During a recent Republican debate, Mitt Romney responded to a question about whether we should have gone into Iraq. "It was the right decision," he said, "based on what we knew at the time."
We've heard that answer before, from many people, on both sides of the aisle. From all walks of life. From the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters.
It's worn out its welcome.
"It was the right decision based on what we knew at the time" is a perfectly understandable explanation. It is not, however, an answer.
That answer is "No."
Let's say that someone is standing on the corner of a busy intersection, arms full of packages and unable to see in front of him. He asks a person by his side, a person who has a better view of the landscape, whether or not it's clear to cross the street. The person says, "Sure," and the man starts to walk across -- and is run over by a speeding vehicle.
As that man is lying in the hospital on life support, hooked up to a heart-lung machine, fed by intravenous, if a family member leaned over and asked him, "Do you think you should have crossed the street the way you did?" - how many people believe he would answer, "It was the right decision based on what I knew at the time"?
Okay, you in the back. That's one. The rest of you get a cookie.
The thing is, it is an accurate response. It was the right decision based on what was known at the time. But it was a horrible decision. It was a decision the man would no doubt regret to his last, imminent dying day. A decision so horrible that he's lucky he even has a chance to reply and say how incredibly imbecilic it was ...
To make himself feel better, to bury any horrific guilt he felt at such a doltish decision, he just might possibly eek out, "It was the right decision based on what I knew at the time." But you know what he would be thinking, you know that rattling around in every corpuscle of his body would be, "Why did I do that???! How stupid was I?!! Why didn't I just put the packages down and look for myself??!! Why didn't I listen for cars?! Why didn't I just wait until the person who I asked was crossing the street himself and I would know it was safe?! What was I thinking??!!!! Ow. It hurts."
So, when anyone answers the question about whether we should have gone into Iraq by saying, "It was the right decision based on what we knew at the time," just know that that's not the answer. They have two real choices - Yes and No. "It was the right decision based on what we knew at the time" is not an option on the test.
Sometimes we make correct decisions.
Sometimes we make correct decisions, but the conditions of life change into something else. Teaching somebody how to drive a car, for instance, and then years later they're the wheel man in a bank robbery.
And sometimes we just make wrong decisions.
There's nothing shameful in making a wrong decision. We don't like when it happens, and we don't get bonus points, but that's life. What's shameful is making a wrong decision and not regretting it. Because then it can't be corrected. And will be repeated.
We all know this.
Yet, the only answer some people in either party can give when asked about getting into Iraq is "It was the right decision based on what we knew at the time."
No. Again. No. It wasn't.
Conditions didn't change into something unexpected. This started as a war, and it's remained a war. The civil war has spread, the violence has increased, but Iraq was an embattled, divided country on Day One. It not only could have been foreseen, it was foreseen by many.
It was the wrong decision.
It was not the right decision based on what we knew at the time.
If you allow people to get away with saying that about Iraq, the next thing you know they'll be using it as an answer for anything. I don't know, things like -- "Was it a good idea voting for George Bush as President?"
"Well, hmmm, gee, it was the right decision based on what we knew at the time."
No. It was wrong.
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