Drowning in Iraq hyperbole

In a three-day war of words over Bush's surge, members of Congress got lost in sea of grandiloquence.

Published February 16, 2007 12:36PM (EST)

On Friday, the House is expected to vote on a nonbinding resolution rebuking President Bush's latest moves on Iraq. Over the last few days, members of Congress have fired off somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 words debating the merits of Bush's surge plan deploying 21,500 more troops. Amid all the indignation, pleas and recriminations, not a single politician has been at a loss for words. But that doesn't mean all the words have been original. Congressmen and women have squeezed "Bartlett's Quotations" dry as they argued over the war, quoting from everyone from terrorists to Nazis to a third-century North African philosopher. Witness, forthwith, some of the volleys in the war of words, from the occasionally grand, to the often grandiloquent.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.

The people of the world are intimately familiar with American history, especially with the following man. They know the words of Thomas Jefferson. "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness." They know Lincoln's words, "with malice toward none and charity for all." They know Martin Luther King Jr.'s words, "You should be judged by the content of your character."

Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.

Perhaps we can learn from the great Iraqi poet, Omar Khayyam, who in the Rubaiyat wrote: "The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,/ Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit/ Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,/ Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it."

Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio

Lincoln famously said, in 1858, that, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe, as Lincoln did then, that we must choose sides on a very critical issue. Then it was whether we should abolish the evil institution of slavery. Today it's whether we'll defeat the ideology that drives radical Islamic terrorism.

Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla.

The poet Robert Frost once wrote that, "The best way out is always through." We doggedly seek the way through: success in Iraq, security for our allies and everlasting victory for freedom. This week's discussion should be about the way through, not the way back.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y.

Dr. King, when speaking on Vietnam, once said, "A time comes when silence is betrayal."

Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

Could you picture Davy Crockett at the Alamo looking at his BlackBerry, getting a message from Congress? Davy Crockett, we support you. The only thing is we are not going to send any troops. I am sure that would really be impressive to Davy Crockett.

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis.

As the ancient author Lactantius said, "Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be."

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa

Now, we are in a war. Von Clausewitz wrote that the object of war is to destroy the enemy's will and ability to conduct war. That means take away their munitions, take care of their armies, destroy them if you can. But in the end, whatever you might do doesn't break their will. You have to destroy their will.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

Neville Chamberlain genuinely believed that he had brought "peace in our time" by washing his hands of what he believed to be an isolated dispute in what he termed "a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing." That country was Czechoslovakia, and Chamberlain's well-intentioned efforts to withdraw Britain from the problems in that faraway region only ensured that an immensely larger threat was thereby unleashed. The threat of Hitler did not appear suddenly out of a vacuum. The challenges that we face today thus have been building for many years.

Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C.

In 1938, Adolf Hitler told us what he was going to do, and we refused to pay attention. We cannot afford to repeat that historical mistake. This is not a Democrat and Republican issue. Our security is an American issue, and I hope we are going to start to act as Americans, like the American people expect us and want us to do.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.

As the late columnist Molly Ivins put it, "Iraq is clearly hubris carried to the point of insanity. It is damn hard to convince people you're killing them for their own good."

Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Penn.

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards described this resolution best when he compared it to a child standing in a corner, stomping his feet. This resolution may draw headlines, but it will not change a thing.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.

Let me tell you what Karen Hughes, who was speaking for then-Governor Bush, who is now President Bush, said about the nonbinding resolution. This was in the Washington Post, March 27, 1999. I quote Mrs. Hughes speaking for Governor Bush at the time, criticizing President Clinton, and this is a quote. "If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain that they have a clear mission, an achievable goal, and an exit strategy."

Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y.

Now, it is said during the Civil War that the great Southern general, Robert E. Lee, was really tired, and I think we can all relate to this, of the criticism, the second-guessing that was directed at his leadership through the major newspapers of his time. And he observed, "Apparently all my best generals had become journalists." Today, tonight, I think it can be fairly said of some, apparently all of our best generals have become congressmen.

Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C.

The noted British statesman Edmund Burke, while addressing solicitors at Bristol many years ago, said, "As your representative, I owe you my industry, but I also owe you my judgment. And if I sacrifice my judgment for your opinion," he said, "I have not served you well."

Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Thomas Paine had written: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered."

Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash.

In 1848, Abraham Lincoln was an often-criticized young freshman member of this body, the House of Representatives, and was facing a difficult point in his career. Lincoln criticized the reasons President Polk gave for getting us into the Mexican-American War, a war that began before Lincoln came to office, a position that I can identify with today as I stand here. Then-Congressman Lincoln voted for a resolution that stated the Mexican-American War was "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally" initiated by President Polk. Lincoln thought the war was nothing more than a political move to grab land from the Mexican people. My friends, it is legitimate and in fact our duty to question the reasons why our country goes to war, and Abraham Lincoln showed us that.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.

I want to end with another quote from Abraham Lincoln. In his farewell address to Springfield as president-elect, he said: "Today I leave you; I go to assume a task more difficult than that which devolved upon General Washington. Unless the great God who assisted him shall be with me and aid me, I must fail. But if the same omniscient mind, and Almighty arm that directed and protected him, shall guide and support me, I shall not fail, I shall succeed. Let us all pray that the God of our Father may not forsake us now. To him I commend you all. Permit me to ask that with equal security and faith, you all will invoke His wisdom and guidance for me."

Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn.

President Theodore Roosevelt said, referring to the presidency, and I quote him, "That there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and that this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in any American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President or that to stand with the President right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public."

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.

Winston Churchill's words of warning far preceded such tragic events. He said, "If you will not fight when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may be a worse moment. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory because it is still better to perish than to live as slaves."

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.

Let me quote from Osama bin Laden's fatwa. Listen to what these people tell themselves and each other: Quote, "There's no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land. No other priority except belief could be considered before it. There is no precondition for this duty. And the enemy should be fought with one's best abilities. If it is not possible to push back the enemy except by the collective movement of the Muslim people, then there is a duty on the Muslims to ignore the minor differences among themselves. Even the military personnel who are not practicing Islam are not exempted from the duty of jihad against the enemy."

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

My uncle said a generation ago: "If we examine the history of the conflict, we find the dismal story repeated time after time. Every time, at every crisis, we have denied that anything was wrong; sent more troops; and issued more confident communiques. Every time, we have been assured that this one last step would bring victory. And every time, the predictions and promises have failed and been forgotten, and the demand has been made once again for just one more step up the ladder. And once again the President tells us that we are going to win; victory is coming.'' My uncle Robert Kennedy made this statement in March of 1968. It took another five years and 37,455 American lives before a United States president was withdrawing Americans out of Vietnam and stopping that war.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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Iraq Iraq War Middle East U.s. House Of Representatives