Our friend Hugh Hewitt has been leading a campaign to “bring informed pressure to bear on GOP senators gone wobbly on the war.” He’s referring to Senators who support the Democratic resolution criticizing the troop surge or who contemplate supporting a weaker version of such a resolution. Hugh is asking readers and bloggers to take a pledge not to contribute to the campaigns of Senators who vote for a resolution that “criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for” if such a resolution passes. Pledge takers would also commit not to contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) unless its chairman agrees that no NRSC money will go to the wobbly Senators.
For me, this issue is more complicated than Hugh suggests. I’ve always believed that Senators have an obligation to vote their conscience on matters of war and peace. I have nothing but contempt for those like John Kerry who voted in favor of the war in Iraq when it was obvious (based, in Kerry’s case, on a 30 year history) that they did not want us to go to war. And I have often denounced Bill Clinton’s reprehensibly cyncial line on how he would have voted on the resolution to go to war in 1991 — I would have voted with the majority [in favor of the war] if the vote was close, but the minority had the better arguments. If the minority has the better arguments, don’t vote in favor of putting American lives at risk.
So, when presented with a resolution to vote on, where does that leave a Republican Senator who thinks it’s a mistake to “surge.” Hugh’s blog partner, Dean Barnett, tries to finesse the problem by stating that the premise of the pledge is that “the Republican Senators who will support the resolution will do so not out of any sort of conviction but due to political expediency.” But that’s a weak premise. Many conservatives who aren’t running for office have said that the surge is a bad idea. (I have expressed my reservations about it). Thus, the law of averages tells us that, political calculation aside, there will be more than a few Republican Senators who have that belief. There may well also be some who are acting based on political calculation — it would be silly to assume that only Democrats do this. But it’s misguided to assume that any given Republican Senator who supports an anti-surge resolution is not acting out of conviction.
Hugh raises a serious concern when he argues that any anti-surge resolution will help the enemy — it is this concern that complicates the matter. On the other hand, some say that such resolutions signal to the Iraqi government that our patience is not limitless and thus will induce it to improve its behavior. Senators should perform these calculations and take the results into account. In doing so, they should weigh, but not be bound by, the claims of General Petraeus and other knowledgeable people about the impact of a given resolution.
Most of the “wobbly” Republicans appear to be trying to balance their conviction that the surge is a bad idea against their concern over the impact of an anti-surge resolution on the war effort. This is a responsible approach. The quest for an alternative resolution is the product of this balancing. In my view, the best resolution for those who don’t want the surge but aren’t prepared to block it, would be one that expresses their skepticism, but also their hope that the surge succeeds and their willingness, now that it has been decided upon, to give it a fair chance.
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