Deciding to go to war is never a good decision, never a right decision. At its essence, modern warfare – the mechanized slaughter of human beings on an industrial scale – is the quintessence of man’s inhumanity to man. It is, without exception, something bad. At times, however, it is a terribly unfortunate yet seemingly necessary thing. The sad calculation that must be made, therefore, concerns whether going to war, or fully prosecuting a war once begun, is the least undesirable in an array of undesirable options.
One could apply this rationale to any number of wartime decisions, such as: President Truman’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, hastening the end of World War II at a horrific cost in human suffering; the allied decision to firebomb Dresden in World War II, weakening Germany’s will to fight and incinerating German civilians in the process; the decision by President Roosevelt, concerned for the safety of the American homeland, forcing thousands of Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II.
All three were terrible decisions, all essentially bad. Yet each was, arguably at least, the least undesirable in an array of undesirable options. One hopes they were made within that context and with that sensibility, which, in times of great strife and uncertainty, is what we need from our leaders.
Politicians who vote for or against war due to the shifting winds of opportunism, to bolster themselves politically, are acting not only unwisely, but immorally. America’s rush to war in 2003 against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq may have been too hasty, perhaps even ill-advised; it’s easier to make that call now, with ten-plus years of hindsight, than it was in the days leading up to the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Green-lighting the invasion was an extremely difficult call to make. One hopes that President Bush, and those members of Congress who authorized him, did so in the somber, sincere belief that theirs was an essentially bad decision, yet one that had to be made.
U.S. led coalition forces quickly defeated Hussein’s regime, however, the subsequent occupation of Iraq became extremely difficult and costly, in financial terms and, more importantly, in losses of U.S. and coalition service personnel, as well as civilians. Many of those same politicians who had authorized the use of military force against Iraq (Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Harry Reid among them) suddenly, in direct response to shifting political winds, wanted to cut America’s losses and abandon an extremely unstable Iraq to whatever regional menace might wish to consume it and its population.
President Bush stood firm, however, and continued to fully prosecute the military surge of 2007-08. His steadfastness, in the face of intense political opposition and skepticism at home and abroad, resulted in victory, and a stable Iraq – a stability that was acknowledged, and later squandered, by President Obama.
Stay tuned, for there is more to this narrative.