- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tough month

On Dec. 5, Newsweek magazine touted an interview with then-incoming House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes as an “exclusive.” And for good reason.

“In a surprise twist in the debate over Iraq,” the story began, Mr. Reyes “said he wants to see an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops as part of a ‘stepped up effort to dismantle the militias.’ ”

“We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq,” the Texas Democrat said to the surprise of many, “I would say 20,000 to 30,000.”

Then came President Bush’s expected announcement last week, virtually matching Mr. Reyes’ recommendation and argument word-for-word — albeit the president proposed only 21,500 troops.

Wouldn’t you know, hours after Mr. Bush announced his proposal, Mr. Reyes told the El Paso Times that such a troop buildup was unthinkable.

“We don’t have the capability to escalate even to this minimum level,” he said.

The chairman’s “double-talk” did not go unnoticed. Among others, Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, says such blatant “hypocrisy” undermines both national security and the war on terrorism.

Unfortunately for the new House intelligence chief, this is his second (some would argue his third) major blunder in the space of one month. When asked by Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein whether al Qaeda was a Sunni or Shi’ite organization, he answered: “Predominantly, probably Shi’ite.”

As Mr. Stein wrote later: “He couldn’t have been more wrong. Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shi’ite showed up at an al Qaeda clubhouse, they’d slice his head off and use it for a soccer ball.”

The reporter added: “To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?”

In the same interview, Mr. Stein had asked Mr. Reyes about the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

His now-infamous reply: “Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah? … Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

Understand Congress?

Former Indiana Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, director of the Center on Congress and recent co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, will join with former Connecticut Rep. Ron Sarasin, head of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, and Schering-Plough Chief Executive Officer Fred Hassan at the U.S. Capitol today to present “The Citizens Guide to Understanding Congress.” (That’ll be the day.)

The 5 p.m. event in the Mansfield Room, touted as a “wine, cheese and civics” affair, marks the debut of an updated citizens’ guide to navigating the House and Senate. (It’s free for the asking through each congressional office.)

We took a peek at the guide, which concedes that many Americans are “frustrated by the system they feel is stacked against them.” However, it quotes the now-deceased Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (who was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and served until 1939) as saying: “The only title in our democracy superior to that of president is the title of citizen.”

Happy 50th

J.W. “BillMarriott Jr., the native Washingtonian who learned his hospitality ropes while working for his parents’ Hot Shoppes restaurant chain during high school and college, will mark Marriott International’s 50th anniversary tomorrow with a 1950s-themed celebration in Bethesda.

It was in January 1957 that Marriott’s first hotel — the 356-room Twin Bridges Marriott Motor Hotel in Arlington — opened its doors. Today, Marriott operates 85 hotels in the Washington area alone, and 2,800 properties worldwide, employing nearly 150,000 people.

Hundreds of Marriott employees will be dressed in their best 1950s attire when greeting guests in the lobby of Marriott international headquarters for the celebration.

Launching Lompoc

The one positive thing about a column “typo” is that we get to hear from our many distinguished readers, including Wayne Hembree, formerly NASA’s search-and-rescue mission manager at Goddard Space Flight in Greenbelt, who now is a consultant for the space agency.

“Glad to hear that ‘Vandenberg, Alaska’ was a typo and that everyone really knew it is in California,” he writes. “We in NASA and those in the Air Force remember how our polar orbiting satellite launches moved from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, after the State Department botched the analysis of Fidel Castro, thinking him a reformer and not a Communist …

“When Castro took Cuba into the Soviet camp, the U.S. decided it could not continue launching polar orbiting satellites on rockets flying south from Cape Canaveral, right over Cuba. Vandenberg profited by Florida’s loss, and thus the bumper sticker: ‘Where [in] the [world] is Lompoc?’ — the town we learned to love, outside Vandenberg AFB.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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