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State of the Union: State of National Security

The Progress Report

Today's report is the first in our four-part series examining the state of our nation. In advance of President Bush's State of the Union address next Tuesday, The Progress Report will review the state of our nation's national security, economy, health care, and energy/environment.

  Features
 
GOOD NEWS

Tomorrow, the House is “expected to approve a bill that would repeal billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks.” The measure will raise $14 billion over 10 years to “be used to promote energy conservation and develop alternative fuels.” 


STATE WATCH

INDIANA: State proposes raising the minimum wage.

NEW YORK: Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) pushes state to enter stem cell race.

ECONOMY: “Families using credit cards to pay for their health care are sinking in debt and hurting their ability to get the care they need.”


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: ABC’s The Note: Bush gave his “best TV performance in years” on 60 Minutes.

MEDIA MATTERS: CNN reportedly considering talk show for right-wing radio host Michael Smerconish.

TPM CAFE: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is “disappointed” he doesn’t have the support of right-wing evangelist James Dobson.

FIREDOGLAKE: Full blogosphere coverage of day one of the Scooter Libby trial.


DAILY GRILL

“White House spokesman Tony Snow said criticism of the way the execution unfolded was deflecting attention from Saddam Hussein’s real crimes. ‘There seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein’s life and less about the first 69 [years], in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people,’ Mr Snow said.”
— BBC News, 1/3/07

VERSUS

“When it came [time] to execute [Saddam], it looked like it was kind of a revenge killing. And it sent a mixed signal to the American people and the people around the world. And it just goes to show that this is a government that has still got some maturation to do.”
— President Bush, 1/17/07


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  January 17, 2007
State of National Security
Go Beyond The Headlines
Coffee and Donuts Not Included
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Today’s report is the first in our four-part series examining the state of our nation. In advance of President Bush’s State of the Union address next Tuesday, The Progress Report will review the state of our nation’s national security, economy, health care, and energy/environment.


State of National Security

In 2006, the threats to America’s national security became stronger and more emboldened. By President Bush’s own admission, over the last year, “the violence in Iraq — particularly in Baghdad — overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made” and the administration’s policy unraveled as a “slow failure.” The “chief beneficiary of the war on terror” — Iran — grew more belligerent, while administration allies continued to make the case for ignoring diplomacy and embracing military confrontation with Iraq’s powerful neighbor. Sensing an opportunity in the midst of growing instability in the region, Hezbollah provoked Israel into a month-long bloody struggle, reminding the world that, in Bush’s words, “This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East.” North Korea accelerated its build-up of nuclear weapons. The Taliban continued its resurgence in Afghanistan. America’s capacity to respond to these threats — militarily, financially, and diplomatically — were further strained due to the mounting costs of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. On the homefront, almost three years after the 9-11 recommendations were made, “the United States still has not adequately adapted to the new post-9/11 security environment, aggressively mobilized its defenses at home, or closed known vulnerabilities.” The recent midterm elections have brought hopes for change, instilling a Congress that has pledged to challenge Bush’s policies on Iraq, conduct more oversight of his national security strategy, and take action where the Do-Nothing 109th Congress failed. Rather than embrace the need for a phased redeployment from Iraq, Bush will use the State of the Union to dig in his heels and sell an escalation plan that elicits fears that 2007 could simply be more of the same.

POSTPONING THE INEVITABLE IN IRAQ: Last week, President Bush proposed an escalation in Iraq, pledging to send another 21,500 U.S. troops into Iraq’s anarchic civil war. The plan has been met with stiff resistance. Even reliable pro-war conservatives, such as Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Norm Coleman (R-MN), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), have indicated their opposition. More than six in ten Americans oppose Bush’s plan. The proposal provides little hope that the stability sufficient to stop the carnage on the ground can be provided. According to recently-published U.N. report, “During 2006, a total of 34,452 [Iraqi] civilians have been violently killed and 36,685 wounded.” Bush has warned that the coming year in Iraq will be no different: “Let me be clear: The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent. Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue — and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.” The Iraqi people are absolutely clear about what they want. “Seven out of ten Iraqis overall — including both the Shia majority (74%) and the Sunni minority (91%) — say they want the United States to leave within a year.” The American public, too, supports phased withdrawal. Despite Bush’s claim that progressives don’t have their own plan, the Center for American Progress has had a responsible Iraq strategy for over a year (Strategic Redeployment). Instead of adopting it, Bush has said there will be no “graceful exit” from Iraq, seemingly laying the course for a disgraceful one.

COLLISION COURSE WITH IRAN: In early December, the Iraq Study Group advised Bush to talk directly to Iran. Senior members of Congress from both parties urged the president to do the same. Three-quarters of the American public, according to a recent poll, also want the president to talk to Iran (including 72 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats). Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has recommended it. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — when he was the co-chair of a 2004 Council of Foreign Relations task force — urged the president to talk to Iran. But Bush has bucked the overwhelming advice and chosen the course of most resistance. “He is now taunting Iran,” writes Center for American Progress Senior Vice President for National Security Joseph Cirincione. In recent weeks, the administration has sent a series of signals that it may be prepared for a military confrontation. Bush’s neoconservative allies have been laying the groundwork for such action. “Make no mistake, President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office,” warned Joshua Muravchik, a neoconservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said last August, “We could be in a military confrontation with Iran much sooner than people expect.” There are indications that the White House is stovepiping intelligence, in a manner similar to the lead-up to the Iraq war. Sensing that concern, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced a resolution last week requiring Bush to consult with Congress and receive specific authorization prior to initiating any use of military force against Iran.

AL QAEDA’S RISE: A declassified National Intelligence Estimate warned the war in Iraq has become a “cause célèbre” for Islamic extremists, breeding deep resentment of the U.S. that probably will get worse before it gets better. According to Bush, “Al Qaeda is still active in Iraq” where it is attempting to make it home base in the Anbar Province. In Afghanistan, the home base of al Qaeda prior to 9/11, attacks have surged 200 percent last month alone. A U.S. military intelligence officer said that since the peace deal went into effect Sept. 5 the number of attacks in the border area has grown by 300 percent. Last June, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) warned, “While we were bogged down in Iraq, all focused on Iraq as the be all and end all of our American foreign policy, we are losing the battle to al Qaeda. … We’ve spent $2 million in Somalia in the last year while we’re spending $2 billion a week in Iraq.” Recent weeks have unfortunately vindicated Feingold’s remarks. Having ignored Somalia for years, the administration was forced recently to undertake military operations “to root out operatives for al Qaeda in the country.” As the U.S. expands its military operations, it leaves behind more failed states that disintegrate into the type of chaotic disorderly morass that gives rise to extremism. Defense Intelligence Director Michael Maples told Congress earlier this month that al Qaeda “has consistently recovered from losses of senior leadership,” and that its “increasing cooperation with like-minded groups has improved its ability to facilitate, support and direct its objectives.”

MILITARY STRAINED: The Baltimore Sun reported recently that “thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use.” According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, “Continued and repeated deployments to Iraq have strained the U.S. military to the point where training is being shorted, equipment is in disrepair and the force is increasingly unready to fight other conflicts.” Comptroller General David Walker wrote that the cost of replacing military equipment “has risen substantially” and “troop readiness levels and the availability of reserve personnel” has been reduced. Before we send more troops into Iraq, we must ensure that our existing troops receive adequate resources.

CONGRESS BEGINS TO ACT ON HOMELAND SECURITY: Under new leadership, Congress recently passed — with broad bipartisan support — homeland security measures patterned on the 9-11 Commission’s recommendations. In doing so, Congress has begun to address the glaring gaps in our nation’s homeland defense. “The far-reaching measure includes commitments for inspection of all cargo carried aboard passenger aircraft and on ships bound for the United States.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has also unveiled a plan “to heighten congressional oversight of intelligence, answering complaints by national security specialists and lawmakers in both parties that Congress has been lax in monitoring the highly secretive community.” In yet another promising step, “Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, seeking to avert a repeat of last year’s furor over counter-terrorism grants to U.S. cities, announced that New York, Washington and four other ‘highest-risk’ metro areas will receive $411 million to subsidize their efforts to guard against terrorist attacks.” Key challenges lie ahead, as Congress has pledged to pass legislation to reform Bush’s illegal domestic spying program and his error-ridden military commissions program.

Under the Radar

IRAQ — NEOCONSERVATIVES TAKE AIM AT PENTAGON, KRISTOL CALLS GATES TESTIMONY ‘PRETTY PATHETIC’: Escalation supporters already appear to be creating a scapegoat in case President Bush’s new Iraq policy fails. Prominent neoconservatives have set their aims on top U.S. military commanders and their allies in the Pentagon (apparently including Defense Secretary Robert Gates), who they claim are sabotaging President Bush’s escalation plan by “slow-walking” the deployment of U.S. forces to Iraq. On Sunday, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol called Gates’ congressional testimony last week “pretty pathetic.” Gates told Congress that we “may be able to begin drawing down some of our troops later this year.” According to Kristol, “That’s the absolute wrong message to send. The message we should send over there is we’re coming in, we’re coming in big, we’re staying, we’re winning this war.” Kristol suggested that Gates was “letting the Joint Chiefs slow-walk the brigades in.” (Watch the video.) On Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) agreed that the Pentagon is “dragging its feet” in implementing Bush’s strategy, saying, “I think there’s bureaucratic resistance in the Pentagon to this proposal.” Retired Army Gen. John Keane, the “military architect” of the escalation plan, also “expressed his alarm” over Gates’ claim “the troop buildup was expected to last ‘a matter of months’ — rather than the 18 months proposed by Gen. Keane,” the London Telegraph reported. “Mr. Gates also said the full deployment of 21,500 additional troops, announced by Mr. Bush last week, might not be implemented. He suggested that only two or three of the five brigades proposed for Baghdad could be deployed initially, while the rest are held in reserve.”

ADMINISTRATION — POLITICS PUSHING OUT U.S. ATTORNEYS: As many as eight U.S. Attorneys are leaving or being pushed out of their positions by the Bush administration. Several of these prosecutors are working on high-profile cases, such as Kevin V. Ryan, “whose San Francisco office is overseeing the investigation of backdating of stock options,” and Carol Lam, who successfully investigated the corruption of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA). Yesterday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) confirmed that “a high-ranking administration official” in the Bush administration asked Lam to resign. While Lam’s critics have pointed to her “failure to more aggressively prosecute illegal-immigrant smugglers” and her “lax prosecutorial standard” as reasons for her departure, others point to the right-wing politics of the Bush administration. In an editorial today, the San Diego Union-Tribune noted, “Lam had justifiably earned the respect of the law enforcement community and the gratitude of all of San Diego. Her resignation yesterday cannot paper over the disquieting truth that she was the victim of strong-arm political pressure from Washington, where officials apparently wanted to hand her job to a partisan operative.” U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins was pushed out by the Bush administration in December, and replaced with a “37-year-old protege of White House political adviser Karl Rove.” Yesterday on the Senate floor, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pointed out that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may be creating these vacancies to appoint interim replacements and “potentially avoid Senate confirmation.” A little-noticed provision in the Patriot Act allows Gonzales to appoint a replacement for an indefinite period of time.

NATIONAL SECURITY — GONZALES BLAMES LEGAL CHALLENGES FOR FIVE YEAR DELAY IN BRINGING GITMO DETAINEES TO TRIAL:  The track record of the Guantanamo detention program “can be summed up quite simply: five years, zero convictions.” More than 770 captives have been held there and just 10 have been charged with crimes. But in an interview yesterday with the Associated Press, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “blamed delays in trying terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay on legal challenges filed b  their lawyers.” “It’s not for lack of trying,” Gonzales said when asked about detainees. “We are challenged every step of the way.” “We are trying as hard as we can to bring these individuals to justice,” he said. The administration has been challenged because they have been operating under a shadow system of justice. During past hearings, the government “called no witnesses, withheld evidence from detainees and usually reached a decision within a day as it determined that hundreds of men…were ‘enemy combatants.'” The Supreme Court rejected these tribunals because they “were neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions.” If President Bush had simply followed the law, these trials could have happened years ago.


Think Fast

The Bush administration last night “declared its opposition to the House Democrats’ proposed cutting of student loan interest rates.” The House bill to be voted on today cuts interest rates on some college student loans in half and would help an estimated 5.5 million students who get need-based federal loans.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) “will join two leading Democrats in introducing a resolution opposing President Bush’s buildup of troops in Iraq, putting a bipartisan stamp on the looming Congressional showdown over the war.”

Yesterday, nearly three weeks after the fact, President Bush said the execution of Saddam Hussein “looked like it was kind of a revenge killing.” On Iraq, Bush said, “I don’t quite view it as the broken egg; I view it as the cracked egg…that — where we still have a chance to move beyond the broken egg.”

“After progress in the early 1990s, the march of global freedom that President Bush advocates has stalled — from countries of the former Soviet Union to parts of Africa and East Asia,” the Freedom House organization declares in a new report, dubbing the trend “freedom stagnation.”

Charles Stimson, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. detainees, wrote a letter to the Washington Post apologizing for saying last week that corporate clients should consider ending their business ties with legal firms whose lawyers defend prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “[T]hose comments do not reflect my core beliefs,” Stimson writes. 

One day after the nation observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Virginia lawmaker Frank D. Hargrove (R) said that slavery ended nearly 140 years ago with the Civil War and that “our black citizens should get over it.” He added, “Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”

$1.2 trillion: With the money going to the Iraq war, the United States could set up a universal health care system, provide universal preschool, carry out the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, double cancer research funding, increase funding to Gulf Coast reconstruction, and enact a “global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives.”

The United States has allowed just 466 Iraqis to immigrate under refugee status since 2003 — including 202 out of 70,000 slots for refugees last year — in part because of more stringent security screenings,” congressional testimony yesterday revealed. Iraq is quickly becoming the largest” refugee crisis in the world, with roughly 1.7 million Iraqis displaced from their homes.”

“The botched hanging of Saddam Hussein and two lieutenants in Iraq by its Shiite-led government has helped to accelerate Sunni-Shiite sectarianism across an already fragile Middle East.” “The reality of the current situation is that we are approaching an open Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region,” warned Emad Gad, an international relations specialist based in Egypt.

And finally: Playing it safe — perhaps too safe — at this year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner. In contrast to last year’s performance by Stephen Colbert, a video of which became one of the year’s most downloaded,” the WHCA has chosen a “less-combative host,” Rich Little. Little, 68, last performed at the event in 1985. “You will never please everyone no matter what you do,” the group’s president said. “My dad loved (Little), and I know he will appeal to an older generation.”