United States: the withdrawal of the troops in Iraq is interrupted and Ameriquest scandal breaks out
Defense secretary Robert Gates scheduled a slowdown in withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and a reinforcement of the combat units in Afghanistan. By the end of July the US effectives will be reduced and the number of brigades will decrease from 20 to 15. However, a period of consolidation and trial after the withdrawal is necessary before deciding to set new returns.The lenghth of this period and what ensues during the following months will provide information about whether the US will in fact leave the country in a short time. Different decisions can be made by the White House which will prove particularly useful for the Republican candidates, in light of next November's elections.
Equilibri.net (28 February 2008)
The troops withdrawal from Iraq and the reinforcement of the troops in Afghanistan
What emerged in Baghdad at the conclusion of the meeting between General Petreus, chief of the US armed forces in Iraq, and Robert Gates, is the decision to reduce the number of effectives employed in the Gulf's campaign once the withdrawal of 30,000 units, scheduled for July, 2008, is completed. The Defense Secretary explained that once next summer’s five brigades withdrawal is completed, it would probably take months to clearly understand when more troops, now employed in public security interventions, will be withdrawn.
Gates’ attitude regarding his latest declarations seems in opposition to that of last month, in which a massive withdrawal was proposed (10 brigades by the end of 2008). This change in programme is most likely due to a reconsideration of the current Iraqi situation: the country is too instable to manage a self-government, and the terrorists' assaults are still too frequent to be successfully repulsed by the newborn Iraqi police, even when the US army has had problems in face them. Despite a substantial decrease in terrorist attacks and some successful attempts to dismember Iraqi terrorist cells leading or linked to Al-Qaeda, the Iraq situation is anything but stable. Evidence of this is given by the recent kidnapping of two CBS reporters and the two car bombings near to the capital's city centre. The chiefs of the armed forces stationed in Iraq affirmed that even though Al-Qaeda has been considerably weakened recently, it still represents a serious threat to peace. In fact, the most bloody attacks of the last months are believed to be attributable to Al-Qaeda.
In July, the number of effectives in Iraq will decrease to 130,000 units, the same as at the beginning of 2007, when new soldiers were sent to Iraq. The period of the operation “Surge,” settled by President Bush, which increased the number of soldiers involved in the territory is coming to an end, at least unofficially. During the last year, the increase in the number of Iraqi effectives resulted in a 60% reduction in terrorist attacks and more thorough control over the territory, even though the situation remains critical. Even Gates admitted that the country is still vulnerable and in the grip of a dangerous instability, the Iraqi troops' increase has enhanced the security's threshold, but has not given a boost to a decisive evolution toward the complete territory's pacification.
At the NATO meetings in Vilnius during the last few days, a new military-related question regarding the US troops stationed in Afghanistan emerged. Robert Gates announced that next spring the USA will sent a 3200 marines contingent to the southern part of the country, where violent clashes with the Taliban factions which control the area are still underway. In January, the USA Defense Secretary requested also, by means of a letter sent to all NATO members, to increase the number of troops present in the country for a more long term commitment. Also NATO Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced that the Alliance commitment in the country will last a long time because the development and reconstruction projects need more time to be properly completed. The NATO forces currently employed in Afghanistan already consist of 43,000 effectives and a further increase is not likely to be put into effect.At the US’ request, France informed that, for the meantime, the issue has been frozen as long as there will be new developments. However Germany has already shown its unwillingness to send more troops for offensive purposes, as the Parliament brief rejects this possibility.
The Ameriquest scandal: embarassment at the White House
The Ameriquest scandal, which broke out during the past few days because of the requests for millions of dollars in refunds claimed by groups of purchasers, employees, and collaborators of the company over 48 States, could have serious repercussions on the White House and the Republican party’s credibility in next November’s elections. Ameriquest was established in the 1980s as a service company specializing in loans, but as time went by it became a provider of sub prime and fixed-rate loans. It has already been the protagonist of a scandal in 2006, when it was forced to plea-bargain and pay 325 million dollars in compensation to 49 States, while refunding the purchasers with 295 million dollars.
The current problems with the company are related to documents’ forgery and fake information about the mortgages’ methods of payment, but Ameriquest will most likely not be affected by the charges because it has been handed over to Citigroup after the collapse of the subprime loans market. This scandal and the accusations moved to the commercial credit company are now concerning its founder and former president Roland Arnall, chosen as the new Ambassador of the USA in the Netherlands after Bush's re-election in 2004.
A public note released after Arnall's interview with the Commission in charge of determing his appointment as Ambassador informed that Ameriquest's ex-President had declared that he never knew about the operations and the daily activities of the company. According to what he confirmed during the same sitting, what he is to blame for is surely depending on some employee's shoddiness.
The incident quickly became a political scandal when it came to light that the Ambassador, besides having been a powerful lobbyist in favour of the campaign for the Responsible Lending Act in Washington, a law that would reduce the protection for those who subscribe a loan, has also been one of the major supporters of Arnold Schwarzenegger's election campaign as California's Governor and George W. Bush's campaign for his re-election in 2004. The financial support provided for the two Republican representatives' campaigns has been re-paid to Arnall by the assignment of the charge of USA Ambassador in the Netherlands. But now the ex- financier risks to be summoned by Washington to defend himself against the accusations and the class actions that will be directed toward him by Ameriquest.
The Ameriquest scandal could affect the White House negatively during an already difficult period for Bush's administration and the Republican Party. The favourite candidate for the Republican ticket at the Presidential elections could find himself dealing with the accusations and the discontent of the public opinion toward both the Party and the President who is suffering a time of serious decrease in approval.In the case that the accusations moved to Arnall are confirmed, they will strongly affect the electoral campaign which will take place after September's convention.
The withdrawal of the troops in Iraq and the probable reinforcement of the contingent stationed in Afghanistan will most likely be inserted in the primaries' electoral campaign agenda, and also in the campaign for the Presidential elections. These elections are expected to be one of the hardest and most significant of any in the last few years. Moreover, McCain's candidacy is likely to be badly influenced by the decisions about the delayed return of the troops in Iraq. The public opinion is loosing patience with the dire news about the Iraqi situation and the commitment of the US soldiers to a conflict that seems to be never ending. Iraq is one of the major defeats that the actual administration has experienced, and McCain's stand against the White House's decisions is not particularly unlikely, given that in the past the ex-Arizona Governor declared to be ready to line up against the Republican administration. He has actually lined up with the Democrats in some situations, voting against the actual President policy's proposals.
Translation by Elisa Frasca