Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Leading News Stories of The Day

The most important news articles of the day discovered in the Ministry of Truth by the leading Outer Party Member, Winston Smith.
1. The War We Should Have Been Fighting, Part 1 We are finally launching the large-scale, comprehensive anti-insurgency campaign we ought to have been prepared for from the moment we invaded Iraq in 2003.

The greatest failure of our Iraq strategy is our failure to realize that this is a regional war and to continue our policy of "regime change" against Iran's fellow members of the Axis of Evil: Iran and Syria. That big strategic failure allowed those regimes to inflame and support the Iraqi insurgency as a way of fighting a proxy war against the United States.

The second-greatest failure, however, was our refusal to recognize that we had to fight a counter-insurgency war. In retrospect, it is now clear that from the very beginning, our strategy for the war in Iraq was to invade, topple the regime, and then get out as soon as possible—on the assumption that the Iraqis would quickly make peace among themselves and establish a free society on their own initiative.

Thus, even when we began to implement an effective counter-insurgency strategy against the Sunni insurgency in Western Iraq beginning in late 2004 and continuing through 2005, we pursued it on too small a scale. The Bush administration and the top commanders in Iraq seemed to believe that the election of a new Iraqi government would lead to "national reconciliation" in 2006 and eliminate the need to fight an extended counter-insurgency campaign.

Our new commander, General Petraeus, has finally faced up to the need for such an effort, which he launched in the last week. Any previous comments about the "surge" were grossly premature: this operation is the real surge. I link below to a good overview of the operation by military blogger Bill Roggio (who provides further updates here).
Ronbo summed up the meaning of these reports:

This is a big operation. It may not encounter as much opposition or be as bloody or intense in any town in which it occurs as the Fallujah-Ramadi-Tal Afar battles and sweeps up the northern Euphrates river to the Syrian Border in 2004–2005, but it is bigger. More places are being swept for insurgents simultaneously than has been attempted before.

It looks like this is Gen. Petraeus's opening bid for the "surge" strategy; the initial, purely military phase. It is also his bid to put operations in Iraq onto a clock that—for the duration of the summer months, anyway—may move as fast as political developments have been moving on "Washington time" this Spring.

But don't forget, things will not change that fast in the security and stabilization efforts in Iraq. If the strategy is to work, it will ultimately take many years, with the first couple of years being more of a military operation and the last several years being more of a police/intelligence/political coalition-building/rule-of-law-developing operation.

On the political-coalition-building front, Iraq's legislative factions—undoubtedly with one eye on that "Washington clock"—seem to have arrived at a deal on the sharing of oil revenue, a key political "benchmark" demanded by our Congress.

Finally, while most of our attention is focused on Iraq, it is worth keeping on eye on other military developments. Go to Bill Roggio's blog for a good update on America's ongoing, low-level, and widely un-reported air war against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Waziristan province of Pakistan.

"The Battle of Iraq—2007," Bill Roggio and DJ Elliott, The Fourth Rail, June 20 Four days after the announcement of major offensive combat operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies, the picture becomes clearer on the size and scope of the operation. In today's press briefing, Rear Admiral Mark noted that the ongoing operation is a corps directed and coordinated offensive operation. This is the largest offensive operation since the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom ended in the spring of 2003.

The corps level operation is being conducted in three zones in the Baghdad Belts—Diyala/southern Salahadin, northern Babil province, and eastern Anbar province—as well as inside Baghdad proper, where clearing operations continue in Sadr City and the Rashid district. Iraqi and Coalition forces are now moving into areas which were ignored in the past and served as safe havens for al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent groups. As the corps level operation is ongoing, Coalition and Iraqi forces are striking at the rogue Iranian-backed elements of Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army and continuing the daily intelligence driven raids against al Qaeda's network nationwide….

Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the assault on Baqubah, kicked off with an air assault. Iraqi Army scouts accompanied elements of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division. The operation in Baqubah is modeled after the successful operation to clear Tal Afar in September of 2005, which was designed and executed by Col. H.R. McMaster. The plan is to essentially "seal, kill, hold, and rebuild." The city is cordoned, neighborhoods are identified as friendly or enemy territory, the neighborhoods are then segmented and forces move in with the intent to kill or capture the enemy. As both Michael Gordon and Michael Yon reported from Baqubah, the goal isn't just to clear the city of insurgents, but to trap and kill them in place. The combat operations are then immediately followed by humanitarian and reconstruction projects….

The operation in Baqubah is a microcosm of the larger operation in Diyala, while Diyala is one but one of three of the corps level operations. The same goal is shared across the three theaters: cordon the regions, trap and kill al Qaeda and clear the areas, and then move in security forces in for stability and reconstruction operations….

While the major offensive operation is occurring in the Baghdad Belts against al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent holdouts, major raids continue against Sadr's forces and the Iranian cells in Baghdad and the south…. The Iraqi government and Multinational Forces Iraq are sending a clear message to Sadr: when the fighting against al Qaeda is finished, the Iranian backed elements of the Mahdi Army are next on the list if they are not disbanded.

2. The War We Should Have Been Fighting, Part 2 As I said above, the other war we should have been fighting is a war to topple the Iranian regime. Today, only two prominent political figures are beginning to advocate such a war. Two weeks ago, Joe Lieberman advocated an air war against Iran in retaliation for its support for insurgents in Iraq. In what seems to be a follow-up to an excellent speech I linked to earlier, not-yet-formally-declared Republican president candidate Fred Thompson has called for a blockade against Iran.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Thompson said: "A blockade would be a possibility if we could get the international cooperation, if in fact we're all reading off the same page and saw the nature of the threat. That would be one way to ensure that we didn't have to go to the military option."

But of course, a blockade is a military option. As the Telegraph notes, "Blockading Iran would technically be an act of war." This should not be an objection to such a blockade, because Iran is already committing its own acts of war against us: Ronbo sent me a link to yet another report on Iran's military support for the Taliban.

But the big news is that our time is running very short to bring down Iran's regime before it arms itself with a nuclear weapon. The latest report, covered below, details Iran's progress in enriching the uranium needed to build an atom bomb.

"Iran Denies Report of Enriched Uranium," AP via Jerusalem Post, June 22 Iran's Interior Ministry denied a report Friday quoting the minister as saying Iran has produced 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of enriched uranium. The ministry said he was misquoted.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency reported that the minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, also said Iran now has 3,000 hooked-up centrifuges actively enriching uranium….

ISNA quoted Pourmohammadi as saying "right now, 3,000 of the (centrifuge) machines have been operational and more than 100 kilograms of enriched uranium has been ready and stored."

ISNA is not considered an official agency, but the Iranian government sometimes uses it to leak information on sensitive issues.

David Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector and an expert on Iran's program, said he believed that the report of 100 kilograms "is probably high, but they are going to reach that level soon, in a month or two. They probably have more like 50 kilograms (110 pounds) now."

He said all of Iran's stock is low-enriched uranium.

It would take about 15-25 kilograms (33-55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium to produce an "implosion-type" nuclear bomb, and 50 kilograms (110 pounds) to produce a more powerful bomb like the one used at Hiroshima, Albright said.

3. "It's a Big Grave, and We Are Living Inside It" My normal headline for a new article on the self-destruction of the Palestinian territories would be "The Suicide Bomb Society." But when I came across the quote above, from a despairing resident of Gaza, it was too good not to use as a headline. (The article from which it is taken is linked to and excerpted below.)

Unfortunately, every time the Palestinians seek to destroy themselves, the West tries its best to bail them out. Call us co-dependent. So as Hamas threatens to take over the West Bank next, all Western leaders are now proposing to support the Fatah terrorist faction against the Hamas terrorist faction.

The contradiction is summed up in a surreal speech by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, who denounces Hamas as dangerous fanatics and vows that there will be "no dialogue with murderers." If the West had adopted that policy, Abbas would have spent the last few decades in prison, not as a recipient of our aid.

In his 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry came up with the awful idea of appointing an "ambassador to the peace process." Now that the "peace process" has utterly collapsed (for the third or fourth time), President Bush seems determined to resurrect Kerry's bad idea by appointing Tony Blair as a special emissary for negotiations to create a Palestinian state.

Blair has been courageous in supporting the Iraq war at great cost to his political standing in Britain. But he has also prompted the US to make many compromises and concessions—and the Palestinian issue is one on which he is not particularly strong.

But to remind us that things could still be much worse, along comes leftist hero Jimmy Carter to demand that the West support Hamas. This call to support a terrorist organization last seen executing its political opponents in the street was made while Carter was attending—get this—a conference of "human rights officials."

"Gaza Strip Holds Its Breath," Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, June 22 By hand and donkey cart, young men removed the old Palestinian order in the Gaza Strip, one floor tile at a time.

Sledgehammers have left just the shell of the home of Mohammed Dahlan, the strongman here before Hamas fighters routed his Fatah movement in street battles last week….

Hamas, the Islamic militant movement formed in 1988 and which won Palestinian parliamentary elections last year, is now solely in command of the impoverished coastal strip. Bearded men with assault rifles and wearing the blue camouflage uniforms of Hamas' Executive Force patrol in pickups that used to belong to Fatah….

Residents have long described the coastal enclave as a big prison. Now its borders with Israel and Egypt are sealed….

The stock in the dairy cooler in Ahed Moshtaha's supermarket in Gaza City is running low and he's down to his last few cartons of cigarettes.

The store has plenty of sugar, cooking oil, detergent and crackers, but that provides little comfort in the face of what is now a deeply uncertain future. "These days we sell and we don't buy," Moshtaha said. He pointed to a spiral notebook on the counter—the list of sales made on credit. "We sell and we don't get any cash."

Moshtaha said he was glad to see Fatah ousted because of its reputation for corruption. But he is not happy about Gaza's new masters. "I'm not Fatah and I'm not Hamas," he said. "But we are the ones who are always stuck between the two sides."

Asked about the future of Gaza, Moshtaha sighed heavily. "It's a big grave," he said. "And we are living inside it."

4. The Left's Anti-Energy Policy Congressional Democrats are beginning to roll out the first of their big global warming measures: a drastic increase in the fuel mileage requirements imposed on American automakers. It is a classic case of centralized government planning, with Senator Byron Dorgan dictating to us what characteristics we ought to want in a new automobile (see the quote from him in the article below).

But it is central planning without the hyper-industrial triumphalism of the Old Left, which promised that state-run industry would lead to ever-increasing, universal prosperity. The Old Left failed spectacularly at that goal, but their successors have not dropped the demand for government control of all of our economic decisions. They have merely switched to justifying thir controls by appealing to the anti-industrial creed of environmentalism.

"Senate Passes Energy Bill," Sholnn Freeman, Washington Post, June 22 The Senate passed a sweeping energy legislation package last night that would mandate the first substantial change in the nation's vehicle fuel-efficiency law since 1975 despite opposition from auto companies and their Senate supporters.

After three days of intense debate and complex maneuvering, Democratic leaders won passage of the bill shortly before midnight by a 65 to 27 vote.

The package, which still must pass the House, would also require that the use of biofuels climb to 36 billion gallons by 2022, would set penalties for gasoline price-gouging, and would give the government new powers to investigate oil companies' pricing. It would provide federal grants and loan guarantees to promote research into fuel-efficient vehicles and would support test projects to capture carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants to be stored underground….

The politics of fuel economy had gone virtually unchanged since Congress passed the first nationwide standards—known as corporate average fuel economy, or CAFÉ—in 1975. The last time the full Senate tried to boost fuel-economy standards was in 2002, and the effort was defeated handily….

The United States, with current efficiency standards of 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 22.2 per gallon for SUVs and small trucks, has lagged behind the rest of the developed world. In the European Union, automakers have agreed to voluntary increases in fuel-economy standards that next year will lift the average to 44.2 miles per gallon, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. In Japan, average vehicle fuel economy tops 45 miles per gallon. China's level is in the mid-30s and projected to rise, propelled by government policy….
"Now, in our vehicles, we have better cup-holders, we have keyless entry, we have better music systems, we have heated seats," Dorgan said. "It is time that we expect more automobile efficiency."…

In another Senate battle yesterday, Democrats lost a fight against oil companies when Republicans blocked a $32 billion tax package that would have poured money into alternative fuel projects by raising taxes on oil and gas companies.

5. The Battle to Save Wall Street Since the Enron hysteria of 2002 led to the imposition of draconian new regulation on publicly traded companies, Wall Street has gone into a kind of recession. More companies are switching to private sources of capital (such as "hedge funds"), and many other firms are choosing to have their shares listed overseas, in countries that impose fewer regulations.

So naturally, the Democratic Congress is reacting by attacking the hedge funds, proposing a massive tax increase targeting those funds.

In an opposite move, however, the Supreme Court has issued a welcome (but limited) ruling restricting the filing of harassing lawsuits by disgruntled investors who sue every time a company fails to deliver on the public promises made by its executives—that is, by those who want to regard the stock market as a source of entitlement income, rather than a private investment in which they are responsible for taking their own risks.

"Investors' Suits Face Higher Bar, Justices Rule," Stephen Lebaton, New York Times, June 22 The Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a blow to investors who want to sue companies and executives because of suspected fraud, setting a higher standard for class-action lawsuits to go forward.

The decision was the second one this week by the court that was a defeat for shareholders and a victory for the defendant companies. On Monday, the justices ruled that securities underwriters on Wall Street are generally immune from civil antitrust lawsuits.

It came as senior officials, led by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., have been pushing for limits on shareholder lawsuits. Mr. Paulson, along with other administration officials and some senior lawmakers, have maintained that such lawsuits and regulations, written in the aftermath of corporate scandals like those involving Enron and WorldCom, may be discouraging investment and causing too many companies to look overseas to raise capital.

With only 18 months left until President Bush leaves the White House—and even less time for contentious policy issues to make their way through a capital that is preparing for elections—corporations and political supporters of the administration are pressing for a relaxation of some of those regulations and new restrictions on lawsuits.

The court on Thursday waded into the debate on the defendants’ side. By a vote of 8 to 1, it said that investors must show “cogent and compelling” evidence of intent to defraud—a standard that makes it easier for companies and their executives to get shareholder complaints dismissed.

6. The Left's Anti-Free-Speech Movement The left is not merely a threat to our economic freedom. For years, it has been building the groundwork for a new assault on our intellectual freedom, describing its own speech as rational and enlightening—while branding anything said by spokesman for the political right as dangerous propaganda that is not protected by First Amendment.

Here's a new example of that campaign: a report from a leftist think tank demanding new regulations on broadcasters for the express purpose of suppressing conservative talk radio. This report is explicit in tying together the left's assault on free markets and its assault on a free marketplace of ideas. Describing what is, in fact, an utterly unregulated free-for-all of speech, it declares that "There is little free speech or free choice in a market system."

We can presume that this is in contrast to all of the freedom of choice available in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, or in Vladimir Putin's Russia—places where the government has decided to correct the "unfairness" of the private media by taking over the airwaves.

"Talk Radio 'Dominated' by Right," Kara Rowland, Washington Times, June 22 A report from a liberal think tank yesterday criticized the "right-wing domination of talk radio," saying the current landscape does not serve all Americans.

In a report titled "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio," the Center for American Progress concluded that 91 percent of weekday talk radio is conservative, compared with liberal content at 9 percent. The group, which said it analyzed 257 news and talk stations owned by the five biggest radio broadcasters, calls for stricter media-ownership limits and public-interest requirements.

"There is little free speech or free choice in a market system that pushes out one-sided information 90 percent of the time on the radio," said John Halpin, a senior fellow at the center. "Radio stations are licensed to operate in the public interest. Promoting one point of view over all others does not meet any reasonable public-interest standard."…

Democrats seized on the findings, touting the study as further evidence that government intervention to make the media more "fair" is needed.

"The American people should have a wide array of news sources available to them. The more opinions they can hear, the more news sources they can learn from, the better able they will be to make decisions," said Jeff Lieberson, spokesman for Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, New York Democrat.

Mr. Hinchey is preparing to reintroduce his Media Ownership Reform Act, which among other proposals calls for a return to the "Fairness Doctrine," a long-held requirement that broadcasters give equal time to opposing views when covering political issues. The doctrine was repealed in 1987 because it violated the First Amendment….

"My biggest question there is who decides what's fair," [Chris Berry, general manager of DC conservative talk station WMAL-AM (630)] said. "To have someone who in some way is policing the airwaves like this violates the very tenets of the First Amendment."

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