2007 - %3, September

The Petraeus/Crocker Report: Let the Liveblogging Continue! (Part Two)

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 2:24 PM EDT

This is Part Two of our liveblogging. Part One is here.

1:29: Petraeus finally gets going. Shocker number one: the surge is succeeding militarily.

1:32: Petraeus cites the progress with the Sunni tribes, which we've already noted started before the surge began and is unrelated to increased troop numbers.

1:33: It's the Iraqis fault that their country is in chaos. Apparently competition between ethnic groups is the cause of violence in Iraq. Also Iran and Syria are making it worse.

1:35: General Petraeus, the "Ross Perot of the military," loves his charts.

1:36: They used non-kinetic means, apparently.

1:37: "We do not rely on gut feel." What's he doing working for The Decider?

1:40: OOOOOOOOOHHHHHH pretty pictures! The man really loves his charts.

1:41: They've found and cleared over 4,100 caches of weapons and bombs this year. How many of the 180,000 missing guns did they find?

1:42: Anbar again. Again, it has nothing to do with the surge.

1:43: A steady decline in the past three months sounds impressive, but attacks always decline as the weather gets hotter during the summer.

1:44: Iran wants to use insurgents in Iraq as a proxy force to attack coalition forces. Also, more protesters just got kicked out for yelling.

1:45: Anbar again! And Petraeus acknowledges it is "unique."

1:47: More charts!

1:48: 445,000 people "on the payrolls" of the Iraqi security forces. How many of them actually show up to work? How many of them are real?

1:49: Sounds like he's wrapping up now... "to summarize.... the United States will be in a position to reduce its forces in Iraq in the months ahead."

1:52: Petraeus is proposing a draw-down to pre-surge levels by mid-July 2008. And then we can use the extra forces to attack Iran!!!

1:53: Projecting "too far into the future" is difficult and misleading.

1:54: In mid-March, he'll come back and ask for another Friedman unit.

1:56: Petraeus wants to keep the mission the same — "counterinsurgency and stabilization"

1:57: He believes Iraq's problems need a "long-term effort," and warns against a rapid withdrawal. How long-term?

1:59: Hooray for the military-industrial complex! More defense funding now!

2:00: Someone starts screaming: "General Petraeus, the American people don't believe you anymore!" They're really loud. Cindy Sheehan was among those arrested earlier, according to Brian Williams.

2:01: Skelton announces that "We will prosecute [protesters] under the law. This is intolerable.... And I hope that everything that's considering it understands, because they will be prosecuted."

Go to Part Three.

—Nick Baumann

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The Petraeus/Crocker Report: Let the Liveblogging Begin!

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

12:20 PM: General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will be testifying before a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees starting in a few minutes. Mother Jones is providing full coverage, with reporters on the scene and live updates right here at MoJoBlog. Newspapers around the country have already reported the bulk of what Petraeus will say. Lead item: Petraeus plans to ask for another Friedman unit before making a decision about withdrawing troops.

12:35: The hearing just started, with some members of the audience being escorted out immediately. Of course. Ike Skelton asked "Are they gone?" before continuing.

12:36: Mr. Skelton reminds us that this is one of the "most important hearings" of the year. That's the kind of hard-hitting analysis we're looking forward to today.

12:39: Mr. Skelton is already within a few seconds of breaking the "5-minute rule" he called for just 5 minutes ago. Because we've been waiting six months for the Skelton report.

12:44: By 5 minutes, he meant 10. At least he's not as tone-deaf as MoveOn.org, which called Petraeus "General Betray Us" in an ad published in the Times today.

12:46: Tom Lantos, the Foreign Affairs chairman, takes his turn. It's worth noting that he has two son-in-laws. They're named Dick Swett and Timber Dick. Really.

12:48: First reference to "ammo dumps." Worth noting.

12:49: Lantos says we can't take anything the administration says about Iraq "at face value." He doesn't "buy" the idea that victory is at hand.

12:51: Lantos joins the chorus of voices attacking Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He calls him a "front man for Shiite partisans," and accusing him of being aligned with "notorious militias, death squads, and sectarian thugs."

12:54: Lantos: "We are wrecking our military... and limiting our ability to address our global military needs."

12:56: Duncan Hunter is the first Republican to speak. He says Democrats have been attacking Petraeus' credibility. Also he says that he "knows" that Petraeus' testimony hasn't been written by political operatives, even though multiple news reports have said that the testimony has been put together by the White House. That's one!

1:00: Difficulty with the facts number two: Duncan Hunter is the first Republican to claim that progress in Anbar Province is related to the surge. This is not the case.

1:02: First Reagan reference! Who had 1:02 in the pool?

1:03: Hunter compares Petraeus to Eisenhower, too. Is Petraeus going to run for president? Our own Dan Schulman investigates.

1:07: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen trusts Petraeus' "reporting."

1:10: More on the MoveOn ad from Ros-Lehtinen. It could be backfiring.

1:11: First Neville Chamberlain reference.

1:15: Petraeus takes the floor. The acoustics in here are "not good at all," Skelton warns. Then someone asks where the statement is. "It should be passed out by now," Skelton says.

1:16: Brian Williams on MSNBC said that the Commander of U.S. forces in Iraq is powerless in the face of a broken microphone.

1:17: Another person is removed for "making a disturbance." "Is it fixed?"

1:18: Where's Petraeus' statement? Is it with the Weapons of Mass Destruction?

1:19: Skelton can't find Burton. Burton recommends being very firm in geting them out of here. "i still see them out there. "Who's speaking?" "This is a very important hearing!"

1:20: "That really pisses me off, dammit." Skelton doesn't know that we can hear him cursing.

1:23: It'll take 5 minutes to fix the microphone. Good enough for government work.

Go to Part Two.

—Nick Baumann

Donald Rumsfeld: Not Done Lying!

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 11:57 AM EDT

Retired evildoer Donald Rumsfeld just gave an interview calling the war in Afghanistan a "big success." That flies in the face of literally all the facts. And these women would certainly take issue.

The Chart David Petraeus Will Not Show

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 11:34 AM EDT

Here's the chart David Petraeus likely won't show when he hits the Hill this week.

 iraq_casualties_chart300.jpg

As you can see, it's a Defense Intelligence Agency chart that shows attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, and U.S. troops have continued unabated through the surge. This should put the debate over casualty numbers to rest.

(H/T Think Progress)

MTV VMAs: Actually About the Music

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 4:46 AM EDT

VMAs

MTV's Video Music Awards show tonight was, of course, pretty silly. The Las Vegas hotel venue made the event seem more like a corporate convention than a musical event, and the "performances," such as they were, didn't even try to appear live, with many singers forgoing even a fake headset microphone. Britney Spears, as the New York Times said, was "awful":

Visibly nervous, she tottered around the stage, dancing tentatively and doing nothing that sounded or looked like real live singing. It's too bad, because the song itself, "Gimme More," is a pleasant surprise: brash and sleek and unapologetic.

And there, the Times finds the point—there was something to enjoy, and perhaps even to love, about this year's VMAs: the music. Fans of progressive electronic sounds and mashuppy remix action must feel disoriented, since all of a sudden, popular music is aimed right at them. Yes, Britney Spears is an embarrassment to humankind, but production-wise, her new song, "Gimme More," is a fascinating, groovy concoction of Timbaland-style dance beats and acid-house bleeps, with what seems like a glance back at my first favorite song ever, Hot Butter's "Popcorn." There's not much of a song there, but the sounds themselves are fantastic, something that was a theme throughout the night. The multi-song "tribute" medley to Timbaland himself (pictured above) proved the producer's sonic brilliance, with his hits mixing into each other like a fast-paced DJ set, although he should probably lay off the 'roids. Between songs, producer of the moment Mark Ronson and a small band performed funky remixes of hit songs by Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, and the Smiths; and of course Kanye West's "Stronger" uses a sample of Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," although it might have been nice to seem him perform the track in front of an audience instead of squeezed into a hotel suite. Alicia Keys mashed up Stevie Wonder and George Michael, and while 18-year-old Chris Brown's performance was all about copycat Michael Jackson dance moves, the brief interjection of the still-awe-inspiring bassline from Jackson's own "Billie Jean" was pumped up by extra vocals, completing the sense that just about everything we were hearing was being remixed in one way or another. While French duo Justice were nowhere to be found, their music was all over the show, with crunchy techno tracks from their new album covering transitions and walk-ons. On the rock side, there was less to love, except the Foo Fighters and Serge Tankian of System of a Down covering "Holiday In Cambodia," which MTV showed for about 10 seconds.

Bloggers are saying "Worst VMAs ever," and yes, from a showmanship or entertainment perspective, it was a terrible, sad wreck of a show. Behind the scenes, apparently Kid Rock hit Tommy Lee, and Kanye threw a tantrum over not winning again. Whatever. For those of us who are fans of sound for sound's sake, hearing so many current hits all in one place was oddly inspiring: American popular music may be stranger, engaged in more cross-pollination, and, well, Kraftwerkier than ever. During an acceptance speech, Justin Timberlake dared to bite the hand that feeds with an exhortation to MTV to "play more videos"; if his contemporaries keep making such interesting noise, it's hard not to agree.

White House Advisor Appears to Taunt Bin Laden

| Sun Sep. 9, 2007 7:39 PM EDT

Speaking on Fox News Sunday about the latest Osama bin Laden video, White House Homeland Security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend told host Chris Wallace:

"Remember, the last audiotape was in June of '06. The last video was just before the election in October of '04. This is about the best he can do. This is a man on the run from a cave who is virtually impotent other than these tapes."

And in case one thought the "impotent" comment might have been a slip made by an administration operative feeling defensive for failing to get the chief perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, Townsend said it again on CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. Townsend:

"But you know, we ought to remember, six years since the tragedy of September the 11th, we haven't seen another attack. This is a man on the run in a cave who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get these messages out. It's propaganda."

While the White House effort to reassure rather than frighten people is refreshing, and it understandably feels compelled to make excuses for why it has failed to devote the resources necessary to capture bin Laden, Townsend's macho rhetoric seems strikingly ill advised and eerily reminiscent of Bush's infamous "Bring 'em on." More than 3,000 US lives have been lost to the insurgency and civil war in Iraq since his reckless comments. Let's hope Townsend's words don't come back to haunt her -- and us -- in a similar fashion.

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Chuck Hagel, Next SecDef?

| Sun Sep. 9, 2007 1:54 PM EDT

Ok, so Jonathan took me a little too literally when he wrote that I said Chuck Hagel's pending retirement from the Senate cleared the way for him to become Hillary Clinton's Secretary of Defense. However, Chuck Hagel would up the curb appeal of many a candidate. As a social conservative who's got great defense credentials, but who's been outspokenly critical of how the war is being handled, he could be a nice VP candidate for the Republicans—helping to keep some moderate Republicans and Independents in the GOP fold—so long as the top of the ticket was willing to be openly critical of Bush and what the surge has or hasn't accomplished. And his social conservative bona fides would help, say, Rudy Giuliani.

That said, I do like the scenario where a Chuck Hagel type is floated, ahead of the election, by the Democratic primary winner to be the next Secretary of Defense. It signals biapartisanship—which we are going to sorely need to take on Iraq, climate changes, health care, etc.—and the qualities that would make Hagel toxic to liberals (pro-life, etc.) are safely sealed off in that post.

Bill Clinton, of course, made Republican Senator William Cohen his SecDef.

News of the Weird

| Sun Sep. 9, 2007 1:28 PM EDT

First it was Jews for Jesus. Now Jews for Hitler?

See this from the BBC.

Dispatch from the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference

| Sat Sep. 8, 2007 11:58 PM EDT

At this weekend's conference of environmental journalists in Palo Alto, the AP's science writer, Seth Borenstein, moderated a plenary session called "Covering Climate Change." A day before the event, he received an email from Marc Morano, a senior aid to Senator James Inhofe (R-Ok.)—the former head of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and an adamant climate change denier—urging him to question the panel's seeming assumption that scientists had concluded that climate change was a reality. Borenstein promptly forwarded the email to several other journalists.

Contrary to popular opinion (and Mother Jones' careful reporting), Morano wrote, scientists who challenge the climate change hypothesis are not a well-funded minority, but individuals whose research has held its own scientifically despite the PR victory of well-funded liberal fear-mongers.

You've gotta give it to Inhofe, whose major funders list reads like a who's who of energy and forest products corporations—he's really stuck to his guns.

But, back in reality, the experts at the conference indicated time and again that global warming was already hard upon us and that we need to act now to cap carbon emissions unless we want things to get really ugly. We also need to start planning for the consequences of climate change (the buzzword is "adaptation.") Phillip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said "there has been no thought given to this issue" in the United States, despite the fact that by 2050, 100 million people a year could be displaced by weather disasters—and research suggests that among the hardest-hit countries will be Mexico, making our current immigration problems look like child's play.

Goodbye Chuck Hagel. You'll be Missed

| Sat Sep. 8, 2007 9:23 PM EDT

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is retiring at the end of his term, and it's a loss for both Democrats and Republicans. hagel130.gif

The Democrats lose one of Congress's most passionate and articulate critics of the Iraq War. The Republicans lose an incumbent in an election cycle in which their ranks are already vulnerable.

Former Nebraska senator and governor Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, is considering emerging from retirement to run for Hagel's seat, and the odds he would get it are high. Add in the fact that John Warner, a Republican, is vacating a Virginia senate seat that will likely be won by Mark Warner, a Democrat, and you've got what looks like a much small minority for the GOP.

By the way, there was once tons and tons of buzz around a Hagel candidacy for president. I was a somewhat-tongue-in-cheek proponent. I never really wanted the man to be president, but he was principled, reasoned, rational, and sincere. He'll be missed.

Update: Ed.-in-Chief Clara Jeffery writes in and speculates that Hagel's retirement clears the way for him to be Hillary's Secretary of Defense.