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February 14, 2007

An Olive Branch to Former Hawks

Many Democrats and liberals are now engaged in an unproductive argument about whether those who originally supported the Iraq War but have since changed their minds ought to make an abject confession of their error. The particular focus of this controversy at the moment is Senator Hillary Clinton, who has blamed Bush for misleading Congress and the country and insisted that if Congress had known then what it knows now, there never would have been a vote to authorize the Iraq War in the first place.

I opposed the war from the beginning in the pages of The American Prospect, but I see no point in berating the war’s early supporters and demanding a public confession. During the lead-up to the war, none of us could be certain whether or not Saddam Hussein had a program to build weapons of mass destruction. Nor could we know for sure the difficulties that would confront an American invasion and occupation.

I had supported the Gulf War in 1991 as well as the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and I might well have become one of the liberal hawks who supported the Iraq War—except that I found too many reasons to be skeptical of Bush’s claims and too many reasons to believe that invading Iraq would lead to disaster.

It turned out those suspicions were correct. But it is now time to wind down the argument about who took what position in the past and how members of Congress voted on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Remember that Congress was asked to vote on that resolution as the administration was supposedly trying to work through the United Nations to avoid war. As a result, anyone who voted against the resolution might have appeared to be undermine the negotiating leverage of the United States and thereby making war more likely.

The blame for the fiasco in Iraq ought to rest squarely on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the conservative foreign-policy intellectuals--both neoconservatives and “vulcans”--who were directly responsible for it.

Those who now recognize the war as a mistake ought to focus their energies on how to bring it to an expeditious conclusion.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul, I see two important reasons for demanding apologies from war-supporters, and they are far from pointless exercises in public humiliation:

1. Bush and Co. consciously lied to the public in taking this country to war. But Democrats and the media enabled them to do so--they accepted the administration's claims as true, did not ask questions, and did not actively attempt to slow or stop the march to war. The issue of knowing for "certain" about Iraq's WMDs is entirely beside the point; the issue is that Democrats abdicated their skeptical capacities and their formal authority all too willingly, and that deserves an apology at the very least. And let's not kid ourselves--Democrats knew that this administration was bent on war, and knew they were giving the president the go-ahead for the invasion when they voted on that resolution.

2. Second, we need an apology because it will give us an indication of that politician's position on getting out of Iraq. If politicians accept the administration's frame that the war was a "noble blunder" motivated to "spread democracy" then the administration has made Iraq a humanitarian cause (it never was)that cannot easily be abandoned. We shouldn't expect them to state the obvious--that this invasion was for gaining geostrategic position and power--but if they do not challenge the administration's line, we're not getting out for a long time. And Democrats seem fine with letting the conflict drag on because it is such a good campaign issue; without responsibility for the war, they can sit back and blame. Apologizing for enabling this disaster, I think, is the set up to the long-awaited punchline--Out of Iraq, Now.

March 30, 2007 10:02 PM  

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