State of the Union

Kids, get your feet off the SOFA!

In true Bush form, the administration has decided it is not going to let our elected officials actually see the draft security Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that lays out the conditions under which some 140,000 U.S troops and tens of thousands of American contractors can operate in Iraq beginning Jan.1. The agreement — contrary to the rosy picture offered by the press earlier this week — is still a source of grave tension in Iraq, evidenced by the brawl that shut down parliament yesterday.

Coming out of an election stupor in which many Americans were erroneously convinced that The Surge had transformed Iraq into a kind of benign third world landscape awash in wreckage but nonetheless “moving forward,” a lot of people won’t know or perhaps care, about the SOFA. They hardly know that, according to reports of journalists who have had the documents translated, that the Iraqis distrust us so much they are insisting we start getting out by June 2009, completely out by 2011 — including any “residual force” Obama was imagining during the campaign. They want limited jurisdiction to prosecute our troops and contractors for crimes and demand that our military ask permission before they arrest anyone or launch operations. Under no circumstances would the U.S allowed be to use Iraqi soil to launch attacks on another country, and permanent bases are out (somewhere, Richard Pearle is weeping).

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues the paternalistic approach. Elected officials charged with their constituents’ best interest have been kept entirely out of the loop. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — who Obama is apparently considering to keep on through next year — and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have been on the Hill “briefing” lawmakers in closed door sessions. Massachusetts Rep. Wiliam Delahunt told Voice of America News, “There has been no meaningful consultation with Congress during the negotiations of this agreement and the American people for all intents and purposes have been completely left out.”

Congress has been complaining about this for over a year. The Bush Administration just responds in typical fashion — by ignoring them. And by lobbing gems such as these:

The Pentagon’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said that American commanders were satisfied with the conditions set in the agreement, including deadlines for withdrawal and constraints on operations.

“I’m not going to get into this — the specifics of this — other than to say that how this agreement is implemented will be worked out between our commanders on the ground and the Iraqi leadership,” he said. “And both seem to be very confident that it provides the framework for them to continue to do all that still needs to be done.”

So just get back to your shopping, leave the big stuff to us. Pathetically, there is a much more open and vigorous debate going on in the Iraqi parliament about the fate of our forces. Perhaps after Jan. 20, when Congress can finally get out from the kids’ table, they can get back to doing the peoples’ business.

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Who Needs Pompey When You’ve Got Erik Prince?

With their prospects for fleecing the U.S government in Iraq beyond 2009 drying up, Blackwater Worldwide is diversifying like mad. First it was flying spy machines, today it’s angling to train soldiers in Darfur and providing sellswords for international shipping companies trying to avoid pirates on the high seas. With a federal murder indictment over the slaying of 17 unarmed Iraqis looming and a reputation for using excessive force, gouging Uncle Sam, and flouting the law, one would think Blackwater would have a credibility problem.

Not when you have the best political connections and lobbyists money can buy — don’t forget John McCain’s own chief strategist Charlie Black was once hired to coach CEO Erik Prince before he testified before congress — plus free advertising with military news outlets and gushing conservative media. Yes, Prince and his little start-up-that-could are well on their way to riding the Global War on Terror gravy train for all it’s worth.

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Change we might believe in

Change we can believe in! Well, maybe a little bit. Washington feels very different. I’m sure there are a lot of things about the Obama administration I will hate. But, for a moment, let’s feel optimistic. Yesterday Trita Parsi’s National Iranian American Council held a big conference on how the new administration might approach Iran. Not at a hotel or think tank, but on the inside, in a beautiful room at Hart Senate Office building, overlooking the Capitol at sunset. Along with a lot of foreign policy realists and Iran experts (a diverse group, but none of the “bomb bomb bomb Iran” variety), there were wise addresses by Senator Arlen Specter, and Cong. John Tierney, as well as by by Sen. Thomas Carper. These guys aren’t necessarily completely on board with all the NIAC proposals but they all acknowledge that the Bush Cheney don’t talk to them and make lots of threats approach hasn’t been working. So yes, let’s talk to Iran. That Obama proposal that McCain (and Hillary too) tried to depict as naive and radical during the campaign is becoming mainstream thinking.

One sign of NIAC’s influence: I get email from a neocon organization that is always going on about how the Persians can’t wait to blow up the world. They were panicked by this meeting, sending out emails asking people to call their representatives in Congress to IGNORE its recommendations. Some of the beltway’s Iranian Chalabis tried  to get the meeting cancelled. Call Joe Lieberman’s office! Call Eric Cantor’s office! Make it stop!

But to no avail. Three hundred people, a classy room on top of Capitol Hill, an administration that wants to turn the page. Trita Parsi, author of a brilliant book (and a TAC contributor) and a lot of energetic young Iranian-American men and women, trying to get us into a new era. And Senators and Congressmen willing to listen. The new era can’t come soon enough.

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Pompey the Great Needed Urgently

While I normally think that armed intervention in other peoples’ quarrels generally turns out poorly, there are times when a little overwhelming force can be salutary.  The current situation with pirates operating freely out of Somalia, which has no effective government, begs for just such a solution.  The pirates use well established and well known bases along the coast.  The bases are heavily fortified but would stand no chance against a regular military and naval force.  In spite of their vulnerability, they have not been attacked or even seriously threatened. 

Under the later Roman Republic, the eastern Mediterranean was infested with pirates, many of whom operated out of Cilicia in Asia Minor.  Attempts to root them out failed because they would withdraw inland or move down the coast whenever Roman warships appeared, declining battle and living to fight another day.  In 67 BC Pompey was given an unprecedented mandate under the lex Gabinia to assemble a fleet and army to deal with the problem.  He divided the entire eastern Mediterranean into thirteen zones and sent a flotilla to each simultaneously so that the pirates would have nowhere to run to.  He landed marines at each pirate base to destroy the ships and fortifications, capturing and killing the pirates whenever possible.  Those who surrendered he resettled.  He ended the piracy problem in only three months and the Mediterranean remained pirate free until the turmoil of the late third century AD.  The downside was that the extraordinary command given to Pompey led to other extraordinary commands given to others, Julius Caesar included, which eventually resulted in the end of the Roman Republic.  I guess today we would call that blowback.

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Losing is great for business!

With an attitude like this, Rich Lowry should wish they elected Democrats more often:

““I’m excited about going forward,” Mr. Lowry said. “There’s a lot of gallows humor. Every conservative I talk to is saying: ‘This is going to be great for you guys. Circulation is going to go up.’ ”

This is from the New York Times article on the Frumpurge. And the numbers don’t lie either apparently.  Circulation went from 150,000 to 250,000 in a two-year period after Clinton got elected.

You hear such talk in the talk-radio biz as well. After all, Clear Channel didn’t sign Rush Limbaugh to an eight-year contract recently gambling on a McCain election. They know who butters their side of the bread.

So please, for their sake and that of all conservative media, Vote Democrat!

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Meet the New Gloss…

People who say ‘Where’s the change?’ need only look at the president of the United States . . . the person at the top who sets the tone and the priorities.”

Obama advisor Anita Dunn, regarding the prevalence of familiar Washington insiders in the incoming administration 

Update: Change in Action

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Dick Cheney Indicted

A Texas grand jury has indicted Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, and a Lone Star state senator for crimes involving the abuse of prisoners here in the U.S. From what we hear, this concerns a practice that has been called “domestic rendition,” though it doesn’t have anything (directly) to do with the war on terror. A TAC writer has been following this story closely but wasn’t aware — until now — that Cheney and Gonzales were in the line of fire. They are.

We’ll have much more on this in days and weeks to come…

Update: Some details from CNN. Cheney’s ties to the story look, to my non-lawyerly eyes at least, pretty thin, though Cheney’s holdings in the Vanguard Group only scratch the surface of his connections to private-prison industry. We’ll see  how things develop.

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Alan Keyes Strikes Back

Like a massively less successful version of the Clintons, Alan Keyes just never goes away. The perennial electoral failure–who got 35, 000 votes in this month’s contest, with the help of the Christian Falangist Party–and his America’s Independence Party are now suing President-elect Obama to prove his U.S. citizenship before January 20th. “I and others are concerned that this issue be properly investigated and decided before Senator Obama takes office,” says Sir Alan. “Otherwise there will be a serious doubt as to the legitimacy of his tenure. This doubt would also affect the respect people have for the Constitution as the supreme law of the land.”

A crazy spiteful act from an unhinged ego-maniac? No, no, no. Keyes simply wants the best for Obama and his country. “I hope the issue can be quickly clarified so that the new President can take office under no shadow of doubt. This will be good for him and for the nation,” he says.

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Anschluss 2008 As McCain-Obama Meet

The Obama team is taking shape and the new rainbow coalition will include maverick Republicans who see the light.  Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have already confirmed the same leadership team that lost earlier this month while the Great White Hope of the GOP is in Alaska writing her book, with a little help from her friends no doubt.  Hillary Clinton as Sec State?  Why not?  She and Rahm can sit down over a cup of capuccino to decide which axis of evil nation will be obliterated next.  Lieberman staying on at Homeland Security?  Jane Harman, Dennis Ross, and Anthony Lake also somewhere in the mix?  Guess it will be Iran’s turn before too long. 

Obama and Rahm met yesterday with John McCain and Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican of SC.  Graham said in advance that he welcomed the meeting as there are a number of areas – like immigration – where a constructive common agenda is possible.  One might think that since no one spoke about illegal immigration during the presidential campaign, it’s about time.  But McCain and Graham both support amnesty and easy entry into the US workforce, as does Obama, so there will be little to discuss except how exactly to foist the latest outrage on the American people.  Graham famously called opponents of the derailed Bush/McCain amnesty plan “bigots.” 

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Detroit First

Understandably, Republicans are seething.

When Hank Paulson demanded $700 billion to haul away the trash in the dumpsters of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs — assuring us we could hold a garage sale of the junk — they rebelled. They acted as the nation, by 100 to one, demanded. They killed the Wall Street bailout.

The Dow quickly sank another 1,000 points, and, charged with criminal irresponsibility by the elites, the GOP buckled, reversed itself, rescued the bailout — and was wiped out on Nov. 4.

Now we hear from Paulson that the $700 billion Congress voted will not, after all, be used to buy up all that rotten paper on the books of the big banks. Some banks are using the cash to buy other banks.

So Republicans are right to be enraged. They are victims of the biggest bait-and-switch in political history. But they are now about to do something terminally stupid. With GM, Ford, and Chrysler teetering on the brink, they are turning a cold stone face to Detroit and are about to follow the counsel of that quintessential Bushite Dick Darman, who said of our computer chip industry, “If our guys can’t hack it, let ‘em go.” Read More…

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