February 19, 2007

UdallWatch I: First Edition

From time-to-time as Rep. Mark Udall (D-People's Republic of Boulder) gears up for a run at Colorado's open Senate seat in the 2008 election, Slapstick Politics will bring you a round-up of Udall's public statements, policy talking points, and general political views on issues affecting Colorado and the nation. Inevitably the updates will become quite regular, but for now will remain periodic (weekly-ish) until the race really gets going later this year. We'll leave the commentary and the snark for later as well and just let Udall do the talking for now (unless he says something really blogworthy). We'll also quote the stories in case they disappear (links can and do go bad) or in the event the candidate decides to change his mind or deny his previous statements.

Here goes:

Udall responds to President Bush's State of the Union address (Jan 2007):
"The president expressed a willingness to achieve common ground with the new Democratic Congress. Now is the time for this president to prove that he's truly committed to results and not just rhetoric. Coloradans and Americans are hungry for leadership to bring a responsible end to the war in Iraq, for energy independence, health care reform, and fiscal responsibility.

Iraq: Despite misgivings by respected leaders in his own party like Senator John Warner, President Bush is still gambling on an escalation of military force in the Iraq. I am very skeptical that this late effort will work in the context of an emerging civil war and is also too little, too late. Our strategic goal should be to lighten the American footprint in Iraq, not make it heavier. I do not support cutting off funding for our troops in Iraq, but the new Congress has a responsibility to insist on oversight and accountability.

Energy Independence: Last year, the president said that America is addicted to oil, yet today we are not closer to energy independence. Our addiction to foreign oil threatens our national security, our economy, our environment, and our way of life. The president needs to translate his words into action and he can start by fully funding renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, which will help the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, CO. It’s admirable to set goals, but if the president doesn’t set them high enough or provide the necessary resources, his words tonight will remain just what they have been through several State of the Union speeches – words.

Health Care Reform: I share the president’s goal of covering the uninsured, but I don’t think we do that by taxing families and individuals that have good coverage in order to provide incentives to those who don’t have any coverage. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you talk to anyone in my district they will tell you that they are paying higher costs for fewer benefits and less choice. I support measures to cover every child in America, to provide coverage to people who have pre-existing conditions and meaningful tax credits to help the uninsured buy insurance. The biggest cost we’ll have is if we don’t act at all."
Udall questions commitment to energy independence (and potential cuts to funding for Colorado's National Renewable Energy Laboratory:
"Where is the balance in this budget, and where is the dedication to energy independence?" asked Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo. "The president needs to walk his talk, and if he will not, I will work with the new Congress to increase funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. Energy independence is so critical to our national security, our energy security and our economy that we cannot afford to shortchange programs that will move us forward."
Udall believes US must plan for Iraq failure:
Rep. Mark Udall told Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today that President Bush's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops to police the streets of Baghdad was "more of the same" failed policy, and that the administration needs to plan for the possible disintegration of Iraq.

"There have been increasing discussions about the rise of a Shiite strongman...or in the worst case, perhaps, some sort of anarchic fragmentation of power in the region that we call Iraq," Udall told Gates at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, asked Gates to discuss U.S. contingency plans, especially since "we all acknowledge that we poorly planned to win the peace... after the initial invasion of Iraq."

In answering the question, Gates told Udall that the administration believes its "surge" of troops will bring more security to Iraq, allowing political and economic progress.

"That said, I think that it would be irresponsible of me not to be looking at alternatives, should these expectations and hopes not prove to be fulfilled," said Gates. "Without getting into any details...I have asked that we begin to look at other contingencies and other alternatives."

Udall said that "there's always a tension between immediate passions and long-term strategic needs" but that "in this case the American public both have the wisdom and the passion and they understand - their wisdom is that we can't stand in the middle of a civil war."

Udall asked Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, if the U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine is applicable to a situation like Iraq, where sectarian violence between warring factions has become the chief cause of bloodshed, rather than a classic insurgency.

"In fact we really are, if not in the middle of a civil war, in the middle of five very complicated wars," said Udall. "The counter-insurgency doctrine...doesn't necessarily apply to a civil war situation."
Udall declares debate closed on "climate change" following the IPCC report:
"All research and evidence indicates that climate change is happening. Ask farmers about their crop yields. Ask the ski industry, which depends on snowfall to run the slopes. The IPCC report released last week further solidifies the scientific opinion about climate change - the planet is getting warmer and human activity is responsible for this change. With the scientific questions settled, Congress must address what policy changes our nation will make in response. This bill reaffirms the need for continued strong federal support for research and maps out a new emphasis on producing information needed to inform everyday decisions," said Udall.
Udall on Russia, Putin, and a new "Cold War":
Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, was sitting a few yards away from the podium at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy when Putin accused the United States of "almost uncontained" use of force.

Putin said the United States had "overstepped its national borders in every way," prompting other countries to seek nuclear weapons.

Udall, who was part of a bipartisan congressional delegation at the conference, said he did not take it as a start of a new "Cold War."

But he said Putin's rhetoric is a sign that the United States needs to solve sticky issues like Iraq in order to preserve its position of strength in the world.

"The Russians have always felt they weren't fully respected ... In some ways, they're mourning the end of the Soviet Union," Udall said. "They're flush with oil and gas revenues and they want the world to know it."

"They see the United States as (being) on its heels -- if not weak, then certainly distracted in Iraq -- and facing other challenges," Udall said. "They're not loathe to throwing a few punches our way."

"The strong message is, until we can as a country ... determine the way forward in Iraq, it will not only dominate our psyche, it allows other countries a way to chip away at us," Udall said.
. . .
Udall said that should prompt the United States to become more "self-reliant" when it comes to energy, so it's not subject to global pressure.

As for reviving the old tensions that marked much of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, "The Cold War is not about to be rejoined again," Udall said. "It's a totally different world."
Udall's remarks on the Iraq resolution:
Madam Speaker, this debate is long overdue.

It is our first extended and substantive debate on the war in Iraq since Congress gave the president the authority to invade more than four years ago.

But if we do nothing more than debate the president’s escalation plan, we will not keep faith with the American people, who rightly expect this new Congress to begin to bring our costly involvement in the Iraq war to a close.

And while the resolution before us is a largely symbolic and non-binding expression of Congressional opinion, it can be - and I think it should be - the opening part of a longer, thoughtful debate about our long-term national interests not only in Iraq but the entire Middle East.

So, this resolution is a start - and I will vote for it because I agree with the message it sends.

The resolution expresses disapproval of the president’s sending more troops to Iraq - an action that is contrary to the wise advice of the Iraq Study Group, critical members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and experienced military commanders like former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The president’s escalation is probably too small to be effective. And adopting new counterinsurgency tactics comes two years too late.

In addition, the President is calling on General Petraeus and our troops to operate under a complicated joint command structure, involving Iraqi forces and politicians, that is unprecedented in America’s military history.

I think the resolution represents the correct response to these facts - it expresses support for our brave men and women in uniform, but disagreement with a policy of military escalation.

Madam speaker, as we speak the death toll in Iraq rises and the war continues to drain our national treasury, stretch our armed forces, and weaken our capacity to effectively counter Islamic terrorism.

Even as the Administration plows ahead with its “surge” in Iraq, war still rages in Afghanistan and the security situation there is getting more perilous.

Congress needs to send the message that things must change.

I opposed the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq and I have never once regretted that vote. But today we must focus on the future.

We cannot move the clock back, but we need to avoid making a bad situation worse.

We should not be scaling up our military mission in Iraq - we should be scaling back.

We need to make the U.S. military footprint lighter - not in order to hasten defeat or failure in Iraq, but to salvage a critical measure of security and stability in a region of the world that we can ill afford to abandon.

As a Member of the Armed Services Committee, I know about the pressures on our active duty and National Guard and reserve soldiers.

They lack enough equipment and training. They are experiencing multiple or extended deployments, and limited time at home between deployments.

But to be successful, our men and women must be properly trained, equipped, and ready to quickly deploy worldwide. Shortfalls in personnel, equipment, or training increase the risk to our troops and to their mission.

In short, the Administration’s policies have brought us to the point where we not only are not able to sustain an escalation in Iraq but also are not fully prepared for other contingencies.

But that is not the only reason I oppose the escalation.

I don’t think the president’s rationale for it makes sense, no matter our readiness levels.

The just-released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq agrees that the term “civil war” accurately describes aspects of the Iraq conflict - and suggests that the conflict may in fact, be worse than a civil war. Putting more American troops at risk is not a recipe for victory.

As a new Foreign Relations Council report notes, we bear responsibility for developments within Iraq, but are increasingly without the ability to shape those developments in a positive direction.

So what should be the way forward? How should Congress respond?

I favor a reduction of military forces in Iraq, and a phased redeployment of our armed forces to border regions in places like Anbar province and the Kurdish areas of Iraq.

That can give us flexibility to act militarily in Iraq if necessary, but will also increase the pressure on the Iraqi government to move toward political reconciliation and stability.

I do not think an immediate withdrawal of American forces or setting a date certain for withdrawal makes sense.

As bad as the situation is in Iraq, we must work to avoid a collapse in the region - not only because we have a moral obligation to the people of Iraq, but also because our national security has been so badly compromised by the Bush Administration’s failures there.

We should adopt the main policy recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, including stronger efforts at diplomacy in the region and internationally.

It is not in the interests of any nation to have Iraq descend into further civil war and chaos. As challenging as diplomacy is in the Middle East, I believe the sacrifice of our soldiers demands that we engage in serious regional talks, including talks with our adversaries, Syria and Iran.

Finally, I am convinced we must reach for bipartisanship in crafting our policy in Iraq.

The President misguidedly rushed us into war. We must not compound that error by turning a debate on Iraq into a partisan game of one-upmanship where legitimate disagreement with the Administration’s plan for escalation is called a betrayal of our troops or where resistance to immediate withdrawal is called war-mongering.

For my part, I will speak out loudly and often for a responsible military disengagement from Iraq, but I will also offer proposals that are aimed at finding common ground. In this regard, I will be introducing legislation that looks beyond the “surge” and toward the necessary and inevitable contingency planning that will be needed if we are to avoid deeper and more catastrophic scenarios in Iraq and the region.

Madam Speaker, the stakes in Iraq are very high. The outcome in this region will have consequences for future generations that will long outlive those of us who are in Congress today.

We should adopt this resolution to send a signal, but then we must try to rise above our partisan instincts and salvage what we can from a terrible and deteriorating situation.

Nations make mistakes. Great nations acknowledge mistakes, learn, and chart a new course. For the sake of future generations and to keep faith with the generations that built America, let’s be a great nation.
Whew! Stay tuned for more on Senate-hopeful Mark Udall in future editions of UdallWatch.

Cross posted at Political Avalanche

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