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Iraq Study Group a/k/a Baker Commission Outlines Four Point "Victory Strategy"; Will Likely Call for More Troops

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 2:52 PM EST

According to an article in the Guardian, officials at the Pentagon working closely with the Iraq Study Group have leaked the key parts of the group's upcoming report. There appears to be a four point "victory strategy." Because President Bush is rumored to be taking the Iraq Study Group's recommendations very seriously, the content below may be as good an indicator of where Iraq policy is headed as we could possibly have. Worth a read. The points are:

(1) Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers.

(2) Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.... Yesterday, a top state department official, David Satterfield, said America was prepared in principle to discuss with Iran its activities in Iraq.

(3) Point three focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state.... To the certain dismay of US neo-cons, initial post-invasion ideas about imposing fully-fledged western democratic standards will be set aside.

(4) Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations will include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.

And, yeah, the President seems to be buying it. Here's the lede from the Guardian article: "President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers."

For Dave Gilson's and Tom Engelhardt's analysis of how all of this might leave us in Iraq indefinitely for months and years, see this blog post, directly below.

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Will Gates Open the Floodgates in Iraq?

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 2:50 PM EST
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That's the question posed by Tom Engelhardt in a new piece that deflates some of the hype surrounding the retun of Robert Gates and Jim Baker. The conventional wisdom is that "daddy's boys" have arrived to (once again) save George W. Bush's butt from a fiasco of his own making. (See this week's Newsweek cover for the short version of this satisfying pop psych-meets-poli sci analysis.) But Engelhardt suspects that rather than advocating redeployment or withdrawal, Gates and Baker may just prolong our involvement by signing onto the recently floated plans to send more troops to give it the old school try:

...[P]erhaps the disaster behind us will be nothing compared to the disaster ahead, especially if Daddy's Boys, the Iraq Study Group, other Democratic and Republican movers and shakers, and all those generals and former generals floating around our world decide that this isn't the moment to rediscover a Colin Powell-style "exit strategy," but "one last chance" to succeed by any definition in Iraq. Then, god help us -- and the Iraqis. Sooner or later, we'll undoubtedly be gone from a land so determinedly hostile to being occupied by us, but that end moment could still be a long, long time in coming.

Here, for instance, is Robert Gates' thinking eighteen months ago in a seminar at the Panetta Institute at California State University in Monterey on "phased troop withdrawals" from Iraq:

"But Mr. Gates qualified his comments, noting it sometimes takes time to accomplish your goals. Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, 'there are still American troops in Germany,' he noted. 'We've had troops in Korea for over 50 years. The British have had troops in Cyprus for 40 years… If you want to change history, you have to be prepared to stay as long as it takes to do the job."

So hold onto your hats. Tragedy and more tragedy seems almost guaranteed, and the Pentagon has just submitted to Congress a staggering $160 billion supplemental appropriation request in order to continue its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Engelhardt says we should expect "endless months or years of non-withdrawal withdrawal plans" combined with preparations for a permanent American presence in Iraq (a story that hasn't received much mainstream attention but was covered in MJ last year.) George Bush Sr.'s cavalry may have arrived, but we're far from being rescued.

Robo Call Harassment May Soon be Illegal

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 2:36 PM EST

All too often, winning an election is enough to make a political party forget the dirty tricks it suffered around voting time. Looks like that might not be the case for the 2006 midterms. From TPM: "Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has introduced legislation that seeks to punish harassing robo calls and other attempts to mislead voters... which he said would be among the first 10 bills in the new Senate."

Obama's press release, also available at the TPM link, pretty much nails it.

The legislation, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2006, would make it illegal for anyone to knowingly attempt to prevent others from exercising his or her right to vote by providing deceptive information and would require the Attorney General to fully investigate these allegations. The legislation would also require the Attorney General, in conjunction with the Election Assistance Commission, to provide accurate election information when allegations of deceptive practices are confirmed.

Note: How is this not already law? To continue:

In House races across the country, reports surfaced of Democrats receiving dozens of harassing robocalls designed to imply that they came from Democratic candidates. In fact, the calls were paid for by Republicans and were intended to suppress turnout among Democrats.

Yup. Mother Jones wrote about this in late October. See the story here.

Bush's New Family Planning Czar: Like Appointing Dennis Kucinich as SecDef

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 4:55 AM EST

To run the federal government's family planning program--no fewer than $283 million in funds serving low-income women nationwide--President Bush has picked Ed Keroack, an ob-gyn who has been running a crisis pregnancy center in Massachusetts that opposes birth control. Not a huge surprise, perhaps, coming from a president who seems to have it in for contraception generally (or at least understands that many of his supporters have moved from fighting abortion to fighting birth control in general). But still. Sometimes you wish it was true about laughter being the best birth control.

Besides Haditha

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 12:00 AM EST

It's been a bad week for American war criminals. Yesterday, a 20 year old Marine was sentenced to 18 months for taking part in kidnapping and killing an unarmed Iraqi man. The day before that, an Army specialist plead guilty to raping and murdering a 14-year-old Iraqi girl. That makes a total of at least 16 U.S. military personnel who have been convicted of illegally killing Iraqis since the war began. And we have yet to hear whether the Marine Corps will bring charges against its soldiers accused of massacring 24 Iraqis in Haditha last November.

Counting Casualties in Suburbia

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 11:54 PM EST

Meet the suburban schlub behind icasualties.org, the independent website that tracks deaths in Iraq so authoritatively that it's used as a reference by media from the New York Times on down:
"He is not a military man, and he has no friends or relatives who serve. He is a guy with a Honda Civic, a mortgage and a job in a suburban office park. A guy with a wife and a 7-year-old daughter who has soccer games to go to.

But for almost 3 1/2 years — for no pay and no glory — White has kept a meticulous tally of every U.S. and coalition military fatality, posting the names and the numbers on his website, http://www.icasualties.org."

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Edwards a Go for 2008?

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 10:51 PM EST

In response to Jon Stewart's hammy attempt last night to get Edwards to declare his candidacy on The Daily Show, former North Carolina senator John Edwards coyly told his supporters that if they go to his website in the next few weeks, "they may see something new and exciting."

"Dude, did you get a shower cam?" mugged Stewart.

Well, no, but Edwards offered another hint at his possible presidential bid in the same appearance. "Do you feel that going back into politics would diminish your effectiveness or enhance it," asked Stewart. "Depends on what's the job," replied Edwards with a smile.

Edwards is showing signs that he's ready to run. There's his new book, Home, in which celebs and everyday folks tell stories about their childhood houses (the proceeds go to charity). Add to that his very well-publicized poverty center in South Carolina, successful attempts to raise the minimum wage in several states, trips to war-torn Uganda, and his appearance tomorrow night on The Late Show with David Letterman, plus various interviews, and you've got yourself a bit of a media blitz.

And of course where would any would-be candidate be without action in the blogosphere? He's got that too, offering up details on his charity work and even the obligatory pics of his adorable offspring.

Edwards (who, remember, got 34% of the vote during the 2004 democratic primary) has been abetted by his faithful wife, Elizabeth, who said in October that Hillary would be "a formidable opponent" to her husband. If he runs.

Hypothetically, that is. Possibly.

—Jen Phillips

Golden Gate Bridge: Your Ad Here

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 8:57 PM EST
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The rebranding and repackaging of America marches on... The SF Chronicle reports that the cash-strapped Golden Gate has hired a consultant to look for corporate sponsors:

The consultant's recommendations could include installing signs at the south visitors area or on benches and sidewalks at the ends of the bridge.

"This is not a naming rights deal," cautioned bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie. "It's more of a behind-the-scenes, low-key, corporate partnership, much like the Proud Partners Program in the national parks."

[snip]

According to the pending contract, "the sponsorship program must enhance the value of the Golden Gate Bridge's 'brand' and its image as an internationally recognized icon of historical engineering and architectural significance."

Bartram and Currie said the district's plans follow the lead of the National Park Service's "Proud Partners Program," which has raised $100 million from corporations such as Discover and Ford Motor Co. Currie noted that signs at trailheads in some parks greet hikers with: "This trail brought to you by Ford."

Hopefully any Silicon Valley companies thinking about getting a piece of the bridge will consider the cautionary tale of microchip magnate Max Zorin's unsuccessful 1985 attempt to use the bridge in his bid for world corporate domination.

Toward the End of the Week, Everyone Needs A Good Laugh

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 8:27 PM EST

A center whose focus is freedom is planned for Israel, and will be named for George W. Bush, in gratitude "for his support for the country and its security." Daniel Ayalan, outgoing Israeli ambassador to the U.S., has gotten the go-ahead from Bush to proceed. Ayalan says he does not anticipate any problem in raising funds to build the Bush Center.

And speaking of security, I don't even like to think about the kind of security that will be needed to protect a complex in Israel named after Bush.

When Bush explained to Ayalon the tradition of outgoing presidents building libraries as part of their legacies, he told him that the Bush library in Texas would be an institute to advance freedom. Ayalon is said to have replied to the creator of "free speech zones" that perhaps the Israeli center could be a branch of the Texas library.

Police Brutality, Brought to You by YouTube

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 7:35 PM EST

Police tasered an unarmed student at least four times on Tuesday night inside the UCLA library.

23-year-old Mostafa Tabatabainejad did not have or was not showing his ID when he told the police, "Don't touch me," after they grabbed him on his way out with his backpack.

After they stunned him, he screamed and yelled, "Here's your Patriot Act. Here's your fucking abuse of power."

A crowd of dazed and angry students demanded the officers' names, with one saying, "You shocked him repeatedly. It's a violation…." to which an officer warned, back off or "you're gonna get tazed too."

The hair-raising scene is the third LA police brutality case publicized on YouTube this month. The first showed an officer repeatedly punching a suspect in the face after a foot chase in Hollywood. The second showed an officer pepper-spraying a suspect who is handcuffed inside a cruiser.

After the second video surfaced, Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former police chief, said that for over a year, the LAPD has ignored warnings of an "ongoing discipline problem" in the department. Of course, the LAPD likely isn't fazed by the YouTube phenomenon; they've been starring in on-camera beatings for more than 15 years.

—April Rabkin