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Iraq: Between Rhetoric and Reality

It was another bloody day in Iraq yesterday. At least 95 Iraqis were killed or found dead, while 11 American soldiers and a civilian journalist died in attacks across the country.

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GOOD NEWS

“Amid steadily increasing carbon emissions, and a federal government hesitant to take the lead on climate legislation, 10 states have joined to create the first mandatory carbon cap-and-trade program in the United States. They aim to reduce emissions from power plants by 10 percent in 10 years.”


STATE WATCH

FLORIDA: State dumps touch-screen electronic voting in favor of a more reliable paper-trail system.

KENTUCKY: “Federal money is about to run out for a small but successful program that helps imprisoned Kentucky veterans return to the community.”

LOUISIANA: New Orleans area marching bands are still struggling for funding after Hurricane Katrina.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Newt Gingrich to conservatives: Don’t talk about Iraq, Katrina, Walter Reed, U.S. attorneys, or President Bush.

SHAKESVILLE: Greedy companies are risking thousands of lives with an adulterated and counterfeit medicine additive from China.

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Presidential adviser Karl Rove is cynical and condescending when he says, “I’m not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.”

LANCE MANNION: The Washington’s David Broder proves that he “is not a serious person.”


DAILY GRILL

“This university, its students, its alumni and the faculty serve as an example of Dr. Robertson’s dedication to strengthening and then nurturing the pillars of this community and our country: education, fellowship, and advancement.”
— Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), 5/5/07, in the commencement address to Pat Robertson’s Regent University

VERSUS

“I believe it’s motivated by demonic power. It is satanic and it’s time we recognize what we’re dealing with. … [T]he goal of Islam, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, is world domination.”
— Robertson, 3/14/07, on Islam


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  May 7, 2007
Between Rhetoric and Reality
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Between Rhetoric and Reality

It was another bloody day in Iraq yesterday. At least 95 Iraqis were killed or found dead, while 11 American soldiers and a civilian journalist died in attacks across the country. As the violence raged in Iraq, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) appeared on Fox News Sunday where he tepidly declared that conservatives “are supporting the President” and his war policy. Boehner, however, also indicated that the support of conservatives in Congress might be short-lived. “By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B,” said Boehner. If conservatives follow the example of the Los Angeles Times editorial page yesterday and finally break from President Bush on Iraq — which some are already beginning to do — they will join the majority of Americans who have been asking for a Plan B for a long time. More and more conservatives continue to break away from the President. In a recently-released Newsweek poll, Bush’s approval rating sunk to an all-time low of 28 percent, tied for the lowest of any president since Harry Truman. In the poll, which was taken the day after Bush vetoed a $124 billion war funding bill passed by Congress that had timetables for withdrawal, 62 percent of respondents said that they felt Bush’s recent actions in Iraq “show he is stubborn and unwilling to admit his mistakes.” Struggling to maintain conservative unity around his stay-the-course policy, Bush and his dead-end supporters have ratcheted up their rhetorical myths about the war.

MYTH #1 — AMERICANS VOTED FOR THE SURGE: “Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted change in our strategy in Iraq,” said Bush on April 24. “I listened. Today General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course.” Two days later, Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino repeated this talking point, saying “the American people voted for a change in strategy in Iraq — and the President listened.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has also used this line of argument to bolster support for the President’s escalation plan. “They [Democrats] campaigned for changing the course the administration was on last November,” Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post. “Which the president has done.” The “surge,” the change to which Bush, Perino, and Krauthammer are referring, however, was not supported by the American people. In January, while the escalation plan was being debated, two-thirds of Americans — 66 percent — opposed sending more troops to Iraq. Another poll from the time found that 63 percent of Americans opposed sending more troops to Iraq. Rather than confining American soldiers in Iraq indefinitely, Americans want a plan like Strategic Redeployment. Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta, along with Center for American Progress senior fellows Larry Korb, Scott Lilly, and Brian Katulis have suggested a number of principles and scenarios for a new way on Iraq that Congress should consider in the wake of Bush’s veto.

MYTH # 2 — EVERYTHING BAD IN IRAQ IS AL QAEDA: “At the end of the day…Iraq is not about a civil war. Iraq is about al Qaeda and 76 other terrorist groups operating there,” said Boehner during his appearance on Fox News Sunday yesterday. “And all their effort is aimed at defeating the United States.” “The Al-Qaeda terrorists who behead captives or order suicide bombings would not be satisfied to see America defeated and gone from Iraq,” said Bush in his weekly radio address on Saturday. “They would be emboldened by their victory.” Boehner and Bush are wrong when they imply that violence in Iraq is primarily the result of al Qaeda. In a survey of diplomatic and foreign policy experts last month, McClatchy reported that “foreign-born jihadists are present in Iraq, but they’re believed to number only between 4 percent and 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgent fighters.” The National Intelligence Estimate released in February said that “the term ‘civil war’ accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.” According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, there are actually four wars going on in Iraq. “One is Shi’a on Shi’a…the second is sectarian conflict…third is the insurgency…and fourth is Al Qaeda.”

MYTH #3 — IRAQ IS COMMONPLACE: Speaking on the floor of the House last week, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) compared the war in Iraq to a Major League Baseball game. “Imagine my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are playing the much despised Chicago Cubs,” began Shimkus as he analogized withdrawing from Iraq as the equivalent of his favorite baseball team walking off the field during extra innings. “Who wins? We know it’s the team that stays on the field. Arbitrary deadlines and a date certain accept defeat before the conclusion of the contest.” Shimkus isn’t the only war supporter to use a bad analogy to bludgeon criticism of the war. During a trip to Iraq last month, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) told reporters that his heavily-guarded trip to a Baghdad market “was like any open-air market in Indiana in the summertime.” Yesterday, Boehner compared Iraq to the small plastics and packaging company he used to run in Ohio, in an effort to justify setting toothless benchmarks for the Iraqi government. “I owned a small business. I have benchmarks every month, but if I didn’t meet the benchmarks and if I missed the profit margin, I didn’t shut down the business.” Shimkus, Pence, and Boehner are callous and wrong in their analogies. No one gets killed in a Cardinals v. Cubs game, Hoosiers don’t need to wear flak jackets to visit the local market, and 100 U.S. soldiers weren’t killed every month if Boehner couldn’t sell enough bubble wrap.

Under the Radar

MILITARY — PENTAGON CASTS REPORT OF INCREASED COMBAT STRESS AMONG TROOPS AS POSITIVE NEWS: A disturbing Pentagon report finds that the more often soldiers are deployed, the more likely they are to “suffer mental health problems such as combat trauma, anxiety and depression.” This weekend, the Washington Post reported on some of the findings about the impact combat stress is having on the troops. “[A]bout two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. ‘Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,’ the Army report stated.” Acting Army Surgeon Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock characterized the report as positive news, telling reporters, “What it speaks to is the leadership that the military is providing, because they’re not acting on those thoughts. They’re not torturing the people.” CNN’s Lou Dobbs reacted to Pollack’s statement with outrage. “This leadership is putting our men and women, the finest young people we’ve ever put in uniform, into absolutely impossible situations and then taking credit for them not living out their statements on some sort of bureaucratic psychiatric form? I mean, that is despicable,” Dobbs said. “[H]ow in the world can the leadership in that building…sit there and compliment themselves and those officers while they were extending their tours to 15 months and putting them in the most impossible of situations?”

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — SENATORS CHALLENGE ADMINISTRATION’S CLAIM THAT SUDAN IS ‘A STRONG PARTNER IN WAR ON TERROR’: Last week, the State Department released its 2006 terrorism report, which included this judgment about Sudan: “The Sudanese government was a strong partner in the War on Terror and aggressively pursued terrorist operations directly involving threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan.” But Sudan remains on the State Department’s list as a state sponsor of terror. And as a result of state-sponsored genocide, hundreds of thousands of people have died in Darfur and 2.5 million more have been forced to flee their homes. In an April 18 speech, President Bush criticized the Sudanese government: “Sudan’s government has moved arms to Darfur, conducted bombing raids on villages, they’ve used military vehicles and aircraft that are painted white — which makes them look like those deployed by humanitarian agencies and peacekeeping forces.” Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Olympia Snow (R-ME), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote a letter last week to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell questioning the basis for the administration’s claim that Sudan “is a strong partner in the war on terror.” Feingold stated, “The Administration needs to explain why its recent terrorism report described the government of Sudan, a state sponsor of terrorism which has been behind the genocide in Darfur, as a “’strong partner in the War on Terror.'” In Nov. 2001, Bush said partners in the war against terror networks would be put to a simple test: “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” But last week, when asked about the discrepancy in its Sudan policy, White House spokesman Tony Fratto replied: “Look, the situation in Sudan is complicated.”

ETHICS — REPORT: KARL ROVE’S POLITICIZATION OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: In March, the Washington Post revealed that General Services Administration (GSA) chief Lurita Doan and Karl Rove deputy Scott Jennings held a video conference earlier this year to devise “ways to help Republican candidates.” The Progress Report has produced a report that documents the fact that GSA is only one of many federal agencies that the Bush White House has infiltrated for partisan purposes. Politicization of the federal government has been illegal for decades. The 1939 Hatch Act specifically prohibits partisan campaign or electoral activities on federal government property, including federal agencies. But in 2005, Ken Mehlman, formerly one of Bush’s top political advisers, outlined the White House’s strategy of utilizing government resources for partisan gain. “One of the things that can happen in Washington when you work in an agency is that you forget who sent you there. And it’s important to remind people that you’re George Bush people. … If there’s one empire I want built, it’s the George Bush empire,” said Mehlman (One Party Country, p. 102). With that imperial partisanship in mind, the Bush White House has engaged in an unprecedented quest to politicize the federal government, giving briefings and PowerPoint presentations everywhere from the Interior Department to NASA on how to secure Republican victories. Said one Interior Department manager, “We were constantly being reminded about how our decisions could affect electoral results” (One Party Country, p. 103). Bush loyalists in federal agencies have also helped generate millions for favored political candidates. The Progress Report’s analysis highlights the pervasiveness of the White House’s politicization efforts since 2001.


Think Fast

“The rebuilding effort in tornado-ravaged Greensburg, KS, likely will be hampered because some much-needed equipment is in Iraq, said that state’s governor. Governor Kathleen Sebelius said much of the National Guard equipment usually positioned around the state to respond to emergencies is gone.”

“All of us believe that in the next 90 days, you’ll probably see an increase in American casualties,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Army’s Task Force Marne, said yesterday. Eight American soldiers were killed in roadside bomb attacks Sunday, one of the highest single-day death tolls this year.

Gasoline prices have surged to a record nationwide average of $3.07 per gallon, nearly 20 cents higher than two weeks earlier,” analysts say. “The previous record was $3.03 per gallon on Aug. 11, 2006.”

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), “a Bush loyalist and ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee,” says he has lobbied the White House to stop using the term “war on terror.” “Language is important…and I think the ‘war on terror’ is a terrible idea,” Hoekstra said, arguing that it “elevates mass murderers to the status of a standing army.”

“The weekend blitz of tornadoes in Kansas and the Plains puts 2007 on track to be one of the busiest and deadliest tornado years in a decade, severe-storms meteorologists said Sunday. ‘Even if the year stopped right now, it would be the deadliest year we’ve had since 1999,’ said Greg Forbes, severe-weather expert for The Weather Channel.”

“The Army is fixing the doors of every armored Humvee in combat in Iraq because they can jam shut during an attack and trap soldiers inside, Pentagon records and interviews show.”

“Abandoning the business lobby’s traditional resistance to healthcare reform, a new coalition of 36 major companies plans to launch a political campaign today calling for medical insurance to be expanded to everyone along lines Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing for California.”

“Some of the most celebrated levee repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Katrina are already showing signs of serious flaws,” one expert says, warning that heavy storms may cause “tear-on-the-dotted-line levees.”

Over the past year, as the Afghan government “has sought to counter growing public dissatisfaction, it has tried to impose more controls over the news media. … Parliament is now considering amendments that the critics warn could undo many of the gains made since the fall of the Taliban.”

And finally: Last week, a “top secret memo” posted online from Paul Wolfowitz to World Bank staff warned employees not to visit TradeSports.com, where there is active betting on the likelihood of a Wolfowitz resignation. The respected French daily Le Monde put up a link to the memo — with the headline “Paul Wolfowitz wants to prevent World Bank employees from betting on his resignation” — and a translation of the memo. A few hours later, Le Monde posted an “Oops” note on its site after someone pointed out the “memo” was a spoof.