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"America Is So Much Better Than This"

When the matter of naming Condoleeza Rice to replace Secretary of State Colin Powell came before the U.S. Senate, at least one senator stood up and castigated the Bush foreign policy and the abuse of U.S. power.
 
 
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Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) has the unique distinction of being the lone dissenter in the Senate on the vote approving the Patriot Act. He also was among a handful of Senators opposing the resolution to authorize the Iraq war. And last month, he won re-election, beating his well-financed Republican opponent 55-44 percent. On Nov. 18, when President Bush's nomination of Condoleeza Rice to replace Secretary of State Colin Powell came before the U.S. Senate, Sen. Feingold stood on the Senate floor and, in his characterestically forthright manner, spoke the following words.

Mr. FEINGOLD: On Tuesday, the President announced the nomination of National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to be the next U.S. Secretary of State.

I admire Dr. Rice's obvious intellectual gifts and her communication skills, and I congratulate her. I also believe that the president has the right to appoint cabinet officers who reflect his ideology and his perspective. Barring serious concerns about a nominee's qualifications or ethical record, and in keeping with Senate practices and precedents, my inclination is to give the president substantial deference in his cabinet choices, so I do expect, barring something unforeseen, that I will be supporting Dr. Rice.

But I am deeply troubled by the signal that this nomination appears to send — a signal suggesting that the modest moderating influence of the State Department over the last four years will disappear, and that the next four years will be guided even more closely by the voices that shouted loudest in the first term, and that led our country into seriously flawed foreign policies. Our country cannot afford to continue down the foreign policy path that was forged during the first term of the Bush administration.

Over the past four years, we have witnessed the greatest loss of a very valuable type of American power in our history: our power to lead, to persuade, and to inspire. As Joseph Nye has pointed out, this power will not convert the extremists who oppose us no matter what. Those people must be eliminated, pure and simple. But it can thwart their plans, by denying them new recruits, undermining their appeal and their message, and unifying, rather than dividing, Americans and the rest of the international community. Rather than bolstering this asset, which has helped to make us the most powerful country on earth, I'm afraid we have squandered it.

In March, the Pew Research Center found that one year after the start of the war in Iraq, "discontent with America and its policies has intensified rather than diminished" across the world. Majorities in Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Turkey believe that the U.S. is exaggerating the terrorist threat. They doubt the sincerity of the U.S. war on terrorism and say that it is an effort to control Mideast oil and dominate the world. The Center found that "at least half the people in countries other than the U.S. say as a result of the war in Iraq they have less confidence that the United States is trustworthy. Similarly, majorities in all of these countries say they have less confidence that the U.S. wants to promote democracy globally." Our motives are questioned, our public justifications and explanations viewed with skepticism, and our post-9/11 public diplomacy efforts have too often missed the mark, substituting pop music broadcasts, brochures and videos for the kind of respectful dialogue and engagement that could convince generations of angry young people that their humiliation is not our goal.

We have had over three years since Sept. 11, 2001, to think strategically about how to win the fight against terrorism. But I'm afraid we have little to show for this time.

We have relied upon a doctrine that fails to recognize that our enemies do not rely on explicit state sponsorship of terrorism. By focusing primarily on possible state sponsors of terror, the administration failed to realize that our terrorist enemies operate effectively in weak and failing states and without the backing of national governments. This is a new enemy waging a new war against us, but the administration appears still to be stuck in an old cold war mindset.

We have muddled our language and our focus by conflating other priorities with the fight against terrorism, costing us credibility around the world and shattering the unified and resolved global coalition that emerged to support us in the aftermath of 9/11. By choosing to fight the war in Iraq in such a divisive and astronomically expensive fashion, we have diverted resources away from the fight against the terrorist networks that seek to destroy us and undermined our ability to win the hearts and minds of many whose support we will need to succeed in the long run. We have recognized the dangers of nuclear proliferation in an age of terrorism, but have then pursued policies that may well create incentives for states to develop nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.

We have developed essentially no measures of success or failure when it comes to one of our most urgent priorities, as the 9/11 Commission underscored — preventing the continued growth of Islamist terrorism. In fact, we do not even know where we stand today in this vital struggle.

We have not given any serious thought to how to avoid the mistakes of the Cold War, when we gave a free pass to forces of repression and brutality, as long as they did not come with a Communist bent. Those mistakes, as we all know, actually helped to make Afghanistan the brutally repressive terrorist haven that it was on 9/11/2001.

We have not made an adequate investment in bolstering our diplomatic resources and engagement around the world. From Northern Nigeria to Eastern Kenya, we have virtually no presence. In Somalia, despite knowing that al Qaeda-linked terrorists have operated in the country, we simply failed to develop any policy at all.

While the administration's policy was failing on all of these fronts, the president's team was devoting its time and attention to selling the world and the American people a war in Iraq with fundamentally flawed intelligence, manipulative and misleading characterizations, and rosy predictions that proved horribly, dangerously off-the-mark.

The administration's Iraq policies in the first term painted a picture of an American government that isn't so sure it rejects torture; that isn't competent and careful enough to properly vet intelligence presented in major speeches and briefings; that willfully rejects the lessons of history and the advice of its own experts; that is surprised when disorder results in massive looting; that misleads taxpayers regarding the costs and commitments entailed in its policies; that spends billions upon billions without any effort to even budget for these extremely predictable costs; and that is willing to politicize issues fundamental to our national security in the ugliest possible way.

We deserve better. Certainly the brave men and women of the U.S. military who are fighting every day to make this effort in Iraq work deserve better. We do not honor them by accepting lousy, irresponsible policy in the halls and hearing rooms of the Capital and then leaving our soldiers holding the bag on the ground, when policy collides with the hard truth.

The administration's record of the past four years suggests a foreign policy careening out of control, driven by ideologues who want to test their theories in the laboratory of the Middle East one minute, by domestic political considerations the next, and by spiteful attempts to punish those who disagree with their methods the next.

Where is this going? Who is in charge? Who knows? No one ever seems to be held accountable for the blunders, the failures, the wildly inaccurate presentations and projections or the painfully ineffective initiatives. Congress cannot simply accept more of the same, keep our heads down and hope that somehow we will muddle through. The stakes are far too high. Our national security, the stability of the world that our children will inherit, our troops — even our country's honor — are on the line. Congress has an obligation, not to oppose every administration effort, but to reassert our role in helping to steer the ship of state wisely rather than recklessly. I look at our foreign policy over the past four years, and I know that America is so much better than this.

I look forward to the opportunity to raise these concerns with Dr. Rice when she testifies before the Foreign Relations Committee, and to receiving some assurance that she will work with Congress to put our country's foreign policy on a better, more effective footing.