The pragmatic argument against the war in Iraq—in distinct contrast to the intervention in Afghanistan—is two-fold.
First, sanctions and containment work, they force a dictator to modify policies, and as it turns out, Saddem Hussein had already abandoned his weapons of mass destruction.
Second, the international coalition in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan demonstrated that the world was willing to fight Al Qaeda and terrorism.
The invasion of Iraq, on the other hand, wasn’t necessary. The United States could have remained focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan and achieved our goals with a good chance of capturing Osama Bin Laden.
The legal argument against the war in Iraq is simple: this nation never gave us a compelling reason to invade it. Saddam Hussein’s’ dismissal of U.N. resolutions and his ejection of weapons inspectors were serious violations, but not causes for war. This is particularly true for when Iraq allowed the inspectors to return, after the U.S. exerted considerable pressure.
This week, the anti-war argument officially received the support of the Intelligence Committee of the Senate. Officially titled, “The Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessment on Iraq,” the committee’s conclusion was that intelligence estimates of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were “either overstated” or “not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.”
The Senate report also takes John Kerry and John Edwards off the hook for their support of the Iraq war.
A truly bipartisan report, it is very bad news for Pres. George W. Bush. The Senate findings will keep him on the defensive about the war of choice he initiated. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, and Sen. John D. Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, committee chair and vice chair, respectively, stood side by side issuing harsh indictments – Roberts slammed the C.I.A., Rockefeller went one better and said the Iraq war was a mistake. Roberts offered Bush, his party’s leader, mild support, but never spoke up against the Democrat’s denunciations. Roberts said he didn’t know if Congress would have supported a war had it received accurate intelligence. Both men were united in their criticism of the C.I.A..
The report’s focus is correct; it is not scapegoating the C.I.A. What drives congressional anger towards the C.I.A. is a political reality—had the C.I.A. been more honest, then Congress could have stood up to the administration and slowed the momentum toward war. By law, members of Congress and the president may ask for National Intelligence Estimates on questions such as “Does Al Queda have close ties to Iraq?” or “Does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction?” According to the Intelligence Committee report, many members of Congress asked the C.I.A. for NIEs about Iraq. The C.I.A. gave them the same answers that it gave to the president, that the threat was real and thus the war hysteria justified. Events have since demonstrated that the threats Iraq posed to the United States were imaginary.
Release of the committee findings will likely give impetus toward Congress exercising its constitutional prerogative and restricting presidential war powers. Even if the president is pressuring the C.I.A. for certain answers, the C.I.A. has an obligation to Congress and the public to remain independent and arrive at objective conclusions. As a result of this investigation, Congress will likely take steps regarding presidential power on war making. Creating independent agencies within the executive branch is one way to trim residential powers. The Democrats and the Republicans are in agreement; the Senate report is one step on this journey.
My bet is that John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, also agrees and that if he becomes president, he will work with Congress on changing the lines of command for initiating foreign hostilities. One sign of Kerry’s cooperative attitude is his unwillingness to reject the war, which he initially voted for, or call for a withdrawal of American troops. While a campaign bid calling for a rapid end to the war could prove popular among voters, it would be divisive within Congress. And if a Democrat is elected to the White House, it becomes easier for Republicans, typically more supportive of strong presidential war making powers, to support restrictions on executive authority.
Kerry knows that Congress wants to limit presidential powers. Elizabeth Drew, the well-respected Washington correspondent for the New York Review of Books, reports that the Bush administration’s “often contemptuous attitude” towards Congress has “angered” Republicans in the Senate. “In some cases, the administration refused to send high officials to testify before congressional committees—particularly the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” she wrote. Kerry is a member of this committee.
John Edwards, Kerry’s vice presidential choice, enjoys good relations with his colleagues. He had a remarkably successful first year in the Senate. Junior senators are supposed to remain quiet, but he was asked to take depositions concerning the impeachment of former Pres. Bill Clinton. He performed this task so well that he received a unique honor for a new member—he was one of the Democratic senators chosen to defend the president. Edwards’ basic argument that the president’s failings were human and not high crimes and misdemeanors helped persuade Democrats and Republicans to reject impeachment. John Edwards knows how to work with both parties.
Republicans by and large admit Edwards is good choice. A trial lawyer, who holds corporations responsible for their misdeeds, Edward was routinely denounced by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Wall Street Journal. But Washington insiders disagreed. George Will, the conservative columnist, suggested that “a Kerry win might not mean marked changes.”
Given the right of filibuster in the Senate, legislation there requires a supermajority of 60 votes to close off debate before legislation faces a final vote. In effect, bipartisan cooperation is written into the Senate rules independent of election results and cushions sharp changes in policy. Will added that foreign policy, Kerry’s primary interest, is “the realm of presidential freedom from Congress—too much so.” Will, normally an ardent Republican, has all but abandoned Pres. Bush.
Although we live in an era of vicious partisan attacks, legislators must work together. When we look carefully at the Congress, we find it isn’t a presidential lapdog when it comes to the war in Iraq. Congress showed its fangs with the creation of the 9/11 Commission—a bipartisan body that will issue a report any day now.
This commission has placed the president’s proudest claim—that he knows how to conduct a war on terrorism under critical scrutiny. The doubts they raised about the commander in chief helped place the administration on the defensive. As a result, Republican conservatives are reporting a loss of enthusiasm and a growing apathy among G.O.P. voters, while John Kerry’s pick of John Edwards has produced a new wave of enthusiasm for the Democrat’s candidacy.