James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Hagel Gets a Boost as McCain Totters

| Thu Jan. 18, 2007 1:56 PM EST

Yesterday's Senate circus on the war had one useful purpose. It became a presidential beauty pageant for candidates to strut their stuff on TV. As always, Hillary got headlines, but the most impressive presidential hopeful on the scene was Nebraska's Chuck Hagel. With John McCain looking sick and tired (he had melanoma removed from the left side of his face in 2000) and wobbling all over the place on the issues, Hagel is emerging as the most attractive Republican presidential possibility, and, as the conservatives like to say, the most "principled." Hagel is important in all of this because he was among the very first, if not the first, member of Congress to get behind George Bush's presidential push before the 2000 election. Things have changed. Last week Hagel said Bush's new plan is "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Hagel is a decorated Vietnam vet. He's now calling the war a "bloodbath."

The proposed Senate resolutions on the war are not binding in any way. "There is very little chance in the short run that we are going to pass any legislation," Hillary told reporters yesterday as she announced her own initiative. How so, she was asked. "I can count," she replied. Or to put it another way, Congressman John McHugh, a New York Republican who traveled with Clinton to Iraq said, "Congress right now has no effective role in this process."

The politics over the war is likely to be fought out—not on the Senate floor—but in John Murtha's appropriations subcommittee which oversees defense funding. Money bills must come from the House, not the Senate. Murtha, you will remember, was given up for dead when he was beaten by Steny Hoyer to be House majority leader, and sent back to his old job. Recently, Murtha has talked about cutting off war money. He's the one person who actually has the power to make life plenty tough for Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the White House.

It may appear that the Congress is fast congealing around some sort of opposition to Bush with Republicans like Olympia Snowe jumping on board. Not quite. The administration forces are hoping to spring a trap. If anyone sets an actual withdrawal date, they'll be up and screaming the Dems are cut and run, leaving our troops in the lurch. For now, they wait to see whether Reid and/or Pelosi spring for the bait.

Update: For Jonathan Alter on Chuck Hagel's presidential chances, see here.

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Details on War in the Gulf

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 3:04 PM EST

Bush hopes his new strategy will jump start his losing war. But as time goes by, we sink further into the quagmire. The President's speech didn't do the trick. Opposition to the war builds. Members of both parties in Congress are openly opposed to the war. John Murtha, who sits as chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on defense spending that provides crucial financing for the war, openly threatens to defund the war. Great Britain, our principal ally, is pulling out. The new cumbersome counterinsurgency command looks like an invitation to kill American troops.

On top of all this Bush can't leave Iran alone, constantly provoking Tehran from just across the border. The latest evidence of this comes from an interview with a former commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet. Admiral Eduard Baltin told the Interfax news agency, "The presence of U.S. nuclear submarines in the Persian Gulf region means that the Pentagon has not abandoned plans for surprise strikes against nuclear targets in Iran. With this aim a group of multi-purpose submarines ready to accomplish the task is located in the area.'"

He spoke following reports of a collision between an American sub and a Japanese tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. "Submarine commanders go up to the periscope depth and forget about navigation rules and safety measures," the admiral said.

According to Global Security, an independent Washington-based research group that follows military issues, the Iranian navy, battered after the war with Iraq, has been struggling to reorganize and acquire a variety of ships and aircraft. Bejing has supplied patrol boats and silkworm missiles.

"In July 2002 a conventional-arms sale triggered sanctions on several Chinese companies," reports Global Security. Beijing had transfered high-speed catamaran missile patrol boats to Iran. The C-14 patrol boats are outfitted with anti-ship cruise missiles. Short-range anti-ship missiles for the patrol boats also were sold from China to Iran in January 2002. The catamaran and anti-ship missile sales were first disclosed by The Washington Times in May 2002, shortly after the first of the new C-14 patrol boats was observed by U.S. military intelligence at an Iranian port. The high-speed gunboat can carry up to eight C-701 anti-ship cruise missiles, and usually has one gun. There have also been reports of Iran possesing another type of anti-ship system. Up to 16 Sunburst anti-ship missile systems were traded in the early 1990's from the Ukraine.

The Iranians are by no means a push over, and a guerrilla naval war in the Gulf could have unforeseen results.

The smaller boats might do damage to American ships but not enough to have much effect, according to Navy experts. The Iranian subs, for instance, are all Russian imports, and their ins-and-outs are well known to the U.S. Navy. We have two carrier battlegroups in the Gulf area. Each one consists of a carrier, two to three frigates, a cruiser, supply ship and two to three subs.

Nonetheless guerrilla war at sea could become an inferno. One explosive laden skiff rammed into a loaded LNG tanker could cause an inferno of untold proportions. And even low-level small boat attacks on outgoing Gulf shipping could impair western oil supplies, our own included.

Wesley Clark: "N.Y. Money People" Pushing War with Iran

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 11:29 AM EST

While it is well known that Israeli politicians, in and out of government, are pushing for a hard line on Iran, the role of American Jewish groups on this issue is less clear.

The Jewish Daily Forward reported last Friday that "American Jewish groups have also stepped up their advocacy efforts regarding Iran, though they generally press for aggressive diplomatic steps without pushing for military action. These groups have lavishly praised the Bush administration in recent days, after the U.S. Treasury Department banned an Iranian bank from doing business with American entities."

The bank in question is the state-owned Bank Sepah, described by a Treasury official in remarks to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as "the financial linchpin of Iran's missile-procurement network."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres have raised the possibility of an Israeli military retaliation against Iran should it attack Israel. And they have gone further, pointing out that Israel is equipped with a nuclear arsenal.

Former Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark — who is likely to run again in 2008 — threw himself into a political storm when he told Arianna Huffington, "New York money people" are pushing the U.S. into war with Iran, noting, "you just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."

"The phrase 'New York money people' struck unpleasant chords with many pro-Israel activists," the Forward reports. "They interpreted it as referring to the Jewish community, which is known for its significant financial donations to political candidates."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Forward, "He is a friend of Israel and is not an antisemite," adding, "but some of the things he said are very, very unfortunate."

Clark followed up with a letter to Foxman saying, "I will not tolerate antisemitic conspiracy webs to permeate the honest debate Americans must have about how best to confront Iran.''

Clark made a point in the last campaign of noting his pride in the fact his own father was Jewish.

King David Returns

| Thu Jan. 11, 2007 1:15 PM EST

If Bush was serious last night, America's destiny in Iraq is in the hands of Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, who is now leading US forces there. The big battle is to be waged counter-insurgency style inside Baghdad, probably most importantly against Bani Sadr's supposed 60,000 guerrillas.

This sounds like the Battle of Algiers where, in the 1950s, the French Foreign Legion brutally attacked and overwhelmed the FLN guerrillas holed up in the Casbah. In the end, the French lost, with de Gaulle overseeing a peace.

Counter-insurgency has a long, unpleasant history. The French tried it in Vietnam after the second world war, actually planting their own troops into villages and intermarrying with the Vietnamese. It didn't work and the French were routed at Dien Bien Phu. Ed Lansdale, who worked with the OSS and later became the CIA's man in Vietnam, assisted the French in their losing battle, then went on to try and build up the South Vietnamese military.

Lansdale has often been called the true father of American counter-insurgency. He operated in the Philippines, living with Magsaysay before he became president, and was part of Operation Mongoose, Jack Kennedy's plan to overthrow Castro. He was involved in attempts to assassinate Castro as well. Under Kennedy he ended up as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. When Reagan became president, Special Operations people in the military, along with scholars at the Heritage Foundation, urged U.S. policy makers to employ counter-insurgency tactics, or what was then called irregular warfare, in Central America. The Contras were the result.

Counter-insurgency depends on good intelligence and a supportive local population -- neither of which the U.S. has in Iraq, certainly not in Baghdad.

The general idea, put forward in the Iraq Study Group report, is to embed American troops within the Iraqi army. That presupposes the Iraqi army can be trusted not to trick the Americans into an ambush and/or to provide decent intelligence, which seems questionable.

General Petraeus is well-liked, considered to be a successful commander in Northern Iraq. He wrote a new counterinsurgency manual for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. "Western militaries too often neglect the study of insurgency," he writes in the manual. "They falsely believe that armies trained to win large conventional wars are automatically prepared to win small unconventional ones."

"In fact," the General continues, "some capabilities required for conventional success... may be of limited utility or even counterproductive in counterinsurgency operations. Nonetheless, conventional forces beginning counterinsurgency operations often try to use these capabilities to defeat insurgents; they almost always fail."

Following, thanks to the Globe and Mail, are
Petraeus's 14 Observations on Iraq:

1. Do not try to do too much with your own hands.
2. Act quickly, because every army of liberation has a half-life.
3. Money is ammunition.
4. Increasing the number of stakeholders is a critical component to success.
5. Analyze "costs and benefits" before each operation.
6. Intelligence is the key to success.
7. Everyone must do nation-building.
8. Help build institutions, not just units.
9. Cultural awareness is a force multiplier.
10. Success in a counterinsurgency requires more than just military operations.
11. Ultimate success depends on local leaders.
12. Remember the strategic corporals and strategic lieutenants.
13. There is no substitute for flexible, adaptable leaders.
14. A leader's most important task is to set the right tone.

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