Paternity Test for an Orphan War

by Gene Berkman
Many years ago President John F Kennedy observed that “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”

The relevance of this view was brought home to former Governor Jeb Bush. During an interview on Fox News, he was asked if the Iraq War was the right thing to do, given the information that we have now. He initially responded that invading Iraq was the right policy, then decided that he had new information on the meaning of the question. With new information, he still gave an answer midway between fudging and fumbling. If anyone needed a reason to oppose Jeb Bush’s campaign for President, a reminder of the disaster that his brother bequeathed the country should be more than adequate.

More than a dozen years after President George W Bush unleashed 20,000 precision guided weapons of mass destruction on Iraq, and occupied the country with more than 130,000 American troops, no weapons of mass destruction belonging to the Hussein regime have been found. George W Bush himself has admitted that the WMD threat turned up missing. But the cost, in lives and money, has been much easier to find. Trillions of dollars in tax money and new government debt, thousands of Americans dead, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, destabilization and continuing violence in the Middle East, and new threats against Israel – these are the bitter fruits of George W Bush’s pre-emptive war.

Except for Sen. Marco Rubio, who continues to defend the failed policy of the Bush administration, Jeb Bush has been on his own, with Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie both making clear that they now believe that the invasion of Iraq was “a mistake.”

Some Republicans have gone farther. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a vocal supporter of the war who actively backed the re-election of President Bush in 2004, is now saying that he opposed the war all along. More soberly, William F Buckley Jr in 2006 came to view the Iraq war as a failure; with the failure to find WMD in Iraq he noted that the Hussein regime had not posed “an existential threat to the United States” that would necessitate military action.

If every major Republican today except for Jeb Bush realizes that George Bush’s war was a disaster for America, why did Congress approve the authorization for the use of military force? In 2002, Republicans in Congress were almost unanimous in support of the war. Rep Ron Paul spoke out against the war, but only 5 other Republicans in the House of Representatives joined him in voting against the AUMF. In the Senate, closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, only one Republican and one Independent joined with 21 Democrats to vote no; 29 Democrats joined with 48 Republicans in support of Bush’s war.

Except for Sen. Rand Paul and the confused former Governor of Florida, the field of Republican candidates for President consists of politicians who were for the war before they were against it.

The Iraq War has a Republican brand, but plenty of Democrats have joined in as belligerent bipartisans. In 2004, the Democrats nominated John Kerry for President and John Edwards for Vice-President – both had voted for the war. In 2008, Sen. Hilary Clinton was defeated for the Democratic nomination at least partly because of her vote for the war, but Sen. Obama picked prowar Sen. Joe Biden for Vice-President. And now, Sen. Hilary Clinton, who now describes her vote for the war as “a mistake” is the leading candidate for the Democrat nomination.

Bipartisan belligerence has been the norm in American politics for many years. Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats got America into the Vietnam War, and Republicans went along with that war. Even as the Vietnam war became unpopular among wider segments of the American population, the Republicans failed to run an antiwar candidate for President. Among Democrats, the 1972 nomination of Sen. George McGovern – who had voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution but came to oppose the war – was a fluke. In 1976 the Democrats nominated Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, who had loyally supported Lyndon Johnson’s war.

In 1992, as Democrats sought to take back the White House, they nominated Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who had voiced support for President George H W Bush’s war in Iraq. Gov. Clinton stated at the Democrat convention that he picked Sen. Al Gore for Vice-President because Sen. Gore was one of 10 Democrats in the Senate that supported the (first) war in Iraq. In 2000, after Al Gore was nominated for President, he picked Sen Joe Lieberman of Connecticut because he too was one of the 10 Democrat Senators that voted in support of the first President Bush’s war.

As America faces a world in chaos in the aftermath of the Iraq War that nobody wants to be blamed for, we face two parties that will offer up support for continued military intervention as the only choice. But if we understand the paternity of our orphan war, many Americans will seek another choice as a foreign policy prophylactic.

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