Senator James Webb’s bill stipulating that troops must have home leave equal to the time spent in combat failed to pass in the Senate. Despite its favorable ten-vote margin it couldn’t muster the sixty votes necessary to force cloture – – another victory for Republicans who still feel they must support the administration and its military cohort no matter what.
Webb’s proposal may have been a back-door attempt to limit the ability of the White House to continue the “surge” at its present level and pretend that it is having the desired effect. But it spoke to the duplicity and heartlessness of current policy, and confirms that we do not have the military strength to carry on what supporters of the war would have us believe will produce a successful outcome. No matter how many times military and political leaders repeat that there can be no military solution, the administration focuses on succeeding militarily while Iraqi’s central government seems lost in a dysfunctional miasma.
In a floor speechRepublican Senator Warner, who had previously pledged his support for Webb’s bill, withdrew his support after engaging, he said, in deep discussion with generals in the field and Secretary of Defense Gates. Most stunning, if barely remarked, was a growing awareness that there simply are not enough troops to confront the challenges of a civil war, a determined insurgency and cross-border engagements. Warner was told that central command simply could not function effectively if it did not have wide discretion with respect to troop deployments. And voices in the right-wing media and on the floor of the Senate decried what they referred to as attempts by Congress to “micromanage” the war and undercut The Commander in Chief’s right to determine its course.
As always Republicans managed to be off point, avoiding discussions about the war itself and spending precious time and energy in the Senate condemning a Moveon.Org ad in the NY Times. Senator Mitch McConnell rose to suggest that Democrats needed to repudiate the ad in order to dispel the notion that they are controlled by Move-on like “puppets on a string”. Does he think we have forgotten the strangle hold the religious right has had on Republicans all these years – – or the unseemly tactics used in the last election cycle to defeat Georgia’s former senator and triple-amputee Viet Nam war vet Max Cleland by picturing him as an Osama Bin Laden devotee, or the Swift Boating of decorated war hero John Kerry?
What do this administration’s supporters mean when they intone their “support-the-troops” mantra? And what is the success General Patraeus and others keep alluding to in Iraq? Is the ethno-religious cleansing of numerous neighborhoods thought of as a kind of peace-making procedure or the departure of an educated professional class just some minor form of collateral damage? Was the destruction of Fallujah after the killing of four Blackwater operatives in the area really a step forward in framing the parameters of a new regime instructed by a US vision of democracy? Are civilian deaths at the hands of our military a good way to capture the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis? And can the huge Iraqi diaspora forming in Jordan and Syria be seen as a sign of progress?
In terms of where we stand in Iraq is it so out of line for Move-On or any other individual or organization to question the analyses of military representatives and the administration when they have been so consistently wrong? General Patraeus, after all, told us two years ago that great progress was being made in Iraq. Was that a valid assessment or an attempt to buy time for a policy that was faltering, as if time would magically heal all wounds and correct all previous missteps? If the language of Move-On’s ad seemed to detract from the luster of a popular General perhaps it was ill-advised because if has given Republicans another non-issue to hammer. But the skepticism to which the ad gave expression was real and well founded despite partisan attempts to focus on words rather than ideas.
Leading the charge to discredit Democrats and what Republicans like to characterize as “the far left” was Senator John Cornyn from Texas. On the chance that his ultra-conservative and rather odd grasp of things has escaped notice, this reminder: Cornyn is the man who felt compelled to speak publicly about an incident in which an accused murderer grabbed a guard’s gun in court and shot and killed the presiding judge. Saying that it was never right to use violence to achieve one’s ends, Cornyn nonetheless spoke of the understandable rage in the country as a result of judicial overreach. From Cornyn’s wacky perspective one might be expected to assume the court-room killer was simply making a political statement.
The Republican vision of a stable, democratic Middle East is premised on vague and shifting claims from people like Senators Cornyn, McCain and Lieberman who insist “we are now succeeding”. And Lieberman wondered aloud in the Senate whether we should pursue militants across the Syrian border – – ah the policy of “hot pursuit” that worked so well when we crossed into Cambodia during the Viet Nam war. A Bush press conference continued the happy-talk on Thursday. But, whatever his intention, he got lost in a maze of inarticulate remarks about Nelson Mandela that were wrong on every conceivable level, bearing no legitimate point of reference to Iraq and incorrectly claiming that Mandela was dead.
While the president continues his inchoate ramblings, the American people are asked for patience and support, while our troops serve long and repeated tours of duty. A mother’s call to C-Span’s Washington Journal noted her son’s third deployment to Iraq – – a sad reminder of how far we are from anything resembling success or respect for our troops.

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