One need not look far to see Republicans wringing their hands at the latest Democratic attempt to end the ill-conceived and ill-managed, endless U.S. war against Iraq. Cries of ‘cut and run Democrats’ are heard everywhere, with the implication that only GOP representatives recognize the need to ‘support the troops.’ This, apparently, is best done by having a war for them.
Hopefully it is forgivable for one to view such congressional histrionics with skepticism bordering on disdain. The need for America to ‘keep its commitments,’ assist those ‘fighting for freedom’ (which implies the American version of it: capitalism with some semblance of democracy), and ‘support the troops’ all seem to take a back seat to party politics. Any consideration of honest discourse is shoved aside as would-be presidential candidates and others look for any opportunity to create a positive sound bite to use in their next election campaign. It seems that the direction of the political winds dictates those opportunities more than any attempt to demonstrate honest statesmanship.
During the administration of the first President Bush, American troops were sent to Somalia at the request of the United Nations. This was an effort with international support, as evidenced by the fact that it was the U.N. that approached the U.S. government for assistance, not the other way around. One tries in vain to forget the humiliating spectacle of President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powel pleading with their lies for U.N. assistance in invading Iraq.
The first President Bush agreed to the U.N. request in December of 1992, shortly after he had been defeated for reelection. While his successor, President Bill Clinton, withdrew American soldiers within eighteen months of his inauguration, those months were filled with Congressional rhetoric decrying the continued deployment of troops in Somalia. On October 6, 1993, Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson said the following in a speech on the senate floor: “I can no longer support a continued United States presence in Somalia because the nature of the mission is now unrealistic and because the scope of our mission is now limitless.”
With a Republican sitting precariously in the White House, Senator Hutchinson seems to have forgotten her earlier words. On February 6, 2007, she had this to say about the continued deployment of American soldiers in Iraq: “Success in Iraq will be when they have self-governance. Success in Iraq will be when there are not security forces that kill people of a different sect. Success in Iraq will be when they are a stable neighbor in the Middle East and terrorists will not be able to get a foothold. We are not succeeding yet. How can we do better? We should be debating how we can do better to succeed. If victory is not the end result, we will have failed our children and grandchildren.”
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Arizona Senator John McCain has staked his presidential aspirations on his ‘independent’ thinking on Iraq, going against the clear American desire to leave that beleaguered country. On March 27, 2007, Mr. McCain had this to say about the proposed resolution to attach a timetable for withdrawal to a bill funding continuation of the war:
“Supporters of this provision say they want a date certain for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. But, Mr. President, what they have offered us is more accurately described as a date certain for surrender, with grave consequences for the future of Iraq, the stability of the Middle East and the security of Americans at home and abroad.”
Mr. McCain saw the situation in Somalia far differently. On October 19, 1993, he said the following: “There is no reason for the United States of America to remain in Somalia. The American people want them home, I believe the majority of Congress wants them home, and to set an artificial date of March 31 or even February 1, in my view, is not acceptable. The criteria should be to bring them home as rapidly and safely as possible, an evolution which I think could be completed in a matter of weeks.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also seems to suffer not only from memory lapse, but from a misunderstanding of Congressional duties as well. He was clearer on some of those duties in 1993 than he is today. At that time he supported a Congressional amendment introduced by Senator Robert Byrd to limit military spending for troop deployments in Somalia, as a means to end U.S. involvement there. Said he: “The only issue here tonight is how we leave and, in my judgment, the Byrd amendment better defines the proper exit for the United States in this most unfortunate experience in Somalia….”
On January 10, 2007, while Congressional Republicans tried to hold on to some semblance of credibility following their loss of the House and Senate, Mr. McConnell said the following in response to Democrats’ musings about different ways of ending the war: “I think it is inappropriate for the Congress to try to micromanage, in effect, the tactics in a military conflict. I don't think Congress has the authority to do it.”
It is puzzling that a U.N. sanctioned deployment of approximately 30,000 American forces must be ended as quickly as possible, but a mostly-independent one, involving close to 150,000 American soldiers and condemned by much of the world, must be continued. How much party politics plays in the opinions and statements of America’s political leaders, to the detriment of American soldiers and foreign citizens, can only be guessed.
Even those without so much history in U.S. government do not stray far from hypocritical statements. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been pilloried by Republicans for her recent trip to Syria. It must be remembered that the non-partisan Iraq Study Group recommended engagement with that nation, in order to resolve the situation in Iraq. Mr. Bush’s remarks on Ms. Pelosi’s trip are what one might expect: he said that sending delegations ‘doesn’t work’ and is ‘counter-productive.’ Former Massachusettes governor Mitt Romney, another presidential-candidate wannabe and a self-described ‘Washington outsider,’ said this: “Washington is a broken place right now, dysfunctional in some respects, which has been evidenced by the trip by Nancy Pelosi to Syria….” The opinions of Mr. Bush and Mr. Romney might have some credibility, if not for the fact that three Republican Congressmen met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus a few days earlier. Republican representatives Frank Wolf of Virginia, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Robert Aderholt of Alabama all met with Mr. Assad on April 1, believing that opportunities for dialogue with Syria are vitally important. Was their visit also ‘counter-productive’ and indicative of Washington’s dysfunction? If so, why were Mr. Bush and Mr. Romney silent about it?
While politicians of both parties volley high-sounding words back and forth across the political net, American soldiers and Iraqi citizens are dying. Non-binding resolutions will not prevent these tragedies; only acts by Congress that require nothing close to the courage of American soldiers and Iraqi freedom fighters will stop this war. Yet there is little to indicate that many members of Congress have the strength of conviction to accomplish this life-saving task. And so the tragedy continues.
Robert Fantina is the author of Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776 - 2006
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