President Bush has admitted for the first time the United States is not winning the war in Iraq. In an interview with The Washington Post, Bush said the U.S. military is neither winning nor losing. The comment marks a reversal from just days before the midterm election, when President Bush insisted the military is “absolutely” winning in Iraq.
The president also says he’s ordered Defense Secretary Robert Gates to develop a plan to increase the size of the U.S. military. Last week, the Army’s top general, Peter Schoomaker, warned his force “will break” without an influx of thousands of active-duty troops and reserves.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gates is in Iraq today on his first foreign trip since taking over this week. Gates is scheduled to meet with U.S. and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. His visit comes amid news the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East — General John Abizaid — has submitted plans to step down in March.
Iraq’s vice president is accusing British Prime Minister Tony Blair of backing out of a pledge to push for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Speaking in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations, Tariq al-Hashimi said Blair had been convinced by a timetable proposal and had promised to raise it with President Bush. But Hashimi says Blair backed out after meeting with the president at the White House. Hashimi says he believes Blair was “blackmailed” and “brainwashed.”
In other news from Iraq, a group of American security contractors are being accused of breaking a prominent Iraqi American out of jail. Ayham Sameraei, Iraq’s former electricity minister, escaped Sunday following months of imprisonment on corruption charges. Iraqi officials told the Los Angeles Times Sameraei hired the contractors to free him from his jail cell in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
In other Iraq news, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the target of a new lawsuit alleging mistreatment in Iraq — this time from a Navy veteran and former security contractor. The contractor, Donald Vance, says he was detained without charge and denied an attorney for three months in a military camp in Baghdad. Vance says he was subjected to 24-hour artificial light, threatened with excessive force, forced to wear blindfolds and hoods, and deprived of food and water. Vance’s suit says: “[Rumsfeld’s] policies and directives are completely inconsistent with fundamental constitutional and human rights.”
In the Occupied Territories, the two main Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have agreed to a new truce following a week of violence that claimed the lives of 14 people. Armed Fatah and Hamas forces have withdrawn from the streets of Gaza. The truce is the second this week. It’s already off to a shaky start — two fighters from the Fatah movement died Tuesday just as the new ceasefire was announced.
At the United Nations, outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave his final press conference Tuesday before stepping down at the end of the month. Annan criticized the U.S. for invading Iraq without the support of the U.N. Security Council.
Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “I hope that when next time one is dealing with a broader threat to the international community, one will wait and seek the approval of the Security Council. As I’ve said, a government, a country has a right to defend itself, but when it’s an issue of broader threat to the international community, it’s only the Security Council that has that legitimacy to authorize action on that basis.”
Annan also addressed the U.N.’s handling of the Oil-for-Food Program.
Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “When historians look at the records, they will draw the conclusion that, yes, there was mismanagement, there may have been several U.N. staff members that were engaged, but the scandal, if any, was in the capitals and with the 2,200 companies that made a deal with Saddam behind our backs. And of course I hope the historians will realize that the U.N. is more than Oil-for-Food, the U.N. is a U.N. that coordinates tsunami, the U.N. that deals with the Kashmir earthquake, the U.N. that is pushing for equality and fighting to implement the millennium development goals.”
Annan will be succeeded by the South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon.
In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has announced plans for a major expansion of the legal area for growing coca. The new rules would challenge U.S.-backed eradication programs in Bolivia and across South America. On Monday, Morales said the U.S. government could effectively combat cocaine production if it moved to reduce its own role as the world’s largest cocaine market.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: “If the illegal market does not drop, who knows that the efforts of the Bolivian government were in vain. We are obligated to debate, analyze, exchange dialogue so that the fight against the drug trade is effective not only on a national level but on an international level.”
Back in the United States, President Bush has signed into law a deal that lifts a 30-year-old ban on sending nuclear technology to India.
President Bush: “The relationship between the United States and India has never been more vital, and this bill will help us meet the energy and security challenges of the 21st century.”
Under the deal, the United States will send nuclear fuel shipments for civilian use. Critics say this could spark a regional arms race because it will allow India to use existing nuclear fuel to build up to 50 nuclear weapons. The deal was also approved despite previous sanctions over India’s alleged help with Iran’s nuclear program. In 2004, the U.S. government penalized two high-ranking Indian government scientists for allegedly passing on heavy-water nuclear technology to Iran. Two other Indian companies were also penalized for passing on chemical weapons information.
In political news, a Republican congressmember is under fire for saying he fears an influx of Muslim immigration in the United States. In a letter sent to constituents this month, Congressmember Virgil Goode of Virginia writes: “I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States” if we do not adopt “strict immigration policies.” Goode also warns over the recent election of Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress. Goode writes, “If American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”
In Washington, defense attorneys in the CIA leak case have announced Vice President Dick Cheney will be called to testify on behalf of his former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Libby is facing charges for his role in the outing of former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, was an open critic of the Bush administration’s pre-war claims on Iraq intelligence. Presidential historians say Cheney’s appearance will likely mark the first time a sitting vice president testifies in a criminal case.
In privacy news, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed suit demanding the Department of Homeland Security disclose details of a program that assigns travelers crossing U.S. borders a computerized score rating their risk as terrorists or criminals. The risk assessments are kept on file for 40 years. Travelers are not allowed to see their own ratings. The program has affected nearly every traveler crossing U.S. borders in the last four years — including U.S. citizens. Electronic Frontier Foundation senior counsel David Sobel said: “[Homeland Security] needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this 'risk assessment' score that will follow them throughout their lives.”
And in military news, a new poll shows nearly three-quarters of U.S. servicemembers — 73 percent — would accept openly gay and lesbian members in their ranks. According to Zogby International, that’s a huge jump from last decade. In 1993, just 13 percent favored the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces.