The Next President May Repeat the Iraq Fiasco
by Jerome Grossman
In October, 2002, the United States Senate voted 77 to 23 to authorize President George W. Bush to attack the nation of Iraq. A majority of Senate Republicans and Democrats voted for this authorization, ceding their constitutional power to declare war.
Now ten of these senators, Democrats and Republicans, are preparing to run for president of the United States. Faced with an electorate in which a solid majority believes that the United States should not have started the war, that we are losing the war, opposes the Bush plan to send more troops to Iraq, and thinks the United States should set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the presidential candidates are modifying their positions.
Most of these candidates now say, “If we had known then what we know now, we never would have voted for the war.” They conveniently ignore the fact that significant information was available to contradict the claims of President Bush that the government of Iraq was a threat to US security.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that Iraq had a full complement of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – nuclear, chemical, and biological – and the capacity to deliver them. Repeatedly he told the media, “We know where they are,” even though he had sent a team of special forces into Iraq and had received their report “unable to locate.” Also contradicting his claim, inspectors from the United Nations, under the leadership of experts Hans Blix and Mohammed El-Baradet, the latter the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported no WMD and requested permission to complete their work.
The story that Iraq had purchased uranium from the nation of Niger had already been proven false by the CIA.
The United States could not obtain authorization for the attack from the Security Council of the United Nations, composed of nations friendly or allied to the United States.
Yes, there was additional information obtained by US intelligence that was too sensitive to be discussed on the floor of the Senate. A special room was established under tight security containing exhibits and data to prove the Bush argument, a room available only to senators. Only a few examined the material before voting.
One who did was Senator Bob Graham of Florida, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Graham took to the floor of the Senate, reported that he had examined the data, that as Intelligence Chair he knew as much about the subject as President Bush, and that he was voting against the war authorization because there was not sufficient threat to US national security.
The senators could have known, and they should have known. Why were they such an easy sell? Why didn’t they pay more attention to the conflicting case? Why did they agree to a war that has so far cost 30,000 US casualties, 1,000,000 Iraqi casualties, 1,000,000 Iraqi refugees, and a pile of US dollars, expected to exceed a trillion?
The answer may be that it looked so easy that war promoters called the adventure “a piece of cake” and “taking candy from a baby.” Saddam’s army had been defeated in 1991 in a matter of hours with only a few hundred Americans dead and wounded and was much weaker in 2002. The United States had the best military in the world, in a class by itself, the best technology and weapons, a volunteer army that could not lose. We had never really lost a war, as many generals, commentators, and politicians claimed that Vietnam could have been conquered had we the will to use all of our weapons.
Moreover, since Vietnam the United States had used its troops in battle repeatedly and emerged victorious. There was no countervailing force anywhere on earth now that the Soviet Union had collapsed and all other countries were customers or suppliers.
Without that countervailing force to impose restraint, the United States has engaged in nine wars in the last 17 years. It is an extraordinary number. No other nation, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or the Ayatollahs of Iran, or Kim Jong Il’s North Korea – George Bush’s so-called Axis of Evil – even comes close to the American military record: Panama 1989, Somalia 1992, Haiti 1994, Bosnia 1995-96, Kosovo 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 1991, Iraq 1998, Iraq 2003-2007. In 2007, the United States attacked Somalia with invader Ethiopia and is massing on the border of Iran.
Is there anyone in the presidential campaign or the US Senate with enough imagination to see this is why so many smaller nations are now considering the development of nuclear weapons or are preparing to use the insurgency tactics of Sunni Iraq?
Why is it that the dominant presidential candidates in the 2008 elections are senators who were wrong on Iraq? Why didn’t one of the 23 who voted no on Iraq and were proven correct in their analysis of the crisis throw his/her hat into the ring? Are we fated to pursue the same mistaken policies until we run out of bodies and money? Is this what the hawkish presidential field is telling us?
The Vietnam War appeared to shatter the vision of US omnipotence but it has only taken a generation for the lesson to be ignored. Will the Iraq calamity also be forgotten as we elect a president who voted for the war? Will the argument be, “Next time we will do it right”? A better standard for the future would be “No more Vietnams. No more Iraqs.”
Jerome Grossman is the author of “Relentless Liberal” and originator of the Vietnam Moratorium & former Democratic National Committee member