Iraq war and occupationA harsh attack on Blair's use of the tale of WMDs to justify going to war was written in 2004 by Carne Ross, Britain's chief negotiator at the UN, but until now has been kept hidden, with Ross threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Ross had testified, in secret, that Blair knew Hussein had no WMDs. "[A]at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests," Ross testified, adding that it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained." Ross also revealed that British officials repeatedly warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. "I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed)," he said. "At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos." Ross claimed "inertia" in the Foreign Office and the "inattention of key ministers" combined to stop the UK carrying out any co-ordinated and sustained attempt to address sanction-busting by Iraq, an approach which could have provided an alternative to war.
Iraq war and occupationPanetta figured that his panel's recommendations would give Bush the political cover he needed for a dramatic policy shift. Instead, while Bush has adopted the panel's slogan -- "A New Way Forward" -- he has rejected almost all of the panel's recommendations. Bush has even criticized the idea that the group was providing a "graceful exit" from the war, which is what Panetta and other panel members figured Bush most wanted. "I think he has been trapped by his own rhetoric," Panetta says. "His ratings are so low now that he has got to do something to pull this country together." But Panetta doesn't know Bush very well. One man who does, former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card, says he isn't surprised by Bush's reaction. Card says that Bush hears many opinions and thus believes that "his knowledge is more complete than anyone who is advising him." Bush's ignorance of the most basic foreign policy tenets and issues is widely documented, as is his vaunted predilection to rely on his "gut instinct" over facts and analysis. So far, the only recommendation of any real impact Bush has endorsed is to speed up the training of Iraqi troops and security forces. Instead, after meeting with a number of conservative advisors who roundly rejected the ISG's recommendations for diplomacy with Iran and Syria and for planned withdrawals, Bush said belligerently, "I've heard some ideas that would lead to defeat, and I reject those ideas -- ideas such as leaving before the job is done." (Press secretary Tony Snow said after that comment that Bush wasn't talking about the ISG report.) (Boston Globe)
Secrecy of Bush administrationThe column is critical of the administration's refusal to engage Iran. Leverett's op-ed has already been cleared by the CIA, where he was a senior analyst. Leverett explains, "I've been doing this for three and a half years since leaving government, and I've never had to go to the White House to get clearance for something that I was publishing as long as the CIA said, 'Yeah, you're not putting classified information.'" Leverett says the op-ed is "all based on stuff that Secretary [Colin] Powell, Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice, Deputy Secretary [Richard] Armitage have talked about publicly. It's been extensively reported in the media." Leverett says the incident shows "just how low people like Elliot Abrams at the NSC [National Security Council] will stoop to try and limit the dissemination of arguments critical of the administration's policy."
Attack on civil libertiesGingrich, a possible presidential candidate for the GOP in 2008, says the threat of biological or nuclear attack requires America to consider curbs to speech to fight terrorists, if it is to protect the society that makes the First Amendment possible. He derides those who have criticized his calls to roll back the First Amendment, telling a Republican audience, "Our friends at the 'ACLU left,' of course, were staggered at this concept. How could we talk about anything less than 100 percent free speech? How could we consider in any way thinking about this issue?" Gingrich cites last month's ejection of six Muslim scholars from a plane in Minneapolis for suspicious behavior, which included reports they prayed before the flight and had sat in the same seats as the 9/11 hijackers (this portion of the report is believed to be false). "Those six people should have been arrested and prosecuted for pretending to be terrorists," Gingrich says, though the six Muslims have not been shown to have done anything except pray before their flight. "And the crew of the US airplane should have been invited to the White House and congratulated for being correct in the protection of citizens." On November 27, he said the First Amendment may require a "different set of rules" for terrorists, comments made while he addressed a free speech award dinner hosted by the Loeb School of Communications. He said in a subsequent interview, "If you give me any signal in the age of terrorism that you're a terrorist, I'd say the burden of proof was on you." (Manchester Union Leader)
Terrorism detainees and "enemy combatants"Decisions by more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, Europe and South Asia to release the former detainees raise questions about whether they were really as dangerous as the United States claimed, or whether some of America's staunchest allies have set terrorists and militants free. Around 360 former prisoners have been released since the facility opened in January 2002; since the US doesn't bother to keep track of these supposed "vicious killers" who were once deemed so dangerous to the US that they couldn't be allowed to even stand trial, according to the State Department, there is no way to know exactly who was released and when. The Associated Press has managed to track 245 of the released detainees.
Partisan Bush appointeesGates says that he will ensure DCI John Negroponte "has the authority that he needs to fulfill his responsibilities," and notes that one key power Negroponte lacks is the ability to hire and fire agency heads. John Gannon, who held several senior CIA posts under Gates, says that Gates will limit the Pentagon's role to gathering information needed for tactical decisions on the ground and leave the rest to CIA and other agencies that have traditionally conducted human spying. "Bob will rein in the Department of Defense," says Gannon. In written responses to questions prior to his nomination hearing, Gates acknowledged his previous statements that "intelligence authority has been quietly leaching from the CIA and to the Pentagon." He said that this was "clearly" an issue he would confront as defense secretary, so that he could strengthen "coordination and cooperation" between the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. Rumsfeld's blatant power-grabbing of intelligence functions created a great deal of tension between the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies such as the CIA. After Bush directed the CIA to lead the 2001 Afghanistan invasion, Rumsfeld vowed never to let the CIA upstage the military again. Rumsfeld launched a controversial expansion of the Defense Department's role in intelligence collection and analysis, including the creation, in 2003, of a new position, undersecretary for intelligence, which he gave to trusted aide Stephen Cambone. From that post, Cambone launched a number of new projects that boosted the Pentagon's human spying capacity, traditionally the purview of the CIA. Rumsfeld also established the Counterintelligence Field Activity, a domestic intelligence collection operation that has come under fire for illegally gathering information on peace activists. "He's got to be aggressive about undoing the damage that Don Rumsfeld did, not only with regard to Iraq but with what the Pentagon has done with intelligence," says UCLA professor Amy Zegart, who advised the 2000 Bush campaign on security issues. "It is going to be hard to do that and deal with Iraq at the same time." (Baltimore Sun/Contra Costa Times)
Iraq war and occupationThe last surge the US had was an utter failure, Powell says, so he isn't persuaded that another one will work any better; the US Army, Powell says, is "about broken." Powell says in part, "There are really no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there there longer and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops. ...[T]he active army is about broken. General Shoemaker [Peter Shoemaker, deputy chief of staff for the Army] is absolutely right. All of my contacts within the Army suggest that the Army has a serious problem in the active force." (CBS/Crooks and Liars [link to video])
Iraq war and occupationThe statement comes a day after Republican senator and presidential hopeful John McCain called for up to 30,000 more troops to be sent to Iraq. Bush says he will not announce any new changes in US policy until January, and is holding a series of meetings with US and Iraqi officials, and with a variety of conservative advisors, on what his next moves should be. The goals of the new troops in Iraq would be to secure Baghdad from the escalating violence that has all but shattered the city, to quell the insurgency in the western province of Anbar, and to neutralize the militias responsible for much of the sectarian violence in Baghdad and other locales. There are currently 140,000 US troops in Iraq. No senior US military commanders have asked for such a "surge" in troops; most agree with recent conclusions by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that say the only solution for Iraq's civil war will be a political one. (BBC)
Anti-terrorism and homeland securityWhile government officials say the units have better enabled the US to track terrorist networks and capture or kill enemy operatives in regions such as the Horn of Africa, where weak governments are unable to respond to emerging threats, several of these operations have "gone rogue," sometimes without the knowledge of the CIA, exposing sensitive intelligence operations in East Africa and jeopardizing existing operations, and offending friendly nations, including several European allies, who had no idea US teams were working inside their borders. To date, the operations have not led to the capture of a single terror suspect. The program was approved by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and is expected to get close scrutiny by his successor, Robert Gates, who takes over today and has been critical of the expansion of the military's intelligence operations. "We are at war out there and frankly we need all the help that we can get," says Marine General Michael Ennis, who since February has served as a senior CIA official in charge of coordinating human intelligence operations with the military. "But at the same time we have to be very careful that we don't disrupt established relationships with other governments, with their liaison services, or [do] anything that would embarrass the United States." Ennis acknowledges "really egregious mistakes" in the program, but said collaboration had improved between the CIA and the military.
Iraq war and occupationThe report, the most pessimistic yet from the Defense Department, describes a nation locked in the throes of civil war, though the report doesn't use the term, with violence at record highs of 959 attacks per week, declining public confidence in government and "little progress" toward political reconciliation. "The violence has escalated at an unbelievably rapid pace," says Marine General John Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We have to get ahead of that violent cycle, break that continuous chain of sectarian violence. ...That is the premier challenge facing us now." According to Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, the February 22 bombing of the Askariya Mosque, a holy Shi'ite shrine in the ethnically diverse city of Samarra, "achieved what one could call a partial strategic success [for the insurgents,] namely, to trigger what we've been dealing with ever since, which is a cycle of sectarian violence, that indeed is shaking the institutions." The 50-page Pentagon report, mandated quarterly by Congress, also states for the first time that the Shi'ite militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has replaced al-Qaeda as "the most dangerous" force propelling Iraq toward civil war, as Shi'ite militants kill more civilians than do terrorists.
Iraq war and occupationThe "surge" seems to be the central idea of the "revamping" of the Bush policy towards Iraq. But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission, and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military. The "surge" is also considered the most viable political solution to the firestorm of controversy surrounding Iraq, and the plummeting poll numbers for Bush. The chiefs are taking a firm stand because they believe the strategy review will be the most important decision on Iraq to be made since the March 2003 invasion. The Pentagon has frequently warned in the last weeks that any short-term mission may only set up the United States for bigger problems when it ends. The service chiefs have warned that a short-term mission could give an enormous edge to virtually all the armed factions in Iraq -- including al-Qaeda's foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias -- without giving an enduring boost to the US military mission or to the Iraqi army. Pentagon advisors believe that a modest surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack US troops. As for the large, well-armed Shi'ite militias, they may just melot back into society until the "surge" troops are withdrawn, then re-emerge and retake the streets of Baghdad and other cities. Even the announcement of a time frame and mission -- such as for six months to try to secure volatile Baghdad -- could play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new US strategy, the chiefs warn.
Iraq war and occupationReporters in today's press conference pepper Snow with two major questions: is Bush really going to send a "surge" of new troops to Iraq, and how does Bush react to recent public skepticism about former Secretary of State Colin Powell's apparent skepticism about such a plan? Neither question gets a definitive answer. About the new troops deployments, Snow says, "Everybody -- I know you all want to know surge or no surge, the answer is, no answer." Of Powell, Snow is even more disingenuous, saying that Bush and Powell are essentially in agreement, even though the White House disagrees with Powell's statement that Iraq is locked in a "civil war." Snow also tries to contest the fact that Powell said bluntly that the US is currently "losing" in Iraq, and lacks the troops necessary for a major buildup. Snow also asserts that if the Iraqi government ever asks the US to leave, it would immediately do so. Bush continues to insist that he will make no public announcements of any "modifications" to his Iraq policies until after the New Year. (Editor and Publisher)
Religious conservativesPastor Christopher Beard, who headed a ministry that trained young adults in leadership skills, has stepped down after admitting to "a series of decisions displaying poor judgment, including one incident of sexual misconduct several years ago," according to associate pastor Rob Brendle. Brendle refuses to discuss the nature of the charges, except to say they do not involve Haggard nor any minors. Beard, a New Life employee for nine years, was not married at the time of the incident but is now, Brendle says. After Haggard's fall in a scandal over his homosexual relations with a prostitute and his drug use (see the items about Haggard in the November 2006 page), the senior leadership of New Life asked its outside board of overseers to take a closer look at the "spiritual character" of its 200-member staff as a precaution. Brendle says Beard's disclosures came during a meeting with the board, which is made up of four pastors from other congregations. Brendle says Beard's resignation was voluntary and is another step toward making sure the "disordered moral life" demonstrated in Haggard's fall is "excised from the church." Before his resignation, Beard oversaw a church ministry called twentyfourseven, a nine-month training program for young adults in missionary work and leadership. In 2002, Beard was reprimanded by church officials after he staged a missionary training drill using fake assault weapons. A SWAT team was put on alert after a passing motorist thought the guns were real. (Denver Post)
Gun advocacyLaPierre writes for his organization's magazine, "There's someone out there telling folks to buy guns illegally, and I think it's time we put a stop to it. He's directing contract employees to walk into gun stores, lie on the paperwork about who's buying the gun, and walk out after making a straw purchase. Even worse, he's bragging about what he's doing. He's holding press conferences to tell the world about what he's done, but so far law enforcement doesn't seem to be listening. Well, I think it's time we help out the ATF agents that enforce our nation's gun laws. We need to call their Illegal Gun Hotline...and alert them to this illegal firearms activity. Tell them that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is hiring private investigators to initiate straw purchases in several states, and you want them to enforce the law."
Iraq war and occupationAmericans "no longer believe their sons and daughters are dying for a good reason, but President Bush seems in no mood to hear them," she writes. "Yes, he fired Donald Rumsfeld. And yes, he will announce next year 'a new way forward.' But listen carefully. It's clear the president is not really interested in a 'new way' at all. He still firmly believes that his old way is right, that the war was justified, that 'victory' is the only way to keep [America] safe. His own words reflect no doubt or regret: 'Iraq is a central component of defeating the extremists who want to establish a safe haven in the Middle East, extremists who would use their safe haven from which to attack the United States. This is really the calling of our time, that is, to defeat the extremists and radicals.' But the president has not only lost the 'battle for hearts and minds' across the Arab world, he's lost it across the United States. The people of Bapchule and Oxford no longer believe his words or trust his judgment. Virtually everything he ever said to them about the war -- from 'Mission Accomplished' to 'absolutely, we're winning' -- has been wrong. Once, Americans might have shared his vision of a free, self-governing Iraq, but not any more. He has squandered their trust and betrayed their patriotism. The parents of Thibodaux and Cheektowaga no longer want to sacrifice their children to a lost cause." She notes that even Republican lawmakers like Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith have criticized Bush's Iraq policies: "But how can these critics exert any leverage over a president who is not running again and seems detached from reality? GOP hardliners -- like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney, who don't have to stand for office, or send their own children to war -- are still telling Bush to ignore the "surrender monkeys," as one headline put it. ...The nation is facing an enormous tragedy. Bush can't or won't leave Iraq, but staying means [American communities such as] Pflugerville will keep burying its children. Only a new president will be able to stop the dying." (Austin American-Statesman)
Conservative media slantTime recently stated that it wanted to introduce more political diversity within its ranks of commentators; since then, it has hired one conservative after another. The only non-conservatives on Time's staff is the centrist Eleanor Clift, and supposed liberal Joe Klein, who, according to media critic Eric Alterman, "pretends that the message of liberals for the past twenty years has been that they 'hate America,' just as if he were reading from talking points issued by Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter." No other liberals or progressives write comment for Time. Kristol is the editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and a regular guest commentator for Fox News. Kinsley, a founding editor of Slate and a current editor-at-large for Britain's Guardian newspaper, is not nearly as ideologically purist as Kristol, but has recently used his columns to dismiss evidence that the administration manipulated intelligence to support its case for war, defend the Republican leadership's handling of the Mark Foley scandal, criticize House Democrats, and attack the validity of the Iraq Study Group. (Washington Post/MediaMatters)