Saturday, June 02, 2007

Everybody's looking for last gang in town

My friend Howie Klein hosted another Blue America post at FireDogLake a few minutes ago, with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA). Sestak, for whom Howie and Blue America raised some $$ before the 11/06 election, voted FOR the Iraq Supplemental Bill, to the dismay of many progressives. Here's Howie at the beginning of the post:
When Congressman Sestak's office called and told me he'd like to come over for a talk, he was very aware that many of us do not agree with the way he voted. I know when I look at the list of the 86 Democrats who joined the Republican House caucus to approve the bill, I see a list of reactionaries who I neither like nor trust. Overwhelmingly it's a list of the worst of the Inside-the-Beltway Democratic Party, from the Rahm Emanuels and Steny Hoyers to the Jim Marshalls, Collin Petersons, Gene Taylors and Melissa Beans.

And then there's Joe Sestak, a congressman who doesn't belong on the same list with that batch of barely better-than-Republican pond scum. The other Blue America freshmen on the list I had already written off as lessons learned — Kirsten Gillibrand, Chris Carney, and Ciro Rodriguez — based on their overall voting records. Seeing Joe on there broke my heart. This is an admiral who got to congress and immediately introduced a bill to end the occupation of Iraq. This is a congressman who looks anyone in the eye and tells them why a "date-certain" end to this catastrophe is essential.

Interesting. Keep in mind that Rep. Sestak is a former Navy Admiral, so he has some military cred, for what that's worth. In his comments at today's FDL post, here's Joe Sestak explaining himself: (Note: misspellings and bad punctuation come with typing fast, no reflection on the content)
Thank you. Understand that the day I entered the race, I’ve never deviated that a date certain was the only strategy that we could redeploy and leave behind an unfailed state in Iraq I still believe strongly that a specific date to redeploy changes the structure of incentives for Iraq’s politcal leaders to beigin stepping up and assuming responsibility for the tough political decisions of accomidation amongst themselves; and that it also changes the behavior of Iran and Syria, who are incvolved destructivly because we are bleeding…and they like that.

If we nnounce we will not be there, and then leave with confidence, diplomatically with them, we have the only strategy that can bering them to the table constructively. Because they do not want the millions of those Iraqis dislocated from their homes are are still not overflowing their borders completely to do so, nor to have a proxy war between Sunni Syria ans Shi’a Iraq as they support different factions.

We have an opertunity to redeploy without an unfailed state, which is why a date-certain is important to do that by changing the strategy. We can leave Iraq an unfailed state, if we change the strategy.

OK. I'm not sure what this means, other than he doesn't want to start pulling out by a certain date, he wants to be OUT by a certain date. Sounds about right to me. Here's more:
I have never changed from a date certain, but I ran the Navy’s 70 billion dollar program as an admiral. The operations and Maintance account of our military will run out of funds in July; even the congressional research office states that. That is how the gas, bullets, etc, are provided for men and women in battle. We are presently taking money from the gas, etc, of those troops training in America and using that money until it runs out in July for troops in Iraq (by law, you cannot shift money between procurement accounts into money to operate and provide supplies to our troops; there are legal firewalls preventing that).

It took us 6 months to redeploy from Somalia safely after Black Hawk Down. With alot more troops (140,000) and thousands of US civilians, it will take at least that long to safely come out via the roads or by limited flights from Iraq.

There was no back room deal. This is one purely where we would would run out in July of the resources needed to protect our troops. There would be more causualties than one might imagine, if we tried, in the next 40 days, to get everyone out.

That is why I have been persistent that a date certain (my bill says 31 december) with sufficient time, is not only the right strategy to leave behind an unfailed state, but is also one to protect those we, America, sent to war, while doing so. Even if we all disagree with that war. I will never, ever, play chicken with the sons and daughters of America, and put them in greater danger by voting for a bill that gives them no funds to protect themselves in the next 5-7 weeks. I understand if you disagree, but these are Americans we sent in harms way, and I will never vote to make them less safe as I work to redeploy them in a timely and safe manner.

Interesting. And I'm starting to think it makes sense.

Ambassador Joe Wilson stopped by to add his support for Sestak:
We are all sick about what happened and serious people are looking at how best to extricate ourselves from the mess without sacrificing our core strategic interests in the region. There are three: Growth of terrorism;access and ability to protect the strategic oil fields; and an obligation to serve as a guarantor of Israel’s territorial integrity. All three have been terribly compromised by the administration’s misguided adventure in Iraq, but a hasty withdrawal will not make our ability to defend those interests any easier.

Joe supports a definite timetable. I oppose any debates on policy that come on the backs of our armed forces as the last several have. There is only one legitimate reason to have troops in harm’s way right now and that is to leverage their presence and firepower in support of an international political reconciliation effort involving not just the belligerents but also their foreign backers. Their efforts will be in vain unless the President and Secretary of State actually exercise leadership to bring the warring factions to a conference table. That is where attacks on the administration ought to be directed. Rice ought to be before the relevant committees monthly to explain where the political process is, and the President ought to be asked daily how many foreign leaders he has consulted with to forge a consensus on a peace conference.

But votes that use the troops as a political football are,in my humble opinion counterproductive and when we allow ourselves to eat our own because we didn’t like the outcome, we play right into Karl Rove’s hands. The above comment is right out of his talking points.

Also interesting. Seems a bit . . .oh, calculated, and "world view" to me, but maybe that makes sense, too.

But as can be imagined, many fine folks took issue with Sestak:
No one’s “eating their own” here. Sestak raised substantial money from people who specifically wanted an end to the war. He then voted to continue it. It’s that simple.

Shame on you and your vote–I will not give money to you again, and I will seriously consider any ANY opponent that runs against you for my money in the next go round (let’s hope there is a good one)

Others were even harsher, but all clearly well intentioned, just upset and angry over what they perceived as a betrayal. Here's one thoughtful response to Sestak:

My concern over the funding bill is that it was a tactical blunder. Come September, when general Petreaus tells us they need more time and troops, it seems increasingly clear that some (if not many) Republicans, only our of political expediency, will publically turn against the war.

By voting for a bill without a timeline or date certain, the Dems gave away the moral high ground, and became, in my view, complicit. Worse, the Republicans will bray this autumn that a date certain was their idea, and the Dems were all smoke and no fire

And Joe Wilson adds:
Nobody is questioning the need to end the war. A lot of people are working hard to do it in such a way that it does not further compromise our core interests, and jumping up and down when there are tactical errors (and in my judgement every debate that puts the troops in the middle of the political war at home is a tactical error)obscures the larger issues and makes it more difficult to fine tune shifts in policy that should be executed so as to stop the freefall of our position in the region. This means that we need to focus our attention on the President and not on the troops.

And here's Sestak with further clarification:
I have always strongly felt, like at the end of the Vietnam war, the congress should vote on an authorization law that forbids any appropriations for funding for forces in Iraq after a date-certain. That is what my authorization bill did when I submitted it in January…no monies to be used for U.S. military forces in Iraq after 31 December. This way, the law accomplishes (in what is called an authorization bill) our goal of establishing a date-certain, beyond which no money can be appropriated (in a separate appropriations bill) for forces in Iraq; at the same time, it permits the moneys supporting the safety of our troops to continue to flow for their safe redeployment, till that date-certain.

Therefore, an authorization bill never places the troops safety funding between us and the president. That is the bill we also voted on, that Rep. McGovern that 171 Representatives voted for. That should be our strategy: Date-Certain in an authorization bill, cutting off the funds in a authorization bill, providing the right strategy to bring the Iraqis, Iran, and Syria, to the diplomatic table to leave an unfailed state…while still appropriating money until that date in an appropriations bill for the safety of our troops

Admittedly, this is nuance appropriate when considering Congressional procedure, but it does start to make sense to me: don't block the funding, make further funding illegal.

For many here, Iraq has become a single, isolated issue: Now or never, black or white. This was often the case during Viet Nam, as I am old enough to remember (#13 in the very first Draft Lottery, didn't have to serve, would have gone to Canada first). Many during those dark days said the same thing: bring them home now. But here's the difference.

In Viet Nam, the outcome, once we left, was certain: the South would fall to the North, and the Hanoi regime would rule the entire country for good or bad. And many Cold Warriers predicted that an ascendant China would use this as a stepping stone to world domination, the Domino Theory. Cooler heads, virtually all on the left, conceded the Communist takeover of Viet Nam but felt that the ChiComs had bigger issues at the time than world domination, and would probably leave Viet Nam alone. And they were right.

But Iraq is much more complicated, and much more broken than Viet Nam was. And make no mistake about it, it's all GWBush's fault, him and his cadre of supporters/enablers. There are serious regional issues, and not just Israel. Joe Wilson speaks to this above. With Syria & Lebanon as players, along the the Saudis (Wahabbi Muslims, very fundamental), the entire area is an unstable dynamic, with Iraq currently providing much heat and possibly provoking a serious calamity.

More from Sestak:
I have always said I’m not anti-war…I’m pro-security. This tragic misadventure in Iraq has hurt our security: there is no army unit at home, active, reserve, or national guard, that is in a state of readiness to deploy to any contingency elsewhere around this world. Afhganistan has become prey to terrorists, as the Taliban moves into the southern provinces, because we shifted our focus away from the real front of terrorism is.

One of the many reasons we must redeploy is to focus properly throughout this world, engaging to bring about a more peaceful world…while we bring the remainder of our forces home for a high readiness level. There is much more in this issue from equipment we are buying for the wrong type of war (which some call occupation), rather than the correct type for future strife, as well as not having the funding to invest in our education, heath and economic security.

I actually worked to remove from the first resolutions a portion of it that would have us remaining in Iraq to “defend the borders.” We are having a challenging time doing that for U.S. borders. To be successful in that would mean over 100,000 troops. To your point, immediatly after the war, if we had not disbanded Iraq’s army and taken all Baathists out of government, there may have been a potentials to not have been in the morass of civil war we presently are. That poor planning and excecution assuredly did us in… with regards to your other question, some monies have to be placed on contracts; more, how long do we wait if there is a sudden hightening of battle and extra bullets and gas are needed suddenly the pace of warfare… which our troops are in… determines how fast the monies are used.

I believe we should be cautious about our troops safety. Again, this is why an authorization bill, cutting off the funding by legislating for a date-certain cut-off, not actually appropriated money flowing to our trrop safety, is the best way to do it.

I believe there should be no permanent bases in Iraq. Again, I believe the best strategy is setting a date-specific, and leaving it to the military how to safely redeploy by then. Congress is a blunt instrument, and we should be cautious about mandating how many by month, where we might unwisely be affecting the safety of our troops. Let’s set a date-certain, and have our troops out by then, understanding it is also a change in strategy that can actually bring the region to the table to work towards an unfailed state. particularly Iran with its influence on extreminst elements.

Makes sense. I think. Here's what I added toward the end:
Something Sestak said that I think no one else picked up on was that (paraphrasing) it would take 6 mo. to pull military out even under perfect circumstances, so that’s basically December, which his bill has as its cut-off…so that makes sense.

To all the upset folks here: anyone think logistically and SAFELY we could do that faster? I’m just asking…

To which a commenter responded:
I caught that which was kinda where I was going with my respect for his having had to deal with troops in harm’s way and the corresponding life and death issues. In other words he does NOT want to have a “people dangling from the helicopter as the last one leaves Saigon” effect which is a visual that has colored many folks memories of Viet Nam as it was the final one.

Indeed. But another commenter responds to me:
Steve, my initial thought was that we should support Congressman Sestak. And as much as I admire him coming here to take some frank questions, I have more concern now than I did before.

This is not about how and when the troops get out. They are going to be there, dying, until 2009…Unless We Stop Bush/Cheney.

And I don’t see how his vote, or explanations for same, helps us do that.

Pretty cynical, and likely true. But still, we need to keep trying to force the issue.

Another commenter:

More than 120 Americans lost their lives in Iraq in May. Sestak voted to allow that to continue through September and has portrayed this some kind of sign that he takes the lives and deaths of US troops seriously. He can’t have it both ways, and trying to shows that he doesn’t understand dealing with troops in harm’s way and the corresponding life and death issues.”

My response:

OK, you have the magic wand. . . explain exactly how you pull troops out in 15 min. with minimum casualties, please?
A good response from a commenter:

First, there are no magic wands but there are bogus issues. Defunding is certainly one of these created by the Republicans to beat Democrats over the head with and allow wishy-washy politicians like Sestak to hide behind.

Second, if withdrawal became our stated policy, we could remove American troops from many of the areas and many of the patrolling activities where they are most at risk. This would reduce American casualties significantly since 80% are now caused by IEDs. We could then coordinate with the Iraqi government on how our withdrawal was going to take place to at least give them a chance to minimize the power vacuums that our withdrawal will cause. We then do a staged orderly withdrawal as militaries know how to do and have done for the last few centuries. No one said it would take 15 minutes but then that is another bogus argument, isn’t it?

No, it's not a bogus issue. It takes real time, equipment and transportational logistics to remove 130k troops and 100k+ "contractors" with a minimum of casualties. And many of the ones calling for immediate withdrawal are starting to not give a damn about what happens to Iraq and its people, which is incredibly cynical since "our" government is 100% responsible for their current dire straights. We do owe it to them to try to leave some semblance of security. Is it any wonder that many of them yearn for the return of a Saddam-style dictatorship? At least the electricity and water stay flowing.

And while we may disagree about the U.S. support for Israel and its seemingly reckless activity, that doesn't mean that there aren't legitimate regional problems that a civil war-torn Iraq would only add fuel to.

And here's a one more thoughtful comment:

I think the question is if not Sestak than whom? It’s not like pols are tripping over themselves to come here? Based on this thread, I would compare us to a meeting of abolitionists in the 1700’s, a hundred years before the Civil War. I’m ok with not supporting Sestak, but then I’m interested in how we stay relevant to the political process that is available to us? Things can get worse. How do we influence the process beyond “Spotlighting” good posts to the MSM? I don’t know, but it seems to me we have to have some ideas about that, before we casually toss Sestak and others like him away.

Sometimes we have to choose between the lesser of two evils. There are a lot worse options out there than Sestak. Are we helping them by abandoning Sestak? I don’t know, but I think the question needs to be asked.

So is Joe Sestak right? I'm not sure. But I'm starting to think he's more right than not.

And sadly, one final point. The Repubs would spin any appropriations block as "hurting the troops". They, and the GWBush cabal, have shown no shame and the utmost cynicism in using the troops as pawns, not real people. And while support for ending the war is strong, its also fickle. Rovian message spinning still works, and we could quickly find ourselves back on the wrong side of popular opinion. Anyone who thinks politics doesn't matter, even in this instance, is truly naive.

OK, now I'll shut up.