Thursday, January 24, 2008

Good news and bad from Iraq

From Congressman Adam Schiff:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the War in Iraq. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome your input.

In December, I traveled to Iraq with a Congressional delegation to assess the situation on the ground firsthand. It was my fourth trip to Iraq since 2003. These trips are always enlightening—it is deeply moving to meet and speak to the men and women serving in our armed forces. It's such an important reminder of the sacrifices they are making and courage they display every day. We had a lengthy meeting with General David Petraeus and other military commanders, as well as State Department personnel. The trip also gave me a chance to speak to the troops actually patrolling the streets of Baghdad, Anbar Province and elsewhere in Iraq to get their sense of the security situation and how it has evolved.

It was apparent to me in speaking to soldiers and commanders in Iraq that the security situation in the country has significantly improved over the past six months. The "Sunni Awakening," the turning of Sunni Sheiks against al Qaeda in Iraq, seems to be the primary cause of the decline in violence. Sunni leaders who had been deeply involved in supporting and sheltering the insurgents who were attacking U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians have found common cause with our coalition against al Qaeda. The brutality and indiscriminate violence of al Qaeda in Iraq seems to have convinced many local leaders that assisting U.S. forces is their best option. The security situation has also improved because of a decision, however temporary, by Iran to curtail the supply of some of the more lethal improvised explosive devices (IEDs). And finally, the terrible ethnic cleansing of many Baghdad neighborhoods has resulted in a de facto separation of some of the warring Sunni and Shia tribes.

The increased number of U.S. troops have worked hard to consolidate the security gains, but unless political progress is made soon, none of these gains may be sustainable in the long term. I have maintained for the past three years that any lasting solution in Iraq will come from political progress, not military force alone. The hope was that the improvement in security would create breathing room for political change, allowing the sort of hard bargaining and compromise that is inherent to true democratic government. Tragically, however, there is precious little evidence that Iraqi leaders are willing to make those concessions, and little evidence of progress towards reconciliation.

Our military is doing its job, but we face an endless occupation unless the ethnic and sectarian groups that make up Iraq—the Sunnis, the Shia, and the Kurds—agree to negotiate through the political process rather than through armed conflict. When I met with State Department officials privy to high level discussions within the Iraqi government, they had very little good news to report. A budget measure and minor reform of the de-Baathification process were all they could point to—almost all of the the political benchmarks set by the President and Congress are yet unfulfilled.

While my time in Iraq was eye-opening and inspirational, it did not fundamentally alter my understanding of the situation on the ground, or my support for an orderly drawdown of our combat forces. The indefinite presence of U.S. troops will not force Iraqi political leaders to make the compromises necessary for lasting peace and stability. We can and have created the conditions in which reconciliation can take place, but we cannot force the Iraqis to live peacefully as one nation. Moreover, if we commit to stay in Iraq for years to come, the Iraqi people will have little incentive to work out their differences on their own, knowing that U.S. troops will always be there to tamp down the violence and discourage mass reprisals. Serving as a permanent police presence in Iraq is not in our national security interest.

We had to cut our trip short to rush back to Washington, D.C. for a vote on a bill that would provide another $70 billion in unconditional funding for the War in Iraq. I support funding measures for Iraq which set out our plans to draw down our combat forces, but opposed this "blank check." The House approved the unrestricted funding on a vote of 272-142, and it was signed by the President. I will continue to fight to change our course in Iraq at every available juncture, including the appropriations process.

It is my most fervent hope for 2008 that we will see continued reductions in violence in Iraq , and that the political deadlock will be broken. It remains clear to me that we should be planning for our withdrawal, not making plans to stay for years to come. Please be assured that I will fight for change and accountability in the weeks and months to come. Finally, I encourage you to visit my website,, to read my account of the trip on my blog, and to view photos from Iraq. Thank you for your thoughts, I will keep them in mind as this debate continues in the House.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Of primaries and documentaries

My email to Versen (Hugo Zoom):

Thanks for commenting on my last blog post. You did bring up an interesting point about how much money could be made from political ads if the CA and NY primaries were first. Ya wonder why they're passing up the bonanza.

I have been thinking that the reason for the hype for the Iowa and NH primaries on CNN is to manufacture drama. They treat it like it's a big story, and it becomes a big story because they draw so much attention to it. This, of course, has the benefit of making their advertising minutes cost more, but the upside is that more people turn out to vote. The more hype and drama, the more voters. Isn't CNN a wonderful company? (Just like Wal-Mart.) Still, I couldn't believe CNN's coverage of NH. It looked as if it were the actual election. They seem to have an unlimited budget for graphics and display screens.

Did you read the second comment on my post? The commenter was named Kalliope. (I hope that's a user name and not her real name.) She said breathlessly "The results were uplifting for all the reasons that you believe Iowa isn't relevant." You and I could dismantle the logic of that statement fairly easily, but at least her candidate won and she's happy.

I've never seen Trembling Before G-d. It would be just too annoying to sit through. The plot outline on IMDb says " to reconcile their passionate love of Judaism and the Divine with the drastic Biblical prohibitions that forbids homosexuality." Passionate love of Judaism? How can they love a religion that forbids meat and dairy being on the table at the same time? That allows eating meat only from the front half of the cow? That forbids eating without handwashing so that on a plane, where handwashing is nigh impossible because the restroom is so frequently occupied, one is required to wear plastic gloves when eating? (You knew you'd get me cranked up by sending me that article.) But then again, it's a religion that tells its followers that they are superior to everyone else in the world. Who wouldn't love that?

However, I've recently read three novels set in Israel as research for the story I want to write. (The Genizah at the House of Shepher, Bethlehem Road Murder, and The Last Secret of the Temple) The novels present both the Israelis and Palestinians sympathetically and honestly. Both have been brutalized and both have committed atrocities. Reading the books has been a good experience.

I also watched the documentary To Die In Jerusalem on cable recently. A young Israeli woman has been killed by a young Palestinian woman in a suicide bombing. The Israeli mother wants just to talk to the Palestinian mother to find out how such a thing could happen. After four years of trying to meet in person, they finally meet via a satellite hookup. It's a moving film. It follows the Israeli mother primarily, and she's likeable and one feels for her and what she's experiencing. But what I kept thinking through the whole film was that the key to the whole bloody mess, and what the Israeli mother couldn't begin to grasp, was that the invasion in 1948 should never have happened and that the Israelis shouldn't be there. One of the novels I read mentioned that some Palestinian families still have the deeds to their houses (the houses they were forced out of and which are now occupied by Israelis) and they've framed the deeds and have them hanging on a wall in their living quarters in the camps. That image pretty much sums it all up for me. Yes it's a simplistic answer from someone who is not physically or emotionally involved in the conflict, but it all does eventually go back to a framed deed on a wall and what it represents.

It will be interesting to see how you dissect my logic.

What's new with you?


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hey Iowa! We don't care what you think!

Why should you set the pace for national campaigns? Are your 3,000,000 residents representative of the whole rest of the country? That's a tough one, I know, so let me help you with the answer: NO.

Only 3,000,000 residents? Mostly white and still fairly bigoted? And you set the pace for the rest of us? Chicago alone, the third-largest city in the U.S., has a population equal to all of Iowa. The population of the U.S. is now 300,000,000. What percentage of the whole country do Iowans represent?


So why did you move the date for the caucus up from 19 January in 2004 to 3 January in 2008, when around 20 states scheduled their primaries for 5 February? So you could retain your role as the pace car? Did you ask us if we wanted you to be the pace car? Why didn't it occur to you to join the other states on the new Super-Duper Tuesday in February? Because you like the limelight and don't want to give it up? You really make important decisions based on what's good for the country. You are to be commended.

What I expressed hope for in my 1 July 2005 post about the primary system was that all primaries would take place on a single day so that earlier small-state primaries would have no influence on later large-state primaries. Well at least the primary for my state, California, has been moved up from 2 March to 5 February. It's better than nothing, but it still allows Iowa and New Hampshire to have inappropriate influence on each candidate's momentum.

Maybe it's the media's fault. Maybe the media should just ignore the Iowa caucus so that trailing candidates would stay in the race longer and let the more representative larger states have a say in who is eventually nominated. The Iowa caucus is about as nationally significant as the election of the senior-class president at a rural high school.