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Friday, November 18, 2005
How Would You Vote?

This evening, the House is scheduled to vote on H.Res. 571, "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of US forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." Essentially, the choice is to affirm support for our continuing military mission in Iraq or to insist that the President pull the troops out and bring them home. California Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican representing much of San Diego County, introduced the resolution today, and the House passed H.Res. 572, in a mostly partly-line vote, to bring it (H.Res. 571) to the floor quickly, for an hour of debate and a roll call vote this evening. (That's a recorded vote, where every representative goes on record with his or her vote.)

It's not that Hunter wants to abandon our mission in Iraq; he will vote against his own resolution. It's that the Republicans want to force the Democrats to go on record on one side or the other. The media is representing this maneuver as a personal attack on Representative John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania), who has been saying that we should pack up and go home, but he's not the only one who has been saying it. Apparently, some of the Republicans decided they'd had enough sniping about the war from their Democrat colleagues, and it was time to get them on the record for or against the withdrawal they have advocated off the official record.

The resolution itself is not binding on the Bush Administration even if passed by the House tonight and the Senate sometime later. It is not a bill; it makes no law. It merely states an opinion in a formal way.

Undoubtedly some will vote for 571, but probably not very many. Let's assume, rather fancifully, that a representative is not interested in re-election, or thinks voting for immediate US withdrawal will not hurt his re-election prospects. He simply intends to vote the way he personally wants to vote -- and he wants to vote no. Here are all the coherent reasons I can imagine for such a vote -- and I call some of them coherent despite the fact that they involve embracing propaganda which opposes the facts:

  1. You don't think war is justified for any reason. Nothing is worth dying or killing for -- not freedom, not security, not prosperity, not property, not your own or your loved ones' lives. Nothing. (Obviously, whether personal convenience justifies killing an unborn baby is a separate question for most of the anti-war types.)
  2. You think the US is better off minding its own business and leaving the rest of the world alone. US security and prosperity can be promoted and protected entirely from within our own borders; we ought to stay home and let the rest of the world destroy itself if it wants to.
  3. You think the fact that US history is not pure as the wind-driven snow on all questions, but includes such things as slavery, bigotry, etc., means that we have no right to promote anything good (such as freedom) anywhere else in the world -- ever.
  4. You think the President lied about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction in order to get us into the war, therefore we should pull out of Iraq as soon as possible, regardless of the consequences to Iraq. It doesn't matter if we leave a mess behind which makes a few million people suffer; they don't elect any US officials. Besides, if things get really ugly after the withdrawal, that will just give you another thing to blame on the President.
  5. You think weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs might have justified the war, but it has been years, now, and we haven't found those programs -- and no other cause, such as Iraq's security and stability, or preventing Islamofascist use of Iraq as a regional staging area and huge propaganda coup, could possibly justify our continued presence there.
  6. You care more about your own personal and your own party's political power than you do about the welfare and security of the United States, the people of Iraq, the Middle East, or the world generally. It doesn't matter to you what happens in Iraq, as long as you can use it to score against the President and the Republican Party, for immediate and possible long-term political advantage.

Maybe there are some people in Congress who believe #1. If they do, fine. I think they're wrong, but it's not carved in stone anywhere that everyone has to agree with me.

#2 is astonishingly naive about how the world works, and pretty cold in its indifference to the welfare of anyone who doesn't happen to be American. But there are a few people who believe it, too.

#3, if applied at a personal level, would prevent anyone advocating anything good at all, ever, because we've all (with one noteworthy Exception), failed many times to live up to our own principles and ideals. This position insists either that we should, therefore, have no ideals or our own, or that we should keep them to ourselves completely to ourselves, because they are completely subjective and not based on any moral absolutes, because there are none. Some people believe this, too, because for nihilists it is somehow easier to believe in absolutely nothing than in anything else at all.

#4 is an indefensible position which shows an impressive resistance to facts and logic, besides making President Bush into some sort of genius. If you think he lied, meaning he knew the trutha and told us something else, you think he actually knew something was the case when every major Western intelligence agency, the United Nations, virtually every elected representative of either party in Washington, and even the previous administration all said just the opposite. You yourself have to be certain there were no WMD programs, that they weren't simply moved to Syria or Iran when war appeared on the horizon. But I'm waiting my breath -- or electrons, or whatever. My experience with the "Bush lied" crowd strongly suggests that they are not much interested in facts or logic on this point. They would much rather embrace a two-syllable slogan without reflection than engage their brains to acquire some knowledge and analyze the situation.

#5 is pretty cold, like #2, in its indifference to the rest of the world. How many mass graves do we have to unearth before putting Saddam out of power becomes a worthy outcome, whether we find any WMD programs or not? How long do we have to go without a major terrorist attack in the United States before we admit that fighting them in a hemisphere different from our own is much to be preferred? How many elections do the Iraqis have to hold before we can admit that things might already be better there than they were under Saddam, and that the Iraqi future has much greater positive potential than before?

Among Members of Congress, #1 one is relatively rare, I think. The logical, factual, and other problems with #2 though #5 are so overwhelming that I am inclined to believe, assuming that our representatives are mostly fairly intelligent people, that their real attitude in most cases is really #6. But it probably wouldn't be wise of them to admit it.

In the end, tonight's vote won't mean much. Few will vote for the resolution, and the anti-Bush / anti-war rhetoric won't recede much (if at all) or for long.

David Rodeback comments (later):

For what it's worth, the vote was 3 yea (in favor of immediate withdrawal) and 403 nay (against immediate withdrawal. Several others voted "present," meaning they were there but did not vote for or against the resolution, and several of the 435 House members were simply absent.

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