Friday, October 06, 2006

"Walter" Warner?

Anyone who has been half awake these last 43 months will have heard pundits making and refuting similarities between Vietnam and Iraq.

Now there is a new one. The Vietnam component is the last few moments of the February 27, 1968 CBS News segment “Report from Vietnam: Who, What, When, Where, Why?” In what some consider a seminal moment in television reporting, Walter Cronkite stated his belief that Vietnam could not be won militarily and warned that the United States had to change course. One month later, when he announced he would neither run for nor accept nomination for another term as president, Lyndon Johnson also announced a change in course that would lead to the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

John Warner, senior senator from Virginia, former Secretary of the Navy and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, met with reporters October 5 after returning from a trip to Iraq, Jordan, and Israel. Warner told the press: “I assure you, in two or three months, if this thing hasn’t come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it’s a responsibility of our government internally to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take?”

And in what must be the first time this formulation has been used in the context of NOT threatening to bomb some country back to the Stone Age, he added: “And I wouldn’t take off the table any option at this time.”

Warner, unlike Cronkite in Vietnam after Tet, is not quite ready to declare that the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily – as Senate majority leader Bill Frist did of Afghanistan last week. Warner said he is prepared to wait two or three months to see if the Iraqis can turn things around and do “what is necessary to bring about a situation in Iraq whereby the people are able to live, have sufficient food and fresh water, and have a sense of confidence in their government that they’re going forward,…We’re not going to give up hope yet. Let’s give it more time to work.”

Warner, among others in Congress, have “turned the corner” or identified “the next three to six months as critical” so often that I have lost count. But with the “permanent” Iraqi government still unable after six months on the job to rein in the armed militias, still unable to exercise the powers of a functioning and sovereign regime, and with the White House unable to imagine anything other than “stay the course,” Warner has suggested that Congress may have to make the “bold decisions” that will set the U.S. on a new direction.

In fact, in both the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Appropriations and Defense Authorization legislation, Congress has taken the first step by declaring that no funds will be spent to construct permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. The next step is to implement plans drawing down U.S. military forces, ramping up reconstruction funding and other assistance, and let the Iraqis actually govern themselves. It is, after all, their country; only they can make it work.

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