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Iraq: One Small Step

With threats to the troops as his sole remaining argument, President Bush last night won one more round for his failed Iraq strategy.

MAY 25, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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IRAQ

One Small Step

With threats to the troops as his sole remaining argument, President Bush last night won one more round for his failed Iraq strategy. The House and Senate “bow[ed] to President Bush” and passed a war spending bill that places only mild accountability over the course in Iraq. The final bill omitted a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but established “a series of goals for the Iraqi government to meet…although Bush retains the authority to order that the funds be spent regardless of how the Baghdad government performs.” Bush cheered the compromise legislation yesterday afternoon, claiming that it provides “a clear road map on the way forward.” Just four weeks ago, on May 1 — the fourth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” — the President vetoed a bill that would have conditioned funding for Iraq on a phased redeployment. Since that time, the White House has remained stubbornly intractable, claiming that if it did not receive the funding entirely on its own terms, “the troops in Iraq will be stranded.” Faced with this proposition, congressional leaders asserted a higher responsibility over the forces on the ground. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) explained why he supported the bill: “There is a point when the money for our troops in Iraq will run out, and when it does, our men and women serving courageously in Iraq will be the ones who will suffer, not this president.” Last night’s passage sets up future confrontations with Bush over the course in Iraq, requiring the administration to present progress reports in July and September. “This is not the end of the debate,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who voted against the bill. Congressional leaders promised “to renew the push for a withdrawal in future bills on Pentagon spending and policy.”

PREPARING FOR SEPTEMBER: Both Democrats and Republicans have begun rallying around a September deadline to reassess Bush’s Iraq strategy. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who sobbed uncontrollably during the House floor debate last night, said recently, “By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B?” Murtha echoed the sentiment, arguing, “While we don’t have the votes right now to change the president’s policy, I believe that come September we will have the votes.” The success of a September reassessment is conditioned upon a forthcoming and candid report from Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq. But recently, Petraeus has suggested that his report will not say “anything definitive.” Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb writes, “Petraeus is not a reliable source for an unbiased assessment.” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) predicted yesterday, “You know what’s going to happen in September? They’ll bring General Petraeus back and he’ll say, Just give me until the end of year, I think things are turning around. And then we’ll be out of session, come back in late January, February, and the fact is a thousand more troops will lose their lives in a situation that doesn’t make any sense and it is hurting our military, hurting our country.” The proper course for Congress to take, Korb argues, “is to have an independent assessment by an outside group.”

BAD CALCULUS: The New York Times reported yesterday that some congressional leaders decided to concede in the battle with Bush because they feared that “White House attacks that they were on vacation” over Memorial Day weekend would be more “politically threatening…than the anger [they] knew they would draw from the left by bowing to Mr. Bush.” Concern over the disastrous impact that the Iraq war is having on America’s national security — not concern over “White House attacks” — should be driving our elected representatives’ decisionmaking. As The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum writes, “Our primary focus should be on why this is a bad war and why our national security would be improved by getting out.” But even as lawmakers are taking political winds into account, they have demonstrated extremely poor calculus. The White House has little sway in the court of public opinion. Seventy-six percent of Americans say things are going badly in Iraq, 63 percent say the United States should set a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq sometime in 2008, and only 23 percent approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq. As Feingold said yesterday, “This is no time to back off.” As Congress prepares for its future encounters with the White House, the steady and strong resolve of the American public should weigh more heavily in its mind than concern over “White House attacks,” remaining mindful of the 2006 election results.

THE NEXT STEPS: House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI), who voted for the bill last night, has pledged to continue the fight for an Iraq timeline “on every vehicle available to us,” adding that the “first two vehicles that we expect to join the issue on are the defense appropriations bill in July and the defense supplemental appropriations bill in September.” Congress has a number of options available to assert its shared power on Iraq policy. Murtha had offered a measure to require the Pentagon to certify that troops leaving for Iraq are “fully combat-ready,” with sufficient training and equipment, but congressional leaders backed down over White House refusals to adopt it. Congress should also revisit enforceable benchmarks, not only over the Iraqi government but over the Bush administration. Some senators, including Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), have suggested rescinding the war authorization given to Bush in Oct. 2002 as a way to transition the mission in Iraq. And yet one more tool for Congress to consider is providing shorter installments of funding, a plan that was passed in the House but held up in the Senate.

UNDER THE RADAR

CONGRESS — HOUSE PASSES ETHICS REFORMS: Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 in a vote of 396 to 22. The bill proposes new rules that require campaigns to disclose “‘bundled’ campaign contributions that lobbyists collect and pass on to lawmakers’ campaigns,” accelerate the financial reporting cycle from semi-annually to quarterly, and “for the first time lobbyists, not just lawmakers, would be liable for infractions.” Open-government watchdog groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Common Cause welcomed the bill’s passage but also argued that lawmakers will “not be held accountable” without “independent, outside ethics enforcement.” The New York Times described the bill as “closer to reform” but noted the failure of the House to include a measure to “slow the revolving door” by requiring, as the Senate has proposed, a two-year waiting period before lawmakers can become lobbyists themselves. One lobbyist explained another key failing of the bill, noting that while President Bush has disclosed perhaps the “best public list of major Republican bundlers,” fewer than half of the them are “registered federal lobbyists” and are not governed by the new disclosure requirements. The President of Common Cause, Bob Edgar, said in a press release, “[T]here’s still a lot of work to do to prove that this Congress is serious about cleaning up Washington.”

DARFUR — NBA ALL-STAR LEBRON JAMES REFUSES TO ‘BE A WITNESS’ AGAINST DARFUR GENOCIDE:
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Ira Newble recently wrote an open letter criticizing China’s role in the Darfur genocide, urging fellow basketball players to pressure China to change its policy ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics. “China cannot be a legitimate host to the premier international event in the sporting world — the Summer Olympic Games — while it remains complicit in the terrible suffering and destruction that continues to this day,” the letter stated. Only two of Newble’s teammates refused to sign onto his letter: Damon Jones and LeBron James. James, one of the NBA’s most recognizable faces, is a perennial all-star and was named a tri-captain of the 2006 USA World Championship Team. In a Christian Science Monitor op-ed yesterday, New York University history professor Jonathan Zimmerman explained, “James said he didn’t have enough information about the issue to take a stand. Mr. Jones wouldn’t comment.” But he also noted, “Jones has an endorsement contract with an up-and-coming Chinese shoe and apparel company. James has a $90 million deal with Nike, which has huge business interests in China.” China is Sudan’s largest trading partner. Brookings Institution scholar Roberta Cohen wrote, “Were China to use even a small part of its leverage to call Sudan to account, it would go a long way toward saving lives in Sudan.” In July 2005, the Center for American Progress Action Fund teamed up with the Genocide Intervention Fund to call citizens to “be a witness” of the genocide and ask major television networks to report on the massacre. James now appears in Nike advertisements calling others to be a witness…of his basketball stardom.

ETHICS — SECRET HOLD BLOCKS OPEN-GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION FROM REACHING SENATE FLOOR: On April 12, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the OPEN Government Act, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill, which has garnered support from more than 100 organizations, would improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by reducing “delays in releasing government records requested under FOIA by creating incentives for public officials to comply with the law.” The House passed a similar measure earlier this year but the bill was blocked from reaching the Senate floor for a vote yesterday. A “Republican senator called the Minority Leader’s office and objected to a vote on the bill, but asked for anonymity and did not publicly state the reason for the hold.” “It is both unfortunate and ironic that this bipartisan bill, which promotes sunshine and openness in our government, is being hindered by a secret and anonymous hold,” said Leahy in a statement. This is not the first time a secret hold has been used to block open government legislation from reaching the floor. In Aug. 2006, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) put a hold on a bill to create a searchable public database of all federal grants and contracts. Steven’s role was revealed only after online public advocates and journalists forced senators to go on the record about whether they placed the hold or not.

THINK FAST

19: Number of times President Bush referenced al Qaeda during his hour-long press conference yesterday. “There was no evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible” for the bird droppings that landed on Bush, but “just about everything else that came up during the hour-long news conference was traced to bin Laden’s terrorist network.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) “voted at least three times Thursday in the Senate after missing more than a month of votes to campaign for a presidential bid.” The only Senator to miss more votes than McCain “is Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), who’s recovering from a brain hemorrhage.”

“The system for delivering badly needed gear to Marines in Iraq” has failed to meet over 90 percent of the “urgent requests for equipment from troops in the field.” Among the items held up “were a mine resistant vehicle and a hand-held laser system.”

Under pressure from watchdog groups, the Air Force and Army “partially distanced themselves yesterday from a three-day evangelical Christian event this weekend at a Georgia theme park.” The group sponsoring the event bills its purpose as “sharing the fullness of life in Jesus Christ with all US military, military veterans, and families.”

“Farmers in southern Iraq have started to grow opium poppies in their fields for the first time, sparking fears that Iraq might become a serious drugs producer along the lines of Afghanistan.”

A NYT/CBS poll finds “broad support among Americans — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — for the major provisions” in the new immigration legislation, including giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and the creation of a guest worker program.

Sallie Mae executives met with Bush administration budget officials in December, less than two months before the company chairman sold $18.3 million of Sallie Mae stock. Three days after the sale, President Bush unveiled a budget that included unexpectedly large cuts to lending subsidies, after which the company’s shares plummeted.”

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has put forth a new proposal focused on reigning in health care costs, putting the emphasis on prevention — “keeping people well rather than spending more later on treatment when they are sick.” In Oct. 2006, the Center for American Progress released a detailed plan to create a “Wellness Trust” that would “prioritize prevention in the U.S. health system.”

Iraqi cleric Moktada al-Sadr “has quietly returned to southern Iraq after a four-month sojourn in Iran,” possibly to “strengthen his position in anticipation that provincial elections may be held next year.”

Lower-income consumers are hit the hardest by rising fuel prices, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress. “They cut vacations, gifts, dinners out, and savings — or, more likely, run up bigger credit card balances, say the authors.”

And finally: Colorado jury agrees that “doggie doo can be free speech.” A political activist faced a “misdemeanor charge of criminal use of a noxious substance” after leaving “a campaign flyer filled with dog poop” at the office of a politician. But the jury agreed that her statement — the politician’s positions “stink” — was covered by free speech.

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GOOD NEWS

“America’s lowest-paid workers won a $2.10 raise Thursday, with Congress approving the first increase in the federal minimum wage in almost a decade.”

STATE WATCH

NEW JERSEY: State senators propose a plan to make New Jersey the third state in the nation to offer paid family leave.

OKLAHOMA: New law prohibits public funds from being used for abortions except in cases of rape or incest.

LOUISIANA: Murders in New Orleans jump by 182 percent, and “police fear it could go even higher with the scheduled withdrawal of National Guard troops from the city next month.”

MILITARY: “All but one state — Delaware — has lost National Guard troops in the U.S. war on terror.”

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: “Pro-life” activist: birth control is a “pesticide” that will make women just “like men.”

THINK PROGRESS
: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI): Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may be guilty of obstruction of justice.

SECRECY NEWS: New FISA court appointee was judge in “Scooter” Libby’s perjury trial.

TV NEWSER: Fox News covers the Iraq war significantly less than do CNN or MSNBC.

DAILY GRILL

“The level of sectarian violence is an important indicator of whether or not the strategy that we have implemented is working. Since our operation began, the number of sectarian murders has dropped substantially.”
— President Bush, 5/10/07

VERSUS

Q: Mr. President, are you surprised by reports today from the Iraqis that sectarian killings are actually on the rise to pre- troop surge levels? […]
BUSH: Yes, I’m — there’s — certainly there’s been an uptick in violence. It’s a snapshot. It’s a moment.
— Bush, 5/24/07