Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 18, 2008
POLITICS: Obama's Revisionist History on Iraq And WMD

Here is Barack Obama in Sunday's Saddleback forum:

Warren: What's the most significant--let me ask it this way. What's the most gut-wrenching decision you ever had to make and how did you process that to come to that decision?
Obama: Well, you know, I think the opposition to the war in Iraq was as tough a decision as I've had to make. Not only because there were political consequences, but also because Saddam Hussein was a real bad person, and there was no doubt that he meant America ill. But I was firmly convinced at the time that we did not have strong evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and there were a lot of questions that, as I spoke to experts, kept on coming up. Do we know how the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds are going to get along in a post-Saddam situation? What's our assessment as to how this will affect the battle against terrorists like al Qaeda? Have we finished the job in Afghanistan?
So I agonized over that.

Kevin Holtsberry has already discussed how Obama mischaracterizes his 2002 anti-war speech as an act of political courage when it was really pandering to his political base, and Taranto notes that Obama's speech itself shows no indication that he struggled with the decision or even considered supporters of the war to be acting in good faith. (I've discussed previously why Obama's speech also trafficked in anti-Semitism).

But there's another aspect of Obama's revisionism that bears noting: his claim today that he was skeptical about the international intelligence community consensus that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons programs and was proceeding apace to get nuclear weapons.

Michael Crowley of The New Republic covered this back in a lengthy look in February of this year at that speech:

[I]n interviews around [mid-2004], Obama refused to say flatly that he would have voted against the 2002 congressional war resolution. "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports," Obama told The New York Times on July 26. "What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that, from my vantage point, the case was not made." In other interviews that week, Obama said, "[T]here is room for disagreement" over initiating the war, and that "I didn't have the information that was available to senators."
Obama later justified these comments as an effort to avoid a split with his party's presidential ticket: Both John Kerry and John Edwards had voted for the war, after all. Yet this explanation was undermined when Obama repeated the point more than two years later. "I'm always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought [the war] was such a bad idea was that I didn't have the benefit of U.S. intelligence," he told The New Yorker's David Remnick in October 2006. "And, for those that did, it might have led to a different set of choices."
Obama's repeated emphasis on classified intelligence is curious. He never questioned Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction. In October 2002, he acknowledged that Saddam has "developed chemical and biological weapons, and [has] coveted nuclear capacity." But, Obama argued, Saddam "poses no imminent and direct threat" and, "in concert with the international community, he can be contained until...he falls away into the dustbin of history." The power of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) lay in its firm assertion that Saddam had a frightful WMD arsenal. But the NIE did not cast Saddam as an imminent threat. If Obama already accepted that Saddam had WMD, why would the intelligence have changed his view about war?

Lest you question the context, here is the full excerpt from the 2002 war speech:

Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.
He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

In other words, Obama offered - in virtually his sole recorded statement on the war prior to the invasion other than his explanation of why the war was not popular with African-Americans - nothing to dispute the widespread consensus on Saddam's WMD programs, ambitions, and deceptions. Instead, he argued that we could contain a WMD-armed Saddam. And as is so often true of the Left, and as is consistent with Obama's domestic law-enforcement focus on gun control, he turned his focus away from how we stop evil men and onto the idea that the source of all danger is weapons, not the people who use them:

You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.

Even this argument, of course, ignores the fact that if you took the position that we could "contain" even a WMD-armed Saddam, nobody else is going to be much afraid of your earnest requests that they disarm and stop dissembling with UN inspectors; in fact, they are likely to reach the opposite conclusion. (Even Obama seemed to concede this point in 2004 when he suggested missile strikes against Iran's and Pakistan's nuclear facilities).

The bottom line? Obama's lucky he has such a short public record, because even the little that he has, he can't seem to keep straight.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:02 PM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)


First off, welcome back. Second, you are reading too much into that 2002 speech, meaning I don't think he "argued that we could contain a WMD-armed Saddam," as you suggest. The statement that Saddam"has . . . developed chemical and biological weapons" does not mean that Obama believes that Saddam -had- biological and chemical weapons at the time he made the speech. I think the most that can be said from that speech is that Obama believed that through containment, we could prevent him from becoming a threat in the future. Based on that speech, I do not know what Obama would have done if he had known for sure that Saddam had WMD's.

Posted by: MVH at August 18, 2008 6:42 PM

Thanks Crank -- I had never read that much of Obama's speech, and I gotta' say, he nailed it. In fact the wisdom and foresight contained in those excerpts make the rest of your post sound like radio static. What was your point? That his shoes didn't match his belt when he gave the speech. That's about how relevant your points were.

Obama acknowledged "Saddam developed chemical and biological weapons, and [has] coveted nuclear capacity." (Right). But he also did not believe Saddam was an imminent threat. (Right again). Why is this so hard to reconcile?

Posted by: Patrick at August 18, 2008 7:07 PM

Patrick and MVH,

That isn't the point Crank is making. He is showing that Obama is misrepresenting what he said in 2002. He told the religious guy that in 2002 he KNEW Saddam did NOT have WMD when truth is in 2002 he said Saddam did have WMD. Funny thing is the same idiots who have spent the last few years calling Bush a liar just because he believed the intelligence reports are now supporting this empty suit who seems unable to tell the truth.

Posted by: largebill at August 18, 2008 8:26 PM

One can acknowledge that Saddam had "developed chemical and biological weapons, and [has] coveted nuclear capacity," and still harbor doubts about whether he had WMDs in 2002/3. Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988. So Obama was not going out on a limb with the first point.

Whether he had WMDs in 2002/3 was a totally separate point -- and to dispute it, you first have to define WMDs. I would say not all chemical and biological weapons are WMDs. In fact, most Americans would probably equate WMDs with something that could be launched against far away countries and take out entire cities.

Obama correctly did not believe Saddam had such weapons. I don't see any discrepancies in his statements.

Posted by: Patrick at August 18, 2008 9:00 PM

Crank, I think you need another vacation. Obama is the one engaging in revisionist history on Iraq? Are you kidding?

"We'll be greeted as liberators."

"Iraq oil revenues will pay for thE war."

"WMDs are the smoking gun."

And, my all-time favorite -- "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!"

Posted by: Magrooder at August 18, 2008 9:37 PM

Reminds me of the press release back in '02 (IIR the date correctly) where one of the reasons for their opposition to the war in Iraq was the likelihood that Iraq would launch chemical weapons on Israel.

Don't bother searching, they've long ago scrubbed their archives, but I saw it & blogged on it.

Welcome back!

Posted by: RW at August 18, 2008 10:06 PM

"That isn't the point Crank is making. He is showing that Obama is misrepresenting what he said in 2002. He told the religious guy that in 2002 he KNEW Saddam did NOT have WMD when truth is in 2002 he said Saddam did have WMD."

That is what I am disputing - I do not think he was saying Saddam -did have- WMD in 2002. When he said Saddam "has...developed chemical and biological weapons" in that speech, he meant he had done so in the past, which was obvious to everyone because he used the chemical ones on the Kurds. I don't read that speech as stating that Saddam currently had those capabilities at the time.

Posted by: MVH at August 19, 2008 6:50 AM

Welcome back, Crank. Hope you enjoyed the time off.

And -- for consistency's sake -- nice to see that you've leapt right back into your unhinged ramblings about Obama.

Let's see, what's it this time? A politician is spinning the content of his decision from 2002 (a decision that at least half the electorate thinks was a great decision). A politician who's running for POTUS. The election is 2 1/2 months away.

Crank, this is one of your weakest yet. We all know you fundamentally disagree with Obama's 2002 decision. Stick to the critique of his substance. All politicians -- even {gasp!} John McCain -- spin. It's part of the job description.

Posted by: Mike at August 19, 2008 6:55 AM

And what exactly are these "political consequences" Obama speaks of when lauds himself for his courage in 2002? He was in the Illinois Senate, a popular state rep. of one of the most liberal neighborhoods in Chicago. He acts like he took this great courageous stance, when in fact, nobody cared about him at the time and few knew who he was.

Posted by: per14 at August 19, 2008 8:45 AM

Crank, welcome back. Please don't come back fortified and scared Obama will win. The simple fact it, given the climate leading to the Senate vote, it took a lot of courage to speak against it when you were a visible politician, senator or not. Which is why Hillary Clinton voted for it. She simply did not want to come across as weak. And why McCain probably voted for it as well. I doubt he believed the bull--but did not want to buck his far right party line.

Surge, no surge, all crap. The simple fact is we have spent ourselves into frightening debt and depleted our armed forces going into and remaining in Iraq. For reasons that were absurd then, and way over that now. McCain's memory, never good and getting older all the time goes back to the surge. How about going back just to 2002, and explain why we are there at all. I say support all the politicians who voted no, and pillory those who did not.

McCain speaks how Obama wants to "legislate away the 'gains (?) in Iraq," but never speaks how he legislates away from giving our veterans who don't have his bank account all the support they deserve, just because they have failed leaders.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at August 19, 2008 8:53 AM

Largebill writes: "He told the religious guy that in 2002 he KNEW Saddam did NOT have WMD when truth is in 2002 he said Saddam did have WMD."

Uh, no, that is not what he said. He said that he did not believe we "had strong evidence" of WMD. Show me any quote from around 2002 (or even later) in which Obama said there was "strong evidence" of WMD. Then, and only then, will you have evidence of revisionist history.

Posted by: Magrooder at August 19, 2008 10:13 AM

There's a couple points some of you guys are missing here.

1. Obama claims his skepticism about Saddam's WMD was one of his reasons for opposing the war. Problem is, there's no evidence of that in his 2002 speech, and unlike those of us who were engaged in the debate at the time on a continuing basis, we have nothing besides that speech to show us what he thought. If Obama thought the nation was going to war on false pretenses, as he now implies, he didn't tell anybody.

2. No, Obama's his statements were not as unambiguous about Saddam's WMD capabilities as those of Kerry, Edwards, Hillary or others who had access to classified intel; that's not my point, my point is that his argument basically assumed that we should not go to war even if Saddam did have WMD. Again, if there was more to his thinking at the time, he kept it to himself. He just wasn't as big a part of the national debate on the war as I was, let alone McCain. He gave one speech in Chicago and that was that.

3. Mike, Obama's entire campaign is premised on the idea that his judgment and integrity and "new kind of politics" are so superior that he deserves to be president without having to have the kinds of experience, accomplishments or record that we generally demand from presidential candidates. That damn well means that if he makes stuff up about what little record he has, it matters; it goes to the heart of his argument for why he gets to bypass the process of presenting evidence of readiness to lead.

Posted by: The Crank at August 19, 2008 11:52 AM

The real problem, as I've said, about experience as president is that there really is nothing comparable. OK, that probably means that Mike Bloomberg is the most qualified person in the world, and we could certainly do worse. I would vote for him in fact. But he's not running, and the closest other candidate that really does it might be Arnold--California's issues, budget and size puts that in the running. So yes, Reagan certainly had the creds, and nobody could argue that one.

W had the so called experience, and is without question the biggest failure we've had in a century. Carter comes close, and as governor of Georgia, that seems to fit your bill of qualifications. More than W since he served in the real military, and wasn't stoned on duty.

A haberdasher and senator/hack was a great president; a one term representative and railroad lawyer (close to Edwards in qualifications?) was a great president. A military wizard who was a brilliant horseman was poor (Sherman would have been a better choice, but he was too smart to want the job). Until you get there, you don't know who make a good one. And the ones who proclaim the most the purity of their positions are the least trustworthy of all. As Lincoln said, "Those with no vices have few virtues."

Readiness to lead? I'm not sure if Obama is ready. Nobody knows. But McCain is now trying to basically talk as if he is "one of us." In other words, how dare Obama actually sound smart, he's just a snooty little snob bastard. Funny, I always thought presidents SHOULD be smart and proud of it.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at August 19, 2008 12:14 PM

Crank, the desparation in which you seem to find yourself in attacking Obama is growing apace.

In the 2002 speech, he said, "What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne." Moments later, he said, "That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics."

Neither statement explicitly expresses certainty that SH had WMD, but in the context of the time, when the Bushies only (expressed) rationale for the war was SH's possession of WMD, they can farily be understood to express a great deal of skepticism (understating greatly) the Bush claims.

Even if you were correct that Obama "basically assumed that we should not go to war even if Saddam did have WMD," he was right about that too. All the other things he predicted would happen did happen. Nothing Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld predicted would happen did happen.

Finally, what "kinds of experience, accomplishments or record that we generally demand from presidential candidates" did GWB have? DR responds to this asinine argument more completely; what will it take to put it to rest?

Posted by: Magrooder at August 19, 2008 2:50 PM

We are dancing on the head of a pin by analyzing what Obama said in 2002. Who cares, when evidence like this surfaces, making it clear that the GOP endorsed a totally fraudulent war? The below article was from a few weeks ago. Maybe you missed it while on vacation:

A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein.

Suskind writes in “The Way of the World,” to be published Tuesday, that the alleged forgery – adamantly denied by the White House – was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war.

The author also claims that the Bush administration had information from a top Iraqi intelligence official “that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.”

Posted by: Steve at August 19, 2008 3:15 PM

Magrooder - Answer me this. What odds do you give Obama to win?

Steve - Funny how the man who invented the term "reality-based community" never has any known sources for any of his stuff. This is Suskind's longstanding MO.

Posted by: The Crank at August 19, 2008 3:18 PM

Suskind got people to say this on the record. He also released transcripts of his interviews.

You can wish away these allegations all you want. Suskind is not the first to allege that Bush hyped up the case for war, and there have been other smoking guns. Question for you, Crank: is it an impeachable offense to do what Suskind alleges in his book?

Posted by: steve at August 19, 2008 3:40 PM

Crank, right now, I would put Obama's odds at 50/50.

His campaign since defeating HRC has not been good at all. On the plus side, the structural advantages for the Dems are substantial; on the negative side, I fear racism will come out in the privacy of the voting booth to a much greater extent than can be shown in polls.

Also, excepts for people who read and write blogs like this, the country is not really paying attention.

Posted by: Magrooder at August 19, 2008 3:46 PM

True, the country does not pay attention. That's why we get lousy leaders.

Posted by: steve at August 19, 2008 4:26 PM

Obama's entire campaign is premised on the idea that his judgment and integrity and "new kind of politics" are so superior that he deserves to be president without having to have the kinds of experience, accomplishments or record that we generally demand from presidential candidates. That damn well means that if he makes stuff up about what little record he has, it matters; it goes to the heart of his argument for why he gets to bypass the process of presenting evidence of readiness to lead.

Oh, c'mon Crank! You're being silly, and willfully so. This is electoral season spin. What do you expect him to say?

McCain's running on a combination of (a) military experience, (b) DC experience, and (c) Maverick experience. Apart from the contradictions between b & c, this is ridiculous anyway. His "military experience" comes in the form of being a POW. Makes him brave, I suppose, and admirable in terms of his personal strength. But being captured makes one commander-in-chief material???

And as for the "Maverick" nonsense (which I saw in a McCain ad two days ago), that's always been image. A long-term Senator who's run for POTUS twice is an outsider, a maverick? C'mon.

Obama & McCain are both full of it when it comes to campaigning. As were Reagan & Clinton & Lincoln & everyone else who ever put his name on the ballot.

* * *
That said, I think your desperation is wasted. My faith in the American people being what it is, I think McCain will win. And I'm not sure it'll even be that close.

Posted by: Mike at August 20, 2008 6:44 AM

Funny how you guys keep intoning the word "desperation" while you admit that, in fact, McCain is still in this race, which entirely destroys the whole thesis.

His "military experience" comes in the form of being a POW.

McCain was in the Navy for 27 years, if you count from his time in the Academy. He spent years of his life at sea, trained younger pilots, flew combat missions, commanded a squadron, worked on Capitol Hill as a Navy Liaison. And, of course, being a POW involved years-long exposure to the enemy and to military men enduring the worst war has to offer. It's a broad spectrum of military experience, plus growing up as a Navy brat, plus being intimately involved in national security issues as a Congressman and Senator.

You guys know I don't love McCain; there are a number of very admirable things about him, and a number that are not. The point with Obama is, when you strip away the BS, there's nothing left.

Posted by: The Crank at August 20, 2008 9:49 AM

intoning the word "desperation" while you admit that, in fact, McCain is still in this race

Meaning (sorry to break it to you) your desperate attempts to bring down Obama, for whatever reason.

Uh . . . like this:

with Obama [], when you strip away the BS, there's nothing left.

What does that even mean? I'm no more an Obama fan than you're a McCain man, but Obama has a resume filled with good, bad, ugly, and admirable, just like every other human being on earth. Jobs, responsibilities, mistakes, achievements, public service, skeletons, etc.

* * *

As to the word "desperation," it's weird comments like the one above, Crank, that have your longtime fans (like me) scratching our heads when it comes to all the overreaching hyperbole we've watched you employ when B.O. is the subject.

Maybe you've done this every 4 years since 1980, but it's the first time most of us have seen it. And it's a bit shocking in that it lacks all the maturity, analysis, even-handedness, and . . . frankly the quality we've grown accustomed to. I'll still keep reading you, but what you're hearing from me is fair, honest criticism that has much more to do with my opinion of your writing than about the politics (where I know, and accept, we share fundamental differences.)

Posted by: Mike at August 21, 2008 7:27 AM
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