Justifying the war

Reid and Heller defend their votes for the war in Iraq, then and now

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid is taking the position that there is no reason for him to regret voting for war in Iraq.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid is taking the position that there is no reason for him to regret voting for war in Iraq.

Photo By David Robert

Nevada voters may oppose the Iraq war by two to one, according to a survey last month, but two of Nevada’s congressmembers are still defending their votes for the war.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid surprisingly continued to defend his 2002 vote to go to war, and U.S. Rep. Dean Heller said he did the right thing in voting last month against an end to the war.

“That was an easy vote for me,” Reid told Las Vegas editor Steve Sebelius, citing the Bush administration’s flawed intelligence.

“Based on that, I knew I’d done the right thing,” Reid said. “If I had those facts and I didn’t know what I know now, I’d have done the same thing.”

At the time of that Oct. 11, 2002 vote on House Resolution 114 to authorize the use of force in Iraq, however, there were already hints that the Bush administration was playing games with intelligence. On Sept. 5, five weeks before the vote, the Senate Intelligence Committee discovered that Bush had never asked for an estimate of the threat from the CIA before making extravagent claims about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. On Sept. 8, Vice President Cheney claimed that one of the September 11 hijackers had met with a high-ranking Iraq official, an allegation the CIA called unsubstantiated.

So Democrats had warning of intelligence problems before the U.S. invasion and voted for war anyway. They cast those votes without waiting for the results of U.N. inspections that had begun in September. There was no urgency to an October vote; the war did not start until five months later.

Christmas in March
Heller was one of 198 out of 212 House Republicans to vote last month against House Resolution 1591, which would have set a September 2008 deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. Among Democrats, 216 out of 218 voted for it.

The resolution, also called the “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act,” was a grab bag of legislation, and Southern Nevada Rep. Jon Porter, a Republican, hung his “no” vote on that, saying it was unseemly to vote on an issue of such moment in a bill that also contained pork barrel projects. But Heller criticized the measure directly and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi personally, calling it “General Pelosi’s cut-and-run bill.”

“I think the people who should be calling the shots are those commanders in the field,” Heller said.

Nevada’s third House member, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, voted for the measure. She said she supported it because George Bush has never spelled out any kind of plan or blueprint for accomplishing U.S. goals in Iraq and thus “wants to send 20,000 more U.S. troops into a civil war with an open-ended mission and a bulls-eye on their back, and I do not support his policy.”

One indication that the war is no longer a good Republican issue is that neither Heller nor Porter posted explanations of their votes on their Web sites, but Berkley did.One of two Democrats who voted against the measure was presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, a longtime critic of the war. He opposed it because it allows the Bush administration to continue the war: “The Democrats should have … come up with a plan to get out of Iraq, not one that’s going to keep us there a year or two.”

Porter’s complaints about non-germane items being attached to the “emergency” measure were borne out by a reading of the measure.

Democrats, who complained about Republicans using a troop-funding measure to slip through the Real ID program, freely used this troop-funding bill to enact amendments that subsidized dairy farmers ($95 million), sugar beet growers in Minnesota ($24 million), a sugar cane cooperative in Hawaii ($3 million), spinach growers in California ($25 million), peanut storage in Georgia ($74 million), breeding and transport of fish ($5 million), “ewe lamb replacement and retention” ($13 million), Mormon cricket eradication ($20 million), guided tours of the U.S. capitol ($3 million), renovation of congressional office buildings ($16 million), and repair of irrigation ditches ($2 million). These kinds of something-for-everyone pork bills are often called Christmas tree bills, and, in this case, it was literally true: $40 million was provided for a “tree assistance program,” and the bill defined trees as including Christmas and other ornamental trees. The bill also contained $100 million for the Democratic and Republican national nominating conventions next year.

The Mormon crickets item was sponsored by Reid.

The International Herald Tribune published a line-item list of the amendments and headlined it “Pork goes to war.”

Many amendments were filed without text to explain their purpose any sooner than necessary: “Purpose will be available when the amendment is proposed for consideration,” read many of them.