Read My Lips: No New Timetables

George Bush made his case clear today in a largely uneventful speech at Annapolis today simply by repeated the same plan he has enumerated for the American public for over two years. Bush told the midshipmen at the Naval Academy that the war in Iraq can and would be won before we consider pulling out any of our troops, and that the only timetable for redeployment will be the success of the missionperiod:

President Bush gave an unflinching defense of his war strategy on Wednesday, refusing to set a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals and asserting that once-shaky Iraqi troops are proving increasingly capable. Democrats dismissed his words as a stay-the-course speech with no real strategy for success.
Bush recalled that some Iraqi security forces once ran from battle, and he said their performance “is still uneven in some parts.” But he also said improvements have been made in training and Iraqi units are growing more independent and controlling more territory.
“This will take time and patience,” said Bush, who is under intense political pressure as U.S. military deaths in the war rise beyond 2,100 and his popularity sits at the lowest point of his presidency.
Bush’s speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, the first of at least three he’ll give between now and the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections, did not outline a new strategy for the nearly three-year-old war. Rather, it was intended as a comprehensive answer to mounting criticism and questions. Billed as a major address, it brought together in a single package the administration’s arguments for the war and assertions of progress on military, economic and political tracks.

He also released a book on the Iraq war strategy for those who just haven’t paid any attention over the past two years. Bush and the White House should have just subtitled it “FOR THOSE WHO STILL THINK THAT THE US MILITARY DEPLOYS HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD WITHOUT A PLAN FOR SUCCESS”.

Quick Link-Love For The Evening

I’m busy trying to fix some issues with the Trackbacks — I understand they’re still not working properly, although comments seem to be okay — and get some other work done. Instead of trying to force a couple of posts, I’m going to recommend some better ones from the cream of the blogosphere tonight, and hope for a bit of time for late-night blogging later.
First up is the still-mysterious case of the Oklahoma University suicide bomber. Mark Tapscott, who’s covering the FBI investigation, has some interesting developments about whether or not they will be able to put their heads together to get to the bottom of this case.
Michelle Malkin has a trove of documents on the case for amateur sleuths to peruse as part of her own coverage on the case. Don’t miss her take on Janeane Garofalo, who used to actually be funny … before a house fell on her sister.
Kate at Small Dead Animals takes a look at more evidence that the mainstream media still has no real understanding of blogs. Dozens of commenters appear to agree.
Jon Henke, one of the best in the blogosphere, shreds John Kerry and the White Flag Democrats in the aftermath of the Bush speech. No sooner does Kerry claim that no one in their caucus is talking about artificial dates for withdrawal from Iraq than his own party leader, Nancy Pelosi, demands all troops be withdrawn within six months. I guess the White Flag Democrats were opposed to dates before and after they were for them, huh? (Dafydd notices the same thing.)
The lovely Charmaine Yoest goes to Washington, takes some pictures, and gets to be on TV. I gotta take that tour the next time.
NZ Bear hears Democratic presidential hopeful Russ Feingold on NPR, who apparently isn’t terribly impressed by elections and democracy. And he wants to win the top job in which country?
Hopefully, I’ll have more later on!

The Value That Keeps Shifting

Anne Applebaum writes an op-ed in today’s Washington Post defending the use and protection of anonymous resources in reporting and punditry, with the somewhat-ironic title “The Value of Anonymity.” In her essay, she rightly notes the role that these sources provide in getting to the real data behind the PR smokescreens erected by bureaucrats of all stripes:

Some of us will get the balance wrong — there are bad and corrupt journalists, just as there are bad and corrupt members of any other profession — and some of us will make mistakes. But the alternative to a relatively open, relatively comfortable relationship between the press and the government isn’t exactly attractive. Earlier this week the owner of a Jordanian newspaper visited The Post. He described his efforts to open up the press in his country, to ease laws that restrict what topics the press is allowed to address, and to create a newspaper independent of government financing and influence. But ultimately, he said, the legal system wasn’t his worst problem. Far more troubling was the fact that Jordanian government officials “feel no obligation” to say anything to the press, on or off the record, at all. In Jordan, there are no anonymous sources with whom members of the press are entangled, no lower-level officials who can help shed light on events — and as a result, it’s hard for the press to be relevant to politics. Is that really the system we’d like to adopt in this country, too?

No, but problems erupt when the press decides to assign that value based on the politics of the source itself. For instance, when anonymous sources decided to tell the Washington Post that the CIA ran detention centers in Eastern Europe for interrogating terrorists, that source apparently needs the utmost in journalistic protection — even though it revealed an ongoing and extremely sensitive wartime operation that could cost American lives by the thousands, if compromised. On the other hand, when a columnist revealed that the wife of a prominent public critic of the Administration worked for the CIA and had arranged for her husband to travel on the agency’s dime to discredit the administration with what the Senate later determined was misinformation, that source somehow deserves no protection whatsoever, and any journalist who protects him/her achieves instant pariah status. Just ask Judith Miller.
We’d love to agree with Anne about the value of anonymous sources, if the value didn’t keep changing based on whether the source’s truths hurts or helps politicians with which the media elite support or oppose. Until then, Anne, color us somewhat cynical on such pronouncements of reportorial courage.

Air Marshal Reserves Too Expensive: Congress

After approving a program to cross-train customs and immigration agents as reserve air marshals for deployment during heightened alerts, Congress quietly abandoned the program over a year ago as a “waste of resources,” the GAO revealed yesterday:

The plan was first disclosed in September 2003 by Tom Ridge, then Homeland Security secretary.
Ridge announced that the air marshals would be combined with immigration and customs agents in the same agency so agents in both could be cross-trained and used for aviation security. The move would allow more than 5,000 armed federal law enforcement agents to be deployed on commercial aircraft, he said.
“This realignment offers a sweeping gain of additional armed law enforcement officials who will be able to provide a ‘surge capacity’ during increased threat periods or in the event of a terrorist attack,” Ridge said at the time.
By October 2004, Homeland Security had cross-trained some immigration and customs agents, but stopped because of congressional concerns that it was “an ineffective use of resources,” the report said.

Eight months ago, air marshals warned the US that they did not have the numbers to provide the comprehensive protection that we had anticipated would be demanded in the aftermath of 9/11. While this article rightly states that the exact number of air marshals remains confidential, the air marshals themselves have repeatedly claimed that they do not have the numbers to meet their current, normal-condition mandate. During an emergency or a heightened alert, we have no reserve on which to call to ensure passenger safety on high-risk flights.
We need Congress to rethink its priorities on air security. Americans took back to air travel on the premise, after 9/11, that we had better levels of security both before boarding and while in flight. The four-year history of the federal Air Marshal service has instead brought mismanagement, politically-correct silliness, dress-code irrelevancies, and now the revelation that no reserves exist if specific threats arise against the American air transportation system. We found out how valuable this system is to the American economy in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in history. Surely Congress can burn a few more Bridges to Nowhere to fund the air marshal service and the system of reserves necessary to prevent another such incident.

Sharon’s Gamble May Steal The Center

Ariel Sharon’s breathtaking gamble on leaving the political party that he himself founded decades earlier may have paid off. It appears that Shimon Peres, recently booted from his leadership post in the Labor party, may join Sharon in Kadima and take a large swath of his followers along with him. The two moves threaten to completely rewrite Israeli politics and shove what had been the two largest political parties into the extremist wings of the Israeli electoral culture:

Speculation mounted Tuesday that Shimon Peres, the longtime pillar of Israel’s Labor Party, plans to break ranks and join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s new centrist movement.
The departure of Peres, 82, from Labor, which Sharon allies speculated could come Wednesday, would continue a broad realignment of Israel’s political parties prompted by Sharon’s decision to withdraw Jewish settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip earlier this year. …
Peres’s ally, Dalia Itzik, a member of Labor’s 21-person parliamentary bloc, announced that she would join Sharon. She is the second Labor member of parliament to do so after Haim Ramon, who announced his decision last week.
“It looks like a package deal,” Eitan Cabel, the Labor Party’s secretary general, told Israel’s Army Radio. “We spoke about their remaining and not defecting to another party. But apparently things were already sealed, and the talks with us were nothing but a smoke screen.”

Perhaps Sharon had this already in the works when he announced the launch of Kadima, but either way, it shows the demand for a more centrist representation in Israel while the question of the Palestinians remain open. In his manner, Sharon has taken a page from Bill Clinton and especially Tony Blair in building a so-called Third Way, this time in Israeli politics. Most Israelis want to see peace and would trade land for it, but only if that can assure an end to the constant state of war that the occupation has created. Now with Peres and his followers backing Sharon and joining with him to push his policies and strategems, the centrists have a home for themselves.
Peres had little choice and so a move to Kadima makes a lot of sense. He had just lost control of Labor to a far-left, hard-line union supporter who backs the two-state solution but also wide-ranging social spending. Sharon, on the other hand, had largely beaten back a challenge for Likud supremacy from Benjamin Netanyahu. In one or two move, Sharon has now created a political structure in Israel where both Netanyahu and Amir Peretz get left alone at the extremes while Kadima can define the center of Israeli politics. The union of the two old titans of Israeli government will provide an instant legitimacy that could well sway a majority to support Kadima in the upcoming elections.
If Kadima cannot form a majority government, however, look for Labor to fill the gap — and they will want to exact some revenge on the Peres group when they do.

Catholic Church To Shun The Limbo

No, the Mass has not gotten so liberal that celebrants or the congregation do the popular party dance on the way to the Eucharist, although some might believe that the Church wouldn’t necessarily think that a bad idea if it got people to fulfill their holy obligations more frequently. The Vatican has studied the religious concept of limbo for decades now in an attempt to either minimize it or eliminate it altogether, and the Globe & Mail reports that a blue-ribbon commission of theologians first formed by John Paul the Great on the question will recommend that Pope Benedict banish limbo from Catholic teachings:

In Latin, it means “the lip,” and for centuries devout Roman Catholics have tried to avoid thinking about its full meaning: the edge of hell, where those who have died without baptism — notably babies — are sent for eternity.
Now it seems that limbo, a place invented in the Middle Ages that soon became a well-known part of the architecture of the cosmos, is about to be struck from the theological blueprints as part of the Vatican’s lengthy renovation of its heavenly layout.
Its place, alongside such well-known medieval additions as the gates of heaven, the nine circles of hell, purgatory and the heavenly vestibule, has become increasingly shaky, and yesterday, the Italian media reported that an international commission of high-ranking theologians intends to advise Pope Benedict to banish the notion of limbo from all teachings of the Catholic catechism.

One of the reasons that limbo has been in, well, limbo is because the concept presents a stumbling block to Christian unity, especially for those who practice from a literal form of sola scriptura. After the Church could catch its breath when it emerged from four centuries of martydom and oppression, theologians presented many questions about the nature of the faith which challenged the thinking of Church elders. Among them: what happened to unbaptized babies at death? Instead of just leaving such questions up to God, distraught parents and theoretical thinkers wanted answers, and limbo came into being.
Limbo, it should be pointed out, differs from purgatory, another difficult but more scriptural-based concept of Roman Catholocism. Purgatory refers to the process of purification that has to take place between the death of a sinner and their entry into heaven. Misunderstood as a particular place in space and time, purgatory would at first appear to be an unmentioned third possible destination for the dead, but the Church teaches that all souls who enter heaven must necessarily experience purgatory to be cleansed of sinful impulses before final acceptance into the presence of the Lord. When I taught confirmation classes, I used to explain it to the teenagers as an extra rinse cycle in the washing machine … which may explain why I don’t teach confirmation classes any longer.
Purgatory as a concept would have also explained what happens to the unbaptized, and done so with much more elegance than the notion of limbo. I suspect that if limbo gets the heave-ho it deserves, the Church will probably emphasize purgatory as the merciful process that it is and the path of the unbaptized to reach heaven when judged deserving by the Lord — who, after all, makes the rules and the choices without consulting any of us on our opinion anyway.

The Return From Upgrade Hell

I’m reworking my weekly column for the Daily Standard on Canada tonight, which will appear a little later this week, and the renewed trackback function drove me to a new level of insanity … and to upgrade to Movable Type 3.2, which supposedly controls the spam attacks much better than previous versions with the MT-Blacklist plugin. What I thought would be a 30-minute quick update turned into a three-hour ordeal, the last of which took the site down intermittently, especially if you tried to post comments. It should be back up and running now, but blogging will probably be over for the evening.
If you get a chance, take a look at my friend Scott Johnson’s latest column at DS, “Second Time’s A Charm”, about Mary Mapes and her attempt to rehabilitate herself after the Memogate debacle. So far, it’s a complete flop, and few things are more fun than watching the delightful way Scott shoots the fish in the barrel:

WHAT IS CERTAINLY ILLUMINATING is the degree to which Truth and Duty makes plain the level of malice Mapes has for the president. Although she offers herself as an impartial journalist searching for truth, her tract seethes with Bush hatred. Mapes suggests that Bush’s “success in skewing the public perception of his military service was a prelude to his success in shaping public opinion around the reasons for the war in Iraq, the treatment of detainees, the need for a tax cut, and every political battle he has fought and won in his White House years.” She refers to “the Bush campaign’s aggressive pattern of sliming anyone and everyone who raised questions about the president.” She describes Karl Rove as Bush’s “├╝ber-adviser” and bizarrely credits him with masterminding “the Republican attack against the [60 Minutes II] story.” Given her claims of the documents’ authenticity, she absolves Rove of fabricating and planting the documents–“not that I believe Rove isn’t capable of that kind of dirty trick.”
It is a shame that those reviewers favorable to Mapes’s book appear not to have read the Thornburgh-Boccardi report, which is full of information that discredits the segment in its entirety, belies Mapes’s book, and establishes far beyond reasonable doubt that the documents on which Mapes staked her career are fraudulent.

Who better to deconstruct Mapes than the man who disassembled her work and put the blogosphere on par with the national media?

Abramoff Client Heading Investigation

Democrats have tried painting Jack Abramoff’s sleazy and allegedly criminal lobbying efforts as a strictly Republican scandal for the last several months, tying Abramoff chiefly to Tom DeLay. However, as the investigation into Abramoff continues, more and more ties to Democrats have emerged, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Now it appears that the ranking Senate Democrat on the committee that has taken the lead in investigating Abramoff has more than a oversight connection to Abramoff himself:

New evidence is emerging that the top Democrat on the Senate committee currently investigating Jack Abramoff got political money arranged by the lobbyist back in 2002 shortly after the lawmaker took action favorable to Abramoff’s tribal clients.
A lawyer for the Louisiana Coushatta Indians told The Associated Press that Abramoff instructed the tribe to send $5,000 to Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record)’s political group just three weeks after the North Dakota Democrat urged fellow senators to fund a tribal school program Abramoff’s clients wanted to use.
The check was one of about five dozen the Coushattas listed in a tribal ledger as being issued on March 6, 2002, to various lawmakers’ campaigns and political causes at the instruction of Abramoff, tribal attorney Jimmy Fairchild said Monday.

So now Byron Dorgan is the fox in the henhouse, passing judgment on Abramoff after passing his checks along to the bank. Believe me, I’m delighted to see anyone crooked get his just desserts; as far as I’m concerned, men like Randy Cunningham should do a couple of tours at Club Fed if they use their positions of trust to sell out for bribes and kickbacks. Anyone who did so with Abramoff should bunk up with Cunningham at the first oppportunity. However, let’s quit pretending that Abramoff represents some sort of Republican “culture of corruption” and instead acknowledge that the sleaze has a much more ecumenical stench than the Democrats want to acknowledge. Otherwise, they’d be better served by keeping their mouths shut.

Alito Hates Foreigners!

Wow, talk about divine providence — on the day after George Bush moved immigration reform and border control to the top of his agenda, the Washington Post managed to write about a memo from Reagan-era deliberations that Jo Becker and Amy Goldstein claim shows some sort of animus against foreigners. Headlined by a statement that Alito opposed rights for foreigners, the Becker/Goldstein report reviews Alito’s recommendation to accept fingerprint cards from refugees living in Canada:

As a senior lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, Samuel A. Alito Jr. argued that immigrants who enter the United States illegally and foreigners living outside their countries are not entitled to the constitutional rights afforded to Americans.
In an opinion that offers insight into the Supreme Court nominee’s view of an area of law that has gained new significance with the Bush administration’s policies to combat terrorism, Alito gave his approval to an FBI effort in the 1980s to collect from Canadian authorities fingerprint cards of Iranian and Afghan refugees living in that country.
The program to collect background information was constitutional, Alito wrote in a January 1986 memo to the FBI director. And because the refugees were nonresident immigrants of a third country, he reasoned, the FBI could disregard court decisions that prohibited it from spreading “stigmatizing” information about citizens.

So this memo has little to do with “foreigner’s rights” as the headline states, and more to do with the kind of information sharing that we so badly lacked leading up to 9/11. In this case, as clumsily presented by the ever-biased Becker/Goldstein team that turned in one hack job after another on John Roberts, Canada apparently offered to share its fingerprint cards that it had taken from Iranians and Afghanis that fled to our northern neighbor in the 1980s. Given the nature of the conflicts occurring at that time, and the kind of people who might feel motivated to flee to North America, this data might have proven invaluable had we taken Islamofascist terrorism seriously during the 1990s.
Canadian authorities had no problems with getting the fingerprints in the first place. Why should sharing the data with our ally risen to a Constitutional issue at all? This kind of hypersensitivity shown by success administrations led to the Gorelick wall and the foolish and arbitrary limits on cooperation between intelligence and law-enforcement assets that kneecapped our counterterrorism efforts until after 9/11. Yet the Becker/Goldstein article says nothing about this context, instead focusing on Alito’s supposedly “broad and aggressive” view of the law.
Well, if that’s so, we need more jurists like Alito on the Supreme Court to put an end to this politically-correct nonsense that left us blind and deaf to external threats such as the al-Qaeda plots that killed 3,000 Americans. The idea that we should sniff at fingerprint cards collected legally by an ally (with no indications of torture) because they possibly might have been challenged had they been collected in the United States is, we now know, feel-good dippiness at its worst and most self-destructive. The people who argue this point against Alito should be made to answer for the Gorelick wall and the shackling of our counterterrorism efforts over the past two decades.
UPDATE: Fixed bad link; thanks to Eric.

Lieberman Says Iraq Going Well As Army Continues Growth

Despite the recent shrieks of hysteria coming from the Democratic caucus in Congress, one of their most respected members says that the American-led Coalition has Iraq in “pretty good shape” and expects that troop drawdowns can begin late next year or early 2007 as long as progress continues. Senator Joe Lieberman took the opportunity to actually travel through Iraq, and his recommendation follows the administration’s plan to key troop withdrawals based on the buildup of the Iraqi army, and not on calendar due dates as suggested by Joe Biden last week:

Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, fresh from a two-day visit to Iraq over the Thanksgiving holiday, said yesterday he was hopeful American forces could begin a “significant” withdrawal by the end of next year or in 2007.
“The country is now in reach of going from Saddam Hussein to self-government and, I’d add, self-protection,” the Democrat said in a conference call with reporters. “That would be a remarkable transformation.” …
Mr. Lieberman has visited Iraq four times in 17 months. He said there are signs life is returning to normal, including a profusion of cell phones and satellite TV dishes on rooftops.
“About two-thirds of the country is in really pretty good shape,” he said, noting most attacks are in the so-called “Sunni Triangle” region. “Overall, I came back encouraged.”

That will come as quite a shock to the Chicken Little Democrats who spent most of November 18th predicting falling skies if Americans stayed in Iraq any longer. It also comes as a surprise to most of the American media, who failed to report the conference call to their readers. The New York Times and the Washington Post all skip over this story for their print editions today, although both the Times and the Post does have the AP wire story based on the NY Sun article in its web edition.
It also appears that they skipped over more good news about the status of the Iraqi army, coming from the CENTCOM spokesman in Washington. Since a Congressional briefing in September which analyzed almost three dozen Iraqi battalions as Level 2 — able to lead operations with only logistical support from Americans — that number has now increased by ten battalions, five more than just four weeks ago:

Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, a spokesman in Baghdad for the U.S. command that is responsible for the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, said approximately 130 Iraqi army and special police battalions are fighting the insurgency, of which about 45 are rated as “in the lead,” with varying degrees of reliance on U.S. support.
The exact numbers are classified as secret, but the 45 figure is about five higher than the number given on Nov. 7 at a briefing by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who previously led the training mission. It is about 10 higher than the figure Gen. Petraeus offered at a Pentagon briefing on Oct. 5.
As another measure of progress, Col. Wellman said about 33 Iraqi security battalions are now in charge of their own “battle space,” including parts of Baghdad. That figure was at 24 in late October. Col. Wellman said it stood at three in March.
Also, American forces have pulled out of 30 “forward operating bases” inside Iraq, of which 16 have been transferred to Iraqi security forces. The most recent and widely publicized was a large base near Tikrit, which U.S. forces had used as a division headquarters since shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.

This progress shows that the notion of only 1,000 Iraqi troops able to operate independently is malarkey, a deliberate misrepresentation by Joe Biden. No matter how much we may draw down forces in Iraq, we intend to stick around the area to offer logistical support, just the same as we do with our NATO allies. The measure of the training in Iraq — in which we have built the army from the ground up — is to have them capable of taking command of territory, holding it, and enforcing the constitutional law set by civilian authority. The “clear-hold-build” strategy for places like Ramadi and Falluja has shown increasing success in denying territory for insurgents, turning them into rootless bands of terrorists rather than any real security threat.
This process dictates the troop reductions we want to see from Iraq, reductions that will allow us the flexibility to redeploy to other hot spots of terrorist activity as we find them. Calendar-based commitments for withdrawal as demanded by the Democrats last week and the week before focus on politics rather than ensuring successful missions; this approach puts the mission first, and the data shows that the mission has become increasingly successful.