Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hold Them Accountable, For Then and Now

In his op/ed in the New York Times, former Senator Lincoln Chaffee - the sole Republican to vote against the Iraq War Authorization - details how at the the time of the vote, an alternative proposal was brought up by Senator Carl Levin which would have required the Bush administration to garner United Nations support before going into Iraq.

A mere 10 hours before the roll was called on the administration-backed Iraq war resolution, the Senate had an opportunity to prevent the current catastrophe in Iraq and to salvage the United States’ international standing. Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, offered a substitute to the war resolution, the Multilateral Use of Force Authorization Act of 2002.

Senator Levin’s amendment called for United Nations approval before force could be authorized. It was unambiguous and compatible with international law. Acutely cognizant of the dangers of the time, and the reality that diplomatic options could at some point be exhausted, Senator Levin wrote an amendment that was nimble: it affirmed that Congress would stand at the ready to reconsider the use of force if, in the judgment of the president, a United Nations resolution was not “promptly adopted” or enforced. Ceding no rights or sovereignty to an international body, the amendment explicitly avowed America’s right to defend itself if threatened.


As Chaffee notes, the proposal garnered support almost entirely from only those who would eventually vote against the IWR.

Those of us who supported the Levin amendment argued against a rush to war. We asserted that the Iraqi regime, though undeniably heinous, did not constitute an imminent threat to United States security, and that our campaign to renew weapons inspections in Iraq — whether by force or diplomacy — would succeed only if we enlisted a broad coalition that included Arab states.

We also urged our colleagues to take seriously the admonitions of our allies in the region — Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. As King Abdullah of Jordan warned, “A miscalculation in Iraq would throw the whole area into turmoil.”

Unfortunately, these arguments fell on deaf ears in that emotionally charged, hawkish, post-9/11 moment, less than four weeks before a midterm election. The Levin amendment was defeated by a 75 to 24 vote. Later that night, the Iraq War Resolution was approved, 77 to 23. It was clear that most senators were immune to persuasion because the two votes were almost mirror images of each other — no to the Levin amendment, aye to war. Their minds were made up.

This is not rehash the tragic missteps of Congress before the war, but rather to point out, as Chaffee does, that all Senators now seeking the presidency who were in the Senate in 2002 - including the Democratic ones - opposed Levin's sensible alternative. I bring this up because they all, like John Kerry in 2004, argue that while they voted for the war they expected the administration to build multinational support and give the inspectors more time. Maybe they did and maybe they didn't, but the record shows they chose not to limit an administration that, in all honesty, they knew was ready to go war. Hell, this is why the three of us support Howard Dean way back when and got motivated about politics enough to start this blog! And as our most recent posts indicate, we are not about to stop holding Democrats feet to the fire on the war. We are pleased they have taken control of Congress, but are frustrated with their lack of cohesiveness and will certain hold those who seek to be the next President of the United States accountable for their actions.

The debate right now often is whether these candidates have apologized for their vote or not. While I believe many Democrats who voted for the war are legitimately sorry, that doesn't mean they didn't show bad jugment. And judgment is an important consideration in any candidate, especially considering a majority of Democrats in the House and many of their Senate colleagues chose not to support the war. Moreso, judgment is an important consideration in our vote for the next President, as we will certainly want them to avoid tragic mistakes such as Iraq in the future.

This is why many Democrats, including us, wish for Al Gore to enter the race, as he passionately opposed the war and many other acts of the Bush administration long before most. This is also why many are inclined the relatively new (though massively popular) Barack Obama. Though he was not in the Senate at the time of the vote, it is documented he also passionately opposed the war and showed himself to be remarkebly prescient about the long-haul of occupation - in the fall of 2002 when the vote went down. He has also introduced legislation in the Senate to bring the troops home by March 2008.

The purpose of this post is not to endorse or tear down anyone's campaign, but for the reasons laid out above, I think it is still important to hold our candidates accountable for their actions in regards to the Iraq war, both past and present. It is important not only to consider how they would get us out of the current war but if they have shown the judgment or willingness not to bow to political pressure that will keep us out of further foreign misadventures and blunders. Nothing is more important than who will follow President Bush. It's hardly the time to give anyone a free pass, and we won't.

1 comment:

Xanthippas said...

I'm glad you brought this issue up on our blog. So far we haven't engaged in the "debate" among Democrats as to who needs to apologize for/explain the reason they gave Bush the authority to go to war. I think one can get too caught up in this one particular issue, forgetting everything else the candidate brings to the table. At the same time, it is important for the candidates to understand that simply saying "If I knew then what I know now" or "I was wrong, but because I was misled" is not quite going to cut it. I don't think any of us are demanding mea culpas so the candidates who voted for the war can get their liberal credentials back; it's more that we want to know, what did they learn from the mistake? What would they do in a similar situation if one were to arise in the future?

There's still a lot of time to hash these things out, but yes the accountability begins now, or we'll never be able to bring about an end to this war.