Sometimes there is no joy in vindication.
Sometimes, the stakes are just too high and –even though history proves you right– there’s no joy when you finally get confirmation that you were justified in some strongly held opinion all along.
The Iraq War is like that for me. As someone who, from the very beginning, had grave doubts about its morality, justification, and necessity, it brings me no joy whatsoever to observe the general public slowly rubbing its eyes, unstopping its ears, and coming to know what I believed from the beginning: that we did have other options available to us beyond the bloody and horrible choice to wage war.
As the years have passed, the vitriol that began the war — the “Freedom Fries,” the Dixie Chicks death threats, the feeling you were a traitor for speaking out– tend to fade.
It fades in part because, person-by-person, Americans now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who had our doubts from the beginning. They still may not like Cindy Sheehan. They still may have burned their Dixie Chick CDs. But, quietly and with little fanfair, they have sidled up to us now, heads bowed, anger hushed, soaking up the sadness we felt years ago.
And all of that feels like a slow, steady, vindication for all of us who felt like aliens in our own country for questioning the rush to war.
But every so often, the vindication is especially poignant –even as it is more painful– because it comes not from the silent majority, but from actual participants in the events themselves.
Scott McClellan was one of those people. And as you’ve no doubt heard by now, the nation is devouring quotes from his new insider-account of the White House, “What Happened,” as if a book might finally contain some morsel that explains the unexplainable, and justifies what we now know has no justification.
As I have often repeated here, I will never get into personal attacks on this President. (And one day I will tell you why) But there are a couple of quotes, from this book that seem to warrant special note, as we look back at the war. In the book, McClellan says this:
“History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided: that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now when we can more fully understand its impact. What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.”
The other passage I call your attention to is from McClellan’s interview with Keith Olbermann last night. Keith spent the entire show with McClellan, and they covered a lot of ground. But there was one part of the interview that somehow broke a well inside my soul. Here is the question from Keith:
Olbermann: “…I’m asking this for every person that ever came up to me on the street and said, ‘I feel I am going out of my mind living through this…this cannot be the America that I grew up in’….Were the critics inside and outside the media, of the President, largely…right?”
McClellan: “In terms of the Iraq War?
Olbermann: “Specifically that, and you can go out in any direction from there that you like…specifically Iraq…”
And here is McClellan’s response:
McClellan: “I think certain in terms of Iraq, there was a lot that they were right about, as I went back and reflected on this. It’s not that I’m necessarily aligned with them on some other views and things…but certainly on the buildup to the Iraqi War, we should have been listening some more to what they were saying…the American people should have been listening a little bit closer to some of what was being said.
But I, like a lot of Americans was caught up in the moment of post-911 and wanting to put my faith and trust in the White House, and the President I was serving.”
You can watch the exchange here, if you like. The relevant passage starts at the 5:25 mark:
There was something about OIbermann’s question –on behalf of Americans, like me, who did feel we were “going out of our mind” as the war began…There was something about McClellan’s response…
There was something about that exchange that unleashed a torrent of emotion in me. There, on the couch, tears poured out.
Honestly? I hadn’t thought about the war –really thought about it– in weeks. But there was something about McClellan-the-insider saying, “Yes, you were right to raise your questions” which, at one and the same time, brought me the comfort to know I was not crazy then, but also brought me the shame to know that I get absolutely no pleasure from that.
So, I end with a word to all my friends who supported this war at the beginning…to all those who said things like:
“What IF Saddam has WMD?”
“Surely the President knows something we don’ t know…”
“They will greet us like liberators…”
“This will be short and sweet…”
“The situation has changed….it’s a different kind of war…”
To you, I say this:
The only possible redemption of this sad situation will be if you promise to remember this horrible time, to listen critically to your leaders in the future, and to never to rush to judgment again.
Despite what you’ve heard, the evidence against going to war was there all the time.
People were raising objections at the time.
We can redeem this situation: By learning from it.
Even then, there is no joy in being vindicated on this war now.
None at all.