It was a ceremony to mark the official end of the American military occupation of Iraq. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sounded more like the United States was moving in to stay when he spoke Wednesday in what the New York Times described as a heavily fortified courtyard at Baghdad Airport with helicopters hovering above.
“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”
The war has been declared finally over more than eight and a half years after President George W. Bush declared the end of American combat operations in Iraq, while standing under a banner proclaiming, “Mission Accomplished.” Yet as the Times report pointed out, “insurgents continue to attack American soldiers and militants with Al Qaeda still regularly carry out devastating attacks against civilians.”
Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul engaged in sharp exchanges during the December 15 Fox News debate with fellow GOP presidential candidates Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum on whether the United States should attack Iran.
Fox News Channel host Bret Baier started the discussion on Iran in the Sioux City, Iowa, debate with a question that claimed "GOP nominee Paul would be running left of Obama on the issue of Iran." Baier had noted that Paul proposes removing economic sanctions against Iran, including the sanctions that Obama had imposed.
Paul responded by claiming the war-weary American people would be on his side. "But I would be running with the American people because it would be a much better policy," Rep. Paul replied, stressing that there's no evidence Iran is near to obtaining a nuclear weapon. "To me, the greatest danger is that we would overreact." Paul also likened the anti-Iran propaganda to the lead-up to the Iraq war, a war he opposed because he discounted exaggerated claims that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. "That’s how we got involved in the useless war in Iraq and lost so much in Iraq."
Despite protests that the legislation will negate centuries old rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the Senate Thursday passed a bill authorizing the arrest and imprisonment without charge or trial of terrorism suspects, including American citizens, anywhere in the world. The bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) also authorizes $662 billion in military spending. It has been sent to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it, perhaps as early as today (Friday). Obama had threatened to veto earlier versions of bill, but on Wednesday the White House announced the President was satisfied by amendments made by a House-Senate conference committee granting the President greater discretion in determining what terror suspects to hold in military confinement.
"By withdrawing his threat to veto the NDAA, President Obama has abandoned yet another principled position with little or nothing to show for it," said Tom Parker, policy director for Amnesty International USA said. "Amnesty International is appalled -— but regrettably not surprised."
Ironically, the Senate passed the law on December 15, the date of the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Only 13 Senators voted against the bill, while 86 voted for it, including some who argued that the constitutional guarantees would not be vitiated.
The U.S. government lost a spy drone over Iran. Is it part of an ongoing covert war? Either Iranian forces shot it down or it fell out of the sky. We may never know which, but now the Obama administration wants it back. Iran says no. It is apparently studying the craft’s advanced stealth and other technology — and perhaps attempting to reverse engineer it.
This is not analogous to playful kids who accidentally throw a baseball into a neighbor’s yard and ask for it back. The U.S. government has been making war sounds in Iran’s direction for years, and these belligerent noises have grown louder in recent months. While there are grounds for believing the U.S. military does not want to attack Iran, which is far larger and more populous than Iraq and would require a long, bloody involvement throughout the region, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insist that “all options are on the table.”
A former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) with suspected ties to a 1996 terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S servicemen was part of an Iraqi government delegation visiting the White House December 12. The meeting coincided with President Obama’s announcement of the official end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. According to the Washington Times, Hadi Farhan al-Amiri, Transportation Minister in the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, “was part of the delegation that visited the White House to discuss Iraq’s future and Iran’s influence there, among other topics.”
The Times recalled that al-Amiri was a commander in the Revolutionary Guard’s Badr Corps, the leading edge of that nation’s military effort against Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein, and remained in that theatre throughout the late 1980s and ’90s. “The FBI linked the Revolutionary Guard to the attack on the Khobar Towers in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996,” reported the Times. “Nineteen U.S. servicemen were killed by a bomb blast at the towers, which were housing American military personnel.”
Members of the House Homeland Security Committee unveiled legislation Thursday that would authorize the cybersecurity functions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and establish a quasi-governmental entity to coordinate cybersecurity information-sharing with the private sector. The bill, called the Promoting and Enhancing Cybersecurity and Information Sharing Effectiveness Act (PrECISE), would station a national clearinghouse for information relating to potential attacks on critical infrastructure, such as electric grid, water facilities, and financial service systems.
"The risk of cyberattack by enemies of the United States is real, is ongoing and is growing," warned Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.). "The PrECISE Act, in line with the framework set forth by the Speaker’s Cybersecurity Task Force led by Rep. [Mac] Thornberry [R-Texas], protects our critical infrastructure without a heavy-handed and burdensome regulatory approach that could cost American jobs."
Under Section 226 of the bill, the Secretary of Homeland Security "is authorized to maintain the capability to act as the focal point for cybersecurity through technical expertise and policy development." Further, the Secretary is ordered to "coordinate cybersecurity activities across the Federal Government, designate a lead cybersecurity official within the Department of Homeland Security, publish a cybersecurity strategy and provide appropriate reports to Congress."
Critics of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have pointed to its provisions that permit the indefinite detention of American citizens, without charges and without trial. Additionally, the measure violates individual liberties in another way: by waging war on the Internet.
A major component of the criticism against the NDAA is that it labels all of the United States as a "battlefield" in the "War on Terror," thereby treating virtually all American citizens as potential terrorists. But in addition to that, buried deep in the massive paperwork of the bill is a provision that would allow the Pentagon to treat the Internet as a "battlefield" as well, in order to “defend our Nation, Allies and interests.”
U.S. forces will not be leaving Afghanistan when Afghan troops are scheduled to take responsibility for the country's security in 2014, American officials in Kabul have said.
“If you're waiting for us to go, we're not leaving,” Marine General John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces, said, according to a report in Monday's USA Today. The United States has 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, along with 30,000 from NATO allies. By the end of next summer, the American troop level is expected to be reduced the 68,000. Americans will be training the Afghan Air force until 2016, but how many troops will remain or what additional roles they will play has not been announced and may not yet be decided.
"This is a work in progress," Allen said. "The continued work beyond '14 in terms of development of economic capability and governance will continue. We will also see, probably, a U.S. military capability beyond '14."
“I don’t know what we’re going to be doing in 2014,” Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan told journalists earlier this month. A continued American military presence would be contingent on the wishes of the government in Kabul, he said. “They would have to ask for it,” Crocker said. “I could certainly see us saying, ‘Yeah, makes sense.’ ” That request will likely be forthcoming, since Afghan leaders earlier this year called for continued political and military support for at least another decade. That would extend America's military involvement to 20 years from the time U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in the fall of 2001.
North Korea’s official government-controlled media announced that the country’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-Il, died on Saturday at age 69 from “physical and mental overwork.” A teary-eyed TV anchorwoman claimed, “It is the biggest loss by the party … and it is our people and nation’s biggest sadness … [but we must] change our sadness to strength and overcome our difficulties.”
Those "difficulties" can be traced back to at least the assumption of power by Kim Il-Sung in 1945 as he established a Stalinist totalitarian system in the country and enforced it with iron rule until his death in 1994. His son, Kim Jong-Il assumed the mantle of dictator after having been groomed for the position for years prior to his father’s death.
A “cult of personality” was firmly established by the “Eternal President” (a title given to Kim Il-Sung at his funeral service) and extended by his son: Portraits of them hang in every building and every North Korean wears a Kim Il Sung lapel pin.