By Sen. Robert Menendez
Last week on Capitol Hill was par-ticularly unsettling. As another 15 sons and daughters of America died in the crossfire in Iraq, as 130,000 American troops over there still saw no light at the end of the tunnel, as Osama bin Laden continued to control his own safe zone, and as the United States Senate debated a change of course, the news coverage and the political dialog zeroed in on... a newspaper ad.
A number of Republicans pointed to the ad in question while demanding, “Support the troops!” Then, they turned around and blocked a measure to give our troops time at home equal to their tours overseas a measure supported by the 360,000 member Military Officers Association of America. Apparently, the irony was lost on many.
And so it was another Iraq debate in Washington, perhaps the only place where the uproar over an advertisement can supplant the devastating reality on the ground. Meanwhile, buried in the who-said-what headlines about a newspaper ad was the fact that one of the most seminal weeks of the war came and went without nearly enough attention.
It was a week in which once-realistic hopes for a broad coalition needed to change course in Iraq were dashed. It was a week in which Senators whose consciences had seen enough of this awful war in July were suddenly pulled back in line with the president. And in the end, it was a week in which “stay the course” got another Republican stamp of approval.
Media interest in these developments appeared to have been sucked away by the fabricated controversy over the ad, as well as the skillfully orchestrated, if marginally accurate, PR surrounding “The Surge.”
With the true significance of the week muddled, many Republicans latched onto General Petraeus, hiding behind his personal poll numbers instead of facing the facts and images from the ground. With actions like this on the most important issue we face, the Republican Party is losing the public faith more each day.
Their staunch support for the president and this war means that they must be accountable for the failed policy and I believe that their constituents will take them to task. The more times they act to extend this dead-end war policy, the less they have in common with the American people.
Politically, that is an untenable place to be with the most important elections in recent memory a little more than a year away. But they chose a short-term political victory. They chose to back a president who lost credibility on this war about the same time he stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”, four and a half long years ago. And they will have to live with that.
Still, the electoral implications of the Iraq debate always take a back seat a far back seat to the more immediate life-and-death consequences. These are the consequences that were somehow glossed over last week.
Perhaps some have grown weary of the tangible results of our Iraq policy after all, this war has worn on our country and its psyche for years. Perhaps some in the media simply enjoy the peripheral maneuvering more than the reality of the Iraq war. Perhaps my party continues to fall short in our attempts to communicate the real meaning of these Iraq votes.
Whatever the reason, the story about one of the most seminal weeks of the war got buried. Because we still haven’t broken through, the real, human consequences of our votes on Iraq should be repeated again... and again, and again, until we all focus on what’s at stake and understand that a newspaper ad isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.
That’s why everyday, in everything we do, we should keep in our minds that 130,000 sons and daughters of America remain in the crossfire, with no prospects for coming home. That our military continues to be stretched thin to the point that it can’t adequately respond to other threats that may arise. That our national guard remains overused and overburdened to the point that it can’t properly respond to disasters here in the homeland.
That the terror training ground in Iraq remains fertile, and one day those trainees could be on our soil. That Osama bin Laden is back in business and continues to roam free in a safe zone along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
That thousands upon thousands of Americans fighting in Iraq won’t be sitting at the table this Thanksgiving... or the next one. And that some won’t see another Thanksgiving, period.
Bob Menendez grew up the son of immigrants in a tenement building in Union City. A product of New Jersey’s public schools and a graduate of the state’s universities, he has served as a school board member, a mayor and a state legislator. Since 1992, he has been fighting for New Jersey families in Washington, where he rose to become the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives before taking office in the Senate in 2006.
Repinted from the Huffington Post, September 26, 2007 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-menendez/no-time-to-lose-focus-of-_b_65859.html)