Remember Bob Graham’s Iraq War views? They were positively enlightened…

This past few weeks, the media has spent a lot of time discussing the Iraq War, which began 20 years ago this month. While the war was very popular at the time, it’s become an issue since that first defined Democrats in the 2007 to 2012 period and since 2015 or so the GOP, who have become largely reflexively anti-interventionist as a result. MAGA GOP opposition to “forever wars” does have a certain appeal to those on the left and what has resulted is a bipartisan foreign policy consensus in the middle has faced off against a fairly unified left/right who are anti-intervention, albeit often for different reasons.

But in 2002 and 2003 a consummate, solutions-oriented centrist, Florida Senator Bob Graham who had previously supported interventions (including the 1991 Gulf War) was one of the leading voices in opposition to the war. And as usual, Graham was right (he was generally right on most things from his time in the State Legislature onward). Why was Graham so opposed to the war?

Many in Washington in both parties were anxious to rush toward a military conflict with Iraq in 2002, yet 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. Graham’s opposition was based on seeing no link between Iraq and Al Qaida (which was fairly obviously the case if you followed the politics and alliances of the Middle East, and the secular Ba’ath traditions) as well as little evidence of WMD’s in Iraq.

But Graham’s advocacy and useful critiques didn’t stop when the war began.

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.

However, I must register here a view that opposition to the Iraq War (which I opposed personally, protesting actively even before hostilities began) should not lead to opposition to the current US/NATO efforts in Ukraine. In fact, if anything I believe opposition to Iraq and support for Ukraine is consistent, even if critics on the far left and MAGA right don’t believe this…but that is a conversation for another time.

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