Sunday, May 31, 2015

On Presidential Judgment and the Lessons of History

The war in Iraq was a terrible mistake, and those who led us there are directly responsible for the rise of ISIS and our current quandary of how to respond. . . . [I]t is not the time to just repeat our old mistakes. Rather we should begin with repentance for those mistakes by listening better and humbly seeking better solutions. And that is where all the presidential candidates should begin. – Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners
There are many aspects of modern American politics with which I am unhappy – the emphasis on fundraising and the seeming need for unlimited cash, sound bites and clichéd talking points, the ensuing media circus. But if during the upcoming presidential primary season the country engages in a serious re-evaluation of America’s role in the world and the uses and limits of military force, I will remain hopeful. No issue is more important in judging one’s fitness and character to be president than a candidate’s judgment on matters of war and peace, his or her gut-level instincts on how and when American force should be exercised.

This is not to suggest that a candidate’s views on economic and social issues, spending and taxing priorities, the environment, and the Supreme Court are unimportant. These issues are indeed vital to the fabric of our society and will determine how effectively we are governed in the years to come. But economic and social policy is a collaborative effort between the President and Congress, interest groups and citizen pressure; it is impossible for one person to radically alter the social and economic landscape. Only as commander-in-chief does the President have the power and authority to single-handedly affect the lives and futures of millions of Americans and the quality of our relationships to the nations of the world.

I was six years old when Lyndon Johnson made the ill-fated decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Within a few years, as I watched the evening news with my family and saw images of body bags on military transport planes departing the jungles of Asia, I had enough sense to understand that the Vietnam War was morally wrong and based on faulty premises. Even at the age of nine, I knew it was time to bring our troops home. But then America elected Nixon, we commenced secret bombing missions into Cambodia, and the war dragged on for six more years. By the time U.S. forces withdrew and we brought home the last American soldier, another 25,000 American lives had been lost.

Though I believe wars should be fought only as a last resort and after all reasonable alternatives have been explored, I am not a pacifist. I know we live in a dangerous world and must defend ourselves, our interests, and our friends and allies when unjustly attacked. I supported the decision of President George H.W. Bush to invade Iraq in defense of Kuwait in 1991, when an American ally had been attacked and its sovereignty invaded by a neighboring aggressor. The senior President Bush applied well established principles in coming to the aid of an American friend and limiting U.S. involvement to accomplishing its objective – defending our ally and securing a military retreat of Saddam Hussein’s forces. I disagreed with many Democratic Senators, including Joe Biden and John Kerry, for their knee-jerk opposition to that conflict, and I said so at the time.

When America was attacked on September 11, 2001, I like most Americans wanted a rapid and decisive U.S. military response against those responsible. We knew almost immediately that Osama bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda were to blame and, when it was discovered they were being sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan, I affirmatively supported a quick and resolute attack on Taliban forces there. The defense of a nation by necessity includes the right of retaliation when unjustly attacked. While I did not expect us to be in Afghanistan for 14 years, fundamentally I agreed with the U.S. military mission in that country.

But when the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 – and well before then made clear its intentions of doing so – I was opposed from the beginning, as were many of our most trusted allies and many American religious leaders. Once again, some of my Democratic role models, people with whom I generally agree on most issues – Hillary Clinton and John Kerry among them – disappointed me. When on October 16, 2002, Clinton and Kerry voted to authorize U.S. military force against Iraq, I believed then that they were wrong, and that their votes were nothing but acts of political cowardice. Wanting someday to become president, both were scared of looking “soft” on national security and defense.

The vote in favor of the Iraq War Resolution of 2002 was far from unanimous, and there were many other Democrats in the House and Senate who possessed the same information as everyone else and rendered a different verdict. Senators Carl Levin, Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer, the late Senators Paul Wellstone and Ted Kennedy, all voted no with the same information that led Clinton and Kerry to vote yes. And although he was not in the Senate at the time, another prominent Democrat named Barack Obama also publicly opposed the war in Iraq.

On the single most important question confronted by our political leaders in the past half century – a question of war and peace, of life and death – Hillary Clinton got it wrong and Barack Obama got it right. It was a question of courage and judgment, of understanding the implications of American military actions and learning the correct lessons from history. Obama made the right call based on what he knew then, and he did not look to the polls for guidance. Hillary Clinton and 28 Democratic Senators, 82 Democratic House members, and almost all Republicans were dead wrong.

U.S. troops in Iraq
I do not base any of this on 20/20 hindsight, but on what was known at the time. It is why I believe that the question asked recently of the 2016 presidential candidates – “Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq?” – is precisely the wrong question. As James Fallows noted recently in The Atlantic, this question is too easy and tells us nothing about a candidate’s foreign policy instincts, underlying values, or thought process. It is sort of like asking, “Knowing what we know now, would you have bought a ticket on Malaysia Air flight 370?”

I am more interested in understanding how the candidates assessed the evidence then. How did they view the possible benefits and risks of invading Iraq based on what we knew prior to March 19, 2003, when the first bombs fell on Baghdad? Decisions are always made in real time, not in hindsight. Understanding your thought process when it counted is the only way voters can truly assess if your instincts and judgments are to be trusted in the future.

Of course, mistakes are made and no one gets everything right all the time. So, the next important question is one Fallows articulates well: “Regardless of whether you feel you were right or wrong, prescient or misled, how exactly will the experience of Iraq – yours in weighing the evidence, the country’s in going to war – shape your decisions on the future, unforeseeable choices about committing American force?” (James Fallows, “The Right and Wrong Questions about the Iraq War,” The Atlantic, May 19, 2015). In other words, what are the lessons of our recent history? How will the lessons learned help the United States more effectively engage with the international community, properly assess American interests abroad, avoid costly and unnecessary conflicts, and lessen the risks to future generations?

I would like to see the candidates struggle honestly with these questions, with what they have learned from the recent past. I want to know how they perceive the limits of force and America’s proper role in the world; and the benefits, risks, and long-term consequences of military engagement. I cannot trust any candidate who insists that the Iraq War is regrettable based only on what we know now. It is not acceptable to state, as did Marco Rubio recently, that invading Iraq “was not a mistake because the president was presented with intelligence that said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.” The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was not based on faulty intelligence. There were plenty of people, including U.S. intelligence analysts and military strategists, who thought better of invading Iraq, and who predicted precisely the consequences of the resulting post-invasion occupation. There was no shortage of foreign leaders, protestors, reporters, and intelligence experts who questioned the wisdom of the American invasion, and who believed United Nations weapons inspectors should be allowed more time to determine and certify that Iraq’s WMD program was effectively non-existent.

On February 14, 2003, less than one month before U.S. forces invaded Iraq, chief UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix publicly declared that Iraq was cooperating with the inspections teams. And while there remained questions concerning what had happened to a small portion of Iraq’s aged chemical weapons stockpile, it was well known that nearly 95% of that inventory had been verifiably destroyed in the 1990s. Whatever existing weapons program Iraq had in 2003 – and as it turned out, it was non-existent – was certainly not a threat to the United States to justify a military invasion lasting eight years and costing over $2 trillion. Containment may be less dramatic, but it generally comes with far less death and destruction.

London anti-war protest, February 15, 2003
President Bush did not make an objective judgment about the use of military force based on the facts presented to him at the time. He was not misled by his advisers and intelligence officials. The invasion of Iraq was a foregone conclusion well before it happened. The WMD excuse was the public justification for the war used to obtain a UN Security Council resolution and congressional authorization. But it was not why we went to war. That decision was pre-ordained even before 9/11, when as widely reported a close circle of Bush advisers, including Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, pressed for a war with Iraq from the moment Bush became President. These men and others wished not only to depose Saddam Hussein, a known menace and despot, but to install a government more friendly to U.S. interests and to impose a democratic model which they hoped would spread across the Middle East.

On the day of the 9/11 attacks and its immediate aftermath, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, among others, made the case to the President that Iraq should be part of any military response, even though there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement for 9/11. Only when it was clear that a reason for the invasion had to be based on something the American people could accept, something that at least implied that Iraq posed an imminent threat and justified the unprecedented action of pre-emptive war, did the WMD rationale take priority. And the intelligence, as we now know, was selectively scoured and used to justify the desired result.

While members of the administration claimed that the war would be short and swift and U.S. armed forces treated as liberators, the difficulties and costs of the post-invasion occupation were ignored. In the run-up to the Iraq War, experts inside and outside of the Bush Administration made clear that occupying Iraq would be extremely difficult and costly. A November 2002 report by the National Defense University contended that occupying Iraq “will be the most daunting and complex task the U.S. and international community will have undertaken since the end of World War II.” Experts at the Army War College warned that the “possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace is real and serious.” And when Lawrence Lindsey, the White House economic advisor, dared suggest that rebuilding postwar Iraq would cost upwards of $200 billion – a laughably low estimate as it turned out – he was publicly reprimanded and subsequently dismissed.

As Fallows noted in the January 2004 issue of The Atlantic, the problems confronted by American forces in Iraq immediately after the invasion, the breakdown of public order, increased sectarian violence, the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq, were raised and willfully ignored in the planning stages leading up to the war:
Almost everything, good and bad, that has happened in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime was the subject of extensive pre-war discussion and analysis. This is particularly true of what have proved to be the harshest realities for the United States since the fall of Baghdad: that occupying the country is much more difficult than conquering it; that a breakdown in public order can jeopardize every other goal; that the ambition of patiently nurturing a new democracy is at odds with the desire to turn control over to the Iraqis quickly and get U.S. troops out; that the Sunni center of the country is the main security problem; that with each passing day Americans risk being seen less as liberators and more as occupiers, and targets.

Fallows also discussed the ill-fated decision to dismantle the Iraqi army, a determination that directly contributed to the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq and indirectly facilitated the rise and success of ISIS, which includes many of those dismissed Baathist security forces:
The case against wholesale dissolution of the army, rather than a selective purge at the top, was that it created an instant enemy class: hundreds of thousands of men who still had their weapons but no longer had a paycheck or a place to go each day. Manpower that could have helped on security patrols became part of the security threat. Studies from the Army War College, the Future of Iraq project, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to name a few, had all considered exactly this problem and suggested ways of removing the noxious leadership while retaining the ordinary troops. They had all warned strongly against disbanding the Iraqi army. The Army War College, for example, said in its report, “To tear apart the Army in the war’s aftermath could lead to the destruction of one of the only forces for unity within the society.”
Moreover, even assuming the intelligence had been accurately assessed concerning the WMD program, the notion of a pre-emptive attack against a sovereign nation that posed no imminent threat to the United States or its allies, and for which a policy of containment was in place and working, was wrong, un-American, and morally unjustified. Hillary Clinton got this point wrong. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker – every Republican with the exception of Rand Paul – continue to miss this point. It does not bode well for the future. But at least Hillary has admitted that her past judgment was wrong.

That the Iraq War was a mistake in hindsight, however, is now widely recognized even by many of its early proponents, Jeb Bush’s recent obfuscation on the issue notwithstanding. It is a welcome, if somewhat surprising development that many on the right, including most of the Republican presidential candidates, have acknowledged that the decision to invade Iraq “based on what we know now” was a mistake. According to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, the Iraq War has cost the United States over $2.4 trillion in untaxed revenue, resulted in the deaths of 4,500 Americans with another 40,000 seriously wounded. The war has led to heart-wrenching tales of post-traumatic stress disorder, veteran suicides, and loss of morale. Iraq has turned into a failed state as an estimated half-million of its people have died. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which everyone agrees is a good thing, has nevertheless allowed Iran, which is four times as large and powerful, to extend its influence in the region. Though President Obama’s precipitous withdrawal from Iraq deserves some of the blame for Iraq’s current mess, none of it happens if the United States refrains from committing its worst foreign policy blunder in 50 years.

Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. What was most egregious about the push for war in 2002-2003 was the Bush Administration’s disdain for disagreement, its unabashed confidence in its own judgment, its willingness to dismiss the opinions of many of our allies and friends in Europe and the Middle East, a willingness to act unilaterally if necessary, and the failure to critically examine and assess the evidence, risks and benefits of war.

I would welcome in the upcoming presidential primary and election season a lively debate and discussion about the lessons of the Iraq War, the proper use of military force, where and when, if ever, America should be engaged in nation building. I would like to see the candidates discuss whether it was a good thing, and responsible leadership, for the United States to have spent trillions of dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without paying for those wars – without raising taxes to pay for them, or asking for any sacrifices from the American people (other than those who volunteered to serve in our armed forces). We need a true debate over America’s priorities, the resources diverted for every bomber, every fighter jet, and how that affects directly the lack of investment in our public infrastructure, our schools, and our environment.

For several months before we invaded Iraq, many people raised perceptive questions about the impending war, questions that remained unanswered in the rush to war. While nobody lost any sleep over the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign, the proper question was never, “Is Saddam good or bad?” The more appropriate question, asked by many of us opposed to the invasion at the time, but ignored by the majority of our leaders and much of the media was, “What happens after we overthrow Saddam?” We cannot simply invade a country, depose its leader, destroy its infrastructure, and leave its people in squalor. If we do not wish to engage in nation building, we need to stop engaging in nation demolition. How we respond to new threats is open for debate. But if we fail to learn the proper lessons of history, we are destined to repeat our past mistakes.


  1. Mark,

    So your go-to guy is still Jim Wallis? In the very first paragraph of the article from which you quote, Wallis blames the rise of ISIS on conservatives who insist on fighting evil. This idea, that evil is created by those who fight it, is always obscene and now is just plain tiresome. Wallis, apparently, like you, had no problem with a madman who killed one million people as long as the tyrant ruled with an iron fist and kept things “stable.” Wallis says the “facts” for going to war were “all wrong,” yet doesn’t elaborate because, apparently, if enough liberals say something is so, it must be so. And what does Wallis want to hear expressed from those responsible for bringing a mass murderer to justice? Repentance! Wallis describes accurately the current state of Iraq as “destabilized” while being oblivious to the “stabile” condition President Obama “inherited” from President Bush.

    Read Wallis’s article again and ask where the evidence is for the charges he makes, including the ridiculous charge that Bush birthed ISIS (presumably he also knows the president responsible for al Qaeda?).

    The evidence that “ideology trumped intelligence”? That the intelligence was wrong and manipulated? That the American public was lied to and misled into war (a charge you made, then denied you made, then tried to walk back without first admitting that you made it, until, finally, settling on the belief that Bush acted in good faith–but then again, maybe not?). That the government chose to ignore the international community? That there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq?

    These are serious charges that should not be made without evidence. That you would quote someone who continues the “Bush lied, people died” narrative speaks to your judgment.

    Speaking of which…

    At the age of nine you knew that the Vietnam War was morally wrong? That fighting to stop the spread of communism, the greatest evil the world has known, was a faulty premise? At age nine? Boy you were smart! At nine I was heatedly debating whether or not Batman could kick Superman’s ass. It would be years before I realized that Johnson escalated the war, not for the noble reasons it began, but because he was trying to salvage his reputation, the act of an evil monster, and that Nixon actually decided to fight a war, bombing (and more) the North Vietnamese all the way to the Hotel Majestic where they signed on the dotted line, promising to play nice until Nixon was out and they knew the Democrats in Congress (who else?) would gladly stab the South Vietnamese in the back and give the communists an opportunity to get a shot at the American helicopter lifting off the roof of our Saigon embassy with its tail rotor tucked between its skids. Nine, huh?

    Once all grow’d up you supported attacking the Taliban, a collection of psychotic killers who were not a threat to America and had nothing to do with 9-11, because they sheltered bin-Laden and al Qaeda. Furthermore, you believe our actions there were just because retaliation is expected when America is unjustly attacked. And although you would have preferred that the war there progressed on your timetable and not the military’s, you nevertheless agreed with the U.S. mission there, which, presumably included the whole nation-building thing.


  2. You don’t like removing a Hitler-like madman who attacked America in 1993 by attempting to kill one of our presidents; who sheltered Abdul Rahman Yasin, the maker of the bomb used in the first attack on the World Trade Center (also in 1993–who was president then and why was he so distracted that he couldn’t properly address these problems?); who sheltered American killing terrorists Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal; and who sheltered al Qaeda AFTER we attacked them in Afghanistan, including al Qaeda heavy weight Abu Musab al Zarquwi who set up camps to take care of the mass exodus of terrorists from that “justified” military operation. (From those Iraq camps Zarqawi’s group tested poisons and plotted attacks and directed the murder of Laurence Foley.)

    Of course these are just a few examples and more, as you know, were provided to you before, but using your own justification for our Afghanistan invasion, these examples should suffice to justify our invasion of Iraq. Oh heck, let’s add another since you supported the first Gulf War because Hussein attacked an ally with tanks: Hussein also habitually attacked a more important ally, Israel, by proxy, by paying families of Palestinian suicide murderers. But hey, standards can change.

    You’re aware, are you not, that the votes in both the House and Senate in favor of the Iraq War Resolution were greater than for Desert Storm in 1991? In other words, much closer to “unanimous” was the second vote than the first.

    You claim that President Obama was “courageous" in opposing the war and I’m forced to ask how being “anti-war” is ever courageous? “No, I don’t want to send good men to their deaths, I know that’s a ballsy decision, so much easier to just send them to slaughter, but damn it, I must have the courage of my convictions!” Are you so ideological in your thinking as to believe that Bush, who loved the military and had that love reciprocated, would sacrifice brave men, à la Johnson, to satisfy his hidden agenda?

    And of course we never hear the why from liberals, do we? What was Bush’s “real” motive for going to war? If you’re right then he could not possibly have acted, as you sometimes claim, in “good faith.”

    President Obama’s prior objection to the war was also, according to you, evidence of his good judgment, yet his own words and actions demonstrate, not good judgment, but the unfocused thinking of a child.

    In 2002 he said of Saddam Hussein: “He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.” And mere moments later said, “…in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”

    (Quick, name the dictators who were “contained” into the dustbin of history, or for that matter, done in by U.N. resolutions? Let’s come back to that. Name the dictators who were hurled into the dustbin by men with guns? Much easier question is it not?)

    You’ll recall that he voted to cut funds for the war because President Bush had not announced when he would conclude the war. In Obamaland presidents end wars when they’re damn good and ready and the president should have given the senator, with his vast experience in running nothing, a date and hour when the whole messy affair would be concluded.

  3. In 2004, in a moment of maturity, he declined to criticize Senator Kerry for his pro-war vote saying he was not “privy to Senate intelligence reports,” and “What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made.”

    (From his “vantage point” meaning, of course, not being a president whose CIA director tells his boss, protector of 300 million Americans, that the case for Hussein’s possession of WMD was a “slam dunk.”)

    In 2007 Obama voted for a bill to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within one year, because, as discussed before, it’s the president who can claim victory (if you’re not opposed to that word) at anytime regardless of the actions of the evil enemy.

    Also in 2007 Obama supported a plan to block money for major combat operations in Iraq, but then was too self involved to pause campaigning for a moment to actually vote on the bill.

    And so on and so forth. Want more? You know I got ‘em (global warming causes terrorism!).

    I’ve always been troubled by your ability to ignore uncomfortable facts and continue believing nonsense, but this post provided an explanation when you described Hillary Clinton as one of your Democratic role models. Clinton is one of the most dishonest and dishonorable politicians in our lifetimes, but to make this confession now is especially disturbing considering that her emails revealed that she knew from the start the actual cause of the Benghazi slaughter but chose to advance a despicable lie leading to the persecution of an innocent man and the demonization of free speech. The president too, of course, advanced this lie as a means to maintain his terror-fighting credentials in an apparent homage to the reason LBJ’s escalated the Vietnam War.

    Of course we’ve been down this road before so I won’t bother trying to change your mind with facts but still I find it troubling that you use Bush’s war to elaborate on good and bad judgment when our current president is demonstrating horrible judgement on a daily basis regarding the Middle East. He lied about Benghazi and apparently ordered not one asset turned in the direction of our soon to be murdered ambassador; declared “red lines” Syria mustn’t step over while holding crossed fingers behind his back; supported the evil Muslim Brotherhood while ignoring Iranian citizens protesting and dying for democracy and, of course, presently is rolling out the nuclear red carpet for the Iranian madmen; pulled out our troops in Iraq in an apparent hissing fit leaving a vacuum for ISIS (a.k.a. the JV team) to fill; adopted a “lead from behind” foreign policy; touted Yemen as a success just before it wasn’t; lost three (to date) embassies to terrorists; encouraged through his weakness Russia to invade Ukraine in the same way JFK’s weakness led the USSR to put missiles in Cuba; and speaking of Cuba…

    Yet a another president decides to remove a tyrant and mass murderer with bipartisan support at home and with an international coalition abroad based on information that could not be ignored after Islamic terrorists killed 3,000 Americans with only razorblades and you, an apparent expert in intelligence gathering and analysis, deem his decision so obviously wrong that it should serve as a yardstick with which to judge future candidates.

    The say that the only causes worth fighting for are lost causes. You are surely a lost cause. Which means I’ll keep trying.

    Rich R.

  4. Rich,

    That you would have such a hard time believing that, at nine years old, I really was cognizant of and morally opposed to the Vietnam War, does not surprise me. It is and has always been apparent that you have never seen a war that you did not immediately embrace. Perhaps my growing up as the son of a Lutheran minister who directly counseled, prayed with, and buried some of the young men who were sent to that war helped me to reflect on the war in ways you never contemplated. I really cannot say. But I am surprised that you would question my sincerity on that point.

    Rather than address my main point of this essay, which concerns legitimate and serious questions that should be asked of the presidential candidates, you want to re-litigate matters that I have no interest addressing with you. Besides, I know that whenever you make comparisons to "Hitler" and mention "Benghazi" there is no use in an attempted dialogue.

    To suggest, however, that there is nothing courageous in opposing a war, or in being "anti-war," is a thoughtless assertion. Was it courageous of LBJ and Nixon to send other people's sons to die in a war that even they did not believe in? Was it courageous for Rumsfeld and Cheney to press for a war in Iraq in the days immediately after 9/11 when they knew full well Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? When the country was in a heightened state of security and looking for retribution, are you suggesting that Hillary Clinton showed more courage than those who publicly opposed the war? Do you really believe it was politically expedient to oppose the push for war in 2002 and 2003? Of what then is courage made?

    Finally, as I noted in my essay, "It is a welcome, if somewhat surprising development that many on the right, including most of the Republican presidential candidates, have acknowledged that the decision to invade Iraq 'based on what we know now' was a mistake." Perhaps it is time for you to look at the true facts and not your alternative universe facts in your right-wing bubble. Geez, even most of the commentators on Fox News and virtually all of the Republican presidential candidates disagree with you. Should that not tell you something?

  5. Mark,

    Please list my "alternate universe facts." Prove, with evidence, that I don't know what I'm talking about. Please. Make me look the fool by substantiating your charge. Snark is welcomed if it can be backed up, otherwise it’s a cover for empty rhetoric.

    Please address my main point. Why are the justifications for Afghanistan not applicable to Iraq? What did I write that was inaccurate. And my second point, that President Obama is a much better poster boy for the point you want to make, is incorrect how?

    So your defense of Hillary is that I brought up her dishonesty regarding Benghazi? Weird. If I were to mention the growing scandal with the Clinton Foundation would you counter with, “Well, if you’re going to bring up the Clinton Foundation, I know there is no use in an attempted dialogue”? Mighty weak defense of someone you consider a role model.

    Saddam Hussein killed people with GAS and he killed a lot of people. Articulate for me why Hitler is not a just comparison. In fact, had some countries dealt with Hitler earlier instead of “waiting on events while dangers gathered,” Hitler would be a footnote. Bush, to his credit, did not let the Neville Chamberlains of today stop him from making the “world, and the Iraqi people… better off.”

    What evidence can you cite, like the fine case you made against Johnson, that Nixon was not troubled by sending men to their deaths? Johnson spent WW2 as a politician, adding believability to your claim that he put his own self interest ahead of the lives of American fighting men. Nixon volunteered for service even though as a Quaker he had an easy out and he spent the war in the South Pacific. So Nixon, I would guess, had reason to care about the men in uniform, for they were not an abstraction to him as they might have been for LBJ. So I think it does take courage to order American warriors, who you love, into combat knowing that some will die because of your decisions and knowing that you will bear the burden of that order for the rest of your life. President Bush never stops demonstrating his love of our wounded warriors and that tells me he agonized over the decision to go to war. The current president can’t even give up golf as Bush did.

    “Was it courageous for Rumsfeld and Cheney to press for a war in Iraq in the days immediately after 9/11 when they knew full well Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11?” You have yet to provide evidence that anyone in the Bush Administration claimed Hussein was involved in 9/11, yet you keep on saying it. Remember my dismantling of your argument from July 2010, which I did with evidence. And this goes to my point about a liberal’s idea of argument: Repeat, repeat, repeat; somebody will eventually believe it.

    I prefer facts. Prove me wrong.

    Bush’s responsibility after 9-11 was not just to punish al Qaeda for New York but to prevent another New York and the majority of evidence from the Clinton Administration into the Bush Administration shouted that the Hitler of Iraq, who tried to ASSASSINATE a president, among a long list of offenses, was the next big threat.

    By the way, see what I just did there? I quoted you, then disputed what you said. Try it, it’s not hard and I’m not perfect so you should be able to actually back up your “true facts” and “alternative universe facts” and “right-wing bubble” barbs that by themselves are without substance.

    Go for my jugular. I can take it. Don’t think you’ll get there, but if you do, I can take it.

    And by the way, haven’t you spent the last couple of years telling me to turn off Fox news and maybe I’ll learn something? I can’t win for losing!

    Rich R.

  6. I do not know enough about the specific history of the wars of the past 15 years or so to debate with either Mark or Rich; however, I must say that I was 9 years old at the same time Mark was 9 years old. Although I cannot say that I could easily articulate, on the level of adults, the reasons why I thought the war in southeast Asia was morally wrong, I did know enough to understand that there was senseless actions being made by our country in that war, and that such a war was different from most of those fought earlier in the century -- most significantly, WW II. Steve Weitzen

  7. Steve - Thanks for the comments. I still have vivid recollections of 1968, the political conventions, the demonstrations, the King and Kennedy assassinations and, of course, much talk and news coverage of the Vietnam War. I was certainly not a great philosopher or deep thinker, and I had many typical 9-year old interests (baseball at the top of the list), but a moral conscious and moral judgment on the war was very much a part of my young life and has influenced much of my thinking ever since.

  8. Rich,

    “Why are the justifications for the war in Afghanistan not applicable to the war in Iraq?” Have I really not already spelled this out? The Taliban in Afghanistan provided immediate aid and comfort to our enemy – al-Qaeda and bin-Laden – following the 9/11 attacks on the United States. We were, in my opinion, thus justified in attacking the Taliban forces in Afghanistan because they aided and abetted those who had directly attacked the United States. That was not true of Iraq or Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq had not attacked us on 9/11, and did not pose an imminent threat to us in March 2003. The War in Afghanistan was a direct response to an attack on U.S. soil. The War in Iraq was a so-called pre-emptive war, which is why the WMD rationale had to be used by the Bush Administration to justify a perceived threat that, as it turned out, did not exist.

    “You have yet to provide evidence that anyone in the Bush Administration claimed Hussein was involved in 9/11, yet you keep on saying it.” You once again misstate what I wrote. I did not say that the Bush Administration "claimed" Hussein was involved in 9/11. What I wrote was: “On the day of the 9/11 attacks and its immediate aftermath, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, among others, made the case to the President that Iraq should be part of any military response, even though there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement for 9/11.” The “evidence,” which is quite compelling, includes Rumsfeld’s notes and several independent and contemporaneous accounts of the meetings with the President on 9/11 and the first few days thereafter. In fact, the underlined portion of the sentence in my essay linked directly to this evidence and provided a good summation of the behind-the-scenes press for war with Iraq despite the immediate knowledge of the Administration that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 attacks. Other evidence for my assertion can be found in the 9/11 Commission Report; the Senate Intelligence Committee Final Phase II Reports on Prewar Iraq Intelligence; “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terrorism” (Free Press, 2004) by Richard Clarke, who was Bush’s Chief Counter-Terrorism Adviser and the crisis manager in the White House Situation Room on 9/11 and immediately thereafter; and countless more sources that confirm and corroborate my assertion.

    You seem to think that my essay was, in your words, “a defense of Hillary” simply because I used the phrase “Democratic role models” in describing Clinton and other Senate Democrats with whom I otherwise agree on most issues (thus, “Democratic role models” as in political role models, not personal role models, a distinction which should be obvious). I was merely expressing my disappointment with these people for exercising such poor judgment on the Iraq War. I am not certain how an essay that was essentially a major critique of Hillary Clinton, both explicitly and implicitly, was somehow a defense of her. But this is my problem with all of your comments – you miss the point, distort what I write, and make it simply too exhausting to bother with a response.

    . . .

  9. Rich (cont'd):

    How can I “prove” you live in an alternative universe of facts? I will never be able to prove it to your satisfaction, but I will give you one example. You continue to be obsessed with Benghazi despite that seven investigations have refuted the most egregious accusations and vindicated the Obama administration in most respects. These include bi-partisan investigations conducted by Republican controlled committees. A few highlights:

    Were would-be rescuers ordered to stand down rather than head to the facility to try to rescue Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues? The reports all say no. See House Intelligence Committee Report, November 2014 (“Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the committee found no evidence that there was either a stand-down order or a denial of available air support."); House Republican Conference Report, April 2013 ("The progress report finds that officials at the Defense Department were monitoring the situation throughout and kept the forces that were initially deployed flowing into the region. No evidence has been provided to suggest these officials refused to deploy resources."); House Armed Services Committee Report, February 2014 ("There was no 'stand down' order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi.").

    Did U.S. officials have intelligence that predicted the attack and did they fail to share such information with personnel in Benghazi? The reports say no. See, e.g., Senate Intelligence Committee Report, January 2014 ("There was no singular 'tactical warning' in the intelligence reporting leading up to the events on September 11, 2012, predicting an attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi on the 9/11 anniversary."); House Armed Services Committee Report, February 2014 ("The majority members note the absence of an imminent threat in Benghazi.... In Benghazi, U.S. forces were confronted with the unexpected.").

    Did the White House intervene to alter so-called talking points used by then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who initially attributed the violence to anger over an anti-Islam video? Here the reports differ somewhat (see what I did there – I reported accurately and with some nuance). See Senate Intelligence Committee Report, January 2014 ("The majority believes that the CIA talking points were flawed but — as discussed in the report — painted a mostly accurate picture of the [intelligence community's] analysis of the Benghazi attacks at that time."); House Foreign Affairs Committee Report, February 2014 ("Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this interagency correspondence is the extent to which senior State Department officials repeatedly objected to the inclusion of any information that might cast the Department in an unflattering light.") [big surprise – government officials trying to make certain that public statements not reflect too negatively on them]; House Intelligence Committee Report, November 2014 (disputes allegations that the Obama administration edited talking points given to Susan Rice to use during television interviews after the incident; concludes that the CIA, which was dealing with conflicting intelligence reports from multiple sources, was primarily responsible for editing Rice's talking points and using what the report called "imprecise language" to describe the incident.)

    It is true that nearly all the investigative reports have been critical of the State Department's pre-attack planning. But this includes the State Department’s own report on the matter, which took responsibility for the security lapses and implemented recommendations to improve security to ensure that such an attack does not happen again.

    But none of this really matters to you, does it? Like the human effects of climate change and your insistence that it is BS because you can cite three scientists who claim otherwise, you seem to be unmoved by real facts. (End of discussion).