Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The declawed press is going to hate him!



To listen to the pundits and soak up what the media is saying here in Washington DC, you’d think that President Barack Obama is running at about 70 per cent in the polls and cruising towards being re-coronated in 2012.

The polls, however, tell a different story. According to a new USA Today poll, 50 per cent of Americans view the new health-care law as “a bad thing” and 47 per cent view it as a “good thing”. That’s a different picture from the a poll conducted a week ago, in the warm glow just after the House of Representatives vote, in which 49 per cent thought it was good thing and 40 per cent bad.

Obama’s personal popularity briefly popped up over the 50 per cent mark but is now down again to 48 per cent, close to his low of 46 per cent – the kind of favourability rating which, with more two and a half years to go before his bid for re-election, is an early alarm bell.

The Democrats have just experienced a dead cat bounce.

This contrast between media coverage and the actual views of most Americans is another example of the perennial disconnect between Washington DC, where 93 per cent voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and the rest of the country.



They say this train don't give out rides, it don't worry me,
And all the world is taking sides, it don't worry me.
Cause in my empire, life is sweet, just ask any bum you meet.
Life may be a one way street, but it don't worry me.
It don't worry me, it don't worry me.
You may say I ain't free, but it don't worry me.
-- "It Don't Worry Me," words and music by Keith Carradine
Who knew Chris Hill would make like Barbara Harris in Robert Altman's Nashville and run around singing "It Don't Worry Me"? Hill is the US Ambassador to Iraq and, apparently, a huge Altman fan. Yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered, Noah Adams spoke (link has text and audio) with Hill:

ADAMS: Now, the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he's just not happy at all. He wants a manual recount. He's putting a lot of pressure on the election officials. He said, no way will we accept the results, he said that flatly. And he likes to remind people that he is, indeed, the commander-in-chief. If you're an Iraqi citizen, aren't you figuring he's going to take this election any way he can?

Ambassador HILL: Well, I think, you know, anyone who's lost an election by 0.045 percent probably is feeling a little grouchy that day. And so I think Mr. Maliki was probably not very happy to see those results. On the other hand, he has made clear that what's necessary is that everybody needs to follow the law, including himself. But, you know, he's going to challenge some of the results, I think as any candidate would. And the key thing here is not that he doesnt have a right to challenge results in specific areas, but he needs to do it lawfully according to the procedures.

Nouri's just a grouchy bear, insists Chris Hill, as if Little Nouri was awakened from naptime too quickly and just as soon as he finishes his juice box and sugar cookies, he'll play nice. Strangely, Iraq's neighbors do not see it the same way. Lebanon's Daily Star editorializes, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is moving onto very thin ice with his rejection of his country's elections -- and the entire country could well take a plunge with him. It is one thing if Maliki simply expressed his opposition to the leader who won the elections, Iraqiya head Iyad Allawi; however, Maliki is denouncing and challenging the whole elections as fraudulent." So that's one of Iraq's neighbors and Caryle Murphy (UAE's the National Newspaper) notes that another neighbor, Saudi Arabia, contains many people who are excited by the prospects of Allawi being the winner and "If Mr al Maliki stays in power, Mr Eshki added, Iraq will continue to suffer from terrorism because 'the Baathists … don't like him'. But with Mr Allawi at Iraq's helm, 'the terrorists will not find any group that will welcome them'." And Duraid Al Baik (Gulf News) reports on Iraqi attitudes towards Allawi's slate's apparent victory (they won the count released last Friday), fear as they see his supporters targeted, fear "that Al Maliki and his supporters will not hand over authority peacefully."
Timothy Williams (New York Times) reports that Iraq's Justice and Accountability Commission -- a paralegal committee whose mandate expired many years ago and whose membership was not appointed by Parliament -- has decided to disqualify six winners in the Parliamentary elections and this "could prove critical to the election's outcome because the political alliance headed by Ayad Allawi, the country's former interim prime minister, won only two seats more than Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's coalition in the March 7 contest." McClatchy's Hannah Allam (Christian Science Monitor) notes that if the "federal court upholds" the barring, not only would Allawi's slate lead their lead but it also "could threaten hopes that the elections would pave the way to a new unity government". As the Washington Post's editorial board observes, "On Monday, the pernicious Iranian-backed Accountability and Justice Commission piped up again, seeking to purge six winners it considers tainted by past association with Saddam Hussein; not coincidentally, the purging could be useful to politicians who run the commission." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "The vanquished Maliki continues to show signs that he will not fade away, describing as "impossible" Allawi's attempts to build a coalition. Maliki made the comment in a television interview, in which he also said "the game is still very much on", in relation to who will be Iraq's new leader." Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) report on the tensions arising from the para-legal body's latest move:

A senior Iraqiya member reacted furiously Monday, seeing the announcement as an effort to undermine the slate's quest to assemble a coalition of 163 seats to form the next government. He warned of dire consequences if the judiciary rules in Lami's favor and takes away Iraqiya seats.
"No doubt, if they try to isolate Iraqiya then definitely the aim of doing that is to push the country toward civil war. . . . Maybe this is the intention of Iran. They want their people to control Iraq for another four years," said Iraqiya member Falah Naquib. "Maybe half the country or more will not accept what they are trying to do."

Leila Fadel (Washington Post) quotes Falah al-Naqib as well and he tells her that if the banning is approved by the court and if it robs Allawi's slate of their lead, "It would be civil war, absolutely no doubt. I think the United States and other allies should find a solution for this problem. Otherwise, we're seriously going for a civil war, and this time, it's a big mess." NPR's Deborah Amos' Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East has just arrived in stores. Writing at Global Post,she explains:

Stung by his loss, Maliki rejected the official tally and invoked his status as commander-in-chief as he warned of violence. Maliki's top aide, Ali al-Adeed, was more explicit when he said Iraq's Shiites would not accept the legitimacy of Allawi's victory. Maliki's warnings prompted an unusual on-the-record observation from a senior U.S. embassy official, Gary Grappo, who acknowledged that Maliki's coalition would "take advantage of all means at their disposal to try to eke out a victory."
While Grappo went on to express confidence that Maliki and his allies would work within the judicial system, the system has been far from neutral, both before and after the election. Power in Iraq centers around personalities rather than institutions. As long as Maliki remains in office, he can manipulate government resources to press his advantage.
On the day before the election results were announced, the Supreme Court interpreted an ambiguous constitutional clause in a way that gives Maliki an edge. While the constitution stipulates the largest bloc in parliament gets the first chance to form a government, it is unclear whether the largest bloc is determined by the vote or groups that merge after the election. The judges ruled that the later is permissible, which means if Maliki can convince smaller blocs to join him in the next few days, he can deny Allawi the first shot at forming a government.
But Chris Hill is not troubled. Proving that the simplest mind sleeps easiest. As the US State Dept today, Chris Hill spoke via video link (and click here for State Dept video and transcript). Hey, remember when Chris Hill told All Things Considered yesterday:
I will say that as in any close election, it's not easy to lose a close election. If you look at the differential, it was some 0.045 percent. That's not fun to lose an election like that. So I don't think people should be too surprised that there are some comments that reflect the anguish of losing.
You're nodding. No. That's from today's press briefing. Sounds just the same, I know. That's because he can almost manage to memorize scripted soundbytes. Almost.
CNN's Elise Labott asked what happens if Nouri loses out to Allawi (as the count indicates his party should) and yet refuses to "secede power"?
Chris Hill: Well, again, these are -- this is kind of speculation. What if? What if he doesn't? What if he does? What if he -- will he resign from the position if he's unable to put together a coalition? All I can say is he has been very, very clear with us in private, very clear in public, that he will follow the law. I want to make very clear this is something that when you look around the landscape of this part of the world, you don't see too many examples of this actually happening. Yet I think the Iraqi people went to the polls in great numbers and I think the Iraqi people expect all of their politicians, whether it's the seated prime minister or whether it's the challengers, to follow the letter of the law. And I think that is a widespread expectation and I would expect everyone to do that. I mean, if we have problems in the future, we'll deal with problems in the future. But right now, I think what people are saying is the right thing, which his to observe the law and observe the procedures.
Are you on the floor rolling yet? If not, it's probably because you're thinking of the actions of the Justice and Accountability Commission (and for those who keep e-mailing about that commission, that is it's English translation -- for some reason some press outlets want to go alphabetical, it's Justice and Accountability). Reuters' Susan Cornwell immediately raised that issue.
Chris Hill: Well, let me just say that certainly political commentators here in Iraq sort of look at a challenge like that and wonder to what extent it reflects a political challenge. Certainly, I think the UN has made very clear that this is no time to be challenging people who have won seats. But I think the UN has also made very clear that the proper place for any such challenges is to the courts. If they want to sue the IHEC, they can do that and let the courts take this up. I think going forward, certainly for the next election, certainly for the next period of Iraq's history, they're going to have to deal with this whole issue about accountability and justice. They're going to have to deal with the issue of what to do with people who have ties to the Baathist regime in the past, how they're going to deal with this, whether a South African model or some other model. But certainly, what we want to see in the future is something that is transparent and something that does not appear to many people to have politics written all over it.
Oops, the manic half of his manic-depression appears to be fading. Like a Joyce Carol Oates character, he's going lethargic leading all to wonder, "What is he saying? What does he mean?" (Nod to JCO's "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?")
Chris Hill appears to be saying that without UN approval no candidates will be banned. And that if an Iraqi official doesn't like that, he can take the UN to court. That's what he appears to be saying.
But I've been on the phone with two friends at the UN and they say that's news to them. Not only is that news to them, Hill establishes that as 'reality' one minute and then appears to forget what he just said.
Seconds later McClatchy's Warren P. Strobel asks him about violence and how Allawi supporters are stating/worrying that violence could/would return if "the results of the accountability commission come back to where he's below Mr. Maliki." Do you understand what Strobel just said? It's fairly clear. But maybe it was lost on Hill? Strobel asked about Allawi being knocked out of the lead -- his party leads by two seats, remember -- if the accountability commission -- not a UN body nor a court of law in Iraq -- should ban or pull some of the ones elected on Allawi's slate. That was the question.
Here's Hill in full -- or, here's the fool in full:
Well, look, this is a country that has had a recent history with violence. I mean, we all know about the violence in Iraq. It's something we've all been very aware of for some time. So it is quite understandable that people look at this question, that people speculate about it, that the issue of violence gets raised in the news. I would say, however, that I would be careful, though, to suggest that a coalition that has won less than a third of the seats and clearly needs to reach out and get still another 80 percent of what the coalition is -- that is, Mr. Allawi's coalition has 91 seats. He needs at least another 70-plus seats if he's going to make a -- if he's going to be able to form a government. Well, I think his ability to do that will depend on his ability to work with coalitions, to decide who wants what ministry, to really sit down and negotiate. So I think this is really a political question and my sense is people understand that this is a political question. I think what is necessary at the end of the day, though, is to see that all elements of this society, whether it's Kurdish, whether it's Sunni, whether it's Shia or secular, that all of these people, all of these communities, really, have a potential to participate in the political life of this country. I think everyone is aware of this issue in this country. I mean, I don't hear of anyone saying, "Well, let's form a government and drop one significant group out of it." You don't hear any of that. So we'll have to see. We obviously monitor these things very carefully. We're very aware of the levels of violence. But so far, it is very much on a political track, which is where we want to keep it.
Whether it's Sunni, whether it's Shia -- forget Barbara Harris' character, now he's sounding like Miles Monroe in Sleeper when Miles believes he's in a Miss America contest. If Chris Hill told the truth (I know, I'm laughing too) the first time, then his reply to Strobel would have been consistent, he would have again replied that the UN would be the final say and that if someone was unhappy with the UN's decision they could go through the Iraqi courts. But he didn't say that. Chris Hill . . . At some point the chuckles fade and he just becomes an international embarrassment.
And if you doubt that, grasp that the idiot who didn't understand Kirkuk in his confirmation hearing, referred to it today in the press conference as "the so-called disputed internal boundary"? So-called? Baghdad claims it, the KRG claims it. It's disputed, moron, there's nothing in doubt about the fact that it's disputed. The only doubt is over whether the issue will be resolved (it was supposed to have been resolved three years ago). If it weren't for the fact that I sat through the idiot's confirmation hearing, I'd think he was trying to take sides with his choice of words but Hill -- and look at the rest of his answer -- clearly didn't and doesn't understand Kirkuk even after being the US Ambassador to Iraq for nearly a year now.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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"Isaiah, Fresh Air"
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"Commission on Wartime Contracting"
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"Isaiah, ObamaCare, Chuck, Third"
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