Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Voting For Peace In 2008

David Corn writes The Loyal Opposition twice a month for Corn is also the Washington editor of The Nation and the co-author, along with Michael Isikoff, of HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War Read his blog at

What's the best way to judge a potential president? It might be to look at the hard decisions a candidate has made in the past. And for several of the probable and possible 2008 contenders, the October 2002 vote in the Senate on the resolution granting George W. Bush the authority to attack Iraq whenever he deemed fit was the most difficult call they had to make. It certainly was the most consequential. All of the current senatorial presidential wannabes who were in office then—Democrats Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, Evan Bayh, and Republicans John McCain, Chuck Hagel and Sam Brownback—voted for the bill. So, too, did former Sen. John Edwards. (Sen. Barack Obama, who opposed the war, was not yet in the Senate.) But there were differences in how each approached and explained his or her vote. So let's go back through the dusty pages of the Congressional Record, and see how these legislators handled this tough task—and helped land the United States in the biggest foreign policy blunder of recent decades..

Hillary Clinton. She bought (and repeated) the White House sales pitch. In a floor speech before the vote, she said, “intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members.” Did she read those reports? Few senators of either party bothered to do so. Any who had would have seen that the intelligence was more dubious than the White House was claiming.

Having accepted the claim that Iraq was a WMD threat, Clinton tried to craft an in-the-middle position. She said she was opposed to an immediate unilateral attack on Iraq. But she also opposed asking the U.N. to approve military action against Iraq. Instead, she advocated seeking a U.N. resolution demanding that Iraq cooperate with inspections. If Iraq did not, she said, the United States would have the necessary authority—due to an earlier U.N. resolution—to attack on its own. “A vote for [the resolution],” she declared, “is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president and we say to him, 'Use these powers wisely and as a last resort.'” Still, she gave Bush the keys to the car—and said nothing about the consequences of a U.S. invasion of Iraq. When Bush decided to use those keys for a military joyride a few months later, despite the fact that inspections were still under way, Clinton did not protest. The bottom line: she adopted the Bush approach.

John Edwards. In his final statement in the Senate debate, he called Saddam's regime “a grave threat to America and our allies.” He claimed “almost no one disagrees” with the “basic” fact that Saddam has “weapons of mass destruction.” He said that backing the resolution would “strengthen America's hand” and convince Saddam he “has one last chance.” Edwards called for a revival of the U.N. inspections process but said “we must be prepared to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction once and for all.” He noted, “we have not heard nearly enough from the administration about its plans for assisting the Iraqi people” after an invasion. But he said nothing about what that would entail. In a Washington Post op-ed three years later, Edwards stated, “I was wrong... It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake.” Bottom line: Edwards' argument for war was superficial: Saddam bad, must threaten him by enabling Bush to invade Iraq. But unlike most of his Senate colleagues from that time, he has confessed he screwed up.

Joseph Biden Jr. Before the vote, Biden tried to craft a bipartisan alternative to the White House resolution that would have partly restricted Bush's authority. That effort failed. Discussing the final bill on the Senate floor, Biden described Iraq's WMDs as a threat to the United States—but he noted that this threat was not immediate and that Iraq was not in league with al-Qaida. He said:

We have time to deal with that problem in a way that isolates Saddam and does not isolate the United States of America, that makes the use of force the final option, not the first one, that produces the desired results, not unintended consequences.

And he claimed Bush believed this, too: “That is the course President Bush has chosen.” Biden hailed Bush's recent decision to ask the U.N. for a resolution that would demand that Saddam accept new inspections. “Thank God for Colin Powell!” Biden exclaimed. As for what might happen after an invasion, Biden said,

There is a danger that Saddam's downfall could lead to widespread civil unrest and reprisals. There is only one thing I disagree with in the President's speech on [October 7]. He said what could be worse than Saddam Hussein? I can tell you, a lot... This is a much more complicated country than Afghanistan.

Biden noted that there would be plenty of challenges in post-invasion Iraq, that meeting them would be tough and costly, and that chaos in Iraq could lead to regional warfare involving Iran and Syria. Bottom line: Biden had a handle on the nature of the threat posed by Iraq and the potential consequences of an invasion; he failed to suss out that Bush was committed to war.

Evan Bayh. This gentleman from the Hoosier state was a co-sponsor of the Iraq war resolution with Sens. John Warner, Joe Lieberman and McCain. He took a nuance-free view. Saddam, Bayh asserted, “presents a very significant potential threat to our country” due to his possession of WMDs and the possibility that he could place these weapons “in the hands of suicidal terrorist for use against the United States of America.” Bayh declared, “there is little doubt [Saddam] will reach out to al-Qaida or Hezbollah or other international institutions of terrorism to develop a [WMD] deterrent to threaten us.” He was dramatic: “How long must we wait? Until the missiles have been launched? Until smallpox, anthrax or VX nerve agent has found its way into our country? ... The deaths next time might not be numbered in the threes of thousands but 30,000 or 300,000.” He dismissed non-military options. Bayh wasn't keen on using the U.N., inspections or diplomacy to deal with the so-called threat. He had no patience for what-ifs regarding the post-invasion period: “What will we do after our victory? I say that is a good question, but can the regime in Iraq be worse? I think not.” Bottom line: As hawkish as Joe Lieberman.

John Kerry. In his major statement during the Senate debate, Kerry, like most other senators, accepted the bad intelligence without scrutinizing it. “Why is [Saddam] seeking to develop unmanned airborne vehicles for delivery of biological agents?” he asked. (Saddam wasn't.) He added:

I believe the record of Saddam Hussein's ruthless, reckless breach of international values and standards of behavior ... is cause enough for the world community to hold him accountable by use of force, if necessary.

At the same time he questioned Bush's credibility, noting that Bush had initially made it seem that he was more interested in regime change than disarming Iraq. But Kerry said that since the Bush administration had shifted its aims and was willing to press for new inspections, he would support the resolution as a means to pressure Saddam into accepting the inspections. But Kerry tried to lay down a marker:

If we do wind up going to war with Iraq, it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community, unless there is a showing of a grave, imminent—and I emphasize 'imminent'—threat to this country.

Looking ahead, Kerry foresaw a “great” challenge should the United States invade Iraq:

Other nations in the region and all of us will need to help create an Iraq that is a place and a force for stability and openness in the region. That effort is going to be long term, costly and not without difficulty, given Iraq's ethnic and religious divisions and history of domestic turbulence. In Afghanistan, the administration has given more lip service than resources to the rebuilding effort. We cannot allow that to happen in Iraq, and we must be prepared to stay the course over however many years it takes to do it right... The president needs to give the American people a fairer and fuller, clearer understanding of the magnitude and long-term financial cost of that effort.

But Kerry did not dwell on this point. Now he wants not to stay the course but to withdraw all troops within six to eight months. Bottom line: Kerry accepted—or hid behind—the conventional wisdom about Saddam's WMDs, avoided voting against a future war that could turn out to be popular, while raising appropriate questions about Bush's intentions and plans. He created an internally consistent mishmash that would be hard to sell to voters in 2004.

Christopher Dodd. The Connecticut liberal proclaimed Saddam was “a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction.” He explained that he was voting for the resolution “in the fervent hope that this show of unity in authorizing the president to use force will reduce the likelihood that force will ultimately be necessary.” But Dodd tried to qualify his stance: “How imminent that threat is, unfortunately, has been extremely difficult to assess. This is because of a troubling new trend by the intelligence agencies to not just give us information and objective analysis but, in my opinion, too often to insert themselves into policymaking.” He expressed concerns that Bush would invade Iraq without sufficient international support and that a war in Iraq would distract from the war on terrorism. Bottom line: Dodd didn't trust CIA director George Tenet and the agency's claims about Iraq's WMDs; he doubted Bush would use the authority well, yet handed it to him anyway.

John McCain. During the Senate debate, McCain echoed Bush in declaring Saddam a “grave and gathering danger, a clear threat to American security.” He claimed that Saddam “has developed stocks of germs and toxins in sufficient quantities to kill the entire population of the Earth multiple times” and that Iraq was on a “crash course to construct a nuclear weapon.” (Not even the overstated and flawed intelligence used such hair-raising terms.) He noted he was “deeply skeptical” of inspections. And he led the effort to beat back an amendment that would push Bush to focus on disarming Saddam rather than regime change. In his final speech, McCain reached for eloquence and tried to portray a war against Iraq as a sign and obligation of American greatness. The vote on the president's resolution, he said, “will answer the fundamental question about America's purpose in the world.” He laid it on thick: The vote, he said:

Will reveal whether we are brave, and wise, or reluctant, self-doubting…It will test us…It will help determine whether the greater Middle East will progress toward possession of the values Americans hold to be universal.

As for what would follow such a war, McCain was positive Iraqis would embrace the liberators from America: “Our regional allies who oppose using force against Saddam Hussein warn of uncontrollable popular hostility to an American attack on Iraq… [T]he people of that tortured society will surely dance on the regime's grave… [I]t's a safe assumption that Iraqis will be grateful to whoever is responsible for securing their freedom.” McCain said nothing about the potential problems ahead. He did say, “By voting to give the president the authority to wage war, we assume and share his responsibility for the war's outcome.” Bottom line: Wrong on the nature of the threat and wrong on what would follow the invasion—and yearning for a good war to prove American exceptionalism and nobility.

Chuck Hagel. Of all the senators eyeing the White House in 2008, this Nebraskan was the only one to express deep reservations about the resolution—while still voting for it. “America—including the Congress—and the world, must speak with one voice about Iraqi disarmament, as it must continue to do so in the war on terrorism,” Hagel said in explaining his vote. But he was prescient: “If disarmament in Iraq requires the use of force, we need to consider carefully the implications and consequences of our actions. The future of Iraq after Saddam Hussein is also an open question. Some of my colleagues and some American analysts now speak authoritatively of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, and how Iraq can be a test case for democracy in the Arab world. How many of us really know and understand much about Iraq, the country, the history, the people, the role in the Arab world? I approach the issue of post-Saddam Iraq and the future of democracy and stability in the Middle East with more caution, realism and a bit more humility.” He added, “Imposing democracy through force in Iraq is a roll of the dice. A democratic effort cannot be maintained without building durable Iraqi political institutions and developing a regional and international commitment to Iraq's reconstruction. No small task.”

Hagel was disappointed in the discourse within the Senate: “We should spend more time debating the cost and extent of this commitment, the risks we may face in military engagement with Iraq, the implications of the precedent of United States military action for regime change and the likely character and challenges of a post-Saddam Iraq. We have heard precious little from the President, his team, as well as from this Congress, with a few notable exceptions, about these most difficult and critical questions.” And he cautioned humility: “I share the hope of a better world without Saddam Hussein, but we do not really know if our intervention in Iraq will lead to democracy in either Iraq or elsewhere in the Arab world.” Bottom line: Hagel feared the resolution would lead to a war that would go badly but didn't have the guts to say no to the leader of his party.

Sam Brownback. The social conservative from Kansas raised the prospect of Saddam firing missiles with biological and chemical weapons “at us.” He claimed that “al-Qaida leadership is in Iraq” and that Saddam was “the nexus ... between the weapons of mass destruction and terrorists.” The problem, Brownback explained, was that the thinking of Americans about national security was influenced by Westerns like the old television show "Gunsmoke":

At the end of the 'Gunsmoke' episode every week, it ended the same way: Matt Dillon walks out on the main street of Dodge City. The bad guy walks out on the street on the other end. They stare at each other for a little while. The bad guy has a chance to walk off, if he wants to. He also gets to draw first. He draws first. Then Matt Dillon draws. The bad guy goes down. There is a sense of fair play and honor about that.

His point: In the post-9/11 world, Matt Dillon-style rules don't apply. Sometimes the sheriff has to draw first. And in the case of Iraq, Brownback said, the bad guy would be replaced by a good guy: Iraq has “an educated urban population. They will embrace and encourage and move forward with democracy on a rapid basis… And that will spread throughout that region… [I]t is going to be a flower that will bloom there in the desert.” Bottom line: Shoot first, get over it and a garden of democracy will bloom.

So who fares best in this review? Not one of these presidential aspirants got Iraq right. Despite Bush's various assertions, Saddam was no WMD threat; he was not in cahoots with al-Qaida. War on those grounds was unnecessary. But only Biden and Hagel, though they voted to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq, showed they fully grasped what a war could bring. Neither are yet strong contenders within their respective parties. The frontrunners—Clinton and McCain—displayed no insight or imagination during the debate on the Iraq war. Clinton was blinded by caution, McCain by visions of American grandeur. So far, neither has had to pay for their mistakes, and neither has admitted bungling the call. Their political prospects have flourished. Yet what a pity it will be if American voters end up with presidential nominees who demonstrated no foresight or wisdom about the most pressing issue now facing the nation.


erling krange said...

Here it is.

the full text of Iraq study group

capt said...

Mr. David Corn,

No name mentioned is even very interesting. None have impressed me one bit.

I try to keep an open mind but it seems like all politicians suck.

Thanks for all of your work.


PS - stopped by PJ Media and am wondering why and what for - they are quite insane and rabid Reich-wingnuts. Have you read the main page lately? The old saying applies "lay down with dogs and you get up with fleas".

capt said...

ISG Report (160 page PDF)

capt said...

U.S. military prepares Haditha murder case charges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military is expected to charge at least five U.S. Marines in the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq, and the charges could include murder, defense officials said on Wednesday.

It was not known when the charges would come down but a Marine Corps official said it would not happen on Wednesday.

A Marine Corps general will brief members of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee behind closed doors on Wednesday morning about the military's months-long investigation of the case.

U.S. Marines have been accused of killing unarmed Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005. It is one of a series of cases in which U.S. troops have been suspected, and some convicted, of being involved in the murder of Iraqi civilians.


*****end of clip*****

Does anybody know what has happened to the civil suit filed against Murtha?


capt said...

Senator Russ Feingold will be on "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC tonight at 7:00 pm Central Time (8:00 pm Eastern Time). He will be discussing Iraq and his reaction to the Baker-Hamilton Commission Report. Be sure to tune in!

Also, if you haven't already, make sure you fill out our foreign policy National Priorities Survey on our website.


The Progressive Patriots Fund

capt said...

BREAKING: Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary is pregnant!

Oh, man, is this gonna be fun. Just watching the religious right try to bite their tongues and not slam the vice president's family. I'm very happy for Mary and Heather, and in their own way they're breaking new ground and making a difference for gay people in this country, finally. But still, this is gonna be priceless just to watch the collective heads of the religious right explode.

Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter, is pregnant. She and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, are "ecstatic" about the baby, due in late spring, said a source close to the couple.It's a baby boom for grandparents Dick and Lynne Cheney: Their older daughter, Elizabeth, went on leave as deputy assistant secretary of state before having her fifth child in July. "The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild," spokesman Lea Anne McBride said last night.

And get this. They live in Virginia, where a new state constitutional amendment pretty much guarantees that Mary's baby is screwed.

In November, Virginia voters passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions; state law is unclear on whether Poe could have full legal rights as a parent of Cheney's child. The circumstances of the pregnancy will remain private, said the source close to the couple. This is the first child for both.

Oh, but Virginia law was already far worse than that. Virginia had already set up new Jim Crow laws targeting gays two years ago. Those laws may vitiate any legal agreement between the two, period, about anything. The law ensures that Mary's partner has no legal rights whatsoever in their child, or in what happens to Mary (or vice versa), such as if one partner has to go the hospital, the other can't visit. The law may even nullify any wills that Mary and Heather write regarding each other, and it may make it impossible for gay people to go to court to resolve any difference about anything - the courts can't recognize gay unions, so they can't make any decisions that would imply recognition (custody, hospital visitation, wills, etc.) It's beyond ironic that Virginia's new law, one of the most hateful, bigoted laws on the books, is now targeting the vice president's own daughter and soon-to-be new grandchild.

Read more here, it's chilling the extent to which Virginia has slipped back into its racist, hateful path.

Oh, and by the way, who's the daddy?


*****end of clip*****

If irony killed. . .


capt said...

5-day work week is a Capitol Hill culture shock

Democrats seek a businesslike image; many in GOP decry effect on families

WASHINGTON - Forget the minimum wage. Or outsourcing jobs overseas. The labor issue most on the minds of members of Congress yesterday was their own: They will have to work five days a week starting in January.

The horror.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who will become House majority leader and is writing the schedule for the next Congress, said members should expect longer hours than the brief week they have grown accustomed to.


*****end of clip*****

How totally bizarre? Everybody has family and most people work a full week. Maybe the whiners shouldn't run for an office they only want to visit two days a week?


David B. Benson said...

Well, is does not appear that the incoming Demos are prepared to execute the will of two peoples: Americans and Iraqis. The great majority of both want Americans OUT NOW!

capt said...

New thread