In Washington, where it is exceeding difficult to get the political players or the press corps to pay attention to more than one story at once, no0 one would suggest that it was "smart politics" to deliver a major address on the day that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay being forced to step aside after being indicted on criminal conspiracy charges.
But sometimes the work of Washington involves more than political games.
Sometimes it involves life and death questions of national policy. And it is particularly frustrating in such moments to see vital statements about the nation's future get lost in the rush to discuss the scandal du jour. To be sure, the well-deserved indictment of DeLay merited the attention it received. But the indictment of President Bush's "stay-the-course" approach with regard to the Iraq War, which was delivered on the same day by U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, should have gotten a lot more attention than it did.
At a time when too many members of Congress, in both parties, are afraid to address the crisis Bush's missteps, misdeeds, arrogance and intransigence have created, Feingold broke the silence in the Senate.
"I cannot support an Iraq policy that makes our enemies stronger and our own country weaker, and that is why I will not support staying the course the President has set," Feingold told the Senate on the same day official Washington was focusing all its attention on the trials of Tom DeLay
Feingold's declaration came as part of scathing assessment of the Bush administration's determination to continue pursuing failed strategies not just in the Middle East but internationally.
"If Iraq were truly the solution to our national security challenges, this gamble with the future of the military and with our own economy might make sense," explained the senator, who last month called for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country. "If Iraq, rather than such strategically more significant countries as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were really at the heart of the global fight against violent Islamist terrorism, this might make some sense. If it were true that fighting insurgents in Baghdad meant that we would not have to fight them elsewhere, all of the costs of this policy might make some sense. But these things are not true. Iraq is not the silver bullet in the fight against global terrorist networks. As I have argued in some detail, it is quite possible that the Administration's policies in Iraq are actually strengthening the terrorists by helping them to recruit new fighters from around the world, giving those jihadists on-the-ground training in terrorism, and building new, transnational networks among our enemies. Meanwhile the costs of staying this course indefinitely, the consequences of weakening America's military and America's economy, loom more ominously before us with each passing week. There is no leadership in simply hoping for the best. We must insist on an Iraq policy that works."
Feingold detailed concerns about the damage done to the U.S. military by pursuit of the misguided mission in Iraq. "The Administration's policies in Iraq are breaking the United States Army," explained the Wisconsin Democrat, who reviewed concerns about the stress placed on soldiers and their families and about shortfalls in recruitment for the armed services.
"Make no mistake, our military readiness is already suffering," Feingold explained. "According to a recent RAND study, the Army has been stretched so thin that active-duty soldiers are now spending one of every two years abroad, leaving little of the Army left in any appropriate condition to respond to crises that may emerge elsewhere in the world. In an era in which we confront a globally networked enemy, and at a time when nuclear weapons proliferation is an urgent threat, continuing on our present course is irresponsible at best."
While the military is taking a hit, Feingold noted, so too is the economy. Noting that all of the cost of the war -- "every penny" -- "has been added to the already massive debt that will be paid by future generations of Americans," Feingold asked, "How much longer can the elected representatives of the American people in this Congress allow the President to rack up over a billion dollars a week in new debts? This war is draining, by one estimate, $5.6 billion every month from our economy, funds that might be used to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina recover, or to help address the skyrocketing health care costs facing businesses and families, or to help pay down the enormous debt this government has already piled up."
Feingold remarks were more than a critique of the administration. They were a call to action for the Congress.
"Bush Administration's policies in Iraq are making America weaker," he told the Senate. "And none of us should stand by and allow this to continue."
Truer words have rarely been spoken in the Capitol -- especially in recent years. Feingold's call deserves the attention, and the encouragement, not just of responsible members of the Congress but of the great mass of Americans who know that something has gone very wrong in Iraq -- and Washington.