Ted Kennedy was on Meet the Press on Sunday, balancing, (maybe overbalancing) John McCain’s segment explaining his support of the President’s strategy for fighting the war in Iraq.
The following are excerpts from Kennedy’s remarks, defending his party’s near-unanimous decision to slouch eventually to Vietnam-style de-funding of the Iraq war.
“And I must say, if we have a president that is going to effectively defy the American people, going to defy the generals, defy the majority of the Congress of the United States in Republicans and Democrats, then we, I think, have a responsibility to, to end the funding for that—for the war.”….
“If that is going to be the case. I hope that that is not the case. But if that is going to be the case, if the president is going to defy the military leaders, the American public, and a bipartisan is going to be contemptuous of those actions, I think we have a constitutional duty, a constitutional duty to take those steps.”….
“As I mentioned before, you’re going to have the generals, the American people and others that are going to be opposed. But at the end of the day, we can—we are a constitutional democracy. All power is not just with the executive. We have a power in the Congress as well. And if this president’s going to defy the military, the public and a bipartisan majority in the Congress, then we have a responsibility….”
At which point I must apologize for the truncated quotation, but Senator Kennedy hopelessly digressed mid-sentence to another talking point entirely.
To sum up Senator Kennedy’s reasoning, the President of the United States has to do whatever the generals, “the American people,” and “the majority of the Congress” tell him he has to do. If he doesn’t, Congress has a “constitutional duty” to cut off funding for the war.
Senator Kennedy surely understands that, under our Constitution, civilian control of the military is a mandate, and the President is the civilian Commander in Chief, and owes no duty to obey the directions of any generals or any other military leaders. As a Constitutional entity, a general doesn’t even exist, except to take orders from the Commander in Chief. One would expect, and I myself prefer, an executive who understands leadership as making decisions based upon principles, and not hiding behind the second-guessing of his generals.
Of course, when Kennedy refers—as we see he did repeatedly—to the “generals”—he is referring to the generals and military leaders who agree with the Democratic party view of the Iraq war, and wants to create the image of a unanimous body of military experts who are chanting “Get out now”. By no means are the majority of the generals saying this, and most of what Congressional leaders have quoted actual generals as having said about the war, have consistently been almost the opposite of what those generals have actually said.
Senator Kennedy also ought to understand that, when he protests that we are a “constitutional democracy,” (whereas he must mean we are a constitutional republic), that does not mean that “the American people” are a Constitutional entity whose instructions to the executive branch can be discerned through opinion polls or, God forbid, presumptuous press-conference summaries by the likes of Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi about what “the American people want.”
Rather, the people speak through their elected representative, which, in this context, does indeed mean the US Congress.
But that said, people need to bear in mind that, as of today, every time Congress has spoken on the Iraq war before now, it has agreed with the President and voted its approval that he should go to war in Iraq, continue fighting the war in Iraq, and finish the war in Iraq. The President has never defied Congress. Just because he doesn’t collapse when the opinions of the American people collapse, or when his craven political enemies do a 180 on their own former votes and speeches, doesn't make him defiant of the Congress. It only makes him a leader worthy of his office. (For a leader not worthy of the office, see Jimmy Carter).
On the other hand, the nation has now saddled itself with a new Congress solemnly committed to defying the Executive branch on the Iraq war. Democratic senators and representatives who voted to authorize the war are renouncing their votes, as if that makes any difference to the historical existence of what they voted for and why. Comparison of the pre- and post-war rhetoric of all of these folks is among the best-documented examples of hypocrisy in recorded history. Even Republicans are getting diarrhea and trotting along from fear of their misinformed constituencies. (This is one reason we don’t want a President who takes his orders directly from Congress and the "American public").
No matter. The President is standing firm, as are many of his generals, and the vast majority of the fighting men and women who are actually doing the fighting in Iraq.
That will leave the Democratic Congress no choice than either to temper their opposition to the war, or try to cut off funding. It is unimaginable that they could muster the courage, or the wisdom, to do the former. Out of unmitigated hatred for George W. Bush they have created the anti-war monster, and now must feed it with something or face being gobbled up in its maws themselves.
Ted Kennedy’s older brother, on ascending to the presidency, famously declared, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Compare that with Ted Kennedy’s policy towards the struggling democracy in Iraq, (or as it is known to staffers by its pet name, “Kennedy to Iraq: Drop Dead!”) For that matter, compare it with JFK's ability to speak:
“We should help them. And the best way to help them is to de-escalate. I’ve listened to my friend and colleague, Senator McCain, say “Well, we don’t—the Democrats don’t have a policy.” We haven’t tried a policy of de-escalation. They all say, “Look, let’s just have escalation, let’s have surge, let’s increase. Because if we don’t, we haven’t got a policy.” The fact remains, as we heard from General Abizaid before the Armed Services Committee, after consultation with the General Dempsey and military officials, that they didn’t believe that they had any additional troops. They thought that this would increase the cycle of violence. They point out that we’re a further crutch for the Iraqi government. Let’s have a—the policy that we haven’t tried, which is de-escalation. That’s a policy which I believe then will require the Iraqi government to assume responsibility for their security, rather than now sending additional troops which will be an additional crutch for the Iraqi government in delaying their judgment decision in order to take the security.”
Alas. So much for bearing any burden, paying any price, and supporting any friend for the survival of liberty. Vive le de-escalation!
All President Bush needs for his spot in history is to stick by his principles. On this issue, he has never once wavered. This doesn’t mean he’ll win in the end. Nor that we’ll win in Iraq. Congress can simply vote to ruin it all, as they did once before in Vietnam, with Ted Kennedy’s substantial contributions.
But no matter what happens now, these Democrats were doomed to lose from the day they made their compact together to set sail on this foolish course--set sail in a ship without any rudder.