Wednesday, July 11, 2007

From the Director's Desk: Two Senators to Watch

Let’s face it, it’s difficult to win a Presidential campaign (or even your party’s nomination) and be a responsible Senator at the same time. Running for President requires saying things that fire up your political base, thereby generating campaign contributions, volunteers and media visibility. Being a Member of Congress, on the other hand, involves nuance, compromise, and consensus-building to advance meaningful policy options. With Iraq, it’s about finding the least bad option remaining, one that has the best chance of reducing conflict and suffering.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)Which is why I appreciate the Senator from Illinois -– the one who is not running for President. Like EPIC, Sen. Dick Durbin questioned the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq. In 2002, he voted against the Bush-Gephardt war authorization bill (which EPIC lobbied hard against). Durbin has also worked hard to end the use of torture and Honor the Legacy of America’s commitment to human rights and the Geneva Conventions.

Today, responsible Senators such as Durbin recognize that it takes a lot more to end a war than political speeches and rallies. The same cannot be said for former Sen. John Edwards, who is no longer constrained by the national demands of having to actually get things done in the U.S. Senate. He’s now a Presidential candidate who has been helping “fuel antiwar expectations for congressional action.”

Here is John Edwards' advice for his former Senate colleagues:

"The one way to support our troops and bring them home is for Congress to exercise its constitutionally mandated funding power, force an immediate drawdown of 40,000 to 50,000 troops and require withdrawal of all troops within about a year."
Edward's statement falls far from the mark. Americans I talk with are losing as much patience with the war as they are with partisan bickering and absolutist demands. They want bipartisan cooperation that forces Bush toward meaningful change; change that can help reduce conflict and suffering right now –- NOT TWO YEARS LATER! So with that in mind, you’ll understand why I like Senator Durbin’s rebuke to John Edwards. Here’s an account from this morning’s Washington Post:

"I recall when John voted for this war. So it's understandable that he feels badly about that decision and wants to see something done to undo the harm that has happened," Durbin said during an appearance on's Post Talk. "But it has to be done in a sensible way."
Fortunately there are some men and women in the U.S. Senate who are NOT running for President: Senators Durbin (D-IL), Lugar (R-IN), Reed (D-RI) and Collins (R-ME), among others. Based on some of their recent remarks, they all appear to recognize the imperative task before them: forge a new bipartisan agreement on Iraq that the White House ‘can’t refuse.’

In my humble opinion, the gold standard was already set by the Iraq Study Group (ISG) whose recommendations are looking better and better to Senators on both sides of the aisle. This morning on NPR, ISG co-chairman Lee Hamilton told Morning Edition’s Renee Montagne that the ISG’s core recommendations remain relevant, both as a bipartisan way forward in the Senate and a viable policy option for ending the war in Iraq.

Regarding the ISG’s recommendations, the former Democratic congressman from Indiana, who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says: “…so far as I know, it's the only bipartisan proposal out there. And I think it still does have a reasonable chance of bringing about a unity of effort which is required for the success of our policy in Iraq.”

Senator Lugar calling for a Course Change in a speech on the Senate floor (6/25/07).Fellow Hoosier Richard Lugar seems to agree. He’s the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and seems to be the most respected Republican voices on foreign policy. More than any other Senator, his support is critical for any measure to be politically viable and (in my view) responsible. For the smartest interview on Iraq with a sitting Senator that you'll hear for months, listen to Sen. Lugar’s July 5th interview on Charlie Rose.


Katherine Fox Carr (Indianapolis) said...

While I may differ in some of my views from Sen. Richard Lugar, I know him to be a man of integrity and honesty who cares about our country.

Lugar has not said anything different about the war in Iraq except one word -- "contingency" -- that no one in the administration has used. He said he hopes the surge works. Lugar has said, in so many words, in light of past actions and circumstances, we need to have an alternative if it doesn't. This is a novel idea for this administration and this Congress. While it may have been wrong to invade Iraq, we cannot go backward; however, if we continue to mess up and never consider a contingency plan, it is hopeless.

President Bush keeps changing what our goals are and why we went to Iraq, as he is unwilling to admit to his flawed plans and actions. If Lugar had been in charge, we would have had a more honest and logical plan of action, not the flip-flop from one idea or cause or plan to another.

Anonymous said...

What the congress doesn't get (or maybe they do) is that the White House will never agree to any kind of withdrawal from Iraq. Bush and Cheney want the US to control Iraq's oil. That is why they intend to keep a permanent military presence there and why the US is building that $592million and counting embassy on over 104 acres of prime Baghdad real estate. Which by the way has plenty of electricity and clean water unlike the Iraqi people. This whole mess is just criminal. I would say that there have been plenty of high crimes and misdemeanors committed by certain parties in the White House when it comes to this catastrophe and others of their making. ---mls

Anonymous said...

What's up with this embassy? First time I've heard about it. This should be in the news so others know what's going on!

Emily Stivers said...

Katherine - we agree with you 100%. As an individual, I don't agree with Lugar on every issue, but he seems to be one of if not the most rational thinker in the Senate when it comes to Iraq.

Emily Stivers said...

anonymous x2 - while the "we're only in it for the oil" argument may have some merit, it's not the only reason behind the seemingly extravagant embassy. Yes, $592 million is a whole lot of money, and 104 acres is huge for a building anywhere. But consider the amount of money and personnel we have invested in Iraq. We have to have a huge embassy in order to keep our people safe over there; it has to have state-of-the-art security and be a fortress against attack. It also has to provide housing for all the people who work there.

The flip side is, such a fortress further distances U.S. forces and workers from the realities in greater Iraq, is alienating to the Iraqi people, and presents itself as a target. But what else are we supposed to do, send our foreign service officers into extremely dangerous and inadequate conditions?

I'm not saying you're wrong to be critical, but unless you can think of an alternative, it doesn't help any more than John Edwards calling so irresponsibly for immediate troop withdrawal.

Anonymous said...

"But what else are we supposed to do, send our foreign service officers into extremely dangerous and inadequate conditions?"

They should not be going over there in the first place. We are not wanted there by over 69% of the Iraqi people. And 70% or more of Americans say we need to leave as well. We should be cutting our losses, not investing more money and personnel. The fact that we have to build a fortress for an embassy speaks volumes. That monstrosity of an embassy and the permanent military bases that we are building in Iraq do nothing to dispel the notion that we plan on being there for a long time. What is irresponsible is staying where we are clearly not wanted. ---mls

Anonymous said...

It would be really nice if we could just pull out of Iraq, and everything would just magically get better or even back to the way it used to be. Unfortunately, the real consequences of those actions would be much different.

You have to realize that during the many bungled, mismanaged, and poorly planned operations in Iraq, the US has planted the seeds for many of the very horrors we feared worst since 9/11 and then the invasion of Iraq. I'm talking about Civil war, terrorism, Al-Queda gaining strength in Iraq, and, scariest of all, is the potential escalation of the conflict into countries throughout the Middle East.

Ultimately, we need a different approach to what our personel are doing over there. What that approach involves is difficult to say, but I would argue for increased humanitarian efforts, helping many of the refugees, having many more diplomatic dialauges with leadeers in Iraq and neighboring countries. We clearly can't just kill all the bad guys and take all the oil, but I don't think it is so far-fetched to believe we can influence the region to be considerably more stable (not perfect by any means)and hopefully regain international cooperation. Allthough I don't take the lives of our troops and other Americans lightly, I think this certainly would be a worthy purpose if we ushered in a plan that would yield real progress towards these aims.

PBCliberal said...

One of the early talking points by Baker and Hamilton when they hit the talk show circuit when their commission's report was released, is that to have any hope of succeeding, the suggestions they made had to be implemented immediately. That was last year.

This is not a problem of "partisan bickering and absolutist demands," its a president who increasingly appears to be incapable of understanding the nature of the problem he created. He could have gotten good advice from his own father and those who advised him, but he chose not to, so it should be no surprise that he won't take it from bipartisan sources, be it the "gold standard" or not.

The only things that I can envision that the white house "can't refuse" are stopping the funding or impeaching the chief executive and his warmongering oil-hungry second-in-command.

Neither of these are likely to achieve bi-partisan support until its obvious that incumbents won't be re-elected unless we're out of the war. Your view seems to be that the ones that aren't running for office are the responsible ones. I think its just the opposite.

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