Blogs

Unclassified NIE on Iraq Key Judgments

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

An early copy of the unclassified key judgments from the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, "Prospects for Iraq's Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive," prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and available to the masses in a few hours.

Hot off the presses (.pdf) and below the fold. Analysis to come.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bush Okays Blowing Up Mountains for Mining Companies

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:59 PM EDT

Bush is set to release a regulation tomorrow that will allow mining companies to blast the tops off mountains and dump the resulting waste in nearby streams and valleys. Currently the practice, called mountaintop mining, exists in a hazy legal status but has been used regularly for the past two decades. The new rule will loosen a 1983 law which prohibits disturbing soils within 100 feet of streams (in the past, companies have been sued under the Clean Water Act for dumping mining waste into streams), essentially giving coal companies the go-ahead.

As we reported last year, the Appalachian mountains (where the majority of mountaintop removal mining takes place) have been so degraded that the public can take tours of the mind-boggling environmental damage. But mining companies and their coal mining advocates think they are providing a great service. Proponents claim that coal reduces our reliance on foreign oil and mountaintop removal provides more flat land for big box stores like Wal-Mart. Woo-hoo!

The Drug War Continues Apace (Underwater)

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:30 PM EDT

Now the smugglers have subs:

A submarine-like vessel filled with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine was seized off the Guatemalan coast, U.S. officials said....Several drug-carrying submarines operated by Colombian drug cartels have been discovered in recent years. [emphasis mine]

There's nothing like basic economics to undermine the drug war. If you buy it, they will come. In subs, if necessary.

— Nick Baumann

GOP Senators Need Only Half Day in Iraq to Declare Significant Progress

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:07 PM EDT

Senator Jim Webb has called the military-organized trips American politicians take to Iraq "dog-and-pony shows." Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) must have seen one hell of a show earlier this week, because they're declaring "clear success, province by province" after just a half day in country.

Yup. The Tennessee duo spent 10-14 hours of their four day trip actually in Iraq. Yet Alexander felt comfortable saying, "There are probably seven provinces where enough progress has been made to involve Iraqis in their own security."

The good news, amidst all this disingenuousness, is that both Senators seemed to think things were going so well in Iraq that we could start reducing the number of soldiers there. I'm smelling a positive September report, followed by Republicans claiming it's time to start shuffling troops home. Bush will claim we have grand obligations to Iraq, but will reduce troops in time to kill the Democrats' biggest 2008 advantage.

The Atmosphere Ate My Laptop

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:07 PM EDT

The Government Accountability Office, source of so much amusement to the denizens of DC, has released a report (PDF) that says NASA employees stole almost $100 million in supplies from the agency in the past decade. From the New York Times:

One thief appropriated an office laptop as his own by declaring the machine lost. It had been thrown from the International Space Station, he explained, apparently with a straight face, and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere.

The GAO report uses very strong language to condemn NASA's management, noting a "lack of accountability" and "weak internal controls." Let's not forget that this is at the organization responsible for sending people into space. Maybe a little accountability is in order? Just a thought.

— Nick Baumann

If the Election's Tomorrow and Clinton's the Nominee...

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:39 AM EDT

...Then she wins big, says Chris Bowers, who compiled the state-by-state head-to-head polls to put together two electoral maps. Clinton wins the electoral vote 335-203 over Giuliani and 430-108 over Romney. And Bowers thinks this is the Democrats' "worst case scenario":

It is important to keep in mind that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination right now, and that Hillary Clinton is supposedly the least electable Democrat of the four early state candidates in double digits. To put it another way, this is supposedly the worst-case scenario for Democrats right now. On top of this, what do you think will happen to either Giuliani or Romney's numbers when, for nine consecutive months next year (February 6th through Election Day), they are on every media possible, every day, arguing that we don't need to withdraw any troops from Iraq?

Good news for the Dems, if it's true. Part of it, at least, may not be: according to some polls, Clinton is not the "least electable Democrat." Of the top three Democratic candidates, only Clinton won all three head-to-head contests with Giuliani, McCain, and Thompson. But seriously: 430-108? If you're a Republican, that has to make the prospect of a Romney nomination look pretty bleak.

— Nick Baumann

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"Private Eyes, They're Watching You..."

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:28 AM EDT

Last week, while addressing a border security conference in El Paso, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell confirmed that about 100 people in the United States are currently subject to court-approved wiretaps. "On the U.S. persons side, it's 100 or less," McConnell said. "And then, the foreign side—it's in the thousands." The eavesdropping is part of ongoing counter-terrorism investigations. McConnell's comments were reported in a piece by Joby Warrick in this morning's Washington Post.

In related news, starting next Monday, U.S. intelligence agencies will begin screening thousands of people who work for charitable organizations that receive funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The move apparently comes in response to a GAO report from 2005, which revealed that six organizations receiving U.S. funding were later determined to have ties to terrorist organizations. From the Post:

The program is described in the notice as the Partner Vetting System. It demands for the first time that nongovernmental organizations file information with the government on each officer, board member and key employee and those associated with an application for AID funds or managing a project when funded.
The information is to include name, address, date and place of birth, citizenship, Social Security and passport numbers, sex, and profession or other employment data. The data collected "will be used to conduct national security screening" to ensure these persons have no connection to entities or individuals "associated with terrorism" or "deemed to be a risk to national security," according to the notice.
Such screening normally involves sending the data to the FBI and other police and intelligence agencies to see if negative information surfaces.
The new system would also require that the groups turn over the individuals' telephone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses, another indication that those numbers would be checked against data collected as part of a terrorist screening program run by the U.S. intelligence community.
Until now, under an earlier Bush administration initiative, nongovernmental organizations had been required to check their own employees and then certify to AID that they were certain no one was associated with individuals or groups that appeared on applicable governmental terrorist listings.

Obama on Cuba: Another Heterodoxy?

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 10:41 AM EDT

Barack Obama is back with another challenge to the foreign policy orthodoxy. (His willingness to attack Pakistan and his ruling out of a nuclear attack to eliminate terrorists are two others.)

This time, it's about Cuba. Obama stated a position in a Miami Herald op-ed that makes sense but doesn't take into account the political world's customary set of panderings. Members of the Cuban exile community that has huge sway in Florida politics take a hard line against the island nation, and any politician who hopes to win the Sunshine State usually follows their lead. They want to cut off or heavily restrict remittances and travel to Cuba, so as to kill Castro's regime by a slow strangulation. Obama said that he wants to ease restrictions, so Cubans in the U.S. can visit their relatives on the island, and send money home if desired.

Hillary Clinton and the Republicans, who all support the status quo, attacked Obama for his position, arguing that it is borne out of naiveté and that it illustrates the lack of strength and seriousness that makes the Illinois senator unfit for the role of Commander-in-Chief. Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Dennis Kucinich, however, all said they agree with Obama in the wake of his Herald op-ed.

Stuff like this is getting Obama called gaffe-prone (see Hannity and Mitt Romney in this video), but in reality these aren't traditional faux pas; he's just refusing to accept conventional wisdom. Can you win a presidential election when you are frequently at odds with the think tanks, most of Congress, the powerful interests, and the status quo? Well, he was right on the Iraq War, and all those folks were wrong... What do you think?

Bush Administration's Own Report Doubts Maliki Gov't

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 10:22 AM EDT

In Bush's Iraq-as-Vietnam speech that Monika blogged about early this morning (lots of interesting stuff in the comments section, btw), he said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a "good man with a difficult job." He's half right, I suppose.

But why come out in favor of Maliki when you are about to undercut him? From the Times:

The administration is planning to make public today parts of a sober new report by American intelligence agencies expressing deep doubts that the government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, can overcome sectarian differences. Government officials who have seen the report say it gives a bleak outlook on the chances Mr. Maliki can meet milestones intended to promote unity in Iraq.

You can read all about the miserable Maliki government here. To date, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton have called for Maliki to get the boot — it appears the intelligence community isn't far behind.

Update: For a rundown of Maliki's possible replacements, see this Time article. Looks like the U.S.'s hopes lie with a guy named Mithal Alussi. The real question is, who on earth would want this job?

Bush Vietnam Speech: We Have Met the Enemy, and It Is You

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 6:37 AM EDT

Everyone has a take on the president's stunning Iraq-Vietnam analogy (message: things get better the longer we stay), but the VFW speech is a fascinating list of every other war rationale the Bush administration has tried and failed to make stick. There is the "the war in Iraq is all about fighting al Qaeda" line, with its easy conflation of insurgents and jihadists:

Like our enemies in the past, the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places seek to spread a political vision of their own -- a harsh plan for life that crushes freedom, tolerance, and dissent.
Like our enemies in the past, they kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world.

And the "if you're not with us, you're with them" smear, reincarnated as "peaceniks lost Vietnam, and that's why the terrorists are winning" (at least when John McCain goes down this road, he has a shred of integrity):

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle -- those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."
…Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently.

Read the whole thing for yourself, and let us know what else jumps out at you in the comments.