Friday, December 08, 2006

El Gordo Has His "Oh Shit" Moment on Iraq

There's only one traditional media reference to it that I've found so far [see update below...ed], at KOBI in Medford--nice job and way to pay good attention guys--but Senator Gordon Smith has apparently reached his breaking point, or his polling figures reached their floor point, or he's finally gotten the point--or something, because he made a nasty break with the President on Iraq down on the Senate floor yesterday. The best account I have right now is a partial transcription from a diarist at the Daily Kos, as it happened on C-SPAN2. It certainly jibes with the KOBI account, which is good because otherwise I'm not sure I'd believe what it's alleged he said:
"I believe the President is guilty of trying to win a short war"

"I am at the end of my rope of supporting a policy that has our soldiers controlling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs, day after day--that is absurd and it may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore."

"I want my constituents to know what's in my heart...I do not believe we can retreat from the Greater War on Terror...but I do believe we need a precence there [Iraq] in the near horizon...but we have no business being the policemen in a Civil War"

"The current course in unacceptable to this Senator"

"Rather than leveling with the American people...we tried to win it with few troops and too short a time...winning a war is different than winning a peace...I believe now we must redeploy in a manner that allows a way to continue to prosecute the larger war on will not be pretty and we will pay a price in world opinion, but I for one am tired of paying the price of losing 10 or more troops every day--so let's cut and run or cut and walk, but let's....[I forgot how he ended it]"

"I would have never voted for this conflict if I had reason to believe the intelligence on this was inaccurate"
I've highlighted the sentences I think are most notable, beginning with the stunning words "it may even be criminal." What may--the invasion? The prosecution? The evidence given for war? Whatever he meant, Jesus...I mean, you could have seen the talk radio outrage from space 18 months ago if some Democrat dared breathe the word "criminal" in public. Two years ago I suggested the invasion made the President a potential war criminal, and for my father in law, rest his soul, that was the line that took us from family debate to angry eruption. So I'm keen to see what reaction, if any, acquires from his comment here. It's a hell of a way to say, "you're on your own, George."

The three main keys in the words he's recorded as saying here, are that he 1) does not believe in the stated purpose of the current occupation; 2) does not favor continuing the current policy; and 3) favors alternatively a course of drawdown and eventual withdrawal from Iraq...sooner rather than later. So remember that as we go forward. This is as clear as it gets, and from here on out, Smith better behave as if he still believes these three things are true. No more perpetuating the bad cycle, right Senator?

An stupid but fitting nickname for Gordon based on his legislative habits would be "Two Minutes to Midnight" Smith. On issue after ticklish issue, Smith's position is that he has no position until the issue has time to flesh itself out. He consistently holds back on making any kind of determinative statement until the cat is well out of the bag with the rest of the Senate. Then he comes in right on the cusp of a definitive shift, and drops in on the side poised to win. Last year he stayed mum on privatization of Social Security for months until Bush was just about to abandon it, and at that moment finally decided he was opposed, too! Very brave, Gordon. And here we are, at two minutes before midnight on Iraq it seems, and the President finds himself surrounded by people divesting themselves of the massive policy failure he directed so many to follow and fall on their swords for. And so now, right on schedule as the policy appears on the verge of collapse and only an idiot couldn't see the war is a failure...heeeeeere's Gordon!

When things were looking good, Smith channeled the President like a pro. In late 2004 he was cocksure that the job in Iraq would be done before Bush left the White House, and why not? The President had had his "accountability moment," and credulous voters vouchsafed their approval with another 4 year gift. The Democrats made lots of noise but had no forum. It couldn't have been easier to back Bush then, and so that's what Gordon did.

Fast forward two years: the war has turned to shit on a stick like the rest of us predicted, it's going to be a long term hell if we don't just pack up now, and the electorate has seized on another "accountability moment" in 2006 to tell the President that status quo is a no go. In the wake of the ISG report, which some Democrats even had the happy nerve to criticize as a center-right hash that was missing half the picture, it's getting very close to every man or woman for themselves in 2008. The policy will change, and more will call for it on both sides of the aisle.

And guess who's up for election in '08? Yes, Gordon Smith. He's no idiot; he's known he's been on the bad side of this issue with Oregonians for a good long while. And you can bet he sees the writing on the wall, and has no intention of going down with the Bushtanic, thus the fiery rejection of him on the floor yesterday. It's a calculated attempt to once again earn bromides from the traditional media about how much of a maverick he is. But this was an easy call for Smith, and it's pathetically late, and grossly insufficient as an apology for all the non-maverick crap he's pulled in office.

If Smith is really on board by no longer being on board the Kool-aid train to hell in Iraq, welcome back to reality, Senator. But if you're thinking this is going to burnish your credentials as an innocent bystander who got led astray and recognized his mistake immediately, think again. You're not going to indignantly evade responsibility for your part in this mess, and that part will come to account in two years. For the sake of the nation I'm glad you've come to your senses, but for the sake of your seat don't count on many bonus points for this.

Update, 230pm--
OK, good--it wasn't just me who found a Republican senator's use of the word "criminal" in conjunction with Iraq policy kind of, y'know, notable. The story was repeated in a front page diary by Kos himself, and over at Josh Marshall's TPM Muckraker, they've graciously reprinted the entire text of the speech, AND supplied us with video of the event. Thanks to the commenters who helped point folks in the right directions for more information! The original Kos diarist did a pretty bang-up job getting the gist of it, so I'll leave that excerpt up and direct you to the complete versions here.