Reuters : Iraq "surge" followed sharp internal debate: report

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Iraq "surge" followed sharp internal debate: report

August 31, 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's decision to mount a troop "surge" in Iraq last year was taken against the initial recommendations of his top advisers, including his field commander, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

Bush's January 2007 decision to send an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq was criticized for deepening the unpopular conflict but has since been credited with sharply reducing the violence.

Citing secret memorandums and interviews with a host of current and former officials, the Times said Bush's decision to increase troops for a counterinsurgency in Iraq came after months of tumultuous debate within the administration.

Bush's tendency to defer to commanders in the field and his defense secretary had delayed a new approach to Iraq until the situation bordered on anarchy and "civil war," as a late 2006 CIA analysis termed it, the Times reported. At that point the Pentagon was in favor of moving responsibility to Iraqi forces, facilitating U.S. troop reductions.

The State Department was pushing an alternative plan to fight al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, reining in Baghdad's violence and stemming sectarian violence only when it reached the level of "mass killing," the Times reported. The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad was arguing for authority to negotiate a political solution with the Iraqis.

"The proposals to send more U.S. forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable," the newspaper quoted ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as writing in a classified cable.

Members of the National Security Council staff made the initial effort to explore a possible troop increase, and a staff member, retired Navy Capt. William Luti was asked to quietly find out if forces were available, the Times said.

A confidential briefing titled "Changing the Dynamics: Surge and Fight, Create Breathing Space and Then Accelerate the Transition" was submitted in October 2006 after consultation with Army staff. It called for a substantial troop increase, or about five brigades, to Baghdad and other hot spots.

The troop reinforcement proposal split the U.S. military, with some officers supporting the idea, but aides to the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggesting the army was stretched too thin.

Three days after the 2006 midterm congressional elections, the White House convened a formal government-wide review to look into increasing the troop level in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation on November 6 removed some institutional resistance to the "surge" at the Pentagon, the Times said.

Top aides at a November 22 White House meeting outlined an "emerging consensus" on the route ahead, citing widespread agreement that success in Iraq was critical for the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

A document prepared for the review stated, "Our center of gravity -- public support -- is in jeopardy because of doubts that our Iraq efforts are on a trajectory leading to success," the Times reported.

At the same time, a classified Joint Chiefs of Staff paper argued for "accelerating Iraqis into 'operational lead,'" and proposed measures including assigning one U.S. brigade to each Iraqi division to improve Iraqi troops' performance.

Even after Bush announced his decision on January 10, the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, never sought more than two brigades, about 8,000 troops in all, the paper said.

(Writing by Chris Michaud, Editing by Anthony Boadle)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

NYT : Troop ‘Surge’ Took Place Amid Doubt and Debate

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Troop ‘Surge’ Took Place Amid Doubt and Debate

By MICHAEL R. GORDON | August 31, 2008

WASHINGTON — The White House has long touted the “surge” of forces in Iraq as one of President Bush’s proudest achievements. But that decision, one of Mr. Bush’s most consequential as commander in chief, was made only after months of tumultuous debate within the administration, according to still-secret memorandums and interviews with a broad range of current and former officials.

In January 2007, at a time when the situation in Iraq appeared the bleakest, Mr. Bush chose a bold option that was at odds with what many of his civilian and military advisers, including his field commander, initially recommended. Mr. Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 troops to carry out a new counterinsurgency strategy has helped to reverse the spiral of sectarian killings in Iraq.

But Mr. Bush’s penchant to defer to commanders in the field and to a powerful defense secretary delayed the development of a new approach until conditions in Iraq, in the words of a November 2006 analysis by the Central Intelligence Agency, resembled anarchy and “civil war.”

When the White House began its formal review of Iraq strategy that month, the Pentagon favored a stepped-up effort to transfer responsibility to Iraqi forces that would have facilitated American troop cuts.

The State Department promoted an alternative that would have focused on fighting terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, containing the violence in Baghdad and intervening to quell sectarian violence only when it reached the proportions of “mass killing.”

The American ambassador to Baghdad argued that he should be given broad authority to negotiate a political compact among the Iraqis.

“The proposals to send more U.S. forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable,” the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, wrote in a classified cable.

Members of the National Security Council staff made an initial effort to explore a possible troop increase by October, drafting a paper that raised the prospect that the United States might “double down” in Iraq by sending more troops there.

Because some aides to the Joint Chiefs of Staff were suggesting at the time that the military was stretched too thin to send many more troops, another security council staff member, William J. Luti, a retired Navy captain, was asked to quietly determine whether forces were available. Mr. Luti reported that five brigades’ worth of additional combat forces could be sent and recommended that they be deployed. The idea later won additional support among some officials as a result of a detailed study by Gen. Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff at the Army, and Frederick W. Kagan, a military specialist, that was published by the American Enterprise Institute.

In the end, the troop reinforcement proposal split the military. Even after the president had made the basic decision to send additional troops, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, never sought more than two brigades, about 8,000 troops in all, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reported to Mr. Bush in late December. But General Casey’s approach substantially differed from those of two officers who wanted a much bigger effort: the No. 2 commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who helped oversee the military’s new counterinsurgency manual and whose views were known by the White House before he was publicly named to replace General Casey, administration officials said.

Current and former officials from the Bush administration and the military agreed to disclose new details about the debate over the troop increase in response to repeated requests. Most insisted on anonymity because the documents were still classified, but said they believed the historical record should reflect the considerations that were being weighed at the time.

Troop Reduction Strategy

On Aug. 17, 2006, Mr. Bush conferred in a videoconference with his top military commanders and senior advisers.

General Casey’s strategy was to gradually transfer authority to the Iraqi forces and progressively reduce American troops. He had told officials in Washington during a June visit that he hoped to reduce the number of American combat brigades to five or six by the end of 2007 from the 14 that were deployed at the time.

By August, the sectarian killings had led General Casey to modestly increase his forces. The hope was that American forces would help clear insurgent and militia-infested neighborhoods in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, while Iraqi troops would be brought in to secure them. After that, the push to make a transition to Iraqi control would continue.

During the videoconference with the president, General Casey said he had enough troops but said he was not sure the Iraqis could “deliver” on securing the neighborhoods. Mr. Bush underscored that more American troops were available if the commander needed them. “We must succeed,” Mr. Bush told General Casey, according to notes taken by a participant. “We will commit the resources. If they can’t, we will. If the bicycle teeters, put our hand back on it.”

“I support you guys 100 percent, but I need to ask you tough questions,” Mr. Bush added. “Different times call for different kinds of questions.”

It was hardly the first time that officials had raised questions about the American approach in Iraq. In March 2006, Philip D. Zelikow, a senior aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, called in a memorandum for a “massive effort to improve security in Baghdad and surrounding areas, and a reckoning with the most violent Shia/Sadrist militias.”

He elaborated on that theme in a paper he drafted in June with James F. Jeffrey, now Mr. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, that recommended “selective counterinsurgency” that might involve additional American forces.

Some aides had also hoped that a meeting that Mr. Bush held at Camp David in June would signal the start of a major review. That did not happen, but over the summer, the security council staff members began a critique of the strategy.

By October, the aides, Meghan O’Sullivan, Brett McGurk and Peter D. Feaver, had collaborated on the paper that raised the prospect of a troop increase. J. D. Crouch, the deputy national security adviser, called in Mr. Luti to ask for a separate look.

After contacting the Army staff, Mr. Luti submitted a confidential briefing in October titled, “Changing the Dynamics: Surge and Fight, Create Breathing Space and Then Accelerate the Transition.”

The briefing called for a substantial troop increase, which Mr. Luti later defined as sending 20,000 additional troops — about five brigades — to Baghdad and other hot spots in Iraq. The National Security Council staff was trying to walk a fine line under a Bush White House that cast staff members as coordinators, not advocates. Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, later gave a copy to Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and asked for his assessment.

Public Support ‘in Jeopardy’

Three days after the 2006 midterm Congressional elections, the White House finally convened a formal governmentwide review. The Republicans had taken a beating at the polls and the Iraq Study Group, a nonpartisan panel led by Lee H. Hamilton, the former Democratic representative, and James A. Baker III, the secretary of state to the first President Bush, was preparing to publish its recommendations — to step up efforts to train Iraqi troops and withdraw virtually all American combat brigades by spring 2008.

At a Nov. 22 White House meeting, top aides outlined an “emerging consensus” on the way ahead. There was wide agreement that a successful outcome in Iraq was vital for the Bush administration’s “war on terror” and a candid assessment of the difficulties.

A document prepared for the review stated: “Our center of gravity — public support — is in jeopardy because of doubts that our Iraq efforts are on a trajectory leading to success.”

Each agency outlined its position in a series of classified papers. Civilian Pentagon officials endorsed General Casey’s strategy making transition a top priority.

“General Casey has a good plan. He has identified ways to do things faster and accelerate the timeline to Iraqi self-reliance,” said a Nov. 22 memorandum by policy officials in the office of the secretary of defense. “There may be some opportunities outside of Baghdad — Anbar; border control — for a relatively small surge force to have a noticeable impact. (The uniformed military remains against the surge force without a clearly defined objective.)”

A classified paper by the Joint Chiefs of Staff also argued for “accelerating Iraqis into ‘operational lead.’ ” It proposed a number of measures, including assigning one American brigade to each Iraqi division, to improve the performance of Iraqi troops.

Ms. Rice and her top deputies prepared a paper on “Advancing America’s Interests, Preserving Iraq’s Independence” that recommended that the United States focus on “core” interests like fighting terrorism and countering Iranian aggression. Moving to the periphery of the capital, American forces would contain the violence and intervene in the sectarian fighting in Baghdad only if there were “mass killings or mass expulsions.” State Department aides were not aware of the Luti paper raising the prospect that substantial American reinforcements might be available, despite Pentagon complaints that troops were overstretched.

On the political front, the United States would no longer count on efforts to encourage the Iraqi leadership in the Green Zone to reconcile their differences. Instead, the United States would emphasize efforts on the local level and double the number of civilian “provincial reconstruction teams” to help the Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure and improve governance.

John P. Hannah, a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, urged a new effort to strengthen ties with Shiites, a majority of Iraq’s population. Many Shiites, he said, believed the United States was more concerned with countering Shiite militias than fighting Sunni insurgents. On Nov. 30, Mr. Bush met in Amman, Jordan, with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who advanced his own proposal that American forces pull back to the outskirts of Baghdad to fight Sunni insurgents while Iraqi forces took control of the capital. With violence escalating out of control, few American officials thought that was feasible. Mr. Bush told the Iraqi prime minister that General Casey would study the plan and said that the United States could send more troops if the Iraqis removed political impediments to the Americans’ ability to confront Shiite factions involved in sectarian attacks and took other steps to rise above sectarianism.

Still, the debate continued to swirl. In an early December meeting of top officials, Mr. Cheney argued for sending forces to address the sectarian violence in Baghdad, while Ms. Rice reiterated her argument that there was little the military could do to stop sectarian violence there, according to notes taken by a participant.

A ‘Slow-Motion Lateral’

Mr. Bush signaled his decision to pursue some kind of troop increase in Iraq when his National Security Council met Dec. 8 and Dec. 9. The idea was to make protection of the Iraqi population an important goal and reduce violence before resuming efforts to transfer responsibilities to the Iraqis. Invoking a sports metaphor, he described the surge as a “slow-motion lateral” to Iraqi control.

Still, the size of the deployment and exactly how it would be used were not settled. Would the “surge” be a slightly expanded version of General Casey’s approach toward securing Baghdad with limited American forces? Or would it represent a radical break with the current strategy?

By now, there was a split in the military community. General Odierno had taken over in early December as the second-ranking officer in Iraq. He conducted a review that called for a minimum of five additional brigades in and around Baghdad and two more battalions in Anbar Province to reinforce efforts to work with Sunni tribes there.

As a subordinate to General Casey, General Odierno had no role in the security council review. But his views were known to General Keane, the retired four-star general who had helped oversee the study for the American Enterprise Institute that advocated adding five Army brigades and two Marine regiments. In separate meetings with Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney on Dec. 11, General Keane relayed General Odierno’ assessment, which was forwarded by General Pace as well.

Along with Mr. Kagan, General Keane also described in detail to Mr. Cheney and his staff his own plan calling for American forces to be deployed in mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad to demonstrate that the United States would be even-handed in protecting civilians.

Donald H. Rumsfeld’s resignation on Nov. 6, and Mr. Gates’s swearing-in to replace him as defense secretary in mid-December, removed some of the institutional resistance at the Pentagon to the “surge.” Ms. Rice also became more supportive after it was made clear that demands would be made of the Iraqis.

Mr. Gates flew to Baghdad in late December to confer with General Casey and Mr. Maliki. On the flight, Eric S. Edelman, the undersecretary of defense for policy, gave Mr. Gates a copy of the enterprise institute study.

During his Baghdad meetings, General Casey stuck to his approach, and said that he only needed one or two additional brigades, which might only be used for several months to hold cleared neighborhoods in Baghdad until Iraqi troops were ready to take over. On the flight home, Mr. Gates and his aides discussed what to say in his report to Mr. Bush. Mr. Hannah, Mr. Cheney’s aide, who was also on the trip, questioned whether two brigades would be just enough to fail. He asked whether the Pentagon should be proposing more.

Mr. Gates said it was difficult to get Mr. Maliki to accept that much. The defense secretary later reported to Mr. Bush that the commander wanted no more than two brigades, which would be stationed on each side of the Tigris River in Baghdad.

A Dec. 28 National Security Council meeting had been arranged at Mr. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Tex. General Keane was concerned that General Pace might ask only for the two brigades recommended by General Casey, with three more held in reserve. General Keane called Mr. Hannah and said that General Pace should be asked if he thought such a small deployment would be decisive. That meeting confirmed the need to send more troops to Anbar Province and all but affirmed the plan to send five more brigades to Baghdad.

General Petraeus’s views were also influential. He was being considered to replace General Casey and wanted as many forces as he could get, to pursue a strategy that, like General Odierno’s, would give priority to protecting Iraqi civilians and move American forces out of large bases. The tussle over the number of forces to be sent went down to the wire. As White House officials began to work on Mr. Bush’s Jan. 10 speech announcing the increase, one draft had Mr. Bush saying he would send “up to five” combat brigades. Aides at the National Security Council took the issue to Mr. Bush, who made the commitment explicit. “I’ve committed more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq,” Mr. Bush said in his televised address. “The vast majority of them — five brigades — will be deployed to Baghdad.”

Reuters : Cheney's Georgia trip brings message to Russia

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cheney's Georgia trip brings message to Russia

By Tabassum Zakaria | August 31, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney, one of Moscow's harshest critics, will go to Georgia and other former Soviet states this week to reinforce U.S. support for allies in Russia's backyard.

Cheney leaves on Tuesday for Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine, his first visit to those countries as vice president. He then ends his weeklong trip in Italy.

The aim, analysts said, is to build morale and offer reassurance of U.S. commitment to the region after Russia crushed Georgia's military and declared two of its rebel regions as independent states.

"From the perspective of sending a signal to Moscow, yes, they want to send the hard-liner out to the region," said Daniel Benjamin, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

Benjamin said the Bush administration wants to ensure "no one goes weak in the knees in the region."

Tensions flared when Georgia tried on August 7-8 to retake the pro-Russian province of South Ossetia by force, prompting an overwhelming counter-attack from Moscow. Russian forces went into South Ossetia and a second separatist area, Abkhazia, and then moved into Georgia proper.

Relations between the United States and Russia have since deteriorated to a low not seen since the Cold War. Moscow has ignored threats and calls from the West to withdraw.

Russia also has grievances, including outrage at U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in eastern Europe and concerns about NATO expansion close to its borders.

Georgia and Ukraine, both on Cheney's tour, want to join the security alliance.

Georgia and others in the region need to know "that we are not going anywhere and that we're going to continue to build our relationships with these countries," a senior U.S. administration official said.


Cheney's trip comes as the United States considers what few options it has to influence Russian behavior.

The Bush administration may scrap a civil nuclear deal agreed upon with Moscow and implement sanctions, but the U.S. business community, with a multibillion-dollar link to Russia, has urged caution.

The vice president will visit Tbilisi as the U.S. military studies how to rebuild Georgia's military without provoking a Russian response.

The last senior Bush administration official to visit Georgia was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice more than two weeks ago, when military hostilities were active and a French-brokered ceasefire agreement was being hammered out.

Cheney's harsh rhetoric on Russia has resurfaced during this crisis. Last week he called Moscow's actions in Georgia an "unjustified assault" and during the first days of the conflict told Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: "Russian aggression must not go unanswered."

In a 2006 speech in Vilnius, Cheney created a stir by sharply criticizing Russia as backsliding on democracy and using its energy supplies as "tools of intimidation or blackmail" against its neighbors.

"Mr. Cheney has certainly been associated with the people who are hardest on the Russians," said James Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Energy will be on the agenda again, with Azerbaijan and Georgia important to Western energy strategies as part of a transportation route from the Caspian Sea to Europe that bypasses Russia.

Russia, the world's second largest oil producer, has seen its economic fortunes rise with the rising price of oil, which has reinvigorated its identity as a major world power.

(Editing by Kristin Roberts and Todd Eastham)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

NYT : In Glimpses, Cheney Contemplates His Legacy

Sunday, August 31, 2008

In Glimpses, Cheney Contemplates His Legacy

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG | August 31, 2008

WASHINGTON — Dick Cheney is not a man given to revealing his inner thoughts. But on the cool, clear evening in April when Mr. Cheney, the 46th vice president of the United States, presided over a literary salon at his residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory here, he seemed in a reflective mood.

The featured author was Ian W. Toll, whose book, “Six Frigates,” chronicles the founding of the Navy. A collection of Washington luminaries, including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, dined on salmon with pesto; the Sea Chanters, a Navy chorus, performed after dessert. As the evening wound down, the vice president offered a flash of introspection in quiet conversation with his guest of honor.

“He said that, when he was defense secretary, he felt he was presiding over a ‘huge grinding machine that was here before me and will be here after I’m gone,’ ” said Mr. Toll, who was so struck by Mr. Cheney’s remark that he wrote it down. “There was almost something wistful about it, a sense that even in this day and age, no one, not even someone who’s had a career like that of Vice President Cheney, can really hope to fundamentally reshape our institutions.”

Mr. Cheney has, of course, fundamentally reshaped at least one American institution: the vice presidency. Fueled by a belief in a strong presidency and American hegemony, and with the help of a president, George W. Bush, who gave him an extraordinarily free hand, he has stretched the limits of the job in ways his predecessors could not have imagined.

Even in the twilight of his tenure, Mr. Cheney plays the heavy. On Tuesday, a day after addressing Republicans at their convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, he will confront Moscow head-on with a trip to threatened former Soviet republics.

But on Jan. 20, 2009, after a career in Washington that has spanned four decades, the 67-year-old vice president will have a new job description: retired. As Mr. Cheney prepares to make the transition to private citizen, a portrait is emerging of a man who is unapologetic, even defiant, but also thinking about his legacy and perhaps confronting the limits of his own power.

Historians will debate Mr. Cheney for decades. Critics say he has set a dangerous precedent; former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, a Democrat, said the Cheney model posed “disturbing risks.” Indeed, Mr. Cheney loomed large over Senators Barack Obama and John McCain as they picked their running mates.

“If someone said that your vice president is like Dick Cheney, you’ve got a Dick Cheney model in place, I don’t know if that’s something you would want or not,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is a close ally of Mr. McCain. The McCain model will be “more traditional,” Mr. Graham said, adding, “there will be no doubt nobody else is pulling the strings.”

Now Mr. Cheney may seek the last word.

After years of insisting he would not write a book, the vice president is entertaining the notion, at the urging of his older daughter, Liz, who said she had been “pretty aggressively pushing the idea.” With her father’s blessing, Liz Cheney has been indexing his pre-vice presidential papers, which are in libraries around the country, and drafting timetables and outlines for his review.

Those close to Mr. Cheney said that if he did write a book, it would be with history in mind, hardly a tell-all. As a onetime doctoral candidate in political science (he never finished his dissertation) who went on to become a White House chief of staff, a Wyoming congressman, a defense secretary and an energy executive before taking his current job, Mr. Cheney is keenly aware that future historians will need his version of events.

“Think about the events that he’s been around for: Gerald Ford taking over after Nixon resigned, the fall of Saigon, the end of communism, the war on terror,” said Mr. Cheney’s other daughter, Mary. “Whenever you get my dad to tell stories, you always learn something new.”

Divining the Cheney psyche is always tricky (“You’re from Wyoming, you keep it to yourself,” said Joe Meyer, a high school friend who is now the Wyoming state treasurer). But Mr. Cheney is giving some clues. At a National Press Club luncheon here in June, he looked back on his tenure with an openness that seemed unusual for a man who does so much in secret.

“My job as vice president is as an adviser,” Mr. Cheney said. “I don’t run anything. I’m not — it’s not like being secretary of defense when I had four million people working for me.” This comes as no surprise to those who have heard him say the Pentagon job was his favorite. He spoke of “the understandings” he reached with President Bush, that this would be no ordinary vice presidency.

“And he’s been absolutely true to his commitment to me,” Mr. Cheney said, “which was I’d have an opportunity to be a major participant in the process, to be part of his government, to get involved in whatever issues I wanted to get involved in.

“Sometimes he agrees, sometimes he doesn’t,” Mr. Cheney continued. “We don’t always come to the same conclusion by any means.”

In recent months, Mr. Cheney’s push to expand executive powers was rejected yet again by the Supreme Court. His vision for a free-market economy has been cast aside in favor of government intervention; when Mr. Bush signed housing legislation in the Oval Office, the vice president was not there. Mr. Cheney has taken a hard line against North Korea and Iran, only to be outflanked by advocates of diplomacy.

If Mr. Cheney is dismayed, he has kept it to himself, though his views are no secret. John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations whose voice is often a proxy for Mr. Cheney’s, calls American policy toward North Korea and Iran “a debacle for this administration.” Even Liz Cheney, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, has been critical, though she said she was not speaking for her father.

“He has, for the entire time that he has been vice president, had the view, and continues to have the view, that he gets to make his case very strongly internally, and he does that, and he doesn’t always carry the day,” she said. “The president decides, and he supports the president.”

Mr. Cheney declined to be interviewed. But those close to him say he approaches retirement with neither reticence nor eagerness, but rather with a Zen-like confidence that even his most controversial moves, like his stance in favor of domestic wiretapping, have been necessary to keep the country safe.

“It’s not suffering defeats, it’s not nostalgia, it’s not urgency to get stuff done, it’s not, ‘I can’t wait to get out of here,’ ” said Mary Matalin, a longtime adviser, describing Mr. Cheney’s state of mind. “I hate to use yoga terms, but he’s really in the moment.”

Liberals may caricature the vice president as Darth Vader, but within the Cheney family, the moniker has become a joke. Mr. Cheney’s wife, Lynne, gave her young grandson a Darth Vader doll, and Mr. Cheney lightens up audiences by saying that Mrs. Cheney does not mind the nickname: “She said, ‘It humanizes you.’ ”

But Mr. Cheney remains furious over the conviction of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., after a trial that depicted the vice president as the orchestrator of a scheme to discredit a critic of the Iraq war. Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, said Mr. Cheney regarded the trial as “a grievous distortion,” and would most likely press Mr. Bush to pardon Mr. Libby.

Mr. Cheney’s strength has always derived from his unique access to Mr. Bush, and that has not changed. The two are “friendly, not buddies,” as Stephen F. Hayes, the author of a Cheney biography, put it. Mr. Cheney still sits in on Mr. Bush’s secure videoconferences with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, and still lunches privately each Thursday with Mr. Bush. He still presses his case on the national security issues that matter most to him.

At a forum on world affairs convened by the American Enterprise Institute in Colorado, this summer, Mr. Cheney took pains to correct a participant about intelligence leading to the Iraq war, said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. At an off-the-record gathering of foreign policy experts in Washington in June, Mr. Cheney left little doubt that he would favor using force to put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, said one participant.

Critics and even admirers of Mr. Cheney imagine him using his final days in office to work the levers of power and seal his policies in place, though his aides insist no such effort is under way.

“My guess is that he’s been able to put things into motion in the executive branch that transcend the next administration,” said Representative Adam H. Putnam of Florida, chairman the House Republican Conference.

As Mr. Cheney’s days in office grow fewer, some sense he is more relaxed. He was unusually flip at the press club luncheon, cracking jokes about family ties with Mr. Obama (they are distant cousins) and the state of West Virginia. If Mr. Cheney has specific post-vice presidential plans, he has not shared them, though he and his wife, who already own homes in Wyoming and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, are building a new primary residence in the Virginia suburb of McLean, to be close to their daughters and grandchildren.

More than 30 years ago, as President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, a young Mr. Cheney stood on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base with his wife and daughters and watched a presidency end. He is well aware, as his daughter Liz said, that “it’s a very abrupt kind of change.” Friends say he is ready.

“What he may miss, of course, is the ability to engage in the important issues of the day at the top levels,” said David Gribbin, a longtime friend and adviser. “But you know, he’s been doing this for 40 years. He has this makeup where when he stops doing something, he can just stop doing it. I think when Dick Cheney’s done, he’s able to be done.”

Reuters : Owner of Russian opposition website killed

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Owner of Russian opposition website killed

August 31, 2008

NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) - The owner of an opposition Internet news site in Russia's troubled Ingushetia region was shot dead on Sunday after police detained him, his colleagues said.

Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the Internet site, was a vocal critic of the region's Kremlin-backed administration which is accused by critics of crushing dissent and free speech.

Interfax quoted the Russian prosecutor's office as saying an investigation into the death had been launched.

A posting on Yevloyev's site -- which has been the subject of repeated official attempts to close it down -- said he was shot after police detained him when he landed in Ingushetia's airport.

It said he was taken to hospital but died from his injuries. The site also called on "all those who are not indifferent" to his killing to gather for a demonstration in Nazran, Ingushetia's biggest town.

"A preliminary investigation has been launched into the death of M. Yevloyev," Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the investigations unit of the Prosecutor General's Office in Moscow as saying.

Media freedom groups say Russia is one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who was critical of the Kremlin, was shot dead in 2006 outside her Moscow apartment.

Ingushetia's Kremlin-backed leader Murat Zyazikov has been struggling to contain a low-level insurgency led by Islamist militants. His critics accuse him of persecuting opposition activists and reporters, an allegation he denies.

Ingushetia is in Russia's North Caucasus region and neighbors Chechnya, scene of a separatist rebellion that has now been largely quelled.

Zyazikov has criticized the reporting by and brought a court case earlier this year seeking to close down the site.

Interfax quoted an unnamed law enforcement source as saying Yevloyev was shot by accident.

"While police officers were attempting to transfer M. Yevloyev to an interior ministry office, an incident occurred in which M. Yevloyev received a gunshot wound to the temple area," the agency quoted the source as saying.

Aslanbek Apayev, representative of rights group the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Reuters that opposition figures in Ingushetia had told him Yevloyev was dead.

"Yes, it is true. People close to the opposition confirmed that to me. I do not know any details," he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Toronto Star : Greens claim TV debate spot

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Greens claim TV debate spot

Bruce Campion-Smith | Ottawa Bureau Chief | August 31, 2008

OTTAWA -- Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has raised the stakes in the expected fall election with a dramatic move that gives the party its first-ever MP.

In a key strategic move yesterday, May announced that Independent MP Blair Wilson was joining the party's ranks.

But more importantly for May, it dramatically boosts her chances of getting a spot in the televised leaders' debates in a possible fall election and a shot at nationwide exposure.

"With a Green MP sitting in the House of Commons, it will now be impossible to exclude the Green Party from the televised leaders' debates in the next election," May said. While a place in the debates isn't guaranteed, May said the broadcast media consortium that sets the ground rules for the French and English debates has no choice but to ensure she is included now that the party has an MP.

"We believe that under all the criteria that have been put forward ... we now have made thoroughly the case that I must be included," May said.

That includes fielding candidates nationwide, receiving federal funding and now having a seat in the Commons.

"We have established ourselves as a party that cannot be described as fringe," said May. "We are a party whose ideas and policies are now in the mainstream."

With its 664,068 votes, the party garnered 4.5 per cent of voter support in the 2006 election. A Toronto Star poll put the Greens at about 9 per cent and May herself came second in a November 2006 by-election in London, Ont.

If successful, May's participation would mark the first time in 11 years that a woman political leader was in the televised debates. Then NDP leader Alexa McDonough took part in 1997.

Already, May is promising to put the heat on the other leaders – especially Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government's stance on the environment – if she's allowed on stage.

May acknowledged that participating in the debates would give the party a huge boost with nationwide exposure to French and English audiences.

"If they decide not to allow me in the debates, what they're really doing is telling voters: `Don't take that party seriously,'" she said.

Yesterday, Harper spokesperson Kory Teneycke said the overtures of co-operation between May and Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion should mean only one of them gets to participate in the debates.

"Ms May and Mr. Dion have an agreement for electoral co-operation ... you can't have two candidates from essentially the same party in the debate," Teneycke said.

The media consortium is due to meet Tuesday and May's fate in the debates could be discussed then.

A beaming May called it an historic day as she pinned a Green Party button on the lapel of Wilson's suit jacket at an Ottawa news conference yesterday.

Wilson, the MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, resigned from the Liberal party under a cloud almost a year ago after questions were raised about his personal finances. He has sat as an Independent since then.

He said he has been cleared of improprieties after an eight-month Elections Canada probe, which did highlight oversights made by the rookie MP during his campaign.

Wilson, first elected in 2006, said he has written Commons Speaker Peter Milliken requesting that he be officially recognized as a Green Party MP.

Wilson said the environment is the most important issue in his sprawling riding and predicted his move to the Greens would be well-received by constituents.

After Harper's meeting yesterday with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Friday with Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, Teneycke said a fall election was "more likely." There's speculation that Harper will visit Governor General Michaëlle Jean a week from today, seeking her approval to dissolve Parliament for an Oct. 14 election.

FOX : Engineering Society Accused of Covering Up Design Flaws in Investigations of Katrina, World Trade Center

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Engineering Society Accused of Covering Up Design Flaws in Investigations of Katrina, World Trade Center

AP | March 25, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — The professional organization for engineers who build the nation's roads, dams and bridges has been accused by fellow engineers of covering up catastrophic design flaws while investigating national disasters.

After the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the levee failures caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the federal government paid the American Society of Civil Engineers to investigate what went wrong.

Critics now accuse the group of covering up engineering mistakes, downplaying the need to alter building standards, and using the investigations to protect engineers and government agencies from lawsuits.

Similar accusations arose after both disasters, but the most recent allegations have pressured the organization to convene an independent panel to investigate.

"They want to make sure that they do things the right way and that they learn lessons from the studies they do," said Sherwood Boelhert, a retired Republican congressman from New York who heads the panel. He led the House Science Committee for six years.

The panel is expected to issue a report by the end of April and may recommend that the society stop taking money from government agencies for disaster investigations.

The engineering group says it takes the allegations seriously, but it has declined to comment until completion of the panel's report and an internal ethics review.

In the World Trade Center case, critics contend the engineering society wrongly concluded skyscrapers cannot withstand getting hit by airplanes. In the hurricane investigation, it was accused of suggesting that the power of the storm was as big a problem as the poorly designed levees.

The group has about 140,000 members and is based in Reston, Va. It sets engineering standards and codes and publishes technical books and a glossy magazine. Members testify regularly before Congress and issue an annual report on the state of the nation's public-works projects.

The society got a $1.1 million grant from the Army Corps of Engineers to study the levee failures. Similarly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid the group about $257,000 to investigate the World Trade Center collapse.

The engineers were not involved in investigating last year's bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

The society issued a report last year that blamed the levee failures on poor design and the Corps' use of incorrect engineering data.

Raymond Seed, a levee expert at the University of California, Berkeley, was among the first to question the society's involvement. He was on a team funded by the National Science Foundation to study the New Orleans flood.

Seed accused the engineering society and the Army Corps of collusion, writing an Oct. 20 letter alleging that the two organizations worked together "to promulgate misleading studies and statements, to subvert appropriate independent investigations ... to literally attempt to change some of the critical apparent answers regarding lessons to be learned."

Maj. Gen. Don Riley, the corps' director of civil works, disputed Seed's allegations at a December meeting in New Orleans.

"He talks about the supposed cover-up," Riley said. "Well, our people live here in New Orleans ... We don't stand behind our work. We live behind our work."

In 2002, the society's report on the World Trade Center praised the buildings for remaining standing long enough to allow tens thousands of people to flee.

But, the report said, skyscrapers are not typically designed to withstand airplane impacts. Instead of hardening buildings against such impacts, it recommended improving aviation security and fire protection.

Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, a structural engineer and forensics expert, contends his computer simulations disprove the society's findings that skyscrapers could not be designed to withstand the impact of a jetliner.

Astaneh-Asl, who received money from the National Science Foundation to investigate the collapse, insisted most New York skyscrapers built with traditional designs would survive such an impact and prevent the kind of fires that brought down the twin towers.

He also questioned the makeup of the society's investigation team. On the team were the wife of the trade center's structural engineer and a representative of the buildings' original design team.

"I call this moral corruption," said Astaneh-Asl, who is on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.

Gene Corley, a forensics expert and team leader on the society's report, said employing people with ties to the original builders was necessary because they had access to information that was difficult to get any other way.

Corley said the society's study was peer-reviewed and its credibility was upheld by follow-up studies, including one by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"I hope someone looks into the people making the accusations," Corley said. "That's a sordid tale."

Reuters : Palin brings God, guns to Republican ticket

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin brings God, guns to Republican ticket

Analysis by Ed Stoddard | August 30, 2008

DALLAS (Reuters) - Conservative Republican prayers for the November 4 presidential election may have been answered.

John McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate sends a clear message to the party's conservative religious base: God and guns are on the ticket.

Conservative Christians and analysts say the 44-year-old devout born-again evangelical and mother of five has the "right stuff" to energize this base, from her staunch opposition to abortion to her passion for hunting and fishing.

She has a compelling personal narrative for religious conservatives capped by the fact that she opted to have her fifth child even though she knew he would have Down's syndrome -- making her a darling of the anti-abortion movement.

These credentials have been added to the Republican ticket at a time when polls show McCain, a 72-year-old veteran senator from Arizona, gaining ground with the white evangelical Protestants who are key to Republican electoral success.

McCain and Palin will face Democrat Barack Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, and polls show a close race. Obama would be the first black president if elected, Palin the first female vice president.

Despite his consistent opposition to abortion and attendance at an evangelical church, McCain has been criticized in conservative Christian circles for his support for stem cell research and his failure to back a federal ban on gay marriage, among other issues.

"It's a strategically brilliant development for McCain. He ... desperately needed to woo evangelical voters," said Michael Lindsay, a political sociologist at Rice University in Houston and leading expert on U.S. evangelicals. "No Republican has captured the White House in modern history without their support."

About one in four U.S. adults count themselves as evangelical Protestants. The vast majority regard the Bible as God's literal word and take their faith very seriously.

The movement has been fracturing as some leaders broaden their agenda to embrace "liberal" issues such as protecting the environment but many evangelicals still care deeply about abortion and gay rights, which they ardently oppose.


Conservative Christians said they were excited by her addition to the ticket.

"Governor Palin is an outspoken advocate for pro-family policies that energize social conservatives. She has a record of advancing the culture of life at every opportunity," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobby group with strong evangelical ties.

"Senator McCain made an outstanding pick ... She's solid on all the core social issues," he told Reuters.

There had been concern among evangelicals that McCain would choose an abortion rights supporter like former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge or Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate in a bid to appeal to moderate voters.

Palin's status as a "working mom," whose children range in age from 5 months to 18 years, could be one drawback in the eyes of some conservative U.S. Christians who strongly believe that a mother's place is in the home. But others give her credit for being a devoted mother who they say has been able to balance career and family.

"I have five kids too and I think it is exciting when you see someone who is working actively to make her family a part of her mission," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life Action, an anti-abortion group.

"And her decision to have her child when she knew he had Down's syndrome is a beautiful, beautiful story," Yoest said.

Palin also can help the Republicans target gun owners. She is a member of the National Rifle Association, a lobby group opposed to government restrictions on the ownership of firearms, which it regards as a sacred American right.

"God and guns" often mix in the U.S. heartland. A U.S. survey of licensed hunters and anglers in 2006, commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, found half of those polled identified themselves as evangelical Christians.

(Additional reporting by Yareth Rosen in Anchorage)

(Editing by Eric Beech)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Times Online : Asif Ali Zardari's purge 'betrays' Benazir Bhutto's legacy

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Asif Ali Zardari's purge 'betrays' Benazir Bhutto's legacy

Asif Ali Zardari is ousting party aides loyal to his wife

Dean Nelson in Islamabad | August 30, 2008

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the murdered former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has purged almost all of his wife’s top advisers from her party, including her political secretary and closest friend, who cradled her as she died.

Bhutto was killed by an assassin’s bullet as she waved to supporters at an election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27 last year.

Shortly after her death Zardari took control of her Pakistan People’s party (PPP) and led it to an election victory, invoking Bhutto’s memory and capitalising on the public grief that followed her death.

He is expected to become Pakistan’s president this week in an election that will formally acknowledge him as the country’s most powerful man.

It will be an extraordinary reversal of fortune for a man who spent 11 years in jail on corruption and other charges and is widely blamed for Bhutto’s two governments being dismissed in 1990 and 1996.

Last week the party’s members of the National Assembly pledged their loyalty to him in an atmosphere of competitive sycophancy. But behind the scenes, party stalwarts whom Bhutto had relied upon are angry at the way her closest aides have been humiliated and alarmed that her political legacy is being betrayed.

They are outraged that some of Zardari’s aides have blamed Bhutto’s most trusted advisers for her death, accusing them of failing to protect her from the assassins who killed her in a sniper and suicide bomb attack.

Their target was Naheed Khan, Bhutto’s devoted political secretary and inseparable friend for more than 20 years. Khan, who has been sidelined since the assassination, was sitting next to her leader in a bullet-proof Land Cruiser when Bhutto was shot while waving to supporters through the sun-roof. Khan cradled Bhutto’s head on her lap before realising she was dead.

Last month Zulfiqar Mirza, the Sindh home minister and a close aide of Zardari, claimed Khan had been in charge of Bhutto’s security on the day she was killed and that she had declined his offer of volunteer guards. Khan’s husband, Safdar Abbasi, another Bhutto adviser, had argued with her police detail and dismissed them, he alleged.

When Zardari failed to disown his friend’s comments, another Bhutto loyalist, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, stepped in, dismissed his allegations and said they were the work of the “new faces” controlling the PPP.

Last week Khan and Abbasi denied the allegations. “Mr Zardari’s friends are saying we did not protect her. But we are political people. Three of us were in the car and none of us was looking after her security. Mr Rehman Malik [now interior minister] was the security adviser. Second in charge was Zulfiqar Mirza. I don’t know why these people are being rewarded,” said Khan.

Abbasi and Khan said their concern was that the party remains true to Bhutto’s vision. They and several other former members of Bhutto’s staff said that Zardari had wasted the first six months in government. They believed their former leader would have hit the ground running.

“We were with Bibi [Benazir] through all the trials and tribulations and we loved our work with her,” said Khan, who added that Zardari was cut off from the masses. “Party workers are disillusioned and don’t know what to do. They have no access to him or to people working for him.”

Another Bhutto adviser, Nawab Yusuf Talpur, a former agriculture minister, said only four or five members of her team had made the transition to the Zardari camp. “Most of the people trusted by Bibi are not trusted by him. Benazir had a vision and had the capacity to hold this party together . . . Her legacy is not being handled in the way we expected,” Talpur said.

Despite growing concern at his leadership, Zardari’s chances of becoming president improved last week after the army signalled that it would stay out of the contest. Speculation that the army might interfere had grown after medical records revealed that Zardari had suffered mental problems after his years in jail and exile.

Further questions about Zardari’s suitability for the office were raised after the Swiss government said it was releasing some of his bank accounts containing $60m. “How can he explain that kind of money?” asked one Bhutto aide.

Guardian : Majority option for bomb plot jury

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Majority option for bomb plot jury

August 28, 2008

The jury in the trial of eight men accused of plotting to blow up transatlantic passenger jets has been given a majority instruction.

The direction from Mr Justice Calvert-Smith came as jurors were spending their 11th day considering verdicts following the four-and-a-half-month trial at the high-security Woolwich Crown Court in south east London.

The eight Muslim men face two charges of conspiracy to murder between January 1 and August 11 2006, with one charge specifying that the attacks would involve the detonation of improvised explosive devices on transatlantic passenger aircraft.

Prosecutors allege the gang planned to smuggle the home-made liquid bottle bombs disguised as soft drinks on board planes flying from Heathrow to North America.

The jury was told the devices were to be detonated by suicide bombers, causing mid-air carnage.

Giving evidence in their defence during the trial, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, and Assad Sarwar, 28, said they planned to record a documentary highlighting injustices against Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ali said he considered exploding a device at the Houses of Parliament or Heathrow Airport's Terminal 3 as a publicity stunt protesting against British foreign policy. He claimed martyrdom videos recorded by six of the defendants were a hoax to be used as part of an internet documentary.

Seven out of eight defendants have admitted conspiring to commit public nuisance by distributing al Qaida-style videos threatening suicide bomb attacks in Britain.

The defendants who have pleaded guilty to the charge are: Ali, Sarwar, Tanvir Hussain, 27, Ibrahim Savant, 27, Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, Waheed Zaman, 24, and Umar Islam, 30. Ali, Sarwar and Hussain have also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause explosions.

The defendants are: Abdulla Ahmed Ali, of Prospect Hill, Walthamstow, east London; Assad Sarwar, of Walton Drive, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; Tanvir Hussain, of Nottingham Road, Leyton, east London; Mohammed Gulzar, 27, of Priory Road, Barking, east London; Ibrahim Savant, of Denver Road, Stoke Newington, north London; Arafat Waheed Khan, of Farnan Avenue, Walthamstow; Waheed Zaman, of Queen's Road, Walthamstow; and Umar Islam, aka Brian Young, of Bushey Road, Plaistow, east London.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2008, All Rights Reserved.

NBC : Transcript: Sen. Barack Obama Accepts Nomination

Friday, August 29, 2008

Transcript: Sen. Barack Obama Accepts Nomination

The following are remarks prepared for delivery to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Democratic presidential nominee.

August 29, 2008

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia I love you so much, and I'm so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That's why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors -- found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he's worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land enough! This moment this election is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: "Eight is enough."

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives on health care and education and the economy Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made "great progress" under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors the man who wrote his economic plan was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a "mental recession," and that we've become, and I quote, "a nation of whiners."

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes cut taxes for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington's been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our "intellectual and moral strength." Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility that's the essence of America's promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America's promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That's not the judgment we need. That won't keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose our sense of higher purpose. And that's what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what it's worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I've seen it. Because I've lived it. I've seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I've seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I've seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they'd pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I've seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit that American promise that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead people of every creed and color, from every walk of life is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise that American promise and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Distributed by Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NYT : Thousands Homeless After Hindu-Christian Violence in India

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thousands Homeless After Hindu-Christian Violence in India

By SOMINI SENGUPTA | August 28, 2008

NEW DELHI — At least 3,000 people, most of them Christians, are living in government-run relief camps after days of Christian-versus-Hindu violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa State in eastern India, government officials said.

The government said that in addition large numbers of people were living in the open jungle, without any shelter and security, because of the tensions that erupted in violence after a Hindu leader was killed on Saturday and at least 10 Christians were killed in retaliation.

Christian community leaders said that at least 1,000 Christian homes had been set on fire since Monday and more than 5,000 people were homeless.

Many of them are living in the jungle without food, water and shelter, said Father Dibakar Parichha, a priest at the Catholic church in the town of Phulbani. He also said that about 90 places of worship, including small churches and prayer halls, were burned down. District officials said the figure was about 20.

The Kandhamal district has a history of communal and ethnic clashes going back for more than 20 years. The latest violence started on Saturday night when the Hindu leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed along with four of his followers by unidentified armed men who stormed a Hindu school in Kandhamal.

The police suspected that Maoist rebels, active in the area, were responsible. But Hindus put the blame for the killings on Christians. In the retaliatory violence, at least 10 people, most of them Christians, have been killed and 500 houses burned. All nine towns in the district are under curfew with shoot-at-sight orders.

At least two people have died in the retaliatory violence in other districts of Orissa, including a woman who died when an orphanage was burned down.

“We are supposed to take drastic action against whosoever indulges in violence” said R.P. Koche, the district chief of police. The local police force has been reinforced by 2,500 paramilitary troops, he said. The district magistrate, Dr. Krishna Kumar, said the situation was tense but under control and more then 200 people had been arrested.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

Reuters : More than 100 militants killed in Afghanistan: U.S.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More than 100 militants killed in Afghanistan: U.S.

August 28, 2008

KABUL (Reuters) - More than 100 militants have been killed in the southern Afghan province of Helmand in the past three days, the U.S. military said on Thursday.

"Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and coalition forces killed over 100 insurgents during combat operations in Helmand province August 25-28," the U.S. military said in a statement. "ANSF and coalition forces were conducting security patrols in the province when they were attacked multiple times by insurgents using small arms, rocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire, sparking numerous engagements," it said.

(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Paul Tait)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Dawn : Lawyers in Pakistan rally for judges’ reinstatement

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lawyers in Pakistan rally for judges’ reinstatement

August 28, 2008

LAHORE, Aug 28 (AP) Hundreds of lawyers are rallying in major Pakistani cities and disrupting traffic to pressure the government to reinstate judges deposed by former president Pervez Musharraf.

The protests Thursday occurred in Karachi, Multan and Lahore.

Top lawyer leader, Aitzaz Ahsan, said the ruling coalition should “honour its pledge” to reinstate Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and other judges.

Reuters : Pakistani lawyers press government

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pakistani lawyers press government

By Augustine Anthony | August 28, 2008

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Protesting lawyers blocked roads across Pakistan on Thursday to press the government to reinstate judges purged by former president Pervez Musharraf, as militants attacked police in the northwest, killing 11 people.

A bitter disagreement between the country's two main political parties over the judges led to a split in the ruling coalition this week, dashing hopes for stability in the nuclear-armed country after Musharraf's resignation last week.

Political uncertainty, militant violence and economic woes have undermined investor confidence, leading to a sharp slide in Pakistan stocks which authorities have tried to halt by setting a floor for the key share index.

Black-suited lawyers sat down on roads in all major cities to press the coalition, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to reappoint dozens of judges Musharraf dismissed when he imposed emergency rule in November.

Lawyers were at the forefront of opposition to Musharraf after the former army chief clashed with the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March 2007, and their protests pose a challenge to the coalition that came to power after February elections.

"The lawyers are proving how organized they are, that they have total consensus, and this protest will continue until the chief justice is restored," firebrand lawyers' leader Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore.

The country's second biggest party, headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, left the coalition on Monday, saying Bhutto's party broke promises to give the judges their jobs back.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, led by her widower Asif Ali Zardari, has been dragging its feet on the judges because it fears Chaudhry will take up a challenge to an amnesty granted to Zardari and other party leaders from graft charges, analysts say.

Several thousand slogan-chanting lawyers and flag-waving activists squatted on main roads in central Lahore for about two hours, bringing traffic to a standstill.

In an ominous sign for the government, protesters directed their anger at Zardari, who looks set to become president in a September 6 vote by legislators.

"Down with Zardari" and "Zardari, killer of Pakistani judiciary", hundreds of lawyers and activists chanted in the eastern city of Multan.

In Islamabad, protesters tore down banners of Zardari while similar protests were held in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and smaller cities.


As the politicians tussle over the judges and who will replace Musharraf as president, violence has been surging in the northwest where security forces are battling militants in several areas and the militants are striking back with bombs.

Government soldiers supported by air strikes killed nearly 50 militants in heavy clashes in the northwest on Wednesday, while on Thursday, a car bomb blew up a police bus near the town of Bannu, killing nine policemen and two passers-by, police said.

Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism was deeply unpopular but Zardari, seen as close to the United States, has vowed to press ahead with the effort.

Washington, an important source of aid for Islamabad, says al Qaeda and Taliban militants orchestrate violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the West from sanctuaries in the northwest.

Nervous investors withdrawing their funds from Pakistan in the face of violence and political instability have sent the country's financial markets skidding lower.

The rupee has lost about a quarter of its value against the dollar this year. Pakistan's stock market, which rose for six consecutive years to 2007 and was one of the best-performing markets in Asia in that period, has fallen about 36 percent.

Struggling to halt the slide, stock exchange authorities announced early on Thursday they were setting a floor for the index at Wednesday's closing level.

Some dealers said the move would help confidence, at least in the short-term, and the index opened more than 1 percent higher before slipping back a bit. It closed up 0.64 percent.

Investors hope next week's presidential election, when members of the country's four provincial assemblies and two-chamber national parliament vote for Musharraf's replacement, will bring some clarity to the political outlook.

Bhutto's party has nominated Zardari while Sharif's has put up a former Supreme Court judge, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui.

The main pro-Musharraf party nominated a former government minister and top party official, Mushahid Hussain Sayed.

Zardari telephoned Sharif on Thursday to ask him to rejoin the coalition and withdraw his candidate but Sharif declined both requests, a Sharif party official said.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jerry Norton)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

Reuters : Top Marine sees shift to Afghanistan

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Top Marine sees shift to Afghanistan

By David Morgan | August 27, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. Marine officer on Wednesday said he could reduce his 25,000-strong force in the former al Qaeda stronghold of Iraq's Anbar province to reinforce military operations against a growing Taliban threat in Afghanistan.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told reporters the once-restive province west of Baghdad could be turned over to Iraqi security control within days, thanks to the sharp decline in violence after Sunni tribal leaders switched allegiance from al Qaeda to the U.S. military.

"The requirement right now in Iraq is much more about nation-building than it is fighting. And quite frankly, young Marines join our corps to go fight for their country," he said at a Pentagon briefing.

"It's our view that if there's a stiffer fight going on someplace else ... then that's where we need to be."

U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan face an intensifying insurgency marked by escalating attacks and military casualty rates that have helped make Afghanistan a deadlier place than Iraq for U.S. troops in recent months.

The United States has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 3,400 Marines who are due to leave the country by the end of November.

Two Marine regimental combat teams deployed in Iraq are part of a U.S. force of about 146,000 and were sent to Anbar at the height of a Sunni insurgency that used Anbar province as one of its main strongholds.


Conway said the size of any Marine force deployed to Afghanistan ultimately would be smaller than the one now on duty in Iraq.

"A battalion of Marines in Afghanistan count for more than a battalion of Marines in Iraq," he said. "We can do with a lesser number of Marines in Afghanistan, I believe at this point, and have the same effect."

U.S. defense officials have long recognized the need to redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan but no final decision has been made about redirecting forces.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other top Pentagon officials are considering ways to increase the number of U.S. combat brigades in Afghanistan to confront the Taliban.

So far, the Pentagon has taken only small steps by ordering one-month tour extensions for Marines and deploying less than 200 additional support troops.

Conway suggested a drawdown of Marines in Iraq could allow for the replacement of about 1,200 troops from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment that are in the country until November 30 to train Afghan security forces.

But he said it was unlikely that fresh Marines forces would be deployed to replace the 2,200 Marines fighting Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

"We think there is a way to backfill with some Marines if there's a commensurate decision to draw down in Iraq and we think the conditions are such there that that's plausible," Conway said.

"We cannot replace them without having to draw down elsewhere," he added. "And the only 'elsewhere' at this point that I see available is in Iraq."

The Marine commandant said strains on the corps posed by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan could be eliminated by reducing the number of Marines on duty worldwide to 15,000.

There are about 34,000 Marines deployed worldwide including the 25,000 in Iraq and 3,400 in Afghanistan, the Marine Corps said.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved