Recap: Surging Iraq debate and a rebellious US Congress
The past couple days, my creative — or, gasp, political — juices have not been flowing as strongly. But the debate over Iraq clamors on, from Baghdad to Washington. A number of stories have featured Iraq as their primary topic, including:
A New York Times article on Bush's restatement of the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. A sad defense for keeping troops there, which is the biggest Iraq-related issue facing America.
In rebuffing calls to bring troops home from Iraq, President Bush on Thursday employed a stark and ominous defense. “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq,” he said, “were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.”
It is an argument Mr. Bush has been making with frequency in the past few months, as the challenges to the continuation of the war have grown. On Thursday alone, he referred at least 30 times to Al Qaeda or its presence in Iraq.
But his references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership.
There is no question that the group is one of the most dangerous in Iraq. But Mr. Bush’s critics argue that he has overstated the Qaeda connection in an attempt to exploit the same kinds of post-Sept. 11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the first place.
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist before the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sunni group thrived as a magnet for recruiting and a force for violence largely because of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which brought an American occupying force of more than 100,000 troops to the heart of the Middle East, and led to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.
Alarmism is Bush's primary tool to use against a rebellious Congress. The current administration seems to see Congress as a mere, bendable, and nonexclusive constitutional technicality; a branch of government that shouldn't have the power to match the executive and one that surely should not have a say in the war — unless its in favor of Bush's policies, of course. (Maybe the 'unitary executive' people also view the Constitution itself as a technicality... "just a piece of paper")
The president acknowledged that public opinion might be against him — he said that “sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don’t enable you to be loved” — but suggested that Congress was overstepping its constitutional role by trying to force a change of policy on him.So essentially Bush thinks of Congress what old-fashioned, sexist husbands think of their supposed-to-be-submissive wives.
“I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war,” Mr. Bush said. “I think they ought to be funding the troops.”
Are the 18 benchmarks set by the Bush administration to review the progress in Iraq also shambolic? Yes, says Fred Kaplan of Slate. The progress report has finally been released; but everyone is talking about September as the real deadline for progress, and to see whether President Bush's troop 'surge' plan has succeeded as he insists it will. See here for a full scorecard based on the interim report.
What do the experts think of the options the US has in Iraq? An expert at CFR explains in this interview the 'middle-ground' options, i.e. the ones besides pulling out immediately and continuing with the 'surge' status quo.
Stephen Biddle, CFR’s top military analyst on Iraq, says none of the various “middle-ground” proposals on Iraq are feasible. He says the only analytically sound alternatives are to either pull out now, or to stick with a revamped “surge.” The U.S. policy of seeking cease-fire deals in places like Anbar is working, Biddle says, but adds that it only has a “ten-to-one” chance of succeeding.
The New York Times issued a damning-as-usual editorial against Bush's latest Iraq decision.
Here's an article by the Washington Post's Peter Baker on the red-hot debate still heating up in Washington on Iraq. More of that infamous gridlock on the way?
Wil Robinson over at International Political Will points out the lack of humanitarianism resonating from the political Iraq debate... from both sides of the aisle.
On the topic of Bush, and still sticking to Iraq, The Economist published a leader on the president's partial pardon of Scooter Libby (see post), among his other presidential mistakes.
The past week has been a terrible one for America's embattled president. First, on June 28th, his own Republicans scuppered his cherished—and, in the view of this newspaper, enlightened and brave—plan to reform the country's broken immigration system, decisively blocking it in the Senate. Then a group of prominent Republican senators joined forces with the Democrats to speak out against his policy of reinforcing Iraq. And on July 2nd George Bush brought fresh waves of vitriol down onto his own head, by annulling the 30-month prison sentence given in June to a top White House aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Mr Bush's action serves to remind people of three of his weaknesses. One of them is his tendency towards cronyism, which led him to appoint a wholly unqualified friend to run the government's disaster-relief agency. The consequences were disastrously manifest during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Other examples include his failed attempt to appoint his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court. A second flaw is the hold that Mr Cheney appears to have over the man who is nominally his boss. The past few days have seen a series of articles in the Washington Post detailing the extent to which Mr Cheney has talked Mr Bush into bypassing all normal channels of debate to take questionable decisions.
A third effect of the decision, and perhaps the most serious, is that it reinforces the perception that Mr Bush sees himself and his cronies as above the law. Sometimes he has made this explicit, attaching “signing statements” to hundreds of bills sent to him by Congress asserting his right to interpret those bills as he deems fit. Sometimes he has done so covertly, wire-tapping Americans with no authorisation or permitting the use of torture with consequences felt at Abu Ghraib and in secret CIA prisons in black holes like Uzbekistan.
Perhaps, in the end, Mr Bush's decision came down to a simple calculation that he has little left to lose. He is not seeking re-election, his approval ratings can barely go any lower, and any hopes for legacy-polishing bipartisan co-operation with Congress seem to have evaporated. So why should Mr Bush not please his few remaining friends and placate his vice-president by springing the loyal Mr Libby? It makes a kind of sense, but a deeply troubling one. What else, one wonders, might so isolated a president do before he goes?
And finally the major political story on Iraq — besides the White House's spin-job on time being needed for progress there. America's House of Representatives voted in favor of withdrawal from Iraq. The bill will likely either be defeated in the Senate — which has a slimmer Democratic majority but, unlike last time, has more anti-Iraq-war-leaning Republicans — or will face an impending presidential veto, like what happened in early May.
The United States House of Representatives has voted in favour of pulling most combat troops out of Iraq by April next year.
The new legislation calls for the Pentagon to begin withdrawing combat troops within four months.
The vote comes despite President George W Bush's threat to veto any timetable.
Both the House and the Senate must pass separate legislation and then reconcile their two versions for a measure to be passed to the president.
Correspondents say the House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, is hoping to pressure the Senate to approve a similar timeline.
It is the third time this year the House has voted in favour of legislation to end US military involvement in Iraq.
One previous legislative push was vetoed by Mr Bush, while a second failed when the Senate voted twice against imposing a withdrawal timetable.