From the Chicago Tribune:
Following a heated all-day debate on the Senate floor that pitted combat veterans against combat veterans and one former secretary of the Navy against another, lawmakers rejected a proposal to require giving U.S. troops as much time to rest at home as they spend in theater overseas.
Democratic leaders had believed that the amendment, offered by a former Navy secretary, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), was the best path for ending the war in Iraq and forcing the administration to quickly bring the troops back home.
But the Bush administration put intense pressure on Republican senators to reject the proposal, threatening to veto the legislation and warning that it would inexorably harm the ability of military leaders to run the war.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a staunch critic of the war who co-sponsored the Webb amendment, said Wednesday’s outcome means Republicans will continue to stick with Bush for at least the rest of the year.
The measure, which would have applied to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, would have required that they spend as much time at home as they spend in theater. Members of the National Guard or Reserve would be guaranteed three years at home before being sent back. Most soldiers now spend about 15 months in combat and about 12 months at home before being redeployed.
Throughout the day, Webb, Hagel and other senators pleaded for the well-being of the troops. They noted a sharp rise in the divorce rate in military families; they pointed to alarming suicide rates and they recounted missed birthdays, anniversaries and first steps of young children.
“This amendment would provide a safety net to our men and women in uniform by providing minimum and more predictable time for them to rest and retrain before again deploying,” said Webb, a Marine who was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam.
Success seemed within reach as one Republican after another said he or she was considering a ‘yes’ vote. Seven Republicans voted for the amendment in July, and Democrats believed they needed just three more votes to win.
But Webb’s hopes were dashed when Virginia’s other senator, Republican John Warner, another former secretary of the Navy, said he would switch his vote and oppose the amendment. As a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee and an influential figure in the Senate, Warner stopped other Republicans from joining Webb.
In a statement released after the vote, Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said:
“In blocking this bipartisan bill, Republicans have once again demonstrated that they are more committed to protecting the President than protecting our troops. They have shown they will allow President Bush’s flawed war strategy to continue to strain our military rather than allow the availability of troops to dictate our operations. And they believe it is in our national security interest to push our brave troops and their families beyond their breaking point.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in recent months has said, that he, too, believed this month — given the general’s accounts — would be a deciding point for him, issued this statement after the vote:
“All of us agree that our forces must be rested, trained and equipped, which is why this underlying bill continues the expansion of the nation’s Army Corps and Marine Corps. However, to tie the hands of our military commanders to deploy forces is a dangerous precedent.”
But then, Warner explained how officials at the Pentagon had convinced him that Webb was wrong to try to extend troops’ rest times. “I say to my good friend from Virginia, I agree with the principles that you’ve laid down in your amendment, but,” he concluded, “I regret to say that I’ve been convinced by those in the professional uniform.”
After that, senators went through the motions of deliberating — “We’re struggling and groping,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) — but it was just for show. Warner had sealed the fate of the debate — and, for now at least, the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Warner arrived toward the end of the vote. He lingered at the clerk’s table to admire his handiwork: The antiwar senators had 56 votes, four short of the number they needed.
Allow me a short personal message to Senator Warner:
You will be retiring next year. There was no political damage for you to fear. You don’t have to worry about protecting your senate seat. However, you, someone who touts his service in World War II and in Korea on your website and must know the horrors of war, voted against something that you know is right and decent. You waited until the very last minute to tell your fellow senator from Virginia about your change of mind–I won’t say change of heart, because I don’t believe that you felt in your heart–that you were doing the right thing by voting nay. You have been given the gift of a long life. How many soldiers will not be as lucky because of your decision? You are old. You are rich. You never have to worry for the rest of your life where your next meal will come from, whether you will have a place to live, if you will be able to afford medical care. What did the White House or the Rethuglican zealots use to arm-twist you into changing your vote?
Senator Warner, you are not an honorable man. May your life in retirement be only as peaceful as that of the next family who loses a loved one in Iraq due to your vote. May you never have another day with a clear conscience.