The Times had a remarkable story the other day on rising Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Middle East. Make sure you read all the way down to the part about a television show in Egypt, our "ally" in the Middle East, glorifying the heroic Sunni insurgency's killing of Americans in Iraq:
And while political analysts and government officials in the region say the spreading Sunni disillusionment with Shiites and their backers in Iran will benefit Sunni-led governments and the United States, they and others worry that the tensions could start to balkanize the region as they have in Iraq itself.
“The reality of the current situation is that we are approaching an open Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region,” said Emad Gad, a specialist in international relations at the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “And Egypt will also be a part of it as a part of the Sunni axis. No one will be able to avoid or escape it.”
This changing dynamic in the region, described by many scholars, analysts and officials in recent days, is a result not only of the hangings, the Iraq war and the Lebanese political struggle. It has also been encouraged by Sunni-led governments like those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and some Sunni religious leaders alarmed by the rising influence of Iran, the region’s biggest Shiite power..
Sunnis make up a vast majority of the Islamic world. Shiites, who lead Iran and the Iraqi government, are the next largest sect. The two split over who would lead Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
While the two have theological differences — and similarities — the gathering conflict is being stoked by a determination by Sunni leaders to preserve, or reinvigorate, their waning influence in the region — while emboldened Shiites have pressed for more influence.
After the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Shiite leaders seemed to reach their zenith as an antidote to a Sunni Muslim leadership widely viewed as corrupt, impotent and stooges of the West, analysts said.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Sheik Nasrallah of Hezbollah, each won wide followings across the region for their willingness to defy the United States. Hezbollah and its allies pressed for more power in Lebanon and when rebuffed, began demonstrations intended to topple the government.
Now, fueled by state controlled media in many Sunni Muslim states, a divide, or at least an estrangement, is growing across the Middle East between Sunni Muslims and Shiites. Egyptians, for example, are inundated nearly daily with headlines, commentaries and television reports alleging Shiite transgressions.
An Egyptian-government controlled satellite service, called Nilesat, has been broadcasting across the Arab world Al Zawraa, a television station that shows what is billed as heroic footage of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, American soldiers being killed and wounded, and unflattering images of Shiite leaders.
“Raising the ugly face of Shiites, expanding Iranian influence in the region,” read a headline in a recent edition of Rose el-Youssef, a pro-government Egyptian newspaper.
In December, a top religious leader close to the Saudi royal family, Abdul Rahman al-Barak, said that Shiites, whom he called rejectionists, were worse than Jews or Christians.
“By and large, rejectionists are the most evil sect of the nation and they have all the ingredients of the infidels,” he wrote.
And yes it was the United States who put these rejectionists, worse than Christians or Jews, in charge of an Arab country for the first time in the 1300 year history of the Muslim Middle East. As I've written before, it is hard for me to believe that in any war-gaming of the post Iraq Middle East that what is happening there today was not seen as the most likely outcome of our installing a Shiite-led, Iranian-friendly team in charge of Iraq.
Once we accept that even our "allies" in the Middle East are promoting the killing of American troops in Iraq, it is unwise for the US to simplify this complex emerging regional politics into a demonization of Iran. The vengence and anger of those who killed Saddam that night was not funded or fueled by Iran. It was fueled by over a 1000 years of Sunni oppression of Shiites and was a long, long time coming.
Our actions in the Middle East have unleashed a new, powerful and unpredictable dynamic into the region, one that we need to better understand before taking swift and decisive action like attacking Iran. For just a few months ago it seemed as if another band of Sunni insurgents, Al Qaeda, were our primary enemy.
Prominent conservative columnist has a remarkable column today, one that once again shows how out of step with even his own Party President Bush now is:
The sense of impending political doom that clutches Republican hearts one week after President Bush presented his new strategy on Iraq to the nation is stoked by the alarming intelligence brought back from Baghdad by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and passed around Capitol Hill.
In a pre-Christmas visit to Iraq, Coleman and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida met with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. Coleman described their astounding encounter in a Dec. 19 blog entry: Dr. Rubaie "maintains that the major challenge facing Iraq is not a sectarian conflict, but rather al-Qaeda and disgruntled Baathists seeking to regain power. Both Senator Nelson and I react with incredulity to that assessment. Rubaie cautions against more troops in Baghdad."
Rubaie denied the overriding reality of sectarian violence in Baghdad because his government is tied to the Shiite belligerents in that conflict. While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pays lip service to Bush's demand that he crack down on Mahdi Army commander Moqtada al-Sadr, U.S. officials recognize that Maliki's political support depends on the Shiite militia leader. Thus, Maliki's government is in denial about sectarian conflict. Maliki did not show up for a news conference in which he was scheduled to comment on Bush's new strategy, and he personally remains silent about the plan at this writing.
This hastens the desire of Republicans, who once cheered the Bush Doctrine in the Middle East, to remove U.S. forces from a politically deteriorating condition as soon as possible. "Iraq is a black hole for the Republican Party," a prominent party strategist told me this week. What makes his comments so important is that he is not a maverick Republican in Congress but one of Bush's principal political advisers.
As they adjust to the 2006 election returns, Republicans recognize that this was no isolated bump in the road. The loss of about 320 state legislative seats across the country to the Democrats classifies last year's election as a midrange electoral disaster.
The internal Republican debate concerns how much Iraq contributed to this outcome. The White House and Republican members of Congress who voted for intervention in Iraq contend that many issues led to their defeat: incompetent management of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, widespread cases of corruption and abandonment of spending restraint. But Republicans at the grass roots tell me that Iraq was the central problem and must be erased as an issue.....
One of the most important governing challenges facing our nation is to ensure that American corporations, capital and people all prosper together in this age of ever more intense globalization.
To that end, last year NDN established a new Globalization Initiative led by Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, a former Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the Clinton Administration. On our website you can find an overview of the project and its work, including video of our major events, speeches, studies, policy recommendations and essays.
If we don’t step up to plate with serious answers to reduce the rapid increases in health care, pension and energy costs – three areas in which the current administration has been missing in action for six years – the U.S. job creating machine will stall out, and the incomes of a majority of Americans will slowly fall for the next generation. If we don’t step up to the plate with a serious training and education strategies that can ensure that Americans can do their jobs more efficiently than anyone in any developing country –another area where this administration has checked out – offshore outsourcing, especially in the new areas of services, will hollow out part of the American middle class.
You can find his complete remarks, reflecting his latest thinking on our website, and feel free to weigh in with comments here on our blog.
Related links: Watch EPI's Ross Eisenbray at a recent Globalization Initiative event
After our country was attacked in 2001 there were many ways our government could respond. The path we choose - of the many we could have chosen – removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein from power and establishing a Shiite-led government in Iraq was almost certainly going to strengthen the regional hand of Iran.
I wrote a long post about all this recently, so I won’t repeat it here. While I am not excited about the idea of Iran’s growing regional influence, that our government is responding to this very predictable regional development, of our own making, with belligerence and outrage is another moment of almost unbelievable American arrogance and folly.
Here’s the chief architect of our global policy of arrogance and folly waking up to the new regional political dynamic his strategy has created:
On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that America’s actions were intended to protect allies in the Persian Gulf — though it is far from clear that Iran’s Sunni Arab neighbors have signed on to the strategy. “If you go and talk with the gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried,” Mr. Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” He described how the Iranians “sit astride the Straits of Hormuz” and its oil-shipping channels, and how they support Hamas and Hezbollah. “So the threat that Iran represents is growing,” he said, in words reminiscent of how he once built a case against Mr. Hussein. “It’s multidimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.”
One of the areas that Senator Biden and Representative Lantos should explore in their ongoing Congressional hearings is what exactly did we our government believe was going to happen when we eliminated two of Iran’s most significant adversaries, established in Iraq the first Shiite-led Arab government in the region’s history and helped place at the helm of the Iraqi government political parties and leaders close to Iran?
This same Times’ piece has some interesting, and let’s say less than satisfactory insights into all this:
For more than two years after Saddam Hussein’s fall, the war in Iraq was about chasing down insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Last year it expanded to tamping down sectarian warfare.
Over the past three weeks, in two sets of raids and newly disclosed orders issued by President Bush, a third front has opened — against Iran.
Administration officials say the goal is limited to preventing Iranians from aiding in attacks on American and Iraqi forces inside Iraq. But in recent interviews and public statements, senior members of the Bush administration have made it clear that their agenda goes significantly further, toward foiling Iran’s dream of emerging as the greatest power in the Middle East.
In an interview on Friday, before she left on her latest Middle East trip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described what she called an “evolving” strategy to confront “destabilizing behavior” by Iran across the region. Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said Sunday on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” that the United States was resisting an Iranian effort “to basically establish hegemony” throughout the region.
Even some of Mr. Bush’s fiercest critics do not question that the administration’s conviction that Iran’s ambitions are large is correct. A few midlevel administration officials wondered even in 2003 whether Iran was a far more potent threat than Mr. Hussein.
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, administration officials argued that deposing Mr. Hussein would send a powerful signal to Iran and North Korea, the two countries that Mr. Bush identified along with Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union address as part of an “axis of evil.” “You heard this argument in meetings all the time,” a senior official on the National Security Council, who has since left the administration, recalled recently. “Iraq would make the harder problems of Iran and North Korea easier."
But the opposite happened. North Korea tested a nuclear device in October. And Iran has sped ahead with a uranium enrichment program. Now, despite the urging of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to engage with Iran, Washington is moving in a more confrontational direction. It is stationing more naval, air and antimissile batteries off Iran’s coast; has persuaded many international businesses to cut off dealings with Iran; and it has interfered with Iranians inside Iraqi territory.
“The administration does have Iran on the brain, and I think they are exaggerating the amount of Iranian activities in Iraq,” Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, said Sunday. “There’s a good chance that this is going to be counterproductive — that this is a way to get into a spiral with Iran that leads you into conflict. The likely response from the Iranians is that they are going to want to demonstrate to us that they are not going to be pushed around.”
Administration officials say ignoring Iran’s activities will only lead to escalation with the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “There’s no question that everything that has gone wrong in Iraq has made life easier for the Iranians,” one senior White House official said recently. “The question is what you do about that.”
The answer, shaped in the National Security Council, is for the American military to make targets of Iranians whom they believe are fueling attacks, a decision that Mr. Bush made months ago that was disclosed only last week.
Yes, the question indeed, is what do we do about that – but the that is not Iran but a group of discredited and desperate leaders running our country no longer capable of managing our interests around the world.
There are many ways to celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. King. I have made it an annual ritual to reread one of the most inspirational speeches I've ever read, his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. The Letter is particularly important for members of our community to review. Its views have had a profound influence in setting my own political course these last few years.
There are many places on the web where one can pull it down. Our version today comes from the Nobel Peace Prize site, and what follows is a particularly compelling passage:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "An Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to 6e solid rock of human dignity.
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."
I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.
If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides-and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we viii be. We we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jeans Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some-such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation....
Via Susan G at Daily Kos, Mark Seibel of the McClatchy News Service takes on the President's new Iraq narrative (the piece is worth reading in its entirety):
WASHINGTON - President Bush and his aides, explaining their reasons for sending more American troops to Iraq, are offering an incomplete, oversimplified and possibly untrue version of events there that raises new questions about the accuracy of the administration's statements about Iraq.
President Bush unveiled the new version on Wednesday during his nationally televised speech announcing his new Iraq policy.
"When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation," he said. "We thought that these elections would bring Iraqis together - and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.
"But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq - particularly in Baghdad - overwhelmed the political gains Iraqis had made. Al-Qaida terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's election posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.
"They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam - the Golden Mosque of Samarra - in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate," Bush said. "Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today."
That version of events helps to justify Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq, in which U.S. forces will largely target Sunni insurgents and leave it to Iraq's U.S.-backed Shiite government to - perhaps - disarm its allies in Shiite militias and death squads.
But the president's account understates by at least 15 months when Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni politicians and clerics. It also ignores the role that Iranian-backed Shiite groups had in death squad activities prior to the Samarra bombing.
Blaming the start of sectarian violence in Iraq on the Golden Dome bombing risks policy errors because it underestimates the depth of sectarian hatred in Iraq and overlooks the conflict's root causes. The Bush account also fails to acknowledge that Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite groups stoked the conflict.
President Bush met at the White House in November with the head of one of those groups: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI's Badr Organization militia is widely reported to have infiltrated Iraq's security forces and to be involved in death squad activities.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recited Bush's history of events on Thursday in fending off angry questioning from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about why Rice had offered optimistic testimony about Iraq during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in October 2005.
"The president has talked repeatedly now about the changed circumstances that we faced after the Samarra bombing of February `06, because that bombing did in fact change the character of the conflict in Iraq," Rice said. "Before that, we were fighting al-Qaida; before that, we were fighting some insurgents, some Saddamists."
She cited the version again in an appearance later that day before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "This is a direct result of al-Qaida activity," she said, asking House members not to consider Iraq's sectarian violence as evidence that Iraqis cannot live together.
Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley used the same version of events in an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Much like the administration's pre-war claims about Saddam's alleged ties to al-Qaida and purported nuclear weapons program, the claims about the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra ignore inconvenient facts and highlight questionable but politically useful assumptions....
“We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad closely involved in negotiations over the plan, expressing frustration. “We are being played like a pawn.”
The rest of the story doesn't get any better. All about how the negotiations with the Iraq government about the President's new plan aren't going so well.
I wrote last weekend that in my 20 years in the political and media business I had never seen such a bad pre-rollout of a major Presidential initiative as the rollout of the "new way forward" in Iraq. Well, a week later, I have to say I have never seen such a terrible rollout of a Presidential initiative. The general chatter and press this weekend is unrelentingly bad, almost amazingly so. The President's plan is dead in Congress, has weakened his standing in the nation and will now guarentee a contentious and perhaps dysfunctional American government these next two years - all at a time of great challenge here and abroad.
People associated with the President's Iraq strategy keep losing their jobs. The Republicans lost their majority, Lieberman his primary, Rumsfeld, Casey all gone. Now according to Secretary Gates, Maliki could be next:
Testifying on Capitol Hill about the plan for the second straight day, Mr. Gates said that Iraqi lawmakers might decide to replace Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, if he failed to take steps to carry out the new plan to regain control of Baghdad.
“The first consequence that he has to face is the possibility that he’ll lose his job,” Mr. Gates said. “There are beginning to be some people around that may say, ‘I can do better than he’s doing,’ in terms of making progress.”
Administration officials have discussed among themselves whether they might need to withdraw support for Mr. Maliki if he doesn’t perform, notably by building a new coalition in the Iraqi Parliament. Mr. Gates’s statement was the first mention of the subject in public by a senior administration official.
Mr. Gates and other administration officials have had trouble explaining to lawmakers why they are confident that Mr. Maliki will carry out promises to send more Iraqi troops to Baghdad and to permit them and the additional American forces to operate in Shiite neighborhoods, where they have been blocked from conducting operations in the past.
Mr. Gates conceded that the Iraqi government’s record of fulfilling its commitments is “not an encouraging one,” but said Mr. Maliki now seemed to him “eager” to follow the plan worked out with American commanders.
He acknowledged that Mr. Maliki initially had wanted to carry out the intensified military effort in Baghdad without more American troops. In addition, American military commanders feared that, without American forces monitoring their operations, there could be even worse sectarian bloodshed.
“There’s no question in my mind that Prime Minister Maliki wanted to do this operation on his own,” Mr. Gates said, but he was “persuaded that additional American forces were needed in order to make his plan succeed.”
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, seemed to sum up the skepticism about Mr. Maliki among lawmakers in both parties when she noted that he “did not seem to welcome” the idea of sending more American forces when she met with him in Iraq just weeks ago.
“I’m really skeptical that the prime minister has really bought into this plan,” she said.
In the days leading up to Wednesday's announcement there was an extraordinary movement of people into new positions. We have a new Secetary of Defense, new Intelligence chief, a new UN Ambassador, a new Ambassador to Iraq, several new generals. Of course the leaders of the Iraqi plan - Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rove - all remain. It is remarkable how desperate the Administration has been to lay blame on others - Rumsfeld, General Casey, Maliki, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Democrats - and not take responsibility for the core of what has gone wrong in Iraq - a very badly thought through and badly executed plan from the very get go. And for that the President must accept total responsibility.
As a progressive, the last few months have been exhilirating. Modern day conservatives had failed our nation, and were punished, deeply, at the polls. New and fresh people came to Washington, with new ideas. The mood here has been excited, optimistic. The 100 hours plan started tackling long overdue problems, and has made great progress. But it was yesterday, in the two major committee hearings on Iraq, that we see how different things are in Washington now. Debate has come back to Congress, and Democrats increasingly look like the party of responsible government.
The tv talk shows, the news, no matter how you've checked in these last 24 hours have been bad for the White House, extraordinarily bad, bad in ways they have not experienced before. It isn't just that at this point the President has lost credibility, and seems to have ignored the will of the American people. It is that Members of Congress, led by the Democrats, are re-asserting their Constitutional role and questioning the Administratration in public, under-oath, something that hasn't been done since Bush took office. I actually heard reporters talking about being in a Committee Room for a Congressional hearing. Not sure I've heard that exact language in years.
So the stories this am are about how the Administration was dismayed, shocked, taken aback by the way they were received on Capitol Hill. What this means in English is they have never had Congress, a co-equal partner in the American government, and a body that can do a great deal to influence the national debate, do much more than repeat the Administration's talking points back to them. The best example of this I found is a from a Times piece reporting on an exchange between Hagel and Rice that has not gotten as much attention as other moments in her testimony:
But it was left to Ms. Rice, an important fixture — and survivor — in an administration now in its seventh year, to defend against the tough condemnations in the Senate, where a vote on a resolution about the war could take place as early as next week.
Seated alone at a large table in front of the committee in a chilly Senate hearing room, where the front rows were filled with protesters, Ms. Rice appeared frustrated at times, as committee members variously interrupted her, challenged her or all but accused her of representing a dishonest administration.
Lawmakers argued with Ms. Rice over what to call the latest plan — she corrected critics who referred to it as an “escalation,” describing it as an “augmentation” — and over whether a civil war is underway.
When Ms. Rice asserted that insurgents, not warring Shiite and Sunni factions, were mainly responsible for American casualties, Mr. Hagel shot back, “Madame Secretary, your intelligence and mine is a lot different.”
He added, “To sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that’s just not true.”
“Well, Senator, if you’ll — ,” Ms. Rice began.
“That is not true,” Mr. Hagel repeated.
“Senator, if you’ll allow me to finish,” Ms. Rice said, visibly exasperated, finally conceding that Iraqi attacks on other Iraqis are taking place in the form of death squads.
For years the Administration has lied to the American people with inpunity. Yesterday the Secretary of State tried once again to lie, mislead, confuse - whatever the term - on a truly important matter and was called out on it in a big way by a leading Republican Senator. Members of Congress of both parties will continue to re-assert their historic role, and take greater responsibility for governing. This oversight, accountability, will no doubt begin to change the way the Administration operates. And for that let us be thankful to the wisdom of the American people for bringing in a new team that wants to more than anything else restore the critical role of the Congress in our system of government.
Let the hearings - by the way a great word in itself - continue!