Monday, January 08, 2007

Iraq War Hearings Start Tomorrow

Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has announced a tentative schedule for hearings to investigate the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war and to examine further options to free the United States from that quagmire.

“The purpose of these hearings will be to seek an answer to the question currently dominating the national debate: what options remain to secure America’s interests in Iraq? Where do we go from here?” said Biden.

Biden, who just yesterday announced that he will seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, will be surveying a wide range of opinions on how to move forward in Iraq and has summoned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about the conduct of the war until now.

The Delaware Senator has already said that he is opposed to the idea of a "troop surge," which the White House is expected to announce this week and that he believes escalating U.S. presence in Iraq will do nothing to end America's disastrous involvement there.

"We should be drawing down troops gradually, forcing the Iraqis to meet their own needs to end this civil war by a political agreement," Biden said recently.

And, while Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee, says he is in favor of the hearings, it's important to remember that Lugar chaired that committee for two years in the do-nothing Republican Congress and did little to question why the war was going from bad to worse.

In contrast, Biden has been clamoring for such hearings for a long time and insists that he will show the leadership that's been missing on the committee. He also believes oversight has become even more important now that the White House appears unwilling to admit what a mess Iraq has become and Bush gives clear signs that he is simply biding his time until he leaves in January of 2009.

"I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost," Biden said last week. "They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy -- literally, not figuratively."

The Foreign Relations Committee has already begun assembling quite a roster of witnesses to join Rice, including former national security advisers and secretaries of state, Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and George Shultz.

And, as if these hearings don’t already provide enough basis for drama, two other factors may make them even more compelling.

The first is the fact that the Foreign Relations Committee just happens to be stacked with people who may also be seeking the presidency in 2008. Also involved in these hearings with Biden will be John Kerry (D-MA), Barack Obama (D-IL), Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE). All of them -- in addition to Biden -- are against any escalation of U.S. involvement in Iraq and may also use the hearings as a high-profile springboard to their own presidential campaigns. Throw in freshman Senator (and highly-decorated Veteran) Jim Webb (D-VA) who has also been assigned to the committee, Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and there may be even more potential for some fiery rhetoric.

The other interesting dynamic is the timing of the hearings as they will coincide with both Bush's speech this week -- in which he is expected to announce the ill-advised Iraq escalation -- and his State of the Union Address at the end of the month.

Should Bush make any provocative or questionable statements in either speech -- as we know he has certainly done in the past -- Biden and Senate Democrats can use these hearings as a huge platform on which to express their disagreement and to launch immediate investigations on any suspicious White House assertions.

Biden has been around this block once or twice, understands he's in a good position to make some noise and recently told Bush at the White House "Mr. President, this is your war." He also believes that, politically speaking, Democrats have very little to lose.

Said Biden: "I think we'll only have to accept responsibility for the war if we remain silent."

Stay tuned, folks.