Barack Obama -- and not Hillary Clinton -- is the 44th president of the United States for one reason above all others: He was against the Iraq war, and she was for it. That's it.
In 2008, the American people knew where he stood because he had said so in 2002. He called it a "dumb war," and a "rash war," and predicted that invading Iraq would "only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and would strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda."
Going back into war in Iraq today would also be dumb -- of course, that hasn't stopped the same people who advocated that we invade Iraq under George W. Bush from advocating that we do exactly that once again. President Obama needs to remember his own prediction from 2002 as he manages our response to the violence and chaos unfolding there right now.
Unfortunately, the media cannot stand a vacuum. In the days between the fall of Mosul to the forces of ISIL and the president's announcement detailing how the U.S. would respond, the teevee and the op-ed pages were filled with, ahem, advice on the form that response should take. We did witness some unexpected developments, like Glenn Beck saying that liberals were right to have opposed the Iraq war, and Fox News host Megyn Kelly telling Dick Cheney that "history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir." I was as surprised by those developments as was Jeff Spicoli when Mr. Hand showed up unannounced at his house to give him an American history lecture. And on the night of the Graduation Dance no less. Come to think of it, Dick Cheney might have benefited from some more study of American history as well.
But then, after the people who lied us into Iraq had their turn at playing president, we heard from Barack Obama. In addition to other details, one part in particular stood out:
We have had advisers in Iraq through our embassy, and we're prepared to send a small number of additional American military advisers -- up to 300 -- to assess how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward. American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well.
In and of itself, this announcement does not mean we are going into war in Iraq again. Certainly, the president knows that the American public does not want a rerun of that horror show. According to a PPP poll released June 17, by a margin of 74 percent to 16 percent, the American public overwhelmingly opposes sending troops back there. Additionally, only 20 percent of respondents believe that "renewed fighting in Iraq...is a direct result of the fact that the United States withdrew our troops from Iraq before the job was done," compared to 67 percent who believe it is more "rooted in centuries of sectarian conflict that intensified enormously because of the  invasion of Iraq." And when asked whether they supported the vision of Obama, i.e, no combat troops in Iraq, or John McCain, who said we "should have left troops in Iraq rather than withdraw them," the respondents preferred Obama, 54 percent to 28 percent.
Nevertheless, I can't blame anyone for being concerned. Mission creep can be all too real -- as we saw over the course of a decade in Vietnam -- where we began by sending advisers and ended up with half a million service members under arms. I am wary as well, although I remain confident that this president knows better. I am optimistic that he will remember the wise words he spoke a dozen years ago. He promised on Thursday that we will not be sending troops into combat, and even addressed the issue of mission creep directly:
I think we always have to guard against mission creep. So let me repeat what I've said in the past: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again. We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq. Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by the Iraqis.
Many of us will be holding our breath, waiting to see if that promise holds true.
By invading Iraq in 2003, George W. Bush made the single worst foreign policy decision in our country's history. Today, when Barack Obama looks in the mirror, he'll see the man who understood just how dumb a decision that was. I believe, or at least I hope, the president will listen to him.
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