Monday, October 31, 2005

Italian Intelligence Problems

After a week full of headlines that did little to bolster the enthusiasm of White House supporters, there comes a brief glimmer of light into the fiasco that was the origins of the sixteen words in the 2003 State of the Union speech. It is not a trivial matter that this snippet of intelligence found its way into a major speech by the President, became an important reason to launch a preventative war, and created the release of Valerie Wilson's identity. The impact of the forged documents from Niger added credibility to the President's war prior to March 7th, 2003, and then added headaches to the Administration's efforts to contain the embarassment thereafter.

Out comes this piece of investigative journalism from Josh Micah Marshall. This whole episode should be detailed by an agency or body that has no political stake in the outcome in order to lay down all the facts of who created the forgeries, and the intention the creators had in so placing these documents in the hands of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

This is not to make the allusion that the Administration had something to do with these documents, but to highlight that any intelligence gathered should be viewed with a skeptical eye. Even if a President says that it is true in a State of the Union speech.

Tikrit Vote Update

As noted below, when President Bush had an informal chat with the troops, one of the officers mentioned that many folks were registering to vote in his area in Tikrit. "100,000 new voters in the al-Salahuddin province. Sir, I was with my Iraqi counterpart in Tikrit, the city Tikrit last week, and he was going around, talking to the locals. And from what he told me that the locals told him, the Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum."

While that certainly sounded good to those back home, most of those voters were clamoring to vote so as to euthanize the new Constitution. The Salah ad Din province voted 81% No on the referendum.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Minority Approval

Regarding the entire vote on the Iraqi referendum: Why is it that Parliament approved the process whereby a minority may adopt a constitution?

The Kurds made certain to have an escape route if the Iraqi Constitution did not meet their expectations - a super majority vote against the document in three provinces would enable them to reject the Constitution. Sixty-six percent of three provinces could vote down the adoption of the document and put it back in the hands of a newly elected Parliament.

What that equates to is that a mere thirty-four percent of the entire country (spread out equally across every province) may adopt the Constitution. It is quite obvious that such an event will never occur, but it alludes to the main point, that a minority may approve a founding document for a country.

It comes down to the provinces of Anbar, Salahuddin, and Ninevah, and whether proponents of the Constitution could must 34% or higher.

The democratic slogan of "majority rule" never met a stranger bedfellow in Iraq.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Question And Answer Period

Today, the President of the United States spoke with troops in Iraq, asking them to answer questions that he had for them. He even tossed in a "hardball" question, which baseball fans will recognize as... actually, he may have meant curveball as hardball doesn't match what he was implying.

Just the same, this exchange was humorous:

THE PRESIDENT: Captain, thank you very much. Let me ask you something. As you move around, I presume you have a chance to interface with the civilians there in that part of the world. And a lot of Americans are wondering whether or not people appreciate your presence or whether or not the people are anxious to be part of the democratic process. Can you give us a sense for the reception of the people there in Tikrit toward coalition forces, as well as the Iraqi units that they encounter?

CAPTAIN KENNEDY: Mr. President, I'm going to field this question to Captain Williams.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: Mr. President, I'm Captain David Williams. I'm from Los Angeles, California. I'm currently with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, attached to the Military Transition Team. Sir, in North-Central Iraq, voter registration is up 17 percent. That's 400,000 new voters in North-Central Iraq, and 100,000 new voters in the al-Salahuddin province. Sir, I was with my Iraqi counterpart in Tikrit, the city Tikrit last week, and he was going around, talking to the locals. And from what he told me that the locals told him, the Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum.

THE PRESIDENT: That's good. It's pretty interesting. That's a pretty interesting concept for the people of Tikirt, when you really think about the fact that that was Saddam Hussein's hometown. They didn't get to vote too often when he was the leader there. Let me ask you about the progress. Most of you have been there for nearly a year, as I understand it.

After the vote, there should be ample evidence as to why the citizens in and around Tikrit were registering. Odds are they are registering to vote "no" on the Constitution. This should be followed after the election.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Iraqi's Vote On A Constitution With An Asterik

Democracy is not easy or simple. Drafting a Constitution that will guide a country forward in a democratic political structure is complex. So why not add more complexity?

Iraqis voting on October 15th have several key elements going against them: they face the threat of violence if they so choose to excercise their right to vote, they will in all likelihood have not seen the final draft version of the Constitution as it is still being reworked, and even if approved the Constitution is already open for changes after the election.

Picture this scenario, your town is considering whether to add funding for a new sports field next to the local school. The local government passes the funding, but local citizens circulate a petition to put the question of said funding on the ballot for voters to decide whether this is a wise course of action. Voters will not see the wording on the ballot until they walk in the door because no one could agree on how it should be worded until the night before. Additionally, the morning of the vote, the same local government passes a resolution stating that the vote will then be debated and leaves open the possibility of creating the fields anyway.

That is not democracy, that is local shenanigans.

Imagine if a constitution is created in that same manner. Wouldn't the voters sense this to be sheer mockery?

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad has been quite busy making this game work for the American Administration. The results of all this skullduggery should be interesting after October 15th.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

He Speaketh Without Hyperbole

One must admit that the current Administration in the United States never gives up advancing the message. Admiration to its stick-tuitiveness quickly subsides when the President predicates his message on mirages in the desert.

Today President Bush made what his handlers will no doubt call an important speech regarding the "war" on terrorism. Conceptually, it is such an outlandish position to take as to seem a comedy routine if not given by the President himself.

In his speech, he asserts several elements of what his administration believes is the end goal of all terrorists across the greater Middle East. To wit, he states

...[T]he militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.

It is not that insurgents believe that America should get out of Iraq and will gladly assist in the exit strategy, it is that they want the entire region to themselves. America is just an innocent bystander in this, and that the true aim must be complete and utter domination of all earthly cultures and governments for as long as they breathe.

How does a leader of a nation become so enamored with such nonsense? Does he really believe this to be the case at the intellectual level? Does he not see the comparison of his own mission in Iraq to reshape the region in his democratic vision as matching his fanciful description of Al Qaeda's vision but with different ends?

President Bush goes even further.

Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 -- and al Qaeda attacked us anyway.

And then shortly thereafter:

Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence -- the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed.

Osama bin Laden listed the U.S. presence on the soil of Saudia Arabia as a key motivational factor for the attacks against our country. The President uses our lack of ground troops in Iraq as proof that we can be attacked for no good reason apparently. How such a vacuous utterance can wend its way into a presidential speech is beyond comprehension.

He does not understand that the prime fuel for confrontation invovles a set of people who cannot find redress. It may be true that many Saudis welcomed the U.S. presence in their country in 1991, but over the years the presence became symbolic of a soiled connection between the Saudi government and the U.S. Israeli occupation and forced removal of Palestinians from their homes and their land is such a grievous and contentious issue, that to not understand the complexity of it speaks volumes of the President's capacity to come to even a basic understanding of difficult problems.

If the United States removed itself militarily from all the countries that wish us gone and renewed strong diplomatic ties to said countries, attacks on our people would dwindle to the point where lightning strikes are of higher concern.

He doesn't understand this. He never has. What President Bush does understand is bluster, and he isn't very good at delivering it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Two Weeks Until Meltdown?

It is less than two weeks before the country of Iraq casts an up-or-down vote on the Iraqi Constitution which is set for October 15th, 2005, and to be sure that everything is alright and stable before such a critical election, the Iraqi President has asked the Iraqi Prime Minister to leave.

Additionally, it appears that Parliament wishes to make it much more difficult to defeat the Constitution (which not many Iraqi's have had a chance to read because its text had not been finalized and distributed for printing even by early last week) during the upcoming vote. From the article linked above [special thanks to Juan Cole for linking to it]

"... parliament, which has only 16 Sunni members, approved an interpretation stating that two-thirds of registered voters - rather than two-thirds of all those who cast ballots - must reject the constitution for the rules to apply."

The thought process behind such a move goes like this: "If the Sunnis wish to defeat this by voting, we should strangle them with rules that make voting illusory. This will lead to a decrease in violence."

It is incomprehensible to adopt such a rule at this late stage. Parliament is asking for civil war.

It is incredible that roughly one year ago the American public's mood had begun to shift on the worthiness of the adventure in Iraq, but still elected the engineer of said adventure by the slimmest of margins.

It can scarcely get better.