Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Obama battles ghosts of Iraq
WASHINGTON — In October 2002, more than five months before the U.S. would invade Iraq, an Illinois state senator named Barack Obama said at an anti-war rally that he was not against all wars, just "dumb war."
Obama, who later made ending the war in Iraq a critical plank in his presidential campaign, would later go on to lament that the U.S. made a crucial mistake when it bypassed the United Nations and went to war despite skepticism in much of western Europe.
A decade after the U.S. military started the Iraq campaign with a shock-and-awe air assault, Obama finds himself battling with the ghosts of Iraq as he tries to win support from a skeptical Congress and a war-weary public for a punitive military strike against the Bashar Assad regime for allegedly carrying out a chemical strike in a rebel stronghold outside of Damascus that left over 1,400 dead.
Obama alluded to his own criticism of the George W. Bush administration's failure to win broad international support before taking action in Iraq on Friday, noting that "I've shown consistently and said consistently my strong preference for multilateral action whenever possible."
"But it is not in the national security interests of the United States to ignore clear violations of these kinds of international norms," added Obama, whose national security team will take another attempt at nudging doubters when it holds a briefing on its Syria intelligence on Saturday.
FULL COVERAGE: Latest developments in Syria
The Obama administration has chafed at comparisons between the Syria crisis and the war in Iraq. Obama has repeatedly made clear that he is not considering putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria and that any potential military action would be limited in time and scope. And although Obama supports the end of Assad's rule in Syria, the White House has made clear the objective of any potential U.S. action does not include regime change.
"I think that there are some very important differences," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said about the comparisons. "What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change."
Central to Obama's criticism of Bush's push for war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein posed "no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors."
In arguing for action against the Assad regime, Obama and his aides have made the case that failure to punish Assad for something as out-of-step with international norms as a large-scale chemical attack would undermine U.S. credibility and embolden rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran, in their own calculations.
Obama tapped Secretary of State John Kerry to announce the release of the U.S. intelligence assessment of Syria's chemical weapon use. Kerry offered an impassioned performance that in some ways echoed then-secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations that U.S. intelligence officials had assessed with "high confidence" that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, a claim that proved to be false.
Like Powell, Kerry used the term "high confidence" to describe the U.S. intelligence on Syria.
Kerry has his own scars from the Iraq War. As a senator, Kerry voted in favor of going to war in Iraq before souring on the Bush administration's handling of the conflict. In Kerry's unsuccessful run for the White House in 2004, the Bush campaign effectively branded Kerry as flip-flopping on the issue, even as the American public's support for fighting in Iraq began to ebb.
In making his case to the public that military action was necessary, he sounded cognizant of the ghosts of Iraq.
"Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war," Kerry said. "Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility."
Posted by Kliph at 8:00 PM