December 2006


Since it is more likely than not that the 2008 presidential primary races will be wrapped up by the end of 2007, here’s a few predictions for the success of the front runners in 2007:

  • John McCain, anointed today as the Republican front runner, will lose his edge as his “more troops in Iraq” drumbeat gets picked up by the White House and results in little good news.
  • With McCain fading, the front runners are likely to be Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani is immensely popular, and the race is probably his to lose. Watch the others galvanize around trying to beat him by attacking him on his immigration record — an “open doors” policy that seems to be at odds with his track record on security. Romney also has feet of clay, with news of his old flip-flops showing the conservatives within the party that he’s not necessarily the concervative loyalist that he portrays himself to be.
  • If McCain fades, and Giuliani stumbles, look for Gingrich to get more attention from party regulars.
  • On the Democratic side of the aisle, everyone says Hillary Clinton has the organziation and the cash to steamroll her way to victory. It makes her formidable, no doubt — but there have been “unbeatable” candidates in the past with money (Gramm in 1996) and organization (Gephardt in 2004) have watched others make acceptance speeches at the convention. Her reluctance to completely distance herself from the Iraq War will probably be her Achilles’ heel.
  • Both Obama and Edwards are formidable candidates in their own way. Edwards could be the sleeper pick if Obama decides not to run; if Obama does to decide to run, it is hard to see how any Democrat other than Hillary Clinton could beat him. If Obama runs, watch him fight Hillary to the death in a campaign reminiscent of the Ford vs. Reagan campaign in 1976. Too close to call from our armchair here in 2006.
  • Bill Richardson’s got a lock on the veep spot if he wants it.

Happy New Year!

Iran is looking to receive payment for oil exports in euros as it moves its currency reserves away from the US dollar, reported Reuters. Around 57% of Iran’s income on nearly 2.4m bpd of oil is now in euros according to Gholamhossein Nozari, the MD of the National Iranian Oil Company. But he added oil contracts were still based on the US dollar to fit in with accepted international practice.

Via AMEInfo.

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to impose sanctions against Iran over its failure to halt uranium enrichment. The sanctions ban the supply of nuclear-related technology and materials and impose an asset freeze on key individuals and companies. The US representative warned that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons would make it less, not more, secure. Iran says its programme is for peaceful purposes and has vowed to continue.The resolution demands that Tehran end all uranium enrichment work, which can produce fuel for nuclear plants as well as for bombs.

The vote by the 15-member council took place exactly two months after Britain, France and Germany first introduced a draft resolution proposing sanctions.

The draft resolution was amended several times after objections from both the Russians and Chinese.

But after parts of the resolution were watered down, both Russia and China – who have close financial ties with Iran – backed the proposals.

Full piece here. Meanwhile, the U.S. is sending the gift of a carrier group to show Iran it means business:

WASHINGTON — The US command responsible for Middle East operations has asked the Pentagon to add a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf region as a warning to Syria and Iran and to help it carry out other operations, a senior defense official said yesterday.

The war-fighting Central Command wants the carrier strike group and its warplanes by the end of March for “deterrence” and to increase “flexibility,” including for potential noncombat operations, said the official who asked not be to be named.

“It gives them [the Central Command] the flexibility to move around,” she said. “And it does send a message.”

Full piece here.

Merry Christmas, Iran.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the US ambassador in Caracas to retract his assertion that drug trafficking in the country is rising.

Mr Chavez said the comments were absolutely false and that a retraction would demonstrate that Washington is serious about wanting good relations.

William Brownfield said poor police collaboration was making Venezuela a preferred drug route to the Caribbean.

The comments follow recent improvements in relations between the two countries.

Mr Chavez said the US ambassador’s claims were “a lack of respect for the truth” and said they were “absolutely false”.

The president blamed US drug consumption for the problem and accused the US of turning from communism to the drug war to justify its military presence in the region.

Full piece here.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, faced an unprecedented outburst of public opposition yesterday from student demonstrators who burned his picture and chanted “Death to the dictator”.In the first sign of open dissent since he took office last year, dozens of activists shouted abuse and set off firecrackers as Mr Ahmadinejad addressed students at Tehran’s Amir Kabir university. They were voicing anger at what they say is an increasing repressiveness on Iran’s campuses under his government. A presidential aide said 50 to 60 students took part in the protest.The heckling prompted scuffles between the protesters and the president’s supporters, who chanted: “Ahmadi, Ahmadi, we support you.”

Mr Ahmadinejad, who was marking Iranian students’ day, answered the “dictator” taunts by saying: “Everyone knows the real dictator is America and its servants.” He added: “A few who claim there is a stifling climate are trying to stifle the majority by not letting them hear what is being said.”

As students set fire to his picture, he said: “Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice.”

Full article here. Meanwhile, the Iranian president issued another anti-Semitic rant yesterday, this time to a Holocaust “fact-finding” conference:

Iran attracted international condemnation yesterday for hosting a conference of Holocaust deniers which was described by Tony Blair as “shocking beyond belief”.

As the two-day conference in Tehran wound up by forming a “fact-finding” committee into the extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis, Mr Blair accused Iran of posing a “major strategic threat” to the Middle East.

Speaking at his monthly press conference, he said he had been so taken aback by the reports the Iran president had invited a leader of the Ku Klux Klan to the conference that he asked a No 10 aide to check on it, twice. “To go and invite the former head of the Ku Klux Klan to a conference in Tehran which disputes the millions of people who died in the Holocaust … what further evidence do you need that this regime is extreme?”

The White House also issued a strong condemnation yesterday, describing the conference as “an affront to the entire civilised world as well as to the traditional Iranian values of tolerance and respect”. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, expressed outrage, saying: ‘Germany will never accept this.” The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said on Monday that the gathering, attended by more than 60 people from 30 countries, was a “sick phenomenon”.

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the closing session, saying: “Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out.”

Full piece here.

[Congressman Silvestre] Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East. We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

Full piece by Congressional Quarterly National Security editor Jeff Stein, here.

The terrorist threat facing the UK is “very high indeed”, Home Secretary John Reid has said.

He told the GMTV Sunday Programme the chances of an attempted attack over the Christmas period were “highly likely”.

Full article here.

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