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Ah, for the halcyon days of the Middle East in early 2005. Purple fingers were in the air in Iraq. Attractive Christian youth in Beirut's Firdos Square were driving the Syrians out of Lebanon. Autocrats throughout the region felt the need to at least pay lip service to the idea of democratic reform, to the point where Newsweek could run a piece explaining "Where Bush Was Right."

But that was then. These days, the Bush administration is quietly abandoning its grandiose talk of spreading democracy. And Iran has a lot to do with it.

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A Far-Off Airport Holds a Clue to Renditions A remote, snow-covered airport in Poland seems an unlikely site for international intrigue and CIA malfeasance. Nevertheless, "in late 2002 and 2003, there was a flurry of unusual activity at Mazury-Szczytno International Airport, a former military facility that happens to be near a Polish intelligence training complex where European investigators suspect the CIA maintained a secret interrogation and detention facility." (Chicago Tribune)

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Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) angrily addressed his insertion of a measure that changed the law governing the selection of U.S. Attorneys during this morning's hearing on the issue.

As we reported last month, Specter inserted an obscure provision into the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act that made it possible for the administration to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys for an indefinite period. The measure was inserted when the bill was in conference committee. "Specter slipped the language into the bill at the very last minute," we wrote.

This morning, Specter said that he found the report "offensive" and proclaimed, “I do not slip things in.” If an item is potentially controversial, he argued, he makes it a practice of alerting other senators to the issue.

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Here's what happened in Iraq while the GOP -- with an assist from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) -- blocked yesterday's debate on the war.

The leader of the dominant Shiite political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, is an Islamist and sectarian hardliner named Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. al-Hakim's faction, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has been a proxy for Iran since the Iran-Iraq war, and it runs one of the more ruthless Shiite militias in Iraq, known as the Badr Corps -- an organization that in 2005 ran Sunni torture chambers out of the Interior Ministry. If al-Hakim has any particular virtue, it's that he's also been willing to accept American sponsorship as well: way back in 2002 and 2003, he was an influential member of the Iraqi exile community working with the Bush administration, which rewarded him with a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council.

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It's a quandary. Is L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, being unfairly scapegoated as the reason for U.S. failure in Iraq? Or is he just the man responsible for some of the most disastrous decisions made in the aftermath of the invasion? Hopefully, this morning's congressional hearing will provide an answer.

The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran (who wrote the book on the CPA's incompetence) lays it out:

The last time L. Paul Bremer testified before Congress, he was lauded as an American hero. Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) congratulated Bremer, who was leading the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, for a "tremendous success." Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) commended his "energy and focus." Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) praised his "brilliant analysis."

When Bremer returns to Capitol Hill today to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he will receive a far less effusive reception than he did in September 2003....

For many Republicans, who believe they must acknowledge mistakes if they want to increase public support for continued U.S. military involvement in Iraq, defending Bremer may be too much to ask. Even senior Bush administration officials who were once effusive in their descriptions of Bremer privately point to some of his decisions as key errors....

Some who worked for Bremer in Baghdad contend that he is a scapegoat for Bush administration decisions that were out of his control....

The criticism of Bremer is often indirect, but the implication is clear. When Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the top military commander in Iraq, testified before the Senate last month, he called the occupation authority's "de-Baathification" and dissolution of Iraq's army two of the most "significant mistakes the U.S. has made to date in Iraq." Bremer made both decisions in Baghdad without extensive consultation with the State Department, the National Security Council or other U.S. government agencies....

[Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT)] indicated that GOP committee members are inclined to take a dim view of decisions other than the expenditure of oil money, particularly the dissolution of the Iraqi army and de-Baathification.

In those cases, "it's hard to imagine a lot of members coming to his defense," one congressional GOP official said. "He's got to defend himself."


Get your popcorn!

How does $8.8 billion disappear without much of a clue of where it went? Well... it's complicated.

A preview of Paul Bremer's testimony tomorrow morning, from Mike Allen of The Politico:

L. Paul Bremer III, former administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, plans to point to unexpectedly chaotic conditions in post-Saddam Baghdad as he defends his record at a hearing on Iraq spending before House Democrats on Tuesday, according to sources familiar with his testimony...

Bremer, the civilian in charge of all of Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004, told Politico he looks forward to committee members' questions, but also plans to give them a 5,000- to 6,000-word treatise in addition to his five-minute opening statement....

Bremer calls his longer, written statement "a more extensive explanation of the circumstances we faced on the ground and how we tried to deal with those circumstances - how they complicated everything we did."


If Bremer's got nothing more than that up his sleeve, it's going to be a long, long hearing for him.

Also testifying will be Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (Bremer's nemesis), and David Oliver, the Former Director of Management and Budget from the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Let the media frenzy begin:

The federal judge presiding over the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby ruled this morning that the public is entitled to hear audiotapes of Libby's testimony before the grand jury that investigated the 2003 leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity....

Defense attorney William H. Jeffress Jr. argued this morning that access to Libby's grand jury testimony by the public and the press should be restricted to written transcripts, not the tapes themselves.

"It is great stuff, and all of the radio stations and television stations will be broadcasting soundbites," Jeffress said. "There will be commentary."

Jeffress noted that the judge has warned jurors to avoid all news during the trial. Still, Jeffress said, the news generated by the tapes -- and the public buzz about them -- could be so extreme that there was a risk jurors could accidentally encounter it, perhaps while riding buses or the Metro.

While the Senate roils over the Levin-Warner kinda-sorta-anti-surge resolution today, one of the most important elements of the White House's Iraq plan remains unclear: the dual chain of command in place for U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.

President Bush announced on January 10 that the Iraqis would appoint an overall Baghdad commander and two subordinate commanders for Iraqi units across the nine Baghdad districts. Those commanders would be responsible for the expected 18 Army and Police brigades to be deployed throughout the capital -- who would work alongside the surged U.S. forces under the command of General David Petraeus.

Not many observers understood how this would actually work, but practically all worried about violating unity of command -- a military necessity for any successful operation. The Army's Operations Field Manual, 100-5, states clearly:

At all levels of war, employment of military forces in a manner that masses combat power toward a common objective requires unity of command and unity of effort. Unity of command means that all the forces are under one responsible commander. It requires a single commander with the requisite authority to direct all forces in pursuit of a unified purpose.


As it stands now, however, the surge possesses no such harmony. Even one of its intellectual architects, retired Army General Jack Keane, testified on January 25 that "it makes no sense to you, it makes no sense to me, but that's exactly what we're going to do, and that'll be a problem for Petraeus and his commanders to sort out."

And for his part, during his January 23 confirmation hearing, Petraeus promised to work with his subordinate commander, Lt. General Ray Odierno, to figure out how to harmonize the command structure. Sen. John Warner (R-VA), bluntly told the incoming Central Command chief, Admiral William Fallon, that unity of command "has to be clarified."

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...to such a sweet parking spot. From Roll Call's Heard on the Hill column (sub. req.):

As an incredulous HOH tipster put it — under the subject line “WTF?” — “Katherine Harris still parks her $100,000 BMW convertible in the Cannon HOB parking garage.”

HOH believes the value of Harris’ lovely BMW 645ci convertible coupe is probably more like $70,000, but he can confirm that the ex-lawmaker has indeed been parking it regularly in the Cannon House Office Building since she lost her day job. The car was there Friday evening, in the same spot where she always parked when she actually worked in that building.

Is that kosher? The car still had a medallion hanging in it from the 109th Congress, and a House Administration aide said Friday that House officials were still in the process of distributing parking permits for the 110th Congress. So for now, cars with permits from the 109th are being allowed in the garages. After that, Harris may have to find somewhere else to park the car when she’s visiting her old digs. HOH misses her already.


Harris was, of course, last spotted handing out business cards before the State of The Union address. Business cards for what, however, we don't know, since our determined efforts to procure one came up empty. So if anyone happened to get one....

Senators Still Unclear on Arar Rendition After a top-secret meeting, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) said they still have more questions than answers about why Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen whom U.S. authorities rendered to Syria, where he says he was tortured, is still on the no-fly list. (Globe and Mail)

Continue below for the rest of the day's muck...

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