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Gary Hart Headshot

Iraq as Metaphor

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All issues are equal, but some issues are more equal than others. Those more equal give an insight into decision making, leadership style, and even character. Anyone who has served in office is familiar with the question, "Why did he/she do that?," meaning why did that politician do what they did? It is a question impossible to answer, that is without having some divine access to the inner recesses of an individual's mind or even soul.

Great decisions, however, can reveal how future great decisions might be made. No decision since the so-called Gulf of Tonkin resolution in Vietnam is more important than the vote on the 2002 war resolution on Iraq. Unlike health care, economic stimulus, immigration, and a host of other concerns, on that question there is clear difference between the Democratic finalists.

For those in the process of deciding between them for super Tuesday and beyond, they should be urged to consider this question very seriously. Those who decided to grant George W. Bush virtually unilateral authority to invade Iraq now must accept responsibility for its consequences. Votes have consequences. The consequences in Iraq are well over 30,000 American casualties [casualty: killed and wounded], possibly one million Iraqi deaths, and at least a trillion American tax dollars spent on restructuring (much wasteful and corrupted) and not spent on U.S. schools, hospitals, and infrastructure.

On issues such as this, it is not enough to say, We all make mistakes. One of the remaining candidates cannot even bring herself to say that. Why not, at least, say, "The president misled me"? Given how tragically wrong that vote was, such an admission would be at the very least a signal of humility, responsibility, wisdom, and character.

Consider these two questions when deciding how to vote on Tuesday and beyond: Why did Senator Clinton give George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq; and why can she not bring herself to admit she was wrong? Regarding the first, she now says that she was only authorizing war as a last resort. Others who voted as she did and now admit error, including Senators Biden, Dodd, and Edwards, do not make that argument. They admit they were wrong. As to the second question, the plausible excuses are few: she still thinks it was right; she thinks the operation was mismanaged; she clings to the hope that this vote and continued support for it will serve her well with conservatives in a general election; she believes it is a symbol of "strength."

Sorting through a great deal of obfuscation, Senator Clinton still seems to cling to the argument that Bush mismanaged the whole project, that it was worth doing but it was done badly. Thus, she seems to accept unilateral invasion as a first resort, even when intelligence, as it was in this case, is less than clear. She seems to be willing to follow policy makers, in this case neocons, who had a publicly announced imperial agenda in the Middle East. And she permits the impression to grow that "triangulation," in matters of war, requires placing protection of political career over protection of the national interest.

Throughout my life I have tried consistently to avoid being judgmental regarding the motives of others. But, like Senator Obama, even on the sidelines, even without access to classified briefings, even under the war drum beat of the right, and even with a compliant mainstream media, I knew both in my mind and deep in my soul that invasion of Iraq was wrong, that it would lead to semi-permanent occupation, that the war would only just begin when Baghdad fell, and that we were pouring blood and treasure into the sand.

"Triangulation" and "centrism" may have led to eight years of a Democratic presidency in the 1990s. But it also blurred the principles of the Democratic party. It led young politicians to believe that the safest course was in some vague middle ground. And, tragically, it led too many Democrats to believe they had to prove their national security credentials by voting for any military misadventure right wing hawks could think up.

This nation needs a president who will question the conventional wisdom, who will exercise skepticism concerning foreign entanglements, who will have the courage to resist pressure from the narrow-minded bellicose right, who will admit to error when major mistakes are made, and who can look farther over the horizon than most of us. Most of all, we need a president who can restore America's honor, respect, and moral authority in the world.

That president is not Senator Clinton. That president is Barack Obama.

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