Why It's a Mistake to Conflate Iraq and Syria, Bush and Obama

The ideologue, fringe Left who have always contended that Obama was just another Bush - all the time complaining that he wouldn't govern like Bush, by fiat and ignoring Congress - have found that new life has been breathed into their meme by the current situation in Syria. Their cheerleader in chief, Rachel Maddow has for days been beating the drums, drawings eerie (and false) equivalences between George W. Bush's unprovoked attack on Iraq and what may become a considered, limited response by the United States and its allies to Syria's apparent use of chemical weapons.

But Syria of 2013 is not Iraq of 2003, and Barack Obama is not George W. Bush. The differences - both in the circumstance and in the leadership - are vast.

First, facts matter, and they are vastly different

The Bush administration made up claims about Iraq having and selling chemical and biological weapons to terrorists. The Obama administration has made no claims beyond what is patently evident: the Syrian government used chemical weapons on the Syrian people, on a fairly large scale. That fact isn't simply clear from the claims of the American administration but by the evidence reviewed by Doctors without Borders, images of the horror out there for everyone to see, and a consensus among nations ranging from the United States, to European nations, to Israel intercepting Syrian government communication making their culpability clear, and even the Arab League.

Even the noted UN weapons inspector who contradicted the Bush administration's case for Iraq's WMDs, Hans Blix, readily admitted that all evidence points to the Syrian regime having used the chemical weapons, though Blix remains opposed to an American military response.

Whether one backs a US/allied limited strike in Syria given the preponderance of the evidence is a legitimate point of debate. One may argue for Congressional approval, for UN approval, or for entirely staying out unless Syria begins to present an imminent danger to American security or that of our allies. One may argue that any action should await a full report of the UN weapons inspectors. One may argue that the United States has no responsibility to act even given Syria's flagrant violation of human rights and the UN Convention Against Chemical Weapons.

But one cannot reasonably argue with the material facts of the case. One cannot argue that the Syrian government is not responsible for exactly what the Obama administration has said it is responsible for. Whether that is sufficient cause for a US-led strike may be up to debate, but whether the facts are the facts is not.

Nor can it be reasonably argued that the Obama administration's response to Syria is in any way, shape, or form reminiscent of the Bush administration's war drums for Iraq. Beside the fact that the Obama administration is actually telling the truth about Syria whereas Bush outright lied about the facts in Iraq, several other important distinctions should be remembered.

Pre-emptive strike vs. a response to a humanitarian catastrophe

George W. Bush had always wanted to use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq, and his administration was hell bent on building a case for war. A large part of that case - and the Bush-Cheney theory of war - revolved around pre-emptive strike - taking military action before something has a chance to happen, based on conjectures by the neocons about what Iraq, they told us, could do, not what it was doing. Who could forget the most famous verbalization of this theory by Condoleezza Rice when she told us that we couldn't wait for the "final proof" to come in the form of a "mushroom cloud?"

President Obama has soundly rejected the theory of pre-emptive strikes. If the president chooses to respond in Syria through force, it will be a response to Syria's use of chemical weapons.

Regime change vs. crippling Syria's ability to gas their people again

The Bush administration expressly pursued an agenda of regime change in Iraq. Although President Obama has stated numerous times that Assad has to go, his goal in a response won't be regime change. It will be surgically striking military facilities that contain rockets capable of delivering chemical weapons, and take that ability out of the hands of the Syrian regime.

Let me recap: First, President Obama isn't lying about Syria to try to get his way on military strike, unlike George W. Bush on Iraq. Second, President Obama's response will be just that, a response, not a pre-meditated plan of attack executed when the opportunity presented itself. And last but not least, the goal of any possible strikes won't be regime change.

The vast gaps extend not just to the facts about the two countries but about the two leaders as well. For a moment, let's turn to that difference.

George W. Bush began two wars; President Obama has ended two. President Bush took our eye off the ball on bin Laden, but President Obama focused the fight back on bin Laden, and took him out. Barack Obama is not a trigger happy Texas cowboy, and he does not mistake the responsibility of a commander in chief for an opportunity to be a "war president." Whereas George W. Bush destroyed America's global reputation, President Obama and his administration restored it.

Where George W. Bush "fixed the facts" around policy to get his way on Iraq, President Obama is acting (and has always acted) entirely on the basis of the facts. You may or may not agree with the policy decision the president makes from the facts, but to compare his international leadership with George W. Bush international cowboy-ism is nauseating.

Personally, I trust President Obama on this - and he has more than earned it. I trust him to do the right thing.

But if you have a different view, that's entirely fine. By all means, make your case. Make the case for non-intervention, a diplomatic solution, or whatever else you want. But please, stop drawing parallels between Iraq and Syria, between Obama and Bush. There aren't any.


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