Saturday, January 20, 2007


Police getting closer to Tony Blair

I liked best the way Colin Brown of the Independent reported the Ruth Turner arrest. It has a certain music to it—

The net tightened on Tony Blair yesterday after one of his senior advisers was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, by police investigating the alleged "cash for honours" scandal.

Ruth Turner, the director of government relations inside Downing Street, was arrested under caution and bailed without charge after questioning. She could face more interviews.

In a statement released by 10 Downing Street, Ms Turner said: "I absolutely refute any allegations of wrongdoing of any nature whatsoever."

She is the most senior official close to the Prime Minister to be arrested so far. She is the fourth person to be arrested by the Metropolitan Police, amid clear signals that they are determined to pursue evidence to make charges stick in spite of the damage and embarrassment it is causing to the Government.

If you're not familiar with the cash-for-honors scandal, it involves certain promises made by Blair's Labor Party to certain wealthy benefactors for peerages (titles) that would give them a seat in the House of Lords.

Blair should be on trial for war crimes, but I'll be happy to see him in the dock any way he gets there. Now if there were just some way we could get the Metropolitan Police involved in the George Bush/Dick Cheney case...



Israel involved in Idi Amin's rise to power

In an interesting film review of "The Last King of Scotland," former Uganda resident Richard Dowden finds it likely that it was the Israelis who brought dictator Idi Amin to power. This was not in the script—

If the British did have a hand in the events of 25 January 1971, the plotters neglected to tell the British high commissioner in Kampala, Richard Slater. Foreign Office telegrams reveal a man shocked and confused at reports of shooting in the streets. As the day rolls on, Slater reports that the man who knows all about the coup is Colonel Bar-Lev, the Israeli defence attaché - the ambassador was away. Quoting Bar-Lev as the source, Slater reports: "In the course of last night, General Amin caused to be arrested all officers in the armed forces sympathetic to Obote ... Amin is now firmly in control of all elements of [the] army ... the Israeli defence attaché discounts any possibility of moves against Amin."

In the following days, the Israelis take the lead. Bar-Lev is in constant contact with Amin. Slater tells London that Bar-Lev has explained to him "in considerable detail [how] ... all potential foci of resistance, both up-country and in Kampala, had been eliminated." How does he know this? The Uganda military radio network had been provided by the Israelis. Soon afterwards, Amin made his first trip as president - to Israel.

But why should Israel be interested in Uganda? Slater never directly accused Israel of being behind the coup, but he did explain why they might have been. In the Six-Day War, Sudan had backed the Arab cause, and Israel wanted to take the fight to its enemies. They were supporting rebellion in southern Sudan, supplying the Anya-Nya fighters with weapons. As Slater said: "They do not want the rebels to win. They want to keep them fighting."

Obote had been trying to make peace in Sudan, but, unknown to him, Amin, then head of his army, had been secretly supplying the Israeli weapons to the rebels. Amin had good friends in Israel, and suddenly the Israelis had the opportunity to remove the man who was trying to broker peace, and put their man in power.

Why am I not surprised?


Friday, January 19, 2007


Venezuelan TV tries on a dress

There's nothing in English so I'll just translate Mathilde Guillaume's note in Têtu—

A transvestite in the macho world of TV soap operas

The new Venezuelan soap opera "The Kings" has all the most classic elements: cardboard sets, a predictable script (a beautiful, poor young woman falls hopelessly in love with a handsome, rich young man—can love triumph?) and actors not exactly subtle... But what's causing a lot of ink to flow ... is that one of the principal characters, Laisa Reyes, is a transvestite, whose role will be to draw the viewers' attention to the problems related to discrimination. The transexual actress Endry Cardeño plays Laisa Reyes, a voluptuous character for which she took courses in "glamor" and etiquette. "The Kings" is in fact the remake of an Argentinian soap opera, which finished last year by beating all audience ratings for the [South American] continent.


Thursday, January 18, 2007


How the Republican Party lost its members

If there are Republicans for whom influence or power or money have become more important than serving the public and the nation, then let me make it perfectly clear: We don't want you. —Ken Mehlman, outgoing chairman of the Republican National Committee, in his farewell address today at the RNC's winter meeting


Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Getting it wrong is usually right

Jebediah Reed was impressed by a David Brooks' column in praise of meritocracy and decided to check how the meritocratic principles are being applied in the world of punditry—

Noticing our nation is stuck in an unwinnable war (or two), we wondered if America hasn't stumbled off the meritocratic path. More specifically, since political pundits like Brooks play such a central role in our national decision-making process, maybe something is amiss in the world of punditry. Are the incentives well-aligned? Surely those who warned us not to invade Iraq have been recognized and rewarded, and those who pushed for this disaster face tattered credibility and waning career prospects. Could it be any other way in America?

Well, yes it could, as Reed quickly discovered.

... we selected the four pundits who were in our judgment the most influentially and disturbingly misguided in their pro-war arguments and the four who were most prescient and forceful in their opposition....

Then we did a career check ... and found that something is rotten in the fourth estate.

Reed dismisses the conservative pundits as being too much in lock-step to compare and considers only the pro-war liberals and moderates.

Of the pro-war pundits, the best rewarded for perpetual ignorance was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who has discovered that punditry is only slightly less lucrative than oil. Young Peter Beinart of The New Republic was wrong enough before the war to be appointed recently to a senior fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, a very audible Muslim voice, has demonstrated that you don't have to be Jewish to be invited practically everywhere there's a camera. And finally there's Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker, who pushed the false Iraq–al Qaeda connection and whatever else the Bush administration deemed appropriate and is now doing very well, thank you. There seem to be no limits to the rewards accruing to this compliant set of pundits.

But on the anti-war side there's been a downturn in the economy. It looks as if income may be negatively correlated with accuracy. Robert Scheer, who had written a column for the LA Times, was fired in 2005 and replaced by the rabid Jonah Goldberg. William Lind, a very respected "paleoconservative," gets his writings into sites such as Counterpunch and, which is no way to make a living. Jonathan Schell has written for the New Yorker and Harpers but mostly depends on the Leftie readership of The Nation. As Grandma Fuse would have put it, he'll be scratching a poor behind till the day he dies. And finally there's Scott Ritter, who as a U.N. weapons inspector actually knew something about WMD. True expertise in a subject is an almost certain path to oblivion.

So there you have it. The rewards for being wrong as a pundit seem to parallel the rewards for being wrong, corrupt or stupid for members of the Bush administration. Jebediah Reed's survey is a delightful read and goes a long way toward explaining why we are so poor here at Simply Appalling.

And speaking of being wrong, have you noticed a tendency recently for former pro-war pundits who've reversed their positions to get all huffy when reminded that they've changed their tune? For instance, here's [video for Jan. 11, ~36:30] Richard Holbrooke, former ambassador to the U.N.—

ROSE: [addressing Fareed Zakaria and Richard Holbrooke] Both of you guys supported the war in the beginning.

HOLBROOKE: Ah, you bring that up every time, Charlie!

Amnesia is a "must" for a successful pundit.

Related post
The punditry gap (10/27/04)


Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Bush Backer of the Day

[A]fter the thumping President Bush's Republicans took at the mid-term elections late last year because of the Iraq war, he might even find more support for his approach to international relations in the Knesset in Jerusalem than in the Congress in Washington DC. —Jeremy Bowen writing in "Mid-East awaits answers from Rice"



Estimate of the Day

[E]very estimate of what it will take to secure Baghdad alone, let alone the rest of the country, says we need orders of magnitude more troops here. Even the Army's new counterinsurgency manual says that. We would need at least 150,000 to 200,000 troops for Baghdad alone. —Retired Army Captain Phillip Carter in an interview on the NewsHour

I've tried to verify that assertion by doing keyword searches on the counterinsurgency manual but so far no luck. But if it's true, it's a blockbuster news item. (The 282-page PDF is here.)

Bush has just appointed Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as his new commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq. Petraeus will be in charge of the "surge" and is on record as having approved of it.

But media reports of his appointment usually include a description such as "the man who has spent the last year supervising the re-writing of the army’s counterinsurgency manual." It would be remarkable if it turns out that Petraeus is acting against the advice of his own manual!


Sunday, January 14, 2007


Taking sides in a civil war

In a post on Thursday I put forth a view of the tactical purpose of Bush's "surge" in troop strength and complained that the media pundits who have weighed in on Bush's announcement were ignoring the import of the speech. Since then I've discovered two voices in the media who understand full well the implications—Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under President Carter, and Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

I put it this way—

It appears that they [the Bush administration] hope to bring the Sunni experience in Fallujah to the Shia of Sadr City! Cheney's still running this show and there's no horror he's not willing to visit upon a civilian population.

We are about to witness Americans fighting a guerilla war within the confines of a major capital city of what used to be a relatively advanced country! Has such a war ever been fought?

The Battle of Baghdad

Zbigniew Brzezinski responded to my question after a fashion, recalling the French Battle of Algiers. Speaking on the PBS NewsHour he said

If we now begin to take on some of the Shiite militias -- for example, al-Sadr's militia has about 60,000 armed men -- I think we're going to be more busy than we are.

We're increasing our presence by 21,000 troops, and we're about to launch the battle of Baghdad. In some ways, it evokes memories of the Battle of Algiers. There's a great movie on the subject. But once we have cleared some streets and gone on to the next streets to clear, they'll be back, because there's five million of them or so living in Baghdad.

The point of Bush's message not lost on Sadr

The press is full of coy statements such as this

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates also warned that all Baghdad districts would be now targeted under the new American strategy with Iraqi approval, including the Sadr City slum area, Sadr’s stronghold in Baghdad.

Sadr quickly signaled his understanding of the implications of Bush's speech—

A senior ally of radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr warned on Friday that thousands of the planned 21,500 extra US troops en route for the war-torn nation would “go home in coffins”.

The American people have to prevent their sons from coming to Iraq or they may return in coffins,” threatened Sheikh Abdel Razzaq al-Nadawi, a senior official in Sadr’s movement, slamming the planned US troop increase.

The glowering cleric Sadr is one of the fiercest opponents of the US presence in Iraq and his Mahdi Army has been branded by the Pentagon as the most dangerous faction in Iraq’s bloody sectarian war.

Taking sides in a civil war

The pundit class continue to speak as if there is some question whether a civil war is in progress. For instance, Walter Russell of the Council of Foreign Relations, interviewed along with Brzezinski, said

... what has happened, then, is that, among the Shia, divisions have grown up with sort of hardliners, angered and irritated immensely by the conscious program of al-Qaida and other Sunnis to provoke a civil war, into something that either is or is very like a civil war.

And as the polarization in Iraq increases, the American goal of trying to broker a compromise among Iraq's different groups is getting tougher.

This is, of course, as the administration would prefer it—that the reality of the civil war not intrude into the discussion of U.S. plans.

To acknowledge there is a civil war is to acknowledge that the U.S. is either supporting one side or another or to raise the question of what we're doing there in the midst of it. In February I noted that "Taking sides just doesn't seem to be the way to go, though you can never count on the Bush administration not to make a bad decision."

Now the administration is doing just that. It is about to lead an attack on the Shia that will inevitably benefit the Sunnis. And after the Shia suffered under the Sunni minority for so long, it must be bitter indeed to think that the U.S. is about to take over the role of Saddam Hussein in suppressing their political aspirations.

Naturally a great deal of effort is being made, and will be made, to appear even-handed. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, who depends upon Muqtada al-Sadr for much of his support, is emphasizing the efforts to be taken against the Sunnis—

Officials insist that the joint US-Iraqi Baghdad crackdown will aim at both sides. But although some raids have been launched against Hojatoleslam al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi militia, the Government appears to have little appetite for a full-on confrontation.

One al-Maliki aide told The Times that the Baghdad offensive would first concentrate on outlying Sunni insurgent strongholds that “choke” the capital — such as Abu Ghraib, Latifiya and Salman Pak — rather than taking on al-Mahdi Army.

Not surprisingly this has made the Sunnis hopping mad and vowing to kill any American that comes near them—

“Twenty thousand soldiers will never be able to achieve what 140,000 have failed to achieve so far, and the fate of the new soldiers will not be any better than for those who were here before them,” said Abu Moath, an insurgent with the Islamic and Nationalist Front for the Liberation of Iraq. “They came here to kill innocent Iraqis so they should be all killed the same way.”

But notice that this talk of confronting the Sunnis comes from Maliki. I suggested Wednesday that it is obvious that Maliki has been coerced into consenting to an American confrontation with Muqtada and the Shia. Friday's report, in which he is still urging against such a confrontation, bears that out—

“He [Maliki] argues that the way to deal with the Mahdi Army is to bring down the level of terrorist attacks so ordinary Shia don’t feel the need for the Mahdi. Right now they think the Mahdi is bad, but without them they would be killed by al-Qaeda and the others [the Sunni].”

After four to eight weeks — once ordinary Shias see a reduction in insurgent killings — the Government would be in a stronger position to persuade the militia to disband.

But Muqtada clearly sees no reason to believe that Maliki's opinion will prevail with the Americans—

In the giant Shia slum of Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, his al-Mahdi Army is ordering every man aged 15-45 to register for combat. One al-Mahdi fighter told The Times’s Iraqi staff that they had been put under orders not to seek confrontation. “We expect this new American plan to try to take on our leadership, not to go after every fighter, weapon and vehicle. We will keep our leadership in safe areas.”

And how is the civil war progressing?

The Bush administration's decision to take the battle to Sadr City no doubt springs from a number of motives not the least of which includes, as Brzezinski said in another context, "a kind of fanatical commitment which I think is detached from reality."

But since I have suggested that the U.S. is indeed taking sides in the civil war, it becomes relevant to ask what has happened that could so energize the Americans. Certainly the following item gives a clue to the military urgency. Reporter John Burns in Baghdad reports of the Sunnis—

A very ominous sign on the eve of President Bush's announcement of his new war strategy that the Sunni insurgents were able to drive right into the heart of Baghdad and to cause such commotion there that the United States yesterday had to deploy F-18 fighter jets overhead a mere 1,000 yards from the Green Zone.

... Haifa Street is an arrow that points right at the heart of the Green Zone.

To have an insurgent stronghold so close to the seat of American military and, if you will, political power here, not to mention the Iraqi government, was a serious thing. So to discover two years on that they're back having to do it all over again is a pretty serious and disheartening thing for the American military and for the American enterprise here.

That's obviously not good, but as Burns indicates, this is old news. The U.S. has faced and prevailed against the Sunnis here before.

But it is the Shia position that has changed—

But in recent weeks, what we've seen is a major push by Shiites, coming out of Sadr City in northeastern Baghdad, to create a kind of corridor, a kind of cordon sanitaire, if you will, across northern Baghdad, by moving into and driving out Sunnis.

Its significance, without complicating matters too much, to say that a Shiite control of the northern corridor across Baghdad would have fundamental implications if this was to go to civil war, because, of course, that would separate the center of Baghdad and Sunni communities in southwest and western Baghdad from the Sunni heartland to the north.

And what we see is the Shiites making a push, the Sunnis pushing back.

Let me repeat what Burns is saying—that the recent Shiite moves have "fundamental implications" for the civil war.

To put it more plainly—Muqtada's forces are closer than ever to prevailing in the civil war. By almost any measure you choose, that is a disaster from the perspective of Washington.

And what about Iran?

Many commentators are focusing on the implications of Bush's speech for Iran. Does it signal a plan to attack? The short answer is "No." I believe it is more a signal to Iran not to interfere in the bloodbath with the Shia that the administration intends to launch. But that is for another post.

Related posts
Quote of the Day (12/29/04)
The denial of impotence (2/24/06)
While waiting for the civil war ... (3/6/06)
Right-Wing Epiphany of the Day (5/11/06)
The media discover themselves discovering a civil war (11/28/06)
The Bush plan for Iraq: What you should expect (1/11/07)


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