Via Ezra Klein, Lincoln Chaffee’s memoir really does seem pretty interesting. I think that violates some kind of rule which says that memoirs need to be written by people who obviously could shed fascinating light on important events but who then proceed to refuse to do so. Instead, here we have Linc Chaffee, who no one ever thinks about, saying interesting things. This on the Democrats, in particular, is all that surprising but still interesting to hear directly from a colleague:
Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against prosecuting the war. “The top Democrats were at their weakest when trying to show how tough they were,” writes Chafee. “They were afraid that Republicans would label them soft in the post-September 11 world, and when they acted in political self-interest, they helped the president send thousands of Americans and uncounted innocent Iraqis to their doom. […]
Chafee writes of his surprise at “how quickly key Democrats crumbled.” Democratic senators, Chafee writes, “went down to the meetings at the White House and the Pentagon and came back to the chamber ready to salute. With wrinkled brows they gravely intoned that Saddam Hussein must be stopped. Stopped from what? They had no conviction or evidence of their own. They were just parroting the administration’s nonsense. They knew it could go terribly wrong; they also knew it could go terribly right. Which did they fear more?”
It’s always worth remembering that not everyone took that path. Carl Levin didn’t. Russ Feingold didn’t. Robert Byrd didn’t. Lincoln Chaffee didn’t. Opposition was possible, a lot of Democrats just didn’t choose to avail themselves of the option. It’s worth recalling that a vicious cycle emerged here. Lots of politicians wanted to vote for the war for political reasons. Lots of “experts” in the think tank world who wanted to boost their own careers therefore found it expedient to likewise trim their sales and talk a lot about the “right way” to invade Iraq for no good reason rather than emphasize how unlikely this “right way” was to emerge. That, however, helped build both public and elite support for the war, which further pressured politicians to get online.