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Congressman John Duncan

Representing the 2nd District of Tennessee

The Courage to Stay Out of War

September 11, 2013
The Washington Times

As the only Republican left in Congress who voted against going to war in Iraq in 2002, I have been asked if there are lessons that apply today to the situation in Syria.  

I actually learned from the votes on both wars in Iraq, because I was there for the first one in 1991, too.  

I voted for the first Iraq War because I had gone to the briefings from the top generals and cabinet officials and heard how great the threat was from Saddam Hussein and his elite troops.

I then watched as those same elite troops surrendered to American camera crews and empty tanks.  I realized, too late, that the threat had been greatly exaggerated.  

In 2002, in the run-up to the second Iraq War, I read everything I could get my hands on.  When the Administration found out I was possibly going to vote against going to war, I was called to the White House with five other members for a briefing by Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor, and George Tenet, the head of the CIA, and his top deputy.

Just a day or two before, I read a front-page newspaper story estimating that a war with Iraq would cost us 200-300 billion.  

I asked about that and Dr. Rice said, “Oh no,” adding that a war with Iraq would cost us 50 or 60 billion and that we would get back much of that from our allies.  

I have heard some of these same arguments from the Administration today.  

I asked them if you get past the traditional conservative skepticism about the UN, world government, massive foreign aid, and huge deficit spending, did they have evidence of any eminent attacks or threats to the US.  They did not, and this was later confirmed by Mr. Tenet in a speech at Georgetown University just after he resigned.  

Now, once again, the threat from Assad is being exaggerated.  It seems that our recent Presidents all want to be seen as modern-day Winston Churchill’s and regarded as great world statesmen.

To accomplish this, they have to turn people like Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad into modern-day Hitler’s.  

Hussein and Assad both have done really terrible things, but they are not even close to being new Adolf Hitler’s.  

We have spent and will spend trillions on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and future medical treatments for veterans of those wars --- money that we did not have --- money that we had to borrow.   

Our nation is now $17 trillion in debt.  We cannot afford to get involved in another war in the Middle East, and especially not in a civil war with bad people on both sides.

None of our leaders estimated at the start that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would go on for as long as they have --- more than three times the length of our participation in World War II.  

That is one reason why the American people do not believe we will really limit our involvement in Syria to just 60 or 90 days.
Our citizens are described on most newscasts as being “war weary.”  Who could blame them?

In my offices, we have had calls and emails from almost 1,000 people opposed to us going to war in Syria and only 25 in favor.  The totals in most Members’ offices from all sections of the country have been very similar.  

After the President’s speech last night, it now appears that the Congress may not vote on Syria at this time.

If not, this would be a tremendous victory for the American people who are overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. involvement in another Middle East civil war.

The people do not want this nation to be in a condition of permanent war, and especially not when it is being done so that our President and all of his top officials can be regarded as tough, decisive, world statesmen.  

President Eisenhower was our last military president, and he resisted the pressures to get involved in several regional conflicts around the world.  

In a new book entitled Ike’s Bluff, President Eisenhower is quoted as telling Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, his staff secretary, “God help the Nation when it has a President who doesn’t know as much about the military as I do.”

Sometimes it takes more courage to stay out of a war than to get into one.  

It is long past the time when we need to stop trying to be the policemen of the world and start taking care of our own country and our own people.