Where Were You When You First Thought Going To War In Iraq Was A Good Idea?

Do you remember where you were when you first thought that America going to war in Iraq might not be such a bad idea after all? When it struck you, for the very first time, that maybe it was something we should do?

That weirdly exhilerating moment came for me on February 5, 2003, when Colin Powell made his case before the U.N. Security Council about how certain it was that Saddam Hussein had huge numbers of weapons of mass destruction that he was just itching to use.

I was at that time working as the founding editor of a magazine in San Diego. I, my assistant editor, and our two graphics guys all gathered around our office TV to watch Powell give his extremely convincing testimony.

After he was finished, I looked gape-jawed at my staff. They looked at me, at each other, at the TV, out the window.

“He sure made a good case,” I finally said.

“He sure did,” said my assistant editor, a brilliant and ferociously liberal media studies major at the University of California at San Diego.

“I guess we should invade Iraq,” said my art director, an intense, frightfully articulate young man who was clearly going to become the famous artist he since has. “Fuck it. We should. What are we gonna do, wait  for Hussein to bomb us?”

“I do trust Colin Powell,” I said.

“So do I,” said Assistant Editor Jessica. “He’s the real deal.”

Anyway, that’s where I was at the moment that I first thought going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do.

Do you remember where you were when you first thought the same thing?

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  • The war was never a good idea. I thought this way back after 9/11 that we were going to get into a war with someone in the Middle East. I was more afraid of Bush deciding to reinstrate the draft, because I had a son who was a senior in high school in 2001 who would most likely be among those who would be caught in a draft.

  • Yeah, I thought nothing whatsoever of Bush or Cheney. But Powell, I had faith in. And the thoroughness of his case left virtually no room for doubt: Either he was lying, impossibly ill-informed, an idiot, or Hussein was going to start WWIII. He wasn't an idiot, and as it turned out, of course, Hussein wasn't about to start WWAnything.

    I once had a friend quite high up in the American military. One night, drunk, he told me that, without question, sometime in the very late 1990's or just beyond that the Americans would go to war in the Middle East. That was in 1977. Right around 1998, I started wondering when it was going to happen.

  • tam

    So… both Wickle and John were amoung those making fun of me!

    😉 Disclaimer: I have never know either wickle or John to actually make fun of me or tohers against the war from the beginning (adding the winkie and disclaimer becuase I have noticed that some of John's commentors are way, way too serious and lack the humor section of their brain.)

  • Well, maybe we're just the two that watched all of Powell's testimony. And believe me, it wasn't long at all until I, like just about everyone else, saw that, after all, Powell was just another guy with a job in the Bush administration.

  • tam

    Actually I was never thought we should go to war… I was one of those 1% or so against it that everyone made fun of.

  • dsilkotch

    I never did. I thought it was a crappy idea from day one. Just sayin’.

  • I’m with you, John. I didn’t really trust President Bush or VP Cheney, but I trusted Secretary Powell. That speech before the UN moved me from the opposition to support. He spoke with such certainty, and with such specificity, that I didn’t see any way around it. Sec. Powell … GENERAL Powell … was a guy I’d follow just about anywhere.

    “If General Powell told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

    Quite possibly, actually.

  • samwrites2

    I was in a newsroom as well and hawkishly supported the war, looking for reasons – such as Hussein's gassing of Kurds – to invade before Powell made the case. Even the most dove-like among the reporters joined in after Powell's presentation.

    Then I started editing and writing stories about the citizen soldiers from an engineering brigade near Harrison, Arkansas, where I lived. I began to have second thoughts.

    In Nov., I wrote a column that began with "SSgt. Thomas Johnson wrote from Iraq wanting me to verify a long list of quotes supporting the position Bush did not lie regarding the invasion of Iraq."

    I found a few. Mostly it came down to Bush's claims of relying on bad information.

    Now I regret my enthusiastic support despite interviewing soldiers who told me about all the good they'd done building infrastructure in Iraq, schools and a soccer field (since blown up and rebuilt a few times).

    That resulted from stories about area soldier's parents coping with their child's death in Iraq.

  • Like you and many others, I became a supporter of the war as a result of watching Colin Powell's testimony at the UN. Quotes like "Evil can prevail as long as good people do nothing" started entering conversations. Parallels to Hitler and WWII were being drawn multiple times in every conversation.

    Of course we now know we were never facing a future Hitler. He never had the means. The sanctions were working. I was not fearful of an attack on the US though. I was fearful of attacks on closer targets. (Similar to WWII progression). And of course, my support for the invasion was rooted in this fear. I would not have admitted it at the time.

    I know now, just as I knew then, that acting based on fear rather than love is always wrong. Even if there had been WMDs found, it would still be wrong. Predicting the future has never been our responsibility.

  • Do you know I've YET to meet anyone who watched CP's case before the UN Security Council and didn't, as a result, feel that we basically had no choice but to invade Iraq? Not one person. And, believe me, I hang out with a lot of media-savvy, politically astute, diehard liberals. All of them were turned by Powell's testimony. Who wouldn't be? Who, watching him, would have thought, "Moron. He doesn't know what he's talking about."?

  • I know (have met and know personally) 5 people who were passionately opposed before, during and after CP's case. They were not quietly opposed either. I knew they opposed the invasion prior to the event. They held prayer vigils and invited others to join them. We did not. But I don't think they dismissed CP as a pawn or moron. I don't believe it matter to them if CP was right.

  • dsilkotch

    It's true, I never watched CP's presentation. But to those of us who follow the big-picture ebb and flow of historical patterns, as well as those of us with a basic grasp of cultural relationships and human nature, this attack on Iraq was painfully obvious as 1. A diversionary tactic, 2. Bush's personal vendetta against what he saw as his father's biggest failure (letting Hussein slip away), and 3. A big fat waste of lives and resources with an impossible goal. You can't "end terror" by attacking people. All you accomplish that way is to make yourself look like the biggest, most terrifying threat of all, so that when you have finally used up too much of your lives and resources, other countries that see themselves as future targets will be lining up to take you down before you have a chance to recover.

  • I was for the war from day one. I was even for it before 9/11 (under the banner of "unfinished business"). As a Monday morning quarterback I can see it was a mistake but Afghanastan still makes some sort of sense. I wonder if we were winning decisively in Iran if we might feel differently. I wonder what our spin would be on WWII or Korea if we had lost (hey, in Korea we really didn't win did we?).

    But that was just me the secularized American "Christian" citizen talking. I hadn't 'converted' yet when we had begun the offensive. Even so, I probably would've been supportive in a more Religious Right style of patriotism. But now I think it is a shame. This conflict is one of a continuing series of battles that began before World War I. During WWII the Allies tore these countries apart, ravaging their holy cities and towns and essentially thought nothing more of them than cattle. We destroyed their second holiest city, Medina. And their only offense? They had been colonized. Is there any wonder that so many despise us?

    What if we would try Ghandi's approach to dealing with our adversaries? Would we spend any more money? Could there be any greater loss of life? Why is it that Christians have yet to seize the moral high ground?

  • samwrites2

    Yeah Christian.

    I back your view that war is bad and their are atrocities on both sides, but unlike you I held a different view until recently. I didn't quite get the value of every life and the God cares for each of us – even an Al Queda trying to kill me or my family.

    When I was in the military I liked to repeat the motto of "Kill 'em all and let God sort them out." This came just after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut.

    The key point to John's blog is that Colin Powell convinced quite a few people that Saddam Hussein was a real threat to we Americans, our allies and our national interests.

    With that perceived threat, as to a murderous terrorist, many were quick to respond with "hey, we should defend ourselves."

    The key response I had after reading this blog entry was should be 1) should we be so quick to rush to judgment? Shouldn't we count the cost of any action including inaction? and 2) should we use our critical thinking skills to evaluate whatever we are told no matter how credible we believe the source to be? This would help us to better evaluate the cost.

  • anita

    I appreciate your post on this topic John and your honesty. I never supported the war. Not because I'm a pacifist (I make exceptions in rush-hour traffic) though I am. Not because I was suspicious of all the 'evidence' related to weapons of mass destruction, though I was. I was simply opposed from the start because following the events of 911 I couldn't bear the thought of more innocent men, women, and children dying anywhere in the world for no good reason . .and they have.

  • Anita: I think all sane people are pacifists. I think EVERYONE'S a pacifist until someone punches them or someone they love in the mouth. I think the reason Powell's testimony made it seem like we should invade was specifically because he made it sound like untold thousands of innocents would be killed, by Hussein, if we didn't stop him from doing that. No one wants to see innocent people killed; most everyone will fight if necessary to stop that from happening. That's what made the whole build-up to the war so atrocious: It exploited the best part of us.

    Christian: Great answer! Thanks for it.

    To … babble further: I was never "for" the war. What sane person is ever FOR war? I just thought Powell's case that Hussein was going to go Hitler was so compelling that after his testimony, for the first time I found myself thinking that maybe we should forcibly stop Hussein. If history teaches us anything, it's that we should never wait to see what'll happen next once a madman with power has made his intentions clear. Powell told us that Hussein was a madman with power intent on aggression. What else CAN you do in a case like that but fight. We're the big, strong kid on the playground. It's up to us to make sure the littler kids are protected.

    I'm not anti- or pro- war. I'm anti or pro CAUSE–which of course depends on the cause in question. Some things are worth fighting for. Some aren't. Fighting, as Powell told us we would be, so that Hussein wouldn't mustard gas or bomb thousands of innocent people seemed to me like something worth fighting for. Fighting so that Bush and Cheney can think they have fourteen-inch wangs isn't. (Not that THAT'S why we're in Iraq, or anything. I'm just saying that if that if that was why we were in Iraq, it wouldn't be a good enough reason. But I know we're in Iraq for a whole bunch of reasons.)

    Sam: Honestly, what prompted the posting was that I was listening to Crosy, Still, Nash and Young's album, "So Far." And I kept thinking, Whatever happened to the anti-war movement? When it became clear that the entire reason we were told we had to go to war was wrong, I thought people would pour into the streets, that everyone, everywhere, would demand that we pull out of Iraq.

    But, of course, we can't. Now everyone knows that pulling out of Iraq would cause more violence than we cause by being there. Now all we can do is wait, and watch, and wonder what in God's name happened.

  • Sabina

    I never thought we should go to war either. My brother survived two tours and my niece is serving now.

  • John, you're right. I don't think that any sane person would be pro-war. Choosing war as an alternative to being slaughtered is one thing, and makes sense. But actually wanting a war is pretty clearly a mark of insanity. Even my father, the retired B-52 pilot (3 tours in Vietnam, 2 of them is those aforementioned B-52's), agrees that war is a terrible thing.

  • Ironically, for me it was the same day watching the same program. Living in North Carolina at the time, most people were already pro-war, it was my senior year in high school and I was working in the library at the time.

    I, too, trusted Colin Powell–he did make a convincing case, I remember the taped recordings of Iraqi government officials and the mobile-chem labs they had satellite intelligence on. I remember thinking that the time between that UN meeting and when the bombing actually began was way too long a time, I was worried about Saddam smuggling the mobile chem-labs out of the country.

    Only much later, after I had moved away from North Carolina and started to develop my own life-philosophy and begin working on my own ideas did I begin to think we had committed a horrible mistake.

  • You thought it was a mistake? That’s cool. There’s no moral failing in a mistake. It would be better, for sure, if Powell, Bush, Cheney, et al., were mistaken, rather than purposefully and intentionally lying.

  • I didn't see CP's testimony on TV but I read about it on the internet that night. I was convinced they had bad stuff. I had started to have serious doubts when the inspectors weren't finding anything, but Powell convinced me they were hiding stuff, not cooperating.

    I think Bush believed his decision was right; he was mistaken as was virtually everyone on the planet about whether bad stuff was there. (Here is my shameless plug for myself: http://www.worldmonitor.info/chron/sep2002.html http://www.worldmonitor.info/chron/oct2004.html)

    I was in favor of containment of Iraq from day 1. After 9/11 I thought we should concentrate on al Qaeda; when I started hearing rumblings in early 2002 about going after Saddam I was incredulous that we would go off on that tangent (no offense to those who disagree :))

    Why contain him if we believed he had bad stuff? Because as Christians we should trust God and only resort to war when we have no choice. War plays into the enemy's hands, whipping up more hatred between us and other nations. As someone else said, fear is not a good motivation for making decisions. Perfect love drives out fear. Being in a situation where we could strike out of fear, and not doing so, but rather being restrained to the utmost, tolerating a greater degree of risk, and loving and praying for our enemies is a way for us to vividly demonstrate to the world that there is a God and that we know him. "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (Matthew 5:43-48)