Amid the Yale Political Union’s characteristic rumbles of agreement and hisses of disagreement Wednesday night, former Democratic senatorial candidate Ned Lamont SOM ’80 called on Congress to force President George W. Bush ’68 to remove U.S. troops from Iraq.
Speaking to a group of students deeply divided on the issue, Lamont came down on the affirmative side of the debate “Resolved: Congress should force the president to withdraw from Iraq.” The continued U.S. presence in Iraq is exacerbating the sectional conflict in the area, he said, and it is time for the Bush administration to give the Iraqi government an opportunity to “stand on its own two feet.” The clashing student reactions to the keynote speech reflected a campus divided over the issue of continued U.S. involvement in Iraq.
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YPU president Daniel Thies ’07 said the Union decided to invite Lamont to give the keynote speech at its first debate of the semester because as a candidate he had spoken widely on the issue of military withdrawal from Iraq.
“Lamont is a particularly well-qualified person to address the issue of what role Congress has in all of this,” Thies said.
Lamont’s speech came on the same day that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution denouncing President Bush’s plan to deploy additional troops to Iraq.
Lamont made headlines last year for his victory over Senator Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 in the race for Connecticut’s Democratic senatorial nomination, though he subsequently lost the general election to the incumbent, who ran as an independent.
In his first public speech on Iraq since the November election, Lamont criticized President Bush’s attempts to reinvigorate the American people’s support of the war in Iraq. He said the vast amount of money being spent in the region would be better spent on domestic programs and argued that most Americans no longer support the war.
“Last night, the president said ‘Give it a chance to work.’” Lamont said, referring to President Bush’s State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night. “Well, Mr. President, for the last four years, we’ve given it a chance to work.”
Although Lamont said he would support a continued U.S. presence in the Middle East for “training and territorial integrity” purposes, he proposed a widespread congressional effort to force the president to end military campaigns in Iraq in order to give the Iraqis a chance to rebuild their country without further interference.
“At the end of the day, we need to force the president’s hand,” he said. “It is now time for the Iraqis to stand up.”
Students who attended the debate were divided in their reactions to Lamont’s speech and Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
Carmen Lee ’09 delivered the Independent Party’s rebuttal to Lamont’s opposition to sending more troops to Iraq. Lee described the “massive violence” and potential civil war that would break out in the region should the U.S. depart.
“Since we are already there, we cannot leave,” she said. “The war was won a long time ago … and this is a peace-building operation.”
But Adam Rodriques ’10, a member of the Party of the Left, said he is opposed to the president’s determination to maintain a strong presence in Iraq because such persistence only “worsens the situation.”
“We should definitely withdraw,” he said. “It’s clear that the president is not going to withdraw of his own accord anytime soon, so Congress is our only avenue.”
Rodriques said he thinks it would be irresponsible to withdraw immediately, a strategy that Lamont seemed to support during his speech. Instead, Rodriques said, he favors a phased-out withdrawal.
Some students said Lamont’s urging of Congress to force the president’s hand would not only destabilize the Middle East, but it would also put U.S. political institutions in danger because such an act would be unconstitutional. Tory Party member Frederick Mocatta ’10, who said he would not support a withdrawal from Iraq, said he thinks Lamont’s stance dangerously challenges the office of the executive by giving the legislative branch too much control over the president.
“Lamont seems to want a lame duck presidency,” he said. “What he wants is a standoff between Congress and the president.”
Before Lamont’s address, the chairmen of each of the seven YPU political parties delivered brief speeches outlining their groups’ goals for the semester. In an apparently lively mood, Lamont himself joined in on the Union’s traditional modes of expression by loudly slapping the wooden desk in front of him to pay tribute to his alma mater Harvard University when Thies delivered a brief biography of the keynote speaker.
Thies said the Union plans to invite David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the political journal The Nation, to speak this semester. He said the YPU is also hoping to bring former presidential candidate Howard Dean to speak before a student audience. Thies said the YPU spring semester guest list is not likely to match last semester’s lineup of political luminaries, which included civil liberties activist Al Sharpton and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“The fall semester speakers got a lot more people exposed to the Union, but this term is going to be less about high-profile figures and more focused on cultivating student debate,” he said.