The new Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 24 approved a non-binding resolution on the Iraq war that demonstrated the cowardice, lack of wisdom and political posturing of the Senators who voted for it. The committee’s intention, in Senator Biden’s words, was to prevent the president from making a “significant mistake” against American national interests. However, the more likely outcome, according to Secretary of Defense Gates and General Petraeus, is to send exactly the wrong kind of message to our enemies, one that would “embolden” them simply to wait it out until the will of the American people completely collapses.
So what’s going on here? Senator Hagel muttered a few words about how important it was to make the tough decisions in such matters, that people weren’t elected to that august body to avoid taking political heat. Passing a non-binding resolution is tough decision? Not to be outdone by his minority colleague, Senator Biden warmed up the room with a 3,000-word introduction that, according to the Delaware Online News Journal, was peppered with no fewer that 88 uses of the “I” word. Whatever else you can say about these guys, it’s hard to imagine their oratory falling into a profiles-in-courage, ask-what-you-can-do-for-your-country category.
So what to what category does it belong? Covering your political backsides, basically; having your cake and eating too; keeping your options open for 2008, or whatever other metaphors you want to throw into the mix.
Do those who voted in favor of the resolution really believe that President Bush is unaware of their objections? This is not political rocket science. If the senators were serious about what they believe is best for the country, they would deny the hugely qualified General Petraeus his position, vote immediately to cut off any funds to support this war, and then face the nation squarely to take the consequences for their decisions. Instead, the Senate unanimously approved the appointment of Petraeus and demurred on the question of continued financial support for the war in Iraq until later this summer. All of this amounts to a bunch of politicians who want to take credit if the troop surge succeeds in its mission (We voted to continue funding, didn’t we?) but to reserve the right to say they registered their objection to the president’s plan if it fails (We told you so!). The convictions involved are all forced, fraudulent, and political, not moral.
Certainly the president grasps this; indeed, he is one of the few elected officials — Senator Lieberman also comes to mind — who understands that the seriousness of the situation requires a person to act genuinely on the courage of one’s convictions, to put your political life on the line for what you believe is right. Now whether or not President Bush is actually right – I happen to think not – is a matter for real political debate, which is the job for Congress and the rest of us. Regardless of the effect abroad, we cannot not debate because we are concerned and deeply worried citizens in a democratic system that thrives on fervent political discourse, which manifestly is not what took place in the Senate. The Senators acted on their principles all right, all the wrong ones. Citizens have the right to expect more from their elected leaders, to expect more than phony “show” votes on nonbinding resolutions that manifest nothing more exalted than the cowardice of their convictions.