Sunday, October 22, 2006


October 20, 2006
The Turning Point
Go Beyond The Headlines
Coffee and Donuts Not Included
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The Turning Point

Overwhelming bipartisan disapproval with the current Iraq strategy "will soon force the Bush administration to abandon its open-ended commitment to the war, according to lawmakers in both parties, foreign policy experts and others involved in policymaking," the Washington Post reports today. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. military is already "in the midst of a re-evaluation of its Iraq strategy," with top commanders from each of the armed services convening at the Pentagon "for 60 days to generate options for how the U.S. might shift its counterinsurgency strategy." The message is clear: the U.S. has reached a turning point. "Stay the course" is no longer a credible strategy even among the most strident war supporters. Even President Bush, who has consistently rejected comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, acknowledged this week that he believes the current spike of violence in Iraq could be the “jihadist equivalent” of the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which was “widely credited with eroding support for President Johnson” and turning the American public against that war.

LOSING BAGHDAD: In July, Bush "stood next to visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki" and "announced plans to shift thousands of additional American forces" to Baghdad. Operation Forward Together was meant to show that as "conditions change" in Iraq, the administration would be "facile enough to change with [them]." Gen. William Caldwell, the military's chief spokesman in Iraq, gave "an unusually gloomy assessment" of the campaign's effectiveness. Caldwell called the 22 percent spike in attacks over the past three weeks "disheartening," and said the U.S. would be "working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts." "In the void forged by the sectarian tensions gripping Baghdad, militias are further splintering into smaller, more radicalized cells, signifying a new and potentially more volatile phase in the struggle for the capital." Elsewhere in Iraq, our troops are "still forced to play a game of whack-a-mole with the insurgency and militias, because it cannot dominate the country enough to secure every city and hamlet." Despite the fact that the U.S. military "has not conducted any major operations" in October, this month is on track to be the third-deadliest of the war for our troops.

PROBLEMS START AT HOME: In November 2005, President Bush said the training of Iraqi security forces was "critical to victory in Iraq." Yet a recent Wall Street Journal investigation found that his administration has not dedicated enough resources to training the U.S. advisers whose job it is to train Iraqi troops. "Internal Army reviews and interviews with dozens of advisers," the paper reported, "show that, thus far, the Army hasn't treated the advisory program as a priority." Lt. Col. Nick Demas called the instruction given to the group of advisers he led a "phenomenal waste of time." "In my 28 years of military service I have never seen such an appalling approach to training," he wrote in a report to superiors. On the Army's grenade training for Iraqis, Demas remarked, "The same training effect could have been achieved by throwing baseballs over a parked mini-van."

Three years ago, Bush promised to help Iraq "restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads, and medical clinics. This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore, to our own security." He has not kept his promise to the Iraqi people. According to statistics compiled by the Brookings Institution, daily electricity levels have hit their lowest point since the U.S. invasion -- the current rate is only 2.4 hours of electricity per day, compared to an average of 16-24 hours of electricity before the U.S. invasion. Reconstruction funds "are drying up" and builders are "pulling out," "leaving completed projects and unfulfilled plans in the hands of an Iraqi government unprepared to manage either." Corruption and lack of security have kept tens of billions of dollars from being spent effectively. "Of the US $65 billion pledged to Iraq for aid and redevelopment since March 2003," a U.N. report concluded, "only $20.5 billion has been spent on that purpose."

A CONSERVATIVE COUP: Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow called reports of a "course correction" in Iraq "old hooey brought into a piece of new hooey." Marine General Peter Pace "defended the leadership" of Donald Rumsfeld, saying that "it is inspired by God." Others are not so convinced. Sen. Chuck Hagel said, "We need to find a find a new strategy, a way out of Iraq, because the entire Middle more combustible than it’s been probably since 1948, and more dangerous, and we’re in the middle of it." "The Iraq situation is not winnable in any real sense of the word 'winnable,'" said Richard Haass, the former State Department chief of policy planning operations. "The Iraq war was a mistake," the conservative Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg added. "I would hope that members of the administration are willing to learn from past mistakes," Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) said, "and choose a different path that would allow us to meet our objectives."

Under the Radar

ETHICS -- CONGRESSMAN UNDER CORRUPTION PROBE CARRIES OUT MASS FIRING OF INVESTIGATIVE STAFF: Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, abruptly "dismissed most of the panel's team of waste and fraud investigators this week, firing about 60 contractors who had been examining federal spending related to Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq war and other programs." The investigators, who were "brought on to handle the extraordinary level of fraud investigations facing the panel," said they were told "not to come to work on Oct. 17 and that they had a week to turn in their congressional ID badges and collect their belongings." "This eviscerates the investigatory function. There is little if any ability to do any oversight now," said one of the investigators, a former FBI agent. "This staff has saved billions and billions of dollars, we've turned up malfeasance and misfeasance. Its results justify the expense of the staff. I have no idea why the chairman would do this." Lewis is currently under federal investigation over corruption charges reportedly uncovered during the Duke Cunningham investigation. He has spent nearly $800,000 in legal fees since May to defend himself against the probe.

Orange Country congressional candidate Tan D. Nguyen (R) was asked to withdraw from the race Thursday "after he acknowledged that his campaign was involved in sending out a letter intended to scare off Latino voters." The letter, written in Spanish and mailed to 14,000 Democratic Latino voters, falsely stated that immigrants could be arrested and face deportation if they tried to vote in the Nov. 7 election. Twenty-two organizations have written to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and requested a federal investigation into the Orange County voter suppression. California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has already called for an investigation into the mailing, which may have violated the Voting Rights Act. Nguyen denies being "personally involved in sending the letter," but believes a staff member might have "used his voter database to send out the letter without his knowledge." The staff member has since been fired. But after speaking with the state attorney general and the private company that distributed the letter, local party chairman Scott Baugh concluded "that not only was Mr. Nguyen's campaign involved in this, but that Mr. Nguyen was personally involved in expediting the mailer." Despite a formal request from his party to leave the race, Nguyen "has no intention of dropping out of the race."

In a speech this week at Desales University in New Jersey, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called for a "notify and walk" exit strategy from Iraq. "We notify the Iraqis that we're going to be drawing down a reasonable but careful percentage of our troops over a reasonable interval of months -- just for example, 5 percent of troops every three months," Armitage said. He explained that "this will show seriousness of will give our population some hope and enthusiasm that this is not a never-ending affair. And also it will put the heat on the Iraqis, because ladies and gentlemen, we can't win this militarily. By the way, we can't lose this militarily." Armitage's comments are part of an emerging consensus among senior conservatives, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-VA), former Secretaries of State James Baker III and Colin Powell, and Sens. Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) that a change of course in Iraq is necessary.

Think Fast

Iraq's Prime Minister had ordered the country's health ministry to "stop providing mortality figures to the United Nations, jeopardizing a key source of information on the number of civilian war dead in Iraq."

President Bush recess-appointed former coal industry executive Richard Stickler to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The Senate had twice refused to confirm him "because of his troubling mine safety record -- the mines he managed from 1989 to 1996 incurred injury rates double the national average."

"Moving quickly to implement" the new Military Commissions Act, the Bush administration "has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba."

In 1995, just three days into her tenure as Secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) removed a routine working file alleging that her husband had engaged in inappropriate contact with a minor. The file, uncovered only recently, reports that Wilson's husband touched a then-16 year old boy "in a manner that was not welcome." Wilson sat on the Congressional Page Board and currently serves on the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's caucus.

The Government Accountability Office yesterday released a report stating that government-funded abstinence education materials must also contain "medically accurate information on condom effectiveness." In the past, the Bush administration has insisted that its materials did not need to discuss condoms.

The Bush administration took "another step yesterday toward building a new stockpile of up to 2,200 deployed nuclear weapons that would last well into the 21st century." The administration announced it will begin the process of repairing and replacing nuclear production facilities as part of an attempt to replace the aging Cold War stockpile of nuclear warheads with a smaller, more reliable arsenal.

In the middle of "National Character Counts Week," President Bush yesterday went to Pennsylvania to campaign for Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA), who is being sued for repeatedly beating a woman with whom he had an affair. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank notes that "Bush was careful to avoid the usual lines about family and conservative values."

"The number of 'dead zones' in the world's oceans may have increased by a third in just two years, threatening fish stocks and the people who depend on them," the United Nations says. The number has previously doubled every decade since the 1960s.

And finally: California Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides (D) had an unorthodox campaign appearance on the Adam Corolla radio show. Prior to his segment, a "72-year-old woman named Sarah made out with a 20-year-old man" trying to get event tickets. Angelides's daughter, who was with him, "received a hearty leering" while someone "suggested smearing mayonnaise on her." Angelides also "made a pitch for some Playboy Mansion tickets for a staff member."

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