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CATEGORY: Middle East

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

Shocking information has come to light about the al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group Fatah al-Islam who have been battling the Lebanese army inside the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared for nearly 2 months. Ahmed Merie, a Lebanese citizen, testified before a military magistrate that he was a “liaison” between the terrorist group’s leader Shaker Abssi and Syria’s head of intelligence, General Asef Shawkat. Shawkat, a primary suspect in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, is President Bashar Assad’s brother in law and considered the second most powerful man in Syria.

The report appeared in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar.

Merie was arrested in a a Beirut hotel along with his brother Mohammad several weeks ago. His testimony also included some other eye openers:

  • Shawkat supplied a bomb maker to the terrorist group who taught them how to make explosive devices. Plans were afoot to bomb several targets including booby-trapped car attacks against several targets in Lebanon, two Beirut hotels frequented by personnel of the United Nations Interim, Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as well as some embassies and U.N. offices. Merie also testified that he got the bomb maker out of Lebanon and back to Syria.
  • Merie played a role in smuggling Iraqi, Tunisian and Saudi “jihadists” to Lebanon via Syria. One of the Saudis, Abdul Rahman al-Yahya, who goes by the code name of Abu Talha, was the chief financial backer of Fatah al-Islam, keeping Merie supplied with plenty of cash as he moved around Lebanon.
  • Merie gave up the names of four Fatah al-Islam terrorists responsible for gunning down Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel last November. This is the first solid connection between the killing of Gemayel and the Syrians.
  • Shawkat also supplied the group “significant support,” the nature of which was not disclosed. There has been some evidence – the Lebanese navy interception of fighters trying to make their way into Nahr al-Bared via the sea in small boats – that Syria has been attempting to resupply Fatah al-Islam during their battle with the Lebanese army.

The connection betwen Syria and Fatah al-Islam has been suspected from the beginning. Their leader, Shaker Abssi, spent three years in Syrian prison, serving time for planning terrorist attacks in that country. He was suddenly released in late 2006 and made his way immediately to northern Lebanon where he set up shop in Nahr al-Bared. Seemingly out of nowhere, in a matter of months he had recruited more than 300 fighters – many of them from foreign countries – and was training them at a compound in the refugee camp.

Merie’s testimony fills in some of the gaps about how the terrorist group got organized and supplied so quickly. Fatah al-Islam was deliberately planted in Lebanon to stir up trouble for the government of Prime Minister Siniora. But to what end?

Frequent American Thinker contributor and noted Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares had the answer last May. His dire predictions about this summer’s trouble in Lebanon are starting to come true:

Today’s clashes between the al Qaeda linked terror network and the Lebanese Army are a prelude to terror preparations aimed at crumbling the Cedars Revolution, both Government and civil society this summer. It is a move by the Assad regime to weaken the cabinet and the army in preparation for a greater offensive later on by Hizbollah on another front. In short the Damascus-Tehran strategic planners have unleashed this “local” al Qaeda group in Tripoli to drag the Lebanese cabinet in side battles, deflecting its attention from the two main events, highly threatening to Assad: One is the forthcoming UN formed Tribunal in the assassination case of Rafiq Hariri. The second is the pending deployment of UN units on the Lebanese-Syrian borders. Both developments can isolate the Syrian regime. Thus, the Fatah al Islam attacks can be perceived as part of a preemptive strategy by the Tehran-Damascus axis.

The al-Qaeda connection with Fatah al-Islam goes beyond Abssi being inspired by Osama Bin Laden’s idea of jihad. Abssi was condemned to death in absentia for his role in carrying out the murder of US envoy in Jordan Laurence Foley. He worked closely with the mastermind of that assassination, the now decased Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of al-Qadea in Iraq.

And Phares’ analysis proved extremely prescient in his pointing to the deployment of UNIFIL on the border between Syria and Lebanon as a red line for Assad. In the United Nations today, the US told the Security Council that there was “clear evidence” of Syrian arms transfers across the border. The UN appointed team that assessed border security between Syria and Lebanon stated flatly that security was too lax to prevent arms smuggling.

In order to intimidate UNIFIL, there have been two attacks on the peacekeepers now – including the detonation of a roadside bomb today in which no one was hurt – that are also designed to set up a “second front” against the Siniora government in southern Lebanon in an attempt to further destabilize the country. (Six peacekeepers were killed last month in car bomb attack.) The recipients of these arms are not only Hezb’allah but also the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFFLP-GC). Their Commander, Ahmad Jabril, is closely allied with Syria and has operated from Syrian territory for years. Jabril’s group is being reinforced in order to possibly start trouble in some of the Palestinian refugee camps on the border between Syria and Lebanon as well as in the eastern Bekaa valley where the PFFLP-GC has made common cause with other extremist groups.

North, south, and east – Lebanon is being squeezed by Assad and his Iranian backers. Given that the political standoff between the Hezb’allah led opposition and the majority shows no signs of easing, it could very well be that the pressure being exerted by Assad on his tiny neighbor is reaching some kind of crescendo that has the potential to explode at any time.

By: Rick Moran at 5:25 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (9) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with U.S. Marine Convicted In Iraqi Man's Death...

Harry Reid wasn’t pulling any punches in this call to action on the Democrat’s Senate blog:

The high temperature in Baghdad today is 113 degrees. But our troops will wear their 100 pounds of gear and bravely go about the jobs that they are given. By nightfall, it is likely that some of them will die. It is certain that more will be wounded. The rest will end another day on foreign sand, not knowing when they will come home to American soil.

“Those 160,000 troops are heroes. Every single one of them. They are serving with courage despite enormous hardships and without even proper equipment. They are serving with courage despite a President who took us into war falsely, prematurely and recklessly. They are serving with courage despite a President who refused to form a coalition of nations to share their awful burden of sacrifice. They are serving with courage despite a President who has never had a plan for peace. And they are serving with courage despite Republicans in Congress who are blocking us from passing laws that will bring a responsible end to the war.

(Italicized portions could have been lifted from 10,000 blog posts and Democratic campaign speeches over the last 4 years. Ed.)

“I want everyone here tonight – every American from coast to coast – to know that we won’t stop fighting until we end this war. That is what this night is all about.

Elegant, symmetrical, logical – and utterly false. Does Harry think people have forgotten that our boys sat in the desert for nearly 5 months waiting on the UN, waiting on our allies, waiting on Saddam to simply comply with one – just one – of the 11 Security Council resolutions passed in the previous ten years? Bush didn’t “refuse” to form a coalition. That would have meant that others offered to help and he turned them down. Or that he didn’t ask our allies for help. Nothing of the sort happened, of course, which makes Harry Reid a bald faced liar about that and other facets of his rewritten history. I will have to congratulate him for condensing The Narrative into two or three paragraphs of pungent, if overwrought prose. And, of course, it is to one end only that all of this hysteria is being ginned up.

Ending the war is easy, Harry. The hard part is answering the question then what?

Despite warnings of catastrophe in Iraq if we pull out precipitously from just about every analyst who has bothered to look at the problem of our disengagement – good, smart people from both parties and both ends of the political spectrum – the Democrats insisted on going to the mattresses last night in their war against a man that they have allowed their hate and loathing to overtake any semblance of common sense and patriotism.

And lest anyone think the Democrats “changing course” in Iraq means that they have a plan to end the war, here’s Senator Levin on that subject:

Does Congress pass legislation to instruct the President on the details of a withdrawal? Do they dictate terms on how to involve NATO or other allies? Or even on how to negotiate with Iran and Syria over the withdrawal? And what if something happens to U.S. troops during the pullout or Iraq rapidly plunges into a bloody civil war as U.S. troops are leaving? Who is to blame? Bush? Congress?

“Those are not decisions that I’m either going to make, or get involved with,” Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Carl Levin told TIME. “Assuming everything worked out perfectly, that’s the middle of next year, that’s early next year, so that’s not something that’s we’re focusing on.”

In other words, folks, last night was not about policy. It was not about loving the troops so much you want to bring them home. It was not about any concern whatsoever for Iraq and what would happen if we leave – even in an orderly manner.

Last night was about the politics of blame pure and simple. It was about the Democrats being terrified that caving in to their base on Iraq and bringing the troops home in a Dunkirk style evacuation will precipitate a chain of events in Iraq and the Middle East that would result in genocide, war, and al-Qaeda triumphant.

Being politicians with finely honed instincts for survival and with absolutely no clue about what to do in Iraq (join the club, guys), they seek to shift responsibility for the coming catastrophe precipitated by our withdrawal and all the blunders, errors, mistakes, and stupidities that have marked our adventure in Mesopotamia these last 4 years in order to be able to face the voters and point the finger at their political foes.

This will no doubt serve the purpose of getting them re-elected. And it will also probably serve to increase their numbers substantially when Congress convenes in January of 2009.

But at what price? Remember, the Democrats do not have a plan, do not have a clue on what to do next in Iraq. The “timetable” is a smokescreen. They no more expect Bush to meet that timetable than they do pigs to fly. It is political gamesmanship, nothing more.

Meeting this timetable would lead to rivers of blood being spilled. Bush won’t do it which is great political news for the Democrats. Just think of all the opportunities they will have between now and the election to get up on the floor of the House or Senate and rail against the President and Republicans for not meeting their demands to “end the war.” The Democrats no more want to end the war than al-Qaeda does. “Ending the war” now wouldn’t end anything in Iraq. It would only be the beginning – and Democrats want to be absolutely certain that the resulting chaos and destruction leaves them lily white and blameless.

I suppose it’s too much to ask politicians to put the needs of the country first and their careers and party subservient to that. But one would think that when it comes to confronting the truly great issues of our time, politicians would act like leaders and not screaming infants who have wet their pants or worse, juveniles on a playground sticking out their tongues at one another, trying to shift blame for starting a fight to the other kid.

In the meantime, the Administration remains committed to giving General Petraeus until September to make things better in Iraq. A tall order, that. The Iraqi Parliament, charged with nothing less than saving their country from a bloodbath by coming to grips with issues of power sharing, reconciliation, and political salvation, have decided that August in Bagdad is much to hot and will go into recess in order to cool off.

No word on how our boys, humping 100 pounds of gear in 130 degree heat, risking their lives to give the Iraqi government a chance to deal with its problems might feel about Iraqi parliamentarians taking a break to go to the beach in Dubai. Perhaps we should give them a vacation too. They’ve earned it a helluva lot more than the faithless Iraqi government whose intransigence on every single political issue vitally necessary to bringing their country together is making Petreaus and our boys work themselves to exhaustion for nothing.

Eventually, the Democrats will win out and they’ll get their timetable. And that’s when the pressure from the netnuts will really begin. Democrats will be forced to try and hold Bush’s feet to the fire on sticking to the evacuation while all hell is breaking loose in Iraq. This will give the Democrats additional opportunities to posture. We’ll have more votes about funding the war with more direction from Congress about how to skedaddle in the face of al-Qaeda terrorism and attacks. And the closer to the election, they more strident and unreasonable they will become.

That is, until a Democrat is elected President. Then the calls for bi-partisan unity will ring from the Capitol Dome and all will be peace and harmony. Perhaps they can all get a head start and do that “bi-partisan unity” thing starting now.

Fat chance.

By: Rick Moran at 7:29 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (22)

Can't See the Center >> What's the hurry? linked with What's the hurry?...

If you believe the left-wing Guardian, the Administration pendulum on Iran has swung back toward taking military action before Bush leaves office. The villain? Dick Cheney of course:

The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.

The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: “Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo.”

The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

The story bases its conclusions on mostly anonymous sourcing. The problem with doing that was made amply clear last week as several reports by the media regarding an imminent Administration turn on Iraq toward withdrawal using unnamed sources proved to be absolutely bogus when President Bush came out on Friday saying he was contemplating no such thing.

But there is little doubt that the Cheney faction is putting tremendous pressure on the President to take out Iran’s nuclear program prior to their leaving office in 2009. The reasoning mentioned in the article better be made up by some lefty Guardian reporter because if it isn’t, it would constitute an arrogance beyond anything shown so far by the Bushies:

The Washington source said Mr Bush and Mr Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively. They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

“The red line is not in Iran. The red line is in Israel. If Israel is adamant it will attack, the US will have to take decisive action,” Mr Cronin said. “The choices are: tell Israel no, let Israel do the job, or do the job yourself.”

They don’t “trust” any potential successors to “deal with Iran decisively?” I can’t begin to tell you how offensive that idea is – not to mention its raw stupidity. The world may look a lot different to a new President on January 20, 2009 than it does to Dick Cheney and his advisers today or even next year.. And any military action taken against Iran next year – which is the current timetable – will mean that Cheney and Bush’s successor will be reaping the bulk of the whirlwind sown by the current Administration following any massive attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

And make no mistake. That “whirlwind” will be the mother of all blowbacks. We’ve been over and over the downside to attacking Iran so repeating the enormous cost to the United States and perhaps the west would be redundant punditry.

This is not to say that absorbing such a hit may not be necessary and that bombing the Iranian nuclear sites should not be done under any circumstances. There are few things in this world that would be more inimicable to American interests than Iran with nuclear weapons. The question has never been if that would be bad for America because even some lefties think it would be. The question has always been would the advantages in bombing Iran outweigh the disadvantages. And as far as I’m concerned, at this moment the scales tip toward negotiations and sanctions rather than war.

That’s because despite what Cheney and Bush want as far as “dealing” with Iran before they bid farewell to Washington, we still have time to head off the prospect of Iranian bomb making. To do so would require some tough diplomacy and even tougher work at the United Nations. But it can be done if we have the patience and the will to do so.

Iran’s construction of a bomb is not by any stretch of the imagination “imminent.” Dr. Jeffrey Hart of Arms Control Wonk explains why. Right now, the Iranians have installed and are operating around 2000 centrifuges at their main enrichment facility at Nantanz. But what does that mean as far as their ability to construct a nuclear device:

Iran could, with the current 1,968 centrifuges operating at 1.5-2.0 kg SWU per year and assuming 4.8 t SWU/a to produce 25 kg of 90 percent HEU, produce a significant quantity of HEU in 14-19 months or, say, September 2008-February 2009. (Readers might want to double check that calculation.)

But the “general view” of the IC is still—at least as of June 2007—2010-2015.

That’s odd, isn’t it?

One explanation is that the IC must believe Iran is going to, or has, run into some substantial operational barrier—maybe those Iranian manufactured components and/or UF6 feedstock really do suck ball bearings—that could add a year or more to the estimates.

That might explain the IC sticking by the 2010-2015 estimates, as well as the recent slowdown from Iran’s crash installation period this spring. For example, “a senior European official” told WaPo’s Robin Wright “They’ve committed down a road to expand as quickly as possible. But Iran won’t be the first to discover that it does happen to be rocket science, and development has its peaks and troughs.”

I had earlier noted that IAEA officials said Iran had enough good imported components 1,000-2,000 centrifuges, so that we would have to wait for evidence that Iran could get over 2,000. Stilll waiting, I guess.

Or, maybe, Iran may simply be attempting—as David Albright suggested—to learn to operate the centrifuges installed, rather than building more.

Or, maybe, Iran just wanted to create facts on the ground (underground, actually), avoid new sanctions and, perhaps, cut a deal.

The Iranians have experienced problems in mastering centrifuge technology, not unsurprising given the engineering tolerances involved in getting so many machines to work in synchronization. And as Hart points out, their supply of yellowcake may be deficient. And besides all of this, they have yet to enrich uranium beyond the 3-5% range although ratcheting up their enrichment process to achieve the 85% threshold to make a bomb would simply be a matter of time, not technology.

Even if the Iranians overcome all the technical challenges posed by enrichment, they still have to build a bomb. And you just don’t go to your local library and find a workable bomb design. Just ask the North Koreans whose “test” last summer was almost certainly a nuclear “fizzle” due to poor design. Unless they’ve purchased a tried and tested bomb design from A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist who ran a nuclear convenience store, supplying expertise and technology to Iran back in the mid ‘90’s (or somewhere else), you must add another 6-9 months to any timetable to Iranian nuclear capability.

Time is the key. We still have it if we’re willing to use it constructively to put pressure on the Iranians to come to an agreement about enrichment. With adequate safeguards and monitoring by the IAEA, it would be possible to keep the Iranian nuclear program peaceful.

The uncertainty of the moment however, makes Iran a very dangerous nation. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had some interesting thoughts in response to a question at a recent speaking engagement:

Secretary Gates: I think that the general view of American intelligence is that they would be in a position to develop a nuclear device, probably sometime in the period 2010, 2011 to 2014 or 2015. There are those who believe that that could happen much sooner, in late 2008 or 2009. The reality is because of the way that Iran has conducted its affairs, we really don’t know, and it puts a higher premium, it seems to me, on the international community coming together in terms of strengthening the sanctions on Iran so that they begin to face some serious tradeoffs—in terms of their economic well-being and their economic future—for having nuclear weapons. I don’t think anyone begrudges Iran the capacity to have peaceful nuclear power under proper safeguards and supervision. The key is whether they will have nuclear weapons.


Having to take care of this problem militarily is in no one’s interest, but it does put a premium on unanimity in the international community—and I would say especially in the U.N. Security Council—in terms of ratcheting up the pressure on the Iranians, not next year or the year after, but right now, in line with the uncertainty about when their capability actually will come online.

Wise words. He’s not downplaying the threat in the slightest and yet, Gates is pointing out an alternative to war. Given the immense downside to attacking Iran, it simply makes sense to follow the course laid out by Gates and supported by Secretary Rice while eschewing the arrogant belief by some in the Administration that only they have the cohones to deal with the mullahs effectively and that Clinton and Obama (two Democrats who have not taken the military option off the table with Iran) are weak sisters who would somehow allow a nuclear armed Iran to threaten the peace.

Of course, the 800 pound gorrilla in the room is Israel and what her plans might be. The Administration is correct in believing that any attack from Israel on Iran would be seen by the mullahs as an attack by the United States. But Israel herself is conflicted about starting a war with Iran. On the one hand, they realize the Iranians are an existential threat to the existence of the Jewish state. On the other hand, they also would experience a tremendous downside by attacking the Iranians. The Israelis are self confident enough about their relationship with the United States that they wouldn’t ask “permission” to bomb Iranian nuclear sites. But that’s not to say they wouldn’t consult us if they are seriously contemplating such a course of action.

It is impossible at this point to guess Jerusalem’s intent. But it should also be fixed in the minds of our policy makers that the clock ticking toward Iranian nuclear capability also may have an Israeli component. For unless we can convince the Iranians to agree on close monitoring and intrusive inspections of their nuclear program, it is more than likely that the Israelis will take matters into their own hands if they feel threatened and attack first.

That thought should be a goad to the international community to get busy and pass additional sanctions on Iran unless they cooperate in proving to the world that their nuclear program is peaceful. Given their past rhetoric on Israel, the burden is on them, not us and not the Israelis, to prove to the world that their program will not be used to create weapons of mass destruction that would threaten their neighbors – all of whom are US allies.

Yes we have time. But the clock is ticking and the world has a lot of work to do.


Allah has some sobering thoughts:

My feelings about another Bush-managed war are the same as Dennis Miller’s were in an old bit he used to do about Germany’s reunification: much like a Martin and Lewis reunion, he said, he wasn’t impressed with their previous work and wasn’t really looking forward to seeing any of the new sh*t. Hey, George: Let Fred handle it. Or, god forbid, a Democrat if it comes to that.

He also thinks the story is something of an invention by The Guardian. While that may be true, I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind where Cheney stands on Iran and that he won’t do his utmost to have his views prevail.

By: Rick Moran at 7:19 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (30)

Captain's Quarters linked with Military Solution Fof Iran?...
CATEGORY: Blogging

I am pleased to announce that I have joined the staff at The American Thinker as Associate Editor. My duties will be varied but I’ll mainly be working on The American Thinker Blog.

I’m honored that my friend Tom Lifson, Editor in Chief, chose me to assist him in running one of the finest on-line publications on the net. It should be a challenging and rewarding position.

By: Rick Moran at 5:25 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)


I don’t deliberately set out to anger you, oh gentle and discerning reader, but there are times after I read something about the war that spells out in excruciating detail the monumental problems facing the United States, our military, and especially the Iraqi government, that I can’t help wishing I could take some of you, grab you by the shoulders, and try and shake some sense into you.

If that sounds arrogant, I apologize. But since most conservative websites either refuse to examine some of these issues or are unaware of them or simply ignore them, I figure where else are you going to get the whole story? The MSM, mired in body count journalism won’t give it to you. Even lefty sites don’t bother to examine most of the problems facing us in Iraq. They’re too busy using the war as a political club to beat Republicans over the head or denigrate conservatives to care much what happens to the Iraqi people.

But you and I have come a long way with the people of Iraq. We cheered their first tentative steps toward democracy. We marvel at their courage as they daily face the blood and chaos fomented by both internal thugs and outside forces. But they have been ill-served by a leadership mired in sectarianism and paralyzed by division.

And the hell of it is, there’s precious little we can do to help.

To illustrate that point, allow me to quote extensively from a piece that appeared in the Boston Globe by Robert Malley and Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group. The ICG is one of those earnest left wing internationalist groups that churn out studies and papers about areas of the world in conflict. They play it mostly straight, politics wise – except regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where they have a decidedly anti-Israeli bias in my opinion. Having said that, they’ve got some pretty brilliant and experienced people who know their stuff that write for them which makes reading their analyses on Iraq a pre-requisite for understanding the conflict. Their insights into the sectarianism, the tribal squabbles, the shifting power centers all contribute to our understanding of the big picture.

They begin by looking past the surge:

TO IMAGINE what Baghdad will look like after the surge, there is no need to project far into the future. Instead, just turn to the recent past. Between September 2006 and March 2007, British forces conducted Operation Sinbad in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city. At first, there were signs of progress: diminished violence, criminality, and overall chaos. But these turned out to be superficial and depressingly fleeting. Only a few months after the operation came to an end, old habits resurfaced. Today, political tensions once again are destabilizing the city; relentless attacks against British forces have driven them off the streets; and the southern city is under the control of militias, more powerful and less inhibited than before.

Operation Sinbad, like the surge, was premised on belief that heightened British military power would help rout out militias, provide space for local leaders to rebuild the city, and ultimately hand security over to newly vetted and more professional Iraqi security forces. It did nothing of the sort. A military strategy that failed to challenge the dominant power structure and political makeup, no matter how muscular it was, simply could not alter the underlying dynamic: A political arena dominated by parties—those the British embraced, no less than those they fought—engaged in a bloody competition over power and resources.

So, what happened? While British forces were struggling to suppress the violence, the parties and organizations operating on the public scene never felt the need to modify their behavior. Militias were not defeated; they went underground or, more often, were absorbed into existing security forces. One resident after another told us they witnessed murders committed by individuals dressed in security force uniform. This, of course, with total impunity since the parties that infiltrate the security services also ensure that their own don’t get punished.

We’ve seen this same scenario being played out in Baghdad. Militias melt away or hide in plain sight as members of the security services. And despite a purge of 10,000 employees of the Interior Ministry suspected of ties to Iran as well as death squad activity, the Ministry is still a hotbed of sectarian violence. That’s because the Ministry oversees approximately a dozen different security forces and it is impossible to determine which ones have gone rogue. Forces to guard the oil fields and oil infrastructure, forces to guard prominent Iraqi politicians, forces connected with other ministries used mostly to protect civilian employees and headquarters buildings – all have been fingered at one time or another as carrying out death squad activities. And they do so usually with the assistance or tacit approval of the police who are also heavily infiltrated by militias. Purging the police units caught helping the death squads doesn’t seem to be to solving the problem.

And there are other parallels with Basra as well. Baghdad has many centers of power and like Basra, we appear not to be challenging the important ones. We’re sniping at the Mahdi Army by going after some of the top commanders who appear to be operating independently of Muqtada al-Sadr’s influence as well as targeting the Iranian trained Quds collaborators in the Iraqi police force. But that’s a drop in the bucket and we know it. This is why disarming the militias was included as a political benchmark to be carried out by the Iraqi government and not a military goal of the surge. How the influence of the militias is going to shake out after the surge is over will determine how much peace there will be in Baghdad.

And if you’re thinking about the Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) being able to do much good at rebuilding the country, here’s the British experience in Basra:

Likewise, little was done to rebuild the city. Instead, the leading parties maintained their predatory practices, scrambling to take advantage of available public resources, contracts, or jobs. Oil contraband is an open secret, acknowledged even by a fighter in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, who told us that “when Moqtada al-Sadr met with representatives . . . in Basra, he scratched his nose and said, ’ I smell the smell of gasoline’—his way of accusing his own representatives of smuggling oil.” Fadhila siphons diesel off at the source; others drill holes into pipelines. The public sector as a whole is rife with corruption—instance of mammoth-sized projects that have delivered virtually nothing are legion—malfeasance and partisan hiring.

In short, Operation Sinbad, at best, froze in place the existing situation and balance of power, creating an illusory stability that concealed a brutal and collective tug-of-war-in-waiting. Once the British version of the surge ebbed, the struggle reignited.

For Baghdad, the implications are as clear as they are ominous. Basra is a microcosm of the country as a whole, in its multiple and multiplying forms of violence. In the southern city, strife generally has little to do with sectarianism or anti-occupation resistance, both of which are far more prominent in the capital or Iraq’s center. Instead, it involves the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly are indistinguishable from political actors. This means that even should the armed opposition weaken, even should sectarian tensions abate, and even should the surge momentarily succeed, Basra’s fate is likely to be replicated throughout the country on a larger, more chaotic, and more dangerous scale.

If you’ve been reading this site for the last year or so, you know that the last sentence rings true. And given the fact that come March, the numbers of American troops will start declining (unless the Administration wants to extend the army’s tours again), the situation outlined above will present the Administration and the American people with a huge problem.

Iraq really has become the stickiest of tar babies; we can’t withdraw too precipitously, if at all and yet our military cannot do much of anything to help solve Iraq’s massive political, sectarian, and security problems. We are well and truly stuck. We can’t move forward and we can’t go back. Here’s American Ambassador Ryan Crocker:

“You can’t build a whole policy on a fear of a negative, but, boy, you’ve really got to account for it,” Mr. Crocker said Saturday in an interview at his office in Saddam Hussein’s old Republican Palace, now the seat of American power here. Setting out what he said was not a policy prescription but a review of issues that needed to be weighed, the ambassador compared Iraq’s current violence to the early scenes of a gruesome movie.

“In the States, it’s like we’re in the last half of the third reel of a three-reel movie, and all we have to do is decide we’re done here, and the credits come up, and the lights come on, and we leave the theater and go on to something else,” he said. “Whereas out here, you’re just getting into the first reel of five reels,” he added, “and as ugly as the first reel has been, the other four and a half are going to be way, way worse.”

That from our own Ambassador. I would guess that with talk like that, it will be impossible come September to maintain any political will in Congress to continue with the surge – especially since Crocker is already lowering the bar by dismissing benchmarks as a reasonable way to measure progress in Iraq:

The ambassador also suggested what is likely to be another core element of the approach that he and General Petraeus will take to the September report: that the so-called benchmarks for Iraqi government performance set by Congress in a defense authorization bill this spring may not be the best way of assessing whether the United States has a partner in the Baghdad government that warrants continued American military backing. “The longer I’m here, the more I’m persuaded that Iraq cannot be analyzed by these kind of discrete benchmarks,” he said.

After the Iraqi government drew up the first list of benchmarks last year, American officials used them as their yardstick, frequently faulting the Iraqis for failure to act on them, especially on three items the Americans identified as priorities: a new oil law sharing revenue between Iraq’s main population groups; a new “de-Baathification” law widening access to government jobs to members of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling party; and a law scheduling provincial elections to choose representative governments in areas where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are competing for power.

But Mr. Crocker said there were better ways to measure progress, including the levels of security across Iraq, progress in delivering basic services like electricity to the population, and steps by Iraqi leaders from rival groups to work more collaboratively.

I’m afraid this won’t sit well with Congress if Crocker and Petreaus abandon benchmarks as a gauge of Iraqi progress. I don’t believe Crocker understands how tenuous a thread the President is holding his war coalition together. He can have all the determination in the world to see the conflict through to some kind of solution we could live with. But it won’t matter if a dozen or Senators and a couple of dozen Congressmen abandon him on Iraq.

Greg Djerjian, war supporter and Bush booster when the war started, has been a gloomy voice on Iraq over the last 18 months. I think he nails it here:

For the grim realities are these: we are in a massive and exceedingly dangerous mess in Iraq, one where if we pull out precipitously, neighbors are likelier to come in full-bore, the civil war will turn even more brutal, and genocidal actions on a scale not yet seen since the American invasion could result. Meantime, it is crystal-clear, given these stakes, that an immediate withdrawal is not going to happen, even if you think it’s, all told, the wisest course, as no consensus can be built around such a policy at this time. Even harsh Administration critics like Tony Zinni counsel against it.

We are therefore left with a feeling that our best hope is the ISG plan, which I don’t think has been overtaken by circumstances simply because its findings were published over six months ago. If anything, its findings are even more urgent, with regionalization of the conflict looming with the Turks massing more troops on the Kurdish frontier. And is the situation no longer “grave and deteriorating”, as the ISG found? Only more so, of course, as the clock keeps ticking.

There are actually two separate clocks; a countdown to September’s crucial debate and the clock in the heads of many GOP Congressmen and Senators. How long can they stick with the President without permanently damaging their careers? Their answer to that question will determine how much longer the surge will continue before we start to draw down our forces.

By: Rick Moran at 8:16 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (22)

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For you lefty trolls out there, here’s some red meat to go with your scrambled eggs and coffee this morning.

And for my conservative friends who enjoy a little introspection on a lazy summer Saturday, here’s a piece that will will give you something to think about while you’re on the golf course waiting for the idiots on the green to stop dicking around and putt already.

First, it appears that Chertoff’s “gut feeling” about an impending attack is being taken seriously by some people in the government. Or, if you’re inclined to wear the latest fashion in tin foil chapeaus (Reynolds Wrap Haute couture is all the rage this summer) it’s just more evidence of Administration tomfoolery with terror alerts:

Fearing a possible coded signal to attack, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are studying an unusual pattern of words in the latest audiotape from al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Ayman al Zawahri.

On the tape, posted on the Internet Wednesday, Zawahri repeats one phrase three times at the end of his message.

Have I not conveyed? Oh God be my witness.

Have I not conveyed? Oh God be my witness.

Have I not conveyed? Oh God be my witness.

A new FBI analysis of al Qaeda messages, obtained by the Blotter on, warns that “continued messages that convey their strategic intent to strike the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests worldwide should not be discounted as merely deceptive noise.”

A far cry from “John has a long mustache” or “Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor,” no?

Be that as it may, the FBI and Homeland Security seem to be taking this latest threat more seriously than some others lately. As for many on the left, not so much:

Let’s set aside for a moment the hollowness of the threat. Frankly the London and Glasgow plots were ill-conceived and miserably executed. It wouldn’t take much to “dwarf” them. Letting off a firecracker in a movie theater, for example.

First, this smacks of more fear-mongering by the administration. Chertoff had a “gut feeling” we’re going to be attacked, and now you see the media dutifully stoke up the panic with crap stories like this. (Yeah, a Taliban leader threatened big attacks in the US. And the head coach of the Raiders vowed to take his team to the playoffs.) The administration has a history of tweaking with terror alerts and fantasy plots to influence politics. That’s worthy of both impeachment and a swift kick in the *ss.

Second, if this threat is real and imminent, and something actually happens—it’s not the shrapnel I’ll be worrying about, it’ll be the overreaction of the government. This a group of thugs that kidnaps, tortures, and spies on its own people in times of safety. Think what they’ll do when the sh*t flies. Not to mention their track record against your standard-issue emergencies like, say, hurricanes.

I do not want these people in power in a time of emergency.

Well, whether you want them or not, they’re it and it does little good to fantasize about a Pelosi regime doing anything different.

Which brings me to the point of today’s ramblings; the respective views on terrorism and terrorist threats by the two sides and why, because of the viciousness and polarization of our politics, each side sees the other as a bigger threat than the terrorists.

One of the more thoughtful people blogging today is Matthew Yglesias:

Rick Santorum, appearing on the Hugh Hewitt show, predicts “some unfortunate events, that like we’re seeing unfold in the UK” over the next eighteen months or so that are going to lead people to have a “very different view” of the war in Iraq and the vital importance of “confronting Iran in the Middle East.” Avedon Carol wonders if it shouldn’t “concern us that Republicans are constantly talking about how people will all wise up when the next terrorist attack at home comes?” After all, they seem to really be “looking forward to it, and they take great delight in the thought that, by God, people will see things differently when it happens.”

There’s really, even, a larger structural issue here. Namely that while clearly on some level the conservative movement would like to make the country safer from terrorism, on another level everyone knows that mass fear of foreign threats to Americans’ physical security are a boon to the conservative movement’s fortune. On the one hand, this creates systematic incentives to overstate the extent and nature of the real threats facing America. On the other hand, it creates systematic incentives to ensure that such threats as do exist are never ameliorated. In particular, it gives everyone a very strong self-interest in not understanding the extent to which overreacting can be counterproductive since both the overreaction itself and the counterproductive blowback may serve the interests of the Republican Party.

On a superficial level, conservatives must plead guilty as charged. There is a belief by conservatives (not a “wish” or “desire”) that another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 would expose the liberal narrative on the War on Terror for what it is; an extraordinary myopic and paranoid view of the threat facing us and of the government charged with protecting us. This narrative is fairly consistent in downplaying the abilities of the enemy, complaining about false or faked terror alerts, ridiculing conservatives for reporting on successful or failed terrorist attacks, and generally positing the notion that the entire War on Terror is a manufactured political sideshow put on by the Bush Administration to jack up fear so that they can tear up the Constitution and set up a dictatorship.

Variations of that narrative exist depending on the reasonableness and thoughtfulness of the liberal writing about it. Some, like Yglesias, take the threat seriously but have huge problems (as many conservatives do) with the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the wider war. Others who are not quite as reasonable or thoughtful have a different perspective:

Democrat John Edwards Wednesday repudiated the notion that there is a “global war on terror,” calling it an ideological doctrine advanced by the Bush administration that has strained American military resources and emboldened terrorists.
In a defense policy speech he planned to deliver at the Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards called the war on terror a “bumper sticker” slogan Bush had used to justify everything from abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison to the invasion of Iraq.

“We need a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq military that is mission focused on protecting Americans from 21st century threats, not misused for discredited ideological purposes,” Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery. “By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set—that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam.”

The mass of Muslims who believe we are attacking all of Islam and not the radical minority are beholden to that idea not because we’ve framed the issue as a war but because of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic propaganda – something Edwards himself has apparently fallen for. A couple of statements by ignorant American officials (including the President’s incredibly dumb “crusade” remark) that have been played up in Islamic countries do not reflect the policy of the US government in any way. If Edwards wants to criticize our own propaganda efforts, that would be a legitimate criticism. But his adherence to The Narrative in talking about the war as an ideological exercise by the Administration serves to proves my point.

But getting back to Yglesias and his thesis; that while “the conservative movement would like to make the country safer from terrorism, on another level everyone knows that mass fear of foreign threats to Americans’ physical security are a boon to the conservative movement’s fortune…”

The unwritten companion to that idea that Yglesias leaves out is that the reason conservative “fortunes” soar as a result of threats to the homeland is because of the perceived (and in my opinion, rightly so) weakness of the left on security issues. This is not an issue of smoke and mirrors but rather a decades long retreat from the left’s belief in an assertive American foreign policy and funding a military machine to back it up. The modern left never met a weapons system they didn’t try to kill at some point nor has there been an assertive move to protect American interests in the last several decades that they have supported. The American people have taken note of this and voted accordingly.

But what of the notion that this political advantage by conservatives is deliberately fostered by overstating the threat facing us and that this leads to creating “systematic incentives” to make sure the war continues ad infinitum?

The two issues should have been separated by Yglesias because they deal with two different assumptions. 1) Conservatives want to win elections, and 2) The only way the right sees itself as succeeding in this is to make the War on Terror a generational conflict so that a constant state of fear is used as a club to beat the left over the head on security issues.

As for the first part, Yglesias has a point. I think there is a psychological desire on the part of the right to see the country unified behind its point of view on terrorism. And I think this desire at some level includes the notion that the best thing that could happen as far as unifying the country (and making the left’s views on terrorism an irrelevancy) is for a terrorist attack to occur on American soil. I don’t see any “great delight” being exhibited by conservatives in anticipation of such an attack – an attack that every living expert on terrorism has warned is a virtual certainty – nor do I see conservatives “looking forward to it” as Avedon Carol so generously states. But to see the outcome of another 9/11 in superficial political terms, then I think Yglesias has a good point.

Of course, this throws up all sorts of questions about the leadership of President Bush, Republicans in Congress, and conservative intellectuals who have failed miserably in making the case for this wider war on terrorism to the American people. There are other, less destructive ways to unify the country without having an American city reduced to rubble.

But as with the War in Iraq, President Bush has failed to sustain any coherent defense of his policies. This has allowed his political opponents free reign to color his actions in the worst possible light. And while some intellectuals of the right such as Norman Podhoretz and Donald Kagan have defended the Administration’s policies in Iraq and the wider War on Terror, the intellectual underpinnings that should be girding our efforts in the war of ideas against Islamic radicalism as well as offering a rationale for our actions to those willing to listen overseas has been sorely lacking.

As for the second assumption made by Yglesias – that this desire by the right to extend the life of the war by creating “systematic incentives to ensure that such threats as do exist are never ameliorated…” I believe him to be on much shakier ground.

Matthew places that statement in the context of what he terms “over-reacting” to both the threat of terrorism and terrorist incidents themselves. From another Yglesias post following the London/Glasgow incidents:

I’m pretty sure I haven’t been “ignoring” the bomb attempt, but I’ve certainly said less about it than, say, the NBA draft. That said, I find there to be two curious presumptions built into the question. One is that “you’re paying less attention than you should to failed bombings in a foreign country!” is framed as some kind of cutting accusation. Second, is that it’s taken as a given that hyping-up the threat of terrorism is something conservatives will want to do whereas downplaying it is something liberals will want to do.

It’s interesting because on another level if a liberal wants to make the case that Bush has been a horrible president implementing horrible policies, probably the most natural response is to say “look, some of what you say is true, but at the end of the day there haven’t been any more attacks since 9/11.” At that point, it falls to the liberal to point to all this international data indicating a substantial surge in Islamist violence during the Bush years as evidence of the administration’s failures.

Again, on one level, Yglesias has a point. But rather than “over reacting” to gin up fear in the country, I would describe the right’s focus on such attacks – failed or otherwise – as a psychological need to validate their views on terrorism as a genuine threat. (“See? The world is a dangerous place even if liberals downplay these attacks!”) Since part of The Narrative is that there is no such thing as a War on Terror and that even if attacks occur, the jihadis are a bunch of ignorant, 15th century goat herders so there’s no reason for all this fuss, conservatives feel compelled by politics and self-image to play up every incident of terror as part of the larger war against Islamism – a war they feel should engage the continuing interest of the American people to the exclusion of other, more mundane considerations like the economy or health care.

Yglesias points up the political danger of this exercise by the right; that even though no terrorist attacks have occurred here since 9/11, there is little doubt that Administration strategy has created more terrorists than there were prior to that date and that the threat has not been reduced in the nearly 6 years since. I might add there is also a danger for conservatives in that the absence of an attack on our soil since 2001 has brought those “mundane” issues to the fore in 2008, giving Democrats a distinct advantage in domestic policy. Focusing on terrorism as the major concern of the American people is rapidly becoming bad politics – unless we are hit again. Then the question of those increased numbers of jihadis will become a political nuclear weapon with each side tossing screaming allegations back and forth in the aftermath.

I have wrestled with this question of our creating more terrorists by confronting them in several posts over the last year. The reason the question is relevant is because there seems to be a consensus on the left that if only we hadn’t gone into Iraq, the terrorist threat wouldn’t be what it is today.

I find little evidence that our Iraq adventure alone is responsible for the increase in jihadi recruitment. One need only look at the reaction by Pakistanis to our invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan has become the most anti-American nation on earth not because of our invasion of Iraq but because of what we did to the Taliban.

But the real question remains: Would not confronting the terrorists after 9/11 have made us safer? If we had lobbed a few cruise missiles at Bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan rather than going for regime change, would there be Muslim doctors trying to blow up airports? It’s an interesting thought experiment but one I have never seen tried anywhere on the left. They have simply accepted the notion that the War in Iraq is singularly responsible for the surge in terrorist numbers.

And even if there were no terrorists in Iraq prior to the invasion (a still debatable point given the curiously unpublicized revelations contained in the Saddam papers) there’s no doubt there are many in Iraq now. If killing them only creates more of them which in turn makes us less safe, logic would dictate that we basically surrender to the idea that from time to time we are going to be attacked and that the best we can do is work with our allies to mitigate that possibility as much as possible by smashing their cells whenever we find them. Is this the basis of the left’s strategy for dealing with terrorism? It would seem to me and to many conservatives that this forms the basis for a “fear-free” War on Terror that appears to be embraced by many on the left.

Perhaps they don’t like the idea that such a strategy would put them at a distinct electoral disadvantage against Republicans so why not rage against perceived “fear mongering” by the right on the issue. In that context, there’s not much conservatives can do except embrace the left’s strategy for dealing with Islamism which would also include changing our foreign policy so we don’t experience any more “blowback” as a result of our standing with Israel or confronting that other threat in the Middle East Iran.

I’m not sure Yglesias would go as far as that but there’s little doubt that sympathy for the Palestinian cause and a general aversion to confronting the theocrats in Tehran is a part of the left’s solution to Bush’s “failed” policies in the War on Terror. What that would mean as far as our safety and security is concerned is another question – one the American people will have to decide next year. But one thing both left and right better start thinking very hard about if we are attacked again is that the solution to security will eventually have to be found in unity and not in these tiresome partisan dust ups where the motives of both sides are questioned and the War on Terror becomes a weapon to be used by one side or the other for political gain.


Right on cue, Ron Paul shows why unity in the War on Terror is an impossibility at the moment:

Presidential candidate Ron Paul says the U.S. is in “great danger” of a staged terror attack or a Gulf of Tonkin style provocation while also warning that a major collapse of the American economy is on the horizon and could be precipitated by the bombing of Iran and the closure of the Persian Gulf.

Speaking to The Alex Jones Show, the Texas Congressman was asked his opinion on Cindy Sheehan’s recent comments that the U.S. is in danger of a staged terror attack or a Gulf of Tonkin style provocation that will validate the Neo-Con agenda and lead to the implementation of the infrastructure of martial law that Bush recently signed into law via executive order, as well as public pronouncements from prominent officials that the West needs terrorism to save a doomed foreign policy.

“I think we’re in great danger of it,” responded the Congressman, “We’re in danger in many ways, the attack on our civil liberties here at home, the foreign policy that’s in shambles and our obligations overseas and commitment which endangers our troops and our national defense.”

Ooookay, Ron. You can go back to the barbecue now. And next time make sure they don’t grill your brain instead of the steak.

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By: Rick Moran at 9:53 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (27)

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CATEGORY: Middle East

Chief UN investigator Serge Brammertz has issued a report stating that he has identified “a number of persons” who may have been involved in the murder of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and that motives for the killing have been “significantly narrowed down.”

But Brammertz has refused to echo the suspicions of the first UN investigator to look into Hariri’s killing, Detlev Mehlis, that fingers “top ranked” Syrian and Lebanese officials:

There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, could not have been taken without the approval of top ranked Syrian security official and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services.

And who were the assassins? The original Mehlis Report redacted the names of the perpetrators. But before they could do so, a Word document containing the redacted information was disseminated. Below is a quote from the Mehlis Report clearly implicating the highest levels of the Syrian government in the assassination:

One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyed ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (senior Lebanese and Syrian officials) decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that Sayyed ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (a senior Lebanese security official) went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of Shawkat ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (a senior Syrian security official). The last meeting was held in the house of Shawkat ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (the same senior Syrian security official) approximately seven to 10 days before the assassination and included Mustapha Hamdan (another senior Lebanese security official). The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.

1. Assef Shawkat, perhaps the second most powerful man in Syria. He’s head of Syrian intelligence and is the brother in law of President Assad.

2. Hassan Khalil, former head of Syrian intelligence. He “retired” 4 days after the Hariri assassination in a government shake up. He was replaced by Shawkat.

3. Maher Assad, the President’s younger brother. A commander in the praetorian Republican Guard, he leads a crack brigade charged with the defense of Damascus. Originally believed to be the logical successor to his father, Bashar evidently got the job because Maher has been known to be a little “unstable.” To wit: In October 1999 he reportedly shot his brother-in-law Assef Shawqat in the stomach after an argument.

4. Bahjat Suleymana. A friend of Shawkat and one of the three members (along with Asad’s brother and Shawkat) of the President’s “National Security Committee.”

5. Jamil Al-Sayyed. One of four high ranking Lebanese generals accused of complicity in the plot. Al-Sayyed headed up the Sûreté Générale, or internal security forces in Lebanon. He along with Mustapha Hamdan, a close confidante of President Lahoud; Ali Hajj, a general in the internal security service who was formerly in charge of Hariri’s security and who was fired by Hariri in 2000 for spying on him for Syria; and Raymond Azar, ex chief of Military intelligence have all been in jail for 20 months, arrested on charges of complicity in the killing of the ex-Prime Minister.

If Mehlis had no qualms about naming Syrian and Lebanese names – if only to the Security Council (the names were leaked inadvertently) – why won’t Brammertz point the finger at Assad’s inner circle?

Mehlis didn’t want to release the names in order to maintain the presumption of innocence and not influence the inquiry for his sucessor. But we are rapidly approaching the sitting of the International Tribunal to try these criminals and Brammertz has said that the investigation is nearly complete. Isn’t it about time we had the names of some defendants?

The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany’s Detlev Mehlis, said the killing’s complexity suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role in Hariri’s assassination. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement in Hariri’s murder.

Brammertz has not echoed Mehlis’ suggestion, and did not provide any clues to those who may have been involved. He said Syria and other states have continued to provide “mostly positive responses” to requests for assistance.

In his eighth report to the U.N. Security Council, Brammertz signaled for the first time that the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission would be wrapping up its work and transferring its files and findings to the international tribunal, which the council unilaterally established on May 30 to prosecute suspects in the killings.

He said the consolidated reports totaling more than 2,400 pages—including a 2,000-page report covering all areas of the Hariri investigation—were prepared to help ensure “a smooth handover at the appropriate time in the near future” to the new tribunal’s prosecutor.

Color me a pessimist but I have a very bad feeling about the tack Brammertz is taking. By steering clear of naming high level Syrians, he may very well have received cooperation from Assad’s government that wasn’t given to Mehlis. But it begs the question; why would Assad play ball with Brammertz if he even suspected his brother, brother in law, and other high ranking officials were going to be put on the dock?

This is not to say that the Syrian government will not be implicated. But there has been speculation for months that Assad will sacrifice one or more lower ranking Syrians – perhaps the deceased Ghazi Kenaan who headed up Syran intelligence in Lebanon for two decades and was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head. He was also implicated in the Mehlis report as was Rustom Ghazaleh, a former intelligence chief in Lebanon who some referred to as the country’s “pro-consul” so powerful he was. Could it be possible that Assad would have made a deal with Brammertz to keep his hands off his inner circle in exchange for giving him a couple of underlings?

I don’t subscribe to conspiracies but if the Tribunal were to name as defendants 3 of the most powerful men in Syria and they were found guilty, the absolute worst thing that could happen from the UN’s point of view would occur.

They would have to do something about it.

And given the reluctance of the UN to fully face up to difficult and thorny issues, it is not beyond imagining that even if Brammertz didn’t make a deal with Assad on defendants for the Tribunal, the prosecutor may have realized that it would be in his own best interests not to rock the boat too precipitously at the UN:

Brammertz, who is also investigating with less intensity 17 other political murders or attempted murders in Lebanon, said Syria’s cooperation remained “generally satisfactory.”

The Belgian has not repeated allegations by his German predecessor, Detlev Mehlis, that Hariri could not have been killed without the complicity of senior Syrian officials, and his relations with Damascus have been better.

Brammertz, whose current mandate expires at the end of this year, is considered a leading candidate to succeed Carla del Ponte of Switzerland as chief prosecutor for the Hague-based tribunal to try war crimes in former Yugoslavia.

Certainly he will need the support of the Security Council to get that posting to the Hague – and a nice feather in his cap to be sure. How would the SC feel if he forced them to deal with the implications of a state that routinely carries out political murders in order to control a tiny neighbor?

In the end, there genuinely may not be enough evidence to charge members of Assad’s inner circle with the crime. But my pessimistic assessment reading between the lines of what Brammertz is saying is that there is a chance that the real perpetrators of Hariri’s assassination may get a pass. And that would not sit well with the people of Lebanon or many in the west.

By: Rick Moran at 1:55 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

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CATEGORY: Ethics, Politics

There are lessons to be learned from the Great Capitol Hill Sex Scandal of the Summer of 2007 except I’m not exactly sure what those lessons should be.

But first, we’ve got to come up with a better name. Something catchy. Something that will fit easily into newspaper headlines. Something that rolls off the tongue and spits out of the mouth with the proper amount of indignation and contempt. Something that will fit in that space under the TV picture where the “crawl” of headlines rolls by all day long.

“Pantygate?” Not bad but needs work.
“Progate?” Too obscure.
“Ho’gate?” Don’t go there.
“Zippergate?” Getting warm. As in “Why can’t these “family values” Republicans keep their zippers zipped?

I will say to my Republican friends that it does no good to whine about double standards. You’re going to have to concede the hypocrisy point to our Democratic friends on this one. If your going to lecture people about the sanctity of marriage as it relates to banning gay unions or campaign on a platform stressing “family values,” it would be best if you didn’t go whoring around on your wife, wetting your wick at $300 a pop.

Mindboggling stupidity.

And it appears that more good news for the GOP is on the way. The Hill reports that Larry Flynt, pornographer, guardian and promoter of public immorality, and paragon of Democratic party virtue, has smoked out a few other lawmakers whose inability to resist the temptations found in Washington, D.C. fleshpots will no doubt be making headlines soon:

Larry Flynt, the porn-industry magnate who first linked Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to the escort service of the “D.C. Madam,” said Wednesday that his investigators are tracking more than 20 leads on alleged congressional sex scandals.

As Vitter remained missing in action for two Senate votes on defense policy, Flynt insisted that he exposed the conservative lawmaker’s sexual indiscretions only because they contradicted Vitter’s longtime defense of the “sanctity of marriage.”

“If someone’s living a life contrary to the way they’re advocating … then they become fair game,” Flynt told reporters. “I don’t want a man like that legislating for me, especially in the area of morality.”

Should this condemnation of hypocritical behavior include Mr. Flynt? After all, his magazine is full of good looking, shapely models, women who were are told in a rather disappointing disclaimer that the stories and descriptions accompanying the girlie pictures do not necessarily reflect the lifestyle or moral character of the woman being photographed.

Full disclosure, Mr. Flynt. How many of those models really would like to urinate all over their lover? How many would like to perform other scatological sex rituals that you seem so nauseatingly obsessed with in your magazine?

America wants to know, Mr. Flynt! They deserve to know! Have any of these models ever done the do-do on you?

Considering that most of the Republican party would like to oblige Mr. Flynt’s curious proclivities toward bathroom sex and take a dump right in his lap, maybe he could get a couple of good photospreads out of it.

Flynt setting himself up as arbiter of American morals is funny enough. But the kicker is that he apparently has no intention of publishing the names of Democratic lawmakers caught with their pants down:

The 20-plus new leads, Flynt said, come from the newspaper ad and not Palfrey. The Hustler publisher, arrested and jailed multiple times during his decades-long career, vowed to provide clear proof and only out lawmakers whom he perceives to be hypocrites.

“You guys always know, [from] the past, I deliver,” Flynt said. “And if I fail to, the mainstream media will crush me like a bug.”

The Vitter scandal has touched off new anxiety among Republicans over whether their party will pay the price for members who fail to live up to their moral principles. Flynt, an unabashed Democrat, acknowledged that the GOP provides him with easier targets.

First, it’s hard to crush a bug who lives in a sewer. But does anyone else find it riotously amusing that Flynt gets to decide who’s a “hypocrite” and who isn’t?

The publisher of a magazine that promotes gratuitous and consequence-free sex is now sitting in judgment of people who have simply followed his formulaic lifestyle and engaged in a little slap and tickle with a willing partner. Despite his magazine’s clear message that there’s absolutely no downside to having easy morals, that in fact, it is a preferred way to live one’s life, Flynt is about to lower the boom on people for living up to his own misogynistic credo.

Why should whether they are “hypocrites” matter to him at all? In Flynt’s moral universe, you’re only a hypocrite if you don’t screw anything that moves three times a day. The idea that anyone who visits a prostitute – married or not; spouting allegiance to family values or not – should be held up as an object lesson in sanctimony by the purveyor of a publication that features the most nauseating racist, homophobic, and chauvinistic cartoons while showcasing women in the most degrading way imaginable is beyond funny, beyond satire – it is beyond belief.

And lest anyone take me for a bluenose, readers of this site know my affection for classic porn from the 70’s and 80’s as well as the early 90’s and the advent of videotape. It is not the fact that Flynt is a pornographer that makes him such lowlife pond scum. It is his own sanctimony, his own shtick as Champion of the First Amendment. He deliberately abuses that freedom not in order to express himself but to bully and browbeat his ideological foes while lowering the bar of acceptable political combat to unheard of and unimagined levels. For this reason alone, we should condemn this execrable man to slither in the shadows and back alleys of society where his kind belong.

Anything Flynt comes up with will be used by the Democrats to try and make a larger point about Republican hypocrisy. As I said above, this is fair game. But perhaps – just perhaps – Democrats will want to look a little harder at who their allies are in this sexfest. The excrement smeared on the bodies of Flynt’s models may just migrate to the faces of Democratic politicians who attempt to tar an entire political party using the actions of a few hypocrites who don’t have the good sense or common decency to remain true to their wives.

By: Rick Moran at 7:44 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (24)

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CATEGORY: Government, Politics

There are many disturbing aspects to the Bush Administration that historians will examine and perhaps, if they are charitable, chalk up to an overreaction to the 9/11 attacks or perhaps a zealotry for securing the United States from another, bigger catastrophe.

But there is one facet of the Bush Presidency that historians will universally and roundly condemn; the politicization of governance that, top to bottom, has interfered with many of the vital functions we expect the government to carry out. From the office of the Attorney General, to the Environmental Protection Agency, to NASA, to the National Park Service and more, politics has intruded into what traditionally has been non-political or apolitical functions of government. Science issues seem to be a favorite target of the Bushies for political massaging but other important government operations have also seen the heavy hand of politics interfere with public policy decisions – decisions that affect the health, safety, and security of the American people.

The latest evidence of this practice comes from former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona who testified before a Congressional Committee that the Administration fiddled with public health reports because of political considerations:

Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona told a Congressional committee today that top officials in the Bush administration repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.

Dr. Carmona, who served as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, said White House officials would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues because of political concerns. Top administration officials delayed for years and attempted to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand tobacco smoke, he said in sworn testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

He was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of every speech he gave, Dr. Carmona said. He was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings, at least one of which included Karl Rove, the president’s senior political adviser, he said.

Just because the Surgeon General is nominally a political appointment in that the post is filled by someone nominated by the President doesn’t mean that the job itself should be politicized. And to believe that reports and studies that would have an immediate impact on the health of American citizens should be held hostage to some myopic political views promoted by the White House is outrageous.

This attitude of politicizing government functions that should be non-political is not confined to health issues. The Administration has also grossly interferred in EPA rulemaking regarding issues such as auto emissions, management of public lands, pesticide bans, and other matters that would ordinarily not be political footballs. And the Administration practice of hiring lobbyists as regulators – 100 such hirings in the last 6 years – smacks of asking the fox to watch the chickens. One such lobbyist turned regulator, Philip Cooney, routinely altered reports by Administration scientists on climate change despite the fact the gentleman had a law degree and knew little of science.

A certain amount of political oversight of federal regulatory agencies is to be expected. The Clinton Administration subjected climate change data from their own EPA to “inter agency review” which indicated a political interest in seeing that the information coming out of various studies was in tune with their message of man-made global warming. George Bush #41 did something similar with AIDS research. But no Administration in memory has politicized the functions of government to the extent that this Administration has.

Should conservatives care about this issue? Altering findings of scientific studies to bring them in line with an Administration’s political agenda is not only dishonest but makes for very inefficient government. It’s a waste of taxpayer’s money to ask a government agency to study a problem and then alter the findings to suit the politics of the moment. Besides, there are legitimate safety and health issues at stake and if the government politicizes these questions to satisfy industry supporters, it stands to reason that the American people will be put at risk for the sake of politics. No responsible conservative can possibly countenance such practices.

The US attorney firings at the Department of Justice are another example of this idea that the Administration has tried to politicize too many government functions that are best left outside the purview of politics. If one were to look at this particular issue separately, it might just be a question of a desire to put a Bush imprimatur on the offices of dozens of federal prosecutors. But when placed in the context of what else has been going on in government over the last six years, it becomes one more example of politics intruding where it has no business intruding. Not only were the firings themselves badly botched but the reasons didn’t make much sense. In fact, one could say that the only reason it was done is because it could be done. And that’s no way to run a railroad – or a government.

There’s nothing illegal in all of this. But charges of incompetence, cronyism, and just plain bad governance have dogged this Administration for several years. And the reason is that when you politicize government where it should be apolitical, the people you depend on to make the government run smoothly and efficiently become more concerned with pleasing their masters in the White House than getting the job done. This leads to inefficiency, error, and a lowering of morale in the permanent bureaucracy.

Perhaps the Bushies just can’t help themselves. If so, the damage their lack of willpower has done to the functioning of government will be difficult to repair when the next President takes office in 2008.

By: Rick Moran at 6:59 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (34)

Pajamas Media linked with A Sporting Chance: Promote It Like Beckham...
Buck Naked Politics linked with The Muzzling of Carmona: Other Reactions. ... Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona denounces Bush administration’s political interference...

The Rick Moran Show will go live at 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM central time today. Our topic will be Lebanon and what appears to be some kind of endgame being initiated by Syria and Hizbullah.

We’ll look at what they’re saying on Lebanese blogs as well as Middle East media. And we may have a suprise guest to comment on the crisis.

A podcast of the show will be available shortly afterwards. You can access the stream live by clicking on the icon below:

Listen Live


What an interesting show.

1. Some kid calls in and starts pretending to comment then starts swearing on the air. When I mention that I will be calling his phone company to file a complaint, he calls back and tries to apologize.

2. Power outage occurs around 52 minutes in. Finally able to log back on with 1 minute left.

Needless to say, the show sort of fell apart.

Anyway, if you’re interested in listening to a train wreck, click the player below:

By: Rick Moran at 2:16 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)