Sunday, November 12, 2006

Political news of the week take 30

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

War simulation in 1999 pointed out Iraq invasion problems (Nov. 4):
A series of secret U.S. war games in 1999 showed that an invasion and post-war administration of Iraq would require 400,000 troops, nearly three times the number there now.

And even then, the games showed, the country still had a chance of dissolving into chaos.

In the simulation, called Desert Crossing, 70 military, diplomatic and intelligence participants concluded the high troop levels would be needed to keep order, seal borders and take care of other security needs.

The documents came to light Saturday through a Freedom of Information Act request by George Washington University's National Security Archive, an independent research institute and library.


The war games looked at "worst case" and "most likely" scenarios after a war that removed then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. Some of the conclusions are similar to what actually occurred after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003:

# "A change in regimes does not guarantee stability," the 1999 seminar briefings said. "A number of factors including aggressive neighbors, fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines, and chaos created by rival forces bidding for power could adversely affect regional stability."

# "Even when civil order is restored and borders are secured, the replacement regime could be problematic -- especially if perceived as weak, a puppet, or out-of-step with prevailing regional governments."

# "Iran's anti-Americanism could be enflamed by a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq," the briefings read. "The influx of U.S. and other western forces into Iraq would exacerbate worries in Tehran, as would the installation of a pro-western government in Baghdad."

# "The debate on post-Saddam Iraq also reveals the paucity of information about the potential and capabilities of the external Iraqi opposition groups. The lack of intelligence concerning their roles hampers U.S. policy development."

# "Also, some participants believe that no Arab government will welcome the kind of lengthy U.S. presence that would be required to install and sustain a democratic government."

# "A long-term, large-scale military intervention may be at odds with many coalition partners."

Democrats Gain Senate and New Influence:
Democrats gained control of the Senate on Thursday, giving them a majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994 and increased influence over President Bush’s policies at home and abroad, starting with the war in Iraq.

The Democrats picked up the seat they needed to capture the Senate when the Republican incumbent in Virginia, George Allen, conceded to Jim Webb, his Democratic challenger, completing a broad realignment of power in Washington. Including two independents who align themselves with the Democrats, Democrats will have a 51-to-49 advantage in the new Senate.

Within moments of Mr. Allen’s announcement, Democrats rallied outside the Capitol to celebrate their victory, cheering and chanting, while their leaders began planning how to proceed after a dozen years in which their only taste of power in Congress was when they controlled the Senate for a period in 2001 and 2002.

For Post-Election Congress, Extensive To-Do List Is Awaiting Action
The Democrats won the midterm elections, but time has not run out on the Republican majority in Congress.

Despite devastating losses at the polls, Republicans will control the post-election session that opens Monday as lawmakers return to try to finish 10 overdue spending bills and other legislation that stalled because of pre-election gamesmanship.

Republican leaders have compiled an ambitious to-do list, hoping to dispose of energy legislation, a trade deal or two, a civilian nuclear treaty with India and other favored bills before turning over the keys to the House and Senate chambers to the Democrats in January.

Democrats have some measures they want completed as well, most notably the spending bills, to save them the added work next year.

President Bush, hoping to get the most out of the remaining days of a Republican majority, is pressing two contentious matters: legislation authorizing domestic wiretapping by the National Security Agency and the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. And the Senate has scheduled confirmation hearings for Robert M. Gates to be the new secretary of defense to begin the week of Dec 4.

Members of both parties in Congress have all but written off the wiretapping legislation and the Bolton nomination, given the strong Democratic opposition and the impending power shift. It is also uncertain how hard Congressional Republicans will be willing to press Mr. Bush’s more divisive issues. Some have expressed anger at his decision to remove Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld the day after the election, contending that earlier action might have cut Republican losses.

“The only things that can get done in the lame duck are things that have the consent of both sides,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “You can bluster around all you want, but it is not going to happen. Anything controversial just by definition won’t get done.”

The White House still intends to seek approval of Mr. Bolton and the eavesdropping program, said Mr. Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, but it is not doing so to be “provocative” in the wake of the election.

“Those are goals: an effective U.N. ambassador, also an effective way of going after terrorists,” Mr. Snow said. “Those are both constructive and important goals, and we’ll see how the lame duck works through it.”

Democrats Aim to Save Inquiry on Work in Iraq
Congressional Democrats say they will press new legislation next week to restore the power of a federal agency in charge of ferreting out waste and corruption in Iraq and greatly increase its investigative reach.

The bills, the first of what are likely to be dozens of Democratic efforts to resurrect investigations of war profiteering and financial fraud in government contracting, could be introduced as early as Monday morning.

The move would nullify a Republican-backed provision, slipped into a huge military authorization bill, that set a termination date for the agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The agency’s findings have consistently undermined Bush administration claims of widespread success in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Democrats are set to subpoena:
Rep. Ike Skelton knows what he will do in one of his first acts as chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Democratic-led House: resurrect the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

The panel was disbanded by the Republicans after they won control of Congress in 1994. Now, Skelton (D-Mo.) intends to use it as a forum to probe Pentagon spending and the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war.

It has been 12 years since Democrats were in control of both the House and Senate. But they are looking to make up for lost time, and in some cases, make the Bush administration and its business allies sweat.

With control of every committee in Congress starting in January, the new majority will inherit broad powers to subpoena and investigate. And that is expected to translate into wide-ranging and contentious hearings.

The agenda is likely to be dominated by the Iraq war, but could include probes into the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance, environmental policies and new prescription-drug program for seniors. Industries, such as oil companies, could also come under closer scrutiny.

"The American people sent a clear message that they do not want a rubber-stamp Congress that simply signs off the president's agenda," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who is in line to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "Instead, they have voted for a new direction for America and a real check and balance against government overreaching."

Conyers and other Democrats say that sort of scrutiny has been noticeably absent over the last six years. Democrats accuse Republicans of being complicit as Bush has led the nation into an unwinnable war and adopted economic polices that favor the affluent and big business.

Under Republican control, Congress did subpoena baseball players to discuss steroid use and summon oil industry executives to justify record profits at a time of high gasoline prices.


Democrats face a delicate balancing test, mindful of a public backlash if they focus more on investigating than legislating.

Their leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), has already ruled some investigations out of bounds. Conyers has wanted Congress to determine whether there are grounds to impeach Bush. But Pelosi has said that will not happen.

While there is pent-up demand among Democrats in Congress and their constituencies to oversee the Bush administration, their new caucus will also include a number of moderates and conservatives, which may force the leadership to tone down its act.

Steering his nation without a rudder: Afghanistan's Karzai faces disaffection in a nation hungry for progress. Many see him as a shadow of a president, and they fear a slide back to the Taliban.
In the eyes of Afghans, the restrictions on Karzai's authority imposed by foreign governments make him a shadow of a president with only the trappings of power: photo opportunities, ribbon cuttings, bodyguards with wraparound sunglasses who carry M-4 assault rifles and whisper into microphones in the sleeves of their dark suits.

Although Karzai is officially commander in chief, he has no control over the foreign troops fighting the Taliban insurgency and little over his own army, which answers to the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. His defense minister's main job is cajoling donors into providing the army with better equipment.

Karzai repeatedly has demanded changes in tactics, but each time foreign troops accidentally kill Afghan civilians, he loses credibility with his people.

In the meantime, the insurgency has spread across more than half the country, with fighters advancing northward from strongholds in the east and pushing all the way to the Iranian border in the west. Government officials say the militants in villages and districts near Kabul, the capital, are laying the groundwork for future offensives.

Former mujahedin retain ties to their old commanders, and many are ready to fight again if democracy falters.

Corruption in the courts and police has made many Afghans nostalgic for the Taliban's ruthless justice. The threat of violence has forced hundreds of schools to close and left others without enough books or teachers.

The country's gross domestic product has doubled since Karzai came to office, but the drug trade is the largest employer and source of income. Drugs account for half of Afghanistan's economy and create what the United Nations calls a "narco society."

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid aimed at persuading farmers to grow legal crops, this year's opium harvest is expected to set a record. It's up 50% from last year, to an estimated 6,700 tons, the U.N. said in early September.

Though reconstruction spending could help the government draw support away from drug lords, the Taliban and other foes, only a quarter of public spending goes through the Afghan government, World Bank figures show.

U.S. money supports a wide variety of projects to improve agriculture and government institutions, support schools and clinics, and rebuild roads, bridges, canals and other infrastructure destroyed by war. But unlike Britain and a few other countries, the United States has not demonstrated confidence in Karzai's government by giving it direct control of the funds.

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