In the November 13, 2005 issue of The Washington Post, former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards penned a mea culpa concerning his previous support for the Iraq War.
"It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake. It has been hard to say these words because those who didn’t make a mistake — the men and women of our armed forces and their families — have performed heroically and paid a dear price."
He then proceeds to discuss how the administration’s fabrication of intelligence misled him into taking a pro-war stance.
While I am always glad to see folks come to their senses, a careful reading of Edwards’ column raises a few red flags. Those of us who have been in the antiwar trenches since before the invasion should look skeptically at his conversion, because some very important issues are at stake.
First, and perhaps least important, are the issues of sincerity and courage. Now that the war has turned into an unpopular debacle, it is relatively easy for politicians to speak out against the invasion. A conversion at this point is like the Frenchman who suddenly decided to join the resistance in 1944. Partisans who had spent the previous four years fighting the occupiers could be excused for viewing such a change with a jaundiced eye.
America was in desperate need of courageous leadership back in 2002 when war plans were being hatched. Without doubt, the political situation at the time would have made such a stand quite perilous for the senator’s future ambitions. But that is the price of true leadership. Coming out now against the war does precious little for those who have already been maimed or killed. When America really needed him, John Edwards was nowhere to be found.
I am also skeptical of his assertion that the administration’s phony intelligence somehow excuses his support for the war.
"The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda."
John Edwards was a U.S. Senator at the time, and is allegedly a reasonably intelligent man. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of American history knows that presidents routinely mete out lies and propaganda in order to garner support for their wars. This has been our government’s standard modus operandi for over a century, stretching back through the Gulf of Tonkin incident, FDR, Woodrow Wilson, and to the sinking of the Maine.
The Bush administration was shoveling manure fast and deep because they had a pre-existing plan to enact "regime change" in Iraq. Anything and everything they said during the run-up to the war should have been viewed with intense skepticism by any responsible leader. Thus, Senator Edwards’ "we wuz deceived" line is a little disingenuous. Given the sordid history of American interventionism, he had the responsibility to investigate and critically examine the administration’s contentions.
Unfortunately, he didn’t.
Second, the newly christened anti-war Democrats are all talking about the pre-war intelligence as if it was unanimous and inarguable at the time. They are acting as if the only information available consisted of the lies spread by President Bush and his dark cabal of Sith Lords.
The reality of the situation was quite different. There were many people — both inside and outside our government — who were openly critical of the administration’s intelligence. Folks like former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and former ambassador Joe Wilson were shouting from the rooftops that the intelligence was faulty. It is dishonest for John Edwards (and other newly converted antiwar politicians) to act as if everyone on the planet believed that Iraq had WMDs. If Edwards had taken the time to chat with informed opponents of the war, he would have found plenty of cause to doubt the administration’s assertions. (And he might also have asked himself why teams of UN weapons inspectors were unable to find any of the weapons that the neocons insisted were in Iraq. Furthermore, if Bush and the neocons knew where the weapons were…why didn’t they tell the inspectors? Apparently, this question was too abstract to enter the senator’s consciousness).
While these issues expose a curious lack of skepticism on the part of Senator Edwards, there is an even more fundamental problem with his article. Namely, by claiming that revelations concerning fabricated prewar intelligence led him to change his stance on the war, he is directly implying that the invasion would have been morally and legally justified if we had, in fact, found WMDs in Iraq.
If our soldiers had found a few drums of mustard gas sitting in the Iraqi desert somewhere, does anyone really believe that our military situation would be any better than it is now? Would this discovery have magically transformed our invasion into a legitimate endeavor?
Of course not.
Rationalizing his pro-war stance by pointing at the administration’s WMD lies is disingenuous because it concedes the central moral controversy of this war to the neocons. Namely, he essentially admits his belief that America had the right to unilaterally invade a sovereign nation based solely on our suspicion of WMDs.
Senator Edward’s article is thus an attempt to rhetorically slither around one of the major points of contention in American politics today. Specifically, America’s bipartisan political class holds a nearly unanimous consensus that our nation has the right and the responsibility to rule the world. America spends nearly half a trillion dollars per year on its military-industrial complex. We have bases in over 120 nations strewn around the globe. We routinely interfere in the internal affairs of nations which are only remotely relevant to the well-being of the American people. The foreign policy leadership of both political parties — from Madeline Albright to Paul Wolfowitz — is united in this hubristic ideology.
Frankly, I believe that the major reason why the governing classes are starting to attack President Bush has less to do with the dishonesty surrounding the invasion than it does with their anger at his clumsy execution of the policy. I don’t believe that this administration’s actions leading up to the invasion were significantly different than those of previous presidents. But this administration’s lies and manipulations were so transparent that they have exposed the entire governing class (and its interventionist ideology) to the light of public scrutiny.
This is something that cannot be tolerated.
Thus, I look for more members of our ruling elite to begin criticizing the Iraq War in a manner similar to Senator Edwards. By channeling our national discussion into a criticism of lies and fabricated intelligence, the establishment hopes to contain the damage and prevent a populist revolt which might demand an end to American globalist interventionism.
As this war continues on its hideously destructive path, a struggle will ensue to shape the public’s impression of exactly what went wrong and why.
If we in the antiwar movement hope to change the paradigm which governs American foreign policy, we cannot allow the establishment to spin its way out of this. We must keep our eye on the ball and hammer home the truth, or this atrocity will happen again.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.