Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Iraq's election crisis

Today the Washington Post editorial board offers "Obama administration must intervene in Iraqi election crisis:"

There's not much clarity about who is behind the nasty maneuver -- but one protagonist appears to be Ahmed Chalabi, the notorious former exile leader and master of political manipulation. Now regarded as an Iranian agent by most U.S. officials, Mr. Chalabi, along with his associates, served Tehran's interests as well as his own by banning the Sunni leaders. Several of those blacklisted had recently joined cross-sectarian secular alliances that are challenging the Shiite coalition of which Mr. Chalabi is a part, as well as the list headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Over the weekend, Mr. Maliki appeared to endorse the disqualifications -- a step that would nullify his previous support for progressive electoral reforms.
Surprised by the sudden decision, U.S. and U.N. officials have been trying to moderate it. Vice President Biden, who used his influence to good effect during previous disputes over the elections, has been working the phones again.

And let me disagree with the Post: The administration doesn't have to.

They don't.

It's not like there's any reason to. It's not like they put an incompetent in as Ambassador to Iraq. It's not like they did so over strong Republican objection. It's not as if a Republican senator didn't say they'd make Chris Hill the anchor around the administration's neck.

Oh wait, all that did happen.

Here's your first clue of how stupid the current administration is: When there was real (not faux) objection to Chris Hill on the part of two Republican senators and it was clear that others would question the choice (and they did), the administration should have immediately revetted Hill and reconsidered their decision.

Dropped him?

No, not if they had strong reasons for nominating him. But there were no strong reasons. Hill had no history in the region and -- as he demonstrated in that laughable confirmation hearing -- no grasp of the situation. He shows up bragging about the tutoring he's currently receiving on Iraq.

How stupid is the White House?

Hill brags publicly about his tutoring and has no clue but they push forward with the nomination.

Though few are paying attention (as Trudy Rubin notes for the Philadelphia Inquirer) to Iraq, things are not going well. Various populations are targeted. There is no 'settling' of the refugee crisis. Little Nouri doesn't want to give up being the New Saddam. And the election circus has only demonstrated how little guidance the US is offering. (Biden, as the Post observes, had to step again. Why does Joe Biden have to keep working to fix Chris Hill's mistakes?) Rahma al-Salim (Asharq Alawsat) reports: "The office of Iraqi parliamentary speaker, Ayad al-Samarrai informed Asharq Al-Awsat that US Vice President Joe Biden has called for the Debathification process to be postponed until after the elections on the condition that the electoral candidates in question prove that they are no longer affiliated to the outlawed party. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, hinted that his country would not support the elections if al-Mutlaq is not allowed to stand for election." And al-Salim notes that Nouri's spokesperson is stating that US attempts "will not achieve anything."

No, the administration doesn't have to do anything. They can just wait for the Republicans to claim that Bush set the course for US departure (and Barack can't argue that since he's claiming Bush's SOFA as his own 'withdrawal') and then Barack came up and destroyed everything and did so by appointing an idiot with no experience in the region as ambassador to the country.

No, the administration doesn't have to do anything. It can just beg the entire country to copy Massachusetts when the mid-terms roll around.

The targeting and witch hunt continues in Iraq. Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports:

U.S. diplomacy has shifted into high gear in recent days in an attempt to pressure Iraqi government officials into finding a way out of a crisis that many fear could seriously destabilize the country both before and after the election.
The 515 barred candidates -- the number keeps growing -- belong mostly to Sunni Arab and secularist parties that oppose the dominance of Shiite religious parties in the current government. Their exclusion risks reigniting the sectarian tensions that plunged the country into civil strife the last time Sunnis stayed outside the political process.

Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports that Iraq's Presidency Council is supposed to take up the issue: "The initiative is under process waiting for the return of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, the source said." Meanwhile Michael Hastings (The Daily Beast) reports on the invasion of US gas bags in Iraq:

"It's a real pivotal election, very historic, and it will impact the history of Iraq one way or the other -- either leaders will emerge who can keep the country together as the troops withdraw, leaders who aren’t corrupt. Or we'll have weak leadership, a corrupt leadership," said Trippi, who has made three weekend-long trips to Baghdad in recent months. "I think Ayad Jamal Aldin is the guy who has the strength and the vision to know where he wants to take the country."
The pitch for his candidate -- Ayad Jamal Aldin is a rare, secular, pro-Western Shiite cleric whom Trippi describes as a "fresh face" and "a straight talker," like "the old John McCain from 2000, not the John McCain from 2008" -- comes during the first (relatively) normal campaign season Iraq has had since the U.S. invasion in 2003. During the last national election in 2005, candidates avoided the spotlight, fearing for their lives. Four years later—and with the aid of hired consultants and firms from the West—a number of Iraqi politicians are trying to master the democratic art of keeping the spotlight trained on themselves, this week's upheaval notwithstanding.
[. . .]
In part, Trippi's campaign for Ayad Jamal Aldin is about introducing a new brand. Jamal Aldin has been a figure in Iraqi politics since 2003—he's also a member of the National Assembly -- but he started his own party, Ahrar, in October 2009. Ahrar -- which means "free" in Arabic -- hopes to win at least 12 to 14 seats in the elections. According to General Nabil Khalil Said, the No. 2 man on the Ahrar slate, Jamal Aldin is ready to spend about $10 million on the campaign, paid for from his own pocket.

Oh, that 'fair and free' election supporter Joe Trippi. Trippi did what again? Oh that's right, he ran the failed campaing in 2004. Well maybe Aldin can declare, "And then we are going to Baghdad to take back the presidential palace."

In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues. The witness for today are Mark Lyall-Grant and David Omand. Channel 4 News' Iraqi Inquiry Blogger is already live blogging today's hearing at Twitter. Yesterday, the Inquiry heard from Geoffrey Hoon. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) observes:

This morning's papers have differing opinions on who came out worse from Geoff Hoon's evidence yesterday but Hoon himself does not come out of it well.

The Guardian’s Simon Hoggart is the most perceptive commentator. In a piece entitled "Trying not to answer the question", he points out that Hoon spent large parts of the afternoon waffling and passing the buck. In particular, he points up the irony of Hoon defending his March 2002 comments on the legality of military action in a television interview by saying that he was trying not to answer the question. Hoggart points out that Hoon used this to avoid answering the question he was asked on the subject.

Other papers focus on Hoon's criticism of Tony Blair for delaying the ordering of equipment to keep the public from realising that an invasion was being planned and the alleged impact of Treasury constraints on the military. But, in my view, only the Irish Times reports the latter issue accurately:

"FORMER BRITISH defence secretary Geoff Hoon has rejected charges that spending curbs imposed by prime minister Gordon Brown, during his time as chancellor of the exchequer, damaged the British army's ability to fight the Iraq war."

In Iraq, a bombing has resulted in numerous people being wounded. Xinhua reports a Mosul suicide car bombing claimed the life of the driver and left thirty people injured Al Jazeera reports that the bombing targeted an Iraqi military base and, citing police, states the injured are "18 soldiers, five police officers and 10 civilians".

Caro of MakeThemAccountable has a roundup of reports on the Massachusetts upset last night.
Mike weighed in last night with "Scott Brown is the winner!" and Trina with "Know the facts, Philip Maldari" (Trina wasn't following the returns, for anyone wondering -- as with the 2008 election, she ignored it and waited to find out when she woke up this morning, she says she intends to cover the turnout tonight.) Others in the community weigh in at their sites but Mike and Trina live in that state. (So does Rebecca but she's in London. Wally filled in for her last night. Wally hails from Florida, for any wondering.) We'll note this from Ben Smith, Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris' report for Politico (link has text and audio):

Republican Scott Brown's eye-opening victory in Massachusetts Tuesday has unmistakably framed the problem for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party:
The same forces of disgust with establishment politicians and hunger for change in Washington that vaulted Obama to power 14 months ago can be harnessed with equal success by people who want to stop his agenda in its tracks.
The argument that will now consume Democrats is over the remedy -- a disagreement that once again opens up the party’s ideological gulf and vastly complicates Obama's task in trying to push his signature health care agenda to final passage.
Is the Massachusetts humiliation a sign that Obama and congressional Democrats should embrace the inevitability of mortal conflict with Republicans and respond with a sharper, more combative policy and political message? Even before Democrat Martha Coakley's defeat became official, some liberal voices on Capitol Hill and others close to the White House were urging exactly that.

As various weigh in, few will offer the analysis that when you (Obama) govern center-right, you're going to be vulnerable to challenges from the right. When you blow off campaign promises and blow off the left, you get outcomes like this. Such an analysis won't be offered in part because the MSM wants Barack to turn further rightward. (He'll no doubt accomodate.) However, the disenchatment has already been noted. For example, see Susan Milligan's "Obama here for Coakley, trailing a diminished aura" (Boston Globe) from this weekend:

While many young voters imagined that an Obama presidency would mean a speedy closure of Guantanamo Bay prison, a wind-down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a health care plan that would, at least, provide a government insurance plan to compete with the private sector, they instead are frustrated at the slow pace of change, Vastola and others said.

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