Opinion

The Iraq war elected Obama

W. James Antle III Managing Editor

The latest estimate of the Iraq war’s final price tag comes in at $6 trillion. Coincidentally, the national debt has soared by more than $6 trillion since Barack Obama has been president.

Granted, the war-related spending is spread out over 40 years while the trillions in new debt under Obama was accumulated in just four. (Though the more than $2 trillion Iraq has already cost is no chump change.)

These two $6 trillion figures are related in one other way: without the Iraq war, Obama would almost certainly not be president.

No Iraq war and there’s no Obamacare. No Dodd-Frank. No $800 billion stimulus plan. At least some of that $6 trillion in new debt may never have been amassed.

It’s fitting that Obamacare’s third anniversary and the Iraq war’s tenth land on the same week.

By 2004, the American people were already turning against the war. The occupation was proving arduous. The weapons of mass destruction were nowhere to be found.

“With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn’t the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration one year ago,” William F. Buckley, Jr., the dean of conservative columnists, said at the time. “If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war.”

But Bush was still able to be re-elected and Republicans retained Congress. The GOP enjoyed a 55 to 45 Senate majority.

The war stripped all of that away. As Iraq descended into chaos and sectarian strife, Bush’s approval ratings — soon buffeted by Hurricane Katrina — plummeted. By 2006, nearly 60 percent of the American people opposed the war. The exit polls found that about 80 percent of them voted for Democratic congressional candidates.

Democrats retook both houses of Congress. Nancy Pelosi won the speaker’s gavel. Harry Reid became Senate majority leader. Even before the recession or the financial crisis, a new liberal era was dawning just two years after pundits confidently predicted a permanent Republican majority.

That majority, if it ever existed, was lost in Baghdad. Former Republicans like Jim Webb became Democrats. The GOP shed the credibility on foreign policy it had gained with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The Democrats regained credibility they had lost with George McGovern.

Obama would never have been the Democratic nominee in 2008 if he hadn’t opposed the Iraq war while Hillary Clinton — along with Joe Biden, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Dick Gephardt, and Steny Hoyer — voted for it.

Iraq became the litmus test issue for many antiwar voters in the Democratic primaries.

A freshman senator with only four years of experience in Washington may never have beaten the likes of Clinton and John McCain without the Iraq war.

Just as Ross Perot hit back at critics of his inexperience by acknowledging he had no experience running up a $4 trillion debt, Obama could say he had no experience getting the country into an unpopular war of choice in the Middle East.

Clinton and McCain could say no such thing. McCain shows no hint of regret now. So who had the wisdom and judgment to answer that 3 a.m. phone call?

So Obama was elected with three-fifths Democratic majorities in both houses. The Democrats might have won in 2008 in any event. But would they have held such virtually uncontested power for two years?

Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel — another Democrat who originally supported the war — has famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

And $6 trillion later, the Obama administration didn’t.

The Obama administration gets more credit than it deserves for ending the war. The troops were set to leave under a status of forces agreement negotiated by the Bush administration. The current president was willing to keep troops there longer if another agreement could be reached. The Iraqis would not meet U.S. conditions.

But it wasn’t this president who started the war.

With 4,500 Americans dead and 35,000 wounded, plus 134,00 casualties among Iraqi civilians and some 1 million refugees, the big-government bloat of the last four years isn’t the worst result of Iraq. But it is a cost to be counted.

“It’s hard to see how Obamacare would have become law if Bush had never invaded Iraq,” writes the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein. “This is a bitter pill to swallow for those conservatives who supported the war and bitterly fought Obamacare.”

In that limited sense, Barack Obama won the Iraq war.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the newly released book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.