Reports that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Sirte

Residents celebrate at Martyrs square in Tripoli October 20, 2011 after hearing the news that former leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Sirte. Gaddafi died in an attack by NTC fighters, a senior NTC official said on Thursday. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny (LIBYA – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Libyans are celebrating with the reports that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Sirte. It’s not completely confirmed but more reports are trickling in.

This is further validation of the policies President Obama pursued in Libya in the face of withering criticism from the left and the right. It’s an example of how air power can work, and how we can avoid problems when we don’t send our troops.

No shame

Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker are all threatening to derail the START treaty, which they have all supported in the past, over votes scheduled by Harry Reid for “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the DREAM Act. Every living former Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense supports the treaty, and these Senators have also supported it as it’s critical to monitoring Russian nukes and keeping loose nukes out of the hands of terrorists. It’s also critical in connection with Russian support for sanctions against Iran.

Frankly, it’s disgusting. They’re all claiming they’re upset with partisan politics when they have all been playing the political game for the past two years.

Now they’re willing to risk national security in the name of petty politics. They have no shame. If they blow this for political reasons, Obama and the Dems need to bludgeon them with this over and over again.

UPDATE:The reaction to these threats has been swift.

“What some Republicans like Corker seem to be saying is, ‘We will let nuclear weapons proliferate if you let gays serve,’ “ said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.

Hopefully these Senators have painted themselves in a corner here. If the treaty goes down, they will be blamed for sacrificing our nuclear security for their petty grievances.

Demonstrations resume in Iran

The crowds are forming again.

Senate votes to kill the F-22

I’ve been following the Obama administration’s attempts to reform the defense procurement process and cut unnecessary military spending, so I was happy to see the Senate side with the President and kill the F-22 fighter program. Fred Kaplan explains why this is so important.

This is a big deal: The Senate today voted to halt production of the F-22 stealth fighter plane, and it did so 58-40, a margin much wider than expected.

Not only is this a major victory for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who lobbied strenuously (something he rarely does) to kill this program, and for President Barack Obama, who pledged to veto the defense bill if it contained a nickel for more F-22s. The vote might also mark the beginning of a new phase in defense politics, a scaling-back of the influence that defense contractors have over budgets and policies.

Then again, I might be dreaming. Surely things couldn’t be changing quite that much. Could they?

Kaplan explains how rare this is for Congress to kill a weapons program at the request of the White House. Hopefully a new level of seriousness will prevail on Capital Hill.

Of course, many Senators are still committed to old battles, and many Senators lined up behind the F-22 because of jobs in their districts. Defense contractors and their supporters at the Pentagon have known for years that the best way to preserve a program would be to sprinkle as many jobs around the country in as many districts as possible. As a result, many Democrats, including liberal Senators like Barbara Boxer, opposed the administration here and tried to keep the program going. On the other side, many Republicans who didn’t have a dog in this fight were willing to back the White House. Of course it helped that John McCain was a fierce advocate for killing the F-22.

One of the worst examples of putting politics over the national interest is Chris Dodd, who’s fighting for his political life as he faces a tough re-election campaign next year.

The floor debate was more transparently self-interested than usual. Dodd argued with intense passion that killing the F-22 would create a “dangerous gap” in America’s technical know-how. The next advanced fighter jet, the F-35, won’t enter production until 2014. The highly skilled workers who make F-22s can’t be expected to hang around four years; they’ll get different jobs, and they’ll be unavailable when the country needs them.

Levin took the floor to point out that production of F-35s actually starts next year and that the FY 2010 budget contains money to build 30 of them. In other words, Levin said, “There is no gap.” He wondered where Dodd got his information. Dodd replied that it came from the defense contractors. That’s where he probably got the whole speech, too.

We’re also seeing how important it was for Obama to keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates has slashed or killed a bevy of outmoded, over-designed, or unnecessary weapons systems in this budget. One or both houses of Congress have gone along with almost all of his swipes. Part of the reason for this compliance is Gates himself, who is almost universally respected; he’s known to be a hawk (a centrist hawk, but a hawk all the same), and he’s worked for Republicans as well as Democrats. In fact, he is a Republican.

Maybe it takes a Republican defense secretary to usher in a new era of defense politics. Are we in fact on the verge of such an era? There are many reasons to be skeptical (the annals of history among them), but what happened today might be a harbinger of something genuinely new.

Signs of hope in the West Bank?

Given the recent turmoil in the region, I was a little shocked to read this article about progress in the West Bank.

The International Monetary Fund is about to issue its first upbeat report in years for the West Bank, forecasting a 7 percent growth rate for 2009. Car sales in 2008 were double those of 2007. Construction on the first new Palestinian town in decades, for 40,000, will begin early next year north of Ramallah. In Jenin, a seven-story store called Herbawi Home Furnishings has opened, containing the latest espresso machines. Two weeks ago, the Israeli military shut its obtrusive nine-year-old checkpoint at the entrance to this city, part of a series of reductions in security measures.

Whether all this can last and lead to the consolidation of political power for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, as the Obama administration hopes, remains unclear. But a recent opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a Palestinian news agency, found that Fatah was seen as far more trustworthy than Hamas — 35 percent versus 19 percent — a significant shift from the organization’s poll in January, when Hamas appeared to be at least as trustworthy.

A critical factor has been the strength of the Palestinian security forces.

An important element in making the Palestinian force effective, American and Israeli officials say, was taking young Palestinian men out of the ancestral grips of their villages and tribal clans and training them abroad, turning them into soldiers loyal to units and commanders.

There still remains much to do. Israel has eased some checkpoints and other restrictions, but Palestinians are still angry over the many controls imposed by the Israelis. That said, the improved situation in the West Bank is a very significant development that can increase pressure on Israel to move forward on the peace process.

Kill the F-22

An interesting battle is brewing in the Senate.

President Obama placed his political capital on the line Monday and reiterated his threat to veto a military spending bill unless the Senate removed $1.75 billion set aside to buy seven additional F-22 fighter jets.

Mr. Obama stepped up his campaign after liberal Democrats like Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts said they supported the purchases, arguing that the program would retain high-paying jobs in many districts nationwide.

The F-22, the world’s costliest fighter jet, is the most prominent weapons system that Mr. Obama wants to cancel or cut in his plan to rein in military spending. A vote by the Senate to keep producing the plane would be an embarrassing setback for him.

Obama’s argument is simple – the military doesn’t need or want more of these planes. Ironically, one of his allies here is John McCain, who deserves credit for his never-ending battle against wasteful military spending.

From a purely political point of view, Obama might welcome this fight, even if an initial loss in the Senate occurs. Obama needs to show he’s willing to get tough on spending, and a veto here would send a strong message.

More protests erupt today in Iran

Protests erupted again today in Iran.

Violent clashes erupted today in downtown Tehran between more than a thousand determined young men and women chanting, “Death to the dictator” and “God is great” and security forces wielding truncheons.

The screams of a woman being beaten could be heard from nearby buildings, a witness said. Business owners could be seen hustling protesters into their buildings to shield them from plainclothes officers and anti-riot police who fired tear gas canisters.

Passing drivers and motorcyclists honked their horns and flashed the “V” sign in support of the clumps of demonstrators. At least one trash bin was set afire, a witness said, sending a plume of black smoke rising as dusk approached.

Many of the demonstrators wore surgical masks to protect their identities from cameras stationed at adjacent buildings. They could be seen escaping into side streets and regrouping as shops quickly were shuttered.

Some witnesses said pro-government Basiji militiamen also could be seen wearing masks to hide their faces from digital cameras.

Protesters chanted in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was defeated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in disputed elections last month, and urged the security forces to join them.

It’s not over.

Clerics push open more cracks

The news from Iran has been depressing since the thugs who run the government cracked down on the Iranian protesters, but more and more evidence surfaces that the Iranian government has lost legitimacy with much pf the public.

The most important group of religious leaders in Iran has called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

The statement by the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult — if not impossible.

“This crack in the clerical establishment and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”

Reformers will not give up in Iran

Despite the brutal crackdown by Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and their fascist thugs, the reform movement is united in opposition to the Iranian government.

Iran’s reformist opposition on Wednesday delivered a co-­ordinated message to Iranians, declaring the government of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad illegitimate and encouraging supporters to challenge it.

A statement by Mir­ Hossein Moussavi, the opposition leader who says the June 12 election was rigged in favour of the hardline Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, followed similarly defiant calls by Mosharekat, Iran’s largest reformist party, and Mehdi Karroubi, the second reformist candidate.

Mohammad Khatami, the former reformist president and a strong supporter of Mr Moussavi, also joined the chorus warning that the regime, with its “poisonous propaganda” against protesters and its security crackdown, was waging a “velvet revolution” against the “people and the system’s republicanism”.

The concerted effort came two days after the Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog dominated by hardliners, confirmed the election result. It underlines the determination of the opposition to undermine Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s presidency.

A huge security crackdown has restricted the opposition’s ability to organise protests, but the refusal of reformist leaders to accept the election result could discourage western governments from dealing with Mr Ahmadi-Nejad.

“From now on we have a government which will be in the worst conditions in terms of its relations with people because the majority of society – and I am one of them – will not accept its political legitimacy,” Mr Moussavi said.

Hopefully their courage and determination will be rewarded.

“Join us!”

Roger Cohen has a stunning piece about the fighting in Iran, and the bravery or ordinary Iranians fighting their brutal regime.

The Iranian police commander, in green uniform, walked up Komak Hospital Alley with arms raised and his small unit at his side. “I swear to God,” he shouted at the protesters facing him, “I have children, I have a wife, I don’t want to beat people. Please go home.”

A man at my side threw a rock at him. The commander, unflinching, continued to plead. There were chants of “Join us! Join us!” The unit retreated toward Revolution Street, where vast crowds eddied back and forth confronted by baton-wielding Basij militia and black-clad riot police officers on motorbikes.

Dark smoke billowed over this vast city in the late afternoon. Motorbikes were set on fire, sending bursts of bright flame skyward. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, had used his Friday sermon to declare high noon in Tehran, warning of “bloodshed and chaos” if protests over a disputed election persisted.

He got both on Saturday — and saw the hitherto sacrosanct authority of his office challenged as never before since the 1979 revolution birthed the Islamic Republic and conceived for it a leadership post standing at the very flank of the Prophet. A multitude of Iranians took their fight through a holy breach on Saturday from which there appears to be scant turning back.

Cohen believes that the momentum is with the protesters.

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