Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Iraq Error: Role of the Senate

This four year anniversary of Bush’s folly in Iraq is bringing hundreds of thousands of Americans to the streets to register their dismay. The last outpouring of such magnitude was on February 15, 2003 when likely a million of us came out to declare the obvious in solidarity with millions of others around the world, while the U.S. Senate was largely mute.

The occasion of the anniversary of the disastrous decision to invade another country with insufficient provocation or planning, has got me thinking of the Senate's role in that disaster, and searching for documentation about just what they were up to in the weeks before the invasion.

In October of 2002, by a 77-23 vote, the United States Senate authorized the President to use the U.S. Armed Forces against Iraq. So 23 Senators shared my distrust of this President to prudently make such a decision. That said, I can understand the concerns around reports of Saddam's weapons program and a complete lack of trust in his government which could lead some Senators plenty wary of war to legitimately feel it was in the interest of national security to give our President latitude to make that decision without the ordinary Congressional restraint. I disagreed then, and I think history has already proved me and the 23 right, but there is a difference between the authorization (an act of trust) and the decision to invade (an abuse of that trust).

My own Democratic Senator, Maria Cantwell, who voted for the authorization very capably equivocated in her press release at that time, declaring among other things:

If, for some reason, the U.N. Security Council does not act, I will expect the President to make a major and aggressive diplomatic effort to enlist other partners around the globe in doing the right thing to stop the Hussein threat. ... Mr. President, my vote for this resolution does not mean that I am convinced of the Administration has answered all the questions. I believe the following issues must be addressed before the U.N. or the U.S. move forward with military action.
and she goes on to list a number of conditions, many of them not satisfactorily met.

Equivocation must be one of the defining qualifications for a career in politics. Learning how to take a stand while not offending those who disagree is often a hallmark of any successful politician, but with few exceptions Senators have elevated this skill to an artform.

I do not begrudge them this ability, but there are times when we need to be unequivocal. Our Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, missed such an opportunity in February and March of 2003.

Sadly, in the final days leading up to the invasion when it became increasingly clear that the administration would not wait for the UN Inspectors who had not yet finished their job, there was far too little outcry from Senators objecting to the administration's abuse of their authorization. I'm not impressed by the claim that they were rolled by Powell's act at the U.N., or Bush's lies at the State of the Union address. In spite of sharing the general sense that Colin Powell was honorable and upright, the whole business smelled fishy enough to me that I joined a group of protestors in my town, and spoke publicly against it.

There were Senators on both sides of that vote who should have been crying foul, but as has too often been the case, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin gave us the lonely voice of reason,

I believe that the administration has not made clear to the American people, however, the magnitude of the task the country is setting for itself – not only with regard to the military engagement, but with regard to occupation and reconstruction.
His resolution called on the President to further report to congress before sending troops to war, explicitly calling out many of the same requirements Cantwell found implicit in the resolution. Feingold's resolution was read twice then referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Most of our Senators are extremely bright. I believe most of them really do care about serving the interests of our nation. But this invasion didn't pass the smell test for me or millions of people around the world, and yet this body was strangely mute.

Many in the anti-war crowd have damned them for the October resolution, but I damn them even more for their February-March 2003 silence. How could it be so blazingly obvious to this citizen and millions of others around the world, and yet draw scarcely a peep out of the senior legislative body of the republic leading the charge to war?

We can speculate that those who voted for the resolution felt obliged to accept the Administration reports, and that they and others who voted against it chafed against the possible repercussions of appearing less than fully supportive of the troops whose lives would be on the line. Fear that the campaign might be fully successful and draw to a nice conclusion no doubt muted some who figured their political careers would come to an abrupt end if they questioned Bush and ended up on the wrong side of what might become a wildly popular war.

Oh, the timidity! Have they learned nothing? They can't even adopt a resolution against a "surge" in 2007 that clearly does NOT have popular or congressional support.

Feingold remains the shining star

You may surmise that I dislike every other Senator, but it's not true. Many garner my admiration for one reason or another. But when it comes to speaking one's truth without equivocation, Russell Feingold stands alone.

The PATRIOT Act: 96-Russ

It's pretty sad that only one Senator could bring himself to vote against a massive bill being rushed through the chamber before anyone had time to read it. Feingold hadn't had time either, but he read enough to find Constitutionally questionable provisions that many now agree should never have become law.

I'm not the only person out here who finds strength of character appealing. Feingold should be the standard. And look - he doesn't even come from one of the solidly blue states. Wisconsin has elected and re-elected this darling of progressives across the country, not because he is liberal, but because he is genuine.

Senators, your job is not to worry about the political calculus of every move you make and every word you say or write. Your job is to take care of our nation and represent your values honestly to your constituents. Show your character and your voters just might surprise you.

Posted by Walker Willingham at March 19, 2007 10:24 AM
Comments
Comment #212689

Walker- Expecting the Senate to take a firm stand on practically anything is like expecting a Doberman to guard a T-bone steak. Yes, most of our senators are bright people. But, they are also, for the most part, career politicians. Folks of that stripe are primarily interested in keeping their career. That means “don’t do anything that might jeopardize my reelection”. So, they might pass a nonbinding resolution and make noises on the floor, but when push comes to shove, they will take the least controversial path. And that applies to Republicans and Democrats alike. The only exceptions are those that have a totally safe seat, like folks with the name Kennedy.

Posted by: John Back at March 19, 2007 12:37 PM
Comment #212704

Walker,
I was truly bummed when Feingold said he was not running for President.

Posted by: Steve K at March 19, 2007 1:45 PM
Comment #212723

John Back,

You are quite right.
Congress and government won’t be responsible as long as we keep rewarding them for being irresponsible.

Yes, they can vote themselves a raise (9 times between 1997 and 2007) and cu$hy perk$ in a heartbeat, but they refuse all other badly-needed, common-sense, no-brainer reforms.

That’s why they call it the Do-Nohting Congress.

Yet, voters keep rewarding them for it by repeatedly re-electing them, letting them enjoy their cu$hy, coveted incumbencies (with a re-election rate of over 90%) and opportunities for self-gain.

380 of the 535 in Congress voted for the invasion of Iraq (including about a third of all Democrats). That is, two thirds of Congress voted for the war.

That was quite a screw up.
Perhaps that’s why they’re afraid to do anything?
Because when tbey do take action, everything they touch turns to [expletive].

Posted by: d.a.n at March 19, 2007 3:57 PM
Comment #212728

So Dan,
In your anti-incumbency fever would you have voters oust Senators such as Feingold who are showing the way to earn the respect even of those who disagree with them, by remaining true to their conscience?

John Back,
You talk about the totally safe seat of Kennedy, but it wasn’t he, but Feingold from the swing state of Wisconsin who sticks to principles. And he received comfortably more votes in Wisconsin than did the clearly more timid and more conservative John Kerry in Wisconsin in the same election. Why? Because people respect conviction. It should be a lesson!

Steve K,

I shared your disappointment as an early supporter of Feingold in 2008, but Russ knows what he’s doing, and will serve us well as a statesman in the Senate, hopefully for years to come, unencumbered by the machinery he would have been answerable to had he made the run for the Presidency. I believe Obama is electable, and can champion our causes, even though he is both more moderate and more cautious than Feingold. Kucinich meanwhile can keep the progressive issues on the table during the early campaign.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 19, 2007 4:25 PM
Comment #212737
Walker Willingham wrote: So d.a.n, In your anti-incumbency fever would you have voters oust Senators such as Feingold who are showing the way to earn the respect even of those who disagree with them, by remaining true to their conscience?
Yes, if they do the following as Russ Feingold has done:
  • Russ Fiengold voted: Voted YES on allowing illegal aliens to participate in Social Security. (May 2006)
  • Russ Fiengold: Voted YES on establishing a Guest Worker program. (May 2006)
  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on limit welfare for immigrants. (Jun 1997)
I won’t vote for anyone who pits American citizens and illegal aliens against each other. Where’s the compassion for our own citizens?

The primary duty of the federal government is to secure the borders, yet Russ Feingold and most other Congress persons aren’t serious about securing the borders or enforcing existing laws to stop illegal immigration, essentially pitting U.S. citizens and illegal aliens against each other. Also, when terrorists really do get WMD, there will be litte-to-nothing to stop them from moseying right across our wide-open borders (or ports).

Then there’s this other stuff that’s hard to explain:

  • Russ Fiengold voted: NO on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime. (Mar 2004)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on $40B in reduced federal overall spending. (Dec 2005)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on Balanced-budget constitutional amendment. (Mar 1997)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on require photo ID (not just signature) for voter registration. (Feb 2002)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on banning more types of Congressional gifts. (Jul 1995)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted YES on $40 billion per year for limited Medicare prescription drug benefit. (Jun 2003)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted YES on including prescription drugs under Medicare. (Jun 2000)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on Social Security Lockbox & limiting national debt. (Apr 1999)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on eliminating the ‘marriage penalty’. (Jul 2000)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted NO on requiring super-majority for raising taxes. (Apr 1998)

  • Russ Fiengold: Voted YES on restoring $550M in funding for Amtrak for 2007. (Mar 2006)

  • Russ Fiengold: scores a very low 33% (unfriendly to tax payers) by Citizens Against Government Waste due to pork-barrel and waste

Granted, there are many in Congress with much worse records, but I can’t vote for anyone who fails to understand the importance of securing the borders, wants to keep creating huge entitlement programs (e.g. Medicare Rx program), but refuses to stop plundering the Social Security surpluses, and is so loose with the tax payers money.

I’ll tell ya what though … I’d vote for Russ Feingold before I’d ever vote for Hillary Clinton.
If Russ Feingold would change his position on illegal immigration and border security, I might support him for president, but anyone that refuses to secure the borders is refusing the most basic duty of the federal government.

See … this is one reason why it is so difficult for anyone to name 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, or even 268 (half of 535) in Congress that are:

  • responsible

  • that don’t look the other way

  • that don’t fuel the partisan warfare

  • that don’t vote on pork-barrel, graft, and corporate welfare (while our troops risk life and limb)

  • that don’t vote themselves cu$hy perk$ and rai$e$? (Congress has voted itself a raise 9 times between 1997 and 2007).

  • that don’t troll for big-money-donors to feed their campaign war chests

  • that don’t refuse to pass any sort of campaign finance reform

  • that don’t refuse a number of common-sense, no-brainier reforms (e.g. What good is a minimum wage increase when illegal aliens (cheap labor) are allowed to flood in by the millions, and the government refuses to stop those that illegally employ illegal aliens)

  • that don’t give pardons to convicted felons (some who even pled guilty; like the 546 criminals pardoned by Bill Clinton; 140 on his last day in office, including Dan Rostenkowski, who pleaded GUILTY)

  • that don’t pander and make promises that are fiscally irresponsible; bribe the voters with their own money (e.g. Medicare prescription drugs)

  • that don’t continue to ignore the nation’s most pressing problems

Posted by: d.a.n at March 19, 2007 5:21 PM
Comment #212743

BTW, We have a Constitutional problem in that the President can escalate a war without the approval of Congress.

Posted by: d.a.n at March 19, 2007 5:41 PM
Comment #212757

Walter
You respect Feingold for sticking to his principles. Do you respect conservative Senators who also stick to their principles even if you disagree with them?

DAN
Of course no one in Congress wants to actually solve anything. That’d be one less issue to attack and blame their opponents for.

Why shouldn’t the president be able to escalate a war without congressional approval? He’s the commander in chief. If there’s a war going on he’s in charge. Congress has oversight but no management.

Posted by: Silima at March 19, 2007 6:58 PM
Comment #212833
Most of our Senators are extremely bright. I believe most of them really do care about serving the interests of our nation. But this invasion didn’t pass the smell test for me or millions of people around the world, and yet this body was strangely mute.

This remind me the first time I hear (I’m french, be indulgent!) about Robert Byrd in february 2003:

http://byrd.senate.gov/speeches/byrd_speeches_2003february/byrd_speeches_2003march_list/byrd_speeches_2003march_list_1.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMjpPKslZz0

This speech was the first US senate one reported in France news networks since years. I was impressed but, at the same time, seeing only one old US senator got enough balls to do it was a bit sad.


Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at March 20, 2007 10:20 AM
Comment #212850

D.a.n.,

Sorry I asked. So whomever doesn’t agree with you on the issues you feel passionately about should be kicked out in favor of some other random person, until they all get it and subscribe to what’s important to you.

Silima,

Actually I do respect principled conservatives. I may think Tom Coburn and the recently defeated Santorum are nuts, and their antipathy to gays definitely puts me off, but I respect a consistency in them which puts them ahead of rank hypocrites like DeLay, Frist, Ralph Reed, and a host of the others still in office. Orrin Hatch is & Barry Goldwater was principled in their conservatism.

Phillipe,

Thank you for pointing us to the speech by Byrd, and my apologies to the Senator for not excepting him as well as Feingold in my diatribe about their silence. Byrd was keenly aware of that silence, and his words should chasten those others who stood mute.

Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent — ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.
We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. …
And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world. …
Definitely recommended reading.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 20, 2007 11:54 AM
Comment #212886
Walker Willingham wrote: d.a.n., Sorry I asked. So whomever doesn’t agree with you on the issues you feel passionately about should be kicked out in favor of some other random person, until they all get it and subscribe to what’s important to you.
Walker,
  • (1) First of all, nobody will ever agree on everything. Where did I say ever say “whomever doesn’t agree with you on the issues you feel passionately about should be kicked out” ? I simply assert that irresponsible incumbent politicians should not be re-elected. What’s wrong with that? Perhaps blindly pulling the party-lever isn’t such a good strategy if the two-party duopoly are merely going to take turns being irresponsible and wallow in the circuler, distracting, time-wasting partisan warfare rather than adequately address the nation’s pressing problems? Also, never mind that the two party duopoly have rigged things to make it difficult and/or impossible to get on the ballots, or use Gerrymandering to stack the deck.
  • (2) I’m not name calling or drawing unsubstantiated conclusions without facts and voting records to support certain conclusions. Congress persons that are ignoring illegal immigration and refusing to enforce existing laws is not a minor issue. Russ Feingold voted YES to allow illegal aliens to participate in Social Security (May 2007), which shows that he doesn’t care what most voters want.
  • (3) It is irresponsible for Congress persosns (actually despicable) to ignore the laws and vote that way which pits American citizens and illegal aliens against each other.
  • (4) Voting irresponsibly to grow more huge entitlements, essentially bribing voters with their own tax dollars, but refusing to stop plundering Social Security surpluses, makes no sense. It is fiscally irresponsible In a Polling Station poll, it asks:
    President Bush wants amnesty for illegal aliens.

    Do you agree with the President?
    A Polling Station poll of 9,174 people shows:
    ________ Yes ______ No _______ Undecided
    Dem ____ 27.6% ____ 60.1% ____ 12.3%
    Ind ____ 16.5% ____ 72.5% ____ 11.0%
    Rep ____ 10.9% ____ 81.3% ____ 7.8%
    18.4% believe amnesty is a good idea.
    71.2% do not believe amnesty is a good idea.
    10.4% were undecided.

    Most polls show that a large majority of Americans want the borders secured and existing laws enforced. Yet the politicians continue to ignore the voters, and a lot of other pressing problems, earning the well deserved label Do-Nothing Congress

  • (5) Who said anything about “some other random person”? Random? Where’s that coming from?

  • (6) Why are you sorry you asked? Like any good lawyer will explain, don’t ask a question unless you are prepared for the answer. So, what part of the answer bothered you? Did it have anything to do with the facts of Russ Feingold’s voting record, Congress’ voting records, Congress’ inability to stop the President from escalating the war in Iraq (potentially a Constitutional problem), or Congress’ overall irresponsibleness?

  • (7) Who said everyone should “subscribe to what’s important to” me ? It’s not about me. It’s about doing what voters want that is right and lawful. It is about respecting and enforcing the existing laws (or changing them if they don’t agree with them), fiscal responsibility, and pro-immigration policies of many Congress persons. Minimum wage is a bit of a joke when politicians still let millions of illegal aliens flood across the borders, displacing millions of American workers. Homeland Security is a bit of a joke when our borders are practically wide open. Voting for a fence, but no funding to build it demonstrates that Congress is not serious about it, yet they can vote themselves raises (9 times between 1997 and 2007) and cu$hy perk$ in a heart beat.

  • (8)
    Walker Willingham wrote:
    d.a.n.,
    Sorry I asked. So whomever doesn’t agree with you on the issues you feel passionately about should be kicked out in favor of some other random person, until they all get it and subscribe to what’s important to you.

    Walker,

    Why are you drawing unsubstantiated conclusions about my character and motives, rather than choosing to debate issues about Congress, the potential Constitutional problem in which the Congress can’t stop the President from escalating and continuing a war that most Americans don’t want, and the voting records of Congress persons (e.g. Russ Feingold)? Do you believe most in Congress is responsible and Accountable? If not, perhaps it is because voters keep rewarding irresponsible policians by repeatedly re-electing them? The funny thing is, eventually, most voters will most likely stop it … when it becomes too painful. Congress won’t become responsible until voters do too.

So, how do you feel about Russ Feingold, or any other Congress person that also voted YES to let illegal aliens participate in Social Security? Collect welfare? Let illegal aliens cut to the front of the legal immigration line ? We already allow many hundreds of thousands to immigrate legally each year.

And, how do you feel about the Constitution that allows the President’s to escalate war despite the potential majority in Congress that disagree? What if the President decides to attack Iran ? Perhaps the Constitution needs to be amended? Perhaps we need an Article V Convention? Already, a majority of the states have requested their Constitutional right to an Article V Convention, but Congress ignores it.

Posted by: d.a.n at March 20, 2007 2:51 PM
Comment #212891

d.a.n.,

Why are you drawing unsubstantiated conclusions about my character and motives, rather than choosing to debate issues about …
Now you’re the one making inferences. I made no conclusions about your character. You seem to be very dedicated to a particular set of causes, as am I, so I have no problem with that. I opened myself up to your foray into the immigration issue when I asked about Feingold in particular, so I’m not blaming you for that - but this post was on the war, so I feel no obligation to debate immigration with you, and admittedly I lack the expertise, though I do believe as a practical matter we are obliged to deal with people humanely, even if they shouldn’t “theoretically” be here. Unless you’re a native American (and who knows maybe even then), you benefit because you are descended from people who played a role in confiscating land by decree.

I understand that you see a relationship, because both the way we got into war and the way we deal with immigrants raise Constitutional issues. In the real world though, theory doesn’t always work, and in particular, since we can’t change human nature we will always be “rowing upstream” in any endeavor. Moreover, I think your throw the bums out approach cannot work until there is a viable alternative presented. I’ve been to your site, and I honor your views as well-thought through, but count me as skeptical about at least some of your solutions, and frankly count me as annoyed by your flashing lights, and dogged persistence in steering every debate thread toward a whole set of issues not directly related to the primary point of the post.

Sometimes in the real world, we do better to work with the bums we got, and piecemeal find those who can do a better job. The vision is important though, and whether it’s your vision or my vision, we have every right to put it out there as an ideal to work towards, and try to convince others that the effort is worth it. If we annoy people in the process though, we may not make much progress. I know, I have to watch that myself.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 20, 2007 3:50 PM
Comment #212905

Walker,

  • (1)Walker wrote:
    d.a.n, Now you’re the one making inferences. I made no conclusions about your character.

    No?
  • Then what’s this? It’s not a big deal, and it’s not flagrant, but I believe this inference is a little hard to deny?

    Walker Willingham wrote: d.a.n., … So whomever doesn’t agree with you on the issues you feel passionately about should be kicked out in favor of some other random person, until they all get it and subscribe to what’s important to you.

    Not always, but the word “you” is often an indicator.

    The thing is, I never addressed you first, and when I responded to your question, I didn’t
    You asked me about Russ Feingold, and I answered.
    Obviously, it wasn’t the answer you wanted, since you said “I’m sorry I asked”.

  • (2)In my defence, every one of my posts above (while not always 100% on topic in every sentence), each and every one addressed war, Constitution, or Russ Feingold. Yes, I bring up other tangential issues too, but tangents are usually a result of causality. Still, I addressed the war in Iraq, and Russ Feingold (both subjects of your article).
  • (3) Yes, you may be skeptical about voting out irresponsible incumbents. Most loyal to the two main parties do. Everyone has that right to choose. Heck, I used to be a Republican myself. Still, voting out irresponsible incumbents is most likely what most voters will do someday when they finally feel the painful consequences of their own complacency (some day, which may not be that far off). That is, Congress won’t become responsible until the voters do.
  • Walker wrote: Sometimes in the real world, we do better to work with the bums we got,
    Only as long as there’s no other choice.

    All I’ve ever recommended is not re-electing irresponsible incumbent politicians, which is what happens because too many voters are distracted by the circular partisan warfare, and more interested in securing more seats for THEIR party (which is usually, 90% of the time, the candidate that spends the most money) than ousting irresponsible incumbent politicians, which is why Congress is largely irresponsible.

    At any rate, I don’t think Russ Feingold is a bad person. However, You asked me a question, and I responded … I simply can not agree with his position on illegal immigration (which is how this topic came up), wasteful spending, growing huge entitlement systems, refusing a balanced budget, and refusing to stop plundering Social Security surpluses.

    Walker wrote: If we annoy people in the process though, we may not make much progress. I know, I have to watch that myself.
    Sometimes.

    However, often when people get annoyed, it is sometimes their own problem, and sometimes it’s good that they might get annoyed. There are all sorts of techniques; different ones at different times.

    So, you like Russ Feingold.
    That’s OK.
    I can accept that.
    That’s your choice.
    However, again, what started this little exchange is that you asked me a question about Russ Fiengold, and when I gave an answer with supporting evidence and voting records to substantiate my positions, you wrote:

    Walker Willingham wrote: d.a.n., Sorry I asked. So whomever doesn’t agree with you on the issues you feel passionately about should be kicked out in favor of some other random person, until they all get it and subscribe to what’s important to you.

    Walker wrote: … and frankly count me as annoyed by your flashing lights, and dogged persistence in steering every debate thread toward a whole set of issues not directly related to the primary point of the post.
    Hmmmm … OK, I admit to mistakes.

    However, not this time, since you asked me a question, and all of my posts above were about the war, inaction by Congress, or Russ Feingold (all directly related).

    Posted by: d.a.n at March 20, 2007 5:16 PM
    Comment #212924

    I took responsibility for my part in your digression when I wrote:

    I opened myself up to your foray into the immigration issue when I asked about Feingold in particular, so I’m not blaming you for that.
    bye bye

    Posted by: Walker at March 20, 2007 7:28 PM
    Comment #212991

    There was no digression.

    Russ Feingold’s voting record is material since your article wrote:

    Walker Willingham wrote:
    Feingold should be the standard.

    … which is questionable, based on his voting record.

    Posted by: d.a.n at March 21, 2007 10:31 AM
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