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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Congressional WMD & Terrorism Commission Sounds Alarm Bell Amidst Worries Of Unconventional Nuclear & Biological Attacks, Dysfunctional Congressional Oversight

Posted by proliferationpr on December 1, 2008

“Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013…”

 “Congressional oversight is dysfunctional…”

-soon-to-be released report from the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (CPWMD);  executive summary

As noted earlier on Proliferation Press, the CPWMD will be releasing Wednesday what appears to be a dreary look at the WMD proliferation threats facing our country and the world. In the backdrop of last week’s terrorists attacks in India and the likely role some commission members may play in the Obama administration, well-timed leaks to the NYTimes and Washington Post are promising the commission’s report some limelight from policy makers and journalists alike.

A November 30th report in WaPo focused on the threat of biological attack. It highlights a serious gap in American’s security system: that many research labs equipped with dangerous biological materials evade federal regulation since they are private and hold pathogens not on the government watch-list of known biowarfare agents. According to the report, this means there are currently non-regulated labs holding the SARS virus—the virus used in a series of biological attacks in 2001, resulting in 5 deaths.

Not to be left out, the NYTimes today released a report outlining the report’s executive summary.

The Commission recites a typical litany of policy prescriptions: renewed efforts to curtail Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs; improved defenses against bioterrorism; and a new energy in multilateral approaches to containing the threat of WMD proliferation and terrorism—with particular focus on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Yet what is most worrisome is the report’s dismal assessment of Congressional oversight in regards to WMD proliferation and terrorism. After seven years it appears the US Government has failed to lay out and comprehensive and peer-reviewed strategy for combating the gravest threats to American security. Having already ceded most of its war-powers authority, can Congress really afford to be as a impediment to prudent policies that aim to prevent another 9-11?

Before highlighting sections of the NYTimes report, there are topics

  • Discussing/proposing an effective form of Congressional oversight over the gravest threats to American security, or simply pointing how ‘how’ the current Congressional oversight is dysfunctional. Is the key problem a lack of executive-congressional communication? Overlapping committees? Or is it simply a product of the White House running executive agencies, with Congress seen as too much a source of undesired leaks, partisan back-biting and echo-chamber discussion?

  • A system of distinguishing the ‘must-have’ from the ‘wish-list’. Pointing out flaws in the current system is valuable, but only if tied to a frank discussion of American capabilities are and how to best use them toward preventing WMD proliferation and terrorism. For example, how can America work towards both a proliferation-safe Pakistan and the need to safeguard American laboratories with SARS; and let’s not forget the looming threat of a radiological device stored away in a commercial ship’s cargo going off while docked at an American port.  

  • A rubric by which to judge success of failure. While both the WaPo and NYTimes reports suggest critical administration and Congressional failings, how do individual mistakes add-up to a conclusive judgment on US efforts to combat WMD proliferation and terrorism? (And will the general public ever know of covert policy successes?)

From the NYTimes report:

The panel’s 13 recommendations focus on fighting the threat of bioterrorism, including improved bioforensic capabilities, and strengthening international organizations, like the International Atomic Energy Agency, to address the nuclear threat. It also calls for a comprehensive approach for dealing with Pakistan.

Over all, the findings and recommendations seek to serve as a road map for the Obama administration.

The commission urges the Obama administration to work to halt the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, backing up any diplomatic initiatives with “the credible threat of direct action” — code for military action, a commission official said.

Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb.

The commission also criticized the administration and Congress for not organizing themselves more effectively to combat the threat of unconventional weapons. The report recommended a single White House-level office or individual responsible for directing the nation’s policy to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons and their possible use by terrorists.

Posted in Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruc, Congress, Terrorism, WMD | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Congressional WMD & Terrorism Commission: Upcoming Report; Gauge of Obama’s Future Policy?

Posted by proliferationpr on November 19, 2008

How is our nation doing on WMD prevention and terrorism? We’ll find out soon. Market Watch reports that the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism will release it’s findings on December 3rd. (The original press release can be found here)

The congressionally-created Commission’s ambitious mission? To assess America’s anti-terrorism and WMD prevention strategies. With the mainstream-news fixated on presidential transition updates & economic woes, we’ll see how much press traction the Commission’s work achieves.

But there’s a twist—which may just make this report a leading indicator the incoming Obama administration’s own WMD and terrorism policy priorities. Commission member Wendy R. Sherman, currently a senior partner of The Albright Group, now spearheads Obama’s policy review team for Department of State.

Here’s the Commission’s membership in full:

(Update: Member bios here—and a nice summary of Commission activities can be found here)

Bob Graham, Chairman and former Senator (D-FL)

Jim Talent, Vice Chairman and former Senator (R-MO)

Members include: Graham Allison, Robin Cleveland, Wendy Sherman, Henry Sokolski, Stephen Rademaker, Timothy Roemer and Rich Verma.

Posted in Congress, Diplomacy, Nuclear, WMD | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bush’s Other Lopsided Nuclear Deal: Sokolski Slams American Nuclear Cooperation with Russia

Posted by K.E. White on February 2, 2008

As posted earlier, nuclear cooperation between the United States and Russia is ramping up. Originally a plan to purchase Russian nuclear materials to power American nuclear power plants, Russia will now be paid (billions) to temporarily store these materials and be granted testing of American nuclear fuels. 

Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, points out two flaws of the deal: America’s nuclear industries get “zilch” from the deal, and Russia is rewarded while supporting Iranian nuclear aspirations and providing other military assistance. 

Sokolski tackles why the administration—through the Department of Energy (DOE)—is backing the deal: 

Backers of the deal at the Energy Department, though, are motivated to test the waters. They are especially anxious now to substitute the U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear weapons reduction programs that are nearing completion with a new set of U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear projects, projects that are only permissible if a formal nuclear cooperative agreement with Russia is put into force. These officials cynically calculate that Congress is too preoccupied with presidential-year politics to step in by the 90-day deadline.


The trade-off seems clear: while Russia is undermining Iran’s nuclear containment, it is more important to keep—or bride them—for their continued cooperation on nuclear matters. 

While Sokolski does paint a troublesome picture of executive dominance over America’s nuclear policies, he would have done well to briefly discuss Russo-American cooperative threat reduction (CTR) activities. 

Sokolski necessarily paints a simplified picture of American and Russian priorities. But CTR between the two countries is perhaps the most important aspect of their ‘nuclear’ relationship. CTR seeks to ensure Russian nuclear-weapons capable materials stay out of terrorist hands. 

From Richard Weitz’s April 2007 report on Russian-American Security Cooperation:


On a more positive note, the cooperative threat reduction process between Russia and its former Cold War adversaries remains one of the most successful examples of peacetime security collaboration between major military powers. Since major funding increases for weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related threat reduction projects in Russia are unlikely, however, both sides should consider more creative solutions to several recurring problems that have impeded further progress. For example, measures to resolve disputes over access to sensitive Russian sites could include  granting Russian representatives more opportunities  to see U.S. WMD-related sites, hiring Russian firms or personnel to help dismantle excessive WMD stocks in the United States, and supplying additional data  concerning U.S.-funded threat reduction projects in Russia in return for more detailed information about Russia’s WMD-related facilities and employees,  especially those involved in Soviet-era biological and  chemical weapons activities.


Opportunities for additional progress in curbing third-party WMD proliferation also exist. Chances for Russian-American collaboration on joint or multilateral threat reduction projects outside the former Soviet Union increased substantially in June 2003, when the  G-8 governments agreed that the “Global Partnership  Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction” could in principle support threat  reduction activities in countries besides Russia. Another opportunity for Russian-American collaboration on  threat reduction projects beyond Russia arose in May  2004, when U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced a Global Threat Reduction Initiative  (GTRI) to identify, secure, and dispose of stockpiles of vulnerable civilian nuclear and radiological materials and related equipment throughout the world. The GTRI involves close cooperation between the United States and Russia in securing these high-risk sources. At the July 2006 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Presidents Bush and Putin launched a Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and opened formal negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. (pages 9-10)


But this consideration does not diminish this aspect of Sokolski’s argument: DOE’s sidelining of any real Congressional oversight is gravely distressing. 

Whoever enters the White House in 2009 will review and retool America’s overall security posture. Whether shifting overall troop levels or modifying our nation’s various nuclear cooperation agreements, success will depend of the President’s ability to forge a new national security consensus. Such Congressional muzzling can not only lead to bad foreign policy, but erodes the fundamental challenge our nation faces in the age of international terrorism.

Posted in Congress, congressional oversight, cooperative threat reduction, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, Nuclear, nuclear cooperation, Russia, United States | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Congress and America’s Nuclear Weapons: Can Congress Effectively Steer Foreign Policy?

Posted by K.E. White on January 18, 2008

Much has been made of Congressional inability to stop the war in Iraq, or other Bush-backed foreign policy ventures—whether aid for Pakistan or the US-India nuclear deal. 

But Daryl Kimball, writing for Arms Control Today, notes the positive work Congress has done—from his point of view—to stop dangerous Bush administration supported nuclear policies. 

Kimball singles out Congressional rejection of the Reliable Replacement Warhead and a congressionally mandated US nuclear posture review. But Kimball leaves the next President and Congress a steep challenge: pursuing nuclear weapons reductions with the Soviet Union. 

From Kimball’s ACT article:

Effecting change in Washington, and nuclear weapons policy in particular, is exceedingly difficult, requiring strong presidential leadership and a working bipartisan majority. Yet, recent congressional actions and trends will give the next occupant of the White House a rare opportunity to initiate sweeping changes in outdated U.S. nuclear weapons and arms control policies.

Congress in December struck down the Bush administration’s ill-conceived plan for new “replacement” nuclear warheads and an additional plutonium pit production facility to help build them. Although President George W. Bush may try to revive these projects and insist that the nuclear arsenal is as small as possible, there is growing support and a strong security rationale for fewer, not newer, nuclear weapons.


Reflecting bipartisan frustration with Bush’s nuclear policies, Congress also mandated a top-to-bottom review of the role and size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal by the end of 2009. This represents an opportunity that the next president must not squander.

Previous Bush and Clinton administration nuclear posture reviews fell woefully short. Each version only slightly modified previous Cold War targeting plans and policies. As a result, the number of deployed nuclear weapons were trimmed, but the force is still enormous. The 1994 nuclear posture review endorsed a force reduction from 3,500 deployed strategic warheads to 2,500. Bush’s 2001 review called for a force of 1,700-2,200 such warheads by 2012.

Posted in Congress, Nuclear | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What To Do About Pakistan? Crisis in Islamabad, Markey’s Advice, and Congress Gets in the Hot Seat

Posted by K.E. White on July 4, 2007

Proliferation Press News Update

A tense stand-off continues to unfold between General Perez Musharraf and Islamic militants in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

From Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper:

Paramilitary Rangers and riot police fought a daylong running gunbattle with hundreds of heavily armed and well-entrenched militants around their stronghold of Lal Masjid as a six-month-long standoff between mosque’s radicals and the authorities exploded into a major clash on Tuesday, leaving at least 10 people dead and more than 150 injured.

Dozens of the injured suffered multiple bullet wounds, and the condition of some of them being critical, doctors feared the death toll might rise.

It was perhaps the worst, and the bloodiest, incident in Islamabad’s history as never before such a large number of armed militants had taken on the authorities — and that too in the heart of the capital.

This troubling scenario erupted days after Daniel Markey offered American policy makers advice on Pakistan. His Foreign Affairs embraces an anti-transformational view of Pakistan (i.e. hardheaded realism). He urges small steps to further security and eventual democratization. Markey’s chief concern: combating Pakistani terrorism. Markey brushes aside any flirtation with the quick return of a democratic Pakistan, he urges a tougher small-scale diplomatic approach: build connections with the Pakistani military, solidify the US-Pakistani relationship, and invest more in the current regime to foster security and creeping transparency.

A selection from Markey’s A False Choice in Pakistan:

Still, success in Pakistan’s long-term struggle against extremism will eventually demand a thoroughgoing democratic transition in Islamabad, even if that transition is not realistic at the moment. The Bush administration has failed to broaden its partnership with Pakistan much beyond army headquarters; it views the civilian dimension of Pakistani politics as a distraction rather than an integral part of the counterterrorism effort. Most Pakistanis believe that Washington is all too happy to work with a pliant army puppet.

Islamabad needs greater popular legitimacy in order to muster grass-roots support for the counterterrorism agenda. The United States should work to empower Pakistan’s moderate civilians even as it builds trust with Pakistan’s security forces. These goals are not contradictory: Washington can win the confidence of Pakistan’s military establishment without accepting its exclusive political authority, and it can help empower civilian leadership without jeopardizing the army’s core interests.

Markey sees a growing divide between militants the Pakistani military, but notes the lingering Pakistani fear of evaporating U.S. support after Afghanistan is secure. He urges U.S. policy makers to 1) refrain from counterproductive public criticisms and 2) establish a long-term commitment in Afghanistan. Finally, Markey insists the US flip its response to diplomatic flare-ups with Pakistan. Instead of cutting off aid and contact, he insists America use these crisis-points to further contact the Pakistani security apparatus.

Perhaps Markey’s pointers are proving useful to the Congressional delegation currently in Pakistan. Representatives Susan Davis (D-CA), Bill Shuster (R-PA), Geoff Davis (R-KY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) make up the bipartisan delegation.

The delegation, headed by Rep. Davis, just wrapped up a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The Associated Press of Pakistan covered the meeting, giving little attention to the delegation:

Ms. Susan A. Davis and other delegation members said Pakistan is a vital ally for US and they are keen to further strengthen this relationship.

Ms. Davis and her colleagues assured the Prime Minister of continued US assistance and support to Pakistan in all fields.

Appreciating the government’s reform policies, the delegation members praised the achievements of sustained high growth rate and development in Pakistan which brought about a qualitative change in the country.

The meeting was attended among others by State Minister for Foreign Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar and senior officials.

Posted in Congress, Daniel Markey, Delegation to Pakistan, Foreign Affairs Magazine, Lal Masjid, Musharraf, Pakistan, Susan Davis | 1 Comment »

Proliferation Press: New Republic Gives Notes on Being a Successful Opposition Party

Posted by K.E. White on June 20, 2007

President Bush’s approval ratings have hit the high twenties. Fortunately his Democratic opponents aren’t fairer any better. Are Senate leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi to blame?

While Bush is on the defensive after vetoing a bill allowing increased stem cell research, John B. Judis offers some thoughtful advice to Democratic leaders in Congress:

(full text can be accessed by registering free at the New Republic)

Congress’s approval rating is even lower than President Bush’s–it’s at 23 percent according to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. And, in another poll, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s favorability rating is down there with Scooter Libby–at 19 percent. Some Democrats blame their low standing with the public on the difficulties inherent in controlling Congress when the opposition party controls the White House. The fact is that the Democrats, with only a 50-49 majority, do not have enough votes to override White House vetoes or even to stop a Republican filibuster. But Democrats have been in this situation before, and, while they were unable to get their bills signed, they were able to place the onus of failure on the White House and on the Republicans.

If Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi want guidance, they should look back at what the Democrats did during the presidential term of George H.W. Bush. The Democrats had a brilliant Senate majority leader, George Mitchell, and a competent House speaker, Tom Foley, who generally deferred to Mitchell. Mitchell and Foley forced Bush to veto popular bills that also enjoyed some Republican support in Congress. They showed up Bush as a heartless extremist and split his own party. And they handed Democrat Bill Clinton a platform on which to run in the fall of 1992.

Pelosi has fared somewhat better than Reid, but that is probably because she has managed so far to avoid the spotlight on Iraq and immigration. But neither Reid nor Pelosi have yet devised the kind of measures that Mitchell and Foley used in 1991 and 1992 to win public support for the Democrats and to split the Republicans. Most of what they have passed from their election agenda–including minimum wage and a watered-down lobbying-reform bill–will quietly be enacted into law. Except for a measure funding stem-cell research, they haven’t come up with anything comparable to Family and Medical Leave. If they want to put the Democrats in a good position to retain Congress and win the White House, they had better start thinking. And they had better avoid initiatives that divide their own party and unite the opposition.

But his advice highlights an acute Congressional deficit: action on foreign policy. While Judis’s advice may be right (Congress should never flirt with cutting war funding while troops are deployed), where does this leave America’s federal system of checks and balances?

Proliferation Press tackled Congress’s wartime roll in this earlier article.

The apparent conclusion from merging this article with Judis’s advice: Congressional influence is greatest before the deployment of troops.

Posted in Congress, Iraq, Pelosi, Reid, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

Nuclear Blow-Back on Bush Administration’s New Generation Weapons Plan

Posted by K.E. White on April 24, 2007

Concerns are mounting on the Bush administration’s proposal a funding a new nuclear warhead design. The debate pits arms control advocates against a Bush White House that has shown an appetite to revise arms control policies—leaving the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and signaling support for nuclear ‘bunker buster’ weapons.

U.S. nuclear weapons currently carry W76 warheads, which after two decades need eventual replacement. But replacement plans—referred to as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)—may also bring new nuclear offensive capabilities, bringing worries of a great WMD proliferation, and a new arms race among nuclear weapons states.

The American Association for the Advancement in Science recently aired these concerns by bringing together nuclear weapons experts today. The Associated Press reports:

The Bush administration has yet to make the case for building a new generation of replacement warheads and “the role of nuclear weapons” in a post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, a panel of nuclear weapons experts said Tuesday.

Development of the new warhead, the first in two decades, could have “international impacts” if critics view it as a new weapon rather than a replacement for the current aging stockpile, said the scientists, including three former directors of the government’s nuclear weapons research laboratories.

Some countries could see the warhead “as contrary to both the spirit and letter” of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty “unless explicit and credible efforts to counter such assertions are made,” said the panel, which was convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to study the warhead plan.

Today’s International Herald Tribune reports on the event also:

Development of the new warhead, the first in two decades, could have “international impacts” if critics view it as a new weapon rather than a replacement for the current aging stockpile, said the scientists, including three former directors of the government’s nuclear weapons research laboratories.


The scientists also said in a report that it is impossible to estimate the cost of warhead modernization plan, or assure that Energy Department claims of cost savings will ever be achieved. Proponents of the program may be “overselling” the eventual benefits, the report said


Sunday’s Washington Post reported on Congressional opposition to the RRW plan. The report reveals two interesting aspects of this nuclear debate: 1) the warheads are not needed for at least 50 years and 2) the administration opaqueness when it comes to detailing the plan and justifying it.

Yet even with these worrisome aspects, it seems there is a potential deal in the works: link RRW approval to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

WaPo’s report:

Experts inside and outside the government questioned moving forward with a new warhead as old ones are being refurbished and before developing bipartisan agreement on how many warheads would be needed at the end of what could be a 30-year process. Several, including former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), suggested linking production of a new warhead with U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a move the Bush administration has opposed.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the nuclear weapons complex, said at a hearing Wednesday on the RRW program that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have “not been forthcoming” about their views on the issue.

Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the nuclear complex, said at a hearing late last month that the program is proceeding “although the administration has not announced any effort to begin a policy process to reassess our nuclear weapons policy and the future nuclear stockpile required to support that policy.” He also noted that the Pentagon‘s Defense Science Board reported last year that there has been virtually no high-level, long-term articulation of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

Former defense secretary William J. Perry, also appearing at the hearing, said current nuclear policies were developed for the Cold War and are “really not appropriate to the world we live in today.” A new nuclear plan is “long overdue” and should be shared with the appropriate congressional committees, he said. It should include “not only issues about what numbers we need,” Perry said, “but on what a future trajectory of those numbers in our forces should be and what kind of R&D is needed to support it.”

Perry said there are two “valid” arguments being made in support of the RRW program — that it would maintain the capabilities of U.S. weapons designers and provide a new warhead that “cannot be detonated by a terror group, even if they were able to get their hands on it.”

However, he said, development of the RRW program “will substantially undermine our ability to lead the international community in the fight against proliferation, which we are already in danger of losing.” Noting that present U.S. nuclear weapons will retain their capabilities for 50 to 100 years, he said the program could be deferred “for many years.”

Posted in American Association for the Advancement for Science, Bush administration, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Congress, Pete Domenici, Peter Visclosky, Reliable Replacement Warhead, RRW, W76, William Perry | 1 Comment »

Hamilton and Lee Back to the Rescue Again? UVa Launches the National War Powers Commission

Posted by K.E. White on March 1, 2007

I guess trying to save Iraq wasn’t enough for Hamilton and Lee. Now there trying to resuscitate our nation’s Constitution.

Say what?

Proliferation Press has chatted on the constitutional construction of our nation’s war powers, and today notes the University of Virginia has launched a commission to investigate that very question.

While it might seem academic, it’s exactly quite vital. Why did Congress not play a more forceful role in interrogating the Bush administration’s plans for war? Why does the Congress no longer “declare war” but merely “authorize” the President to exercise war powers.

In a Republic should not there be serious deliberations before war—with a state or non-state entity?

Warren Christopher and James Baker III are examining just that, or—as the Miller Center puts it—they hope to “examine how the Constitution allocates the powers of beginning, conducting, and ending war.”

And of course who’s coming along for the ride but Lee Hamilton.

More from the Miller Center:

When armed conflict is looming, debates about separation of powers and the uncertainty they often generate can impair relations among the branches of government, cast doubt on the legitimacy of government action, and prevent focused attention on policy. Armed conflicts with non-state actors and other non-traditional “wars,” as well as the courts’ involvement in war powers questions, make the Commission’s work relevant.

The Commission intends to produce a report making recommendations to assist Presidents, Congresses, Courts, and other policymakers in addressing war powers issues. When they are issued, the Commission’s recommendations will be entirely prospective in nature and not applicable to the present presidential Administration or present Congress.

But how significant is this fourteen member Commission?

The topic is not new: scholars have often tackled the subject of the growing dominance of the executive in matters of war. It seems three factors have led to this condition: 1) the expansion of America’s military since WWII and the greater burden placed on the executive to command it, 2) the lack of nation-state threats, but proliferation of non-state threats to American interests and 3) a media-sensitive Congress, unable to match the volume of the President’s bully pulpit.

But it is clear that there must be some re-thinking of the Constitutional responsibilities for war in this age of terrorism. It is imperative that Congress play an active and responsible role in determining America’s national security policy: lest the nation wishes to risk more strategic blunders.

Hopefully this Commission is provide the academic backdrop necessary for politicians and the public to demand a more deliberative process before our nation’s plunges into war.

Faith in our nation’s military operations cannot solely rest with faith in our President. The nation and, particularly, its political representatives have a responsibility to take responsibility for America’s military strategy.

This is a Commission to watch. While it will probably not rival the celebrity status of the Iraq Study Group, it may prove of far more consequence than its well-known counterpart.


This blog also appears on Campus Progress.

Posted in Congress, James Baker, Miller Center, University of Virginia, Warren Christopher, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

Pelosi Slips on PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer

Posted by K.E. White on February 15, 2007

Speaker Pelosi

You can listen to the interview here and read the transcript here.

Notice Nancy Pelosi’s long-winded response to Lehrer’s question of gauging the impact of a Congressional resolution critical of the Bush’s administration Iraq policy:

REP. NANCY PELOSI: This nonbinding — the motion of disapproval of the president’s escalation of the war in Iraq is going to set the stage for a whole new debate on Iraq. We’ll take care of this, this week…

JIM LEHRER: A debate among whom?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: In the Congress of the United States, and hopefully the president of the United States will hear what the American people said. They have lost faith in the president in his course of action in Iraq. In the election, they called for a new direction in Iraq.

Democrats are saying to the president: This is not the way to go. It has failed over, and over, and over, and over again. Now, let us make this statement, which is very powerful, which is very powerful, and set the stage for how we take up legislation, whether it’s the funding or the policy legislation that relates to Iraq.

Pelosi failed to succinctly address what this resolution does: Express the frustration the American public feels towards Bush’s Iraq policy.

No where did she quote the percentage of the public against the surge, nor does she explain the immense importance this resolution may have in the future.

It gives Americans accountability, a critical feature of good goverance that has been missing in the Bush administration since the beginning of the Iraq debacle.

And when asked what impact this resolution will have, Pelosi failed to focus on the difference between the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

Had she just talked about the other fronts on the war on terror (homeland security, the fear of Middle Eastern proliferation, and buoying allies like Pakistan), it would have extinguished the perception that Democrats have no plans on Iraq and are unconstructively criticizing the President.

Pelosi missed an opprotunity to show a broad Democratic view on foreign policy, with the primary focus on countering the threat of terrorism.

Instead she babbled and mixed talking points, and then focused on domestic reforms the Congress has passed.

Thus this over 10-minute interview with the face of Democrats in the House must be considered a “C” at best.

While her hands were tied on Iraq–she could not afford to lose support for the Friday vote on the Congress’s Iraq resolution–she missed a great opportunity to show Americans what Democrats stand for (as opposed to against) in foreign policy.

Sen. Jim Webb did a far better job (granted it was well-scripted and rehearsed) in his State of the Union response last month.

Pelosi will no doubt improve and everyone has an off day (she did just shepherd an impressive 100-hours agenda and an Iraq War resolution through the House), but her expansive answers will have to be refined if she hopes to prove to the American public Democrats are the superior party in times of war.

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Iraq, Pelosi, Webb | Leave a Comment »

Profound Failure: Congressional Inability to Debate the Iraq Escalation

Posted by K.E. White on February 6, 2007


U.S. Congress

Today a non-binding resolution critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq escalation died in the United States Senate.

Even the support of Sen. John Warner (R-VA) could not propel the bill to the needed sixty votes.

And, therefore, the opportunity for senators to pass symbolic judgment on President Bush’s Iraq policy has vanished.

Many anti-war voices may have used the immortal words of Peggy Lee to describe this weak, non-binding resolution, ‘Is that all there is?’

But they are wrong; and the American republic, based on co-equal branches of federal government, is today weaker.

Indeed, these voices are not without support. The resolution neither pulled the American plug out of Iraq, nor promised to rein in one of the most inept administrations witnessed in American history.

But any progressive that cheers or quick adjustments to this bill’s defeat should know this vote represents a profound political failure. Not only does it represent a still fledging and inept wartime Congress, one that will haunt Americans for years to come, we have anti-war Democrats to thank for this continuing crippling condition.

I’ll start with the latter half of this perhaps controversial claim.

While the media’s first read of this story highlights unified Republican opposition, the unraveling of support may have more to do with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Last Wednesday Sen. Feingold introduced his Iraq Deployment Act of 2007 that called for cutting Iraq funds within six months of its passage.

Feingold’s favored this approach since it 1) would end war quickly and 2) would exercise the constitutional war powers Congress explicitly holds—slamming the national purse shut.

But after decades of erosion to Congress’s wartime role, this approach was little more than anti-war posturing: Geared more for the 2008 primaries than the sentiment of today’s American public.

While some may agree with Feingold’s position, it 1) opened the door for Republican opposition around the banner of supporting troops already deployed and 2) did not represent a useful tool for Congress to reassert itself in wartime oversight.

Imagining how the American people will react to Congress failing to even hold a debate about the Iraq escalation.

Here’s my guess: ‘Is that all there is?’

And opponents of the administration will again be seen as members of a party without a plan.

The Bush administration could not have asked for a better rhetorical launching point for their failing plan.

But had the newly elected majority pulled off the sixty vote tally tonight for Sen. Warner’s compromise position, it would have represented a historic development in congressional-executive relation.

It would show, at a critical moment in American history, the Congress offering a strategic counter-weight to the President.

Could this momentum lead to the guarantee of active debate over half-baked national security strategies (read: the Iraq “debate” of 2003), regardless of a president’s momentarily popularity?

That is now a question relegated to history books.

But, for a few, concerns over who would be President in 2008 trumped both the matter at hand and the long-term health of our republic.

Am I holding one party to a higher standard than the other?


The nation has gone through too long a period in the wilderness, and hungers progress too much to have excuses wipe legislators’ hands clean.

That is unless, following the words of Miss Lee, we should tolerate a nation that sacrifices even more to the marvelously tragic spectacle that Iraq now represents:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus. The greatest show on earth.
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to a circus?’


This post also appears on Campus Progress.

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