Iraq war and occupation(Meanwhile, as noted above, Congressional Republicans in support of Bush's policies, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, say that Congress has no business and no right to "interfere" in Bush's policy making.) McConnell and other Republican lawmakers meet with Bush to discuss how best to sell his new strategy. "Obviously, the need to secure Baghdad and strengthen an ally in the war on terror was among the items we discussed," McConnell says after the meeting. "But we also discussed the need to find bold solutions for other big issues." Democratic House member Tim Walz, a veteran of the Afghanistan war, says that he, like his fellow Democrats, believes sending more troops compounds a bad situation, and diplomatic and political solutions are needed, not more troops. "Before moving forward with this escalation, we owe it to these troops, to their families, and to all Americans to ask the tough questions and demand honest answers about this policy," he says in the Democrats' Saturday radio address. "Is there a clear strategy that the commanders on the ground believe will succeed? What are the benchmarks for success, and how long does the president believe it will take to achieve them? Is this a policy that will contribute to the America's security in the larger war on terror, or distract from it?"
Domestic spyingOn top of this intrusion into Americans' private lives, the CIA has also been issuing what are known as national security letters to gain access to financial records from American companies. Banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions receiving the letters usually have turned over documents voluntarily, allowing investigators to examine the financial assets and transactions of American military personnel and civilians. Such national security letters have been issued thousands of times by the FBI since 9/11, provoking outrage and court challenges from civil liberties advocates advocates who see them as unjustified intrusions into Americans' private lives. But the CIA is prohibited from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering; for that agency to engage in such activities is unprecedented and illegal. The Pentagon's own intelligence agencies and organizations have similar restrictions.
Conservative smear campaignsBoxer asked Rice, who is unmarried and has no children, "Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families." Rice attempts to twist Boxer's words into a condemnation of Rice's choice to live as a single, childless woman, complaining on Fox News, "In retrospect, gee, I thought single women had come further than that, that the only question is, 'Are you making good decisions because you have kids?'" Rice does not acknowledge the fact that Boxer has been one of the staunchest voices for women's rights, in Congress and elsewhere, for decades. Neither does she acknowledge that Boxer is making no judgments about Rice's life choices. Boxer restates her position by saying in response to Rice, "I spoke the truth at the committee hearing, which is that neither Secretary Rice nor I have family members that will pay the price for this escalation."
Conservative media slant"I think the American press corps has lost its way," she says. "There's no reason the media played along with the administration's shifting rationales, all untrue in the run-up to the catastrophic war in Iraq. ...Congress rolled over, as we did, no questions asked. But the result of our default has been devastating. We lost our halo as the visionaries for a better mankind." Thomas was Ronald Reagan's favorite reporter, but is persona non grata in the Bush administration. (Memphis Commercial Appeal)
US allegations of terrorismShe goes on to ask why the US is still holding hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, long after it has become clear that few, if any, of them are actually terrorists. And she asks why Bush continues to issue "grandiose and provocative signing statements, the latest of which claims that the executive branch holds the power to open mail as it sees fit." Lithwick says that for years she has attributed all of these actions, and other related actions, to what she calls "presidential blindness -- an extreme executive-branch myopia that leads the president to believe that these futile little measures are somehow integral to combating terrorism."
"Unitary executive"The US cannot "wait for Congress to develop the spine it has been deprived of since the Watergate era," the Times editorializes. "There must be an external check and balance on the executive branch, and that will only happen if the media abandon the bended-knee position from which they have covered the Bush administration." The Times continues, "The willingness of most mainstream media outlets to continue to treat seriously the absurd and propagandistic claims of this president and his aides is at least as damaging to the discourse and, by extension, to the American experiment as the collapse of congressional oversight. To allow the administration and its supporters to suggest, at this late stage in the disaster that is the Iraq invasion and occupation, that challenges to the president's proposal to escalate the war are disrespectful of US troops serving there is to perpetuate a lie that warps the national debate in a manner that ensures more Americans and Iraqis will be killed. The president and his dwindling circle of supporters certainly have a right to make their pronouncements. But they do not have a right to expect that lies and spin will be swallowed by the media and then regurgitated into the living rooms of Americans."
Conservative media slantWhat Boxer was focusing on was Bush's abjuration on January 10 that the US "must expect more Iraqi and American casualties" as a result of his policies. In the questioning, Boxer told Rice, "You're not going to pay any particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family." The right-wing media, led by White House press secretary Tony Snow, immediately leapt upon the statement as some sort of personal attack on Rice, and several of the right-wing media mavens repeated and elaborated upon Snow's "a great leap backward for feminism" comment. The smear campaign was quickly in full swing. The Times, which should know better, left out the entirety of Boxer's question, thus rendering it nothing but an inexplicable slur upon Rice's status as a single woman without children. Friedman repeats Boxer's comment: "Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families. And I just want to bring us back to that fact." Rice herself admitted to the Times that "It didn't actually dawn on me that she was saying, 'you don't have children who can go to war'." It didn't dawn upon Rice because that wasn't what Boxer was saying.
Iraq war and occupationBy the time the US had spent that sum in Vietnam, in 1975, the troops were coming home at long last. By the time the bill for World War II passed the $600 billion mark, in mid-1943, the United States had driven German forces out of North Africa, devastated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway, and launched the vast offensives that would liberate Europe and the South Pacific. Thusly, the Bush administration has spent more to accomplish less than any "wartime" president in American history. Though the loyalist Republican leadership of the previous Congresses have always passed Bush's war funding without hesitation, that will not continue with the Democrats now in control of the legislature. Democratic House member Zoe Lofgren says, "When you say for what we're spending in a month in Iraq, you could fully fund and double the science budgets of the United States and come up with a viable alternative to oil, it puts it in perspective." Even war supporter Judd Gregg, a Republican senator, criticizes the administration's approach to war costs, calling it "without any discipline as to how much is going to be spent." "They're gaming the system," he says. "Muting and undermining the legitimacy of the congressional role in funding is, I think, undermining to some degree the commitment to the war effort itself." The new plan will entail an additional $5.6 billion in military expenses and $1 billion in reconstruction and other civilian costs.
Iraq war and occupationThe storm of criticism and opposition was exacerbated, say Bush advisors, by the slow, leaky way that the decision was reached. The policy review stretched two months after the election and the essence of the plan became known long before Bush announced it, making it what Washington Post reporters Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz call "a political pinata for opponents." At this point, Bush officials have abandoned any hopes of turning Congressional Democrats to their side, and are focusing on retaining skeptical, skittish Republicans to stay loyal on the issue. Meanwhile, Bush has attacked Democrats as "irresponsible" for opposing the escalation plan without proposing alternatives, ignoring the fact that a number of alternatives have been proposed by various Democratic leaders. Since Bush roundly ignores any alternatives that are based on any sort of troop withdrawals, it seems obvious that Bush considers any plans that do not jibe with his own agenda "irresponsible." And Congressional Democrats are primed for a fight. "We are headed towards quite a donnybrook in Congress," says former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, the co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, whose plan for withdrawing combat forces by early 2008 was never fully embraced by Bush or Democrats. "We had hoped that there would be more progress towards a more bipartisan approach."
Iraq war and occupationThe wrangling and arguments have unnerved Americans working on the plan, who describe a skein of problems ranging from a contested chain of command to disputes over how to protect American troops deployed in some of Baghdad's most dangerous districts. The largely Shi'ite government of Nouri al-Maliki is bitterly opposed to US plans to pursue Shi'ite as well as Sunni militias and death squads, which is a keystone of the Bush plans for stabilizing Iraq. "We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem," says an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. "We are being played like a pawn." It is also anything but clear if al-Maliki will honor his promise to allow US troops to pursue members of the Mahdi Army in Sadr City.
Prewar intelligence on IraqMost of the interview is unmemorable, as when he asserts that far from being stubborn, he actually is "a flexible, open-minded person," as evidenced by his "surge" policy, where he "spent a lot of time listening to a lot of people because, Scott, I fully understand the decisions I make could affect the life of some kid who wears the uniform. Or could affect the life of some child growing up in America 20 years from now." One exchange between Bush and Pelley is worth noting, however, when Bush blatantly lies about his handling of the manufactured "Iraq WMD crisis." Pelley asks, "You know better than I do that many Americans feel that your administration has not been straight with the country, has not been honest. To those people you say what?"
Iraq war and occupationDuring an interview on CBS's 60 Minutes, Bush is asked if he owes the Iraqi people an apology for botching the management of the war. Bush replies, "Not at all. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude." The Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson writes of Bush's statement, "That is inhuman. We destroyed a nation under the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction. Between our invasion and the ensuing civil war, at least 53,000 Iraqi civilians and over 3,000 American soldiers have been killed. Nearly 23,000 US soldiers have been wounded. Tyrants are being hanged, and tyranny is still in the streets. And the Iraqi people owe us a debt of gratitude?" Jackson quotes Bush's following statement: "I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq." Jackson's reply is short and equally disbelieving: "And people thought President Johnson was deluded about Vietnam?" (AP/Guardian, Boston Globe)
Iraq war and occupation"This is an existential conflict," Cheney says on Fox News Sunday. It is the kind of conflict that's going to drive our policy and our government for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years. We have to prevail and we have to have the stomach for the fight long term." Cheney also accuses Congressional Democrats of trying to "undermine the troops" by attempting to block Bush's escalation, and repeats the lie that Democrats have no strategies or plans of their own to offer for Iraq: "They have absolutely nothing to offer in its place," he says. "I have yet to hear a coherent policy from the Democratic side." Cheney is, of course, the beneficiary of softball questioning from Fox News interviewer Chris Wallace. Wallace gives Cheney the chance to respond to Republican senator Chuck Hagel's charge that Bush's plan may well be "the worst foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam War." Cheney replies that the most dangerous blunder would be to give up on the global fight against terrorism because the United States has decided the war in Iraq is too difficult. That is just what America's terrorist enemies are counting on, he says: "They're convinced that the United States will pack it in and go home if they just kill enough of us. They can't beat us in a standup fight, but they think they can break our will."
"Unitary executive"The manual, described by the Army as a "major revision" to intelligence-gathering guidelines, addresses policies and procedures for wiretapping Americans, among other issues. The original guidelines, from 1984, said the Army could seek to wiretap people inside the United States on an emergency basis by going to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), or by obtaining certification from the attorney general "issued under the authority of section 102(a) of the Act." That last phrase is missing from the latest manual, which says simply that the Army can seek emergency wiretapping authority pursuant to an order issued by the FISA court "or upon attorney general authorization." It makes no mention of the attorney general doing so under FISA. In essence, the deletion gives the attorney general at least some authority to issue emergency wiretapping orders to the Army without going through FISA. While Bush officials call the wording change insignificant, the change is disturbing for many national security experts. Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, says, "The administration does not get to make up its own rules." Aftergood and the FAS only learned of the changes, finalized in November 2005, after waiting over a year for the fulfillment of a FOIA request. Aftergood says the deletion is particularly striking in light of the recent debate over the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. Bush has asserted that he can authorize eavesdropping without court warrants on the international communications of Americans suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda. Like several other national security experts, Aftergood says the revised guidelines could suggest that Army lawyers had adopted the legal claim that the executive branch had authority outside the courts to conduct wiretaps. (New York Times)
Bush's foreign policiesIsraeli experts contend that American policies have destabilized Iraq, emboldened anti-Western forces from Iran to Lebanon and paved the way for militant Islamists to gain control of the Palestinian Authority. "The threats to Middle East security and stability worsened in 2006," experts at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies recently warned. "The American failure in Iraq has hurt the standing of the U.S. in the Middle East." The experts concluded that it would be best for the US to get out of Iraq rather than escalating. "There's no Israeli interest being served by continued American presence in Iraq," said Mark Heller, a Jaffee Center researcher who helped produce the group's annual "Middle East Strategic Balance" report. "There's a basic overall interest in not having the United States perceived as a weak or failing power," he said. "But any initial goals that might have been served by getting rid of Saddam Hussein have long since been banked." The Bush administration, according to the former head of the Jaffee Center, Yossi Alpher, is "simply discredited in the region as a player."
Republican corruptionBearingPoint's own financial reputation is in shreds, having failed to report its own financial results for over a year and facing legal actions from creditors and shareholders. The firm faces being thrown off the New York Stock Exchange. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, BearingPoint employees gave $117,000 to the 2000 and 2004 Bush election campaigns, more than any other Iraq contractor. Other recipients include three prominent Congressmen on the House of Representatives' defense sub-committee, which oversees Defense Department contracts. In 2005, BearingPoint, though taking in over $3.4 billion, reported a loss of $722 million. The company just released those figures last month, after a nine-month delay, and has refused to make 2006 figures available as yet.
Iraq war and occupationOn January 10, Bush said in his primetime speech, "When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation. We thought that these elections would bring Iraqis together -- and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops. But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq -- particularly in Baghdad -- overwhelmed the political gains Iraqis had made. Al-Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's election posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis. They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shi'a Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra -- in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shi'a population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today." While Bush's version of history helps justify his "new way forward" in Iraq, in which US forces will largely target Sunni insurgents and leave it to Iraq's US-backed Shiite government to putatively disarm its allies in Shi'ite militias and death squads. However, Bush ignores the 15 months of violence preceding the February 2006 attack on the Askariya Mosque which saw Shi'ite death squads, some backed by Iran, target Sunni politicians and clerics. He also blames al-Qaeda fighters for the bombing, leaving out the participation of native Shi'ite groups may have had.
Iraq war and occupationKagan is indeed a scholar, but has no real expertise on insurgencies, civil war, or nation stabilization. Instead, Kagan is a historian whose one major work focused on Napoleon. Talking Points Memo observes, "So I am completely baffled by the extent to which the media has given him credibility as a 'military expert'; one imagines how the surge would have been received if Kagan was accurately identified as 'an expert on Napoleon and the early 19th century Russian army.' His CV [curriculum vitae] reveals no publications in refereed history or political science journals in the last decade. Basically the intellectual architect of the surge is an oped/Weekly Standard writer whose only substantive expertise is on Napoleon. Great...." Kagan's original plan called for an escalation of 80,000 troops, but in the preceding weeks he trimmed his recommendations to 30,000 in order to line up with Bush officials' own planning. A Talking Points Memo poster observes acidly, "Your downplay of Kagan as a military expert is baseless, he stayed at the Holiday Inn last night." Daily Kos diarist "The Angry Rakkasan" is more blunt, calling Kagan an "unqualified fraud." "Rakkasan" combs through Kagan's CV and finds that he is not a military veteran, and that during his brief stint as an "unsalaried intern" at the Defense Department in 1991, he focused on Cold War and Soviet-era politics. He has written numerous scholarly articles, but almost none of them have been "peer-reviewed," which in plain speak means they are almost worthless. None of his articles have been on Iraq or the Middle East. What he is, is a frequent contributor to the neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard. "Rakkasan" writes, "Frederick Kagan is a fraud in that he espouses knowledge on military matters in Iraq that he does not have. He has never served in the military and he has never conducted scholarly research on the Middle East, much less Iraq or Iraqi society. ...This is who the President of the United States listens to on Iraq -- a student of Russian and Napoleonic history. This is madness. Frederick Kagan is an amateur who should be exposed and run out of Washington on a rail for all the damage he is doing to our nation." (Belgravia Dispatch/Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos)