John "I-Was-For-The-War-In-Iraq-Before-I-Was-Against-It" Kerry testified before Congress that Assad has now joined Hitler and Saddam in the exclusive club of tyrants that have gassed their own people. Bob Menendez recalled childhood memories to make the point that the only way to stop bullies is to stand up to them.
There was no bigger bully than Saddam in the Middle East neighborhood. He invaded two countries. Lobbed Scud missiles at Israel. Funded suicide bombers. Yet Menendez voted against the use of force in Iraq. Back then standing up to bullies was not a priority. Actually, according to some Democrats, standing up to bullies only inspired more bullies.
All of the sudden, Democrats are concerned about enforcing red lines and maintaining the credibility of the American presidency around the world. This from the political party that did everything it could to discredit Bush. They accused him of manufacturing WMDs intelligence; suggested that he was motivated by a desire to make Halliburton rich (actually, richer); and threw at him many other baseless charges and false moral equivalencies that have now so muddled our thinking as a nation that we can no longer find our moral compass.
Speaking of red lines, how many red lines did Saddam cross during the twelve years between the end of the First Gulf War and the invasion of 2003? Saddam violated 16 United Nations resolutions. He violated the terms of the truce that ended the 1991 Gulf War. Repeatedly shot at American planes maintaining the no fly zones established to keep Saddam from slaughtering Kurds and Shia. Yet candidate Obama deemed the invasion of Iraq a “war of choice.” No concern about maintaining America’s credibility or the credibility of the international community back then.
Who knows? The Democrats might even rediscover that the policy of regime change in Iraq was adopted by Congress and Bill Clinton long before George W. Bush entered the White House. They may remember the several covert attempts made during the Clinton years to overthrow Saddam. That every avenue to try to remove Saddam had been exhausted and all that was left on the table was an invasion. Perhaps, they may remember that a Clinton aide suggested (quite seriously) letting Saddam take an American plane down in order to have a pretext for war.
Of course, the reality is that the Democrats have known all along the true nature of Saddam and about our policy of regime change. That is why so many of them voted to authorize the Iraq War. But along the way a political calculation was made that demonizing Bush was a viable strategy for regaining control of Congress and the White House. And it worked.
This isn’t to say that there aren't legitimate criticisms of the decision to invade Iraq; how the plan was executed; whether the Freedom Agenda served the interests of the United States. All legitimate questions that should be debate. And well intentioned people will disagree. That’s healthy for our democracy.
What is destructive is poisoning the atmosphere with assertions that Bush was motivated by evil desires; allegations that the USA is just a patsy doing the bidding for Israel in the Middle East; throwing the term war criminal around just for effect; comparing the actions of our military to the Nazis and Soviets; characterizing an effort joined by 30 nations - including a dozen nations committing boots on the ground - as a unilateral strike by a warmongering cowboy.
In the last few days, many have remarked that the arguments offered by the Obama administration sounded remarkably similar to the arguments made to justify the Iraq invasion. That’s because the rationale for taking action against Assad is the same as the rationale for taking action against Saddam. Either the United States has the moral obligation to stop genocidal tyrants or it doesn’t. Either it serves the interests of the United States to enforce international norms or it doesn’t. Either there is threat of rogue regimes giving WMDs to terrorist groups that would do us harm or there isn’t. Either we engage in a policy that seeks to prevent attacks or we sit back and wait to be attacked before striking. The only difference between Syria and Iraq is the scale of the strike being contemplated.
Thanks to a last minute maneuver by Vladimir Putin, Obama has been able to postpone what was shaping to be an embarrassing vote in Congress. Last night, the president spoke to the nation and urged Americans to be moved by the images of children being gassed by Assad. He said that American principles and values are at stake in Syria. In the next few days we will see whether the president's speech will move public opinion. But if it does not, the Democrats can only blame themselves.