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Security Politics

The Washington Times says of yesterday's Iraq Study Group meetings and Levin's remarks, "Faced with the election results and emboldened Democrats, Mr. Bush is trying to keep control of the debate while still being open to suggestions from the soon-to-be new majority party on Capitol Hill...  Expectations for the group are growing, and those on both sides of the political divide say it could be a chance for the White House to achieve a face-saving way forward in Iraq." 

"Bush cautioned Monday against holding talks with Syria and Iran and beginning a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, two key proposals gaining support at home and abroad.  But the president said he was open to 'new ideas' on his administration's approach to Iraq..." 

McClatchy reminds us that the Iraq Study Group is "expected to issue its recommendations, which are being prepared in secrecy, next month." 

At Levin's press conference yesterday, one of his Democratic colleagues on Armed Services, Bill Nelson, stood on sidelines and listened silently, MSNBC's Curry reports.  Afterward, Nelson emphasized to reporters the need for success in Iraq, rather than withdrawal.  Nelson, who voted against Levin's resolution last June and who won re-election by a landslide last week, said success in Iraq is still necessary because "the alternative is not very palatable.  The alternative is to turn it over to the terrorists, and if the terrorists take over Iraq and are sitting on top of that oil, where do they go next?  They look south, they head for the Saudi royal family; if they take over (Said Arabia), they are sitting on the world's oil reserves.  That's not a situation the free world wants to face."

The message from Florida voters last week, Nelson said, was that they "want the United States to have a chance of success in protecting its interests which is by stabilizing Iraq," Curry reports.

Meanwhile, interviews with a half-dozen newly elected Democratic House members Monday revealed that they're hoping the Iraq Study Group comes up with an exit plan and that they won't need to vote on cutting off funding for the war, Curry says. 

The nation's Catholic bishops are calling for a new direction in Iraq.  Per the Boston Globe, the "bishops, who have consistently expressed moral concerns about the war, did not call for immediate withdrawal, saying the United States now has 'moral responsibilities to help Iraqis to secure and rebuild their country.'  But the bishops said the 'terrible toll' in Iraqi and American lives now requires a discussion driven by 'moral urgency, substantive dialogue, and new directions.'" 

Channeling Monday's First Read, the New York Times looks at McCain's "principled stand" or "huge political gamble," or both, with his call to increase the number of US troops in Iraq as he eyes a presidential bid. 

The Boston Globe's Canellos writes that the "importance of the alliance" between Vice President Cheney and outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "to setting policy has been somewhat exaggerated."  He adds that "one key to Cheney's influence will be whether Cheney can exercise equivalent power during the tenure of Robert Gates."  Still, there are "other vehicles for Cheney's influence," such as the State Department and Justice Department.  "The bottom line seems to be that Cheney doesn't need Rumsfeld to remain the administration's pre eminent policy maker."