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Back in November, President Bush and Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki hashed out the principles for the two countries' "enduring relationship": a long-term American troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for a guarantee of security for the Iraqis. It was a deal we summarized at the time as "U.S. To Stay In Iraq Forever."

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that when the two sides sit down at the table, the definition of "enduring" raises some eyebrows.

The Iraqi defense minister, Abdul Qadir, is in Washington, D.C. to continue work on defining the American commitment in Iraq. A formal agreement will emerge by July, The New York Times reports. As TPM alum Spencer Ackerman reported here, such an agreement would not require Congress' approval, but would require the Iraqi parliament's OK.

So... the numbers. Qadir tells the Times that 2012 and 2020 are his target dates -- for full internal security and security against external threats, respectively. What that means for the size of our "enduring presence" isn't so clear:

“According to our calculations and our timelines, we think that from the first quarter of 2009 until 2012 we will be able to take full control of the internal affairs of the country,” Mr. Qadir said in an interview on Monday, conducted in Arabic through an interpreter.

“In regard to the borders, regarding protection from any external threats, our calculation appears that we are not going to be able to answer to any external threats until 2018 to 2020,” he added.

He offered no specifics on a timeline for reducing the number of American troops in Iraq.

The Times' notes that Qadir's projections were slightly less dire last year, when he projected full security by 2018. But if there's anything the Iraq War has taught us, it's to take government prognostications very lightly.

Here's another section from Lawrence Wright's New Yorker piece on Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell that shouldn't be overlooked. Wright reports on McConnell's Cyber-Security Policy, a plan that "will propose restrictions that are certain to be unpopular....

In order for cyberspace to be policed, Internet activity will have to be closely monitored. Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer, or Web search. "Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation," he said. Giorgio warned me, "We have a saying in this business: 'Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'" (my emphasis)

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A TPM Reader writes in about Common Sense Issues' calls in Michigan:

I got a call from Huck's "independent" push pollers [Friday night]. It was a robo-call with a script that was micro-targeted for my Democratic union household. The robo-voice, which asked "poll" questions and left me time to answer, was an African-American male voice. Wanted to know if I was aware that "there is no real choice in the Michigan Democratic primary this year" and encouraged me to vote in the Repub primary instead.

Also asked if I was aware that the Machinists Union had endorsed Huckabee "for the first time in history..." (I assume by tonite they will add the Painters, too.) And if I knew that Huckabee was a fighter for working families, etc.

At the end, the robo-voice said the poll "was not affiliated with or authorized by any candidate or committee," but all the "questions" were designed to communicate positive information about the Huckster.

It's a classic ploy for these types of calls to play on ethnic and racial stereotypes -- though in this instance, the pollsters seem to have chosen their voice with the idea that a typically African-American male voice would appeal to Democrats. (When I asked Common Sense Issues' executive director Patrick Davis* whether it was accurate to characterize the voice in these calls as "an African-American male voice," he said "it could be.") Former dirty trickster Allen Raymond writes in his book How to Rig An Election that he had an array of actors available to portray a range of stereotypes, including "angry black man," which was deployed to frighten middle-class whites.

Unfortunately for the group, one of the Michiganians to get one of the group's two million calls in the state (most of which are going to Republicans) was Mitt Romney supporter Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI). He told the Politico that it was "an attack call masquerading as a poll."

Hoekstra also said that there was no disclaimer at the end of the call identifying the group behind the call. Davis says that the calls always have such a disclaimer, which is required by law. So please: TPM readers, if you get one of these calls, let us know what you hear. And if you're lucky enough to get one on your answering machine, we'd love to hear it.

*Update/Correction: This post originally referred to the group's executive director as Rick Davis. His name is Patrick.

5 million calls and counting.

The push polling group supporting Mike Huckabee, Common Sense Issues, has added Nevada to their list of target states in a big way. They've made over 300,000 calls there, the group's executive director Patrick Davis* told me, and plan to "call every household in the state" (there were approximately 750,000 households in the state as of the 2000 census).

The automated calls fit the same model as those in the other primary states -- South Carolina (over a million), Iowa (850,000), New Hampshire (800,000), Michigan (2,000,000), Florida (hundreds of thousands, though less than a million) --, where a voice asks the voter which candidate he/she supports, and then goes on to provide a battery of facts meant to demonstrate why Huckabee is preferable. Davis told me that the calls frequently begin with "this is a call from Election Research with a 45-second survey."

As Nevada journalist Steve Friess writes on his blog, he got a call from the group Sunday evening. After saying that he supports Giuliani, he was informed that Giuliani supports gay marriage and "sanctuary cities" for immigrants and that Huckabee is a lifetime hunter. That's substantially similar to what a TPM reader reported from Michigan.

There seems to be a specifically Nevadan component, though. Friess says that the call asked if he had a favorable view of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).... "After I answered, the voice says something to the effect of what I think of the fact that Reid wants to surrender in Iraq and hand over our freedoms to Islamo-fascists." When I asked Davis if that was an accurate characterization of the call, he said "yes."

The group will go up with a TV ad in Michigan tonight and into tomorrow, Davis said, saying that the it wasn't a very large buy -- in the range of less than $50,000. It's the same ad that the group ran in Iowa, which you can see on their website,

*Update/Correction: This post originally referred to the group's executive director as Rick Davis. His name is Patrick.

It's time for a EPA-chutzpah update.

Both Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) have set their sights on EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, who made the unprecedented and arbitrary decision (over the unanimous recommendation of the staff) to deny California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. They both requested documents related to the decision. But Johnson is apparently having real trouble getting all those documents together.

In a letter today, Waxman noted that Johnson missed his first deadline (last Friday), and though his staff has responded by letter to Waxman's request, they haven't indicated when they'll have those documents ready (there are "tens of thousands of emails and documents" responsive to his request, they plead). So Waxman has asked to work out a timeline.

In the meanwhile, he says that the committee will be interviewing a host of EPA employees about Johnson's decision. If the reports are correct, all of them will be telling Waxman about how they told Johnson there was no legal justification for blocking California's law and he overruled them anyway.

Johnson has a date next Thursday with Boxer's Senate environment committee, but Waxman seems likely to wait until his interviews are done before he puts Johnson in the hot seat.

Waxman's letter is below.

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From The Washington Post:

In its first couple of weeks after it returns tomorrow, the House is likely to take up contempt-of-Congress resolutions against White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers for their refusal to appear before Congress for questioning about the 2006 removal of nine U.S. attorneys, Democratic leadership aides said.

For those keeping track at home, it's been nearly six months since the House Judiciary Committee initially approved the contempt citations. As for what the timing might be on the Senate side, where the Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved contempt citations for Karl Rove and Bolten, it's not yet clear.

For the record:

The small, boxlike objects dropped in the water by Iranian boats as they approached U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf on Sunday posed no threat to the American vessels, U.S. officials said yesterday, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff charged that the incident reflects Iran's new tactics of asymmetric warfare.

After passing the white objects, commanders on the USS Port Royal and its accompanying destroyer and frigate decided there was so little danger from the objects that they did not bother to radio other ships to warn them, the officials said.

At least now a more complete picture of what happened one week ago in the Strait of Hormuz has developed. The Iranian speedboats maneuvered aggressively, dropped white boxes in the water, and a menacing threat was heard over the radio, so the initial alarmed reaction of Naval commanders was certainly reasonable. But commanders apparently quickly determined that the boxes weren't mines or any other kind of threat, and the radio transmission likely came from a prankster. And it took a week for that to become clear.

Boy, this thing was rigged from the get-go. From the AP:

Blackwater Worldwide repaired and repainted its trucks immediately after a deadly September shooting in Baghdad, making it difficult to determine whether enemy gunfire provoked the attack, according to people familiar with the government's investigation of the incident.

Damage to the vehicles in the convoy has been held up by Blackwater as proof that its security guards were defending themselves against an insurgent ambush when they fired into a busy intersection, leaving 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

U.S. military investigators initially found "no enemy activity involved" and the Iraqi government concluded the shootings were unprovoked.

The repairs essentially destroyed evidence that Justice Department investigators hoped to examine in a criminal case that has drawn worldwide attention.

Blackwater's explanation for the repairs is that they were done at the "government's direction" -- meaning the State Department. That's a sadly credible claim, given that the State Department offered limited immunity to the Blackwater guards involved in the September 16th shootings that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. If State really did direct Blackwater to repair those trucks, it would mean that they made two different crucial moves immediately following the shootings that dramatically undercut the possibility of a criminal prosecution.

On the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chief of the U.S. military, declared that he facility should be closed because of the damage it has caused to the image of the U.S in the world. The military tribunal process has produced only one conviction (through a plea bargain deal) and only four current prisoners have been charged with a crime, yet Mullen is unaware of any White House efforts to close the facility. (Chicago Tribune)

A U.S. appeals court has dismissed a suit filed by four former Guantanamo Bay detainees who claimed to have been tortured and humiliated for practicing their religion while in custody there. The plaintiffs, all British citizens who were released in 2004, had sued top Pentagon officials and military officers, including Donald Rumsfeld. The court based its ruling on a claim that it lacked jurisdiction and that the defendants had a right to qualified immunity for performing their government jobs. (Reuters)

In response to a 2004 lawsuit by the ACLU that asserts that the CIA is required to preserve videotapes of terrorist interrogations, the government has asserted that CIA had “no duty” to preserve the evidence. The ACLU believes that the CIA’s destruction of the tapes violated U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein's 2004 order. (AP)

The fire-fighting system in the massive new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is defective. U.S. Officials told McClatchy that in the haste to finish construction on the long-delayed embassy, concerns about fire safety "were ignored or overrruled." (McClatchy)

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The more Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell talks, the worse it gets.

Consider: McConnell, whose nomination early last year was applauded by lawmakers from both parties, has twice provided false information to Congress -- and in both cases, they were statements that served to distort the surveillance debate. In the heat of the surveillance bill debate, McConnell claimed that three German terrorism suspects had been arrested due to intercepts made possible by the administration's Protect America Act; it turned out the intercepts were obtained under the old FISA bill. Only a couple weeks later, McConnell told Congress that rulings by the FISA Court had prevented the NSA from surveilling Iraqi insurgents who had kidnapped U.S. soldiers for 12 hours. That turned out to be, at best, a misleading explanation for the delay.

He's also said, over and over, that the public debate over surveillance law is endangering American lives.

But this one, to my mind, takes the cake. This week's New Yorker features an extended piece on McConnell by Lawrence Wright, based on a number of interviews over several months (not available online). It's a piece that I think even McConnell would agree is a fair portrayal. He comes across as a patriot obsessed with the security of the country. And yet, he also comes across as incredibly unreflective about the issue of torture.

According to McConnell, the issue isn't complicated. "We don't torture," he says, but then goes on to explain that tactics critics call torture have been enormously successful. It's gotten us "tons" of meaningful information and saved "tons" of lives. He confidently offers the example of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (Wright duly notes that the reliability of Mohammed's confessions have been "widely questioned"). And then there's this:

McConnell asserted that it was not difficult to evaluate the truthfulness of a confession, even a coerced one. "And as soon as they start to talk we can tell in minutes if they are lying," he said. "One, you know a lot. And you know when someone is giving you information that is not connecting up to what you know. You also know when to use a polygraph."

Never mind the debate over Abu Zubaydah. Apparently you can torture without any concern about false information.

But that's just a warm up for McConnell's take on waterboarding, which really has to be quoted in full to capture the full force of its thoughtlessness. For those who'd like a contrast with McConnell's views, see the descriptions of waterboarding here and here. From Wright's piece:

"You know what waterboarding is?" [McConnell] asked. "You lay somebody on this table, or put them in an inclined position, and put a washcloth over their face, and you just drip water right here" -- he pointed to his nostrils. "Try it! What happens is, water will go up your nose. And so you will get the sensation of potentially drowning. That's all waterboarding is."

I asked if he considered that torture.

McConnell refused to answer directly, but he said, "My own definition of torture is something that would cause excruciating pain."

Did waterboarding fit that description?

Referring to his teen-age days as a lifeguard, he said, "I know one thing. I'm a water-safety instructor, but I cannot swim without covering my nose. I don't know if it's some deviated septum or mucus membrane, but water just rushes in." For him, he said, "waterboarding would be excruciating. If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can't imagine how painful! Whether it's torture by anybody else's definition, for me it would be torture."

I queried McConnell again, later, about his views on waterboarding, since this exchange seemed to suggest that he personally condemned it. He rejected that interpretation. "You can do waterboarding lots of different ways," he said. "I assume you can get to the point that a person is actually drowning." That would certainly be torture, he said. The definition didn't seem very different from John Yoo's. The reason that he couldn't be more specific, McConnell said, is that "if it ever is determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it."

The AP's headline gives the impression that McConnell condemned waterboarding. He didn't. He's saying that if you have a deviated septum, then waterboarding is torture -- because it just feels like you're drowning. If not (and the interrogator doesn't go overboard), then apparently it's a-ok. It seems to be an easy distinction for him. The subtlety might be lost on others.