Thursday, August 19, 2004
The Hammer Gets Screwed
They call Tom Delay "The Hammer" for a reason. If a legislator strays from the fold, and toys with the notion of casting a vote of conscience against the Party's directives, Delay, and others, are there to "hammer" the errant lawmaker back into shape. Just ask Nick Smith, a Republican congressman from Michigan and longtime deficit hawk who was opposed to the staggeringly expensive Medicare prescription-drug law (and that opposition came before the true costs of the law were revealed - thanks to the suppression of Richard Foster's evidence). Since Smith was retiring at the end of his term, and thus was not dependent on funding from the central Party, Hastert, Delay and others threatened to withhold funds from the campaign of Smith's son who was planning a run for Congress himself. If, however, Smith would change his vote to yes, his son would be rewarded. Feeling the pressure, and fearing for his son's political future, Smith did in fact vote yes.
The Smith story does indicate the one weakness that the disciplinarians like Delay have: how to deal with lawmakers that are retiring and are no longer beholden to the necessities of financing a campaign and the dependence on the coffers of the RNC that results. How do you muzzle an outgoing politician who wants to set the record straight or speak his mind and conscience? Presumably, they won't all have sons or daughters preparing for a run themselves.
This brings us to the recent revelations contained in a letter from retiring Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb) to his constituents, as reported by the AP via the New York Times and the Lincoln Journal Star. But first some background:
Bereuter is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee and vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is stepping down after 13 terms to become the president of the Asia Foundation, effective Sept. 1.That's quite an impressive resume. He was elected 13 times, and he holds two impressive committee memberships. Furthermore, his record in Congress is not exactly a moderate or liberal one (in the Republican context of course), thus it should come as no surprise that he voted in favor of the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq. With that in mind consider his assessment of Iraq as expressed in the letter to his constituents. Bereuter states:
As to the causes for the faulty intelligence, Bereueter doesn't pull any punches: "Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action."
Iraq was unjustified and that the situation there has deteriorated into "a dangerous, costly mess."
That's especially true in view of the fact that the attack was initiated "without a broad and engaged international coalition," the 1st District congressman said.
"I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action."
"Knowing now what I know about the reliance on the tenuous or insufficiently corroborated intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial WMD (weapons of mass destruction) arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified."
Bereuter goes on, stating:
Alright Congressman Bereuter, but why don't you tell us what you really think? In a sense, these statements provide a spark of hope for the restoration of my faith in the individuals if not the system. I get the impression that this is what it looks like when GOP politicians, untethered from the financial influence of the RNC, speak their mind. This is how Bereuter described his purpose: "I felt I should send you a forthright update of my views and conclusions on that subject before I leave office."
In addition to "a massive failure or misinterpretation of intelligence," the Bush administration made several other errors in going to war.
"From the beginning of the conflict, it was doubtful that we for long would be seen as liberators, but instead increasingly as an occupying force," he said. "Now we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess, and there is no easy and quick way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger future problems in the region and, in general, in the Muslim world."
"American and coalition forces were inadequate in number to take effective control of Iraq when the initial military action was completed," he said. Other mistakes included disbanding the Iraqi army and placing responsibility for reconstruction with the Department of Defense instead of the Department of State, he said.
"The cost in casualties is already large and growing," he said, "and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible.
Congress and the administration "must learn from the errors and failures" related to the attack and its aftermath, he said."The toll in American military casualties and those of civilians, physical damages caused, financial resources spent, and the damage to the support and image of America abroad all demand such an assessment and accounting."
Bereuter concluded that, as a result of the war, "our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances are weakened."
The critique of the President's decision to invade Iraq is that much more damaging considering the speaker, and it is one that Karl Rove and his coterie, who put a premium on loyalty, are none too pleased about. Maybe they should start encouraging Congressional sons and daughters to begin careers in politics. It would give new meaning to "Young Republicans."