Thursday, January 25, 2007




From the Sydney Morning Herald :

For a president with the third-lowest approval rating on the eve of a State of the Union address (only Harry Truman and Richard Nixon had worse), it must be said George Bush did his best on Tuesday night in Washington as he faced a Congress heavy with Democrats and at least 10 presidential hopefuls. Indeed, applying his best gravitas and Churchillian rhetoric, he had this to say about Iraq: "On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory." Such confidence might have stirred conscience and patriotism at the height of World War II, but on a cold January night it rang hollow within the walls of the congressional chamber, sending gloomy echoes across a country and out over a world largely opposed to American involvement in Iraq and increasingly disapproving of the Bush Administration's role in it.

This was not the President's finest hour. Rather, it was a fumbled 60 minutes, used by Mr Bush to convince his people and their representatives that he is doing the right thing in Iraq even when many think he is wrong. It is unlikely this will make any significant difference to the opinion polls that show a deep national pessimism, with almost three-quarters of Americans disapproving of their leader's handling of Iraq, and almost half believing Iraq to be the most important issue to be dealt with by the President and Congress — well ahead of any other issue. Internationally, it is not much better. A poll of 25 countries, commissioned by the BBC and The Age, has showed a growing hostility to the US's role in world affairs. Three-quarters of the 26,000 surveyed oppose America's handling of Iraq, and two-thirds believe the US military presence in the Middle East provokes more conflict than it prevents. At the same time, Gordon Brown (the likely successor to Tony Blair) has indicated a harder line on Britain's Iraq involvement, leaving just Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, as a staunch supporter of the President's policy.

The main feature — almost half — of President Bush's address was devoted to the war on terrorism. First, though, he dealt with domestic issues: eliminating the federal deficit within five years; reforming of budget and public health systems; increases in education funding increases; controlling of immigration; and "the serious challenge of global climate change". The President's new-found green heart is at least an indication of his recognition of the seriousness of the international energy crisis — even if his intentions to reduce petrol usage in the US by 20 per cent over the next 10 years and to increase environmentally friendly domestic oil production seem predicated more on reducing America's dependence on foreign oil, which, Mr Bush said, "… leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists".

This gave the President the reason to segue into his familiar refrain with the usual lyrics ("protect", "freedom", "danger", "security"), along with the plea, "… whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq — and I ask you to give it a chance to work". Since he provided no new reasons to strengthen his argument in favour of a strategy he admits is based on failure previously to stabilise Iraq, the President's chances are slim. Democratic senator Jim Webb responded to the address in condemnatory terms: "The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chiefs of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command … and many, many others. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable and predicted disarray that has followed."

George Bush is caught between the impossibility of his beliefs and the harsh realities of the political and public opinion he continues seriously to misjudge. To him, Iraq is a war in which America can be victorious; to much of the wider world, it is a diabolical mess largely of America's making that has to be cleaned up, not won. The President is marooned; America is isolated.

From The Australian :
Hours after pleading with the American people to give his new war strategy a chance, President Bush faced a growing Republican revolt on Capitol Hill yesterday and intense public hostility to his Iraq troop ¿surge¿.

After a State of the Union address in which Mr Bush cut a drastically diminished figure, Republicans and Democrats rejected his call for steadfastness and pressed ahead with resolutions opposing his plan to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq.

In the Senate, a growing number of Republicans broke ranks to oppose the plan as the chamber debated two resolutions repudiating the troop increase.

The rebuffs came after Tuesday’s speech in which Mr Bush’s efforts for consensus on domestic issues were subsumed by the dominant and destructive issue of Iraq.

One by one, senior Republican senators voiced their opposition to sending more troops. Richard Lugar, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a respected elder statesman, broke his silence to declare: “I am not confident the President’s plan will succeed.”

Mr Bush had already suffered a devastating blow on Monday when John Warner, the former Republican Armed Services Committee chairman and Navy Secretary, said that he could not support the plan. With polls showing that the President had already decisively lost public support for his war strategy, it was clear last night that he was perilously close to losing his own party.

At least eight other Senate Republicans were on record opposing the plan yesterday, including Norm Coleman — hitherto a Bush loyalist — and Sam Brownback, a conservative and 2008 presidential hopeful.

In the House of Representatives, John Boehner, the Republican leader, said he wanted to see positive results from the surge within 60 to 90 days — even though the last of the extra troops are not due in Baghdad until May.

With the White House and congressional elections looming next year, the deadline was a clear sign of how little time even loyal Republicans will give the Iraq mission before they abandon it and their President. Republicans will defend 21 Senate seats next year, compared with only 12 for the Democrats. For vulnerable incumbents like Mr Coleman, backing a deeply unpopular war has become untenable.

In previous State of the Union addresses Mr Bush had insisted that progress was being made in Iraq, but on Tuesday he conceded that the US was bogged down amid a bloody sectarian conflict.

He focused on the “nightmare scenario” should Iraq slide into chaos, and then implored the assembled Congress: “Whatever you voted for (on the war), you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work.”

But within hours two bipartisan resolutions were taken up in the Senate, one sponsored by Mr Warner, the other by a Republican colleague, Chuck Hagel. Although competing — Mr Warner’s is less strident — they agree on one fundamental: Mr Bush’s war plan is unacceptable. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Mr Hagel’s resolution yesterday but there were negotiations later to merge the two proposals, for a full Senate vote next week. If passed, the resolution would be non-binding on Mr Bush, but it would represent a cross-party vote of no confidence in the Iraq war and could lay the ground for Democrat-inspired moves to frustrate the mission.

Although Democrats are wary of cutting off funding for the war, they could introduce other obstacles, such as limiting troop deployments to one year, which would greatly complicate a sustained military commitment in Baghdad.

Mr Bush’s address came at the nadir of his presidency, facing a Democrat-controlled Congress for the first time and with Nixonian approval ratings. But he issued a stark warning with profound ramifications for the ten White House hopefuls in the audience: Iraq will be a problem long after he has left office, so it is their problem too. “The War on Terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others,” he declared.

For the 2008 presidential contenders, Iraq represents the most toxic political issue since Vietnam, one that poses problems for all of them.

After Mr Bush’s speech, the three Republican frontrunners — John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney — all backed the surge strategy. They now find themselves hostage to a war plan that even General David Petraeus, the new ground commander in Iraq, said on Tuesday has no guarantee of success.

Democrat presidential hopefuls, meanwhile, fear being on the wrong side of the war policy, should it succeed. They are thus happy to criticise it without taking concrete steps to end the war.

Hillary Clinton called Mr Bush’s speech “more of the same”. Barack Obama, her main rival, called for a “phased redeployment”. He said: “Most American believe that escalation will not bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.”

John Kerry, Mr Bush’s 2004 challenger, who announced yesterday that he would not be running next year, called for a withdrawal date to be set.


“We’ve had four other surges since we first went into Iraq. None of them produced a long-lasting change in the situation”

Senator Susan Collins

“The American GI was not trained, not sent over there — certainly not by resolution of this institution — to be placed in the middle of a fight between the Sunni and the Shia”

Senator John Warner

“We better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder”

Senator Chuck Hagel

“The premise that clearing and holding high-risk areas of Baghdad will create enough space for an effective political reconciliation is dubious”

Senator Richard Lugar

“I think we have to have a bipartisan buy-in on the war in Iraq. The key is for the President to reach out to the Democrats to ask what they will support”

From the UK Guardian :

Democrats and Republican senators yesterday rebuffed George Bush's state of the union appeal to be given more time on Iraq, and pressed ahead with a resolution condemning his proposed 21,500 US troop increase.

After a debate, the Senate foreign affairs committee gave the go-ahead to the resolution, saying the increase was "not in the national interest", a rare repudiation of a president in wartime. The rejection mirrored widespread indifference in the US and beyond towards the speech, which was delivered less than 24 hours earlier.

Mr Bush devoted most of his address on Tuesday night to defending his stance on Iraq and setting out new energy and health policies. Wounded by recent events, he was less bullish than previous years and urged the Democratic-led Congress to cooperate in his final two years in office.

Senior Democrats hinted yesterday that while they welcomed Mr Bush's broad interest in climate change, health and immigration, they were uneasy with the specific proposals and were unlikely to cooperate.

The most charged part of his speech on Capitol Hill was when he defended his new Iraq strategy. "Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq - and I ask you to give it a chance to work," he said.

The response of Democrats and Republicans in the audience illustrated the extent to which the war has divided America. The Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, sitting behind him, refused to applaud all but the last of his comments on Iraq, and other Democrats took their cue from her, while Republicans stood to applaud, albeit sometimes reluctantly.

The Senate foreign relations committee voted 12 to 9 in favour of adopting the anti-war resolution, which is scheduled to go before the whole Senate next week. At that time, at least nine Republican senators intend to back the resolution, though they will negotiate with Democrats over the next few days to change the language. The Democrats are likely to agree in an effort to win as many votes as possible.

Chuck Hagel, the only Republican to vote with the Democrats on the committee yesterday, said: "We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."

The Democratic committee chairman, Joe Biden, said the resolution was designed "to save the president from making a significant mistake".

Mr Bush still enjoys the support of two leading candidates for the Republican nomination, Senator John McCain and the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Senator Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the foreign affairs committee, opposed the resolution. "This vote will force nothing on the president, but it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray," he said. But he added: "I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed."

Mr Bush flew yesterday to the science company DuPont's research base in Wilmington, Delaware, to promote his plan to cut US petrol consumption by 20% over the next 10 years. Business leaders meeting in Davos welcomed his acknowledgment of climate change as "a serious challenge", but called for long-term standards on cutting carbon emissions.

Critics said Mr Bush's proposal to offer tax incentives to encourage millions to take out health insurance risked encouraging people to drop out of company scheme