Many will object to the establishment of interest sections with Vietnam. Some will claim that we are legitimizing the Hanoi regime and passing favorable judgment on its policies. The fact is that establishment of interest sections falls far short of diplomatic recognition, and certainly implies no approval of a nation’s policies. We refuse to recognize Fidel Castro’s government, for instance, but our interest section in Cuba has helped to solve various humanitarian issues over the last 11 years. In any case, for a variety of legitimate reasons, Washington recognizes governments with which we have profound differences, including the Soviet Union, South Africa and Nicaragua.
May 21, 1995: “Let’s Normalize Relations With Vietnam”
Good people disagree honorably over whether we are better able to promote civic freedoms in Vietnam from within or outside that country. But the United States does not have the power to isolate Vietnam. The Vietnamese are already developing complex relations with the rest of the free world. So instead of vainly trying to isolate Vietnam, let us test the proposition that greater exposure to Americans will render Vietnam more susceptible to the influence of our values.
Oct. 26, 1995: “Defense pork: Even a hawk would choke on it”
If the 1994 election revealed anything, it is that voters increasingly resent the presumption that they can be bribed into supporting our political fortunes. By eliminating these programs during their reconsideration of the measure, the appropriations committee members would demonstrate that the 104th Congress won’t ransom the nation’s security to our political security. Should we fail to convince the people that their defense is our first priority, we may well sacrifice their support for even a minimal level of national security in the future.
Feb. 20, 1996: “A Better Way to Fix Campaign Financing” (with Russ Feingold)
Our bill represents substantial, necessary change to the status quo — a status quo that has generated a reelection rate of more than 90 percent for members of the House and Senate. We know that the current system has served incumbents well, and we know what a daunting task it will be to persuade Congress to reform this system. But our appreciation for the political realities and constitutional impediments arrayed against reform will not extinguish our determination to achieve that reform, because we know that the consequences of failing to act are far more frightening than the contemplation of involuntary retirement.
Aug. 2, 1996: “Amity in Indian adoptions”
Many times, Congress, with the very best of intentions, has passed laws which had unanticipated, adverse effects on the people they were intended to protect. The agreement we have reached on amendments to the Indian Child Welfare Act is intended to rectify ICWA’s unintended consequences. The agreement respects the rights of Indians without risking the welfare of Indian children as a price of that respect. We need not impose on Indian children one or another deprivation — be denied your heritage or be denied a stable, secure home. These children, no less than any other children, deserve both cultural roots and loving parents.
June 24, 1998: “We Blew It”
Regrettably, it will take the states much longer to exact compensation from the tobacco industry than Congress could have by enacting comprehensive legislation. And every day that passes, 3,000 kids will begin a habit that will kill one-third of them. This is what the sponsors of the McCain bill worked so hard to avoid, and why we feel so bad that we failed to persuade a supermajority of senators to join us.
Dec. 17, 1998: “The Enduring Example of Mo Udall”
Mo was a liberal; I, a conservative. Mo was a 20-year veteran of the House, I was congressional newcomer from the other side of the aisle. He was the chairman, and I was the neophyte.
But it was Mo Udall who taught me the greatest and most enduring lesson of my political life. A man of uncommon decency who never let political differences ruin personal relationships, he reached across the aisle to help his very junior colleague from the minority party.
Nov. 19, 2000: “Ban the Soft Money”
When all the money that washed through this election cycle is counted, $4 billion or more will have been spent on federal and state campaigns, half again as much as was spent on all races in 1996. Voter turnout, up slightly from 1996, was still only a little more than half of all eligible voters. Most discouraging was the abysmally low turnout among voters age 18 to 29 — just 38 percent.
Clearly, the rushing stream of cash, coming in the form of huge, unlimited contributions known as soft money, has done precious little to encourage participation in our democratic processes. On the contrary, it has increased public indifference and cynicism by, among other things, underwriting much of the negative advertising that is intended to drive down voter turnout.
Nov. 16, 2001: “Business As Usual”
We face recession at home and a war abroad. This means that the resources of our country should be carefully used to fully fund our war effort and jump-start our economy. With a dwindling surplus, Washington is no longer awash in money, so the obvious thing to do is carefully target government revenues and spending for maximum impact — especially since the administration has stated that the war against terrorism will be protracted and will require significantly more funding for defense.
But already, Congress has doled out more than $9 billion in special earmarks for highly dubious and surely less than urgent projects never subjected to merit-based review. From killing aquatic weeds, breeding potatoes and renovating a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, to lavishing millions of dollars in earmarked grants on well-off universities with multibillion-dollar endowments, the road to Washington remains, as always, paved with gold.
May 22, 2002: “Probe Deep, and Fairly”
President Bush is a patriot. He responded forcefully to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. And had he known that enemies of the United States were planning to seize four passenger aircraft and crash them into American buildings, I’m sure he would have done everything in his power to stop them. We can also safely assume that Vice President Cheney is a patriot, and a watchful guardian of our national security. That said, the government of the United States, which they now have the privilege of leading, failed the American people in the weeks, months and years leading up to Sept. 11.
Oct. 24, 2002: “No Time To Sleep”
Serious people can differ honorably over the morality of feeding and funding a regime that starves, oppresses, tortures and kills its own people while threatening to destroy its southern neighbor, in order to prevent that regime from developing nuclear weapons. But there is scant moral refuge for those accommodationists who believe even today that we can concede our way out of this crisis. A decade of appeasement and assistance to one of the world’s worst regimes provided it the time and the means to develop weapons that now threaten America and our friends.
We had a choice in 1994. We now face a harder choice because we did not then meet our responsibility to end the challenge to American and Asian security posed by North Korea’s nuclear program. Similarly, we face a hard choice in Iraq today. But unless we act soon, we will face harder choices later, with costs that could be catastrophic.
Nov. 9, 2003: “How to Win in Iraq”
Iraq is not Vietnam. There is no popular, anti-colonial insurgency in Iraq. Our opponents, who number only in the thousands in a country of 23 million, are despised by the vast majority of Iraqis. The Iraqi insurgents do not enjoy the kind of sanctuary North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos provided. They do not have a superpower patron. These murderers cannot carry the banner of Iraqi nationalism, as Ho Chi Minh did in Vietnam for decades.
But if we are to avoid a debate over who “lost” Iraq, as we debated who lost Vietnam a generation ago, we must act urgently to transform our early military success into lasting political victory.
June 23, 2004: “It’s Happening Again” (with Mike DeWine)
Imagine that we could rerun the events that occurred in Rwanda 10 years ago. With the certain knowledge of horrific events to come, would the world’s great nations again stand idle as 800,000 human beings faced slaughter? If the recent expressions of grief and regret from world leaders are any indication, the answer is no — this time things would be very different.
Yet, in 2004, just as in 1994, the international community is on the verge of making a tragic mistake. Mass human destruction is unfolding today in Sudan, with the potential to bring a death toll even higher than that in Rwanda.
Sept. 10, 2006: “Rescue Darfur Now” (with Bob Dole)
As with Srebrenica in 1995, the potential for further mass killing in Darfur today is plain for all to see. All the warnings have been issued, including one from the United Nations that the coming weeks may see “a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale.” What remains unclear is only whether the world has the will to impose an outcome on Sudan different from that which unfolded so tragically in Bosnia. Make no mistake: At some point we will step in to help victims in Darfur and police an eventual settlement. The question is whether the United States and other nations will act now to prevent a tragedy, or merely express sorrow and act later to deal with its aftermath.
April 8, 2007: “The War You’re Not Reading About”
The new political-military strategy is beginning to show results. But most Americans are not aware because much of the media are not reporting it or devote far more attention to car bombs and mortar attacks that reveal little about the strategic direction of the war. I am not saying that bad news should not be reported or that horrific terrorist attacks are not newsworthy. But news coverage should also include evidence of progress. Whether Americans choose to support or oppose our efforts in Iraq, I hope they could make their decision based on as complete a picture of the situation in Iraq as is possible to report.
March 19, 2009: “Fighting Our Must-Win War” (with Joseph Lieberman)
The political allure of such a reductionist approach is obvious. But it is also dangerously and fundamentally wrong, and the president should unambiguously reject it. Let there be no doubt: The war in Afghanistan can be won. Success — a stable, secure, self-governing Afghanistan that is not a terrorist sanctuary — can be achieved. Just as in Iraq, there is no shortcut to success, no clever “middle way” that allows us to achieve more by doing less. A minimalist approach in Afghanistan is a recipe not for winning smarter but for losing slowly at tremendous cost in American lives, treasure and security.
Jan. 16, 2011: “Mr. Obama’s admirable speech”
I disagree with many of the president’s policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country’s cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals. And I reject accusations that Americans who vigorously oppose his policies are less intelligent, compassionate or just than those who support them.
Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate.
May 11, 2011: “Bin Laden’s death and the debate over torture”
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.
Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops, who might someday be held captive. While some enemies, and al-Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more conventional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.
Sept. 13, 2012: “How Neil Armstrong inspired a POW”
Our captors in Hanoi went to considerable lengths to keep us in the dark. They didn’t restrict our access to all news but were selective about the information they allowed to reach us. They routinely apprised us of antiwar protests, race riots, assassinations and the like. Reports were usually piped into our cells during Hanoi Hannah’s “Voice of Vietnam,” an often unintentionally funny, if repetitious, daily broadcast about America’s manifold sins and woes. …
Once in a while, the Vietnamese unwittingly let a little good news slip by. One evening, Hannah played a clip of a speech by a prominent American opponent of the war. It was a quick, throwaway line in a long list of diatribes about the war and the president. But we all caught it. The quote was something like: “President Nixon can put a man on the moon, but he can’t end the war in Vietnam.”
Yes, that was news to us, arriving years after the successful Apollo 11 mission.
Dec. 30, 2012: “Syria’s descent into hell” (with Joseph I. Lieberman and Lindsey O. Graham)
The world has failed to stop this slaughter. President Obama has declared that his “red line” is Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Many Syrians, however, have told us that they see the U.S. red line as a green light for Assad to use all other weapons of war to massacre them with impunity. Many of those weapons continue to be supplied directly by Iran.
Despite the U.S. government’s warnings, Assad has reportedly taken steps in recent weeks to prepare chemical weapons for use against his people. From everything we know about Assad’s regime, and considering that he has methodically escalated this conflict using nearly every other weapon in his inventory, does anyone really believe that this man is incapable of using chemical weapons?
July 12, 2013: “Cut off aid to Egypt” (with Lindsey O. Graham)
Egypt is not just any country. It is the heart and soul of the Arab world, and the stability of Egypt is a critical U.S. national interest. But we must recognize, as President Obama said, that “the best foundation for lasting stability in Egypt is a democratic political order with participation from all sides and all political parties — secular and religious, civilian and military.” That is all the more reason suspending U.S. assistance to Egypt is both right and necessary.
June 26, 2015: “The Russia-Ukraine cease-fire is a fiction”
No one in the West wants a return to the Cold War. But we must recognize that we are confronting a Russian ruler who seeks exactly that. It is time for U.S. strategy to adjust to the reality of a revanchist Russia with a modernized military that is willing to use force not as a last resort, but as a primary tool to achieve its neo-imperial objectives. We must do more to deter Russia by increasing the military costs of its aggression, starting with the immediate provision of the defensive weapons and other assistance the Ukrainians desperately need.
Dec. 22, 2016: “We have a stake in Syria, yet we have done nothing”
The words “never again” ring hollow as the city of Aleppo, Syria, has fallen to regime forces of Bashar al-Assad. A brutal siege that has ground on for years was finally brought to a bloody end by a surge of Russian airpower, Iranian shock troops and assorted regional militia fighters. As we eulogize the dead of Aleppo, we must acknowledge the United States’ complicity in this tragedy.
Aug. 31, 2017: “It’s time Congress returns to regular order”
Congress will return from recess next week facing continued gridlock as we lurch from one self-created crisis to another. We are proving inadequate not only to our most difficult problems but also to routine duties. Our national political campaigns never stop. We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important.
That’s not how we were meant to govern. Our entire system of government — with its checks and balances, its bicameral Congress, its protections of the rights of the minority — was designed for compromise. It seldom works smoothly or speedily. It was never expected to.
Jan. 16, 2018: “Mr. President, stop attacking the press”
After leaving office, President Ronald Reagan created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award to recognize individuals who have fought to spread liberty worldwide. Nancy Reagan continued the tradition after her husband’s death, and in 2008 she bestowed the honor on human rights icon Natan Sharansky, who credited Reagan’s strong defense of freedom for his own survival in Soviet gulags. Reagan recognized that as leader of the free world, his words carried enormous weight, and he used them to inspire the unprecedented spread of democracy around the world.
President Trump does not seem to understand that his rhetoric and actions reverberate in the same way. He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing “fake news awards” upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with. Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.