National Security

The Third Member of the Axis of Evil

There is a major shift today in the United States' public stance on negotiations with North Korea:

If North Korea gives up its nuclear programs, the United States is willing to engage in "a bilateral process" to establish "a normal relationship," the chief U.S. negotiator said here Wednesday after two days of one-on-one talks with his North Korean counterpart.

Reading about the - long neglected in the Bush Administration - use of diplomacy makes a nice break from other foreign policy news, doesn't it?

LA Times Poll Shows Overwhelming Opposition to Bush-McCain Plan

President Bush has said he'll pursue his goals in the Middle East even when his dog Barney is the only one that still supports him.  Based on today's poll by the LA Times, that day appears to be getting ever nearer:

A strong majority of Americans opposes President Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq, and about half of the country wants Congress to block the deployment, a Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

As he seeks to chart a new course in Iraq, Bush also faces pervasive resistance to and skepticism about the U.S. commitment — more than three-fifths of those surveyed said the war was not worth fighting, and only one-third approved of his handling of the conflict.

One Day In Iraq

Awful news from Iraq today, where three bombs at a Shiite-dominated Baghdad University indicates that sectarian violence continues unabated.  What does all this mean for the Bush-McCain escalation plan:

As one of the most deadly attacks on Shiites since the summer, it suggested that Sunni insurgents remain unfazed, even brash, in the face of the American military’s newest plan to secure the capital...

...In all, at least 108 people were killed in the capital, an Interior Ministry official said, and 25 more were found dead, many showing signs of torture.

American officials have emphasized that such violence justifies the imminent addition of 20,000 troops to make an immediate push to pacify the country.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki, by contrast, issued a statement after the bombings blaming supporters of Iraq’s “buried regime” for the violence, stressing again that Sunnis lay at the heart of the country’s problems. He has repeatedly rejected American efforts to crack down on Shiite militias that attack Sunnis, and has demanded control of the effort to bring peace to the country.

His support for the American plan to add troops and stamp out violence from both sects has been tepid at best. On Tuesday, his office released a statement emphasizing that Iraq would continue to build up its armed forces “to prepare for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from the cities or the withdrawal of 50,000 American soldiers from Iraq.”

And support from Sunni allies in the region is equally muted:

“We agree fully with the goals set by the new strategy, which in our view are the goals that — if implemented — would solve the problems that face Iraq,” said Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister...

...Although Prince Saud’s endorsement of Mr. Bush’s new Iraq plan was lukewarm at best, the prince declined to be drawn into a discussion of potential Saudi actions in the event that Iraq slides into full-blown sectarian civil war.

At home, Senator Hillary Clinton announced her intention to introduce a bill capping US troop levels in Iraq at the 1/1/07 level of 140,000.

And Senators Joe Biden (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) introduced a non-binding resolution today that strongly opposes the Bush-McCain escalation.  It will be important to watch the levels of bipartisan support it receives.  The full text is here, you can read the press release, and I'll post video of the presser as soon as it's up.  In the meantime, enjoy Rep. David Wu's explanation for the White House's foreign policy.

Update 1/18/07 at 10:30am:

Watch Senator Clinton's explanation of her resolution:

Senator Jim Webb to Give Democratic Response to the State of the Union

Senator Jim Webb has been tapped to give the Democrats' response to President Bush's State of the Union next week.  It's short notice, but this is a man who wrote his own op-ed for the Wall Street Journal without running it by his staff, so his speech may end up being must-see-tv, with more candor than usual.  Senator Webb is a marine combat veteran, whose son is currently serving in Iraq, and his outspoken oppostion to the President's Iraq policy will provide an important voice, as we debate America's involvement going forward

Why is the Administration surprised that Iran is gaining regional influence?

After our country was attacked in 2001 there were many ways our government could respond.  The path we choose - of the many we could have chosen – removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein from power and establishing a Shiite-led government in Iraq was almost certainly going to strengthen the regional hand of Iran.

I wrote a long post about all this recently, so I won’t repeat it here. While I am not excited about the idea of Iran’s growing regional influence, that our government is responding to this very predictable regional development, of our own making, with belligerence and outrage is another moment of almost unbelievable American arrogance and folly.

Here’s the chief architect of our global policy of arrogance and folly waking up to the new regional political dynamic his strategy has created:

On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that America’s actions were intended to protect allies in the Persian Gulf — though it is far from clear that Iran’s Sunni Arab neighbors have signed on to the strategy. “If you go and talk with the gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried,” Mr. Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” He described how the Iranians “sit astride the Straits of Hormuz” and its oil-shipping channels, and how they support Hamas and Hezbollah. “So the threat that Iran represents is growing,” he said, in words reminiscent of how he once built a case against Mr. Hussein. “It’s multidimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.”

One of the areas that Senator Biden and Representative Lantos should explore in their ongoing Congressional hearings is what exactly did we our government believe was going to happen when we eliminated two of Iran’s most significant adversaries, established in Iraq the first Shiite-led Arab government in the region’s history and helped place at the helm of the Iraqi government political parties and leaders close to Iran?

This same Times’ piece has some interesting, and let’s say less than satisfactory insights into all this:

For more than two years after Saddam Hussein’s fall, the war in Iraq was about chasing down insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Last year it expanded to tamping down sectarian warfare.

Over the past three weeks, in two sets of raids and newly disclosed orders issued by President Bush, a third front has opened — against Iran.

Administration officials say the goal is limited to preventing Iranians from aiding in attacks on American and Iraqi forces inside Iraq. But in recent interviews and public statements, senior members of the Bush administration have made it clear that their agenda goes significantly further, toward foiling Iran’s dream of emerging as the greatest power in the Middle East.

In an interview on Friday, before she left on her latest Middle East trip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described what she called an “evolving” strategy to confront “destabilizing behavior” by Iran across the region. Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said Sunday on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” that the United States was resisting an Iranian effort “to basically establish hegemony” throughout the region.

Even some of Mr. Bush’s fiercest critics do not question that the administration’s conviction that Iran’s ambitions are large is correct. A few midlevel administration officials wondered even in 2003 whether Iran was a far more potent threat than Mr. Hussein.

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, administration officials argued that deposing Mr. Hussein would send a powerful signal to Iran and North Korea, the two countries that Mr. Bush identified along with Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union address as part of an “axis of evil.” “You heard this argument in meetings all the time,” a senior official on the National Security Council, who has since left the administration, recalled recently. “Iraq would make the harder problems of Iran and North Korea easier."

But the opposite happened. North Korea tested a nuclear device in October. And Iran has sped ahead with a uranium enrichment program. Now, despite the urging of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to engage with Iran, Washington is moving in a more confrontational direction. It is stationing more naval, air and antimissile batteries off Iran’s coast; has persuaded many international businesses to cut off dealings with Iran; and it has interfered with Iranians inside Iraqi territory.

“The administration does have Iran on the brain, and I think they are exaggerating the amount of Iranian activities in Iraq,” Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, said Sunday. “There’s a good chance that this is going to be counterproductive — that this is a way to get into a spiral with Iran that leads you into conflict. The likely response from the Iranians is that they are going to want to demonstrate to us that they are not going to be pushed around.”

Administration officials say ignoring Iran’s activities will only lead to escalation with the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “There’s no question that everything that has gone wrong in Iraq has made life easier for the Iranians,” one senior White House official said recently. “The question is what you do about that.”

The answer, shaped in the National Security Council, is for the American military to make targets of Iranians whom they believe are fueling attacks, a decision that Mr. Bush made months ago that was disclosed only last week.

Yes, the question indeed, is what do we do about that – but the that is not Iran but a group of discredited and desperate leaders running our country no longer capable of managing our interests around the world.     

Bush's Iraq narrative is "incomplete, oversimplified and possibly untrue"

Via Susan G at Daily Kos, Mark Seibel of the McClatchy News Service takes on the President's new Iraq narrative (the piece is worth reading in its entirety):

WASHINGTON - President Bush and his aides, explaining their reasons for sending more American troops to Iraq, are offering an incomplete, oversimplified and possibly untrue version of events there that raises new questions about the accuracy of the administration's statements about Iraq.

President Bush unveiled the new version on Wednesday during his nationally televised speech announcing his new Iraq policy.

"When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation," he said. "We thought that these elections would bring Iraqis together - and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

"But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq - particularly in Baghdad - overwhelmed the political gains Iraqis had made. Al-Qaida terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's election posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.

"They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam - the Golden Mosque of Samarra - in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate," Bush said. "Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today."

That version of events helps to justify Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq, in which U.S. forces will largely target Sunni insurgents and leave it to Iraq's U.S.-backed Shiite government to - perhaps - disarm its allies in Shiite militias and death squads.

But the president's account understates by at least 15 months when Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni politicians and clerics. It also ignores the role that Iranian-backed Shiite groups had in death squad activities prior to the Samarra bombing.

Blaming the start of sectarian violence in Iraq on the Golden Dome bombing risks policy errors because it underestimates the depth of sectarian hatred in Iraq and overlooks the conflict's root causes. The Bush account also fails to acknowledge that Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite groups stoked the conflict.

President Bush met at the White House in November with the head of one of those groups: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI's Badr Organization militia is widely reported to have infiltrated Iraq's security forces and to be involved in death squad activities.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recited Bush's history of events on Thursday in fending off angry questioning from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about why Rice had offered optimistic testimony about Iraq during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in October 2005.

"The president has talked repeatedly now about the changed circumstances that we faced after the Samarra bombing of February `06, because that bombing did in fact change the character of the conflict in Iraq," Rice said. "Before that, we were fighting al-Qaida; before that, we were fighting some insurgents, some Saddamists."

She cited the version again in an appearance later that day before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "This is a direct result of al-Qaida activity," she said, asking House members not to consider Iraq's sectarian violence as evidence that Iraqis cannot live together.

Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley used the same version of events in an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Much like the administration's pre-war claims about Saddam's alleged ties to al-Qaida and purported nuclear weapons program, the claims about the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra ignore inconvenient facts and highlight questionable but politically useful assumptions....

Why is Rice still the Secretary of State?

In Iraq, Americans are "being played like a pawn"

From Monday's Times:

“We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad closely involved in negotiations over the plan, expressing frustration. “We are being played like a pawn.”

The rest of the story doesn't get any better.  All about how the negotiations with the Iraq government about the President's new plan aren't going so well. 

A terrible week for Bush

I wrote last weekend that in my 20 years in the political and media business I had never seen such a bad pre-rollout of a major Presidential initiative as the rollout of the "new way forward" in Iraq.  Well, a week later, I have to say I have never seen such a terrible rollout of a Presidential initiative.  The general chatter and press this weekend is unrelentingly bad, almost amazingly so.   The President's plan is dead in Congress, has weakened his standing in the nation and will now guarentee a contentious and perhaps dysfunctional American government these next two years - all at a time of great challenge here and abroad. 

Man do we have a lot of work to do.

Maliki next?

People associated with the President's Iraq strategy keep losing their jobs.  The Republicans lost their majority, Lieberman his primary, Rumsfeld, Casey all gone.  Now according to Secretary Gates, Maliki could be next:

Testifying on Capitol Hill about the plan for the second straight day, Mr. Gates said that Iraqi lawmakers might decide to replace Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, if he failed to take steps to carry out the new plan to regain control of Baghdad.

“The first consequence that he has to face is the possibility that he’ll lose his job,” Mr. Gates said. “There are beginning to be some people around that may say, ‘I can do better than he’s doing,’ in terms of making progress.”

Administration officials have discussed among themselves whether they might need to withdraw support for Mr. Maliki if he doesn’t perform, notably by building a new coalition in the Iraqi Parliament. Mr. Gates’s statement was the first mention of the subject in public by a senior administration official.

Mr. Gates and other administration officials have had trouble explaining to lawmakers why they are confident that Mr. Maliki will carry out promises to send more Iraqi troops to Baghdad and to permit them and the additional American forces to operate in Shiite neighborhoods, where they have been blocked from conducting operations in the past.

Mr. Gates conceded that the Iraqi government’s record of fulfilling its commitments is “not an encouraging one,” but said Mr. Maliki now seemed to him “eager” to follow the plan worked out with American commanders.

He acknowledged that Mr. Maliki initially had wanted to carry out the intensified military effort in Baghdad without more American troops. In addition, American military commanders feared that, without American forces monitoring their operations, there could be even worse sectarian bloodshed.

“There’s no question in my mind that Prime Minister Maliki wanted to do this operation on his own,” Mr. Gates said, but he was “persuaded that additional American forces were needed in order to make his plan succeed.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, seemed to sum up the skepticism about Mr. Maliki among lawmakers in both parties when she noted that he “did not seem to welcome” the idea of sending more American forces when she met with him in Iraq just weeks ago.

“I’m really skeptical that the prime minister has really bought into this plan,” she said.

In the days leading up to Wednesday's announcement there was an extraordinary movement of people into new positions.  We have a new Secetary of Defense, new Intelligence chief, a new UN Ambassador, a new Ambassador to Iraq, several new generals.  Of course the leaders of the Iraqi plan - Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rove - all remain.  It is remarkable how desperate the Administration has been to lay blame on others - Rumsfeld, General Casey, Maliki, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Democrats - and not take responsibility for the core of what has gone wrong in Iraq - a very badly thought through and badly executed plan from the very get go.  And for that the President must accept total responsibility.

Rep. Harman Holds Bush Administration Accountable

Rep. Harman is leading the effort to hole the Bush Administration accountable for Iraq and make funding for our involvment in Iraq more transparent.  Read her op-ed from today's San Francisco Chronicle in its entirety here:

Stop Conducting the War Off the Books

- Jane Harman
Friday, January 12, 2007

As new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, there will be no more "blank checks" for the war in Iraq. Congress will hold President Bush accountable for the way he has fought this war, for what he plans to do next and for how he plans to pay for it.

Bush has funded the war in Iraq and the broader "war on terror" almost entirely through "emergency supplemental" appropriations bills -- in other words, off the books. Ninety-three percent of the approximately $507 billion appropriated for the war in Iraq has come through such bills, and the president is reportedly set to ask for another $100 billion in "emergency" funds in February to cover costs.

By designating budget requests as "emergencies," the president and the former Republican-led Congresses placed them on a legislative fast-track. Congress had little opportunity to ask tough questions about how these funds were being spent, and little opportunity to strip out offending items -- including a litany of earmarks and other domestic spending that had nothing to do with the war.

Calling these funding requests "emergencies" also automatically exempts them from spending caps. The president can thus claim that more than $500 billion in recent spending is not part of the deficit. Nonsense.

By doing so, the true costs of the war are not understood in relation to the other programs that are shortchanged to pay for it -- including providing veteran's benefits to the 22,714 American servicemen and women wounded in the war, funding the chronically underfunded No Child Left Behind education law, paying for affordable housing for Hurricane Katrina victims and investing in clean energy.

Last year's budget resolution, which this Congress has adopted, defines "emergency" as addressing a situation that is "sudden," "urgent," "unforeseen" and "temporary." After almost four years, the war in Iraq cannot reasonably be called "sudden." The Pentagon is capable of "foreseeing" the costs of the war with a reasonable degree of accuracy. And it stretches credulity to call either the war in Iraq or the "war on terror" "temporary." (I will grant the situation is, without question, "urgent").

There is ample precedent for considering the costs of war through the regular appropriations process. President Lyndon B. Johnson sought emergency supplemental funding for the first two years of the Vietnam War, but the war was almost entirely funded through the regular appropriations process in subsequent years. Similarly, most of the cost of the first year of the Korean war was paid for through supplementals, but the following two years were almost entirely paid for through the normal process. The war in Iraq should be no different.

No one in Congress wants to deprive our brave military men and women of the protective gear or equipment they need, or to fail to fund their safe exit from Iraq. That is why the 2007 supplemental appropriation is likely to pass -- and finding spending to cut in the 2007 budget to offset theses costs will be hopeless. But the marker can be set down for future funding. No more "emergency" supplementals, Mr. President.

Future funding for the war in Iraq must be on-budget, so Congress and the public can see the trade-offs and finally have a chance to "share" what is sacrificed.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice, is in her seventh term in Congress and served for the past four years as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

 

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