Now, a new course has been chosen. A new commander is in place in Iraq, confirmed by this Senate. A new Secretary of Defense is in place at the Pentagon, confirmed by this Senate. And a new strategy has begun to be put into action on the ground in Iraq by our troops.
It is altogether proper that we debate our policy in Iraq. It should be a debate that is as serious as the situation in Iraq and that reflects the powers the Constitution gives to Congress in matters of war.
But that, sadly, is not the debate that the Warner-Levin resolution invites us to have. I am going to speak strongly against this resolution because I feel strongly about it. I do so with respect for my colleagues who have offered it, but I believe its passage would so compromise America’s security, present and future, that I will say so in the clearest terms I can.
The resolution before us, its sponsors concede, will not stop the new strategy from going forward. As we speak, thousands of troops are already in Baghdad, with thousands more moving into position to carry out their Commander’s orders. This resolution does nothing to alter these facts.
Instead, its sponsors say it will send a message of rebuke from the Senate to the president, from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. But there is a world beyond Pennsylvania Avenue that is watching and listening.
What we say here is being heard in Baghdad by Iraqi moderates, trying to decide whether the Americans will stand with them. We are being heard by our men and women in uniform, who will be interested to know whether we support the plan they have begun to carry out. We are being heard by the leaders of the thuggish regimes in Iran and Syria, and by Al Qaeda terrorists, eager for evidence that America’s will is breaking. And we are being heard across America by our constituents, who are wondering if their Congress is capable of serious action, not just hollow posturing.
This resolution is not about Congress taking responsibility. It is the opposite. It is a resolution of irresolution.
For the Senate to take up a symbolic vote of no confidence on the eve of a decisive battle is unprecedented, but it is not inconsequential. It is an act which, I fear, will discourage our troops, hearten our enemies, and showcase our disunity. And that is why I will vote against cloture.
If you believe that General Petraeus and his new strategy have a reasonable chance of success in Iraq, then you should resolve to support him and his troops through the difficult days ahead. On the other hand, if you believe that this new strategy is flawed or that our cause is hopeless in Iraq, then you should vote to stop it. Vote to cut off funds. Vote for a binding timeline for American withdrawal. If that is where your convictions lie, then have the courage of your convictions to accept the consequences of your convictions. That would be a resolution.
The non-binding measure before us, by contrast, is an accumulation of ambiguities and inconsistencies. It is at once for the war but also against the war. It pledges its support to the troops in the field but also washes its hands of what they are doing. It approves more troops for Anbar but not for Baghdad.
We cannot have it both ways. We cannot vote full confidence in General Petraeus, but no confidence in his strategy. We cannot say that the troops have our full support, but disavow their mission on the eve of battle. This is what happens when you try to wage war by committee. That is why the Constitution gave that authority to the President as Commander in Chief.
Cynics may say this kind of thing happens all of the time in Congress. In this case, however, they are wrong. If it passed, this resolution would be unique in American legislative history. I contacted the Library of Congress on this question last week and was told that, never before, when American soldiers have been in harm’s way, fighting and dying in a conflict that Congress had voted to authorize, has Congress turned around and passed a resolution like this, disapproving of a particular battlefield strategy.
Thank G-d for Senator Lieberman. Obviously, I disagree with the few Senators who opposed the authorization of military force against Iraq back in August 2002 and continue to oppose us pursuing victory. But I respect them for the consistency of their beliefs, unlike those on both sides of the aisle who out of political expediency began to backtrack once it became clear this war would be longer and more difficult than anticipated. (Although our casualties are still well below what they were anticipated to be prior to March 2003).
Senator Lieberman was the only Democrat to have the courage to condemn the immorality of President Clinton's personal conduct back in 1998. (Whether Clinton's subsequent perjury was an impeachable offense or not is a seperate issue.) He remains one of the more principled political leaders we have.
(Hat tip to Michael Goldfarb at the Daily Standard for the excerpt).