Al-Baghdadi Reaching Room Temperature (Update: Jabouri?)

The Iraqis have announced another big takedown from al-Qaeda, and this time it looks like the US military will confirm the kill. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, has gone to meet his 72 virgins, courtesy of a joint US-Iraq operation:

U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed the head of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, an al Qaeda-led militant group that has claimed many major attacks in the country, Iraq’s deputy interior minister said on Thursday.
Hussein Kamal said Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed in a battle north of Baghdad. He declined to say when but said authorities had recovered Baghdadi’s body.
“Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was killed north of Baghdad by Iraqi and American forces. He died as a result of wounds sustained in clashes. The Interior Ministry has his body to carry out further checks,” Kamal told Reuters by telephone.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver declined to comment but said a news conference would be held later on Thursday to announce the “success” of an operation against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.

That goes a lot farther than the US was willing to go earlier this week, when the Iraqis announced that Abu Ayyub al-Masri was really, really dead this time. American commanders have thus far declined to confirm al-Masri’s death, which leaves the status of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s leadership somewhat murky. AQI claims that al-Masri is alive, but have released no audio or video of him since the Iraqi Interior Ministry claimed he was killed in some internecine insurgent fighting.
Al-Baghdadi, however, would be even better than al-Masri. He had placed himself at the head of an umbrella organization of insurgent groups affiliated with al-Qaeda; al-Masri was his “war minister”. Baghdadi wanted to try to organize outside of AQ and create an alliance with other Sunni insurgent groups in order to build strength against the elected government of Iraq and the US forces operating there. One of his main objectives was to mend the rift with native Iraqis over the indiscriminate target selection of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and especially al-Masri.
Now it looks like al-Baghdadi won’t get that chance, if US forces confirm his death. It won’t end the fighting, but any time we can take out senior leadership of terrorist networks, it helps.
UPDATE: The US will not confirm al-Baghdadi’s death, but they announced that Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri, AQI’s “senior minister of information”, had been killed:

The U.S. military said on Thursday it had killed a senior al Qaeda official in Iraq who it accused of involvement in the kidnapping of Americans Jill Carroll and Tom Fox and other foreigners.
But the military said it had no information to support claims by Iraq’s Interior Ministry that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, another senior al Qaeda figure in Iraq, had been killed.
Chief military spokesman Major-General William Caldwell identified Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri, the “senior minister of information” for al Qaeda in Iraq, as a key figure in the separate abductions of Carroll and Fox.
“We killed him … west of Taji on the first day of May,” Caldwell told a news conference, referring to a town north of the capital Baghdad.

If we got all three of these terrorists, that would be wonderful, but Jabouri would be a victory under any circumstances. The momentum continues to favor the bold and the determined. If AQI leaves its senior officials out in the open like this, the network will eventually fall apart.

Russia Tries Its Usual Extortion Against Estonia

Estonia angered the Russians by recently removing a monument to the Red Army which occupied the Baltic state for decades. Vladimir Putin has poured gasoline on the fire of the controversy, demanding the restoral of the monument, and threatening Estonia if they fail to do so. Estonia’s ambassador to Russia got assaulted by mobs, as did Sweden’s, and the EU scolded Russia for not providing the proper security to diplomats in Moscow.
Putin responded by escalating the tensions even further. Just as he did with Ukraine and Belarus, Putin has cut off energy supplies to the Estonians, presumably until they restore the memorial:

Russia’s conflict with Estonia over the removal of a monument to the Red Army escalated yesterday after pro-Kremlin activists in Moscow tried to assault the Baltic republic’s ambassador.
The EU entered the confrontation, calling on Russia to uphold commitments to protect foreign diplomats. A mob also attacked a car carrying Sweden’s representative in Moscow as it left the Estonian Embassy.
Andrus Ansip, the Estonian Prime Minister, appealed to the EU for support, saying that his nation’s sovereignty was under “heavy” attack. President Ilves told Russia to “remain civilised”.
Russia blamed Estonia for tensions that followed the removal on Friday of the statue of the Bronze Soldier from the centre of Tallinn to a military cemetery.
In a development that echoed Moscow’s disputes with Ukraine and Belarus, the state-owned Russian Railways suddenly halted oil deliveries to Estonian ports. It claimed that it needed to carry out maintenance work and denied that it was imposing sanctions. Russia ships around 25 million tonnes of fuel oil, gas oil and petrol through Estonian ports.

We knew that Putin has wanted to consolidate power in Eastern Europe to recreate a Russian empire that the Soviets let slip from their hands. Now we can also see that Putin and the Russians have indulged an immature petulance that threatens to blow up Euro-Russian relations. Withholding energy deliveries because of a statue may not be the stupidest reason to ruin diplomatic reasons, but it certainly qualifies for the finals.
Europe has moved quickly to support the Estonians. They will send a mission to Moscow to protest the Russian actions, and also to demand an end to Putins blockade of Estonia. Russia denies blockading Estonia, but blames the kerfuffle on the Estonians for removing the statue in the first place and bringing passions “to the boil.”
Hogwash. The Red Army didn’t just beat the Nazis, but also ilelgally occupied Estonia for over forty years. The Soviets were supposed to leave the Baltic states after the end of World War II but refused to do so. The US and most of Europe never recognized the occupation governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania until after the collapse of the Soviet Union freed the Baltic states of the Red Army.
That history is bad enough. Having Putin insist that the Estonians continue to pay homage to their oppressors refreshes the outrage anew over the long Soviet occupation, which actually predates the Nazi invasion of the Baltic. Moving to a Red Army cemetery from the center of Talinn was more gracious than the Red Army, Russia, and Putin deserved. They should have either shipped it back to Moscow or thrown it on the trash heap.

Was Mousavian A Western Mole?

The arrest of former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian has people scratching their heads, as I noted yesterday. Now the Guardian reports that Iranian authorities have charged Mousavian with leaking secrets from the Iranian nuclear program to the West:

A senior Iranian diplomat who played a prominent role in negotiations on the country’s nuclear programme was arrested in Tehran on security charges, it was reported yesterday.
Hossein Mousavian was taken from his home on Monday by security officials and charged with passing on information on Iran’s nuclear industry, the news agency IRNA reported, without saying who allegedly received the information.
Mr Mousavian had served as the deputy head of the Iranian delegation in talks with the west on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and had also been ambassador to Germany. Since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad he had left the government, and was working at a Tehran thinktank at the time of his detention.

The West has received better intel on the Iranian program over the last few years, ever since the extent of the Iranian deception has been revealed. A former negotiator would make a good source, but not necessarily a great one. The failure of the EU-3 to make any headway in negotiations would argue against Mousavian as a mole at that time (or demonstrate a level of incompetence in the European effort), and he would have even less to say about the nuclear program after he left the diplomatic service.
It’s more likely that Mousavian is a pawn in a power struggle between two factions of Iranians. Mousavian is a protege of Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom rumors have attempting to form a coalition among the ruling elite against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani has one of the largest fortunes in Iran, and his son already has some problems surrounding the acceptance of bribes from the West in the oil business. Ahmadinejad and his allies may be looking to show that Rafsanjani has ties to traitors as well as corruption, and Mousavian would make a fairly safe patsy for the ruling clique under Ahmadinejad.
Why now? So-called centrists in Teheran, for whom Rafsanjani provides leadership, want Iran to engage with the US at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference this week. Arresting Mousavian may relieve the pressure on Ahmadinejad by discrediting the centrists ahead of the meeting. It allows Ahmedinejad and the mullahs who prop him up as president to continue their policy of provocation with the West.
If so, then Mousavian had better hope for a change of government very soon. Otherwise, he’s probably a dead man.

A Right To Adult Incest?

When I first wrote about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a sodomy law in the case of Lawrence v Texas, I warned that the basis of the decision — a privacy right to sexual conduct between consenting adults — would produce a wide range of mischief in subsequent decisions. I noted that polygamy, prostitution, and adult incest could be justified under such reasoning, and that although the law in question in Lawrence was indeed foolish and unwise, it did not violate the Constitution. Many CQ readers initially scoffed at this warning — which is OK, because I actually enjoy scoffing — but in November, polygamists began organizing challenges to the legal ban using Lawrence as a template.
Today, Jeff Jacoby reports at the Boston Globe that we should prepare ourselves for cases involving adult incest, too:

When the justices, voting 6-3, did in fact declare it unconstitutional for any state to punish consensual gay sex, the dissenters echoed [former Senator Rick] Santorum’s point. “State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are . . . called into question by today’s decision,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the minority. Now, Time magazine acknowledges: “It turns out the critics were right.”
Time’s attention, like the BBC’s, has been caught by the legal battles underway to decriminalize incest between consenting adults. An article last month by Time reporter Michael Lindenberger titled “Should Incest Be Legal?” highlights the case of Paul Lowe, an Ohio man convicted of incest for having sex with his 22-year-old stepdaughter. Lowe has appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, making Lawrence the basis of his argument. In Lawrence, the court had ruled that people “are entitled to respect for their private lives” and that under the 14th Amendment, “the state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” If that was true for the adult homosexual behavior in Lawrence, why not for the adult incestuous behavior in the Ohio case? …
Your reaction to the prospect of lawful incest may be “Ugh, gross.” But personal repugnance is no replacement for moral standards. For more than 3,000 years, a code of conduct stretching back to Sinai has kept incest unconditionally beyond the pale. If sexual morality is jettisoned as a legitimate basis for legislation, personal opinion and cultural fashion are all that will remain. “Should Incest Be Legal?” Time asks. Expect more and more people to answer yes.

Time Magazine reported in the article linked above that

It turns out the critics were right. Plaintiffs have made the decision the centerpiece of attempts to defeat state bans on the sale of sex toys in Alabama, polygamy in Utah and adoptions by gay couples in Florida. So far the challenges have been unsuccessful. But plaintiffs are still trying, even using Lawrence to challenge laws against incest.

The trick will be to get the Supreme Court to apply the Lawrence standard at all. They may avoid it by declaring that the state has a legitimate interest in keeping siblings or other close blood relations from conceiving — but in that case, would the sterility of one partner void the law banning incest? That state interest would not apply in one of the pending cases in which a man had a sexual relationship with his adult stepdaughter, someone outside the limits of consanguinuity.
That state interest — avoiding strange genetic variations — would also not apply to polygamy and polyamory among adults. Polygamy and polyamory as practiced in secret have plenty of other social ills tied to it, but openly practiced among adults, those would not necessarily follow. The same would be true of prostitution, although the state could argue that it has a valid interest in controlling the spread of venereal diseases. Where prostitution is legal, however, the state and the industry require frequent health screens to avoid it and also require “safe sex” in all instances.
In the end, the honest and real community interest in these laws are moral — and Lawrence removed that as a basis for law.
The dissenters were right. Based on the logic of their reasoning, the Supreme Court in Lawrence opened the floodgates for these challenges, and until the Court allows that law can validly reflect a moral consensus of the community without violating an emanation of a penumbra of the Constitution, eventually those challenges will succeed. At some point, this court or a future one will have to overrule Lawrence or have us forego any limitations on sexual practices in our society, regardless of legitimate state interests.
UPDATE: David Schraub notes a curious exception to incest laws in Rhode Island, and takes issue with Jacoby’s Sinai reference. In Jacoby’s defense, I believe he meant it in a general sense to reflect on the long tradition of legal sanctions against incest, and not that we should continue them just because they appear in the Bible.

CQ Radio: Follow The Veto

blog radio
Today on CQ Radio, we will speak with Josh Holmes, the spokesman for the Senate Republican Communication Office, to talk about the veto, the Iraq war funding, and what we can expect over the next few days. You can speak with Josh and myself by calling 646-652-4889 between 2-3 pm CT this afternoon!
UPDATE AND BUMP: The House failed to override the veto. I’ll post the final vote. If Nancy Pelosi couldn’t hold the original 218 votes, that will be a significant defeat for her.
UPDATE II: Pelosi actually picked up four votes. The House voted 222-203 to override the veto, far short of the two-thirds necessary.

Feinstein Revisited

I’m getting some e-mail and comments about the David Keene essay in The Hill regarding Dianne Feinstein regarding the multiple conflicts of interest between her Appropriations subcommittee assignment and her husband’s businesses. Two days ago, Keene noted that her status as a “Cardinal” in the Appropriations process, combined with her position on the Senate Rules committee, left her able to oversee the issuance of contracts to businesses that enriched her family:

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) chairs the Senate Rules Committee, but she’s also a Cardinal. She is currently chairwoman of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee, but until last year was for six years the top Democrat on the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (or “Milcon”) sub-committee, where she may have directed more than $1 billion to companies controlled by her husband.
If the inferences finally coming out about what she did while on Milcon prove true, she may be on the way to morphing from a respected senior Democrat into another poster child for congressional corruption.
The problems stem from her subcommittee activities from 2001 to late 2005, when she quit. During that period the public record suggests she knowingly took part in decisions that eventually put millions of dollars into her husband’s pocket — the classic conflict of interest that exploited her position and power to channel money to her husband’s companies.
In other words, it appears Sen. Feinstein was up to her ears in the same sort of shenanigans that landed California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R) in the slammer. Indeed, it may be that the primary difference between the two is basically that Cunningham was a minor leaguer and a lot dumber than his state’s senior senator.

I’m glad Keene gives this some sunlight — but I first wrote about this last month. As Keene notes, not much has changed in the interim — but I have posted my original at Heading Right to highlight just how disinterested the media seems in Congressional corruption when practiced by Democrats.

An Unconservative Stand

The debate over gun rights has taken an interesting and complex twist in Texas. Governor Rick Perry, in reaction to the massacre in the “gun-free zone” of Virginia Tech, now says that Texas state law should allow licensed gun carriers to bring their firearms everywhere — churches, schools, and businesses. Perry’s initiative would render moot signs on buildings forbidding entry to those who carry concealed weapons, as long as a permit had been issued (via Hot Air):

Texans who have concealed-weapon permits should be allowed to carry their guns anywhere in the state, including churches, courthouses and bars, Gov. Rick Perry said Monday.
Currently, state law prohibits concealed weapons in certain places, including private property where signs are posted disallowing the guns.
But after meetings with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt about the rampage at Virginia Tech, Mr. Perry took issue with the idea of barring weapons from campuses. …
The governor said deranged individuals don’t pay any attention to signs that bar guns on certain premises and that citizens ought “to be able to protect themselves from that standpoint.”
Asked whether such a wide- open weapons policy would include bars and courthouses, Mr. Perry said: “A person ought to be able to carry their weapon with them anywhere in the state if they are licensed and they have gone through the training.
“The idea that you’re going to exempt them from a particular place is nonsense.”

This would make sense for state property. After all, the government of Texas owns it, and can set the rules as it sees fit. That would have applied to Virginia Tech as well, a public university, whose state created the gun-free zone that failed to deter Seung-hui Cho, the mass murderer who killed 32 unarmed people. If the people of Texas want to allow licensed carriers onto their public property with their firearms, more power to them.
However, the state of Texas does not have the right to impose that on private property owners. A bar, restaurant, church, or private school should be allowed to determine whether they want to allow guns on their own property. Churches, for instance, might have a religious objection to the use of firearms. Perry advocates the same argument that activists for smoking bans use — that private businesses are a public accommodation, and that the safety of the public overrules the wishes of the property owners.
I tend to sympathize with the notion that so-called “gun-free zones” work in practice to identify large groups of law-abiding, disarmed citizens who can easily be victimized by violent lawbreakers. That doesn’t give the state the right to tell me, as a church pastor or a bar owner or a private-school headmaster that I must allow guns onto my property. I should be able to set that policy for myself.
Conservatives who applaud Governor Perry’s approach should think twice about the ramifications for private property. Let Texas set the policy for its public property, and leave churches, businesses, and homes to the people who own them.

Army To Milbloggers: About Face

The US Army has promulgated a new set of rules for operational security that puts restrictions on the ability of soldiers to write about their experiences in combat theaters. In fact, the change will be so restrictive as to have the practical effect of eliminating active-duty milbloggers, and silencing the voices from the front who have most actively promoted the war effort (via Michelle Malkin):

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned. The directive, issued April 19, is the sharpest restriction on troops’ online activities since the start of the Iraq war. And it could mean the end of military blogs, observers say.
Military officials have been wrestling for years with how to handle troops who publish blogs. Officers have weighed the need for wartime discretion against the opportunities for the public to personally connect with some of the most effective advocates for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq — the troops themselves. The secret-keepers have generally won the argument, and the once-permissive atmosphere has slowly grown more tightly regulated. Soldier-bloggers have dropped offline as a result. …
“This is the final nail in the coffin for combat blogging,” said retired paratrooper Matthew Burden, editor of The Blog of War anthology. “No more military bloggers writing about their experiences in the combat zone. This is the best PR the military has — it’s most honest voice out of the war zone. And it’s being silenced.”

The Army gets paid to protect operational security. In this war, more than any other, the enemies of our troops use the Internet to their advantage, both in their own communications and to scope out their enemies — the American military and government. If troops have leaked classified information either deliberately or inadvertently through their on-line communications, this would be a large area of concern to the Pentagon.
However, no one has any evidence that milbloggers have violated Opsec orders in their communications. The one example offered in Wired is an old story about how people noticed a lot of parked cars and an uptick in pizza deliveries to the Pentagon on January 16, 1991, which presaged the imminent activation of Operation Desert Storm. That seems rather picayune, not to mention outdated.
If that’s the extent of their concern and the extent of the violations, then they have sacrificed a powerful voice of support for the Army and the mission in favor of an almost-useless silence. The author of the new rules, Major Ray Ceralde, claims that it won’t kill milblogging, but the regulations make it so cumbersome that it will be impossible to maintain blogs — or even e-mail. Here’s the relevant section:

g. Consult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC Officer for an OPSEC review prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum.
(1) This includes, but is not limited to letters, resumes, articles for publication, electronic mail (e-mail), Web site
postings, web log (blog) postings, discussion in Internet information forums, discussion in Internet message boards or other forms of dissemination or documentation.
(2) Supervisors will advise personnel to ensure that sensitive and critical information is not to be disclosed. Each
unit or organization’s OPSEC Officer will advise supervisors on means to prevent the disclosure of sensitive and
critical information.

In practical terms, a commanding officer would have to approve every blog post, every e-mail, and every forum post before the soldier could complete it. With the prodigious red tape of the military and the other duties of commanding officers, that means it could take days, weeks, or even forever before those requests get addressed. The immediacy of the information will be lost, and so will interest in it.
Milbloggers have provided a vital voice in this war, reporting from vantage points unattainable elsewhere. We have learned about the successes in this war, such as rebuilding efforts and the enthusiasm of Iraqis in neighborhoods protected by American forces, that we do not get in our mainstream media since the embed program ended. Nothing appears ready to replace it except for official Pentagon statements, which carry less weight with the reading public than the soldiers on the front line.
The Army should be concerned about the operational security of the mission — but without those voices engaging the American public, the mission may be lost here at home.
Addendum: I almost missed the most humorous part of the new rules. Many of the contractors bound by them can’t get access to the new Opsec document:

But, while the regulations may apply to a broad swath of people, not everybody affected can actually read them. In a Kafka-esque turn, the guidelines are kept on the military’s restricted Army Knowledge Online intranet. Many Army contractors — and many family members — don’t have access to the site. Even those able to get in are finding their access is blocked to that particular file.
“Even though it is supposedly rewritten to include rules for contractors (i.e., me) I am not allowed to download it,” e-mails Perry Jeffries, an Iraq war veteran now working as a contractor to the Armed Services Blood Program.

Does this remind anyone else of Catch-22?
UPDATE: Be sure to read the post and the comments at Blackfive, and also at Mudville Gazette.

Heading Right And BTR Team Coverage Of Republican Debate

The first Republican presidential primary debate airs tomorrow night at 7 pm CT — and Blog Talk Radio and Heading Right will team up to cover it. The entire team at Heading Right will be posting live at the site, offering a running conversation as the 90-minute debate progresses. Over a dozen top conservative BTR hosts will debate the debate, live, at the site. Some will also live-blog the debate on their home blogs.
At 9 pm CT, about thirty minutes after the end of the event, we will launch Debate Central, a new debate forum for BTR. I will moderate a post-debate roundtable with a number of BTR hosts for 30 minutes. We’ll talk about the highs and lows, who gained and who lost ground, and the impact on the early primary efforts. We can even take your calls, live, to address how you felt about the debates — so be sure to remember to call 646-478-4565 during the live broadcast. As always, you can download the show as a podcast minutes after the completion of the show.
We hope you will join the conversation at both Heading Right and Debate Central!
UPDATE: My good friends at Power Line have a new electoral effort in their forums called Candidates Forum. It gives readers an aggregate site for communications from several of the presidential candidates. Video, audio, and press releases can now all be found in one convenient location. Be sure to bookmark it througgh 2008.

A Look Back At Reagan

Ronald Reagan inspired many analyses of his performance, from historically brilliant to accidentally successful, and worse. Journalists used him as a blank canvas for the most part, projecting their own biases and agendas onto Reagan and missing the essence of the man. Fortunately, Reagan faithfully kept up his diaries until the end of his presidency, and Harper Collins will publish extracts by historian Douglas Brinkley in The Reagan Diaries later this month.
I’ve posted some excerpts at Heading Right from Howard Kurtz’ article in the Washington Post, and we find out that Reagan is as we essentially knew him: witty, honest, passionate, and intelligent. In a front-page story, the placement of which speaks volumes about Reagan’s legacy, the wisdom of the 40th president remains trenchant and compelling today.