After watching much of the debates, here are some thoughts I'd like to share.
There are sound reasons for the Senate in Washington to debate the policies and issues regarding not only the war in Iraq but also the 'so-called' Global War on Terror. While I heard some senators, such as John McCain, Mitch McConnell and others complain the debate is a 'waste of time' or 'usurping the president's authority', where else but in a vote on the funding mechanisms of the war should elected officials publicly debate the policies involved? It was with wisdom the founders of the nation gave different branches of government different responsibilities when it comes to waging war and creating policy in general.
The majority of the nation is debating the war policies and has been for many many months. The reason the GOP lost their majority in Congress is because voters wanted a new approach, new debate, new consideration of how best to succeed. It was a clear signal that the public demands challenges to the President's policies, even if it is a certainty that the U.S. Senate cannot alter the course of the Bush/Cheney war policy.
Serious debate on our policies is an indication of the strength of the nation, not a sign of weakness, Weakness is to abandon legislative oversight and debate. There were many veterans groups in Washington yesterday to call for a 'staying of the course' and many were there to challenge such a plan and call for change.
The elected officials in Iraq are the ones who need to exert the maximum effort to control their own country, to be responsible for securing safety and charting the course for their own future. The U.S. attention needs to be focused on terror threats that have been increasing their capabilities.
I watched many hours of the debate in the Senate last night and this morning, and did not find it a stunt or a manufactured drama. It was one of the few times I heard serious debate about how best to find success, as the current course has not brought success. I heard some of the logic (or lack of it) from members of both sides of the Senate on what has happened and what should or could happen. Media coverage mocking the discussions misses the point of the debate entirely.
Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana spoke most forcefully last night on the fact that the current policy has abandoned an earnest effort to capture or kill bin Laden and his top leaders. She also rebuked the senior senator from Tennessee in her speech. You can hear and see her speech via this link.
She also introduced legislation as well, making the destruction of al-Qaeda our top priority:
"Introduced as an amendment to H.R. 1585, the Defense Authorization Bill, the proposal states that "it shall be the policy of the United States Government that the foremost objective of the United States in the Global War on Terrorism is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other leaders of al Qaeda, and to dismantle the al Qaeda network."
The Landrieu plan repositions U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to root out and combat al Qaeda forces, authorizes $3.6 billion for counter-terror programs in the region and reestablishes Alec Station, the CIA mission to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants.
The mission had been aborted last year after the Bush Administration determined that bin Laden no longer posed a threat to the United States. An intelligence report due out today, however, is expected to describe al Qaeda's strength as having returned to pre-9/11 levels.
"Our brave soldiers and Marines, sailors and airmen, answered the duty call of 9/11," Sen. Landrieu said. "But our nation's focus has been misdirected, allowing al Qaeda to flourish while the White House pursues a flawed strategy in Iraq. Nearly six years after orchestrating the deaths of 2,997 people, Osama bin Laden remains at large, rebuilding his network to strike again. Holding him and the other perpetrators of that horrible day to account can be no less than our foremost priority. We must redouble our efforts to deliver justice where it is due, root out evil where it hides and destroy al Qaeda's capacity to act out its desire to destroy America."
Consistent with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, the Landrieu proposal boosts support for Afghan Security Forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan and for increased security cooperation inside Pakistan. It also adds funding for translators and translation technologies, drug interdiction and counter-drug activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and operations to secure the Pakistani and Iranian borders.
As the U.S. draws down combat forces in Iraq, the Landrieu amendment would limit the mission of remaining combat troops to protecting U.S. and Coalition personnel and infrastructure; training, equipping and providing logistical support for the Iraqi Security Forces; and conducting targeted counter-terrorism operations. Combat resources could then be repositioned as needed to support the bolstered mission of Operation Enduring Freedom and the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Under the Landrieu plan, every unit deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan would be required to meet the baseline C-1 readiness standard. Units would not be permitted to deploy without the proper training and full complement of equipment required for their specific mission.
"Where al Qaeda and other terrorist groups exist in Iraq, this plan would continue to empower our forces to strike, and strike hard," Sen. Landrieu said. "But a fish rots from the head, and we've spent too much time chasing the tail. We must make sure our skilled men and women in combat have the clear mission and full resources they need to focus their fight at the top, where it belongs."