|February 5, 2007|
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“President Bush’s tough new stance on Iran and his military buildup in the Persian Gulf recall some of the drumbeats that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003,” the AP reports. “As then, the Bush administration is making allegations about Iran without providing proof. It is suggesting Iran is sending weapons to Iraq, yet offering no evidence the supplies can be traced to Tehran.” Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has warned that Vice President Dick Cheney and other ideologues within the Bush administration are trying to provoke a military conflict with Iran. “I don’t think that policy makers in this administration particularly understand Iran,” said Rockefeller. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who came to power with an agenda to eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment, “is now facing increasingly fierce criticism for his failure to meet those promises.” There has been talk of his impeachment in Iran. At the same time, he has aggressively pushed ahead Iran’s nuclear program, shrugging off U.N. demands that the country halt uranium enrichment. As a result, the United Nations in December imposed sanctions on Iran. Rather than capitalize on Ahmadinejad’s weak political circumstances, the Bush administration’s bellicose rhetoric and repeated threats — which Ahmadinejad is more than happy to reciprocate — serve to perpetuate his grasp on power by providing him with Iranian popular support for his confrontation with the international community. Ali Ansari, director of the Institute of Iranian Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland, writes, “The reality is that while Ahmadinejad has been his own worst enemy, the U.S. hawks are his best friends.”
BUSH’S PROVOCATIONS: Rather than pursuing a course that leads to diplomacy, the Bush administration is instead taunting Iran. In his Jan. 10 address to the nation on his new Iraq strategy, Bush included “some of his sharpest words of warning” to Iran. “I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier group to the region,” he said. Referring to the deployment of the carrier USS John C. Stennis, Vice President Cheney said, “That sends a very strong signal to everybody in the region that the United States is here to stay, that we clearly have significant capabilities, and that we are working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat.” Shortly after Bush’s speech, American forces stormed Iranian government offices in northern Iraq, detaining six people, including diplomats. Ansari called the administration’s actions an “extreme provocation.” Just weeks later, Bush confirmed he had authorized a Pentagon program to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq. Moreover, Pentagon officials said the Air Force is preparing for an expanded role in Iraq that could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants. “Within the Pentagon, many active-duty officers are wary of an aggressive military response to Iran, arguing that there is no need to risk starting another war.” Alarmed by rising tensions between the United States and Iran, “Iraqi government officials fear their country is in danger of being dragged into the middle of a new conflict between its two main allies.”
DESIGNS ON IRAN: Concern that the United States may be on a collision course with Iran is driven by knowledge that the administration has harbored designs on confronting that nation for years. In a recent interview in GQ Magazine, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) revealed that the Bush administration tried to get Congress to approve military action anywhere in the Middle East — not just in Iraq — in the fall of 2002. The White House “sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region,” said Hagel. In 2003, the administration rebuffed an offer by Iran to help stabilize Iraq. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said, “We thought it was a very propitious moment to (strike the deal). But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the vice president’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil’…reasserted itself.” Former administration insider Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative proponent of the Iraq war, said recently that Bush would attack Iran before he leaves office. “If he is told, ‘Mr. President, you are at the point of no return,’ I have very little doubt that this president would order the necessary military action,” Perle said.
NO EVIDENCE: In recent months, administration officials have stridently claimed that Iran is stoking the violence in Iraq. “The Iranians need to know…that the United States is not finding it acceptable and is not going to simply tolerate their activities to try and harm our forces or to destabilize Iraq,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Recently, outgoing National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told the Senate, “Iran has been emboldened in its behavior during the past couple of years and has played a more assertive role and that certainly manifests itself in Iraq, where we have increasing evidence that they have been providing lethal assistance to extremist Shia groups in that country.” The administration’s talk, however, has not been backed up with any evidence. Bush’s national security advisers have twice “ordered a delay in publication of evidence intended to support Washington’s contention that Iran supplies lethal technology and other aid to militias in Iraq.” In a press briefing last Friday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the delay was due to the fact that the intelligence on Iran had been hyped. ”The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated, and we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts,” he said. While the newly-released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq states that Iran is trying to cause trouble for the United States, “is not likely to be a major driver of violence.” The Los Angeles Times recently reported, “[E]vidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq’s troubles is limited. … [T]here has been little sign of more advanced weaponry crossing the border, and no Iranian agents have been found.” Three U.S. officials “familiar with unpublished intel” tell Newsweek that evidence of official Iranian involvement in Iraq is “ambiguous.”
ISOLATED BUSH: Responding to the administration’s provocations towards Iran, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, ”The president does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization.” Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, agreed that “the president would need authority.” Encouraging more resistance to the administration’s current course, “three former high-ranking U.S. military officers have called for Britain to help defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, saying military action against Tehran would be a disaster for the region.” A coalition of U.K. unions, faith groups, and think tanks warn in a new report that an attack on Iran could further destabilize neighboring Iraq, undermine hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and embolden hard-liners in Ahmadinejad’s government. It said an attack on oil-rich Iran could also drive up fuel prices, harming economies around the world. “The possible consequences of military action could be so serious that governments have a responsibility to ensure that all diplomatic options have been exhausted,” the report said. “At present, this is not the case.”
HOMELAND SECURITY — BUSH SHIFTS $1.3 BILLION AWAY FROM LEVEE FUNDING: President Bush is expected to “shift $1.3 billion away from raising and armoring levees, installing floodgates and building permanent pumping in Southeast Louisiana in order to plug long-anticipated financial shortfalls in other hurricane-protection projects, a move Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) describes as a retreat from the president’s commitment to protect the whole New Orleans area,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Friday. Vitter “condemned the move in a strongly worded letter to the president and called on him to ask Congress for more money to complete work that he promised would be done — and Congress financed — in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” Vitter wrote, ”I believe your fiscal 2008 budget proposal would be a step back from that commitment, however unintended. … I am deathly afraid that this vital emergency post-Katrina work is now being treated like typical (Army Corps of Engineers) projects that take decades to complete. We will not recover if this happens.” Meanwhile, a new study by Columbia University and the Children’s Health Fund finds that “recovery from Hurricane Katrina has stagnated for the poorest families displaced by the storm.” The New York Times reports, “Many still suffer from a significant loss of income, a higher-than-normal rate of chronic diseases like hypertension and an exponential rise in mental health problems among children.”
GOVERNMENT — PRIVATE CONTRACTORS HAVE BECOME A ‘VIRTUAL FOURTH BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT’: “Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government,” the New York Times reports today. “On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000, fueled by the war in Iraq, domestic security and Hurricane Katrina, but also by a philosophy that encourages outsourcing almost everything government does.” Competition for contracts has “sharply eroded” since 2001, and ”the number of government workers overseeing contracts has remained level as spending has shot up,” leading to stark examples of mismanagement. The Washington Post revealed last month that Lurita Alexis Doan, the chief of the U.S. General Services Administration, “attempted to give a no-bid contract to a company founded and operated by a longtime friend, sidestepping federal laws and regulations.” The latest report by Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, detailed “government’s failure to monitor how contractors were spending taxpayer money.” Tomorrow, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) will begin hearings focused on contracts in Iraq and at the Department of Homeland Security. Waxman introduced the “Clean Contracting Act” last year with the goals of promoting competition, increasing oversight, and deterring corruption.
LABOR — FALLING BEHIND IN FAMILY-FRIENDLY WORK POLICIES: Today is the 14th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which has “allowed 50 million workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they are ill or need to care for a family member or new child.” But the FMLA isn’t enough. A new study shows that the United States continues to lag “far behind virtually all wealthy countries with regard to family-oriented workplace policies such as maternity leave, paid sick days and support for breast-feeding.” For example, it is one of just five countries “out of 173 in the survey that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave.” At least 134 countries have set a maximum work week length; the United States does not have a maximum or a limit on mandatory overtime per week. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), the original author of the FMLA, has announced plans to introduce legislation that “would allow U.S. workers to take at least six weeks off and still be paid — to have a baby, take care of a newly adopted child, recover from an illness, or take care of a sick child or family member.” The Department of Labor (DoL) is currently “reconsidering” the FMLA and taking public comments, “amid legal challenges from business groups that the Act is too permissive and allows for abuse.” Write to the DoL and show your support for the FMLA and family-friendly workplaces.
An historic Senate debate over President Bush’s war policy is set to begin today, “but it’s not clear whether there will be a vote.” Conservatives are threatening to use a filibuster to block a vote on an anti-escalation resolution. “It may be the only way for Bush supporters to prevent a bipartisan vote of no confidence,” USA Today reports.
Lawmakers expressed “sticker shock” over President Bush’s proposed 2008 budget, which estimates $300 billion in new Iraq spending and $100 billion in cuts for Medicare and Medicaid. The budget also would “provide insufficient extra cash to maintain coverage for poor children currently enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
“After years of stockpiling findings and allegations,” House oversight chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) will “unleash four days of hearings this week aimed at exposing an array of ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ in government.” The first hearing will feature former Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who says he will present a “5,000- to 6,000-word treatise” explaining corruption during his tenure.
Apartment rents are set to rise by 5 percent this year, marking the third straight year of increases. “The discrepancy between the rise in apartment rentals and wages means workers will have to devote even more of their paychecks to housing.”
Three U.S. officials “familiar with unpublished intel” tell Newsweek that evidence of official Iranian involvement in Iraq is “ambiguous.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports, the “many setbacks and outright failures of Tehran’s experimental program suggest that its bluster may outstrip its technical expertise.”
1,000: Number of people that the Iraqi Interior Ministry estimates to have been killed this past week, “due to gunbattles, drive-by shootings and bomb attacks.” This announcement follows an attack killing 130 people on Sunday, the second-deadliest attack since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
The poor in developing countries “will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today. According to a World Bank report, “the annual costs of climate change impacts in exposed developing countries could range from several percent to tens of percent of gross domestic product.”
And finally: “When Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) saw reporters approaching him last week, he took off in a sprint, determined to say as little as possible about a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush’s troop-escalation plan, which is expected to come before the Senate today. ‘You know where I stand,’ the senator…said repeatedly as he fled down stairways at the Capitol. ‘I’m still looking.'”