Friday Talking Points [27] -- Petraeus Week

Friday Talking Points [27] -- Petraeus Week
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Thus endeth another Petraeus week on Capitol Hill.

I have to say, I was impressed at the caliber of the questions asked, but severely disappointed at the caliber of the answers given. The latter is no real surprise, but the former is indeed an improvement.

Before I begin handing out this week's awards, I'd like to spotlight both Democratic presidential candidates from the Petraeus/Crocker hearings. They both did a fairly good job, actually. An abridged version of all three candidates' questions is available from the International Herald Tribune site [Hillary Clinton's questions begin on page 2, and Barack Obama's questions begin on page 5].

Clinton's best question:

What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working? And it seems apparent that you have a conditions-based analysis, as you set forth in your testimony, but the conditions are unclear, they certainly lack specificity, and the decision points, with respect to these conditions, are also vague. So how are we to judge, General Petraeus, what the conditions are or should be and the actions that you and the administration would recommend pursuing based on them?

Obama's best question:

I'm not suggesting that we yank all our troops out all the way. I'm trying to get to an endpoint. That's what all of us have been trying to get to.

And, see, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of Al Qaeda and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly-effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it's not a threat to its neighbors and it's not an Al Qaeda base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe, and that, I think, is what everybody here on this committee has been trying to drive at, and we haven't been able to get as clear of an answer as we would like.

Both of them looked and sounded rather "presidential" during the hearings, and both deserve some credit for asking thoughtful and pointed questions. Some media sources said Obama's questions were better, some Clinton, but overall I'd have to say that both showed they can easily pass the "Commander-in-Chief test."

There were a lot of candidates this week in the most impressive category -- always a good sign! Senator Joe Biden did an exemplary job by chairing the Iraq hearings which (although you probably didn't hear it in the mainstream media) covered more than just what Petraeus and Crocker had to say. During Petraeus' testimony, special mentions also go to Senator Carl Levin and Senator Barbara Boxer for asking some good questions. More Democrats probably deserve praise for their questions, but I still haven't been able to find a full transcript of the hearings, so I regret that I can't name them individually. Senator John Conyers deserves a nod for calling hearings next month on torture -- which includes John Yoo on the list of people he'd like to question. Speaker Nancy Pelosi also got some good things done this week as well (including shutting Bush down on the Columbia free-trade deal), but she's won the MIDOTW award two weeks in a row, so I thought I'd go a bit further afield this week.

The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week did not earn the award for her actions this particular week, but rather for the result this week of her earlier actions. The Obscure Department Of The Federal Government In Charge Of Such Things this week voted 11-2 to rename an Arizona mountain "Piestewa Peak" in honor of Private Lori Piestewa. The person most responsible for this action is Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.

You may not have heard of Piestewa. You may instead have heard of her friend, Private Jessica Lynch. On the same patrol as Lynch, Piestewa was killed in action, making her both the first woman to die in the Iraq war and the first Native American (she's from the Hopi tribe) woman ever to be killed in combat -- in entire history of the U.S. military.

From a full account of her story, by Osha Gray Davidson:

Only twenty-three years old, Piestewa saw herself as a Hopi warrior, part of a centuries-old tradition developed by a people who once resisted an invasion and occupation by the U.S. military -- much as the Iraqis are today. She went to war, but she believed above all in peace, in doing no harm to others. "I'm not trying to be a hero," she told a friend just before the invasion. "I just want to get through this crap and go home."

Her fellow soldiers remember her differently. When Jessica Lynch thanked a long list of people at her triumphant homecoming in West Virginia, she devoted her final words to Piestewa, her former roommate at Fort Bliss, Texas, where the two had been stationed before the war. "Most of all," Lynch said that day, "I miss Lori."

Since the attack, Lynch has insisted again and again that she was not a hero, that she was only a survivor. Asked who was a hero that day in Nasiriyah, she doesn't hesitate. "Lori," she says firmly. "Lori is the real hero."

Seems like Piestewa deserved getting a mountain named for her, especially one previously named "Squaw Peak" (which many consider a derogatory term these days) -- which was nothing but a cleaned-up version of the original name "Squaw Tit Peak" (which just about everyone would consider derogatory these days). But it never would have happened without Napolitano to champion renaming the mountain -- over loud Republican objections, it should be pointed out (so much for "supporting the troops," eh?).

For this, Governor Napolitano has earned this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Well done, Janet Napolitano!

[Congratulate Governor Napolitano on her contact page to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

There were two strong (weak?) contenders for this ignoble prize last week, so I'm going to just call it a tie.

Senator Joe Lieberman, who promised during his last campaign to back the Democratic candidate for president, has now obviously lied to his constituents. But he's no longer a Democrat, so this means he's not qualified for the MDDOTW award (you would think). But before he fled the party at the beginning of his general election campaign, he was defeated in the Democratic primary by Ned Lamont. Ever since, Lieberman has complained that his campaign website was hacked by Lamont the day before the election, shutting it down. This week, the FBI determined that it was the Lieberman campaign's misconfigured web servers which were actually at fault -- in other words, their own technological incompetence. No word yet on when Lieberman will be reimbursing the FBI for its lengthy and costly investigation of his paranoid delusions. Since he was still a Democrat when this happened (by one day), he just barely qualifies for this week's award. Senator McCain, please remind me again why he's supposed to be credible on who our enemies are?

Surprisingly, the award also has to go this week to a man who does not usually duck controversy. During the 2004 presidential election season, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began conducting gay marriages on the steps of City Hall -- a provocative move on his part, and one that (debatably) hurt the Democrats in the general election itself. A bold stand on a human rights issue by Newsom, no matter how you look at it, though.

But this week, Newsom was the architect of what can only be called the "Witness Protection Program Olympic Torch Relay," in which the torch was hastily and secretively hustled to an undisclosed location -- so it could run a few blocks surrounded by police without those unphotogenic human rights protestors in the background to spoil the shot. Unfortunately, he kind of forgot to tell the media about the switch, meaning there was a lot of very bewildered television reporting from the announced event location, and almost none of the actual relay. Way to make a bold statement for human rights, Mayor Newsom! What if they gave a torch relay and nobody came?

So this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes jointly to Joe Lieberman and Gavin Newsom. For shame, you two!

[Contact Senator Lieberman on his Senate contact page, and Mayor Newsom on his contact page to let them know what you think of their actions.]

Volume 27 (4/11/08)

The "Stall"

No, this isn't about Senator Larry Craig. Ahem.

The Washington Post has an op-ed piece today by Eugene Robinson on the recent Iraq war hearings, and although he doesn't use the term in his writing, the headline editor came up with a great way to frame the events of the week. The article is titled "The Surge Turns Into the Stall."

This is a perfect way to put it, and should be picked up by Democrats everywhere immediately. It's so easy, because you can bring it up whenever the term "the surge" is used in a question.

"Well, you know, after listening to General Petraeus and George Bush, it seems like their 'surge' strategy should now be called the 'stall' strategy, because that's exactly what it now is -- stalling for time until the next president can clean up this mess."

"Permanent bases" now officially a meaningless term

Senator James Webb tried to get a straight answer out of the Bush administration on what exactly is meant by "the United States is not seeking permanent military bases in Iraq." The answer he got was that it is a meaningless term, and therefore we should all just ignore anything Bush says about it. Read a report of the exchange (it's short) if you want to be stunned. When Webb pointed out that they were arguing that the term "permanent bases" (in his words) "doesn't really mean anything," the answer was: "Yes, Senator, you're completely right. It doesn't."

This one is so easy it boggles the mind.

"A Bush administration official admitted that whenever the president talks about not building 'permanent bases' in Iraq, the term 'doesn't really mean anything.' From a member of his own administration we now are told that anything Bush says about not wanting permanent bases in Iraq is meaningless. If his own administration doesn't believe him on this issue, why should any other American?"

Who, exactly, is our enemy in Iraq?

Can anyone tell me exactly who the enemy is in Iraq now? OK, Al Qaeda. Got it. But they're only a small fraction of the problem in Iraq, from every military account I've heard. So who else are we supposed to be fighting? Muqtada al-Sadr, perhaps?

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tried to answer this question the other day, but did nothing more than dance around it. Defense Secretary Gates didn't have any better answer when he was asked. So is he our enemy, or is he just our enemy when Prime Minster Maliki says he is?

"The Bush administration can't even give a straight answer to the question 'Who is our enemy in Iraq?' It seems right now that our enemy is whoever Prime Minister Maliki says is our enemy. This is a dangerous state of affairs, and needs to end. President Bush needs to tell America exactly who is our enemy right now in Iraq. The fact that he can't or won't should speak volumes about the lack of strategy we have for any kind of success in Iraq."

Fear-mongering from Darth Cheney

Vice President Dick Cheney is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you thought you'd heard the absolute craziest thing he's ever going to say, he goes ahead and tops it.

Cheney, from Sean Hannity's radio show (as reported by Salon):

"For us to walk away from Iraq I think would have at least that bad an effect, probably worse, because if al Qaeda were to take over big parts of Iraq, among other things, they would acquire control of a significant oil resource. Iraq has almost 100 billion barrel reserves, producing 2.5-3 million barrels of oil a day. If you take a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and give it that kind of revenue, there's no telling the amount of trouble they could get into."

OK, see... now he's just makin' stuff up.

"There is absolutely no chance that Al Qaeda is going to get its hands on Iraq's oil, according to every military expert on the planet, but that doesn't stop Vice President Cheney from using the specter of such an outcome to fearmonger the American public once again. I'm really beginning to wonder whether Cheney has passed over into what can only be described as clinical delusional behavior."

Not just a few rotten apples

ABC News broke the astonishing story this week on how the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (as translated from the original German) was approved at the highest levels, inside the White House. It's a measure of the Bush Fatigue index in this country that this wasn't a more explosive news story.

Senator Ted Kennedy framed it perfectly, and I cannot improve on his words:

Who would have thought that in the United States of America in the 21st century, the top officials of the executive branch would routinely gather in the White House to approve torture?

Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly said that "History will not judge this kindly." He was right. History will not judge kindly the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation program" or the legal fictions invented to justify it. History will not judge kindly an administration that authorized brutal and illegal interrogation techniques that shamed America in the eyes of the world and put our own soldiers at greater risk.

Congress and the American people still have much to learn about the administration's approval of torture, warrantless wiretapping, and other abuses. Long after President Bush has left office, our country will continue to pay the price for his administration's renegade repudiation of the rule of law and fundamental human rights.

It's the economy, stupid

Nancy Pelosi seems to be doing a great job of making the Democratic case on how badly the Republicans have screwed up the economy. From an article in The Hill, her spokesman:

"Let's be clear: Republican plans to give more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans when the rest of American families are struggling to pay the rent, buy groceries or cover the cost of their healthcare will add billions more to President Bush's deficit, and cost us the opportunity make needed investments that will create and keep jobs here at home."

This is good, but even better is what Pelosi herself had to say. Democrats should take note -- this is the way to link the war to the economy, every chance you get. I cannot improve on her words at all, since Pelosi does such a great job of tying everything together in one nice verbal package:

"We also cannot lose sight of the Iraq war's impact on America's economy, which is another source of strength of our country. This president has taken us into a war that is taking us deeply into debt that can take us into recession."

Twenty-eight percent

President Bush hit a new low in two polls -- Gallup, and AP/Ipsos. His rating was exactly the same in both -- only twenty-eight percent of America now approves of the job Bush is doing.

This one should be used often, as a prefix to saying just about anything about the president:

"Well, you know, it's no secret that only a little over a quarter of Americans approve of Bush right now..."

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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