- - Wednesday, September 11, 2013


As the only Republican left in Congress who voted against going to war in Iraq in 2002, I have been asked whether 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.

Then I 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 adviser; 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 billion to $300 billion.

I asked about that, and Miss Rice said, “Oh, no,” adding that a war with Iraq would cost us $50 billion to $60 billion and that we would get back much of that from our allies. I have heard some of these same arguments from the Obama administration today.

I also asked them if once you get past the traditional conservative skepticism about the United Nations, world government, massive foreign aid and huge deficit spending, did they have evidence of any imminent attacks or threats to the United States. 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 Syrian President Bashar Assad is being exaggerated. It seems that our recent presidents all want to be seen as modern-day Winston Churchills and regarded as great world statesmen.

To accomplish this, they feel compelled to portray people like Saddam Hussein and Mr. Assad as modern-day Hitlers. Saddam and Mr. Assad both have done really terrible things, but they are not even close to being new Adolf Hitlers.

We have already spent 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 have 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 think we will really limit our involvement in Syria to just 60 to 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 undertaken so that our president and all of his top officials can be regarded as tough, decisive world statesmen.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the last high-ranking military officer to become president, and he resisted pressures to get involved in several regional conflicts around the world.

In a new book entitled “Ike’s Bluff,” Eisenhower is quoted 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 be the policemen of the world and to start taking care of our own country and our own people.

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee.

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