Political MoJo

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.

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Bush Readies Climate Change Announcement

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 2:06 PM EST

There will likely be more solid news on this as we get closer to the State of the Union, but there are rumblings afoot that President Bush is prepared to soften his line on global warming in his Jan. 23 SOTU. A Reuters article today says the main emphasis will be on ethanol.

One source briefed by White House officials said Bush's speech on January 23 could call for over 60 billion gallons a year of ethanol to be mixed into U.S. gasoline supplies by 2030.
That would be a massive increase from the 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol use by 2012 required by current U.S. law.

Environmentalists have been skeptical of ethanol for quite some time -- in 1995, Mother Jones wrote an article titled "The Real Cost of Ethanol" that pointed out that support for ethanol has less to do with saving the environment and a lot more to do with political donations from and subsidies to the powerful corn lobby. More recently, Slate did a great job of explaining why ethanol is not environmentally-friendly or energy efficient.

David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, co-wrote a recent report that estimates that making ethanol from corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains.
The two scientists calculated all the fuel inputs for ethanol production—from the diesel fuel for the tractor planting the corn, to the fertilizer put in the field, to the energy needed at the processing plant—and found that ethanol is a net energy-loser.
In addition to their findings on corn, they determined that making ethanol from switch grass requires 50 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol yields, wood biomass 57 percent more, and sunflowers 118 percent more. The best yield comes from soybeans, but they, too, are a net loser, requiring 27 percent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced. In other words, more ethanol production will increase America's total energy consumption, not decrease it.

That may all be besides the point. The appeal of ethanol in many people's minds, I suspect, is not that America gets more green, but that when presented in simplest terms, it looks like an ethanol surge morphs our dependence on foreign oil into a dependence on domestic corn. And Americans like the sound of that, especially in the midwest.

Earlier this week, the UK's Observer reported that Blair and other senior British officials left pre-Christmas talks with Bush with the impression that Bush was ready to make a major move on climate change.

McCain Doesn't Want To Burden the Wealthy With Cost Of War

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 1:12 PM EST

Bush's new Iraq jobs program is going to cost a billion dollars. As Marty Kaplan points out in The Huffington Post, Congress could "repeal one zillionth of one percent of the cut in capital gains tax that Bush gave the wealthiest Americans. That would raise a billion in a heartbeat."

This idea, though more than sensible, does not appeal to Sen. John McCain, who told Al Hunt: "I'm not sure what the point would be. I would certainly ask Americans to serve. I would ask them to make other sacrifices, but I'm not sure I would want to raise their taxes just because we're in a war."

E.J. Dionne Jr. points out that, since 2001, we have offered two dollars in tax cuts for every dollar we have spent on war.

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.

In the Eye of Florida's Insurance Storm

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 11:26 PM EST

The Florida legislature convened a special session today to address the state's property insurance crisis, in which homeowners, in the wake of recent hurricanes, have seen rates double in many areas and insurers pull out of some communities entirely. Stories in the Orlando Sentinel today and Sunday mapped out the confusing political landscape: In the recent elections, most insurance company money--$2.4 million—went to Republicans, who control the governor's mansion and both houses of the legislature; yet, perhaps forecasting a typhoon of voter rage, the new governor, Charlie Crist, has vowed to do something about the skyrocketing rates, and last week proclaimed : "Big insurance has a new day coming." The forecast for that day is less certain. What's likely is that the state will assume more of the risk of bailing out insurers or insure more homeowners itself—tamping down rates but leaving taxpayers holding the bill in the event of a killer storm.

Not on the plate this week, but sure to be on people's minds, is of course global warming, which has been blamed, in a roundabout way, for the entire shebang. Until now, lawmakers in the second-lowest state in the union (Louisiana is first) haven't really paid much notice to the whole global warming thing; the state legislature took a pass on curbing greenhouse gasses last year and the U.S. Congressional delegation voted in lockstep with the Bush crowd. The blasé attitudes might soon change, though. In November, Broward County Democratic Congressional candidate Ron Klein unseated the Republican incumbent, Clay Shaw, after running ads targeting Shaw's reactionary global warming stance. And the Sierra Club's Florida lobbyist, Susie Caplowe, tells me that Governor Crist has ousted a number of former Governor Jeb Bush's environmental appointees and replaced them with people who she likes much better. Crist hasn't yet stated a position on global warming, but if he wanted to represent his state's best interests (and perhaps his own), getting to the moral high ground on the issue would be a good place to start.

Give Us Your Diggers, Your Furlers, Your Social Bookmarkers Yearning To Be Free

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 9:12 PM EST

Mother Jones is on board with the whole Web 2.0 deal (hey, we live in San Francisco) so as of today, we've made it easy to use following social bookmarking and sharing sites from any of our stories or blog posts:

Digg
Del.icio.us
Reddit
Yahoo MyWeb
StumbleUpon
Newsvine
Netscape
Furl

Should we add others, maybe Facebook? Are you having trouble with the widgets or the interfaces of the ones we have included? We'd like to know.

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American States Compared to World GDPs

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 8:14 PM EST

Cribbing from a Danish (?) blogger, The Big Picture provides us with a neat little map in which each American state's economic output is analogized to a country's GDP. The map is below and if you click on it, it will take you to a larger version.

american_map_GDP300.jpg

The U.K., Japan, Germany, China, Italy and India are all omitted because they have economies larger than that of the most productive American state, California. For a discussion of how the comparisons here are slightly inaccurate, see the comments section of The Big Picture.

Iraq's Single Day Death Toll Tops 100

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 7:30 PM EST

CNN is reporting that over 100 people have been killed in Iraq today. Not much to add.

Maybe check out Mother Jones' photo essays on Iraq, "Damage Done," about soldiers who return to the States with disabilities, "Unembedded in Iraq," about living life in Iraq amidst brutal violence, and "Coming Home," about seven American families who buried their loved ones.

I wonder if, after the inevitable pull out in 2007 or 2008 or 2009, the American media will continue to make this effort to report deaths in Iraq. I doubt it.

The Iraq War, Brought to You by Your Friends at Lockheed Martin

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 5:49 PM EST

Remember the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq? Much like Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a front group established by Hill & Knowlton before the first Gulf War, it was a made-to-order pressure group formed for the sole purpose of building support -- and providing a rationale -- for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. I'd long since forgotten about the organization -- which was supported by such neocon luminaries as James Woolsey, Richard Perle, and William Kristol and quietly disbanded after the invasion -- until I read the interesting investigative piece in the current issue of Playboy (yes, Playboy) that Liz references below. Titled "Lockheed Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," the article boldly bills itself as "the story of how Lockheed's interests -- as opposed to those of the American Citizenry -- set the course of U.S. Policy After 9/11."

According to the article, in November 2002 Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security advisor, had a meeting with a Lockheed official named Bruce Jackson, telling him that the U.S. was "going to war" but "struggling with a rationale." Reportedly, Hadley then asked Jackson to "set up something like the Committee on Nato" -- referring to another group previously formed by Jackson -- to fill this void. The result was the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

If the names and organizations connected to the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq seem to blur together, it's no coincidence. Many of the people involved had been in and out of that set of revolving doors connecting government, conservative think tanks, lobbying firms and the defense industry. And many shared another common bond, as well: a link to Lockheed Martin.

By the time the committee had assembled, they had a number of contacts in the Bush administration—many of whom also had Lockheed connections. Bush had appointed Powell A. Moore assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs serving directly under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. From 1983 until 1998, when he had become chief of staff to Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Moore was a consultant and vice president for legislative affairs for Lockheed.

Albert Smith, Lockheed's executive vice president for integrated systems and solutions, was appointed to the Defense Science Board. Bush had appointed former Lockheed chief operating officer Peter B. Teets as undersecretary of the Air Force and director of the National Reconnaissance Office, where he made decisions on the acquisition of reconnaissance satellites and space-based elements of missile defense. Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, the only Democrat appointed by Bush to his cabinet, worked for Lockheed, as did Bush's Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee before becoming the governor of Mississippi, worked for a Lockheed lobbying firm. Joe Allbaugh, national campaign manager of the Bush-Cheney ticket and director of FEMA during the first two years of the Bush administration (he appointed his college friend Michael Brown as FEMA's general counsel), was a Lockheed lobbyist for its rapidly growing intelligence division.

Dick Cheney's son-in-law, Philip J. Perry, a registered Lockheed lobbyist who had, while working for a law firm, represented Lockheed with the Department of Homeland Security, had been nominated by Bush to serve as general counsel to the Department of Homeland Security. His wife, Elizabeth Cheney, serves as deputy assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs.

Vice President Cheney's wife, Lynne, had, until her husband took office, served on the board of Lockheed, receiving deferred compensation in the form of half a million dollars in stock and fees. Even President Bush himself has a Lockheed Martin connection. As governor of Texas, he had attempted to give Lockheed a multimillion-dollar contract to reform the state's welfare system.

Jackson, who while serving as vice president of strategy and planning for Lockheed was also "responsible for the foreign policy platform at the Republican National Convention," told the author that "only 'literary types' would see a connection between Lockheed Martin and the Iraq war as 'seamless,'" insisting "that his own activities were 'not part of my day job.'" He then offered up this bizarre example: "There are lesbians who work for Lockheed Martin. One of them might be a belly dancer at night."

What Exactly is Going on in Somalia?

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 4:38 PM EST

A nice article by Matt Yglesias released today over at the American Prospect online, mainly hinging on the fact that with this Somalia business, "nobody can quite explain what it is we've accomplished, what we hoped to accomplish, or what we think we may in the future accomplish by doing this."

To review, news reports began reaching the United States around Christmas time indicating that Ethiopia had invaded its neighbor, possibly acting on its own and possibly acting at the behest of Somalia's extremely weak and internationally-"supported" government, in an attempt to break the power of Islamist rebels. "Rebels" was the term used by most of the media, but in truth, as Matt explains, the Islamic Courts Movement ruled much of the country and was the first non-warlord form of governance in Somalia since the last legitimate government fell apart over a decade ago.

Then reports came in saying that the United States had launched a rocket attack on Somalia in an attempt to kill a handful of suspected al Qaeda operatives. These reports were quickly followed by the news that no al Qaeda terrorists were actually killed and that the United States had assisted Ethiopia with ground troops.

Yglesias ponders the role of Lieutenant General William Boykin in this confusing turn of events. Boykin is a "mastermind of secret American special forces operations against suspected terrorists" and a Christian zealot, and was strangely fired shortly after the Somalia situation intensified. But that sort of speculation could be completely off-base: the real intrigue here is that no one has any idea what's going on. Here's Matt:

Boykin is, in short, exactly the sort of person who might think a Christmas-week invasion of Muslim Somalia by Christian Ethiopia backed by American special forces was a peachy idea whether or not it actually made sense on normal counterterrorism grounds. Maybe he just ordered this up while everyone was on vacation, only to get sacked as soon as his boss got back to work at the Pentagon. Or maybe Bush and his whole administration were on board after all. Nobody real knows.
And more to the point, nobody in Washington is talking about what we've actually done and why. Troops sent into Somalia to follow up on the AC-130 strike told The Washington Post that "no one can confirm a high-value target" was present at the scene. They did, however, find documents indicating that Aden Ayrow, not an al-Qaeda figure but a commander in the ICU military, had been there. The strike looks, in short, as if it was simply undertaken in support of Ethiopia's military adventure. Mogadishu is descending into chaos, with gun battles on the streets and predictable popular anger at the foreign invaders, their foreign backers (i.e., us), and their domestic puppets in the de jure government. An untold number of people have already been killed in the fighting, and many more are likely to die if Somalia devolves again into civil war, a situation that will only make the country more hospitable to al-Qaeda.

The emphasis above is mine. The fact that, in the end, this may be a case of nothing more than getting a regional power to do our dirty work dovetails nicely with something Peter Beinart wrote in TIME recently:

The Bush Administration has begun cribbing from a very different doctrine: Richard Nixon's. The Nixon Doctrine is the foreign policy equivalent of outsourcing. Nixon unveiled it in 1969 to a nation wearied by Vietnam. No longer would Americans man the front lines against global communism. In Vietnam, we would turn the fighting over to Saigon. In the Persian Gulf, we would build up Iran to check Soviet expansion. America would no longer be a global cop; it would be a global benefactor, quartermaster and coach--helping allies contain communism on their own.
Now President Bush is trying something similar. For much of 2006, Administration officials fretted about Somalia, where some of the ruling Islamists had terrorist ties. Next door in Djibouti, America stations around 1,000 troops. But instead of sending them in, we turned to Ethiopia, Somalia's neighbor and longtime rival. When the Ethiopian military rolled into Mogadishu and sent the Islamists fleeing last week, the Bush Administration kept a low profile, applauding the invasion and thanking its lucky stars that it was Ethiopia that launched it, not us.
It's becoming a familiar story. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has handed over much of the anti-Taliban fight to NATO. On North Korea, America works largely through China. On Darfur, we have banked on peacekeepers from the African Union. This past summer the Bush Administration briefly put Israel in charge of our Iran policy, supporting Jerusalem's war against Hizballah in hopes of crippling Tehran's powerful Lebanese ally.

The problem is obvious, and it's the same as when Nixon was in power. With Nixon's support of Iran, Beinart notes, the Shah got heady and cracked down on all political dissent. With time, he established a dictatorship that routinely violated human rights. Following him, of course, were the ayatollahs and the Iran we currently deal with today. In short, your proxies can do any old thing after you've gifted them support, arms, and legitimacy, and are not trustworthy agents of a properly conducted foreign policy.

By the way, this is not helping our image abroad. The African media is already calling Somalia "Bush's Fourth War Against the Muslims."