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Archive for December 19th, 2006

AP: Cheney to be called as witness in CIA leak case

The Associated Press is reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney will be called as a witness for the defense in the case against former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“We’re calling the vice president,” the news agency quotes attorney Ted Wells as saying in court. Wells represents Libby, who is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

The charges stem from an investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into how the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame came to be revealed in the press. The undercover operative’s name appeared in a column by conservative columnist Robert Novak just one week after a New York Times column by her husband, ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush Administration’s handling of pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Famed reporters Judith Miller and Tim Russert are also expected to testify, though on behalf of the prosecution. An audiotaped interview of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage conducted by Bob Woodward is also considered likely to be subpoenaed.

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White House, Joint Chiefs At Odds on Adding Troops


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A senior administration official said it is “too simplistic” to say the surge question has broken down into a fight between the White House and the Pentagon, but the official acknowledged that the military has questioned the option. “Of course, military leadership is going to be focused on the mission — what you’re trying to accomplish, the ramifications it would have on broader issues in terms of manpower and strength and all that,” the official said.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said military officers have not directly opposed a surge option. “I’ve never heard them be depicted that way to the president,” the official said. “Because they ask questions about what the mission would be doesn’t mean they don’t support it. Those are the kinds of questions the president wants his military planners to be asking.”

The concerns raised by the military are sometimes offset by concerns on the other side. For instance, those who warn that a short-term surge would harm longer-term deployments are met with the argument that the situation is urgent now, the official said. “Advocates would say: ‘Can you afford to wait? Can you afford to plan in the long term? What’s the tipping point in that country? Do you have time to wait?’ “

Which way Bush is leaning remains unclear. “The president’s keeping his cards pretty close to his vest,” the official said, “and I think people may be trying to interpret questions he’s asking and information he’s asking for as signs that he’s made up his mind.”

Robert M. Gates, who was sworn in yesterday as defense secretary, is headed for Iraq this week and is expected to play a decisive role in resolving the debate, officials said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s views are still open, according to State Department officials. The principals met again yesterday to continue discussions.

The White House yesterday noted the growing number of reports about what is being discussed behind closed doors. “It’s also worth issuing a note of caution, because quite often people will try to litigate preferred options through the press,” White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters.

Discussions are expected to continue through the holidays. Rice is expected to travel to the president’s ranch near Crawford, Tex., after Christmas for consultations on Iraq. The administration’s foreign policy principals are also expected to hold at least two meetings during the holiday. The White House has said the president will outline his new strategy to the nation early next year.

As the White House debate continues, another independent report on Iraq strategy is being issued today by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based crisis monitoring group that includes several former U.S. officials. It calls for more far-reaching policy revisions and reversals than did even the Iraq Study Group report, the bipartisan report issued two weeks ago.

The new report calls the study group’s recommendations “not nearly radical enough” and says that “its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis.” It continues: “What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the U.S. deals with the region.”

The Iraqi government and military should not be treated as “privileged allies” because they are not partners in efforts to stem the violence but rather parties to the conflict, it says. Trying to strengthen the fragile government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not contribute to Iraq’s stability, it adds. Iraq’s escalating crisis cannot be resolved militarily, the report says, and can be solved only with a major political effort.

The International Crisis Group proposes three broad steps: First, it calls for creation of an international support group, including the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Iraq’s six neighbors, to press Iraq’s constituents to accept political compromise.

Second, it urges a conference of all Iraqi players, including militias and insurgent groups, with support from the international community, to forge a political compact on controversial issues such as federalism, distribution of oil revenue, an amnesty, the status of Baath Party members and a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. Finally, it suggests a new regional strategy that would include engagement with Syria and Iran and jump-starting the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process.

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Attacks in Iraq at Record High, Pentagon Says

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 — A Pentagon assessment of security conditions in Iraq concluded Monday that attacks against American and Iraqi targets had surged this summer and autumn to their highest level, and called violence by Shiite militants the most significant threat in Baghdad.

The report, which covers the period from early August to early November, found an average of almost 960 attacks against Americans and Iraqis every week, the highest level recorded since the Pentagon began issuing the quarterly reports in 2005, with the biggest surge in attacks against American-led forces. That was an increase of 22 percent from the level for early May to early August, the report said.

While most attacks were directed at American forces, most deaths and injuries were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians.

The report is the most comprehensive public assessment of the American-led operation to secure Baghdad, which began in early August. About 17,000 American combat troops are currently involved in the beefed-up security operation.

According to the Pentagon assessment, the operation initially had some success in reducing killings as militants concentrated on eluding capture and hiding their weapons. But sectarian death squads soon adapted, resuming their killings in regions of the capital that were not initially targets of the overstretched American and Iraqi troops.

Shiite militias, the Pentagon report said, also received help from allies among the Iraqi police. “Shia death squads leveraged support from some elements of the Iraqi Police Service and the National Police who facilitated freedom of movement and provided advance warning of upcoming operations,” the report said.

“This is a major reason for the increased levels of murders and executions.”
The findings were issued on the day Robert M. Gates was sworn in as defense secretary, replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld.

At an afternoon ceremony at the Pentagon attended by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gates said he planned to travel to Iraq shortly to consult with military commanders as part of a broad administration review of Iraq strategy.

“All of us want to find a way to bring America’s sons and daughters home again,” Mr. Gates said. “But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.”

Over all, the report portrayed a precarious security situation and criticized Shiite militias for the worsening violence more explicitly than previous versions had.

It said the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki has not confronted despite American pressure to do so, had had the greatest negative impact on security. It is likely that Shiite militants are now responsible for more civilian deaths and injuries than terrorist groups are, the report said.

But the report also held out hope that decisive leadership by the Iraqi government might halt the slide toward civil war.

While noting that efforts by Mr. Maliki to encourage political reconciliation among ethnic groups had shown little progress, it said that Iraqi institutions were holding and that members of the current government “have not openly abandoned the political process.”

The Pentagon assessment, titled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” is mandated by Congress and issued quarterly.

The new report, completed last month, noted two parallel trends.

On the one hand, the Iraqi security forces are larger than ever, with 322,600 Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other troops, an increase of 45,000 since August. Iraqi forces also have increasingly taken the lead responsibility in many areas.

The growth in Iraqi capabilities, however, has been matched by increasing violence. That raises the question of whether the American strategy to rely on the Iraqi forces to tamp down violence is failing, at least in the short term.

The Bush administration has decided to step up substantially the effort to train and equip the Iraqi forces. A major question being pondered by Mr. Bush is whether that is sufficient, or whether more American troops are needed in Baghdad to control the violence and stabilize the city.

According to the Pentagon, the weekly average of 959 attacks was a jump of 175 from the previous three months. As a consequence, civilian deaths and injuries reached a record 93 a day.

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Poll: Approval for Iraq handling drops to new low


WASHINGTON (CNN) — Support for President Bush’s management of the Iraq war has dropped to an all-time low even as his overall approval remains tepid but steady, according to a CNN poll released Monday.

The survey, conducted Friday through Sunday by Opinion Research Corp., found support for Bush’s handling of the Iraq conflict has decreased to 28 percent from 34 percent in a poll taken October 13-15.

And a record 70 percent of respondents said they disapproved of Bush’s war management, up from 64 percent in the October poll. (Watch CNN’s Bill Schneider’s report on the poll )

Meanwhile, Bush’s overall job approval was 36 percent — down only 1 percentage point from the previous CNN poll to pose that question December 5-7.

Sixty-two percent said they disapproved of his performance in office, up from 57 percent in the early December poll.

The poll released Monday, which surveyed 1,019 adults, had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bush and his advisers are seeking a new strategy for the war in Iraq, where U.S. troops are battling an insurgency while trying to stem the sectarian violence that has become rampant since the February bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra. (Watch how even children are unable to escape the violence )

In a report earlier this month, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group called conditions in Iraq “grave and deteriorating.”

Bush has been reluctant to embrace some of the report’s key proposals, including a withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008 and a call for direct talks with Iran and Syria.

Though 67 percent of those polled oppose the war in Iraq, only 54 percent said the U.S. should withdraw its troops immediately or within the next year, the poll states.

Asked if they thought victory in Iraq was possible, 48 percent said yes and 50 percent said no. Half of those polled said a stalemate was the most likely outcome of the war.

Widespread dissatisfaction with the war may be the impetus behind a dip in the approval ratings of Bush’s handling of anti-terrorism efforts as well, the poll suggests.

Support for his management of anti-terrorism efforts dropped to 42 percent from 50 percent in the poll taken October 13-15. Disapproval of Bush’s anti-terrorism efforts increased from 47 percent to 55 percent during that time.
Monday’s poll results mark the first time more than 50 percent of respondents have registered disapproval on the topic.

The Bush administration has long argued that Iraq is the “central front” in the war on terrorism. Bush spent last week meeting with officials at the Pentagon and State Department, telling reporters he would not be rushed into a decision.

The White House said last week that Bush plans to outline a new strategy in early January, but the president has ruled out “leaving before the job is done.”
In the Monday poll, 27 percent said that the U.S. needs to completely overhaul its strategy and 46 percent said major changes were needed.

Eighteen percent said minor changes were called for and 6 percent said the strategy should remain the same, according to the poll results.

Bush also welcomed a new defense secretary to his Cabinet on Monday as Robert Gates — a former member of the study group — took over from Donald Rumsfeld.

The president announced Rumsfeld’s resignation the day after Republicans lost control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

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AP: Cheney to be called as witness in CIA leak case

The Associated Press is reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney will be called as a witness for the defense in the case against former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“We’re calling the vice president,” the news agency quotes attorney Ted Wells as saying in court. Wells represents Libby, who is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

The charges stem from an investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into how the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame came to be revealed in the press. The undercover operative’s name appeared in a column by conservative columnist Robert Novak just one week after a New York Times column by her husband, ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush Administration’s handling of pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Famed reporters Judith Miller and Tim Russert are also expected to testify, though on behalf of the prosecution. An audiotaped interview of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage conducted by Bob Woodward is also considered likely to be subpoenaed.

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P.S. Fitz.. bring Cheney to his knees!

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Actor Matt Damon, starring in new movie The Good Shepherd about the early days of the CIA, appeared today with co-star Robert De Niro on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. Damon, who has been vocal of late regarding politics, spoke frankly with Matthews.

Talking live before a live audience of college students, De Niro discussed the production of the movie before Matthews and Damon touched on present day affairs involving the Bush administration.

“Look at the war we’re in right now, you can certainly argue that that’s a PR battle,” said Damon, to sustained applause. He knocked the administration’s changing rationale for the war, before saying of Dick Cheney’s assertions regarding weapons of mass destruction, “I’d like to see him under oath.” Matthews replied, as the crowd cheered Damon, “I would too.”

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