Just before America's entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress: "It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war," he said. "...But the right is more precious than peace." Wilson's words captured two awesome responsibilities that test any Commander-in-Chief – to never hesitate to defend America, but to never go to war unless you must. War is sometimes necessary, but it has grave consequences, and the judgment to go to war can never be undone.
Five years ago today, President George W. Bush addressed the nation. Bombs had started to rain down on Baghdad. War was necessary, the President said, because the United States could not, "live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder." Recalling the pain of 9/11, he said the price of inaction in Iraq was to meet the threat with "armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."
At the time the President uttered those words, there was no hard evidence that Iraq had those stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. There was not any evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks of September 11, or that Iraq had operational ties to the al Qaeda terrorists who carried them out. By launching a war based on faulty premises and bad intelligence, President Bush failed Wilson's test. So did Congress when it voted to give him the authority to wage war.
Five years have gone by since that fateful decision. This war has now lasted longer than World War I, World War II, or the Civil War. Nearly four thousand Americans have given their lives. Thousands more have been wounded. Even under the best case scenarios, this war will cost American taxpayers well over a trillion dollars. And where are we for all of this sacrifice? We are less safe and less able to shape events abroad. We are divided at home, and our alliances around the world have been strained. The threats of a new century have roiled the waters of peace and stability, and yet America remains anchored in Iraq.
History will catalog the reasons why we waged a war that didn't need to be fought, but two stand out. In 2002, when the fateful decisions about Iraq were made, there was a President for whom ideology overrode pragmatism, and there were too many politicians in Washington who spent too little time reading the intelligence reports, and too much time reading public opinion. The lesson of Iraq is that when we are making decisions about matters as grave as war, we need a policy rooted in reason and facts, not ideology and politics. (More).
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Barack Obama: On Iraq and National Security
Barack Obama's speech yesterday on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. Partial text below, the full text can be found here.