Thursday, January 31, 2008
your pretty face is going to hell:
The debate was tepid, very substantive and saw minimal distinction between Clinton and Obama. Then came Iraq. And it ceased to be close.

Obama made the full-spectrum critique of the Iraq war -- tougher on terrorism than she was, comprehensive in his reappraisal of foreign affairs, vociferous on the need to get out of Iraq and what its implications are. This critique that Matt noticed yesterday? It's not a fluke. This is his closing argument against Hillary, and then McCain.

And Clinton had... nothing. A tiny incompetence-dodge argument, an obfuscatory pretense that she didn't actually vote for the war, and a refusal to consider the error an error even when predicating her support for leaving Iraq on the fact that the war is filled with... errors. (Not that she was naive for backing the war!) For ten minutes, Hillary Clinton looked like her caricature. By the time Barack Obama started his reminder that the vote Clinton cast in October 2002 was a vote for the war by saying "I don't want to belabor this..." it was like a mercy killing.

I don't know how a single Democratic voter watches that exchange and thinks, "Yeah, I'm gonna vote for Hillary Clinton! The war was a tough call and maybe it wasn't a mistake, but it's a mistake now!"

Update: My friend Rebecca reminds me: at one point in Clinton's rambling, spastic defense of the Iraq war -- sorry, but it went beyond a defense of her vote -- she said that Saddam Hussein was "competing" to be a champion of the Arab world with Osama bin Laden. Or something. What was that all about? Is Steve Hayes writing her talking points?

Late Update: Welcome TPM readers! God, I've missed you guys. Please read The Washington Independent while you're at it! All praises are due to TPM's super-awesome Brooklynite news editor, Rachel Weiner, for linking this post to the most valuable real-estate on the Internet. Did you know Rachel and I went to the same junior high? Only she was in the smart-kid program?
--Spencer Ackerman
out of gas out of road out of car i don't know how i'm gonna go:
Matt Duss is the solution to the writer's strike. Dammit, how does Iron Man go to the bathroom?
--Spencer Ackerman
simply the best:
Chris Hayes Chris Chris Hayes wrote the single best argument for Barack Obama that you will ever -- ever -- read. There's nothing I can add except awe. To those assholes who periodically ask if there can be "a decent left," I give you The Nation's Washington Editor, Chris Hayes.
--Spencer Ackerman
she makes mad risotto:
Via Amanda, here's a Morcheeba track featuring Tony Motherfucking Bourdain. I now have a battle anthem to take me into Saturday's BloggingChefs II.
--Spencer Ackerman
there's a woman on my block who just sits there wond'rin', still, who will take away his license to kill:
Got some stuff about the Concerned Local Citizens up at TWI. First, maybe 20 percent of 'em will be incorporated into the Iraqi security forces, according to current official guesstimates. Second, the whole CLC program cost $123 million to date. Throw some CLCs on it! OK, the puns end now.
--Spencer Ackerman
parliament says it's safe, so why not bury it there?:
My TWI colleague Suemedha Sood has an amazing story about a rare form of bone marrow cancer that's sprung up in areas near coal-ash dumping sites -- an unfortunate by-product (in both senses) of the environmental movement's advocacy of clean-coal technologies:
The solid waste side of coal is being overlooked as environmentalists focus their attention on air pollution and as government agencies and coal companies push "clean" coal technologies. "Cleaner" coal technologies actually produce more toxic coal ash in the resulting solid wase than "dirty" coal technologies, says Jeff Stant of the Clean Air Task Force. These technologies pulverize low-grade fuels in a way that releases fewer pollutants into the air. But those pollutants have to go somewhere, and they end up as ash.
I told you TWI was for real.
--Spencer Ackerman
new money!:
If you have to be beaten down with something between a cold and the flu, and you're in D.C., there's really no better place to convalesce/work than Mocha Hut. The Hut's sainted hostess, Eden, just prepared me an amazing-for-your-sinuses concoction of black tea with red pepper flakes and a little bit of honey. This is a magic elixir, people. She says Dick Gregory (!) came into the Hut and told her about it. (Only Gregory, allegedly a health nut, says not to use honey, because of some kind of bee-related concern. Who knows.)

Also, this is something that can only be borne of Day/Nyquil-related delerium, but I figure that if Soulja Boy and Kanye can re-write "Throw Some D's," so can I. So I give you Sniffle Boy, for which Mocha Hut is not responsible.
Sniff' Boy, got a rep

All them germs wanna test

Nose running, oil slick

Just bought some Mucinex


And that DayQuil shit


God damn, I'm so sick

Video coming soon.
--Spencer Ackerman
re-up gang records, everyone must pay now:
Building off these re-up blog posts I've been writing at THFTNR, my just-out piece for TWI is about early signs of security backsliding in Iraq. I even got some stats to bring you. Here's my lede:
Iraq security statistics over the past 13 weeks, obtained exclusively by The Washington Independent, tell the tale. In Baghdad, improvised-explosive device (IED) detonations explosions in Baghdad have ticked up slightly to 131 in January from 129 in December—and the last week of January is not included in these latest figures. Countrywide, there was an increase in IED explosions to 2,291 in December from 1,394 in November, followed by a dip to 1,270 in the first three weeks of January. But the week ending on January 25 saw seven suicide explosions Iraq-wide, the most since the week ending Dec. 21, 2007.

It is too early to conclude that the security gains of the surge are unwinding. But they’re being put under stress in a manner not seen since the so-called "Surge of Operations" began in mid-June. Some speculate that the insurgency, knocked on its heels by the changing tactics of U.S. forces in mid-2007, is beginning to adjust, a few months before the surge draws to a close. "I think there’s some credibility to that argument," said Brian Katulis, a national-security expert at the liberal Center for American Progress. "It all begs the question of what’s the grand endgame."

--Spencer Ackerman
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
the mask has cracked:
Mel Goodman debated David Wurmser and wrote it up for Larry Johnson's blog. According to Goodman, Wurmser came up with a new post-facto justification for the war:
Instead, Wurmser argued that the Bush administration believed there were significant geopolitical reasons for going to war and offered a fanciful explanation that broke totally new ground. Wurmser said that Cheney, Feith, and Bolton were convinced that U.S. containment of Saddam Hussein was failing and that the controls to keeping Saddam Hussein from expanding his regional influence were “dying.” As a result, the Iraqi leader was in position to exploit the rising anti-Americanism in the region and to “break out” from the sanctions strategy and the no-fly zones to lead a “rogue coalition of nations to expel the United States from the region” and even “to wage war against the United States.”
That'll work. David Wurmser's reputation is looking better by the minute!
--Spencer Ackerman
gotta know you:
Best Crap E-mail From a Dude ever. Though it's more like Crap Book From a Dude.
--Spencer Ackerman
oh fuck giuliani, he's such a fucking jerk:
Giuliani just gave a very weird concession/endorsement speech. At one point, he said he'd campaign, or not, for John McCain as much as McCain wants, and depending on "whether or not I'm in any trouble." What a generous and self-deprecating way to acknowledge that he's a corrupt failure.
--Spencer Ackerman
you can't take that away from me:
Via Justin Logan, Sean Naylor reports that AEI wants a surge for Afghanistan. Think they'll call for Iraq withdrawals to provide those troops?
--Spencer Ackerman
fifteen minutes later we had our first taste of whiskey:

Stay up until 3 a.m. to tune in Fox News Channel, as my friend Kerry Howley will be debating the issues of the day on Red Eye with the guy who plays Jay Landsman on The Wire. And while Kerry would never eat sushi with a plastic fork, she has been known to read porno mags at her desk. (Research purposes.)

Update: Kerry just alerted me to this photo, which I've included. I bask in her refracted glory.

--Spencer Ackerman
ignorance is your disease:
Vulgarity is a multi-faceted beast. A Utah referendum proposes oil drilling near the unspoiled land that hosts Spiral Jetty. Kriston Capps explains.
--Spencer Ackerman
or are we just gonna relax and watch as the havenots get their fucking heads kicked in:
The other day as I was walking out of Rambo with Dave and Ezra, I made an obnoxious comment about Rudy Giuliani's platform: brutality at home and abroad, command-and-cronyism as a path to economic growth. Nothing like this truly exists in the Republican Party, but it's right at home in the Ba'ath Party. Well, Dave put it in a Hit & Run post.
--Spencer Ackerman
we care a lot:
The compassionate torturer. Michael Gerson is beyond parody.
--Spencer Ackerman
you know i'm gonna pop my heat:
Maybe it's the frustration talking, but Charlie evinces needless incredulity over Johan Santana's likely move over to the Mets. The idea of being the undisputed best pitcher in the National League sounds pretty good to me. Omar Minaya is a brilliant GM, the Mets have a huge payroll, and a dominant, 28-year old AL pitcher is just going to look better in the NL. Obviously I would prefer Santana to go to the Yankees, just as Charlie would prefer he go to the Red Sox, but in the grand scheme of things, this might be best for all of us.

Now we just need Tim Marchman to explain how this all went down. Lucky us!

--Spencer Ackerman
what's up, what's up, what's up -- re-up:
Ten severed heads in a field north of Baghdad. Only nine headless bodies found so far.
--Spencer Ackerman
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
i'm 'bout my paper:
It’s obvious to any observer that America and its teenage president are going through a deteriorating situation on all levels. It’s common practice for U.S. presidents to review the Palestinian problem, in the last minutes of their tenure, to add new touches to the problem that would serve the Jews. Little Bush is making his last visit to offer the [same] support his predecessor extended to Israel. On the other hand, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan are playgrounds for America to settle its accounts with its foes.
That charming little statement is from Ali al-Nuaimi, the emir of the Islamic Army of Iraq, elements of which play a large role in the U.S.'s Concerned Local Citizens strategy for pony-finding. Via Jamestown's sadly off-line Terrorism Focus.
--Spencer Ackerman
Monday, January 28, 2008
smoking your cigarettes, drinking your brandy:
We're liveblogging the SOTU at The Streak, so come check it out. All your favorite liberal bloggers and reporters are up in our offices, eating our pizza, drinking our beer.
--Spencer Ackerman
hold on to jesus' hand:
How good was episode four? See, I told you haters to keep the faith.

We've got a couple weeks before the next installment of WireTAP. But I can't wait! There's nothing I love more than guessing how The Wire will wrap its plot up, not least of which because whenever I try I get it massively wrong. But why should that stop me? I'm a journalist!

So here's my guess for season five -- thanks to friends BP and KG for bearing with me as I thought this through over IM. (I use the term loosely, natch.) Herc tells Carver that he knows how Marlo cleans his cash: Levy helps him funnel it from the streets to the ministers, to the front businesses, to the politicians. Carv steps up, goes to Freamon or Daniels and eventually gets made Western District commander in return. (Mello, mirroring the Sun storyline, takes the equivalent of a buyout.)

Cheese doesn't realize that by selling out Proposition Joe, he's just outlived his usefulness to Marlo. Cheese gets killed by Omar. Marlo either lets it happen or kills Cheese himself. Now that he has the Greek's hook-up, he tells the co-op: take my package, get out of the game, or die. He sets to work trying to finish off Omar, thereby knocking out his last obstacle to absolute domination, and any co-op members who resist. Who knows: Maybe he kills Cheese as an olive branch to the co-op, as if to say that Marlo will avenge the "unjust" murder of Hungry Man, although Marlo himself murdered Prop Joe. Kings are capricious by nature. Marlo appears to have Baltimore by the throat.


As the Greek prophesied in episode four (he may not be Greek, but he is Aristophenes), he doesn't want all the violence that Marlo is bringing -- especially when Marlo can't easily kill Omar. Maybe Chris or Snoop falls to Omar, and Marlo just can't bring Omar down once and for all. The Greek's desired stability is threatened. So he and Vondas figure: fuck Baltimore. This town is dead anyway, thereby mirroring the theme of the entire show. They leave. The good coke & dope leave with them. All of a sudden Marlo looks like a Kurosawa character, atop a throne of bodies but with nothing to show for it.

And that's when Major Crimes gets him. Totally illegally, after Herc's violation of attorney-client privilege. But no one cares: Carcetti wants the crime-drop, the Sun wants a good story, Daniels wants Major Crimes back, Major Crimes wants to be Major Crimes again. In the end, it's precisely the systemic corruption of Baltimore that the show has railed against for 5 years that accidentally benefits the good guys. Marlo goes to Jessup, where he's murdered by Wee-Bey as Avon watches.

What's everyone think? Too neat, bright, happy an ending? Yeah, me too.
--Spencer Ackerman
i ain't spent one rap dollar in two years, holler:
How innovative is TWI? Over at our awesome group-blog, the Streak, I'm trying something I always thought would be good for journalism: publishing the criticism I get from my sources about my work.

Basically, if you're reading my stuff, what assurances do you have that I'm quoting someone correctly? Like, if I didn't know how totally legit the ex-senior CIA official was who gave me all these quotes for my piece about how bad interrogations are, I'd think, "Ackerman got this shit? No way. I just dunno about that. Maybe he's quoting the dude out of context. Those quotes are just too holy-shit." Well, now you can see for yourself what the ex-official thought of the piece. Here's the first installment of Sources Holler Back. Transparency: embrace it!
--Spencer Ackerman
you gotta serve somebody:
CNAS people write for Human Events? That I didn't see coming.
--Spencer Ackerman
Your true true true true true true confessions:
George Piro, the FBI official who spent seven months interrogating Saddam Hussein -- he used cookies and gardening privileges instead of torture -- tells us Saddam's thoughts on the man Bush said was his best buddy.
Scott Pelley: Among the most important questions for U.S. intelligence was whether Saddam had been supporting al-Qaeda, as had been claimed by some the Bush administration. What was his opinion of Osama bin Laden?

Piro: He considered him to be a fanatic, and as such was very wary of him. He told me you couldn't trust fanatics.

Pelley: Didn't think of bin Laden as an ally in his effort against the United States, in this war against the United States?

Piro: He didn't want to be seen with bin Laden. And didn't want to associate with bin Laden.

Pelley: Did he think that bin Laden was a threat to him and his regime?

Piro: Yes.

Aha! See, all Piro said was Saddam didn't want to be seen with bin Laden! Of course Saddam wouldn't! This clearly means that behind the scenes they were conspiring against the U.S.! Bush was right! Steve Hayes was right! The right was right! You were right! We were right!

Update: Parody is sometimes impossible.

--Spencer Ackerman
Have you any idea why they're lying to you? To your faces?:
Launch Hard: The Washington Independent Story opened today. The game stay the game. But it just got more fierce.

And not only did we launch today, but we launched with something I'm extremely proud of. It's a reported piece about the origins, development and persistence of brutality in CIA interrogations in the war on terrorism, and how, despite everything the Bush administration has told us about the "enhanced interrogation" program's value, interrogations remain in a state of disrepair. A taste:

Those with intimate knowledge of the program say that in many cases, U.S. interrogators haven’t even been able to learn the basics about many of those they hold or have held, to say nothing of whatever crucial information they possess. "How do you separate the sheep from the wool? There’s no fingerprints, no DNA," said a former senior intelligence official who helped set up the CIA’s interrogation program, and who would not speak for attribution. "You don’t know if you have Osama bin Laden or Joe Shit the rag-man."
Friends of mine know I take a hyper-critical attitude to my own work. This, I think, earned me my paycheck. I hope you'll check it out.
--Spencer Ackerman
Sunday, January 27, 2008
and your backup man your backup man your backup ain't working:
Despite intense pressure from both the CIA, ODNI and the Pentagon, Musharraf isn't letting CIA or the Special Forces community (how I love that phrase) into Pakistan. Consider:
The Jan. 9 meetings, the first visit with Mr. Musharraf by senior administration officials since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, also included the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the director of Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj. American officials said the visit was prompted by an increasing sense of urgency at the highest levels of the United States government that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts to destabilize the Pakistani government.
After the Bhutto assassination, I speculated on TPMm that al-Qaeda might have killed Bhutto as a bankshot to get Musharraf to divert resources away from the NWFP/FATA and toward internal repression:
Numerous assassination attempts on Pervez Musharraf have failed. So, in true asymmetric-war fashion, why not go after the softer target? Killing Bhutto helps destabilize Pakistan. As an ex-U.S. intelligence official told me yesterday, everyone in Pakistan already believes Musharraf had a hand in her death. So Musharraf suffers a crisis of legitimacy matched with a crisis of security. He has to deal with the already-ensuing riots, thereby diverting his security resources away from whatever not-particularly-successful-anyway counterterrorism efforts they're engaged in. That's a terrorist two-fer.
Whether al-Qaeda meant it that way or not, and whether Musharraf means it this way or not, the effect is largely the same. Back to the NYT:
The C.I.A. operatives in Afghanistan and the covert Special Operations forces there have made little secret of their desire to move into the tribal areas with or without Mr. Musharraf’s explicit approval. In the administration, there has been discussion of whether Mr. Bush should give orders to allow them more latitude. Mr. Musharraf has explicitly rejected that, and within days after Mr. McConnell and General Hayden’s departure, he told a Singapore newspaper that any unilateral action by the United States would be regarded as an invasion. In Davos, he dismissed the idea that Americans could be effective in the tribal areas.
And on that point, at least, Pervez Musharraf is making sense.
--Spencer Ackerman
it's the nature of all my circuitry:
Luckily, this could never be abused.
President Bush signed a directive this month that expands the intelligence community's role in monitoring Internet traffic to protect against a rising number of attacks on federal agencies' computer systems.

The directive, whose content is classified, authorizes the intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency, to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies -- including ones they have not previously monitored.

Until now, the government's efforts to protect itself from cyber-attacks -- which run the gamut from hackers to organized crime to foreign governments trying to steal sensitive data -- have been piecemeal. Under the new initiative, a task force headed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will coordinate efforts to identify the source of cyber-attacks against government computer systems. As part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security will work to protect the systems and the Pentagon will devise strategies for counterattacks against the intruders.

--Spencer Ackerman
the destruction of everything is the beginning of something new:
McCain's on the cover of Time under the headline, "The Phoenix." To a certain cohort, the associations are devastating. It so happened that at Kay's birthday party last week, Kriston and I had the opportunity to introduce Amanda to the Dark Phoenix Saga. Already we can see the costume worn by McCain, perhaps stirred by the pernicious influence of Mastermind, turning a deep red:
Stumping in Fort Myers on Saturday, McCain went on the attack first, linking Romney with Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.): "If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Governor Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher."

He added to reporters that "one of my opponents wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster."

Romney, who said in April that the military should consider a "private timetable" but not public deadlines, shot back: "That's dishonest, to say that I have a specific date. That's simply wrong. . . . I know he's trying desperately to change the topic from the economy and trying to get back to Iraq, but to say something that's not accurate is simply wrong, and he knows better."

--Spencer Ackerman
but i'd rather be alive:
Even more impressive than Obama's victory speech is this. A friend who went to Horry County to work for Obama referenced it in a very-early-morning text message, and I urge you to read every word. Especially if you work in the media.
--Spencer Ackerman
Through Pyrex and powder the fury was born:
Saddam Hussein's new roommate:
Former Indonesian President Suharto, the U.S. Cold War ally who led one of the 20th century's most brutal dictatorships over 32 years that saw up to a million political opponents killed, died Sunday. He was 86.
--Spencer Ackerman
Saturday, January 26, 2008
i'm knocking on your window:
Bob Novak, whom I admirably refrained from murdering at a Christmas party, reports (I use the word loosely) that Obama's dudes are whispering about making John Edwards Obama's attorney general. If so, a question: does Edwards still think that we need to take domestic intelligence gathering away from the FBI and create an American MI-5? He ran on that in 2003-4, but that was before he got washed in the blood of the liberal lamb or whatever. This looks like a job for The Washington Independent's national-security correspondent!
--Spencer Ackerman
it ain't a crime unless we get caught:
Behold, once again, how Iraq's sectarian agenda clashes, scratches, claws, kicks and undermines the U.S.'s counterterrorism agenda. Leila Fadel and Hussein Kadhim:
Officials in Iraq's mostly Sunni Muslim Anbar province are refusing to raise Iraq's new national flag, which the parliament approved earlier this week.

"The new flag is done for a foreign agenda and we won't raise it," said Ali Hatem al Suleiman, a leading member of the U.S.-backed Anbar Awakening Council, "If they want to force us to raise it, we will leave the yard for them to fight al Qaida."

The Awakening Councils are, to understate matters, a rather flawed vehicle for fighting al-Qaeda. But, normative judgments aside, they're also The Plan. The more we promote them, the more ability they'll have to undermine not only the Maliki government but the U.S.-brokered political process that guarantees Shiite power in Iraq. And safeguarding that process is at least 50 percent of the reason we care about fighting AQI in the first place. Why, it's almost as if the Iraq war doesn't make any sense!
--Spencer Ackerman
more complex a text than your holy koran:
Have you pre-ordered your copy of Heads In The Sand yet? It's the only foreign policy manifesto that matters. If you've already secured your own, perhaps you have a loved one who would benefit from reading the book.
--Spencer Ackerman
Friday, January 25, 2008
yidle didle didle didle didle didle didle do:
I'm not trying to go back to any squashed beef, but oy. Judith Shulevitz offers an unintentional TNR self-parody:
I trust Hillary Clinton in my kishkes.
--Spencer Ackerman
but they can never taint you in my eyes, no, they can never touch you now:
Kriston Capps has started something he can't finish. Like everyone else today, he takes note of the Independent's vile smear job on the adorable German polar bear Knut. Now, for the uninitiated, the Flophouse has a longstanding debate over which is the greatest bear. I say polar bears; Kriston says koala bears; Matt and Catherine say panda bears; Becks says we're all faggots. Kriston, with atypical misjudgment, says we're now in a two-bear contest.

In one sense, Kriston is right. We are indeed in a two-bear contest. After all, the koala is not a bear, as sensible people worldwide understand. Considering the koala to be a bear is a strange vestige of an outmoded era. The panda and polar bears are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The koala is Mike Gravel.

But let's not win dirty. Consider the charges the Independent presents.

Knut close up is disconcerting to say the least: he is not white but mired a filthy brownish grey colour by the mud and dirty pools of water in his enclosure. At a year old, and weighing more than 17 stone he is bigger than a man when standing on his hind legs.
Really now? We're blaming Knut for the fact that his captors keep him in unsanitary conditions? I had no idea that blaming the victim was the Kriston Capps way. Onward:
While some insist that bears born in zoos have a right to human intervention to save and secure their lives, others such as the German animal rights activist, Frank Albrecht argue that they become so dependent on man that they end up divorced from nature and turn into hyperactive, disturbed freaks.

"Knut is a problem bear who has become addicted to human beings," he said.

The German zoologist Peter Arras has described Knut as a "psychopath".

A few points. First, notice that there is no evidence presented for the proposition that there's anything wrong with Knut. If you click through the article, you see that the whole thing is predicated on the Nuremberg Zoo's fear that other polar bears raised in captivity might attack one another -- which itself is an evidence-free claim. You can see what a shoddy piece of journalism this is.

Second, there's also no evidence justifying the headline that Knut won't mate. Just none. Only one context-free quote from some animal-rights activist and another from a zoologist. And finally, explain how an "addiction" to human beings is anything but a virtue. Knut, like a good bear, wants to warm our hearts with his winning personality. He maybe wouldn't mind if we hugged him. Only a fool would consider this a character flaw.

Last thing. I notice on an email thread that when Kriston said polar bears are now out of the best-bear contest, his own special lady replied "are you kidding?" So he's put himself in the position of saying she doesn't know what she's talking about, bear-wise. What a terrible, unforced blunder. But such are the wages of dissing polar bears.

--Spencer Ackerman
callin me a dog, well leave a dog alone:
Oh God! The Romney-with-black-people clip! It's so much worse than I thought! Josh explains it all:

Another Ben Craw banger. In case you didn't know, TPMtv is produced by Ben, a psychotic with a mohawk who you do not want to fuck with.

--Spencer Ackerman
tin full of nails pint of jelly timing device insane intentions:
Dana Stevens is on a motherfucking roll:
Rambo combines an unapologetic return to the grand action-movie tradition of blowing shit up (one explosion is so big, it leaves behind its own miniature mushroom cloud) with a Saw-era interest in close-ups of human viscera. The problem is that the moral meaning of the gore keeps changing. The airborne organs of a helpless Karen villager are supposed to make us scream, "Rambo, right this injustice!" while the splattered guts of a Burmese army officer are meant to evoke a reaction along the lines of, "Aw yeah."
God, can I not wait to see Rambo tomorrow.
--Spencer Ackerman
well i beg your pardon:
Me and a bunch of friends -- Yglesias, Capps, Ezra, Ann and Kay -- have very strong feelings feelings about The Wire. Since we're all writers, we naturally decided it would be a shame to deny the world our IRL arguments about the merits and drawbacks of season five. The American Prospect, nodding its august liberal head, decided it would give us bandwidth to explore the show every three episodes. And so here's installment number one of WireTAP, the only Wire debate at a journalistic organization that matters.

My argument didn't really get much engagement (sigh), but I contend that season five is actually super-awesome. For my money, though, Kriston has pretty much has the best entry in the debate. I don't know what Ann and Kay are thinking about the Stanfield crew, and I'm not sure why Ezra thinks that Scott's fabulism isn't supposed to be seen as a symptom of what happens when newspapers cut back on real reporters and valorize snazzy but substanceless young'uns.

Update: Maybe I didn't understand Ezra's point about fabulism because I misread Ez What he actually says is that fabulism is orthogonal to the decline of newspapering -- it can happen at contracting papers, but also at The New York Times and The New Republic and The Washington Post -- and so to graft the fabulism point onto the venal-management point (even though this apparently happened at the Baltimore Sun when Simon was there) is cheap.

Late Update: One of Ezra's commenters, Pesto, spits hot fire:

McNulty found some kind of peace in giving up on detective work for the more mundane work as a uniformed cop. He kicked his habit(s). But then he was lured back in by promises of a real commitment to Major Crimes by the higher-ups, and found out that it was all a big lie -- as he now feels he should have known. He hates the higher-ups, of course, but hates himself more for his relapse, and he's taking it out on everyone around him. Bubbles, who's an addict-detective (to McNulty's detective-addict) is going to go through something similar, I think.
Really good point.

Absolutely Final Update: My friend and Baltimorean Rich Byrne, who wrote before the season-four hype, adds a lot of value at the Guardian's website.

--Spencer Ackerman
together forever and never to part, together for ever we two:
In November, the Bush administration announced that it would do something in Iraq it has resisted for four years: negotiate a long-term bilateral military commitment with the Iraqis. General Douglas Lute, the White House's so-called "war czar," immediately told reporters that force levels and basing rights would be on the table. When I asked a spokesman for the Iraqi government about permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, he didn't rule it out. And indeed, the U.S. Army has been preparing for this prospect for years. If it looks like U.S. troops will be in Iraq forever, that's because the Bush administration, before it leaves office, is preparing to ensure U.S. troops will be in Iraq forever.

In the Times, Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers lay out what's at stake in the upcoming negotations, which are set to conclude by July. It's a valuable piece, since it provides the blueprint for how the administration will spin the bilateral accord. First, they're saying -- in Bob Gates's words -- that the U.S. has "no interest in permanent bases." Second, they're saying that the Iraqis are "tough negotiators" and "not supplicants." And finally, they're saying that the U.S-Iraq deal won't "tie the hands of the next president." All three statements are literally true and substantively false.

Sure, the deal won't say, as with Guantanamo Bay, that the U.S. will have a 99-year lease on the Baghdad International Airport complex. That's because of the fear that any such specificity would require congressional approval that the Democrats will not grant. So it's not hard to see what will happen: the commitment will simply be open-ended, the text will call for review in X number of years. Hence the next president's hands are untied and the Iraqis will push for constraints, etc. But look at history. It took the Philippines nearly 100 years to get the U.S. out of Subic Bay and the Clark Air Base. That's because the fact of the U.S. presence creates additional, subordinate facts -- economic dependency in the area around the base, for one, and more fundamentally, a political dependency on the U.S. for a security guarantee, which is the whole point of the bilateral deal. In Iraq, a weak central government requires the U.S. to keep it alive against its multitudinous armed adversaries, a weakness that Iraq's sectarian quasi-democracy actually fuels. (Elections in Iraq tend to become sectarian census counts in a power struggle.) So while the Iraqis may push back, no Iraqi government that could actually take power -- one led by the Sadrists, for instance, or the harder-line Sunnis -- would actually kick the U.S. out. That in turn drives a divide between the fearful Iraqi government and the anti-occupation Iraqi populace, further entrenching the government's dependency. Nouri al-Maliki and his successors have to think: Without the U.S., will I be strung up on a lamppost?

The whole idea of the deal -- and its timing -- is to tie the hands of the next president. It's true that the president won't formally be constrained, particularly if the deal won't be subject to Senate approval. But diplomacy is funny thing. It contains its own social force -- what Jonathan Rauch insightfully terms "hidden law." Diplomats worldwide work hard to ensure the promises their governments make survive political transitions. All the incentives of geopolitics are toward stasis: Bush's assurances need to be kept by his successor, otherwise it's difficult for that successor to get other countries to trust his/her commitments to them. A mercurial United States is not something the rest of the world likes, regardless of the merits of the changed policy. At the very, very least, Bush's successor faces an uphill battle to undo the bilateral deal -- and that's before the Iraqis start griping about the U.S. not keeping its word and the domestic press runs with that storyline. And, fundamentally, that's exactly why the Bush administration is negotiating this deal before leaving office. But once again, the administration will tell the American people that an indefinite occupation in Iraq is a bug -- things aren't going so badly that we need to leave! or they're not going so well that we can afford to leave! -- when it's, in fact, a feature.
--Spencer Ackerman
Thursday, January 24, 2008
wages of sin, we keep paying:
Very good Yglesias column on TAP, like back in the old days:
Instead, Obama offered "the politics of fear." And, worse, we got a continuation of front-runner Hillary Clinton's politics of militarism. Throughout the campaign, there's been little consideration of the lessons future politicians will take if they see that having backed a Republican president in launching a war of choice that proved the most catastrophic foreign-policy mistake of the past 25 years didn't even cost Clinton the Democratic Party's nomination. Are the next crop of senators and representatives asked to endorse a preventive war on flimsy evidence going to think twice, or are they going to do what John Kerry and John Edwards did in 2002 and listen to political consultants who remind them that blind support for military adventures is crucial to one's presidential ambitions?
You know what would be even better than this column? A book-length version of this and similar arguments!
--Spencer Ackerman
many people tell me the style is terrific, it is kinda different but let's get specific:
The two political journalists* you should be reading but might not be: Dave Weigel of Reason and Chris Hayes of The Nation. It occurred to me about an hour ago that I've never read a print/online piece from either of them that didn't impress me with the breadth of their reporting, the depth of their knowledge and the scope of their context. Here's Dave's latest, on a GOP Congressman named Paul Broun:
There are two reasons why Broun’s career is worth examining closely. The first is Broun himself. He compares himself happily to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the anti-war libertarian presidential candidate: Both men are physicians who carry pocket Constitutions and often find themselves on the losing side of congressional votes. (Broun likes Paul, but he doesn’t share Paul’s views on Iraq and won’t make a presidential endorsement.) The day he was sworn in, Broun joined just 13 other Republicans (and 150 Democrats) in supporting a bill to call off raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration on medical marijuana distributors. He was one of only four congressmen to oppose the Drug Endangered Children Act, which allocated $20 million to take care of children living among drugs and drug dealers, and one of three to vote against establishing a new registry to keep track of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”). ...

And that leads us to the second reason Broun’s career deserves our attention. His victory kicked off a season of angry voting.

And here's Chris, reporting from last week's Nevada caucus:

Three precincts were supposed to be caucusing in the cafeteria, but instead there was chaos. Confused crowds surrounded several large tables strewn with registration sheets and preference cards. A black woman named Violet Dorn sat at the middle table, festooned with Hillary stickers and lording over the official registration papers. Across the table, a black man in a white-collared shirt and suit with an Obama button stood berating her. "Stop telling people this table is only for Hillary!" he shouted. "You cannot do that!" A small wrestling match commenced over the paperwork. Then a white man approached. "What kind of politics is this?" he yelled. "Is this the politics of change?" His shirt featured a picture of Obama and the words He's Black and I'm Proud.

Meanwhile, the caucus attendees circled and paced, looking for some sign of order and finding none. Hobbling behind a walker, one woman explained that she'd come with fellow residents of a nearby senior citizen center looking to vote, but their names hadn't been on the rolls. (That shouldn't have stopped her, since the caucuses offered same-day registration.) Eventually she was allowed to caucus. Some people left; others just watched and steamed, frustrated and powerless. The confusion stretched on, twenty minutes, half an hour...

Plus Chris is from the Bronx. So I think you should refer to him as Chris Hayes, Chris-Chris Hayes.

* OK, "political journalist" gets on my nerves. Doesn't that mean a journalist who is political, rather than one who covers politics? Shouldn't the term be "politics journalist"? Sigh.

--Spencer Ackerman
You're going to reap just what you sow:
Courtesy of my friend Sam in Berlin, one of the illest performances you'll ever see.

--Spencer Ackerman
we're the brews sporting anti-swastika tattoos:
We're naming military operations after Woody Allen movies now?
--Spencer Ackerman
but listen, we the Re-Up Gang, we ain't the norm:
In Mosul, the insurgents kill the city's police commander as part of a double-bombing campaign at a ... building. At least 36 people are dead. Why isn't what happened clearer?
The Iraqi government took steps Wednesday to limit information about the building blast, according to Iraqi military officials in Mosul. An order from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office and the Defense Ministry prohibited Iraqi officers from discussing the incident with reporters, the officials said. The attack also took down cellphone towers, making communications difficult within the city.

Not that they just played into the insurgents' hands or anything. In March, Col. Steph Twitty, commander of the 4th Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division in the city, told me one of the reasons Mosul was relatively calm was because of the excellence of Ninewah Province's two excellent Iraqi Army divisions and the city's excellent police force. Now the insurgency has killed that force's commander. And it appears the U.S. response, at least in part, is denial:

Other U.S. officers, however, dispute the notion that Mosul is becoming overrun by fighters of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. Maj. Gary Dangerfield, spokesman for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Nineveh province, said it would be a "major misnomer" to call Mosul a hotbed for insurgents.

"It has its share of attacks," he said. "We remain pretty confident in the Iraqi security forces' ability to handle the attacks that do occur. If Iraq was safe, we wouldn't be here, but Mosul is not falling, as some would say it is."

The Washington Post also reports that a math professor at Mosul University was executed in his car, along with his two children.
--Spencer Ackerman
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
when the bomb drops it'll be a bank holiday:
Who has less integrity: Jose Canseco or Major League Baseball?
--Spencer Ackerman
green and violet blue, no matter what you say:
--Spencer Ackerman
old man, take a look at your life:
Remember Donald Rumsfeld? He seems like a bad dream. And yet here he is, popping up in Washington to talk about how the U.S. needs a Ministry of Propaganda. Here's what he told Sharon Weinberger of Wired's Danger Room:
We need someone in the United States government, some entity, not like the old USIA . . . I think this agency, a new agency has to be something that would take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that exist today. There are multiple channels for information . . . The Internet is there, pods are there, talk radio is there, e-mails are there. There are all kinds of opportunities. We do not with any systematic organized way attempt to engage the battle of ideas and talk about the idea of beheading, and what's it's about and what it means. And talk about the fact that people are killing more Muslims than they are non-Muslims, these extremists. They're doing it with suicide bombs and the like. We need to engage and not simply be passive and allow that battle of competition of ideas.

Uh, yeah. First, let's just note that Rumsfeld has always preferred the idea of technology to actually, you know, learning about technology. "Pods are there"? Does he mean iPods? Podcasts? And to mention "talk radio" in the same breath as e-mail or these mysterious pods -- what in the world is this septuagenarian talking about? Rumsfeld probably just learned how to program his VCR.

Second, when Rumsfeld tried a version of this in miniature in Iraq, his actual fix was comically stupid. The Pentagon hired the Lincoln Group to pull off a propaganda campaign designed at discrediting the insurgency. It amounted to planting fake news stories in the Iraqi press written by soldiers that said things like the insurgents "crawled on their bellies like dogs in the mud." For this, the Pentagon spent more than $25 million and arguably broke the law.

Finally, Rumsfeld managed to be the first secretary of defense in history not just to botch two wars, but to botch two wars simultaneously. For that, no one should ever listen to this man ever again. Whatever he says is discredited by the sheer fact that he's the one saying it. He should be legally obligated to end of all his sentences with, "...but, on the other hand, I'm a total jackass."

--Spencer Ackerman
Those Washington bullets again:
What was that I was saying about the awesomeness of The Washington Independent? Over at our group blog, I report that our vetting system for ensuring our new tribal allies are really targeting the people they say they're targeting -- that is, al-Qaeda -- is... trust. That's from MNF-I spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith.

Because it's not like dudes who a couple months ago were insurgents are happy to take our free money and pursue their own agendas or anything. That would never happen.

Update: Welcome Plank readers! I missed you guys.
--Spencer Ackerman
and you cats wonder why pusha don't feel ya:
Two years ago or so, I asked Kanan Makiya -- the complex Iraqi dissident intellectual who did so much to rid the world of Saddam Hussein -- about the blunders of the U.S. occupation. He didn't pause before citing de-Baathification as the single biggest error the U.S. and successive Iraqi governments committed. De-Baathification, in the hands of a sectarian government, had become de-Sunnification, in both perception and reality, convincing Sunnis that they had no stake in the future of Iraq. His answer was more than a little ironic. As an adviser to the State Department's Future of Iraq Project in 2002, Makiya had advocated the creation of a de-Baathification committee modeled after South Africa's post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And in practice, the de-Baathification commission that Makiya lambasted was headed by Ahmed Chalabi, Makiya's political patron.

Reversing the de-Baathification commission's purges has been an official U.S. priority since Congress made it one of the famous "benchmarks" for progress on sectarian reconciliation last year. And earlier this month, it seemed hope was on the way: after a pronounced delay, the Shiite-led Iraqi parliament finally passed a law aimed at scaling back de-Baathification. Only the Sunnis didn't get any reassurance from the law. The closer they looked, the more they realized it not only didn't provide for the reinstatement of Sunnis purged from government service -- remember that Iraq has always had a command economy, so no government service means no livelihood, a point often difficult for Americans to understand -- but it might even allow for further purges. One Sunni parliamentarian called it "a sword on the neck of the people."

The Washington Post takes a closer look today:
More than a dozen Iraqi lawmakers, U.S. officials and former Baathists here and in exile expressed concern in interviews that the law could set off a new purge of ex-Baathists, the opposite of U.S. hopes for the legislation.

Approved by parliament this month under pressure from U.S. officials, the law was heralded by President Bush and Iraqi leaders as a way to soothe the deep anger of many ex-Baathists -- primarily Sunnis but also many Shiites such as Awadi -- toward the Shiite-led government.

Yet U.S. officials and even legislators who voted for the measure, which still requires approval by Iraq's presidency council, acknowledge that its impact is hard to assess from its text and will depend on how it is implemented. Some say the law's primary aim is not to return ex-Baathists to work, but to recognize and compensate those harmed by the party. Of the law's eight stated justifications, none mentions reinstating ex-Baathists to their jobs.

"The law is about as clear as mud," said one U.S. senior diplomat.

Once again, the law itself allows for a seven-member commission to determine how exactly to implement its measures. That commission is picked by the sectarian Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki and confirmed by the Shiite-dominated parliament. If there's one thing the de-Baathification commission experience instructs, it's that discretion built into a law in a country with no rule of law and fratricidal sectarianism is a designed-in guarantee of corruption.

And it might even be worse than that. A former Saddam-era Iraqi military officer believes that if he exercises his options under the law, he'll be marking himself for street justice from a Shiite death squad.

Kareem, who was a senior Baath Party member, said the new law does grant him the right to a pension, which would greatly benefit his family. He has not had a steady salary in five years, and has been living off the charity of friends and relatives, but said he would not attempt to claim the pension.

"This law is bait," he said. "I have to go back to Basra and apply for the pension through several measures. If I get killed, nobody will know who did it."

It's worth remembering that the men who will kill Kareem are the same people that U.S. troops are dying in Iraq to keep in power.

--Spencer Ackerman
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
the thunder and the laughter, the last thing they remember:
In 1971, Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered together 100 veterans to testify about routinized atrocity in U.S. military operations in Vietnam. To call the Winter Soldier investigation controversial is the height of understatement. While it garnered little press attention at the time, nearly every Vietnam veteran knows what it is and has extremely strong feelings about it. To some, it represented unparalleled bravery; to others, unparalleled betrayal. Winter Soldier is responsible for John Kerry's political career.

This March, Iraq Veterans Against the War will present the findings of a new Winter Soldier investigation, just outside Washington DC. The spirit is exactly the same: to present an unsanitized portrait of the war from the perspective of those who fought it, in the hopes of stoking public outrage over what's done in our names, all bring the troops home. This time around, though, IVAW promises digital video of what Winter Soldier 2 will document, which, if Abu Ghraib is any indication, will be a big deal.

I preview the new Winter Soldier investigation here, as one of my first stories for The Washington Independent, my new journalistic home. A taste:
The project’s interview and verification committees are just getting started. But glimpses of the expected testimony are beginning to emerge. One of the early interviewees, a medic, told IVAW about treating a two-year old shot in the thigh by U.S. soldiers, and witnessing “the mutilation of the dead,” according to Jose Vasquez, 33, a former Army sergeant who heads Winter Soldier’s verification team. The public should expect to hear about “unnecessary killing of noncombatants on the battlefield,” said Vasquez, an anthropology graduate student at the City University of New York. (Vasquez himself filed as a conscientious objector after finding himself unable to participate in the Iraq war.) Indeed, a frequent theme among group members in interviews has been the intensity of manning checkpoints, where Iraqi civilians can die for simply not approaching a checkpoint slowly enough to reassure an apprehensive soldier who doesn’t speak their language.

Yet the organizers of Winter Soldier will consider the event a failure if it appears to blame soldiers and Marines for the war. “Imagine you’re out on a convoy and you get hit by an IED,” Millard said. “And the SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] is you fire in that direction of that fire that came in. That’s indiscriminate. Civilians get killed in that. It’s not the soldier’s fault. It’s not the civilian’s fault. It’s the occupation’s fault.” Millard, a recently-discharged Army National Guardsman from upstate New York, served in Iraq as a general’s assistant in Tikrit from October 2004 to October 2005. His job involved briefing senior officers on daily violent incidents and it led Millard to renounce the war as beneath the dignity of his comrades. “The common U.S. soldier is not a bloodthirsty animal,” he said. “The problem is the occupation of Iraq itself.”

A quick word about The Washington Independent. I'll say more about us later, in time for our hard launch on January 28. TWI is an attempt to fight a disturbing journalistic trend: the decline of investigative reporting in newspapers and magazines. I'm the national-security & foreign-policy correspondent. While we've been in soft-launch mode this month, I also wrote this piece about changes in security-clearance procedures at the State Department and how they've perversely sidelined qualified diplomats.

The idea behind the Independent is to maximize the internet's potential for thorough, no-bullshit journalism. Our blog, which we're going to call The Streak, will be part of a seamless continuum in the development of reported narrative -- in other words, we're going to build a story through long pieces (like the one above), continuing through blog posts and back again. In my opinion, it's a much more rational model for investigative journalism than what's on display in any medium right now. This is the most exciting thing I've done so far in journalism. The squad of reporters we've put together is bananas, as I keep learning at every editorial meeting and seeing in every new piece we publish. I hope you'll check us out and agree that we're going to be the realest to run it.

--Spencer Ackerman
i am the warrior:
There's been a ton of idle speculation lately about what Petraeus does next. My guess: the GOP loses in November and he starts running for president. Sure, sure, we've got 2008 to contend with. But it's never too early to start irresponsibly speculating about a Petraeus Surge to the Presidency. And with that awkward, intro, here's my latest TAP Online column:
The rationale for a Petraeus candidacy depends on the GOP coalition fracturing under the weight of the war -- something that hasn't happened yet. In the event of a Republican loss in November, the party will have to come to terms with the legacy of the war. The most politically advantageous way of doing that will be to draft a symbol of the Iraq war as it might have been: engineered and executed not by the hidebound ideologues and incompetents of the Bush administration, but by a nimble, dexterous warrior-scholar. It's true that John McCain has made the surgenik critique of the war for a long time. But it's a whole new political world when articulated by the man responsible -- in the media's imagination, at least -- with the war's belated redemption.

The piece also tries to game out how a Democratic president could either upset a Petraeus bid's groundwork or blunder into its inevitability. Due credit goes to Yglesias, since I got the idea to write this after a conversation we had about Petraeus's ambitions. He bears no responsibility if the piece sucks.

And no whinging about how early this is! Let's have some fun.

--Spencer Ackerman
The talking leads to touching, the touching leads to sex:
al-Qaeda, I don't think I'll ever understand you. From the Post's big piece on al-Qaeda in Iraq's foreign cohort:
Many list their occupations at home, whether plumber, laborer, policeman, lawyer, soldier or teacher. There is a "massage specialist," a "weapons merchant," a few "unemployed" and many students. [My emphasis]
Rumor has it that al-Qaeda just hired Brian McNamee as its strength coach.
--Spencer Ackerman
old dirt dog, but i ain't dogged out:
Mitt Romney, not exactly comfortable around The Black People. Via Huffington Post.
--Spencer Ackerman
Monday, January 21, 2008
we re-up, relocate, re-off them brooks:
Suicide bombing outside Tikrit kills at least 14, while a roadside bomb in Arab Jabour -- yeah, that Arab Jabour -- shot an 18-ton MRAP into the air, killing one of its occupants.

Also, that NYT piece I linked to said the recent Arab Jabour aerial bombardment involved 100,000 lbs of bombs, not the 40,000 initially reported. That must mean the surge is 60 percent more successful. (Or, to step on my own kicker, whatever the math works out to. It's late and I'm tired.)

--Spencer Ackerman
Lift me up:
Enduring wisdom, set to music: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on unjust wars. "He who lives in untruth lives in spiritual slavery."
--Spencer Ackerman
Darling don't you go and cut your hair, do you think it'll make him change:
My head blogs. So does McMegan's. Watch me talk horserace despite being obviously unqualified. I notice that the final two segments didn't make it to air, so consider this an official announcement of... BloggingChefs II: The Revenge. Ackerman. McArdle. Cranberries. February 2.

Update: Hey, look, we made the New York Times.

--Spencer Ackerman
Sunday, January 20, 2008
blue is beautiful:
Giants win! When I was nine, my dad took me to meet Carl Banks at the Blockbuster Video off Nostrand Avenue by the Junction, where he was doing a signing. I thought of that after Lawrence Tynes -- minutes before the goat of the game -- kicked the game-winning 47-yard field goal. Congratulations, dad, you played better than you think.

Meanwhile, this, via Kissing Suzy Kolber, is the greatest thing currently on the Internet:

--Spencer Ackerman
turtle doves are mooing:
Show of hands. Help an aging twentysomething out. Is the awkward turtle something the kids are actually doing, or a massive hoax? Or does the distinction no longer matter?
--Spencer Ackerman
have you any idea why they're lying to you, to your faces, did they tell you:
Hillary Clinton adviser Jack Keane, former Clinton adviser Michael O'Hanlon and Fred Kagan throw some V's on it:
Iraq's new de-Baathification bill, which awaits only expected approval by the presidency council before becoming law, is good news. During Saddam Hussein's day, if you wanted a professional job in Iraq, you basically had to join the Baath Party. For most of the 1 million-plus who did so, this hardly implied involvement or even complicity in crimes of the state. Hussein was so paranoid that only his very inner circles were entrusted with information or influence. The Shiite-led government now seems willing to recognize as much. Coupled with the pension law passed in late fall, this legislation means that many former Baathists will have a real stake in post-Hussein Iraq.

So surgeniks cheer the de-Baathification law. Actual Sunni Iraqis say it's "a sword on the neck of the people." The law is written in such a way as to allow the purge of more Sunnis from government service. Neither Crocker nor Petraeus has embraced the de-Baathification law for that reason. The surgeniks are lying to you, and they hope you're not noticing. The spin gets desperate:

[T]here has been real progress on other important matters, including Baghdad's sharing of oil revenue with the provinces, even without a hydrocarbon law; the hiring of Sunni volunteers into the security forces and the civilian arms of government; and improvements in the legal system, such as more trained judges and fewer indefinite detentions of prisoners. Iraq's political glass remains more empty than full, but trends are clearly in the right direction.
Iraq 2008: Fewer Indefinite Detentions of Prisoners. Let's cede the point about oil-revenue sharing, even though the evidence for the point relies entirely on trusting the unreliable proclamations of the Maliki government. (You think Mike O'Hanlon is digging through the Ninewa provincial council budget?) Incorporating the CLCs into the government isn't going in "the right [i.e., U.S.-desired] direction," as the chief MNF-I officer for reconciliation recently told me. The more-trained-judges line is a nice rhetorical flourish, but you know what they do to judges in Iraq, right? So much for the surgenik's effort to give a big Nuh-Uh! to those who observe that the surge didn't deliver on its political objective.

And it's worth remembering why they do so. The surge represents two interrelated things for its advocates. First, it's an attempt to show that when the limits of American power display themselves, the answer is more American power. Second, and more fundamentally, it's an intellectual rehabilitation project -- a way of salvaging the reputations of men whose purported wisdom got the U.S. mired in a quagmire. Dishonesty is unavoidable in a strategy of such naked, callous vanity.

--Spencer Ackerman
Saturday, January 19, 2008
doing good and looking fly:
While the press is all up on John McCain's tip, Matt Yglesias points out that McCain is losing -- badly -- in the delegate count to Mitt Romney. As McCain speaks in South Carolina, the McCain faithful chant "Mac Is Back," which I hope they know is a Kool Keith song:
Now you’re up late, can’t get no sleep, I’m outside/ Cruisin down 5th ave., makin love in your ride/ You want that baby, but I’m out here thinkin maybe/ What if you flip - but it’s ok when you’re on my tip/ Take off your shoes, don’t spread my business news/ Reachin for the rubber tips it’s time to pay your dues/ Two girls in the back, bring your friend, make it three/ It’s the big thing honey, that’s the policy/ I got to pull down and bring the steel home for you/ Break the headboards and tell your girlfriends come over too/ Put my motorcycle helmet on and feel the power/ Rock and lift the boots, spank the lips for a hour/ The mack is back, doin good and lookin fly (2x)
Yeah. Don't crush it when you sit up on it.

Update: Speaking of sitting up on it, the Corner's Kathleen Parker says McCain's "best moment" is his use of the line "We are the captains of our fate." That's a misquotation of a line from William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus", which, it's worth noting, was Timothy McVeigh's final fuck-you to America.

--Spencer Ackerman
i got my ski mask on, this shit's been too long:
Speaking of Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, he was briefly taken hostage today. The Sadrists appear to be getting ready to bring the Mahdi Army out of retirement.
On Friday, a spokesman for Sadr warned that the cleric might not extend a six-month cease-fire by his Mahdi Army militia, which U.S. officials say has contributed to the reduction in violence in Iraq. In a statement, Salah al Obeidi charged that rival Shiite militias have infiltrated Iraq's security forces and that some senior security officials remain in their jobs although they've been charged with human rights offenses.

"This will force us to reconsider the decision to extend the cease-fire despite repeated public statements in the past that we will," Obeidi said.

Didn't anyone tell Sadr that we already won the war?
--Spencer Ackerman
rap critics politicking, wanna know the outcome:
What happened in the Nevada caucuses? I have no idea! But I know I'm going to be checking in on Chris Hayes of The Nation, who's out in Vegas, to tell me what's what. Hint hint.

Update: Whoa, Obama actually won more delegates than Clinton in Nevada, despite losing the vote percentage? So says Marc Ambinder. I'd say that means... Obama won. No? Chris, help me understand! I have to film a BloggingHeads episode on all this shit tomorrow morning!

Late Update: Here's Chris.

But, as for the fact that Obama actually won more delegates, which is causing some confusion, here’s my understanding. (This is based on an hour-long chat with the man who actually invented the current Iowa caucus model back in 1972 and who was in Vegas this week to share his vast knowledge with the Nevada state party organizers. I’ll have more on that later)

The short answer to this question is that the weighting of the ratio of registered voters to state convention delegates favors rural counties over urban counties: 100 registered rural voters choose more delegates to the state convention than 100 registered voters in urban areas. This was done so as to try to force candidates to campaign all over the state, and since Obama won everywhere in the state except for the urbanized Clark County around Vegas, he can (we still don’t actually know) end up with more national convention delegates.

But, more complicatedly, I should lay out what happened today. Each one of the 1,754 precincts in the state of Nevada had a caucus, along with nine at-large precincts on the strip, for a total of 1,763 caucus sites. At each of those caucuses the assembled people elected delegates to their local county convention. County conventions will be held in a few months (I think!) and at the county conventions, the delegates there assembled will elect delegates to the state party convention. At the state party convention the assembled delegates will elect the delegates to send to the national party convention. At the national party convention these Nevada delegates will cast their vote for the nominee. In other words, it’s representative democracy four times removed.

--Spencer Ackerman
Fucking with the Re-Up, you might not live:
At least 68 dead in time for Ashura. Via Yglesias.
--Spencer Ackerman
Did you ever think I'd flash the nine and walk away with your shit like its mine:
Pandas: don't trust em. Polar bears don't pull this kind of crap.
--Spencer Ackerman
Have you forgotten?:
At the Chop't on 7th Street NW in Chinatown, a salad with grilled chicken costs $9.11. That shit is disrespectful.
--Spencer Ackerman
Dogs of War, Bark and Bite:
In honor of Charlie's birthday, Napoleon in Adams-Morgan became occupied territory, only we were wise enough to leave before our welcome wore out. Or something. However, afterward, a residual force made the decision to venture to M'Dawg, the fancy hot-dog joint that's been written up in Food & Wine. I'd never been there, despite being curious about the place for over a year.

M'Dawg is not worth your money, of which they'll take a lot. Yeah, they've got a lot condiments, and it's nice to sprinkle bacon bits and sauteed mushrooms on a hot dog. But the hot dog itself was decidedly mediocre. The offerings from Nathan's or Hebrew National that you can buy in the supermarket are markedly superior. For $4.50 I got the bare minimum offering, I think -- not the $15 Kobe beef hot dog (!) or anything -- and by the last few bites I was thinking of all the bubble gum I could have bought with that money.
--Spencer Ackerman
Friday, January 18, 2008
we don't have any real friends:
Gershom Gorenberg has an important piece up at TAP reminding everyone that the only true friends of Israel are on the left.

Israel's most basic strategic interest is a peace agreement and a withdrawal. Avoiding a situation in which the only way out is a one-state solution is also a U.S. interest. Right now, Israel is the one country in the Mideast that can be depended on to stay pro-American. This would not be true of a single state with an inevitable Palestinian majority and a built-in communal conflict. Acting much more energetically to reach a two-state agreement is therefore both pro-Israel and an expression of U.S. self-interest.

Further, a pro-Israel policy requires using both incentives and pressures to get to an agreement. As one Israeli ex-general pointed out to me recently, sometimes U.S. pressure serves an Israeli government that needs to make a change in course. Right now, he pointed out, Israel needs economic growth in the West Bank, which would help the pro-agreement Fatah government there. Growth requires removing roadblocks, a move that involves a certain security risk and makes the army brass unhappy. The counterweight of U.S. pressure would make it easier for the government to move. The government needs to take down illegal settlement outposts, but fears paying the domestic price of confrontation with thousands of rightist youth. U.S. pressure would actually help the government, showing the public that inaction has its own price. Right now the Israeli public has no idea what the settlement budget is. American insistence on financial transparency as a condition for current aid levels would serve Israeli democracy and boost domestic support for a pullback. On the incentive side, an offer of U.S. funding for relocating settlers inside Israel could also increase political support. (Irritating as it may be to pay Israel to correct its mistakes, the policy goal of a peace agreement is more important.)

Imagine it: a world in which Israeli interests, American interests, Arab interests, and the glorious prerogatives of human rights are mutually supportive. As a wise man once said, if you will it, it is no dream. First, though, Israel's frenemies must be exposed and refuted.

--Spencer Ackerman
'Cause nothing will keep us together:
Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, has an op-ed in The Washington Post decrying a partition of Iraq along ethno-sectarian lines. That’s to be expected: partition is vastly more popular among Americans than among Iraqis, and al-Rubiae, in any event, is a member of what’s shaping up to be a new, permanent security architecture in Baghdad. (He’s served as "national security adviser," whatever that means, since 2004, despite two national elections and three changes of leadership.) Partition would weaken Baghdad’s power, thereby goring al-Rubaie’s ox. So far, so sensible. More notable is that al-Rubaie’s argument leads him to a place he doesn’t go explicitly: that the current political structure in Iraq can’t hold.

So here’s al-Rubaie’s big complaint:

The current political framework is based on a pluralistic democratic vision that, while admirable, is entirely unsuited to resolving this three-way divide. [ie, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds.] It ignores underlying issues and expects that a consensus will emerge simply by enacting a liberal constitutional legal order.

Sure thing, widely noted, not particularly controversial. Furthermore, al-Rubaie doesn’t make an explicit argument about this, but he rejects partition, saying its something Iraq must “avoid” and putting it on the same plane as “civil strife.” So what needs to happen?

Resolution can be achieved only through a system that incorporates regional federalism, with clear, mutually acceptable distributions of power between the regions and the central government.[snip]

The shape of a reconstructed, federal Iraq could vary, but it should permit the assignment of nearly all domestic powers to the regions, to be funded out of a percentage of oil revenue distributed on the basis of population. The federal government should be responsible only for essential central functions such as foreign policy (including interregional affairs), defense, fiscal and monetary policy, and banking. Regional parliaments and executives would govern their areas. A federal parliament with a new upper house could manage governance at the national level. A regional political structure would allow for the development of religious, cultural and educational policies more suited to areas’ populations than a central government could create. A regional framework for economic policy would also fit better with traditional trade patterns and markets.

The trouble here is that Iraq isn’t the U.S. or, say, Canada. It doesn’t have a tradition of decentralization or federalism. When I was in Mosul in March, I sat in with a Provincial Reconstruction Team from the U.S. as it tried to make sense of how much leeway the provincial council had over its own budget. The not-particularly-stable answer, after a ton of research and debate: some, but not much. The province basically bids on service proposals put forward by the Baghdad ministries—and, if memory serves (and my understanding was accurate in the first place), at least half of the council’s budget comes from Baghdad anyway. In other words, federalism isn’t an organic concept here.

And that’s exactly why discussions about federalism vs. partition tend to bog down in Baghdad. To non-Kurdish Iraqis, the term "federalism" either means "partition" directly, or serves as a stalking horse for it. For Kurdish Iraqis, the same goes—only they like that. The more robust a proposal for federalism—al-Rubaie proposes five regions, for instance—the hotter the opposition to it gets. Alternatively, sometimes discussions about federalism (which is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution, it should be noted) get so heated that its chastened (Arab) advocates articulate a vision of federalism not significantly distinct from the status quo.

Barring some massive political or sectarian sea change, the sectarian counterweights to al-Rubaie’s proposal are so numerous as to be probably insurmountable. And that just leaves us where we already are: a center that doesn’t hold, "entirely unsuited" to the interests and desires of Iraq’s competing sectarian groups. I’ve heard people say that the Awakening Councils consist of Sunnis more sympatico with federalism. And, you know, maybe. But I’ve only heard that said by military officials or others invested in the idea that a solution to one problem (i.e., the fight against al-Qaeda) is a solution to all problems (i.e., sectarian acrimony.)
--Spencer Ackerman
R-E, U-P-G, A-N-G, one plus three:
--Spencer Ackerman
positive scene is a must:
The other day I was killing time at a record store and I found something totally unexpected: a CD discography of the great, short-lived mid/late 1990s Staten Island hardcore band C.R. Anyone who knew me in my junior year of high school knew I was a fanatic about this band, though I got into them way way too late. By the time I corralled Mio Alter and Michael Finkler to go see them play at the Joint with Black Army Jacket after school -- a Bronx-to-Shaolin epic that involved two trains, the ferry, a bus and walking -- C.R. actually broke up on stage before playing a single note. Still, I had the records, or I did until I foolishly gave them to my college-era girlfriend as a token of my affection.

Now I have them again. All 46 songs -- the discography is called, appropriately, 46 Songs -- on my iPod. Hooray! Walking to work this morning, the miracle of iPod's shuffle function gave me two long-forgotten pleasures back-to-back: C.R.'s LP anthem "The Answer," and their cover of Infest's "Where's the Unity." I surprised myself -- and passers-by down Florida Avenue -- by remembering the whole first verse to "Where's the Unity," accented with finger-points in the appropriate places. Call it muscle memory, or the persistence of hardcore.

This post dedicated to Lawrence F. "88 Youth Crew" Kaplan
--Spencer Ackerman
Thursday, January 17, 2008
you make me wanna kiss you like baby kissed wayne:
Amanda just IM'd me the play-by-play of Jonah's Daily Show appearance yesterday. But could it really be so embarrassing? When I went to Jonah's blog for details, I found something... unexpected:
As expected the response from John Stewart on air was a lot less warm than the response from him in the green room. Maybe I've got a platonic Brokeback Mountain thing going in that I just can't quit liking the guy, no matter how shabbily the edit job turned out to be (or how silly the interview itself was).

No homo! You know, the Nazis were repressed homosexuals, too, so playing by Liberal Fascism rules...

--Spencer Ackerman
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Re-up gang, we here to run this shit:
This time, nine miles south of Baquba:
A woman wearing a vest lined with explosives blew herself up near Shiite worshippers in turbulent Diyala province north of the capital Wednesday, killing nine of them — the latest in a growing number of female suicide attacks.
--Spencer Ackerman
Answer me with industry:
Ross knocks this out of the park. It's about how Romney's economic message propelled him to victory:
This is what people like to call "industrial policy," and what Jonah Goldberg likes to call liberal fascism - big business and big government working hand-in-glove for the purposes of economic nationalism.

This makes National Review, which endorsed Romney, objectively pro-liberal fascism. The horror! Clearly, when liberal fascism comes to America, it will come wearing a bow tie and freighted with repressed homosexuality.

--Spencer Ackerman
The warrior stands at the edge of the crowd:
John Nagl, one of the Army's brightest counterinsurgency lights, is retiring to join the Center for a New American Security, Tom Ricks reports. On one level, it's a shame that the Army can't retain an officer as promising as Nagl to institutionalize the lessons of Iraq. But CNAS is a conveyor belt for staffing a Democratic Pentagon, especially if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. The country won't have a General Nagl, but it may very well have an Assistant Secretary Nagl in the near future.

Update: Also worth mentioning, since I missed it when it happened, is that Col. Pete Mansoor, another COIN luminary and close Petraeus advisor, will be heading to "the" Ohio State University's military-history program in September. Thanks to THFTNR friend PC for pointing this out.

Late Update: For a colloquy on every conceivable issue Nagl's retirement raises, you have to read Abu Muqawama. Then read Charlie's follow-up. If you didn't already have an inferiority complex, note that Nagl reviewed a book of war poetry by writing a poem, and a moving one at that. Rumor has it that for breakfast Nagl whips up omelets that cure AIDS.

--Spencer Ackerman
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
it's a wonder that you still know how to breathe:
Did Tim Russert just suggest John Edwards was in some way complicit in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto?
--Spencer Ackerman
The beat just too large for that:
Idolator dismisses Travis Barker's cover of Crank Dat, but I think he's got some good ideas. Especially the hi-hat pattern.
Meanwhile, someone's got to teach this guy about conservation of energy. Use your wrists and your finger muscles, man! Not that Travis Barker gives me unsolicited advice about, like, how to cover Iraq or anything, but maybe he's got some valuable points to make.

--Spencer Ackerman
hey mister can you tell me where a man can find a bed:
So we've got an additional 3,200 Marines about to go to Afghanistan for a "finite" period. (The Pentagon doesn't want you to call it a surge!) But take a look at this exchange during Geoff Morrell's Pentagon briefing today:
Q: Is there the potential that this deployment could also affect the seven-month tours down the road in Iraq?

MR. MORRELL: For these deploying forces?

Q: For future deployments of Marine forces into Iraq.

MR. MORRELL: My understanding is that there may -- that these deployments may require a brief additional period of boots on the ground, but not -- but not much. Or we may be breaking a little -- we may be cutting down a little bit of dwell time. Let me get you the firm answer on that. I think it will require either us to have forces deployed slightly earlier, although not an unreasonably amount earlier -- an unreasonable amount earlier, but I -- I'm going to correct myself -- I do not believe they'll have to deploy any longer. These are seven-month, as I mentioned, deployments.

Maybe Charlie can correct me, but I don't think that Marines have ever faced tours longer than seven months during either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. What's more, it's a dedicated priority of General James Conway, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, to boost dwell time to a 1:2 ratio -- that is, eight months at home/station for every four deployed. What will the effect of a short dwell time be on the 3,200 Marines heading to Afghanistan?

Nor does this appear to be a very auspicious development. From later in the briefing:

Q: You have mentioned that some Marines may have to -- (word inaudible) -- dwell. Is it possible to find out how many Marines you're talking about and which unit?

MR. MORRELL: We've ended this conversation, so we don't take anymore questions on that topic, I apologize.

--Spencer Ackerman
if I buy her candy will she know who i am:
--Spencer Ackerman
you don't need to tell me that it's not fair:
Speaking for myself, I reflect on 3,923 American fatalities and think: George W. Bush just isn't getting a fair shake in the Muslim world.
--Spencer Ackerman
I'm serious, man, I'm so sincere:
Jonah seems not to understand that the headline of Matt's post is, um, a reference to a piece of spectacular buffoonery. The big question -- "How clueless is Jonah Goldberg?" -- is now laid to rest.
--Spencer Ackerman
Banned in DC:
Paul Kiel, too hot for DOJ. Hold your head up high, man.
--Spencer Ackerman
I had a crush on you since 'Real Love':
50 Cent, Timbaland and Mary J. Blige are apparently juicing. With 50, the rumors have been with him for years: after "Piggy Bank" came out, Fat Joe famously responded that "them steroids is getting to him." And who cares about Timbaland. But Mary? As long as she wasn't on the Cream or the Clear, I say she keeps her Grammies. You earned those Grammies, girl!
--Spencer Ackerman
I don't want to see it at my windowsill:
Win Butler from the Arcade Fire endorses Barack Obama. That's out of bounds! Butler says on record that he doesn't want to live in his father's house no more. He lives in Montreal. Sorry, man, but you should have stuck out the Bush years in the U.S.A. if you want to influence this election.
--Spencer Ackerman
swing around like you stupid:
Matthew Yglesias, childish weirdo.
--Spencer Ackerman
Stay, Stay, Monkey with me:
Now this is how you want unnecessary wars to begin.
--Spencer Ackerman
the disco before the breakdown:
So things may not be so great in Iraq after all: suicide bombing is back, crucial reconciliation measures appear to be a hoax, the U.S. is bombing neighborhoods it once called success stories, and there are a ton of Sunni militiamen standing outside the political process, waiting to see if the Shiite-controlled government will embrace them. But at least the multiethnic, oil-rich city of Kirkuk hasn't exploded, right? That's something, huh? Bill Kristol, I see you nodding.

Well, just wait six months. Last year, the Kurds and the Baghdad government -- both of whom claim Kirkuk and other northern Iraqi areas as their own -- agreed to delay a constitutionally-guaranteed referendum on the future of Kirkuk and other cities. That's been the U.S.'s preferred strategy since the occupation began in 2003: finality over the status of Kirkuk-plus will lead whoever loses the referendum (probably the Baghdad government) to start shooting. The hope among everyone but the Kurds, who call Kirkuk their Jerusalem, is that they can punt the Kirkuk issue downfield forever. But Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish president/warlord, says there's no way he'll accept another delay, according to Ned Parker in the LAT:
Iraqi Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani fired back at his Arab opponents who argued that Kirkuk -- a home to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens -- is no longer subject to an article in the Iraqi Constitution calling for a general referendum on disputed territories to be held by the end of 2007.

"There is no turning back," Barzani said in Irbil. "The referendum must be conducted in the next six months."

Earlier this month, the Kurdish-dominated provincial council in Kirkuk declared that if the referendum doesn't happen by June 1, the Kurds have the right to take the city by force.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole translates reports from the Arabic press saying that Arab political parties in Baghdad have formed what the Kurds see as an anti-Kurdish alliance to deny them Kirkuk. It says a lot about Iraq that the only cross-sectarian coalitions to emerge are threatening to other sectarian interests.

Update: More examples of the Re-Up.

--Spencer Ackerman