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Voting “For” the Iraq War

February 5th, 2007

One thing that has been on my mind for a while: should we really be so critical of Democrats who voted for the resolution that allowed Bush to go to war in Iraq? This is one of those questions that is not quite so black-and-white.

On the one hand, the resolution was not simply one that said, “Okay, start a war.” It was a resolution that gave the president the authority to go to war if he deemed it necessary. The context of the moment was that Bush needed the authority so as to pressure Iraq to allow inspections and disarm; if Congress denied him this, then his hand against Iraq would be weak, practically impotent, and Hussein could have simply thumbed his nose at us. Additionally, there were guarantees made by the administration that I blogged on more than a year ago, that the authority would only be used as a last resort:

“Later this week, the United States Congress will vote on this matter. I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America’s military, if it proves necessary, to enforce U.N. Security Council demands. Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable.”

Additionally, Bush promised Senators that the force authorized by the resolution would be used only as a last resort.

On the other hand, one could easily say that Bush’s words were insincere, and that the senators should have been able to see through that. While Bush was saying that he would only go in as a last resort, he was also saying everything possible to make Hussein look more evil than Adolf Hitler, and potentially more dangerous. It did not take much to see that handing over the authority would virtually guarantee a war; using the “last resort” promise could seem like little more than political ass-covering.

However, there were several mitigating circumstances. First, Bush had already built up U.S. forces around Iraq–cocked the pistol, so to speak–thus painting the U.S. into a corner: had we backed down and not taken military action even though Hussein had not given in, it would be a body blow to U.S. influence. Second, Bush’s request, though transparently insincere, was on the face of things quite necessary: we could indeed not put respectable pressure on Iraq unless it could be backed up; a bluff would not work.

And third, the political pressure was tremendous; any senator voting “no” would potentially be setting him/herself up for political annihilation in the following election, especially given the massive fear and paranoia the country was still feeling so soon after 9/11. Credit can be given to those who voted against the resolution, but I don’t necessarily feel that equal blame can be assessed to those who voted for it because the pressure was so great. Furthermore, those who voted against the resolution may have had an easier choice: because they knew the resolution would pass and their ‘nay’ votes would amount to little more than a protest vote, they did not have to deal with the real obstacles mentioned in the previous paragraph. Had each of these senators been faced with a tie-breaking vote and still voted against, that would have been a true test of political and moral resolution.

One cannot completely avoid assigning a certain amount of blame and shame upon the senators who voted for the resolution, and these senators are now paying the price by having it on their records, while those who voted against it can claim the high ground. But I would not completely dismiss anyone who made that choice.

Let’s face it–in the end, this is George Bush’s war. It was his idea, he put the pieces into place, he used 9/11 to create massive public fear and pressure to invade, he placed America’s reputation on the line, he cherry-picked and exaggerated and lied to make it an imperative. There’s no way around that. Even if the Democrats had controlled a majority of the Senate and could have decided the vote, by that time Bush had engineered so massive a wave of political thrust that to deny him the authority would have taken a political will and a political risk greater than just about any we’ve seen for a very long time. In hindsight, we can comfortably call the Democratic politicians who voted ‘aye’ enablers and worse, but it could not be called so easy a choice to make even if it were to be meaningful in practical respect.

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  1. Troy
    February 6th, 2011 at 07:21 | #1

    to their credit, the Dems in the House voted no as a bloc.

    Dems in the Senate had their 1990 ‘no’ vote to think about too.

    Since all but 1 Republican voted for war, and there were enough surviving conservative Dems like Lieberman and Zell Miller to deny the filibuster, a no vote in the Senate was in fact just a protest vote.

    In game theory terms, Nay had an immense risk of having Bush go in and find a casus belli, or have the invasion and everything go well, making your Nay look stupid.

    A Yea just had the risk of being as wrong as everyone else was.

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