Iraq war and occupationInstead, he calls for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the Baghdad government sooner rather than later, with US troop reductions to begin by the middle of next year. Bush is considering options for a new military strategy, among them a "surge" of 15,000 to 30,000 troops added to the current 140,000 in Iraq, to secure Baghdad and to accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, as Republican senator John McCain and others have proposed. Bush is also considering a redirection of the US military away from the insurgency to focus mainly on hunting al-Qaeda terrorists. Bush has rejected the conclusions of the Iraq Study Group and its recommendations to set parameters for a phased withdrawal to begin next year, and he has insisted that the violence in Iraq is not a civil war.
Iraq war and occupationEver since Shi'ite militias across Iraq erupted into a frenzy of retaliatory random killings of Sunnis following the bombing of the al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra, a cherished Shiite shrine, on February 22, 2006, Iraq has descended into chaos. The new report, entitled "Iraq's Sectarian and Ethnic Violence and Evolving Insurgency: Developments through mid-December 2006," has so far received little media attention, which is focused primarily on the far more modest Iraq Study Group report and Bush's refusal to consider its recommendations. The CSIS report acknowledges that the US-led Operation Together Forward II in Baghdad had only made "slow progress in clearing the volatile neighborhoods, and the initiative lacked sufficient forces to maintain peace in cleared areas" Cordesman writes, "Baghdad was the center of the sectarian conflict, but violence spread to surrounding towns -- particularly Baquba, Balad, and Amara -- as the civil war threatened to engulf the entire country." Cordesman notes that the United Nations had concluded that by mid-December, sectarian violence was killing 120 Iraqis a day. Cordesman has now confirmed things have gotten far worse. The UN figures he cites mean that even if the current levels of violence in Iraq do not deteriorate further, 43,800 people will die next year there at the current rates of carnage. And those rates are expected to rise.
"Unitary executive"After a year of difficult negotiations with Congress, Bush signs the "Henry Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act," which allows India to obtain larger supplies of nuclear fuel for use in its civilian nuclear plants; critics warn that such a deal frees up India's small existing uranium stockpile for military use. But Bush says he supports the agreement because it strengthens the relationship between the US and India, and because "the bill will help keep America safe by paving the way for India to join the global effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons." However, the signing statement makes it unclear just how much Bush is committed to actually carrying through with the parameters of the legislation.
Conservative hate speech and intoleranceThe letter, which was accidentally sent to the chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter, reads in part, "[I]f American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."
Conservative media slantTheir theory is, collusion is the only explanation why the AP isn't reporting how well the occupation is going. On December 12, AP Television News cameraman Ahmed Lutfallah was murdered by insurgents while filming a gun battle in Mosul. Boehlert writes, "According to warblogger logic, the insurgents should have made sure Lutfallah got the best film of the gun fight with police; in fact, insurgents might have even tipped him off that a battle was going to take place. That's how the drill is supposed to work. Yet insurgents in Mosul, after seeing the AP cameraman filming and then identifying him, approached the father of two and emptied five bullets into his body, took his equipment, cell phone, and press ID. They shot him like a dog in the street. So much for the AP and insurgents working in concert."
Conservative hate speech and intoleranceGallagher shows his own affinity with Nazi tactics by spluttering that Behar, actor Matt Damon, and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann should be arrested, and the government should "take the whole bunch of them and put them in a detention camp until this war is over, because they're a bunch of traitors." Gallagher says to fellow guest Rob Thompson, another radio host, "You know, it's a little bit ridiculous that we continue to watch these TV stars and movie stars who smear our leaders. I just wonder, Rob, if you'll think for a moment, what our enemies think of seeing TV personalities compare the outgoing defense secretary to Adolph Hitler. I mean, you know, conservatives never get a pass. Strom Thurmond is wished a happy birthday by Trent Lott and the sky falls in on Trent Lott. But Joy Behar goes on national TV and compares a good man like Rumsfeld to the evilest in the world and nobody, you know, there's no repercussions for Joy Behar. I think we should round up all of these folks. Round up Joy Behar. Round up Matt Damon, who last night on MSNBC attacked George Bush and Dick Cheney. Round up Olbermann. Take the whole bunch of them and put them in a detention camp until this war is over, because they're a bunch of traitors." Thompson retorts, "They're not traitors, they're Americans. And you know what the great thing about America is, you get to say what you like and you don't get thrown into detention camps." Gallagher, who apparently is unfamiliar with the Bill of Rights, comes back smartly: "No, you don't." Thompson says, "And that's what the rest of the world sees. They see free Americans say what they like without having any fear of going to jail. So, if I wanted to compare someone to Hitler or anybody else, Pol Pot, whatever it might be, I have no fear of going to jail, because that is what an America is." Gallagher intones, "There's such a thing as treason, Rob," to which Thompson replies, "That's not treason. That's just political talk and satire...." (Think Progress/Truthdig [link to video])
Iraq war and occupationThe request would raise this year's funding to around $170 billion. Military planners have assembled the proposal at a time when Bush is developing new strategies for Iraq, such as sending thousands of more US troops there, although it was put together before the president said the troop escalation was under consideration. Overall, the war in Iraq has cost about $350 billion. Combined with the conflict in Afghanistan and operations against terrorism elsewhere, the cost has topped $500 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The 2006 funding would be about $50 billion over 2005 spending. In September, Congress approved an initial $70 billion for the current budget year, which began October 1. The cost of the war has risen dramatically as the security situation has deteriorated and more equipment is destroyed or worn out in harsh conditions. The Army, which has borne the brunt of the fighting, would receive about half of the request, a reflection of the wear and tear that the war has had on soldiers and their equipment. An additional $9.8 billion is being sought for training and equipping Iraq's and Afghanistan's security forces. The administration's request for more Iraq money will be submitted along with Bush's budget in February for the 2008 budget year, which starts next October 1. The White House can add or subtract from the Pentagon request as it sees fit, and the total could grow if money is added for reconstruction costs. Initial Pentagon requests were even higher than the $99.7 billion.
Iraq war and occupationAbizaid's upcoming retirement is likely part of the Bush administration's plans to retrench its military strategy for Iraq. Abizaid, the primary architect of US military strategy in Iraq since his ascension to command in 2003, has been a strong private critic of Bush administration strategies in Iraq, and has strongly resisted calls to deploy more troops in the war-torn country, saying the Iraqis must become more self-reliant. But Abizaid's retirement is another signal that the Bush administration is planning just such a "surge." A former senior Pentagon official says, "If you're going to change the strategy, in fairness to [Abizaid], let him go. He's given it all he's got, in terms of personal sacrifice." Abizaid submitted his resignation in November, shortly after then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced out, but the news is just now being released. It is unclear who new defense secretary Robert Gates will select to replace Abizaid. One recently retired Army general says Abizaid had wanted to retire earlier but that Rumsfeld blocked the move, insisting his war commanders stay in place. In Gates' search for a successor, the candidate most closely associated with Abizaid's strategy is Army General George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, who is also expected to leave his current assignment early next year. Although Casey was considered the favorite to become the next Army chief of staff under Rumsfeld, Gates could decide to move him to the Central Command for continuity. Critics of the war effort say making Casey either chief of staff or Centcom commander would send the wrong signal -- essentially endorsing a strategy that the president acknowledges has failed. "It would be a terrible thing," says one military analyst with close ties to the Pentagon. "He's the guy who's losing the war." Under Rumsfeld, commanders were most often chosen for their willingness to submit to his authority and not their independence or creativity. (Los Angeles Times)
Secrecy of Bush administrationAfter years of extensions sought by federal agencies, the end of 2006 marks the government's first automatic declassification of records. Secret documents 25 years old or older will automatically lose their classified status unless agencies have sought exemptions on the ground that the material remains secret. Historians say the deadline, created in the Clinton administration but enforced, to the surprise of some scholars, by the secrecy-prone Bush administration, has had huge effects on public access, despite the large numbers of intelligence documents that have been exempted. Every year from now on, millions of additional documents will be automatically declassified as they reach the 25-year limit, reversing the traditional practice of releasing just what scholars request. Many historians had expected Bush to scrap the deadline. His administration has overseen the reclassification of many historical files and restricted access to presidential papers of past administrations, as well as contemporary records. Practical considerations, including a growing backlog of records at the National Archives, mean that it could take months before the declassified papers are ready for researchers. "Deadlines clarify the mind," says Thomas Blanton, director of the private National Security Archive at George Washington University, which obtains and publishes historical government documents. Agencies have declassified more than one billion pages, shedding light on the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the network of Soviet agents in the American government.
Partisan Bush appointeesBell's is a recess appointment, made after the Senate Commerce Committee refused to hold confirmation hearings on him because of his extremist views and reports that he has made negative comments about funding public broadcasting. As a contributor to the online edition of the National Review, Bell has made no secret of his political views, writing in one piece that he is "thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues." Bell will have his position until Congress adjourns next year, unless a permanent nominee for the seat is confirmed before then. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a federally funded nonprofit corporation and the largest single source of money for US public television and radio programming. It is governed by a presidentially appointed board. The board was the source of political controversy in 2005 when its chairman at the time, Kenneth Tomlinson, was criticized for injecting politics into the organization when Tomlinson recruited a former senior Republican party official -- Patricia Harrison -- as its new president and chief executive. Tomlinson had sought to add more conservative-minded shows to the line-up to counter what many conservatives considered a liberal bias in public broadcasting. He resigned in November 2005 amid the controversy and after an investigation concluded he had broken federal law. The Bush administration has come under fire before for trying to influence news coverage, including paying a conservative commentator to praise its new education law and the production by government agencies of video news releases that some television stations aired without identifying their origin.
Partisan Bush appointeesKeroack was named to head the office on November 17, where he oversees the $280 million program that provides federal dollars for the provision of birth control to poor women. "We believe the appointment of Dr. Keroack is a horrendous mistake for the safety of women's health in the United States," says the letter, which was signed by 107 Democrats and three Republicans. HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt says the administration has no intention of removing Keroack. Keroack oversees a program that funds birth control, pregnancy tests, breast-cancer screening and other health services for 5 million poor women annually. HHS estimates that the program prevents 1.5 million unwanted pregnancies each year. Keroack previously served as medical director for A Woman's Concern, a chain of Boston-area pregnancy clinics that discourage the use of birth control and advocate abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Keroack has stirred controversy as well with his writings, including one widely cited paper entitled "Bonding Imperative: A Special Report from the Abstinence Medical Council," in which he said women who have more than one sex partner have a diminished neurological capacity to experience loving relationships, using discredited and fictional "science" to prove his claims. HHS has said Keroack will distribute birth control as required by law. "I'm also told that he has regularly prescribed contraception when it was felt appropriate," says Leavitt. Keroack has galvanized Democrats who saw his appointment shortly after the November elections as a defiant move. "We are telling this administration that it needs to get its act together in providing real assistance to low-income families to protect women and children," says Democrat Joseph Crowley, who drafted the letter. House Democratic leaders did not sign the letter but have given it their support, a Crowley staffer says. (Reuters/Scientific American)
Iraq war and occupationwhich attempted to forcibly convert Middle Eastern Arabs from Islam to Christianity, when he tells the Concord, North Carolina Rotary Club that "Stability in Iraq ultimately depends on spreading the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace on earth, good will towards men. Everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the Savior." Blogger "LiberalNC" writes, "With this kind of talk Hayes just plays into the hands of al-Qaeda by confirming what their leaders have always been saying: those American soldiers are just modern Crusaders. He is thereby strengthening the beliefs of terrorists that want to kill every American soldier they come across." (Concord Standard/Blue NC)
Conservative smear campaignsObama, a Democratic senator who is of mixed racial heritage and whose father is of Muslim descent, has become the target of right-wing hysteria reminiscent of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their baseless attacks on 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry. Right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel, a regular guest on MSNBC, writes in her column that because Obama's middle name is Hussein -- a traditional and extremely common name among Arabs and Muslims -- he must be suspected of being a traitor. Schlussel asks in her column, entitled "Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, Always A Muslim," is this "a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?" After her innuendo of treason, she asks if Obama would be an acceptable vice president instead, and answers her own question: NO WAY, JOSE... Or, is that, HUSSEIN?"
Conservative media slantScarborough asks guest Josh Green, of the Atlantic Monthly, "to imagine how would Republicans have responded if President Bill Clinton had ignored the advice of all of his Joint Chiefs, his top general in the war zone, his former secretary of state, and 80 percent of Americans? Is it not a stretch to say that many Republicans would have considered impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton if this situation were identical?" Green responds, "I think they would have launched a coup. It probably would have been -- probably would have been centered at Fox News. They'd be going crazy, the way, you know, frankly, quite a few of them are beginning to get with Bush. You know, we heard yesterday for the first time, you know, at least an admission on Bush's part that this line about how we're winning the war in Iraq is no longer operative. And he admitted to the Washington Post yesterday that while they're not winning the war, they're not losing. So at least he's come a small step down the road toward being where everybody else is, you know, most importantly his top generals."
"Culture Wars"Donald Wildmon's American Family Association says it has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan "Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying." The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to "defend Christmas," says it has moved about 20,000 "Christmas packs." The packs, available for a suggested $29 donation, include a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins. And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with Jerry Falwell, says it has sold 12,500 legal memos on celebrating Christmas and 8,000 of its own buttons and bumper stickers. All told, the "war on Christmas" is a cash cow for disaffected conservatives, with the three above-mentioned organizations pulling in an estimated $1.4 million. Wildmon's organization is making so much money that Wildmon admits he plans to expand the campaign to cover Easter as well. Blogger Steve Benen writes, "As I see it, we can draw two conclusions from this. One, even these religious right groups probably realize Christmas is not 'under attack,' but cynically exploit the fears of their members in order to pad their budgets. And two, if retailers acceded to right-wing demands and dropped 'Happy Holidays' and 'Seasons Greetings' from their commercial vocabulary altogether, the religious right would probably experience a deep sense of panic." (Carpetbagger)
Religious conservativesThe video game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" encourages players, in the words of the advertisement, "to command the tribulation force, uncover the truth about worldwide disappearances, and save as many people as possible from the antichrist. Lead the Tribulation Force from the book series, including Rayford, Chloe, Buck and Bruce against Nicolae Carpathia -- the antichrist. Defend yourselves from the forces of the antichrist. Engage in physical and spiritual warfare! Use Prayer and Special Abilities to boost the Spirit of your forces! Command over 30 unit types through dozens of missions and online player action! Defend against the spiritual influences and physical warfare of the antichrist's army through the power of prayer and worship!"
Iraq war and occupationAl-Sadr has been under pressure to rejoin the political process and rein in his Mahdi Army militia, which is blamed for a good bit of the sectarian violence raging through Baghdad and its surrounds. Many believe that al-Sadr agreed to let his followers rejoin the government after consultations with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, who is believed to support a new governing coalition, mostly made up of Shi'ites and Kurds with a single Sunni party involved. The Sadrist boycott has undercut Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and prevented it from passing legislation. The new coalition is hoped to govern more efficiently than the current government, which has been criticized for its ties to al-Sadr. Al-Sadr's loyalists -- 30 in the legislature and six in the Cabinet -- walked off the job to protest al-Maliki's meeting with Bush in Jordan. But a new coalition government is not likely to end the threat from al-Sadr's militia. By ending the boycott, al-Sadr will retain some influence in Parliament, and his apparent compromise may help him resist calls to curb his fighters. (AP/Yahoo! News)
Iraq war and occupationAlsammarae (or al-Sammarae) is an Iraqi-American who lived in Chicago for 27 years before returning to Iraq and becoming a governmental minister. He was arrested in August on corruption charges and recently escaped from a Baghdad jail inside the Green Zone, with the help of US-financed mercenaries. He is currently a fugitive from justice. After his escape, he participated in telephone interviews with US newspaper reporters, where he taunted Iraqi authorities, said he was fleeing death threats in Iraq, and claimed he had already left the country. Campaign contribution records show Alsammarae donated $1,000 to the Bush campaign in 1999 and, after being appointed by US Iraq administrator Paul Bremer as Iraq's electricity minister in August 2003, donated $250 to the Bush campaign in April 2004. While serving as Iraq's minister of electricity, he donated $1,500 to the US Republican National Committee and $250 to the Illinois Republican Party. Prior to his appointment as an Iraqi government minister, and separate from his Bush presidential campaign and RNC contributions, Alsammarae donated nearly $5,000 to the Illinois Republican party and to Republican US senate candidates. After being appointed by Bremer in 2003, Alsammarae stayed on as the electricity minister in the government of Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi until May 2005. Alsammarae was arrested on corruption charges this August and in October was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. That verdict was overturned last week, but he faced further corruption charges when he fled jail. (IraqSlogger)
Partisan Bush appointeesThe aides who prepared Gates for his testimony include virulent neoconservatives David Addington, chief of staff to the vice president, and David Wurmser, Cheney's Middle East advisor. "Cheney's office prepped Gates for the hearings," says the former CIA official. "His guys Wurmser and Addington got [Gates] ready, not the Pentagon." Gates chose Cheney to swear him into office on December 18 instead of by the president. Democrats in Congress say they were unaware that Gates had been briefed by Cheney's aides.
Secrecy of Bush administrationThe original op-ed had been cleared by the CIA's review board, but the CIA was forced to bend to pressure from the White House to censor the editorial. Leverett, with his wife and co-author Hillary Mann, a former foreign service officer who has participated in dialogue with Iran, writes that the Bush administration's apparent aim to force Iran into compliance with its demands for Iran to abandon its nuclear energy program and to end its attempts to influence Iraq, are dangerous and wrong-headed. Leverett and Mann write, "Unfortunately, advocates of limited engagement -- either for short-term gains on specific issues or to 'test' Iran regarding broader rapprochement -- do not seem to understand the 20-year history of United States-Iranian cooperation on discrete issues or appreciate the impact of that history on Iran's strategic outlook. In the current regional context, issue-specific engagement with Iran is bound to fail. The only diplomatic approach that might succeed is a comprehensive one aimed at a 'grand bargain' between the United States and the Islamic Republic."