Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bush Foreign Policy Under Seige

For six years, the Bush administration has remained committed to playing hardball with the communist government of North Korea, one of the nations in the President’s axis of evil. However, after announcing the main points of the accord reached Tuesday between the United States and North Korea regarding the latter’s nuclear program, conservatives inside and outside of the administration have been quick to label the deal a huge mistake.

“It is rewarding bad behavior of the North Koreans by promising fuel oil,” said John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “It’s a bad signal to North Korea and it’s a bad signal to Iran. It will say to countries like Iran and other would-be proliferators, if you just have enough patience, if you just have enough persistence, you’ll wear the United States down. They’ll give up on point after point after point.”

To say that the criticism leveled by Bolton and other conservatives regarding the deal with North Korea is a troubling sign for President Bush would be an understatement, but it is further evidence that there is growing angst within the GOP towards the President’s overall foreign policy efforts. The White House is certain to suffer a public rebuke Friday when the House of Representatives passes a resolution opposing the military surge in Iraq, and there will be close to thirty Republicans voting in favor of the resolution. The growing rift with Iran is also making many in the GOP uneasy as observers see an administration starting to make a case for war, similar to the one made prior to the invasion of Iraq.

“There are weapons (IED’S) in Iraq that are harming U.S. troops because of the (Iranian) Quds force,” Bush said at his press conference yesterday. “And as you know, I hope, that the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. Whether Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds force to do this, I don't think we know. But we do know that they're there, and I intend to do something about it. And I've asked our commanders to do something about it. And we're going to protect our troops.”

Yet, on Tuesday, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, was not as confident that the upper levels of Iranian leadership were behind the influx of weapons. “That does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this,” Pace said.

Since his State of the Union address in 2002 when he first used the term “axis of evil,” Bush has remained aggressive in his rhetoric towards Iran, Iraq and North Korea and their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and support of global terrorism. Now, unfortunately, Bush finds himself bogged down militarily in Iraq, giving North Korea the same deal he criticized the Clinton administration of proffering in 1994, and publicly flailing in his attempt to find the right course of action against Iran.

After defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan, Bush’s foreign policy and military decisions have been bungled. Adding insult to injury, the Taliban is preparing for a huge spring offensive and many military observers are predicting that the troop levels currently in Afghanistan may be insufficient in preventing the Taliban from regaining the military upper hand in many areas thought to be secure. The idea of opening up a third theatre of military operations in Iran, even if only the United States were to bomb strategic targets, would be folly.

“Presidents have to weigh different options all the time,” Bush said yesterday. “Look, I fully understand there are some who are -- don't agree with every decision I make. I hope the American people understand I make those decisions because I believe it's going to yield the peace that we all want.”

It becomes more evident every day that this President’s decision to invade Iraq will not yield peace. It’s now up to Congress to make sure that decision isn’t compounded while also making certain that Iran doesn’t become another Bush blunder. It’s time to get “Little King George” out of the sandbox that is the Middle East.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Message to Congress: Stand Up and Be Counted

March 20th, 2007, will mark the four year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. In those four years, Americans have come to realize three things. First, the United States still possesses the most fearsome fighting force on the planet. Former dictator Saddam Hussein and his army, if you can call it that, knew as much, and made the smart decision not to test our military. Second, Americans learned that no matter how strong our military might be, there are limits to what it can do when it is opposed by a determined insurgency which grows more sophisticated every day. It would take more than five hundred thousand troops to properly quell the violence in Iraq, and that still might not be enough to get the job done.

Finally, Americans determined in the last two weeks that the men and women who they elected to serve them in the United States Senate lacked “guts.” There are other words that could be used which might be fancier, and others yet that would be politically incorrect, but guts cuts right to the heart of the matter. Words like courage and fortitude must be saved for the brave men and women that serve in Iraq and around the world, not for men and women who lack the intestinal fortitude to debate and vote on a simple non-binding resolution regarding one of the most important issues of our time: war in the Middle East.

If Americans had little faith and trust in government and their elected officials before this bipartisan debacle, and poll after poll shows that to be the case, the impotence that the Senate displayed this week will cause the public to become even more distrustful of its so-called leaders. Voters sent a clear message to politicians in the mid-term elections, and the message was vivid and to the point: we may not completely agree on the way forward in Iraq, but we expect you, the Congress and the President, to work together to figure out what must be done. Isn’t a critical step in that process being able to debate the matter on the floor of the Senate?

Instead, Senators on both sides of the aisle spent the last week debating and voting on procedure. When Democrats and Republicans couldn’t, or wouldn’t, agree on how the debate should be debated, they voted not to debate at all. Now, a group of Republican Senators have sent a letter to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell stating that they want to ensure that the Senate brings the issue of Iraq to the floor. Led by John Warner and Chuck Hagel, they wrote: “We will explore all of our options under the Senate procedures and practices to ensure a full and open debate.”

While soldiers die every day, as the situation continues to worsen, the Senate proceeds to do exactly what voters have said they despise the most: play politics. For the White House, this must be viewed as a victory, since President Bush has said that any resolution which opposes his Iraq surge would embolden the enemy and harm the morale of our troops. Unfortunately for Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace don’t necessarily agree with him. Testifying this week in front of the House Armed Services Committee, Pace said, “From the standpoint of the troops, I believe that they understand how our legislature works and that they understand that there's going to be this kind of debate. They're going to be looking to see whether or not they are supported in the realm of mission given and resources provided. As long as this Congress continues to do what it has done, which is to provide the resources for the mission, the dialogue will be the dialogue, and the troops will feel supported.”

Very soon, the discussion will turn from resolutions to funding. The President has requested a $100 billion supplemental to cover the cost of the war for the rest of this year, and some Democrats have come to the conclusion that the only way to stop this war will be to deny those funds. “Congress has the duty to stand up and use its power to stop him,” said Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, referring to Bush. “If Congress doesn‘t stop this war, it‘s not because it doesn‘t have the power. It‘s because it doesn‘t have the will.”

Former Iowa governor and current Democratic presidential contender Tom Vilsack has also staked out a position that goes further than any of his rivals. “Those in Congress who voted for the war, those in Congress who have voted to continue the war, and those in Congress who have funded the war, can surely vote to end the war,” Vilsack said at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting. “Congress has the constitutional responsibility and a moral duty to cut off funding for the status quo. Not a cap — an end. Not eventually — immediately.”

Feingold decided against running for president and Vilsack is a long shot, and it’s also a long shot that Congress will cut off funding for the war. But if Americans continue to see politics get in the way of pragmatism, Senate procedure get in the way of Senate debate, the idea of cutting off funds is sure to gain some traction. President Bush needs to see clear progress in Iraq in the coming months in order stave off a growing anti-war chorus. If not, Congress may finally do what the Constitution says it must: check and balance. On that, there should be no debate.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bad Things Happen When Your Mute Button Is Broken

Republican pollster Frank Luntz has released a new book called, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” Unfortunately, no one in presidential contender Joe Biden’s camp got the book in front of their man in time because Biden has already damaged, if not derailed, his bid for the White House. Luntz’s book is selling well since it debuted at the beginning of the year, now sitting in the top 100 on Amazon, although one could take issue with the title. Frankly, in politics today, it definitively is a matter of what one says, because everyone is listening, or filming, as George Allen found out, and Joe Biden once again forgot to turn on his verbal filter.

Back in July of 2006, Biden made the first of what could be called racial gaffes while pressing the flesh in New Hampshire. The C-Span series, “Road to the White House,” was filming as Biden was speaking with a man in the audience about his support in the Indian-American community. “I've had a great relationship,” Biden said. “In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.”

We can only wish you were joking, Joe. If someone's ten and eleven year old sons were watching an episode of “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy” on television, you might have heard a similar comment delivered as one of many off-color jokes from a cartoon character, but to have something so ridiculously stereotypical come out of the mouth of a man who has been in the senate since 1973 is, if not shocking, disappointing. A Biden spokeswoman tried to clean it up. “The point Senator Biden was making is that there has been a vibrant Indian-American community in Delaware for decades,” said Margaret Aitken. “It has primarily been made up of engineers, scientists and physicians, but more recently, middle-class families are moving into Delaware and purchasing family-run small businesses.”

Maybe Biden’s spokeswoman needs to be the one running for president. What was most interesting was the look on Biden’s face as he spoke those unfortunate sentences. He was looking directly, intently, at the man, and Biden seemed as if he really believed what he was saying. He was smiling broadly and you could almost sense that Biden felt he was giving someone a kernel of information that he, and only he, just happened upon. Could he really be that out of touch?

While Biden was able to recover from his mistake at that moment, it’s unlikely he’s going to be as successful this time around as it pertains to comments he recently made about his colleague, Barack Obama. On the day he announced his candidacy for president, Biden said of Obama, “I mean, you've got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a story-book, man.” In a matter of ten seconds, Biden insulted Obama, Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and African-Americans at large.

Again, could he really be this dense? Biden just hit the superfecta. Did he mean to say that Chisholm, Jackson, Sharpton and Braun were not “articulate, bright and clean,” like Obama? Are Jackson and Sharpton not as “nice-looking” as Obama? What does Biden mean by “mainstream?” One definition of mainstream is, “belonging to or characteristic of a principal, dominant, or widely accepted group, movement, style, etc.” Were Chisholm, Jackson, Sharpton and Braun that far out of the mainstream? Were they planning the overthrow of the government and forget to tell us?

For his part, Obama was slow to react to the backhanded compliment. At first, he told the press that Biden’s comments didn’t upset him. A day later, after surely hearing from those in the African-American community that his tepid response was unacceptable, Obama released a statement saying that Biden’s words were “historically inaccurate.” It’s another example of the difficulty facing Obama as he tries to build political support among African-American voters while remaining attractive to White voters.

Biden is going to have difficulty building support anywhere in his Party now. He’ll still likely remain in the race, but it was clear from the beginning that his candidacy was a long shot, and it’s been made even longer now. Many of Biden’s friends and colleagues have come to his defense and said, in no uncertain terms, that Biden is not a racist, but all Biden needs to do is remember what happened to former Virginia Senator George Allen when his verbal slip helped to get him kicked out of his senate seat. After a while, the stench just starts to get harder to ignore.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.” Twice now, the words of Joe Biden have betrayed him. At what point do people not begin to believe that those words are not actually what he truly believes?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Religion Is The Least Of Mitt Romney's Worries

The presidential candidacies of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have brought the issues of gender, race and religion front and center during the early stages of the race for the White House. Most major polling organizations have, and will continue to, poll voters on three specific questions: Is America ready to elect a woman president? Is America ready to elect a black president? Is America ready to elect a Mormon president?

A recent Rasmussen Reports poll delivered daunting news for Clinton and Obama. 60% of American voters believe that Democrats are likely to nominate a white male for president in 2008, and that includes 81% of black voters. Overall, 80% say that the next president is likely to be a white male. In Romney’s case, there have also been polls that are sure to cause concern, such as one recently that showed 37% of the respondents would not vote for a Mormon; only a Muslim had a higher percentage.

While convincing voters that his faith will not affect his ability to govern effectively and independently, which is exactly what John F. Kennedy had to do when questions were raised regarding his Catholicism in 1960, Romney will have to deal with additional charges that will cause comparisons to another Democrat from Massachusetts: John F. Kerry. If Kerry previously held the record of a presidential candidate accused of having the most flip-flops on his record, he may have met his match in Romney, which will doom any chance Romney has of winning the Republican nomination for president.

It’s not simply that Romney will be accused of being a flip-flopper. More importantly, he has changed his positions on issues that are not exactly up for debate within the Republican Party, specifically abortion, gay rights and gun control. Rudy Giuliani will have his own difficulty garnering the Republican nomination being that he’s pro choice, pro gay rights and pro gun control, but at least he can say that he’s always held those positions. Romney has tried to have it both ways, and his previous stances on those critical issues are coming back to haunt him.

“I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country,” Romney said in a 1994 debate when he ran against Senator Ted Kennedy. “I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain and support it.”

In 2002, when he was running for governor against Democrat Shannon O’Brien, Romney responded to the National Abortion Rights Action League's candidate survey by writing, “I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government's.”

In 1994 and 2002 Romney received the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian political action committee. In the middle of his campaign against Kennedy, Romney wrote the LCR a thank you letter. “I am pleased to have had the opportunity to talk with you and to meet many of you personally during your September meeting,” Romney penned. “I learned a great deal from those discussions and the many thoughtful questions you posed. As a result of our discussions and other interactions with gay and lesbian voters across the state, I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.”

Finally, when it comes to gun control, Romney, when asked what he thought of the Brady Bill, which required waiting periods for handgun purchases, replied, “I don't think [the waiting period] will have a massive effect on crime but I think it will have a positive effect.” Romney also previously supported the federal assault weapons ban.

Today, at the beginning of a long race for the presidency, Romney has changed his tune. On abortion: “I am pro-life. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view.” Responding to a court ruling handed down in 2004, on gay marriage: “Last year the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck a blow against the family, as I'm sure you know. The court forgot that marriage is first and foremost about nurturing and developing children. Its ruling meant that our society is supposed to be indifferent about whether children have a mother and a father.” On guns: “I have a gun of my own. I go hunting myself. I'm a member of the NRA and believe firmly in the right to bear arms.”

All of the prospective presidential candidates have begun the process of pandering to their respective liberal and conservative bases, but none of them will have to do as much stroking as Romney. Conservatives, evangelicals and the NRA could have eventually overlooked questions about Romney’s faith, much like most of the country did Kennedy’s in 1960, but his conflicting stances on the big three issues of abortion, gay rights and gun control are unforgivable. Interestingly, Romney may be sharing the doghouse with John McCain and Rudy Giuliani when all is said and done since those two also have serious skeptics in the GOP regarding the big three issues. Which is why although the names Brownback and Huckabee aren’t making many Republicans jump for joy just yet, it’s a long, long way to November, 2008. Twenty one months is more than enough time for the dark horses to get saddled up.