Man, could have Gore had a better night last night? What a remarkable achievement. I'm still a little overwhelmed by what happened. But a big, big congratulations to him and the whole Inconvenient Truth team. For those of us in the advocacy business full time they have given us an awful lot to think about, be inspired by and to learn from.
I was quoted in a story in Sunday's Washington Post about our former Vice President. You can find it here.
One of the most critical decisions America has to make in the Middle East is how are going to manage perhaps what is now the most important regional dynamic, one created by our occupation of Iraq, the growing Sunni-Shiite tensions in the region. We installed in Iraq the first Shiite-led Arab government in the history of the Middle East, strenghtening the region's Shiites, including Iran. Of late our government, worried about the rise of Iran, seems to be leaning back towards the region's Sunni powers, overlooking their own "intervention" in Iraq's domestic politics and tacit support of radical Sunni groups. But in this story to run in tomorrow's Times, Bush apparently has remembered that those who attacked us on 9/11 were Sunni extremists, and that they are regrouping in Pakistan:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 — President Bush has decided to send an unusually tough message to one of his most important allies, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces became far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda, senior administration officials say.
The decision came after the White House concluded that General Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Mr. Bush during a visit here in September. General Musharraf insisted then, both in private and public, that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in one of the country’s most lawless border areas would not diminish the hunt for the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban or their training camps.
Now, American intelligence officials have concluded that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt, and that while Pakistan has attacked some camps, its overall effort has flagged.
“He’s made a number of assurances over the past few months, but the bottom line is that what they are doing now is not working,” one senior administration official who deals often with Southeast Asia issues said late last week. “The message we’re sending to him now is that the only thing that matters is results.”
Democrats, who took control of Congress last month, have urged the White House to put greater pressure on Pakistan because of statements from American commanders that units based in Pakistan that are linked to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s ousted rulers, are increasing their attacks into Afghanistan....
In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country’s right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that “realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region.”
One of the great challenges facing America in the post-Bush era will be whether the credibility loss we've suffered globally will be limited to Bush, or will permanently hamper our efforts aboard.
The LA Times has a front page story today that once again questions the credibility of the American government on a major issue of the day:
VIENNA — Although international concern is growing about Iran's nuclear program and its regional ambitions, diplomats here say most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran.
The officials said the CIA and other Western spy services had provided sensitive information to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency at least since 2002, when Iran's long-secret nuclear program was exposed. But none of the tips about supposed secret weapons sites provided clear evidence that the Islamic Republic was developing illicit weapons.
"Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong," a senior diplomat at the IAEA said. Another official here described the agency's intelligence stream as "very cold now" because "so little panned out."
The reliability of U.S. information and assessments on Iran is increasingly at issue as the Bush administration confronts the emerging regional power on several fronts: its expanding nuclear effort, its alleged support for insurgents in Iraq and its backing of Middle East militant groups.
The CIA still faces harsh criticism for its prewar intelligence errors on Iraq. No one here argues that U.S. intelligence officials have fallen this time for crudely forged documents or pushed shoddy analysis. IAEA officials, who openly challenged U.S. assessments that Saddam Hussein was developing a nuclear bomb, say the Americans are much more cautious in assessing Iran.
American officials privately acknowledge that much of their evidence on Iran's nuclear plans and programs remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove.
Governor Bill Richardson, one of America's most experienced diplomats, weighs in today with a thoughtful op-ed on Iran in the Washington Post:
The recent tentative agreement with North Korea over its nuclear program illustrates how diplomacy can work even with the most unsavory of regimes. Unfortunately, it took the Bush administration more than six years to commit to diplomacy. During that needless delay North Korea developed and tested nuclear weapons -- weapons its leaders still have not agreed to dismantle. Had we engaged the North Koreans earlier, instead of calling them "evil" and talking about "regime change," we might have prevented them from going nuclear. We could have, and should have, negotiated a better agreement, and sooner.
As the International Atomic Energy Agency just confirmed, Iran has once again defied the international community and is moving forward with its nuclear program, yet the Bush administration seems committed to repeating the mistakes it made with North Korea. Rather than directly engaging the Iranians about their nuclear program, President Bush refuses to talk, except to make threats. He has moved ships to the Persian Gulf region and claims, with scant evidence, that Iran is helping Iraqi insurgents kill Americans. This is not a strategy for peace. It is a strategy for war -- a war that Congress has not authorized. Most of our allies, and most Americans, don't believe this president, who has repeatedly cried wolf.
Saber-rattling is not a good way to get the Iranians to cooperate. But it is a good way to start a new war -- a war that would be a disaster for the Middle East, for the United States and for the world. A war that, furthermore, would destroy what little remains of U.S. credibility in the community of nations.
A better approach would be for the United States to engage directly with the Iranians and to lead a global diplomatic offensive to prevent them from building nuclear weapons. We need tough, direct negotiations, not just with Iran but also with our allies, especially Russia, to get them to support us in presenting Iran with credible carrots and sticks.
Having already made a name for herself for her flirtatious behavior at the State of the Union, Congresswoman Michele Bachman (R-MN) is now claiming that there is a secret agreement to partition Iraq. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has more:
“Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It’s because they’ve already decided that they’re going to partition Iraq.
And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called…. the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I’m sorry, I don’t have the official name, but it’s meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There’s already an agreement made.
They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy.”
Bachmann did not say how she knew about this plan,nor with whom Iran has made this deal.
The interview, with St. Cloud Times reporter Lawrence Schumacher, is available in its entirety as a podcast.
The Post reports this morning on some new, interesting thinking by Senator Biden and other Senate Democrats to revisit the original Congressional authorization of our war in Iraq.
While I think there is a lot of merit in this emerging approach, I am not convinced that describing what is happening in Iraq as a "civil war," or "sectarian violence" is the most accurate way to be describing the complexity of what is happening there today. For example, the importance of rising regional tensions between Sunnis and Shiites - a major new dynamic in the Middle East, and one that I'm not convinced we have come to terms with yet - is captured yet again in this story in the Times.
The Times also features an op-ed today by Abbas Milani that lays out a very plausible path forward for our policy towards Iran. It concludes with this strong graph:
War and peace with Iran are both possible today. With prudence, backed by power but guided by the wisdom to recognize the new signals coming from Tehran, the United States can today achieve a principled solution to the nuclear crisis. Congress, vigilant American citizens and a resolute policy from America’s European allies can ensure that this principled peace is given a chance.
Wherever we go from here, I am proud of those leaders in both parties who have not accepted the failed approach of the Administration, and working, diligently, to chart a better course for our policy in the Middle East.
For the last several years, with the economy growing more than 3 percent a year, job creation has been slow and most people’s wages and incomes have hardly gained at all. So, what can we expect now, with the overall economy slowing down? Industrial production is falling, so business investment is likely to lag; retail sales are flat, so consumer demand and spending will also slow; and home construction has plummeted. It looks like we’re in for a spell of much slower overall growth -- 1.5 to 2 percent growth is a good guess. And that will mean even slower job gains and, in all likelihood, lower real incomes for average families. What does the administration propose to do about it? In a word, nothing.
A second shoe is also dropping: Inflation is up, even with energy prices generally behaving themselves. A lot of it is fast-rising health-care costs, which again this administration has ignored for six years. Some of it is the impact of last year’s higher energy prices now making their way through the economy – for which, again, this administration has no answer. Some of it is food prices, driven up by bad weather and the unintended effect of government-directed demand for ethanol, which drives up the price of corn that goes into animal feeds and sweeteners, as well as the price of other gains as farm businesses shift from them to corn. And some of it is higher import prices from last year’s weakening dollar.
The upshot of this inflation that even as growth slows, the Fed can’t cut interest rates – which means no relief from the slowing growth.
If the administration won’t take this seriously, Congress can do so. Let’s not wait for the next election to see those who would be president submit real plans to contain rising health care costs, reduce our economy’s fossil-fuel dependence, and increase opportunities for average workers to improve their IT skills.