The Iraq War Vote, Revisited

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Iraqi children play inside the premises of the destroyed Iraqi Air Force Club.

Iraqi children play inside the premises of the destroyed Iraqi Air Force Club. Scores of displaced people are still living among the ruins of the club once a luxurious home to the elite of former dictator Saddam Hussein's regime. Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images

Lawmakers who voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq in 2003 discuss that decision, and what they think about it after three years of war and uncertain prospects for a resolution to the conflict.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Three years ago today, people across this nation and throughout the world could witness the U.S. invasion of Iraq unfolding in real time on their TV screens. The Pentagon had a name for the bombardment of Baghdad. They called it Shock and Awe. Today the televised mayhem continues from Iraq and some are now calling it civil war.

NPR's David Welna spoke with a few of the key Senators who voted to authorize that war to hear their take on it today.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

When it comes to sizing up what top Bush Administration officials once promised would be a quick and decisive war in Iraq, what a difference three years make. Even President Bush acknowledged this past week that, as he put it, we still have difficult work ahead in Iraq.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I wish I could tell you that the violence is waning and that the road ahead will be smooth. It will not. There will be more tough fighting and more days of struggle. And we will see more images of chaos and carnage in the days and months to come.

WELNA: The President's not the only one revising his rhetoric on the war. The Senator who tried taking over Mr. Bush's job is now saying something he did not say during the 2004 campaign. When asked by NPR whether he regrets having voted for the Iraq War resolution, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry replied, Of course.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): It was a mistake. It was a mistake to support the President, seeing how he broke his promises to us about not going to war immediately, about making it a last resort, about building a legitimate coalition, about planning. On every level, he broke those promises.

WELNA: Other Senate Democrats who also voted for the war resolution say they too are dismayed. Nebraska's Ben Nelson says things there have moved beyond the control of the United States.

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): It's very difficult to conclude that it's working the way that everybody would want it to work. It's clearly not doing so. We have to tell the Iraqi government that they have to solve their own internal political problems between the Sunnis and Shias. We can't do that for them. And we can't take sides, but they have to resolve that difference.

WELNA: Ask most Senators whether they expected some 140,000 U.S. forces to be in Iraq three years into the war and the answer is definitely not.

But Ohio Republican George Voinovich says he's not that surprised. Years of following closely the ethnic disputes that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia gave Voinovich insights, he fears, many fellow politicians who also supported invading Iraq never had.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): They didn't expect this situation and, unfortunately, I'm not sure that some of our leaders understood the complexity of what it is we're involved with. I'll never forget many, I don't know, how long ago, asking Secretary Rumsfeld, I said, What about this guy Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and he kind of looked at me like, What's that about?

WELNA: Another Senate Republican, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, did raise questions before the Iraq invasion. He asked whether it was really necessary at that time, even though he'd voted for the Use of Force Resolution. Hagel now says the U.S. has been left with few options in Iraq and that none of them are good.

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): I don't think there's any point in going back and reviewing or replaying the bad decisions that were made in the last three years. We are where we are. We have got a very dangerous situation in Iraq, in the Middle East. I think the Middle East is more unstable today than it was three years ago.

WELNA: Hagel says his frustration is now shared by most Americans. He points to recent polls, where solid majorities say the war in Iraq has not been worth it.

Sen. HAGEL: They are frustrated, they are concerned and I understand that. After three years, we've lost over 2,300 men and women, dead; over 17,000 wounded; about $400 billion that we've invested, still $6 billion a month.

WELNA: Hagel says the U.S. can try to help Iraq stand up its elected government, but he says that help can't be indefinite. Democracy, he says, cannot be imposed. The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also has doubts about democracy as a fix for Iraq.

Indiana's Richard Lugar wonders whether there's the kind of national identity in Iraq needed to hold the democracy together.

Senator RICHARD LUGAR (Indiana, Republican): I think there was always at stake the degree in which Iraqis wanted to be Iraqis. The cohesion of the country has been held together by monarchs, then by Saddam. And the question was, given free will, whether the parties are prepared, really. And I think that question is still open.

WELNA: Still, many Senators say the U.S. has no choice but to keep fighting in Iraq. John Warner is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee): All of us are gravely concerned about the loss of life, loss of limb, the extraordinary cost. But we cannot give in, we cannot give in at this time.

David Welna, NPR News.

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