Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) delivered the Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address this week. Levin first pointed out that Senate Republicans again blocked a vote on an amendment to withdraw the troops from Iraq. “This week, the Senate had the opportunity to do what most Americans want us to do: change course in Iraq. Although a bipartisan majority of the Senators supported an amendment to do just that, we were blocked by the Republican leadership from voting on it. Now in its fifth year, the Iraq war has cost more than 3,600 American lives, seven times that many wounded and over a half a trillion dollars.”

Levin argued that the war in Iraq has made America less safe and strengthened al-Qaeda. “President Bush claims that we must keep paying this terrible price to protect America from terrorism. But even the Administration’s own intelligence experts are saying that during the war in Iraq there has been an increase in the threat of terrorism and that Al Qaeda has regained its strength. Last week, Senator Jack Reed and I offered an amendment to begin reducing U.S. troops in Iraq and to change their mission to get us out from the middle of a civil war. The Republican leadership chose to filibuster our amendment to deny the majority the opportunity to vote on it.”

He then described what the Levin-Reed amendment would do. “It would require the President to begin reducing U.S. forces in Iraq within 120 days; It would limit the mission of our remaining troops to protecting our service members and diplomats; training Iraqi security forces; and conducting operations against al-Qaeda; with the transition to those missions to be completed by next April; And it would require a comprehensive diplomatic, political and economic effort to help create and sustain stability in the region.”

Next Levin discussed the need for a political solution in Iraq, “By now, nearly everybody agrees that there is no military solution to the violence in Iraq and that only a political settlement by the Iraqi leaders themselves can stabilize that country. Even the Iraqi Prime Minister has acknowledged that. “The crisis is political,” he said, “and the ones who can stop the cycle of bloodletting of innocents are the Iraqi politicians.” But although the Iraqi leaders set a timeline for themselves to settle their political differences, they failed to meet it. As long as the Iraqi leaders believe that their future is in our hands instead of theirs, they will continue to dawdle while their country is torn by bloodshed. The Levin-Reed amendment would end the President’s open-ended commitment and force the Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their own country.”

He then moved on to talking about Republican obstruction of the amendment. “When the Republican leadership chose this week to block a vote on our legislation to change course in Iraq, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, decided to call them on it. He kept the Senate in session all-night long, making it clear to our citizens that the Republican leadership was placing a procedural roadblock against the Senate voting on one of the most significant issues facing our nation. In the end, 53 Senators – a clear majority – wanted to vote, but it would have taken 60 to remove the roadblock. We’re not going to give up. We are going to keep fighting until we have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.”

Levin concluded by speaking about the need to hold Senate Republicans feet to the fire to break their filibuster. “To do that, the spotlight needs to shine on those Republicans who talk one way about Iraq back home but vote the opposite way in Congress. We will bring the Levin-Reed amendment back to the Senate floor in the coming weeks, and I hope you will make your voice heard. If those Republicans who say they want a change in course in Iraq will vote for one, we can start bringing our troops home and force the Iraqi political leaders to take responsibility for their own country. That is the only hope of success in Iraq.”

Even though it is taking them months to break the Republican Senate coalition that supports this war, the Democrats are making progress. Unless Republicans are prepared to lose even more seats next November, their support for this war will have to change. The Iraq war is the dominant issue in American politics today, and Republicans can talk about abortion, taxes, and terrorism all they want, but the 2008 election will be won or lost on the basis of Iraq.

I don’t think the GOP will ever support the Levin amendment, because they opposed a timetable for withdrawal, and that is what this amendment is. Increasingly, the difference between Republicans and Democrats on Iraq is not if the troops should leave, but how. The Levin amendment is just another way to keep the pressure on until Senate Republicans are ready to sit down and talk about getting out of Iraq.

Full text of Levin’s remarks 

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics 

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse

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