Geriatric Generals

The last thing we need is 535 ‘generals’ in Congress telling our troops how to win this fight. Sen. James Inhofe, R.-Okla.

Sen. John Warner’s call for a symbolic troop reduction in Iraq is an indication that perhaps we should consider a mandatory retirement age for members of Congress.

For older adults, the ability to preform any given task largely depends on overall fitness and mental acuity. While some 80, 90 and even 100-year-olds can out-perform the average 50 or 60 year old, one wonders if Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been nodding off during those sessions.

Can he even remember what happened on his latest trip to Iraq?

As Americans age, they receive more scrutiny on the job and when they renew their driver’s license and insurance policies. There is a mandatory retirement age for members of the military, airline pilots and many other professions that impact our national welfare and public safety.

How much more reasonable would it be to impose mandatory retirement or – at the very least – competency checks for those at the controls of our government, not just for members of Congress, but members of the judiciary as well?

While Sen. Warner is liberal on social issues, throughout much of his career, the former Navy secretary was known as a hawk on defense issues. Over the last decade, things have changed. It appears that he is more concerned about his relationship with Carl Levin (who replaced Warner as chairman of the Armed Services Committee when the Democrats won control of Congress) than he is about his Virginia constituents and, sadly, our men and women in uniform.

Fair-minded critics of the war and honest Democrats now are admitting that the surge has changed the situation in Iraq. Al-Qaida is on the run and, if we stay the course, the world will know that it was driven out of Iraq with a combined effort of Americans and Muslims. What a blow that will be to terrorists around the world! Eventually, we should be able to leave Iraq with a stable government that will be friendly to the U.S. The consequences of anything less are far too horrible to imagine.

Warner wants Bush to pull out 5,000 troops. That may not sound like a lot, but it represents one quarter of the troop surge. This is not so much of a symbolic gesture – as Warner puts it – to Prime Minister Maliki as it is a sop to Levin.

Warner and Levin have become best buddies with each other and with defense contractors. They have worked together to block needed reforms. Both are infected with statisquoitis – a terminal affliction that is all too common among legislators who have been in Washington too long. There is no cure!

Congress is as gray as it’s ever been. The average senator is 60. Warner, who is 80, has left the door open on his plans to run for a sixth term in 2008. (He would be almost 88 when it is finished.) It is clear that he has grown soft in his old age and he should leave while he has some dignity and can still find his way to the men’s room.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who at 89 has the distinction of being the oldest member in Congress. Byrd won reelection last year and will be 95 if he finishes his term. He can barely read the words his staff writes for him for his floor speeches, which is an embarrassment. There is a Byrd speech on You-Tube, where he is trying to defend himself against charges that he is too old to serve, which should be seen by every American.

Unfortunately, Byrd is but a caricature of his former self. It is a scary thought that he is one of the 100 members of the United States Senate, which holds the keys to the policy that shapes this nation. Even scarier is the fact that he is the president pro tempore of the Senate and third in line for the presidency, as was Strom Thurmond before he retired in 2003 at the age of 100. During Thurmond’s last years in the Senate, he was but a hollow shell. I’m not sure who was making decisions on the votes he cast, but it was not the man the good citizens of South Carolina elected to represent them.

Older Americans who have served this country deserve our honor and respect. However, those who feel they are irreplaceable and stay too long in Congress lose both. The last thing this country needs is a bunch of know-it-all, armchair, geriatric generals trying to micro-manage the situation in Iraq.

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