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Rationale For War Based On a Mistake
Published on Thursday, September 15, 2005 by the Miami Times
Rationale For War Based On a Mistake
by Dennis Jett

Some people get it.

Others don't, or refuse to.

Take Chuck Hagel and John McCain. Both were heroes during the Vietnam War who went into politics and are now Republican senators -- of Nebraska and Arizona, respectively. What they don't have in common is their view of the war in Iraq.

Hagel said recently in an interview: ''We are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam. The longer we stay, the more problems we are going to have.'' McCain, on the other hand, wrote in The New Republic that it was the right war and that he would do it again today. Despite the absence of any weapons of mass destruction, he argued that it was worth the high price we are paying. He noted in the article, published in June 2004, that the price was more than 800 dead Americans and more than $100 billion. Now there are more than 1,800 dead Americans and the monetary cost, too, has more than doubled.

McCain still believes that the war was justified to save Iraqis from an evil dictator. With the money spent on the war, however, every child in the world could be immunized for the next 63 years. How many lives would that save? And how many mass graves have been filled by the tens of thousands of Iraqis that have died as a result of the conflict?

While the two senators have some things in common, so do the two wars. Their initiation, justification and termination were based on lies or, at a minimum, mistakes.

Take the casus belli in both instances. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was largely a nonevent and Iraq had no WMDs. The reports about the incident and the weapons were both deliberately and grossly exaggerated in order to justify going to war. It is true that Saddam Hussein failed to show the United Nations that he had gotten rid of the banned weapons. The documentation he gave the United Nations was inadequate and did not prove the negative. So we went to war over an accounting error?

The rationale for both wars was also faulty. There were no vital national interests at stake in either of them. Vietnam went communist and the rest of the southeast Asia did not fall like a row of dominoes. Iraq without WMD posed no immediate threat to the United States. Thanks to the new draft constitution, Iraq is on its way to becoming a theocracy. But even if it were genuinely democratic, that would not topple every totalitarian regime in the region like a row of dominoes.

And the termination of both wars is driven by purely political purposes. Columnist Maureen Dowd wrote recently that President Nixon in 1992 suggested that the first President Bush would have had a much better chance of reelection if he had prolonged the Persian Gulf War. Nixon, referring to the Vietnam War, added: ``We had a lot of success with that in 1972.''

Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam dramatically because he did not want to leave himself open to criticism from the right for having lost the country to communism. To hear Dowd tell it, Nixon admitted that he prolonged the war for domestic, political purposes.

Bush launched the invasion of Iraq because it was the centerpiece of Karl Rove's reelection strategy. Early next summer, with an eye to the November congressional elections and regardless of the situation on the ground, victory will be declared and token troop withdrawals will begin.

More than half the American people now believe that the war in Iraq was not worth fighting. They understand that the war is not making us safer. So after their experiences in Vietnam, why does Hagel understand that and McCain does not? McCain at least is not alone. Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry have not called for an early end to the war.

A young Kerry returned from Vietnam and said: ''How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?'' Apparently Hagel is the only one of the five who has a problem making that request today. All five senators do have one thing in common -- they all want to be president. At least no one will die as a result of Hagel's ambition.

Dennis Jett is the dean of the International Center at the University of Florida.

© 2005 Miami Times


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