Obama’s Prescience on Iraq

Three weeks ago on “”Meet the Press>,” Tim Russert* highlighted some comments made by then-Illinois State Senator Barrack Obama in October 2002 on the then-impending war with Iraq:

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

Russert gushed, “His judgment was on the money.”

Andrew Sullivan highlights a November 2002 video of Obama saying much the same thing and is likewise impressed:

In a comment at PoliBlog (where host Steven Taylor pronounces Obama’s comments “pretty powerful stuff”), Matthew Shuggart observes that Obama was at the time playing a different role and that, had he been a United States Senator, “Given how few stood up to Bush’s rush to disaster at the time, I’d be willing to bet Obama would have voted for it.”

That may well be. John Edwards, the MTP guest who was treated with Obama’s quote, agrees:

Now, I will say, he wasn’t burdened, like a lot of us with the information that we were receiving on the Intelligence Committee. And as members of the United States Senate, we were getting very intimate, detailed information about what was actually happening in Iraq. Senator Obama, I think, you—what’d you say?–was a state senator at the time. So he obviously wasn’t, wasn’t in the Congress and wasn’t part of the—of the decision making. But a lot of those predictions turned out to be true.

As Shugart observes, we will, of course, never know how Obama would have voted were he in the same position as Edwards and Clinton.

Still, as Mark Kleiman observes, “Obama was right for the right reason: he asked some very penetrating questions about the likely aftermath of an invasion. As an Illinois State Senator, he knew about the risk of civil strife among Iraq’s Shi’a, Sunnis, and Kurds.” While that strife might have been avoided with different decision-making on the part of the Bush administration and its senior decision-makers in Iraq in the early months, it obviously emerged. Being right for the right reasons on arguably the most important issue of the decade does indeed give Obama some foreign policy credibility that junior Senators typically lack.

*Correction: The original post had the Obama quote on this morning’s edition when it was in fact on the February 4th edition.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Iraq War, Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Slight correction: that was from MTP 3 weeks ago. It was the Sullivan clip that prompted me to remember the Russert statement back on the 4th.

  2. legion says:

    What’s amazing is not that Obama was so right – what he predicted was blindingly obvious to even the war’s supporters. What’s amazing is that the administration has so relentlessly ignored both reality and common sense that someone stating the obvious 5 years ago is newsworthy…

  3. Rodney Dill says:

    Actually doing the same with the worlds support would’ve fanned the flame of the Middle East as well. All wars are dumb, but some are necessary, he just wasn’t that right on.

  4. The bottom line (at least to me) isn’t about rightness or wrongness on the war, per se or who was smarter. My point is that it gives Obama substantial political leverage for the campaign. Video of him being “right” and video if Hillary being “wrong” in 2002 will make some a very good commercial. Also, given the disposition of the Democratic base, this all gives Obama a chance that a newbie normally wouldn’t have.

  5. Joe Buz says:

    I wonder if he can tell us what Saddam and his sons would have done if we had left them to their devices?

  6. Tano says:

    “As Shugart observes, we will, of course, never know how Obama would have voted were he in the same position as Edwards and Clinton”

    What utter garbage.
    We know damn well how he would have voted.
    Nay.

    How pathetic is this. Instead of having the grace to admit the guy was right (doesnt mean you have to vote for him, or admit he is/was right about anything else), you try to argue that he would have been as wrong as you if only….

  7. Christopher says:

    Hey, I predicted Social Security would need to be fixed years ago. I also predicted that we need to get tough on terrorism before 9/11, and cut federal non-defense spending before we get into a fiscal crunch. Oh yea, and that the levy needed shoring up in NO. I can prove all this, so I guess that qualifies me to be President! Maybe James Joyner will be my campaign manager?

    Geez, James, that is about the stupidest thing you have ever written on here.

  8. Director Mitch says:

    I agree with Chris. By definition all wars will be dificult since they require occupation “of undetermined length, etc.”.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Chris/DM:

    If we’d known how things would have gone, we would not have gone into Iraq. While many opponents argued we needed to give sanctions more time, that Saddam was containable, that it would be hard to take Baghdad, etc., few predicted a massive insurgency-guerrilla campaign.

    Tano:

    Shugart’s point is that many Democrats were skeptical of the war but nonetheless decided to vote for it after calculating the politics. Edwards is right, too: When you’ve got the intel guys showing you classified stuff and claiming it’s a slam dunk that Saddam has a nuclear program and is supporting terrorists, it’s a little harder to vote your skepticism.

    Since Illinois’ Dick Durban voted against it, my guess is Obama would have had the political cover to vote Nay. But we’ll never know for sure. Politicians often say one thing while running and do something else once they get in office because their circumstances are changed and they calculate risks differently.

  10. Robert Bell says:

    Actually I believe Richard Cheney said more or less the same thing circa 1991.

    “The notion that we ought to now go to Baghdad and somehow take control of the country strikes me as an extremely serious one in terms of what we’d have to do once we got there. You’d probably have to put some new government in place. It’s not clear what kind of government that would be, how long you’d have to stay. For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who’s going to govern in Iraq strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire.”

    Source

  11. legion says:

    While many opponents argued we needed to give sanctions more time, that Saddam was containable, that it would be hard to take Baghdad, etc., few predicted a massive insurgency-guerrilla campaign.

    I dunno… wasn’t that the basis for Shinseki’s position that we’d need something like 300K boots on the ground to accomplish our goals there?

  12. James Joyner says:

    wasn’t that the basis for Shinseki’s position that we’d need something like 300K boots on the ground to accomplish our goals there?

    I think Shinseki was reflecting the standard bureaucratic mode of wanting 10x the amount of resources necessary “just in case.” Colin Powell did that with Desert Storm.

    Tony Zinni and others were largely right on much of this. I’m not sure Shinseki really covered himself in glory, though.

    Further, I’m not sure a large-scale insurgency was inevitable. A series of really poor decisions by senior leaders in both Washington and Baghdad certainly made things much, much worse.