After last weekend’s Future of Florida Summit at the Bob Graham Center in Gainesville I began thinking in-depth about the lead up to the Iraq War once again. It’s become an issue in the face for both Presidential nominations and the war is in hindsight seen as a fatal mistake.
While many in Washington in both parties were anxious to rush toward a military conflict with Iraq in 2002, Florida’s Senior Senator Bob Graham was a lonely voice in the wilderness cautioning against the invasion of Iraq. In October 2002, after reading the intelligence reports related to Saddam Hussein and has WMD program, Graham voted “NAY” on the Iraq War Resolution. He was one of just 23 Senators and 21 Democrats to vote no. Florida’s other Senator, Bill Nelson voted for the resolution as did the likes of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden.
President Bush’s gambit in Iraq as many, including myself warned at the time ended up strengthening Iran, and bringing a democratically elected pro-Iranian regime into power. What some war opponents did not foresee including myself was the length and depth of the insurgency that took hold against the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq.
The insurgency took hold largely because of the mismanagement of the US occupation under Paul Bremer, including “debaathification” and the dismantling of the Iraqi Army. Senator Graham wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post in 2005 laying out what he knew BEFORE the March 2003 invasion. In 2011, Graham authored Keys to the Kingdom a novel which is loosely based on events related to 9/11 and the lead up to the Iraq War. Around the time of his retirement from the Senate in 2004, Graham had pennedIntelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America’s War on Terror which shed light on the failures of national intelligence in the lead up to 9/11.
Senator Graham’s opposition to the Iraq War was in fact heroic. Politically in Florida, even liberal Democrats like Congressman Rob Wexler had bought into the rationale for the war (though Wexler became one of the war’s leading critics before long and a staunch backer of Barack Obama’s Presidential bid from an early stage) while many Democratic activists also expressed support for the war. War fever and rallying around the flag become a hallmark for many liberal Democrats who were trying to avoid the label of being “soft on terrorism,” or “dovish” in the wake of the paranoia that swept much of the state following 9/11. Since the Democrats suffered a wipe-out election in 2002 in Florida and nationally lost control of the US Senate, political fear rather than logic or an actual assessment of the situation dictated the decisions of many Democrats. It was all too easy to in hindsight blame the Bush Administration when many did not do their own homework about the life and death decisions that were made around this time.
Senator Bob Graham did do his homework and articulated why going to war was a mistake. For this, the state and nation will forever owe him a debt of gratitude. For the others who didn’t take the necessary due diligence over the issue of life and death, war or peace we can only hope they do better if these sorts of situations arise again. But forgive those of us who don’t trust those irrespective of perceived political ideology who cast a vote for the war in Iraq.
Graham need have done nothing more than this to earn his place in the annals of political courage.
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