Sunday, January 28, 2007

ABC This Week: Biden, Lugar, Hunter

ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos vies for the Sunday morning political wonk demographic. This week, George's guests were Senators Joe Biden (D–DE) and Richard Lugar (R–IN), and Representative Duncan Hunter (R–CA 52nd). The Senators discussed the Iraq War and President Bush's policies there, with Mr. Lugar taking much more the Bush Administration's line, at least on the question of the proposed Senate resolutions against the troop surge; Mr. Hunter was in a one-on-one interview, talking about his bid for President in 2008. (Mr. Biden is also running for President, and is endorsed by The Third Path.) The roundtable today focused on healthcare policy and the 2008 election; the panelists were George F. Will, Martha Raddatz, E. J. Dionne, and Torie Clarke. What struck me most were the duplicitous, anti-democratic, anti-republican (little 'd' and little 'r') talking points on the dissent regarding the President's Iraq strategy, but also the references to socialized medicine in the roundtable discussion on healthcare.

Senator Joe Biden has put forward a Senate resolution stating that it is "not in the national interest" to increase our troop levels in Iraq. The case for that position is pretty straightforward. The Iraq War no longer has the support of the American public, without which there can be no victory. Almost 2/3 of voters in recent polls oppose sending any more troops to Iraq. There is also a strong consensus among experts — Republican, Democratic, and independent — that the President's strategy is unworkable. The military supports the plan only to the extent that their jobs depend on refraining from contradicting the White House: President Bush replaced two generals who said the move was a mistake. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, five Republicans and five Democrats, reached a unanimous consensus that the best way forward was to begin withdrawing our military from Iraq. Even the White House admits openly that the "surge" is a political public-relations gesture, not a genuine military strategy.

The White House and the Pentagon have said that Senator Biden's resolution would hurt morale and "embolden the enemy." However, as Senator Biden noted, "It's not the American people or the United States Congress who are emboldening the enemy, it's the failed policy of this President: going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely, going to war without enough troops, going to war without enough equipment, and, lastly, now sending 17,500 people in the middle of a city of 6½ million people, with bullseyes on their backs, with no plan." Hits the nail right on the head, I'd say. The Republicans talk endlessly about how we mustn't show the terrorists that we don't have the "guts" or the "stomach" or the "heart" to stay in this fight to victory, but we need to have the brains to fight intelligently. When the United States goes to war, we need a clear objective and a well-thought-out plan, as well as the backing of the great majority of the people, based on true and accurate information to overcome the natural and healthy skepticism of the people. The Iraq War had — and still has! — no clear objective, nor anything remotely resembling a well-thought-out plan, and it doesn't have the backing of even 40% of the public.

Senator Lugar, though, said about the proposed resolutions (Senator Biden's and others) criticizing the President's war policy, "I don't believe that it's helpful right now to show this disarray, around the world as well as in our body politic." We live in a democracy, and our President is fond of touting the transparency with which our government reaches its decisions — never mind that his White House is the most secretive in living memory. The people do not support the President on this issue, and he cannot continue defying us. In order to persuade us to follow his policies, he and his remaining Republican allies need to engage in a free and open debate without painting dissent as disloyalty. Further, the "disarray" that Senator Lugar speaks about is also the fault of neither the people nor the Congress, it is entirely the fault of the White House. President Bush has consistently ignored the people and the Congress, including the Republicans in Congress, and his pig-headedness has gotten us into this mess. Lugar goes on to portray the resolutions as not "constructive," as opposed to the vigorous oversight the Congress has given the Administration in the first four years of the war — except for the teensy little detail that the Congress has performed almost no oversight. He still hopes that the Congress can reach out to the President to forge closer links, and thereby possibly at some point down the road have a tiny influence on policy. You don't deal with an arrogant bully like President Bush — and if you disagree with that characterization, you have your head so deep in the sand you might as well look for oil while you're down there — by saying, "Umm, please, sir, uh, I know you've completely ignored me for four years, and really pretty much ignored everybody, but do you think you might be able to take a meeting some time soon — at your convenience, of course — to discuss talking about considering some changes in strategy and tactics, if that's all right with you, please, sir?" The time is long overdue for the Congress to give President Bush a public bitch-slap in the hopes of jolting him out of his monomania for "staying the course." Senator Lugar says, "We really need, at this point, to get on the same page." Well, yes, but President Bush needs to be the one to come onto the page the rest of us are already on, not vice-versa. Senator Lugar even dismisses the idea of a resolution, as proposed by Senator Warner (R–VA), simply expressing disagreement with the policy of sending more troops; he says, "I don't think it's at all helpful. I've indicated in my testimony before the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee that I have doubts about the 'surge' situation, both in terms of the numbers of people ... There's movement here that is important to note. That is why I'd like not to get bogged down into, sort of, the referendum on where we all stand these days." In order to be involved in shaping Iraq policy, the Congress needs to take a stand, and do more than just say, as Senator Lugar does, "I don't think it's right, but I'll support it anyway." Senator Biden counters, "I make a prediction to you [George Stephanopoulos]: you will hear, when this [Senate] debate begins, the first time we will have had a full-throated debate on this policy. ... I will make you a bet: you will not find 20% of the Senate standing up and saying the President is headed in the right direction." In order to have a seat at the table, the Congress needs to take a stand, if you'll pardon a mixed metaphor.

Senator Biden closed with a ringing indictment of the Bush Administration in his sales pitch for his own candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. Stephanopoulos asked Biden why the Democrats should nominate him; he replied, "Because I think the President's dug us in a deep hole. The President's foreign policy has made us more vulnerable, his economic policy has made the middle class more vulnerable; my life story, my record, best prepares me to deal with those two issues." Senator Biden has, in his own words, "the most competence, the most experience, and the most foreign policy capability" of the Democratic field. That's why I support Joe Biden for President. [Third Path endorsement; Biden's web site]

Duncan Hunter, a Republican member of Congress from El Cajon (San Diego County), California, is one of the newest entrants to the 2008 Presidential race. Never mind that he has about the same chance as a snowball in global-warming hell; Hunter is determined to give voice the extreme right. He advocates an aggressive restructuring of American trade relationships, reversing course on the "free trade" policies of most of the post-World War II period. He's going against the grain not only of Democrats, but even moreso of Republicans, in that position. "Free trade" is right up there with "tax cuts" as a mantra for the Bush Administration. It was the Republicans in the Congress who got NAFTA ratified under President Clinton. In fact, it's mostly Democratic labor leaders who complain about the loss of American jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, resulting from globalization. Mr. Hunter, though, has a perfect record as he begins his 14th term in Congress: he has never once voted in favor of any trade bill. Mr. Hunter also favors a far more draconian immigration policy, with a "double fence" along the entire U.S.–Mexico border and deportation of every illegal immigrant. Echoing his comments about undermining the morale of the troops in Iraq, he says, "I think it's wrong for us to send a message to the great Border Patrolmen in this country, and all the people that work to make sure people are here legally, to say, 'You know, we really don't believe in this.' All we're saying with respect to the [border] fence in is, 'We got this big front door in America, with legal immigration. Knock on the door if you want to come into the United States.'" The hope of prosperity of the United States acts as a magnet for people from every corner of the world, but as a practical reality the United States needs to make the legal immigration process easier to navigate, not just increase penalties and enforcement against people who come illegally.

Mr. Hunter is a veteran himself, and his son is currently serving in Iraq, giving him an unusual (at least within Congress) personal perspective on military service. However, the conclusions he draws are suspect. Asked how much time he believes President Bush has for his "troop surge" plan to work, he replies, "I think he's got some time. I think the American people have some patience. I know the polls are down; I told my guys, 'I don't want to see polls. Let's just try to do what's right here.' The point I've tried to make to my colleagues in the House and Senate is this: this plan is being carried out right now. The idea that Congress is going to sit back and talk about cutting off reinforcements, that disserves the mission, and I think it disserves the soldiers that are over there." He talks about soldiers in Iraq watching American TV in their mess halls: "When they're going out on a mission and they see a politician out there saying we're going the wrong way, this is bad, I'm going to do everything I can to stop it — common sense tells you, that doesn't help." Well, what if in fact they are going the wrong way, Mr. Hunter? Our politicians have an obligation to the troops to speak out against policies they believe are fundamentally wrong, to say that we've sent our troops on the wrong mission, and to commit to working to change the policy.

In the roundtable discussion on healthcare policy, specifically President Bush's proposed tax breaks to help uninsured workers buy private health insurance, George Will said, "Look at the two reasons — aside from the fact that Bush favors it — that the Democrats oppose it. First is, Hillary Clinton says this will 'unravel the safety net'; now, what she means is, this might encourage employers to stop providing health insurance — and we should encourage that, to get healthcare out of the wage system. The 'safety net' that Hillary Clinton is so fond of is General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. There's a reason it costs $1,000 more to manufacture a car in Michigan than it does across the river in Ontario, Canada, and it is the healthcare component of this." In other words, Canada got it right, and the United States is still getting it wrong. Single-payer healthcare — in other words, socialized medicine — is more efficient in providing basic healthcare to everyone. I've seen serious estimates that the costs of paperwork alone in the Medicare system could pay for healthcare for every uninsured American. The United States does not have the best healthcare system in the world — far from it! At any given time, about 1 in 6 people in the U.S. are uninsured, at the mercy of public hospitals if their illness or injury lasts longer than their savings; if you add in the intermittently insured, the number is much higher, which leads to arguments over "pre-existing condition" clauses and yet more paperwork. If the United States wants to reclaim the top honors in healthcare, we need to provide universal coverage. Not universal access, but actual universal coverage.

Torie Clarke, a former Pentagon spokesperson, addressed the question, why have the major Republican Presidential candidates made no significant moves to separate themselves from President Bush's position on the Iraq War. "I think they believe in it. I think they believe in the cause, I think they believe in the reality is that we're going to fight this fight against extremist Islamists now or later — it's just a matter of coming to terms with that." Again, we need to be not just strong and determined, but also smart, in order to win the fight against extremist Islamists. By "staying the course," we give aid, comfort, and battlefield training to our enemies. We are not bringing the United States any closer to safety and security, we are making ourselves more vulnerable, in no small part because we are pushing moderate Muslims away, aligning at least their sympathies, and in many cases their money and their persons, with the fight to "defend Islam" against the "infidel." Secretary Rumsfeld, in a rare moment of clearheadedness, talked about the possibility that we are creating new terrorists in Iraq faster than we can capture or kill them. That's a real danger, and the only way out is to slow down on creating the new terrorists. The majority of the Iraqi people, and hence the majority of Muslims in the world, view the United States as a hostile occupying power oppressing the people of Iraq, and they're not entirely wrong in that view. They didn't ask us to come in the first place, they've made it clear that they want us to leave, and yet we stay on and make plans to build permanent military bases, complete with Burger King and Pizza Hut. Our security in the 21st century depends on having the common sense to get out of Iraq, taking time only to do what we can to minimize the chaos we leave in our wake.

Ms. Clarke says, "What horrifies me is when I hear people like a Senator I heard a few weeks ago saying, 'Our strategy in Iraq is not politically viable.' How horrifying is that! He was talking about political viability here in Washington, not thinking about what we have to do." Well, first of all, our strategy in Iraq isn't politically viable, either in Washington or in Baghdad. In order to win a military engagement, we have to have the backing of the American people, which the current strategy does not. We're not going to change the minds of the American people, so we'll have to change the strategy — maybe to something with a chance of success, or at least damage control. The American people signed on for a war that would pay for itself and be over and done with by Labor Day, and yet we're now nearing the 4th anniversary of the invasion with no end to combat, casualties, and death, and costing more taxpayer dollars in a week ($2 billion) than we were told the entire war would require ($1.7 billion). "Stay the course" just is not an option in this scenario, and neither is sending in more troops.

Oh, well; I'm going to go off to watch HBO's Rome, a story about megalomaniacal dictators who only feign concern for the average citizen....

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Click below for more...