By Mark David Blum, Esq.
At a rate of two hundred fifty thousand dollars a minute (same being the cost of waging war in Iraq), the United States Senate debated twenty non-stop hours about the Levin-Reed Amendment; a demand that a pullout of U.S. Military forces from Iraq commence 120 days after it becomes law. Promoted by Democrats as a change in the political mission after nearly five years of failure and in large part responsive to the overwhelming desires of the American public, this Bill ran into a wall thrown up by Republicans who, but four, stood blindly with their President and demanded we march more battalions of American soldiers to their deaths. Despite the best efforts, the measure failed.
Technically, the Amendment did not fail. What failed was the effort by Democrats to get an Up or Down vote on the question. Republicans used technical rules of procedure to prevent Senators from going on the record where they stand on the War in Iraq.
They say there are two things people do not want to see: How sausage is made and how laws are made. For me, watching the Senate debate this great issue is like granting a butcher a tour of a slaughterhouse. Having watched more than 80% of the entire debate, I was treated to the raw bloodshed that comes with the making of law. Actually, I only watched the Republicans as the Democrats had nothing to say that I did not know or with which I disagreed. The one notable exception was Senator Robert Byrd, who in my opinion, is one of the greatest orators of our time, could read a cook book and I would stand up and salute the flag.
Notwithstanding how boring it can be to watch some of these guys go on and on, there can be some really great dramatic moments. Clearly, leading opposition for Republicans was John McCain and seconded by Trent Lott. For the Democrats, Carl Levin led and Dick Durbin was backup. The number of times that Senator Durbin made Senator Lott eat his words was getting ridiculous. If I wasn’t laughing and going ‘Oh Snap’ so often, I might have felt bad for the Mississippi Senator.
What became evident as the hours wore on is that there was no legitimate or rational basis for the vehement Republican opposition. Not only did they overstate their case, but Republicans clearly misrepresented the facts and came inches from blatant lying. In sum and substance, they used false logic to mislead the public in hopes the public would see theirs as being correct. What I read into their arguments is how in the end, Republicans know Americans are going to make them pull out and so the Republicans are going to blame the American people for the failure in Iraq.
This discussion would not be complete without a comment first on the dirty trick played by Republicans. Using a rule, they were able to insist that a super majority of 60 votes affirmatively supporting bringing the Levin-Reed Amendment to the floor for a vote. While it is their right to make this demand and as Senator Lott droned on ad infinitum, the Democrats have likewise used this tactic in the past, making this demand prevented the Up or Down vote on the Amendment.
My ears are still ringing from the list of Republican Senators who just a couple years ago, climbed upon their soapboxes and cried how Democrats prevented them from an Up or Down vote on judicial nominees. The irony of using the opposite whine now to justify blocking a legitimate vote shows the shallowness and disingenuousness of the Republican argument all along. Hiding behind the effeminate argument of “don’t give into the passions du jour” likewise rings shallow given the speed with which Republicans hastened passage of the Patriot Act and rushed to war in Iraq. Americans want out of Iraq; now.
You see this tactic in my business. Assume A sues B. Rules of procedure permit the making of certain motions and making certain discovery demands. What efforts I do expend and which discovery I pursue are all tactical decisions. Even though it was totally within their right to do so, it was not necessary for Republican Senators to require 60 votes to bring the Amendment to the floor for a vote. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
All of the Republican opposition can be summarized in five points. (1) the vote was nothing but political theater, (2) wait for the surge, (3) bad guys will follow us home, (4) there will be civil war and regional unrest bringing us back later, and (5) our enemies will be emboldened. Trust me, I listened to every word they said and other than sloganeering or electioneering, this list was the thrust of their opposition
Of course Democrats were motivated by politics. They are answerable to their constituencies as are Republicans. Given the huge anti war sentiment in the nation and how Republicans will live or die in the next elections based on the war’s success, we know well their theatrical intentions. Many argue what a big deal it was to work through the night but it has been but a couple of months since the Senate did it last time. Senators likewise cannot claim to have been there all night since about 3:30 a.m. John Kerry started speaking from Dusk to Dawn and sucked the life out of the entire discussion. At least other Senators were able to sleep.
The best example of how truly this was a Republican theater of the weird was the presentation by Republican Senator Jim DeMint. He accused the Democrats of being “engaged in political theater in hopes of picking up seats.” Duh, Senator DeMint. Speaking of theater, DeMint started the old “Democrats are weak on defense” claim and finished with how millions of dollars of our air force budget are being wasted storing unusable planes. His oratory whined about the Senate not allowing passage of a law that defunds useless planes. My question to the Senator: Why did he bring up a problem that he himself created?
Senator McCain clearly drew a line in the sand and declared this battle to have been his epic cause. A loss on this issue would cost his Presidential aspirations. A win was almost guaranteed and so his posture as leading the charge was the ultimate in showmanship. Yea into the Valley of the 100 rode he. He banged his fists, he cajoled, he threatened, and in the end proclaimed all the Senate’s energies would be wasted because the President would veto the Bill. Apparently Mr. McCain and the rest of the Republicans are not so confident that Congress would not override a Presidential veto so he acted incensed and offended.
The second story told by Republicans during the Levin-Reed surge for votes is that the nation should wait the outcome of General Petreus’ report in September. We just started the surge, they argued and the new military action should be given time to take effect. One after another, Senators juiced how wonderful it was for Senator McCain and others to be able to walk about the market in Ramadi. Five years of war and more than half a trillion dollars, and we can walk escorted through a market in one town. Yippee?
I do not find fault with this logic and in fact support enabling the military mission currently underway to be seen through. If the President wants the surge, then let the surge be the play. But, the surge is military. The Senate was discussing policy. Our military is constitutionally mandated to be captive to legislative policy. If Congress changes the mission, then the Executive and military must follow step and implement that new policy.
The Levin-Reed Amendment called for commencement of redeployment of forces commencing in 120 days and ending mid 2008. Everybody from the Iraq Study Group to General Petreus has said that the solution to Iraq is not military, but political. So I say let the surge continue but at the same time, the military needs to readjust to a new political mission. Republicans insist that the choice be surge or redeployment; rather than both being in play at the same time. Democrats never made this argument but it is the most sound.
Third, and one of Karl Rove’s favorite plays, was the twin arguments by Republicans that if we change our mission, the enemy will follow us home and the region will explode in chaos and genocide. Seems to me this is already the situation. Sunnis surging against Shia, Shia surging against Sunni, both surging against Americans, Turks surging against Kurds, Hamas surging against Fatah, and so on and so on. There is already bloodshed, genocide, chaos, murder, and social collapse.
This is a regional issue; not our problem. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Eastern Europe and Northern Africa have much more clout and interest in the outcome of Iraq than do we. As our first President and Founder George Washington said, “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations to have as little political connection as possible... Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalships, interest, humor, or caprice?... It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Friend to all, and take no sides in war or conflict. Nobody and nowhere in our history are we destined to be the world’s policeman or exporter of democracy.
Did the Vietnamese follow us home? Did the Cambodians? Did all of Southeast Asia fall to communism? When we lost the War of 1812, did the British retake the United States? Today, our nation engages in daily trade with Viet Nam and that nation enjoys Most Favorite Nation trading status. Not even Cuba enjoys that status. Was there chaos, bloodshed, genocide – of course there was. It was a civil war and the People of that nation were no more brutal to each other than were we at Andersonville during our civil war. But we made peace and learned to live together. The entire middle east is an amalgamation of nations randomly created after the Second World War. Cultures, nations, families, tribes, were all divided randomly and balances of power were turned inside out. Since that time, from Israel to Iran/Iraq, the entire world has become embroiled in this regional mess. The United States needs to step aside and let these folks fight it out until they settle their disputes. America and American interests are only targeted because of how we involve ourselves in their affairs. Imagine how both the North and South would have reacted had Chinese soldiers showed up and tried to force us apart during our civil war. Not only would we fight each other as we could, but both sides would attack the invader.
Insofar as following us home, with our military back home and our assets where they can help us most, there is nothing that Al Qaeda can do to this nation that would cause irreparable harm. We have a better chance defending ourselves with our soldiers and assets at home and our special units spread about the planet hunting down the bad guys. Every month they are in Iraq, 100 soldiers will die and about 2,000 will be injured. If our soldiers are going to die and suffer, let them do so in defense of the United States and not Ramadi. If Al Qaeda is going to hide, if the Sunnis are going under cover until our departure date, then they can deal with the Saudi forces. I hear they like to behead people.
Two Senators caused me great concern. Joe Lieberman and Oren Hatch. Both went out of their way to bang the drums of war against Iran. What they were discussing was not only waiting out the surge, but escalating the engagement of American forces into Iran.
Emboldening our enemies should not be a goal of our nation. With the invasion of Iraq, not only did they become emboldened, but recruited tens of thousands and garnered support from millions more. Leaving Iraq emboldens the enemy insofar as he now has to come get us here. Without us being the cause of their problems, perhaps we Americans will come out of some gun sites. Senators who whine about Al Qaeda being able to declare “victory” offer a lame macho stupid and insufficient excuse to keep bleeding into the sand. This is not a movie and no mouse is going to roar. What they declare is of no merit. This is not a game nor a schoolyard. It matters not who declares victory but who comes out alive.
Whatever your position on this matter, keep in mind these simple facts. $250,000.00 per minute, 100 dead per month, 2,000 wounded per month, and “they” have been wrong on every single prediction ever made about the War in Iraq and the War on Terror overall. This is the cost of the War in Iraq. We have spent more money there than we spent all totaled in Viet Nam.
After 47 threatened filibusters this year alone, and the gamesmanship presently at play by Republicans, the cycle of violence will never be allowed to end. When they finally wake up to the reality of the situation, Republicans will then blame you and me, Americans, for being the reason.
In the waning hours of the debate, Senator Hatch called the invasion of Iraq a “damnable failure”. He is absolutely right. He and all Republicans should be damned for every further dollar spent or life lost from hereon in. Ramadi is just not worth it.
Consider this: Just the time you spent reading this essay cost the American taxpayer $2.5 million in Iraq War funding.