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Archive for December 12th, 2006

Saudi Ambassador Abruptly Resigns, Leaves Washington


Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, flew out of Washington yesterday after informing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his staff that he would be leaving the post after only 15 months on the job, according to U.S. officials and foreign envoys. There has been no formal announcement from the kingdom.

The abrupt departure is particularly striking because his predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, spent 22 years on the job. The Saudi ambassador is one of the most influential diplomatic positions in Washington and is arguably the most important overseas post for the oil-rich desert kingdom.

Turki, a long-serving former intelligence chief, told his staff yesterday afternoon that he wanted to spend more time with his family, according to Arab diplomats. Colleagues said they were shocked at the decision.

The exit — without the fanfare, parties and tributes that normally accompany a leading envoy’s departure, much less a public statement — comes as his brother, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the highly influential Saudi foreign minister, is ailing.

Saud, who was appointed in 1975, has held the position of foreign minister longer than any of his counterparts anywhere in the world — dating back to Henry Kissinger‘s tenure as secretary of state.

Saudi officials have not commented on Saud’s condition, but he has suffered from tremors for years. Last year, he slipped in the shower and fractured a shoulder. After attending the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in September, he flew to Los Angeles for surgery and quietly remained in the United States until shortly before Thanksgiving, according to an Arab official.

As Saud’s health has declined, Turki has increasingly been rumored as a possible replacement for his older brother. He would symbolize continuity in Saudi foreign policy at a moment of tension over Iraq between Riyadh and Washington, two long-standing allies in forging common political and economic policy in the Middle East. King Abdullah summoned Vice President Cheney after Thanksgiving for talks on Iraq and other Middle East flashpoints.

Turki has been the subject of both high praise and controversy. In the 1980s, while he was intelligence chief, he reportedly met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden several times during the U.S.- and Saudi-backed support of mujaheddin fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He subsequently denounced bin Laden.

Turki later served as ambassador to Britain. “He was regarded as being one of the most effective ambassadors from any country and was held in very high regard,” a British diplomat said yesterday.

Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites and a predominantly Sunni country, has been deeply concerned about the change in the balance of power in Iraq, with which it shares a 500-mile border. Riyadh has been alarmed by the rise of the Shiite majority in Iraq and the marginalization of the traditional Sunni elite. Young Saudi men have joined the Sunni insurgency as foreign fighters, while there have been persistent reports that Saudi citizens have provided financial aid to the Sunni insurgency.

The kingdom announced earlier this year that it will build an elaborate barrier along the remote desert frontier, with ultraviolet night-vision cameras, underground sensor cables and command posts.

Turki, a 1968 graduate of Georgetown University, will return briefly in January after the Hajj pilgrimage, the busiest time of the year in the kingdom, to say formal goodbyes, according to an Arab official.

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Poll: Iraq Going Badly And Getting Worse


Majority In CBS News Survey Doubt U.S. Can Win; 62% Call War ‘A Mistake’

(CBS) Americans believe the war in Iraq is going badly and getting worse, and think it’s time for the U.S. either to change its strategy or start getting out, according to a CBS News poll.

Forty-three percent say the U.S. should keep fighting, but with new tactics, while 50 percent say the U.S. should begin to end its involvement altogether. Only 4 percent say the U.S. should keep fighting as it is doing now.

Just 21 percent approve of President Bush’s handling of the war, the lowest number he’s ever received, and an 8-point drop from just a month ago. Most of that drop has been among Republicans and conservatives.

Three-quarters of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling Iraq.

BUSH’S JOB HANDLING IRAQ

Now

Approve 21%

Disapprove 75%

11/14/2006

Approve 29%

Disapprove 67%

Opposition to the war is now taking on historic proportions, with 62 percent saying it was “a mistake” to send U.S. troops to Iraq — slightly more than told a Gallup Poll in 1973 that it was a mistake to send U.S. forces to Vietnam.

Americans generally agree with the assessment of the Iraq Study Group, which called the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating.”

But fewer than half — 46 percent — think Mr. Bush will seriously consider the bipartisan panel’s recommendations; 43 percent think he will not.

Seventy-one percent say the war is going badly, including 39 percent who believe the war is going very badly.

Just 25 percent say it’s going well. The negative assessment of the war was shared by a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

Half of all Americans believe the situation in Iraq is getting worse, while fewer than one in 10 think it’s getting better.

IS THE SITUATION IN IRAQ…?

Getting better 8%

Getting worse 52%

Staying the same 38%

Only 15 percent of Americans — the lowest number ever — say the U.S. is currently winning the war.

And for the first time, a majority (53 percent) believes it’s not likely that the U.S. will ultimately succeed.

Sixty percent think that Iraq will never become a stable democracy — the highest number ever — while 85 percent now characterize the situation there as a civil war.

WILL THE U.S. SUCCEED IN IRAQ?

Very likely 9%

Somewhat likely 34%

Not very/not at all likely 53%

Fifty-seven percent say Mr. Bush needs to make major changes in his Iraq policy, while 29 percent think only minor changes should be made.

Just 8 percent think no changes in U.S. policy are needed. By a 2-1 margin, Americans now say they have more confidence in congressional Democrats to handle the war than in the president.

Nearly six in 10 Americans want to see some kind of a drawdown in U.S. troop levels, including 25 percent who want all U.S. forces removed from Iraq.

Only 39 percent of Americans now say taking military action against Iraq was the right thing to do, tying the lowest number ever, while 55 percent say the U.S. should have stayed out.

The country was evenly divided on this question as recently as a year ago.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

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Rumsfeld: No advice for incoming Gates


In what may be his final televised appearance prior to the end of his tenure as Secretary of Defense this Friday, Donald Rumsfeld said he had little advice to share with his successor Robert Gates.

Rumsfeld appeared on Fox News’ Hannity and Colmes, whose Sean Hannity was the only member of the press allowed to accompany the retiring Secretary of Defense on his sudden weekend trip to Baghdad. The interview was recorded during the Iraq trip.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” blog, when Hannity asked if Rumsfeld could suggest any advice to Robert Gates, who will succeed him, he responded that “I don’t have any advice for him.” He then added “I have every confidence he will do a good job.”

Rumsfeld was also asked by Hannity what he thought of the recent Iraq Study Group report submitted to President George W. Bush. The Secretary of Defense stated plainly “I’ve skimmed it,” and offered no other commentary, according to National Journal’s blog The Hotline On Call.

Hannity asked Rumsfeld how he would respond to Gates’ assertion in his confirmation hearing that America was neither winning nor losing in Iraq. Rumsfeld in his response effectively blamed the media for the perception of violence in Iraq, according to the website News Hounds, which critiques Fox News on a daily basis:

“The metrics for winning and losing are very difficult. Today, the president’s being measured on the amount of violence in Iraq, basically in Baghdad – three or four provinces out of 18 in one country. That is not the measure, that is the wrong measure. If that were to be the only metric or measure of success or failure, my goodness, then you’ve given the game to the enemy. All they have to do is keep the violence up in Baghdad and the media that’s there will say. ‘Oh my goodness, the terrorists are winning and everyone else is losing.’ That’s not it.”

Rumsfeld followed up these remarks by saying the President’s success should be measured based on whether or not it is harder for Muslim extremists to recruit, raise money, and operate around the world. However, he gave no indication that it was in fact harder for terrorists to carry out the conduct he outlined.
Ultimately, Rumsfeld believed history would view his tenure with the conclusion that “an awful lot of right decisions were made.”

Rumsfeld’s full appearance can be viewed at the Hannity and Colmes website.

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Group seeks probe of evangelical military video


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A watchdog group that promotes religious freedom in the U.S. military accused senior officers on Monday using their rank and influence to coerce soldiers and airmen into adopting evangelical Christianity.

Such proselytizing, according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has created a core of “radical” Christians within the U.S. armed forces and
Pentagon who punish those who do not accept evangelical beliefs by stalling their careers.

“It’s egregious beyond the pale,” said Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. “We apparently have a radicalized, evangelical Christian Pentagon within the rest of the Pentagon.”

The group asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate a video in which some Army and Air Force officers discuss their faith while in uniform.

According to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the video played for reporters was a promotional tool for Christian Embassy, a group that describes itself as a ministry helping national and international leaders blend faith and work.

The executive director of Christian Embassy, Bob Varney, did not respond to a request for comment.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department does not endorse any religion or religious organization or judge the validity of religious expressions.

He confirmed the Defense Department inspector general, the Pentagon’s internal watchdog agency, received the letter requesting the probe, but noted it was the inspector general’s policy not to say whether an investigation had been opened.

“At this point it would be inappropriate to speculate as to what actions might be taken,” Whitman said.

RELIGIOUS RECRUITING

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said the officers on the video violated military rules by wearing their uniforms while discussing their religious beliefs, giving the appearance of official participation in a religious organization.

That appearance, according to the group, is particularly damaging in the military, where rank carries great influence.

“It associates the power of office with sectarian ideology,” said MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran reverend and former Air Force chaplain who said her military career was hurt because she did not adopt evangelical views.

The religious freedom group also raised issues with the content of the video, including a comment from Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton that he would discuss his faith with people who came to his Joint Staff directorate within the Pentagon.

Weinstein compared what he said was radical proselytizing within the military with the Islamist militants U.S. troops are confronting in wars overseas.

“When we’re facing a global war on terror against what we call Islamic extremists, it certainly doesn’t help when we have apparently a viewpoint from the cognoscenti and glitterati, the leadership of the Pentagon, pushing a particular virulent worldview down the throats of people who are helpless to argue against it,” Weinstein said.

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