Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The State of the Union

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I'm just getting to last night's SOTU .... Here is some bloggy and MSM response that I found particularly interesting, well-written, or hard-hitting.

First off, here is the speech.

Glen Kessler calls Pres. Bush's "portrayal of 'the enemy' often flawed":

In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush presented an arguably misleading and often flawed description of "the enemy" that the United States faces overseas, lumping together disparate groups with opposing ideologies to suggest that they have a single-minded focus in attacking the United States.

Under Bush's rubric, a country such as Iran -- which enjoys diplomatic representation and billions of dollars in trade with major European countries -- is lumped together with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," Bush said, referring to the different branches of the Muslim religion.

Similarly, Bush asserted that Shia Hezbollah, which has won seats in the Lebanese government, is a terrorist group "second only to al-Qaeda in the American lives it has taken." Bush is referring to attacks nearly a quarter-century ago on a U.S. embassy and a Marine barracks when the United States intervened in Lebanon's civil war by shelling Hezbollah strongholds. Hezbollah has evolved into primarily an anti-Israeli militant organization -- it fought a war with Israel last summer -- but the European Union does not list it as a terrorist organization.

At one point, Bush catalogued what he described as advances in the quest for freedom in the Middle East during 2005 -- such as the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon and elections in Iraq. Then, Bush asserted, "a thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics and in 2006 they struck back." But his description of the actions of "the enemy" tried to tie together a series of diplomatic and military setbacks that had virtually no connection to one another, from an attack on a Sunni mosque in Iraq to the assassination of Maronite Lebanese political figure.

It's refreshing to find a piece this critical of Bush's logic in the WaPo.

Jim Webb gave a no-punches-pulled post-speech response for his party. He warned about the dangers of growing income inequality in the United States:

When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.
In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy [--] that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

On the Iraq war, Sen. Webb took back ownership of the World War II comparisons:

I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, when he was a young Air Force captain, flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. He sent us the picture from Germany, as we waited for him, back here at home. When I was a small boy, I used to take the picture to bed with me every night, because for more than three years my father was deployed, unable to live with us full-time, serving overseas or in bases where there was no family housing. I still keep it, to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues ­ those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death ­ we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us ­ sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable ­ and predicted ­ disarray that has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

Was this an intentional response to the constant analogies drawn by war supporters between Iraq and World War II? I don't know. But it certainly was very apt.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter was bowled over by Webb:

Something unprecedented happened tonight, beyond the doorkeeper announcing, "Madame Speaker." For the first time ever, the response to the State of the Union Message overshadowed the president's big speech. Virginia Sen. James Webb, in office only three weeks, managed to convey a muscular liberalism—with personal touches—that left President Bush's ordinary address in the dust. In the past, the Democratic response has been anemic—remember Washington Gov. Gary Locke? This time it pointed the way to a revival for national Democrats.

Webb is seen as a moderate or even conservative Democrat, but this was a populist speech that quoted Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party and champion of the common man. The speech represented a return to the tough-minded liberalism of Scoop Jackson and Hubert Humphrey, but by quoting Republicans Teddy Roosevelt (on "improper corporate influence") and Dwight D. Eisenhower (on ending the Korean War), he reinforced the argument that President Bush had taken the GOP away from its roots.

The video of Webb's speech is at Crooks & Liars.

The New York Times points out that Bush cannot "revive" a bipartisan domestic agenda when for the last six years he has been pushing a unilateral agenda in support of only one small segment of society:

The White House spin ahead of George W. Bush’s seventh State of the Union address was that the president would make a bipartisan call to revive his domestic agenda with “bold and innovative concepts.” The problem with that was obvious last night — in six years, Mr. Bush has shown no interest in bipartisanship, and his domestic agenda was set years ago, with huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans and crippling debt for the country.

Combined with the mounting cost of the war in Iraq, that makes boldness and innovation impossible unless Mr. Bush truly changes course. And he gave no hint of that last night. Instead, he offered up a tepid menu of ideas that would change little: a health insurance notion that would make only a tiny dent in a huge problem. More promises about cutting oil consumption with barely a word about global warming. And the same lip service about immigration reform on which he has failed to deliver.

Two words that did not cross Pres. Bush's lips even once last night: Hurricane Katrina. Sue Sturgis at Facing South noticed. Other words, however, fairly spilled off the presidential tongue.

Harold Meyerson says that Bush is a "delusional hedgehog":

The decline in Bush's support to Watergate-era Nixonian depths since he announced that his new Iraq policy was his old Iraq policy, only more so, stems, I suspect, from three conclusions that the public has reached about the president and his war. The first, simply, is that the war is no longer winnable and, worse, barely comprehensible since it has evolved into a Sunni-Shiite conflict. The second is that Bush, in all matters pertaining to his war, is a one-trick president who keeps doing the same thing over and over, never mind that it hasn't worked. In Isaiah Berlin's typology of leaders, Bush isn't merely a hedgehog who knows one thing rather than many things. He's a delusional hedgehog who knows one thing that isn't so.

The third, and politically most dangerous, conclusion is that Bush appears genuinely indifferent to the electoral judgment of the American people, who seem to believe that they are, in some vague sense, sovereign, at least on Election Day. The Post-ABC News poll released Monday, in which Bush's approval rating had sunk to a record-low 33 percent, also showed a corollary decline in the public's assessment of Bush's personal attributes. The two questions about Bush's personal qualities on which he polled the lowest, and that most closely mirrored his overall approval rating, concerned his willingness "to listen to different points of view" (36 percent) and his understanding of "the problems of people like you" (32 percent). Turns out that if you blow off the clear mandate of a national election, people actually notice.

In Iraq, Bush's speech, for the few who saw it (it was before daybreak there when the speech was given) was mostly a big yawn:

Iraqi politicians on both side of the sectarian divide saw little new in President Bush's State of the Union address in which he urged critics to give his plan to increase American troops in Iraq a chance. But while some questioned whether it would make a difference, others welcomed the president's commitment.

It gives no real hope for ordinary Iraqis," Sunni lawmaker Hussein al-Falluji said Wednesday. "Bush said that sending more troops might solve the security problem, but I think it will not curb the violence for a long time because the problem is not only military, it is more political and about foreign interference."

Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, welcomed the speech.

"His goal to bring democracy to Iraq is identical to the will of the Iraqi people and government," al-Rikabi said.

Relatively few of the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq had a chance to watch the speech on television since it was broadcast here before dawn. A few who did see it, however, said Bush's remarks contained no surprises and was unlikely would make a difference in their mission here.

"What I get from him is that we aren't going to lose the war on his watch," Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Taylor, 35, of Waterville, Maine, said. "The State of The Union wasn't a bomb-dropper."

Capt. Kenneth Rockwell, 29, of San Antonio, commander for the 510th Engineer Company, agreed.

"It's not going to affect that I'm here for a year," he said as he ate breakfast at Camp Liberty on the western outskirts of Baghdad. "I'm here for a year to do what my superiors say, but my opinions are irrelevant."
A lawmaker with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc also urged a political solution.

"Bush's speech still contained the logic of force and destruction instead of the logic of dialogue and political solutions," Sadrist lawmaker Falah Hassan said. "I believe that the U.S. administration should adopt the speech of peace instead of the speech of soldiers."

Oh. And for all of you out there who are asking yourselves, "What is this war all about?" here's the answer [bolds mine]:

In the course of defending his decision to send more troops to Iraq, President Bush made it known that he has been losing patience with Mr Maliki’s slow pace of reform. He also criticized the Maliki government for ‘fumbling’ the execution of Saddam Hussein, which alienated Iraq’s minority Sunni community. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also publicly rebuked Mr Maliki by warning that he and his government were ‘on borrowed time’.

Confronted with the perception that he was being publicly ‘whipped’ by his US ‘masters’, Mr Maliki hit back that Mr Bush had "given in to domestic pressure" and that “Secretary Rice is expressing her own point of view if she thinks that the government is on borrowed time.”

Mr Maliki must walk a fine diplomatic line with the US because, while he needs to demonstrate that he is no puppet of the Bush administration, he also cannot afford to alienate the US at such a critical time for his government.

Over the next few weeks, the issue of oil revenues will come to a head and test Mr Maliki’s ability to reconcile conflicting agendas of the Bush administration and the best interests of Iraq.

To date, the forthcoming hydrocarbon legislation has mainly been discussed in terms of introducing an equitable distribution of revenues throughout Iraq’s regions. Certainly, this would go a long way to easing the anxieties of Sunni provinces who fear being starved of funds. Meanwhile, the Maliki government will need to come to an agreement with the Kurds, who ultimately want regional autonomy, and will be fighting to keep any oil revenues generated in their northern provinces.

However, there are indications that a much greater conflict is looming with the Bush administration. It was reported earlier this month in The Independent that the Bush administration has been pressuring Mr Maliki to use the same legislation to privatize the Iraqi oil industry and hand over the lion’s share of profits – up to 75% – to oil companies based in the US and the UK for the next 30 years.

This would be an almost impossible ‘sell’ to the people of war-ravaged Iraq, and would stoke long-standing suspicions that Iraq was invaded so foreign occupiers could assume control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Legislating such unfavorable terms for his own people would also reignite criticisms that the Maliki government has been little more than a puppet regime of the US.

Such unfavorable production-sharing agreements with foreign oil companies are unprecedented in the Middle East. Indeed, such arrangements would almost certainly ensure that Iraq will be heavily dependent on foreign aid for its reconstruction.

With the stakes high and the implications clear, Mr Maliki would do well to stand up to the powerful foreign interests circling Iraq’s oil fields and do what is right for his country’s future. It seems fair to say that the ownership and the profits of the country’s oil wealth will make or break the future of Iraq.

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