UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Oct 23, 2006
Senior U.S. government officials and military officers have suggested that Iraqi insurgents are trying to influence the U.S. midterm elections
A U.S. military spokesman in Iraq last week attributed the increase in violence at least partly to terrorists who want to influence the American vote.
His comments Thursday echoed those made by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney two days earlier on conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh's radio show, which is carried on the Armed Force Radio network in Iraq.
Brig. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad and head of the U.S. forces information operations branch as well as its public affairs unit, Thursday described several reasons why violence in Iraq is up despite a four-month offensive called Operation Together Forward meant to bring Baghdad under control. One of those, he said, was the American political calendar.
"We also realize that there is a midterm election that's taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur," Caldwell said.
On Oct. 17, Cheney told Limbaugh: "I was reading something today that a writer -- I don't remember who -- was speculating on increased terrorist attacks in Iraq attempting to demoralize the American people as we get up to the election. And when I read that, it made sense to me. And I interpreted this as that the terrorists are actually involved and want to involve themselves in our electoral process, which must mean they want a change."
In tight races across the country, the Republican Party faces the possible loss of a majority in both houses of Congress.
A spokesman for Caldwell, Maj. Douglas Powell, told United Press International Thursday the comment was not based on intelligence, but rather what Caldwell knows in general about the enemy in Iraq.
"We have a thinking enemy who is aware of how American politics works and how the American public reacts to events," Powell said Thursday.
By Friday, the story had changed. According to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Vician, Multi-National Forces Iraq reported that Caldwell based his comments on insurgent Web sites which say they need to attack "during this period."
That period may be interpreted as the run up to U.S. elections, but now is also Ramadan, Islam's holy month -- a time when violence has increased in Iraq in each of the last three years.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., told UPI he doubts there is a correlation between the U.S. election and the increase in violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad.
"I hope they are right, but I see no basis for it in the previous three-and-a-half years of experience in Iraq," O'Hanlon said. "We did not see a spike before the November 2004 (presidential) election. We have not seen big spikes before other major political milestones. Sure, you can see slight increases in violence due to such things, but the big increases are generally due to changed American and Iraqi army tactics. Increased engagements with the enemy lead to greater casualties on all sides.
"Political events do not in my experience appear to be big drivers. I'd love to be proven wrong this time, because that would imply a reduced level of violence after Nov. 7, but I'd be very surprised if that happened on a major scale," O'Hanlon said.
In a new report published by the Johns Hopkins University and Brookings, researcher Victor Tanner and his Iraqi colleague -- who uses a pen name to protect his identity -- analyze the complex nature of the sectarian violence that now grips Baghdad. More than 5,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the city since May, most of them execution style.
The report describes factions motivated as much or more by their own quest for power, the evening of scores on a neighborhood level, and sheer thuggery, than it does a central strategy driven by geopolitics or the American election cycle.
That said, Tanner told UPI not to "underestimate the political acumen of the radical armed groups on both sides."
That Caldwell commented on the American election raised eyebrows as well. Military personnel are prohibited by both law and policy from using their "official authority or influence to affect the course of outcome of an election."
Caldwell stopped short of advocating for Republican retention of power, but the implication of his comment -- that terrorists in Iraq want to affect the outcome of the U.S. election -- makes that suggestion.
"In my opinion, Gen. Caldwell's statement crosses over the line into political partisanship," said Diane H. Mazur, a former Air Force officer and University of Florida law professor.
Caldwell's office did not respond to UPI's inquiry about the potential political implications of his statement.
Limbaugh's show was not the first time Cheney has suggested terrorists have picked favorites in the upcoming election.
In August, Cheney told wire service reporters that "al-Qaida types" were looking to break the will of the American people to stay and fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He linked that al-Qaida effort to the Connecticut Democratic primary rejection of Iraq war supporter Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed Cheney's logic.
"This situation isn't going well (in Iraq), and anyone that suggests that the people of Connecticut are somehow supporting terrorists, I don't think that's credible and that's what Cheney suggested," Reid said at the time.
earlier related report
It did not have to be this way.
After Sept. 11, 2001, there was enormous good-will towards the United States. Many countries offered financial help, resources and manpower. Even some of her foes -- suspect as they might have been -- came forth. The U.S. response was hubris -- even towards friends.
It is understandable that the United States was in shock. It had lost over 3,000 innocent people in an act of despicable violence. The power structure was not prepared for a terror attack of this magnitude in its largest city. Human emotions went awry. I know; I lost friends and colleagues. Great leaders rise to the occasion -- as did Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- and show why they deserve our respect and support.
But the Bush administration failed to seize the moment. The president's initial response was to fly around aimlessly. He and his policies have been meandering aimlessly ever since.
From this point on, U.S. foreign policy began to unravel. It is from this point that the Sovietization of U.S. foreign policy began -- where countries and entities cooperate under duress and fear, not out of respect, friendship and mutual understanding.
Afghanistan represents unfinished business. It has become an even greater crisis than at the war's beginning; Iraq continues to unravel, day after day after day. North Korea has detonated its first nuclear device; Iran threatens the same. Israel and her neighbors sink deeper into chaos. Darfur has become synonymous with genocide. Kosovo is about ready to reappear on the world stage -- and in a very nasty way.
Meanwhile, the few real friends the United States still has feel alienated and un-consulted. Russian President Vladimir Putin is exploiting the situation brilliantly, severely limiting dissent at home, and threatening Europe with an energy boycott. The Chinese continue to build their economy -- growth at remarkable rates -- they need to do nothing but wait for the United States to lose even more influence and authority world-wide. Germany's former Chancellor Helmut Kohl called it Sitzpolitik -- sitting, waiting and gaining the advantage.
While the United States is an example of failed leadership, the Europeans show none at all. The Europeans continue to be incapable of developing a common foreign and security policy. Where are European proposals on North Korea, on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan? A few mumblings about Darfur, Kosovo and the Middle East do exist, but the move from paper to practice seems to be ever so difficult for our European friends.
I have advocated the "politics of small steps" in a previous column. There are countries that the United States is not tapping into which can generate movement. Morocco is a case in point.
During the 1970s and '80s, during the reign of King Hassan II, Morocco was a stable facilitator of the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict. A month ago in Berlin, I was able to speak to Minister Hassan Abouyoub, the chief foreign policy adviser to King Mohammed VI, the current monarch. We were principally focused on Morocco's potential role with Global Panel's North Korea Initiative. But we covered a series of issues from Sahara, to Algeria to the Middle East conflict; from the potential role of the Silk Route to problems in Nagorno-Karabakh. It was clear to me that King Mohammed and the Moroccan government are prepared to play a facilitator role.
Last week, I was at a Ramadan break-the-fast-dinner hosted by Moroccan Ambassador Idrissi-Kaitouni in Prague. We have become close, and it is a great honor to be invited to such a dinner. The ambassadors of Belgium, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and the Vatican were joined by Prague's chief rabbi, imam and archbishop to discuss the Middle East.
The Moroccan ambassador showed why his people are skilled mediators. Tensions were not absent, but minimized, as serious dialogue ensued about the Middle East. Ambassador Idrissi-Kaitouni intends to hold these brain-storming sessions covering a variety of issues on a regular basis. Global Panel and the Prague Society will use the information as background.
In the United States, midterm elections take place in two weeks. As I watch and listen, I am reminded that serious policy debates are lacking -- an unfortunate standard for U.S. elections. I am annoyed at the platitudinal discussions. Campaigns are run at the lowest common denominator. Attack ads have moved below the belt line. The process is an insult to the American electorate -- which often allows itself to be manipulated.
Whatever happens, the next Congress will be in over its head.
I fear for the worst, but pray for the best.
UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is on the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party and a vice-chairman of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.
Source: United Press International
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Disputed Iraqi Bodycount
Washington (UPI) Oct 23, 2006
President Bush has dismissed new statistics showing that more than 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and the continuing insurgency. But the U.S. military's own estimates suggest that the casualty rate for Iraqis is five times what it was at the beginning of 2004.
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