Friday, December 08, 2006

At least it's not perfidy ... [UPDATED]

talkingpointsmemo / TPM Muckracker

The times, they are a-changin'. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), in a speech on the Iraq War last night:

"I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal."

Read the whole thing here.

You can see video of the speech here.

More excerpts:

"When we came to the vote on Iraq, it was an issue of great moment for me. No issue is more difficult to vote on than war and peace, because it involves the lives of our soldiers, our young men and women. It involves the expenditure of our treasure, putting on the line the prestige of our country. It is not a vote taken lightly. I have tried to be a good soldier in this Chamber. I have tried to support our President, believing at the time of the vote on the war in Iraq that we had been given good intelligence and knowing that Saddam Hussein was a menace to the world, a brutal dictator, a tyrant by any standard, and one who threatened our country in many different ways, through the financing and fomenting of terrorism. For those reasons and believing that we would find weapons of mass destruction, I voted aye.

"I have been rather silent on this question ever since. I have been rather quiet because, when I was visiting Oregon troops in Kirkuk in the Kurdish area, the soldiers said to me: Senator, don't tell me you support the troops and not our mission. That gave me pause. But since that time, there have been 2,899 American casualties. There have been over 22,000 American men and women wounded. There has been an expenditure of $290 billion a figure that approaches the expenditure we have every year on an issue as important as Medicare. We have paid a price in blood and treasure that is beyond calculation by my estimation.

"Now, as I witness the slow undoing of our efforts there, I rise to speak from my heart. I was greatly disturbed recently to read a comment by a man I admire in history, one Winston Churchill, who after the British mandate extended to the peoples of Iraq for 5 years, wrote to David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of England: 'At present we are paying 8 millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano.'"

"When I read that, I thought, not much has changed. We have to learn the lessons of history and sometimes they are painful because we have made mistakes."

* * * *

"Many things have been attributed to George Bush. I have heard him on this floor blamed for every ill, even the weather. But I do not believe him to be a liar. I do not believe him to be a traitor, nor do I believe all the bravado and the statements and the accusations made against him. I believe him to be a very idealistic man. I believe him to have a stubborn backbone. He is not guilty of perfidy, but I do believe he is guilty of believing bad intelligence and giving us the same."

* * * *

"I welcome the Iraq Study Group's report, but if we are ultimately going to retreat, I would rather do it sooner than later. I am looking for answers, but the current course is unacceptable to this Senator. I suppose if the President is guilty of one other thing, I find it also in the words of Winston Churchill. He said:

After the First World War, let us learn our lessons. Never, never believe that any war will be smooth and easy or that anyone who embarks on this strange voyage can measure the tides and the hurricanes. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

* * * *

"We were not prepared to win the peace by clearing, holding, and building. You don't do that fast and you don't do it with too few troops. I believe now that we must either determine to do that , or we must redeploy in a way that allows us to continue to prosecute the larger war on terror. It will not be pretty. We will pay a price in world opinion. But I, for one, am tired of paying the price of 10 or more of our troops dying a day. So let's cut and run, or cut and walk, or let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have, because we have fought this war in a very lamentable way.

"Those are my feelings. I regret them. I would have never voted for this conflict had I reason to believe that the intelligence we had was not accurate. It was not accurate, but that is history. Now we must find a way to make the best of a terrible situation, at a minimum of loss of life for our brave fighting men and women. So I will be looking for every opportunity to clear, build, hold, and win or how to bring our troops home."


editorial comment

The inaccuracy of the pre-war intelligence on WMD is indeed "history," but as Senator Smith said a little earlier in his speech, "We have to learn the lessons of history and sometimes they are painful because we have made mistakes."

To learn the lessons of this important bit of recent history, it is necessary to focus intesely on how it came to pass that Senator Smith and all of his similarly situated congressional colleagues came to believe this flawed intelligence. It is true that we must now "find a way to make the best of a terrible situation"; but this goal is not inconsistent with actually learning history's painful lessons. If we want to avoid policy disasters like the Iraq War in the future, how does it help us to gloss over the reality of how we got into the Iraq War?

Senator Smith does not lay a foundation for his stated beliefs about the president's veracity and culpability. He is not willing, as so many seem not (yet) willing, to turn his gaze the last little inch and face the sun directly, i.e., to deal head-on with the awful implications of the accumulating historical record.

Not perfidy? Maybe not. But why not? Because he says so? Because of some taboo? Because it would be too disruptive to our system of government to insist on actual accountability, all the way up to the oval office? What? I don't get it. Is it unmentionable? A secret? What excuses him from addressing the merits presented by the prima facie historical record? (By which I mean to suggest a direct analogy to the truth-seeking mechanism of our justice system, and specifically the burden-shifting effect of a sufficient prima facie showing by a party seeking to avoid a summary judgment.)

UPDATE 12/11/06:

from crooks & liars

Senator Smith joined Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room today and explained his new stance on Iraq.

Video-WMP :: Video-QT

(rough transcript)

Sen. Smith: I simply hit the end of the rope if you will. I felt I had to speak up because if these sacrifices are being made in pursuit of policy that cannot succeed then we need to admit it and readjust in a way that the American people and our soldiers find worth the sacrifice and this is not.—I find examples like the British generals day after day in the first world war would send thousands of their men running into machine guns and not make adjustments. I find that criminal.

And when we send our young folks out in vehicles that cannot take out, er, er accept these kind of blasts to them without taking their lives I don;t find that smart. I find that derelict in duty…
Blitzer: Who should be held accountable–I'll just use a word "fiasco" or disaster or some word along those lines?

Sen. Smith: Well, I think all of us with positions of responsibility are accountable. but clearly I can't be quiet any more.

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