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Miller, Pelosi, Eshoo just back from Middle East

Three Bay Area House members have just returned from a four-day, bi-partisan Congressional delegation trip to Iraq, Qatar and Israel, where they met with U.S. troops from the Bay Area as well as with military commanders and foreign leaders.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, issued a statement today saying he gained valuable insights on the region.

“I get a lot of good information in Washington, but when it comes to making tough decisions about our troops and our nation’s security it is also essential to get a first-hand view in critical parts of the world like Iraq and the Middle East,” he said. “The opportunity to meet face-to-face with U.S. military commanders and American troops on the ground to better understand the conditions there is invaluable.

“The troops we met with expressed a huge sense of pride over the daring mission that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Miller continued. “Clearly, even the troops that were not directly involved in the raid were proud to be members of the military forces that accomplished it. And they have every right to feel that way. The mission was a huge victory for our country’s security efforts and for President Obama, U.S. military forces and the American intelligence community. And hopefully the death of bin Laden will hasten the return of American troops from the war in Afghanistan.

“Regardless of one’s position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the men and women who serve this country day in and day out are to be commended. Their sacrifice and the sacrifices made by their families and friends is something that we must always keep in mind.”

Also among the delegation’s members were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.; Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La.

Read Miller’s travelogue, after the jump…
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McNerney voted for the war supplemental

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, was the only Bay Area House member to vote in favor of the $33 billion Afghanistan and Iraq war supplemental spending bill yesterday. The bill passed on a 308-114 vote.

I asked McNerney’s office why he voted as he did, and how he felt about this week’s release of classified military documents on the WikiLeaks website.

Jerry McNerney “The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter, especially if it has the potential to put American troops at risk. I have been following these developments carefully,” he replied in an e-mail this afternoon. “I voted in favor of the supplemental because I believe we must continue to develop an effective strategy to stop terrorists who are attempting to use Afghanistan as a safe haven from which to attack our country.

“Late last year, I traveled to Afghanistan as part of a bipartisan fact-finding trip to see for myself the situation on ground,” he continued. “I spent time with our troops and met with U.S. military and Afghan government officials. I’m impressed by the efforts of our men and women in uniform and grateful for their sacrifice, and I believe our military commanders and our troops in the field should have the resources to defend themselves and execute the mission they have been given.”

Politically, it seemed like a no-brainer. Regardless of how McNerney personally feels about the wars, a “no” vote would’ve been risky for the only truly embattled House incumbent serving the most moderate district in the Bay Area, and it’s not as if he’d have put the Democratic doves’ votes over the top.

Read other Bay Area members’ comments, after the jump…
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Brown-bagging for peace

Progressive Democrats of America is planning another round of brown-bag lunch vigils at House members’ district offices – including four in Northern California – next Wednesday, Feb. 17 to demand commitments to vote against more money for war.

brown-bag lunch The first round, on Jan. 20, targeted 22 House members; this round already has 37 events scheduled. And this time, PDA will be joined by CODEPINK, AfterDowningStreet, Democrats.com, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, and United for Peace and Justice. Poster slogans include “Healthcare not Warfare,” “Corporations out of Politics,” “Bailout Main Street not Wall Street,” and “Brownbaggers not Teabaggers.”

In Northern California, the vigils are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s office, 1010 10th St. in Modesto; noon to 1 at Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s office, 1101 College Ave. in Santa Rosa; and noon to 2 p.m. at Rep. Barbara Lee’s office, 1301 Clay St., Suite 1000-N in Oakland, and at Rep. John Garamendi’s office, 1981 N. Broadway, Suite 220 in Walnut Creek.

Can you guess which of these is least likely to invite the brown-baggers in? I knew you could.

The activists want House members to vow to oppose any bills that fund wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen, and to publicly urge their colleagues and the House leadership to do the same. They also want members to cosponsor antiwar legislation including Lee’s HR 3699, which would prohibit any increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That bill’s 28 cosponsors already include Woolsey as well as Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

“We have to choose between jobs and wars,” PDA national director Tim Carpenter said in a news release. “The American people are on one side, but our so-called representatives in Congress are on the other. The Supreme Court is busy increasing corporate control of our elected officials. We need to be busy enforcing the people’s control before it is too late.”

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Local Iranians fret over opposition group’s fate

As my colleague Matt O’Brien wrote back in August, Iranian-Americans in the Bay Area continue to worry about the fate of an Iranian opposition group that has been living in Iraq for decades, but may now be in danger from the new U.S.-supported Iraqi regime.

Hamid Azimi of Albany, a spokesman for the Iranian-American Community of Northern California, said today the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to ensure members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran – a group of Iranian dissidents who oppose the Islamic government that has ruled Iran since 1979 – won’t be put in harm’s way as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki follows through with a plan to relocate them this week from “Camp Ashraf,” the group’s settlement since the mid-1980s. All Washington has done so far is “urge caution.”

U.S.-led coalition forces disarmed the group in 2003, and protected the settlement until turning authority over to Iraqi security forces at the start of this year – a move that struck fear into the group’s supporters’ hearts, as they believe the Iranian government has considerable influence over the new Iraqi regime. Indeed, a July skirmish between Iraqi security forces and camp residents claimed 11 residents’ lives, leaving hundreds wounded. (See some video here.)

But despite high-visibility tactics such as hunger-strikes, Iranian-Americans have found it hard to build a lot of concern and sympathy for the PMOI, as the U.S. government has designated it as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997 (a move some said was meant as an olive branch to the somewhat reformist regime then in power in Iran).

Rep. Bob Filner’s H.Res.704, “deploring the ongoing violence by Iraqi security forces against the residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq,” has amassed bipartisan support from 115 cosponsors since the San Diego Democrat introduced it at the end of July. Among those co-sponsors are Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

As advocates for and relatives of Camp Ashraf residents prepare for an event tomorrow in Washington, Azimi – whose wife’s cousin lives at Ashraf – wants the public to turn up the pressure on members of Congress who haven’t already signed onto Filner’s legislation, in order to create pressure in turn on the State Department to intervene. So far, Azimi says, “The State Department is very interested in making sure there is not democracy in Iran, they are very adamant about it.”

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Strife, leadership change at Alameda County GOP

A controversial resolution calling for a non-interventionist foreign policy – meaning a withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq – was shot down by the Alameda County Republican Central Committee last night, even as the committee’s chair changed hands between the party’s warring factions.

Former chairman Jerry Salcido – among a faction of “Constitutional Republicans,” a group often associated with former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. – announced his resignation last week after just a few months in the post. He told me today he’s moving back to Utah to start his own law firm with his brother.

a party dividedThe Constitutional Republicans and the mainstream GOPers some call “neo-conservatives” have been embroiled in a battle for a year and a half. Committeeman Paul Cummings Jr. of Oakland has a lawsuit pending against several of the Constitutional Republicans, claiming their June 2008 election to the committee was invalid because they hadn’t been affiliated with the Republican Party for at least three months before their candidacy filing dates, and/or because they’d belonged to other parties within a year before filing, in violation of the state Elections Code. (A hearing on this is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 18.)

So with Salcido leaving, a struggle for control ensued: The Constitutional Republicans put up Brian Eschen, 34, of Pleasanton, while the neo-cons backed John Wyrwas of Berkeley. Wyrwas – a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering at Cal – narrowly prevailed, winning the county GOP’s chair one day after his 25th birthday.

“We’re all very excited about the next year,” Wyrwas told me this aftneroon. “I think starting in January our committee is going to be a lot more civil than we were in the past, and I think a lot of our problems will be behind us.”

He noted he ran as a moderate: “There’s a lot I agree on with both factions… We’re looking at a lot of potential.”

Salcido, 31, of Fremont, wished Wyrwas “the best of luck, he seems like a really good guy…. I’m hoping he’ll be impartial with the two factions that are there, because Lord knows we need it.”

Cummings, 53, of Oakland, said he’s thrilled and optimistic at the resolution’s defeat and Wyrwas’ election – he feels as if the good guys are back in charge. Walter Stanley III, among the Constitutional Republican faction’s leaders, isn’t so happy, knocking Cummings’ faction as “pro-national-offense Republicans… They don’t care about the Constitution, they don’t care that it’s an undeclared war, the just care about protecting George Bush.”

Salcido said he was “very disappointed” by the defeat of the foreign-policy resolution, which he co-authored and presented to the committee last night.

“It’s just an indication to me why the Republican Party is having such troubles nowadays, they just want to hold onto this pro-war, interventionist stance that is killing our soldiers and bankrupting our country,” he said, noting the opposing faction seems “more interested in power rather than principle. … They actually said the reasons why terrorists want to kill us is because we’re free and we’re prosperous, they actually believe that, and that’s incredible to me.”

(Note: A server-upgrade glitch has made my previous post about the foreign-policy resolution, from yesterday, temporarily unavailable; my tech people tell me they should be able to restore it and other posts tomorrow morning. UPDATE @ 1 P.M. THURSDAY: THIS HAS BEEN FIXED.)

Stanley said the foreign-policy resolution had 13 votes in favor and 20 against, but at least it was “an educational opportunity” that drew a few new observers to last night’s committee meeting – and expanding the party’s base of members and activists is supposed to be the committee’s goal.

“What they would prefer to do is absolutely nothing,” he charged of committee members such as Cummings and Dick Spees of Oakland, whom he described as “the leader of the ‘George Bushers…’ These guys couldn’t be doing better to sabotage the efforts of the Republican Party if they were Democrats.”

But Stanley said he’s optimistic that Constitutional Republicans will gain more ground on the committee in 2010. “We’ll keep doing things by the book… we’re going to be there, they’ll be forced to deal with us, and we’re going to attempt to get the Republican Party back on track.”

“We have nowhere to go but up, and that’s what we’re trying to do in Alameda County.”

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Alameda County GOP infights over foreign policy

Expect fireworks at tonight’s Alameda County Republican Central Committee meeting, as there’s a debate and vote on a proposed resolution endorsing a non-interventionist foreign policy – which in the short term means pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The resolution was introduced by committeemen Jerry Salcido, Walter Stanley III and David LaTour – the county GOP’s chairman, vice chairman and assistant treasurer, respectively. All three are “Constitutional Republicans” aligned with the Republican Liberty Caucus, a libertarian-leaning group often associated with former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. The county GOP’s executive committee last week voted 4-1, with one absention, to approve the resolution and send it to the full committee’s monthly meeting for a 2/3 vote.

The Alameda County GOP has been torn by strife for well over a year now, with a lawsuit still pending over these and other Ron Paul supporters’ election to the committee.

The California Court of Appeal in September reinstated the case, in which committeeman Paul Cummings Jr. of Oakland claims Stanley, of Livermore, and several other Constitutional Republicans were ineligible for election to the committee in June 2008 because they hadn’t been affiliated with the Republican Party for at least three months before their candidacy filing dates, and/or because they’d belonged to other parties within a year before filing, in violation of the state Elections Code.

This resolution is likely to deepen the rift. Among its many “whereases” are that our foreign policy of the past century is deeply flawed and hasn’t served our national security interests; that “the terrorist threat is a predictable consequence of our meddling in the affairs of others and has nothing to do with us being free and prosperous;” and that “torture, even if referred to as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ is self-destructive and produces no useful information and that contracting it out to a third world country or a corporation is just as evil.”

Incidentally, that’s not unlike the verbiage in a resolution approved last month by Berkeley City Council calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and contractors for Afghanistan (or, for that matter, several other resolutions that council has approved in recent years).

Compare the county GOP’s proposed resolution also to an Afghanistan-withdrawal resolution approved Sunday by the California Democratic Party’s executive board.

And that’s not sitting well with GOP committee members other than the Constitutional Republicans.

“I’m certainly in knots about it,” Cummings said today. “I’m a retired Navy officer, and I’m shocked that while we have troops in the field, we would put together a document that is so disparaging of our policy in the war on terror. Some of the comments in it are beyond the pale.”

Read the full text of the resolution, after the jump…
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