence," said Ann Mock of Harper, Kansas, whose 23-year-old son Willsun Mock was killed in Iraq October 22 by a roadside bomb.

"I was so against us going to war," said Mock. "But now I want to say that my son's sacrifice was not in vain and not just his sacrifice but all the others."


For Cleveland, Ohio, father Paul Schroeder it has been over a year since he received first a coffin and then, weeks later, an urn, and still later another urn, bearing the remains of his 23-year-old son Marine Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder.

"Life is never the same. It is devastating what it does to a family," said Schroeder, who has formed a group called "Families of the Fallen" that counts 1,400 members.

Kim Smith of San Antonio, who lost her 19-year-old son, Army Pvt. Robert L. Frantz, in June 2003 when he was hit by a grenade in Baghdad, said she tries to honor her son by reaching out to other families of lost soldiers but still struggles with sorrow.

"It's been a long road," Smith said. "He was just a baby."

The military attempts to cushion the blows with "casualty assistance" officers assigned to each family, grief counseling, death benefits and college funds for children.

John Wood's family said the military support they received has made his loss at least bearable. Still, when Wood's 12-year-old son wanted to place a letter to his father inside his casket, but couldn't because it had been sealed to prevent a viewing of the badly damaged body parts, the pain was nearly too much.

"The cost is too high," said Wood's sister Shelley Cole. "I'm angry. I lost my brother over there. What it does to a family ... the cost is too high."
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The Blotter Saudis Planning to 'Clean up' al Qaeda in Anbar

The Blotter: "A Saudi intelligence official told ABC News that if his government decided, as King Abdullah has threatened, to help the Sunni community defend itself against Shia militias in Iraq, they would start by 'cleaning up' the volatile Anbar province of its al Qaeda networks."

"We will clean up Anbar village by village because we don't want them to have a rear base in Iraq to attack Saudi Arabia," says the source, who adds that Saudi intelligence has already laid out extensive networks in Anbar province, where a Sunni insurgency has gained a stronghold.

The Saudi security services share tribal affiliations with tribes from Yemen to Syria. They make extensive use of these links to exchange information, lay down intelligence networks and monitor the activities of al Qaeda in the region

A British intelligence source told ABC News that Saudi Arabia has always kept its tribal links to Iraq active, especially under Saddam Hussein, whose Baathist regime they considered a threat. Since 2003, Saudi intelligence has used these networks in Anbar to collect intelligence on al Qaeda's activities

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: Another Pathetic Fallacy

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: Another Pathetic Fallacy: "Lieberman said the senators met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and urged him to break his ties with Muqtada al-Sadr and disarm the anti-U.S. cleric's Mahdi Army militia, which has been blamed along with Sunni Arab insurgents for the sectarian violence and ruthless attacks on U.S. forces. "

Al-Sadr controls 30 of the 275 parliament seats and is a key figure in al-Maliki's coalition.

Lieberman said the delegation left its meetings with al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and other Iraqi officials believing "there is a force of moderates within the context of Iraqi politics coming together to strengthen the center here against the extremists."

He said the delegation was "quite explicit" about "how important it is that the Iraqis themselves begin to take aggressive action to disarm the militias, to stop the sectarian violence and to involve all the people in country to governance," including promised provincial elections." Yahoo News


More pathetic baloney. As usual, we Americans insist on believing that some individual bad person must be responsible for resistance to our enlightened ideas. We seem to think that this must be true since the masses "obviously" would favor what we want for them is they were allowed to accept our ideas by the bad people. The idea that these poor benighted foreigners might have seriously different plans for themselves is clearly beyond us.

Listen up. If you kill Muqtada al-Sadr and destroy his militia it WILL NOT stop the war among the peoples in what was Iraq. pl
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Top general: Army 'will break' without more troops

Top general: Army 'will break' without more troops - "WASHINGTON (AP) -- As President Bush weighs new strategies for Iraq, the Army's top general warned Thursday that his force 'will break' without thousands more active duty troops and greater use of the reserves."

Noting the strain put on the force by operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the global war on terrorism, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said he wants to grow his half-million-member Army beyond the 30,000 troops already added in recent years.

Though he didn't give an exact number, he said it would take significant time and commitment by the nation, noting some 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be added per year. (Watch why one former adviser thinks more troops and new commanders are in order )

Officials also need greater authority to tap into the National Guard and Reserve, long ago set up as a strategic reserve but now needed as an integral part of the nation's deployed forces, Schoomaker told a commission studying possible changes in those two forces.

The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves next spring is expected to recommend policy and budget changes for reserve units.

"Over the last five years, the sustained strategic demand ... is placing a strain on the Army's all-volunteer force," Schoomaker told the commission in a Capitol Hill hearing.

"At this pace ... we will break the active component" unless more reserves can be called up to help, Schoomaker said in prepared remarks.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Schoomaker said Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, is looking at several military options for the war, including shifting many troops from combat missions to training Iraqi units. However, Schoomaker said, the military is more interested in getting the Iraqi security forces up to speed than anything.

Above all else, the military is looking at "how we generate Iraqi output," he said. (Watch one top Democrat call for putting more pressure on the Iraqis )

The Army in recent days has been looking at how many additional troops could be sent to Iraq, if the president decides a surge in forces would be helpful. But, officials say, only about 10,000 to 15,000 troops could be sent and an end to the war would have to be in sight because it would drain the pool of available soldiers for combat.

Further, many experts warn, there is no guarantee a surge would settle the violence.

"We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker told reporters. "And that purpose should be measurable."

Schoomaker's comments come as Bush continues his assessment of the Iraq war. Bush held three days of urgent meetings with top generals and other advisers. Over that time, Bush gathered advice from former and current commanders, including those in Iraq, as well as chiefs of the military services and other top Pentagon leaders.

He even heard from outside advisers who suggested he remove Marine Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to an official familiar with the meeting who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.

But Bush made it clear he will not map out a new war strategy until his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, has taken over and offered his counsel. (Watch how Bush is being told to "go big or get out" )
'Stakes are too high'

The president said he would present his plans for a "new way forward" in Iraq early next year, while continuing to support the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose ability to forge a viable governing coalition is questioned privately by some administration officials.

"The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists who want to do the American people and the Iraqi people harm," Bush said Wednesday, after a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gates.

White House spokesman Tony Snow declined to characterize Bush's response to Schoomaker's suggestion, but said Bush "takes seriously any of the requests from the service branch chiefs."

Bush's public effort to recalibrate the war effort comes with growing public pressure generated by the November elections that put Democrats in control of Congress and led to Rumsfeld's ouster.

But none of his comments sounded like a prelude to withdrawing a substantial number of U.S. troops over the coming year, as was recommended by the Iraqi Study Group, a bipartisan commission that has studied war options since March.

A number of administration officials have suggested privately that -- while Bush has considered the possibility of a short-term troop increase -- there is no consensus from the military on the wisdom of injecting a large number of additional troops.

Another option under discussion is increasing the number of U.S. troops who are placed inside Iraqi army and police units as advisers, providing a kind of on-the-job training that the senior military spokesman in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, told reporters is already paying notable dividends.

The military has said that any adjustments in troop levels would be fruitless without accompanying improvements on the political and economic fronts, to reconcile the rival sectarian factions and to put young people to work.

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, meanwhile, called on the Bush administration to set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. At a news conference in Washington, al-Hashemi, a Sunni leader who met with Bush earlier this week, said the timetable should be "flexible" and depend on development of a capable Iraqi security force. (Watch how a balance of power is integral to success in Iraq )

"You've done your job," the vice president said at the United States Institute of Peace, a U.S.-financed think tank.

Currently, however, he said, "There is across-the-board chaos in my country," with roaming bands of murderers.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

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Joint Chiefs Advise Change In War Strategy -

Joint Chiefs Advise Change In War Strategy - "The nation's top uniformed leaders are recommending that the United States change its main military mission in Iraq from combating insurgents to supporting Iraqi troops and hunting terrorists, said sources familiar with the White House's ongoing Iraq policy review.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney met with the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday at the Pentagon for more than an hour, and the president engaged his top military advisers on different options. The chiefs made no dramatic proposals but, at a time of intensifying national debate about how to solve the Iraq crisis, offered a pragmatic assessment of what can and cannot be done by the military, the sources said."

The chiefs do not favor adding significant numbers of troops to Iraq, said sources familiar with their thinking, but see strengthening the Iraqi army as pivotal to achieving some degree of stability. They also are pressing for a much greater U.S. effort on economic reconstruction and political reconciliation.

Sources said that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is reviewing a plan to redefine the American military mission there: U.S. troops would be pulled out of Iraqi cities and consolidated at a handful of U.S. bases while day-to-day combat duty would be turned over to the Iraqi army. Casey is still considering whether to request more troops, possibly as part of an expanded training mission to help strengthen the Iraqi army.

The recommendations Casey is reviewing to overhaul the military mission were formulated by Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the outgoing top U.S. ground commander, officials said. The plan positions the U.S. military to be able to move swiftly to a new focus on training, one of the key recommendations from several reviews of U.S. strategy, including from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Under the plan developed by Chiarelli's staff, the military would shift about half of its 15 combat brigades away from battling insurgents and sectarian violence and into training Iraqi security forces as soon as the spring of 2007, military and defense officials said. In northern and western Iraq, U.S. commanders are already moving troops out of combat missions to place them as advisers with lower-level Iraqi army units, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the military in Iraq, said yesterday at a briefing in Baghdad.

Administration officials stressed that Bush, under pressure from Congress and the electorate to abandon the United States' open-ended commitment, has made no final decisions on how to proceed in Iraq. But the new disclosures suggest that military planning is well underway for a major change from an approach that has assigned the bulk of responsibility for security in Iraq to more than 140,000 U.S. troops.

The chiefs also want to see a new push on political and economic issues, especially employment programs, reconstruction and political reconciliation, to help quell the problems that have fueled both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite-Sunni sectarian strife, say defense officials and U.S. military officers in Iraq. A new jobs program is considered key to pulling young men from the burgeoning militias.

Pentagon chiefs think that there is no purely military solution for Iraq and that, without major progress on the political and economic fronts, the U.S. intervention is simply buying time, the sources said. They particularly want to see U.S. pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents, approve constitutional amendments promised to the Sunni minority, pass laws to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue, and modify the ban on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party taking government positions.

Bush alluded to this proposition when he met briefly with reporters after his meeting at the Pentagon. "Our military cannot do this job alone," he said. "Our military needs a political strategy that is effective."

But Bush also showed no sign that he is retreating from his basic proposition that the U.S. military must be engaged in Iraq for some time. "If we lose our nerve, if we're not steadfast in our determination to help the Iraqi government succeed, we will be handing Iraq over to an enemy that would do us harm," he said, adding that he would not be "rushed" into a decision.

Bush has been intensely involved with reviewing his options on Iraq this week, meeting on Monday with officials at the State Department and talking by videoconference on Tuesday with his commanders in Iraq. One senior administration official said last night that the situation is "fluid" and described Bush as especially mindful of the need to integrate military and political strategies.

But as the sources described yesterday, the military planning in both Washington and Baghdad is far along, in some ways tracking the ideas presented last week by the Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former U.S. representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), for instance in the emphasis on reshaping the U.S. military mission to focus on training and advising.

Thousands of U.S. combat troops in Iraq would become embedded advisers with Iraqi security forces.

About 4,000 U.S. troops are now serving on 11-person military training teams embedded with Iraqi forces. The new plan would add 30 troops to each team, allowing them to provide supervision and mentoring down to the level of Iraqi army companies -- a step seen as critical to bolstering Iraqi units and preventing sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, the remaining seven to eight brigades of U.S. combat forces would focus on three core missions: striking al-Qaeda, strengthening security along Iraq's borders, and protecting major highways and other routes to ensure U.S. forces freedom of movement in Iraq.

The plan would not allow for any major reduction in U.S. troops in Iraq over the next year -- nor would it call for any surge in troops, as some, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have advocated.

The Pentagon chiefs also are urging that any new strategy be sensitive to regional context, particularly the impact of political or military decisions. They are concerned that any decision to effectively throw U.S. support to the Shiite majority may lead Sunni governments in the region to take a more active role in supporting Sunni insurgents. But they are also concerned that a crackdown on Iraq's largest Shiite militia, the Mahdi army, may have repercussions on Iran's actions in Iraq, say officials familiar with the ongoing review.

A constant subtext in the meeting yesterday, and in the ongoing White House review, is the Joint Chiefs' growing concern about the erosion of the U.S. military's ability to deal with other crises around the world because of the heavy commitment in Iraq and the stress on troops and equipment, said officials familiar with the review. The chiefs planned to tell Bush of the significantly increased risk to readiness in the event of a new emergency, rather than push for a timeline to leave Iraq.

Staff writers Michael Abramowitz, Thomas E. Ricks and Josh White contributed to this report.

Police: Gunmen Kidnap Dozens in Baghdad

Police: Gunmen Kidnap Dozens in Baghdad - "BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Gunmen in military uniforms kidnapped dozens of people Thursday from a commercial area in central Baghdad, police said.

The attackers drove up to the busy al-Sanak area in about 10 sport utility vehicles and began rounding up shop owners and bystanders. Two police officers said 50 to 70 people were abducted."

The assault came nearly a month after gunmen in Interior Ministry commando uniforms abducted scores of men from a Higher Education Ministry office building.

The Education Ministry is predominantly Sunni Arab. About half of the victims were released. Al-Sanak is an area of stores selling auto parts, small power generators and agricultural equipment.

The stores are owned by a mix of Shiites, Sunnis and others, and it was not immediately clear why it was targeted.

Victims in previous mass kidnappings have been rounded up, with those belonging to one or the other Islamic sect later released. Mohammed Qassim Jassim, a 37-year-old owner of a clothes store in the area, said the attack started about 11 a.m.

"We heard cars and shootings in the area and then we saw gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms and driving SUVs who were snatching people from the shops and street. It took like 20 minutes for them to fan out and control the area," he said.

[bth: so where were the police or the iraqi army or the Americans when this was going on for 20 minutes? With every household with an AK47 why wasn't there a massive resistance from the merchants?]
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Is America's Dominance Waning? - Newsweek Robert Samuelson

Is America's Dominance Waning? - Newsweek Robert Samuelson - "Dec. 13, 2006 - With hindsight, we may see 2006 as the end of Pax Americana. Ever since World War II, the United States has used its military and economic superiority to promote a stable world order that has, on the whole, kept the peace and spread prosperity. But the United States increasingly lacks both the power and the will to play this role. It isn't just Iraq, though Iraq has been profoundly destabilizing and demoralizing. Many other factors erode U.S. power: China's rise; probable nuclear proliferation; shrinking support for open trade; higher spending for Social Security and Medicare that squeezes the military, and the weakness of traditional U.S. allies, Europe and Japan."

By objective measures, Pax Americana's legacy is enormous. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear device has been used in anger. In World War II, an estimated 60 million people died. Only three subsequent conflicts have had more than a million deaths (Vietnam, 1.9 million; Korea, 1.3 million; and China's civil war, 1.2 million), reports the Center for International Development & Conflict Management at the University of Maryland. Under the U.S. military umbrella, democracy flourished in Western Europe and Japan. It later spread to South Korea, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. In 1977, there were 89 autocratic regimes in the world and only 35 democracies, the center estimates. In 2005, there were 88 democracies and 29 autocracies.

Prosperity has been unprecedented. Historian Angus Maddison tells us that from 1950 to 1998 the world economy expanded by a factor of six. Global trade increased 20 times. These growth rates were well beyond historic experience. Living standards exploded. Since 1950, average incomes have multiplied about 16 times in South Korea, 11 times in Japan and six times in Spain, reports Maddison. From higher bases, the increases were nearly five times in Germany, four in France and three in the United States.

It is fatuous to think all this would have occurred spontaneously. Since the Marshall Plan, the United States has been a stabilizing influence—albeit with lapses (the Vietnam War, the 1970s inflation, now Iraq). Aside from security, it provided a global currency, the dollar. It championed lower tariffs and global investment, which transferred technology and management skills around the world. It kept its markets open. It's doubtful that any other major country would have tolerated present U.S. trade deficits (now approaching $800 billion) without imposing pervasive import restrictions.

To Americans, the lesson of World War II was that, to prevent a repetition, the United States had to promote global stability. It had to accept short-term costs and burdens to avoid larger long-term costs and burdens. But the triumphalism following the cold war fed overconfidence. Pax Americana would continue forever. It was "the end of history''—democracy and free markets would spread. The United States was a "hyperpower.''

The flaw in all this theorizing was to mistake strength for power. Statistically, the United States remains the world's strongest nation. Its economy is the wealthiest, triple the size of Japan's. Its all-volunteer military is the best trained and most technologically advanced. "No other state is building nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, stealth fighters or unmanned aerial vehicles,'' writes Max Boot, author of "War Made New.'' The United States has 12 carriers; Britain, the runner-up, has three smaller carriers.

The trouble is that strength—measurable and impressive—does not translate directly into power. Power is the ability to get others to do what you want. Here, America is weaker.

Iraq has reminded us that religious and ethnic loyalties dim the appeal of democracy, freedom and materialism. Militarily, "asymmetrical threats'' often neutralize conventional advantages, as Boot notes. Iraq has confirmed that, too. If Iran and North Korea become permanent nuclear powers, the U.S.
military edge will decline further. Any action against either country would be tempered by the possibility of a nuclear exchange. Worse, other regional powers (Japan, South Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) may decide to go nuclear to have deterrence. A black market in atomic technology would almost inevitably follow—increasing the odds of terrorists acquiring a bomb.

The end of the cold war probably reduced, not increased, American power. Without the Soviet threat, Europe and Japan felt less reason to follow U.S. leadership. China's emergence is altering the world balance. In spirit, its economic policies are mercantilist. It subsidizes its exports with an artificially low exchange rate; it is seeking captive oil supplies. China's policies are for China, not a stable world order.

America won't retire from the world stage, but how active it will be is unclear. Iraq has reduced national confidence and credibility. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending are already twice defense spending. Generational attitudes are shifting. A poll of 18- to 24-year-olds finds that 72 percent don't think the United States should take the lead in solving global crises, reports Paul Starobin in National Journal. "Today's 18-year-old college freshman was still in diapers when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989,'' he writes. There's little memory of the cold war, let alone World War II.

Given the rampant anti-Americanism abroad today, the fading of Pax Americana may inspire much glee. The United States is widely regarded as an arrogant source of instability, blamed for many global woes—from greenhouse gases to Islamic militancy to unpopular globalization. No one can know what will replace Pax Americana, but with time, the people who now celebrate its decline may conclude that its failures were mainly those of good intentions and that its successes were unwisely taken for granted.
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Democrats Plan to Take Control of Iraq Spending

Democrats Plan to Take Control of Iraq Spending - New York Times: "WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 — Frustrated by the Bush administration’s piecemeal financing of the Iraq war, Democrats are planning to assert more control over the billions of dollars a month being spent on the conflict when they take charge of Congress in January.

In interviews, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees said they would demand a better accounting of the war’s cost and move toward integrating the spending into the regular federal budget, a signal of their intention to use the Congressional power of the purse more assertively to influence the White House’s management of the war.

The lawmakers, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, said the administration’s approach of paying for extended military operations and related activities through a series of emergency requests had inhibited Congressional scrutiny of the spending and obscured the true price of the war.

“They have been playing hide-the-ball,” Mr. Conrad said, “and that does not serve the Congress well nor the country well, and we are not going to continue that practice.”

Mr. Spratt, who along with Mr. Conrad is examining how the Democratic Congress should funnel the war spending requests through the House and Senate, said, “We need to have a better breakout of the costs — period.” He is planning hearings for early next year on the subject even as the White House readies a new request for $120 billion or more to pay for the war through Sept. 30, in addition to the more than $70 billion in emergency appropriations already spent this year.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spending on the military outside of the regular budget process, primarily for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has totaled more than $400 billion. For the 12 months ended Sept. 30, spending on the Iraq war alone ran at an average rate of $8 billion a month, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.

Congressional control over the money for the war is one of the most powerful weapons Democrats will have in trying to influence administration policy toward Iraq. They can use both the budget and subsequent spending bills to impose restrictions on how the money is spent and demand more information from the White House.

While the leadership has repeatedly said it will not cut off money for military operations, senior Democratic officials said lawmakers were considering whether to add conditions to spending bills to force the administration to meet certain standards for progress or change in Iraq. Democrats have also said they intend to investigate spending and suspicions of corruption, waste and abuse in Iraq contracting.

Since the beginning of the war, the White House has said that costs should be considered outside the routine federal budget because they are unpredictable and military demands can change quickly.

Republicans have also said that wars have traditionally been treated as emergency spending, but the costs of the extended Vietnam War, for instance, were eventually absorbed into the normal budget.

But Mr. Bush has decided not to include the costs of the war in the budget request he sends to Congress each February. The Republican Congress has acceded to his request that money be appropriated for the conflict on an expedited, as-needed basis that sidesteps much of the process by which the House and Senate normally debate spending priorities.

But the newly completed report of the Iraq Study Group stated that the “costs for the war in Iraq should be included in the president’s annual budget request,” beginning with the budget to be submitted early next year.

In addition, a little noticed provision added to a defense policy measure signed into law by Mr. Bush in October directed him to include in his budget a request for appropriations for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimate of all money expected to be required for the year, and a detailed justification of the request.

“The law requires that it be done,” Mr. Conrad said, adding that he had told the incoming defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, that the administration must change its budgeting strategy.

But Sean Kevelighan, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration’s view was that Congress could not “bind how the president wants to put together the budget,” though he said the administration was trying to provide more information for Congress and moving toward a more regular budget plan.

“It is obviously difficult to predict the cost of the war 12 to 18 months out,” Mr. Kevelighan said. “But our goal is to provide more information to the American people as to how much, for what and when.”

Both Republicans and Democrats have objected to the administration’s refusal to add the war costs to the budget, particularly when the conflict has lasted almost four years. “It is hard to comprehend with an ongoing event like the war that there wouldn’t be something on it in the budget,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader.

In June, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a proposal by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, to require the president to spell out the expected war costs in his annual spending plan. At the time, some lawmakers expected that the provision would be eliminated from the final measure, but it survived and could be held up by Democrats as evidence that the administration was ignoring the law if it failed to comply.

Lawmakers have several objections to treating the war spending as a continuous emergency, which typically sends the request straight to the Appropriations Committee and bypasses the more policy-oriented Armed Services Committees. Mr. Spratt said he believed that the policy panels tended to give such requests a “closer scrub” than the appropriations panels.

Others say the emergency measures, known as supplemental appropriation requests, can become vehicles for lawmakers to win speedy approval of their own, unrelated pet projects. Members of Congress say the Pentagon has also increasingly seen the war measures as a route to winning financing for projects that should be subject to normal review. And there are complaints that the administration’s approach masks the true cost of the war by not providing a clear bottom line number and by not calculating such related expenses as increased veterans care and military equipment.

“We are now going on four years into this war and they are still funding it with these patchwork supplementals without oversight and without accountability,” Mr. Conrad said, “and that just has to stop.”

But adding the war costs to the annual budget could carry risks for Democrats who want to write a spending plan that meets their priorities but eliminates the deficit in five years or so. Adding the war spending at the same time Democrats want to enforce “pay as you go” budget rules would require some of that spending to be made up by reductions elsewhere.

And if Mr. Bush’s budget does not contain the spending and the Congressional plan does, the president’s blueprint could look better by comparison when it comes to deficit reduction. In addition, budget writers do not want Pentagon spending inflated by the war to become a permanent new floor for the military budget.