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Over and over, we are told the surge is a success and anyone who opposed it had better hang their head in shame should he or she ever wish to appear in polite society again. Alas, things are undoubtedly better in Iraq than before the surge, but the cost has been -- and continues to be -- enormous. And we are broke. The progress that has been made is so fragile it is unlikely to survive our exit, and so many of the promises of the surge have failed to materialize. So, while it is a qualified success, that hardly proves it was the right thing to do. Indeed, I doubt it.

Perhaps the most obvious failure of the surge has been the inability to provide a political solution in Iraq. Indeed, we appear to be enabling yet another Third World kleptocracy, except that this time, it is American taxpayers' money they are ripping off. Look at this terrific story out of Baghdad in today's Times. How is it possible to think about this story except as organized, condoned bribery, with American money, to get those in positions of power to do the bidding of the Bush administration?:

The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is systematically dismissing Iraqi oversight officials, who were installed to fight corruption in Iraqi ministries by order of the American occupation administration, which had hoped to bring Western standards of accountability to the notoriously opaque and graft-ridden bureaucracy here.

The dismissals, which were confirmed by senior Iraqi and American government officials on Sunday and Monday, have come as estimates of official Iraqi corruption have soared. One Iraqi former chief investigator recently testified before Congress that $13 billion in reconstruction funds from the United States had been lost to fraud, embezzlement, theft and waste by Iraqi government officials.

The moves have not been publicly announced by Mr. Maliki's government, but word of them has begun to circulate through the layers of Iraqi bureaucracy as Parliament prepares to vote on a long-awaited security agreement.

That pact sets the terms for continued American presence here after the United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31, but also amounts to a framework for a steady reduction in that presence. Such a change will undoubtedly lessen American oversight of Iraqi institutions.

Oh and see this profile of the Times bureau in Vanity Fair.

OK, now roll back the clock a few minutes and remember how we almost went to war with Iran over its malevolent influence inside Iraq. In what Defense Secretary Robert Gates said was a "reminder" to Tehran, the Pentagon moved an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf in April. Days later, President Bush claimed Iran was continuing to "arm and train and fund illegal militant groups, which are terrorizing the Iraqi people." He warned that "[if] Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests, and our troops, and our Iraqi partners." That aircraft carrier, by the way, was the same one adorned with a "Mission Accomplished" banner back in May 2003, and the unease created by that memory and the president's thinly veiled threats was only made worse by what those outside the administration were willing to say: In May, former UN Ambassador John Bolton told Fox News that he could "definitely" envision a scenario in which President Bush would bomb Iran before he leaves office, saying, "This is entirely responsible on our part."

All of this hinged, of course, on all of the above actually having taken place. The administration claimed it, but so what? They are stuffed (and staffed) with liars who will say almost anything to start a war with nations whose names begin with "Ira..." We know that, and explained why we didn't trust them in this Think Again column at the time. Alas, the more gullible MSM frequently repeated the charges without qualification or interest in whether there was any truth to them. For example, in reporting the carrier movement, NBC News' Ann Curry said, "[Gates] says it should be a reminder to Tehran, which Washington accuses of smuggling weapons to militants in Iraq." Phrases like "Washington accuses" or "the Pentagon says" were in many such reports, and actual examination of the charges was absent.

That's really too bad, since they turned out to be -- surprise -- false! Here's Gareth Porter, once again:

Last April, top George W. Bush administration officials, desperate to exploit any possible crack in the close relationship between the Nouri al-Maliki government and Iran, launched a new round of charges that Iran had stepped up covert arms assistance to Shi'a militias.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates suggested that there was "some sense of an increased level of [Iranian] supply of weapons and support to these groups." And Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung was told by military officials that the "plentiful, high quality weaponry" the militia was then using in Basra was "recently manufactured in Iran."

But a U.S. military task force had been passing on data to the Multi-National Force Iraq (MNFI) command that told a very different story. The data collected by the task force in the previous six weeks showed that relatively few of the weapons found in Shi'a militia caches were manufactured in Iran.

Surprise, surprise.

Speaking of Iran -- we wondered yesterday if the mainstream media would do some real reporting on the Status-of-Forces Agreement.

CNN reporter Michael Ware told the Wonk Room's Matt Duss yesterday that the deal is a testament to Iran's newfound influence in Iraqi politics:

WARE: Iran has a whip hand, or a key hand at least, within the political framework there. So during these negotiations between Baghdad and Washington, Tehran -- whether we like it or not -- was in the room. Tehran, in some ways, in some fashion, is a party to this agreement. And you'll see that some of the sticking points and some of the nuances within the negotiations were issues that were very close to the heart of Tehran.

Ware reported the same on CNN yesterday, sort of -- he said that Iran was "already well placed to fill any vacuum left by U.S. withdrawal," but did not detail the role they've already had in negotiating the withdrawal agreement. It would have been nice to hear more.

Is Obama the Antichrist? Newsweek has a look. (Really).

That would be a story if it was a widespread belief -- the author, Lisa Miller, does say it's a "widely shared" belief, but she isn't able to actually quantify it. As A. Serwer notes at TAPPED, the Antichrist label has also been attached to Barney the Dinosaur, John F. Kennedy, and Pope John Paul II. We expect stories examining those possibilities to be forthcoming.

Howard Kurtz, always on the lookout for liberal bias in the media, is rankled by newspapers that are printing extra copies of post-election day papers to sell to eager consumers. He's looking pretty hard.

Poorly constructed CNN.com headlines usually aren't worth a mention, but when the network uses them to make t-shirts like this one ... it's pretty tempting.

That headline, "Repent for Obama vote, Catholics told," is attached to a story about one particular Roman Catholic church in Greenville, South Carolina. Obviously, the headline creates the impression that Pope Benedict himself issued the edict. The t-shirt is available in small, medium, large, and extra large -- men's or women's!

Alter-reviews:

I wrote this here on Friday.

The film The Secrets, which is playing at the Israeli film festival in New York but is about to open elsewhere, stars Fanny Ardent along with a group of mostly young Israeli first-time actresses in a movie of incredible beauty, sensitivity, and sensuality. It is about two young extremely orthodox Jewish girls who meet at a seminary in Safed -- one of the only female seminaries for orthodox girls in the world -- and it illuminates their world and the conflicts within it -- as well as the various kinds of love and commitments to mercy and forgiveness we all face -- as powerfully as anything I've seen in years. The Israeli film industry is experiencing an incredible moment of creativity and political audacity, and amazingly, most of my favorite movies this year have been Israeli.

Vanity Fair's oral history of Motown is here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: A Sullivan

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Dr. A, I trust you've seen this article in The Washington Post reporting widespread efforts by the Bush administration to do to the federal bureaucracy what they've done to the Supreme Court: strangle it with people to form permanent ideological roadblocks.

I can't address the people mentioned in this particular article, but please note: the people the Bush administration foisted on the federal workforce were chosen only for their loyalty. Therefore, they were often uninformed and uninformable. The only factor in their decisions has been their ideology.

Name: BC

Hometown: Helena, MT

I completely agree with Will Thomann regarding working with the right. I can't see how we can make anyone accountable if we can't do it with the eight years of disaster that the GOP has foisted on this nation. To then let them either navigate where we go the next four years or have any other say in how this country is governed without some kind of awareness on their part of their past behavior is just rewarding bad governance.

Name: Jacquie Mardell

Hometown: Santa Clara, CA

FWIW, my local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, carried the McClatchy article about Sunday's Iraqi Parliament vote word-for-word this morning on the front page below the fold.

Name: Bob Tallman

Hometown: Crestwood, KY

Mr. Zornick asks:

"But while the foreign policy differences between Obama and Clinton are certainly worthy of discussion, are they really any more pronounced than differences that may exist between, say, Obama and John Kerry or Bill Richardson, who are also being considered?"

I'd say yes. While I agree with Sen. Clinton's views on most matters, foreign policy is not one of them. And it is a very important matter indeed. She appears to me to be one of the leading hawks within today's Democratic Party. I would not say the same about the Senator or Governor, or the President-elect.

It is not just the one vote, it is the history of votes on foreign policy and defense matters. I am having difficulty seeing how Sen. Clinton helps President Obama "change the mindset that got us into this [Iraq] war."

Both Sen. McCain and Dr. Kissinger like the idea. That worries me.

Name: Mark Dolce

Hometown: Chicago

Thank you for your link to Bruce Springsteen's list of the 20 greatest singers, not just for Bruce's list, but because it clearly showed which tools and knobs of the musical universe do not deserve my attention for putting THEMSELVES on the list. James Blunt, you helium-inflected, ludicrous lunkhead, I'm talking to you.

Name: Jim Rollner

Hometown: Littleton, CO

Eric -- I've been reading your blog since your MSNBC days, and today was the first time (that I noticed, anyway) that the great band Yes merited a mention (props to Ron Curtiss).

I love 'em, have seen them in concert every chance I could, and hold them in esteem similarly to that you hold Springsteen.

I fear you'll end up trashing them just like you do McCartney, but if you're willing to give them a chance, check out "Close To The Edge," "Awaken," and "Gates of Delirium" -- if all you know is "Owner of a Lonely Heart" or "Roundabout," these tracks will be an eye opener.

If those win you over, they're currently on tour on your end of the continent (with a tribute singer in place of leader Jon Anderson, who's struggled with health issues of late), and deserve to be seen live on stage, where they do their best work. If you go, tell 'em to come to my area!

Name: M. George Stevenson

Hometown: Bronx, NY

My dear Dr. A:

As a recovering Yes man -- clean since 1978 -- I was made curious enough by Ron Curtiss' recommendation of their obscure cover of Paul Simon's "America" to dip into my elderly stash to rehear their equally ear-bending cover of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's "Something's Coming," which is just a slippery slope away from getting sucked back into the ultimate prog rock oblivion: The Nice's 6-plus minute cover of Bernstein/Sondheim's "America."

Help.

Name: Mickey Ehrlich

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

In Henry Loomis' obituary in the Times, there was no mention of his relationship with Kennedy's USIA director, none other than Edward R. Murrow. In Alexander Kendrick's estimable Murrow biography, Prime Time (Little Brown, 1969), he notes that Loomis first came to blows with the administration and the USIA director during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion for the tone that the Voice of America "had been compelled to adopt in its broadcasts. He charged that it had been made to 'distort' the situation and had thereby 'failed to sound convincing.' "

Murrow was an uneasy, but generally dutiful propagandist and he achieved some small victories in the post, like making broadcasting and journalism experience a requirement for hiring at the Voice of America. Murrow resigned in 1965 because he was too sick from cancer to continue and Kendrick posits that it was no coincidence that many high profile USIA employees, including Henry Loomis, found they couldn't continue if Murrow didn't.

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