Iraq Rhetoric: Senators in Glass Houses


I’ll throw in my two cents on Bush friend Pete Domenici’s statement on Iraq this week. My organization doesn’t work on Iraq, but my colleagues and I spend a great deal of time thinking about how we use language and how it affects the public debate.
I’ve often argued on this blog that rhetoric matters, that roll call votes shouldn’t be the exclusive measure of an elected official. Floor speeches, press releases, and other statements do shift the policy debate and ultimately do make a difference in people’s lives.
Senator Domenici’s rhetorical shift on Iraq, therefore, will have some positive impact. It will intensify pressure for a course change and it’s miles better than the message he’s used for much of the past five years (with or against, stay the course vs. cut and run). Still, it leaves much to be desired.
Domenici is one of many Members of Congress and presidential candidates – Republican and Democratic alike – to put the blame exclusively on the Iraqi government. The headline of Domenici’s press release reads: “Domenici, Pushed by Iraqi Government Failures, Supports New U.S. Military Strategy.”
That, my friends, is called nerve. The Bush/Cheney strategy that Congress supported from the outset called for toppling a regime, dismantling its bureaucracy. Moreover, the strategy assumes that a newly-created democratic government should be able to quickly and neatly compromise on some extremely divisive issues. Meanwhile, the 219-year-old government in which Domenici and his colleagues serve is failing to resolve questions on health care, social security, immigration, and other issues, all of which are contentious, but none of which are near as divisive or foundational as those with which the nascent Iraqi government is currently grappling.
Governing and compromising aren’t easy, and no one who serves in government can plead ignorance to that fact. Let me state the obvious: the real problem is a strategy that was doomed at the outset. Any Member of Congress who cites the Iraqi government’s lack of progress as reason to change course is guilty of some some serious hypocrisy.
Some Republicans, by the way, are getting it right. Dick Lugar says: “military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world.” And Chuck Hagel has vocally argued that diplomacy, not military action, is the tool that can best solve problems in the Middle East. Through their rhetoric, Hagel and Lugar give people the impression that by smartly applying influence, we can work with other countries to serve common interests. Domenici’s language gives us the opposite cues.
The Iraqi government hasn’t made great progress, but I’m sick of hearing American politicians use it as a scapegoat for their own bad judgment.
— Scott Paul


4 comments on “Iraq Rhetoric: Senators in Glass Houses

  1. Kathleen says:

    That was eye opening, Sandy. Gave my eyebrows a work out. I’m going to have to hem and haw a bunch around this.


  2. Sandy says:

    Kathleen says: ” Self interest is not the exclusive domain of Repugnicans, it seems.”
    Apparently not!
    July 10, 2007
    “Whatever AIPAC Wants, AIPAC Gets”
    Democratic Defectors and the Israel Lobby
    In November, the American electorate repudiated Bush’s Iraq debacle and established Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate promising to bring this “flawed policy wrapped in illusion” to a decisive end. Bush vetoed their withdrawal timetable, but voters urged their leaders to hold the line and not be bullied. In the end, though, 37 Democratic senators capitulated and gratuitously gave the President his $100 billion no-strings- attached blank check . . . enough money to pay tuition and fees for 1.3 million college students for four solid years!
    Deep disappointment set in. Cindy Sheehan, the liberal icon, was so demoralized she resigned and returned to private life. In June, a CNN poll reported that “respect for Congress” plummeted to the lowest level “ever recorded.”
    Bloggers called them “traitor Democrats”, and the descriptor is apropos. At the time of the vote, sixty-two percent of the American people favored a time-table for a withdrawal, but, more significantly, “seventy percent” of Democrats were so inclined. Voting against this burgeoning tide of anger betrayed the will of the people and party that put these Democrats in office.
    Curiously, all of the traitor democrats were huge career recipients of funds from the Israeli lobby. If we took ten Democratic apostates and compared them to ten Democrats who stood by the voters, pro-Israeli PAC contributions were “ten times” greater for the turncoats than those who stayed with their constituencies ($322,000 versus $34,000 on average).
    To be specific: Carl Levin, outspoken critic of the war and, we thought, a loyal supporter of the new regime to end it, defected and blithely turned his back on his Michigan support base. Despite his strident anti-war rhetoric, the Grand Rapids Independent reports Levin has supported Bush all the way “consistently funding the war and not introducing any meaningful legislation to bring it closer to an end.” Practically unknown to his constituents, Levin is one of the largest beneficiaries of Pro-Israeli PAC funds collecting $600,000 in career contributions according to the Washington Report on Mideast Affairs.
    Barbara Boxer, Denis Kucinich, and Earl Blaumenauer, all opponents of the war, collectively got $73,000, but turncoat-democrats, Dan Durbin, Max Baucus, and Frank Lautenberg scooped up in excess of a million plus untold benes like travel funds.
    What comes out in the wash is the best PAC money can buy: Three months before we invaded Iraq, a New York Times poll showed only 30 percent of the American people favored an all-out invasion, but the Israeli lobby (AIPAC) did, and it prevailed. Hardly a sprinkling of Americans favored the “surge”, a meager fourteen percent, but AIPAC did, and the surge is surging as we speak. Fewer than thirty percent of Democrats supported that no-strings-budget, but AIPAC did, and the conclusion plays out another hackneyed chorus of “Whatever AIPAC wants, AIPAC gets.”
    In 1992, the director of the Israeli lobby, David Steiner, was surreptitiously recorded bragging about playing a role in selecting the Secretary of State and what he got for Israel: “Besides the $10 billion in loan guarantees which was a fabulous thing, $3 billion in foreign, in military aid, and I got almost a billion dollars in other goodies that people don’t even know about!” When the tape was made public, Steiner resigned, but it underscored the incredible power, access, and influence this lobby has.
    Two professors, Mearsheimer and Walt, recently insinuated that American democracy has been suborned by the Israeli lobby, echoing Senator Fulbright’s 1989 indictment that AIPAC had usurped the electoral process and could “elect or defeat nearly any congressman or senator that they wish.” Such observations do not fall on deaf ears. Over half the senate and a third of the congress obediently attended the AIPAC annual convention (versus less than a dozen visiting the NAACP’s event). Non-attendance can suggest a lawmaker might be soft on terrorism, or, god forbid, anti-Semitic.
    Anti-war idealists might think that soon this American war crime, the shock-and-awe carnage, the torture, and the renditions are coming to an end, but the agenda of AIPAC seems bent on keeping American armies in the Middle East as an Israeli first line of defense for the indefinite future. Their major attack dog, Joe Lieberman, recently gave a hint on Face the Nation as to might be next: ” military strikes” against Iran. . . all apparently to guarantee that Israel will remain the only nuclear power in the Middle East.
    So if you think you voted, or are planning to vote, to bring the troops home and end this national embarrassment, some fool’s gold waiting for you at the end of that rainbow.”
    “Every time we do something, you [Shimon Peres] tell me America will do this and will do that….. I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.”
    Ariel Sharon
    Israeli Prime Minister
    Knesset, Tel Aviv
    October 3, 2001


  3. Kathleen says:

    The newly elected Iraqi gov’t proposed a peace plan which included an agreement from the Sunni to lay down their arms if we withdrew within two years. We rejected that plan. Why? They’ve proposed many peace plans, only to get the finger from us. Why?
    While I expect Repugnicans to dissemble and blame the Iraqis, I do not understand where the hell the Dems are on Iraqi proposed peace plans. Perhaps they are not reading the fine print again, like before they voted on the original Iraq resolution. Dems, like Hillary, sent people to war without bothering to read the NIE report.
    It seems voters can choose between crazy and lazy, except for Dennis Kucinich, who very carefully researched the facts and developed a very comprehensive plan, HR1234, but presidential politics prevents others from supporting him, lest he gain in the polls.
    Self interest is not the exclusive domain of Repugnicans, it seems.


  4. JohnH says:

    I hope you’re right, Scott, but this sounds to me like another rhetorical sleight of hand. When one of the faithful starts to realize his job in trouble, he is allowed to seemingly criticize, but in fact do nothing more than make a pre-announcement of the administration’s next doomed, delaying tactic. That’s what Gordon Smith did last November, a month before the surge was announced, and this is what Domenici is doing now.
    What is interesting is Domenici’s statement of what he will support, which is what Bush will announce by September: moving troops out of harm’s way, i.e. until November, 2008. We know this has to be the strategy, because there are long standing reports that numbers of troops have to be rotated home around the end of the year anyway. So Domenici is advocating no decrease in funding, no withdrawl, a tactic retreat, nothing more. Reduce the heat until the election is past and the troops are rested for the next round.
    Unfortunately, what Domenici says is not what gets reported. The media seems intent on hyping opposition where there really is none.


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