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Iraq: Moment of Truth

The Congressional Research Service reported on Monday that the "average monthly cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has been clocked at $12 billion."

July 10, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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IRAQ

Moment of Truth

The Congressional Research Service reported on Monday that the “average monthly cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has been clocked at $12 billion.” Iraq alone has cost American taxpayers approximately $450 billion. In addition, Bloomberg reported yesterday, “Four thousand U.S. service members have died in President George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan 5 1/2 years after American forces ousted the Taliban in December 2001.” As the costs of war continue to stack up, the Senate this week begins a debate to drawdown U.S. involvement in Iraq. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) will begin the debate by introducing a bipartisan amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that “requires active-duty troops to have at least the same amount of time at home as the length of their previous tour overseas.” In recent days, a number of conservative senators, including Richard Lugar (R-IN), George Voinovich (R-OH), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Judd Gregg (R-NH) — have offered rhetoric suggesting they are ready to break with Bush’s escalation policy in Iraq. Put on the defensive, the White House is reportedly in “panic mode,” concerned that the Republican discontent may be the “crack in the dike” that forces a long-overdue Iraq redeployment.

FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, IT’S JUST A GAME: The New York Times reported yesterday that White House officials were heatedly debating whether Bush “should try to prevent more defections” of war supporters by announcing a “gradual withdrawal” of U.S. troops. Calling it a “moment of truth for the President,” neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol “confirmed that there are real discussions going on at the White House, with advocates of what is being called ‘The Grand Bargain’ pushing hard for the president to move soon to announce plans to pull back in Iraq.” But rather than confirm that the White House is undertaking the kind of substantive debate about Iraq that is in the nation’s security interests, Press Secretary Tony Snow yesterday denied such discussions were ongoing. “There is no debate right now on withdrawing forces right now from Iraq,” Snow said. The Washington Post reports today that the White House is not talking about a true “strategic reset” in the Middle East, but instead, a “political strategy” to “shift [Bush’s] message.” According to the Post, the White House has “rejected calls to change course but will launch a campaign emphasizing his intent to draw down U.S. forces next year and move toward a more limited mission if security conditions improve.”

STATUS OF THE ESCALATION: Later this week, the Bush administration will deliver a congressionally-mandated assessment of the escalation in Iraq. The AP writes that the report will find the “Baghdad government has failed to meet any of its targets for political, economic and other types of progress.” “The facts are not in question,” one administration official told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The real question is how the White House proceeds with a post-surge strategy in light of the report.” “Opposition to the Iraq war has reached a record high.” Only 23 percent of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq, yet a host of escalation proponents are taking up the challenge of maintaining the status quo by distorting the facts. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), on his return from Iraq, said the escalation is “working beyond my expectations.” “Whatever you can say about the current strategy, it has not failed,” said American Enterprise Institute pundit Fred Kagan. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) claimed we have the “enemy on the run.” But a recent Pentagon report found “the aggregate level of violence in Iraq remained relatively unchanged.” Violence had decreased in Baghdad and in Anbar Province, “but has increased in most provinces, particularly in outlying areas around Baghdad and in Nineva and Diyala provinces.”

SENATE DEBATES COURSE CHANGE: Webb’s amendment, co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), would “mandate that regular military units remain stationed at home for at least as long as their prior deployment in Iraq before being sent back. Reserve and Guard units would have to stay home for three years between deployments.” Webb said, “We’ve reached the point where we can no longer allow the ever-changing nature of this Administration’s operational policies to drive the way our troops are being deployed. In fact, the reverse is true. The availability of our troops should be the main determinant of how ground operations should be conducted.” After the Senate votes on the Webb amendment, it is expected to take up legislation to institute a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, including a measure sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI). The Levin-Reed bill has been gaining traction over the past year, winning over 31 senators last summer, but then garnering a majority (51 Senators) this past May. The legislation will call for the beginning of redeployment to occur 120 days after the bill’s enactment, with completion set for April 1, 2008. In an indication that the Levin-Reed bill will get even more votes this time around, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said yesterday that she will support a binding timeline for troop withdrawals from Iraq.

UNDER THE RADAR

ADMINISTRATION — BUSH DEFIES CONGRESSIONAL SUBPOENAS: Yesterday, President Bush moved to prevent the congressional testimony of two of his former aides, Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor, by invoking “a broad interpretation of executive privilege.” In a “combative letter” to Congress, White House counsel Fred Fielding wrote that Bush “was acting ‘to protect a fundamental interest of the presidency‘ by preserving the confidentiality of internal deliberations, including communications ‘with others inside and outside the Executive Branch.'” Fielding added that especially in the case of the case of the dismissed U.S. attorneys, “the institutional interest of the executive branch is very strong.” Such executive privilege, however, is regarded “by legal scholars as one of the most ambiguous concepts in constitutional law.” The Supreme Court has “recognized that a president and his advisers should be able to speak freely without fear that they will be compelled to divulge those conversations”, but “has never addressed how, in the absence of a criminal inquiry, to balance the president’s needs against a desire by Congress to obtain information for oversight.” House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) issued a statement saying that the White House continues to “adhere to their unacceptable all-or-nothing position” and “will not even seek to properly justify their privilege claims.” The White House has offered to make officials available to Congress only if the meetings are private, informal, and not transcribed. Previous administrations, however, have allowed dozens of top-level White House officials to give public testimony. Senate Judiciary Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said of the matter, “It is unfortunate that the White House is trying to interfere with…Congress’s responsibility to get to the truth behind the unprecedented firings of several U.S. attorneys.”

ETHICS — REP. CANNON: IGLESIAS WAS FIRED ‘BECAUSE HE’S AN IDIOT’:
The Bush administration has repeatedly changed its excuses for why David Iglesias was ousted as U.S. attorney. Justice officials called him an “absentee landlord,” even though his time away from the office was spent serving in the Navy Reserve. The administration also complained that Iglesias “neglected to prosecute voter fraud,” even though he “had been heralded for his expertise in that area by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes.”  On Fox News Sunday, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) gave a new excuse for the departure of Iglesias: “He was fired because he’s an idiot.” Yesterday, The Progress Report spoke with Cannon spokesman Fred Piccolo, who explained Cannon’s “off-the-cuff” remark: “It was more in regards to the fact that Iglesias was initially contacted by [Sen. Pete] Domenici and [Rep. Heather] Wilson. Instead of informing main Justice, he decided to inform the public and Justice…by holding several press conferences and tantalizingly releasing those names to the press, and has subsequently been the only fired U.S. attorney to beat this drum of ‘this is a Karl-Rovian plot to obstruct justice and the prosecution of Republicans’ — after all these hearings, to any impartial observers it doesn’t play out.” Cannon’s office went even further in an interview with Raw Story, saying that Iglesias “did not possess the temperament for the position he held.” Cannon’s statements don’t hold up to scrutiny. Iglesias has admitted that not reporting the calls from Domenici and Wilson was a mistake. But he publicly revealed those calls only after he was fired. Similarly, he began speaking out about Rove’s role after he was fired. Therefore, Cannon’s criticisms of Iglesias’s post-firing behavior still don’t explain why he was ousted in the first place.

JUSTICE — SENATE CONFIRMS JUDGE BLOCKED BY BROWNBACK FOR ATTENDING SAME-SEX MARRIAGE CEREMONY: Yesterday, the Senate voted 83-4 to elevate Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet Neff to federal district court. Though Neff was first nominated in July 2006, her nomination was placed on hold after Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) learned that she had attended a same-sex commitment ceremony in Massachusetts in 2002. Brownback claimed that Neff’s attendence at the ceremony, which was for the daughter of her longtime neighbors, “seems to speak about her view of judicial activism.” Brownback and other conservative activists claimed that Neff had presided over the ceremony, which occurred before Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, even going so far as to request a formal opinion on her actions from the Justice Department. But Neff only read a homily at the ceremony. Eventually, after two hearings in which he aggressively questioned her about the ceremony, Brownback relented and allowed the vote to go forward, though he continued to demand a roll-call vote for her nomination, which is unusual as judicial nominations are usually decided with a voice vote. Before joining the Michigan Court of Appeals, Neff “served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Department of Justice, Commissioner with the Michigan Supreme Court and Special Assistant Attorney General for the Second Injury Fund.” The new judges bring “a distinguished legal career to the federal bench and will positions that have been vacant for far too long,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) upon the confirmation of Neff and two other Michagan judges.

THINK FAST

On April 27, 2005, during a hearing on the PATRIOT Act, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified to Congress, “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse.” Six days earlier, the FBI had sent Gonzales “one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations” of the PATRIOT Act committed by FBI agents, new documents show.

President Bush “plans to lay out what an aide called ‘his vision for the post-surge’ starting in Cleveland today to assure the nation that he, too, wants to begin bringing troops home eventually.” Bush “decided against” actually withdrawing troops, “but he and his team concluded that he needed to shift his message” to “show that he shares the goals” of the American people.

62: Percentage of Americans who “say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq,” according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, “the first time that number has topped 60 percent.” President Bush’s approval rating reached an all-time low: 29 percent.

The Army missed its recruiting goals in June for the second straight month, as rising casualties in Iraq and a strong economy at home kept the service from enlisting enough new soldiers, Pentagon officials said.”

Iraq’s soaring unemployment rate is estimated at 60 to 70 percent, and attempts to lower it are caught in a bloody Catch-22. … Joblessness helps fuel the country’s insurgency,” but “that same instability is hampering rebuilding efforts and economic growth that could generate more jobs.”

“Despite promising to admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees to the U.S. by the end of September, the Bush administration has allowed in just 133 over the past nine months. … Officials predict that at most only 2,000, or less than 30%, of the 7,000 can be processed by Sept. 30.”

“A suicide bomber targeted a NATO patrol in a crowded marketplace in southern Afghanistan Tuesday, killing 17 civilians, officials said. At least 30 people were among the wounded, including seven Western soldiers.”

And finally: The Bush twins were out “having fun last week” in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. The girls “had a handful of preppy-looking boys surrounding them.” The DC Examiner reports, “Jenna looked great and was enjoying standing outside with her cigarette talking to her tall, country-club-looking friends who appeared to be 35-plus. … Barbara had a nice-looking black dress on and [had] what looked like a Jager bomb towards the end of the night.”

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GOOD NEWS

“Hundreds of onlookers cheered this afternoon as the NAACP put to rest a long-standing expression of racism by holding a public burial for the N-word during its annual convention.”

STATE WATCH

PENNSYLVANIA: Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and the state legislature hammer out a budget deal, reopening the state government.  

CALIFORNIA: “Over the next half-century, California’s population will explode by nearly 75 percent” to 60 million residents.

NEW YORK: At least 100 surveillance cameras will dot Lower Manhattan by the end of this year.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Karl Rove: “I make no apologies” for any of the Bush administrations mistakes or lies.

FOX ATTACKS: If Home Depot wants to be eco-friendly, as it says it does, it should stop advertising on Fox News.

WAR ROOM: Despite executive privilege claim, former White House aide will still appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

BELGRAVIA DISPATCH: The New York Times’s David Brooks contradicts himself on support for the Iraq Study Group.

DAILY GRILL

“If you look at what Senator Lugar has said about the surge so far, he says it’s working. His comments indicate that he thinks it’s working.”
— White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, 7/9/07

VERSUS

“In my judgment, the current surge strategy is not an effective means of protecting [U.S.] interests.”
— Sen. Richard Lugar, 6/25/07