Kerry and Lautenberg Lash GOP Chickenhawks
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Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) spoke eloquently about the cost of war on the Senate floor last week and was especially pointed in his remarks for Republican chickenhawks who talk a great game but seldom seem to serve in the military themselves.
“Yesterday, there was debate between two of our colleagues,” said Lautenberg. “One was Senator Kerry, who served in Vietnam, decorated for that service, the other was the Senator from Colorado, who was harsh in his criticism of Senator Kerry's speech on Iraq.”
Lautenberg was referring to Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) -- who, as you can guess by the “R” next to his name, is probably not a military Veteran -- who said the following on the Senate floor last week:
“My colleague from Massachusetts seemed to have learned the lessons of 9/11 when he warned against a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq in the past, but as the political winds have changed, he seems to have forgotten those lessons anew. Republicans will never forget the lessons of 9/11 and will continue to support the President's efforts to bring peace and stability to Iraq.
“I am supporting the President because he is staying the course. He has a plan in Iraq. He is putting the plan to work. I think that in the long run he is going to make a difference. We are going to have a better world because of his efforts. We are going to have a more stable Middle East, and this President will truly go down in history as a great leader.”
I’m not sure whether it’s more onerous to hear yet another GOP chickenhawk talking tough about the “lessons of 9/11” while knowing nothing about the true cost of war himself or to hear him describe Chickenhawk-in-Chief Bush as a “great leader,” but Lautenberg was ready to come at him with both barrels. Here’s a lengthy excerpt, but worth the read:
“Senator Kerry and I are both veterans. I am a veteran of World War II, and I served in Europe during the war. His, again, distinguished service in Vietnam is well known. So we are both veterans, and we are very interested in the military analysis of the Senator from Colorado. The speech of the Senator from Colorado sounded much like White House talking points: short on facts, long on innuendo and fantasy.
“While politicians in Washington sometimes wear rose-colored glasses and fantasize about the situation in Iraq, American troops are dying, American troops are wounded. One need only visit Walter Reed Hospital to see how serious some of those wounds are. People have lost limbs. People lose their sight. People suffer very severely from post-traumatic stress, invisible wounds that penetrate, nevertheless, very deeply.
“I have gone to many memorial services and funerals for young people from New Jersey who died in Iraq. Seventy-three soldiers from my home State of New Jersey have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I mentioned, I have visited Walter Reed Army Hospital here in Washington several times, and I have been struck by the incredible resilience and dedication to our country of those young Americans, those who want to be able to pick up arms again so they can do their duty. And while these brave men and women put their lives on the line, the administration is simply ignoring reality.
“How in the world can the Commander-in-Chief, President Bush, be satisfied with the situation in Iraq? It is chaotic. It is near a civil war. The definition of a ``civil war'' is that people within the same country are fighting one another. My gosh, it could not be clearer.
“People on the floor of the Senate have heard me say it time and time again: I will never understand why the President of the United States refuses to let journalists, photographers, journalists who do photography, come in and take pictures of flag-draped coffins--flag-draped coffins. It is the country's last sign of honoring its dead. They are unable to take pictures of that because they do not want to tell the American people the truth about what is happening. It is, in my view, insulting to those families whose loved ones sacrificed their lives on the battlefield. Outrageous.
“We see in front of us a situation that reminds us of the sad days of Vietnam, when we wanted to extricate ourselves and couldn't quite do it until the pain was so excruciating that the population could no longer stand it. We need a leader who sees clearly what is really happening and who speaks candidly--we can take bad news; we don't like it, but we can take it--about what is taking place in front of our eyes on television and newspapers in our homes. We can take the news. We will accept it and fight on to rebuild our strength and our moral conviction about what we are doing. But we need to know the truth on how to do that.”
What was even better was that Kerry was not on the Senate floor when Allard launched his attack. He heard about it while in a Finance Committee meeting and quickly came back to the floor to respond to the Colorado clucker.
“A little while ago--I was not here, I was at a hearing of the Finance Committee--I am informed that the Senator from Colorado, Mr. Allard, came to the floor to attack my position on Iraq, which is fine by me, but also I think somewhat questionable with respect to the rules and the ethics of the Senate to attack me personally about my motives with respect to a position I have taken. The Senator from Colorado suggested that ‘we see an individual who is being spun in the political winds.’
“Let me make it clear to the Senator from Colorado, and anybody else who wants to debate Iraq, that when it comes to issues of war and peace and of young Americans dying, nobody spins me, period.
“I am not going to listen to the Senator from Colorado or anyone else question my motives when young Americans are dying on a daily basis or losing their limbs because Iraqi politicians won't form a government from an election that they held in December. That is inexcusable.
“Let me ask the Senator from Colorado: Is it OK by him that young Americans are dying right now while politicians in Baghdad are frittering away their time and squandering the opportunity our soldiers fought to give them? Does he think that is a plan that is working? Does he think that is serving the needs of the American military?
“Don't come to the floor of the Senate and try to suggest to me that somehow when we come up with a plan to protect our troops and to make America stronger we are somehow making their life more miserable. Ask the troops. Seventy percent of the troops who were polled in Iraq said they thought next year we ought to be able to withdraw. Those are our troops talking to us.
Although I’m a Veteran myself, I’ve never been one to say that serving in the military should be a prerequisite to being President or a member of the legislative branch of government. But it’s absolutely galling to continue to hear the other side of the aisle talking as tough as they always do, when the majority of Veterans in the Congress are Democrats and most GOP members are more experienced at macho rhetoric and defending Bush’s failed policy.
Said Kerry in wrapping up his response to Allard: “Right now, this is adrift. It is a policy without leadership, and the American people understand that. What we need now is civilian leadership that is equal to the sacrifice of our soldiers.”
Spoken like one who has actually been there.
You can reach Bob Geiger at email@example.com