Donald A. Smith (ThinkerFeeler@yahoo.com)
On the evening of Sunday, Oct 7, 2007, the Eastside Democrats held a fundraising dinner in Bellevue. The main speakers were Senator Pat Murray and Maj. General Paul Eaton, an outspoken critic of the war and a former trainer of Iraqi forces – the same position once held by General David Petraeus. Senator Murray's speech was significant in that she acknowledged the controversy surrounding her support of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which has been criticized for containing language aggressive towards Iran. She defended her vote on Kyl-Lieberman and promised not to allow an attack on Iran. Gen. Petraeus, who is a charismatic personality, was blistering in his criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war.
But the most memorable events of the evening were comments shouted from the floor by emotional dinner guests.
First, some background. On the weekend before the dinner, two dozen local progressive activists penned a letter to Senator Murray expressing concern about her support of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. The letter had 26 co-signers, including 12 PCOs. At the Eastside Dems dinner we handed the letter to the Senator's State Director, John B. Engber (email@example.com, 206-553-5545). who was very approachable. We were unable to meet Murray in person (mostly because she came and left fast but also due to pressure from other Dems not to make a scene).
Engber said that he'd be with Senator Murray all week. I suggest that lots of people call Engber and tell him that we want this war to end, we want no war with Iran, and we want Democrats in Congress to stand up to the Republican bullies. Engber and Murray will listen to pressure. Senator Murray in her speech said that she welcomes criticism and pressure. (That was honorable of her.)
Here are some more detailed notes on the Eastside Democrats dinner at the Westin Sunday night.. I'm sure I've gotten some details wrong (e.g., ordering of some events), but the gist is correct. If you see any mistakes, please let me know.
It was the most dramatic, captivating political event of my life.
Senator Murray gave a strong speech. She began by welcoming criticism and said she appreciated complaints from constituents about what's happening. She seemed to acknowledge that we need to keep up the pressure. But she defended Dems against the charge that they have accomplished nothing (she listed raising minimum wage, her asbestos bill, veterans care bill, hearings, among other things). She acknowledged frustration about ending the war. She herself raised the issue of her support for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, as if she was anticipating opposition. Or maybe she heard from her staff members about our letter. She pointed out that she had refused to support the original language of the amendment because it basically authorized the President to attack Iran. She did not acknowledge that the remaining language is still aggressive towards Iran. Murray insisted that she would not allow an attack on Iran. She spent a lot of time criticizing the war and promising to work to end it.
At the end of Murray's speech, a late middle age man at my table stood up and shouted (in an insufficiently loud voice) a question for Murray. But the MC, Rob Estes, ignored the man.
Darcy Burner had a chance to speak. She spoke forcefully but, to be honest, I don't recall what she said, because what happened next was so dramatic.
A veteran of the 2nd Iraq War, a young man looking to be in his 20s, stood up and shouted out an interruption during Darcy Burner's speech. He was angry and emotional. He said he served in Iraq and he's angry. “How can the Dems claim to be opposing the war? They continue to fund it!! Why don't they just stop funding the war?” There was stunned silence, which I broke by applauding. (I think I was the only one to applaud.) Darcy Burner cut him off and continued. The man sat back down and lowered his head; obviously, he was seething. There was lingering discomfort in the air. Darcy finished her speech and introduced Major Gen. Paul Eaton, who served in Iraq and who spoke out loudly against the war. A google search shows http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/19/opinion/19eaton.html, which contains the Eaton's statement: "Mr. Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego..."
The first thing General Eaton did was to turn to the now sulking soldier who had interrupted Burner and to invite him up to the podium. Everyone applauded. The two soldiers saluted each other and then hugged. The General asked the soldier to approach the podium and speak. This was an extremely noble gesture on the part of the general, and everyone applauded. The soldier repeated his point about the option for Dems in Congress to cut off funding. He elaborated about the stupidity of the war and concluded by saying, "Do we [the Democrats] stand for something or not?".
Here's a YouTube video of the soldier's speech at the dinner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StOzqMvY9Kk .
The General said that, unfortunately, now that we're in Iraq we can't just pack up and leave. That would be disastrous for the troops and could expose them to dangerous attacks. Leaving a battle isn't as easy as it sounds, he insisted.
The man at my table yelled out in a louder voice that he too wants a chance to speak. This is supposed to be a democracy, he said, but only the General, and not the Dems, gave the soldier a chance to speak. The General said that he'd let the man ask a question later.
Eaton is a powerful, confident speaker. If I were a soldier, I'd want him as my general. Eaton was highly critical of Bush's conduct of the war. He listed ways in which Bush screwed up. He ridiculed Don Rumsfeld. He said that to do the job correctly in Iraq would take half a million troops (3 times more than what we have there now). He hoped not only that Democrats win in 2008 but that the Republicans are decimated at the polls. Applauds. My girl friend said that the Gen. Eaton (age 57) has beautiful eyes. Indeed, he was intense, confident, and charismatic – the consummate military leader.
The man at my table (a retired chiropractor) finally got his chance to ask a question. He was obviously nervous. He said something about immoral wars being a tradition in America, from the 19th century onwards, and since this war is immoral (we shouldn't have gone in), why can't we leave?
Gen. Eaton said that WWII was just. And he said that the reason we could leave Vietnam relatively easily was that there was no oil there. It was embarrassing but not a disaster. But because Iraq has 10% (?) of the world's known oil reserves, and because Saudi Arabia and other nearby countries have significant reserves, we can't simply leave. So, yes, the war was for oil. Eaton was critical of people who drive SUVs.
Gen. Eaton mentioned that he while he is highly critical of the execution of the war, as a military man, he is not the one who decides policy. So, Eaton criticizes the competence of the war planning and of its execution, but he doesn't directly attack the justifications for the war.
Another man from the angry young soldier's table stood up. This second man, who looked to be in his 60s, said that his son had died in the second Iraq war. .... He said that we shouldn't be following Bush, we shouldn't be having dumb wars, we should be following the truth. We should be following Jesus Christ. There were gasps and mumblings of disapproval.
Later, someone made everyone stand for a “minute” of silence for the dead son. (The minute lasted more like 30 seconds.)
Someone else asked the general a question, "I heard that the Pentagon has a stack of letters from officers. The solidiers say they will resign if Bush attacks Iran. In other words, many people in the military may refuse to obey the order to attack Iran. Is it true?" With a serious face, the general said that he'd heard similar rumors but isn't sure whether they're true.
During a plea for us to donate money, the female speaker mistakenly called Eaton "General Petraeus." That drew some laughs.
Before Senator Murray spoke I chatted with her state director, John B. Engber (firstname.lastname@example.org, 206-553-5545), who listened politely and acknowledged my concerns about the slow pace of Democrats' progress on ending the war. He blamed the slim (50 to 49) margin in the Senate. I asked him why Democrats can't just stop funding for the war (just stop passing bills). He said that it's very difficult to do that without exposing themselves to claims that Democrats don't support the troops. But the public knows that that's just Republican spin. I handed him the letter 25 of us had co-signed, and I summarized its points about the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. (I also mentioned our thanks to Murray for opposing the anti-MoveOn resolution and for voting to bring troops home). I said that progressives' impatience with the Dems' actions on the war may lead to a major, peaceful insurrection. Just as the Christian Right may bolt the Republican Party if Giuliani is the nominee for President, so too lots of progressives may bolt the Democratic Party if the Democrats don't stand up to Bush about the war. (I myself can't imagine doing that, since I wouldn't want to see a repeat of what happened in 2000 with Gore and Nader. But I'm still upset enough to complain loudly, and I understand why some progressives are impatient with the Democrats – especially since Congress voted to condemn MoveOn.org's ad critical of Gen. Petraeus. Letting that vote come to the floor was unbelievably stupid and destructive. Congress voted to condemn the most powerful organization – the one that had donated millions of dollars to them and that had help turn public opinion against the Republicans. And what do the the Dems do? Condemm them. And yet the Dems haven't yet condemned the war or the President's policies.)
I think we need to keep up the pressure. The Democrats in Washington basically take us for granted and figure it's safest for them to be moderate. Unless we pressure them, they won't stick their necks out, for fear of the Republican attack demons.
Earlier, I had come under pressure from some local Dems. They wanted to be sure that I wouldn't make a scene and embarrass the Senator by, for example, interrupting her loudly. In fact, I had no intention to make a big scene (only a little one, perhaps) and, besides, there was little time to do that. She arrived, gave her speech, and quickly left from the back door. I didn't want to make a scene, and I didn't. Instead, the angry young solidier is the one who made a scence, as well as the chiropractor at my table, and the father of the killed Iraqi soldier. After all, I think the "scenes" were cathartic and inspiring.
During the question and answer period with General Eaton, I was tempted to raise the issue of impeachment (if we can't end the war, then why not impeach?), but they ran out of time (did I chicken out?).
It's odd that the Democrats let the Republicans get away with so much. The public is disgusted with the war, with the corruption, with the dishonesty, and with the dirty tricks of this administration. They'd love to see the Democrats stand up and take action against these thugs. Most of the world would applaud us too if we held them accountable.
Don Smith (PCO, 41st LD)