My former boss, Senator Jeff Bingaman, did not vote with others to condemn MoveOn.org‘s recent ads attacking David Petraeus. Bingaman votes his conscience — and sometimes that is a lonely exercise. I remember when he was just one of four votes — along with Richard Lugar, Christopher Dodd, and someone else — who voted against the Helms-Burton legislation designed to strangle Cuba and Cubans while essentially undermining American interests.
Here is the breakdown of the vote today condemning the “General Betray Us” ad.
Unfortunately, the MoveOn ad has now taken the limelight away from what is really important and what should be debated. Americans and Iraqis are dying in a war where it’s clear that progress is negative on the political front and at best nuanced on the military front.
What Senators should be doing instead of the distracting vote held today is to debate what is going on inside Iraq as well as whether America’s objectives are being met or not — and whether those objectives are connected at all to crucial American interests. For an increasing number of people, this war is seen as an unmitigated disaster.
I want the focus back on the issue of Petraeus’s testimony and what it means politically. My colleague, Steve Coll, wrote this on Petraeus in a September 24 New Yorker piece titled “General Accounting,” but this bit is worth extra emphasis:
Petraeus also apparently clings to the belief that Iraq’s sectarian leaders might reconcile if American forces stay the course. This opinion, shared by many in the Bush Administration, has encouraged yet another generation of unconvincing strategic plans that assume that a unified Iraq governed from Baghdad is attainable and that thousands of American troops might help patrol the capital’s streets for years.
A more plausible strategy, devoted to managing as successfully as possible the informal sectarian partition of Iraq which is already well under way, has again been postponed, along with substantial troop reductions.
American majorities repudiated the Vietnam War and have repudiated the invasion of Iraq. They did not lack guts then or now; they saw past the false promises and manipulations of their leaders, and called time.
George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden appear to share the belief that the United States is chronically afflicted with a cut-and-run syndrome, but they are both wrong: the most striking aspect of American democracy during the catastrophe in Iraq today is not the public’s inconstancy but, rather, its capacity to absorb thousands of casualties on behalf of a war that is widely understood as a mistake and has no foreseeable end.
Coll’s take is very bleak — and very real — and is what the real debate should be about.
As Chris Matthews recently said, “the ad didn’t kill anybody.”
— Steve Clemons