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Iraq: Avoiding the Hard Truths

The Progress Report

This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the escalation could be twice as large as President Bush has claimed, stating that the 21,500 troops that will be sent to Iraq need to be accompanied by as many as 28,000 support troops. The White House responded that the additional troops won't need additional support.

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GOOD NEWS

“For the first time in five years, the African-American unemployment rate dipped. It went from 8.4 percent in December 2006 to 8 percent this January.”


STATE WATCH

GEORGIA: The state “will stop enrolling new children in its health insurance program for low-income families because federal funds are running out.”

LOUISIANA: “A year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, an alarming number of residents are leaving or seriously thinking of getting out for good.”

MICHIGAN: After an appeals court ruling limited benefits for partners of gays and lesbians, gay rights advocates fear consequences for rulings in over a dozen other states.

TENNESSEE: Environmentalists are excited about what Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) calls “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to preserve almost 200 square miles of forestland.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Right wing spreads misinformation about Oregon’s global warming denier.

BUSH V. CHOICE
: More than 90 percent of young women think emergency contraception is “safe” and “effective.”

THE FRONT LINES: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “Ready for her lesbian platoon?”

BURNT ORANGE REPORT: Implementing the REAL ID Act “will now cost Texas 20 times more than originally estimated.”


DAILY GRILL

“So far, so good.”
— Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 2/7/07, on the status of the escalation plan

VERSUS

“U.S. and Iraqi forces have begun to implement President Bush’s new security plan for Iraq — but the start-up is not without its difficulties. Iraqi units have met deployment deadlines, but they’re not at full strength. The first additional US brigade has arrived in Baghdad, but military officials are steamed that civilian US agencies aren’t moving as fast as they are.”
— Christian Science Monitor, 2/9/07


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  February 9, 2007
Avoiding The Hard Truths
Go Beyond The Headlines
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Avoiding The Hard Truths

This week, the public learned yet Dat the Bush administration will go to exceeding lengths to avoid leveling with the American people about the difficulties in Iraq. In its early stages, the Bush escalation plan has encountered many “glitches,” and yet the administration claims “so far, so good.” This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the escalation could be twice as large as President Bush has claimed, stating that the 21,500 troops that will be sent to Iraq need to be accompanied by as many as 28,000 support troops. The White House responded that the additional troops won’t need additional support. The administration also stated that it could not project the amount of funding that Iraq will require past 2009. Yet the CBO was able to estimate that the cost for Bush’s plan would be $919 billion over the next ten years. In the wake of the recent spate of U.S. helicopter downings in Iraq, the administration has decided, according to one journalist, to keep information about the incidents “close to the vest.” For an unpopular president trying to execute an unpopular strategy, a more candid and honest approach is needed.

INCOMPETENCE STILL REIGNS:  Bush announced in January that he had decided to escalate troop levels in Iraq. The decision came after four months of internal deliberations within the administration. Despite the amount of time that elapsed between the conception and the execution of the idea, the administration has still managed to be unprepared for the mission. Bush announced that small teams of American personnel would be placed within Iraqi ministries to make sure that $10 billion in Iraqi funds were spent correctly to reconstruct Iraq. After Bush announced his new strategy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress, “All of us in the State Department fully understand our role in this mission, and we are prepared to play it. We are ready to strengthen, indeed to ‘surge,’ our civilian efforts.” But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said recently that Rice told him that her department “needed six months to locate and prepare civil servants and contractors to send abroad. ‘It is illustrative of the difficulty of getting other agencies to provide people on a timely basis,’ Gates said.” A large number of jobs that need to be performed — like engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, and accountants — should be carried out by civilians because the military does not have personnel nor the expertise to perform them. Senior military officers, including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have told Bush and Gates “that the new Iraq strategy could fail unless more civilian agencies step forward quickly to carry out plans for reconstruction and political development.” But Rice has been unable to rally the resources needed for the mission, as “many federal employees have outright refused repeated requests that they go to Iraq.”

IRAQIS DESPONDENT: Before Bush’s escalation has even had an opportunity to fully take hold in Iraq, the Iraqi government has acknowledged that the cause may be lost. Basim Shareef, a Shiite member of Parliament, said, “A long time has passed since the plan was announced. But so far security has only deteriorated.” Following a deadly bombing earlier this month that killed at least 125 people in Baghdad, “a growing number of Iraqis blamed the United States for creating conditions that led to the worst single suicide bombing in the war.” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said recently that his government had stumbled in its efforts to carry out a new security plan in Baghdad and that the delays and mounting violence were hurting its credibility with the Iraqi people. “I feel that we are late,” he said in an address to his senior military commanders that was broadcast live on Iraqi national television. “This delay is giving a negative impression and has led some people to say that we have already failed.” The New York Times reported, “With much of Baghdad devolving further into chaos, many Iraqis have begun to question whether the security plan has ambled along too slowly, setting up a situation in which American and Iraqi troops will be greeted with hostility rather than welcomed as protectors.”

THE ENEMY ADAPTS: In the last three weeks, six U.S. helicopters have crashed — at least four of them confirmed to be the result of enemy fire. Military analyst Anthony Cordesman said, “The insurgents may have found a new, high profile way to attack the U.S. at a time they are fighting a political and perceptual battle against the U.S.” American officials say “the streak strongly suggests that insurgents have adapted their tactics and are now putting more effort into shooting down the aircraft.” One senior military official suggested that the recent helicopter downings were the direct result of the U.S. escalation strategy, arguing that it has intensified Iraqi violence. “There is certainly the expectation here that insurgents are trying to inflict some losses as we’re building up forces as a means to try to discourage the Iraqis and us that this is a futile plan,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. In the wake of this potentially growing threat, New York Times reporter Damien Cave said, “American investigators are still trying to figure out what exactly is going on and, frankly, they’re keeping this stuff very close to the vest and not really telling us too much about what they think is going on or whether or not they know exactly what might be going on.”

NO DEBATE AT HOME: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed, “We are ready and anxious to have this debate [on Bush’s escalation strategy] this week.” But when presented the opportunity to begin that debate, McConnell and the majority of his conservative allies voted this week to block “debate on a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq.” “You can run but you can’t hide,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told his colleagues on the floor. “We are going to debate Iraq.” At least eight senators who publicly claimed to oppose Bush’s escalation strategy voted to cut off debate on the resolution, in effect voting for escalation. In the lead-up to the vote, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) chided his colleagues to take a principled stand on the anti-escalation resolution. “If you want a safe job, go sell shoes,” he said. Conservative Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Susan Collins (R-ME) heeded the call and voted in favor of continuing the debate. When it came time to for Hagel to vote, however, he opted not to go on the record about his opposition to Bush’s plan. After the vote, the “anti-escalation” senators who voted for escalation flip-flopped again. Seven of those senators sent a sharply worded letter to their leaders, saying: “The current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the people of this country.”

Under the Radar

ADMINISTRATION — SENATE VOTES TO RESTRICT ADMINISTRATION POWER OVER U.S. ATTORNEY APPOINTMENTS: At least seven U.S. Attorneys have been asked — “without explanation” — to resign by the Bush administration. Several of these prosecutors were working on high-profile corruption cases, such as Carol Lam, who successfully investigated the corruption of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA). In their places, U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales has appointed partisan administration allies with few, if any, ties to the communities they will be serving. For example, U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins was pushed out by the Bush administration in December, and replaced with a “37-year-old protege of White House political adviser Karl Rove.” Earlier in the week, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty admitted to a Senate panel that Cummins was forced to resign to make way for the Rove aide. McNulty claimed that at least six other U.S. attorneys were fired for “performance-related” issues. But yesterday, John McKay, the recently fired U.S. attorney based in Seattle, called McNulty’s comments “unfair” and inaccurate. He said that “his Seattle office received glowing reviews as recently as last fall, when an intensive Justice Department audit heaped praise on McKay and his staff,” and “was told of no performance problems when he was asked to resign.” A little-noticed provision in the Patriot Act allows Gonzales to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period of time. A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Panel yesterday approved a measure that would take away the executive branch’s unchecked power on U.S. attorney appointments, allowing the attorney general to appoint a replacement for 120 days, with the district court then stepping in and appointing a new interim U.S. attorney if the Senate has not approved a permanent one. American Progress Senior Fellow Scott Lilly has more on the firings here.

ENVIRONMENT — BUSH ADMINISTRATION IGNORES TOP BIOLOGIST ON BALD EAGLE PROTECTIONS: The bald eagle population “has rebounded from around 400 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states in the early 1960s to more than 7,000 breeding pairs today,” and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been developing a plan to take the bird off the Endangered Species list. “The problem for FWS officials has been in developing protections for the eagle once it is no longer under the wing of [the Endangered Species Act], and particularly what it means to ‘disturb’ a bird” under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.  Last December, FWS defined “disturb” as any actions that injure or kill an eagle. “But a memo, obtained this week by National Public Radio, shows that proposed regulations for the bird went against recommendations of FWS Director Dale Hall and some agency scientists.” “There is sufficient public comment to support a new, more protective definition of ‘disturb,'” Hall — the nation’s “top wildlife biologist” — wrote in the memo. “The new definition does not require actual injury, death, or nest abandonment. Instead the threshold is the likelihood of one of those outcomes. … [The current proposal] would be very difficult to enforce without evidence of a dead or injured eagle. Adding ‘or is likely to cause’ reduces the uncertainty and is more acceptable.” Hall’s bosses “ignored his advice” when they issued the final regulations. “The memo shows us what we knew, which is that proposal is fundamentally flawed,” John Kostyack, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, said. “The administration essentially nullified that law.

HOMELAND SECURITY — ‘SYSTEMIC’ PROBLEMS PLAGUE HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT: “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has failed to tell Congress how it is spending billions of dollars on major programs ranging from aviation security to Gulf Coast rebuilding, House appropriators said Thursday.” After three days of hearings, members of both parties accused the agency of negligence in responding to congressional oversight and mismanagement of programs and employees. Rep. David Price (D-NC) faulted the department for still owing twelve expenditure plans to Congress. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) expressed concern about the lack of accountability and oversight of two initiatives: the Secure Border Initiative to build a border fence and a $25 billion Coast Guard shipbuilding program called Deepwater. Furthermore, government officials identified “systemic” problems within the Department — specifically in the office of General Counsel Philip Perry, Dick Cheney’s son-in-law. Mismanagement at the top has negatively affected the work culture of thousands of DHS employees. Called “the most persistently  miserable people in the federal government,” DHS workers are the least satisfied employees in the Bush administration. “There is a morale crisis in this department that is only getting worse,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.


Think Fast

The Pentagon’s Inspector General has found that Rumsfeld aide Douglas Feith’s rogue pre-war intel group was an “inappropriate” use of intelligence by Pentagon civilians, and was “predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.” Senate intel chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says he will probe whether the Pentagon broke the law by “failing to notify Congress about the group’s work.”

All 435 House members will be allowed to view the classified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, providing “fuel for a House debate” next week in which all members “will be given five minutes to speak” on Bush’s escalation plan.

For the first time in history, “more of America’s poor are living in the suburbs than the cities — 1.2 million more, according to a 2005 survey. ‘The suburbs have reached a tipping point, says Brookings Institution analyst Alan Berube.”

Sir Richard Branson and Al Gore announced $25 million will go to the winner of the Earth Challenge Prize, a competition announced to see “who comes up with the best way of removing significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The White House released a “fact sheet” yesterday saying Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace didn’t mean it when they said voting on an anti-escalation resolution will not hurt the morale of U.S. troops. The White House insists both believe in “the importance of Congressional support for our mission in Iraq.” 

Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty told a Senate panel this week that six U.S. attorneys were forced to resign for “performance-related” reasons. Yesterday, John McKay, the recently fired U.S. attorney based in Seattle, said McNulty’s comments were “unfair” and “he was told of no performance problems when he was asked to resign.”

Frustrated “by the slow response from Sudan’s government to international demands to ease the plight of refugees in Darfur,” a new group — Enough — has formed to “create a social and political network that can identify potential wide-scale atrocities, particularly in Africa, and stop them before they occur,” the Washington Post reports. The group is co-founded by Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Gayle Smith.

“The Homeland Security Department has failed to tell Congress how it is spending billions of dollars on major programs ranging from aviation security to Gulf Coast rebuilding, House appropriators said Thursday.”

And finally: Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA) has taken up the fight for turtle power. Alexander is working to repeal the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on the sale of baby turtles as pets. “Modern research has shown that turtles can be treated to eliminate the risk of salmonella, and I think it is time to amend this outdated ban that has hindered an important industry in Louisiana,” said Alexander.