In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What's in a Vote (for War)?

*I wrote the below piece back in Dec. of 2007 about Hillary and other Democratic candidates' votes in favor of the 2002 invasion of Iraq; however, the same argument lays at the feet of John McCain now, in my view, as he also voted for the 2002 legislation authorizing the invasion of Iraq. I plan to write a piece targeting McCain's particular bent towards war and imperialism, but in terms of the vote for Iraq, as I said, all the below arguments apply to him as well.

I've got two main qualms with Hillary at this point--one is her vote on Iraq, and the second is what she could do to the prospect of long term gains for progressive candidates and a progressive agenda (due to her divisiveness). I'll just take on the first for the moment, and wrap candidate John Edwards into it as well (along with candidates Biden and Dodd).

I feel our what, four and a half years now in Iraq, have dulled me to the significance of the whole thing. I think any time the candidates opposed to the war mention it, they would do well to remind a too-easily-desensitized electorate of what it is. I mean, what do you think when you hear "Iraq war"? Do you think politics, or war? Or perhaps it has just become a bit like a worn out brand, particularly for the political left, which is mentioning it the most. In realizing this, I did a little research to remind myself and anyone reading of the import of the vote cast back in 2002 by Congress, authorizing the invasion of Iraq (technically known as the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002").

The reality of the decision quickly begins to sink in as you consider aspects of it you may not have thought much about, like the simple fact that some number of people (in Congress) decided five years ago that they thought it merited to send troops, force Hussein out of power, and, frankly, attack another country. I myself do not feel I am informed enough to say I am wholesale against any use of force against another country, but I certainly think it is a gravely serious decision that should be overrun with doubt and questioning, double checking, verifying, and a humane sense of meticulous caution. While it may come across as cliche, I think what really knocks the reality of it home is to take a second to consider the number of people who have died in Iraq; according to recent estimates for Iraqi civilians, the range goes anywhere from 34,000 to 793,000--quite a wide range, to be sure. For American serviceman, the most recent count, verified by the Dept. of Defense, is 3895. This does not count those fighting against us, who would not be considered civilians. However, excluding that very significant number of the "opposition" who have been killed, the baseline casualties here, according to these numbers, is 37, 895 (a number I think really must be viewed as extremely conservative). Given that at least that number have died, and the reality that the much touted "weapons of mass destruction," which formed a major basis for our invasion, proved not to exist, it leads to a basic question of whether those who voted for the war should have known better, and should now be trusted with the running of our country (I should say here, I am quite convinced that we had ill-founded reasons for invading Iraq, but would recommend a great PBS piece by Bill Moyers, available online, for those who want a good overview on some of the common reasons for this stance).

In terms of my question though, on whether those who authorized the war should have judged more carefully, I find it significant that in the Senate, 23 voted against authorizing the war; of course some such as Sen. Clinton, Sen. Edwards, Sen. Biden, Sen. Dodd, Sen. McCain (all now running for president), and Sen. John Kerry, voted for it (here's a full list and a quick article on this; a list of the 133 members of the House who voted against it is available here). One excerpt from a 2002 NY Times article said "several Democrats joined Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia in protesting what they said was a heedless rush toward war." And of course, as I wrote about before, Sen. Obama, prior to his election to the Senate, spoke out against the war (also, in terms of the presidential candidates, Rep. Kucinich voted against it, and former Sen. Mike Gravel spoke out as well, with details here and here, respectively). My personal judgment is that these individuals, including highly respected Senators such as Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), exhibited necessary caution and circumspection, doing the research necessary to make the right decision.

Sen. Levin has a press release available on his site concerning that Oct.2002 vote, which includes a number of points about why he voted against the resolution. One such point states the following: "This grant of authority is also unacceptable since it empowers the President to initiate the use of U.S. military force although the threat against which it is used is not imminent. International law has required that there be an imminent threat before one initiates an attack under the rubric of self defense." He goes on to say that the Administration based their argument on the idea of a "continuing threat," not an "imminent" threat, stating that this could lead to an "increase in violence and aggression throughout the world"--I have to agree, and so am really worried by those who, at the time, did not agree (even though almost all who voted for it then, regret it now). A quick survey question in light of all this:

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