After 9/11, Americans and the Democratic Party needed someone to stand up to the Bush Administration. We needed a true two-party system that offered a choice between invading Iraq and containing Saddam in the manner we had done for over a decade. Instead, leading Democrats sided with neoconservative Republicans, primarily because 72% of Americans supported the war in 2003.
On big issues, establishment Democrats usually side with Republicans. Just ask Chuck Schumer.
While Karl Rove attacked Georgia Senator Max Cleland (a triple amputee Vietnam Veteran) for opposing the invasion of Iraq, most Democrats stood silent. Vietnam Veteran and Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha also opposed the war and endured criticism from a Republican Party emboldened by the emotions surrounding 9/11. Although Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Congresswoman Maxine Waters also voted against Iraq, their fellow Democrats in Congress failed to uphold the liberal principles that are said to form the basis for the Democratic Party.
Max Cleland, John Martha, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and others within Congress had the same intelligence reports as Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush.
However, they voted against Iraq. They never blamed faulty intelligence for their decision. Then never had to make excuses for their vote.
In fact, 20 Democrats in the Senate and one Republican (Lincoln Chafee) voted against the Use of Military Force against Iraq. In the House, 118 Democrats voted against the invasion of Iraq, including an Independent from Vermont named Bernie Sanders.
Yes, before the Democratic candidate for President in 2016 voted against invading Iraq, the Independent from Vermont voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 under the tenure of a Democratic president. While Democratic icon Hillary Clinton opposed gay marriage until 2013, the Independent from Vermont chose to uphold progressive ideals pertaining to gay rights. The Independent Senator also voted against the Patriot Act, while Democratic Senator Clinton voted for legislation the ACLU calls "unconstitutional."
While some naysayers gleeful claim that Bernie Sanders isn't a Democrat, they conveniently forget that he stood up for liberal principles when they weren't popular, and when Democrats like Hillary Clinton aligned themselves with the GOP. Nothing exemplifies the difference between Clinton and Sanders more than the speech given by Representative Bernie Sanders in 2002. Opposing the Iraq War, Sanders foreshadowed the dire consequences of removing Saddam and engaging in a counterinsurgency war without an exit strategy:
Mr. Speaker, in the brief time I have, let me give five reasons why I am opposed to giving the President a blank check to launch a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq and why I will vote against this resolution...
One, I have not heard any estimates of how many young American men and women might die in such a war or how many tens of thousands of women and children in Iraq might also be killed...
Second, I am deeply concerned about the precedent that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could establish in terms of international law and the role of the United Nations...
Third... I agree with Brent Scowcroft, Republican former National Security Advisor for President George Bush, Sr., who stated, ``An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.''
Fourth, at a time when this country has a $6 trillion national debt and a growing deficit, we should be clear that a war and a long-term American occupation of Iraq could be extremely expensive...
Fifth, I am concerned about the problems of so-called unintended consequences. Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists?
In terms of U.S. history, Bernie Sanders was unfortunately right about the Iraq War. From 2003-2010, there were 1003 suicide bombings in Iraq. MIT estimates that between 3.5 and 5 million refugees have been displaced because of the war. Recent studies have concluded that because of the civil war between Shia and Sunni, internal upheavals resulting from the American-led invasion, and other factors, over 500,000 Iraqis have been killed because of the war.
Bernie Sanders recently won the Congressional Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in part because he has always worked to protect American soldiers and veterans. In his opposition speech to Congress, Sanders states clearly in his first reason to oppose the invasion that, "I have not heard any estimates of how many young American men and women might die in such a war." Ultimately, 4,492 American deaths (up from the 4,486 American deaths I cited in November of 2014) and 32,223 Americans wounded in action would result from Congress and the Bush administration ignoring Bernie Sanders and other voices of dissent. As for the nature of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, between half and two-thirds of all the Americans killed or wounded in both conflicts were the victim of IED blasts according to the Department of Defense.
However, not all liberal politicians shared the views of Bernie Sanders, Max Cleland and others. Armed with the letter "D" next to her name, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton voiced support for Bush and Cheney's military objectives, and her speech to Congress (Library of Congress transcript) echoes the exact buzz words and talking points of the Bush administration:
I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who has tortured and killed his own people, even his own family members, to maintain his iron grip on power. He used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds and on Iranians, killing over 20,000 people...
It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capability to wage biological and chemical warfare and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East which, as we know all too well, affects American security...
This is a difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Any vote that may lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction. Perhaps my decision is influenced by my 8 years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our Nation. I want this President, or any future President, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war.
Clinton supporters vehemently opposed to the NRA, yet bizarrely immune to the consequences of Iraq, must remember that wars are fought with guns. Lots of guns. Hillary Clinton, along with many others, sent Americans off to Iraq, Afghanistan and other places to fight in wars involving the deadliest weaponry on the planet.
Fast forward many years later and quoted in The Huffington Post, Clinton now calls a vote once cast with "conviction" a "mistake":
"I made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple. And I have written about it in my book, I have talked about it in the past," Clinton told reporters at an event in Cedar Falls, Iowa, adding that "what we now see is a very different and very dangerous situation."
Clinton had the same intelligence as Sanders, but made the wrong decision after 9/11. Her "mistake, plain and simple" wasn't a small one; it cost the nation and the world a great deal of suffering.
History shows that Clinton was wrong on Iraq and wrong on the biggest foreign policy decision of our generation. History also shows that Bernie Sanders was right and had enough wisdom and conviction to see through the patriotism utilized by Cheney and others to get us into war. Democrats needed a person like Bernie Sanders after 9/11, to stand up to the Bush Administration and uphold the progressive ideals that Democrats are supposed to stand for in tough times. In 2016, the Democratic Party and America will have an opportunity to vote for a man who made the right decision and never used excuses for his Iraq War vote. For this reason, in addition to polling trajectory, Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic nomination and become our next president.