Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On Underhanded Iraq Politicking

I'll tell you, he's one dour man, that Dick Cheney. But he makes some good points, I'll give him that. An excerpt from a speech he recently gave at the Heritage Foundation:

Thirty-five years ago, the standard-bearer for the Democrats, of course, was Senator George McGovern, who campaigned on a far-left platform of heavy taxation, a greatly expanded role for government in the daily lives of Americans, and a major retreat from America's commitments in the Cold War. Senator McGovern was, and is, an honest and a straightforward man. He said what he believed and he told people where he stood. And on Election Day, Senator McGovern lost every state but one, and collected just over 3 percent of the electoral vote.

That was the last time the national Democratic Party took a hard left turn. But in 2007, it looks like history is repeating itself. Today, on some of the most critical issues facing the country, the new Democratic majority resembles nothing so much as that old Party of the early 1970s. On taxes, the Democratic leadership has made clear its opposition to the Bush tax cuts that have fueled this economy and helped to create nearly 8 million new jobs. The budget passed by the House assumes that all of the Bush tax reductions will be swept from the books within just a few years. The result would be a staggering tax increase on the middle class, on families and small businesses, and a return of the federal death tax from zero back up to a confiscatory 55 percent. This would constitute the largest tax increase in American history.

On the spending side of the ledger, it's enough, I think, to offer this example: Last month, in response to President Bush's request for an emergency war supplemental, the House and Senate tacked on billions of dollars to cover items on their wish list -- from fighting crickets to spinach subsidies. Even though it's still early in the session, when it comes to the appetite for tax dollars, the new Congress has already earned a place in the big-spending hall of fame.

But the Democrats' return to old patterns is most dramatic, and most consequential, in the field of national security. This will be the focus of my remarks today. In the early 1970s, the far left wing turned the Democratic Party away from the confident Cold War stance of President Truman, President Kennedy, and Senator Scoop Jackson. The result, as we know, was not merely defeat at the polls, but the beginning of a long period in which the American people largely declined to trust the Democratic Party in matters of national security. In fact, that period ended only when the Cold War itself came to an end, during the administration of former President Gerald Bush -- George Bush.

Today, as the United States faces a new kind of enemy and a new kind of war, the far left is again taking hold of the Democratic Party's agenda. The prevailing mindset, combined with a series of ill-considered actions in the House and Senate over the last several months, causes me to wonder whether today's Democratic leaders fully appreciate the nature of the danger this country faces in the war on terror -- a war that was declared against us by jihadists, a war in which the United States went on offense after 9/11, a war whose central front, in the opinion and actions of the enemy, is Iraq.

An early sign of unseriousness was the comment by Howard Dean, now the party chairman, that the capture of Saddam Hussein did nothing to make America safer. He made that statement several years ago while running for president, and a number of his fellow Democrats sharply criticized him. Yet now we hear almost daily the claim that the fight in Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror. Opponents of our military action there have called Iraq a diversion from the real conflict, a distraction from the business of fighting and defeating Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network. We hear this over and over again, not as an argument, but as an assertion meant to close off argument.

Yet the evidence is flatly to the contrary. And the critics conveniently disregard the words of bin Laden himself. "The most ¼ serious issue today for the whole world," he said, "is this third world war¼ [that is] raging in [Iraq]." He calls it "a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam." He said, "The whole world is watching this war," and that it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation." And in words directed at the American people, bin Laden declares, "The war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever."

This leader of al-Qaeda has referred to Baghdad as the capital of the caliphate. He has also said, "Success in Baghdad will be success for the United States. Failure in Iraq is the failure of the United States. Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars."

Obviously, the terrorists have no illusion about the importance of the struggle in Iraq. They have not called it a distraction or a diversion from their war against the United States. They know it is a vital front in that war, and it's where they have chosen to make a stand. Our Marines are fighting al Qaeda terrorists in Anbar province. U.S. and Iraqi forces recently killed al Qaeda terrorists in Baghdad, who were responsible for numerous bomb attacks. Iraq's relevance to the war on terror simply could not be more plain. Here at home, that makes one thing, above all, very clear: If you support the war on terror, then it only makes sense to support it where the terrorists are fighting us. (Applause.)

The Democratic leadership has assured us that, in any event, they support the troops in the field. They did vote to confirm General Dave Petraeus unanimously in the United States Senate -- and for good reason. General Petraeus is one of the finest military officers of his generation, an expert in counterinsurgency, a leader committed to victory, and with a strategy to achieve it. The senators knew something else about General Petraeus. They knew he had told the Armed Services Committee that he could not do his job without reinforcements. Yet within days of his confirmation a large group of senators tried to pass a resolution opposing those very reinforcements, thereby undermining the General's mission. Over in the House of Representatives, such a resolution actually passed on the floor. As President Bush said, this may be the first time in history that a Congress "voted to send a new commander into battle and then voted to oppose the plan he said was necessary to win that battle."

In the weeks since that vote, the actions of the Democratic leadership have moved from the merely inconsistent to the irresponsible. It's now been 67 days since the President submitted the emergency supplemental request. As most Americans know by now, the House of Representatives has voted to provide the funding, but also to require that we cut the number of troops below the level that our commanders in Iraq say is necessary for victory, and further require that American forces begin withdrawing from Iraq according to a set timetable, and be gone next year regardless of circumstances on the ground.

Not before that vote had the Democrats ever managed to find enough members of the House to support a planned retreat from Iraq. So how did they manage to pass it this time? They did it by horse-trading -- by adding in all that pork-barrel spending we've heard about. And when they had the votes they needed, they stopped adding the pork, and they held the vote. Such an outcome raises more than a little concern about the future of fiscal discipline on Capitol Hill. The implications for national security are equally obvious, and far more critical to the future of the country. An editorial by The WashingtonPost aptly termed the House bill an "unconditional retreat ". The legislation that passed in the Senate is no better, and that bill, also, calls for the withdrawal of American troops according to a pre-set timetable determined by members of Congress.

So this is where things stand today. The Democratic Congress has approved appropriations for a war, and attached detailed provisions for the timing and the movement of American troops. It is unacceptable, of course, from an institutional standpoint. Under the Constitution, Congress has the purse strings and the power to confirm officers. But military operations are to be directed by the President of the United States, period. (Applause.) By the wisdom of the framers, that power rests in the hands of one Commander-in-Chief, not 535 commanders-in-chief on Capitol Hill.

I might add that we don't need 535 secretaries of state, either. (Laughter and applause.) It didn't help matters when the Speaker of the House showed up in Damascus for a sit-down with Syrian president Bashar Assad. Here again, we have an instance of the new congressional leadership making a bad move and sending mixed signals about the policies and the intentions of the United States.

It is strange enough that the Speaker should do anything to anything to undermine America's careful, and successful, multilateral effort to isolate the Syrian regime. But at least one member of the Speaker's delegation saw the trip in even grander terms. He said the delegation was offering, quote, "an alternative Democratic foreign policy." Once again, we must return to a basic constitutional principle. No member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, has any business jetting around the world with a diplomatic agenda contrary to that of the President and the Secretary of State. It is for the executive branch, not the Congress, to conduct the foreign policy of the United States of America. (Applause.)

In America, above all, the Democrats -- excuse me, in Iraq, above all, the Democrats' attempt to micromanage our commanders is an unwise and perilous endeavor. It is impossible to argue that an unconditional timetable for retreat could serve the security interests of the United States or our friends in the region. Instead, it sends a message to our enemies that the calendar is their friend, that all they have to do is wait us out -- wait for the date certain, and then claim victory the day after.

This notion of a timetable for withdrawal has been specifically rejected by virtually every mainstream analysis. The report of the Baker-Hamilton commission recommended against it. The National Intelligence Estimate produced by the intelligence community said a rapid withdrawal would be ill-advised. Our military commanders believe a rigid timetable is not a good strategy. It does, perhaps, appeal to the folks at

Recently the National Commander of the American Legion said, "You cannot support the troops if you want them to cut and run. ¼ It's time for the President to veto this surrender bill and for Congress to pass a serious war-funding bill, which would provide the money without the micromanagement." (Applause.) Standing here today, I can assure the American Legion, and the VFW, and all the veterans organizations, and all the men and women serving at this very hour, that the President of the United States will, indeed, veto this irresponsible legislation. (Applause.)

Rarely in history has an elected branch of government engaged in so pointless an exercise as Congress is now doing. And yet the exercise continues. Three days ago the President invited the Democratic leaders to meet with him next week to discuss the supplemental. The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, at first declined to do so. When Nancy Pelosi flies nearly 6,000 miles to meet with the president of Syria, but Harry Reid hesitates to drive a mile and half to meet with the President of the United States, there's a serious problem in the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Senator Reid has threatened that if the President vetoes the timetable legislation, he will send up Senator Russ Feingold's bill to de-fund Iraqi operations altogether. Yet only last November, Senator Reid said there would be no cutoff of funds for the military in Iraq. So in less than six months' time, Senator Reid has gone from pledging full funding for the military, and then full funding, but with a timetable, and then a cutoff of funding. Three positions in five months, on the most important foreign policy question facing our country and our troops.

Senator Reid, of course, was one of the many Democrats who voted for the use of force in Iraq. They are entitled, if they want now, to oppose this war. Yet Americans are entitled to question whether the endlessly shifting positions that he and others are taking are reflections of principle, or of partisanship and blind opposition to the President.

- Vice President Dick Cheney

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