The War Debate
As we just heard from Bruce Fein and John Nichols, our country is in a constitutional crisis that could change the nature of our democracy. There was a sense it earlier in the week as the Senate debated what to do about the war in Iraq. Here are some excerpts.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Do we continue to send our kids into the middle of a meat grinder based on a policy that is fundamentally flawed? I don't think there are a dozen Republicans on that side of the aisle who agree with the President's strategy.
SEN. GORDON SMITH: Some of my colleagues have said just cut off the funding. I have felt that dangerous and dishonorable. President Bush has said stay the course, and I find that troubling.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: This is a democracy that's less than four years old. Their constitution's less than 18 months old. The army and the police force four years ago was there to support the dictator, not democracy. So if you expect from the ashes of the dictatorship a functioning democracy in four years, I think you're sadly mistaken, because it took us 11 years to write our own Constitution.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN: We were elected to defend our beloved country, it's security and it's values. All that is on the line in Iraq today. So I appeal to my colleagues, let's not undercut our troops and legislate a defeat in Iraq where none is occurring.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: When you lose a war, the consequences of failure are far, far more severe on the military than the strain that is put on the military when they are fighting. It is a fact. It is a fact of military history. It is a fact of the war that we lost in Vietnam, which took us well over a decade to restore any kind of efficiency in our military.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: After this weekend's violence, senior Iraqi officials called on Iraqi civilians to arm themselves and fight insurgents. That's from the government. They're not telling the people this government will protect you, the Americans have drained 300,000 of us, no, we're ready to protect you, no. The answer is arm yourselves so that when the insurgents break down your door you can kill them before they kill you. What a situation.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I welcome this debate, as I said earlier. I think it is important to inform the American people. I think it is important to have a respectful exchange of views. And I will continue to respect the views of the Senator from California, but I will tell her that I have seen this movie before, and I have seen what happens when we have a defeated military and we have people who assure us that a withdrawal is without consequences.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: This administration has not made, when given a choice, a single correct decision on Iraq. Hear me. That is a bold statement. I cannot think of a single decision when they have been faced with a choice that they've made the right choice. I cannot think of one. Way back, when the President asked me why I was calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, and the Vice President was in the room, in the Oval Office, I said: With all due respect, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, if, Mr. Vice President, if you were not a constitutional officer, I would call for your resignation too. He looked at me and said: Why? I said: Because, Mr. President, name me one piece of advice either Rumsfeld or Cheney have given you in Iraq that has turned out to be right. Name me one. One. One.
As that debate revealed Congress is polarized and paralyzed. And down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush still was insisting Congress should stay out of the war. he and Vice President Cheney are holding out for better news from Iraq in September. But when September comes, you can count on more appeals for delay or excuses. that's the formula for perpetual war -- what our founders most feared, because it would turn our Constitution on its head, throwing off the checks and balances so crucial to liberty, and leaving all power in an imperial executive. Already the war in Iraq is in its 5th year, costing $10 billion a month, with the casualties mounting. All week a line from the poet Marvin Bell floated through my mind:
"What/shall we do, we who are at war but are asked/to pretend we are not?"
What shall we do? Impeachment hearings are one way to go, as you heard Fein and Nichols say. In the meantime, those of us in public television have an obligation to make sure viewers like you stay in the loop. I wish we had carried the congressional debate this week in full -- all of it -- in prime time. When we broadcast teach-ins on the Vietnam war, and the Watergate hearings during the trial of Richard Nixon, it was a real public service -- the reason PBS was created. We should keep Iraq in prime time every week -- the fighting and dying, the suffering, the debate, the politics -- the extraordinary costs. It's months until September. This war is killing us now, body and soul.
That's it for the journal. I'm Bill Moyers.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of the weekly public affairs program "Bill Moyers Journal," which airs Friday night on PBS.