Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Recent Developments

Some thoughts about a few of the things that have transpired since I last posted.

State of the Union: I thought the speech was fairly unimpressive; while I appreciate the president's calls for comprehensive immigration reform, health care coverage and a 20% reduction in gasoline consumption over the next ten years, the proof will most definitely be in the pudding. I'd like to think - as I have after each State of the Union address for the past seven years - that we will see evidence that the president really does want to work across the aisle and make progress on these important questions facing our nation. I'd like to think that the president will walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. But I cannot say my hopes are very high. Without strong efforts from both the White House and Congress (Democrats and Republicans), nothing will get done. I hope the commitment is there - on both sides - but I'll believe it when I see it.

Presidential Politics: Obama, Clinton, Richardson and Brownback have jumped into the race (joining Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Dodd, Biden, Hunter, Kucinich, and Paul - and I probably forgot some). Kerry has opted out (wisely, in my view; he's better off in the Senate). The 2008 race will almost without a doubt prove one of the most expensive, long and imporant races in recent memory. My position on the race evolves almost every day, but I remain most favorably inclined toward Senator Obama. Although I may not agree with him on every issue, I find his ideas about politics and hope the most appealing of the bunch. It makes me sad to find myself so far this year from Senator McCain, who I supported tooth and nail in 2000 and have the greatest respect for ... I'm just afraid that this is not his year. That may change (and probably will).

Politics of Iraq: As I type, I'm watching a C-SPAN re-air of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee's markup of the Biden/Hagel/Levin/Snowe resolution opposing the president's troop surge policy for Iraq. As the Washington Post notes, the "measure declares that increasing U.S. troop strength is not in America's national interest. It calls an open-ended commitment in Iraq 'unsustainable' and says Iraqi leaders and the United States should use political and diplomatic channels to end sectarian conflict and reduce regional interference in Iraqi affairs."

Senator Hagel made some of his strongest comments to date in support of the resolution (you can watch some of them here), saying to his colleagues "We better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder... look in that camera and tell your people back home what you think. Don't hide anymore. ... I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support? What do you think? Why were you elected? If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes."

While I support the resolution under debate today - which passed the committee 12-9, I hope that its backers will work with those other senators who are thinking seriously about this issue (including Warner, Collins, Coleman, and Nelson, who have offered another resolution; and Lugar, Voinovich, and others who have expressed grave concerns about the plan) to reach wider agreement on a strong but effective resolution in order to send the strongest possible bipartisan message. Beyond this nonbinding resolution I believe (as Senator Lugar said very well today) that Congress must begin taking binding steps that cannot be ignored by the Administration (as they're promised this one will be) and exert its oversight power to a much more significant degree.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Rumors (Partially) Confirmed

Secretary of State Rice told the New York Times on Friday that recent actions against Iranian operatives in Iraq were authorized by a presidential order issued "several months ago." "'There has been a decision to go after these networks,' Ms. Rice said in an interview ... in her office on Friday afternoon, before leaving on a trip to the Middle East. Ms. Rice said Mr. Bush had acted 'after a period of time in which we saw increasing activity' among Iranians in Iraq, 'and increasing lethality in what they were producing.'"

"In adopting a more confrontational approach toward Iran, Mr. Bush has decisively rejected recommendations of the Iraq Study Group that he explore negotiations with Tehran as part of a new strategy to help quell the sectarian violence in Iraq."

Additionally, ABC News reports that massive new shipments of Iranian-made explosive devices have been detected, smuggled into Iraq bound for Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (if we're detecting them, why exactly aren't we intercepting them?).

This apparent escalation - by both sides - is troubling in the extreme.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Widening the War?

There is growing buzz and increasing concern that the President's Iraq speech Wednesday night may have signaled an important and - in my view - incredibly troubling stage in the Iraq War (even beyond the "surge"). Steve Clemons reports significant speculation in the capital that Bush recently "sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran."

There was some discussion of this question (i.e. whether American troops would begin engaging in cross-border activities in Syria and/or Iran) in hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday (of which Clemons has excerpts), and American actions against the Iranian consulate in Irbil will almost certainly serve to add fuel to the fire. If true, and further actions against Iran and Syria have begun/are about to begin, it can be counted as a near certainty that the 21,500-troop increase that Bush announced Wednesday is but the tip of a very large iceberg.

Of course actions must be taken to protect our forces and ensure that they're able to do their jobs as effectively as possible. But if this conflict is to widen, such a drastic escalation must have the support of the American people and their representatives in Congress. The debate must happen, and should not be hidden behind secret orders.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

McCain Profiled in VF

Todd Purdum has today's (this week's?) must-read article, a long profile of John McCain in Vanity Fair. It is by far the best piece of writing of its type I've read in a very long time. It will be, I suspect, of lasting importance.

Monday, January 01, 2007

RINO In Repose

As we move into 2007 (Happy New Year, by the way), I have concluded that I need to take a break from political blogging for a time. How long that time will be is anyone's guess, I haven't any idea myself. I know that much remains to be done, and we will have many issues to tackle during the new session of Congress that begins this week. Redistricting reform, climate change, earmark reform and the ongoing operations in Iraq (not to mention the 2008 presidential campaign, which seems in full swing already) must remain of top concern to all of us, and I'm sure I'll have things to say on each of them as we move forward. I will chime in when the time is right.

I'll continue to blog more regularly at PhiloBiblos on all things book, so do stop in there from time to time.

My best wishes to you all for a happy, safe, and pleasant 2007.