I spent the bulk of the hearing, in an attempt to not scream, figuring out which Republican on the Committee would be most likely to be caught in a gay sex scandal?
I finally decided it would have to be John Thune. Due mainly to his desire to dress so snazzy. And also because I really didn't want to picture Saxby Chambliss having sex while Jeff Sessions comes across as someone who's still barking out orders during sex.
Bark? Sessions needs to learn what an inside voice is. In the midst of his questioning, he switched from Don't Ask, Don't Tell to something that got exposed somehow (not WikiLeaks) and I didn't know what he was talking about and he made no effort to explain, he just lashed into one of the generals testifying and the general said they were looking into it.
C.I. nails it in today's snapshot when she calls him out for saying that more hearings are needed, maybe 13, when, during the first round of questioning, he announces he's exhausted all of his questions. As C.I. points out, then why are more hearings needed?
In addition, I'll point out that John McCain was really bitchy. C.I. notes it but she doesn't underscore it. For example, Joe Lieberman is supposed to be McCain's friend. McCain was correcting and muttering under his breath both times Lieberman was speaking. It was embarrassing, like McCain had Tourette's. He did the same thing with Carl Levin but that was less surprising because he was openly bitchy to Levin throughout.
He was only openly bitchy to Lieberman at the very end when he implied that Lieberman just didn't care about the military.
You know John McCain's a real bitch when I'm feeling sorry for Joe Lieberman.
Ava was right when she blogged yesterday, Scott Brown ended up being a vote for repeal. Good for him.
The person I felt the most sorry for was Carl Levin. Saxby Chambless and Jeff Sessions and one other Republican senator was just distorting what Levin had said and doing so over and over. When he would speak, Levin would have to first correct the record due to all the distortions being made.
What else stands out?
How about this, I applaud Scott Brown. I do that genuinely.
But explain this to me, how come that new guy -- Democrat from West Virginia -- can't tell us how he's voting? Brown, a Republican, can yet everyone's wondering about that Democrat.
I don't think I can sit through 13 hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and I cannot take John McCain being so bitchy and mean to everyone.
I really don't think Don't Ask, Don't Tell is getting repealed in this lame duck session.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
|Friday, December 13, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri 'solves' overpromising cabinet posts by announcing he'll invent additional ones, WikiLeaks is under attack, the Senate's Drama Queen John McCain announces his intent to filibuster on repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and more.|
"I will not agree to let this bill go forward." The US Senate Armed Services Committee held another hearing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell today and the big news in the long hearing took place a little after noon when Ranking Member John McCain declared, "I will not agree to let this bill go forward." The sentence really demands an explanation point but McCain wasn't being forceful when he made the statement, he was being whiney. In fact, today he offered one long whine, like an ambulance siren, only higher pitched.
Senator Carl Levin is the Committee Chair and he noted at the start, "The Committee meets this morning to continue receiving testimony on the Department of Defense's report on implementation of a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Yesterday we heard from Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm [Mike] Mullen and the co-chairs of the Deptartment's working group on this issue. Today we hear from the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen James Cartwright, and from the senior military office of each of the services: Army Chief of Staff Gen George Casey, Chief of Naval Operations Adm Gary Roughead, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen James Amos, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen Norton Schwartz and Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm Robert Papp. The chiefs are tasked to organize, train and equip our military forces. That's an important and challenging task and we are all grateful to the service of each of you to this nation. If we repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, as I believe we should, the legislation stipulates that repeal will not take effect unless and until there is a certification by the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs that they have adopted the necessary implementatin steps to assure that we maintain our standards of military readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruiting and retention."
In the first round of questioning, Chair Carl Levin established via the witnesses Casey and Amos that the task could be carried out. Amos quoted back Levin from yesterday ("If not now, when?") in his response. When Ranking Member McCain went, he played repeatedly with his ink pen which only drew attention to his power pink tie begging the question: How often do you see a man in a power pink tie who is opposing LGBT rights?
"I don't have a lot of questions," he would say after a mini-sermonette. And it was strange that he didn't have a lot of questions when he stated before that, "It's very obvious to me that there is a lot more scrutiny and work to be involved before passing this legislation." If more hearings are needed -- and he would advocate that throughout the hearing -- one would assume that this was to get answers and answers generally are preceeded by questions. Possibly the bulk of McCain's thinking cap moments Friday ended with the selection of his tie?
While McCain was the most annoying, it was Senator Roger Wicker that appeared to be beamed in from another planet. He used his hearing time to argue against repeal because service members (his opinion) would never support serving with gays and lesbians and, in some sort of book-end argument, insisting that Don't Ask, Don't Tell discharges resulted from gay members coming forward and saying they wanted to discharge because they were gay. So, orbiting the planet earth from who knows what galazy, Wicker believes that gays and lesbians don't want to serve with straight or straight passing people who also don't want to serve with gays and lesbians. It was a circular kind of irrationality. Early on, Wicker stated, "I do have to wonder if the American people watching this are wondering why are we here?" Probably a lot of people wondered why Wicker was here and what planet he was visiting from.
Senator John Thune, who opposes repeal, tried to float the need for another step in the process. He stated that there was a difference between the chiefs appearing before the Committee today giving their advice and them being able to sign off. It wasn't a smart move on Thune's part. The response was universal: They all feel they are listened to by Gates and Mullen and that the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is where the decision belongs. Thune also accused the working group from the Defense Department which composed the study of manipulating data by emphasis (particularly page 49). Having failed at both efforts, he then declared readiness was his primary issue -- strange since he asked no questions about his primary issue.
Were it not for McCain's drama, the big story coming out of today's hearing might be Senator Scott Brown announcing he supports repeal. (As Ava guessed yesterday.)
Casey stated in the first round (to McCain) that he supported the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell "eventually." (He repeated "eventually" twice in his answer.) Schwartz stated he did not favor repeal now "but, not in 2011, but 2012 at the earliest, that would be an acceptable approach to me." Yet when Levin asked him what the difference was between 2011 and 2012, Schwartz couldn't name one leaving the impression that he was just throwing up road blocks. Levin had to use the bulk of his second round time correcting distortions made by Jeff Sessions and John Thune about Levin's remarks.
John McCain wanted to give a lecture about "it's tough" -- a long lecture. Rather surprising considering his rude remark where he dubbed Levin's questioning a "lecture." You really see such open bitchery in the Senate but few are as catty as John McCain. After insisting it was tough and bobbing around in his chair for about three minutes, he finally declared, "I will not agree to have this bill go forward and neither will, I believe, that 41 of my colleagues will either because our economy is in the tank -- our economy is in the tank and the American people want that issue addressed."
What a drama queen. This is the same John McCain who turned nervous nellie in 2008 and announced he was suspending his campaign for president and wanted a debate postponed. Now, please note, in the midst of the Civil War -- as well as during WWII -- the country held elections. But McCain thinks only one thing can be done at a time? Maybe he has low energy levels and needs to retire? If he can't handle more than one issue at a time, it may be a sign that the mind is gone.
His snide and bitchy ending was so bitter it will probably even overshadow Jeff Sessions trying to argue his case by insisting "I think I am in accord with the ACLU in that view." It was the sort of once-in-a-lifetime statement. (He was stating that the ACLU knew that the Court would not repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and that he knew it too.) John McCain, scene stealer.
Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell review the Pentagon conducted. Ava's covered it at Trina's site with "Senators Scott Brown and Roland Burris (Ava)," Wally's covered it at Rebecca's site with "Senate Armed Services Committee" and Kat's covered it at her own site with "Where I find time to praise Ben Nelson." A better moment that was not included in the above was Senator Evan Bayh noting, "There just seems to be something fundamentally wrong when we ask men and women to lay down their lives for their country and yet they cannot be honest about who they are." One person had more "worst moments" than anyone else: John McCain who marched against equality and attempted to mow down several witnesses, his colleagues on the Committee and the American justice system. On the last one, McCain declared of WikiLeaks and its revelations, "So far all we know is that one Private First Class is responsible for all of this." Is he trying to say PFC Bradley Manning is running WikiLeaks? Or is he trying to say Bradley Manning was the leak to WikiLeaks?
Neither makes any sense because Bradley Manning hasn't had a trial, hasn't entered a plea. In the United States, you are innocent until proven guilty. It's not a difficult concept but, for some reason, John McCain struggles with it. Today, WikiLeaks' Julian Assange declared, "For the past four years one of our goals has been to lionise the source who take the real risks in nearly every journalistic disclosure and without whose efforts, journalists would be nothing. If indeed it is the case, as alleged by the Pentagon, that the young soldier -- Bradley Manning -- is behind some of our recent disclosures, then he is without doubt an unparalleled hero." Assange was taking questions in an online news conference at the Guardian.
Where in the world is WikiLeaks? Currently click here. Ravi Somaiya and Alan Cowell (New York Times) report, "An American provider of Internet domain names withdrew its service to the WikiLeaks Web site after a barrage of attacks by hackers that threatened to destabilize its entire system, according to the provider and WikiLeaks itself on Friday. But within hours, WikiLeaks said it had registered its domain name in Switzerland." The WikiLeaks Twitter feed has remained up:
Victoria Ward (Telegraph of London) explains, "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the development was an example of the 'privatisation of state censorship' in the US and is a 'serious problem'. [.. .] WikiLeaks has released a file that it dubbed its 'insurance policy'. The file is encrypted with a code that is so strong it is deemed impossible to break. It is said to be planning to release a key that unlocks the files if anything happens to the site or its founder, Julian Assange." Jane Wakefield (BBC News) adds, "The net appears to be closing in on Wikileaks as more and more companies it relies on distance themselves from it. Shutting down the main .org site will cause problems but it is by no means the end. Its Twitter feed remains defiant, urging fans to log on via its IP address with the tweet 'Free speech has a number: http://188.8.131.52'. In some ways, any attempts to cut off Wikileaks could be a case of too little, too late." Matthew Campbell (Bloomberg News) reports, "It is 'not acceptable' for servers in France to host the site, French Industry Minister Eric Besson said in a letter to the CGIET technology agency. The minister asked for measures to bar WikiLeaks from France, where it is partially hosted by Roubaix, France-based OVH SAS." It's already lost one French host. Deutsche Welle reports, "A second French host, Octopuce, based in Paris, was also a WikiLeaks host for approximately the last six weeks up until this week, when the WikiLeaks site sustained a decent-sized cyberattack of 10 gigabits per second." Who's doing these attacks? The one on the US server should result in Eric Holder assigning an investigative team. Failure to do so will result in more rumors that it is indeed the US government attacking WikiLeaks in an attempt to take it offline for good. Tara Kelly (Time magazine) notes, "It's not known where the cyber attacks are coming from, however, WikiLeaks claimed that intelligence agencies from the U.S. and elsewhere have been targeting its site. The reason? It's spilled thousands of embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables as well as classified U.S. military documents that has angered the U.S. and other governments." A caller to the second hour of asked about the cyber attacks. James Kitfield responded, "I assure you there are some reporters who are on that story. Whether they will get to the bottom of it, I don't know. It's very hard, as we've seen, in all the hacking done against our systems, it's very easy to hide the fingerprints of who the hackers are. But it wouldn't suprise me at all if this was the US government. I mean we have an offensive cyber war capability. This is obviously seen -- as [demonstrated by] a Justice Dept investigation of him for spying -- obviously seen as a national security threat. And for them to actually try and take down the sites would not -- I have no proof, no evidence -- but it would not surprise me."
The Library of Congress has joined in censorship and so have others as Gawker reports:
U.S. soldiers in Iraq who try to read about the Wikileaks disclosures -- or read coverage of them in mainstream news sites -- on unclassified networks get a page warning them that they're about to break the law.
The federal government seems to have lost its mind in a manic game of internet whack-a-mole aimed at getting the Wikileaks State Department cables thrown down the memory hole: First, Sen. Joe Lieberman successfully nudged Amazon into kicking the site off its servers. Then the Library of Congress blocked the site for all employees and users of its computer terminals. Now we learn that the State Department is warning prospective hires that if they write about Wikileaks on Twitter or Facebook, they might not get that job. And now Gawker has learned that military installations in Iraq are trying to keep soldiers from reading about Wikileaks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Bahrain and was asked about WikiLeaks today while appearing with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Al Khalifa.
Mohammad Fadhel: Good morning. My name is Mohammad Fadhel from Agence France Presse. My question is to Secretary Clinton. In order to contain the damages which have been caused by all these leaks through WikiLeaks, what are you going to tell your allies, especially those in those parts which touches your allies exactly? Thank you.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Well, of course, we have very clearly stated that this action was illegal and regrettable, that we have close and important relationships that will not be affected, or certainly not damaged, but that the United States will continue to engage in the important diplomatic work that I am doing here, bilaterally, and more broadly tonight. And I think that many people who are experienced in diplomacy, as many of the diplomats here in Bahrain are, know that many of these alleged statements are taken out of context. But most importantly, they do not represent the policy of the United States. The policy of the United States is made in Washington. The President and I are very clear about the direction that the United States is taking in supporting our partners, and that will continue.
The attacks on WikiLeaks are coming from all over. Wednesday, Marcia noted some of the attacks including that Amazon had dropped WikiLeaks after hearing from Senator Joe Lieberman's staff. Marcia announced she's now boycotting Amazon over the censorship. That night Betty debunked the sillies and the crazies. If you've missed it, a number of Hillary supporters in the 2008 Democratic Party primary have created 'theories' that WikiLeaks exists to take Hillary down. They also maintain that Julian Assange "called" for Hillary to resign. (And some news outlets have also printed that false charge.) Betty provided the walkthrough on how you call for a resignation and what actually happened with Assange (Time magazine asked him if Hillary should resign -- at the end of a long interview). Betty then noted how Lambert (Corrente) was attacked by Hillary zealots for insisting there was a standard of behavior that all had meet -- which is what led to hostility aimed at Lambert in the comments of that post. Betty rightly argued (at her own site):
Now I understand the reaction to a degree. Hillary has been wrongly and unfairly blamed and accused for so many things and that was especially true in 2008 when so-called Democrats were hurling mud at her from the gutter of Matt Drudge and beyond. And I understand the need to defend her.
But I don't defend her when she's wrong. If she's broken a treaty or a law, then she's wrong.
Sadly, a lot of us are becoming as knee jerk as the Cult of St. Barack. We need to take a strong look at that. And we need to prove that we were right, Hillary was the best choice in 2008.
She was the best choice because she was smarter, she had more experience, she had a better record and her core supporters were not afraid to say, "Hillary, you're wrong."
Contrast that with the so-so intelligence of Barack, the lack of experience, the sorry record and his core supporters who insist that, as Ava and C.I. like to mock, he pees rainbows.
We're not those people, we're not the Cult of St. Hillary. We know she's not perfect and we know she makes mistakes. We know we have to hold her and every other politician to a standard and we also know that even if she disagreed with us on what we saw as a standard, she would support the holding of her feet to the fire. We know that because she spoke of it time and again, how she wanted to work for us.
This is Julian Assange answering Richard Stengel's (Time magazine) question of whether Hillary should resign as Secretary of State.
JA: I believe ... I don't think it would make much of a difference either way. But she should resign if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up. Yes, she should resign over that.
That's not controversial. If you break the laws, you resign. Regardless of whom you are. I personally like Sandy Berger but have noted here that when he copped a plea that should mean he could no longer hold appointed office. He could run for office and if the voters of whatever area wanted to trust him, that was one thing. But having agreed that he violated the law and a trust, he shouldn't be appointed to any government position. Again, I like Sandy. But right is right. I like Hillary as well. But if she broke laws -- that includes treaties the US is a signatory to -- then she would need to resign. If. The documents released thus far do not prove that she did. (Which is something Wally and Cedric were tackling this week.) Even Julian Assange says "if it can be shown". But the myth that he's calling for her resignation has led all the loons to come out charging. Some, see Marcia's take down of Riverdaughter last night, are so stupid that they (a) accept the lie that something's been proven regarding Hillary and (b) then insist that it doesn't matter as they minimize what the documents show. (The cable shows law breaking -- that's reality, know the law -- it does not show Hillary authorized it. "Of course, we don't know asked by whom," Diane Rehm pointed out on the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show. Watch this weekend and you may see a walkback by several outlets as they try to address the CIA involvement and need to figure out how -- since they don't want to run corrections, though they should -- they twist the story around.)
Let's stay with realities. Reality: I'm not attracted to mincing men so I avoid Robert Gibbs when possible. But the White House plus-size spokesmodel came up yesterday afternoon when we were speaking with a group of students. WikiLeaks has stolen government documents! It's true because Tubby Gibbs said so! Eric Holder hasn't said that. Robert Gibbs is a professional liar -- that job requires one. Robert Gibbs declared that there was "an ongoing criminal investigation about the stealing of and the dissemination of sensitive and classified information." WikiLeaks didn't steal anything. They have copies of government documents. Gibbs is a fat-ass liar. Or, in fairness, he may just be that ignorant. This issue has been dealt with repeatedly in this country. Let's use the Pentagon Papers. Copies were passed on to the press. Not the original. To have been in possession of the original would have put the press in possession of government property. WikiLeaks did not steal information and they are not in possession of stolen government documents. Bradley Manning -- who has not been found guilty of anything -- is charged with leaking material -- even he is not charged with theft.
As the attacks continue, it might be worth noting what Julian Assange declared today:
The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the US and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archives is in the hands of multiple news organisations. History will win. The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you.
As noted in Tuesday's snapshot, among the revelations in the batch of cables WikiLeaks relased was that the US government pressured the Spanish government to kill the case against the US military for killing journalist Jose Couso in 2003. Emma Pinedo (Reuters) reports, "Couso and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian, were killed on April 8, 2003, when Sergeant Thomas Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford and Lieutenant Colonel Phil de Camp fired a tank shell at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. The Couso family has been campaigning for the three U.S. soldiers to be tried in Spain. They said the WikiLeaks revelations undermined the whole process. They are now working with their lawyers on how to proceed." Giles Tremlett (Guardian) adds, "Spain's governing socialist party and the opposition People's Party, both of which have been embarrassed by the cables, have remained tight-lipped. Socialist ministers have called the Madrid cables – which deal with US attempts to stop court investigations into torture at Guantánamo Bay, CIA rendition flights and the Couso case – as 'decontextualised' and 'partial'."
Amnesty International issued the following today:
Amnesty International today strongly condemned a call by the Iraqi Interior Minister for the swift execution of 39 alleged al-Qai'da members as they were paraded before journalists, handcuffed and clad in orange jumpsuits.
"For Jawad al-Bolani to abuse his position as Interior minister by parading these men publicly and calling for their execution before they have even gone to trial, flagrantly flaunting the requirement for defendants to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court, is absolutely outrageous," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"It makes a complete mockery of any suggestion that these suspects will receive a fair trial, and sets a most ominous precedent for others."
Jawad al-Bolani said at a press conference in Baghdad on Thursday:
"Today, we will send those criminals and the investigation results to the courts that will sentence them to death. Our demand is not to delay the carrying out of the executions against these criminals so that to deter terrorist and criminal elements."
According to media reports he also said that most of the 39 suspects had rejoined al-Qai'da linked groups after being released from Iraqi prisons administered by the USA. One of them was identified as Hazim al-Zawi, al-Qai'da in Iraq's third-highest leader.
Amnesty International highlighted serious concerns about human rights abuses suffered by the many thousands of detainees in Iraq, many of whom were transferred from US to Iraqi custody in the months up to mid-July 2010, in its report New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq, published in September.
The report detailed how many detainees were arbitrarily held, sometimes for several years without charge or trial, and often tortured to obtain forced confessions.
"We have been saying for a long time that 'confessions' in Iraq are regularly extracted under torture, so any 'confessions' these 39 suspects have made, which may be used in their trial, must be thoroughly investigated to ensure that they have not been made under duress, torture or other ill-treatment," said Malcolm Smart.
"What chance can there be for any defendant to receive a fair trial if so senior a government minister shows such contempt for the rule of law?"
Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi government to ensure that these and other detainees awaiting trial must receive fair trials that conform to recognized international standards.
The organization said it recognizes that the security situation in Iraq remains precarious and that it is the government's duty to protect its population, including members of religious and ethnic minorities. However this must be done with full respect of human rights and the rule of law.
Amnesty International has on numerous occasions strongly condemned human rights abuses committed by armed groups in Iraq.
Amnesty International said it opposes the death penalty unconditionally as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
The organization has called on Iraq to end executions as a step toward complete abolition of the death penalty.
Read MoreThousands of Iraqi detainees at risk of torture after US handover (Report, 12 September 2010)
Last night, Mike noted Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) report which opened with, "Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani paraded in front of reporters on Thursday 39 suspected members of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda-linked terror group responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in the country." Mike observed, "Jawad and Ministry of the Interior are thugs as the Los Angeles Times has reported for years. I think Dagher did a good job in his report and I think "paraded" really captures it. As a Catholic, I'm opposed to the death penalty. In fact, the Pope is calling for Iraq not to execute Tariq Aziz. But Jawad's not. He's not opposed. And it really drives home how he's using these people as pawns. People who may or may not be guilty. Iraq's famous for their show confessions. But if they are guilty, for Jawad, it's parade them in a guilt parade before killing them." Mike goes on to note how Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad's first mass after the October 31st attack found Father Mukhlis praying for those who suffered in the attack and those who inflicted the suffering ("We will pray for those who assaulted our church and shed the blood of our martyrs.").
Turning to the lack of a government still, Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram) observes that one of Nouri al-Maliki's biggest problems "is the precise make-up of his new cabinet, amid fierce jockeying for power and reports that ministerial seats are being bought and sold. [. . .] Al-Maliki has said he intends to appoint some 39 ministers in an attempt to maximise cabinet seats and satisfy ambitious politicians, even if this leads to millions of dollars of extra expenses in salaries and other expenditure." And how many posts will Nouri have to create? We noted it months ago, Nouri was promising cabinet positions repeatedly -- the same ones. Now he's got the deal he wanted and he's having to create cabinet positions in an attempt to make good on his promises. Will everyone be taken in by his sucker deals? Real cabinet positions come with power and not just a title. From yesterday's snapshot:
A number of reports are being filed on Hussain al-Shahristani. Ben Lando (Iraq Oil Report) is the only one so far who gets it right: al-Shahristani is not just the Minister of Oil, he's also the Minister of Electricity. Nouri named him that when the Minister of Electricity quit in May. No, it's not a real post because all cabinet ministers must be approved by Parliament and Parliament never approved al-Shahristani to the post of Minister of Elecrticity. The news today is that al-Shahristani has been nominated Deputy Prime Minister for Oil and Electricity Issues.
Does that sound strange? It should. It's not a real position. Nouri just created it. We warned you he had overpromised on posts -- promising several people they could be the same post -- and now he has to create new posts just to give the appearance of keeping his promises.
Hassan Hafidh (Wall St. Journal) reports today, "People close to Mr. Shahristani, an ally of Mr. Maliki's, said he would accept the new job provided that he keeps a hand on the tiller of Iraq's energy sector even if Mr. Maliki is forced to hand the oil ministry to other rival political blocs." Repeating, real cabinet positions come with power and not just a title.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, twenty-six days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today." Reidar Visser (Foreign Affairs) offers:
But so far, the power-sharing deal has been disconcertingly lacking in substance. Right now, it appears that the notion of power-sharing in Iraq is nothing more than a spin-doctor operation by the Obama administration -- to which Iraq's dominant Shiite Islamist parties are happy to pay lip service. Looking at the distribution of influential positions in the new government, only one player has been given true power: Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraqiya, besides having gained the speakership of the parliament -- an important position but one that remains checked by deputy speakers with relatively strong powers -- has only been promised a castle in the air: the presidency of a projected National Council for Strategic Policies. The council, which ostensibly would give Iraqiya influence in all major decisions regarding defense, internal security, and economic and energy-related issues, is thus far being treated by Maliki and his allies as a deliberative think tank whose main function would be to offer advice.
As for the Kurds, they have apparently received promises from Maliki on key demands regarding disputed territories and possibly the oil sector; in terms of specific cabinet positions, however, they, too, have few guarantees. The presidency, which the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani had demanded for personal reasons, is now an essentially powerless position. This new office lacks the strong veto power of the transitional three-man presidency council, which expired when Talabani was elected as an ordinary president without any deputies on November 11, bringing the five-year transition stipulated in the Iraqi constitution to an end.
How bad are things in the government-forming process? Xinhua reports, "U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will chair a high-level UN Security Council meeting on Iraq later this month to 'recognize the very real progress' that country has made so far, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN who also holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for December, told reporters here on Thursday." UPI adds that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday "described the nomination of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a second term as a 'breakthrough' in the democratic experiment under way in Iraq. Delays in forming a new government, however, were cause for some concern for U.N. member states." And they don't expect, even if a cabinet is pulled together, anything to "develop before early 2011". The meet-up will take place December 15th -- or that's the plan currently -- and interestingly there will be talk of taking Iraq out of receivership. Nouri desperately wants control -- and that includes the oil dollars from pre-war that the UN controlled via their program -- and the US desperately wants the theft of Iraqi oil laws passed.
Reuters notes an Abu Ghraib roadside bombing left three people injured and, dropping back to yesterday, a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Sahwa.
Reuters notes 1 Sahwa was shot dead in Baghdad, 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead in Baghdad and police Brig Ahemed Salih was left wounded from a Baghdad shooting.
Turning to legal news, and dropping back to November 17th:
Chiyomi Sumida and Charlie Reed (Stars and Stripes) report that the House passed an ammendment yesterday "in response to the case of Hotaru Ferschke". Rick Maze (Navy Times) adds: "It is called the Marine Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke Jr. Memorial Act, named for a sergeant who discovered just as he was deploying to Iraq that his Japanese girlfriend, Hota, was pregnant. The couple married in a ceremony conducted over the telephone. About one month later, Ferschke was killed. One month after that, the child, Michael III, was born, according to [John] Conyers. The Defense Department recognized the marriage, paying death benefits to the widow, but the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration law, did not, said Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., the chief sponsor of the bill."
Rick Maze (Marine Corps Time) reports the bill passed in the Senate today and will now return to the House.
TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, Yochi Dreazen (National Journal), John Harwood (New York Times) and Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "One-Week Wonders: We Pay Attention So You Don't Have To." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Melinda Henneberger, US House Rep Barbara Lee, Mariam Memarsadeghi, US House Rep Shelley Moore Capito and Genevieve Wood to discuss the week's news on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is a discussion about environmental concerns in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
the wall st. journal
the new york times
the telegraph of london
the wall street journal
to the contrary