Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rice Summoned To Senate Foreign Relations Committee Today

In what will undoubtedly prove to be an awkward bit of timing for her, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, where she can expect to be grilled on George W. Bush's speech last night, in which he announced an escalation of the Iraq war, despite most of the country, the Congress and his top Generals in the field disagreeing with that approach.

Rice can also expect to be quizzed on the conduct of the war so far, as well as what she intends to do on some sort of diplomatic outreach to Syria and Iran -- you know, given that her job is supposed to be about establishing relationships with other countries that actually benefit the United States and not just about waging war.

Russ Feingold (D-WI), a committee member and an outspoken critic of the entire Iraq debacle, will certainly be chomping at the bit to ask Rice some tough questions.

"Congress must bring an end to what has been one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in the history of our nation," said Feingold, in response to Bush's speech last night. "The President continues to deny the devastating impact that keeping our brave troops in Iraq is having on our national security. The American people have rejected the Administration’s Iraq-centric foreign policy. It is time to bring our troops out of Iraq and refocus on defeating the global terrorist networks that threaten this country.”

What should also make for some interesting questioning, is a unique dynamic of five announced and possible presidential candidates sitting on the Foreign Relations Committee and acutely aware of how unpopular the Bush administration is with the American people and their chance to ask tough questions at exactly the right time.

Sitting on the committee with Joe Biden (D-DE), who has already announced his candidacy, are Chris Dodd (D-CT) -- who just announced this morning -- John Kerry (D-MA), Barack Obama (D-IL) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE).

"Everybody is going to want to get their voices heard," said one Democratic aide. "It’s going to be time for everybody to step up and propose ways forward in Iraq."

And if Rice is looking for friendly Republican faces on the committee, she may want to glance away from Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, a high-decorated Vietnam Veteran, who has been a harsh critic of Bush administration policy in Iraq for two years. Here's what Hagel said just yesterday about the Bush-McCain doctrine of escalating America's involvement in Iraq:
“I am opposed to the escalation of American involvement in Iraq, including more U.S. troops. This is a dangerously wrong-headed strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp at a great cost. It is wrong to place American troops into the middle of Iraq’s civil war.

"It is not in America’s national interest to increase our troop presence in Iraq. The President’s strategy will cost more American lives, sink us deeper into the bog of Iraq making it more difficult to get out, cost billions of dollars more, further strain an American military that has already reached its breaking point, further diminish America’s standing in the Middle East, and continue to allow the Iraqis to walk away from their responsibilities."
This experience with actual oversight may not be easy for Rice, who has for her entire tenure as Secretary of State appeared before Republican-led Congressional committees more inclined to ask probing questions like "how was your weekend?" and "seen any good movies lately?" so we'll see how this goes today.

But Congress actually operating the way it's supposed to and holding the executive branch of government accountable… What a concept.