Thursday, February 08, 2007

Let's Talk About It

Today, in the depths of a terrible war, on the brink of a decisive battle for Baghdad, let us have a serious debate about where we stand and where we must go in Iraq. That is the debate we should have—but it is not the debate that this resolution would bring. — Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT)

Our Constitution and the process that created it enshrined discourse and debate, especially on the most difficult issues of the day, as a fundamental and essential part of good government. In a broad society fraught with multiple competing interests, it is through this process that our government comes closest to best accomplishing its noblest purposes. In this view, circumventing debate or closing off debate too early leads to bad government. Of course, there comes a time when talk must cease and action must take place in order for good government to actually come about.

Senate supporters of the Warner-Levin resolution that would toothlessly rebuke President Bush for ordering a troop surge in Iraq (an action that follows recommendations made by the great and infallible Iraq Study Group) are in a complete dither over their inability to muster 60 votes to stop debate on the resolution so that it can be brought to a vote.

Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) was positively flummoxed over it on the NewsHour Tuesday night, strangely claiming that the Republican minority were refusing to let them debate and vote on the resolution which “would, in fact, get more than a majority and perhaps more than 60 votes.” Come again, Senator? I you have 60 votes, then get cloture and prove it. Don’t say such stupid things on national television.

Oops. My bad. Politicians do that kind of thing all of the time. And the MSM only calls them on it if they’re on the MSM crap list.

The weird thing about this is that opponents of the Warner-Levin resolution were voting to continue debate, not to close it off. In their view, the matter is not yet ready for a vote. Senate Democrats now understand the frustration senate Republicans felt when they held a slim majority but were unable to muster enough votes to bring legislation to a final vote. And I’ll wager that senate Republicans, now in the minority, are thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t exercise the so-called nuclear option to disallow filibusters on judicial and administrative nominees.

Senator Joe Lieberman, now an Independent Democrat, had some very strong words for the resolution’s supporters in his Monday speech on the senate floor. He said, “It is altogether proper that we debate our policy in Iraq. It should be a debate that is as serious as the situation in Iraq and that reflects the powers the Constitution gives to Congress in matters of war. But that, sadly, is not the debate that the Warner-Levin resolution invites us to have.”

Lieberman called the resolution “an accumulation of ambiguities and inconsistencies.” (Gee, I thought most legislation was like that.) He then went on to rip on his colleagues for pursuing a historically unprecedented and “wrong” action. He said, “I contacted the Library of Congress on this question last week and was told that, never before, when American soldiers have been in harm’s way, fighting and dying in a conflict that Congress had voted to authorize, has Congress turned around and passed a resolution like this, disapproving of a particular battlefield strategy.”

Of course, the resolution (which senate majority leaders have shelved for the time being) was not primarily intended to micromanage the battlefield. It was meant to send a stinging rebuke to President Bush, a man the Left hates as much as the Right used to hate President Clinton. The majority were pandering to their base, rather than offering any kind of help. In doing so, Lieberman claimed, they would actively and negatively alter the state of our affairs in Iraq. Actually, they intended this non-binding resolution to simply open the door for something with far more teeth.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery says (here) that Congressional Democrats are making a bad political move with their intense focus on embarrassing President Bush via non-binding resolutions. She says they would have been better to express concern but give support. Then if things went badly, they would have come off as prescient. Now, however, if things go well they will share none of the praise. And if things go badly, they will share part of the blame for having helped cause the disaster. They have unwittingly offered President Bush “a partial alibi.”

Emery says that while Congressional Democrats are keyed into “the mood of the moment,” things can quickly change. “[T]he present, intense as it is, is often a poor predictor of what will come next.” Citing historical examples, she warns, “In the long run, those seen as courting defeat are not thought of fondly.” Those in solid districts won’t lose elections, but presidential elections have proven extremely difficult for Democrats to win ever since they “closed down a tedious war against the will of a Republican president.”

Those are pretty dire predictions. I don’t know how things will actually turn out. Democrats held Congress for two decades after they shut down Vietnam, so it doesn’t appear that they suffered the wrath of voters. I suppose it can be construed to seem that the two presidents they have been able to elect since then were anomalies, but I don’t know if that’s the way it really works.

At any rate, I believe that the push to pass resolutions censuring President Bush for his management of Iraq will come back to hurt Democrats in the long run. It comes across as spiteful Bush hatred rather than something that is designed to help the country. Although left politicos won’t see it this way, it comes across to the average guy the same way the Clinton impeachment came across. You can argue all day long that it is the right thing to do, but it smacks of something quite different to the average American.

Bush is not blame free in all of this. He and his administration have worked for the past several years to completely shut down debate about Iraq under the mantra that any debate was tantamount to insubordination. Now that he has finally changed strategies to something that could work; however, the legislative branch is showing that it is tired of being ignored. So tired, in fact, that they are willing to risk actual insubordination. As my mom used to tell me, two wrongs don’t make a right.

The point is that in a pluralistic society, we need open debate about the important issues of the day. We should have a hardy and robust debate about how to deal with Iraq in specific and with radical Islam in general. Decisions should be reached and executed within the framework of each government branch’s constitutionally mandated duties. And the voters should make elected officials accountable for those decisions. It’s not a clean and clear cut process. But it is designed to achieve good government.


Charles D said...

We do need a national debate on Iraq along with an open investigation of how intelligence was either so wrong or so manipulated that everything the Congress and the people were told about Saddam's Iraq turned out to be false. We need to understand why there was no post-takeover planning and why the quick victory over Saddam degenerated so rapidly into the quagmire we have today.

You are correct that the Warner-Levin resolution is a waste of time. For some unknown reason, the Democrats are unwilling to uncover the truth about this war and unwilling to make a bold stand against it.

I have absolutely no doubt that if the majority of Americans knew what this administration had done in the lead up to the war and how badly they managed it, there would be a loud clamor for impeachment - not a weak murmur for non-binding resolutions. At the very least, Democrats should rally around the resolution that has been languishing in the House for 2 years. It calls for "bringing all of the US troops and military contractors in Iraq home in a six-month time frame as part of a fully-funded redeployment plan." It would "oppose sending additional US troops and military contractors to Iraq" and mandate that "all appropriations for US military involvement in Iraq must be for the protection of our troops until and during their withdrawal within six months of the date of enactment of this limitation and accelerating the training and equipping of additional Iraqi security forces during that six-month time frame." and it opposes "...establishing any permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq" would rescind the President's Iraq war authority, and support greater diplomatic and political engagement in the region, while ensuring that the Iraqi people have control over their own petroleum resources."

Scott Hinrichs said...

DL, I fully agree that major mistakes were made leading up to Iraq as well as in managing the post-Saddam mess there. We should get to the bottom of what happened and why, but not at the expense of making our own security situation even worse. The history of the issue is not as vital as the path ahead.

I completely disagree with any resolution that would rescind the President's authority to carry out the war in Iraq. As long as a president legally holds the office, she/he cannot be stripped of the powers the Constitution attributes to the office.

As I have said before, Congress was derelict in its duty to either declare war or refuse to do so, voting instead to authorize the President to use force. The legislative branch cannot now recover from that mistake by seeking to stip the President of constitutionally mandated authority. Even a liberal supreme court would slap that one down in five minutes.

You may pine for impeachment, but I doubt that is in the cards anytime during the next 23 months. So, for the time being, President Bush as the Commander In Chief wields executive power in our affairs in Iraq. People don't have to like it, but they do have to live with it.

y-intercept said...

This is a great assessment of the current debate. The fact that the MSM will present each and every action of the Republicans as an attempt to stifle the debate is par for the course. I just wish we had an administration smart enough to realize that they need to take a more active role in structuring the debate.

As for Democracy_lover's statement, I don't think that uncovering the Bush agenda on the lead up to the war would lead to a call for impeachment (as there were no US Laws broken). The fact that Bush skirted international laws, puts us in trouble with the ICC (which we did not ratify, but the rest of the world did).

y-intercept said...

I shouldn't post two comments ... i just thought it worth pointing out that this statement in DL's post was wrong: "everything the Congress and the people were told about Saddam's Iraq turned out to be false."

Saddam had committed genocide. The Oil For Food Scandal was corrupt to the core. Saddam still had the capacity to produce large quantities of WMDs on a second's notice. Most importantly, Hussein was trying to hide things from the inspectors. The one key element was that Hussein did not have stockpiles of WMDs. (Hussein was trying to keep up a bluff that he had WMDs to the Arab world, while convincing the Western world he did not ... not a smart thing to do.)

While I think Bush was unwise for invading Iraq, he really was not openly lying ... just bending intelligence to his favor. This is an act that should be criticized, but we should be judicious in our criticism.

Charles D said...

The Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war and it has not done so since 1941. The fact that we have become used to a usurpation of power by the executive branch is no reason to continue that usurpation particularly when it is failing at such a terrible cost to the nation.

The cost of this war is so terrible to our nation that the corruption of intelligence by the Bush Administration is not defensible as a bending of the truth in order to gain a noble end. It was a deliberate distortion of the facts in order to pursue a strategy that was unnecessary, illegal (both under US and international law), and so fantastic as to make any intelligent person question the sanity of those pursuing it.

Saddam was evil - that's hardly the point. The role of the United States and its military is not to rid the world of evildoers (something it certainly has not done very well), it is to defend the people and land of the United States of America. Since Saddam's Iraq posed no threat to either, the "Saddam was evil" argument is totally beside the point.

y-intercept said...

DL, I agree wholeheartedly that Bush's actions are doing irreparable harm to the United States. Because of Bush, both the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats. Unless something changes dramatically, in 2008 the House, Senate and presidency will be controlled by the Democrats. The future for this country is looking extremely bleak.

I also agree that we should have had a declaration of war. The declaration of war thing used to be a Republican complaint. This is prior to the rise of the neocons.

BTW, Bush's reason for invading Iraq was not simply that Saddam was evil. His reasoning was that, in order to win the war on terror, we had to choose the battlefield. There is some merit to this argument. Historically, people lose wars when they let their opponents choose the battlefield.

I think Bush was right in his assessment that if we successfully installed a democratic government in Iraq, that we would hasten the end to the forever war going on between the west and east. Bush underestimated the ease with which a few thousand terrorists armed with IEDs can undermine a government. I was against Bush's taking the gamble he took in 2003.

I don't hate Bush for the harm he has done.

Charles D said...


You give Bush far too much credit. The "war on terror" is his creation, not a existing actual war in which battlefields can be chosen. One cannot declare or conduct a war against a method of warfare. What one can do is retain the sympathy of the entire world (which we had immediately after 9/11) and use it to identify and bring to justice the isolated groups of criminals who were responsible for the terrorist attacks.

Since democracy has never been brought to any nation at the point of an invading army's guns, and since any respectable scholar of the region could have informed him that it would not work in Iraq, he had no excuse whatever for the invasion. He did not even suggest that was his rationale until all the other rationales he put forth had been proven untrue.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Actually, democratization was imposed (militarily initially) on both Germany and Japan. And Bush repeatedly talked about democratizing Iraq long before the invasion. But he had many different interests to appease, and simply wanting to democratize the place would not have garnered any international support. Thus, he used other arguments, including WMD, to get a UN resolution.

Other nations agreed with the intelligence reports on WMD. Some of them supplied some of the intelligence. But they disagreed with what should be done with the enforcement end of the resolution. Those disagreements continue to this day.

But this focus on WMD was chimera for the actual goal of democratization. Thus, it comes across to many Americans and most of the international community as a bait and switch. People feel like they were sold a bill of goods. They would care less about this if things had been properly managed and had gone well, but the fact that they haven't only makes the buyer's remorse more intense.

I totally disagree with those that believe that democracy cannot succeed in Iraq. There is no people on the face of the earth that cannot successfully implement democracy. Of course, some people are more ripe for it than others, so the amount of struggle to get there differs substantially between different populations. And, of course, coming into a dictatorship and working to implement democracy top down with none of the underpinning institutions that democracy requires is probably the most difficult case of all.