For those of you who have not seen the appearance on this past Sunday’s Meet the Press by Senators elect Jon Tester and Jim Webb, I strongly recommend that you take the time to watch at least some of it. Not just because they are the “netroots darlings” or because they are Democrats, or even because you may not know all that much about them – but moreso because it shows the stark contrast between what we as a country DID have and what we SHOULD have when it comes to an intelligent debate about one of the most important and far reaching discussions and debates that this country needs to have.
The one about what to do regarding Iraq.
It is pretty much widely accepted (at least among those who aren’t living in some sort of fantasy bubble) that Iraq is an absolute and total disaster. The botched invasion and illegal occupation has led to rampant unemployment, lack of electricity, a raging civil war, and a situation that has gotten so bad for our troops, that even Henry Kissinger is saying that clear military victory Iraq is “not possible”.
The stonewalling of an investigation, or even a debate about what is actually going on over in Iraq, by this administration and the soon-to-be-former rubber stamp republican Congress has directly led to loss of thousands of lives, irreparable injuries (mental and physical) to tens of thousands of others, hundreds of billions of dollars unaccounted for or thrown at a policy that was little more than “stay the course” and other catchphrases. No doubt that a republican Senate would make all efforts to continue this lack of discourse and debate, and two of the biggest culprits of this “head in the sand” approach are soon-to-be former Senators George Allen and Conrad Burns.
This was never more evident than this past Sunday, when both Jon Tester and Jim Webb talked frankly, thoughtfully and intelligently (and with no catchphrases) about what needs to be done about the out of control mess that Iraq has become. I also say this with somewhat of a hopeful but mistrustful eye on the “heralded” Iraq Study Group.
But I have to say, that the way that Webb and Tester spoke about where we are, and what needs to be done, is a breath of fresh air, and a seriously needed one at that. Webb’s credentials, the fact that his family has a personal stake in this, and his experience bring an intelligence level that was severely lacking with George the (other) Lesser. Compare the approach of Webb, and his thought process to that of Allen:
MR. RUSSERT: Jim Webb, let me show you and our viewers what you said during the campaign about Iraq. “If we want a new direction in Iraq, we need a new team in Congress. A Democratic Congress will demand from day one that the President find a real way forward in Iraq.” What’s “a real way forward”?
SEN.-ELECT WEBB: Well, first of all, I, I was saying even before we went in that there were three major issues in the Middle East that had to be addressed. One was the Israeli/Arab situation, the other was terrorism, and the third was, was Iraq, and that if we lumped them together that we risked in—having a problem with all three of them. That has happened.
So in the—in looking at Iraq, you need a larger scope than simply what’s going on with—with the government, with the troops inside, which people keep talking about. And I’m looking forward to hearing what the Baker commission comes forward with, the Iraq Study Group. But what we need—and I’ve been saying this for more than two years—is a diplomatic approach that will bring the countries in the region to the table so that we can have ownership, some ownership, diplomatic ownership from the countries that have long-term cultural and historical ties with Iraq. And from that umbrella, then we can address the issue of moving our combat troops out and still affecting the war against international terrorism. I think that’s doable. It’s a leadership question rather than simply an issues question, and that’s what I’m looking forward to trying to bring to the table.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re talking about Iran and Syria.
SEN.-ELECT WEBB: We need to talk to Iran and Syria. I think it was a great mistake not to as this moves forward, and that’s one thing that I’ve been encouraged to hear from former Secretary of State Baker that, you know, you need to talk to your, your enemies as well as your friends. You don’t have to give up anything in terms of, you know, national concerns to be talking to them, but it’s impossible to resolve the situation now without talking to them.
Just the basic thought of a comprehensive approach to finding an answer to the mess that the troops, the Iraqis and the Middle East in general has become. Contrast this to the sound bytes and lack of thought by Allen (not from this week’s Meet the Press):
Q: "Stay the course." What does that mean? How do you define victory in Iraq, and can it be won militarily?
ALLEN: Military and security aspects of it are absolutely essential. The people of Iraq voted last year three times, 70 percent turnout, walking like slow-moving targets to vote. And they do want a free and just society there.
Q: But what is staying the course?
ALLEN: Staying the course is meaning that we don't tuck tail and run, that we don't retreat, that we don't surrender. This is a central battle front in the war on terror, and it's not just the president or the vice president or me saying that, that's what al-Qaeda says, because al-Qaeda's designs and their goals are to have an Islamic caliphate from Indonesia to Spain, with the capital being in Iraq, an oil-rich area. And we cannot allow Iraq, where al-Qaeda was and is now, we cannot allow them to have that haven for terrorist activity.
On the issue of troops, here is another issue where we are dealing with intelligence vs. knee jerk talking points (I believe this is from their September debate on Meet the Press):
Q: Would you be in favor of putting more American troops in Iraq?
ALLEN: We're going to need to do what it takes to succeed.
Q: Including more troops?
ALLEN: That is actually happening right now. If you look at the troop levels in Iraq, they are higher than they were several months ago. Moreover, they have been concentrated in the Baghdad area, so the troops are going to where they're needed. But every single week you see more and more Iraqis and their military taking control, with the US in a supportive role.
Q: Mr. Webb, should we increase American troop levels in Iraq?
WEBB: We don't have the troops. We've got people now in the Army pulling their third and sometimes their fourth tours into Iraq. We're burning out our people. It's a double strategic mouse trap--first, it was going to burn out our conventional forces, and second, that we have gotten so engaged in fighting the Sunni insurgency that we have allowed the Shia to get more power inside Iraq.
This was confirmed by Webb’s appearance this past Sunday as well, when he spoke about increasing troop levels, as well as about the role that our military can even play in Iraq at this point:
MR. RUSSERT: What happens if the situation deteriorates and it becomes a whole widespread civil war, total chaos? What do we do then?
SEN.-ELECT WEBB: Well, again, there are limits to what the United States military can do in that region. And, in fact, when the United States is operating unilaterally, it creates further potential for the kind of thing that you’re talking about because of the resentments of having the, the, the United States there alone.
So the, the key, to me, for years has been getting these countries that are tangential and other countries that have long-term interests in the stability of Iraq to take some diplomatic ownership. And we did this in, in ‘01 after we went into Afghanistan when, when we were putting the formula together that resulted in the Karzai government, we got the countries tangential to Afghanistan and others, including Iran, by the way, Iran, India, Pakistan, to become a part of the, the process that created the, the, the solution, the governmental solution. And that’s what you need in Iraq, in, in my view. You need these countries to have—to—with, with—some of them with compatible ethnic populations and this sort of thing to, to be participating so that there is some accountability in the region other than the United States for a solution.
Tester’s assessment was just as refreshing and actually was thinking outside the box (gasp - for a Senator):
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Tester, let me show you what Major General J.D. Thurman, the senior commander of American forces in Baghdad, said. “Part of our problem is that we want this more than they do,” talking about the Iraqis. That’s a very powerful statement.
SEN.-ELECT TESTER: Well, I mean, I—the—you know, if you go back to what, what Senator-Elect Webb said about diplomatic pressures, you know, I think that is, is just so right on the mark. It, it really is critically important that we visit with our allies to develop, to develop a plan for the region, and also keep our enemies close on this thing. Because I think it’s in everybody’s best interests to try to find some sort of resolution here. And I don’t know if it’s wanting it more than they. I think it’s, it’s knowing what we accomplish when we’re done. That, that’s part, that’s part of what is, is mysterious to me when I look at what’s going on in Iraq right now.
Just amazing. The importance of people like Webb and Tester in the Senate CANNOT be measured – especially when compared to imbecile and toady George Allen or to the corrupt and equally braindead Burns.
Much of the discussion with Tester centered around corruption, transparency and accountability, and much of the rest of the discussion with Webb centered around class warfare, trade and the American worker. And while there are also very stark contrasts in how Webb and Tester approach these issues vs. Allen and Burns, since I started this diary as a contrast about Iraq, I’ll leave you with outgoing Senator Conrad Burns’ big approach to Iraq:
"He (Tester) said our president (doesn't) have a plan. I think he's got one, but he's not going to tell everybody in the world," Burns added. "If you want to go out and spar for a fight, are you going to tell your enemy what your plan is? I don't think so."
Burns later said: "There is a plan. We're not going to tell you, Jon."
We are truly luck as a country to have these two men as United States Senators. The alternative is, and has been, a disaster. We deserve these critically thinking men as Senators (and they certainly deserve to be US Senators). The American people deserve it. The Iraqis deserve it. The Middle East deserves it. And most of all, our troops deserve it.