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Archive for the ‘iraq’ Category

As noted here time and again, Iran has nothing to lose by waiting out the end of George Bush’s term.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said May 29 that Iran thinks U.S. voters want to change the foreign policies of President George W. Bush, and he said that the present U.S. presidential campaigns make that clear, The Associated Press reported. Mottaki, who would not endorse a candidate, said that foreign policy would play an important part in the election of the next U.S. president.

Iran could not have had a better March-May. A rumored Israeli Gaza offensive, against Iran’s proxy Hamas, failed to materialize. Hezbollah, staked by Iran, was forced to go all-in in Lebanon, won, and has returned to a defensive crouch.

Mottaki’s announcement is a signal to Ahmadinejad’s domestic foes that Iraq is worth waiting for for a little while longer. He happens to be right.

US econo-political analysis is divided into two camps. The “mainstream” camp sees US growth figures as credible, and takes at face value the idea that the US, by sheer economic vitality, has avoided a recession. This school views US inflation as temporary. It views 10/90 “right track/wrong track” numbers as merely a dubious poll, a product of stampeding pessimism, spawned by the media’s sensationalizing of US malaise. This group has faith in government and banking institutions, and little faith in consumers’ ability to assess or predict their own behavior. Curiously, this group is also disproportionately Republican and “free-market.” It does not see much potential for an economic- or inflation-driven political upheaval in November 2008.

The “cynics,” e.g., Bill Gross, Mish Shedlock, and John Williams, trust consumers’ perceptions over the government’s. Cynics argue that consumers are telling the truth when they say how pessimistic they are, and trace the dissonance between official and consumer perceptions to vagaries of BLS unemployment and inflation accounting–a story flogged to death here, and much more persuasively on other sites.

The cynics see much higher potential for political upheaval in November 2008.

Apparently, so does Iran.

Bush Administration policy vis-a-vis Iran/Iraq usually means dialing up tensions over Iranian nukes and weapons supplies into Iraq, bringing up aircraft carriers, launching large operations against Iran’s Mehdi Army Iraqi proxy, slapping sanctions on Iranian banks, using its own militias to incinerate strategic people inside Iran, etc.

After Hezbollah routed the US alliance in Lebanon (followed by an abrupt end to the US/Iraqi crackdown on Sadr in Baghdad) one would assume that the Bush Administration policy of “we’d like to talk, but we’re happy to pull the trigger too” attitude has lost credibility. Iran is quietly leveraging its gains by edging the US out of Iraq:

May 29, 2008 1419 GMT
Senior Iraqi official Sa’ad Javad Qandil told Alalam television May 29 that a draft of an agreement to extend U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2008 was problematic, especially any condition that would allow the U.S. to establish a military base there.

Predictably, Qandil is a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Teheran’s “mainstream” Iraq proxy (the Mehdi Army is, most of the time, its militant proxy). Hezbollah’s unanswered victory in Lebanon has ramifications across the entire region, not so much in the eyes of Americans as in the eyes of Arabs who were reminded, once again, that the personal bonds between Ahmadinejad and militia leaders can result in very quick and decisive action when Teheran’s interest are threatened.

Anyway, Iran hasn’t been deterred by US tough talk in the past, and there’s less reason than ever to think that louder tough talk will change Iran’s behavior at all. Lebanon has changed the game.

I would repeat my “sh*t or get off the pot” mantra about the US and Iran, but the US has backed down one too many times. I’m beginning to believe we should throw the Saudis the keys as soon as possible, to hedge against a probably adverse US election outcome while it’s still possible.

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Sunday night, May 11, the Israeli army was poised to strike Hizballah. The Shiite militia was winding up its takeover of West Beirut and battling pro-government forces in the North. When he opened the regular cabinet meeting Sunday, May 11, prime minister Ehud Olmert had already received the go-ahead from Washington for a military strike to halt the Hizballah advance. The message said that President George W. Bush would not call off his visit to Israel to attend its 60th anniversary celebrations and would arrive as planned Wednesday, May 14 – even if the Israeli army was still fighting in Lebanon and Hizballah struck back against Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion airport.

American intelligence estimated that Hizballah was capable of retaliating against northern Israel at the rate of 600 missiles a day.

Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Lvini, the only ministers in the picture, decided not to intervene in Lebanon’s civil conflict. Iran’s surrogate army consequently waltzed unchecked to its second victory in two years over the United States and Israel.

DEBKAfile’s US and military sources disclose the arguments Washington marshaled to persuade Israel to go ahead: Hizballah, after its electronic trackers had learned from the Israel army’s communication and telephone networks that not a single troop or tank was on the move, took the calculated risk of transferring more than 5,000 armed men from the South to secure the capture of West Beirut.

This presented a rare moment to take Hizballah by surprise, Washington maintained. The plan outlined in Washington was for the Israeli Air force to bombard Hizballah’s positions in the South, the West and southern Beirut. This would give the pro-government Christian, Sunni and Druze forces the opening for a counter-attack. Israeli tanks would simultaneously drive into the South and head towards Beirut in two columns.

1. The western column would take the Tyre-Sidon-Damour-Beirut coastal highway.

2. The eastern column would press north through Nabatiya, Jezzine, Ain Zchalta and Alei.

Sunday night, Olmert called Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora and his allies, the Sunni majority leader Saad Hariri, head of the mainline Druze party Walid Jumblatt and Christian Phalanges chief Samir Geagea and informed them there would be no Israeli strike against Hizballah. Jerusalem would not come to their aid.

According to American sources, the pro-Western front in Beirut collapsed then and there, leaving Hizballah a free path to victory. The recriminations from Washington sharpened day by day and peaked with President Bush’s arrival in Israel.

Our sources report that, behind the protestations of undying American friendship and camaraderie shown in public by the US president, prime minister and Shimon Peres, Bush and his senior aides bitterly reprimanded Israel for its passivity in taking up the military challenge and crushing an avowed enemy in Lebanon.

While the president was busy with ceremonies and speeches, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley took Israeli officials to task. Hadley in particular bluntly blamed Israel for the downfall of the pro-Western government bloc in Beirut and its surrender to the pro-Iranian, Pro-Syrian Hizballah. If Israeli forces had struck Hizballah gunmen wile on the move, he said, Hassan Nasrallah would not have seized Beirut and brought the pro-government militias to their knees.

One US official said straight out to Olmert and Barak: For two years, you didn’t raise a finger when Hizballah took delivery of quantities of weapons, including missiles, from Iran and Syria. You did not interfere with Hizballah’s military buildup in southern Lebanon then or its capture of Beirut now.

IDF generals who were present at these conversations reported they have never seen American officials so angry or outspoken. Israel’s original blunder, they said, was its intelligence misreading of Hizballah’s first belligerent moves on May 4. At that point, Israel’s government military heads decided not to interfere, after judging those moves to be unthreatening.

The Americans similarly criticizes Israel for letting Hamas get away with its daily rocket and missile attacks on Israel civilians year after year. A blow to Hizballah would have deterred Hamas from exercising blackmail tactics for a ceasefire. In Sharm el-Sheikh Sunday, May 18, President Bush called on Middle East countries to confront Hamas and isolate terror-sponsors Iran and Syria.

Familiar fecklessness, indeed. We now know what the “miscalculation” was — the pro-Western Lebanese banked on Israel to back them up. But no: Olmert has an election to win. If Lebanese Sunni and Druze, and American soldiers in Iraq, need to die because because Jewish boys are just too precious… well, that’s the problem of the goyim, not the Jews, right? This will not be forgotten.

At least Rice doesn’t have her head as deep in the sand as I thought.

Either Israel knifed us–big time–or the Israeli government’s corrosive dereliction, entitlement mentality , and serial incompetence have infected the core of their intelligence apparatus.

Oh, yeah–it also shows whom Bush was really referring to in his “appeasement” speech last week. Definitely not Obama, probably not Carter, absolutely Olmert.

I guess the Israeli media is too stupid and/or sycophantic to point out that “inconvenient truth.” A democracy at face value only, indeed.

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Iran has puzzled the global oil market by having 20 large tankers filled with crude oil. Why is Iran holding on to so much oil, given what a suppliers’ market oil is right now?

Iranian oil is not just oil. It’s very “heavy”/ “dirty” oil. Iran could coagulate strategic parts of the Persian Gulf with massive dirty oil dumps, which would not only cripple mobility of American CBGs, but would also contaminate the Sunni sheikhdoms’ water desalinization facilities.

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[edited and tempered a bit–EC]

I’ve wanted to talk about something that’s been simmering for a long time in my mind, namely the obvious institutional dysfunction of the West in the face of Muslim, particularly Shia, tribal fortitude.

There are two kinds of societies: unstructured, tribal societies, and structured, institutional societies. The Bush Administration’s Iraq odyssey has allowed vibrant contrast between tribal and institutional societies.

Charisma is the currency of a tribal society; money is the currency of institutional society.

In a tribe, any person’s leadership ability is contingent upon how well he husbands the lives and resources of his tribe in the face of external threats, up to and including throwing himself on the rails to save his family/ unit/ clan/ tribe. A leader’s credibility is based upon 1) his ability to forecast and surmount future threats, and 2) his perceived willingness to die for the tribe’s sake to surmount such a threat — the fact that, as he gambles with his tribe’s lives, he sees his own life no differently from lesser members of the tribe. So, tribal societies generally produce very astute gamblers as leaders.

Institutional societies produce exactly opposite leaders. People rise through institutions by public competence and private ‘politicking’ (what a tribal society would call ‘treachery’). Winning the leadership lottery of an institution is defined by strategically timed risk avoidance, whereas tribal leaders are defined by strategic risk-taking.

Institutions can attain heights of complexity and ‘sophistication,’ be it in the form of weaponry, markets, technology, art, or social ritual, which tribes can only, rarely, hope to rent. For that conceit, institutions pay a steep price. They are extremely slow to adapt to anything. Institutions can scale up intellect, but unlike tribes they cannot scale up trust. Institutions are hamstrung by internal political jockeying to a much greater extent than are tribes.

Because testosterone and charisma are pretty closely correlated, “demographic change” is never a tribal problem. Children are necessary to perpetuate and augment the tribe, and are totally encouraged. People who have difficulty producing children are accepted, but not treated as well. People obviously incapable of producing children, i.e. homosexuals, are ostracized, unless they show exceptional fighting ability/ stand up for themselves. Institutions, which put a premium on an individual’s “paying dues” of time at the expense of everything else, disproportionately produce leaders with few or no children. Institution-driven government policy overwhelmingly discounts from future investment (of which children are a big part) to the present.

Tribal leaders see much more meaning in death — or, in the case of black US tribes, very long-term imprisonment — than do institutional leaders. They know that even if their lives’ works ‘end’ in death, their sacrifice will reflect well upon their “peoples” ie their children.

Because tribal leaders are judged by their ability to defeat external challenges and encroachments on a continuous basis, and are not protected by legal or institutional formalisms, they react immediately and overwhelmingly to, for example, attempts to steal the property of the tribe.

So, institutional societies produce too many “leaders” eager to take credit for vanquishing small risks over small time horizons, and very large risks over extremely long time horizons (i.e., blame/credit cannot be fully allocated until after the leader in question is dead).

You can see where I’m going with this. The Muslim world is defined by its tribes, and the West is defined by its institutions. It would be over-dramatic to call Iraq a clash of civilizations, but it still is, sort of. Who has been winning? Iran certainly hasn’t been losing. The US seems to be holding firm, except that public support for the war has completely collapsed, and the state of the US government’s balance sheet is much worse than any agency seems to realize.

The US government really reminds me a lot of Citigroup: every agency further amortizing the future, on the assumption that, if its bets don’t pay off, every other agency will take cuts for that agency’s mistakes. In musical chairs, somebody has to lose.

I have been raised by, and have benefited from, a structural society. I would like to believe in it. However, Western institutions’ schizophrenic, ill-informed dysfunction has offered a pathetic contrast to the Iranian model. Every all-in challenge by Hezbollah has been met with pathetic procrastination by Israel, the United States, and proxy tribes seduced by Western institutional promises. Olmert’s Israel, which talks about negotiations as it’s hit by Palestinian Katyushas every day, is a particularly dramatic exposition of this, although the rest of the West suffers the same myopic affliction to lesser degrees.

Tribal elements of the West, i.e., Israeli settlers, lower echelons of the US Army Mormons, US “white trash,” and others who for all their faults are proud enough to put their flesh on the line for their homelands, nonetheless can’t help but feel that the institutions which purport to represent them only waste any lives they offer, on the altar of the Kadima/State Department cult of peace.

The “uncultured” “barbarian” tribes have been bleeding the West dry for the last five years. Western firepower is overwhelming, and could have imposed prohibitive costs on Iranian militia-style maneuvering years ago. Why hasn’t it? As if any negotiation can erase the fact that the Western empire has no clothes, and will not defend itself despite getting its teeth spattered onto Beirut’s pavement. [*]

I think Western governments’ increasingly aggressive discounting of the future is a direct byproduct of the institutionalization of Western society. Today, for example, big agribusiness is stealing $300 billion in plain sight. How is this sustainable — let alone acceptable? Is there a point at which it becomes moral to kill these people? S&P has already stated that a Fannie/Freddie bailout alone would cost $400 billion to $1.1 trillion, and would jeopardize the US’s AAA bond rating. There just isn’t the money for these expenses anymore.

Governments discount youth’s earnings in many ways. Government mandated barriers to entry are overwhelmingly protectionism for existing workers at the expense of future workers, and force youth/future workers to seek poorer alternatives. America’s gigantic intergenerational liabilities are another such tax on youth. I posit that growth of government has directly depressed Western birthrates. US native birthrates are collapsing in line with continental Europe’s, as is its growth of government. [**] There is a yawning gap between deep pessimism of Western youth, especially in the United States, and relative optimism of the 55+ crowd. The two groups are facing very different arrays of future liabilities and future payments, that’s for sure.

Maybe that’s the difference. You hear about all the rent seekers all the time, but you don’t hear as much about the ones that are rising. I don’t know. There is an awful lot of rent-seeking going on, but nobody outside the financial industry seems to have a clue about it, or what it will mean for future generations. This has really, really Never Happened Before, except in Japan, and the results were very bad–especially for birth rates.

Maybe you could say that institutions are a necessary evil for especially big societies. In any case, they are no match for the Mideast’s tribal collectives, epitomized by the extremely high-trust tribal institution Hezbollah. The West’s leaders are no match for Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah at all. Sure, there are those who might be if they had the backing of even a cohesive minority of their society, such as Petraeus, but they don’t, because there is no critical mass willing to risk as Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah are. So we continue fighting this stupid, never-ending war, losing money, face, and men all at the same time.

There’s something about the West that makes it unwilling to win wars, and I don’t know what it is.

Or, maybe I should just rename my blog “a neoconservative, mugged by doomsterism.”

[*] again, the notion of action being important now is premised upon a Republican loss in the 2008 presidential election, something approaching a foregone conclusion, which hasn’t seeped into the conventional wisdom yet.

[**] One should take into account the relatively enormous US local governments, nonprofit sector, and government contractors when arriving at a size of US government. The latter two in particular have exploded over the past eight years.

The sum total will likely surpass 40 percent of GDP this year, and will explode in an Obama Administration as opaque liabilities from the financial bailout make themselves more apparent later.

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When you leave US policy in the hands of the surrender monkeys at State, the result is that a few even more narcissistic clones of Strobe Talbott puff up their images as The Great Peacemakers, The Great Negotiators, the lone doves standing between us and Armageddon … while our few credible allies, be they in the Mideast, Afghanistan, Colombia, or Georgia, are surrounded and pounded.

In the latter two cases, there’s a very good case to be made that the US has no business there, and there would be obvious rationales that American ‘surrender’ would be preferable to any escalation. But in Iraq, we aren’t leaving. Iran’s involvement in anti-American insurgencies in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan are obvious to any disinterested observer. Given that the Foreign Policy Establishment has committed US credibility there; given that we won’t leave; and given a massive stock of un-utilized conventional military assets, why the F are we not bombing Iran? And if we are schizophrenic about doing that, why the F are we in the Mideast to begin with?

Walid Jumblatt, admittedly a chameleon historically, but currently an extremely pro-American tribal leader in the Mideast, is now officially “under the gun,” as poker players would say.

May 12, 2008 1904 GMT
A Stratfor source reported May 12 that militant group Hezbollah is planning to assassinate Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
After Iranian victory over Israel in Lebanon and Bush’s midterm defeat in 2006, the US pulled a huge check-raise with the surge. Iran called. With the recent operation in Sadr City, which has throttled much of the life out of the Mehdi Army, the US raised again. The ongoing Iranian coup in Lebanon, combined with Ahmadinejad’s telegraphed denunciation of al-Maliki today, indicate that Iran is going all-in.

Iranian hard-line newspapers, Jomhuri-e-Eslami and Hezbollah, said May 12 that Iraqis should oppose a strategic framework pact with the United States. The newspapers accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of caving in to U.S. demands over the agreement. Jomhuri-e-Eslami reported that the agreement would allow the United States to set up 14 military bases across Iraq, authorize a long-term U.S. military deployment, give U.S. nationals immunity in the country, and allow the U.S. military to use Iraq to launch military attacks in the Middle East. The newspaper Hezbollah reportedly said that the U.S. presence in Iraq was “captivity” and that the military would turn Iraq into a “permanent base in the Middle East.”

How Stratfor has managed to combine such bad calls with such effective screens of open-source information and official is an interesting question. We noted on many different occasions Stratfor’s systematic bias — despite overwhelming contrary evidence — towards the State Department’s worldview. Granted, geopolitical forecasting is a tough business, and you have to play the, shall we say, “constructive ambiguity” game more aggressively to protect your brand. However, the consistency of error on their part has assumed formidable dimensions.

I also agree with Mike’s suspicion that Stratfor deliberately misrepresented the implications of the NIE on behalf of the State crowd. (Stratfor ludicrously insisted that the NIE represented a “dramatic leap forward” in US-Iranian negotiations.) Regrettably, George Friedman (Stratfor CEO) has taken down his blog, where there were quite a few good morsels of informed contrary commentary, which apparently detracted from Stratfor’s brand too much as they were vindicated.

Here, we took a different view, and predicted throughout March that Iran-instigated violence would escalate due to obvious distrust between the US and Iraq — not dial down, as a result of some imagined “back-channel negotiations” which were a sucker play if anything.

On March 30, we predicted that the US-led alliance would have the initiative in steadily escalating violence with Iran. With Hezbollah’s latest forced raise, the Pentagon et al. have used that time wisely, and forced Ahmadinejad to raise — or fold.

Bush’s shrinking window of opportunity, combined with the predictability and necessity of escalation, mean that overt airstrikes on Iran are a matter of when, not if. It seems that Lebanese resistance to Hezbollah has totally disintegrated, again with the exception of Jumblatt’s besieged Druze; that probably was not expected. In any case he has committed his entire tribe against Hezbollah and he must be reinforced.

Debkafile, a good source for the IDF perspective, notes that Syria has completely withdrawn all peace feelers in light of Hezbollah’s triumph in Lebanon. As we’ve noted on this blog time and time again, Israel’s peace negotiations with Syria were ludicrous to begin with. The Assad family could never have been decoupled from Hezbollah and Teheran, and even if the Assad family were so interested, it would be safer for them to go to war with Israel, and allow Israel to smash Hezbollah, than for them to do anything about Hezbollah themselves.

Anyway, I said only yesterday that Hezbollah wanted to shatter Jumblatt under its Yemeni Druze, Talal Arslan smokescreen to neutralize Jumblatt’s much larger Kaysi Druze, the only credible anti-Hezbollah force still standing. Jumblatt’s Druze have been given the unacceptable choice of disarming or being besieged. They seem to be opting for the latter, which they should, because Walid Jumblatt will have a bullet in his brain 24 hours after “disarming.”

Iran has been badly strained by the last couple of months, and is upping the ante a couple of months two early. Once again, the Israelis are too preoccupied with their own dramas to be of any use. But we knew that ever since Olmert hung on post-August 2006. I presume America’s hawks have been waiting for this opportunity, and hope they leverage it for every overt airstrike it’s worth.

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Lebanon

Oil hopped past $126 today, which is all the more remarkable considering that if you measure oil in terms of the weaker USD from 3-5 weeks ago, oil would be over $130/barrel.

Israel appears to have given Syria the warning that if so much as a single truck crosses Syria into Lebanon, Israel and Syria will be at war.

Meanwhile, in keeping with the US strategy of throttling Iranian proxies all over the Middle East, the US is planning to choke Sadr City, the headquarters of the Mehdi Army, presumably with the help of local Sunni troops.

Unfortunately, it appears that the pro-Saudi/pro-US elements in Lebanon have been completely ‘faced’ by Hezbollah.

The “Saudi axis” of Christian and Sunni Lebanese apparently counted far too much upon the loyalty of Lebanese Gen. Michel Suleiman, commander of the Lebanese army, who, far from stopping any Hezbollah advance in Lebanon, essentially ratified it. Hezbollah has made a show of handing conquered neighborhoods over to the Lebanese army, which has essentially ratified Hezbollah’s conquests, rather than neutralized them.

Saad Hariri’s media outlets have been shut down by Hezbollah, and kept off the air by the army. Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri are essentially Hezbollah hostages, besieged in their homes.

Hariri, Jumblatt and Siniora were apparently given the green light to move against Hezbollah and Amal after Syria received word to Stay Out, Or Else from Israel. So they moved against Hezbollah’s crucial, expensive and clandestine telecommunications network as a threat to the state, and were given a pretext in the form of spy cameras which monitored all aircraft arriving and landing from Beirut’s main airport.

The Saudi axis had spent weeks conferring with their foreign patrons and they had to have known what other dominoes would fall after this initial move. How did they screw up so badly?

Once again, when the rubber hit the road, Mideastern Sunnis (and Christians in this case) were completely outfoxed, outmaneuvered and outfought by the Shiites. Once again the stereotype that “Arabs can’t fight for sh*t” has been woefully ratified.

Escalation is now required to keep Lebanon falling under de facto Iranian control–unless this was planned as a first stage by the Mideastern Sunnis, Israelis, Egyptians and Americans, much akin to the Israelis’ logic to let the other side make the first major move in 1973, to muster international support. Saudis and Kuwaitis are leaving the country, which doesn’t bode well for any resolution. The pro-Western militias are not standing down. A few hours ago I didn’t think the Hezbollah steamroll could possibly have been accounted for by the pro-Western Lebanese but I have to rescind that assessment.

I have observed in post after post that Syria will never divorce from Hezbollah or Shiite Lebanon, regardless of whatever pieces of paper it gives to the sad-sack Olmert/Barak/Livni government in Israel. In this case, they somehow kept control of Suleiman after the West thought that he was leaning to us.

Again, it’s stupefying to me how, given that Hezbollah’s basic plan was public information as of last November, they managed to roll the pro-Western Lebanese so easily.

If Siniora resigns, as he appears poised to do, the wafer-thin Christian/Sunni/Druze majority could elect a new PM without the participation of Hezbollah, triggering a true civil war, but at least buying some time for the pro-Western militias to regroup. The pro-Western militias are apparently “on the move” in organized fashion, which buttresses the “round two” hypothesis.

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It seems like the latest (American-triggered?) Olmert scandal will be fatal to Olmert. Which is fortunate, because the US has some serious Iran escalations to do, if it hopes to retain a meaningful stake in Iraq’s future.

Faster, please.

After another day of rampant rumors concerning the latest criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, members of the prime minister’s own party openly criticized Kadima’s top man on Tuesday and called for his resignation – in order to save the future of the party.Party members said they were waiting for a dominant figure to stand up and take the reins, and named Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz as possible successors, noting that even if they did not serve as prime minister, they could help redirect the party and refocus its energies on critical subjects.

So far, however, Kadima’s top leadership has refrained from making any statements on Olmert’s investigation, and no Kadima ministers have made any moves toward taking the lead inside the party.

Only Absorption Minister Ya’acov Edri has addressed the investigation at all. Speaking Monday during a fiery Knesset discussion in which the opposition challenged Olmert’s diplomatic policy, Edri expressed his confidence in Olmert’s abilities as prime minister and his certainty that Olmert could continue his participation in negotiations even while the investigation was under way.

But within the Kadima rank and file, Olmert’s standing seemed much less certain. Kadima MK Ze’ev Elkin blasted the prime minister for focusing on his “secretive” diplomatic negotiations rather than on the gagged investigation.

“Peace isn’t something you smuggle in under cover of darkness and isn’t carried out through spin doctors. Rather, real peace is carried out in broad daylight and not hidden under gag orders,” Elkin said in an interview with Army Radio. “Kadima must come to its senses and pick a new leader.”

Elkin accused Olmert of bringing the party – and the country – to a dead end, a charge echoed by fellow party member MK Marina Solodkin.

Solodkin added that Olmert, together with Vice Premier Haim Ramon and a handful of others, had hijacked Kadima, originally a “center-right-liberal party” and made it into a “center-left party.” While she emphasized that she did not want to make judgments regarding the current investigation, Solodkin said Olmert had caused significant damage to the government by bringing in people with poor political – and ethical – reputations.

“I don’t want to judge the personal element involved, but the political element is serious enough. To appoint people like Avraham Hirschson and Shula Zaken was a political error,” she explained. “And he hasn’t apologized for these things. There has been no regret, no apology. All the people with whom he has chosen to surround himself, the spins cast around about the final Winograd Report, and the negotiations with Syria are all too much for the people who are really concerned about our existence.”

But Solodkin said it was perhaps this latest investigation that would tip the balance against a politician who had managed to maintain a heavy Teflon coating during earlier scandals.

“This is one investigation too many – public norms in a functional country don’t allow a prime minister whose finance minister is a thief and criminal of the worst proportions, and whose personal assistant is suspected of the worst types of corruption. Either we are a banana republic and we must write that in big letters, or we must expect a change.”

I can’t find any recent public opinion polls on Tzipi Livni. Can someone please tell me that she is not popular anymore? How does a Likud/Yisrael Beteinu centric coalition stack up against Labor, Likud and Meretz?

We need to get Olmert out of the way. There’s a lot of “work” to be done in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, and not much time left to do it.

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