Whose Judgment On The Iraq War Is Entitled To Respect?

It is becoming increasingly apparent even to loyal Bush followers that our occupation in Iraq has turned into a full-blown, irreversible disaster. Con

It is becoming increasingly apparent even to loyal Bush followers that our occupation in Iraq has turned into a full-blown, irreversible disaster. Conservative hero William Buckley, writing in the pages of National Review yesterday, emphatically proclaimed American defeat in that war.

The United States has a tragic and disastrous situation on its hands, and there are no good choices. Having invaded the country, shattered its infrastructure, removed its government and promised to stay until the country was re-built, stabilized, and democratic, there is something self-evidently unseemly and extremely irresponsible about simply leaving the mess in the Iraqi’s lap by withdrawing our military presence the minute it looks as though a civil was is about to break out.

But, as Jack Murtha pointed out (months before Buckley did so), there is no point in staying if our military occupation is not improving the situation, let alone if it is making the situation worse (an observation which caused Murtha to be promptly accused by the White House of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists").

During the build-up to the war in 2002 and early 2003, most prominent Democrats were bullied and intimidated into supporting the invasion of Iraq by a combination of Bush’s sky-high popularity and accusations of subversiveness which were launched at anyone who opposed the Leader’s war. One of the few nationally prominent Democrats to emphatically oppose the war was Howard Dean, and it is truly staggering just how right he was in virtually every statement he made about the war...read on

Whose judgment on the Iraq War is entitled to respect?

It is becoming increasingly apparent even to loyal Bush followers that our occupation in Iraq has turned into a full-blown, irreversible disaster. Conservative hero William Buckley, writing in the pages of National Review yesterday, emphatically proclaimed American defeat in that war.

The United States has a tragic and disastrous situation on its hands, and there are no good choices. Having invaded the country, shattered its infrastructure, removed its government and promised to stay until the country was re-built, stabilized, and democratic, there is something self-evidently unseemly and extremely irresponsible about simply leaving the mess in the Iraqi’s lap by withdrawing our military presence the minute it looks as though a civil was is about to break out.


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But, as Jack Murtha pointed out (months before Buckley did so), there is no point in staying if our military occupation is not improving the situation, let alone if it is making the situation worse (an observation which caused Murtha to be promptly accused by the White House of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists").

During the build-up to the war in 2002 and early 2003, most prominent Democrats were bullied and intimidated into supporting the invasion of Iraq by a combination of Bush’s sky-high popularity and accusations of subversiveness which were launched at anyone who opposed the Leader’s war. One of the few nationally prominent Democrats to emphatically oppose the war was Howard Dean, and it is truly staggering just how right he was in virtually every statement he made about the war.

This is worth noting not because this is a time for recriminations or because of the satisfaction which one can derive from a celebratory "I-told-you-so" moment. It is critical to focus on who was right about this war because this country, right now, has extremely difficult choices to make with regard to the disaster it has created in Iraq – and the first choice is whose judgment and foreign policy wisdom ought to be listened to and accorded respect.

Karl Rove has declared that Republicans intend to make national security the principal issue leading up to the 2006 elections, but how could that possibly benefit anyone other than Democrats? With regard to what we should do about the war, following the advice of Bush and the neonconservative geniuses who led us into this disaster is a bit like wanting to build a ship and hiring the naval architect of the Titanic to build it and the Titanic’s captain to navigate it. Put simply, Bush supporters were wrong -- fundamentally and tragically wrong -- with regard to every facet of this war.

By stark contrast, when one reviews the pre-war arguments made by Howard Dean as to why the war was ill-advised, it is glaringly self-evident just how right he was -- at a time when few others recognized it -- about virtually everything. Here are excerpts from a speech Dean gave on February 17, 2003 -- just over a month before we invaded -- at Drake University which reflects the prescient warnings he was making back then:

I believe it is my patriotic duty to urge a different path to protecting America's security: To focus on al Qaeda, which is an imminent threat, and to use our resources to improve and strengthen the security and safety of our home front and our people while working with the other nations of the world to contain Saddam Hussein. . . .

Had I been a member of the Senate, I would have voted against the resolution that authorized the President to use unilateral force against Iraq - unlike others in that body now seeking the presidency.

That the President was given open-ended authority to go to war in Iraq resulted from a failure of too many in my party in Washington who were worried about political positioning for the presidential election.

The stakes are so high, this is not a time for holding back or sheepishly going along with the herd.

To this day, the President has not made a case that war against Iraq, now, is necessary to defend American territory, our citizens, our allies, or our essential interests.

The Administration has not explained how a lasting peace, and lasting security, will be achieved in Iraq once Saddam Hussein is toppled.

I, for one, am not ready to abandon the search for better answers.

As a doctor, I was trained to treat illness, and to examine a variety of options before deciding which to prescribe. I worried about side effects and took the time to see what else might work before proceeding to high-risk measures. . . .

We have been told over and over again what the risks will be if we do not go to war.

We have been told little about what the risks will be if we do go to war.
If we go to war, I certainly hope the Administration's assumptions are realized, and the conflict is swift, successful and clean. I certainly hope our armed forces will be welcomed like heroes and liberators in the streets of Baghdad.

I certainly hope Iraq emerges from the war stable, united and democratic.

I certainly hope terrorists around the world conclude it is a mistake to defy America and cease, thereafter, to be terrorists.

It is possible, however, that events could go differently, . . . .

Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.

Anti-American feelings will surely be inflamed among the misguided who choose to see an assault on Iraq as an attack on Islam, or as a means of controlling Iraqi oil.

And last week's tape by Osama bin Laden tells us that our enemies will seek relentlessly to transform a war into a tool for inspiring and recruiting more terrorists.

There are other risks. Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.

Using the standard rhetorical tactic of Bush followers, Dean was caricatured and falsely accused by Republicans, some Democrats, and an easily manipulated media as being some sort of radical pacifist subversive who should be mocked rather than listened to. That was achieved only by distorting his views. As Dean made repeatedly clear, he favors fighting wars which are truly necessary to defend the United States from imminent threats, but he believed there was no persuasive evidence demonstrating that Saddam constituted a threat which justified the war.

And those who claim that there was nobody before the war who doubted that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs which compelled our invasion ought to read this passage from Dean's speech:

Now, I am not among those who say that America should never use its armed forces unilaterally. In some circumstances, we have no choice. In Iraq, I would be prepared to go ahead without further Security Council backing if it were clear the threat posed to us by Saddam Hussein was imminent, and could neither be contained nor deterred.

However, that case has not been made, and I believe we should continue the hard work of diplomacy and inspection. . . .

Secretary Powell's recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness. . .

Can anyone dispute that Dean was right about virtually every prediction and claim he made, every warning that he issued about why invading Iraq was ill-advised and counter-productive? Compare this outright prescience from Dean to the war supporters’ declarations of cakewalks, predictions of glorious victory celebrations, promises that the war would pay for itself, Purple Finger celebrations where they insisted that democracy was upon us, errors regarding the number of troops needed, inexcusable failure to anticipate or plan the insurgency, and shrill fear-mongering about Saddam’s non-existent weapons.

Americans long ago abandoned Bush’s war once they realized that the premises on which the war was justified were false. But while this war was George Bush’s from start to finish - and he will live with it forever ignominiously tagged to him in history – it is now America’s war as well. And as the country decides what course of action we ought to take to extricate ourselves from this disaster, it is worth remembering whose judgment was so accurate and wise and whose judgment was so horribly wrong in every respect.

Democrats ought to be eager to make national security a critical issue for this year's elections. After all, Bush and his followers are responsible for the single worst strategic error made by the United States during our lifetimes, perhaps in the country's history.

--posted by Glenn Greenwald

--posted by Glenn Greenwald

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