Wednesday 20 March 2013

Right All Along

When Congress voted to authorize the Iraq War in October 2002, only seven Republicans voted against it -- and they took heat for bucking their party. Looking back now, on the 10-year anniversary of the invasion, many of those Republicans maintained they were right all along and fear that the war wasn't worth the costs, both financially and in human lives.

In interviews with The Huffington Post, five of those seven Republicans explained why they broke ranks and opposed the war resolution, which authorized President George W. Bush to "use any means necessary" against Iraq. Two of those Republicans -- Rep. John Duncan (Tenn.) and former Rep. John Hostettler (Ind.) -- did not respond to interview requests.

"To me, it was about growing up in the Vietnam era and not wanting to go through that again," said Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who, in 2002, was the only GOP senator to vote against invading Iraq. "I remember the difficulty the soldiers had coming back here after Vietnam. They had the same issues: PTSD, re-immersion, alcoholism. You have to be prepared to take all that on."

Chafee also didn't believe CIA officials who showed him photos of metal tubes in Iraq and said they were being used to make weapons of mass destruction. He recalled thinking those tubes could have been purchased at a local hardware store and used for a multitude of things. "More than anything, it was the body language of the CIA that told me it wasn't true," he said. "There was no threat to our national security, and also the arguments that they were using [for] why we had to go in, I didn't believe them," said former Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), one of the six House Republicans who opposed the war. "I could see where it was going to cost us a lot of money, and I kept saying this even before -- it's going to cost us a lot of money, a lot of lives. It's going to go on a long time."

Former Rep. Connie Morella (Md.) said she couldn't separate war from being the mother of nine. "I had to look at it as a parent, but also look at the fact that we're talking about sending young people into conflict," Morella said. "There was also the idea that we had not gone through checking with the UN and getting support of allies. We were doing this unilaterally. "That was the 88-ton gorilla or whatever they say," Morella added. "I think it was valid then, and I think it's valid now."

"I just felt it was the wrong war at the wrong time," said former Rep. Amory Houghton (N.Y.), who said he never believed that Iraqi leaders were building weapons of mass destruction. "The information I'd gotten on weapons of mass destruction made me think they were not there," Houghton said. Asked how he came to that conclusion when so many others didn't, Houghton replied, "Everybody had the same information I had. It's all about how you interpret it, isn't it?"

Of course, it was the allegations of weapons of mass destruction that sparked the Iraq invasion in the first place -- and that turned out to be false. In the meantime, Bush plotted a war that was supposed to require few troops and even less time. Instead, it dragged on for nine years, cost the United States at least $800 billion and resulted in nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers being killed. That doesn't include the more than 32,000 wounded Americans and the horrific estimates of Iraqi civilian fatalities, which range from 100,000 to 600,000.

Former Rep. James Leach (Iowa) said he never believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or that Iraqi leaders had ties to al Qaeda, which is why it wasn't hard for him to oppose the war. "If we didn’t know after years of review and international inspections where alleged nuclear capacities were located and where alleged biological weapons were stored in a society filled with dissenters, it appeared to me that the Iraqi WMD threat served more as an exaggerated rationale for war than a true challenge to our national security," said Leach.

Most of the GOP war detractors said they received a steady stream of criticism after their votes. Morella said people would leave notes at the front door of her house saying they disagreed with her. Some called her children, who were grown and living elsewhere, to say they disagreed with Morella's vote. Chafee said he took heat from his GOP colleagues, but was "adamant" in his position. Houghton said he, too, faced criticism from colleagues, but said he didn't really care since he was 60 years old when he got elected to Congress and didn't feel the need to walk in lockstep with leadership. "I didn't have any aspirations for the brass ring," Houghton said. "I just wanted to try to do the right thing for the country."

After nearly nine years of combat in Iraq, President Barack Obama brought home the last batch of U.S. troops in 2011. Saddam Hussein is gone, and in place of his dictatorship, a democratically run government. The question of whether the war was worth it remains. For some of the original GOP dissenters, the answer is a resounding no. "I just think that it was a disaster. It was wrong, and we should have prevented it," Paul said. "Yeah, we got rid of a dictator. It makes no sense. It demonstrates the stupidity of our foreign policy. What it does, it says at one time we can be an ally of Saddam Hussein, but the next week we can turn around and say he's our worst enemy." "I would question, was this worth the loss of credibility?" Morella asked. "Even more than that, was it worth the loss of people? I guess the Iraqi people will show whether it was." Still, she added, "Certainly, I stand by my vote 10 years ago."

Some said they worried that political leaders learned nothing from missteps with Iraq -- and will be just as likely to launch into another war given the right emotional spin. "You would think after Vietnam, people would be hesitant, but it happened," Chafee said. "Any time you get these emotions of fear and anger, it's always possible. It's groupthink." Others dismissed the idea that the Iraq War will be a stain in the history books for the U.S. "We've done a lot of dumb things, but I don't think this is one," said Houghton. "There's a self-correcting gene in Americans. We have this ability to bounce back."

Leach, meanwhile, had a Zen outlook when asked if there were lessons to be learned from the war. "Wisdom is linear," Leach said. "A smart person, we are told, learns from his or her mistakes. But a really smart person also learns from the mistakes of others. And a sage learns both from mistakes and the wise decisions of those who came before."

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