- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

‘Surreal’ debate

“Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal,” Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack write in the New York Times.

“The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place,” said Mr. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Mr. Pollack, director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the same liberal-leaning think tank.

“Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory,’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

“After the furnacelike heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq, we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

“Today, morale is high. The soldiers and Marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.”

Stevens search

Federal agents yesterday searched the home of Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, focusing on records related to his relationship with an oil-field services contractor jailed in a public corruption investigation, a law-enforcement official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Stevens, 83, has been under a federal investigation for a 2000 renovation project more than doubling the size of his home in Girdwood that was overseen by Bill Allen, a contractor who has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state legislators. Allen is founder of VECO Corp., an Alaska-based oil-field services and engineering company that has reaped tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

Agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service arrived at the senator’s home yesterday afternoon, said Dave Heller, FBI assistant special agent. A statement from Mr. Stevens’ office said justice would be best served if he commented after the investigation.

Thompson crowd

Former Sen. Fred Thompson’s fundraiser at the J.W. Marriott ballroom last night drew about 300 people, two Republicans who attended the event told Ralph Z. Hallow of The Washington Times.

Admission was $1,000 a person, but some of those attending had already given the maximum allowed under federal law and did not have to pay to get in and get their pictures taken with the Tennessee Republican and former actor.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander introduced Mr. Thompson to the crowd, which included such prominent Republicans as former Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana, about 15 current House members, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and conservative activists Grover Norquist and Clifford May.

It was announced during the fundraiser that between June 4 and June 30, Mr. Thompson’s political action committee raised $3.2 million.

According to a Republican activist who was having his picture taken with Mr. Thompson, when the ex-senator was asked whether he would officially announce a White House bid, he said: “Keep your powder dry. I’ll be making an announcement soon.”

GOP eyes mayor

National Republicans continue to court the mayor of Hazleton, the city where a much-copied anti-illegals law was struck down last week by a federal judge, the Associated Press reports.

Rep. Tom Cole, the chairman of National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters yesterday that he recently had dinner with Mayor Lou Barletta and is hopeful he’ll run for a U.S. House seat.

“I think he would be a tremendous candidate,” Mr. Cole said. “I think the immigration issue and his success as mayor, the bipartisan support he’s gotten from both parties, make him an unusually attractive candidate.”

Mr. Barletta said in a phone interview yesterday that he hasn’t ruled out running against Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a 12-term Democrat he unsuccessfully challenged in 2002. “I’ve been asked to consider running for Congress as well as other state offices, but right now I’m focusing on my job as mayor,” he said.

Big plans

Presidential hopeful former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, is making an all-capital-letters “BIG” push this morning to pressure Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to resign.

In an e-mail that also solicits donations, Edwards campaign manager Joe Trippi asks supporters to deliver a “simple message” to the embattled top attorney.

“Remember the Constitution that you were sworn to uphold? Remember what this country stands for? Remember the laws you were supposed to defend? If you do, then do what is right — just once — and resign.”

“But then again, maybe it has been so long since Gonzales read the Constitution that he forgot what this great document says,” Mr. Trippi adds in the note, first reported yesterday on The Washington Times’ blog Fishwrap. “Let’s remind him.”

The message also says Mr. Gonzales has “no respect for the rule of law, our rights and freedoms, or the Constitution,” and says he “helped enable torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and illegal spying on Americans.”

Mr. Trippi said for each signature, the Edwards campaign will send Mr. Gonzales a copy of the Constitution. And “with your help, we can send Gonzales a really BIG message.” The message? If the campaign gets 25,000 signatures, “We’re going to put them at the bottom of the largest copy of the Constitution you have ever seen, and deliver it straight to Gonzales’ office at the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department building in Washington, D.C. How big a copy of the Constitution? Big. Really big.”

Guilty plea

Al Gore’s son pleaded guilty yesterday to possessing marijuana and other drugs, but a judge said the plea could be withdrawn and the charges dropped if he successfully completes a drug-diversion program.

Authorities have said they found drugs in Al Gore III’s car after the 24-year-old was pulled over on July 4 for going 100 mph in his Toyota Prius.

He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of drug possession, two misdemeanor counts of drug possession without a prescription, and one misdemeanor count of marijuana possession, according to the district attorney’s office in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce @washingtontimes.com.



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