The recent $70 billion financial bailout was forced onto a skeptical, unwilling American public who dialed in to Congressional offices protesting the plan. The inital NO vote by Congress echoed the feeling by enraged citizens that Wall Street should twist in the wind, choked by it's own greed and irresponsible, unsustainable practices.
The White House got the votes it needed, however, after a few days of tense wrangling in which big finance threatened they'd let the peoples assets get eaten up in their collapse. The White House became salesmen for the deal. Congress saw they were up against impending chaos if the tumbling dominos endangered the life savings of their constituents. Blackmail.
The bailout ensured the Bush White House enough cash and control to see them through to the end of their misbegotten term. That it was unhealthy for the economy in the long-term mattered not - Bush all but doubled the national deficit already, signaling how much he cares about fiscal responsibility.
Now the White House has turned his attention to Iraq. Frustrated for months at the resistance Iraq has shown in signing a Status of Forces Agreement, Bush has ratcheted up the pressure. The SOFA would allow U.S. to continue its "war on terror" in Iraq until 2011 and pave the way for the contracts Big Oil has been long waiting for.
The Iraqi people have been protesting and marching in solidarity against the SOFA which they see as exploitive and imperialist. The blatant greed of the U.S. has brought together Iraqi rivals in common disgust. Prime Minister Maliki, who endorsed Obama's plan for a responsible withdrawal of U.S. forces has stood up to Bush, identifying privatized military forces as a sticking point in negotiations - the Iraqis want Blackwater liable for their actions in Iraqi criminal courts.
But President Bush wants a deal now, charging General Odierno with the job of threatening the Iraqis who quickly termed this blackmail. Odierno gave a three page list of "services" that the U.S. military will withhold if Iraq resists further. This includes the security that has prevented Iraqis from killing eachother in the streets as they did for years before the Petraeus era.
Here's where it gets interesting - January 1st would be the date for withholding these services. In a hilarious twist of irony, a timetable, but without adequate transition support for the Iraqis to take over their own security.
Unlike the timetable proposed earlier by Democrats which Bush claimed amounted to surrender, this timetable is being used to pressure the Iraqis, leaving them without weapons and training, vulnerable to violence, and particularly at their borders. Many experts believe this may further push Iraq towards waiting Iranian influences.
This deadline however isn't of Bush's design- it represents the expiration of the U.N. mandate under which U.S. forces have been allowed to occupy Iraq - the legal cover for the war. Technically, the U.S. couldn't continue providing military "services" if they wanted to - unless a SOFA is signed or the deadline is extended, unlikely because the President won't let Congress, the American people or the U.N. see the terms of the prososed agreement.
Phyllis Bennis offers an excellent analysis of a translated draft of the SOFA leaked by the Iraqis here - and it is a must-read for anyone against this war and particularly troops questioning the legality of their deployment after New Year's Eve.
Perhaps it's the fingerprint of Vice President Cheney at work here. It was Cheney who stopped Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix on his way into the Oval Office to meet the President in 2003. According to Blix, Cheney ordered him to issue a report that agreed with George Bush's claims or Blix would be discredited.
Another story circulated during the 2006 NSA hearings warned that any Republican who voted to continue the inquiries would see their reelection funding withheld -- at the behest of Karl Rove. By the next day, the hearings were discontinued without explanation.
Regardless of who within the White House is conceiving of these blackmail and secrecy plots, it's clear the current administration wants to do some last-minute business in ensuring the wealthiest of defense and energy industry barons contract out a little more plunder before the Bush era ends. Related reading: updated commentary by John Perkins, author of A Game As Old As Empire: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.