For the past four years, President Bush’s Iraq strategy has been characterized by his determination to ignore the realities on the ground. In 2006, he ignored the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG), which called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and diplomatic engagement with Iraq’s neighbors. More recently, he vetoed Congress’s war funding bill that called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He also ignored the advice of his military commanders and the majority of the American public — who disapprove of his handling of the war — and put more U.S. troops in the middle of Iraq’s sectarian warfare. Addtionally, Bush’s 2003 prediction that a “free Iraq” will “lead other nations to choose freedom” has turned out to be tragically myopic. With more than 3,500 U.S. troops and 40,000 Iraqis killed in the war, it is time for the United States to hit “CTRL-ALT-DELETE.” Today, the Center for American Progress is releasing a new Strategic Reset plan that extracts U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2008 and looks “beyond the deteriorating situation in Iraq in order to counter the threat from global terrorist groups and ensure stability in the entire Middle East and Gulf region.”
END TRAINING AND ARMING OF IRAQI SECURITY FORCES: Much of the focus of Bush’s Iraq strategy has been pushing Iraq’s “national unity” government to succeed by training national security forces and meeting political benchmarks. But as Center for American Progress Senior Fellows Lawrence J. Korb and Brian Katulis note in Strategic Reset, “Iraq’s so-called ‘national unity’ government is neither unified nor an effective government. … Iraq’s national unity government currently lacks a unified leadership that works for the common good of the whole country.” The Iraqi government has failed to meet all of the political benchmarks that were supposed to have been achieved by March. Acknowleding the fragmentation of Iraq means immediately phasing out the training and arming of Iraq’s security forces, which have been riddled with factionalism and absenteeism. The United States has poured $20 billion into Iraq’s national army and police force, but training is not the force’s problem. As Katulis and Korb write, “The fundamental problem with Iraq’s security foces is that they lack the allegiance to the national government and in many cases the motivation to defend their country.” Violence in Iraq also grows as the number of Iraqi forces grows, since what the United States is basically doing by continuing to train Iraqi troops is “arming up different sides in multiple civil wars” and providing “billions of dollars of U.S. military assistance” to Iran, whose allies have infiltrated the security forces.
PHASED REDEPLOYMENT OF U.S. TROOPS: Bush’s full escalation will result in approximately 170,000 troops in Iraq, which is the highest level since the initial invasion. Fifty-nine percent of the American public wants to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq, as do 71 percent of the Iraqi public. Strategic Reset calls for redeployment to begin by the summer of 2007, at the latest. “U.S. troop levels in Iraq could decline to about 70,000 by January 2008, with a full redeployment completed by September 2008.” Marine units and Army Special Forces remaining in Iraq until fall 2008 would focus on counterterrorism, rather than training Iraqi security forces. Bush’s current “no end in sight” strategy “fosters a culture of dependency among Iraqis by propping up certain members of Iraq’s national government without fundamentally changing Iraq’s political dynamics,” at the expense of our overstretched military. Continued U.S. presence in Iraq also “provides Al Qaeda with an ideal ideological argument and rationale. … Today, Iraq is a quagmire for the United States; leaving Iraq will make it Al Qaeda’s quagmire.”
GLOBAL/REGIONAL DIPLOMATIC INITIATIVES TO CONTAIN IRAQ’S CONFLICTS: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently attended an international conference on Iraq aid in Egypt, which included representatives from Syria and Iran. The Bush administration is just beginning to take up the ISG’s recommendation to diplomatically engage with Iraq’s neighbors. Strategic Reset urges the Bush administration to build on this progress and participate in regional conferences and engage in bilaterial discussions with Iran, ensuring that “the costs of intervening to exploit Iraq’s internal divisions are much higher than the benefits gained from working collectively to contain, manage, and utimately resolve Iraq’s internal conflicts.” This targeted regional diplomacy would also encourage countries to work with the United States to dismantle global terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda. A December World Public Opinion poll found that 75 percent of Americans — including 72 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats — support direct engagement with Iran and Syria. Additionally, nearly four million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, with many living as refugees in neighboring Syria and Jordan. Just one Iraqi refugee was resettled in the United States in April. While the State Department has promised to resettle 7,000 refugees in the United States in 2007, it “will be lucky to match last year’s total of 202.” The United States “should get other countries to do more by increasing the number of refugees” it accepts. Strategic Reset advocates raising the number of refugees allowed into the United States annually to 100,000.
ACTIVE LEADERSHIP ON THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT: Occupied by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration has lacked a coherent strategy on the Arab-Israeli conflict. As Katulis and Korb note, when historians “look back on the period 2001 to 2007, they will see seven years of increased instability and strife in the Middle East, a downward spiral preceeded by seven years of relative hope and progress in the late 1990s.” Currently, the Palestinian terrorities are in a “turbulent divide,” as Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip and President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah political party, has “dissolved the 3-month-old unity government.” The Arab-Israeli conflict is critical to ensuring regional security, and “governments and their people in the Middle East view the United States more positively when it is working to address tensions between Israel and its neighbors.” Strategic Reset calls on Bush to apoint a special Middle East envoy who would have the support of two senior ambassadors devoted to resolving Middle East conflicts. Not only does the United States need to negotiate with Iran and Syria to solve these issues, but it must also “remove any roadblocks it may have inappropriately placed in Israeli exploration of Syrian intentions.”
HEALTH CARE — INSURANCE AND PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRIES LAUNCH SMEAR CAMPAIGN AGAINST MICHAEL MOORE: In his new documentary SiCKO, filmmaker Michael Moore exposes the deplorable tactics practiced by some health insurance and pharmaceutical companies who deny coverage to individuals who are insured. Moore is now facing “a multifaceted counteroffensive” from front groups supported and funded by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. FreedomWorks, for example, recently launched a new campaign claiming that under policies favored by Moore, “healthy individuals” would “wind up subsidizing people like Moore, who are overweight and and/or live decidedly unhealthy lifestyles by frequenting fast-food restaurants, smoke, or use drugs.” Several health care industry members serve on the FreedomWorks board of directors, and the group is run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, whose PAC has received significant contributions from the health care industry. The CatoInstitute, which has written numerous pieces attacking Moore’s film that argue that he “ignores the positive side of American health care,” receives funding from multiple insurance and pharmaceutical companies, including Amerisure Insurance, Pfizer, and Merck. Additionally, a senior fellow at The Manhattan Institute, which receives funding from multiple pharmaceutical giants such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, started a site called Free Market Cure, which argues SiCKO is “set to inject a large dose of misinformation and propaganda into our national dialog about health care policy.” Other health care industry front groups — such as the Galen Institute, Pacific Research Institute, and the Heritage Foundation — have also recently launched their own attacks on Moore’s film. The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries clearly view Moore’s film exposing some of their misdeeds as a serious threat, and they have no shortage of funds to try to attack it.
CIVIL LIBERTIES — FISA JUDGE REBUKES BUSH ON DOMESTIC SPYING: Judge Royce Lamberth, the former chief judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “criticized President Bush’s decision to order warrantless surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks” in a speech this weekend. Lamberth, who was appointed to the court by President Reagan and became its chief justice in 1995, criticized Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program, saying “he has ‘never seen a better way’ to conduct domestic spying than under the national security court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.” Lamberth characterized the President’s approach as a “a worse way” of conducting surveillance and suggested that the program contributed to bureaucratic mistakes and civil liberty violations. “If FBI Director Robert Mueller had required that a supervisor at bureau headquarters approve each of those National Security Letters, he said, uniform standards could have been applied and mistakes eliminated.” The FBI has recently found that its agents violated the law in sending National Security Letters — subpoenas that do not require the approval of a judge — when “agents sought information to which the bureau was not entitled.” Lamberth argued that “a more centralized procedure” would have prevented such mistakes and suggested that the court should “approve all National Security Letters sent by the FBI requesting phone, email or financial records” to prevent further mishaps. Lambert emphasized the importance of the FISA court in preserving civil liberties during a time of war. “We still have to preserve our civil liberties,” he said. “Judges are the kinds of people you want to entrust that kind of judgment to more than the executive.”
CONGRESS — CONGRESS MOVES TO HOLD WHITE HOUSE ACCOUNTABLE FOR CHENEY EXEMPTION: Last week, House investigators revealed that beginning in 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from a presidential executive order designed to safeguard classified national security information. Defending the move, the Office of the Vice President has asserted that it is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders.” “I question both the legality and the wisdom of your actions,” wrote House oversight chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) in a letter to Cheney requesting information about the exemption. The Information Security Oversight Office, whose watchdog duties Cheney is attempting to avoid, asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January to investigate the legality of Cheney’s claims, but no documents have been produced by the Justice Department on the matter, implying that Gonzales has not actually began a review. Waxman is now investigating Gonzales’s handling of the issue as well. Though the White House has tried to dismiss Cheney’s extraordinary claims as “a little bit of a non-issue,” members of Congress are taking the apparent attempt to circumvent the law quite seriously. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) has said that he will propose an amendment this week to a spending bill for executive operations that will “place a hold on funds for Cheney’s office and official home until he clarifies to which branch of the government he belongs.” “The Vice President has a choice to make,” said Emanuel in a statement. “If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive branch funding he cannot ignore executive branch rules.” More on Cheney’s extraordinary views on the power of his office can be found HERE and HERE.
An expose of News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch shows how his “vast media holdings give him a gamut of tools” to further his financial and political interests — “not just campaign contributions, but also jobs for former government officials and media exposure that promotes allies while attacking adversaries, sometimes viciously.”
The Bush administration has begun “exploring ways of offering Congress a compromise deal on Iraq policy to avert bruising battles in coming months.” Senior administration officials have discussed advocating a “sharply decentralized Iraq, a notion that has seen a resurgence on Capitol Hill.”
“Michael Moore’s latest film, ‘Sicko,’ was a smash hit over the weekend. The documentary about the health care industry was sold out at all its ‘sneak’ screenings in 43 locations around the country including Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, and Detroit.”
Elizabeth Edwards “kicked off San Francisco’s annual gay pride parade Sunday by splitting with her husband,” former senator John Edwards, over marriage equality. “I don’t know why someone else’s marriage has anything to do with me,” Mrs. Edwards said. “I’m completely comfortable with gay marriage.”
The U.S. commander of a new offensive north of Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, said yesterday that Iraqi forces “may be too weak to hold onto the gains.” The Iraqi military does not even have enough ammunition, according to Bednarek. “They’re not quite up to the job yet.”
The New York Times endorses new House and Senate legislation that would end a tax law provision allowing private equity and hedge fund operators to “pay a lower capital-gains tax rate of 15 percent, instead of the ordinary top income-tax rate of 35 percent.” It is “untenable for the most highly paid Americans to enjoy tax rates that are lower than those of all but the lowest-income workers,” the Times writes.
According to a federal audit, a former Halliburton subsidiary — KBR — “did not keep accurate records of gasoline distribution, put its employees in living spaces that may be larger than warranted, and served meals that appeared to cost $4.5 million more than necessary under a contract to perform work in Iraq.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized NATO and U.S.-led troops yesterday for carelessly killing scores of Afghan civilians and warned that the fight against resurgent Taliban militants could fail unless foreign forces show more restraint. “Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as such,” he said.
Research America and other partners have started “Your Congress, Your Health,” posting the positions of all members of Congress on a host of health care issues, ranging from universal coverage to stem cell research. See where your representative stands on the key issues HERE.
And finally: George and Laura Bush celebrate very early Christmas. “It might have been 80 degrees outside but it was snowing inside Ford’s Theatre on Sunday,” where the Bushes attended a taping of an ABC holiday program. “The Ford’s Theatre gala usually airs July Fourth, but ABC will televise this event in December in an effort to attract broader viewership.” Country singer Wynonna “asked Bush if he had done his Christmas shopping yet.”
“Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes last year, setting a record and besting the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami.”
LOUISIANA: State overhauls its notoriously negligent system for providing legal defense for the poor.
EDUCATION: “A record 29 governors sought to boost funding for their state pre-K programs this year.”
IMMIGRATION: Frustrated with Congress, state legislatures consider “a record number of strongly worded proposals targeting illegal immigrants.”
THINK PROGRESS: While the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol defends Vice President Dick Cheney, NPR’s Juan Williams says he’s creating a “secured undisclosed bunker of his mind.”
THINK PROGRESS: Vice President Dick Cheney bypassed environmentally “clueless” President Bush to craft administration’s climate change agenda.
GLENN GREENWALD: “Everyone we fight in Iraq is now ‘al-Qaida.'”
BOB HARRIS: CNN has trouble finding Afghanistan on a map, points to Syria instead.
“I thought it would work, but then after a month or two I realized the idea that I was possibly going to run for president would be inconsistent with that.”
— Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, 6/21/07, explaining that presidential politics was the reason he dropped out of the Iraq Study Group
“Several commission members said to me that presidential politics never entered the discussion, it was all about Giuliani’s schedule and commitments versus showing up for the Iraq Study Group.”
— NBC News’s Tim Russert, 6/24/07