Political MoJo

Neocon Max Boot: Current Bush Strategy in Iraq Isn't Working

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 2:39 PM EDT

Whoa! Not quite on the level of Francis Fukuyama's showy disavowal of neoconsersavative groupthink, but not far off: Max Boot (a neoconservative who has long pushed for more US troops in Iraq and who recently argued that we should "let Israel take off the gloves" -- what gloves?) has this to say in the Los Angeles Times:

But there's another course short of withdrawal: reducing U.S. forces from today's level of 130,000 to under 50,000 and changing their focus from conducting combat operations to assisting Iraqi forces. The money saved from downsizing the U.S. presence could be used to better train and equip more Iraqi units. A smaller U.S. commitment also would be more sustainable over the long term. This is the option favored within the U.S. Special Forces community, in which the dominant view is that most American soldiers in Iraq, with their scant knowledge of the local language and customs, are more of a hindrance than a help to the counterinsurgency effort.

Make no mistake: This is a high-risk strategy. The drawdown of U.S. troops could catalyze the Iraqis into getting their own house in order, or it could lead to a more rapid and violent disintegration of the rickety structure that now exists.

Which path should we take? My preference remains deploying more soldiers, not fewer. A couple of divisions in Baghdad, if skillfully led, might be able to replicate the success that Col. H.R. McMaster's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment had in pacifying the western city of Tall Afar, where the troops-to-civilians ratio was 10 times higher than in Baghdad today. But at this point, I am also open to a substantial reduction in troop numbers because the current strategy just isn't working.

Next up...?

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Astroturf Telecom Groups Exposed

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 2:32 PM EDT

New from the media reform team at Common Cause:

Back in March, Common Cause released its first "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing" report, detailing the activities of nine groups masquerading as think tanks and public interest organizations, but controlled by telephone and cable companies. Since then, we've gotten the dirt on five more.

For example, Hands off the Internet sounds like activists wanting to protect the Internet. Actually, it's a telecommunications industry-backed organization that was spending $20,000 a day on television commercials aimed at eliminating long-standing net neutrality protections so that telephone and cable companies can maximize profit and minimize competition on the Internet.

These groups have managed to convince some members of Congress (with, just possibly, a nudge and a wink) that they enjoy public support. The Common Cause website allows people to go on the record and tell their Senators they oppose the telecom reform bill, which is, to quote CC, is "riddled with giveaways to the phone and cable companies."

See the new report here.

New Orleans Post-Katrina Recovery Lagging

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 1:38 PM EDT

Brookings has as a one-year anniversary special report on New Orleans' post-Katrina recovery. Bright spots include: the housing market is on the upswing, tourism and business travel are picking up, but that's pretty much it for the plus side of the ledger.

Basic findings:

  • Housing rehabilitation, and demolition, are well underway while the housing market tightens, raising rent and home prices. Across the most hard-hit parishes in the New Orleans area, the pace of demolitions has accelerated in the last six months while the number of permits issued for rehab has nearly doubled in the city. Yet, housing is less affordable as rent prices in the region have increased by 39 percent over the year and home sale prices have spiked in suburban parishes.

  • Across the city, public services and infrastructure remain thin and slow to rebound. Approximately half of all bus and streetcar routes are back up and running, while only 17 percent of buses are in use, a level of service that has not changed since January. Gas and electricity service is reaching only 41 and 60 percent of the pre-Katrina customer base, respectively.

  • The labor force in the New Orleans region is 30 percent smaller today than one year ago and has grown slowly over the last six months; meanwhile, the unemployment rate remains higher than pre-Katrina. The New Orleans metro area lost 190,000 workers over the past year, with the health and education services industries suffering the largest percentage declines. In the past six months, the region has seen 3.4 percent more jobs but much of that may reflect the rise in new job seekers. The unemployment rate is now 7.2 percent, higher than last August.

  • Since last August, over $100 billion in federal aid has been dedicated to serving families and communities impacted by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. In the meantime, the number of displaced and unemployed workers remains high. To date, the federal government has approved approximately $107 billion in federal aid to the Gulf Coast states most impacted by the storms. Of these funds, nearly half has been dedicated to emergency and longer-term housing. In the meantime, an estimated 278,000 workers are still displaced by the storm, 23 percent of whom remain unemployed.
  • Full report (PDF) here.

    UK-US Bomb Plot/Red Alert: Test Run in 1994?

    | Thu Aug. 10, 2006 1:17 PM EDT

    Some scary background from Tony Harris of CNN (with the caveat that it's not yet certain "Al Qaeda," whatever that name means these days, is behind this):

    In fact in 1994, al Qaeda actually pulled off a test run of one of these bombs that was assembled on an airplane using liquid explosives and a detonator. In that case, it was a Casio watch. Here the thinking is that it might have been one of these electric key fobs.

    So he says ... we're only talking about a small amount of explosives. Look at what Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, had. That was only a small amount of explosives, yet it was enough to bring down a plane, and that was much evolved from what happened in 1994.

    In 1995 and 1996, there was a plot to bring down up to 11 transoceanic flights from the Pacific into the United States. This plot is very reminiscent of that. So you begin to see where there's an evolution of the al Qaeda playbook here.

    Not sure how testing this out 10 years ago and doing it today represents an "evolution" but it's an interesting data point.

    Israel Allowing Hezbollah Attacks for PR?

    | Thu Aug. 10, 2006 3:40 AM EDT

    Tom Ricks, the Washington Post reporter whose remarkable book, Fiasco, tells you everything you didn't want to know about the Iraq war, tells Howard Kurtz on "Reliable Sources" (via PR Watch)that in Lebanon and just about any other war today, "civilian casualties are part of the battlefield play for both sides." Now Ricks is not a shoot-from-the-hip sort of guy, so this should be taken pretty seriously:

    One of the things that is going on, according to some U.S. military analysts, is that Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they're being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon.

    KURTZ: Hold on, you're suggesting that Israel has deliberately allowed Hezbollah to retain some of its fire power, essentially for PR purposes, because having Israeli civilians killed helps them in the public relations war here?

    RICKS: Yes, that's what military analysts have told me.

    Hmm, using terror attacks to justify drastic military action that also serves other strategic objectives. Rings a bell somehow.

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    Al Gore, Penguins, Global Warming, ExxonMobil, YouTube

    | Thu Aug. 10, 2006 2:43 AM EDT

    gorepenguins.jpgReally, we should have blogged about this a week ago. Still, it bears repeating that Antonio Regalado and Dionee Searcey of the Wall Street Journal reported that the popular YouTube video portraying Al Gore boring a few penguins with his talk on global warming appears to be the product of "DCI Group, a Washington, D.C., public relations and lobbying firm whose clients include oil company Exxon Mobil Corp."

    Ok, so this is insidious on a couple of levels. First, as Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, reported in a great investigative piece in Mother Jones, ExxonMobil has funded a vast array of think tanks and opinion makers (including FoxNews.com columnist Stephen Milloy) who—call it coincidence—are all major players in the debunking global warming movement. Really, it's hard to call it a movement, since as Mooney's article so clearly proves, all the major climate change debunkers receive funding from ExxonMobil.

    The Gore video is just the latest example of the carefully crafted distance between those Exxon funds, and the convenient message they then spew out. To wit:

    Dave Gardner, an Exxon spokesman, confirms that Exxon is a client of DCI. But he says Exxon had no role in creating the "Inconvenient Truth" spoof. "We, like everyone else on the planet, have seen it, but did not fund it, did not approve it, and did not know what its source was," Mr. Gardner says.

    But as the Journal also points out:
    The anti-Gore video represents a less well-known side of YouTube. As its popularity has exploded, the public video-sharing site has drawn marketers looking to build buzz for new music releases and summer blockbusters. Now, it's being tapped by political operatives, public relations experts and ad agencies to sway opinions.
    Hipsters beware. (And, also, haven't the penguins been through enough lately? And in Texas, already.)

    Full WSJ story after the jump.

    Americans Say the Dumbest Things

    | Wed Aug. 9, 2006 10:42 PM EDT

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    Want to know why half of Americans still say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded—up from 36% last year?

    Watch this video.

    Sometimes you just feel like giving up.

    Remember Darfur?

    | Wed Aug. 9, 2006 6:42 PM EDT

    AP reports:

    A peace deal that was supposed to end the conflict in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region has brought anything but peace, with fresh fighting displacing 50,000 more people and July marking the deadliest month for aid workers since the conflict began. Four aid groups warned Tuesday that conditions for millions of civilians suffering in the area could get much worse quickly if security does not improve. Spiraling violence is already causing a rise in malnutrition and the spread of disease in some displaced persons camps, the groups said.

    Eight Sudanese humanitarian workers were killed last month along with countless civilians, part of increasing violence since a May 5 peace deal was signed in Nigeria between the government and the main rebel group. The deal was supposed to help end the conflict but has instead sparked months of fighting between rival rebel factions. Aid groups, the United Nations and beleaguered African Union peacekeepers say rebel factions are seeking to gain advantage before peace upsets a status quo in a region where more than 200,000 people have been killed since 2003 when ethnic African tribes revolted against the Arab-led Khartoum government. Fresh clashes have left countless dead in the last two months and displaced nearly 50,000 more people in addition to the more than 2 million who had already fled their homes. One million people also rely on food aid because their fields have been razed or they're too afraid to go out to farm.

    Activists are pushing the Bush administration to do more (Reuters).

    Global Warming To Create a British Riviera?

    | Wed Aug. 9, 2006 4:08 PM EDT

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    The Guardian brings word of research predicting that, as global warming brings the climate up to a steady simmer, fewer northern Europeans will fly south to seek sunshiny climes. Mediterranean countries will become too hot for lily-white Brits and Germans, while the south coasts of England, Wales and Ireland will experience a tourist boom.

    The researchers have already used their model, which factors in changes in climate, population and economic conditions across the world, to predict that tourism demand will shift northwards and to higher altitude destinations. Now they have extended the model to include domestic tourists.

    "More people will stay in their home country, particularly Germans and Brits," said Richard Tol at Hamburg University. Germans are the most travelled nation with 72m international tourists and the UK is third with 53m. Both are rich with unreliable weather and close neighbours. But as the weather heats up, the model predicts more will stay within our borders.

    The tourism losers in the next decades, are set to be Greece, Italy, Spain, and the Caribbean. Tourists will flock to the Baltic coast, southern Sweden, Ireland, the Alps, Croatia and southern Britain.

    If the threat of melting ice caps, massive population displacements, and species extinctions isn't enough to make people get real about global warming, maybe the prospect of British people (and I speak as one) wearing fewer clothes will. For pity's sake let's get this stopped!