Sunday, September 30, 2007

Enough Said

AP Photo/PA, David Davies; caption

More to this story?

photo added to blog post from Irish Times 17 October

At National Review's The Corner, Mark Steyn claims --

at Shannon, on the west coast of Ireland. The US military's use of the airport is not popular with an Irish public extremely hostile to the Iraq war. So on this occasion the plane landed and a charming colleen came on board and explained that a special separate area had been set up with food and drink but that uniformed servicemen would not be permitted in the main terminal. The very senior Pentagon official on board politely explained why this was grossly insulting and not acceptable, and, after consultations with her superior, the colleen escorted the passengers into the public terminal to enjoy the life-shortening pleasures of the full Irish breakfast.

This is in the context of claims that troops are not allowed into the main terminal building in Oakland, Calif. But since visitors to Shannon regularly report sightings of American troops in the terminal -- not least in the duty free shop (see above) -- it's not clear whether Steyn's incident is (a) true or (b) reflects some one-off incident.

UPDATE: Through the miracle of the Internet, Steyn has clarified when the incident took place. Revisit his link above. As he explains, it's not consistent with the generally friendly reception for American troops at Shannon, despite the unpopularity of the policy. Indeed, the troops had adapted enough to the local customs to be smoking in the toilets.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Iraq forever

News that conveniently emerges on a Saturday --

Iraq wants the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of the 160,000-stong U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq only through the end of 2008, then replace it with a long-term bilateral security agreement, Foreign Ministry officials said Saturday ...

Iraq would then seek a long-term, bilateral security agreement with the United States like the ones Washington has with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt, he said ...

Zebari first disclosed the plan in an interview with the London-based Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that was published Saturday.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on June 8, 2004, said the U.S.-led multinational force would remain in Iraq at the request of the interim government that was about to assume control of the country from the United States and Britain.

The resolution, drafted by the United States, authorizes a review of the mandate at the request of the Iraqi government every six months. The mandate last was extended for one year on Dec. 31 and expires at end of this year.

"We will ask the council to extend the mandate for another year...then our negotiations with the Security Council will be kicked off," Zebari was quoted as saying ...

"The negotiations and talks over the security agreements will take a long time as they will cover the issues of sovereignty and immunity, the mission of these forces, Iraq's security needs and the role of the U.S. forces in training (Iraqi forces)," he said.

Zebari said the bilateral agreement would "not set a timetable (for withdrawal of U.S. forces) ... but could include an article calls for decreasing their numbers."

So gone would be any outside conditions on the military presence, just an open-ended deal whose elements would be determined by George Bush and the Green Zone Iraq government -- all nicely put in place just before he leaves office.

Stanford University will be very proud

Condi Rice, doing another background interview, this time with the CBS editorial board --

QUESTION: What is your sense about how powerful Ahmadi-Nejad actually is? And are you concerned that there's been a fair amount written that all this attention is actually enhancing his reputation?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have no idea of what the power politics looks like inside of Iran.

Isn't it great that US policy towards Iran is being determined on that foundation?

Friday, September 28, 2007

From Mother Teresa to Liam Lawlor

A bizarrre detail from the Planning Tribunal in Dublin today. This is in the context of evidence that in any normal country would have already brought down Taoiseach Bertie Ahern but today's subject was the deceased and corrupt former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor, whose political career was merely the leverage to a far more lucrative business in property development and "consulting". Also "consulting" was Frank Dunlop, a key intermediary between property kingpins and politicians --

The Mahon Tribunal has heard how the late Liam Lawlor used a forged invoice to cover a £25,000 payment from lobbyist Frank Dunlop. Mr Lawlor used the name of Ganley International, a company that had hired him to warn the Albanian government about the dangers of pyramid selling.

Mr Ganley said he had first met Mr Lawlor when he gate crashed his hospitality tent at the Galway races. He later discovered Mr Lawlor was a member of the international think tank the Trilateral Commission.

Mr Ganley said he hired Mr Lawlor in 1996 to warn the Albanian government to act against the growth of pyramid selling. Mr Lawlor was paid a total of around £30,000, which included expenses involved in hosting an Albanian delegation in Dublin.

Albania did indeed have a huge problem with pyramid schemes in this period, but when one source of the problem is poor governance, the last thing on Earth that you'd want to help solve the problem is advice from Fianna Fail in general and Liam Lawlor in particular. Could Lawlor really have been telling the Albanians about Ireland's clean politics? A forged invoice from a dubious venture truly encapsulates the state of Irish politics.

So farewell then, Earth

AFP/Saul Loeb; caption

It would be good news if he really was leaving the planet. It would be bad news if that's because he knows he's already destroyed it.

History is a mirror

Laura Bush --

Q ... Mrs. Bush, just out of curiosity, what are you reading these days, and what about the President?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I'm reading as quickly as I can one of our Book Festival writers, J.A. Jance. She's a mystery writer; she's a best-selling writer. She's written tons of books, so I hope people will look at hers. The President right now is reading a book by Jay Winik, who is a historian. It's called "The Great Upheaval." It's a very long history of the world, really, up to the -- around the same time as the founding of the United States. And I think it will be very interesting. I also have that big book on my bedside table; Lynne Cheney gave it to me.

What might George Bush find interesting about Winik's book? Here's the LA Times review --

He focuses on people in leadership positions -- inherited, acquired by election or seized -- whose decisions were taken on the fly and reflected their character and convictions. At almost every watershed he describes, his main thrust is that things could have gone the other way ... America's leaders agonized over the best means to preserve their young nation and show that the rule of law could prevail without the iron hand of an autocrat -- and that democracy need not degenerate into mob rule ... The lengthy chronicle of Catherine's war against the Ottoman Empire, in particular, seems to have been included mostly because Western conflict with Islam is currently a hot topic ... Winik's Big Man approach to history -- the lower classes appear exclusively as members of enraged crowds brandishing severed heads on pikes or ripping hapless victims limb from limb -- scants the underlying social forces that made it highly improbable that France could nonviolently achieve in a few years the kind of moderately representative government it took England centuries to reach.

The book also has an extensive discussion of the disputed Presidential election of 1800 (=2000-2 centuries, geddit?). In which Thomas Jefferson ended up President.

Attention Rangoon Residents

National Review's Jonah Goldberg, recapturing the spirit of the days when he was making fun of Katrina victims, has some advice --

From what I've seen and read the military is desperate not to kill monks — very bad p.r., that — but they don't much mind killing anyone else. Wouldn't it be smart for everyone to wear monk robes and, I suppose, shave their heads? The images would have enormous impact, the troops wouldn't know who is and who isn't a monk, and it would give a thrilling "I am Spartacus!" narrative twist to the uprising.

Apart from anything else, the regime is killing monks. And what would the women do? If it's obvious that everyone is pretending to be monks, then the protected status, such as it is, would disappear.


David Brooks complains about politics of expanding health insurance for children in the US --

a smoke screen of obfuscation between who pays and who chooses. States have an incentive to ramp up benefits because they know that most of the cost will be borne by taxpayers somewhere else ... a fund-raising mechanism cowardly in the extreme. Politicians in Washington like to talk in the abstract about shared sacrifice. They could go to the American people and say: We need to insure more children and to do that we’re going to raise broad-based taxes slightly ... But that’s honest and direct, and therefore impermissible. Instead, this program is funded by raising taxes on smokers, who generally are much poorer than average Americans and much less educated.

Which is an argument for having a healthcare system with one entity doing all the choosing and paying all the bills from general tax revenues and not any specific taxation. A "national health service", if you will.

Greatest Living Irishman

AP Photo/Jim Young; caption

He really has only one hand gesture.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


From the Middle East Times --

KUWAIT CITY -- A senior US human rights official Wednesday criticized laws in the oil-rich Gulf states that restrict migrant workers under a system that some campaigners say is akin to slave labor.

Mark Lagon, director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said during a visit to Kuwait that the so-called sponsorship laws restrict the choice of migrant workers and their control over their own lives.

... He pointed in particular to the sponsorship laws that he said "confine the choice and the control of their lives over migrant workers."

The system, a set of regulations that limits workers' movements and puts them at the mercy of their employers, is in place in all six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states but is decried by rights bodies as akin to slavery.

This would be exactly the system of labour that was used to build the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Found objects

It's fascinating where a little open ended weblink following can lead. A few weeks back we noticed a reference to a UK expatriate, Joe Lewis, now living in the Bahamas, who bought a big stake in the investment bank Bear Stearns. Bear Stearns has been under pressure since hedge funds it was running had big losses over the summer and it's probably a good takeover candidate so Lewis could have a nice speculative gain if that happened.

So anyway, the description of Lewis -- tax exile and currency trader -- is surely a familiar job description to followers of Irish politics. Because it's the same job description as Geneva-based J.P. McManus. Lo and behold, from a 9 year old profile of Lewis --

Traders have linked Mr. Lewis to a trading cabal made up of Kerry Packer (RIP), the Australian media giant; Sir James Goldsmith, the late corporate raider, and an Irish trio comprised of Dermot Desmond, a property magnate and stockbroker; J. P. McManus, a kingpin of the legal bookmaking business, and John Magnier, a horse breeder. But Mr. Lewis said that he had traded only for his own account. He acknowledges, though, that Messrs. Desmond, McManus, and Magnier are his friends.

But wait, there's more:

In 1991, investigators for the Irish Government began looking into the circumstances surrounding the sale of land to Telecomm (sic) Eireann, the state-owned telecommunications concern. The investigation was prompted by concerns that the land -- jointly owned by Mr. Lewis, the three Irishmen and others -- was sold at a vastly inflated price, a result of the group's influence with the administration of Charles Haughey, then the Prime Minister.

None of the men was ever charged with any wrongdoing in the matter, although a report issued in 1993 by John Glackin, a special investigator for the Irish Government, was highly critical of almost all those involved. The report included a series of rancorous letters between Mr. Glackin and Mr. Lewis's lawyer, regarding Mr. Lewis's unwillingness to provide information about his role in the affair. Mr. Lewis declined to comment about his involvement in the land deal.

This was the infamous Ballsbridge site that Dermot Desmond bought and then acted as an intermediary on its sale to the then state-owned phone company, and it was one of the seemingly endless series of financial scandals -- many linked to offshore entities -- that buffeted the late stages of Charlie Haughey's government in 1991.

All the principals from these scandals except Haughey (RIP) are still around.1 Private Eye has documented Dermot Desmond's increasing influence in the Labour Party via some large donations, and as they explain he's been linked to some poor quality government contractors (Venson) as well. So this is something that has radiated outwards from Ireland.

Of course just because it radiated out from Ireland doesn't mean that it left Ireland. The nexus, Fianna Fail, is still there. And if there's a lot of head-scratching as to why exactly Bertie Ahern might have been dealing in large amounts of foreign currency in the early 1990s, or might have had grateful friends so doing -- it's less mysterious when you look at Bertie's job description during that period and the not very hard to find links between him and the Lewis circle.

UPDATE 14 MARCH 2008: Given recent events at Bear Stearns, Lewis risks losing his entire investment.

1Magnier, McManus, and Desmond trade together, inter alia, as private equity group Lydian Capital Partners.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

2003, again

One of the points of the interest in the Aznar-Bush conversation from February 2003, the record of which the White House has not disputed, is the role of Saudi Arabia in general and Prince Bandar in particular as an enabler of the war. Bush was sanguine about any disruption in oil supplies --

"the Saudis would help us and put all the oil necessary into the market,"

which might come as news to the current King Abdullah, who is not especially keen on the invasion. Furthermore, as the same Reuters news article points out, someone from within the Arab world leadership seems to have squelched a proposal from the UAE that would have eased Saddam out of office without a war.

That Saddam and his sons leave Iraq, unconditionally, was the final demand of George Bush before the outbreak of hostilities. Incidentally, Bush's full address from that evening when he issued the ultimatum is useful reading for a variety of reasons, not least because it anchors the purpose of the war solely in WMD. None of the other later goals of the war are mentioned.

Bush's defenders like to go back to his speeches from the pre-war period and find evidence that other goals like democracy promotion and Middle East peace were mentioned. But the core legal basis for the war was WMD. The other goals were an ex post graft that, for instance, did not figure in the British legal basis for going to war in the first place.

Pining for the woods

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, meeting with George Bush today at the UN, doesn't sound too psyched about his current job --

PRESIDENT KARZAI: Thanks very much, Mr. President. As always, thank you for the great hospitality that you have always given the Afghan people, and in person, to my delegation. Camp David was a lovely place -- I wish one could stay there longer sometime in the future. (Laughter.)

His comments also reveal one reason why he got his current job -- he fulfills Bush's desire for gratitude --

So there is an endless list for which we have to be grateful to you. And most important of all, Mr. President, something that we tend to forget from time to time: the liberation of Afghanistan, such an important thing for the Afghan people. I don't know if you feel it in the United States, but we feel it so immensely in Afghanistan that we are now, once again, a free country, liberated from the grips of terrorism and al Qaeda and their associates. And we love our flag flying around the world -- I love to see it in this room, by the way. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.

Poor Essex

It's the only county that's both a Foot and Mouth disease risk area and a Bluetongue control area.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Diabolically Brilliant

photo from BBC

More from that Condi interview with Fox News:

SECRETARY RICE: ... what really ultimately cost al-Qaida in Anbar is they were clearly foreigners and they have tried - they almost succeeded -- they have tried to make al-Qaida Iraq - Iraqis. You know, we're trying to turn over security responsibility to Iraqis by training Iraqis; well, they have similar plans. They were going to turn al-Qaida operations over to Iraqis because they must have sensed that the - that their "foreignness" was starting to be a liability.

But this is a place - I can't prove it to you, but I think when the history of this is written, I think the loss of [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi] was really part of the start of this.


SECRETARY RICE: He was diabolically brilliant. I think he was an outstanding organizer, I think he had a kind of strategic sense, and I don't think the follow-on leadership has been quite as good. So when you hear people say, "You know, well, if you kill one of them, they'll just replace him with another leader," remember that that's like saying, you know, if you take out Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant, well, they'll just replace them with another leader. It's - there are people who are better at this than others and I think the loss of Zarqawi, they - they started to make more mistakes.

QUESTION: Diabolically brilliant?

SECRETARY RICE: He was diabolically brilliant. The idea to try to set Sunni against Shia in the way that they did, you know, with the Samara bombing and all of that was really (inaudible).

So leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq are now being compared to American civil war generals, and no one could have foreseen that Iraq's sectarian divide could be a basis for stirring up a war until Zarqawi came along. Brilliance is truly in the eye of the beholder.

She knows from drunks

Since yesterday was Insult Iran Day, if it's Tuesday it must be Syria. Condi Rice did a sit down with one of the few media audiences she can get these days -- the Fox News editorial board. Here's the discussion of why Syria is being invited to the proposed Middle East peace conference --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Syrians are members of the Arab Follow-on Committee, the committee that the Arab League put together to have follow-on discussions about their peace initiative. And this initiative will be one of the pillars for the discussions in the meeting because we really would like to see not just a Palestinian-Israeli track but really the Arabs need to get accustomed to the idea that Israeli is going to be there, too. And so we faced a choice: Did you try and exclude a member of this committee, causing untold difficulty for others in trying to figure out whether or not they could then come and so forth; or did you just say the entire committee is invited and, by the way, if you come to this meeting you are in a sense accepting a certain responsibility that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is going to be resolved peacefully and a two-state solution and so forth? We decided on the latter, not one of the easier decisions we've ever had to make.

QUESTION: So it's like having to invite your uncle, the drunk, to Thanksgiving, right? (Laughter.)


The "no comment", doubtless said with a grin, doesn't excuse her for having sat down with the Fox goons in the first place.

Next they'll say that "Animal House" caused al Qaeda

So apparently Neville Chamberlain, all purpose symbol for anyone who disagrees with George Bush, didn't cause World War II after all. It was the Oxford Union. This claim has surfaced in the latest portentous 1930s analogy -- dug up for Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad's visit to Columbia University yesterday. Arthur Herman in the NY Post writes --

"Abject, squalid, shameless" is how Winston Churchill described the resolution passed by Oxford University's prestigious Debating Union in 1933 - the year Adolf Hitler came to power - that "this House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country."

And Columbia's event, like the 1933 Oxford resolution, sent (to quote Churchill again) a "very disquieting and disgusting message" to friends and enemies alike.

Many American's won't see that; their blindness goes to the heart of the "red-blue" divide in our country - much like the one in '30s Britain that split men like Churchill from the exponents of appeasing Europe's dictators.

It's a strange argument, that Hitler would base his entire war strategy on one debate by the Dirty Fu**ing Hippies of the 1930s, apparently unaware that college students even in those days tended to say silly things. So of all the events of the 1930s, including Britain's actual policies from 1933-39, this was the one that stuck in Hitler's mind? And what made him invade the USSR?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Acting for Mother Russia

Amongst the many angles in the business career of Alisher Usmanov, scourge of bloggers, is that his most recent transaction seems to have required a favour from the Kremlin. This little detail appears in the Wall Street Journal news wire version (subs. req'd) of an AP story which we can't find anywhere else --

Alisher Usmanov said Friday on Ekho Moskvy radio that he paid $72.6 million [for art collection of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich] on the eve of an auction by Sotheby's that was to begin Tuesday in London, forcing the auction house to cancel it.

"I paid the maximum price along with a bonus," Mr. Usmanov said, adding that he had paid a commission to Sotheby's. He said the collection would be brought to Russia next month, and he would hand it over to the state ...

[Russian] Federal Culture Agency chief Mikhail Shvydkoi has said the government agency presented Sotheby's with guarantees that "the transaction would be in the interest of the Russian Federation."

It would be nice if Sotheby's explained why exactly they needed such a letter, and what other information they took into account in evaluating its weight in what was presumably an embarrassing decision to call off an auction a few days before it was due to happen.

Manhattan's other roaming visitor

One little detail strangely omitted from the New York Times interview with French president Nicolas Sarkozy is that he intends to go jogging in Central Park this week. The revelation was offered in answer to the final question for which the NYT only gives the part that was actually an answer to the question (about sanctions on Iran) --

Et, je vais vous dire une dernière chose, je suis bien heureux de venir vous voir et bien heureux d'aller courir à Central Park.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad may note the apparent double standard from the NYPD regarding off-UN campus presidents.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Irish Volunteer Force

It's truly amazing what the emerging Fred Thompson personality cult will do to people. Like converting National Review blogger David Freddoso to being a rapid Irish nationalist. The context is Fred Thompson's preposterously jingoistic assertion that --

This country has shed more blood for the liberty of other countries than all other countries put together.

It's easy to debunk. The USSR. And yes, even if they didn't free eastern Europe, the freedom of western Europe couldn't have been won without tens of millions of dead Russians. And then there's the question of the British Empire or Commonwealth, as it was emerging in the 20th century. But Thompson still must be defended so Freddoso has his answer --

So ANZAC and Indian soldiers — and even soldiers stolen by force from occupied Ireland — are to be counted as British? Well, that's interesting.

"Interesting" is one word for it. Whatever the British did in Ireland, they didn't "steal by force" soldiers for either WW1 or WW2. They explicitly avoided conscription for as much of WW1 as possible knowing how badly it would play with nationalist politics, but hundreds of thousands of men signed up anyway. When it was finally imposed in 1918, it backfired, inspiring the kind of rhetoric about illegitimate wars begun by major powers that Freddoso presumably wouldn't want to hear about the lovely war in Iraq.

And in WW2 the Free State was neutral but tens of thousands volunteered, which would get added to those from Northern Ireland. It's probably pointless to pursue whatever logic he has in mind for the claim, but he should know something is up when Mark Steyn is attacking him.

Whingeing and Winning

It's doubtful that there'll be a more definitive Alex Ferguson moment than at the end of the 1st half against Chelsea today, having just gotten the extra seconds past the expiration of added time that allowed Man Utd to score, then immediately looking at his watch and barking at the ref to end the half. A "what have you done for me lately" attitude to ref. Who obliged again in the 2nd half.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Global War of Terror

The latest Iraq fiasco: George Bush invades the country with too few troops. So he needs a bunch of mercenaries such as Blackwater to help out. They get to ship weapons under Iraq -- which "rogue" operatives then sell to the Kurdish terrorist group the PKK, which are used to commit crimes in Turkey.

And this revelation at a time when Republicans seem to feel that they've stablised the political ship through a combination of celebrity distractions and the perpetual motion "outrage" machine (Iranian president visit, etc). One question is whether the punditocracy will buy this narrative rather than see the never-ending Blackwater tentacles as a big deal.

Friday, September 21, 2007

From le coq hardi to le coq sportif

photo from RTE

The decades change but the story remains the same: Fianna Fail leaders getting special shirts in Paris while the country gets fleeced.

[more Bertie-Sarko pictures]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Saddam forgot one

During the bizarre moment in today's George Bush press conference when he seemed to be announcing the death of Nelson Mandela, he said --

Part of the reason why there is not this instant democracy in Iraq is because people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein's brutal rule. I thought an interesting comment was made when somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, where's Mandela? Well, Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.

Yet didn't Tom "Moustache of Understanding" Friedman, who's been the key peddler of this no Mandela idea, tell us in 2005 that --

In many ways, Mr. Sistani has played the role for President George W. Bush that Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev played for his father, President George H. W. Bush. It was Mr. Mandela's instincts and leadership - in keeping the transition to black rule in South Africa nonviolent - that helped the Bush I administration and its allies bring that process in for a soft landing ... The process of democratizing the Arab world is going to be long and bumpy. But the chances for success are immeasurably improved when we have partners from within the region who are legitimate, but have progressive instincts. That is Mr. Sistani. Lady Luck has shined on us by keeping alive this 75-year-old ayatollah, who resides in a small house in a narrow alley in Najaf and almost never goes out the door. How someone with his instincts and wisdom could have emerged from the train wreck that was Saddam Hussein's Iraq, I will never know. All I have to say is: May he live to be 120 - and give that man a Nobel Prize.

Prompting again the question that one often has to ask about Bush policy in Iraq -- Wha' Happened?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The new "Abort/Retry/Ignore/Fail"

is Gmail's little red "Loading" message in the top right hand corner of the screen. At least when one is attempting to read Gmail on a dodgy Internet connection. It symbolises a frozen browser screen that eventually has to be crashed, resuming a painful login process all over again. Something about the way that Gmail encrypts login information while trying to access multiple servers (to set up links with all the services it now owns) interacts badly with less-then-optimal Internet service. There's a market opportunity there for somebody.

There is really no need for the Republic of Ireland's natural party of government, Fianna Fail, to set up an operation in Northern Ireland, because it's now clear that the niche for hand-in-glove links between politics and developers is already taken by the DUP. How long before one of the Paisleys is giving an unconvincing explanation of a "dig-out"?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An Irish solution to an Irish problem

If you move all the maternity patients to hotels, and reduce visiting hours for what will be will be drive-by deliveries anyway, then hospital-acquired infections will be much less of a problem!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The answer was "Nothing"

In view of the latest Blackwater episode of open-season on civilians in Iraq, consider this question to George Bush in April 2006

Q Thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to have you here. I'm a first-year student in South Asia studies. My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

THE PRESIDENT: I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Help. (Laughter.)

Q I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter.) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against -- over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that very much. I wasn't kidding -- (laughter.) I was going to -- I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation -- I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never -- (laughter.) I really will -- I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work. I'm -- thanks. (Laughter.)


Glamour Boy


The above is actually a picture from a few weeks ago but it's stuck in our mind. It's from Sarkozy's election campaign as chronicled by Yasmina Reza (whose taking a photo) but there is something very 1960s about it. Hints of a film star photo shoot with clunky cameras and flashbulbs popping and Austin Powers yelling "Yeah baby!" or in this case "Yeah dude!". Anyway let's hope we're not looking back in a few years wondering how could that nice man have gotten in bed with George Bush on Iran.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Show it like it is

When Middle East TV station al-Arabiya was doing a story just now on the apparent decision by the CIA to ban waterboarding, the story was accompanied by video footage of a person being waterboarded, or at least one version thereof. If the American media ran similar footage during their coverage, it might well bring home to people that what's being talked about is not just "a dunk in the water." Of course they'd also be accused of being treasonous for showing what the Waterboarder-in-Chief has been up to. All amid the irony that it's al-Arabiya that's in the backward part of the world.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence

So the only news in George Bush's latest Iraq speech was the unveiling of a new spin phrase, joining such lost pearls as "stand up/stand down" and "stay the course" -- Return on Success. As with the others, it's not at all clear what it actually means.

UPDATE: The new usage does sound a bit like MBA-speak. And since the Korean war seems to be in vogue as the latest analogy, here's an interesting BBC R4 program which reunites soldiers from that war and places it in the context of Prime Ministers and Presidents talking about a global ideological and even spiritual struggle. It also provides the example in Harry Truman of a President willing to fire his top general in the war, most unlike the current one who ceded his authority to him.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

But is it actual certainty?

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today refuting circumstantial evidence that he had received an undisclosed donation of $45,000 when he was Minister for Finance and expecting to be soon in the position that he now holds --

It was a "matter of moral certainty" that there were no dollars, Mr Ahern said.

That's one of those denials that could end up meaning something quite different than it seems to mean. After all, morality is in the eye of the beholder.


Blogging will be intermittent for about 7-9 days. One last thought before the relatively quiet period: there really is a Curse of Bush.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Leaving a trail

As the US for obvious reasons doesn't dislose which flights air marshals will be on, they must be a tad annoyed that this incident smoked out their presence --

... one of three planes that was diverted to Shannon yesterday following incidents on board ... a 41-year-old man who was flying from Istanbul to New York was overpowered by US air marshals who were on the plane. Gardaí say they have established that the man was suffering from a medical condition and they do not expect that he will face charges.

Other reports indicate that the man was Iranian, indicating that the intervention of the marshals may have been prompted by some advance information that he was on board -- though apparently not information that he was under treatment.

So farewell then acre

The Wall Street Journal, getting into the Murdoch tabloid spirit even before he takes over, exults (subs. req'd) --

Brussels has learned what many an exasperated woman has known for some time now: Don't get between a Brit or Irishman and his pint. We refer to yesterday's decision by the European Commission to allow the U.K. and Ireland to continue using imperial weights and measures.

The EU had intended to force the Isles by 2010 to stop using miles on road signs, troy ounces for gold and other precious metals, and pints for milk, cider and, yes, beer. The metric system favored on the Continent was deemed superior. Britain and Ireland had already agreed to require metric labeling alongside imperial measures on other goods, but you know what they say about giving an inch.

In the end, disrupting trade with the U.S., which hasn't adopted the metric system, was probably a larger concern for the EU than offending British and Irish sensitivities.

There are several issues here. First, blaming the EU for the metric system being imposed in the UK is a tad awkward given the existence of the "Metric Weights and Meaures Act" -- passed in, er, 1864. And then there was that awful man Harold Wilson making another run at metrification, in 1965 -- 8 years before Britain and Ireland's EU membership.

Furthermore, as these EU press releases patiently explain, it's not like there was going to be a jackbooted kilogramme stomping on a British lb in 2010 -- the alternative was simply another extension of the exemption that the UK and Republic of Ireland have to sell beer and a few other commodities exclusively under the Imperial measure. The Commission simply decided that these extensions were pointless because the use of the measures was not inhibiting a common market and because people were quite attached to them. They do actually listen.

The main bite of the EU restrictions is that outside of beer and the other exceptions, transactions can't be conducted exclusively in imperial measures, which explains why the traditionalists in the grocery trade are offended. Without a constituency to defend it, note that the acre is long gone. But there never was any risk that French Special Forces would be parachuting into the Stag's Head to force orders of "0.57 litre of Guinness."

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan observes --

The Pint Is Saved

And England will endure - despite the evil bureaucrats in Brussels, who never saw a tradition they didn't want to streamline.

One interesting hypothesis that the degree of ranting about the supposed extinction of the pint is closely correlated with the degree of ranting about the supposed Islamification of Europe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Which would mean Petraeus will be played by Catherine O'Hara

A great mystery which has been bothering your blogger for the last 2 days has been solved. Who does US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker sound like when he's in that weird detached monotone voice mode, which seems to be his main mode?

He sounds like Mitch Cohen, from A Mighty Wind. Unfortunately teh Google doesn't find any Mitch voice excerpts but here's his famous duet with partner Mickey. Not hard to imagine Crocker supplying the vocals in Mitch's stead.

If you're against the Iraq war, this is what you look like

According to the cartoon/illustration accompanying Norman "World War IV" Podhoretz's observations (subs. req'd; alt. free link) about Iraq in the 9/11 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE: The url for the cartoon on the Opinion Journal site is

Monday, September 10, 2007

One bag per person/remove shoes?

In what seems like an idiotic piece of symbolism thinly disguising the real intent, the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reports --

BARDA, Iraq -- The Pentagon is preparing to build its first base for U.S. forces near the Iraqi-Iranian border, in a major new effort to curb the flow of advanced Iranian weaponry to Shiite militants across Iraq.

The push also includes construction of fortified checkpoints on the major highways leading from the Iranian border to Baghdad and the installation of X-ray machines and explosives-detecting sensors at the only formal border crossing between Iran and Iraq.

The measures come as the U.S. high command in Iraq has begun to recalibrate the overall American mission in the country to focus less on the Sunni Muslim radicals who were long the primary U.S. targets of pacifying the country and more on the Shiite Muslim militias suspected of maintaining close ties to Iran.

So the one airport style checkpoint is so that they can say "we're only trying to stop bad stuff coming in" -- while the Iranians will now be contemplating what exactly an American military base is doing 4 miles from their border.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Today's most important flight status check

Departure Date : 09-Sep-2007
London, UK:Islamabad, Pakistan STATUS :IN-FLIGHT
Actual Time of Departure :2117 Estimated Time of Arrival :0857

Explanation here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

We've nothing useful to say about the Osama video

Image property of CBS/Paramount

From the bizarre transcript:

Whoever wishes to find that out for himself must listen to the verse of this magnificent chapter: one of the just kings of the Christians - the Negus - listened to some of its verses and his eyes welled up with tears and he said something which should be reflected on for a long time by those sincere in their search for the truth.

"He said, "verily, this and what Jesus brought come from one lantern": i.e., that the magnificent Koran and the Evangel are both from Allah, the Most High; and every just and intelligent one of you who reflects on the Koran will definitely arrive at this truth.

Building that rugby fan base in the US

Announcement from the USA rugby team --

Setanta Sports North America will be the exclusive LIVE online broadcaster of the 2007 iRB Rugby World Cup, made available via Setanta’s innovative broadband service. To witness every play, rugby fans can pre-order Setanta broadband’s “Tournament Ticket” for just $119.99 at

... Setanta Sports’ will also air delayed televised RWC matches, previews and tournament highlights via DIRECTV, Dish Network, itvn and Globecast World TV, with some restrictions.

VERSUS will be the exclusive national cable broadcaster of the 2007 Rugby World Cup Sept. 9 – Oct. 21 and will air 11 marquee matches, including all four of the USA matches, the Quarterfinals, Semi-finals and Finals. All matches will be shown on tape delay, commencing on Sept. 9 with the Argentina vs. France match, two days after the event happens live.

You'd think that that after the flop of the cricket world cup, which similarly restricted its audience, someone might learn. Adding Irish gougers Setanta to the equation only adds to the irritation.

War be damned

Image courtesy of APEC 2007 Taskforce

Condi has a new dress to show off. It'll take better fashion experts than us to deconstruct that apparent Ace of Clubs pattern on it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Just when we thought we were doing too much APEC blogging

A real diplomatic disaster occurs. This one speaks for itself. What's supposed to be a bland press availability after a meeting where George Bush is just reading from whatever his handlers wrote for him. This one with South Korean president Roh. The context is that there is still no peace treaty from the Korean War -- one which George Bush now holds up as an example of the possible good outcomes from Iraq.

Bush first stated his position that there can be no treaty until North Korea gets rid of nuclear weapons, which is a higher hurdle than the unificationist South Koreans want, but then tried to be a little too blandly upbeat:

And so I'm optimistic. There's still more work to be done. But nevertheless, Mr. President, when we have worked together we have shown that it's possible to achieve the peace on the Korean Peninsula that the people long for.

Note in particular the tense. President Roh clearly did (go to 8m mark on video) --

I think I might be wrong -- I think I did not hear President Bush mention the -- a declaration to end the Korean War just now. Did you say so, President Bush?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I said it's up to Kim Jong-il as to whether or not we're able to sign a peace treaty to end the Korean War. He's got to get rid of his weapons in a verifiable fashion. And we're making progress toward that goal. It's up to him.

PRESIDENT ROH: I believe that they are the same thing, Mr. President. If you could be a little bit clearer in your message, I think --

PRESIDENT BUSH: I can't make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will end -- will happen when Kim Jong-il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons.

Bush's boosters like to think that his botched English is the only thing between him and Churchill. But there's a real cost to lack of clarity in a complex world.

That might be a threat

REUTERS/RIA Novosti/KREMLIN; caption

The ever sly Vladimir Putin, attending the APEC summit, manages to needle George Bush without even trying --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Vladimir, thanks. For a minute, I thought he brought up the Kennebunkport visit to remind me that he was the only one who caught the fish.

and later issues this cryptic invitation --

PRESIDENT PUTIN: (As translated.) And we also agreed that we will enjoy fishing not only in the United States but somewhere in Siberia very soon.

At the very least, he may be challenging Bush to go topless.

It's about oil, even when it's not

From the AP report on Bush's Friday morning speech to Asia-Pacific business leaders in Sydney --

Bush was about 15 minutes late starting his speech, as aides hustled audience members down from the balcony to fill the many empty seats below. He started his remarks with a gaffe. In Sydney to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a 21-nation group of Pacific Rim countries whose economies account for nearly half of all global trade, Bush first referred to the group as OPEC, the cartel of major oil producers. The audience remained quiet through his speech.

UPDATE: Bush's witty introduction was --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Good morning -- or should I say g'day. (Laughter.) Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your introduction. Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit. I appreciate -- APEC summit. (Laughter.)

Bet they've never heard the g'day thing before.

The official White House pictures give no sense of the apparently sparse crowd, although John Howard's panicked summoning of the entourage perhaps reveals the problem.

FINAL UPDATE: scout prime has more, including Bush's confusion of Australia and Austria.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Free Market Insurgency

Charles P. Ries is the US Coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq. There was a news conference earlier this week in Baghdad with him and White House operative Kevin Bergner, Multi-National Force-Iran spokesman (position forthcoming). Here's one part of the discussion, attributed to Ries --

The Iraqi government will make the final decision on privatizing electrical services, but in Baghdad many citizens currently receive their power from private generators on a cost sharing basis.

Good news from Iraq: the public electricity network is trashed, so everyone has to buy power from local private generators, meaning that a privatized supply is already up and running. Did the terrorists know what a boost they would give to privatization when they carried out their dastardly acts?

Straight to the 19th

Condi Rice likes golf. But showing how high the impact of the Howard-Bush lockdown in Sydney reaches --

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had challenged US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a game at Sydney's Rose Bay Golf Club on Saturday but, with Australia's largest city under the biggest security clampdown in the country's history, golf had to give way, Downer admitted afterwards.

Partner Inconsistency

If Apple is planning on offering free WiFi access to iTunes from any Starbucks coffee shop, it's a tad odd that this is in the context of Starbucks offering WiFi through T-Mobile, whereas for the iPhone, Apple's partner is the much criticised choice of AT&T. So, it would seem, one's iPhone will be using the AT&T network for all functions except when you're in Starbucks when it will be using T-Mobile for iTunes. Or is another technical shoe yet to drop?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The September rollout

There's been a notable escalation in the rhetoric of what are usually fairly descriptive press releases from Multinational Forces Iraq. Here's one announcing the capture of yet another supposed link to Iran -- identity and nationality unspecified:

The detained individual is suspected of coordinating with high-level IRGC-QF officers for the transportation of multiple Iraqis to Iran for terrorist training at IRGC-QF training camps. He is also a known logistics facilitator providing lethal aid to terrorists operating in central Baghdad. It is likely that the affiliate is closely linked to individuals at the highest levels of the IRGC-QF. Coalition forces are still assessing his possible connection to the Special Groups.

Intelligence derived from other security detainees led Coalition forces to the residence of the individual. Ground troops confiscated computer equipment, communication devices, miscellaneous documents and photographs. It is believed that the captured documents may lead to information on other IRGC-QF illicit activities intended to disrupt security operations in Iraq ...

“As Iran continues its proxy war against the people of Iraq, Coalition forces will continue to build on recent operations to disrupt the flow of illicit, lethal materials from Iran into Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, MNF-I spokeman

If one was looking for the groundwork for a declaration of war against Iran, it's not hard to find.

The other Shannon issue

With no flights to Heathrow, US military stopovers en route to and from Iraq will be even more important business. An interesting contrast is with New Zealand, whose policy of non-involvement with the war extends to barring Air New Zealand from carrying Australian troops to Kuwait. Now that concerns the use of an airline rather than an airport. But it's a government facility in both cases. The "UN mandate" excuse thus cuts no ice with Helen Clark's government. It would be nice if at some point either of the Aherns were asked to explain the contrast.

Fakest street walk ever

White House photo by Eric Draper; caption

Forget about his visit to "Iraq" -- the Camp Cupcake airbase with the 13 mile exclusion zone. Note that the only way George Bush takes a "walk" in Sydney is with massive fencing each side, surrounded by suits, and not a real person within sight. There was also his time in the harbor, again with huge security in tow. And who exactly takes a boat ride in a suit?

Someone slipped up

Of course George Bush can make an unforced speaking error. But what prompted this botched bonhomie with John Howard? --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for your hospitality. You've been telling me how beautiful Sydney is. I now agree. Laura sends her very best to you and Janette, and we congratulate you on -- like your grandfatherhood. (Laughter.)

Because only salacious minds would think that the awkwardness resulted from him stopping himself saying "we congratulate you on -- like us -- your grandfatherhood." With Jenna's recent engagement and all.

UPDATE: Holden thinks it's standard issue Bush dude talk.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The editing at Number 10

While it's not clear how much mileage Private Eye will get out of their Stalin model for Gordon Brown's approach to governing (an analogy that was popularised here), there's a strange bit of editing in the transcript of his news conference yesterday --

QUESTION (possibly from Gary O'Donoghue)
Again on that speech yesterday you said that you wanted to break the old sterile Party divides. (Party Political Content)

Yes, that we work together where we can and as we have done...

The question, which occurred about 10m40s into the video, and which is needed to make the sense of the answer, was --

Can you think of anything positive to say about David Cameron and the Conservative Party?

The China summit

AP Photo/Rob Griffith; caption

An intriguing caption on this photo --

George W. Bush, center, is greeted by an unidentified Australian official upon his arrival at the Sydney airport ..

Knowing Commonwealth protocol, one thinks: shouldn't that be the Governor-General at the bottom of the stairs? Heading over to the diligently updated Governor-General's website, we see --

On Tuesday, 4 September 2007, at Defence Establishment Fairbairn, ACT, Their Excellencies the Governor-General Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC and Mrs Marlena Jeffery attended the Ceremonial Arrival of the President of the People's Republic of China, His Excellency Hu Jintao

And in the last paragraph of a long court circular-type news release --

Later, the Governor-General was represented at Sydney International Airport at the arrival in Australia of the President of the United States of America, the Honourable George W. Bush, by Colonel Bill Monfries, an Honorary Aide-de-Camp.

As certain bloggers like to say, Ouch!

UPDATE: The White House has posted an official photo.

FINAL UPDATE: Despite, or maybe because of, the absence of any top dogs at the arrival ceremony, Bush went into slang mode: "We're kicking ass."

ONE MORE: The Financial Times shows that the symbolism was real -- Bush was left in the shade by Hu throughout the week.

I heartily endorse this event or product

A couple of days ago we noted George Bush's "Wha' Happened?" explanation of how the Saddam-era Iraqi army was disbanded. The story seemed to have passed under the radar screen but now Tuesday's New York Times brings news that Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Timberland boots model, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, had steam coming out his ears upon reading that, since his name appeared on the edict disbanding the army.

Hence his production of letters between him and Bush about the decision, letters which incidentally are also revealing of Bush's obsession with gratitude from others, a trait on display in New Orleans last week as well. Anyway, here, as far as Bremer is concerned, is The Decider's approval of his decision to disband the army --

“Your leadership is apparent,” the president wrote. “You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence.”

Which could be just the form letter that he also wrote to whoever he nominated to be head of the federal dog-catching team, if there is such a thing. The issue just becomes, regarding the making of key decisions in Iraq: is it that Bush didn't know, or didn't care?

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Cyprus analogy

Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen has risen to prominence in the current tussle over the effectiveness of the surge in Iraq. In fact it's unusual given the current friction between the US and UK over Iraq policy that he's cited approvingly by both of them. The migration of the term "overwatch" into the description of what the British troops will do from Basra airport seems due to him.

Anyway, he has a blog post at the interestingly named Small Wars Journal about the revolt of Iraqi tribes against al Qaeda in Iraq. All signs are that this will be one of the few pieces of good news to be cited when the surge is assessed, notwithstanding its very dangerous potential for trouble down the road.

Here's one segment of Kilcullen's case --

It has become a truism to argue that we have too few troops in Iraq for “proper” counterinsurgency. This claim is somewhat questionable, ... as Robert Thompson pointed out more than 40 years ago, force ratio in counterinsurgency is an indicator of progress, not a prerequisite for it. You know things are starting to go your way when local people start joining your side against the enemy, thus indicating a growth of popular support, and changing the force ratio as a result.

Merely adding additional foreign troops doesn’t make up for lack of local popular support – the British lost the Cyprus campaign with a force ratio of 110 to 1 in their favor, while in the same decade the Indonesians defeated Dar'ul Islam with a force ratio that never exceeded 3 to 1, by building partnerships with communities and employing them as village neighborhood watch groups, in cordon tasks and support functions.

This argument seems set to find its way into White House talking points, especially in answer to the question: if the consequences of "losing" in Iraq are so catastrophic, why not send even more troops? Because, they'll say, we're doing modern counterinsurgency and sending more troops doesn't do any good.

Leave aside the fact they'll need more troops just to replicate al-Anbar in more places. Leave aside the fact that there are no more troops. Did the British "lose" in Cyprus? The insurgency began in 1954 with Cyprus as a British colony. It's not like the British thought that they could keep it as a colony for ever. King George III may have taken some time to adjust to his 13 colonies departing, but by the mid 1950s the template was clear.

Instead the British were fighting against Cypriot union with Greece and for retention of their military facilities. In terms of those goals, they "won" -- or at least didn't lose. And achieving that goal required, yes, more troops. There are similar possible specifications of US goals in Iraq -- preventing bits of it de facto seceding to Iran and keeping military bases, that may require similar resources. Mobilizing local allies is not a free lunch.

UPDATE: Kilcullen is now officially cool amongst the punditocracy -- he's been cited by David Brooks ($).

One kind of Irish

Seen around Washington DC: anti Jurys hotel bumper stickers. There's a Jurys in Dupont Circle. The bumper sticker includes a link to this website. The specific complaints seem to have more to do with industrial relations than the nationality or the authenticity of the owners. If anything, the problem with the ownership structure as outlined by the website is that it's all too Irish.

You could tell a very concise story of Irish politics going from Sean Lemass and Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH) to the row between the Roches and CRH, Charlie Haughey (the son-in-law of Lemass) and Fianna Fail's continued ties to CRH (not least their accountant), and the very sweet deal that the Roche company (National Toll Roads) got on the west link bridge (which is referred to on the website). And the obsession of the current government with tolled motorways. That's a real Ireland, just not the one that people expect.

Not safe enough to stop lying

The Wall Street Journal on Friday --

[Congressman Rahm] Emanuel predicts president will make surprise Iraq stop to receive Petraeus report, but White House reports no such plans.

As usual, everything the White House says has to be parsed indefinitely. Bush's surprise visit is not, strictly speaking, to receive the report. It's to promote the soft partition of Iraq.

The other end is John Howard

Reuters/Mick Tsikas; caption

So after all the draconian provisions to keep out illegal immigrants, and the spending of fearsome amounts of money to keep a huge cordon in Sydney around George W. Bush, it turns out that Australian PM John Howard's government couldn't run an animal quarantine system properly -- living on an island. The result being a devastating equine flu. Australian voters will have a change to deal with the incompetence virus in a few months. Americans will have to wait somewhat longer.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Adverse selection

Another quote from George Bush to Robert Draper via the New York Times --

“I’ll give some speeches [after presidency], just to replenish the ol’ coffers.” With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, “I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75” thousand dollars a speech, and “Clinton’s making a lot of money.”

He thus indicates that earning a mere $400K a year, with zero work expenses, has depleted the "ol' coffers" -- and implicitly explains the likely view of both him and Cheney that they have sacrificed for their country by taking lower salaries than they could have earned in the private sector.

With performance related public sector salaries they would of course be bankrupt by now. It also points to a market failure, as in an ideal world we collectively would have found a way to pay Bush and Cheney enough to stay in the private sector -- and saved a lot of death and destruction.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Wha' happened?

In one of several astonishing quotes from George Bush given to the author of a chronicle of his years in office, he gives this account of the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army (via the New York Times) --

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

The Decider thus mimics this guy [explained here].

Because I'm the only one here

AP Photo/Susan Walsh; caption

Perhaps reflecting both the effort and the reward from having outlasted the entire Texas mafia around his notional boss, Dick Cheney manages to look especially unhealthy and especially goonish in this photo. And watertiger notes from the next still in the sequence that there's something seriously up with his legs, or his tailor.

A star that never waxed

Here's a long New York Times profile of a supposedly "reflective" Condi Rice. Even while being somewhat critical it shows the extent to which the Washington foreign affairs press corps has pulled its punches on Rice. Not least because several of them are writing books about her and so need the access. One wades through the article and never sees her single biggest failure mentioned: 9/11. Her job was national security adviser. The person who "advises" the president on "national security", if you will.

So surely the first candidate to get fired if there's a catastrophic breakdown in national security. Which there was. It was Condi who called off Bill Clinton's targeting of Osama bin Laden in Spring 2001 on the ground that it wasn't part of a strategy. It was Condi who went to the Genoa summit that summer, the summit ringed with anti-aircraft missiles because the Italians thought that someone might use a plane as a weapon to attack the summit. And then claimed after 9/11 that no one could have conceived of a plane as a weapon. And it was Condi who spent that lazy August of 2001 on trips to Crawford and never got through to her boss that the system was buzzing with word of a threat.

Credit where it's due

On the other hand (see below), even a public relations shop run by Republican operatives has to make the occasional concession. Hence this statement from Multinational Forces Iraq reacting to events from several days ago but planted into the US Labor Day holiday news cycle --

The recent declaration by Muqtada al-Sadr calling on all members of Jaysh al-Mahdi to end their violence is encouraging. It is particularly notable that Sadr gave his word of honor that Jaysh al-Mahdi will stop attacks.

After all the fulminations that have been done for the last 4 years about al-Sadr, having to refer to his "word of honor" must have hurt.

While there's no doubt that al-Sadr's ceasefire will help, the strategic calculations behind it should worry the US and the UK. Because he can achieve several goals with a ceasefire: making things quiet enough in Basra for the British to fully withdraw, rearm and regroup to take on rogue Mahdi Army units, and in the meantime let the US deal with al Qaeda north and west of Baghdad. And then decide what to do with the Sunni insurgents that the US financed and equipped to help it in that struggle.

UPDATE 4 SEPTEMBER: The honor theme continues for al-Sadr from another MNF-I press release: commitment of honor ... it appears many honorable members of Jaysh al-Mahdi are fulfilling Sadr’s pledge of honor to stop attacks and reduce the violence ...


Not that there wasn't already proof that the US military operation in Iraq is infested with Republican operatives, but now there's an Operation Power Line. Those guys don't seem to have noticed, yet.