The Prime Minister emphasized that although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East.
I wasn't aware that "axis of evil" had become a formal designation.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But you can keep your scientists, engineers, and other skilled workers, cause we don't want 'em!"
That's what I imagine Emma Lazarus would write if she were composing lines for "The New Colossus" today. Her famous sonnet, originally written in 1883 and engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, has welcomed new immigrants from afar for over a century. But now the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is putting the kibosh on H-1B visas. The agency began accepting applications on Monday for the coveted temporary visas—which are designated for foreign workers with hi-tech or other specialized skills—for the 2008 fiscal year, which starts on October 1. By mid-afternoon, it had already received 150,000 petitions. Now the government is saying that it won't accept any more requests. Congress caps the number of H-1B visas at 65,000 per year, plus an additional 20,000 for workers who have an advanced degree from an American university. The government is going to use a computer program (undoubtedly developed by some people who were in the country on H-1B visas) to conduct a lottery of eligible applicants. Tech companies are crying foul. One-third of Microsoft's U.S.-based employees are in the country on H-1B visas. The rate is similar at other hi-tech companies, where foreign expertise is highly valued. Accordingly, executives at tech companies are lobbying Congress to raise the caps.
In the meantime, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate last week that would curtail the use of H-1B visas by companies, requiring them to make greater efforts to hire American workers. That's all nice and good in theory, but let's face reality. There simply aren't enough qualified Americans with the necessary engineering skills. As Robert Hoffman, vice president at Oracle, says:
Our broken visa policies for highly educated foreign professionals are not only counterproductive, they are anticompetitive and detrimental to America's long-term economic competitiveness."
On Monday, Passport noted that shots were heard ringing out in Baghdad's Shorja market one day after Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mike Pence visited there. They held the market up as an example of the country's improved security environment. Pence even went so far as to compare the market to "a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime," saying he was able to "mix and mingle unfettered among ordinary Iraqis." Pence later claimed he was unaware that the stroll through the market required a security force of 100 soldiers and four helicopter gunships.
Now we learn that yesterday:
21 Shia market workers were ambushed, bound and shot dead north of the capital. The victims came from the Baghdad market visited the previous day by John McCain, the US presidential candidate, who said that an American security plan in the capital was starting to show signs of progress.
McCain and Pence's comments may be the most irresponsible statements by any U.S. political figure since Colin Powell's speech before the U.N. Security Council in 2003. It may be true that security in the market had moderately improved since January, but McCain and Pence have now turned it into a high value target. How sad.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden this morning, President Bush put on an impressive display of disgust over Congress's failure to send him a supplemental bill for funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The more than $100 billion in additional funds have been lingering in Congress for 57 days now. "They left for spring break without finishing their work," Mr. Bush said. His indignation is understandable. It is inexcusable that half the Senate is out campaigning for president, while a supplemental appropriations bill for funding ongoing war operations sits idle.
But if the President is really serious about getting the troops the funding he says they deserve, why doesn't he recall Congress and force them to get back to work? Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution stipulates that Bush "may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them."
Bush says that Congress ought "to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I'll veto it, and then Congress can get down to business of funding our troops without strings and without delay." Fair enough. So why not recall the Congress immediately and force them to send up a bill? Otherwise, Bush's righteous indignation smacks of the very political posturing he accuses the Democratic Congress of peddling.
U.S. administrations always get nervous when members of Congress make trips to foreign capitals, and especially when they're from the political opposition. So it's no surprise that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is catching flak for today's visit to Damascus, where she's already met with Syria's foreign minister. With her is Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who has a history of opening up contacts with countries on Washington's list of rogue states. A Republican delegation led by Frank Wolf of Virginia, another influential member of the House, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday.
The White House tried to discourage Wolf, and called Pelosi's trip to Syria a "really bad idea." David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy complained to the San Francisco Chronicle that "she's undermining the policy" of keeping Syria isolated.
The White House wants to keep the pressure on the Syrian regime, pinning its hopes on a U.N. investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri that has dragged on into its second year and still hasn't provided conclusive evidence of Syrian involvement. By visiting Damascus, Congress is pointedly underscoring its doubts about the wisdom of this approach.
Exploring diplomacy with Syria is just the latest of the many recommendations of the Iraq Study Group that are quietly moving forward, argues FP senior editor Mike Boyer in a new web exclusive for ForeignPolicy.com, Mission Accomplished. Democrats and Republicans alike pooh-poohed the report when it came out in December, but both the White House and Congress have more or less embraced its logic anyway. Why is that? Read the piece to find out.
Shots rang out today in Baghdad's Shorja market, where yesterday U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful John McCain took an hour-long Sunday stroll. Located just three minutes from the Green Zone, McCain used Shorja to make a point that Americans were not getting an accurate picture of the security situation in Baghdad. The security detail for McCain's visit included more than 100 U.S. troops, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships.
Today, however, shots were heard in the market, where, on average, one person is killed each day. The security situation in market is so bad, most merchants will not venture into the northern part of the street, which they have dubbed "The Sniper Zone."
McCain reportedly told merchants to hang in there:
Abu Samir, 31, said McCain bought an Egyptian rug from him and told him through an interpreter: "I want to run for president. And, don't worry, because I'll handle the war better than Bush."
Yesterday's House committee testimony by former Vice President Al Gore drew huge crowds and long lines. Those in the know and with the cash, though, didn't have to wait for front row seats. With first-come, first-serve seating, the best spots in hearing rooms go to those with the most patience, and those people are increasingly those paid to be patient. The Politico, delivering some of the juicy inside-baseball that it's been promising for months, reports:
Professional line-standers cued up as early as 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, a full day before the hearing. Rob Smith and Ronald Flores of Linestanding.com were first in line, their reward for sleeping outside the Rayburn House Office Building.
Scruffy-looking folks standing for hours in line outside of committee rooms is a common, incongruous sight in the congressional office buildings. Typically, lobbyists will throw a $20 to one of a bunch of folks camped in lawn chairs outside the building to go hold a spot in line. A professional organization that organizes the practice seems to put a new twist on the practice, though.
But, it turns out, the outfit has been providing "quality line-standing services" for three decades. At prices of $36 an hour and up for a minimum of two hours, freedom from standing in line does not come cheap. At those prices, the prized first-row seat for Gore's performance cost upwards of $856.
Why on earth would anyone pay that much to sit through a dry-as-bones hearing that is simulcast live online anyway? According to Linestanding.com operations manager Dave Goldman,
For some lobbyists, it's clout being seen in the room, being seen in the front row.
At $856, that's a relative bargain for these guys.
Washington's chattering classes are suggesting that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will be gone as early as this week. Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. There's no precedent for such a move in the Bush White House. Remember Don Rumsfeld? The default play is to ride out the storm until the bitter end. Republicans and Democrats alike spent years calling for Rummy's resignation. Even Sen. John McCain, a loyal Bush soldier on Iraq, lost confidence in him. But Rumsfeld lasted longer than most observers thought he could.
Ultimately, it wasn't torture at Abu Ghraib or losing a war in Iraq that cost Rumsfeld his job. It was the White House's need to protect Karl Rove. Rove lost an election, so Rumsfeld got fired. It will probably take a similar bit of calculus to force Gonzales to leave, too. If Karl Rove is in danger, Gonzales will go. If Rove is safe, Gonzales won't be added to his list of victims, which already includes Scooter Libby and Rumsfeld. As Ed Henry said on CNN this morning:
[T]he bottom line is if this White House has to choose between protecting Karl Rove or protecting Alberto Gonzales in order for this controversy to go away, they'll choose Karl Rove, protecting him. Because the bottom line is they can get another attorney general, they can't get another Karl Rove.
We probably won't know how much trouble Rove is in until after he talks to Congress. Until then, those who predicted Karl Rove's decline last November had better start running for cover.
In a recent FP cover story, The Bomb in the Backyard, nuke experts Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis showed that for just a few million dollars, terrorists could purchase highly enriched uranium on the black market and basic military supplies on the Internet and— voilà—have a nuclear bomb.
To stop this nightmare scenario, U.S. border officials must be able to detect smuggled uranium at the border. That's extraordinarily difficult, explains Steve Coll in a recent piece for the New Yorker, because, "unless it is being compressed to explode, highly enriched uranium is a low-energy isotope that does not emit much radioactivity."
Undaunted, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has promised to shell out $1 billion on "next generation" monitors at port and border checkpoints in order to catch illicit uranium. But in its zeal to shell out some cash, DHS has conveniently overlooked the fact that its new detection monitors don't really work.
A stinging new GAO report shows DHS essentially lying to Congress by asserting that its new monitors were 95 percent effective in detecting smuggled uranium. (Congress had insisted on seeing increases in operational effectiveness before cutting the check for new monitors.) But in truth, the new monitors detected uranium around 70 percent of the time. And when it came to "masked" or hidden uranium, the best new monitors worked only half the time.
So why the discrepancy between the actual and the reported figures? DHS explained to the GAO that "they relied on the assumption that they will reach that [high] level of performance sometime in the future."
Because why have real results when you can make them up?
Why are big U.S. companies lining up to urge new regulations on global warming?
Leading US financial investors joined some of the country’s largest companies on Monday and urged Capitol Hill to follow Europe by setting mandatory targets to reduce US carbon emissions.
It's not because they've suddenly become tree-hugging, granola-eating hippies. It's because big businesses thrive on certainty. Their worst nightmare is dealing with a confusing patchwork of laws in different states, regions, and countries. The writing is on the wall: Carbon caps are coming to the United States. But U.S. companies fear a tsunami of haphazard initiatives that will raise their costs, such as British Columbia's new green alliance with California, or worse, climate policy made sporadically by the courts. Better from their perspective to have one system nationwide that's in tune with the European Union's laws, harsh as they may be.
Pressure is mounting on the international community to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Iran remains defiant; its president has declared a policy of "no surrender" on his country's nuclear enrichment program. But the United Nations Security Council is putting the final touches on new sanctions that would penalize Tehran for its intransigence.
And there may be more on the way.
Key U.S. lawmaker Tom Lantos wants to go further than the Bush administration has been willing to go, and present countries—even U.S. allies and powerful states like Russia and China—with a choice: Either you’re with the United States, or you’re with Iran.
He says his new strategy is "the single most effective avenue of compelling Iran to give up its military nuclear ambition."
Find out why in this week’s Seven Questions.
Much has been made of what a bad recent stretch this has been for the White House. First, there was the Walter Reed debacle, then the Scooter Libby verdict. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill plotted ways to limit President Bush's leverage in Iraq, even as the Bushes were greeted as war criminals on the first leg of their Latin America tour in São Paulo, Brazil.
Certainly, those were all blows to a White House that is, by most accounts, already demoralized. But maybe they were also the sour points that the White House wanted us to see. Even as Walter Reed and Scooter Libby received all the press, what may be the biggest and baddest scandal of the Bush presidency to date began to percolate this week, mostly under the radar.
Early in the week, we learned that two Republican members of New Mexico's Congressional delegation may have pressured former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias on cases that involved investigating Democrats. This brought more attention to the fact that Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration late last year. Seven were let go for failing to follow administration policy, and one was fired so that a politically ambitious former aide to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove could take his place, the administration has said.
At the center of all this is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had the authority to appoint replacements that could serve indefinitely. Today, New York Times scribe Paul Krugman, who admittedly has conspiratorial tendencies, uses his column to reveal data that suggests a wider scandal may involve Gonzales and the U.S. attorneys still in office. Here's the gist:
Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats.... Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny."
Yesterday, Gonzales announced that he was removing himself from the hiring process for U.S. attorneys. As Andrew Sullivan notes, that's "an astonishing concession to the gravity of the charges." Sure, to say nothing of the fact that this is a guy who, less than two years ago, was short-listed to become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The days of the mainstream media being hands off when it comes to Gonzales are over. If more evidence of unethical and potentially illegal actions comes to light, Gonzales may have little choice but to resign. And that would make all the hype over Scooter Libby look pretty silly.
How do you know when an Arab leader is serious about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians? When he enlists the "Israel Lobby" on his behalf:
After making the plea for peace in an address to a joint session of Congress yesterday, King Abdullah met with a handful of Jewish leaders, including representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, to press his case for renewed American engagement in the dormant Arab-Israeli negotiations.
The Jordanian king's timing is surely no coincidence, as AIPAC's power-packed annual policy conference begins on Sunday and culminates in a visit to Capitol Hill by AIPAC's executive committee on Tuesday. Frankly, there's no way that the king of Jordan, how ever solid a U.S. ally he may be, has more pull than AIPAC's executive committee. So he needs their help. But AIPAC wants pressure on Hamas, not Abdullah's preferred strategy of engagement, which is probably not likely to work yet anyway.
In any case, the main topic at AIPAC won't be Middle East peace, but the threat that Iran poses to Israel. It's AIPAC's top agenda item. Here, Jordan and AIPAC's interests may converge. Abdullah fears Iran's rising influence, having warned on several occasions of a "Shiite crescent" stretching from Tehran to Beirut (and surrounding his small country). It's likely his private remarks to members of Congress emphasized his solidarity against the Shiite menace rather than his empathy for the Palestinians.
The Jordanian monarch was recently joined in anti-Iran diplomacy by Saudi King Abdullah (it's a common name over there), who apparently delivered a stern warning to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the latter's recent visit to Riyadh:
King Abdullah apparently convinced Ahmadinejad that a U.S. bombing campaign on Iran would not be limited to the nuclear sites that are dug deep underground. The Iranian was made to understand if Bush opts for an air campaign, Iran would become the target for hundreds of bombing sorties against key installations across the length and breadth of Iran. Not only would Iran be set back several years, but the entire region would most probably explode against all the countries that have sided with the United States.
Apparently, Ahmadinejad flew home "much chastened and worried" by the meeting. He should be.
WASHINGTON, March 8 — House Democratic leaders intensified their debate with President Bush over Iraq today as they announced legislation that would pull American combat troops out of Iraq before the fall of 2008.
"Only then can we refocus our military efforts on Afghanistan to the extent that we must," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. She said the Iraq withdrawal deadline would be attached to legislation providing nearly $100 billion requested by the Bush administration for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and money to expand health care for veterans.
So it looks like Pelosi is rejecting the approach urged by Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman:
When Congress appropriates money, it can attach riders that can contain instructions saying, "We've spent $350 billion, and we hereby tell you that you can spend $150 billion more." You can then translate that into a time limit by dividing by, say, $9 billion a month in order to get a figure for the number of months. The Congressional Budget Office could be the referee, since it's already keeping tabs on how much money the government is spending on the military and in Iraq.
[With this approach,] nobody can argue that simply saying, "You will not spend more than $500 billion on the Iraq war" is beyond the power of Congress. No argument at all. There will be arguments if Congress explicitly says, "You have to get out in 10 months." But one is really the other.
Get ready for arguments.
When Hitler rained bombs on London for more than 50 consecutive nights in the fall of 1940, Londoners responded by tacking up "Business As Usual" signs on the city's streets. Life went on, and the Blitz be damned.
Contrast that to this morning, when a light dusting of snow—less than one-eighth of an inch—fell on Washington. It was apparently too much for our federal government to handle. Business couldn't continue. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid struggled to explain why the chamber was helpless in the face of a dusting of snow. Taking a vote on a homeland security measure would have to wait. Washington, he explained, is "different from a lot of other places." Here, at the epicenter of the free world, he continued, "an inch or two" of snow probably shouldn't cause the federal government to grind to a halt, "but it does." "Those are the facts of life in the bitter winter of an inch of snow" in the most powerful city in the world, Reid concluded.
Let's hope the terrorists don't get their hands on any cloud seeding technology, in which silver iodide is sprayed into clouds by airplanes or artillery shells in an effort to encourage precipitation. Come to think of it, a pre-emptive strike against China may be necessary, as they've been making use of cloud seeding for years.
I was just wondering, does the military have a plan to, if necessary, to go into Syria to go to the source of any weapons coming from Syria? That are going to Sunni insurgents? That are killing our troops [in Iraq]? … I think we ought to take action on all fronts including Syria and any other source of weapons coming in, obviously Iran is the focus – but it shouldn’t be the sole focus."
-U.S. Democratic Senator Carl Levin, Armed Services Committee Hearing, February 27, 2007
The full transcript is not online, but you can catch the YouTube clip here.
(Hat tip: Michael Ledeen at The Corner)
In the current issue of FP, we flagged the Terror Trial Report Card, a report by NYU's Center for Law and Security that tracks the U.S. government's courtroom response to the war on terror. NYU's findings are striking: Of more than 500 terror cases filed by the U.S. Justice Department since 9/11, just four individuals have been convicted of terrorism. NYU found that in the vast amount of cases, terror links that were often announced at big news conferences were later discreetly dropped before the cases reached court. The evidence for terror links often just didn't stand up.
Now, an independent government audit has come to the same conclusion, accusing the Justice Department of routinely counting cases as terrorism-related even when there are no evident links to terrorism. Republican Senator Charles Grassley even suggested there may be a nefarious motive behind the inflated statistics. Because Justice uses the numbers to cite successes in the war on terror and request resources from Congress, there may be something to his suggestion.
At the same time, what do the stats really reveal? Robert Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest who blogs at National Security Advisors, suggests that numbers tell us very little. Simply knowing the number of prosecutions detracts from the allegations in them, and that obscures what trends and crimes are emerging and keeping Justice officials up at night. In other words, I have little doubt that there's a stronger incentive to label a case as terrorism-related than not, but at the end of the day, I'm more interested in the facts of certain cases than the bottom-line statistics. What do you think?
Even the vaunted New York Times sometimes makes an error. This one was particularly amusing, however, with a photograph of fans of the aged metal band Slayer taking the place of a shot of Nancy Pelosi. This is a screen capture from last night:
I just came back from a talk at the Brookings Institution by Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
Biden said a lot of interesting things in his talk, but perhaps the most colorful wasn't in the prepared remarks (pdf). During the questions period, he said that U.S. combat forces must leave Iraq by 2008 in order to make it clear to the Iraqis that we won't stick around as "apartheid cops."
Also newsworthy: Biden announced that he's working on legislation to repeal the 2002 Congressional authorization that allowed President Bush to send troops, calling it "no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq." He said it should be replaced with "a much narrower mission statement."
Biden's overall message was that the United States needs to "get out of Iraq with our interests intact," and that his plan was the best way to do that. Taking a page from President Bush's playbook, he ended his talk with a challenge to potential critics: "What is your alternative?"
Pelosi told her colleagues that if it appears likely that Bush wants to take the country to war against Iran, the House would take up a bill to deny him the authority to do so, according to Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.
BA: The president has to get another authorization for a war against Iran. It isn’t up to Nancy Pelosi or the House to prevent him; he doesn’t have the constitutional authority to just expand the war.
FP: What about actions short of invasion: air strikes or hot pursuit?
BA: Air strikes would be an invasion .... I think that the burden is very much on the president of the United States to ask for explicit authorization for an act of war against Iran. On every major military incursion, there is an elaborate ballet where the president says he has the power to do it and the Congress says, “You don’t have the power to do it.”
On a major incursion into another large Middle Eastern country ... the president will once again request the explicit authorization of Congress. When he was contemplating the invasion of Iraq, he was in a much stronger position politically—and he was still obliged to request authorization. And the same thing would happen again.
Ackerman may be optimistic here, given what we know about the Bush administration, and given Ayatollah Khamenei's repeated threat that Iran will retaliate if attacked. Matthew Yglesias outlines one scenario that could lead to war without Congressional authorization:
Say Israel bombs Natanz and Bush supports the Israelis diplomatically and warns Iran against retaliating. Then in Iraq there's some dramatic attack against US forces. In response, the President proclaims that the attacks were organized by Iran and orders, without first asking congress, a retaliatory bombing of Revolutionary Guard facilities. The military is going to obey that order, right? And congress isn't going to impeach and convict Bush, thus removing him from office, replacing him with Dick Cheney, right?
Senator Chuck Hagel is a true Republican maverick, often out of sync with the base of his party on foreign policy. But they keep electing the guy in Nebraska, in part because he makes gestures like this:
Chuck Hagel, the most outspoken dissident among the Republicans, sent his apologies to Mr Kissinger, explaining that his absence from the committee hearing was because he wanted to attend the funeral of a US lieutenant killed in Iraq.
Forgoing the paneled confines of Capitol Hill for a trip to tiny Falls City, Nebraska, for the slain soldier's funeral was a subtle, but nonetheless pointed statement on Kissinger's attempt to buck up Republican sentiment on Iraq.
I'm surprised there hasn't been more media hype of James Baker's upcoming visit to the Hill today:
James A. Baker III, the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, has ended weeks of resistance and today will testify before Congress on the war, avoiding a split with his fellow co-chairman, former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.).
Sources familiar with the efforts to persuade Baker to testify said he did not want to appear to be lobbying against President Bush at the height of his push for 21,500 additional troops in Iraq.
Baker will answer senators’ questions today during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which includes three Democratic presidential hopefuls and Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), the chamber’s most forceful Republican critic of the war, who also is mulling a White House bid.
I suppose a combination of Baker's desire to keep a low profile and the general understanding that the surge is a foregone conclusion explains the lack of coverage. Baker knows he got outmaneuvered. The hearing will be this afternoon at 1 p.m. My only question is whether Baker will push back on National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's attempt to claim that the surge is, in fact, what the Iraq Study Group recommended.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee just approved S.Con.Res 2, the non-binding resolution drafted by Sens. Biden, Levin, and Hagel expressing disapproval over the White House plan to "surge" 21,500 more U.S. troops into Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly had this to say before the vote:
It won't stop us, and it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops."
Was it just us, or was Dick Cheney texting during the big speech? What was so important?
Cheney: U R soooo lucky.
Gonzalez: Tell me about it.
Cheney: I 4got, no red wine. Furniture @ [undisclosed location] isn't scotch-guarded.
Gonzalez: n/p. btw, I tried on your power ties... So where do you keep the launch codes?
Cheney: Check next to the Wii.
Gonzalez: I still haven't spotted Hastert.
Cheney: Denny, where R U?
HouseSpeaker4Eva: I can't see. I'm sitting behind Dikembe Mutombo.
Cheney: Yo, we miss U up here big guy.
Thanks for joining us tonight.
A lot of the talking heads will be saying when this speech is over that the President didn't say much new tonight. But, like everything in politics, the interesting bits will be in the nuance. And there are a few fronts on which we should all listen carefully:
Bipartisanship: The one word "bipartisanship" has hardly been a hallmark of Bush’s administration, to say nothing of the two words "Congressional oversight." Watch for that to change tonight. If this speech will be about one thing, it will be bipartisanship.
Iran: We'll have a pretty good idea of whether Bush is readying plans to attack Iran when we see how many times he mentions the Islamic Republic tonight. In Bush's speech announcing the surge, I think he mentioned Iran something like six or seven times. And that was a speech about Iraq. I think a reasonable over-under on the number tonight is six. Beers on me if it's more than that.
Iraq: Bush's guns will be fully loaded on this front tonight. He'll accuse members like Chuck Hagel and John Warner of wanting to lose Iraq by saying that those who support the surge understand the consequences of failure. Watch also for Bush to talk about how he's consulted the "generals" on the surge. I don't know of any who support it. Bush might say otherwise.
Climate change: Keep an eye out for any talk about emissions caps coming out of the President’s mouth. Back in 2001, Bush said that the emission caps called for the Kyoto Protocol were "not based on science." Has he changed his mind? Or, like most people who just wish climate change would go away, will he put his faith in yet to be discovered "technology."
Immigration – It's all about "temporary worker" programs. Bush must get this accomplished before he leaves. A Democratic Congress will help. Watch for the applause-o-meter for the Republican reaction, particularly from House members.
Here we go … (below the fold)
Log on to Passport tonight at 9:00 p.m. EST, as we live-blog President Bush's State of the Union address and the Democratic response.
While debuting a new Washington sensation called State of the Union Bingo, we'll be watching to see whether Bush gives Nancy Pelosi a peck on the cheek after the House Sergeant at Arms calls out "Madame Speaker" for the first time in history.
More seriously, despite reports to the contrary, we're expecting a speech that will seriously engage foreign policy issues, not least of all Iraq and Iran. Bush and his speech writers know that Iraq—and only Iraq—will define his legacy. Now is the time to start spinning history. Only two presidents, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon, have had lower approval ratings before a State of the Union address. Iraq is the proverbial elephant in the room; ignoring it to focus solely on "domestic" issues will only drive those abysmal numbers lower. With Congressional Republicans bailing ship over the "surge," we're looking for Bush to be typically unrepentant.
We'll also be watching the applause-o-meter more closely tonight than at any time in the last six years. Pay attention to how the Dems respond on two key issues that aren't "domestic" at all: immigration and climate change. The new leadership in Congress has opened up new opportunities for Bush on both fronts. We should be able to gauge almost immediately where those issues are headed.
Please join us tonight.
Wonkette previews tonight's State of the Union address with a snippet from Tony Snow's press briefing yesterday:
Q Have you seen [the speech]?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Is it any good?
MR. SNOW: Yes, of course it's good. (Laughter.)
Q Does it have anything new in it?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it does.
Q What's the best part?
Q Really? I mean —
MR. SNOW: You know, it's difficult to say. It's like looking in a drawer full of diamonds.
Unfortunately, they're blood diamonds.
While questioning Condoleezza Rice at yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Barbara Boxer implied that Condi isn't going to pay a personal price for sending more troops to Iraq because she is a single female:
Now, the issue is who pays the price. 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."
Not-so-subtle dig alert. According to Political Punch, Boxer's office insists she was just trying to draw attention to the fact that few policymakers' families are affected by the war in Iraq. But here's my question: Would Sen. Boxer dare make this point to a single general without kids? Or another administration official, say, like Stephen Hadley (who has two teenage daughters) in a hearing? Aside from being in bad taste, it's just egregiously petty politics. The insinuation here, whether intended by Sen. Boxer or not, is two-fold: 1) There must be something wrong with a woman who chooses not to have a family and 2) that such a decision brings into question the woman's judgment.
There's also some ugly foreshadowing here. Condi is going to increasingly face this question in the next few years if she has political ambitions. The fact that she isn't married and has no children is a liability in American politics. It shouldn't be, but it is. The second is Boxer's insinuation that people without family members in the military may be less capable of critically judging a situation or more easily convinced to place troops in harm's way. I'm no fan of the surge plan. But implying that because Condi doesn't have a child of military age, she's less qualified or incapable of comprehending the gravity of decisions is just hitting below the belt.
In case you're wondering who on Capitol Hill stands where on the "surge," here's a select round-up of rebuttals and prebuttals to Bush's plan:
U.S. Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Nev.):
The President has articulated a fundamental change in strategy designed to win the war in Iraq ... and I believe it is an intelligent approach."
U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.):
[A] dangerously wrong-headed strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp...."
U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WVa.):
The escalation of forces into Baghdad has been tried.... The President has unveiled a plan that continues to chase his Iraq fantasy...."
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY):
The President has not offered a new direction, instead he will continue to take us down the wrong road – only faster."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC):
I was pleased to hear that the president plans to assign additional troops to provide on-the-ground security...."
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC):
President Bush makes a very persuasive case for strategy change."
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I/D-CT):
I applaud the President for ... pursuing a new course to achieve success in Iraq.... [T]he President has offered a comprehensive program to chart a new course in ... winning."
U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA):
I oppose the so-called surge.... Our efforts in Iraq are a mess, and throwing in more troops will not improve it."
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH):
This Administration is preparing to escalate the conflict."
U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH):
I commend the President for recognizing that recent strategies have often failed to meet our expectations."
What's your reaction? Readers, email Passport with your thoughts on the surge.
About a month ago, I wrote about how CNN can't decide whether Rep.-Elect Keith Ellison is an icon or an enemy. Turns out, some of his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives can't decide either.
In case you've missed the news, Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, also happens to be a Muslim. But it seems that people are having a hard time figuring out that one can be Muslim and American at the same time. Ellison, for example, was born in Detroit, one of the most American cities I know.
But in a letter being mailed out to constituents, U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, a Republican from Virginia, is taking exception with Ellison's decision to have one hand on the Koran as he swears in his oath of office to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. In his letter, he says he can "not subscribe to using the Koran in any way." Then he goes on:
The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."
Grasp the irony? Ellison will be taking an oath to defend the Constitution, the very document that guarantees his freedom to practice any religion he chooses, or none at all. The really sad irony here is that Virgil Goode represents a state that helped enshrine religious freedom into our national fabric. Here's another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, writing in reference to the creation of the Virginia Act of Religious Freedom:
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting 'Jesus Christ,' so that it would read 'A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;' the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
My how times have changed.
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