In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Congressman Jim Davis signed on to the Patriot Act. There had been — and arguably still were and are — terrorists in our midst. He later supported the president on the use of force in Iraq to enforce United Nations’ resolutions. He saw merit in the military prerogative of pre-emption.
Now count Davis among those with major misgivings on all three.
At the recent Tiger Bay Club of Tampa luncheon, Davis said the Patriot Act now needs to be re-evaluated.
“Parts now need to be trimmed back,” he acknowledged. “A judge, fundamentally, should always be in the loop.” He also said that the ambiguity shrouding the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the disposition of enemy combatants “disturbs me enormously.”
“Ultimately, we are judged on our moral authority,” opined Davis. “And we’ve lost some ground.”
The war in Iraq now seems to belie its justification, intimated Davis. It’s no longer about a despotic regime believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction. Davis supported military force when WMD was the rationale. Now he has serious doubts.
“I’m concerned with what I know today,” stated Davis. “I’ll reserve judgment for now, but I’m only as good as the information I’m relying on.”
He speculated that the President’s motivation was driven — at a gut level — by a sense of “Never again on my watch.” And he went for it — with most of the country queuing up behind him.
The President, said Davis, would have been better off leveling with the American people about the “chance,” however small, that Iraq was “doing business” with Al Qaeda and might be a WMD menace.
“But the President didn’t say that,” recalled Davis. “He said there was ‘new evidence.'”
Davis’ reservation on the pre-emption policy is that it “isn’t clear enough,” he explained.
“We should reserve the right to go it alone if necessary,” he allowed. “A pre-emptive act can be appropriate” — but must be engaged in “judiciously.”
“I will not cite Iraq as a model,” he concluded.
For the record, Davis believes the American military needs to “stay the course.” It also needs more help.
“We need to be reaching out to our allies,” he said. “You know how many Canadian troops there are in Iraq? One. We also need more Arab-speaking soldiers and civilian workers.”
Davis, who was in Iraq last month, said he was impressed with U.S. Central Command chief General John Abizaid. “He’s highly skilled,” said Davis. “But I asked how many other senior military officials speak Arabic. No one could name one.”
Davis agrees that the U.S. “misjudged” the extent to which oil production could underwrite reconstruction efforts. But he disagrees with naysayers who maintain that Iraqi is just too different — too tribal — for nation-building to really succeed. Nor is it necessarily a Vietnam redux.
“Yes, they (Iraqis) are different, but there are some remarkable similarities,” noted Davis, who pointed out how much Iraqis wanted security and how students expressed ambitions to be teachers and doctors.
“Remember, Iraq has enormous resources and a relatively high literacy rate,” said Davis. “The potential is enormous. Nation-building can be done, even though, yes, it’s tribal. We get pretty tribal ourselves on Sundays.”
There are two fundamental tenets the Iraqis need to absorb, emphasized Davis. One is “to disagree in a civil fashion.” The other is that “power should be transitory