|February 14, 2007|
||Losing Both Debates|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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This week, the House of Representatives is debating a resolution opposing President Bush’s escalation in Iraq. The resolution is just 58 words long, and has only one purpose: “Disapproving of the decision of the President announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.” But a leaked letter obtained yesterday by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office reveals that some conservatives have formulated a strategy to avoid talking about the central question of the debate. In the letter, leading conservative Reps. John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) inform their allies: “The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily.” Shadegg and Hoekstra warn that, if conservatives are forced to debate “the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.” Instead, they write, “the debate must be about the global threat of the radical Islamic movement.” The problem is they lose that debate too. Yesterday, the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine released their second “Terrorism Index,” a bipartisan survey of America’s top national security experts. The consensus: the world is growing more dangerous, and America is losing the war on terror. (Read more about the survey, including the full results, methodology, and list of participants.)
THE THREAT GROWS: “America’s leaders like to say that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, represented a watershed,” the new survey notes. “After that fateful day, Americans were told, problems that had been allowed to linger — terrorist sanctuaries, dangerous dictators, and cumbersome government bureaucracies — would no longer be neglected and left for terrorists to exploit.” Yet, over five years later, Americans are more skeptical than ever that the United States has effectively confronted the threat of terrorism. Just 21 percent of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of the issue, according to the latest AP/Ipsos poll. Their frustration is shared by top national security experts. Eighty-one percent of Terrorism Index respondents “see a world that is growing more dangerous for the American people, while 75 percent say the United States is losing the war on terror.” Seventy percent say Bush does not have a clear plan to protect the United States from terrorism — including nearly 40 percent of those who identified themselves as conservatives. More than 80 percent of the experts continue to expect a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 within a decade.
THE IRAQ SINKHOLE: Among the 81 percent of experts who believe the world is becoming “more dangerous” to the United States, a large plurality identified the Iraq war as the primary cause. These results are supported by the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate released last fall, which stated that “the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives,” and that Iraq “has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists.” The result, the NIE stated, is that “activists identifying themselves as jihadists…are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.” Sixty-six percent of respondents believe that Bush’s escalation strategy is a bad idea. Perhaps more importantly, 92 percent said that the Bush administration’s performance on Iraq has been below average, with nearly 6 in 10 experts of all political stripes saying the Bush administration is doing the “worst possible job” in Iraq. Fully 88 percent of the experts believe the war in Iraq is undermining U.S. national security.
THE WRONG ‘SURGE’: Afghanistan was the first front in the post-9/11 effort to combat terrorists, and it is now being neglected. Last year was the bloodiest since the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001. Attacks against U.S. and NATO forces have risen fourfold in the past 12 months, with Taliban fighters adopting many of the tactics used by Iraqi insurgents. (An overwhelming majority of the survey’s experts — 83 percent — say that the fundamentalist Islamist group has strengthened in the last year.) Opium production, which provides more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin, “broke all records in 2006,” and intelligence on Osama bin Laden “has gone cold.” Nearly 70 percent of experts say the U.S. should be surging forces not in Iraq but in Afghanistan. The experts also voiced strong concern about Pakistan. “Asked to choose the country most likely to become the next stronghold of al Qaeda, Pakistan (30 percent) was rated second, just behind Somalia (34 percent, but that was before Ethiopia’s recent military campaign there), and 91 percent of the experts said the U.S. must increase pressure on Pakistan to crackdown against Taliban and al Qaeda militants in tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border.” The Center for American Progress has an aggressive, comprehensive anti-terrorism plan that redeploys U.S. forces out of Iraq and doubles forces in Afghanistan.
MILITARY — U.S. MILITARY CONCERNED THAT TV SERIES ’24’ IS PROMOTING TORTURE IN THE RANKS: On Monday, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point “confirmed that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan recently travelled to California to meet producers of the show, broadcast on the Fox channel. He told them that promoting illegal behaviour in the series — apparently hugely popular among the US military — was having a damaging effect on young troops.” Numerous conservative pundits have cited 24 as a sanction for harsh interrogation practices. For example, radio host Laura Ingraham has said that the “average American out there loves the show 24. OK? They love Jack Bauer. They love 24. In my mind that’s close to a national referendum that it’s OK to use tough tactics against high-level Al Qaeda operatives as we’re going to get.” In a recent interview, actor Keifer Sutherland — who plays the lead character Jack Bauer on the show — noted, “You torture someone and they’ll basically tell you exactly what you want to hear, whether it’s true or not, if you put someone in enough pain,” he said. U.S. intelligence officials have said that torture is extremely ineffective. Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence has said, “I am absolutely convinced…no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.” David Danzig, the head of Human Rights First argued that unfortunately, the “image of the U.S. and its military [being involved in torture] is being affirmed” by the torture practices employed in the show. Undoubtedly, the Vice President’s sanction of tactics such as waterboarding also contributes to that image.
ENVIRONMENT — FORTUNE 500 EXECUTIVES TESTIFY IN SUPPORT OF MANDATORY GREENHOUSE GAS LIMITS: Last month, a coalition of 10 major corporations and four environmental groups launched the United States Climate Action Partnership. (USCAP). The group pledged to push the federal government to institute a “mandatory economy-wide, market-driven approach to climate protection,” with the specific goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80 percent from current levels by 2050. (Learn more about USCAP here.) Yesterday, several of the CEOs — including Chad Holliday of Dupont and Peter Darbee of PG&E — testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Darbee called for the United States to be “at the forefront of addressing global climate change,” while Holliday said “voluntary efforts alone will not solve the problem.” “We see a whole suite of technologies to solve these problems,” Holliday added, “and we think the uncertainty of what regulations will do are holding companies back.” Global warming denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) labeled the company chairmen “climate profiteers.” Meanwhile, Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who could be a critical swing vote on climate change legislation, “said the testimony by corporate leaders could influence many lawmakers to reconsider their opposition to regulation.” “You’ve got my attention,” Warner said.
LABOR — BIG BUSINESS READY TO SQUASH EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT: “In what is set to be their first major showdown since Democrats took control of Congress, business and labor interests are poised for a multimillion-dollar clash over a measure to make it easier for workers to unionize.” Today, the House Education and Labor Committee is set to begin markup on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would remove barriers that prevent employees from joining unions by allowing workers to simply sign cards authorizing union representation. Although the bill is backed by a strong bipartisan coalition in the House, business interests are gearing up to defeat the proposal in the Senate. Groups going on the offensive include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and the Center for Union Facts, the latter spending almost $3 million last year on television ads against the EFCA. Another pro-business group, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, has launched a website for its campaign. “We will make sure that there is some pain associated with voting for this,” said Coalition spokesman Todd Harris. Labor organizations acknowledge the tough odds they will face in the Senate, including the prospect of a filibuster by a few conservative Senators. (Learn how you can take action to support the Employee Free Choice Act here.)
IRAN — TOP IRANIAN LEADERS CALLED FOR TALKS WITH U.S IN 2003 MEMO: The Washington Post reports today that a 2003 memo sent to U.S. officials via the Swiss ambassador confirms that “an Iranian proposal for comprehensive talks with the United States had been reviewed and approved by Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; then-President Mohammad Khatami; and then-Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.” The memo, provided by an unnamed source, included a “roadmap” that proposed “putting on the table” long-time demands of the Bush administration, including “such issues as an end to Iran’s support for anti-Israeli militants, action against terrorist groups on Iranian soil and acceptance of Israel’s right to exist.” According to the Post, their source disclosed the memo in response to feelings that former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage had “mischaracterized” the memo’s contents. According to Newsweek, Armitage said: “We couldn’t determine what [in the proposal] was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” adding that he felt the Iranians “were trying to put too much on the table.” In addition, a spokesman from the State Department called the document “a creative exercise on the part of the Swiss ambassador.” Despite such doubts, Hillary Mann, the administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs compared the memo’s significance to the “‘two-page document’ that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger received from Beijing in 1971, indicating Mao Zedong’s interest in opening China.” In response to questions about this missed opportunity, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied ever seeing such a proposal.
The California Senate became the “first state legislative body in the nation” to pass a resolution opposing Bush’s escalation plan. “Progressive political organizations are pushing statehouses across the country to approve resolutions opposing the proposed troop surge. Resolutions have been introduced in about 20 states.”
“The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 in 2006 from 4,918 in 2003.”
The U.S. military has acknowledged that a Marine helicopter that crashed last week in northwest Baghdad was shot down, after initially denying that it was downed by insurgents. This incident marks seventh downing of a helicopter in the past month.
The chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said that Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has left the country and is believed to be in Iran. But an Iraqi government official claimed Sadr was in Iraq as recently as Tuesday night, when he received delegates from several government departments.
The New York Times reports that at least 24 conservatives in the House of Representatives are expected to vote for the anti-escalation resolution.
The White House is resisting a congressional request for Al Hubbard, the director of the National Economic Council, to testify about the administration’s fuel economy proposal. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) plans to hold a hearing to discuss Bush’s plan to upgrade the federal fuel efficiency requirements for new passenger cars.
And finally: Happy Valentine’s Day! Political matchmaking sites are springing up to help you “find Mr. Right (or Ms. Left).” Sites like ActForLove.org help progressives find love, while ConservativeDates.com helps conservatives. “It would get a little tiring if I had to sleep on the couch every time my girlfriend and I got into an argument over watching Fox News or listening to Air America,” said conservativematch.com user Michael Cunningham.