Warren: What’s the most significant–let me ask it this way. What’s the most gut-wrenching decision you ever had to make and how did you process that to come to that decision?
Obama: Well, you know, I think the opposition to the war in Iraq was as tough a decision as I’ve had to make. Not only because there were political consequences, but also because Saddam Hussein was a real bad person, and there was no doubt that he meant America ill. But I was firmly convinced at the time that we did not have strong evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and there were a lot of questions that, as I spoke to experts, kept on coming up. Do we know how the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds are going to get along in a post-Saddam situation? What’s our assessment as to how this will affect the battle against terrorists like al Qaeda? Have we finished the job in Afghanistan?
So I agonized over that.
Kevin Holtsberry has already discussed how Obama mischaracterizes his 2002 anti-war speech as an act of political courage when it was really pandering to his political base, and Taranto notes that Obama’s speech itself shows no indication that he struggled with the decision or even considered supporters of the war to be acting in good faith. (I’ve discussed previously why Obama’s speech also trafficked in anti-Semitism).
But there’s another aspect of Obama’s revisionism that bears noting: his claim today that he was skeptical about the international intelligence community consensus that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons programs and was proceeding apace to get nuclear weapons.Michael Crowley of The New Republic covered this back in a lengthy look in February of this year at that speech:
[I]n interviews around [mid-2004], Obama refused to say flatly that he would have voted against the 2002 congressional war resolution. “I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports,” Obama told The New York Times on July 26. “What would I have done? I don’t know. What I know is that, from my vantage point, the case was not made.” In other interviews that week, Obama said, “[T]here is room for disagreement” over initiating the war, and that “I didn’t have the information that was available to senators.”
Obama later justified these comments as an effort to avoid a split with his party’s presidential ticket: Both John Kerry and John Edwards had voted for the war, after all. Yet this explanation was undermined when Obama repeated the point more than two years later. “I’m always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought [the war] was such a bad idea was that I didn’t have the benefit of U.S. intelligence,” he told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in October 2006. “And, for those that did, it might have led to a different set of choices.”
Obama’s repeated emphasis on classified intelligence is curious. He never questioned Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. In October 2002, he acknowledged that Saddam has “developed chemical and biological weapons, and [has] coveted nuclear capacity.” But, Obama argued, Saddam “poses no imminent and direct threat” and, “in concert with the international community, he can be contained until…he falls away into the dustbin of history.” The power of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) lay in its firm assertion that Saddam had a frightful WMD arsenal. But the NIE did not cast Saddam as an imminent threat. If Obama already accepted that Saddam had WMD, why would the intelligence have changed his view about war?
Lest you question the context, here is the full excerpt from the 2002 war speech:
Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.
He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But 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.
In other words, Obama offered – in virtually his sole recorded statement on the war prior to the invasion other than his explanation of why the war was not popular with African-Americans – nothing to dispute the widespread consensus on Saddam’s WMD programs, ambitions, and deceptions. Instead, he argued that we could contain a WMD-armed Saddam. And as is so often true of the Left, and as is consistent with Obama’s domestic law-enforcement focus on gun control, he turned his focus away from how we stop evil men and onto the idea that the source of all danger is weapons, not the people who use them:
You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.
Even this argument, of course, ignores the fact that if you took the position that we could “contain” even a WMD-armed Saddam, nobody else is going to be much afraid of your earnest requests that they disarm and stop dissembling with UN inspectors; in fact, they are likely to reach the opposite conclusion. (Even Obama seemed to concede this point in 2004 when he suggested missile strikes against Iran’s and Pakistan’s nuclear facilities).
The bottom line? Obama’s lucky he has such a short public record, because even the little that he has, he can’t seem to keep straight.