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July 18, 2007

In the Wee Small Hours of the Senate Filibuster

It's about 5 am in Washington D.C. and I've just finished watching two speeches on the Senate floor, by way of C-Span. (The debate will be live-streamed by the channel all morning, and the vote on the Reed-Levin amendment to begin withdrawal in 120 days is slated for 8 am Pacific time. Think Progress is live-blogging the whole thing.)

I watched as two presidential hopefuls spoke their piece, with McCain preceding Clinton. While the senator from Arizona may not be able to resurrect his floundering presidential campaign he tried mightily to resurrect the excuses for continuing the Iraq occupation. He put a new twist on things by wrapping up his speech with, what I can only assume, he considers the golden nugget: that the overarching reason we must stay the course in Iraq is because a withdrawal could mean the end of Israel. Yep. That's it folks. If you believe the senator, that is now the cause celebre of this ghastly war our president started on false pretenses.

McCain gave a geography lesson (with map on easel) and spelled out the dangers for Israel if we leave, namely, that Syria and Iran are spoiling for war with the Jewish state, through its proxy terrorist group, Hezbollah. Now that the newest NIE has named Hezbollah the great threat in the region the ex-POW has glommed onto it like a spider to a fly. I'm not saying there won't be dangers, but heck, when have there ever not been dangers for Israel? I don't mean that to be flip. I'm a staunch supporter of Israel's right to exist, and to exist in safety, security and peace. And obviously, Israel is surrounded on all sides by Arab countries. Neither Syria or Iran have a peaceful, diplomatic relationship with Israel. Egypt and Jordan do. In any case, the unresolved Palestinian issue spills over into both, with Palestinian refugees fleeing to Jordan, and militant groups running guns through tunnels in Egypt. But, let's be clear, there is more at work here with McCain's conclusion than simple geography. His performance struck me as one of blatant fear-mongering, and that tactic has been sorely overused by the Republicans and the Bush administration, to the point where Americans no longer reflexively whip out the proverbial gas masks and duct tape. But what a dark and cynical tactic it is, especially with regard to the emotional subject of Israel's security.

Clinton, by contrast, was a study in practicality, reason, and clarity. Considering my own disappointment in her 2002 vote for the Iraq War resolution and her unwillingness to back away from it, I was a bit surprised to find myself so impressed by her speech. She articulated how Al Qaeda in Iraq is not necessarily the biggest threat to our troops, but its attacks are the most spectacular. Moreover, there is no way to deny that the country has devolved into what she called "a multi-sided, sectarian civil war". Finally, the Iraqi government, whether unwilling or unable, has not met any of the political benchmarks set up for them and here we are -- four and a half years later, no closer to resolution; instead, we are escalating the madness with thousands of more troops. Clinton predicted that September would bring only a mixed and inconclusinve report from General Petraeus and that we must disembark from the uselessness of the military surge. Instead, she said, "What we need is a political surge and a diplomatic surge".

Noting that our standing in the world has suffered so greatly and that the war has left us unable to meet the very real threat that a reconstituted Al Qaeda (replete with global cells) represents to us, Clinton focused on a three-stage plan for Iraq:

1) Bring our troops out

2) Demand that the Iraqi government meet responsibilities, or they lose our $ aid

3) Immediately begin intensive regional and international diplomacy

The senator included the imperative that we must plan the redeployment much better than the way we (Bush) planned the occupation. There was a repeated insistence on the problem of Iranian influence in Iraq, but she tempered the hawkishness she's sometimes known for by emphasizing that Iran's influence is not of a military nature, but a political one. Hmm. Wonder if the Bush administration has figured that out yet.

Clinton did a good job of concluding her speech with the financial burden placed on us all because of the war and occupation, which is costing $10 billion a day, everyday. The center of Bush's economic policy -- tax cuts for the rich -- has made paying for this war even more difficult, not to mention irresponsible.

I'd almost feel sorry for McCain if he could buy a miracle and end up the Republican nominee. If Clinton was top of the ticket for the Dems, she'd make quick work of him in the debates. In 2008, the prospect of reason (Clinton) meeting fantasy (McCain) in a debate format would clearly show which candidate had his eye on the ball. And it wouldn't be a he.

*I'm not endorsing Clinton or anyone else yet. But it's hard not to notice McCain's desperate attempts to rescue a flimsy campaign.

Update:The Senate Republicans just voted to block advancing the amendment, because they refuse to accept anything less than a 60 vote majority on all bills. This is not what the founders intended for governance. The filibuster-proof majority was not meant to be the standard operating procedure for every single piece of Senate legislation. Mitch McConnell is nothing more than an obstructionist, one who would deny the will of the American people. In his remarks just before the vote, he used the same tactics as Bush, conflating the occupation of Iraq with 9-11, the war in Afghanistan and the so-called War on Terror. It says a lot that the Republicans still can't deal honestly with the citizens of this country.

The Dems only garnered 52 votes to advance the amendment. Interestingly, Susan Collins joined with Republicans Snowe, Hagel and Smith in voting for advancement. Not surprisingly, Leiberman voted to block it. When will the Democratic leadership cut him loose from his chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee? Let him go caucus with Republicans. He rarely votes with Democrats anyway.

Posted by shoephone on July 18, 2007 at 03:02 AM in Iraq, National and International Politics | Permalink


As the night wore on I became more and more convinced that Reid was correct in forcing this. McCain came across as someone so lost in his anger management that he couldn't string any logic together in his 20 minutes. Then came Clinton. I've never liked her voice but as she laid the situation out, tired as she was, I stopped hearing her voice and listened instead to what she had to say. She made me hear that the challenge the GOP slams at the Dems that 'they don't have a plan, an exit strategy or a comprehension of the larger picture' is truly the indictment against themselves. It's the Rep that don't have a plan, or insight or even will. Clinton crystalized this into the Rep 'no plan' vs the Dems with a plan. I still have a problem voting for her but she was truly a leader last night.

Posted by: mainsailset | Jul 18, 2007 8:29:24 AM

Totally agree, mainsailset. The Repubs have never had a plan, not from the very beginning. Bush's war was executed with no planning for the future and the debacle we have seen in Iraq for the last four years is a testament to who and what he really is: an out of control warmonger who brought an ancient nation to its knees so that he could avenge the man who tried to kill his daddy. And now that the Repubs have voted against advancing the amendment if they can't get 60 votes on it, that shows how out of step they are with the majority of Americans. But this is not going away, and for that I give Reid credit.

Posted by: shoephone | Jul 18, 2007 8:54:21 AM

I read the AP and Reuters accounts of the day, and yours was more informative, shoephone. Somehow they missed this little drama.

The Republicans talking about the Democrats not having a plan is certainly ironic, especially when you consider that they started this war without a plan, and haven't managed to devise a coherent one since then.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Jul 18, 2007 11:02:34 PM

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