NDN Blog

An extraordinary day in Washington

As a progressive, the last few months have been exhilirating.  Modern day conservatives had failed our nation, and were punished, deeply, at the polls.  New and fresh people came to Washington, with new ideas.  The mood here has been excited, optimistic.  The 100 hours plan started tackling long overdue problems, and has made great progress.  But it was yesterday, in the two major committee hearings on Iraq, that we see how different things are in Washington now.  Debate has come back to Congress, and Democrats increasingly look like the party of responsible government.

The tv talk shows, the news, no matter how you've checked in these last 24 hours have been bad for the White House, extraordinarily bad, bad in ways they have not experienced before.  It isn't just that at this point the President has lost credibility, and seems to have ignored the will of the American people.  It is that Members of Congress, led by the Democrats, are re-asserting their Constitutional role and questioning the Administratration in public, under-oath, something that hasn't been done since Bush took office.  I actually heard reporters talking about being in a Committee Room for a Congressional hearing.  Not sure I've heard that exact language in years. 

So the stories this am are about how the Administration was dismayed, shocked, taken aback by the way they were received on Capitol Hill.  What this means in English is they have never had Congress, a co-equal partner in the American government, and a body that can do a great deal to influence the national debate, do much more than repeat the Administration's talking points back to them.  The best example of this I found is a from a Times piece reporting on an exchange between Hagel and Rice that has not gotten as much attention as other moments in her testimony:

But it was left to Ms. Rice, an important fixture — and survivor — in an administration now in its seventh year, to defend against the tough condemnations in the Senate, where a vote on a resolution about the war could take place as early as next week.

Seated alone at a large table in front of the committee in a chilly Senate hearing room, where the front rows were filled with protesters, Ms. Rice appeared frustrated at times, as committee members variously interrupted her, challenged her or all but accused her of representing a dishonest administration.

Lawmakers argued with Ms. Rice over what to call the latest plan — she corrected critics who referred to it as an “escalation,” describing it as an “augmentation” — and over whether a civil war is underway.

When Ms. Rice asserted that insurgents, not warring Shiite and Sunni factions, were mainly responsible for American casualties, Mr. Hagel shot back, “Madame Secretary, your intelligence and mine is a lot different.”

He added, “To sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that’s just not true.”

“Well, Senator, if you’ll — ,” Ms. Rice began.

“That is not true,” Mr. Hagel repeated.

“Senator, if you’ll allow me to finish,” Ms. Rice said, visibly exasperated, finally conceding that Iraqi attacks on other Iraqis are taking place in the form of death squads.

For years the Administration has lied to the American people with inpunity.  Yesterday the Secretary of State tried once again to lie, mislead, confuse - whatever the term - on a truly important matter and was called out on it in a big way by a leading Republican Senator.  Members of Congress of both parties will continue to re-assert their historic role, and take greater responsibility for governing.  This oversight, accountability, will no doubt begin to change the way the Administration operates.  And for that let us be thankful to the wisdom of the American people for bringing in a new team that wants to more than anything else restore the critical role of the Congress in our system of government.   

Let the hearings - by the way a great word in itself - continue!

The US raids an Iranian consulate

The Times got a reporter into Erbil today.  Read the piece.

New NPI Report on "Viral Video in Politics"

The New Politics Institute has launched a new series called "Re-imagining Video" that will explore the many ways the old world of traditional television is transfroming, particularly with the arrival of video online. This media transformation is going to have a profound impact on politics, which still depends heavily on 30-second TV ads.

The first installment in the series is called: "Viral Video in Politics: Creating Compelling Video that Moves." It was written by NPI's newest fellow, Julie Bergman Sender, a long-time Hollywood producer who has created some of the most memorable political viral video in the last couple years. She might be best known for creating the Will Ferrell impersonation of Bush on his ranch in the 2004 Presidential election cycle.

To give you a bit more of a sense of the new series, as well as Julie and her initial piece, I include the preface I wrote to the report:   

In the 1964 presidential election, an experimental one-minute television ad that only aired once changed politics forever.  That ad was “Daisy” and it featured  a little girl in a field plucking the petals off a daisy and counting, before her voice morphed into the voice of a man in a countdown that ended with the explosion of a nuclear bomb and the tagline: “Vote for President Johnson, the stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Call it “the mushroom cloud moment” for those with any foresight in politics. In its one airing “Daisy” showed the emotional power of television and how it could be effectively harnessed for politics. All politics adapted to the thirty-second television commercial, and television advertising defined how politics was played for the next forty years. 

In the recent 2006 midterm elections we had our own political “ah-ha” moment that came via the conduit of YouTube and other viral video outlets. Call it “the macaca moment.” It came in the form of a jittery digital video of Republican Senator George Allen on the campaign trail talking directly into a camera held by SR Sidarth, a young Indian-American campaign worker for Allen’s opponent. In this video Allen taunted Sidarth, welcoming him to the “real America,” and calling him “macaca,” an offensive term to many.

That one gaffe ricocheted around the internet, and was picked up in the mainstream media, tripping up Allen’s previously high-flying campaign, contributing to his eventual defeat. But more importantly, “the macaca moment” showed this nascent viral video medium’s game-changing impact. Emotionally powerful, visually complex video has finally arrived on the internet – and it’s moving fast. Those in politics will need to hustle to keep up with it.

This urgency is particularly important today, because the forty-year reign of broadcast and cable television thirty-second ads is coming to a close. Among other things, the spread of digital video recorders (DVRs) like TiVo allows an increasing chunk of Americans to skip ads altogether. By the 2008 election roughly one-third of all American households will have DVRs, and the percentage of likely voters with them will be even higher. 

Understanding video also requires understanding how people are accessing video. NPI Fellow Tim Chambers tells us that “by the 2008 election, more than 90 percent of the mobile phones used in the U.S. will be internet-enabled…by 2011, 24 million U.S. cellular subscribers and customers will be paying for some form of TV/video content and services on their mobile devices.” At that point mobile video services combined would have more than 3 million more users than the largest cable operator in the U.S. does today.

The New Politics Institute is committed to helping progressives understand this dramatic shift in the media landscape caused by, among other things, the emergence of viral video, and devise new political strategies that take advantage of it. This report is the first of a series of them in the coming year that will keep abreast of this rapidly changing space. We’re calling the series “Re-imagining Video.”

Our first guide to this new world of video on the internet is Julie Bergman Sender, a longtime Hollywood film producer and progressive activist, who is also NPI’s most recent new fellow. Julie has been innovating in the viral video space since the run-up to the 2004 election. She was one of the key creators behind actor Will Ferrell’s now famous 2004 viral video impersonation of George Bush. She was also the producer of one of the most effective viral videos of the 2006 election, with Hollywood female stars coyly talking about their first time – voting.

In this piece, Julie talks about her professional experiences in using the best practices of Hollywood and a focus on compelling narrative to create political video for viral distribution on the internet and beyond.  Her creative and practical insight should serve as a roadmap to all progressive groups and organizations as they begin to take advantage of this powerful new communications tool. 

The next few years will be much like the aftermath of that 1964 media bombshell. Let the new thinking begin.

Peter Leyden

Director of the New Politics Institute

Unsettling Times

Has the President started two secret wars against Syria and Iran?  That is the question foreign policy expert Steve Clemons is asking today.  The entire post is below:

Did the President Declare "Secret War" Against Syria and Iran?

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.

The bare outlines of that order may have appeared in President Bush's Address to the Nation last night outlining his new course on Iraq:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

Adding fuel to the speculation is that U.S. forces today raided an Iranian Consulate in Arbil, Iraq and detained five Iranian staff members. Given that Iran showed little deference to the political sanctity of the US Embassy in Tehran 29 years ago, it would be ironic for Iran to hyperventilate much about the raid.

But what is disconcerting is that some are speculating that Bush has decided to heat up military engagement with Iran and Syria -- taking possible action within their borders, not just within Iraq.

Some are suggesting that the Consulate raid may have been designed to try and prompt a military response from Iran -- to generate a casus belli for further American action.

If this is the case, the debate about adding four brigades to Iraq is pathetic. The situation will get even hotter than it now is, worsening the American position and exposing the fact that to fight Iran both within the borders of Iraq and into Iranian territory, there are not enough troops in the theatre.

Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more than any of us realize.

-- Steve Clemons

UPDATE: This exchange today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is full on non-denial denials and evasive answers to Biden's query about the President's ability to authorize military operations against forces within Iran and Syria:

SEN. BIDEN: Last night, the president said, and I quote, "Succeeding in Iraq requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges, and that begins with addressing Iran and Syria." He went on to say, "We will interrupt the flow of support for Iran and Syria, and we will seek out and destroy networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
Does that mean the president has plans to cross the Syrian and/or Iranian border to pursue those persons or individuals or governments providing that help?

SEC. RICE: Mr. Chairman, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was just asked this question, and I think he perhaps said it best. He talked about what we're really trying to do here which is to protect our forces and that we are doing that by seeking out these networks that we know are operating in Iraq. We are doing it through intelligence. We are then able, as we did on the 21st of December, to go after these groups where we find them. In that case, we then asked the Iraqi government to declare them persona non grata and expel them from the country because they were holding diplomatic passports.

But the -- what is really being contemplated here in terms of these networks is that we believe we can do what we need to do inside Iraq. Obviously, the president isn't going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq.

The broader point is that we do have and we have always had as a country very strong interests and allies in the Gulf Region, and we do need to work with our allies to make certain that they have the defense capacity that they need against growing Iranian military build-up, that they fell that we are going to be a presence in the Persian Gulf Region as we have been, and that we establish confidence with the states with which we have long alliances, that we will help defend their interests. And that's what the president had in mind.

SEN. BIDEN: Secretary Rice, do you believe the president has the constitutional authority to pursue across the border into Iraq (sic/Iran) or Syria, the networks in those countries?

SEC. RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think I would not like to speculate on the president's constitutional authority or to try and say anything that certainly would abridge his constitutional authority, which is broad as commander in chief.

I do think that everyone will understand that -- the American people and I assume the Congress expect the president to do what is necessary to protect our forces.

SEN. BIDEN: Madame Secretary, I just want to make it clear, speaking for myself, that if the president concluded he had to invade Iran or Iraq in pursuit of these -- or Syria -- in pursuit of these networks, I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker.

Worrisome.

-- Steve Clemons

The District a Leader in Women's Health

DC City Council Members Mary Cheh and David Catania have sponsored legislation that would require a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) to be included in the vaccination regimen of girls entering the sixth grade.  The FDA approved Merck’s Gardasil in July 2006 for marketing to girls between the ages of 9 and 26.  Gardasil has been proven 100% effective in preventing the strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer.  

The bill gives parents the right to decline vaccination, but not before they have been given the appropriate information in order to make an informed decision.  Cervical cancer kills more than quarter of a million women each year and most of the cases are caused by HPV.  To deny children this vaccination on the basis that it may cause promiscuity is not only irresponsible, but not an opinion based upon facts.   

I am proud to live in a city that is now a national leader in cancer prevention and women’s health!

Our go it alone President

An era of bipartisanship.....that's what the President promised right after the election.  Less conflict, more comity.  But last night the President once again took the approach that has defined his Administration, one that has caused his government to be such a remarkable failure - he choose to fight, alone.  By choosing this path, inevitability, he will end up once again reminding the world the limits of American power, the Presidency and of course his own very inadequate leadership.  While his words may have been noble and strong, there is something very classically tragic about what is unfolding in Washington right now. 

Bush's allies keep dwindling.  Just yesterday Tony Blair, his primary Iraq partner, announced that he will start reducing the number of British troops in Iraq.  Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative stalwart, announced he was joining Republican Senators Collins, Hagel and Smith in opposing the President's plan.  And the only Democrat he could evoke was the former Democrat Joe Lieberman, who in one of the most politically provocative - and farcical - moves of the night, was called on to convene a bi-partisan working group to help win the war on terror.

I'm also a little more than worried about the threats in the speech made against Syria and Iran.  Are they idle threats, political positioning, or is the President seriously looking at attacking other nations in the region? Given what a remarkable failure our Iraq strategy has been, how is this something that is being seriously considered? 

Of all the things I've read since the speech the most helpful was a news analysis from the NYTimes this morning.  Some excerpts:

By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq.

In so doing, Mr. Bush is taking a calculated gamble that no matter how much hue and cry his new strategy may provoke, in the end the American people will give him more time to turn around the war in Iraq and Congress will not have the political nerve to thwart him by cutting off money for the war...

“It’s more than a risk, it’s a riverboat gamble,” said Leon E. Panetta, a Democratic member of the Iraq Study Group and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. “There’s no question that under our system he’s going to be able to deploy these troops without Congress being able to stop him. But he’s going to face so many battles over these next few months, on funding for the war, on every decision he makes, that he’s basically taking the nation into another nightmare of conflict over a war that no one sees any end to.”

....

After Democrats swept the November midterm elections, people both inside and outside the administration expected the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to provide Mr. Bush with a face-saving exit from the war. Mr. Bush made favorable reference to the study group on Wednesday night, noting that he had accepted some of its 79 recommendations.

But he rejected its central notion, that the United States should set a timetable for scaling back combat operations and mount a new diplomatic offensive to engage Iran and Syria. Mr. Bush concluded that those recommendations were not a recipe for victory, but rather, as he said after a meeting with Mr. Maliki in November, a recipe for “a graceful exit,” a path he did not want to pursue. At their meeting, Mr. Maliki presented Mr. Bush with a plan calling for Iraqi troops to assume primary responsibility for security in Baghdad, shifting American troops to the periphery of the capital. Instead, Mr. Bush concluded that the United States would have to take a central role, because the Iraqis were not capable of quelling the sectarian violence on their own.

In a sense, it is a predictable path for Mr. Bush. This, after all, is the same president who lost the popular vote in 2000, was installed in the White House by a 5-to-4 vote of the Supreme Court and then governed as if he had won by a landslide. And this is the same president who, after winning re-election in 2004, famously told reporters that he had “earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

But no American president has been able to prosecute a war indefinitely without the support of the American public. With polls showing fewer than 20 percent of Americans supporting increasing troop levels in Iraq, Mr. Bush and those Republicans who support him know that the new policy will be a tough sell.

“The American people have no reason in the world to think it’s going to work just like the president paints it,” said one of those backers, Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, “but I think the American people, in their usual good sense, are going to wait around for a while and say, ‘Mr. President, you’ve taken us down a lot of roads in Iraq, let’s go down this one and see if it works.’ ”

The question for Mr. Bush is just how long the American people, and their elected representatives, will wait.

Finally, by taking this "riverboat gamble," one other thing the President has probably "sacrificed" is bi-partisan progress on a whole host of other pressing issues facing the nation today.

Finding a Better Way Forward in the Middle East

In anticipation of tonight's speech from the President, Simon just sent out the e-mail below which analyzes and offers NDN commentary on the President's plan for Iraq.

-------------------------------------------------------

As you assemble your own thoughts about the future of our policy in Iraq and the Middle East, I invite you to use our blog, www.ndnblog.org, as a resource. To access the dozens of essays and commentaries posted in the past few months, you can go to the "National Security" section of the blog or visit our website for a list of the most important posts. Look for new posts each and every day, and please let us know if there are other things we can be doing to help you better understand and participate in this critical debate.

Tonight the President is going to offer a new plan for Iraq that rejects the core recommendations of the thoughtful, bipartisan Iraq Study Group Report, is opposed by his own generals, Democrats, some Republicans in Congress, and the majority of the American people. NDN will oppose the President's plan for escalation and will continue to ask the hard questions about our involvement in Iraq and the Middle East, as we advocate for a better way forward than our current leadership is providing.

I offer up three additional items for your consideration, including a very specific critique of the thinking behind the President's plan:

1. The gravity of the moment we are in, and why the goal of this debate must be to find a not a “new way forward” but a “better way forward.”

The Iraq Study Group Report begins:

In this report, we make a number of recommendations for actions to be taken in Iraq, the United States, and the region. Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another. If they are effectively implemented, and if the Iraqi government moves forward with national reconciliation, Iraqis will have an opportunity for a better future, terrorism will be dealt a blow, stability will be enhanced in an important part of the world, and America’s credibility, interests, and values will be protected.

The challenges in Iraq are complex. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda, and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability. The Iraqi people have a democratically elected government, yet it is not adequately advancing national reconciliation, providing basic security, or delivering essential services. Pessimism is pervasive.

If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe. Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized. (and one could add if a regional Sunni-Shiite war breaks out, oil prices could soar to historic levels).

2. A recent Washington Post story makes it clear that the generals believe more American troops means more violence:

The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said.

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

The chiefs have taken a firm stand, the sources say, because they believe the strategy review will be the most important decision on Iraq to be made since the March 2003 invasion.

At regular interagency meetings and in briefing President Bush last week, the Pentagon has warned that any short-term mission may only set up the United States for bigger problems when it ends. The service chiefs have warned that a short-term mission could give an enormous edge to virtually all the armed factions in Iraq -- including al-Qaeda's foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias -- without giving an enduring boost to the U.S military mission or to the Iraqi army, the officials said.

The Pentagon has cautioned that a modest surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops, the officials said.

The informal but well-armed Shiite militias, the Joint Chiefs have also warned, may simply melt back into society during a U.S. surge and wait until the troops are withdrawn -- then reemerge and retake the streets of Baghdad and other cities.

Even the announcement of a time frame and mission -- such as for six months to try to secure volatile Baghdad -- could play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs have warned the White House.

The idea of a much larger military deployment for a longer mission is virtually off the table, at least so far, mainly for logistics reasons, say officials familiar with the debate. Any deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 would force the Pentagon to redeploy troops who were scheduled to go home.

3. From two recent essays of mine on the blog:

“The new American operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that even with the additional American troops likely to be deployed in Baghdad under President Bush’s new war strategy it might take another “two or three years” for American and Iraqi forces to gain the upper hand in the war.

This week the President lays out his "new way forward" for Iraq. Having rejected the two main recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report - an enhanced regional diplomatic track, and a gradual reduction of US forces in Iraq - the President is now left to argue for essentially more of what he has been doing for the last three years. Yes, there will be the appearance of change. We will have "benchmarks," fig leaf economic initiatives, Maliki saying all the right things, vague promises of reconciliation and of course more troops. But at the core of a new strategy is a prayer, a big and significant prayer, a prayer that things will get better because now we really want them to.

As this story in the Times shows the core of the new strategy is that somehow these new American troops will quiet the sectarian conflict driving the latest round of deterioration. I for one do not believe that a sustainable peace in Iraq is possible without the involvement of other interested regional parties like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Going it alone, with as we have these past 3 years, without the help of the UN, our global allies, other regional actors, has failed. If the President really wanted to move Iraq forward, he would have changed the fundamental political dynamic inside the country, and shown that the goal of stabilizing Iraq was an international priority, not just an American one. On the ground our troops aren't seen as peacekeepers, but as occupiers, as combatants, and that core dynamic if anything will be accentuated by the President's new plan. Which is why the Joint Chiefs have made it clear to the White House that they believe more troops means an escalation of violence, the very opposite of what the President will say to us later this week. “

And....

“When the President makes his grand announcement about a "new way forward" in Iraq early next year, it is going to be critical that we judge him not on whether it is a new strategy, but whether it is a better one, one that can plausibly achieve its objectives. For example, what exactly are the troops going to do in Iraq when they get there? And if this is still a war, as the President describes, who is the enemy and how we will our troops engage and defeat them? Is the enemy the Iranian-backed Shiite militias? The Saudi-backed Sunni insurgents? Al Qaeda itself, a small but growing presence in the West? Maliki's government, partners with the Shiite militias? The Saudis, who say they will intervene militarily if the Sunni Arabs continue to be targeted by Shiite militias? And if the troops are going in as peacekeepers and not warriors, shouldn't we say that, and admit this is a failed occupation and not a war?

As has been said by many, there is no longer a military solution to our troubles in the Middle East. By rejecting the core recommendation of the ISG Report, an enhanced diplomatic track intent on making progress on the political and economic problems of the region, the Administration almost certainly guaranteed that whatever path they followed would be new but not better.”

 

Republicans abandon their President, and McCain

We know the generals are against the new Bush strategy, most Democrats are, the American people by more than 3 to 1, and we also know a handful of important Republican Senators have expressed grave reservations or outright opposition.  As I wrote recently, the rollout of the President's new strategy has been one of the most disasterous rollouts of a major policy initiative that I've seen in the last 20 years.  With so much high level opposition, his plan is politically Dead on Arrival, though what that means in practice remains to be seen. 

In a NYTimes piece today, Republican Senator John Warner, ranking Senate Armed Services member, asks the kind of tough, but very simple questions that need to be asked:  

In an interview on Tuesday, Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, said he was becoming increasingly skeptical that a troop increase was in the best interest of the United States. “I’m particularly concerned about the greater injection of our troops into the middle of sectarian violence. Whom do you shoot at, the Sunni or the Shia?” Mr. Warner said. “Our American G.I.’s should not be subjected to that type of risk.”

Congressional Republicans must be despondent.  They just got roundly defeated and tossed from power.  The failed Iraq strategy was one of the primary reasons they lost.  They come back to DC and start to regroup.  And the first major thing the White House does is go its own way on Iraq, and in a way that is politically perilous for the GOP.  One of the two strongest candidates for the Republican nomination, John McCain, is standing right there by the President's side, watching his own political career possibly go up in flames. 

The fighting in Baghdad today

The Times has an early report, and it reinforces how difficult it is going to be for America or our troops to bring peace to Iraq:

The fighting on Haifa Street, a broad two-mile boulevard that cuts through the heart of the capital, began nearly a week ago as an attempt to secure the safety of citizens caught in the middle of the fighting and ended with pitched battles in the street. It is a reminder of how difficult the Baghdad mission will be.

The American crackdown on Tuesday came on the fourth day of intense fighting in the neighborhood, a collection of tightly packed apartment buildings and 20-story high-rises that was the home of many top-ranking government officials and Baath party loyalists while Saddam Hussein was in power. American soldiers continued to patrol the area through the night and an American military spokesman said they would stay there until the situation was firmly under control. Gunfire and explosions could be heard in the neighborhood well after the sun went down.

An American military officer familiar with the operation said that it was part of an effort to stabilize Baghdad but was not directly linked to the president’s new security plan.

But the location of the fight has particular significance.

Nearly two years ago, after much bloodshed and toil, the American military wrested control of the area from insurgents.

Haifa Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, used to be called Purple Heart Boulevard by American soldiers. More than 160 troops from the First Battalion of the Ninth Cavalry were injured trying to secure the area. By the spring of 2005, they had largely done so and it was trumpeted as a signal success.

Tuesday’s operation, directed by elements of the Stryker Brigade of the First Cavalry Division and Iraqi Sixth Army Division, came after a series of events that, taken together, demonstrate the complexity of the fight for American forces and the maze of competing interests they are trying to navigate.

It also suggests that even if the Americans attempt to deal even-handedly with Shiite militias and Sunni Arab insurgents, an aim that is expected to be a central theme of President Bush’s plan, their efforts could end up inadvertently benefiting one party or the other.

Shiites are clearly ascendant throughout Baghdad, systematically taking over Sunni Arab neighborhoods, often using the intimidation of death squads to achieve their goals. But the area around Haifa Street has remained a Sunni bastion.

For the past two years, it has been relatively quiet, but in recent months, as the sectarian fighting has intensified, Iraqi and American military officials suspected it was being used as a base of operations for insurgents targeting the Shiite civilian population and American forces.

The violence in the area started to increase markedly following the recent arrest of a senior member of the leading Shiite militia group, the Mahdi Army, who was operating near the area, according to an American military official.

The arrest, the official said, created an opening for Sunni Arab insurgents, and they began aggressively singling out Shiites who had relocated south from the neighborhood of Khadimiya, the official said.

On Saturday, 27 bodies were dumped in the Sheik Marouf neighborhood on Haifa Street. They were Shiites, four with their throats slit and the rest shot in the head, according to an Iraqi government official.

When the Iraqi police went to investigate and collect the bodies, they were attacked, according to witnesses and government officials. The Iraqi Army was called in and was also attacked, so finally the Americans were called in.

For residents, the situation was already bleak and getting worse, with no electricity for days and armed men taking control of lawless streets.

But the Sunni Arabs in the area were still hostile to the Iraqi security forces, largely viewed as agents of the Shiite-led government.

“People were disgusted and were enraged by the activity of the security forces,” one resident said.

Late Saturday night, Iraqi government officials and witnesses said that Sunni insurgents had set up a fake checkpoint and were pulling Shiites from their cars and executing them, even, some claimed, stringing three bodies from lamp posts.

“Some of my friends told me they saw some of the bodies hanging from lamp posts,” said Jabbar Obeid, 39, who lives in the area.

American officials said Tuesday that while many people were being executed in the area, they found no evidence of people being hanged on lamp posts. Many Sunni residents said the claims were nonsense, aimed at inciting more sectarian violence.

Sunni Arab organizations and politicians on Sunday began condemning the government’s security clampdown.

“Day after day, the sectarian crimes against the Sunnis in their neighborhoods in Baghdad are continuing,” said Adnan Dulaimi, a member of the largest Sunni Arab bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. The government’s actions over the weekend were a “barbarian attack” aimed at clearing the neighborhood of Sunnis, he said in a statement.

In fighting in the neighborhood Sunday, 11 Iraqi Army soldiers were killed when they ran out of ammunition, Iraqi officials said.

American military officials said by then they already had solid evidence to suggest that Sunni insurgent leaders were using the neighborhood as a base of operations. They said that the fighters were organized and sophisticated, including trained snipers and insurgents from foreign countries.

One Sunni Arab resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed as much, saying that insurgents had taken over to such a degree that a top-ranking Al Qaeda official had even seized control of al-Rafadin Bank, set up an Islamic court and began handing out death sentences.

New Media News and Trends to Watch Part II

Steve Job's Apple Mac World keynote just ended.

In a quick update from the last posting on new media news this week...

In what may take the wind out of almost any other announcements from CES this week... Apple just made two major product announcements, both important, and both illustrating the trends I mentioned in the previous posting...

The first announcement was that after selling over a2 billion tracks of music, 50 million TV shows and over 1.3 million movies, that they were now selling a new product dubbed AppleTV that promises to seemlessly link the iTunes content to your living room. It was an impressive demo and the Apple TV orders are open now for the product shipping in February.

Next came the hoped for announcement of a new Apple phone, named the iPhone.

The expectations for this were sky high and Jobs seemed to delivery an amazing looking product.

All flat screen with only one physical button, this product was in development for over 2 years, and uses a new touch screen interface called "multi-touch" that Steve claims is as revolutionary for phones as the mouse was for desktop computing or click wheel was for the iPod.

It touts an extremely high res screen, is sthinner than any current Smartphone on the market (beating out the Motorolla Q or Samsung Blackjack) ... It is a full featured 8 GB iPod music player, including widescreen video playback... RSS Video Podcasts just found a new mobile home... In addition to supporting Cingular's standard phone networks, it also supports a full WiFI hot spot connectivity and Bluetooth...

And it what looks like the most advanced web and email functionality yet shipped on mobile devices, with email support as robust as the Blackberry, along with messaging from SMS messaging and internet enabled Widgets or small applications for things such as stocks, weather, etc... And it is a camera phone with a 2 Megapixel camera built in.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, it claims to be a superior phone as well, enabling one touch dialing, contact management, and simple conference call support. It support a wired phone headset and music earbuds, and an amazingly small looking bluetooth wireless earpiece. And it claims a much better and easier "visual voicemail."

It also has sensors that detect if you are viewing it in "portrait" or "landscape" mode and automatically redraw the screen appropriate to which direction you are holding the device.

A Flash animated tour of the iPhone is now up here...

This will be available this summer from Cingular and Apple stores. The iPhone was announced this early as the FCC approval was about to start and Apple wanted to be the first to announce it rather than have details leak from the FCC website.

Jobs announce an early target was to sell 10 million iPhones.

Both products, but especially the iPhone look to be "game changing" devices for how media including political media -- is distributed and consumed...

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