The Dogs of War
Our elected Democrats fell to pieces last week, just as surely as if a Scud missile from Baghdad had by some miracle struck the party's headquarters.
En masse, they accused George W. Bush of wagging the dog by pushing a vote on the war during election season. They were right -- Bush is conniving like that. But many of the Democrats who voted for the resolution to give the president carte blanche to attack Iraq were guilty of something far worse: They patted the dog on the head and sold out for their own dubious political reasons.
When they should have been stopping this first step in bully Bush's bid for world domination, the Democrats instead complained like suckers who'd been hustled out of their lunch money. I'm surprised they haven't started whining that the D.C.-area serial sniper is diverting attention from the economy too.
Last week's exercise in congressional cowardice was at least a bit instructive. We learned that a majority of House Democrats (by a 3-to-2 ratio) had the moral fiber to oppose the president even as their leader, Richard Gephardt, morphed into jellyfish. And we found out that Florida Sen. Bob Graham, the powerful head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has real courage. He was one of the paltry 23 Senate Democrats who voted against the resolution. While Graham bit the president's hand, Bill Nelson, our other Democratic senator, proved to be all bark. Nelson talked a mean game, criticizing Bush's plans for Iraq on cable television for the past several weeks, but he heeled for the administration in the end.
Of the three Democratic congressmen from Broward and Palm Beach counties, only Alcee Hastings opposed the Bush resolution. Hastings' move was a bit surprising, because just two weeks before, he had offered an alternative resolution to give Bush the power to wage war. The difference was in the "whereases": Hastings wanted to force the president to exhaust all diplomatic solutions before resorting to force and to promise that Afghanistan would remain the nation's number-one priority. The lack of those conditions was a deal-buster that prompted Hastings to roll up a magazine, smack the dog on the nose, and stay loyal to his constituents.
The other two Democrats from Broward and Palm Beach counties, Peter Deutsch and Robert Wexler, didn't surprise anyone when they supported the Toxic Texan. Both are pro-Israeli hard-liners and high-flying hawks when it comes to the Middle East (see "Hawking for Israel," September 26). They weren't alone among Jewish House Democrats: a whopping 17 of 24 jumped on the Bush-Cheney war machine. The Senate, refreshingly, was a different matter. Five of the nine Jewish Democrats -- led by Carl Levin of Michigan -- backed the valiant if failed effort against the administration.
But it isn't just what Deutsch and Wexler did that commands disrespect; it is how they did it. Deutsch, for his part, lied just two weeks before the vote on where he stood. The Plantation Democrat told me he wouldn't authorize Bush to attack Iraq unless the president proved that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons, planned to use them on America, and was developing a system to deliver them here.
Though Bush proved nothing of the sort, Deutsch still rolled over. When I asked his staff why his word was no good, I couldn't get a straight answer. Which is to be expected. Asking why a politician lies is like asking why dogs hump legs. They just do.
But the real mongrel of the South Florida delegation is Wexler. Before he voted, the Boca Raton representative acknowledged he was flouting his constituents' wishes -- that, in fact, the people who elected him were "terrified" of Bush's plans. He admitted this during an extraordinarily tortured speech on the House floor last Tuesday (the same day, incidentally, that U.S. Marine Antonio Sledd was gunned down in Kuwait by militant Islamists). Wexler waffled in the Capitol like Bill Clinton at a buffet breakfast, though he began strongly (if wrongly) enough: "Now is the moment in which Congress must act to defend freedom, confront a brutal dictator, and rid the world of his increasingly devastating threat."
Then he immediately noted that doing so might be disastrous.
"Our decision will not be easy or without consequence. It will pose severe implications for the stability of the world, the security of the Middle East, and ultimately, the future of the United States. It will alter the course of history, change the lives of millions, and resonate in the collective memory of America for generations to come."
Next, he mentioned that the people who elected him are against it.
"I have contemplated this issue with great deliberation, taking into account the concerns of my constituents in South Florida -- many of whom fought in World War II and Korea -- who have time and again expressed their profound reservations concerning the president's rush to engage in military action in Iraq."
After repeating that he would vote "yea" on the resolution, he added that it was "not because I support the irresponsible manner and timing in which President Bush has proceeded with his plans for war, not because I support the president's attempt to handcuff Congress into granting a blank check for unilateral military action, and not because I accept the president's shameful neglect of our spiraling economic crisis and other domestic issues of imminent concern."
Yet he still wants to give this irresponsible and shameful man absolute power to start a war whenever he feels like it. Wexler wasn't finished wringing his hands:
"I share the deep misgivings of the American people that President Bush appears all too ready to accept the military, financial, and diplomatic burden of going it alone. Unilateralism is a grave mistake, and President Bush must make every attempt to build support in the international community for regime change in Iraq."
But go ahead and attack unilaterally if you must, Mr. President. Before we come to the climax of this sorry speech, let's look at those misgivings. I found some of them expressed on a nonpartisan Website called congress.org, which serves as a conduit to elected officials. On the site, 17 letters have been posted urging Wexler to oppose the war. That may not sound like much, but consider the number of e-mails supporting military action: zero. Some of the "profound reservations":
From Lake Worth: "If you don't think the American public sees this president and his war mongering for what it is, you are very mistaken. It's up to you, our elected representatives, to stop this madness before people on both sides start dying for no reason. I fully expect you to do everything in your power to see that the will of the people and of Congress is done."
From Greenacres: "I think that the majority of us out here don't know what to believe but I'm fairly certain that Mr. Bush is as deluded as Saddam is."
From Boynton Beach: "I do not think that it is wise to attack Iraq. Let's wait until they act... then pound them back into the Stone Age. Send the message to anti-American entities that they're free to act, but the consequences will be tenfold in scale."
From Boca Raton: "I for one am not proud to be called an American anymore. We don't seem to stand for meaningful discussion. Both houses seem like sheep with an administration that could send this country down a very long and dangerous road."
From Lake Worth: "We are now witnessing the Bush family's unrecovered, alcoholism-induced, codependent legacy being played out on an international level. Mr. Bush's dry-drunk, insane, "I know what's best for everyone else" actions are going to get a lot of people killed and destroy any remaining shred of respect the international community once had for the United States."
From Greenacres: "My fiancé lost a son in the September 11 attacks (WTC -- Tower 1). He was a good man. There is no one who wants more than myself to see all terrorists' organizations destroyed, no matter where they are. We should seek them out doggedly, relentlessly, and without mercy. If they are holed up in a country which refuses to cooperate with us, then we should destroy those cells without [the country's] help. If that country tries to use force to stop us, then we should destroy those forces. We should not, however, invade a sovereign state with the sole intention of deposing its leader, at least not without UN support. The United States of America doesn't start wars. We finish them."
Wexler, of course, decided to help start a war anyway. He concluded his floor fumblings with a fitting finale.
"Ultimately, we will best achieve our goals in Iraq not through alienation and unilateral aggression but rather through determined diplomacy and partnership with nations that share our vision of stability and peace. This has been America's legacy, and we owe it to future generations to proceed along this path," he declared.
"Mr. President, you will get your resolution and with my support, but I implore you to exhaust all options and reserve war as the very last resort. Mr. President, my constituents are terrified that you are leading America into war with unnecessary impulse and haste. I trust you will prove them wrong."
I guess that's what we're left with -- trusting a president who, when he should have been muzzled and leashed, was given free rein over the military. We certainly know we can't trust Wexler and many of his Democratic cohorts anymore.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.