Woolsey v. Hayden (And Biden)
September 15, 2005 - 9:23am ET
As someone who has observed the evolution of today's hearings (which you can watch live here ) from their conception months ago, one thing is vibrantly clear: The progressive wing of the Democratic Caucus is starting to get serious. But don't take my word for it. Look at the actions of two leaders on each side of the action: Tom Hayden and Joe Biden.
For a long time now, I've been calling for progressives to get serious about governing all of America and get out of the rut of protest ad nauseum. Today, Rep. Lynn Woolsey is taking a big step in that direction, and it has upset not one, but two, apple carts.
Tom Hayden's cries of betrayal were to be expected. In yesterday's Huffington Post, Hayden bemoaned the absence of any representative of the "social movements" from today's hearings. Unfortunately, Hayden had a hard time making his case:
I must note that while peace advocates originally proposed this hearing, their voices are missing from the witness list, with the exception of Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American. Those with the intelligence to have opposed this war from the beginning surely deserve a voice in discussions of how to end it. If this were a hearing on the status of women, women's advocates would have a voice in the proceedings. If this were a hearing on the state of African Americans, or the state of Latinos, there would be black and Latino representation at the table. But when it comes to making peace the peace movement is rarely if ever heard.
The first thing we should clarify is that Hayden may have another motive behind his anger. Hayden is not talking in the general about the absence of a representative of the peace movement being on the witness list. Rather, he is referencing the fact that he himself was removed from the witness list.
My sense is that there were some very good reasons why this happened. First, there's the politics of perception. I would imagine that the folks on the Hill who organized this hearing have as their goal to influence American policy in Iraq. Tom Hayden is the Pat Roberson of the left. Certainly, he has a following, but he brings too much baggage into a hearing that needs to be seen as a serious discussion of American foreign policy.
Second, the simple, sad fact I have observed over the past few months is that the American peace movement doesn't know how to make peace. I spent 12 years working in conflict resolution and peacebuilding in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans and the Caucasus. The peace movement here at home—which I should say helped energize the field of conflict resolution three decades ago—has not kept up since. The United Nations just agreed to create a landmark new "Peacebuilding Commission" yesterday—this was not the product of the peace movement, but the work of diplomats and NGO leaders who have struggled in decades of ethnic conflict and complex emergencies to figure out just how the international community can build a sustainable peace.
Now, Tom Hayden, to his credit, brings great experience from his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process. Indeed, his ideas for how to exit Iraq have greatly contributed to the debate so far. But the simple fact is that all this is overshadowed by his overwhelming role as a symbol of a movement that cannot grasp that their favorite slogan of "out now" will not equate to "peace now" (to be clear, I'm talking about the leadership of the movement in Washington and San Francisco, and not the millions of good folks who just want the killing, dying and deficits to stop).
Third, there's the politics of the Hill. Tom Hayden was replaced just before a room in the Capitol Building was secured. Now I don't know if there was some kind of quid pro quo here, but if I were faced with the decision to have Tom Hayden as a witness or get the enormous boost in legitimacy and press coverage that a real congressional hearing room confers, I would choose the room every time. It's a no-brainer.
That's just a mature political decision. And it's completely consistent with what I would want Rep. Woolsey and her staff to be aiming for: influencing the foreign policy of the United States, not continuing a tradition of martyrdom that warms the cockles of a movement but which can not hope to build real peace.
And that brings us to Sen. Joe Biden. Yesterday, in what I believe was an effort to defend his candidacy for president, Biden published an op-ed in The Washington Post. The article, "For Success In Iraq, Change Course," is a bald effort to steal Rep. Woolsey's thunder. In the article, Biden calls for regular oversight of Iraq and a drastic change in policy (see Bob Dreyfuss' article in today's TomPaine.com)—achingly familiar themes for those who have listened to the congresswoman from Petaluma over the last few months.
Biden, it seems, does not want to be led by a House member. Woolsey's success in not only organizing serious hearings but getting congressional real estate and prime-time C-SPAN coverage threatens Biden's leadership. As a result, Biden had to rush out a laundry list of positions that he and his staff must believe to be right—but before they wanted to come out against the president's Iraq policies.
Joe Biden's reaction, in my eyes, shows that the hearings have already succeeded in achieving their objective. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the most moderate Senate committee with oversight over Iraq, has now had to appropriate the serious policy alternatives that the simple prospect of Woolsey's hearings have brought to light. And that's one step closer to changing the policy of the executive branch.
In truth, this success has happened a lot faster than I ever expected. I believed that it would take months of media mastication or a large escalation towards civil war in Iraq for centrists such as Biden to come out in favor of a different policy in Iraq. But it's my guess that what may have been at play were the increasing grumblings from Sen. Chuck Hagel, presumed Republican candidate for president. Biden not only had to be able to say he was not led by Rep. Woolsey, he also had to beat Sen. Hagel to the punch.
So, sit back and enjoy the hearings, Tom and Joe. Rep. Woolsey has already won this round. And the power of progressive democrats acting strategically and responsibly has been unveiled.
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