Thursday, December 07, 2006

What Feingold Knew And When He Knew It

Check Their Hands

by poputonian

With eager Democratic candidates edging toward the starting blocks, be sure to check their hands for blood. John Edwards, Evan Bayh, and Hillary Clinton each made a fundamental error in judgment that should cost them any chance for the Democratic nomination. They traded 700,000 human lives, give or take, to build their own presidential credentials, to appear "strong on defense" and "tough on terror." But they all flunked the judgment test.

Wesley Clark, as inexperienced politically as he might be is a better choice for the Democratic nominee.

So is Al Gore, even though he thought Joe Lieberman would be a good running mate. Oops.

So is Howard Dean, although he sometimes gets loud and lets it all hang out.

Even Barack Obama with his religious pandering is a better choice.

In fact, instead of categorizing the candidates as Republican and Democrat, why not go with Clean Hands and Bloody Hands as the name of each group. Doing so would put all the Republicans and the Democrats who sold out into one bucket, and those with sound judgment in another. Seems easy enough.

But just to be fair, let's double-check to see how a Senator might have processed the known information at the time of the Iraq War vote:

But, Mr. President, I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. My colleagues, I'm not suggesting there has to be only one justification for such a dramatic action. But when the Administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the Administration's motives in insisting on action at this particular time.

What am I talking about? I'm talking about the spectacle of the President and senior Administration officials citing a purported connection to al Qaeda one day, weapons of mass destruction the next day, Saddam Hussein's treatment of his own people on another day, and then on some days the issue of Kuwaiti prisoners of war.
But the relentless attempt to link 9-11 and the issue of Iraq has been disappointing to me for months, culminating in the President's singularly unpersuasive attempt in Cincinnati to interweave 9-11 and Iraq, to make the American people believe that there are no important differences between the perpetrators of 9-11 and Iraq.

Mr. President, I believe it is dangerous for the world, and especially dangerous for us, to take the tragedy of 9-11 and the word "terrorism" and all their powerful emotion and then too easily apply them to many other situations -- situations that surely need our serious attention but are not necessarily, Mr. President, the same as individuals and organizations who have shown a willingness to fly planes into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon.

Let me say that the President is right that we've got to view the world, the threats and our own national security in a very different light since 9-11. There are shocking new threats. But, Mr. President, it is not helpful to use virtually any strand or extreme rhetoric to suggest that the new threat is the same as other preexisting threats. Mr. President, I think common sense tells us they are not the same and they cannot so easily be lumped together as the President sought to do in Cincinnati.
I'm not hearing the same things at the briefings that I'm hearing from the President's top officials. In fact, on March 11 of this year, Vice President Cheney, following a meeting with Tony Blair, raised fears of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists. He said, "We have to be concerned about the potential" -- potential -- "marriage, if you will, between a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and those who hold or are proliferating knowledge about weapons of mass destruction." So in March, it was a potential marriage.

Then the Vice-President said, on September 8, without evidence -- and no evidence has been given since that time -- that there are "credible but unconfirmed" intelligence reports that 9-11 ringleader Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official several months before 9-11. We've seen no proof of that.

And finally then, the Secretary of Defense follows on September 27 of this year and says, "There is bulletproof evidence of Iraqi links to al Qaeda, including the recent presence of senior al Qaeda members in Baghdad." I don't know where this comes from, Mr. President. This so-called potential marriage in March is beginning to sound like a 25th wedding anniversary at this point.

The facts just aren't there, or at least they have not been presented to me in the situations where they should have been presented to me as an elected Member of this body. In other words, the Administration appears to use 9-11 and the language of terrorism and the connection to Iraq too loosely, almost like a bootstrap.

For example, I heard the President say in Cincinnati that Iraq and al Qaeda both regard us as a common enemy. Of course they do. Well, who else are we going to attack in the near future on that basis alone?

Or do we see an attempt to stretch the notion of harboring terrorists? I agree with the President, if any country is actively harboring or assisting the terrorists involved in 9-11, we have to act against them. But I don't think you can bring within the definition of harboring terrorists the simple presence of some al Qaeda members somewhere in Iraq. After all, Mr. President, apparently we have al Qaeda agents active in our country as well. They are present in our nation as well. How can this be a sufficient basis on its own?

Therefore, Mr. President, without a better case for al Qaeda's connection to Saddam Hussein, this proposed invasion must stand on its own merits, not on some notion that those who question this invasion don't thoroughly condemn and want to see the destruction of the perpetrators of 9-11 and similar terrorist attacks on the United States.

An invasion of Iraq must stand on its own, not just because it is different than the fight against the perpetrators of 9-11 but because it may not be consistent with, and may even be harmful to, the top national security issue of this country. And that is the fight against terrorism and the perpetrators of the crimes of 9-11.

In fact, I'm so pleased to see one of the most eloquent spokesmen of this viewpoint here in the Senate chamber, Senator Graham, who has done a terrific job of trying to point out our top priorities in this area. He said, "Our first priority should be the successful completion of the war on terrorism. Today we Americans are more vulnerable to international terrorist organizations than we are to Saddam Hussein."
In any event, I oppose this resolution because of the continuing unanswered questions, including the very important questions about what the mission is here, what the nature of the operation will be, what will happen concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as the attack proceeds and afterward, and what the plan is after the attack is over. In effect, Mr. President, we're being asked to vote on something that is unclear. We don't have answers to these questions. We're being asked to vote on something that is almost unknowable in terms of the information we've been given.
Mr. President, we need an honest assessment of the commitment required of America. If the right way to address this threat is through internationally-supported military action in Iraq and Saddam Hussein's regime falls, we will need to take action to ensure stability in Iraq. This could be very costly and time consuming, could involve the occupation -- the occupation, Mr. President, of a Middle Eastern country. Now, this is not a small matter. The American occupation of a Middle Eastern country. Consider the regional implications of that scenario, the unrest in moderate states that calls for action against American interests, the difficulty of bringing stability to Iraq so we can extricate ourselves in the midst of regional turmoil. Mr. President, we need much more information about how we propose to proceed so that we can weigh the costs and benefits to our national security.
I do believe that the American people are willing to bear high costs to pursue a policy that makes sense. But right now, after all of the briefings, all of the hearings, and all of the statements, as far as I can tell, the Administration apparently intends to wing it when it comes to the day after or, as others have suggested, the decade after. And I think, Mr. President, that makes no sense at all.

So, Mr. President, I believe that to date the Administration has failed to answer the key questions to justify the invasion of Iraq at this time. Yes, September 11 raises the emotional stakes and raises legitimate new questions. This makes the President's request understandable, but it doesn't make it wise.

I am concerned that the President is pushing us into a mistaken and counterproductive course of action. Instead of this war being crucial on the war on terrorism, I fear it could have the opposite effect.

And so this moment -- in which we are responsible for assessing the threat before us, the appropriate response, and the potential costs and consequences of military action -- this moment is of grave importance. Yet there is something hollow in our efforts.
We are about to make one of the weightiest decisions of our time within a context of confused justifications and vague proposals. We are urged, Mr. President, to get on board and bring the American people with us, but we don't know where the ship is sailing.

That's good judgment by Senator Feingold. Other Senators gave similar speeches. Each Senator now running for president had an opportunity to hear Feingold's floor speech. But for some, presidential ambition carried more weight and clouded their thinking.

And now they have blood on their hands.