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Iraq: Redeployment Debate Begins Anew

The Levin-Reed amendment provides the long-overdue start of a redeployment and real "strategic reset" of our presence in the Middle East.

JULY 16, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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IRAQ

Redeployment Debate Begins Anew

Today, the Senate debates a bipartisan amendment to the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill offered by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI), which would “require the president to begin reducing the number of American troops in Iraq within four months and to transition the mission of our remaining military forces there to force protection, training of Iraqi Security Forces, and counter-terrorism missions.” Currently, the President’s “New Way Forward” in Iraq — the so-called “surge” — is six months old and has only inflamed Iraq’s anarchic civil war. Casualties among U.S. forces have surged, political progress in Iraq has halted, popular support for the war has tanked, and conservative members of Congress are defecting from Bush’s failed policies in record numbers. The Levin-Reed amendment provides the long-overdue start of a redeployment and real “strategic reset” of our presence in the Middle East.

A GROWING MAJORITY: Today’s debate marks the third time the Levin-Reed Amendment or similar plans have reached the floor of the U.S. Senate. Just over a year ago, the Senate rejected a similar plan in a 60 to 39 vote. The plan would have required the President to begin a withdrawal by the end of 2006, but did not set a firm deadline for a completion of redeployment. The Levin-Reed plan was smeared in Congress as “retreat and defeatism,” and Bush referred to it as waving “the white flag of surrender.” Less than a year later — in March 2007 — the Senate approved a measure similar to the Levin-Reed plan in a 51-47 vote as part of the 2007 Iraq Emergency Supplemental. The bill required U.S. forces to leave Iraq by March 2008. Bush vetoed the bill on the fourth anniversary of his “Mission Accomplished” speech. Despite previously endorsing such timelines, Bush called the bill an “artificial deadline” that would allow terrorists to “mark their calendars and begin plotting…to overthrow” the Iraqi government. Today, bipartisan support for the Levin-Reed plan continues to grow. It is co-sponsored by conservative Sens. Gordon Smith (R-OR), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

DENYING REALITY: Last week, the President delivered to Congress his “Initial Benchmark Assessment Report,” claiming that the Iraqi government has “shown satisfactory performance so far on 8 of the 18 benchmarks.” Bush said, “I believe we can succeed and I believe we are making security progress that will enable the political tract to succeed.” But as the National Security Network documented, and Levin explained yesterday, the President’s “glass half full” assessment of Iraq is really “a glass with a big hole in the bottom.” Indeed, violence in Iraq has risen — not fallen — since the beginning of the President’s escalation strategy. Close to 600 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died since January. Military assessments suggest that “the U.S. military’s plan to secure Baghdad against a rising insurgency is falling far short of its goal.” Over the weekend, “21 unidentified bodies were discovered throughout” Baghdad and today at least 80 people were killed in a bombing in Kirkuk. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) recently called Bush’s assessment “delusional, to say the least,” adding, “Nothing has gotten better.” Murtha said he sees “more and more people coming around. I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been that we’re going to start redeployment before long.”

TOOTHLESS ALTERNATIVES: Recently, the President has faced increasing defections among traditionally loyal members of Congress. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) called the president’s escalation “ineffective,” arguing that it is “prospects for success are too dependent on others who do not share our agenda.” Warner later said, “I hail what [Lugar] did.” Despite such rhetoric, many are embracing weak legislation introduced by Lugar and Sen. John Warner (R-VA), requiring the administration “to present to Congress by Oct. 16 contingency plans to switch to a narrower mission in Iraq.” The measure, Warner said, would show the world the “clear support between the Congress and the president’s mission,” but does nothing to ensure the President commits to the redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq. In fact, Lugar recently called plans to end the war “very partisan” and said they “will not work.” Other lawmakers, including Sens. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have introduced a measure that would make the recommendations of the now-outdated Iraq Study Group (ISG) official U.S. policy but — again — without a date for withdrawal. Center for American Progress senior fellow Lawrence Korb writes, “Before going any further, Congress should reject the seductive promise of the [ISG] report.” Unlike such toothless alternatives, Levin-Reed constitutes a real alternative to the President’s increasingly poor judgment in Iraq.

DEFYING THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE: The President’s continued delusions about the reality of the situation in Iraq are not shared by the American people. Since January — when Bush instituted his surge — his approval ratings have tanked. Today, just 26 percent of Americans approve of Bush, down from a high of 88 percent shortly after 9/11. His disapproval rating — 66 percent — rivals that of Richard Nixon shortly before he resigned in disgrace. A total of 68 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, and just 19 percent of Americans believe the surge strategy is working. Furthermore, as Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) explained to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) “among military members and their immediate families…two-thirds said things were going badly [in Iraq]. … Fewer than half of the families and military members said the United States did the right thing in invading Iraq.” 

UNDER THE RADAR

ETHICS — WITHHELD REPORT PORTRAYS HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE ‘AS EMBARRASSINGLY ENTANGLED’ IN SCANDAL: Last year, after the House Intelligence Committee completed an internal investigation of convicted Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham’s use of “his House position to steer millions of dollars to corrupt contractors” in exchange for bribes, “the Republican-controlled panel would not release the results.” With the Committee now controlled by Democrats, the report, which “provides a penetrating look into how the committee itself became central to the scandal, describing an atmosphere in which senior aides were deeply troubled by Cunningham’s actions but nevertheless complied with his requests out of fear,” is still being withheld. According to Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), “some Democratic members were reluctant to release a document that singled out staff members for criticism.” “My view was that the report was an internal review, principally of staff activity, and that the full report — with all of the names of staff — was not intended for dissemination beyond the committee,” Reyes said. “The important thing is that the committee took the review seriously and incorporated changes.” In a declassified version of the report obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Cunningham, who is currently serving eight years in a Tucson, AZ prison on charges of taking bribes and tax evasion, is portrayed as “more focused” during his tenure on the committee on pushing for projects that benefited particular contractors than “on the merits of the underlying projects” he earmarked. While the report reflects poorly on the House Intelligence Committee staff, other lawmakers are largely spared from scrutiny. According to the report’s principal author, former House counsel Michael Stern, “the terms under which he was hired to conduct the investigation prevented him from examining lawmakers’ roles.”

HEALTH CARE — BUSH TO VETO EXPANSION OF CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROGRAM:
Over the weekend, President Bush announced that he would “veto a bipartisan plan to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program” (SCHIP), a joint federal-state funding program that provides vital health insurance coverage for children in families whose income levels render them ineligible for either Medicaid or private insurance. The proposal, which would be “financed by an increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco products,” boosts “current levels of spending by $35 billion over the next five years” to “reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.1 million.” In his veto threat, Bush rejected the tobacco tax and complained that the expansion would add  “nonpoor children to the program” and encourage “many to drop private coverage, to go on the government-subsidized program.” Bush’s own proposal, which expands the popular program by just “$5 billion over five years,” undermines the success of SCHIP. While 6.8 million people have lost health coverage since 2000, SCHIP and Medicaid ensured that the proportion of low-income children without health insurance actually declined during this period, “from 20 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2005.” The current program covers more than 6 million youths nationally and “seems to be the main explanation” for why “the number of uninsured children has dropped from about 10 million to about 7 million from 1997 to 2006.”

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — ADMINISTRATION, RIGHT-WING LAWMAKERS IN FAVOR OF BOMBING IRAN: The Guardian (UK) reports today that the “balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months.” As Iran’s uranium enrichment program has advanced, a split has emerged within the White House on how to curb the program. “The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates,” reports the Guardian. But “[t]he balance has tilted. There is cause for concern,” reported an internal source, suggesting Bush has now officially sided with Cheney’s emphasis on preemptive strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Bush has already ramped up threats against Iran. Last week, the United States deployed a third aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf in order to “counter the assertive, disruptive and coercive behaviour of some countries,” according to a Navy press release. In recent weeks, several members of Congress as well as the White House have sharpened their rhetoric in favor of military action. Last month, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said he favors striking Iran. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), who was an early critic of Bush’s escalation policy in Iraq, echoed Lieberman’s calls for aggression when asked if he would favor striking Iran. “Yes, I am, and I think we have to be. … We’re probably in this fight for a generation,” he said.

THINK FAST

Roll Call writes, “Just a year ago, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) was disregarded, even by some in his own party, as a bleeding-heart liberal defeatist for his stance on the Iraq War.” When Feingold first floated the idea of setting a withdrawal date two years ago, few of his colleagues supported him. This week, the Senate will take up the Levin-Reed redeployment bill, which is “nearly identical in scope to the amendment Feingold” offered last June.

Two suicide bombers struck the volatile northern city of Kirkuk this morning, killing 73 people and wounding 178 more. … The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers frantically dig through concrete and rubble in hopes of finding survivors.”

“Years before the war began,” Pentagon officials knew that armored MRAP vehicles better shielded troops from roadside bombs than Humvees. “But military officials repeatedly balked at appeals — from commanders on the battlefield and from the Pentagon’s own staff” — dating back to Dec. 2003, to provide the MRAPs, a USA Today investigation found.

“Barring an unlikely confirmation of Leslie Southwick to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the Judiciary Committee this week, Senate GOP leaders have privately mapped out a retaliatory plan that involves blocking passage of Democratic legislation from now until the August recess.” 

“The Department of Homeland Security lost senior leaders at twice the rate of the rest of the federal government over the past two years, including 23 of 26 top officials who report to the secretary.”

$12.5 million: Amount of taxpayer money spent to store 85 million pounds of unused ice ordered by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina. FEMA has stored the ice for two years, even though the agency’s “own regulations required that they dispose of the ice after three months.”

And finally: “In the Bush White House, sports are a metaphor for life.” The AP notes that sports metaphors “have become a pervasive way for Bush and his team to describe almost anything.” “I’m going to sprint to the finish,” said President Bush of the rest of his time in office. When asked whether Bush will be vetoing more bills, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow replied, “The ball really lies in the court of those in Congress.” And of course, there was the infamous “slam dunk” comment by former CIA director George Tenet.

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GOOD NEWS

“United Nations inspectors have verified that North Korea has shut down its sole functioning nuclear reactor, the chief of the watchdog agency said Monday, confirming the isolated country had taken its first step in nearly five years to halt production of atomic weapons.”

STATE WATCH

MISSOURI: Sex-ed supporters protest a right-wing anti-abortion and abstinence-only bill signed by Gov. Matt Blunt (R).

TEXAS: State may outsource its hurricane response plan to the private sector and away from FEMA.

CALIFORNIA: RSVP to see a free screening of No End In Sight, the first film of its kind to chronicle the reasons behind Iraq’s descent into chaos, showing in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: The ever changing definition of “mission” in Iraq.

COMMON SENSE: By naming their conservative channel “SIRIUS Patriot,” SIRIUS Satellite Radio implies that liberals are not patriotic.

GLENN GREENWALD: Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt somehow claims the Bush administration uses “mild, restrained secrecy.”

CATHOLICS FOR AN END: Catholics across the nation are coming together to call for an end to the war in Iraq. Sign the petition.

DAILY GRILL

“We’re not in a civil war. This is just not true. American troops are attacking al Qaeda. They’re attacking some elements of the Shi’a militias. … They are not in the middle of a civil war. It’s not true.”
— Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, 6/15/07

VERSUS

“It is true that we are at risk of a sectarian civil war there, and I’m extremely worried about that. I don’t quarrel about that.”
— Kristol, 8/14/06