Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

In The New York Times today, James Risen offers a paean to Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith, who earlier this month offered a rhetorical attack on American policy in Iraq. To briefly excerpt, Risen calls Smith's "one of the most passionate and surprising speeches about the war in Iraq yet delivered in Congress" and an "incendiary and marked a stunning break with the president". He also writes that "his somber cadence resonated in a way that made political Washington take notice" and that "Mr. Smith may have signaled that some moderate Republicans in the Senate are poised to break openly with the White House on the war, just as President Bush is seeking a new strategy to deal with the bloody stalemate in Iraq."

There is little question that Sen. Smith's speech -- along with the spate of books on Iraq that came out in the late summer and early fall (most notably Bob Woodward's Denial), the growing bloodshed in Iraq, the release of the Iraq Study Group's report, and the election results from November 7 -- helped change the debate over American involvement in the country. No longer does the President use the phrase, "Stay the Course." No longer does the White House insist we are "winning."

Yet while the debate over Iraq has shifted, the reality of the situation -- both on the ground and in Washington -- has not. President Bush is no more willing to begin the redeployment of American troops than he was six months ago; in fact, he is attempting to mount an escalation by sending even more American troops into Iraq. U.S. forces continue to bear an increasingly large burden, with more American soldiers dying every day in Iraq than at any point since April 2004. Significant violent attacks in the country are being systematically underreported, with the ISG finding that on one day in July 93 attacks were reported to have occurred while in reality "a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light more than 1,100 acts of violence."

Changing the tenor of the debate in Washington is neither alleviating the problems in Iraq nor actually forcing the President to take steps towards decreasing American involvement in the country. Even the fact that a majority of Americans support withdrawing troops and that Americans voted Democratic last month, at least in part in the hopes of sending a clear message to Washington that the current Iraq policies cannot be continued, has not been sufficient to cajole policymakers into truly changing course.

Given this situation, it is simply not sufficient to change the debate over Iraq. It's just not good enough. Real policy shifts must occur -- and soon -- so mere declarations and even sense of the House or Senate resolutions will not suffice. This goes both for the Republican "Up for Reelection in 2008/Change of Heart on Iraq" caucus as well as Democrats who genuinely believe in drawing down American forces but have thusfar been unwilling to take the steps necessary to ensure that happens. Congress must hold a vote on a firm timeline for the beginning of withdrawal of American forces. Even if Senate Republicans filibuster such a move, which I assume they would do, then at least there will be a clear record of their support for indefinite American involvement in Iraq.

It's no longer time for talk. It's time for action. Democrats in Congress can and should hold hearings on Iraq, because good policy rests on thorough investigations. But these hearings must culminate with legislation and votes -- not more discussion. Unless the Democrats begin to force the President's hand in one way or another, there will be no change before January 20, 2009.

Tags: Democrats, Gordon Smith, Iraq (all tags)




The path suggested here is riddled with possible problems, from consititutional showdowns over Executive Powers and the 'war powers act' to political fallout if we appear as those we "dont support the troops." Caution, in how we phrase our words and our actions, is absolutely essential as we proceed.

We also do, I think, need to ask, what will happen to Iraq once we leave? Will Iraq turn into a giant training camp for Al Qaeda like Anbar is now, or a Iranian client state? We have to ask these questions now, and have firm answers, before disengagement begins. We must remember, that not thinking ahead is what got us into this mess in the first place.

by bjschmid 2006-12-28 10:39AM | 0 recs
Use the Ford quotes NOW

This is dynamite. The right-wing knows it, and that's why they are attacking a dead Republican president before his body cools off. We should turn every Jerry Ford story into a "Ford Thought BushJr was Wrong on Iraq" story.

by stevehigh 2006-12-28 11:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

Gordon Smith has called this war "criminal." As an Oregonian I am happy that Gordon Smith is abandoning ship like all the other rats. I think he has to be attacked for his stated unwillingness to hold the criminal in the White House accountable for his criminal acts nor do anything in the Senate to stop the continuing war of occupation.

by cmpnwtr 2006-12-28 02:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

When all else fails, try the "Riff-Raff" Agrument.

When I see, read, and hear, the political elite, the pundits, and the crass bloviators discuss the War in Iraq, I am reminded that Congress' failure to consider a Declaration of War, also failed in "protecting" the Privates, the Corporals, and the Sergeants from the Assault of the Gullible. And this Assault continues.

Equally important, the Star Warriors in the Pentagon--the Admiralsl and Generals have yet to "protect" the Privates, the Corporals, and the Sergeants.  Moreover, the pro-war advocates such as Bush, Cheney, McCain, Graham, and Lieberman must be asked the following question:  "Are the additional deaths of 5,000 Privates,the deaths of 4,000 Corporals, and deaths of 3,000 Sergeants going to satisfy anyone's ego-centric behavior and bloodlust?"  And is this Condoleeza Rice's meme of an "investment" strategy morally reprehensible?

Just a Thought from Indian Country.

by Jaango 2006-12-28 06:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

The Democratic leadership needs to hold lots of hearings to show that Bush lied us into the war, that he carried out the invasion and occupation in a way that was both incredibly inept and also directed completely at (1) securing Iraq's oil resources for US corporations and US consumption, (2) letting multinational corporations take over and control the rest of the Iraqi economy, (3) letting the US use the country as a big military base for controllling the rest of the Middle East, and (4) provided jobs for rightwing American idelogoues. If the US had occupied Iraq the way that we did Europe and Japan after WWII, encouraging the development of local industry and unions, then Iraq would be in much better shape. But that was never the goal and that was not the actuality.

Once it is more clear to the American public that this was never a war to spread democracy or to help the Iraqi people (and also if we can inform Americans that most Iraqis want our troops to leave), then the Democrats should cut off funding for anything except withdrawal of the troops.

If we care about what happens after we leave, then we need to support the United Nations and other multi-lateral organizations that will actually try to help Iraq. And we should pay to fix everything that we've blown up (including Iraq's social structure). But we shouldn't be racist and think that WE must fix THEIR country. We've screwed their country up and they are perfectly capable of running their own country.

This is how the US can act responsibly in Iraq. Staying only perpetuates the misery. We must leave now. We must have all our troops out of Iraq by June 2007.

by RandomNonviolence 2006-12-28 06:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

The Republican Party is the party of impeachment.


They impeached Bill Clinton for fellatio.  Technically for lying about fellatio, but considering that if they could have proven he lied about a parking ticket, they couldn't have impeached him, we have to admit it was an impeachment for fellatio.

The party of impeachment.

Hearings, my friends, won't cut it.

On the other hand, the Bush Administration is already over.  Yes, he will kill as many people as he can, because that is all he knows how to do, before the he leaves the White House.  But his Administration is over, and he knows it.

He wants headlines.  He wants them really badly.  The reason for the delay in the "IRAQ DECISION" is that he realizes he doesn't have that many more headlines left.

Give him the best headline of all: "BUSH IMPEACHED".

by Ethelred 2006-12-28 09:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

IMHO this summer would be a good time for some old school mass protest anti-war rallies if anyone credible cared to organize them. Contra the run up, the media environment would give good play to these I think. They might do some good in terms of putting extra pressure on congress, and they would give millions of people a good reason to take tangible political action, which would lay lots of positive groundwork for '08.

by Josh Koenig 2006-12-28 09:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

Senator Smith called for everything but accountability and responsibility for the fiasco in Iraq.  When his rhetoric becomes an active vote for troop withdrawl or a cut in funding then I will listen to his words.  For now he is only responding to the reality of the political change in the country and he is positoning himself for reelection in an Blue state.

by stephennnn 2006-12-29 02:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Changing the Debate on Iraq is Not Good Enough

True, changing the debate on Iraq is not good enough, but neither is a timeline for withdrawal. We have to cut off further funding.

Those fearful of a backlash of "withholding support for the troops" need to be reminded that Congress has already authorized about $70 billion for prosecuting the war in 2007, and is permitted under the authorization to transfer funds from other sources to the Iraq war. Therefore, the Administration's current "emergency" request of $127-150 billion is obviously intended to carry the war(s) through the 2008 election.

Conventional political opinion is not addressing this issue, so it needs to come from the blogs.  If we want peace next year, we must get beyond the timeline issue and cut off their funds.  

by Lois2001 2006-12-29 08:58AM | 0 recs


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