Preparing for September
With the Iraq supplemental debate behind them, both Democrats and Republicans have begun rallying around a September deadline to reassess President Bush’s escalation strategy. The make-it or break-it moment will come in the form of a status report by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq. He “has said that by then he will have a handle on whether the current troop increase is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq’s warring factions.” When he appears on Capitol Hill, Petraeus will face lawmakers who are increasingly uniting around the strategic need to begin the redeployment of U.S. troops. “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 the 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 troops will lose their lives in a situation that doesn’t make any sense,” said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) last week. “By September, when General Petraeus is to make a report, I think most of the people in Congress believe, unless something extraordinary occurs, that we should be on a move to draw those surge numbers down,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) recently. Come September, Petraeus will be at the center of the most contentious political debate in the nation. While Petraeus can and should lay out the facts on the ground as he sees them, as a career military man charged with executing the administration’s strategy, he cannot be expected to give the policy guidance needed to determine whether we continue an open-ended commitment in Iraq or whether we begin extricating ourselves from the middle of a bloody civil war.
‘LAST BEST CHANCE’: In Jan. 2007, as “part of a broad revamping of the military team that will carry out the administration’s new Iraq strategy,” Bush named Petraeus to replace Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as the top American military commander in Iraq. Casey, who had publicly expressed doubt about the wisdom of any short-term increase in troops in Iraq, had his expected departure “moved up several months from the originally anticipated shift in spring or summer,” in order to make way for Petraeus and the “surge.” As soon as Petraeus was named, Bush’s supporters in Congress began touting him as the savior of American strategy in Iraq. “He’s the General Grant of the surge,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at the time. “He’s our last best chance as a military commander to bring about a change on the ground.” As the Washington Post noted at the time, Petraeus, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, also became “the last best chance for Bush allies to head off a resolution rejecting the troop increase or at least keep many Republicans from supporting it.” His testimony in September may be the administration’s “last best chance” to head off a long-overdue redeployment of U.S. troops.
POLITICAL PROP: Bush used the confirmation of Petraeus as a cudgel to coerce senators to support his “surge” plan. “The Senate overwhelmingly supported his nomination to be the new general in command of Iraq,” Bush said on Fox News in February. “The fundamental question is: Will they back him up? They voted for him. Will they back him up?” Following Congress’s approval of the troop increase, the administration has continued to rely on Petraeus to support its political aims. In April, while Congress was preparing to vote on its Iraq timeline legislation, the administration brought Petraeus back to the United States for a rare visit, a tactic that was slammed by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) as “purely a political move.” In a speech arguing for his strategy in Iraq in early May, Bush mentioned Petraeus by name no fewer than 12 times, at one point even acknowledging that “the best messenger, by the way, for us is David Petraeus.” Petraeus has allowed himself to be used as a “political prop” to support the White House’s war czar nominee. He has also echoed Bush’s line that al Qaeda, not sectarian civil war, is the greatest threat in Iraq — an assessment that contradicts the intelligence.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: While Petraeus must present the facts on the ground in Iraq, as the nominal architect of the counterinsurgency strategy, he has a strong personal interest in the success of escalation. As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius observed upon Petraeus’s nomination, “As long as Iraq was ‘Bush’s war,’ it looked like a lost cause. This week, it became in part ‘Petraeus’s war.'” “Asking Petraeus to assess the situation in September might be asking him — if the evidence pointed in that direction — to say that his whole counterinsurgency strategy was wrong,” wrote Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb in a recent op-ed. This would no doubt be a tough task for any proud leader, especially one such as Petraeus, who has been described by a former aide as “the most competitive man on the planet.” In this regard, Petraeus himself, has already begun downplaying expectations for his assessment, telling CNN reporter Jane Arraf, “I don’t think we’ll have anything definitive in September [although] certainly we’ll have some indicators on the political side in Iraq.”
AN INDEPENDENT ASSESSMENT: Though he is the top commander in Iraq and the intellectual architect of much of the counterinsurgency strategy, Petraeus is ultimately implementing the plan of the commander-in-chief, President Bush. “We’re not talking about the Petraeus plan,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), a member of the Armed Services Committee. “We’re talking about the president’s plan.” As an active duty uniformed military officer, Petraeus will not give policy guidance. This is why, as Korb has suggested, “an independent assessment by an outside group, like the Iraq Study Group, but not including members of that group who might also have an ax to grind,” would be an appropriate measure for Congress to take to ensure “that this country will come to grips with the real situation in Iraq.” The Third Way, a strategy center for progressives, has also suggested a similar independent assessment.
HOMELAND SECURITY — BUSH’S CUTS TO DISEASE CONTROL PLACE AMERICANS AT RISK: A Georgia man with extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) “is now in an Atlanta hospital under federally enforced isolation” after recently taking two transatlantic flights, which might have exposed other passengers to the disease. Though the man ignored requests by public health officials not to travel, The New York Times reports that “the episode also raised questions about how rapidly health officials could respond to a similar emergency with other deadly infectious diseases.” The task has been made more difficult by President Bush’s repeated attempts to slash the budget of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by about $500 million. CDC Director Julie Gerberding warned earlier this year that this exact type of situation could result from the administration’s proposed cuts in a report submitted to the House Appropriations Committee, in which she noted that “emerging plagues such as drug-resistant tuberculosis represent ‘urgent threats that have become more prominent in the dawn of the 21st century.'” Committee chairman Rep. David Obey (D-WI) took the unusual step of instructing Gerberding to submit the report directly to the committee, as opposed to first sending it to the White House, as is customary. He did so in order to receive what Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, called “the kind of unvarnished guidance the Congress needs to make its decisions.” Benjamin and others also point out that though CDC funding may appear to have increased in recent years, the “erosion of its traditional disease control activities has been ‘masked’ by infusions of cash earmarked for spending on bioterrorism and pandemic activities.” Bush’s narrow focus on terrorism does not appear to have been successful, as the Department of Homeland Security could not explain how the TB-infected man could simply drive into the United States on his return trip when “all border crossings had been given his name and told to hold him if he appeared.”
ENERGY — CARBON CAPTURE PROVIDES MEANS TO HARNESS COAL ENERGY WHILE COMBATING GLOBAL WARMING: As the most plentiful fossil fuel available, coal is a staple of U.S. energy production. But growing consumer and government thirst for cheap energy through the construction of a new generation of coal-fired power plants poses a grave threat to the environment. “In the absence of emission controls, these new plants will increase worldwide annual emissions of carbon dioxide by approximately 7.6 billion metric tons by 2030. These emissions would equal roughly 50 percent of all fossil fuel emissions over the past 250 years,” according to a new report by the Center for American Progress, titled Global Warming and the Future of Coal: The Path to Carbon Capture and Storage. “Technology currently exists to capture CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants before they are released into the environment and to sequester that CO2 in underground geologic formations,” so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems. This pathway, as American Progress proposes it to be implemented, “would allow continued use of coal as an energy source without magnifying the risk of global warming.” Unfortunately, “we are so far failing” in the effort to expand use of CCS, as industry experts predict only a small percentage of coal plants in the next quarter century will be using clean technology. To expand the use of clean coal technology, Congress must take bold action to “put in place an emission performance standard for new coal-fired plants.” Subsequently, such leadership would build a foundation for developing nations like India and China — which rival the U.S. in greenhouse emissions — to emulate. Our leadership on this front is crucial, as “[l]ack of progress in these countries would doom to failure global efforts to combat global warming.”
HEALTH CARE — FDA REMAINS A ‘BROKEN’ AGENCY: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is suffering from “growing internal dissension between officials who approve drugs and those who track the safety of drugs after they have been approved.” This “dissension” was made public last month when it was revealed that FDA had ignored indications that Avandia, a diabetes pill, “substantially increased the risks of heart attack” in patients. The FDA’s “safety group recommended months ago that the drug agency put its severest warning on Avandia.” As of yet, no action has been taken. Dr. David Graham, who first discovered Avandia’s risks, said that “top agency officials had demanded an unreasonable level of certainty about a drug’s risks before agreeing to warn the public” and another FDA doctor said, “Safety is just not a high priority to them.” Such safety concerns were also raised yesterday when the FDA reported that “levels of a chemical used to make rocket fuel” — known as “perchlorate” — “found in commonly consumed food are not high enough to pose a health risk.” The Washington Post reports, however, that current standards adopted in 2005, are “more than 20 times the amount of perchlorate contamination in food found to be safe under previous standards.” The Natural Resources Defense Council has opposed the new levels and argues that “new FDA estimates show that some food items ‘come perilously close to what EPA considers an unsafe level.'” Members from both houses of Congress have pledged to address both of these issues in the coming weeks.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) blames U.S. troop deaths on Congress’s Iraq debate. “Al-Qaida knows that we’ve got a lot of wimps in Congress,” DeMint said at a luncheon Tuesday. “I believe a lot of the casualties can be laid at the feet of all the talk in Congress about how we’ve got to get out, we’ve got to cut and run.” He later added that while Iraq has “gone badly and it’s a mess, it would have been worse if we hadn’t gone in.”
“The United States is among the least peaceful nations in the world, ranking 96th between Yemen and Iran, according to an index of 121 countries.” Iraq ranks last.
President Bush “is under pressure from European allies to give ground on climate change at next week’s meeting of the world’s richest countries, but policy experts say prospects for a breakthrough are slim.”
“Twenty months after its depleted ranks of soldiers and airmen were pressed into service for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Louisiana National Guard still lacks hundreds of military troop trucks that can handle high water as it faces a new storm season that begins Friday.” The culprit, they say, is Iraq.
The Supreme Court ruling this week “in favor of an Alabama employer that had underpaid a female employee for years” is effectively “gutting a key part of the Civil Rights Act,” The New York Times writes. “Fortunately, Congress can amend the law to undo this damaging decision.” House Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller (D-CA) and others have announced plans to do just that.
Global warming is shrinking the Great Lakes, New Scientist reports. “Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water in the world by surface area, is experiencing its lowest water levels since the record set in 1926.”
“A NATO helicopter on a night mission crashed late yesterday in southern Afghanistan, killing all seven service members aboard in what officials believe was a coordinated attack in an area known for aggressive Taliban fighting.”
“A Sunni police chief praised by U.S. forces for clearing his city of insurgents has been arrested following an investigation into alleged murder, corruption and crimes against the Iraqi people, the U.S. military said Wednesday.”
And finally: The World Bank Blackberry bruise. “After his introduction as the U.S. pick to lead the World Bank, Robert Zoellick said he had to turn off his BlackBerry. He wears the device on his belt, and typically keeps it on vibrate. ‘I’m getting bruises,‘ he said, pointing to it. ‘I’ve never had so many emails.'”
Today, Nike announced that “it would improve conditions for its 800,000 workers in factories that make its products by eliminating excess overtime by 2011. … It also plans to use more environmentally-friendly material in its shoes.”
NEW YORK: Brooklyn teenagers take to the streets to monitor pollutants and air quality in the area.
CALIFORNIA: Legislators “are considering a bill that would make it easier for same-sex partners and married men to change surnames.”
ILLIINOIS: State House approves new budget missing Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) top priority: universal health care.
CIVIL RIGHTS: Civil union legislation is popular with state lawmakers, but gay-rights advocates desire full marriage equality.
THINK PROGRESS: VIDEO FLASHBACK: The two-year anniversary of Vice President Dick Cheney’s “last throes” comment.
MY TWO SENSE: Right-wing CNN host Glenn Beck’s ratings are “lower than a year ago when he was just starting.”
NEWSHOUNDS: “Fox business show asks: Will terrorists use tuberculosis to attack America?”
THE SWAMP: If Americans had 15 minutes with President Bush, the majority would tell him to “focus on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.”
“With this new effort, the United States will more aggressively enforce existing sanctions against Sudan’s government. … And I promise this to the people of Darfur: The United States will not avert our eyes from a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world.”
— President Bush, 5/29/07
“The purpose of these sanctions is not sanctions.”
— U.S. ambassador to Sudan Andrew Natsios, 5/29/07