Category Archives: Clinton

A statesman speaks

When you’re a reporter covering Congress, you listen to an awful lot of speeches. Many of these breathless bulletins concern vital issues like National Cub Scout Month and the renaming of post offices. Speeches can be pompous, sanctimonious, badly reasoned, highly partisan, dull, hypocritical, long-winded, or all of the above. They’re sometimes thoughtful or heartfelt. Once in a while they can be truly memorable.

I can count on about half of one hand the great speeches I heard in my six years of reporting on the Hill, but one was given by Senator John McCain, who was just diagnosed with brain cancer. It came in 1995, during a late-night debate on a resolution of support for the deployment of U.S. troops to Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the former Yugoslavia. Their mission was to support the peace accords that had just ended a bloody, sometimes genocidal war.

Most Republicans strongly opposed President Clinton’s decision to put American boots on that ground. As McCain’s address made clear, he did too. But he believed that once the decision was made — even by a Democrat — Congress had a duty to stand behind the troops. He was also determined that the operation must not become another Vietnam.

I don’t agree with a lot of what McCain has done since. I didn’t vote for him for president. But what he said that night has stuck in my mind because of its depth of emotion, honesty, sincerity, and sheer eloquence. His words weren’t canned rhetoric or talking points; they were drawn from life and hard experience. When comparing Bosnia to Vietnam, the former prisoner of war spoke with unfiltered anger and sorrow, but also with pride.

I was once on the other end of the relationship between the military and their civilian commanders. I served with brave men who were sent by our leaders into a calamity–a war we would not win. We were ill used by our political leaders then. We were ill used by many of our senior commanders. I saw good men lose their lives, lives that were just squandered for a lost cause that the dying believed in, but that many of the living did not. Their cause was honor, their own and their country’s. And they found their honor in their answer, not their summons. I will never forget that. Never. Never.

He accepted responsibility for backing a mission that might cost American lives. I know what I am doing. I know that by supporting this deployment, if not the decision, I must share in the blame if it ends disastrously

He admitted feeling conflicted and anguished but concluded the United States can’t withdraw from the world, as the current president seems determined to do. We cannot leave the world alone. For the world will not leave us alone.

So I will support this mission, with grave concern and more than a little sadness. I will support my President. I will, I believe, support my country and the men and women we have asked to defend us. I give my full support, whatever my concerns. And I accept, fully, the consequences of what I do here today. I ask my colleagues to do so as well.

This is the kind of language we rarely hear in the Capitol, let alone on Twitter. The full text is below, with the quotes above and some other portions highlighted.


Mr. (Senate) President, like all other Senators who have spoken today, I wish this debate were not necessary. I agree with those Senators who have said that they would not have undertaken the commitment made by the President of the United States to deploy American ground forces to Bosnia to implement the tenuous peace that now exists there. But that is no longer the central question of our deliberations this evening. The President did so commit and our obligation now goes beyond expressing our disagreement with that decision.

Many of us did disagree, as is abundantly evident by the number of Senators who support the resolution offered by Senators Hutchison, Inhofe, Nickles, and others, yet we all recognize that the President has the authority to make that decision.

The troops are going to Bosnia, and any prospect that Congress could prevent that deployment disappeared in the overwhelming vote in opposition to prohibiting funding for the deployment, the only constitutional means we have to reverse the President’s decision.

Our troops are going to Bosnia. Congress should do everything in our power to ensure that our mission is truly clear, limited, and achievable; that it has the greatest for success with the least risk to the lives of our young men and women. That is our responsibility, as much as the President’s.

The resolution that the majority leader and I have offered does not ask Senators to support the  decision to deploy. It asks that you support the deployment after the decision had been made. It asks you further to condition your support on some important commitments by the President which I will discuss in a moment.

I intend to give that support, and I commend the majority leader for exercising extraordinary leadership in trying to influence both the nature and security of our mission Bosnia as well as the outcome of the peace process there, to which we have made such a profound commitment.

I believe Senator Dole has significantly helped to improve both the security of our forces and the likelihood that the cause they have been asked to serve–peace in Bosnia–will endure beyond the year our forces will be stationed in that troubled country.

He has accomplished these important objectives by securing assurances from the administration that our soldiers will only be expected to perform those tasks for which they are trained, and will not be ill-used in nation-building exercises. Moreover, he has secured the strong commitment from the President that the United States will lead efforts to establish a stable, military balance in Bosnia which is the only undertaking that can be realistically expected to secure a lasting cease-fire there. Those commitments were well worth our efforts, and, again, I am grateful to the distinguished majority leader for his honorable and effective statesmanship in this effort.

Mr. President, what we should all strive to avoid is giving anyone–anyone–in Bosnia the idea that the American people and their elected representatives are so opposed to this deployment that the least provocation–violent provocation–will force the President to withdraw our forces. I do not want a single terrorist, a single Mujaheddin or Bosnian Serb sniper to think that by killing an American, they can incite a political uproar in America that will compel the President to bring our troops home.

That is my first reason for supporting this deployment. I want our enemies to know that America–not just the American force in Bosnia–but all Americans are in deadly earnest about this deployment. Attacks on the safety of those troops should, and I believe will, be met with a disproportionate response. That response will not include abandoning the mission. We must begin now to impress upon all parties in Bosnia that any assault on the security of our soldiers would amount to nothing more than an act of folly on the part of the assailant.

Mr. President, opponents of the President’s decision often claim that there is no vital United   States security interest in Bosnia that would justify the risk of American lives to defend. I have long agreed that there was no such interest. But there is now. There are the lives of 20,000 Americans to defend. And anyone who thinks they can achieve their own political ends by threatening our troops should be forcefully disabused of that notion, and should not be encouraged in their action by the misperception that the American people and the U.S. Congress are not united in steadfast support of our troops, their safety, and the mission they are now obligated to undertake.

There are other important American interests involved in this deployment. All the parties to the Dayton agreement have stated unequivocally that should the United States renege on its commitment, the peace will collapse and hostilities will resume. We will then watch Bosnians suffer again the mass murder and atrocities that have repulsed all people of decency and compassion.

Moreover, Mr. President, abjuring our commitment now would do considerable damage to NATO, the most successful defensive alliance in history. Many Americans may wonder why we need to be concerned about NATO in the wake of the Soviet Unions’s collapse. But, Mr. President, the world still holds many dangers for our security, and our enemies are far less predictable than they once were. We will need our friends in the future, as much as they need us now.

Lastly, Mr. President, I want to talk about the relationship between the Nation’s credibility and the credibility of its chief executive. In an earlier statement on this question, I asked my Republican colleagues to place as high a premium on this President’s credibility abroad, as they would place on a Republican President’s.

  I asked this because the reliability of the President’s word is of enormous strategic value to the American people. The President’s voice is the voice of America. When the world loses faith in the commitments of our President, all Americans are less safe–and somewhere down the line American vital interests and American lives will be lost.

The credibility and authority of the President of the United States, and the security of American soldiers, compel our support of their deployment. They are vital interests worth defending whatever our current political differences may be with the President.

Again, by supporting the deployment, I do not confer my approval of the decision to deploy. As I have already stated, I would not have committed American ground forces to this mission, had that decision been up to me. But the decision has been made, by the only American elected to make such decisions–the President of the United States. And I have construed my responsibility in these circumstances as requiring my support for efforts to maximize the prospects for success of the mission and minimize its obvious risks.

My support, and the support I urge my colleagues to give this deployment by voting for the resolution before us, has been characterized by the media as grudging. Fair enough. But let me be clear, I do not want to feed the cynicism of the public–or any members of our free press who might succumb to cynicism from time to time–should they conclude that by our resolution, and our votes preceding this one, that we are trying to avoid speaking clearly in support or opposition, and evade any responsibility for our own actions. I know what I am doing. I know that by supporting this deployment, if not the decision, I must share in the blame if it ends disastrously. I will accept that responsibility–not happily, but honestly, just as Senators who supported the prohibition on funding for the deployment would have had to accept the blame for the problems that would have occurred if they had been successful in preventing the deployment.

  The President will be accountable to the families of any American soldier who dies in service to his country in Bosnia. He will have to answer for their loss. But so will I. I fully accept that in my support of the deployment, and my efforts to influence its conduct and its termination, I incur this obligation.

Beyond offering expressions of sorrow and regret, we will have to tell those families that they bear their terrible loss for the sake of the country. Nothing–absolutely nothing–is harder than that. Just contemplating such a responsibility makes me heartsick.

  This may be the hardest vote I have cast as a Member of Congress. It may be the hardest vote I will ever cast. To send young men and women into such evident danger is an awful responsibility. I don’t envy the President. Nor do I envy the Senate.

  I was once on the other end of the relationship between the military and their civilian commanders. I served with brave men who were sent by our leaders into a calamity–a war we would not win. We were ill used by our political leaders then. We were ill used by many of our senior commanders. I saw good men lose their lives, lives that were just squandered for a lost cause that the dying believed in, but that many of the living did not. Their cause was honor, their own and their country’s. And they found their honor in their answer, not their summons. I will never forget that. Never. Never.

  If I have any private oath that I have tried to abide by in my public service it is that I would never ask Americans to serve in missions where success was not defined, the commitment to achieve it uncertain, and its object of less value than its price.

  I pray today that I have kept my oath. I will pray so every night for as long as this mission lasts. I wish the people of Bosnia peace. I wish them peace because they deserve that blessing, but even more importantly because the lives of many fine young Americans have been ransomed to that peace. I know that these Americans will perform magnificently, under very difficult circumstances, to secure the objectives of their mission. They will reflect, as they always do, great credit on themselves and on the United States, as they seek again to secure the peace and security in which another people may secure their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  Mr. President, I learned about duty, its costs and its honor, from friends who did not come home with me to the country we loved so dearly, and from friends who overcame adversity with far more courage and grace than I possessed. I have tried to see my duty in this question as they would have me see it.

In the difficult decision–and it is difficult for reasons greater and more honorable than political advantage or disadvantage–our sense of duty may lead us to different conclusions. I respect all of my colleagues for seeking to discharge their solemn responsibilities in this matter after careful deliberation and with honest reasoning.

But I want to make one last point to those Americans–and I do not include any of my colleagues in this category–who oppose this deployment and this resolution because they resent the costs of America’s leadership in the world. The burdens that are imposed on the United States are greater than the burdens borne by any other nation. There is no use bemoaning that fact or vainly trying to avoid its reality. This reality will be so for as long as we remain the greatest nation on earth. When we arrive at the moment when less is expected from our leadership by the rest of the world, then we will have arrived at the moment of our decline. We should accept that burden with courage. We cannot withdraw from the world into our prosperity and comfort and hope to keep those blessings. We cannot leave the world alone. For the world will not leave us alone.

  So I will support this mission, with grave concern and more than a little sadness. I will support my President. I will, I believe, support my country and the men and women we have asked to defend us. I give my full support, whatever my concerns. And I accept, fully, the consequences of what I do her today. I ask my colleagues to do so as well.

I ask all Senators to support the Dole resolution, irrespective of their views over the policy that brought our soldiers to Bosnia. I ask for your vote as an expression of support for the American soldiers who, summoned to duty in Bosnia, will find their honor and ours in their answer. I ask for your vote to help reduce the threats to their welfare, and increase the chances that the cause for which they risk so much may succeed, and endure long after they have come home to a grateful nation.

And I ask God to bless the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who will render their Nation this great service; to bless the President; to bless the Congress; and to bless the United States. We are all in great need of His benevolence today.

(text from the Congressional Record)

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I approved this message. Please listen.

A polarizing Republican, both loved and reviled for his views and his record, widely suspected of dark misdeeds. A game but weakened Democrat, lacking the passion and charisma of other Democrats and struggling to overcome campaign blunders. A young voter unhappy with those choices.

I know this sounds too familiar. But I’m not talking about Trump and Clinton in 2016. “Young voter” means me, and no one except a kindly 90-year-old would call me young anymore. This was another election year, when I made a decision that I regret to this day – which I hope with all my heart that no one who reads this will repeat in November.

It happened the first time I was eligible to vote. I had no intention of going Republican because of peer pressure from college friends and classmates, and because the candidate repelled me as he did millions of others. For reasons I can’t fathom now, the Democrat seemed flat, unimpressive, unlikely to deliver on campaign promises, and not worth my support. The nominees’ gaping differences – in policy, demeanor, integrity, and fitness for office – just didn’t register.

In a moment of 18-year-old smugness and blindness, I decided not to cast a ballot for either side. Though people I knew worked to register Democrats and get them to the polls, I didn’t join them. On Election Day I stayed home.

The year was 1972. The Republican was Richard Nixon and the Democrat was George McGovern. My one vote would’ve been buried by the 49-state tsunami that handed Nixon his abbreviated second term. But McGovern, rest his soul, was definitely the better man and despite his failings as a candidate would have been a far better president.

If you weren’t around back then, the legendary Hunter S. Thompson summed up the situation pretty well: “McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for. Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?”

I’m still embarrassed that I couldn’t figure this out. I wish I could say I stood for something and used my precious voting power to help my country. I can’t.

But I haven’t missed an election since. And I can say this: Whether you’re 18, 98, or somewhere in between, please, please, put down your phone and VOTE. Help us avoid a disaster worse than anything Nixon wrought.

Don’t be a self-righteous schmuck like I was in ’72. Be a mensch instead.

I’m David Swan and I approved this message.