In a midnight vote Congress narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA. The final vote was 217 to 215. But last night’s vote came with a major twist. When official voting had ended at 11:17 pm, as the 15 minute voting period had expired, legislators had actually voted to defeat CAFTA 180-175. But Republican leaders took the unusual move of holding the vote open for another 47 minutes, furiously rounding up holdouts in their own party until they had secured just enough to ensure approval. To win, the White House and GOP congressional leaders had to overcome resistance from dozens of Republican members who opposed CAFTA because of issues ranging from the threat to the U.S. sugar industry to more general worries about the impact of global trade on U.S. jobs. President Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill yesterday to lobby Republican dissenters. Only 15 of the 202 House Democrats backed the measure, while 27 Republicans voted against CAFTA.
The House vote was effectively the last hurdle facing CAFTA. The Senate has already approved the agreement.
This news from Baghdad. Iraq’s transitional prime minister Ibrahim al Jaafari has called for what he called the speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He made his comments at a news conference with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who made an unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital.
Meanwhile, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey said yesterday that he believed a U.S. troop withdrawal could begin by spring 2006. His remarks appear to have been the first time since the resistance intensified its campaign in April that top Pentagon officials have suggested a timeline for withdrawal.
Some analysts suggest that the US is orchestrating a public relations campaign in an effort to justify pulling out without having to admit that they are being militarily defeated by the Iraqi resistance. Iraq expert Juan Cole points out on his blog this morning that then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress the US would be down to only a division, roughly 20,000 troops, in Iraq by October of 2003. Cole also points out that in the Spring of 2004, the Pentagon announced a troop reduction from 135,000 to 110,000 that never happened. Cole says, “The fact is that Rumsfeld and Casey have no idea if the situation will permit the US to withdraw substantial numbers of troops by next summer.”
The Bush administration has apparently declared an end to the phrase “War on Terror.” The White House has quietly changed the name to “the global struggle against violent extremism.” The New York Times cites administration officials as saying that the phrase “war on terror” may have outlived its usefulness, because it “focused attention solely on the military campaign.” Gen. Richard Myers, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the National Press Club on Monday that he had “objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution.” Administration and Pentagon officials say the new name grew out of meetings of President Bush’s senior national security advisers that began in January. It also comes as Bush appoints one of his most trusted aides, Karen Hughes, to lead the administrations international propaganda and PR campaign.
Under major pressure form its membership and dissident unions that pulled out of the federation, the AFL-CIO has passed a resolution calling for a “rapid” return of all U.S. troops currently in Iraq. The resolution came at the group’s national convention in Chicago. The group US Labor Against the War called the resolution a “major shift in policy.” The groups says that the AFL-CIO General Executive Council had tried to push through a watered-down resolution that did not clearly call for a prompt end to the occupation. This attempt was headed-off after one of the leaders of Labor Against the War put forward an amendment calling for an end to the occupation.
A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll has found that a majority of Americans believe that Karl Rove should leave the White House for his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But only half of those surveyed say they are following the story closely, while a quarter said they had never even heard of Karl Rove. Meanwhile, the National Journal reports that Rove and other top aides to President Bush were given $4,000 raises from last year. Rove is now paid $161,000.
Now to the case of Cuban-born militant Luis Posada Carriles. The Miami Herald is reporting that Posada used a false Salvadoran passport to fly into the US in the spring of 2000 — about six months before using the same passport to travel to Panama, where he was arrested in connection with an alleged plot to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The paper cites documents from the Department of Homeland Security. Use of a false passport to enter the country is a deportable offense in its own right. Posada was taken into U.S. custody on May 17 after sneaking into the country this year. But the records filed in his deportation case in El Paso, Texas, raise questions about just how often the former CIA operative has visited the US. A travel record included as federal evidence against Posada shows he arrived at Miami International Airport on a flight from Central America on April 26, 2000 carrying a Salvadoran passport in the name of Franco Rodriguez Mena. So far, Posada has been charged with being in the country illegally. But use of false documents is a federal offense that could result in a sentence of up to 25 years in prison if the false document was used for terrorism purposes. U.S. government officials declined comment. The immigration charges against Posada pale in comparison to the long list of allegations against him. Among them, masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people.