Yesterday, crusty old Senator John Warner (R-VA) said something that made a hell of a lot of sense, a stark contrast from the idiocy we’ve come to expect from our legislators. Perhaps because he’s considering retirement and gave up his presidential ambitions years ago, Warner seems to have come into the same kind of clarity of vision which possessed Zell Miller and Bob Dole towards the end of their careers. In this instance that clarity is focused on the situation in Iraq.
On This Week with George Stephanopolous, Senator Warner appeared with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) to promote their new amendment to the defense budget bill. What Warner pointed out is what has been blazingly obvious to observers for months, that the actual war in Iraq is over and that our role there has been one of peacekeeping for quite a while.
In that context, the Warner-Lugar amendment proposes that the 2002 bill which authorized the war and which the courts have declared the equivalent of a declaration of war, is effectively obsolete. The goals laid out in the AUMF have been accomplished, and a reasonable argument can be made that it no longer applies. Warner pointed out that the AUMF “really does not embrace what the missions are today and the missions that are likely to take place with our forces in the future.” So they are calling for the AUMF to be replaced with a new bill which would define the mission in Iraq as it is now in a more accurate way.
This doesn’t mean calling for withdrawal or setting a timeline. It doesn’t even mean we won’t stay there for a very long time. What it does mean is setting specific goals and guidelines to define what we’re trying to achieve in Iraq in the same way that the AUMF clearly defined what we were trying to accomplish when we invaded in the first place. Obviously, objectives which were appropriate for an invasive war don’t make much sense in what is clearly not an invasion. Saddam has been removed from power. The UN sanctions we were acting on are no longer in force. Warner is dead right when he says that the mission has changed and needs to be clearly defined.
As Lugar stressed in his part of the interview, we don’t need to wait for the progress report that’s due in September and we don’t need to sit on our thumbs waiting for the Iraqi government to get its act together. We can take action now by passing a clear and meaningful declaration of intent which replaces the AUMF and makes sense in the current context.
Warner also commented “we’re trying to force the president to change strategy now,” but it would be more accurate to say that they are trying to force the president to acknowledge that the strategy in Iraq has changed and to define how it has changed and where it is going. The administration has developed a reputation for being a bit out of touch with reality, and the efforts of these Senators to point them in the right direction may have some effect. With his sterling reputation as an elder statesman, Warner is hard for them to ignore or brush off.