U.S. Must Stop Refereeing Iraq’s Civil War
Posted by Kari Chisholm .
During August recess, most members of Congress head to their home states to touch base with constituents. I'm fresh off of three, open to all, Iraq town meetings down the I-5 corridor in Oregon, and I'm sure hoping that my colleagues are hearing and listening to similar voices of anger and frustration about the war in Iraq. If so, maybe we can finally find the additional votes we need in the Senate to force the President to withdraw our troops in a safe and speedy manner.
The administration report on the surge is due in September – a critical opportunity and perilous decision point for those of us who want to end this war—so I tried to warn Oregonians at these meetings about the danger of allowing the Bush administration to bog us down in a debate over whether their military surge tactics are showing marginal progress in one province or another. At the outset of the surge, Congress was told that the purpose of the surge was to produce adequate space for political reconciliation in Iraq. By every objective measure, that hasn't happened. In fact, the Sunnis and Shiites are farther apart today than before the outset of the surge. The surge has failed, Congress has to hold the President accountable, and the proper way to do that is to vote for a speedy, humane withdrawal.
No one can make a convincing case that we're supporting our troops by asking them to police a deadly civil war, and I'm fighting to get my colleagues to acknowledge and act on that reality. I hope that many of my colleagues who have so far resisted are also meeting with their own constituents and holding their own town halls to discuss the war in Iraq. I hold open town meetings in every county in Oregon each year, but after over 450 of those meetings as a Senator, I have never before witnessed the level of intensity and emotion that I encountered at my recent Iraq-focused meetings. Over 700 people attended these forums, about 150 of them spoke, and many more submitted written comments. The almost unanimous thread in what I heard is that people have had enough.
People are sickened by the horrendous loss of life and untold cost of this war. They are sickened by America's loss of standing in the world. They are sickened and fearful of the continued erosion of civil liberties, as recently evidenced by the newly passed FISA law (which I voted against and will fight in September to overturn). They are despondent over the countless needs right here in America – veterans' benefits, education, transportation, among many others—that aren't being met because of the trillion dollar price tag of the war. And many are hopeful there will be a measure of justice meted out to those most responsible for leading us into this quagmire.
While I am proud to have been one of the 23 U.S. Senators who voted against the war in 2002, one of only 14 to vote against continued war funding because it lacked a timetable for withdrawal, and on the losing end of numerous other votes to end this conflict (the Feingold, Kerry, and Levin amendments, for example), voting the right way isn't the only way I try to bring an end to this war. Rarely a day goes by where I and my staff don't work to convince my colleagues to bring our troops home. A few people understandably asked why the President was so much more visible than elected officials like me who oppose the war, and I had to admit that the President has a built-in advantage because of the enormous entourage of media who report his every move. I have spoken publicly in opposition to the war now several hundred times, many times with reporters and cameras present, but reporters aren't going to produce story after story saying, "Wyden Continues to Oppose War." They see no "news value" in it. It's frustrating, but I still get up every morning looking for ways to help end this war.
A lot of people who came to the town halls support the immediate impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Some want it to happen because they think it will tie them up and prevent them from doing anything else that is destructive to the world and our nation. Some want it to happen because they think it will create enough leverage to get us out of Iraq.
I said many times that the Constitution provides that the impeachment process must originate in the House of Representatives, and if the House moves to impeach, I will sit objectively as one of 100 jurors. But I question this impeachment strategy for several reasons, including the obvious lack of votes in the Senate to accomplish the goal, and the obligation of the Congress to stay focused on what the general public wants most at this moment in time: bringing an end to the war, enacting affordable health care for all, and passing legislation producing a new, sustainable energy policy.
Some people understandably asserted that the war is illegal and want Congress to pursue impeachment on that basis. While we would need an impeachment trial to ultimately determine whether the war was illegal, I know this: had 28 more Senators voted with me in 2002, this war would, on its face, be illegal.
One episode from the town meetings which made me scratch my head, but also illustrates the level of frustration out there, came when I answered that if the House impeached the President or Vice-President, or if a censure resolution was considered, I would insist on due process such as a formal presentation of the evidence and a full opportunity for the accused to present evidence and present their case. I finished by saying that we should extend the same due process to President Bush that was extended to President Clinton, and that it shouldn't matter whether you are Independent, Democrat or Republican when it comes to due process. A significant chorus of "no" came from the audience, including cries of "he doesn't deserve it!" When passionate liberals argue in opposition to due process, you know that good and decent people have long ago exceeded their boiling point.
Almost everyone who spoke brought a unique and personal vantage point to the conflict, but I want to highlight a few who really stood out. There was a woman in Portland—whose son and husband are serving in Iraq – who has lost all confidence in the government that is solely responsible for their service. There was the veteran in Medford who has experienced enormous road blocks and lengthy waits to be seen for health problems, including mental health issues. And there was the religious leader in Eugene who talked about the role our government ought to be playing in bringing together peace-loving people of different faiths in troubled regions like Iraq. I wish every Senator could have heard these Oregonians and the other speakers at our meetings.
Finally, there was one gentleman who bravely stood up before a passionately anti-war crowd and made a case for the war and for staying in Iraq. While I strongly disagreed with him, I thought he made a valid point when he challenged me to admit that Iraq will likely be in turmoil if we withdraw. Where I disagree with the speaker, however, is that staying longer in Iraq won't change the outcome, but will result in even more Americans and innocent Iraqis killed, more jihadists recruited and trained to kill Americans, and more money wasted while Americans suffer.
The best news from these town meetings: Oregonians don't see government as a spectator sport, and Oregonians are going to keep pushing for a more sensible and humane foreign policy.
Posted on August 22, 2007.