NDN Blog

New links to Rove, Abramoff exposed in prosecution of former Alabama Governor

Scott Horton's recent piece in Harpers provides an excellent case study in the current culture of corruption in government. Horton's well-researched article centers on statements by current Alabama Governor Bob Riley's former Chief of Staff, Toby Roth, in the Birmingham News.

In the Birmingham article, Roth denies that the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was political in nature. The Birmingham reporters take Roth's words at face value. Horton, however, carefully documents Roth's extensive links to Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff, suggesting that:

"We’re looking at one hell of a scandalous miscarriage of justice, the object of which is corrupt and patently partisan and political. Very powerful forces have been engaged to cover it all up. There are also unmistakable signs of corruption surrounding the Montgomery statehouse – it’s not Siegelman’s corruption, but rather that of his successor and opponent. Indeed, it seems very closely tied to the people who claimed to have launched an effort to “get” Siegelman, using the authority of Karl Rove and his reach deep into the Department of Justice."

Roth's cover-up is but the latest example of the corruption and cronyism that we have almost come to expect from this Administration and its friends.

More on arming the Sunnis

Yesterday's Washington Post had a remarkable piece about a new strategy to arms the Sunni militias in Iraq.  I will admit being a little skeptical about this plan, but in the current issue of Democracy Carter Malkasian makes a compelling case for why this new strategy may be one worth giving serious consideration to.  He ends his article this way (and I hope you read the whole thing):

Neither the insurgency nor AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] can be defeated if Al Anbar is not secured. Unfortunately, the Iraqi Army appears unlikely to do so. The widely accepted recommendation to invest more advisers, training, or equipment will not change the ethnicity of the Iraqi Army, lessen sectarian tensions, or reverse popular disaffection with the government. Even more preposterous is the idea that expediting U.S. withdrawal will somehow enable the army to provide security. Perhaps the Iraqi government could massively reinforce the Iraqi Army and crush the Sunnis but, considering the strength of the insurgency, this could only be accomplished through wanton brutality, which would have prohibitive domestic and international political ramifications for the United States, as well as destabilizing repercussions throughout the region.

Given the likelihood of continued ethnic conflict, the United States needs to look to limited means of protecting its interests in Iraq. First and foremost, that means constraining AQI’s influence. Pursuing a grassroots Iraqization in which greater effort is placed on developing local police forces–throughout the Sunni provinces–could allow the areas that enjoy relatively restricted insurgent activity to be expanded, thereby constraining AQI’s influence. In contrast to the Iraqi Army, local Sunni forces can control territory, collect intelligence, and cripple AQI–precisely what the United States needs as it looks to draw down its forces. To start, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior must expand police recruitment and, as training capacity permits, lift caps on personnel numbers. Additionally, the United States needs to put as much effort into training, advising, and equipping the police as the army. In particular, the quality of the advisory teams working with the police should be improved. Like the army, the best active-duty Marines and soldiers ought to be embedded with the police.

But these are the simple actions. The U.S. and Iraqi governments need to go further and empower local Sunni leaders, as they did with the Albu Mahal and Sittar in Al Anbar province. Local Sunni leaders should be given the power and authority to motivate their communities to join and support the police. Imams, sheiks, and other local leaders need to be lavished with political and economic rewards, to be distributed to their communities, for supporting the police: political positions, command of military formations, civil affairs projects, economic compensation packages, salaries, and permission to run black-market activities. There will, of course, be corruption as local leaders take money and profits for themselves. In Iraq, that is the cost of doing business.

Such a policy may sound like a minor technical change, but it would actually be a fundamental shift in U.S. strategy. It would undermine America’s key strategic goals of forming a democracy and a unified state. The United States would be tacitly permitting Sunnis to field militias and defend themselves. This would be one more step toward the fragmentation of Iraq into Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish areas. Indeed, a real possibility exists that Sunni police would clash with Shia militias in defense of their neighborhoods. Additionally, the government would be devolving power from democratically elected officials to traditional nonelected authority figures, such as imams and sheiks, which could further undermine the democratization effort.

These downsides are undeniable, but they should not be exaggerated. National unity would probably be no more weakened than it is now, and fighting between the government and Sunni police outside Baghdad is unlikely. In fact, Sunni police forces have a better relationship with the Iraqi government than any other element of Sunni society, and there are no cases of Sunni police from Al Anbar attacking Shia areas. The Iraqi Army and local Sunni police regularly conduct combined operations against AQI. Sittar has even openly proposed cooperation with Shia tribes. Similarly, the Iraqi government is not set against working with Sunnis; the fact that Maliki has backed local Sunni forces suggests that he does not view them as a threat. The risk of clashes with Shia militias could be mitigated by not forming Sunni police within Baghdad.

Ultimately, the United States faces a choice. It can continue to push a national and unified state, and risk letting hardcore insurgents and terrorists go unchallenged. Or the ties that bind the state can be loosened to counter AQI with local police forces, but at the cost of formalizing sectarian divisions and weakening democratization. The latter is hardly optimal, but optimal is no longer a luxury the United States can afford. Right now, we must focus on avoiding the worst possible outcome, and that means doing what we can to prevent AQI from having uncontested control over the Sunni provinces. Grassroots Iraqization would accomplish that goal, and hopefully, the local forces that are empowered through this strategy one day could contribute to producing a peaceful and stable Iraq.

Richardson's new ad - "Asked You"

Bill Richardson released his third ad in his "Job Interview" series today. The ad, which is entitled "Asked You", will begin airing on broadcast and cable in Iowa on June 11th. It will air in New Hampshire shortly thereafter.

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

An interesting approach to securing a legacy

As Simon wrote a few days ago, the immigration issue was the President's last shot at a legacy. Yet this article from the Washington Post reveals details about how his administration has contradicted that legacy with the appointment process of immigration judges. From the article:

The Post analysis is the first systematic examination of the people appointed to immigration courts, the relationships that led to their selection and the experience they brought to their position. The review, based on Justice records and research into the judges' backgrounds, encompassed the 37 current judges approved by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, starting in 2004.

That year is when the Justice Department began to jettison the civil service process that traditionally guided the selections in favor of political considerations, according to sworn congressional testimony by one senior department official and a statement by the lawyer for another official.

Those two officials, D. Kyle Sampson and Monica M. Goodling, have said they were told the practice was legal. But Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said that immigration judges are considered civil service employees who may not be chosen based on political factors, unlike judges in federal criminal courts.

All the judges appointed during this period who arrived with experience in immigration law were prosecutors or held other immigration enforcement jobs. That was a reversal of a trend during the Clinton administration in which the Justice Department sought to balance such appointees with ones who had been attorneys representing immigrants, according to current and former immigration judges.

NDN's Immigration Work

Just a quick reminder: if you'd like to read more about NDN's substantial body of past work on immigration reform, click the "immigration" tab below relevant blog headers (like the one right above this), or see our Responsible Immigration Policy section, located under "NDN Advocacy."

Immigration Hope?

The Times this morning has a story that suggests the immigration bill is still alive and kicking. Importantly it quotes the leading Senate R, John Kyl, admiting responsibility for the reckless actions of the anti-immigration deal gang of 4 who were instrumental in bringing the deal down last week.

On a relatied note, thoughtful Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby starts his column, "The Party of Global Seriousness" this way:

The collapse of the immigration bill last week holds a political lesson. It isn't just Democrats who flunk Globalization 101. Indeed, Democrats may be supplanting Republicans as the grown-ups on this issue.

Anyone who understands Globalization 101 knows that immigration, including large-scale unskilled immigration, is a fact of the modern world. Mexican laborers who migrate to the United States stand to see their wages triple or more: No amount of border security is going to keep them from coming. Chasing down and deporting illegal workers is costly to U.S. taxpayers, cruel to immigrants, disruptive for U.S. employers, expensive for U.S. consumers -- and, most of all, futile. People who yell "amnesty" merely reveal that they don't understand the world we live in.

But the Republican Party, which prides itself on understanding globalization when it comes to capital flows or trade, is blind to the global labor market. In the crunch immigration vote in the Senate on Thursday, only seven Republicans voted for reform, while 38 voted against it. Among the supposedly globo-phobic Democrats, the numbers were roughly reversed: 37 Democrats voted for reform while just 11 voted like ostriches...

Though I agree with the sentiment of the piece, I take issue that the current Republican leadership has ever demonstrated they have a firm grasp of globalization. It has been under the GOP's watch that we saw the selling out of IP at Doha in 2002; the passage of the distorting farm bill in 2002; the collapse of the Doha round these past several years; and of course they have been wildly ignorant of how the current wave of globalization has been effecting American workers. Their economic strategy these last 6 years has been limited to cutting taxes on the wealthiest among us, a response clearly not adequate to the moment we are in.


US arms Sunni insurgents

I strongly believe that any successful path forward in Iraq and the Middle East will require a strategic coming to terms with the newfound complexity of the region's ancient battle between Sunni and Shiite that was fundamentally altered by our installation of the first Shiite-led Arab government in the history of the region. It is clear, in retrospect, that despite intelligence warnings, the leaders of our government simply didn't understand what they were doing in Iraq, and had no real idea of what was going after to happen after the initial and successful acts of our military.

A big and important piece in the Times today details our latest efforts to gain the upper hand in this new complex regional dynamic - our government is now arming Sunni militias in Iraq. Of course, Sunni militias have killed more American troops than any other force in Iraq, and they the sworn enemies of the Shiite-led Maliki government. Confused? I think, my friends, so is our government.

Consider these graphs near the end of the story:

General Lynch said American commanders would face hard decisions in choosing which groups to support. “This isn’t a black and white place,” he said. “There are good guys and bad guys and there are groups in between,” and separating them was a major challenge. He said some groups that had approached the Americans had made no secret of their enmity.

“They say, ‘We hate you because you are occupiers’ ” he said, “ ‘but we hate Al Qaeda worse, and we hate the Persians even more.’ ” Sunni militants refer to Iraq’s Shiites as Persians, a reference to the strong links between Iraqi Shiites and the Shiites who predominate in Iran.

An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?”

In a major op-ed in the Post today, Henry Kissinger joins the global chorus begging the Administration to start putting more effort and faith in a regional political reconciliation process that really is the only possible way we can improve a battle with the kind of complex politics described above (sorry for no link here - couldn't find it on the Post site this am).

Brownstein on the new politics of the primary calender

LA Times writer Ron Brownstein has an interesting piece today, The National Audition, which reflects on how the new Democratic Presidential primary calendar will make this a very different election year. 

I have a few quotes in the story and spent a long time with Brownstein talking through all this.  The basic case I try to make is that we are seeing an explosion of citizen involvement in our politics, something healthy and good for the nation.  The new primary system, though it is not perfect, is allowing all regions of the country to participate in the important job of picking a President, something the old system - at least in recent years - did not allow, accelerating this transformation to a new post-broadcast people-powered politics. 

It's worth taking a look at the piece.  It raises all sorts of interesting questions. 

Immigration Reform

Several good stories this morning.

The Times takes the GOP to task for their over the top efforts to kill the immigration bill.

A Jim Rutenberg piece makes the case Bush is now officially a lame duck, echoing many of the themes from our essay yesterday. Dan Balz makes a similar case, but doesn't go as far. I have a modest quote in there.

While I agree with the sentiment expressed by many these last few days that we must shoulder on, we also must not be niave. A handful of Republican Senators went to extraordinary lenghts these last few weeks to undermine the broad and deep bi-partisan coalition behind immigration reform. It would be wise for those advocating reform to work out in advance a strategy for dealing with the incredible opposition in a narrow slice of the Republican Party. No more compromises, no more bending over backwards. The reformers have been reasonable, The opposition anything but. The reformers need now to not only be fair, but tough. The American people, common sense, and history is on their side. They can no longer allow the outrageous politics of a narrow few hold the rest of the nation hostage. But that will require a change in the way this fight has been conducted.

Bai on Edwards and Poverty

Matt Bai has the cover story in this week's NY Times Magazine.  It looks at the debate about poverty, and features John Edwards. 

We also learn the title of his book due out later this summer, “The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics."

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