Iraq: The Toothless Tiger Proposal

Throughout this month, several conservative senators have offered rhetoric suggesting they are ready to break with President Bush's escalation policy in Iraq. But instead of supporting a firm withdrawal, many are embracing weak legislation introduced by Sens. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would make the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) official U.S. policy but without a date for withdrawal.

July 12, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
Contact Us | Tell-a-Friend | Archives | Permalink


The Toothless Tiger Proposal

Throughout this month, several conservative senators have offered rhetoric suggesting they are ready to break with President Bush’s escalation policy in Iraq. But instead of supporting a firm withdrawal, many are embracing weak legislation introduced by Sens. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would make the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) official U.S. policy but without a date for withdrawal. Like the ISG, the legislation would call for the administration to “hand off the combat mission to the Iraqis, bolster diplomatic efforts in the region and pave the way for a drawdown of troops.” But Congress should not fully invest itself in all of the ISG’s recommendations, as this legislation advocates. Today, in an Iraq faced with increased sectarian violence and a bitterly divided government, the ISG’s recommendations have largely been overtaken by events due to the changed conditions as a result of the escalation. Instead, the best option to stabilize Iraq and the surrounding region is to reset our approach and responsibly redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq. 

Several senators have called for a change in strategy but are seeking political comfort in a strategy that, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), has “less teeth than a toothless tiger.” Specifically, Salazar introduced an amendment that would “make the Iraq Study Group’s proposals the policy of the United States, setting a “goal” of removing “most” U.S. troops by March 2008. But Salazar’s amendment does not set a firm date for withdrawal. Drawing some bipartisan support, the amendment is largely supported by “defectors” more sympathetic to Bush’s failing escalation plan. Co-sponsor Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) beamed: “The full complement of troops only arrived two weeks ago,” echoing the White House talking point. Co-sponsor Alexander said yesterday, “The surge can be within this larger strategy of the Iraq Study Group,” revealing his gut faith in the escalation. Thus, despite calling for a change in course, these senators still take stock in the White House strategy. As Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted, “[O]nly real policy change will start bringing American soldiers home. Unfortunately, the Salazar-Alexander amendment doesn’t achieve that.”

TRAINING A CIVIL WAR: The ISG recommended that “the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army,” proposing an American advisory effort of between 10,000 and 20,000. But as Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta and senior fellows Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis state, that approach “is deeply problematic” as Iraqi security forces are far from reliable. Despite pouring over $20 billion into training the Iraqi forces, “the Pentagon estimates that at least one-third of the Iraqi Army is on leave at any one time; desertion and other problems bring the total to over half in some units.” Ultimately, the United States is “arming different sides in multiple civil wars that could turn even more vicious in the coming years.” In the current Baquba offensive, U.S. commanders are observing Sunni and Shiite soldiers cooperating with Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias, groups that are responsible for a majority of the violence. Judging by past trends, the U.S. should already be wary, as “violence has escalated at the same time as the number of trained Iraqi security forces has increased.” Testifying before Congress last month, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, in charge of transitioning Iraqi security forces, said several thousand Iraqi police were “unaccounted for” by U.S. forces. Asked whether those police could be fighting U.S. troops, Dempsey replied, “We just don’t know.”

: The ISG places a heavy emphasis on the strengthening the Iraq central government through key benchmarks, but this approach “ignores the key reality that Iraq may suffer from unbridgeable divides.” This method is failing already. This week, a progress report from the Bush administration will assert that “[o]n the political front, none of the benchmarks that have been achieved include the high-profile legislation on which Congress asked to see progress.” Thomas Fingar, deputy director for analysis at the National Intelligence Council, reports “few appreciable gains” as “communal violence and scant common ground between Shi’as, Sunnis and Kurds continues to polarize politics.” The sectarian interests embedded in the national government have had far reaching effects, seen, for example, in how Maliki has “used the Iraqi security forces” to go “after Sunni insurgents with Iraqi forces, leaving the impression that he is acting on behalf of Shi’a sectarian interests.” Top Shi’a and Sunni officials have even resigned in frustration. As Podesta, Korb, and Katulis write, “Iraq’s leaders fundamentally disagree on what Iraq is and should be. Any possible reconciliation is “much deeper…than the United States can provide unilaterally.”

REDEPLOY, ENGAGE, TALK: A strength of the ISG is its emphasis on bolstering regional diplomacy. In attempting to stabilize the region, the United States “should recognize that each of Iraq’s neighbors have differing interests in each of Iraq’s conflicts.” To engage Iraq’s neighbors, the “United States should tell the world that it plans to redeploy its troops from Iraq within a specified time frame,” states Katulis. “This announcement will motivate countries to share the burden on Iraq.” Lugar recently argued, “A diplomatic offensive is likely to be easier in the context of a tactical drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq.” This week, the House has an opportunity to stabilize Iraq, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced it will vote on the Responsible Redeployment From Iraq Act, which “would begin the responsible redeployment of U.S. troops within 120 days and complete redeployment by April 1, 2008.” 


ETHICS — ECHOING GONZALES, SARA TAYLOR’S TESTIMONY WAS RIFE WITH ‘I DON’T KNOW’ AND ‘I DON’T RECALL’: Yesterday, former White House political director Sara Taylor appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about her involvement in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year. Due to the President’s assertion of executive privilege, Taylor was blocked from speaking about internal White House deliberations over the firing and could only “respond to other questions from senators that do not breach White House confidentiality.” Taylor invoked White House counsel Fred Fielding’s name 24 times and his letter asserting executive privilege 35 times during her testimony, using them “like a shield” to resist speaking on certain subjects. On “fact-based” questions, in which she could not refuse to answer without risking a contempt of Congress citation, Taylor repeatedly avoided answering questions by claiming a faulty memory, uttering phrases such as “I don’t know” and “I don’t recall.” When she did answer, Taylor’s responses were worrisome to the members of Congress questioning her. I took an oath to the president, and I take that oath very seriously,” Taylor said early in the hearing. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) curtly responded to her, “Did you mean, perhaps, you took an oath to the Constitution?” “I know that the president refers to the government being his government — it’s not,” he added. At one point in the hearing, Taylor admitted that she “did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys.” This admission caused Leahy to remark that her entire testimony “seriously undercuts [the President’s] claim of executive privilege if he was not involved.” “So I ask again, what is the White House so intent on hiding? If the president didn’t make these decisions, well then who did and why did they?” Leahy concluded.

Yesterday, NARAL discovered that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had revised a government website,, with biased, misleading, and ideological claims about abortion. For example, the new website says, “Abortions can have complications. There may be emotional consequences, as well: some women say that they feel sad and some use more alcohol or drugs than before.” The American Psychological Association reports that, in fact, “[f]or most women…the time of greatest distress is likely to be before an abortion; after an abortion, women frequently report feeling ‘relief and happiness.'” Though the previous version of the site contained factual information about rates of teen pregnancy, this is not the first time has put forth misleading ideological claims. When the site launched in 2005, it told parents “to convince their teens to stop having sex by telling their children that they are ‘worth it.’” But no resources were provided for “parents whose teen remains sexually active, implying that these youth are not ‘worth it.'” Additionally, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt a letter with reviews by scientific experts who concluded that’s content appeared “to have been guided by ideology.” Waxman also noted that the website was not created by government scientists, as the administration claimed, “but rather through a no-bid contract to the National Physician’s Center for Family Resources, an obscure organization that has taken positions against scientific agencies on important matters of public health.” Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s testimony before Congress this week shows that this pattern of manipulating or ignoring science for political reasons is standard practice for the Bush administration. “Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological, or political agenda is ignored, marginalized, or simply buried,” said Carmona.  

KATRINA — TWO YEARS LATER, ‘STILL MORE THAN 30,000 FAMILIES DISPLACED BY HURRICANES KATRINA AND RITA’: On Sept. 15, 2005 — nearly two weeks after Hurricane Katrina first made landfall — President Bush declared, “Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons — because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.” Twenty one months later, however, there are still “13,000 families…marooned in trailer or mobile home parks where hunger is so prevalent that lines form when the truck from the food bank appears” and there are another “30,000 families…spread across the country in apartments paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.” Despite this, according the the Brookings Institute’s Katrina Index, the Road Home program — designed to provide assistance to residents displaced by the Hurricanes — “will stop accepting applications after July 31, largely due to the estimated $5 billion shortfall in the program. Neither Congress nor the Louisiana legislature have committed to providing additional funding.” Further, “only 21 percent of the 77,000 rental units in the five parishes in the New Orleans metropolitan area are slated to be rebuilt through government grants and tax credits.” Consequently, “rents on the remaining units have doubled or even tripled” — preventing many of New Orleans’s poor residents from returning. Several recent studies further illustrate this pattern of inequity and injustice stemming from the Bush administration’s incompetent response to the hurricanes. A Government Accountability Office report found that the Environmental Protection Agency allowed toxic chemicals to harm poor Katrina victims, the Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington found that during Katrina, FEMA ignored its own hurricane response plan, and the Institute for Southern Studies reported that FEMA guaranteed billions in profits for big companies.


Last November, CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Iraq Study Group in a private briefing that the “inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible.” In the eight months since, “neither Hayden nor any other high-ranking administration official has publicly described the Iraqi government in the uniformly negative terms that the CIA director used in his closed-door briefing.”

“A previously undisclosed Army investigation into an audacious January attack in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers concludes that Iraqi police working alongside American troops colluded with insurgents.”

“Undercover Congressional investigators set up a bogus company and obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March that would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a so-called dirty bomb,” demonstrating once again that the security measures “to prevent radioactive materials from getting into the wrong hands are insufficient.”

Some conservatives are rallying behind a weak amendment offered by Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) to implement the Iraq Study Group recommendations, rather than set a deadline for withdrawal. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) derided the proposal as having “less teeth than a toothless tiger. It won’t change one thing the president does.” 

The White House is resisting a congressional effort to commission “independent assessments to rival the upcoming Sept. 15 reports by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker.” If you had a serious illness, you would want a second opinion. We are at war. You want to have the best minds looking at a problem,” said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA).

For thousands of Gulf Coast evacuees, “going home to New Orleans has become a vague and receding dream. Living in bleak circumstances, they cannot afford to go back, or have nothing to go back to. Over the two years since Hurricane Katrina hit, the shock of evacuation has hardened into the grim limbo of exile. ‘We in storage,’ said Ann Picard, 49. … ‘We just in storage.‘”

Yesterday, former White House political director Sara Taylor used a letter from White House counsel Fred Fielding barring her from speaking about certain White House activities “like a shield.” She “invoked Fielding’s name 24 times” and mentioned the letter 35 times: “I have a very clear letter from Mr. Fielding. … Again, I have a letter.”

“The political price of sticking by an embattled Alberto Gonzales is getting higher for President Bush.” The Wall Street Journal notes new intelligence laws have not been passed because lawmakers believe Gonzales “misled them about a separate surveillance program.” Also, “Gonzales was sidelined during the recent immigration debate,” and there has been little movement to replace a half-dozen senior Justice Department officials, some of whom need Senate confirmation.

And finally: The ladies who run the exclusive snack bar for the Democratic members of the House have been praised by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) for “their ability to deal with ‘some 200 prima donnas.'” For example, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) “quietly holds up one finger or two, depending on how many slices of bread he wants with his peanut butter. ‘You never close the bread,'” noted one of the ladies. “We know what kind of day it’s going to be by the first order,” explained the other.

SIGN UP for the Progress Report

Read Our Blog: Think Progress

Under the Radar
Think Fast


In a 273-149 vote, House yesterday passed the College Cost Reduction Act, which “would boost college financial aid by about $18 billion over the next five years and cut federal subsidies to lenders,” the “single largest increase in college aid since the GI bill in 1944.”


NEBRASKA: State Supreme Court may review a “judge’s ban on saying such words as ‘rape’ and ‘victim'” at the trial of an accused rapist.

CALIFORNIA: “Only 20 percent of all working adults in the hotel and restaurant industry” in California have health insurance through their jobs.

ENVIRONMENT: Group of prominent scientists warns that the entire Northeast could soon be “transformed” by global warming.


THINK PROGRESS: Petraeus adviser: “Middle-ground options” in Iraq debate are “neither safe nor productive.”

FRESH INTELLIGENCE: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) complains that his aides make him wear “gay sweaters” in order to look younger.

TALKING POINTS MEMO: President Bush’s order that former counsel Harriet Miers not appear before the House Judiciary Committee today is a potential felony under federal law.

CARPETBAGGER REPORT: CNN Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware says Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) “has taken an excursion into fantasy” when he claims “the enemy is on the run in Iraq.” 


“I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk,” Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board. … And he indicated his remarks were based on ‘a gut feeling’ formed by past seasonal patterns of terrorist attacks, recent al-Qaida statements, and intelligence he did not disclose.”
— Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, 7/10/07


“There continues to be no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an imminent threat to the homeland.”
— White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto, 7/11/07

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.