The Ghost of Iraq Past

I can’t remember exactly the excuse given by every Democrat who supported giving Bush the power to invade Iraq–and let’s cut the bullshit, everyone knew he would use that authority, so it was a vote for the war–but it was bad that they did so. In the spirit of remembering political events predating 2015, we’ll outsource this to Paul Waldman (boldface mine):

Which brings us to an issue that is highly relevant to the moment: the Iraq War.

It might seem odd that we’re still adjudicating the war nearly 17 years after it began, but there are two reasons for this. First, we’re still suffering the consequences of that disastrous decision. Second, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination is still downplaying the mistake he made in supporting it.

So on Friday, John Kerry, stumping for Joe Biden, repeated a claim Biden himself has made many times, that when the two of them voted in October 2002 to give George W. Bush the authority to launch the invasion, they weren’t really voting for war because they thought Bush was just going to pressure Saddam Hussein to allow further inspections and would only invade as a last resort.

“It was a mistake to have trusted them, I guess, and we paid a high price for it,” Kerry said. “But that was not voting for the war.”

Though Biden has called his vote a mistake, he continues to propagate this revisionist history. And since we need to know exactly how the candidates will approach the Middle East and the use of U.S. military power, this is a highly relevant means by which to understand their prospective presidencies.

So let’s clear up this matter once and for all.

In 2002, there were certainly people saying they hoped the Bush administration would invade only as a last resort. But anyone who doubted that Bush would have his war was willfully naive. Every statement from the administration promoted fear and panic, making it clear what their intentions were. The unchanging message was that Iraq would attack us any moment if we did not invade.

Everyone knew what they were voting for, and it’s important to note that at the time, lots of people didn’t buy Bush’s propaganda campaign. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the administration was dissembling and determined to invade, which is why more congressional Democrats voted against the war resolution than for it. Unfortunately, their numbers did not include the party’s most prominent leaders, including Biden, Kerry, Clinton, Chuck Schumer and many others.

That showed cowardice and bad judgment in supporting the worst foreign policy disaster in American history. But the more important question now is, what did we learn that the next president should apply to his or her own decision-making? While Biden presents himself as the steadiest hand on the foreign policy wheel, he hasn’t said much about if, or how, he would alter the course of that policy. He has accurate criticisms of all of Trump’s appalling choices, but he seems to be offering not much more than a reset to the Obama years.

Look, even Biden, as disastrous as he would be as a candidate, is vastly superior to Trump. But Biden demonstrated really bad judgement–albeit bad judgement shared by many Democrats and independents (and, of course, Republicans). There’s no reason to think he learned from this. And it certainly wasn’t an act of courage. We could do better.

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