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DLC | New Dem Dispatch | November 16, 2020
A Bipartisan Call For A Clear Iraq Strategy

Yesterday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution that represented a stinging, bipartisan rebuke to the Bush administration's "Just Trust Us" approach to the immediate and long-range future of our involvement in Iraq, and called on the president to announce a strategy for success, along with a schedule of benchmarks that can enable the United States to withdraw troops and turn Iraqi security over to that country's own government and army. It was, as Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid put it, "a vote of no confidence."

The 79-19 vote on this resolution (41 Republicans and 38 Democrats supported it) was about as clear a message as the Senate could send that the administration's bland assurances that things are going well in Iraq, even as the insurgency seems to be getting worse, are no longer acceptable, and are in fact undermining support for our Iraq engagement at home and abroad, while tempting Iraqis of various factions to hold back on their own full commitment to self-government. Reinforcing the bipartisan nature of this action, the final resolution, sponsored by Republican Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia, tracked almost word-for-word an unsuccessful Democratic amendment offered earlier by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan.

The administration, of course, immediately began madly spinning the vote as a "confirmation" of administration policy in Iraq, on grounds that the defeated Democratic resolution called for a timetable for withdrawal of troops. But the actual text of the Levin resolution simply urged the administration to set out conditional "estimated dates" for the drawdown of troops "as circumstances permit;" it did not require any deadline for final withdrawal, even though quite a few Senate Democrats support one. Even Warner conceded this wasn't a "timetable" requirement, though he worried it might be misinterpreted as such.

In other words, both parties and both sides of the Iraq debate compromised on the exact language of the resolution, and united on the critical point that U.S. credibility, and the very success of the Iraqi engagement, depend on an immediate change of course by the administration to accelerate the transition to full Iraqi assumption of responsibility for its own security, with our limited assistance.

The White House didn't even bother to trying spinning away the second bipartisan rebuke of administration policy enacted by the Senate yesterday: the defense authorization bill's inclusion of Sen. John McCain's provision requiring use of standard Army rules for treatment of prisoners until such time as the administration proposes some other set of rules. This amendment had already been attached to a defense appropriations bill, and it was added to the current bill (by a voice vote) as a sort of "this-time-we-mean-it" gesture. This was a direct and blunt challenge to Vice President Cheney's bizarre insistence that terrorist suspects be suspended in a permanent legal limbo, creating the incredibly damaging impression around the world that the United States cannot bring itself to renounce torture. Since the president has been threatening to apply his first-ever legislative veto to any legislation including the McCain provision, the Senate's action made it clear they'll keep attaching it to defense legislation until it becomes law.

The Senate also agreed on improvements to Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) amendment dealing with the legal status of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, providing for judicial oversight of these prisoners but without granting them full habeas corpus rights.

The resurgence of bipartisanship on Iraq and related issues in the Senate is especially striking coming as it does just a few days after Bush chose to attack Democratic critics of his Iraq policies -- at a U.S. military base, no less -- as offering aid and comfort to the terrorist enemy.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) offered the most eloquent direct response to the president, in a speech yesterday to the Council on Foreign Relations: "The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them. Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years."

Amen to that, and also to Sen. Joe Lieberman's comment about the extraordinary convergence of yesterday's debate on Iraq: "This is one of those quiet moments in the Senate with very few people in the Chamber when, in my opinion, something very important is happening."

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Related Links NDD: ''A Progressive Plan for Iraq''

Sen. Hagel's speech

Floor statement of Sen. Lieberman

Sen. Tom Carper's statement on the passage of this resolution

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