Winners and Losers From the Senate Debate on Iraq

Call it the slumber party that turned into a snoozefest. Just don’t call it a serious debate on the Iraq War.

That’s not to say that Tuesday night’s “filibuster” of the Levin-Reed amendment — which would have forced the president to begin extracting U.S. forces from Iraq within 120 days and to finish the withdrawal by April 30, 2008 — was a pointless exercise. Like so many political stage plays, it produced its own list of winners and losers.


1. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.): Lieberman has proven to be a strong advocate of winning the war in Iraq. Early on in the faux filibuster, he noted that “the fanatics that run Iran, who exhort the tens of thousands to shout ‘Death to America’ … don’t distinguish between Republicans and Democrats … and we should have the common sense, let alone the sense of responsibility to our country, to come together to defend our nation against those who want to destroy us.”

2. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.): Thune argued that if we shift troops to Afghanistan, the terrorists will simply go there to fight American soldiers. “We are taking on a lot of casualties in Iraq, because that is where they are killing our soldiers,” he said. “If we move troops to Afghanistan, they’ll start killing our troops there, because that is what they are and that is what they do. They are killers whose goal is to kill Americans, and they are going to keep coming at us. And I really don’t think sometimes our colleagues on the other side see this for what it is: a titanic struggle between good and evil. Between radical Islam and nations that cherish freedom.”

3. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): McCain has been taking heat for his aggressive and strong support of victory in Iraq. He made the most compelling and moving argument of the debate: “Nothing we have done for the last 24 hours will have changed any facts on the ground in Iraq or made the outcome of the war any more or less important to the security of our country. The stakes in this war remain as high today as they were yesterday; the consequences of an American defeat are just as grave; the costs of success just as dear. No battle will have been won or lost, no enemy will have been captured or killed, no ground will have been taken or surrendered, no soldier will have survived or been wounded, died or come home because we spent an entire night delivering our poll-tested message points, spinning our sound bites, arguing with each other, and substituting our amateur theatrics for statesmanship. All we have achieved are remarkably similar newspaper accounts of our inflated sense of the drama of this display and our own temporary physical fatigue. Tomorrow the press will move on to other things, and we will be better rested. But nothing else will have changed.


1. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.): Reid has engaged in partisan attacks that harmed prospects that the Defense Authorization bill would pass. Back in April, he declared that “this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week.” In disparaging sympathetic Republican senators and pronouncing the war to be beyond hope of victory, Reid has contributed to what Lieberman has called a "partisan exercise."

2. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): Feinstein appeared inordinately concerned with world opinion. Ending the war, she stated, would result in “improving the image of the United States and repairing the credibility to our image around the world. Does anyone believe, truly, that this war has gained us respect in the counsel of world nations? Does anyone believe that? Because if they do, they are smoking something.” Sen. Feinstein may think that mandating the withdrawal from Iraq would somehow project our nation in a good light, but most nations would perceive it as a weakness in the will of the American people to win the long war on terrorism.

3. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine): Snowe has joined those senators who oppose the surge. “It is difficult to see the wisdom of this current strategy without holding the Iraqis accountable,” she argued. Snowe concluded that “the time has come to speak out on behalf of the American people to say this current strategy is unacceptable.” In other words, she’s attempting to play commander in chief with our armed forces.

In the wake of the all-night “filibuster,” of course, the Senate did not end debate on the troop-drawdown amendment. Sen. Reid declared that he wanted Americans to know that “we won’t stop fighting until we end this war.” The public, meanwhile, has given Congress failing grades and bestowed on them the lowest approval rating ever given in the Gallup Poll’s history. Until the Senate and House stop the partisanship, these numbers will stay low — and our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.