One of this week’s more notable Washington events flew under the media radar save for “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and a few conservative Web sites.
Vets for Freedom, a “pro-mission” band of Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans, took to Capitol Hill to try to convince senators that the mission in Iraq is worth the effort. We applaud this group’s effort in the political war to support the real war. It’s a telling sign of the parlous state of the Iraq debate that a group like this, focused solely on sustaining the war policy and consisting of first-hand witnesses to the war, has to exist.
Most of the 25 or so who came to Washington are combat veterans, some of them wounded. Alongside them were the father of a Marine killed in action in Iraq and supportive veterans of all ages. They knocked at the office doors of Sens. John Warner, James Webb, Carl Levin, Barbara Boxer and dozens of others on the opposite side of this war debate. Most weren’t available. They also were met in person by two Iraq stalwarts, Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Nine senators showed up at an afternoon press conference, including Joe Lieberman and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mr. Warner met the Vets in person. The meeting was reportedly icy, but the Virginia Republican deserves plaudits for granting them hearing. The usual Hill recourse to unscheduled groups with an unwelcome message is polite notice that the senator is a busy man (or woman), and he just can’t meet you right now.
Two of the group’s messages cannot be highlighted enough. The first is that Washington’s penchant for re-arguing the decision to enter Iraq is utterly irrelevant to the most important Iraq question right now. It is not enough to argue that al Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq before the invasion. It’s surely there now, and people who turn their backs on Iraq could not also be serious about combating al Qaeda. The terrorists consider that country the prime current battleground. We cede it at our peril.
The second message is that the surge is a serious improvement over previous efforts in Iraq. It deserves a chance, and it is beyond hypocritical for Congress to undercut it. This Congress confirmed Gen. David Petraeus by an 81-0 margin to be commander in Iraq with a mandate to keep fighting. That they have gone wobbly before the surge is fully in effect says everything one needs to know about this Congress and nothing much about the general. “You can’t create D.C. timelines for what’s going on Baghdad,” the head of Vets for Freedom, Army National Guard First Lt. Pete Hegseth, told “Harball” on Wednesday. “As a soldier who has been there and seen what this strategy can do, [the surge] has the opportunity to bring about real change, finally,” he also said.
Here’s hoping a first-hand, personal approach to the Iraq debate can turn some heads which otherwise would not.