Thursday, January 25, 2007

Senators Coleman & Hagel debate Iraq Resolution

Watching the debate in the Foreign Relations Committee over Senate Concurrent Resolution # 2 (essentially stating that it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq), I had to wonder what was discussed between the two Republican Senators seated next to each other. Both came from their home states to Minnesota and now find themselves in the US Senate. No doubt, their backgrounds and life experiences – and even their time in Minnesota – had to shape their viewpoints.

The sound bite that made the evening news, was Chuck Hagel imploring his fellow Senators to take a stand :
This is a very real, responsible addressing of the most divisive issue in this country since Vietnam.
Yes, sure, it’s tough. Absolutely. And I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support? What do you think? Why were you elected?
If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.
This is a tough business. But is it any tougher, us having to take a tough vote, express ourselves and have the courage to step up on what we’re asking our young men and women to do? I don’t think so. When I hear, on both sides of this argument, impugning motives and patriotism to our country, not only is it offensive and disgusting but it debases the whole system of our country and who we are

Selling shoes may be something that Chuck Hagel knows about … as well as Vietnam. As I recall during his student days at Brown Institute in Minneapolis, he worked selling men’s clothes. After graduating Brown, Hagel returned to Lincoln, Nebraska to work for a radio station only to find out that Uncle Sam wanted him. He faced the draft, applying for a college deferment, or enlistment. He volunteered knowing that Vietnam was where he would most likely end up. Going over as a private, he returned as a squad leader with two Purple Hearts for battle wounds.

No doubt those experiences shaped Hagel’s viewpoints of America’s role in Foreign Relations.

Sitting next to Senator Hagel was Norm Coleman. The days of Vietnam were a little different for Senator Coleman as documented by City Pages which published photos of a “long-haired radical protesting the draft at Hofstra University” in 1970.

Those that served in battle seem to have a different vantage point than those that have not. Bush and Cheney have been criticized for where they spent their time during the Vietnam conflict. Meanwhile, John Abizaid, George Casey, and Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker have made no secret of their strong reservations about sending large numbers of additional troops.

But this battle for Hagel did not start yesterday. Anyone who watched the Sunday talk shows before the liberation began will remember the concerns of Dick Lugar, Joe Biden, and Hagel. In their mind, there was never a doubt of America’s ability to depose Saddam Hussein, but the concern was also about the exit strategy. How many troops? What would be the mission? How long would we be there? What would be the costs? These are the same questions that all Americans are asking today.

Previously Coleman stated that he opposes the troop escalation in Baghdad (but would allow more troops in other areas.) After the State of the Union Address, Coleman said he was swayed by the President’s plea. His vote against the SR 2
was wrong. In the weeks to come, a resolution will be passed – maybe not Biden’s, maybe Warner’s – but a message will be sent to the President. Coleman will eventually fall in line, but in his first test in battle, he failed to heed the wisdom of a seasoned veteran.

Some may see the Senate Resolution as a rebuke of Bush’s decision to escalate the military action, but it has other important recommendations. Reading the resolution it encourages other nations in the Middle East to work toward peace and a reconciliation process for Iraq.

Engaging other countries is the crux of the solution. This week, Henry Kissinger writes :
Diplomacy must mediate between Iraqi sects which, though in many respects mortal enemies, are assembled in a common governmental structure. It needs to relate that process to an international concept involving both Iraq's neighbors and countries further away that have a significant interest in the outcome.
Two levels of diplomatic effort are necessary
(1) The creation of a contact group, assembling neighboring countries whose interests are directly affected and which rely on American support. This group should include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Its function should be to advise on ending the internal conflict and to create a united front against outside domination.
(2) Parallel negotiations should be conducted with Syria and Iran, which now appear as adversaries, to give them an opportunity to participate in a peaceful regional order.”

Coleman has just been named the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs. In his press release discussing Iraq, he states “the need for an even-handed approach to Middle East peace and an end to terror.” I hope that Coleman heeds the Kissinger’s advise including a personal visit to Syria. This is not the time for partisan politics – mindless attacking or supporting the President – it’s a time for Congress to be involved in Foreign Relations.

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