The global quest to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives has brought a U.S. AC-130 gunship into the Somalian civil war. The gunship virtually destroyed the village of Hayo, near the Kenya border, as it was believed that al Qaeda members responsible for the American embassy bombings were being sheltered there.
In addition to this gunship attack, elements of the U.S. Navy have established a naval cordon off the coast of Somalia in an effort to block any retreat by the Islamist rebels as they are pursued by Ethiopian backed Somali government forces.
As previously reported here, massive flooding in Somalia had precipitated a large humanitarian crisis before Ethiopia declared war and sent in troops to attack the radical Islamic factions that had seize control over much of Somalia. It can only be assumed that the fighting will have dramatically increased the scope of the humanitarian crisis. It remains to be seen what efforts will be made to assist those in need.
Recent news tells of plans of a naval build up in the gulf region as a show of force. Combine that with talk of Bush's White House considering a "surge" of troops to Iraq possibly over the objections of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and you've got to wonder what's going on in Bush's head.
CBS News broke the story of pentagon plans to make a serious build up of naval forces as a deterrent to Iranian aggression. Plans include the addition of another aircraft carrier in the gulf.
Consistent with what has been previously reported here, other sources digging into Bush's plans for Iraq, to be announced in January, have identified Bush's potential desire to "surge" the number of troops in Iraq ostensibly to secure Baghdad. When questioned about a potential surge, all four of the Joint Chiefs testifying before Congress said they were opposed to such a move.
Still, one has to wonder what is going on in Bush's head. Bush has made comments recently about the need for a long-term increase in the size of the military, but is still opposed to a draft. It all makes you wonder what could be going on in his head that makes all these actions and statements internally consistent.
Bush has, yet again, issued a signing statement that directly contradicts sections of the law being signed. With the Democrats coming into control of congress, will this practice finally precipitate a constitutional crisis.
The signing statements relate to a law just passed by Congress that allows for the sharing of civilian nuclear technology with India -- something the U.S. hasn't done for 30 years.
In the law, Congress put in a number of requests that certain safeguards and protocols be followed. One such stipulation asked the president to report to congress annually as to whether India is cooperating with efforts to curtain Iran's nuclear ambitions. Bush's signing statement stipulates that his signing the law "does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy (in the law) as U.S. foreign policy."
Another stipulation, which was touted as an important safeguard that makes the adoption of the law a formality of little significance, is the intention that transfers of materials to India be within the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group. Bush's statement declares such requirements in the law to be merely "advisory."
Early next year, as previously reported here, president Bush will go to Congress for some $100 billion to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This money, being outside the budget, goes straight to the national debt.
If you are hoping that the newly democratic congress, elected on the slogan "a new direction for Iraq," will deny the request, think again:
Senior Democrats, who take control of both houses of Congress next year, have indicated they would support additional funds for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though many want a phased Iraq withdrawal to begin in 2007.
If the extra $100 billion is approved, it would bring the total Pentagon budget for 2007 to $547 billion dollars. That figure is likely to be very close to what the entire rest of the world will spend during the same period.
The first of the incoming speaker's 100 Hours initiatives is something she calls "draining the swamp" to break the connection between lobbyists and legislation. Since the election, speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has yet, as far as I can find, to put forth specifics on this issue.
It is likely however, that whatever will be put forth will bear some resemblance to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006, which was authored by Pelosi. That bill, which never made it through the 109th Congress despite had 162 cosponsors, calls for sweeping reforms. Here are some significant highlights:
- Denies access to the house floor to any past member or officer who is now a registered lobbyist.
- Bans privately funded travel by house members, delegates, officers and employees.
- Creates an Office of Public Integrity and Office of Inspector General of the House
- Requires that congressional travel be certified to meet certain conditions and be subject to fines for false certification
Iraqi president Jalal Talabani has join the ranks of people attacking the Iraq Study Group's report recommendations. His chief concern has more to do with tone than substance, but I think the concern is worth hearing:
"If you read this report, one would think that it is written for a young, small colony that they are imposing these conditions on," Talabani said. "We are a sovereign country."
His largest specific complaint is the notion of a shifting emphasis away from combat and into training but not for the reasons you might expect. He blames the slow rate at which the army and police are achieving training goals on U.S. involvement in the training process:
"If we can agree with the U.S. government to give us the right of organizing, training, arming our armed forces, it will be possible in 2008 (for U.S.-led forces) to start to leave Iraq and to go back home"
This is a situation where the U.S. is in a tough ethical spot. As much as the Bush administration would like to deny that the U.S. is an occupying force in Iraq, it is. Under the Geneva Conventions, an occupying force is responsible for security.
While the Iraq Study Group report is short on specifics on how to achieve the goals it sets forth, it is specific on one thing: Oil.
Some interesting, but no doubt partisan, analysis of the report conducted by AlterNet looks into the specific four-point plan they group has for Iraqi oil and the motivation of some of the groups key members to see it happen.
The four point plan, apparently aimed at western control of Iraqi oil assets, is as follows:
- Assist in the privatization of Iraq's oil industry.
- Open Iraq to private foreign oil and energy companies
- Assist in drafting a new "oil" law for Iraq
- Assure that all oil revenue accrue to the central government
Fuelled Partially by the ineptitude of the Bush Administration and partially by a Democratic takeover of congress, which some might argue is the result of the former, the political fabric of the middle east is starting to seriously fray and come apart at the seams.
Iran was once held in check partially by the Taliban to the east and Saddam Hussein to the west. The United States has eliminated both opponents for them. If you think that that is an exaggeration, consider this quote from Mohsen Rezai, an adviser to Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran:
"The kind of service that the Americans, with all their hatred, have done us â€” no superpower has ever done anything similar. America destroyed all our enemies in the region. It destroyed the Taliban. It destroyed Saddam Husseinâ€¦ The Americans got so stuck in the soil of Iraq and Afghanistan that if they manage to drag themselves back to Washington in one piece, they should thank God. America presents us with an opportunity rather than a threat â€” not because it intended to, but because it miscalculated. They made many mistakes".
On Wednesday, the presidents of Iran and Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Jalal Talabani respectively, held a joint press conference to announce that three days of talks between them had produced a security agreement to help stabilize Iraq.
"We discussed in the fields of security, economy, oil and industry. Our agreement was complete," Talabani told reporters. "This visit was 100 percent successful. Its result will appear soon."
As expected, Ahmadinejad took the opportunity to again urge the United States to withdraw its forces.
"I advise you to leave Iraq. Based on a timetable, transfer the responsibilities to Iraqi government. This will agree to your interests, too."
This announcement appears timed to preempt a planned meeting, in Jordan, between president Bush and Iraqi prime minister Al-Maliki on the same topic.
Ahead of a NATO summit in Riga, George W Bush is pressing NATO allies for more troop commitments to bolster forces in Southern Afghanistan that are as much as 20% below the levels NATO commanders feel are appropriate to accomplish their mission.
The forces are ostensibly to aid the reconstruction effort, but a resurgent Taliban force in the area requires that the committed forces also be combat ready -- something several fledging NATO nations, like Estonia, are unwilling or unprepared to commit to.
Meanwhile, some of the largest NATO nations, the U.S., Britain, and France are facing political situations that make further troop commitments difficult to impossible. Bush faces a Democratic congress, while Blair and Chirac are almost certainly on their way out in coming months.
The worst flooding of the Juba River has displaced some 300,000 people in Somalia resulting in the contamination of wells in the process.
Much of the country had been suffering under a pro-longed draught. While the flooding may provide some relief to the draught stricken areas, it has, for the moment, precipitated a humanitarian crisis in a nation full of strife and on the brink of all out war.
This flooding may be only the beginning for East Africa:
Colonel Janis Karpinski, the commander at Abu Gharib during the torture, alleges that Outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized the torture of prisoners at the hands of civilian contractors.
"The handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished,""
Karpinski was a Brigadier General at the time but has since been demoted on allegedly unrelated charges.
After a break of over 20 years, Iraq and Syria have agreed to establish full diplomatic ties. It is hoped that this agreement will lead to greater cooperation in securing the border between the two countries.
This news is likely part of a general political initiative between Iraq, Syria and Iran that will culminate in a summit between the three parties this coming weekend.
Such a summit can only be good news for the Iraqi government as it may signal an acceptance on the part of Syria and Iran that the government is legitimate and that they will have to deal with it.
The United States is, of course, skeptical of dealing with Syria and Iran. The U.S. continues to pursue sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities, calling it part of an "Axis of Evil." The U.S. also has problematic relations with Syria over its ongoing fight with Israel.
Exposed as the U.S. is in Iraq, to begin to negotiate with Syria and Iran over the security of Iraq would no doubt lead to demands by those nations of reduced belligerence on the part of the Bush Administration -- something that seems unlikely to occur.
While chastising Iran and North Korea for pursuing nuclear ambitions, the United States has decided to share nuclear technology with India -- even though India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Some excerpts:
The agreement, negotiated by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India in March, calls for the United States to end a decades-long moratorium on sales of nuclear fuel and reactor components. For its part, India would divide its reactor facilities into civilian and military nuclear programs, with civilian facilities open to international inspections.
After the vote, the White House issued a statement from President Bush praising passage of the bill.
â€œThe United States and India enjoy a strategic partnership based upon common values,â€ the statement said. â€œThe U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement will bring India into the international nuclear nonproliferation mainstream and will increase the transparency of Indiaâ€™s entire civilian nuclear program.â€
On the heals of a Democratic victory in the Elections, mostly fueled by American displeasure with the course of the war in Iraq, the Bush administration is planning to increase troop levels by 20,000.
Bush's stubborn pursuit of the war appears to be having an impact on the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker (past Secretary of State to Bush senior.)
Although the panel's work is not complete, its recommendations are expected to be built around a four-point "victory strategy" developed by Pentagon officials advising the group. The strategy, along with other related proposals, is being circulated in draft form and has been discussed in separate closed sessions with Mr Baker and the vice-president Dick Cheney, an Iraq war hawk.
In summary, the four point plan consists of:
- Increase troops and use those troops to secure Baghdad allowing the remaining coalition and Iraqi forces to cover more of the country.
- Seek regional cooperation in the "rehabilitation" of Iraq. Partners could include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria and Iran. There is some concern that the administration may be unwilling to engage the last two however.
- Pursue a working political framework that incorporates Shi'ites, Sunnis and other parties into the governing body.
- As previously mentioned, seek more resources from congress to grow the Iraqi military and police force.