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Security politics


The White House yesterday "conceded that Iraq has moved into a dangerous new phase of warfare requiring changes in strategy," and "U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed for immediate steps to prevent the country from crumbling into all-out civil war," says the Washington Post.  "The White House again resisted assertions that Iraq is now in a civil war, but that stance is increasingly hard to defend."  The Post reports that Saudi Arabia "basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend," whereas the "visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally." 

Per McClatchy, some regional experts think that Iraq's "cascading civil war" is beyond Washington's control.  "If Iraq is to hold together and avoid an all-out bloodbath, they say, it will be because the country's warring factions step back from the brink and forge some sort of political compromise.  That seems like a pipe dream after a weekend of the worst violence for Iraqi civilians since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion."

Several papers cover NBC's decision to characterize the Iraq conflict as a civil war, making it the first network to do so.  "NBC's announcement spotlights a shift in semantics that has quietly taken place on the airwaves and in newsprint as the violence has worsened along with the public's view of the situation in Iraq," the Los Angeles Times says.  "The White House continued to object to the description...  Political analysts said NBC's public embrace of the term further complicated the administration's efforts to maintain that the violence had not spun out of control." 

"Some media analysts compared it to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite's declaration in 1968 that the United States was losing the Vietnam War -- a pronouncement now considered a turning point in public opinion -- and Ted Koppel's ABC updates on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980 that infuriated Jimmy Carter's White House." 

Britain, Poland and Italy all say they'll begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2007. 

The New York Times front-pages that, per a senior US intelligence official, Iranian-backed Hezbollah has been training Moktada al-Sadr's Shiite militia in Iraq.  "The interview occurred at a time of intense debate over whether the United States should enlist Iran's help in stabilizing Iraq…  The claim about Hezbollah's role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran." 

And the Times notes that the Justice Department inspector general has opened a full review of the Administration's domestic wiretapping program.  The paper says this review "will have a somewhat different scope" than the one rejected last year after Bush personally refused security clearances for investigators.  This one "will examine the controls in place at the Justice Department for the eavesdropping, the way information developed from it was used, and the department's 'compliance with legal requirements governing the program.'" 

It "is not expected to address whether the controversial program is an unconstitutional expansion of presidential power, as its critics and a judge have charged," the AP adds. 

The AP also reports that Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates could be on the job before the end of the year.  "Eric Ruff, the Pentagon press secretary, said Gates will have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee early next week, with a vote expected by the full Senate by Dec. 12 or 13...  There has been speculation that the Pentagon transition would be put off until the end of December in order to give Rumsfeld the distinction of being the longest-serving secretary of defense...  Ruff said, however, that the timing of Gates' takeover has nothing to do with the longevity record." 

In more personnel news, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is losing her "intellectual soul mate:" her counselor Philip Zelikow.