Democracy Alliance Follow-up: Iraq War Dust-up
The Fix can now identify the liberal campaign donor who engaged in verbal fisticuffs with former President Bill Clinton last weekend at a private gathering in Texas -- Guy T. Saperstein, a civil rights attorney from Oakland, Calif. (See this morning's post for background.)
Saperstein e-mailed a copy of a letter he sent this week to Clinton in which he acknowledged an apology he received from the former president. The letter restates Saperstein's view that it is not inappropriate for voters to judge lawmakers by how they voted on the 2002 Iraq war resolution.
"You suggested we look forward, not back, and said the question we had to address was, 'What should we do now?' ... Regardless of which direction events are headed, what is important to understand is that the U.S. long ago lost control of the situation. ... Jack Murtha is telling the truth to the American people; it would be helpful if other Democrats joined him." Read the full text of the letter after the jump.
In responding to The Fix's inquiries, Saperstein asked to correct the record on a few items. First, he didn't interrupt Clinton's remarks; their exchange came later during a Q&A. Second, Saperstein wasn't voicing support for Sen. John Edwards so much as he was holding Edwards up an example of someone who made "a good first step towards recognizing the mistake made in voting for the October 2002 resolution and, hopefully, beginning to address the false assumptions that continue to underlay -- and undermine -- our occupation of Iraq."
And finally, Saperstein says he wasn't piling on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton alone; his views apply to all the Democrats in Congress who supported the Iraq resolution in 2002.
Saperstein is a '60s-radical-turned-lawyer who made his name in big employment cases and as a supporter of the Sierra Club and other environmental causes. His memoir, "Civil Warrior," was released in 2002.
Saperstein sent the following letter to former president Clinton on May 24:
Dear President Clinton:
Thank you for the apology you transmitted to me last Saturday. It was quite gracious, but it wasn't necessary. We're all adults here, Iraq is a contentious issue and it is no surprise that elbows occasionally will be thrown. I wanted to respond substantively to your comments, but others wanted to ask questions too, so I chose not to monopolize the audience microphone.
The question I raised last Saturday remains: Is it credible for you, or anyone, to suggest that the problems of a war in Iraq, and/or discerning President Bush's true intentions in seeking the Iraq resolution, were not knowable in October 2002? I respectfully submit that the answers to both questions were knowable and the explanations you offered simply don't work.
Separate and apart from any claims made by Bush or Cheney, there existed a large amount of scholarship about the history of Iraq. One prominent book is David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace," a study of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Iraq. Leaving aside the base motivations of Britain, Germany, France, etc. surrounding Iraq's oil, it is clear that the history of racial, ethic and religious conflict among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds goes back at least hundreds of years. Indeed, you can pick nearly any page of Fromkin's book and it reads like yesterday's New York Times. The problems the British had in Iraq were essentially no different than the problems the U.S. is having today and this was totally predictable before the Iraq resolution and invasion. Anyone who thought then that an invasion would not stir those historic conflicts, or thinks now that the U.S. can outwait or outlast these conflicts by continuing to occupy Iraq, is living in Fantasyland.
Even key Republicans understood, and spoke publicly about, the dangers of invading Iraq. Former President George H. W. Bush wrote in 1998:
While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of Iraq. We were concerned about the long term balance of power at the head of the Gulf....We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well....Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.
On August 15, 2002, Brent Scowcroft wrote the following in the Wall Street Journal:
[T]here is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks. Indeed, Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them. He is unlikely to risk his investment in weapons of mass destruction, much less his country, by handing such weapons to terrorists who would use them for their own purposes and leave Baghdad as the return address. Threatening to use these weapons for blackmail---much less their actual use---would open him and his entire regime to a devastating response by the U.S. While Saddam is thoroughly evil, he is above all a power-hungry survivor.
[T]he central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism.
Republicans, of course, were not the only ones to perceive the folly of invading Iraq. In a series of eloquent speeches, Senator Robert Byrd detailed the "disastrous consequences" of invading Iraq, which included violation of international law and the U.N. Charter, weakening alliances with European allies, fomenting Anti-Americanism around the world based on "mistrust, misinformation, suspicion and alarming rhetoric that is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11," ignoring homeland security, disrupting the world's oil supplies and elevating fuel prices, inflaming the Arab world and bankrupting the U.S.
Due to reasons such as these, 148 Democrats in Congress (125 in the House and 23 in the Senate) saw through the smoke and mirrors, accurately perceived that Bush/Cheney would use the Iraq resolution to invade, and voted against it. It was ironic that on Saturday you quoted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to support your argument that mistakes get made in these types of situations because a large number of Democrats voting against the Iraq resolution cited the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to support their skepticism of Bush's claims. Obviously, some Senators had learned the lesson of the Gulf of Tonkin better than others.
Did Bush and Cheney lie and mislead? Did they misinform the Congress and the public? Did Bush claim the resolution would not necessarily lead to war? Of course, but by October 2002 there were abundant reasons not to believe what they said about their intentions---or anything else---and 148 Congressional Democrats were not misled. You know more about leadership than I do, but isn't part of leadership making the right decision under pressure with incomplete information---even when public opinion might be running the other way? And while you twice quoted Bush saying that he would not use the resolution to go to war, when he did use it for that purpose I don't recall Hillary raising her voice in opposition.
I am not suggesting we should judge anyone solely on one vote, but this was the single most important vote anyone currently in Congress ever made and we all will be paying for it for many years, maybe our entire lifetimes. The war has diverted America's attention from the real war---the fight on terrorism. Who knows what this diversion of our attention and resources ultimately will cost us? It has cost us alliances and caused America's standing in the world to plummet. It has weakened America's ability to respond to real national security threats, such as Iran and North Korea---the U.S. and Britain have become, in the words of The Economist, "The Axis of Feeble." It has depleted our financial resources and made it difficult, if not impossible, in the foreseeable future to address any of America's serious infrastructure needs---even if Democrats take control of Congress in 2006 and/or the Presidency in 2008. In short, the war has been catastrophic on many fronts. Are voters supposed to forget how we got into this mess, its long-term costs, or not measure leadership by who got it wrong?
You suggested we look forward, not back, and said the question we had to address was, "What should we do now?" First, let me acknowledge that you and I are not far off in the answer to that question. I have thought from the beginning that once Saddam was removed, there were only two possibilities: A Shiite government closely aligned with Iran that would dominate the Kurds and Sunnis, most likely aggressively; or a tri-partite separation into Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni regions (which Joe Biden now supports and you seem to endorse). Regardless of which direction events are headed, what is important to understand is that the U.S. long ago lost control of the situation. The question no longer is building democracy, or anything else; it is how many more thousands of American soldiers will be killed and maimed and how many more trillions of dollars will be flushed down the toilet before we achieve sanity and get out. Seventy-one percent of the American soldiers in Iraq say that should be within 6 to 12 months, which sounds right to me. Jack Murtha is telling the truth to the American people; it would be helpful if other Democrats joined him.
At risk of invoking humor into a serious topic, the difference you and I have might best be summed up in a cartoon in this week's The New Yorker (May 22) on page 61, where the caption is, "But what you call a track record I call ancient history." I suggest that neither the beginning of the Iraq adventure nor the current quagmire should be treated as ancient history and neither are removed from consideration of what constitutes leadership.
Guy T. Saperstein
Cc: Democracy Alliance Partners
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