2008 - %3, August

But Honey, Now I Know What the US Military Is Doing in Nauru!

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:41 AM EDT

Sure, everyone knows that America's military is hunkered down in the Middle East, but what's it doing in the rest of the world? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The Pentagon is several years into its biggest overseas base reshuffling since the Cold War, a realignment that is expected to cost US taxpayers $20 billion.

Given these rapid changes, our intrepid editorial and technical teams embarked on a yearlong project entitled "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide" to find out what our soldiers are up to, country by country. At its heart is this interactive world map that lets viewers zoom in to almost any place on the planet to learn about US involvement there. I'm already hearing it described as "addictive," and I highly doubt so much up-to-date information about America's overseas military presence has ever been available in one place in a fashion so accessible to casual readers. So what if my wife and children no longer recognize me. It's finished! (See more highlights below.)

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The End of the Iraq War Is in Sight

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:25 AM EDT

american_flag_iraq165.gif So at this point there is no doubt: the Bush Administration supports a timetable for withdrawal.

Specifically, it supports withdrawing American troops out of Iraqi cities by summer 2009 and out of the rest of the country by the end of 2011. Those are the terms of a draft accord the Bush Administration is putting in front of Iraq's leaders for ratification. The quickness with which American combat operations are supposed to cease is reportedly the price the Administration had to pay for the Iraqi government's legalization of the American military presence in Iraq after this year, when the United Nations mandate currently authorizing the American presence expires. It is unclear whether the accord addresses the issue of permanent bases in Iraq, which are supported by John McCain and opposed by Barack Obama and wide swaths of the Iraqi public.

Of course, the Administration said that these dates are "aspirational goals" and that the actual pace of withdrawal will depend on the security situation in Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush Administration has put a plan for withdrawal on the table.

The Modern GOP

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:24 AM EDT

THE MODERN GOP....You know, in its own way this may be greatest political lead ever written. It comes from Jonathan Weisman and Robert Barnes in the Washington Post:

Sen. John McCain's inability to recall the number of homes he owns during an interview yesterday jeopardized his campaign's carefully constructed strategy to frame Democratic rival Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist....

There's something about the bland, nonjudgmental way that it describes both the standard modern GOP smear campaign strategy against all Democratic contenders and the perverse but deliciously fitting way in which it's finally been turned against them this year that just might sum up all of current American politics in a mere single sentence. Congratulations, guys!

As for McCain himself, he huddled yesterday with his campaign advisors to work on some strategery to restore his regular guy image. But first he had to fuel up:

A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.

Jeez, couldn't he just send his valet out instead?

Welcome

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 1:33 AM EDT

WELCOME....If you're looking for Kevin Drum's new home, you've found it. Welcome! Has Obama chosen a vice president yet?

2011

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 1:08 AM EDT

2011....The Washington Post has confirmed yesterday's WSJ report that the Bush administration has agreed to a 2011 pullout of U.S. combat troops from Iraq:

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of 2011, and Iraqi officials said they are "very close" to resolving the remaining issues blocking a final accord that governs the future American military presence here.

...."We have a text," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after a day-long visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

....U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have [] agreed to a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of 2011, a date further in the future than the Iraqis initially wanted. The deal would leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops inside Iraq in supporting roles, such as military trainers, for an unspecified time. According to the U.S. military, there are 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, most of whom are playing a combat role.

This sounds like exactly what I've been expecting: Maliki gets a pullout date; Bush gets a little more time than he'd get if Obama wins the election and sets his own withdrawal schedule; and several thousand combat troops will stay around for an unspecified period after the main pullout. (A bad idea, I think, but one that practically everyone in Washington seems to support.)

So will this be good news for the Obama campaign, as I argued last night? Megan McArdle is skeptical:

My first instinct was the opposite. McCain gets to claim that the Surge worked, the war issue is off the table, and McCain gets the credit for steely resolve without people fearing their sons will end up in Iraq. I'm puzzled by war opponents who think that voters will suddenly love Obama for having been "right all along". Assuming arguendo that this is true, the psychological logic is off. Most Americans supported the war. Do you become more endeared of your spouse when it turns out that you really should have taken that left fork thirty miles ago? Most people prefer folie à deux.

Actually, I think this is right to the extent that it means Obama has to be careful about dancing a victory jig and taking credit for his uncanny prescience. But then, he's not going to do that, is he? Rather, he'll be thoughtful and low key, as usual, allowing surrogates and the press to do the heavy lifting for him. It's true that you never know how these things will go, but Obama's judgment has been so spectacularly vindicated by this that it's hard not to see it helping him in the long run.

McCain Camp Responds to "Houses" Situation... Hilariously

| Thu Aug. 21, 2008 2:16 PM EDT

This is awesome or awful PR work. I'm not sure which. A collection of things McCain spokesman Brian Rogers told the Washington Post about the "How Many Houses?" scandal that is brewing:

On Obama's house:

"It's a frickin' mansion."

On the McCains' definitely-not-elitist housing habits:

"The reality is they have some investment properties and stuff. It's not as if he lives in ten houses. That's just not the case. The reality is they have four that actually could be considered houses they could use."

On how the McCain campaign apparently sees Obama:

"In terms of who's an elitist, I think people have made a judgment that John McCain is not an arugula-eating, pointy headed professor-type."

On something completely irrelevant:

"This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years — in prison."

A couple observations: (1) Isn't it weird how the McCain campaign simultaneously paints Obama as an effete nerd and a super-cool celebrity? (2) Noun-verb-POW!

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Howard Wolfson Contains Multitudes

| Thu Aug. 21, 2008 2:00 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's former top flack starts a music blog, of all things.

Of Suskind and Habbush

| Thu Aug. 21, 2008 1:46 PM EDT

Earlier this month, journalist Ron Suskind published a book in which he explosively charged that the White House had directed the CIA to concoct a letter from former Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Jalil Habbush alleging falsely that 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammad Atta had trained for his mission in Iraq. The bogus letter exists and was indeed passed by an Iraqi exile figure close to the CIA Ayad Allawi to journalist Con Coughlin who published it in the Sunday Telegraph; Newsweek quickly exposed the letter as phony. The White House described Suskind's claims as "absurd," and a CIA official quoted in Suskind's account, Rob Richer, has disputed Suskind's characterization of what happened, as has former CIA director George Tenet. Today, Dan Froomkin follows up at his washingtonpost.com column:

Someone is finally demanding some answers about author Ron Suskind's charge that the White House, seeking to justify its invasion of Iraq, ordered the CIA in late 2003 to forge documents linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and nuclear imports from Niger.
It's not the press, however -- it's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Mia Farrow and Erik Prince Do Breakfast

| Thu Aug. 21, 2008 12:27 PM EDT

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So, what do Mia Farrow and Erik Prince have in common? No, it's not a joke. The answer is nothing. Well, almost nothing. But according to ABC News, the aging starlet and the Blackwater founder breakfasted together in New York City last month. The subject of their discussion? Sending Blackwater operators to Darfur to train African Union soldiers and protect refugee camps. Farrow, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and chair of Dream for Darfur, is (like everyone else) frustrated by the inability of African peacekeepers to protect refugees from the Janjaweed and believes Blackwater just might have what it takes to do the job right. "Blackwater has a much better idea of what an effective peace-keeping mission would look like than western governments," Farrow said.

Farrow has become an impassioned advocate for stopping the violence in Darfur at the same time that Blackwater, better known for its cowboy behavior in Iraq, appears to be attempting to reposition itself away from protecting diplomats and back to its original mission, the provision of military training. A reporter who knows both Prince and Farrow apparently put the odd couple in touch with each other by telephone, a contact that resulted in the New York breakfast.

More from ABC News after the break...

Obama Goes on the Air With McCain's Houses

| Thu Aug. 21, 2008 11:36 AM EDT

The Obama campaign has the quickest video team on these here internets. It already has an ad up on what is quickly becoming my new favorite story.

I know they had to keep it simple, but I would have tried to work in this point. Take a look at the spending habits of the McCains ("Cindy McCain charged as much as $500,000 in a single month on one American Express card and $250,000 on another") and the fact that they have so many million-dollar homes that John McCain can't even remember them all. And then consider the fact that wasteful spending is supposedly John McCain's animating passion.

I view this as a more serious hypocrisy that John Edwards' zip code-sized house. And we all know how long that story hung around.

Update: Another point Obama's team could have made: how can someone oversee the housing crisis when he doesn't have any day-to-day concerns about his own mortgage? Or mortgages, as the case may be? How can this person set tax rates for the middle class? All of that is implied, I suppose...