Author’s Note: IVN is a non-partisan outfit. I am grateful for the opportunity IVN has afforded me as a regular contributor and for granting me this space. What follows is a lengthy recitation of part of my own political education and a reflection only of my own views and not the views of IVN or any other organization. It is a bit autobiographical and for all who indulge me, I thank you.
With the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war passing, it is a suitable time to reflect, and in my case, confess.
Just as the Kennedy assassination or the Vietnam War helped shape an earlier generation, my generation’s defining political moments will ultimately trace back to the Iraq war as much as 9/11. Well, at least for me.
On March 20, 2003, I was a freshman in college. I supported the war in Iraq, but in the most partisan and shallowest of terms.
Although I wasn’t old enough to vote for George W. Bush in 2000, I certainly desired to, and I wanted to support the Republican president in his prosecution of this “splendid little war.” The message was clear that there wasn’t going to be a draft and so my biggest concern about supporting the war was moot.
Let me remind you, this was not just support for the president because I thought it made me a good American. I wanted to support the Republican president.
When the war began, I asked my girlfriend if she supported it. She did, but told me it was because she was supporting the president and would be doing the same if the commander-in-chief was a Democrat. Her answer disappointed me.
At no point did it ever occur to me that Saddam Hussein had not attacked us. Neither did I sit down and reflect whether an invasion might contradict my professed defense of the sanctity of life. Nor did I consider what such a war might do to the integrity of military families, the nation’s financial standing, or Iraq’s historic Christian community. I also don’t remember giving much consideration to weapons of mass destruction. Besides, Bush was a Republican and a Christian. He wouldn’t lie.
It continued like this for more than a year.
As 2003 progressed, the presidential election of 2004 approached, sectarian violence in Iraq escalated, and I hardened my resolve.
Democrats like Howard Dean, John Edwards, and John Kerry were sniping at Bush for Iraq, even though all three supported the war in some manner. It didn’t matter to me. Iraq was a just war. Saddam deserved to go. And besides, do you want the terrorists attacking us here?
It wasn’t until the eve of the 2004 presidential election that I really began giving something resembling serious thought to the conflict.
For that I must thank columnist Patrick J. Buchanan.
In the summer of 2004 I was addicted to talk radio and cable news. I would listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity all afternoon. In the evening it was a steady stream of Bill O’Reilly, Hannity again, and then it was over to MSNBC for the now-defunct Scarborough Country. One of Joe Scarborough’s regular guests and occasional guests hosts was Buchanan.
I didn’t always understand what this old guy had to say. I wasn’t even sure if this was the guy I’d heard was a far right-wing guy or that televangelist. Either would have been fine with me, but then he said some unusual things like “Bush is a reckless interventionist!” I would shout back at the TV, “He isn’t reckless! He’s a liberator!”
Anyway, forget that guy. I still had Rush and Sean. They wouldn’t mislead me.
Then one afternoon in my dorm I began reading the Drudge Report. Down the middle was the list of columnists. Pat Buchanan. I remember him.
I don’t remember which column it was. It was probably a series of columns, but the arguments I’d heard him make on TV slowly began to penetrate the void of my skull and seep into my kernel-sized brain.
Yeah, I guess that’s right. Saddam Hussein didn’t attack us and it sure doesn’t look like he was capable of it either.
You know, that makes sense. The terrorists probably didn’t attack us on 9/11 because we’re rich and free. It would make more sense, wouldn’t it, if they attacked us because we’re on their holy land. And if there isn’t a pressing need for us to be in the Middle East, or at least Saudi Arabia, then we probably don’t need to be there anyway.
It was akin to the scales falling off Saul’s eyes.
This “conversion” didn’t come in time for me to reconsider voting for Bush. I was away at college and I had already, proudly, cast my absentee ballot.
My previous support for the war meant nothing in the big picture. It had no bearing on the success or failure of the endeavor. But it bore a reflection on what the war was doing to me.
My support was entirely rooted in partisan loyalty, not in any well-grounded belief in the cause.
But this wasn’t just political theater over the tax rate or the frequency of Bush’s vacations. This was about a war, a shooting war, and I was willing to believe anything to justify it. So what if we haven’t found any WMDs. Saddam was a bad guy and deserved to go anyway.
As Tom Hanks said to Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me If You Can,” sometimes it’s easier to live the lie. And it’s easier to cling to the assumptions that the Democrats are just a bunch of terrorist-loving, cheese-eating surrender monkeys than it is to admit that Iraq was sold to us on faulty grounds and produced few benefits at great cost.
This one of the reasons I’m skeptical that the GOP will take a less interventionist turn in foreign policy in the immediate future.
I was pleasantly surprised at the support Rand Paul received for his filibuster earlier this month, but I’ve been careful not to get too excited. Obviously, some of the support Paul received from his colleagues and the conservative media was strictly derived from anti-Obamaism. If Paul had been filibustering the Obamas’ vacationing, I suspect it would have been only slightly less of a phenomenon.
I have my doubts that a party that so adamantly supported expansive war powers under Bush would so quickly and genuinely begin supporting a figure like Rand Paul. To do so would repudiate two terms of Bush – which even in today’s measurement is not ancient history – without any intra-party discussion.
To that point, I’ve noticed remarkably little reflection from the GOP on the anniversary of the event. For all the down-to-the-bitter-end support the party gave to the war, most of the commentary I’ve seen is confined to center-left and outside-the-mainstream forums.
A writer at Breitbart took the occasion to ask why aren’t the “Bushies out there defending Iraq?” For all the blood, treasure, and political capital spent on the war, it’s a pertinent question. But the silence from many Bush administration officials and other conservative outlets should speak for itself.
There’s nothing I can do to undo the support I gave to the war. But because of Iraq, and all its unintended consequences, I have forever resolved to question any administration’s war claims and I have not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004.
There is a lot of talk about the leftward shift in this country especially regarding moral issues and immigration. However, I am still a Republican today.
I am pro-life. I favor the now-anachronistically named “traditional marriage.” I favor tax cuts, lower spending, constitutionalism, and a general repeal of the 20th Century.
I also favor a foreign policy rooted in the national interest and which only defends the rights and security of Americans.
The Iraq war, for a period of about a year and a half, scrambled my priorities and vision. To a great extent, it still has the priorities of the conservative movement scrambled.
I am thankful that I could see the error in my judgment before support for that war became as much a part of the conservative identity as tax cuts. Yet, we are still undergoing the effects of what the war did to our movement and our party, much less the country.
The Republican Party ails from more than just the debacle of Iraq. Foolish posturing on immigration and being widely perceived as presiding over the Great Recession have also contributed.
But perhaps an appropriate way to conclude this diatribe is to quote from the late columnist Joe Sobran, another conservative with better judgment than I, circa 2003:
“War has all the characteristics of socialism most conservatives hate: Centralized power, state planning, false rationalism, restricted liberties, foolish optimism about intended results, and blindness to unintended secondary results.”