There was a specific moment in 2003 when I suspended disbelief and decided to back the president as he beat the drums for war in Iraq. My decision to go along with George W. Bush, which I deeply regret, was made despite deep-seated personal skepticism that Saddam Hussein really had and intended to use Weapons of Mass Destruction. The fact that moderate senators like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry also followed the president to war is little comfort.
Actually, it wasn’t the president who convinced me at the time that the mad Iraqi dictator could potentially unleash his WMD on the U.S. and the world. It was Colin Powell, when the hero of the Gulf War and at the time Secretary of State gave a speech to the United Nations.
It is difficult to resist a president’s call to war. Nothing comes close to stirring the same passions, especially because they come wrapped in patriotism.
“It must be true about the WMD because General Powell says it’s true,” I made myself believe. To moderates, Powell was the most credible person in the country, the nation’s first black Secretary of State and definitely not a “yes man” from the Bush/Cheney/Rove Conservative inner circle.
As General Powell presented America’s proof to a skeptical U.N. it was clear that our evidence was almost shyster-thin. An aide later wrote how humiliated Powell was to have been part of the charade, the secretary calling his U.N. performance a permanent "blot" on his record.
Still, this was in the post 9/11 world. We were already at war with terrorists in Afghanistan, and Powell's speech was enough moral cover for me to become a cheerleader for the tragic fiasco that would become the eight-year-long, 4,000-killed-in-action, trillion-dollar Operation Iraqi Freedom.
That war started with a breathtaking attack on Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. It was a massive display intended to inflict “Shock and Awe” on the cowering enemy. Loyal to my initial commitment, I supported the troops and their Commanders-in-Chief from that fiery day on, George W. Bush from 2003 to 2008, and Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011, until Obama mercifully put our war effort out of its misery.
I watched the war end in a whimper, honored to be in the last U.S. convoy out of the country. It was my 12th assignment there.
After so many dead and wounded, Iraqi society had been pummeled and upended. Now the underdog Iraqi Shiites are on top while the old bosses, the Iraqi Sunni’s are on the bottom. But not much else has changed for the better. True, Saddam Hussein and his cronies are mostly dead, but so are a lot of other Iraqis, tens of thousands of them. And they are still killing each other, almost daily and often in piles. There were no WMD. All the agony and loss was for nothing.
It is difficult to resist a president’s call to war. Nothing comes close to stirring the same passions, especially because they come wrapped in patriotism. You don’t think much about the Military-Industrial Complex lobbying or the other special interest groups, and you discredit as naïve the misguided anti-war protestors. You think about the troops. You think about their families and your own, and protecting the homeland from terror.
Now the new boogeyman, the Enemy of All Decency is in Syria. The video of those Syrian children dead or dying because of a poison gas attack is hard to watch without retching. I’m the father of five and it makes my skin crawl. The Syrian dictator is a baby killing, poison gas using monster.
But equally hard to watch is that other video of the Syrian rebels murdering Assad’s soldiers. The rebels executed them in cold blood after having tied their hands behind their backs and torturing them.
These are the people we will be helping if we attack Assad’s forces as President Obama wants. Many of them are or want-to-be Al Qaeda-affiliated. They hate us. They hate freedom. They hate Israel and they hate Syria’s own Christian minority. Many of the so-called Syrian rebels aren’t even Syrian. They are from Libya and Chechnya and I don’t want them in control of this country at the heart of the Mid-East and on the border with Israel. There is no such thing as a limited, surgical strike. Once we pick a side, it is our war.
I’m not going for it again Mr. President. Not this time. Not in Syria.