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Archive for January 10th, 2007

‘Enough is enough;’ Democrats blast Bush speech


The following are statements by Democratic Congressional members sent to RAW STORY shortly after President Bush’s speech. More will be added as we receive them.

Senator Russ Feingold’s statement:

“Tonight, the President ignored the recommendations of members of both parties, military leaders, foreign policy experts, and the will of the American people by announcing that he intends to escalate our involvement in Iraq by sending more troops there. Congress must bring an end to what has been one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in the history of our nation. The President continues to deny the devastating impact that keeping our brave troops in Iraq is having on our national security. The American people have rejected the Administration’s Iraq-centric foreign policy. It is time to bring our troops out of Iraq and refocus on defeating the global terrorist networks that threaten this country.”

Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) tonight also responded to President Bush’s Iraq policy address:

“Nearly four years old, President Bush’s War in Iraq has been an abysmal failure,” said Stark. “The war has cost more than $400 billion and taken the lives of more than 3,000 brave American troops and countless Iraqis. Time and time again, President Bush and Republicans in Congress made false claims about our supposed progress, only to have the situation on the ground get worse and worse. Today, our troops remain in harms way, even as Iraq has spiraled into civil war.”

“In his address, President Bush committed to more of the same – more troops, more wishful thinking, and more empty slogans,” Stark continued.

“Bush didn’t offer a new strategy, he offered new spin. Republicans have repeatedly promised the Iraqis would soon take control of their own security. But the presence of American troops has made and will continue to make such an outcome less likely.”

“Enough is enough. It is past time Congress takes America’s best interests into its own hands. I oppose escalation and, given the opportunity, will vote against providing billions in funding to deploy thousands of additional troops. Rather than send more servicemen and women to die in Iraq, we should serve the will of the American people and bring all of our troops home,” Stark concluded.

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Richard Durbin released the following statement tonight on President Bush’s address to the nation on the war in Iraq:

“Last November, the American people delivered a strong message of no confidence in the President’s Iraq policy and clearly expressed their desire for a new direction. The President had an opportunity tonight to demonstrate that he understood the depth of the concern in the country, make a long overdue course correction, and articulate a clear mission for our engagement in Iraq.

Instead, he chose to escalate our involvement in Iraq’s civil war by proposing a substantial increase in the number of our forces there. This proposal endangers our national security by placing additional burdens on our already over-extended military thereby making it even more difficult to respond to other crises.

“While we all want to see a stable and peaceful Iraq, many current and former senior military leaders have made clear that sending more American combat troops does not advance that goal. Our troops have performed the difficult missions given to them in Iraq with great courage. The Congress and the American people will continue to support them and provide them with every resource they need. But our military forces deserve a policy commensurate with the sacrifices they have been asked to make. Regrettably, the President has not provided that tonight.

“Rather than escalating our involvement in Iraq by sending additional troops, we believe that a plan for the way forward in Iraq requires these elements:
Shifting greater responsibility to the Iraqis for their security and transitioning the principal mission of our forces from combat to training, logistics, force protection, and counter terrorism operations;

Beginning the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months; and Implementing an aggressive diplomatic strategy, both within the region and beyond, which reflects the continuing obligation of the international community to help stabilize Iraq and which assists the Iraqis in achieving a sustainable political settlement, including by amending their constitution.

“Iraqi political leaders will not take the necessary steps to achieve a political resolution to the sectarian problems in their country until they understand that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended. Escalating our military involvement in Iraq sends precisely the wrong message and we oppose it.

“In the days ahead, Congress will exercise its Constitutional responsibilities by giving the President’s latest proposal the scrutiny our troops and the American people expect. We will demand answers to the tough questions that have not been asked or answered to date. The American people want a change of course in Iraq. We intend to keep pressing President Bush to provide it.”

DEVELOPING…

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Bush adding 21,500 troops to Iraq force


WASHINGTON – Unswayed by anti-war passions, President Bush was to say Wednesday he will send 21,500 additional U.S. forces to Iraq to quell its near-anarchy. He was to acknowledge for the first time he had erred by failing to order a troop buildup last year.

The military increase will push the American presence in Iraq toward its highest level and put Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress. It also runs counter to advice from some generals.

Bush was to announce the buildup in a prime-time speech to the nation. Excerpts of his remarks were released in advance by the White House.

Bush planned to say that “to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government. … Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer and confront an enemy that is even more lethal.”

“If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.”

The new Democratic leaders of Congress met with Bush before his speech and complained later that their opposition to a buildup had been ignored. “This is the third time we are going down this path. Two times this has not worked,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif. “Why are they doing this now? That question remains.”

Senate and House Democrats are arranging votes urging the president not to send more troops. While lacking the force of law, the measures would compel Republicans to go on record as either bucking the president or supporting an escalation. Several Republicans appear ready to support the Democrats’ measure.

After nearly four years of bloody combat, the speech was perhaps Bush’s last credible chance to try to present a winning strategy in Iraq and persuade Americans to change their minds about the unpopular war, which has cost the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military as well as more than $400 billion.

The president was to say Iraq must meet its responsibilities, too — but he put no deadlines on Baghdad to do so.

“America’s commitment is not open-ended,” he planned to say. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.”

Bush was to readily acknowledge making mistakes in previous efforts to stop the relentless violence in Baghdad. “There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents,” the president was to say. “And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.”

He was to say Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised that U.S. forces would have a free hand and that “political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.”

Bush’s approach amounts to a huge gamble on al-Maliki’s willingness — and ability — to deliver on promises he has consistently failed to keep: to disband Shiite militias, pursue national reconciliation and make good on commitments for Iraqi forces to handle security operations in Baghdad.

Bush was to describe his plan — combining efforts to spur the Iraqi economy, fix broken services and clean up scarred neighborhoods — as a blueprint to “change America’s course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror.” From a military standpoint, it did not represent a major shift. Even as more U.S. troops go in, Bush was to say the burden would be on Iraqis to tame the violence.

“Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people,” Bush’s prepared remarks said. “And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.”

In a now-familiar refrain, Bush was to portray the war in Iraq as “the decisive ideological struggle of our time.”

“In the long run,” he was to say, “the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy by advancing liberty across a troubled region.”

The buildup comes two months after elections that were widely seen as a call for the withdrawal of some or all U.S. forces from Iraq. Polling by AP-Ipsos in December found that only 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq, his lowest rating yet.

Bush’s blueprint would boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq — now at 132,000 — to 153,500 at a cost of $5.6 billion. The highest number was 160,000 a year ago in a troop buildup for Iraqi elections.

The latest increase calls for sending 17,500 U.S. combat troops to Baghdad. The first of five brigades will arrive by next Monday. The next would arrive by Feb. 15 and the reminder would come in 30-day increments.

Bush also committed 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province, a base of the Sunni insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters.

The bulk of the U.S. buildup will come from extending the deployments of three Army brigades and two Marine battalions and moving one Army brigade into Iraq a bit sooner than scheduled.

As a result of the heavier use of the active duty troops under the Bush plan, officials said the Pentagon may have to change current policies in order to give the military greater access to the National Guard and Reserves.

Al-Maliki has pledged three additional brigades, 10,000 to 12,000 troops, for security operations in Baghdad.

Bush’s plan mirrored earlier moves attempting to give Iraqi forces a bigger security role. The chief difference appeared to be a recognition that the Iraqis need more time to take on the full security burden.

Another difference involves doubling the number of U.S. civilian workers who help coordinate local reconstruction projects. These State Department-led units — dubbed Provincial Reconstruction Teams — are to focus on projects both inside and outside the heavily guarded Green Zone, and some will be merged into combat brigades.

Several Republican senators are candidates for backing the resolution against a troop increase. Sens. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record) and Olympia Snowe (news, bio, voting record) of Maine, Gordon Smith (news, bio, voting record) of Oregon and Norm Coleman (news, bio, voting record) of Minnesota said they oppose sending more soldiers.

Republican Sens. George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio and John Warner (news, bio, voting record) of Virginia also might be persuaded. Warner said he supports the Iraq Study Group recommendations, which strongly cautioned against an increase in troops unless advocated by military commanders.

Warner said he has questions about the merits of sending more troops when Gen. John Abizaid, the top military commander in the Middle East, testified last fall that additional troops were not the answer. Other senior generals also have expressed doubts. The White House said Abizaid and other senior commanders support Bush’s plan.

Also backing the president’s plan were maverick Sens. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., and Joseph Lieberman (news, bio, voting record), I-Conn.

Bush’s strategy ignores key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which in December called for a new diplomatic offensive and an outreach to Syria and Iran.

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With Iraq Speech, Bush to Pull Away From His Generals


When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against.

Bush talks frequently of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort and for second-guessing his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he told The Washington Post in an interview last month. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.”

But over the past two months, as the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated and U.S. public support for the war has dropped, Bush has pushed back against his top military advisers and the commanders in Iraq: He has fashioned a plan to add up to 20,000 troops to the 132,000 U.S. service members already on the ground. As Bush plans it, the military will soon be “surging” in Iraq two months after an election that many Democrats interpreted as a mandate to begin withdrawing troops.

Pentagon insiders say members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have long opposed the increase in troops and are only grudgingly going along with the plan because they have been promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing head of Central Command, said less than two months ago that adding U.S. troops was not the answer for Iraq.

Bush’s decision appears to mark the first major disagreement between the White House and key elements of the Pentagon over the Iraq war since Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, split with the administration in the spring of 2003 over the planned size of the occupation force, which he regarded as too small.

It may also be a sign of increasing assertiveness from a commander in chief described by former aides as relatively passive about questioning the advice of his military advisers. In going for more troops, Bush is picking an option that seems to have little favor beyond the White House and a handful of hawks on Capitol Hill and in think tanks who have been promoting the idea almost since the time of the invasion.

“It seems clear to me that the president has taken more positive control of this strategy,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of those pushing for more troops. “He understands that the safety of the nation and his legacy is all on the line here.”

Others familiar with Bush’s thinking said he had not been happy with the military’s advice. “The president wasn’t satisfied with the recommendations he was getting, and he thought we need a strategy that was more purposeful and likely to succeed if the Iraqis could make that possible,” said Philip D. Zelikow, who recently stepped down as State Department counselor after being involved with Iraqi policy the past two years.

This impulse may well expose Bush to more criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have sharply condemned him for not listening to Shinseki’s counsel in the beginning. “I think a number of our military leaders have pulled their punches, and will continue to pull their punches publicly,” Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday.

There is little question that more troops for Iraq seemed far from the conventional wisdom in Washington after the beating Bush and the Republican Party took in the midterm elections Nov. 7. Indeed, when Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 30, Maliki did not ask for more American troops as part of a new Baghdad security plan he presented to Bush, U.S. officials said.

Maliki’s idea was to lower the U.S. profile, not raise it. “The message in Amman was that he wanted to take the lead and put an Iraqi face on it. He wanted to control his own forces,” said a U.S. official familiar with the visit.

Another problem for the administration was the Iraq Study Group, the prestigious bipartisan panel headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). Soon after Bush returned from Jordan, the group delivered its recommendations, including proposing a high-level dialogue with Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq and setting a goal of early 2008 for the removal of almost all U.S. combat troops.

Although the president was publicly polite, few of the key Baker-Hamilton recommendations appealed to the administration, which intensified its own deliberations over a new “way forward” in Iraq. How to look distinctive from the study group became a recurring theme.

As described by participants in the administration review, some staff members on the National Security Council became enamored of the idea of sending more troops to Iraq in part because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton. One senior administration official disputed that, arguing that staff members were attracted to the “surge” option to address long-standing concern that earlier efforts failed because of insufficient security forces.

A troop increase also dovetailed with ideas being championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

From only a few months after the start of the war in 2003, McCain has argued that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is too light, and he and a handful of allies sought to use the post-election policy review to press their case. For three years, their entreaties had been blocked by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, but after Rumsfeld was ousted by Bush the day after the election, they found their message had a more receptive audience at the White House. “There has always been within the armed forces a group of people that believes we never had the right strategy in Iraq, and they have been suppressed,” Graham said.

Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute drafted a plan with retired Army Gen. Jack Keane for sending seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq to provide greater security. Keane and several other experts met with Bush on Dec. 11.

But from the beginning, the Joint Chiefs resisted. They had doubts that Maliki would really confront the militias controlled by fellow Shiites, notably Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Sadr held 30 seats in Maliki’s parliamentary bloc and five ministries in his cabinet.

The Joint Chiefs were also worried that sending more troops would set up the U.S. military for an even bigger failure — with no backup options. They were concerned that the Iraqis would not deliver the troops to handle their own security efforts, as had happened in the past. They were particularly alarmed about the prospect of U.S. troops fighting in a political vacuum if the administration did not complement the military plan with political and economic changes, according to people familiar with their views.

Pentagon officials cautioned that a modest troop increase could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops.
Even the announcement of a time frame and mission — such as for six to eight months to secure volatile Baghdad — would play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs warned the White House.

Then there was the thorny problem of finding enough troops to deploy. Those who favored a “surge,” such as Kagan and McCain, were looking for a sizable force that would turn the tide in Baghdad. But the Joint Chiefs made clear they could muster 20,000 at best — not for long, and not all at once.

The Joint Chiefs came to accept Bush’s wishes, especially after new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled to Iraq last month with the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Peter Pace, said a U.S. official familiar with the trip. Gates met with Maliki, who laid out more details about the Iraqi plan for Baghdad.
“That gave them enough to define a mission and its objectives,” the official said. “They came back satisfied.”

In the end, the White House favored the idea of more troops as one visible and dramatic step the administration could take. One senior White House official said this week the president concluded that more troops are not the only ingredient of a successful plan — but they are a precondition to providing the security the Iraqi government needs for political reconciliation and other reforms.

Tonight, this source said, the president will explain “that we have to go up before we go down.”

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 — Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they intended to hold symbolic votes in the House and Senate on President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Baghdad, forcing Republicans to take a stand on the proposal and seeking to isolate the president politically over his handling of the war.

Senate Democrats decided to schedule a vote on the resolution after a closed-door meeting on a day when Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts introduced legislation to require Mr. Bush to gain Congressional approval before sending more troops to Iraq.

The Senate vote is expected as early as next week, after an initial round of committee hearings on the plan Mr. Bush will lay out for the nation Wednesday night in a televised address delivered from the White House library, a setting chosen because it will provide a fresh backdrop for a presidential message.

The office of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, followed with an announcement that the House would also take up a resolution in opposition to a troop increase. House Democrats were scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to consider whether to interrupt their carefully choreographed 100-hour, two-week-long rollout of their domestic agenda this month to address the Iraq war.

In both chambers, Democrats made clear that the resolutions — which would do nothing in practical terms to block Mr. Bush’s intention to increase the United States military presence in Iraq — would be the minimum steps they would pursue. They did not rule out eventually considering more muscular responses, like seeking to cap the number of troops being deployed to Iraq or limiting financing for the war — steps that could provoke a Constitutional and political showdown over the president’s power to wage war.

The resolutions would represent the most significant reconsideration of Congressional support for the war since it began, and mark the first big clash between the White House and Congress since the November election, which put the Senate and House under the control of the Democrats. The decision to pursue a confrontation with the White House was a turning point for Democrats, who have struggled with how to take on Mr. Bush’s war policy without being perceived as undermining the military or risking criticism as defeatists.

“If you really want to change the situation on the ground, demonstrate to the president he’s on his own,” said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “That will spark real change.”

The administration continued Tuesday to press its case with members of Congress from both parties. By the time Mr. Bush delivers his speech, 148 lawmakers will have come to the White House in the past week to discuss the war, White House aides said Tuesday night, adding that most met with the president himself.

While Mr. Kennedy and a relatively small number of other Democrats were pushing for immediate, concrete steps to challenge Mr. Bush through legislation, Democratic leaders said that for now they favored the less-divisive approach of simply asking senators to cast a vote on a nonbinding resolution for or against the plan.

They also sought to frame the clash with the White House on their terms, using language reminiscent of the Vietnam War era to suggest that increasing the United States military presence in Iraq would be a mistake.

“We believe that there is a number of Republicans who will join with us to say no to escalation,” said the Senate mority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. “I really believe that if we can come up with a bipartisan approach to this escalation, we will do more to change the direction of that war in Iraq than any other thing that we can do.”

On the eve of the president’s Iraq speech, the White House sent Frederick W. Kagan, a military analyst who helped develop the troop increase plan, to meet with the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

But Republican officials conceded that at least 10 of their own senators were likely to oppose the plan to increase troops levels in Iraq. And Democrats were proposing their resolution with that in mind, hoping to send a forceful message that as many as 60 senators believed strengthening American forces in Baghdad was the wrong approach. Democratic leaders said they expect all but a few of their senators to back the resolution.

In an interview on Tuesday, Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, said he was becoming increasingly skeptical that a troop increase was in the best interest of the United States. “I’m particularly concerned about the greater injection of our troops into the middle of sectarian violence. Whom do you shoot at, the Sunni or the Shia?” Mr. Warner said. “Our American G.I.’s should not be subjected to that type of risk.”

But the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said Congress could not supplant the authority of the president. “You can’t run a war by a committee of 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate,” he said.

The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, criticized the Democrats’ plans. “We understand that the resolution is purely symbolic, but the war — and the necessity of succeeding in Iraq — are very real,” he said Tuesday night.

On Thursday, Democrats in the House and Senate will open a series of hearings on the Iraq war. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among those who have agreed to testify.

Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that if he was not satisfied that Mr. Bush’s plan has sufficient incentives and penalties for the Iraqis, he might support a resolution or amendment to cap the number of American troops in Iraq.

“We have got to force the Iraqis to take charge of their own country,” Mr. Levin said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “We can’t save them from themselves. It is a political solution. It is no longer a military solution.”

Lawmakers said Senate Democrats appeared broadly united in opposition to Mr. Bush’s approach during their private luncheon on Tuesday. While there were a few senators who favored cutting off money for any troop increase, a handful of others expressed uncertainty about challenging the president on a potential war-powers issue.

“We have to be very careful about blocking funding for any troops because we don’t want to leave our troops short-changed,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana.

Yet a large share of the House Democratic caucus supports a stronger stance against the plan. It remained unclear whether a resolution would satisfy constituents.

“Twice in the past 12 months the president has increased troop levels in a last-ditch effort to control the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq,” said Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts, who proposed a resolution opposing a troop increase. “Rather than cooling tensions in Baghdad, the situation has descended further into chaos.”

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Senate to debate resolution opposing Iraq war

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Democratic-controlled Senate will begin considering a non-binding resolution next week opposing President Bush’s new Iraq policy, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, announced Tuesday.

The resolution trumps an effort by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, to require President Bush to seek specific authorization before increasing troops in Iraq.

But Reid predicted the resolution with gain Republican support and will “do more to change the way in Iraq that any other thing that we can do.”

“If there is a bipartisan resolution saying, ‘we don’t support the escalation of the war,’ that the president’s going to have to take note of that,” Reid said. “I think that’s the beginning of the end, as far as I’m concerned.”

Reid said the resolution will be introduced next week but the full debate won’t begin until at least the following week because the Senate will be debating an ethics reform bill.

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