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Iraq: Bush’s Enablers

In the New York Times yesterday, Brookings Institution analysts Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack published an op-ed entitled A War We Just Might Win, in which they argue, "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms."

JULY 31, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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Nico Pitney

The Progress Report team would like to bid a fond farewell to our dear friend and colleague, Nico Pitney. For nearly three years, Nico Pitney served a key contributor to this publication, authoring many eloquent and thoughtful pieces. Nico recently left the Center for American Progress to take a position with The Huffington Post, where he will serve as a politics editor. Please send your goodbye wishes to byebyenico@gmail.com. We miss him already.


IRAQ

Bush’s Enablers

In the New York Times yesterday, Brookings Institution analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack published an op-ed entitled A War We Just Might Win, in which they argue, “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms.” Billing themselves “as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq,” the authors declare that “there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.” The Bush administration quickly latched onto the op-ed to support its failing Iraq strategy, e-mailing the editorial to every White House reporter yesterday morning with the subject line “In Case You Missed It.” Peter Wehner, the White House’s departing director of strategic communications, told the Politico that the op-ed was “possibly climate-changing.” Predictably, the administration’s dead-end pro-war supporters hastily followed suit. The piece was praised in nearly every corner of the right-wing blogosphere. National Review, the flagship magazine of the conservative movement, convened a symposium of eight prominent war-backers, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and another Brookings analyst Peter Rodman, to praise the editorial. In propagating the New York Times column, the White House placed O’Hanlon and Pollack back in the familiar roles they’ve played throughout the entire Iraq war: establishment left-of-center experts providing political cover for the administration’s misguided war policies.

WRONG ABOUT THE INVASION: In the fall of 2002, Pollack published The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which warned that Saddam was extremely close to developing nuclear weapons. Slate’s Chris Suellentrop described the book as turning “more doves into hawks than Richard Perle, Laurie Mylroie, and George W. Bush combined.” In Oct. 2002, Pollack appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss Iraq for her massive audience, where he pushed the false, but frightening, claim “that Saddam Hussein is absolutely determined to acquire nuclear weapons and is building them as fast as he can.” O’Hanlon participated in the pre-war fear-mongering as well. In a Dec. 31, 2002 op-ed, O’Hanlon argued that “Saddam Hussein may be poised to bring the battle to American cities via terrorism.” “We’ve got to go to war by March, I think, if we’re going to use the good weather,” he told Fox News in Jan. 2003. Unfortunately, given the influence of the Brookings Institution, O’Hanlon and Pollack’s support for the war helped push many skeptics towards supporting the folly of invading Iraq.

WRONG ABOUT THE SURGE:
Though both scholars became more critical of the administration’s handling of the war as the situation worsened over the years, both O’Hanlon and Pollack lent their intellectual and rhetorical support to Bush’s push for escalation in Iraq in the winter of 2006. Pollack, who was consulted by the military about escalation plans, argued at the time, “[T]he president’s plan is almost certainly the last chance to stabilize Iraq.” On Jan. 14, 2007, O’Hanlon wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled A Skeptic’s Case For The Surge, arguing that though the “surge” may be “too little, way too late…for a skeptical Congress and nation, it is still the right thing to try.” O’Hanlon argued again in March 2007 that “rather than force a showdown with Mr. Bush this winter and spring, Congress should give his surge strategy a chance.”

WRONG ABOUT STAYING THE COURSE:
In their op-ed, O’Hanlon and Pollack concede that the alleged success they are seeing is only “in military terms” and that “we still face huge hurdles on the political front.” This concession undermines much of their case for “sustaining the effort at least into 2008.” Since the “surge” began, even Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has admitted that “there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq,” only a political one. Additionally, O’Hanlon’s own research in the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index contradicts his effort to portray the “surge” as successful. Just last week, on July 26, O’Hanlon’s assessment argued that “violence nationwide has failed to improve measurably over the past 2-plus months, with a resilient enemy increasingly turning its focus to softer targets outside the scope of the surge.” He also noted that “politically, there has yet to be significant progress in the legislation of any of the critical benchmark laws.” When asked to respond to O’Hanlon’s assertions of progress in Iraq, CNN Baghdad correspondent Arwa Damon replied that “most [Iraqis] that I’ve spoken to will not really say that they feel that the situation is getting better.” By cherry-picking anecdotal signs of progress in order to justify continuing a war they supported from the beginning, O’Hanlon and Pollack overlook the fundamental problems of the continuing American presence in Iraq. Strategic Reset, a plan put forth by the Center for American Progress, addresses these fundamental flaws and calls for phased military redeployment from Iraq in one year. On MSNBC’s Hardball yesterday, Strategic Reset co-author Brian Katulis called out O’Hanlon for writing a “propaganda piece” and “cherry-picking the facts on Iraq.”

UNDER THE RADAR

ETHICS — FBI RAIDS SEN. STEVENS’S HOME:Yesterday, federal agents searched the home of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) as part of their probe into Veco Corp., “an Alaska-based oil field services and engineering company” currently under investigation for doling out  “$400,000 worth of bribes…to state lawmakers in exchange for favorable energy legislation.” Stevens’s home “is the subject of controversy” because it was remodeled under the supervision of former Veco director Bill J.Allen, who recently pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges. The senator’s son, former State Senate President Ben Stevens, has also been implicated, as “has a former aide to the elder Stevens and Ben’s business partner, Trevor McCabe.” According to Roll Call, the FBI and the Department of Interior are also investigating how federal funds earmarked by Stevens for the Alaska SeaLife Center “were used and how more than $500,000 made it to McCabe.” In light of these developments, the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense plans to call on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to ask Stevens “to step down temporarily from his positions on the Commerce, Science and Transportation and Appropriations committees until a federal investigation of his activities is completed.”

ADMINISTRATION — CHENEY TO MAKE FIRST LARRY KING LIVE APPEARANCE SINCE ‘LAST THROES’ COMMENT: Tonight at 9 pm EST, Vice President Dick Cheney will make his first appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live since May 30, 2005, when he infamously declared that the insurgency in Iraq was in its “last throes” and predicted that “the level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline.” Only recently, in Stephen Hayes’s biography of him, has Cheney finally conceded that “it was obviously wrong” to claim the insurgency was in its “last throes.” The Progress Report assembled a video compilation of Bush administration officials defending the comment. (Watch it HERE.) You can send questions and comments to Larry King Live here and video questions for the show here. Separately, during an interview with CBS News yesterday, Cheney called himself a “big fan” of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He also again refused to admit that he is a part of the executive branch, saying instead that he is “a unique creature” in constitutional government.

RADICAL RIGHT — NOVAK CALLS YOUTUBE DEBATE ‘REALLY DISGUSTING’: The criticism over the people-powered YouTube Democratic presidential debate has been pouring in from the right wing. First, the White House announced President Bush wasn’t really big on the debates. Then, leading conservative candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani begged out of the Republican forum. Now, right-wing columnist Robert Novak is adding his gripes. Appearing on Bloomberg Television this weekend, Novak said of the YouTube debate, “I thought it was really disgusting. … The reporters were terrible but this was ludicrous.” Novak argued, “You know when we did away with the monarchy and went through democracy, there was a lot of fear that this sort of thing would happen. It took 200 years but we got there.” In contrast, Carol Darr at George Washington University said that for the first time, “the filter that mainstream establishment media plays in presidential races — ‘we ask the questions, we are the exalted panel’ — that was broken down.” Something about power in the hands of the masses appears to trouble Novak deeply. Recently, he suggested heaven would be a “place where there are no blogs.” He previously explained that bloggers “bloviate. They give their opinions. They don’t try to find things out.”

THINK FAST

I’m a big fan of Al’s,” Vice President Cheney said yesterday, referring to Alberto Gonzales. He dismissed Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy’s lack of trust in Gonzales as irrelevant. “I’ve had my differences with Pat Leahy,” Cheney said.

The Iraqi parliament adjourned yesterday for a month-long recess without passing key laws “concerning oil investment and revenue-sharing among regions, the re-integration of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime into government, and provincial elections.”

65 percent: Number of people under the age of 30 who are “paying at least some attention to the 2008 presidential campaign,” according to a New York Times/CBS News poll. That number is up considerably from July 2003, when just “36 percent of those under age 30 were paying attention to the election.”

Federal prosecutors may have differed with their political bosses at the Justice Department over how aggressively to pursue fraud charges against the maker of the narcotic painkiller OxyContin. The NYT reports “higher-ups within the Justice Department appeared initially to favor a less aggressive approach to the case against OxyContin’s producer.”

The Federal Communications Commission will meet today to “set the rules for the government’s biggest auction of wireless airwaves, with Google Inc. fighting against carriers such as AT&T Inc. to force the winning bidders to open up the spectrum to more users.”

Former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has found a new home. He will be joining the law firm Baker & McKenzie “where he’ll work in the business crimes and investigations practice.” McNulty, who was embroiled in the U.S. attorney scandal, left the Justice Department, citing the “financial realities of college-age children.”

“The U.S. will hit its debt limit of nearly $9 trillion in early October, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Congress on Monday, and asked lawmakers to raise the limit ‘as soon as possible.'” Markos writes. “That’s your ‘fiscally responsible’ [conservatives] once again at work. Record deficits, record debts, record mismanagement of our nation’s fiscal health.”

And finally: UPI’s White House correspondent Helen Thomas is miffed at Garry Trudeau’s portrayal of her in one of his comic strips. One of the characters in the strip jokes that Thomas has “been here since the Truman administration! Some say she was Truman’s lover.” Thomas, who has been covering the White House since 1961, responded, “I wish he’d said I was Jack Kennedy’s lover.”

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GOOD NEWS

The House yesterday passed four bills “to improve counseling and care for the tens of thousands of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

STATE WATCH

INDIANA: Thousands protest a permit allowing the largest oil refinery in the Midwest to further pollute Lake Michigan.

CALIFORNIA: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) puts a key banking agency under an official with a corrupt history, according to a legislative investigation.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Half of D.C. public schools are missing required textbooks or air conditioning.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Vice President Dick Cheney states that he is a “unique creature” while refusing to say whether he is a part of the executive branch.

FIREDOGLAKE: Iraq soccer captain after Asian Cup victory: “I want America to go out.”

ESCHATON: In arguing for “sustaining” the surge into 2008, Brookings Institution analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack echo the language of the Bush administration.

THE NEXT HURRAH: In a rare public interview, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will take softball questions from his wife, NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell.

DAILY GRILL

“It’s worth pointing out that you were not an apologist for the administration. You’ve been really tough on them.”
— MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, 7/30/07, defending Brookings Institution analyst Kenneth Pollack

VERSUS

“I think it’s very important that the president receive a very clear statement of support by the Congress, by the representatives of the American people.”
— Pollack, 10/2/02, speaking to NPR about his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq