|March 29, 2007|
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Three months into the President Bush’s Iraq escalation strategy, the American people have continued to lose “faith in [his] conduct of the war.” Just last week, the House passed legislation calling for a major withdrawal of troops, and the Senate passed similar legislation today. But Bush continues his defiant support of the escalation plan, ignoring the calls for change from both the American and international communities. In a speech on the Iraq war yesterday, Bush extolled his own policies. “American forces are now deployed 24 hours in these neighborhoods, and guess what’s happening. The Iraqi people are beginning to gain confidence,” he said. But a BBC/ABC News poll this month revealed that only 18 percent of Iraqis have confidence in the U.S.-led coalition troops and almost 90 percent “say they live in fear that the violence ravaging their country will strike themselves and the people with whom they live.” On the domestic front, support for the escalation has dropped to new lows. A new Gallup poll shows that only 29 percent of Americans believe the escalation is working. “In addition, fully 80 percent of Americans ‘endorse a requirement that U.S. troops meet strict readiness criteria before being deployed to Iraq,’ while 60 percent ‘favor a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. troops from’ Iraq by fall 2008.'” Even the hallmark of Bush’s Iraq strategy — the transfer of power from U.S. forces to Iraqi security forces — is collapsing. In hearings before the House Armed Services Committee this week on the training of Iraqi security forces, one witness said, “I have seen us rush under-trained, under-equipped, and inexperienced [Iraqi] units into combat and missions for which they were not ready. I have seen us basically create a force that can sometimes win, but is not ready to hold, and is certainly not ready to build.” On the ground, the escalation has caused a displacement in violence to new areas of the country. With a failing strategy that costs the United States more and more each day, the case for strategic redeployment has never been stronger.
VIOLENCE DISPLACED: Despite Bush’s calls for optimism, an administration official has acknowledged that “there is no trend” showing that the troop escalation is working. In fact, violence is only being displaced. “Deaths of Iraq civilians and U.S. troops have increased outside the capital. … If violence is down in Baghdad, analysts said, it is likely because the Shiite militias operating there are waiting out the buildup in U.S. troops, nearly all of whom are being deployed in the capital. At the same time, Sunni insurgents have escalated their operations elsewhere.” Tal Afar, a northwest Iraq town, is a microcosm for the deadly results of the U.S. troop escalation. Just this week, two massive truck bombs “ripped through markets on Tuesday, killing at least 48 people and wounding dozens, police said, as violence surged outside the Iraqi capital.” In retaliation, “Shiite militants and police enraged by the massive truck bombings went on a revenge spree against Sunni residents, killing as many as 60 people. … The carnage was the worst bloodshed in a surge of violence across Iraq as militants on both sides of the sectarian divide apparently have fled to other parts of the country to avoid a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown, raising tensions outside the capital.” With the troop escalation underway, “the U.S. military has warned that insurgents are adopting new tactics in a campaign to spread panic.” Yesterday, suicide bombers detonated highly toxic chlorine bombs — the eighth such attack since Jan. 28 — in Fallujah, wounding 15 U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Suicide car bombers “continue to devastate Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods [in Baghdad], often under the noses of reinforced American patrols.” The number of car bombs in Baghdad “reached a record high of 44 in February” and 77 nationwide. Since January, eight U.S. helicopters have been shot down as “Iraqi insurgents…are learning that downing a U.S. helicopter serves as powerful propaganda — an underdog’s blow against the technical prowess of the American Goliath.” Furthermore, three months into the escalation, there is no clear decrease in U.S troop deaths; between 80-90 U.S. troops have died per month since January.
McCAIN AND LIEBERMAN DEBUNKED: In the Senate this week, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) echoed Bush’s rhetoric, attempting to bash Senate war critics by saying a withdrawal plan would “snatch victory from the jaws of progress” in Iraq. Lieberman added that “proponents of withdrawal” claim Iraq is in a civil war, suggesting that the mission is “hopeless.” While Lieberman denies that there is a civil war in Iraq, both the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community believe it is happening. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) commented this week that he believes the escalation is working, as “Gen. Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee.” CNN’s Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware, who has lived in Iraq for four years, quickly said, “[I]n the hour since Sen. McCain’s said this, I’ve spoken to military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly the general travels in a humvee. There’s multiple humvees around it, heavily armed.” The next day, CNN’s John Roberts noted, “I checked with Gen. Petraeus’s people overnight and they said he never goes out in anything less than an up-armored humvee.” McCain tried to recant his comments, arguing “Well, I’m not saying they could go without protection. The President goes around America with protection. So, certainly, I didn’t say that.”
SUFFERING AT HOME AND ABROAD: The Iraq war and the recent escalation has harmed the lives of thousands of American troops and millions of Iraqi civilians. As violence spreads, “nearly a million displaced people in Iraqi’s increasingly volatile southern provinces are in urgent need of food, medicines, and municipal services, local officials and NGOs say…the past two months were the worst for those families.” Iraq’s prison system has been “flooded” since the escalation began, as “hundreds of Iraqis detained in the current security crackdown have been crammed into two prisons run by the Defense Ministry that were designed to hold only dozens of people.” Within the United States, returning veterans inundate overstretched and underprepared hospitals, such as the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Army’s new acting surgeon general, Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, said this week she was “concerned about long term morale because the military lacks money to hire enough nurses and mental health specialists to treat thousands of troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.” “When the original plans were made, we did not take into consideration we could be in a long war,” Pollack said. “Two studies in the last month have shown that more than 30 percent of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan met the criteria for a mental disorder, with the American Psychological Association finding that at best 40 percent sought help.” Frustrated with Bush’s handling of the war, 29 states have taken matters into their own hands and introduced resolutions supporting the halting of the escalation strategy. The U.S. Senate “signaled support for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by next March” yesterday by upholding withdrawal language in a spending bill, and is expected today to pass the $122 billion bill which would finance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but “require Bush to start bringing home and unspecified number of troops within four months.” Similarly, the House has already passed legislation to provide $124 billion to finance troop operations and would require that troops to be withdrawn by next September. Both bills address the “urgent veteran’s health care crisis, vulnerabilities in our homeland security, and the needs of thousands of victims of severe natural disasters.”
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — BUSH MEETS WITH RUSSIAN GENERAL ACCUSED OF OVERSEEING MASS ATROCITIES: In 2001, President Bush said that “it’s very important for President Putin to deal with the Chechnya minority in his country, with respect — respect of human rights and respect of difference of opinion about religion.” But on Monday at the White House, he hosted Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, in Shamanov’s capacity as co-chairman of a U.S.-Russian commission on missing soldiers. He posed for pictures with Shamanov and the American co-chairman. Under Shamanov, Russian soldiers “rampaged through the village of Alkhan-Yurt in December 1999, killing 17 civilians, according to human rights investigations. The soldiers looted homes and shot those who got in the way, including a woman over 100 years old. … Rather than prosecute, the Kremlin gave Shamanov a medal — a medal he appeared to wear to the Oval Office.” Carroll Bogert of Human Rights Watch noted, “What message does it send to [President Vladimir] Putin? It sends the message that whatever happened in Chechnya we don’t care about.” Shamanov has “scoffed” at the allegations, calling them “fairy tales” and charging that “human rights groups planted the bodies in Alkhan-Yurt.” According to the Associated Press, the White House “did not play up the officers’ appearance in the Oval Office for what was said to be a private photo opportunity.”
ETHICS — ADMINISTRATION’S VOTER FRAUD EXCUSE FOR FIRING PROSECUTORS IS A FRAUD: The Justice Department has attempted to cover up its partisan firings of eight U.S. attorneys by accusing them of failing to aggressively pursue charges of voter fraud. Last week, President Bush said, “We did hear complaints and concerns about U.S. attorneys. Some complained about the lack of vigorous prosecution of election fraud cases.” As the New York Times wrote last week, the right wing’s pursuit of voter fraud is “code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people.” Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law also note that “the notion of widespread voter fraud, as these prosecutors found out, is itself a fraud. Firing a prosecutor for failing to find wide voter fraud is like firing a park ranger for failing to find Sasquatch. Where fraud exists, of course, it should be prosecuted and punished. … Yet evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller further discounted the administration’s claims, saying that since 2001, there have been no FBI investigations related to election fraud that “should have resulted in an indictment but did not.” In addition, he confirmed that he was never consulted about the performance of the fired prosecutors by the Attorney General or his chief of staff.
The Justice Department apologized for a Feb. 23 letter stating that Karl Rove did not play a role in the attorney purge. The Department “released new documents showing that [Gonzales’s ex-aide Kyle] Sampson was the primary author of the letter, which was approved by the White House counsel,” which itself “raises new questions of whether the Justice Department and the White House worked together to mislead Congress.”
Insurgent attacks on Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone have increased recently, with attacks “on six of the past seven days, once with deadly consequences.” One State Department official also noted, “There are increasing attacks on the [U.S.] embassy.”
Meanwhile, two hours after two truck bombs killed at least 85 people in Tal Afar yesterday, “a group of gunmen, including Shiite policemen, began going door-to-door and assassinated 70 Sunnis.” The wave of revenge killings has continued this morning.
“Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928. … The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.”
The White House has undertaken a “bold, behind-the-scenes drive to advance a key domestic goal: immigration reform. … The intense effort — conceived by the president’s chief political strategist, Karl Rove — is intended to ensure that Bush will achieve at least one crucial policy victory in the last two years of his presidency.”
Air Force Gen. Lance Smith yesterday said that if President Bush’s escalation extends beyond the summer, “there is a ‘high probability’ that some Army units would have less than a year at home between combat rotations, further compressing the limited time to train and reconnect with families.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is “holding up a popular bipartisan bill to crack down on cockfighting that was expected to pass easily in the Senate yesterday.” House bill co-sponsor Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said that Coburn’s hold “testifies to the powers of these shadowy forces that allow this illegal and barbaric scandal to continue.”
And finally: We all know 2008 may see the first female or African-American president, but “few have focused on the related question”: are we ready for our first bald president in modern times? With potential nominees Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, we may soon “hail a follically challenged chief executive.” And thankfully, Giuliani’s long-time “unpardonable comb-over” has been “transformed…into a more accepting and natural-looking sweep-back.”