In Post guest op-ed, former GOP congressional candidate Crank misled on Iraq war authorization

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Jeff Crank, a Republican congressional candidate in 2006, made numerous false claims and dubious assertions in a guest opinion piece that appeared in The Denver Post on March 2. Crank asserted that Congress, not President Bush, committed the United States to the war in Iraq, and he named some Democrats who he said "voted to send our troops into Iraq" -- ignoring their statements urging diplomacy.

In a March 2 Denver Post guest op-ed, unsuccessful Republican 5th Congressional District candidate Jeff Crank falsely claimed that "it wasn't the president who committed us to the battle in Iraq, it was Congress" and repeatedly equated the October 2002 congressional votes authorizing military action with a commitment to take military action. In fact, President Bush noted in an October 7, 2002, speech -- and numerous other times -- that "[a]pproving [the] resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable." Crank also cited Democrats who "all voted to send our troops into Iraq," when in reality several of those he named stated publicly before the war regarding their support for the congressional resolution that they hoped to avoid war with Iraq.

Crank's op-ed (an online version appeared March 1) also made the dubious assertion that authorization for the war did not result from "a rush to judgment nor a president who lied" about the purported threat that Iraq posed to the United States.

Crank made his distortions in a column supporting Bush's so-called "surge" policy of increasing troop deployments in Iraq. From Jeff Crank's guest commentary, "Price of freedom is high," in the March 2 edition of The Denver Post:

Last week, as Congress postured over President Bush's plan to increase troop strength in Iraq, I asked an Army sergeant who I ran into about his views on the issue. His answer was simple and straight to the point: The price of freedom is high.

The sergeant, home from his second tour in Iraq, said, "There is a price to freedom, sir, and I have seen it paid. Americans have forgotten what brought us to this place."

What "brought us to this place" was not a rush to judgment nor a president who lied. It was, plain and simple, terror brought to our doorstep. It was the intelligence estimates of Russia, France, Great Britain, Israel, Germany and the Clinton administration that decided Saddam Hussein was a growing threat.

To be sure, the situation in Iraq is difficult and, without a doubt, mistakes have been made in the strategy and execution of this war. But mistakes in war planning should not make Americans lose sight of the overall strategic goal in the global war on terror; just ask that Army sergeant.

Amazingly, Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have decided that they are willing to cut and run on the president and, in so doing, cut and run on our soldiers. Many Democrats and some misnamed Republicans like Sen. Chuck Hagel (a decorated war hero) have sold out our mission in Iraq just to be seen as independent by the media elite.

Sadly, these political opportunists send out press releases contradicting the advice of our military commanders, all the while forgetting that it wasn't the president who committed us to the battle in Iraq, it was Congress. The House voted overwhelmingly, 296-133, to authorize the use of force. Eighty-one House Democrats joined in support. The Senate voted 77-23 to send our troops into battle in Iraq. Twenty-nine Senate Democrats voted yes. That action -- not President Bush giving the go order -- committed us to this conflict. Iraq was not a partisan issue then; it has only been so two election cycles since.

While they preach about the perceived failures of the administration, it might do us some good to review how these pontificators-in-chief voted. While we all know that John Kerry voted for the war before he voted against it, other leading Democrats were a little more straightforward: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, Steny Hoyer and John Murtha all voted to send our troops into Iraq.

The congressional resolution authorizing military force did not mandate the use of force. Indeed, in connection with a decision to use military force, the resolution required the president to issue a determination that "further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone" would not achieve stated U.S. goals toward Iraq:

(a) AUTHORIZATION -- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to --

(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and

(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

(b) PRESIDENTIAL DETERMINATION -- In connection with the exercise of the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force the President shall, prior to such exercise or as soon thereafter as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that --

(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and

(2) acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorist and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the resolution on October 10, 2002, and the Senate did so on October 11, 2002. Just days earlier, on October 7, 2002, Bush delivered a major address in Cincinnati in which he spoke about Iraq and the upcoming resolution vote. His remarks make clear that a vote for the resolution would not be a vote "to send our troops to Iraq":

Many nations are joining us in insisting that Saddam Hussein's regime be held accountable. They are committed to defending the international security that protects the lives of both our citizens and theirs. And that's why America is challenging all nations to take the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council seriously.

And these resolutions are clear. In addition to declaring and destroying all of its weapons of mass destruction, Iraq must end its support for terrorism. It must cease the persecution of its civilian population. It must stop all illicit trade outside the Oil For Food program. It must release or account for all Gulf War personnel, including an American pilot, whose fate is still unknown.

By taking these steps, and by only taking these steps, the Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself. America hopes the regime will make that choice. Unfortunately, at least so far, we have little reason to expect it. And that's why two administrations -- mine and President Clinton's -- have stated that regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation.

I hope this will not require military action, but it may. And military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced with its own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. If Saddam Hussein orders such measures, his generals would be well advised to refuse those orders. If they do not refuse, they must understand that all war criminals will be pursued and punished. If we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible. We will plan carefully; we will act with the full power of the United States military; we will act with allies at our side, and we will prevail. (Applause.)

[...]

Later this week, the United States Congress will vote on this matter. I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America's military, if it proves necessary, to enforce U.N. Security Council demands. Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something. Congress will also be sending a message to the dictator in Iraq: that his only chance -- his only choice is full compliance, and the time remaining for that choice is limited.

Furthermore, during the October 16, 2002, signing ceremony for the resolution, Bush declared that "Congress has now authorized the use of force. I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary."

In his commentary, Crank listed six Democratic members of Congress who, he claimed, "voted to send our troops into Iraq." Crank's assertion is clearly false in regard to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). In her statement in support of the resolution authorizing the use of force, Clinton referred to the assurances that Bush made in his Cincinnati speech and made explicit her own preference for a peaceful solution to the Iraq situation:

President Bush's speech in Cincinnati and the changes in policy that have come forth since the Administration began broaching this issue some weeks ago have made my vote easier. Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.

Similarly, in his statement in support of the resolution, then-Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) stated his preference for avoiding war in Iraq:

We must achieve the central goal of disarming Iraq. Of course, the best outcome would be a peaceful resolution of this issue. No one here wants war. We all hope that Saddam Hussein meets his obligations to existing Security Council Resolutions and agrees to disarm, but after 11 years of watching Hussein play shell-games with his weapons programs, there is little reason to believe he has any intention to comply with an even tougher resolution. We cannot trust Saddam Hussein, and we would be irresponsible to do so.

That is why we must be prepared to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction once and for all.

[...]

[S]trong domestic support and a broad international coalition will make it less likely that force would need to be used. Saddam Hussein has one last chance to adhere to his obligations and disarm, and his past behavior shows that the only chance he will comply is if he is threatened with force.

Of course, there is no guarantee that he will comply even if threatened by force, but we must try.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) also made clear his support for a peaceful resolution in a statement he delivered at a January 30, 2003, hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, of which he was and is a member:

As you know, Mr. Chairman, I supported and continue to support all efforts by the UN to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, including the use of military force if that proves necessary. In October 2002, I supported the resolution passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, authorizing the use of such force against Iraq. It was my hope that the Senate resolution would help strengthen the resolve of the UN to take action and would focus Saddam Hussein's attention on the fact that we, the international community and the American people are united in our resolve to see that Iraq disarms.

If the United States can make the case that the inspections process isn't working -- that it won't work in a timely manner -- that the threat of inaction is endangering US security -- then I believe that our resolve as a nation to take the next step in disarming of Iraq, by whatever means necessary, including by the use of force will be strengthened. And we will weather whatever comes next.

If, on the other hand, the case cannot be made and the Administration chooses to act simply because it can do so by virtue of the fact that the US is the world's only remaining superpower, then I believe we will pay a heavy price as a nation. I do not think that we need to come to that point. I urge the President to proceed as the leader of a great nation should -- with resolve but with wisdom and patience as time permits.

Additionally, Crank's contention that the Bush administration did not engage in a "rush to judgment" or lie in making its case for war is extremely dubious. Media Matters for America has noted (here and here) numerous distortions of pre-war intelligence regarding Iraq's supposed links to the plotters of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the state of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.

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