Earlier this week, longtime hawk Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) appeared on a local news station to talk foreign policy. While the conversation focused on Libya, at one point Davis pivoted and compared America’s recent military engagement against Muammar Gaddafi to President Bush’s quagmire in Iraq. Davis said the decision to go to war in Iraq was a “mistake” and a “gross error” based on “bad information.” He said he was glad troops are beginning to draw down in Iraq, and claimed that the open-ended commitment in that country should not be repeated in Libya:
HOST: How is that any different than getting into Iraq?
DAVIS: We could talk at length about the issues in Iraq but I think we should learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. That’s a gross error in my mind. Now we’re –
HOST: Going into Iraq was a gross error?
DAVIS: I think that in retrospect that was not the best choice for the use of U.S. forces. Every senior commander that I have talked to, particularly those who commanded in the pre-run up to the war, folks on the National Security Council, there was bad information. Many countries believed that bad information. But I think at the end of the day, at least we’ve managed to right a very difficult situation as best we could and we’re drawing down from that. But why would we want to initiate hostilities when the commitment for not being open-ended, being short-termed and focused, has already been broken by an administration whose candidate ran for election based on immediate pull out from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Davis’ frank words about the failures of the Iraq war — spoken almost nonchalantly — amount to a 180 degree turn from his previous rhetoric. While his new stance is commendable, for nearly a decade, Davis was one of the loudest boosters of open-ended military commitments, going out of his way to demonize opponents of the war as unpatriotic and un-American. As reported by Kentucky blogger Joe Sonka, Davis won his seat in Congress in 2004 and 2006 largely on a campaign that promised he would be an unflinching, unquestioning supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq and that his opponents were helping terrorists.
Sonka has two posts recalling Davis’ political career as a cheerleader for the Iraq war. He highlights Davis’ personal attacks on late Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), a conservative Democrat who gained national headlines for opposing the war, as well as Davis’ repeated smears against journalists who reported critically on the war (Davis called them “despicable, dishonorable, uninformed, unhistorical, anti-intellectual and, frankly, un-American”).
It is laudable that Davis has finally embraced reality and disavowed the disastrous war in Iraq. However, it is unfortunate that this turnabout did not result directly from revelations of torture, prisoner abuse, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, mass suffering of civilians starved of food, water, or medical attention, thousands of American casualties, billions in taxpayer money, rampant contractor abuse, and fraud or any of the other painful consequences of the war. Rather, Davis’ pivot came as a political point to rebuke a Democratic president’s efforts in Libya as hypocritical.