As we've been writing about for some time, the key to creating stability in Iraq will be creating more regional stability, as the main problem in Iraq - the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites for dominance - has become the source of tension throughout the region.
Thus, we've been an enthusiastic supporter of a regional peace process, one that brings all the main stakeholders in Iraq to the same table. This was a central idea of the Iraq Study Group report. It was also the first idea in the report publically dismissed by the Administration.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 — American officials said Tuesday that they had agreed to hold the highest-level contact with the Iranian authorities in more than two years as part of an international meeting on Iraq.
The discussions, scheduled for the next two months, are expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.
The announcement, first made in Baghdad and confirmed by Ms. Rice, that the United States would take part in two sets of meetings among Iraq and its neighbors, including Syria and Iran, is a shift in President Bush’s avoidance of high-level contacts with the governments in Damascus and, especially, Tehran.
Critics of the administration have long said that it should do more to engage its regional rivals on a host of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Lebanon. That was the position of the Iraq Study Group, the high level commission that last year urged direct, unconditional talks that would include Iran and Syria.
While the newly scheduled meetings may not include direct negotiations between the United States and Iran, and are to focus strictly on stabilizing Iraq rather than other disputes, they could crack open a door to a diplomatic channel.
Iraqi officials had been pushing for such a meeting for several months, but Bush administration officials refused until the Iraqi government reached agreement on pressing domestic matters, including guidelines for nationwide distribution of oil revenue and foreign investment in the country’s immense oil industry, administration officials said. The new government of Iraq maintains regular ties with Iran.
“I would note that the Iraqi government has invited Syria and Iran to attend both of these regional meetings,” Ms. Rice told a Senate panel on Tuesday, in discussing the talks, which will include Britain, Russia, and a host of international organizations and Middle Eastern countries.
The first meeting — which will include senior Bush administration officials like the State Department Iraq envoy David Satterfield, will be in Baghdad in the first half of March, administration officials said. In early April, Ms. Rice will attend a ministerial level conference, presumably with her Iranian and Syrian counterparts, which will likely be somewhere else in the region, administration officials said.
A year ago, Iranian and American officials announced a planned meeting between the American ambassador to Baghdad and Iranian officials to help stabilize Iraq but the meeting never occurred.
The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, called America’s anticipated face-to-face contact with Iran and Syria — two countries that the Bush administration has accused of destabilizing Iraq — “very significant.”
This announcement, a modest step forward, shows further weakening of the hardline, neocon faction inside the Administration. While the ongoing ideological struggle inside the Bush White House between the remaining neocons and a more reasonable group that appears to be led by Sec. Gates wil continue through the end of the Bush term, this modest step is an important one, and should be cheered by leaders on both sides of the aisle.
This is a topic NDN has worked on before, through our Campaign to Get Condi to Come Clean. And while I recognize that Secretary Rice's problems with the truth are neither new, nor surprising, I wanted to share two recent, remarkable examples.
First, on Fox News Sunday,Secretary Rice shared this gem with Chris Wallace:
"…It would be like saying that after Adolf Hitler was overthrown, we needed to change then, the resolution that allowed the United States to do that, so that we could deal with creating a stable environment in Europe after he was overthrown."
Chris Wallace, of Clinton-baiting fame didn't press her on it, of course. Luckily, Keith Olbermann did, in some of his best work to date.
And just a week ago, former Bush Administration National Security Council Member Flynt Leverett called out Secretary Rice on her inconsistencies regarding Iran's 2003 offer of negotiations towards a "Grand Bargain" on WMD, Israel and support for terrorist groups. From The Raw Story:
Former Bush National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, speaking on Wednesday at a forum held by the New America Foundation, told a crowd in a Senate office building that in 2003 then-Secretary of State Colin Powell received a “grand bargain” offer from Iran and was rebuffed by the White House, RAW STORY can reveal.
“The document went over to the NSC” and “it is unthinkable” that it wouldn’t have gone to then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Leverett asserted. “She owes Congress an apology for saying she had not seen the document.”
"The statements she is making before Congress are not true," Leverett added, noting that Rice almost certainly "knows" they aren't true.
“If you go to the west coast the big issue is not Iraq – as it is in Washington – but global warming,” said Simon Rosenberg, the head of the New Democratic Network, in Washington. “The Oscar ceremonies offered the spectacle of an exuberant repudiation of the Bush years. It is hard to think of a better platform for Mr Gore’s public profile.”
I sent this out to our members today. Thoughts, as always, are welcome.
The challenge of our times
When I look back at what progressivism accomplished in the 20th century, I feel a tremendous sense of pride.
Consider what our movement and its leaders accomplished. Abroad, we defeated fascism, were instrumental in the triumph over communist totalitarianism, and constructed an international system based on FDR’s vision of a United Nations, bringing unprecedented liberty and prosperity to the people of the world. At home, we rescued America from its greatest economic crisis, the depression, created Social Security and Medicare, and spearheaded the civil rights, consumer, labor, women’s and environmental movements that have helped make America not just great, but good. And when last in power, progressives oversaw the greatest economic expansion in our history.
Our challenge today, as the heirs to that inspiring legacy, is to build a 21st Century progressivism as great, and as good, as the progressivism of the century just passed. At NDN, we believe that to replicate this 20th century success in our new century, our movement and its leaders must understand and master the three transformations that are creating an emergent, “new politics” of the 21st century. To succeed today we must:
Offer a governing agenda that tackles the challenges of our time.
Excel at using the new media and technology tools that are changing the way the people of the world communicate with one another.
Speak to, and engage, the new and more complex American population, so different today than when the last durable majority coalition was built 70 years ago.
Helping progressives forge this new agenda, master these new communications tools and speak to the new people of America is what NDN and its network across the country is all about. Together, we are imagining and building a 21st century progressivism, a progressivism that can be as visionary, strong and successful as the movement that did so much for so many in the 20th century.
In the coming weeks I will be laying out, in detail, the specifics of what NDN is doing to help progressives build this modern movement. I hope you will find our vision, our strategy, our team, and our network compelling, and that you will once again join us in our important work. I know of no more important work we could be doing, and no group of people better equipped to get it done.
Our own Joe Garcia, a longtime political leader in Florida, has been elected Chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. While this new gig is completely independent of Joe's work at NDN, we're still very excited for him, and wish him all the best in this new endeavor.
In case you missed it, I was quoted in thisAP article on how Governor Bill Richardson's Hispanic roots help separate him from the other 2008 presidential candidates, saying:
Joe Garcia, executive vice president of the nonprofit NDN, formerly known as the New Democratic Network, said Richardson is "what the new Democratic Party will look like" as it works to attract Hispanics and make inroads in the West.
"I think he offers tremendous opportunity for the growth of the party in areas where the party needs to grow," the Miami activist said.
For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.
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.