Daily Breeze

October 3, 2005

Harman skips the 'filters' in blog on her visit to Iraq
South Bay congresswoman's unvarnished comments on how the conflict is going create traffic on the Internet. "The U.S. is running out of time to get it right," she writes.

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Insurgent attacks in Iraq are "crippling the country's infrastructure and forcing the U.S. military into a defensive crouch."

"One senior U.S. official confided that the numbers of trained (Iraqi government) forces heralded in Washington 'are a lie.' "

Iraqis will go to the polls to vote on a new constitution in two weeks, but "on the ground the polling places have not yet been identified."

Those are some of Rep. Jane Harman's candid impressions of her Friday visit to Iraq. But they weren't conveyed via press release, news conference or interview. The South Bay lawmaker posted them on her first Internet "blog," providing a more-or-less real-time glimpse at part of her trip to several Middle Eastern countries this week.

In doing so, Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, joined the growing ranks of politicians who are using blogs to communicate and campaign, reaching beyond traditional media coverage of their comings and goings.

TPMCafe, an Internet forum that grew out of the Talking Points Memo blog written by Joshua Micah Marshall, hosted Harman's blog. He described the site as politically "moderate, center-left," which generally describes Harman's own ideology.

"Writing this blog is an opportunity to share with the audience my experiences ... with no filters," Harman said before departing on Monday. "It's a direct line into what I'm seeing and feeling during my trip."

Readers of the blog could -- and did -- post responses.

Harman filed three dispatches -- one laying the groundwork for the trip, another after addressing a political training seminar in Kuwait for Arab and Muslim women and the one from Iraq. (In a line sure to resonate with Californians, Harman observed that gasoline in Kuwait, which sits atop the world's third-largest oil supply, is only 60 cents a gallon.)

Noting that Kuwaiti women will be allowed to vote in 2007, Harman said, "There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for creating democracy in the Mideast."

"The women at this conference aren't waiting for Karen Hughes to bless their efforts," she said, referring to the trusted adviser to President Bush, who also met with women this week in the region. "They are already on the move."

Some of Harman's sharpest and most vivid comments were about Iraq. Although she supported the war that ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Harman often has been critical of the Bush administration's efforts there since.

"My message to senior officials was that the U.S. is running out of time to get it right in Iraq and risks losing the hearts and minds of the American public," she wrote. "I calculate three months -- culminating with the Dec. 15 (parliamentary) election -- to persuade the American public that real progress is being made and there is a success strategy in sight.

"What's needed is a straightforward message from the administration about tangible progress in Iraq. Hollow slogans like 'we will stand down when they stand up' are simplistic and don't cut it," Harman added, quoting a phrase often used by Bush.

Four goals need to be accomplished soon, she said: restoring reliable electricity service in Iraq, boosting oil exports for revenue and "national pride," getting Iraqi government ministries up and running, and capturing terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

"If there's one area where I was impressed, it is how many resources are devoted to catching ... Zarqawi," Harman wrote. "Although capturing Abu Azzam (a key Zarqawi deputy) was a major feat, one Western intel(ligence) official confided, 'there are dozens of number twos, but only one Zarqawi.' "

Reflecting the political flash point that Iraq has become, many of the responses posted to Harman's Iraq blog bitterly denounced the U.S. invasion and occupation.

"How many milestones have we been through and what do we have to show for it?" went one typical posting. "Forgive me if I'm feeling a bit jaded at this point. It ain't getting any better, nor will it."

But blogger Taylor Marsh applauded Harman's comments. "It's about time someone in the Democratic Party laid it out flatly, starkly and with no equivocation," she wrote.

Marshall, the editor and publisher of TPMCafe, said politicians' blogs "often drive a lot of traffic," particularly if they appear candid and unscripted.

"The one thing we make clear is we don't want it to be a speechwriter who's writing in their name. We really want it to be them," he said in an interview. "It's often scary for politicians to come out of press release mode. The ones who can get past that the most have the most response."