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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT we find that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, has doubts about Maliki’s ability to quell the current violence in Iraq (Bush Adviser’s Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader):

“His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,” the memo said of the Iraqi leader. “But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

I must confess: I really didn’t need a leaked memo–that conclusion was pretty easy to reach. It is clear that Maliki is either inept, powerless, or complicit (or a combination of all three) in regards to the current circumstances.

The question in regards to the memo is whether it was leaked stragetically as a means of putting pressure on Maliki in advance of his meeting with Bush or whether it was leaked maliciously to sabotage that meeting.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo we find that Speaker-elect Pelosi will name neither Alcee Hastings nor Jane Harman to chair the House intelligence committee (Hastings, Harman Rejected for Chairmanship).

The piece does not say, however, who would be named. The LAT gives the following details: Hastings won’t chair intel panel, Pelosi says

In a written statement, Pelosi said she had met with Hastings and “advised him that I would select someone else as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.”

Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who will become speaker when her party takes control of the House in January, did not explain why she was bypassing Hastings, the panel’s second-ranking Democrat. Her office has previously indicated that the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, will not be reappointed.

The whole situation with Hastings has reflected poorly on the Congressional Black Caucus. It is one thing to promote diversity, it is another to make race the main variable in a situation. Further, it isn’t as if there aren’t going to be prominent black chairs in the 110th–both John Conyers and Charlie Rangel come immediately to mind.

Indeed, the CBC’s relationship with Pelosi has been marred by two such situations–this one and their ire over Pelosi’s treatment of William Jefferson, he of cold hard cash fame (back to WaPo:

Complicating the matter was Pelosi’s relationship with black Democrats. Earlier this year, she enraged the Black Caucus by removing one of its members, Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), from the Ways and Means Committee after court documents revealed that federal investigators looking into allegations of bribery had found $90,000 in cash neatly bundled in his freezer.

I would argue that just as we should not reject someone for a position because of race, we should similarly not give someone a pass because of their hue.

Despite Hastings being found innocent at trial, there remains a substantial cloud over his ethics that makes the recent campaign by the CBC to have him placed in the chair of the intelligence committee shameful:

He [Hastings] pointed repeatedly to his 1983 acquittal by a Miami jury and wrote that it is “amazing how little importance” his critics give that verdict. The events that followed that trial, he said, “are so convoluted, voluminous, complex and mundane that it would boggle the mind.”

In fact, there is a certain simplicity in the conclusion drawn by an investigating committee of five eminent federal judges, each with strong civil rights credentials. Those judges, and later more than three dozen others, concluded that Hastings lied to the Miami jury as many as 15 times to win acquittal.

And there’s this:

When the Hastings case reached the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), skeptical about the evidence, investigated further. In time, Conyers, an African American, became so certain of Hastings’s guilt that he delivered an impassioned speech about race and justice — and made an opening statement during the Senate proceedings, which ended with Hastings’s conviction on 11 counts, including seven counts of making false statements.

“We did not wage that civil rights battle merely to replace one form of judicial corruption for another,” Conyers said in the House, which voted 413 to 3 to impeach Hastings.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

If you haven’t been watching NBC’s Heroes and you are even vaguely an SF/comics fan, then you are missing something.

If you want to get at least semi-caught up, SciFi Channel is going to show the first six episodes tomorrow. Between that and the re-runs after next week’s “mid-season finale” you should be all caught in time for the January resumption of this very compelling, well-written and well-acted tale.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Castro’s 80th birthday bash kicks off without him

Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday celebration kicked off on Tuesday with the ailing Cuban leader nowhere in sight but hundreds of admirers from around the world were on hand to pay homage.

He really must not be in good shape if he is missing his B-Day bash. For that matter, the party was postponed already because his illness.

Officials said 1,500 guests from 80 countries will attend the celebrations, including presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rene Preval of Haiti and president-elect Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Castro’s top ally and equally fierce critic of the United States, is not expected to make the event because he faces a national election on Sunday.

The celebrations were originally scheduled for Castro’s actual birthday on August 13.

Due to his illness he asked that they be postponed until Dec 2, the 50th anniversary of the day he and a group of followers landed in Cuba to start a guerrilla movement that seized power in a 1959 revolution.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Apropos of the topic of civil war and its definition, I came across the following from historian David Bushnell (an expert on Colombia):

Indeed, what is a civil war?  At what point does a series of illegal protest actions become incipient civil warfare, or a riot deserve to be counted as at least an attempted revolution?  the answer to these questions are often less obvious than one would assume.

Source: 

Bushnell, David.  1992.  Politics and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Colombia.  in Charles Bergquist, Ricardo Peñaranda and Gonzalo Sánchez (eds.) Violence in Colombia:  The Contemporary Crisis in Historical Perspective.  Wilmington, DE:  Scholarly Resources, Inc, pps. 12-13.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the WSJ: Bush Approval Ratings Slip

President Bush’s approval ratings, as tracked by Harris Interactive, fell to the second-lowest of his presidency, according to a new poll.

According to the telephone poll, conducted between Nov. 17 and Nov. 21, 31% of U.S. adults called Mr. Bush’s job performance “excellent” or “good” — down from 34% who gave a positive assessment in a late-October poll; 67% said his performance is only “fair” or “poor,” up from 63% in the previous survey. The president’s lowest approval rating in a Harris poll was 29% in May 2006.

No shock, really. One guesses that barring some radical new event or substantial improvement in Iraq that the numbers will continue to reside in the bottom 30s. Indeed, they could go lower if hardcore supporters start to get frustrated.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Castro succession takes shape in Cuba under brother:

Whether or not ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro reappears in public this week at his 80th birthday celebration, a successor government led with stealth by his brother Raul appears to be firmly in place.

For four months since the Cuban leader underwent emergency surgery and turned over power temporarily, his designated heir and long-serving defense minister has run the country with few speeches and less fanfare.

The lingering nature of Castro’s illness (as opposed to a dramatic death) has placed Cuba in an interesting situation.  Clearly some kind of transition has taken place, but since Fidel lives on, the foundation of the Cuban state continues.  Further, such a situation allows the establishment of a post-Fidel government while Fidel is still alive–which will be a boon to the ability of the Cuban Communist Party to persist for the near-term as the governing force in Cuba.

I still believe that there will be a major transition in Cuba some time after Fidel’s death, but the timing of that transition is more up in the air as a result of the current situation.

I will say this:  the fact that Raul’s government continues to be stealthy really isn’t a sign of the health and long-term viability of the current situation persisting in a post-Fidel context.  Not to mention the fact that Raul himself is hardly a young man, and as such is a transitory figure in any event.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the LAT: NBC to use ‘civil war’ to describe Iraq:

NBC News said Monday that its reporters and anchors would begin referring to the ongoing sectarian strife in Iraq as a “civil war,” a move that reflects the news media’s use of increasingly stark language to characterize the escalating violence gripping the country.

NBC’s decision, which came after a particularly deadly series of retaliatory attacks in Baghdad, makes it the first television network to officially adopt the term “civil war,” a description the Bush administration has resisted.

The Times was the first major news organization to formally adopt the description when it began to refer to the hostilities as a civil war in October, without public fanfare. No other major media outlet has made the phrase a matter of policy, although it has cropped up in various news reports.

The White House has exerted pressure on the media not to use the term, journalists said, which led to newsroom caution over the issue. NBC’s announcement spotlights a shift in semantics that has quietly taken place on the airwaves and in newsprint as the violence has worsened along with the public’s view of the situation in Iraq.

While I am on the record as disputing the description of the situation as a “civil war” from the point of view of appropriate conceptual categorization, I would note that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet (or, perhaps more appropriately in this case, trash by any other name would still reek).

In other words:  what we call the situation in Iraq really is literally an academic question.  One can call it a “Fred” if one likes, but the bottom line is that the violence is escalating and the country appears headed for a break-up.

From a political science point of view (in terms of which term to apply), the issue is whether one believes that an expansive or a more narrow definition is the appropriate one.  My analytical predilections are normally to argue that more narrow definitions are more useful, hence my lack of application of the term at the moment.  I simply don’t think it fits.  However, that is not meant to diminish the obvious problems in Iraq at the moment.

From a political point of view the irony is that the political power of the term “civil war” (like the term “insurgent” before it) is not to be found in the word itself, but in the meaning assigned to it by the administration itself.  Since it is clear that the administration find the term “civil war” to mean failure in Iraq, the term takes on a great significance to the discourse on Iraq.  Sans that signal from the administration the term would be seen as dramatic, but it would not have the political punch that it obviously now has.

The subtext of journalistic politics is also interesting:

The Times began referring to the violence as a “civil war” in an Oct. 7 article after several months of internal discussions.

“For some time now we believe it has been a fairly simple call: Inside one country you have different armed groups fighting with each other,” said Marjorie Miller, the newspaper’s foreign editor. “That is the definition of a civil war.”

The newspaper uses the term to characterize the violence in the center of Iraq and Baghdad, but editors noted that the fighting in other areas, such as the western province of Al Anbar, where Marines engage in regular combat with insurgents, was sometimes described differently. The newspaper has used “civil war” dozens of times, although Miller said it had not appeared as consistently as she would have liked.

“I had to keep up the conversation to make sure we called it what it is, a civil war,” she said.

It’s like: NBC is a Johnny-come-lately–we were here first!!

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo: Anbar Picture Grows Clearer, and Bleaker:

The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda’s rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military’s mission in Anbar province. The Marines recently filed an updated version of that assessment that stood by its conclusions and stated that, as of mid-November, the problems in troubled Anbar province have not improved, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday. “The fundamental questions of lack of control, growth of the insurgency and criminality” remain the same, the official said.

Anbar is a Sunni area of Iraq, as such the following is not a surprise:

True or not, the memo says, “from the Sunni perspective, their greatest fears have been realized: Iran controls Baghdad and Anbaris have been marginalized.” Moreover, most Sunnis now believe it would be unwise to count on or help U.S. forces because they are seen as likely to leave the country before imposing stability.

Between al-Qaeda’s violence, Iran’s influence and an expected U.S. drawdown, “the social and political situation has deteriorated to a point” that U.S. and Iraqi troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar,” the assessment found. In Anbar province alone, at least 90 U.S. troops have died since Sept. 1.

The fact that the US was never able to build a relationship based on trust with local leaders within the various sects is yet another example of the failure of this policy.

James Joyner comments on the story here.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT: Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq:

A senior American intelligence official said Monday that the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr.

I must confess, my first reaction these days to dramatic revelations from American intelligence officials, is to pause and wonder. Still, this makes sense, and is plausible. It is also disturbing.

The details:

The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said.

Iran has facilitated the link between Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, the official said. Syrian officials have also cooperated, though there is debate about whether it has the blessing of the senior leaders in Syria.

The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity under rules set by his agency, and discussed Iran’s role in response to questions from a reporter.

One would expect that Iran has been involved in training and aiding Shi’ite militia groups, and especially the Mahdi army.

By the same token, this leak could also be (as the story suggests) to undermine any recommendations by the Iraq Study Group that would include talks with Iran.

The claim about Hezbollah’s role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran.

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