Two repentant Iraq War hawks will probably be on the final ballot for the next president of the United States. Both Hillary Clinton and the cluster of plausible Republican nominees finesse their support for a very bad war by insisting that they were seduced by the “intelligence” community (that benign cyst on Washington’s body politick) and that, if elected, each will be better brief-readers than George W. Bush.
Canadians, French intellectuals and Senator Rand Paul interject that they weren’t much impressed by the public arguments and testimony offered before the war even started. Still, repentant hawks insist that the private briefings about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program and, I suppose, his suicidal character profile were compelling. The war was all about the “intelligence.”
It’s easy today to not be George W. Bush in 2002. But confessing it isn’t terribly informative. Knowing Iraq’s history—and its dogged experts—inside out won’t tell her or him what to do or not do—there or anywhere else in the world. A better-briefed hawk won’t necessarily do what’s right or what works.
Fortunately, there are other benchmarks for assessing the candidates that would update the race and, hopefully, avoid making the future more dangerous than it already is: for instance, the temperament of each candidate and their distance from the temperament of the incumbent, Barack Obama.
Being against the Iraq War now is meaningless. Being against Obama’s conduct abroad is noteworthy.
Obama knows more now about America and the world than he did in Chicago when he came out against launching a second war with Iraq. Most recently, he opted for being called a hypocrite rather than going to war with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. He’s not generous with his country’s resources merely for the sake of his legacy.
Intelligence will keep accumulating to support the next president, but modesty doesn’t grow naturally in Washington. There is every chance that the next president will have a good mind and be as ruthless as Barack Obama. It would be reassuring, however, if even a couple of the front-runners embrace rather than run away from his sense of limits.