Article

Iraq: No Blank Check

The Progress Report

Congress can take steps to curb Bush's unpopular escalation of the Iraq war.

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GOOD NEWS

“States are planning large expansions in health care coverage this year in an aggressive and potentially expensive attempt to reduce the ranks of the 42.4 million Americans who are uninsured.”


STATE WATCH

CALIFORNIA: “Health insurers in California refuse to sell individual coverage to people simply because of their occupations or use of certain medicines,” even if “they are in good health and can afford coverage.”

NEW MEXICO: Gov. Bill Richardson (D) visits Sudan and urges the government to open the Darfur region to U.N. peacekeeping forces.

MICHIGAN: Last week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) “signed into law several bills designed to help create a statewide network of umbilical cord blood stem cell banks.”

ECONOMY
: See a breakdown by state, year, or minimum wage amount in a new interactive map by American Progress.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Bush escalation plan: “I intend to support him.”

ON FAITH: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) blogs on the “myth of scarcity.”

ESCHATON: Sen. John Warner’s (R-VA) three months are up.

NEWS HOUNDS: Fox News adds polar bears to its hit list.


DAILY GRILL

“President Bush is likely to send anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 additional troops to Iraq as part of his yet-to-be-announced new Iraq strategy.”
— CNN, 1/3/07

VERSUS

“Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.”
— President Bush, 6/28/05


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  January 8, 2007
No Blank Check
Go Beyond The Headlines
Coffee and Donuts Not Included
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No Blank Check

As early as Wednesday, President Bush is expected to deliver a national address announcing an escalation of tens of thousands of U.S. forces in Iraq. A Pentagon official admitted to NBC News last week that the escalation is “more of a political decision than a military one,” favored because Bush “has few other dramatic options available to signal U.S. determination in Iraq.” U.S. troops should not be ordered into the deadliest hot spots of Iraq’s civil war so that President Bush can send a “signal.” New congressional leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agree, telling Bush in a letter on Friday that escalation “is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. … Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain.” Congress must hold Bush accountable to ensure that U.S. forces are deployed for the right reasons. A recent Center for American Progress memo suggested that Congress “place an amendment on the supplemental funding bill that states that if the administration wants to increase the number of troops in Iraq above 150,000, it must provide a plan for their purpose and require an up or down vote on exceeding that number.” Yesterday, Pelosi pledged that Congress not issue Bush a blank check. “If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it,” Pelosi said.

BUSH NOT LISTENING TO MILITARY ON ESCALATION: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who publicly declared in December that he does not support escalation, “is caustic in private about the proposed ‘surge,'” Robert Novak reports. “Powell noted that the recent congressional delegation to Iraq headed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) heard from combat officers that they wanted more troops. ‘The colonels will always say they need more troops,’ the retired general says. ‘That’s why we have generals.‘” For their part, the highest-ranking U.S. generals are still opposed to escalation. The Washington Post reported on Friday that “deep divisions remain” between the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff “about whether a surge of up to 20,000 troops will turn around the deteriorating situation.” U.S. Army officials “fret they don’t have the forces or equipment for the kind of long deployment (perhaps 18 months or more) that would be required.” CBS News reported that commanders have told the White House they are prepared to execute a troop escalation of just 9,000 soldiers and Marines into Iraq, “with another 10,000 on alert in Kuwait and the U.S.” A prime advocate of escalation, Gen. Jack Keane, reportedly told the president recently, “Don’t you dare let Army and Marine Corps tell you they can’t do it.” Soon afterward, Newsweek reports, “Gen. Richard Cody, the vice chief of staff of the Army, called Keane in and gave him the actual figures on readiness, telling him: ‘Look, here’s the status of these brigades today. It’s not doable.’

NEEDED: A DIPLOMATIC SURGE: There is overwhelming agreement that no military solution exists for the problems in Iraq. “You could put a soldier or a Marine on every street corner in Baghdad,” former Reagan assistant defense secretary and American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb said yesterday on CNN. “But until [Iraqi officials] make the tough political decisions that balance the power of the central government and the provinces, distributes the oil revenues, protects minority rights, until you do that, I don’t think it will make a difference.” For this reason, the Center for American Progress argued in a memo last month that “the United States should undertake a fundamental strategic shift centered on a political and diplomatic surge aimed at resolving Iraq’s civil war and stabilizing other parts of the Middle East.” (Korb and American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis explain the diplomatic surge in more detail here.) The Bush administration continues to reject a comprehensive regional approach to Iraq. Instead, according to the Wall Street Journal, its diplomatic push will be focused on “funnel[ing] U.S. money to moderate Iraqi political parties as a means of building a centrist political coalition to support Mr. Maliki,” which the Journal describes as part of “an effort by Mr. Bush to retool his Iraq strategy across all fronts.” In fact, funding Iraqi political parties is not a new strategy. According to reporter Seymour Hersh, it was carried out covertly on at least one other occasion, during the lead-up to Iraq’s January 2005 national elections, despite the opposition of some U.S. military advisers. In a memo to the State Department, Pentagon adviser Larry Diamond wrote that during the Cold War, the United States “channeled covert resources to political parties that appeared more moderate and democratic, and more pro-Western. That is no longer possible or sensible.” Then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage put an end to the efforts in early fall, reportedly with President Bush’s support. “There was a question at a principals’ meeting about whether we should try and change the vote,” Armitage recalled, and the President said several times, “We will not put our thumb on the scale.

MCCAIN’S NUMBERS GAME: Though Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is the most prominent advocate of escalation, his position on the issue is extremely hazy. In October, McCain declared that “another 20,000 troops in Iraq” were necessary to stem the violence. Five weeks later, that number shot up five times. “We must have more troops over there, maybe 20,000 more Marines, and 80,000 Army,” McCain said. “We have to have a big enough surge that we can get Baghdad under control.” One month after that, McCain’s recommendation had dropped back down. “I would advocate two additional combat units in the Anbar Province, four in Baghdad with one in reserve. That’s about 30,000,” he told NBC News. On Jan. 4, during a Today Show appearance, McCain was asked, “Will 20,000 do the job in your opinion?” He responded, “I’m not sure. … To make it of short duration and small size would be the worst of all options to exercise, in my opinion.” And on Friday, when asked, “How many troops are you calling for in Iraq?” McCain answered, “We are not specific on numbers.” As for the “intellectual architect” of escalation, American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Kagan, increasing U.S. forces appears to be his only idea. “If we surge and it doesn’t work, it’s hard to imagine what we do after that,” he says.

Under the Radar

MEDIA — EDITORIAL PAGES AVOID DISCUSSION OF ESCALATION: “As a critical turning point in America’s role in the nearly four-year-old Iraq war nears,” Editor and Publisher reported this weekend, “the editorial pages of the largest U.S. newspapers have been surprisingly — even, appallingly — silent on President Bush’s likely decision to send thousands of more troops to the country.” “It follows a long pattern, however, of the editorial pages strongly criticizing the conduct of the war without advocating a major change in direction.” E&P found “very few” editorial boards “have said much of anything about the well-publicized ‘surge’ idea, pro or con.” The New York Times has said next to nothing besides accusing Bush on Sunday of interpreting the election “as a mandate to keep pursuing his fantasy of victory in Iraq.” “Other papers often critical of the war, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, USA Today, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — among others — have also been silent.” “The Chicago Sun-Times said nothing. Ditto for the Sacramento Bee, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, Portland’s The Oregonian, Long Island’s Newsday and New Jersey’s Bergen Record.” Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an editorial praising Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for “courageous[ly]” supporting the “serious argument” for escalation.

ENVIRONMENT — NRA PRESSURED BY BASE TO DISTANCE ITSELF FROM BUSH ENERGY POLICIES: The National Rifle Association (NRA) is being pressured by its membership to distance itself from President Bush’s energy policies that have opened more public land for oil and gas drilling and limited access to hunters and anglers, the Washington Post reported this weekend. “The Bush administration has placed more emphasis on oil and gas than access rights for hunters,” said Ronald L. Schmeits, second vice president of the NRA. “We find that our members are having a harder time finding access to public land. Gun rights are still number one, but there will be more time and effort spent on this issue [by NRA leaders] as we move forward.” For six years, the NRA joined the Bush administration in opposing the Clinton-era roadless rule, a broad land-protection measure that put nearly a third of the national forests off limits to most development. “The NRA stance on the roadless rule is a mistake,” said Hal Herring, a contributing editor for Field and Stream magazine, echoing the view of many prominent outdoor writers. “There are no more roadless areas being produced.”

ECONOMY — CONGRESSIONAL STUDY SHOWS BUSH’S TAX CUTS ‘OFFER MOST FOR VERY RICH’: The Bush administration has long maintained that the President’s tax cuts benefit all Americans. A White House fact sheet from May 11, 2006, claimed, “President Bush’s tax relief benefits all taxpayers.” On April 7, 2006, President Bush stated that his tax cuts have “created jobs and growth for the American people.” But a new study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows that families “earning more than $1 million a year saw their federal tax rates drop more sharply than any group in the country as a result of President Bush’s tax cuts.” Households in the top 1 percent of earnings, “which had an average income of $1.25 million, saw their effective individual tax rates drop to 19.6 percent in 2004 from 24.2 percent in 2000.” In contrast, families whose average incomes were $56,200 in 2004, saw their average effective tax rate edge down to just 2.9 percent in 2004 from 5 percent in 2000. “That translated to an average tax cut of $1,180 per household, but the tax rate actually increased slightly from 2003.” The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has also noted that under Bush’s tax cuts, the “typical working-age household, meanwhile, has seen income losses during the current expansion. Census data show that among households headed by someone under age 65, median income, adjusted for inflation, fell again in 2005 and was $2,000 below its level during the 2001 recession.”


Think Fast

17,310: Number of Iraqi civilians and police officers who “died violently in the latter half of 2006, according to Iraqi statistics, a sharp increase that coincided with rising sectarian strife since the February bombing of a landmark Shiite shrine.” The Health Ministry’s full death toll was 22,950 for 2006.

President Bush’s new Iraq policy “will establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to try to ease sectarian tensions and stabilize the country politically and economically,” the New York Times reports.

White House “insiders” say that Bush had hoped to push for deeper tax cuts “in the next and future budgets, but the election of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate killed those plans.” Instead, Bush will submit a budget that will leave little room for new add-ons without deeply cutting into defense spending or raising taxes.

Conservatives who supported Bush’s reelection are expressing outrage over the administration’s broad use of anti-terrorism laws to reject asylum for thousands of people fleeing religious, ethnic, and political persecution. Barrett Duke, a public policy analyst for the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “I think it’s essentially a reaction of fear to the current terrorist danger.”

“Urban planners at three universities are challenging the notion that [New Orleans’] Ninth Ward must be rebuilt from scratch, reporting in a new survey that the predominantly black neighborhoods can be brought back largely as they existed before Hurricane Katrina flooded them.” “That data shows that it can be rebuilt, and rebuilt in a cost-effective way,” one planner from Cornell said. “What is lacking are the resources.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee “to defend the war-strategy shift Bush will outline in a nationally televised speech.” Additionally, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Peter Pace will go before the House Armed Service Committee.

The failure of the 109th Congress to pass new budgets for the current fiscal year “has produced a crisis in science financing that threatens to close major facilities, delay new projects and leave thousands of government scientists out of work, federal and private officials say.” One senior official at the American Physical Society said the “consequences for American science will be disastrous.”

The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service soon will come under heavy scrutiny as the Government Accountability Office prepares a report that will “blame the service’s ‘culture’ for widespread laxity in conducting royalty audits and collecting underpayments from industry.”

And finally: “While Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) played no formal role in the new Speaker’s inaugural festivities Thursday, she did play a key after-hours role at the gay bar Cobalt, where she wound up judging a ‘best package contest.’” One person noted that Sanchez’s role wasn’t necessarily to judge the “best package,” but to determine for whom the crowd cheered loudest.