Friday, February 9, 2007

Matters of war deserve full debate


Like my fellow Idahoans, I'm troubled by the violence and bloodshed occurring in Iraq. The United States should never send forces into combat unless it's to protect our national security and unless we provide our service personnel resources and support necessary to succeed.

Despite principled disagreement occurring in this country, I'm concerned about the message we send our troops on the ground and others by failing to adequately consider different proposals for congressional action. Clearly, many in Congress have strong reservations about whether the administration's new Iraq strategy will succeed. A rational debate about details of the plan and how Iraqis will meet their commitments is needed—a debate entirely appropriate for Congress.

A comprehensive debate must include discussions about power balances in the Middle East and the nature of Iraq's emerging nationalism. Without question, the Iraq war is part of a larger struggle for a favorable balance of power in the Middle East—one in which the U.S. has a critical national security interest. Without a single strong regional power, multiple Arab nation-states, some with a Shia Islam majority and others with a Sunni Islam majority, coexist in uncertain stability. Exacerbating the situation is the existence in most of these nations of active adherents to both radical Shia and radical Sunni Islam—substate actors using terror as a policy tool. The recent National Intelligence Estimate confirms that immediate U.S. withdrawal would likely set a catastrophic precedent for U.S. policy in the Middle East and could serve as a catalyst for outright nation-state warfare.

These conflicts have no easy solutions. However, we cannot exhibit a wavering commitment to see this through to a more beneficial outcome for U.S. national security. Others will perceive indecision and infighting as weakness—a perception we can ill afford. Undoubtedly, this difficult struggle in Iraq will continue for a long time and cost more lives.

Matters of war deserve full debate. It was distressing to learn that Senate procedures were being manipulated to preclude full debate on what may be the most important issue ever to come before a Congress—war. In fact, efforts to limit discussion and consideration of different proposed resolutions in order to ensure a certain outcome undermine the significance of the issue. Thankfully, these efforts were forestalled.

Further debate ensures we have an opportunity to discuss all ideas about what message to send our military troops, the American public and the world. While each senator may differ considerably from the next regarding our strategy in Iraq, we owe it to the public to have full and open debate followed by votes that will provide direction for our country, not just political posturing.

For success in Iraq, it's imperative that all branches of government work together toward a common goal. We must find an appropriate strategy regarding continued involvement in Iraq, one that allows for the earliest withdrawal of troops contingent on the preservation of our national security, and I oppose attempts to end that discussion prematurely. Non-binding resolutions that seek to convey the sense of Congress have a role in the functioning of our government. But I fear that without full and fair debate, some Iraq resolution proposals serve primarily to show deep divisions in Congress and the U.S. government during wartime. This is not a message I'm willing to send while service personnel are engaged in their missions.

We must remain united in support for our military men and women as they carry out their duties. Our troops in harm's way and their families here at home deserve to have various proposals debated on the U.S. Senate floor.

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