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War and Pieces

It appears that the war in Iraq isn't going so well. The Iraq Study Group, a conflict-resolution team appointed by President George W. Bush, has concluded that the situation "is grave and deteriorating."

Among the group's 79 recommendations for the White House: Open diplomatic negotiations with Iraq's neighbors, such as Iran and Syria; take a new stab at Arab-Israeli peace; and speed up training of Iraqi forces, with a goal of getting U.S. troops out of the country by 2008. Oh, and by the way, we need to pay a little more attention to Afghanistan, where things aren't going so well since we liberated that country. The report notes: "The challenges are daunting."

President Bush thanked the group for its feedback and said U.S. troops would remain in Iraq until they "complete the mission," although we're no longer sure what that means, exactly.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has been calling for more U.S. troops in Iraq, said he had "some real concerns with a number of the group's recommendations," including the idea of linking the Arab-Israeli peace process to the conflict in Iraq, negotiating with Iran and Syria, and setting up a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"By placing a limited timeframe on our military commitments, we would only induce Iraqis to side with militias that will stay indefinitely, rather than with the U.S. and government of Iraq," McCain press-released. "Such a step would only complicate our considerable difficulties. ... Only by cracking down on independent militias, reducing criminal and terrorist activity, and protecting the population and key infrastructure--none of which can be accomplished without more troops--can a political settlement begin to take hold."

Congressman Raul Grijalva offered the opposite perspective, saying the White House should engage Iraq's neighbors diplomatically and start bringing troops home.

"We have only unpleasant options in the situation created by this president's actions," Grijalva press-released. "I feel strongly that the costs to our nation and the violence in the region will only increase the longer our men and women remain in Iraq. ... At this point, the ultimate question is whether President Bush will listen to the voice of reason, face reality, listen to what the Commission has to say and, ultimately, act on the recommendations. On this point, I am pessimistic. The American people clearly expressed their view on Iraq in the last election, but the policy has not yet changed."


Conduct Unbecoming

Speaking of exciting government reports: The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct released a report called "Investigation of Allegations Related to Improper Conduct Involving Members and Current or Former House Pages." Should we even comment on the use of the word "members"?

The report, triggered by those nasty text messages and e-mails from former Florida Rep. Mark Foley's to those hot, young congressional pages, did not recommend further investigation or discipline, but was critical of GOP leaders for adopting a don't-ask, don't-tell attitude. "In all, a pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences of former Rep. Foley's conduct with respect to House pages," the report noted.

The local angle: Outgoing Congressman Jim Kolbe was pulled into the scandal in 2001, when a former page who had been sponsored by Kolbe contacted his office after getting an e-mail from Foley regarding the unlikely topic of his penis size. Although the page said he forwarded the e-mail to Kolbe's personal account, Kolbe told investigators he never saw Foley's e-mail, but he did ask a staffer to tell Foley to knock off any funny business. The Kolbe aide, Patrick Baugh, said that the page contacted Kolbe directly, and then Kolbe asked him to talk to Foley's office.

After the Foley scandal news broke earlier this year, the former page told House investigators that he contacted Kolbe about the earlier incident and was told by Kolbe that "it is best if you don't even bring this up with anybody. ... (T)here is no good that can come from it if you talk about this." Kolbe told investigators that the former page told him that he wasn't going to talk about it, and Kolbe simply told him, "That's your decision."

The former page said that after that conversation, he got a phone message from Kolbe in which the congressman said, "It looks like you did some talking," because The Washington Post was now doing a story about Kolbe's involvement in the Foley scandal. In the message, Kolbe urged him to retain an attorney.

The report faults Kolbe for not doing more: "If Rep. Kolbe was not shown the instant message, he should have asked for it. He knew Rep. Foley was gay, knew the communication made the former page (who by this time was only a college freshman and was less than two years removed from the page program) uncomfortable, and recognized that the communication may have been sexual in nature. He also knew he was being asked to confront a fellow member about the member's conduct on a potentially extremely sensitive matter. In light of those facts, the Investigative Subcommittee believes that Rep. Kolbe should have asked for the instant message (if he did not already have it) in order to make sure his response was the correct one."

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