Chris Nelson’s Nelson Report of Friday, 5 January, does a great job of capturing the competing games going on around the President’s “surge proposal.” The President will be outlining his plan Wednesday at 9 pm Eastern and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be testifying tomorrow in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Here is the Nelson Report take:
5 January 2007 — The Nelson Report
The new chair and the former chair of Senate Foreign Relations, Joe Biden and Dick Lugar, today jointly announced nearly a month of hearings on Iraq, starting Tuesday morning with a classified briefing. Secretary of State Rice will defend the new Administration plan on Thursday, at 10 am, following what is now expected to be a Wednesday night speech by the President.
The calculated bipartisanship of the announcement of the hearings, which may carry over into February, sent a clear signal that the President faces as much scrutiny, if not more, from fellow Republicans, as from the Democrats. And from what chairman Biden (D-Del.) has been saying of late, he and the Dems are loaded for bear.
The November election results confirmed what some commentators had long been warning the White House. . .that loss of faith and support from Republican Members had become a major obstacle for Bush policy, since politicians running for re-election have little interest in defending a “Bush legacy” which amounts to a lead weight around their necks.
With Bush expected to outline and explain an apparent “surge option” for Iraq, in his big speech Wednesday, the politics of Iraq will get even rougher. Democratic candidate John Edwards has already cleverly branded the surge idea “the McCain option”, to dramatize Republican candidate John McCain’s risky championing of one big final push.
McCain, of course, will try to argue that any numbers sent were not big enough, and that “if only my advice had been followed things would have been different.”
One of the more interesting “on background” discussions is the degree of opposition within the professional military, especially the Army and Marine Corps, to the “surge” notion. As we’ve been reporting for months, the military establishment has been increasingly “open” in expressing its dismay at the Bush/Rumsfeld war management, using retired generals and anonymous quotes to journalists.
While the surprise selection of Adm. Fallon as the new CENTCOM is being well-received by those familiar with his extraordinary record at PACOM, especially his extensive and probing outreach to planners and theorists involved in all aspects of “GWOT”. . .the Global War on Terrorism. . .”you have to suspect that a Navy man was picked, because they couldn’t find a competent general who wanted the job if it involved the surge”, an observer comments.
A journalism comrade reports that in fact, “the President contacted Fallon before Christmas, and they had had a long lunch together in Honolulu after the President’s trip to APEC. The President has a good relationship with Fallon.” This source adds, “an official told me the President wants ‘a clean sweep’ in Iraq. . .’fresh eyes’.”
(Us Asia types, of course, are very interested in who replaces Fallon. Informed gossip today: “The PACFLT Commander Adm. Gary Roughead is mentioned most often. Sen. Inouye is reported to have said he was the guy at a luncheon yesterday. LTG Karl Eikenberry, the current Commander in Afghanistan, is mentioned as an out of the box possibility. He is a former attache in China and was the PACOM J5 until last year”.)
In any event, the new Democratic congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, today both came out against sending any more troops to Iraq; Pelosi yesterday reiterated her #1 goal would be stopping the Iraq war and bringing the troops home as quickly as possible.
Among other concerns, they know that if the new Bush policies can buy enough of a “decent interval” before the US is forced to leave (for whatever the reason) then the new (and, they hope, Democratic) President in 2009 may “inherit” the end game in Iraq war. . .an “end” no one today, outside of die-hard neo-con circles, thinks will be a happy one.
But it isn’t just the Dems applying political pressure. The Administration must soon send an Iraq war supplemental budget request to Congress, with estimates ranging from slightly less than $100-billion, to a great deal more. . .and Dems will have to find a way to approve the money, or face charges that they aren’t supporting the troops now at risk, and thus being blamed for any disasters which may ensue prior to November, 2008.
The “price” for that money will be intense scrutiny. The Foreign Relations hearings are just the start. We have yet to hear from Senate Armed Services, where Chairman Carl Levin is clearly getting ready to enter the debate; and given the House Leadership’s radical critique of the war, House Armed Services will likely be just as rough on the details, past and present, as Lugar-Biden, and Levin.
In stepping back to survey the situation in Iraq. . .and not just US politics. . .you can see that for whatever set of reasons you chose to credit, the Administration now appears trapped in a classic “Catch 22” situation: in order to reach the political resolution needed to restore military stability, military stability is needed; but it can’t get military stability until it has a real political solution in action.
You can see how a properly applied “surge” may seem the only option now available which could break this deadlock. It’s this horrible dilemma the President will be trying to find a formula to resolve, starting with one dramatic final throw of the dice, next week. And Congress will be right behind him. . .second guessing, judging, and making sure that whatever happens, everyone knows whose fault it is.
Biden-Lugar tentative witness lists include current officials, military and civilian experts (some real, some in their own minds) from all sides of the political spectrum, and also the Baker-Hamiltion Commission, with a planned grand finale of former Secretary of States, including Kissinger and Albright.
It’s all good background to have. . .
More later. Back in Washington, hopefully with fixed hard disk, Thursday.
— Steve Clemons