I’ve written before, admiringly, about the October 2002 speech Barack Obama gave opposing the war in Iraq, the same month that Congress voted to authorize the war.
On one such recent occasion, a comment in the thread by Centauri argued that Obama’s stand against the war was not lonely and therefore may not have been as courageous as it is sometimes portrayed.
His chief fact in support of that argument was this: The great majority of Illinois Democrats in Congress voted against the Iraq war resolution.
I checked the congressional records and confirmed that eight of the 10 Illinois Dems in the U.S. House voted No on the resolution. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois also opposed the resolution authorizing the use of force.
All eight Illinois Republican congressmen plus GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald all voted Aye. The Chicago newspapers were editorializing in favor of the resolution, and polls showed that a majority of Americans and the majority of Illinoisans favored the use of U.S. military force to remove Saddam Hussein.
In the last Dem Prez debate, Obama did claim that:
“It was not [politically] smart for me to oppose the war at the start of this war, but I did so because it was the right thing to do.”
I take that to be a claim that it was an act of political courage.
It had not previously occurred to me that the question of whether Obama’s speech demonstrated good judgment, and whether it demonstrated political courage, could be separated. But they can, and perhaps should.
If the climate in Illinois was such that most Democratic elected officials opposed the war, it hardly seems that the decision of a state senator who was contemplating a run for Fitzgerald’s U.S. Senate seat should qualify for a Profile in Courage award for taking the same position.
‘I’m opposed to dumb wars’
None of this changes the contrast that Obama draws with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the war. Nor does it subtract from the prescience that Obama demonstrated in his remarks themselves, which included this passage:
“I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
“I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.
“I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”