Did Tim Russert really just ask if John Edwards speaking to Musharraf after the Bhutto assassination was part of an effort to give Musharraf “cover” of some kind? I believe he did. It would have been pretty sweet if Edwards had broken down Perry Mason-style and ‘fessed up to the fact that he and Pervez conspired to kill her. But no dice. Alternatively, Edwards could have gone with the old “Tim, you’ve asked a lot of dumb questions in your day, but this really takes the cake.”
Blake Hounshell takes a look at George W. Bush getting friendly with King Fahd and writes, “if you’re a gasoline-consuming American, you’re deeply complicit in this marriage, too. So laugh all you want at Bush, but he kisses Saudi cheek for thee—just as U.S. presidents have done for decades. There’s nothing particularly unique about Bush’s relationship with the Saudis.” Justin Logan vigorously dissents.
I’m with Justin here. It’s true that Bush isn’t unique in this regard, but a very broad swathe of the American political elite has a level of personal friendliness with vicious Arab dictators that’s totally unjustifiable in terms of the basic politics or economics of oil. The United States has what I’d deem an unduly chilly relationship with Venezuela at the moment, but the oil still flows and Citgo stations are still around. The process by which oil-rich states in the Persian Gulf export oil to oil-consuming states is a business arrangement for mutual advantage driven by the exchange of money for fuel. Maintaining it requires us to, yes, not deliberately launch any massive destabilizing operations in the region.
But it doesn’t require our policies to be especially friendly to the regimes at hand, and it certainly doesn’t require the unseemly degree of friendliness that you often see. At gatherings of the great and the good, one often sees some Arab princeling or queen treated as the equivalent to an entrepreneur or a democratically elected politician, and there’s just no reason to do that.
We learned this morning that Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir says he’ll want US troops around until 2018 or so. Meanwhile, Swopa notes that Qadir seems to have been placed in office by US occupation authorities rather than by domestic Iraqi political actors. Which, of course, is to be expected since all signs are that the presence of US troops in Iraq is unpopular and not the sort of thing Iraqi politicians accountable to their constituents would be asking to continue forever and ever.
Fratto’s FISA Fearmongering: In 3 Weeks, Terrorists ‘Can Be Free’ To Make Calls Without Surveillance
On Feb. 1, the Bush administration’s broad expansion of its surveillance powers in the hastily-passed Protect America Act are set to expire. Facing a confrontation in the Senate over the inclusion of retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he “is likely to push for a one-month extension of the existing law to give Congress and the White House time to work out a compromise.”
But the White House is balking at Reid’s approach, stoking fears of a terrorist attack if it does not get everything they want on a permanent basis. Spokesman Tony Fratto told Congressional Quarterly yesterday that without the immediate passage of legislation, “terrorists” will soon “be free to make phone calls without fear of being surveilled“:
“We’re exactly three weeks away,” he said, “from the date when terrorists can be free to make phone calls without fear of being surveilled by U.S. intelligence agencies”.
Fratto’s contention is flat-out misleading. As CQ’s Keith Perine notes, “intelligence agents would not be instantly hobbled if the law were to expire Feb. 1.” In fact, surveillance authorizations would still “remain in effect until a year after they were issued”:
The existing law allows the National Intelligence director and the attorney general to authorize surveillance aimed at people outside the United States — even if they are communicating with people inside the country — for up to one year, subject to some conditions.
Even after Feb. 1, any such surveillance authorizations would remain in effect until a year after they were issued.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who favors denying retroactive immunity, says the White House is creating a “false choice” by claiming that “if you want to give all the power to the president, you’re in favor of America” and if not, you’re “in favor of the terrorists.”
UPDATE: In a statement, People for the American Way say Fratto’s claim is “a bold-faced lie.”
Here’s an interesting and even-handed account of the case against AIPAC’s Keith Weissman and Steven Rosen for passing along classified information. Emotionally, I’m torn between amusement at the idea of seeing AIPAC’s ox gored and the reality that the precedent the government is seeking to put in place here has some grim implications for press freedom. I am sure, however, that this line of argument is absurd:
“It’s absurd for anyone to think that the Israelis have to enlist people to spy,” says Sandra Charles, a former Pentagon and National Security Council official who consults in Washington for Persian Gulf Arab governments. “They can go to the highest levels of the administration if they want to find out what the thinking is on US policy.”
Charles might want to visit Jonathan Pollard in prison if she really thinks Israel would never try to enlist spies. The fact that so many US government officials are willing to talk to Israeli officials or Israel’s friends is precisely the point, it makes Israeli espionage possible, not superfluous.
If you want to halt nuclear proliferation, you need to follow the Non-Proliferation Treaty like Australia’s new Labour government. But of course Australia exchanging Howard for Rudd will do little good in this regard unless the United States exchanges Bush for someone better.
Ooops! “Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.”
This is probably worth keeping in mind as we read about rushed and ill-conceived plans to export the Anbar Awakening worldwide. Supporting violent groups you don’t really control or understand who are driven by their own interests and ideologies can be a very dangerous game.
Can’t say it’s much of a surprise that despite all the Friedman Units and talk of victory and how Iraq won’t really play in the 2008 campaign that four years after the 2008 campaign there’ll be the 2012 campaign. And four years after that comes the 2016 campaign. And two years after that comes 2018 when Iraqi officials say it might be possible for American troops to leave. My then you’ll have 20 year-olds serving in Iraq who were five when the war started. But a couple of key phrases from The New York Times‘s account:
Those comments from the minister, Abdul Qadir, were among the most specific public projections of a timeline for the American commitment in Iraq by officials in either Washington or Baghdad. And they suggested a longer commitment than either government had previously indicated.
Pentagon officials expressed no surprise at Mr. Qadir’s projections, which were even less optimistic than those he made last year.
One, if the surge is working so well, why is it that Mr. Qadir’s projections are getting less optimistic? Answer — maybe the surge isn’t working so well and maybe this Upright Citizens Brigade strategy doesn’t contain the seeds of any kind of stable equilibrium for Iraq. Two, why is it that officials “expressed no surprise” at projections that “suggested a longer commitment than either government had previously indicated”? Answer — both governments have not been indicating things accurately. They’ve been misleading.
This is, in my view, the key to breaking the political deadlock over Iraq in the United States. A large number of people agree with my preference for an expeditious withdrawal from Iraq. Unfortunately, though, it’s not a majority of people. But the number of people who favor the sort of decade-plus engagement that constitutes the actual alternative to expeditious withdrawal is incredibly small. What’s needed, however, are political leaders who are willing and able to re-enforce the point that’s been revealed again and again by American reporters — the alternative to leaving is staying for a very, very, very long time.
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder