United States News Digest
Congressional Panels Get Sober View of Iraq
In contrast to the incessant claims of "victory" and "we are winning" coming from the insane-asylum known as the White House, military and intelligence officials presented a much more pessimistic view of the situation on the ground in Iraq (and also in Afghanistan) in back-to-back hearings in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on Nov. 15.
The lead-off witnesses in both hearings were Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid, and State Department advisor David Satterfield. Both seem to be giving the appearance that the Administration is "tilting" toward the Sunnis, by cracking down hard on the Shi'a militias. They frequently referred to the "death squads," or "the Mahdi-armed death squads." Both said that the sectarian violence is the biggest problem now in Iraq, not al-Qaeda. Both also emphasized that there is not much more that U.S. troops can do, except in training Iraqi security and police forces, and that it is Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraq government who must bring the increasing sectarian violence under control. Abizaid said that if such control is not exerted, "it can destroy our plans for a stable Iraq."
Defense Intelligence Agency head Gen. Michael D. Maples also said that the conflict in Iraq is increasingly a sectarian struggle for power, and that "the perception of unchecked violence is creating an atmosphere of fear and hardening sectarianism, which is empowering militias and vigilante groups." He noted that "violence in Iraq continues to increase in scope, complexity, and lethality," and he particularly cited the infiltration of the Ministry of the Interior and the police by Shi'a militias, and that the militias operate under the protection of the police to attack suspected Sunni insurgents and civilians.
In the House hearing, Satterfield said there are discussions ongoing with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, which are all concerned about the situation in Iraq and the danger from Iran.
However, the "Sunni tilt" was most blatantly expressed by Sen. Joe Lieberman (DLC-Conn), who warned against talking to Iranarguing that Iran would not want "a unified, democratic, presumably pro-American Iraq"in contrast to talking to "the other Sunni Arab countries ... the Saudis, the Egyptians, or Jordanians, or Gulf countries, because they have similar, and in fact anti-Iranian views."
At the end of the House hearing, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo) asked Satterfield: "Are we winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people." Satterfield answered bluntly, "No, we are not."
Bush Resubmits Loser Judge Nominations to Senate
In a move widely seen as a sop to their right-wing base, Bush (and Cheney) have resubmitted the nominations of six judges who have already been rejected by the Senate this term. These include William Haynes, the Pentagon General Counsel who was instrumental in developing and implementing the torture policy, and five others who are regarded as unqualified or too right-wing. Additionally, Bush submitted four new nominations, including California Judge James Rogan, who was one of the House managers in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
Bush's submissions are purely a provocation, as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa), has already announced that he will not act on them during the lame-duck session. This means Bush will have to resubmit them, if he's crazy enough, to the new Congress next year, where they stand even less of a chance than now.
Haass Demands Serious Offers to Iran and North Korea
In an interview with the Nov. 13 edition of the German weekly Der Spiegel, Richard Haass, the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that, "We need to get away from the idea that diplomatic interaction is a value judgment. History teaches that isolation reinforces hardliners." As for North Korea and Iran, he said we should "offer them whatever mix of political and economic and security benefits, in exchange for demanding a package of behavior changes."
On the Iraq War, Haass described it as "not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word 'winnable.' We need now to look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region, and try to limit the fallout of Iraq."
Levin To Probe Secret Prisons
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich), who will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee in the 110th Congress, said Nov. 12 that he will investigate the renditions and secret prison program, including what has happened to those who are apparently still being secretly held. "I'm not comfortable with the system," he said. "I think that there's been some significant abuses which have not made us more secure but have made us less secure, and have also, perhaps, cost us some real allies, as well as not producing particularly useful information. So I think the system needs a thorough review and, as the military would say, a thorough scrubbing."
Denial of Habeas Corpus Is Broadened
The denial of habeas corpus extends to immigrants arrested inside the U.S. who are accused of aiding terrorism, the Bush Administration is now assertingconfirming the warnings made by some Senators during the debate on the torture bill, when defenders of the Administration said it would only apply to aliens held outside the United States. This unconstitutional action has emerged in the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatar citizen who was a graduate student in Illinois, and was arrested in the post-9/11 dragnet; Al-Marri is still being held in a military brig in South Carolina. This is the first time that the DOJ has tried to apply the new law to someone being held inside the U.S.
A number of Democratic Senators, including Patrick Leahy (Vt) and Chris Dodd (Conn) have indicated that they will introduce legislation to change the habeas provision.
Chafee Singles Out Cheney for Republican Fall
In a guest column titled, "After the Republican Fall; Holding to the Center, Losing My Seat," published in the New York Times on Nov. 12, GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee (RI) gave an account of a December 2000 meeting with Dick Cheney, and printed excerpts from a letter he sent Cheney immediately following the meeting, because he was so dissatisfied. Chafee first noted that, "Despite my having voted against the Iraq war resolution, my reputation for independence, the editorial endorsement of virtually every newspaper in my state, and a job approval rating of 63 percent, I did not win. Why?
"Back in December 2000, after one of the closest elections in our nation's history, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney was the guest at a weekly lunch meeting of a small group of centrist Republicans. Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Senator Arlen Specter....
"As we sat in Senator Spector's cozy hideaway office and discussed the coming session, I was startled to hear the vice president dismiss suggestions of compromise and instead emphasize an aggressively partisan agenda that included significant tax cuts, the abandonment of international agreements and a muscular, unilateral foreign policy.
"I was incredulous. Instead of a new atmosphere of cooperation and civility which, after all, had been the promise of the Bush-Cheney campaign, we seemed ready to return to the poisonous partisanship...." of the Republican-Democratic loggerheads of the Clinton years.