Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Five years after Iraq war vote, we're still foolishly rattling our sabers"

Union Leader, (NH)Op-ed by Barack Obama:
ON THE FIFTH anniversary of the Senate's vote to authorize an open-ended war in Iraq, we should resolve to never repeat the terrible mistake of launching a misguided war. But unfortunately, the Senate risked doing exactly that when it recently opened the door to an extension and escalation of the ongoing war in Iraq to include military action against Iran.
There is no doubt that Iran poses a threat. It has armed terrorists beyond its borders, maintains an illicit nuclear program, and its leaders have issued belligerent threats that are a concern to us all. But our first and most important avenue to contain Iranian aggression is to try the tough and direct diplomacy that the Bush administration has too often disdained. Instead of encouraging that diplomacy, an amendment passed last month by the Senate could be used by the President as justification to strike Iran under the authority granted to him by the 2002 Iraq war resolution.

The amendment, offered by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl, directly links the ongoing war in Iraq -- including our troop presence -- to checking the threat from Iran. The amendment opens with 17 findings that highlight Iranian influence within Iraq. It then states that we have to "transition(s) and structure" our "military presence in Iraq" to counter the threat from Iran, and states that it is "a critical national interest of the United States" to prevent the Iranian government from exerting influence inside Iraq.

Why is this so dangerous? The Bush administration could use language like this to justify a continued troop presence in Iraq as long as it perceives a threat from Iran. Even worse, the Bush administration could use the language in Lieberman-Kyl to justify an attack on Iran as a part of the ongoing war in Iraq.

As my colleague Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in opposing the amendment, "I do not want to give the President and his lawyers any argument that Congress has somehow authorized military actions."

He is exactly right. Because as we learned with the original authorization of the Iraq war -- when you give this President a blank check, you can't be surprised when he cashes it.

I strongly differ with Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was the only Democratic presidential candidate to support this reckless amendment. We do need to tighten sanctions on the Iranian regime, particularly on Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which sponsors terrorism far beyond Iran's borders. But this must be done separately from any unnecessary saber-rattling about checking Iranian influence with our "military presence in Iraq." Above all, it must be done through tough and direct diplomacy with Iran, which I have supported, and which Sen. Clinton has called "naive and irresponsible."

Sen. Clinton says she was merely voting for more diplomacy, not war with Iran. If this has a familiar ring, it should. Five years after the original vote for war in Iraq, Sen. Clinton has argued that her vote was not for war -- it was for diplomacy, or inspections. But all of us knew what the Senate was debating in 2002. John Edwards has renounced his own vote for the war, and he should be applauded for his candor. After all, we didn't need to authorize a war in order to have United Nations weapons inspections. No one thought Congress was debating diplomacy. No newspaper headlines ran on Oct. 12, 2002, reading, "Congress authorizes diplomacy." This was a vote to authorize war, and without that vote, there would have been no war.

America needs a leader who will make the right judgments about matters as grave as war and peace, and America needs a leader who will be straight with them. When I spoke out against going to war in Iraq in 2002, I knew that I was putting my political career on the line. Going to war was popular; so was President Bush. But I felt strongly that a war in Iraq would lead to an open-ended and destructive occupation of Iraq, and weaken us in the fight against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. And I felt a responsibility to say so.

Now, the Senate has once again voted for an amendment that goes out of its way to draw connections between distinct threats, and that replaces judicious policy-making with unnecessary saber-rattling. And once again, we hear that it is not really a vote for more war, it is a vote for more diplomacy.

But the way to support diplomacy is to actually pursue it, which is what I have called for in this campaign. Not the ad hoc Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to people we don't like, but real, direct, and sustained diplomacy that exhausts all of our options instead of rushing to war.

In choosing their next President, the American people need to look at the judgments each of the candidates has made on war in the past, and at who has clearly learned the lessons of this disastrous war going forward.

This is not a debate about 2002; it's about the future, and in that debate I can run on, and not from, my record.
Howie P.S.: In this video, Obama addresses "the Aggression Questions" about his campaign. This op-ed could be considered part of his plan to "lay out a very clear contrast with Senator Clinton."

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