# Afghanistan

On double standards and State of the Union addresses

Political reactions to a president’s State of the Union address are as ritualized as the speech itself. Elected officials typically have nothing but praise when the president belongs to their own party, while finding much to criticize about a leader from the other party.

If President Joe Biden’s remarks to this year’s joint session of Congress are remembered for anything, it will probably be the segment where he turned Republican heckling to his advantage, promising to defend Medicare and Social Security from cuts.

In their public statements about the speech, Iowa’s all-Republican delegation criticized what Biden didn’t say about some of their priorities. It’s clear those standards apply only to Democratic presidents.

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The lie wasn't the worst thing Ernst said about Biden, Afghanistan

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became fodder for fact-checkers last week when she wrongly said of President Joe Biden, “Not once has he expressed empathy and gratitude to the men and women who have put the uniform on and have fought so bravely overseas the last 20 years to keep our homeland safe. And I feel that by not acknowledging his gratitude for them, he’s diminishing their service.”

Before demolishing Ernst’s claim as “plain false,” CNN’s Daniel Dale pointed out that Ernst had pushed the same talking point on Fox News in August, “saying Biden has ‘yet to fully, fully thank the men and women that have served in the global war on terrorism” and declaring that ‘Joe Biden is a disgrace not to thank these men and women that have protected us.’” Dale found six examples of Biden publicly expressing his gratitude to military service members just in the past five months.

As shameful as it is for Iowa’s junior senator to lie repeatedly about the president, another part of Ernst’s short September 1 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper was arguably more dangerous.

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Quick hits on issues of the day

Herb Strentz on Afghanistan, what it means to be free, and a counter-intuitive place to look for hope and optimism.

One way to cope with overwhelming issues and events of the day is to hide someplace, until the storms blow over.

But of course, they won’t blow over. And even if we think they will, it’s better to try to understand what is happening and what we might do about it.

To that end, here is some brief food for thought on issues of the day.

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Republicans send Trump's Afghanistan policy down memory hole

As the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan in recent days, every Iowa Republican in Congress condemned President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out the last remaining U.S. military personnel.

None acknowledged that former President Donald Trump committed to a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops when his administration signed a deal with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban, in February 2020. In fact, Baradar–the next leader of Afghanistan–was released from a jail in Pakistan in 2018 “at the request of the Trump administration as part of their ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar, on the understanding that he could help broker peace.”

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Photojournalist: U.S. errors long preceded Afghanistan withdrawal

Fabrice Moussus covered warfare and unrest in the Middle East for decades, working as the go-to videographer for ABC-TV and other news networks.

I went to Afghanistan in 1996, when the Taliban had taken over most of the country for the first time. I went back a few times and again in 2002, after the U.S. had taken over and chased out the Taliban.

President George W. Bush overreacted after 2001, in my opinion. He and the U.S. allies never stated what their long term objective was. They thought the military would solve the problem. But as in many of these countries, the problem was multi layered.

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Ernst, Grassley silent on reported bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan

As Donald Trump’s presidency continues to spawn scandals that would seem farfetched as a movie plot, top Iowa Republicans remain silent whenever possible on news that reflects poorly on their party’s standard-bearer.

The latest shameful example: U.S. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley have said nothing in public about reports indicating a “Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.”

Ernst’s silence is particularly striking, since she built her political brand on (and still frequently invokes) her career of service in the Iowa National Guard.

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What's wrong with us?

Ira Lacher reflects on the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan. -promoted by Laura Belin

It was jarring but not surprising: The Washington Post reported this week that politicians and the military lied to Americans about the prospects of success for the war in Afghanistan and that actually, we had no idea of what we were doing there, militarily or politically.

Sound familiar?

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A reasoned take on the Iran Deal and Senator Ernst's failure to lead

Ben Cobley is a Senior Digital Strategist at GPS Impact in Des Moines. He studied international relations at the University of Iowa and served as part of the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Before I go too far down the rabbit hole that is Middle Eastern foreign policy, let me explain how this post started.

A recent interaction on Twitter reminded me that when it comes to the public’s understanding of foreign policy decisions, simplicity isn’t always best. Such is the case with many of our media’s attempts at discussing the intricacies of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as “The Iran Deal.”

I don’t blame the media for this oversimplification. Their job isn’t to teach – it’s to inform. And while many outlets try to toe that line to give an unbiased report on political findings, they also have to deal with countless variables that push them towards oversimplifying topics to keep a reader engaged.

I don’t have to face quite as many variables, and thus this post will be longer and more detail oriented. I’ll do my best to limit myself when needed.

Still with me? Okay – let’s talk about Iran and President Trump.

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The new Afghanistan strategy sounds a lot like the old Afghanistan strategy

President Donald Trump changed the subject last night. Instead of another day of news on the fallout from his horrific response to a white supremacist rally, the commander in chief announced a new strategy for the U.S. in Afghanistan in a prime-time televised address. It wasn’t a typical Trump speech: he read carefully from a teleprompter.

Foreign policy isn’t my strong suit, so I’ve spent much of today reading analysis by those who have closely followed our military and diplomatic strategy during our country’s longest war. The consensus: Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan is neither new nor likely to produce the victory the president promised.

To my knowledge, the only Iowan in Congress to release a public statement on last night’s speech was Senator Joni Ernst. I enclose her generally favorable comments near the end of this post, along with a critical statement from Thomas Heckroth, one of the Democrats running in Iowa’s first district. James Hohmann compiled some other Congressional reaction for the Washington Post.

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Iraq War 10th anniversary links and discussion thread

Ten years ago, President George W. Bush made the disastrous mistake of taking this country to war against Iraq. I’ve posted some links about the costs and casualties of war after the jump.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread. I appreciate the work and commitment of those who tried to derail the speeding train toward invasion, and of those who protested the war after it began. I did nothing to stop the war in Iraq–just sat in a rocking chair cradling a new baby, feeling horrified while watching the news on television.

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IA-Sen: Labor unions lining up behind Bruce Braley (updated)

Iowa’s largest labor union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, announced its endorsement of Representative Bruce Braley for U.S. Senate yesterday. A press release from the Braley campaign noted that two other labor unions have previously announced their support: Iowa State Council of Machinists and the Great Plains Laborers’ District Council. As a member of Congress, Braley has a strong voting record on labor rights, as does retiring Senator Tom Harkin.

Endorsements this early in the cycle are another sign that Braley will not face real competition for the Democratic nomination next year. During Iowa Democrats’ last hard-fought statewide primary, the larger labor unions endorsed either Mike Blouin or Chet Culver for governor only a few months before the 2006 primary.

UPDATE: The non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group Council for a Livable World endorsed Braley for Senate on March 14. I’ve added their press release and some background after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: Service Employees International Union Iowa – Local 199 endorsed Braley for Senate on March 15. A press release from the campaign comments, “SEIU Local 199 represents over 5,000 nurses, school employees, childcare workers, and county employees across the state of Iowa.”

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State of the Union and Rubio response discussion thread

President Barack Obama delivers another State of the Union address tonight, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is set to give the Republican response. I will miss most of the president’s speech but plan to watch the replay later and will update this post with highlights. Meanwhile, feel free to comment on any topics raised during the speeches in this thread.

UPDATE: Highlights from the speeches and reaction from the Iowans in Congress are after the jump.

I find it depressing that when I came home to catch up on the news, the blogosphere and twitterverse were obsessing over Rubio taking a drink of water during his remarks. So sue him, he’s not the most camera-savvy politician in Washington (yet). Who cares?

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Grassley among senators seeking memos on targeted killings (updated)

A bipartisan group of senators including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley sent President Barack Obama an open letter this week asking for access to “secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations.”

UPDATE: The Obama administration will provide “classified Office of Legal Counsel advice” on this issue to members of Congressional intelligence committees. I agree with Grassley that judiciary committees should be included as well, since they oversee the U.S. Department of Justice.

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How Grassley and Harkin voted on the Defense authorization bill (updated)

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate approved its version of a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2013, outlining $631 billion in spending and setting policy in several other areas. The vote on final passage was unanimous, 98 to 0, but during five days of floor debate the Senate considered many amendments. After the jump I’ve summarized the important provisions of the NDAA and how Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin voted on the most contentious amendments.

A conference committee will work out differences between the Senate’s bill and the defense authorization act the U.S. House approved in May. More details on those differences are below.

UPDATE: Added a statement from Senator Grassley.

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Obama-Romney foreign policy debate discussion thread

In a few minutes President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will debate for the last time. Bob Schieffer of CBS News will moderate the final debate, which will focus on foreign-policy issues. I imagine the ratings will be much lower tonight than for the previous two debates, partly because foreign policy isn’t a priority for most voters, and partly because the debate is up against Monday Night Football and game 7 of the National League Championship Series in baseball.

Any comments about the debate or the presidential race in general are welcome in this thread. I will update later with some thoughts and news clips. Most national tracking polls show Romney and Obama within the margin of error for each other; Gallup continues to show Romney leading and above 50 percent. The candidates haven’t focused on foreign policy in many speeches or commercials, but the latest spot from the president’s re-election campaign highlights the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Added thoughts and links after the jump.  

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IA-01 news roundup: Radio debate and lots of television ads

It’s time to catch up on news from the first Congressional district campaign between three-term Democratic Representative Bruce Braley and his two-time Republican challenger Ben Lange. After the jump I’ve posted my take on yesterday’s debate on Iowa Public Radio, along with videos and transcripts of the latest television commercials by the campaigns and outside groups. (Bleeding Heartland covered earlier tv ads in the IA-01 race here, here, and here.)  

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Obama in Ames as another poll shows tight Iowa race

President Barack Obama held a campaign rally in Ames today, drawing a crowd of approximately 6,000 on the Iowa State University campus. I enclosed the transcript of the president’s remarks at the bottom of this post. As in all his campaign speeches, he framed the election as a “choice” between two paths, rather than as a referendum on his performance. Obama also emphasized his administration’s efforts to make college tuition and student loans more affordable.

The president will need strong turnout in places like Ames this November, because yet another Iowa poll shows the gap between Obama and Romney within the margin of error.

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How the Iowans voted on the Defense Authorization Act

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. House approved the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. Details on how Iowa’s five representatives vote on that bill and on important amendments are after the jump.

I also enclose the statements released by members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation. Not surprisingly, several self-styled deficit hawks bragged about supporting a bill that prohibits various cost-saving measures and mandates spending on some items the military doesn’t even want.

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Obama on ending the war in Afghanistan, with Iowa reaction

President Barack Obama outlined plans to “complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan” in a televised speech last night from Kabul. After signing an agreement with President Hamid Karzai, Obama said 23,000 U.S. troops will come home from the war zone by the end of this summer, and withdrawal will be complete by the end of 2014. Beyond that date, he promised, U.S. troops will have only “narrow security missions” in Afghanistan, “But we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains.”  

For obvious security reasons, Obama hadn’t announced ahead of time his plans to visit Afghanistan on the first anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

I’ve posted the full text of Obama’s remarks after the jump, along with reaction from Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02). I will update this post later as other members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation respond to the president’s speech. Last year Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) advocated bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan more quickly than currently scheduled.

UPDATE: Added comments below from Braley and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. Both are concerned about our Afghanistan policy, but from very different perspectives.

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Veterans Day discussion thread

Best wishes to the veterans in the Bleeding Heartland community and others for whom today is especially meaningful.

Last year I posted Veterans Day links here and mentioned a friend who had recently come home from Iraq. His brother was deployed in Afghanistan at the time and came home safely this year. He is the focus of Rekha Basu’s column in today’s Des Moines Register. I’ve posted some excerpts after the jump.

Todd Dorman wrote here about the origins of Armistice Day and the first Iowans who died in World War I. In the UK, where the “Great War” had a much greater impact on the population, November 11 is known as Remembrance Day. Sales of red poppies to wear on that day are a huge fundraiser for the Royal British Legion.

Share your own thoughts about Veterans Day in this thread.

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CNN/Tea Party Express GOP debate discussion thread

Eight Republican presidential candidates will debate for the second time in less than a week tonight at 7 pm central time. I expect former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Ron Paul to have a go at Texas Governor Rick Perry, like they did during last week’s debate. Representative Michele Bachmann has been trying to distinguish herself from Perry too lately. I see the other four candidates mainly fighting not to be ignored by the moderators.

I’ll update this post later, but meanwhile here’s a thread to talk about the debate or the presidential race in general.

UPDATE: First thoughts on the debate and excerpts from the transcript are after the jump.

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Iowa reaction to Obama's Afghanistan drawdown plans

President Barack Obama announced a slight change in our Afghanistan policy on television last night.

[S]tarting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

He asserted that the U.S. undertakes this drawdown “from a position of strength,” as the Al Qaeda terrorist network is now “under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.” He said the U.S. can achieve its goal to allow “no safe-haven” from which terorists “can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies.” Obama also linked his gradual drawdown to boosting the U.S. economy:

Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. […]

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

We’d have more resources to invest in the U.S. economy if we were bringing more troops home sooner. By the end of next summer our troop presence in Afghanistan will still be larger than it was when Obama became president. He ordered at least 21,000 additional U.S. troops to that war zone before the surge of 30,000 troops he announced at West Point in December 2009. Recent polling suggests a majority of Americans support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan at a faster pace.

We’d also be better positioned to “focus on nation building” at home if the president had not agreed to extend all the Bush tax cuts and bought into the austerity politics that makes another federal stimulus package unthinkable.

After the jump I’ve posted the full text of Obama’s televised remarks, along with comments released by Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03). Boswell praised Obama’s plan “to significantly reduce troops by the end of the year” as “an important first step in lessening our military presence and financial obligations in Afghanistan.” In contrast, Harkin said U.S. troops should be brought home from Afghanistan at a faster pace, saying, “We cannot justify the continued loss of life” and “can’t sustain the nearly $10 billion we are spending each month in Afghanistan this year.” Harkin questioned our presence in Afghanistan following the killing of Osama bin Laden. He was among 27 U.S. senators (24 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent) who wrote to Obama earlier this month urging “a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.”

I will update this post if other members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation comment on Obama’s speech. Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) is the only Iowan on the House Armed Services Committee. Last month Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) called for “immediate withdrawal of our combat troops from Afghanistan,” bringing them home by the end of this year.

In related news, the U.S. Senate on June 21 unanimously confirmed Leon Panetta as the new Secretary of Defense. Greg Jaffe reported on outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ reaction to Obama’s speech last night:

“I support the President’s decision because it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion.” It’s clear that Gates would have preferred the surge troops stay in place through the end of 2012. But his statement suggests he still believes that the military will have enough forces to continue with the current counterinsurgency strategy.

UPDATE: Braley’s statement is now also below. He doesn’t agree with Obama’s plan and wants troops to come home sooner.

LATE UPDATE: Loebsack’s statement is now below.

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How the Iowans voted on the Defense Authorization Act

Catching up on news from last week, Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was the only Iowan in the U.S. House to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, which passed May 26 on a 322 to 96 vote (roll call). While Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02), Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03), Tom Latham (R, IA-04) and Steve King (R, IA-05) all supported the bill’s final passage, their votes broke down differently on a number of important amendments the House considered Thursday.

Follow me after the jump for details on those votes and statements some of Iowa’s representatives released regarding this bill.

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Harkin: "Why are we in Afghanistan now?"

Senator Tom Harkin raised an important question yesterday when speaking to Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times:

Harkin said he’s previously called for an immediate exit from Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are scheduled to leave in 2014.

“I think that timeline should be moved up,” he said in an interview. “I mean why are we in Afghanistan now? I thought we were in Afghanistan at the beginning to find Osama bin Laden. OK, that’s over with. Now, why are we in Afghanistan? Are we there to build a modern, 21st-century democracy?”

Senator Chuck Grassley told Tibbetts that he doesn’t seek any change in the U.S. approach to battling terrorists:

Grassley said bin Laden hasn’t been al-Qaida’s operational leader for years, just its inspirational head.

“The threat for terrorist activity is as great as ever,” he said. “It’s a setback for al-Qaida, without a doubt, but probably a temporary setback.”

I suspect Grassley is closer to the truth than White House chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who on Monday compared the terrorist group to a “mortally wounded tiger”:

“We are hoping to bury the rest of al-Qaeda along with bin Laden,” Brennan told reporters.

“This is a strategic blow to al-Qaeda. It is a necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, blow to lead to its demise. But we are determined to destroy it.”

I don’t see how the massive U.S. military presence in Afghanistan (more than 100,000 troops) will further this goal when Al Qaeda operatives are working in many countries.

Escalating military operations in Afghanistan has cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars as well as many lives. I still believe it will eventually be viewed as one of President Barack Obama’s biggest mistakes. Members of Congress should insist on answers to Harkin’s questions. If past experience is any guide, though, Obama will keep getting blank checks to fund war.

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Honor Staff Sgt. Giunta's feelings as well as his heroism

Today is officially Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta Day in Iowa. Last week President Barack Obama made Giunta the first living soldier since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor. In Iowa today,

A public ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. in the rotunda of the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. Iowans can meet Giunta in a receiving line that will go through Gov. Chet Culver’s formal office immediately after ceremony.

Then at 5 p.m., there will be a “Welcome Home Parade” in Giunta’s hometown of Hiawatha.

The parade will stage in the Go Daddy parking lot on Robins Road, travel west on Emmons Street, then north on 15th Avenue, then east on Litchfield Drive, then south on 12th Avenue, then east on Lyndhurst Drive, then cross 10th Avenue and end at Guthridge Park, according to Iowa National Guard officials.

Iowans understandably want to honor Giunta for his amazing courage in a crisis. After reading and listening to him describe the 2007 incident in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, though, I wonder whether a parade is a respectful way to welcome this hero home.

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Obama declares "combat mission" over in Iraq

President Barack Obama gave a televised address last night to announce the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. I didn’t watch the speech, but I read the full transcript and posted it after the jump.

Several commentators have noted that Obama did not declare victory in the speech, but he certainly put a positive spin on our foreign adventures. The gist was that he’s kept his promise to end the war, we’ve accomplished the goals he set when he became president, and ceasing combat in Iraq will allow us to pivot to a more effective fight against terrorism in Afghanistan as well as a more. Obama highlighted the withdrawal of nearly 100,000 troops and the transfer of responsibility to Iraqi authorities. However, our”transitional force in Iraq is about 50,000 troops now, and even at the end of 2011 we could have tens of thousands of troops stationed in the country. Tehcnically, these are “advise and assist” brigades rather than combat brigades, but our soldiers will still be targets, and some will continue to die under hostile fire.

In the least convincing part of his speech, Obama hailed “credible elections” leading to “a caretaker administration” as Iraqis form a government. The lack of a functioning Iraqi government nearly six months after those elections doesn’t evoke optimism about future political stability.

Three years ago, candidate Obama bombarded Iowa Democrats with messages about how he spoke out against the war in Iraq. Last night, he only mentioned his previous opposition to the war in passing, and he didn’t suggest the war was a mistake. His kind words about George W. Bush glossed over the lies that helped lead the country to war as well as the mismanagement that undermined our national security and kept us bogged down in Iraq for so many years.

Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest; it’s in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home.

We’ve persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people, a belief that, out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibilities. Now it’s time to turn the page.

As we do, I’m mindful that the Iraq war has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it’s time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It’s well-known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security.

As I’ve said, there were patriots who supported this war and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women and our hopes for Iraqis’ future.

Obama then pivoted to defending the importance of our mission in Afghanistan. He claimed that drawing down from Iraq will give us “the resources necessary to go on offense” against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He affirmed that troop reductions will begin in the summer of 2011, with the pace “determined by conditions on the ground.” Juan Cole remarked, “Presumably the language about the Afghan struggle against al-Qaeda was intended to please hawks, while the pledge to begin withdrawing next year was for the purpose of reassuring liberals. It is not clear, however, that practical success in Afghanistan can be achieved through this sort of rhetorical compromise.” I still think the escalation of our war in Afghanistan will turn out to be one of Obama’s biggest mistakes. U.S. and coalition military fatalities in Afghanistan have sharply increased since Obama took office. We have close to 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, three times as many as when Obama became president. The drawdown is scheduled to begin in July 2011, but I wouldn’t bet on that date sticking, judging from recent comments by General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Toward the end of last night’s speech, Obama suggested that ending the combat mission in Iraq will allow the U.S. to invest more in our own economy, creating jobs. I’ll believe that when I see it. Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan will cost an exorbitant amount during the next few years. For the last decade, Congress has always been willing to sign blank checks for war, but the deficit hawks pop up to express concern about excessive domestic spending. If Republicans retake one or both chambers of Congress, you can forget about new economic stimulus measures. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is also a non-starter, judging from how the Senate energy bill is shaping up. More broadly, I don’t think Obama acknowledges how precarious our economic situation is now. His August 30 public comments on the economy were narrowly focused on extending small business tax credits, which Senate Republicans have been blocking. It will take a lot more than that to produce job growth again.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: The estimated audience for Obama’s address was 29 million viewers.

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Top Republican: Make Social Security recipients pay for endless war

House Republican leader John Boehner gave a revealing interview to the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this week. He dismissed the need for more financial regulations, saying the draft Wall Street reform bill is like “killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.” Boehner also dabbled in Steve King-style rhetoric, accusing Democrats of “snuffing out out the America that I grew up in.” Then he spoke frankly about Republican priorities:

Boehner had praise, however, for Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan and stepped-up drone attacks in Pakistan. He declined to list any benchmarks he has for measuring progress in the nine-year war, at a time of increasing violence and Obama’s replacement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus.

Ensuring there’s enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country’s entitlement system, Boehner said. He’d favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them.

“We need to look at the American people and explain to them that we’re broke,” Boehner said. “If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you’re retired, why are we paying you at a time when we’re broke? We just need to be honest with people.”

Boehner handed our president the opportunity to highlight the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Last year Boehner advocated a federal spending freeze, which would have made a severe recession much worse. Now this guy still doesn’t understand how serious the 2008 financial crash was. President Barack Obama plans to slam Boehner’s comments about financial reform at a town-hall event today.

Ideally, Obama would also bash Boehner’s plans for entitlement reform. The top House Republican wants to reduce Social Security benefits for future recipients in order to keep us on a war footing indefinitely. In other words, make working Americans pay the bills for endless war.

Unfortunately, our president seems less and less committed to a timeline for ending the war in Afghanistan. David Dayen predicts, probably correctly, that the July 2011 deadline for drawing down troops in Afghanistan will disappear now that General David Petraeus has replaced General Stanley McChrystal as commander in the theater.

Obama’s unlikely to go to the mat to preserve Social Security either, having just appointed Republican Alan Simpson to co-chair a deficit commission. Simpson wasn’t serious about addressing the budget deficit as a U.S. senator, and his “zombie lies” about Social Security are notorious.

I never expected Obama to be a partisan warrior, but if he can’t be bothered to help build the Democratic brand, could he at least protect Social Security, one of the greatest programs the Democratic Party ever created?

UPDATE: The president shouldn’t count on Americans supporting endless war in Afghanistan.

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Memorial Day weekend open thread: Guns, not butter edition

Since Memorial Day was established a few years after the Civil War, Americans have marked the holiday every year by remembering our war dead (ok, almost all our war dead). In his weekly address, President Barack Obama asked Americans to honor “not just those who’ve worn this country’s uniform, but the men and women who’ve died in its service; who’ve laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who’ve given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America.”

Every so often I read the I Got The News Today profiles of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to an old Jewish teaching, saving one life is equivalent to saving the whole world. The IGTNT diaries, like “Six More Lost to All Who Loved Them,” are a crushing reminder that the death of one person is like the death of the whole world to the people left behind.

The IGTNT series will likely continue for many more years. The number of Americans killed in Afghanistan recently passed 1,000, and we are preparing to send an additional 30,000 troops there. Although we have fewer troops in Iraq now than we did for most of the past seven years, we have more troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined now than we did when Obama became president.  

The price of these wars is also enormous in monetary terms. On May 30 the estimated cost of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq exceeded $1 trillion. We could have done lots of things with that kind of money. On May 27 the U.S. Senate passed yet another war supplemental funding bill, this time for $58.8 billion. On May 28 the House passed the $726 billion Defense Authorization Bill for 2011 (roll call here). Iowa’s House members split on party lines, with Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) supporting them and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voting no.

Meanwhile, Congress adjourned for the Memorial Day weekend without extending unemployment benefits or passing another jobs bill. This economic relief bill had already been watered down because of “concerns” about deficit spending. You’ll notice few members of Congress are concerned about deficit spending to fund our endless war machine.

For many, Memorial Day is a time to remember lost loved ones, regardless of whether they served in the military. Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman’s mother recently died, and he wrote this tribute to her.

For some people, Memorial Day is first and foremost the unofficial beginning of summer. Feel free to share any fun plans or picnic recipes in the comments. We’ve been invited to a potluck tomorrow, and I haven’t decided whether to make my favorite chick pea dish (from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking), a North African potato salad with olive oil and spices, or a pasta salad with a Chinese-style peanut butter sauce. I like to bring vegan dishes to potlucks so I don’t worry if they sit outside for a few hours. Also, the party I’m attending tomorrow may include some vegetarians and people who keep kosher (they don’t mix meat with dairy in the same meal).

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.

UPDATE: Graphs showing number of days in Iraq and number of U.S. deaths in Iraq before and after President George W. Bush announced “Mission Accomplished.”

Obama may regret giving this speech

Tonight President Barack Obama addressed cadets at West Point and announced:

And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan. […]

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Charles Lemos posted the full text of the speech here. My comments are after the jump.

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A question for war veterans

A close friend I’ve known for more than half my life is heading to Iraq soon. I know other people who have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but none of them were such good friends.

My friend would appreciate getting mail regularly when he’s in Iraq, so I plan to write frequently. My question for veterans is, what kind of letters did you like getting? Were there some letters that brought you down instead of giving you a boost? Normally, I would try to bring a friend up to date on my family and what I’m doing, but I don’t know whether hearing about life as usual around here would be depressing for someone stuck in a war zone.

Is it bad to let someone know you are worried about him and praying for his safe return?

Is it ok to mention that you know he must be missing his family terribly (for instance, on his child’s birthday or his wedding anniversary)?

Normally this friend and I talk politics, but is it better to avoid that subject?

If you have advice for me but don’t feel comfortable posting a comment in this thread, feel free to e-mail me: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

Congratulations to Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama

Just announced today:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

Oslo, October 9, 2009

Jerome Armstrong notes that only two other sitting U.S. presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

I agree that Obama has outlined a compelling vision of international relations, but I find it strange that the committee made this award before waiting to see whether Obama escalates the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan or keeps his campaign promise to get us out of Iraq. Obama hasn’t proposed reductions in the U.S. defense budget yet either (just a smaller increase than what the military requested).

I’m encouraged that Obama is open to cutting our nuclear arsenal. We have way more warheads than we need for deterrence, and they are expensive to maintain. But for all of Obama’s good intentions here, he hasn’t struck an agreement with Russia yet.

According to MSNBC, even the White House was surprised by this award.

Maybe John Deeth is right that the Nobel committee basically gave this prize to Obama for not being George W. Bush.

Post any thoughts about this or previous Nobel Peace Prizes in this thread. Most ridiculous choice ever? For my money, Henry Kissinger.

Mr. desmoinesdem thinks it’s a shame that Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel never did win this award.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports:

In response to questions from reporters in Oslo, who noted that Obama so far has made little concrete progress in achieving his lofty agenda, committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said he hoped the prize would add momentum to Obama’s efforts. At the same time, Jagland said, “We have not given the prize for what may happen in the future. We are awarding Obama for what he has done in the past year. And we are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do.”

Jagland specifically cited Obama’s speech about Islam in Cairo last spring, as well as efforts to address nuclear proliferation and climate change and use established international bodies such as the United Nations to pursue his goals.

Sounds to me like they are hoping this prize will make Obama more likely to follow through on his rhetoric. I’ve got a friend heading to Iraq soon, and I want the U.S. to stop sending people over there on tours of duty. If winning the Nobel Peace Prize deters Obama from keeping our troops in Iraq for the long term, I’m all for it.

If Obama fails to deliver concrete achievements to back up his vision, however, the Nobel Committee will have discredited itself with what Glenn Greenwald called a “painfully and self-evidently ludicrous” prize.

SECOND UPDATE: Chris Bowers lays out the arguments for and against giving this award to Obama at this time.

Nick Berning disputes the Nobel Committee’s contention that the U.S. is now playing “a more constructive role” on combating climate change.

THIRD UPDATE: After the jump I’ve posted a mass e-mail President Obama sent out today. Excerpt: “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”

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A New Number For a New Era: From 9/11 to 350

Eight years ago today, two planes flew into the World Trade Center, another crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth landed in a Pennsylvania field. The raw power of that day came to be symbolized by a date composed of three numbers. Three numbers that evoked the shock of being attacked, the horror of the sounds and images on our television sets, and the heroism of so many men and women. Three numbers that framed the events of the last decade and seemed like they would define my generation.

But eight years ago, many in my generation couldn’t vote. We didn’t choose the President, his wars, or his policies. In fact, young Americans have largely rejected the politics of fear and division that dominated those formative years of our political consciousness—voting 2 to 1 in favor of Barack Obama. Today we remember the victims and honor our heroes, but we also have a new President, new crises, and three new numbers: 3-5-0. 350.

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Constructive criticism of the "Cash for Clunkers" bill

The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save (CARS) Program (also known as “Cash for Clunkers”) will receive at least $1 billion in funding this year now that Congress has passed the $106 billion Iraq and Afghanistan war supplemental appropriations bill.  

After the jump I provide some legislative history and constructive criticism of Cash for Clunkers, which Representatives Bruce Braley of Iowa and Betty Sutton of Ohio championed as a reward for consumers who trade in inefficient old cars and trucks for new models.

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Open thread on Obama's plans for Iraq

Longtime Bleeding Heartland readers know that I’ve always worried Barack Obama would leave too many U.S. troops in Iraq for too long. When he decided to stick with George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, some analysts argued that Robert Gates would give Obama cover to withdraw from Iraq, but I felt it was more likely that Gates would give Obama cover not to withdraw from Iraq, at least not fully.

This week President Obama announced his plans for Iraq. Supposedly “combat operations” will end by August 2010, meaning that the withdrawal will take 18 months rather than 16 months, as Obama promised during the campaign. My concern is not the extra two months, but Obama’s decision to leave a residual force of 35,000 to 50,000 in Iraq after August 2010. That sounds like too large a contingent to me and to many Congressional Democrats.

I suppose I should be grateful that Obama isn’t following the advice of Colin Kahl, who headed his Iraq working group during the campaign. Kahl has advocated leaving 60,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq for years (see also here).

Seeing the glass half full, Chris Bowers is pleased that Obama says all U.S. military will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011:

In September of 2007, President Obama refused to promise to remove all troops from Iraq by January 20th, 2013. Now, he has promised to remove them all by December 31st, 2011. That is a positive shift.

This is huge for no residual forces proponents. Now that President Obama has made this pledge, in public, it will be difficult for him to go back on it. This is especially the case since turning back on a promise with a deadline of December 31st, 2011, means violating a pledge during 2012–the year President Obama will be running for re-election. Anti-war proponents need to be prepared to raise holy hell during 2012 if this promise is not kept.

It is frustrating that it took the Iraqi government, rather than internal anti-war pressure, to finally secure a no residual troop promise from the American government (and they actually succeeded in wringing it out of the Bush administration, something Democrats were entirely unable to achieve). Still, as someone who has opposed the Iraq war for more than six years, and who been has writing about the need for no residual American military forces in Iraq for more than two years, any promise of no residual forces from the American government, backed up by a binding, public document like the Status of Forces Agreement, it an extremely welcome development no matter how it was secured.

The Iraq war is going to end. No residual troops after 2011.

I am concerned that some excuse will be found by then to push back the deadline. (Seeing John McCain and other Republicans praise Obama’s plans for Iraq does not reassure me.) I have little confidence that the anti-war movement would raise “holy hell” during a presidential election year if Obama backs off on this promise.

But I am biased on this point, because I’ve never believed in Obama as a great anti-war hero.

So, I’m opening up the floor to the Bleeding Heartland community. Are you ecstatic, optimistic, skeptical, or disappointed with Obama’s Iraq policy? Do you believe he will stick to the deadlines he outlined this week for the end of combat operations and the withdrawal of all residual troops?

Feel free to discuss our Afghanistan policy in this thread too. Obama plans to increase the number of U.S. troops there, but Senator Russ Feingold and some others are wondering whether more troops will help us achieve our stated mission.

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Veterans Day open thread

It’s the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Ninety years ago, the Armistice between Germany and the Allies went into effect and the Great War (which later became known as World War I) ended.

NavyBlueWife has a nice piece up at MyDD on the history of Veterans Day and what it means to honor our veterans.

Via BarbinMD I learned that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Ad Council have launched a “national multimedia public service advertising (PSA) campaign.”

The campaign aims to address the mental health consequences of combat, which threaten to overwhelm a new generation of veterans. The 1.7 million men and women who have served, or are currently serving, in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing an increased risk of mental health issues. Nearly 20 percent of military servicemembers who have returned – 300,000 in all – report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment, according to a RAND Corporation study released in April 2008. Untreated mental health conditions can cause or aggravate other debilitating problems in the veterans’ community including high rates of unemployment, suicide, homelessness, substance abuse, divorce and child abuse.

Created pro bono by ad agency BBDO New York, the campaign seeks to increase the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who seek treatment for mental health issues by connecting them with other veterans with whom they can discuss the issues they face as they readjust to civilian life. The campaign includes television, radio, print, outdoor and Web advertising. The TV spots feature Iraq veterans who are Purple Heart recipients.

You can view the ad here or at the new Community of Veterans website, which is designed for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here is the home page of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The “IGTNT” team of diarists at Daily Kos write tributes to all American troops who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Today’s edition of this series contains links to many organizations that support and honor veterans.

Thanks to all veterans who have served in peacetime or wartime.

Thanks also to all the members of Congress who voted for the “new GI Bill” in May (you can find the roll call votes for the U.S. House and Senate here). My dad went to college on the GI Bill in the 1940s, and his family would not have been able to afford the tuition otherwise.

This is an open thread for any thoughts you have related to Veterans Day, or anyone you are remembering today.

UPDATE: I learned something new today in this letter to the Des Moines Register: Remember veterans: Fund ALS research

Very few people, including those serving in the military today, know that veterans are twice as likely to die from ALS – the deadly disease known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

We don’t know why vets are more likely to develop ALS. But we do know that the disease takes the strongest among us – our military heroes – and robs them of the ability to walk, move their arms, talk, eat and even breathe on their own. They are isolated and awake, alive with the knowledge that they are trapped inside a body they no longer can control.

As the disease progresses, there is little they can do, for there is no treatment for ALS. It is fatal in an average of just two to five years.

Urge elected officials to support funding for ALS research at the Department of Defense so we can learn why the disease is stealing our heroes and take action to protect them. Recently both Congress and the Veterans Administration have supported ALS research and provided benefits to veterans with the disease, but more must be done.

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Fort Drum: The Tip of a Tragic Iceberg

What happens when you deploy troops who have seen high intensity combat time and time again with inadequate dwell time between tours? You see skyrocketing mental health issues.  

After months of investigative work, talking to our troops and veterans, we released a report on the situation at Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. Since 9/11, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team has been deployed for more than forty months, more than any other brigade in the Army, and we are seeing what is nothing short of a cry for help from the men and women on the base; a cry we will answer for the National Guard and Reserve troops here in Iowa as well.

A cry for help that is also coming from the leadership on the base. In a New York Times article today about our report, Major General Michael Oates, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, says: “We recognize that there is stress on our force and their families from this conflict, but until recently, we have not fully appreciated the extent of some of the mental stresses and injuries or how to best identify them.” Please read the rest of the article here.

What is happening at Fort Drum — with Soldiers still on active duty suffering from PTSD, with Soldiers and their families in need of counseling, with Soldiers literally dying while still on duty — is going to happen all around America unless we begin to address some of the basic issues of this war.  As our report explains, DoD itself has stated that the likelihood of troops having mental health problems increases by 60% with every tour of duty. So, in short, through ourdeployment policies, we are consciously compounding the wounds of war.
This is unacceptable to us. Veterans for America's Wounded Warrior Outreach Program will continue to address these problems from the bottom up.  

We are going to go to as many bases as we can afford to go to, see what is happening on those bases and see how we can help. If you can help us, we would greatly appreciate it.

We are going to continue our Wounded Warrior Registry Outreach — if you or someone you know needs help getting help with PTSD or TBI, please click here.

And above all, we are going to continue to serve and help those that serve and have served us with the same level of dedication and courage they have shown. Click here to learn more about what we are doing.

Senator Grassley: How In Good Conscience Can You Do This To Our Men And Women In Uniform?

By Bobby Muller, Veterans for America

I have a fundamental question for you two – a really simple basic question. One that every American should be asking themselves right now as you – and the rest of our Senators – get ready to return from your month-long break.

When the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that our troops were at their breaking point, when the Department of Defense reported that our current deployment policies are compounding the wounds of war, causing mental health problems among our troops to skyrocket, and that one of the primary causes was our current policy of deploying troops back to Iraq and Afghanistan without adequate dwell time at home, why didn’t you do something about it?

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