Friday, February 09, 2007

Message to Congress: Stand Up and Be Counted

March 20th, 2007, will mark the four year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. In those four years, Americans have come to realize three things. First, the United States still possesses the most fearsome fighting force on the planet. Former dictator Saddam Hussein and his army, if you can call it that, knew as much, and made the smart decision not to test our military. Second, Americans learned that no matter how strong our military might be, there are limits to what it can do when it is opposed by a determined insurgency which grows more sophisticated every day. It would take more than five hundred thousand troops to properly quell the violence in Iraq, and that still might not be enough to get the job done.

Finally, Americans determined in the last two weeks that the men and women who they elected to serve them in the United States Senate lacked “guts.” There are other words that could be used which might be fancier, and others yet that would be politically incorrect, but guts cuts right to the heart of the matter. Words like courage and fortitude must be saved for the brave men and women that serve in Iraq and around the world, not for men and women who lack the intestinal fortitude to debate and vote on a simple non-binding resolution regarding one of the most important issues of our time: war in the Middle East.

If Americans had little faith and trust in government and their elected officials before this bipartisan debacle, and poll after poll shows that to be the case, the impotence that the Senate displayed this week will cause the public to become even more distrustful of its so-called leaders. Voters sent a clear message to politicians in the mid-term elections, and the message was vivid and to the point: we may not completely agree on the way forward in Iraq, but we expect you, the Congress and the President, to work together to figure out what must be done. Isn’t a critical step in that process being able to debate the matter on the floor of the Senate?

Instead, Senators on both sides of the aisle spent the last week debating and voting on procedure. When Democrats and Republicans couldn’t, or wouldn’t, agree on how the debate should be debated, they voted not to debate at all. Now, a group of Republican Senators have sent a letter to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell stating that they want to ensure that the Senate brings the issue of Iraq to the floor. Led by John Warner and Chuck Hagel, they wrote: “We will explore all of our options under the Senate procedures and practices to ensure a full and open debate.”

While soldiers die every day, as the situation continues to worsen, the Senate proceeds to do exactly what voters have said they despise the most: play politics. For the White House, this must be viewed as a victory, since President Bush has said that any resolution which opposes his Iraq surge would embolden the enemy and harm the morale of our troops. Unfortunately for Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace don’t necessarily agree with him. Testifying this week in front of the House Armed Services Committee, Pace said, “From the standpoint of the troops, I believe that they understand how our legislature works and that they understand that there's going to be this kind of debate. They're going to be looking to see whether or not they are supported in the realm of mission given and resources provided. As long as this Congress continues to do what it has done, which is to provide the resources for the mission, the dialogue will be the dialogue, and the troops will feel supported.”

Very soon, the discussion will turn from resolutions to funding. The President has requested a $100 billion supplemental to cover the cost of the war for the rest of this year, and some Democrats have come to the conclusion that the only way to stop this war will be to deny those funds. “Congress has the duty to stand up and use its power to stop him,” said Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, referring to Bush. “If Congress doesn‘t stop this war, it‘s not because it doesn‘t have the power. It‘s because it doesn‘t have the will.”

Former Iowa governor and current Democratic presidential contender Tom Vilsack has also staked out a position that goes further than any of his rivals. “Those in Congress who voted for the war, those in Congress who have voted to continue the war, and those in Congress who have funded the war, can surely vote to end the war,” Vilsack said at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting. “Congress has the constitutional responsibility and a moral duty to cut off funding for the status quo. Not a cap — an end. Not eventually — immediately.”

Feingold decided against running for president and Vilsack is a long shot, and it’s also a long shot that Congress will cut off funding for the war. But if Americans continue to see politics get in the way of pragmatism, Senate procedure get in the way of Senate debate, the idea of cutting off funds is sure to gain some traction. President Bush needs to see clear progress in Iraq in the coming months in order stave off a growing anti-war chorus. If not, Congress may finally do what the Constitution says it must: check and balance. On that, there should be no debate.


Anonymous Mike P. said...

totally agree. dems and republicans need to step up...

7:13 PM  

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