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The Skinny: Of Star Wars And Snafus

The Skinny, Hillary Profita's take on the top of the news and the best of the Web, appears daily here on Public Eye and on the "Evening News" page at

"Snafu" and "missile defense" are not phrases that I like to see appear alongside each other in newspaper headlines. If you agree, avoid the Wall Street Journal's front page, specifically, the article titled: "A Radar Unit's Journey Reflects
Hopes, Snafus in Missile Defense." It's a nice little primer on part of the U.S. missile defense shield, specifically, SBX, a "$950 million radar rig" that's supposed to be sitting in Alaska "ready to defend against threats from North Korea." Right now it's in Hawaii.

Remember Ronald Reagan's whole Star Wars plan? (I don't, I was two.) This is the sequel. The whole idea is to shoot down enemy warheads, a task that according to the Pentagon, is currently "limited."

Although there was "one big step forward" in September, "when U.S. military personnel using satellite sensors, radar and long-range interceptor missiles that are part of the real missile shield shot down a test warhead in space over the Pacific."

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Nonetheless, some "further issues" (flawed software, leaky valves, tripped circuit breakers) need to be resolved before the rig reaches Alaska, its final destination.

The current projections estimate its arrival as "sometime next year." And Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), and a "staunch advocate of missile defense" wins the prize for best quote. (No, I'm not talking about the "Internet is a series of tubes" thing.) The Journal recalls his comment to the then-director of the Missile Defense Agency during a Senate hearing: "I hope your people are nautical enough to know what you're doing." I hope so too.

Sunny Iraq I

CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden told Congress earlier this month that "the Iranian hand is stoking violence" in Iraq, but a "senior American intelligence official" yesterday went a step further when speaking anonymously to the New York Times. The official told the paper that Hezbollah – backed by Iran and with cooperation from Syrian officials – has been training Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr's militia in Lebanon and Iraq.

That's a pretty substantial development, as the report next month from the Iraq Study Group (which began two days of "intensive behind-closed-doors deliberations" yesterday, writes the Washington Post) is expected to advocate direct talks with Iran.

Writes the Times: "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."

Sunny Iraq II

Sadr's militia has been "on high alert" since car bombings in Sadr City last week that killed 215 people. Since then, reports the Los Angeles Times, "Sadr's fighters have struck back at Sunni neighborhoods with mortar shells, rockets and machine-gun raids from fast-moving SUVs."

And Sunni Arabs have retaliated similarly. According to the Times, the attacks since Thursday have killed 524 people. The attacks are motivating more Iraqis to join sectarian militias, as they don't trust the efficacy of the country's own security forces.

One Sunni Arab who has joined "a group of former military officers in Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime" to patrol his neighborhood told the paper: "We have zero trust in the Iraqi army and minus-zero trust in the police."

Sunny Iraq III

Yes, there is more bad news. The insurgency is alive and well in Al-Anbar, according to details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report obtained by the Washington Post. The report examines the state of the insurgency in the area, and the picture is bleak: "The report describes Iraq's Sunni minority as 'embroiled in a daily fight for survival,' fearful of 'pogroms' by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital."

The report also emphasizes Iran's control over the region: "from the Sunni perspective, their greatest fears have been realized: Iran controls Baghdad and Anbaris have been marginalized." Col. Peter Devlin, the author of the report and "a senior and seasoned military intelligence officer with the Marine Expeditionary Force" writes that without the deployment of 15,000-20,000 more troops and billions in aid dollars, "'there is nothing' U.S. troops 'can do to influence' the insurgency."

Angry Ranchers Buck 700-Mile Border Fence

Apparently, there are some people out there who don't think the whole 700-mile border fence idea is such a swell plan to curb immigration. USA Today's front page highlights a few of them, including "ranching magnate" Bill Moody, whose land sits along a portion of the area to be fenced. (Film trivia! His land was also "a backdrop for the film version of the cowboy saga 'Lonesome Dove.'")

He also offers colorful commentary. "They're not gonna build it," Moody told the paper. "We darn sure don't need a wall. Everybody knows the Great Wall of China wasn't worth a damn."

Moody and fellow ranchers such as Dob Cunningham – who say they often help the agents track down illegal immigrants by providing access to their land -"believ[e] the U.S. government should focus on hiring more and better-trained Border Patrol agents rather than erecting the proposed double-walled barrier." Call them crazy.

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