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Remembering the Forgotten War

"'The president will have a lot of different advice between now and March, when General Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker come back from Baghdad and report to the Congress,' said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. 'He's going to listen to what everyone has to say, but at the end of the day, he wants to know what his commanders on the ground say. So he will listen to what General Petraeus says he needs to maintain the security gains we have made in Iraq.'"

A show of hands, please, for how many people think this will help: "Bush also plans to step up his personal diplomacy with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and will soon start regular videoconferences with him aimed at more closely monitoring and influencing the situation there, officials said. Bush has long held such videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki."

But it's not like Iraq is exactly under control. The surge has entirely failed in its central goal of facilitating political reconciliation. And, as Abramowitz and Baker write: "Some who follow Iraq closely say that the current drop in violence is only a temporary result of American and Iraqi money spread to certain tribes, and a calculated gambit by insurgent forces and militias to wait out an anticipated U.S. withdrawal."

Furthermore, reminding the American public of Afghanistan has its own set of dangers: "A new White House emphasis on Afghanistan would probably expose Bush to even more criticism from Democrats, who have long accused him of taking his eye off the hunt for Osama bin Laden with the invasion of Iraq."

The most astonishing aspect of this story, however, is the suggestion that Bush thinks he has any chance of stabilizing either Iraq or Afghanistan -- not to mention both -- before he leaves office. It's almost certainly too late for that. And, at least until now, his actions in both countries have strongly indicated that his strategy was to kick the can down the road -- and hand off both fiascos to the next president.

Warrantless Wiretapping Watch

Eric Lichtblau, James Risen and Scott Shane write in the New York Times: "For months, the Bush administration has waged a high-profile campaign, including personal lobbying by President Bush and closed-door briefings by top officials, to persuade Congress to pass legislation protecting companies from lawsuits for aiding the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program.

"But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government's extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.

"The N.S.A.'s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure."

Indeed, the secret and warrantless surveillance of Americans with the consent of telecommunications companies appears to extend well before and beyond the so-called "war on terror."

Lichtblau, Risen and Shane write: "The government's dependence on the phone industry, driven by the changes in technology and the Bush administration's desire to expand surveillance capabilities inside the United States, has grown significantly since the Sept. 11 attacks. The N.S.A., though, wanted to extend its reach even earlier. In December 2000, agency officials wrote a transition report to the incoming Bush administration, saying the agency must become a 'powerful, permanent presence' on the commercial communications network, a goal that they acknowledged would raise legal and privacy issues.....

"To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified...

"In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported. They say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them."

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