Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Senator Nelson Placed Front and Center on Iraq War Debate

Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson was put at the forefront of the Iraq war debate by Harry Reid last week.

Three aspects of this development are of particular interest.

First is that Harry Reid may be softening his stand on the insistence for a mandated timeline/date for withdrawal. Senator Nelson has refused to accept the random, catastrophic dates certain for withdrawal that Reid has so irresponsibly demanded. His new willingness to place Senator Nelson out in front on the issue may be a sign that he too has finally come to accept a more responsible position.

The second is the Senator’s position itself, presented in his weekly column.

In his column, the Senator gives our troops and their implementation of The Surge an “A+.” He praises the successful effort in saying “The plan, executed by General David Petraeus, is a resounding achievement.” I agree.

He then lays out an argument that the Iraqi’s have failed to reach the benchmarks established a year ago, giving the Iraqi national government an “F,” noting they’ve only reached 1 of 8. Fair enough, but it must also be noted that this week they reached another benchmark, the legislation for deBaathification. They’ve also been implementing yet another, oil revenue sharing, although the legislation which would check the box for the benchmark has not been passed.

Still another, local leadership via provincial elections, has occurred without the elections having taken place. It has happened within the context of Iraq’s tribal system. Here again we have no official action by the government, but have realized dramatic progress toward local leadership consistent with the intent of the benchmark. The Iraqi people are becoming empowered of their own accord.

There are two sides to the argument. The Senator’s view on the benchmarks is understandable. They are a measuring stick, but also the political corner that success has been painted in to.

There is success, regardless of the given benchmarks, and it appears the much desired political solution is likely to occur outside their parameters. Either way, the tremendous progress consistent with, but outside the confines of the benchmarks can not be ignored.

Senator Nelson then calls for a transition of the mission for our troops, recommending they keep fighting terrorists, maintain Iraq’s border integrity, protect American assets and personnel and train Iraqi soldiers; all missions with merit.

At present, most of what our troops are focused on is training Iraqi’s and fighting terrorists, either kinetically or by other means. The Senator’s proposal is not unreasonable and not inconsistent with what we’re already doing in Iraq.

So why then call for any transition? Would it actually change what we’re already doing? Not really in many cases, so why more legislation?

Because some see us fighting the war against terrorists and others simply see us as propping up a government. The reality in Iraq is that the two are currently inseparable.

So reconciliation is needed here at home, as is the legislation allowing us to stay in the fight against terrorists and prevent a forced, catastrophic withdrawal. The goal is to find a way forward here at home that allows Iraq to move forward, garners us a position of strength, and meets our national security needs.

The other challenge is that in doing so we may venture into setting a precedent for Congress to dictate war strategy, a very dangerous road for us to head down.

The Senator then sums up his position in closing with, “I do not support immediate withdrawal of American troops or setting hard dates to withdraw…,” and reiterates his view that, “The American commitment is not open ended and at some point Iraq needs to assume more responsibility for their government, their security, and their future...” Fair enough.

The final aspect of these developments is the press coverage surrounding the Senator’s new place in the debate. For whatever reason, the creative selection of his comments by the press gave the impression that he’d morphed himself into the new Cindy Sheehan.

Sure the Senator has called for a transition and provided some tough words for the Iraqi government and the President, not all from his column were included above, but neither had he suddenly become clueless or defeatist as some reporters and his opposition portrayed him.

By news stories alone there was reason for pro-victory Nebraskans to be upset with him, until you spoke with his office, and until you read and studied his words in full context, not those selected for you.

Not only was this week’s coverage a study of the press itself, but also a study in the complexity of the war in Iraq, the politics surrounding it, and the need for further analysis and a more detailed understanding than the headlines and sound bites will ever provide.

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