Republicans who have dramatically distanced themselves from the commander-in-chief on Iraq this summer are news. That’s in part because there are many other Republicans in the Senate — ones who are not blind to polls or bad news, but who believe it’s their role right now to trust the general they sent to Iraq, on the frontlines, and give the surge a chance. Lugar and Domenici, in other words, don’t speak for the Republican caucus in the United States Senate on Iraq.
Thankfully, the majority of Senate Republicans may just hold the line, so General David Petraeus can keep on with the work of fighting this war.
In the lead, of course, is John McCain. While campaign screamfests and resignations are sexier, it was what he was saying on the Senate floor Tuesday that should have gotten the coverage John Weaver and Terry Nelson did. Senator McCain asked his colleagues: “The terrorists are in this war to win it. The question is: Are we?”
Withdrawing before there is a stable and legitimate Iraqi authority would turn Iraq into a failed state and a terrorist sanctuary, in the heart of the Middle East. We have seen a failed state emerge after U.S. disengagement once before, and it cost us terribly. In pre-9/11 Afghanistan, terrorists found sanctuary to train and plan attacks with impunity. We know that today there are terrorists in Iraq who are planning attacks against Americans. We cannot make this fatal mistake twice.
If it is brave to do the right thing, Arizona’s senior senator is the model of courage this week, as he has potentially cast his presidential dreams aside because his country needs him to lead on Iraq.
But you already knew about McCain. Have you heard Texas senator John Cornyn this week? All he is saying is give surge a chance. He told his fellow senators Wednesday: “I think the critics should allow this new strategy, under General Petraeus, a chance to work. The surge of troops into Iraq was actually only completed last month. And now, of course, we’ve seen what has been called a surge of operations, with some notable success.”
So why the heck bail now, just as we — and the Iraqis — might be getting somewhere? “It just strikes me as unreasonable,” the senator said, “to continue moving the goal posts when it comes to the deadlines. General Petraeus has said he’ll be back here, with Ambassador Crocker, to give a comprehensive, realistic report on the success or status of this new strategy.”
Cornyn didn’t leave the floor without issuing a challenge:
I would just say that I think it’s the responsibility of the critics of this strategy to talk about what the consequences of their plan or lack of plan would be—whether their plan or lack of plan would result in a safe-haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq to plan and to export terrorist attacks against the United States and other countries, and whether it would basically turn over Iraq to Iranians, who are in the process of equipping and training forces that are fighting American and coalition forces right now. And what would the critics of the current policy do to deal with the huge humanitarian and refugee crisis, together with the massive ethnic cleansing that would likely result in a regional war? I think those are questions that need to be answered by the critics, by those who are not allowing General Petraeus an opportunity to have his plan work.
Conservatives have had a chance this week to remember what they’ve always liked about Arizona’s junior senator, Jon Kyl. Senator Kyl, unfortunately, gave the White House dangerous cover during the immigration debate recently. But that was then, this is another security issue. In a floor speech on Wednesday, Kyl shot at critics, specifically Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who had just said, “Your ill-conceived war should come to an end before more lives are lost”:
The kind of defeatist talk I’ve heard here unfortunately seems to me leads to the notion that it’s a question of which one of them, which one of these brave soldiers or Marines or airmen or sailors are going to be the last one to die in a failed cause. That is not the message we should be sending from the United States Senate. It’s not the message that the political leaders who should be supporting these troops should be sending–not just to the troops and their families but to our allies and enemies.
When I talk about supporting the troops–and I think when General Petraeus talks about supporting the troops–the best way to support the troops is to support the troops. Meaning to not only provide what they need to succeed in their mission in a material sense, but to provide the political and moral support that they need to continue their mission.
Moving yet again beyond immigration-debate wounds for the moment, Senator Lindsey Graham on Wednesday gave an effective floor speech that ultimately blocked a Jim Webb amendment that would have required congressionally mandated R&R time for our deployed troops. Graham said, “The intent of the amendment is to take care of the troops. I don’t question anybody’s intent. If you want to take care of the troops, let them win.” The amendment, he stressed, would “change the relationship between the commander, the executive branch, and the congressional branch in a way that I think would be very ill-suited to winning the next war. It is a dangerous precedent to allow troop rotations to be governed by politicians who are looking for the next election. . . . The consequences of this amendment are devastating in terms of a constitutional relationship between the branches. It interjects politics into military decisions that will come back to haunt the country.”
Senator Kit Bond of Missouri reminded senators Tuesday:
Lincoln chose to fight a bloody and unpopular war because he believed the enemy had to be defeated. Despite being reviled for staying the course, President Lincoln did stay the course. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues today don’t seem to be willing to see this one through. Here we are again, barely weeks into the full implementation of General Petraeus’s surge, and the naysayers continue to argue for defeat. It was only a few months ago this body had been calling for and looking for a new strategy, which I believed we must have, which changed the unsuccessful strategy we had, which argued for the Baker-Hamilton report, which said in essence you have to have a new strategy, you cannot precipitously withdraw. We came forward and General Petraeus drafted a counter-insurgency strategy. That is what he told us he was going to do, supported by the surge. Now people want to pull the rug out from under him. He said at least give him until September to see if this new counter-insurgency strategy works.
Senator Bond quoted a Missouri National Guardsman, Colonel Bob Leeker, who has just returned from commanding the 507th Air Expeditionary Group in Iraq: “I only hope that the American people will give us the time. The American people must understand that this is not only about Iraq, it is a fight against Muslim fanaticism, Muslim extremists. If we pull out in the near term, or at the wrong time, there will be an incredible amount of blood running throughout Iraq, and the blood and sweat that I and my brethren in arms have already given will be for nought.”
Bond underscored Col Leeker’s plea: “These are compelling words. They ought not to be taken lightly. Not only is the security and safety of our Nation and allies at stake, but so too is our credibility.”
The Senate honor roll this week also includes Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who is quoted by Congressional Quarterly as saying in regard to the Defense authorization bill currently being debated: “For us to be even debating a change before Sept. 15 is irresponsible government . . . Let’s give him until Sept. 15, but then we expect him to give us a way forward that’s clear.” One cannot keep from praising, of course, clear-minded-on-the-war Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who said earlier this week: “We are winning.” Based on behind-the-scenes action, Senate aides point to Senators Trent Lott and John Thune, – and Minority Leader McConnell, too — among others, as reliable leaders during this summer showdown.
One Senate aide summarizes: “The media is going crazy about the ‘growing rift’ in the GOP. But on the Webb vote yesterday, seven Republicans voted with the Democrats. Oddly enough, that’s the same number that voted with the Dems in the spring. And even though some are growing impatient, the high-visibility critics — Lugar, Domenici, etc. — haven’t turned around and voted with the Democrats this week.”
So don’t give up on the war yet. The Senate doesn’t speak in anything like unison yet. There are senators who are not in surrender mode — maybe even enough of them to let the general do his job.