Wikipedia article that will remind you of the events of that time. I'll include others as we go along.
In the days after September 11th, 2001, the US instituted a systematic "War on Terror". Part of the stated goal was to stop not with the destruction of Al Qaeda, but with the destruction of every terrorist organization of global reach. The message to other countries was that you were either with us or against us.
There is dispute about how much of this was in response to 9/11 and how much of it was a pre-meditated plan of regime change, but nevertheless, this was the public climate.
In the months leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration showed increasing amounts of evidence that they claimed proved the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, wielded by Saddam Hussein, who had previously shown willingness to violence. He had gassed his own people; he had invaded Iran; and he had invaded Kuwait (an invasion repelled by forces under George W. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush). Beyond that, the Bush administration claimed that Iraq was harboring Al Qaeda terrorists and providing them with training grounds. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein maintained a blusterous public front, engaging in cultural face-saving that did little to dispel such suspicions and much to escalate them. On the strength of all of this, Bush gained a coalition of allies and Congressional approval for military action, as well as 63% public support for such action, and invaded.
So what's the difference between what happened then and what is happening now? Why (as a caller on the radio put it today) have "all the hawks become doves"?
The answer is, THEY HAVEN'T. The major difference is that Barack Obama doesn't really know what he's doing. Note the following:
- In 2003, George W. Bush did not invade without Congressional approval. Instead, he spent months working toward gaining that. Many Democratic AND Republican congresspersons and pundits argued the limits of Presidential authority at that time, and that invading without authorization would be an impeachable offense. But he got that approval with the support of Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. Today, in the case of Syria, Obama does not have that authorization, Whether unilateral action by the President is an impeachable offense may still be debatable, but the fact remains that Obama has not gained the Congressional approval for action, and without it neither Conservatives nor Liberals can in good faith support unconstitutional action on the part of the Executive Branch. Nearly 80% of Americans want that Congressional approval.
- In 2003, George W. Bush did not invade without public support. This was 63% in January of 2003. He gained that by repeatedly putting his arguments before the American people with evidence. Despite what people may think in hindsight of the quality of that evidence, at the time the satellite photos and intelligence from multiple international partners was credible. In the case of Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry began by insulting the intelligence of the American public, implying that any person who wanted to check the facts of his then-uncorroborated statements "needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass." Such hard-sell tactics don't actually sell much in this country, and they foment suspicion against the person who uses them. Given an administration that has repeatedly made false statements to the American people about other subjects, that suspicion has legs.
- In 2003, George W. Bush had a "coalition of the willing". Four countries -- the US, Great Britain, Poland, and Australia -- participated in the invasion itself, and many more were involved in the peacekeeping aftermath. Today, only France is on-board. Great Britain... usually a go-to ally, has notably declined to authorize such action. UN support is not forthcoming, as both China and Russia have veto power, and are both opposed.
- In 2003, George W Bush showed that action was clearly in the American interest... that we weren't just invading as a knee-jerk reaction. Al Qaeda had instituted the largest attack on American soil. Hussein was a supporter, or so the evidence showed. Today, Barack Obama has failed to do that. The purported aggressors in Syria, who used gas against their people, are the Syrian government. But the Syrian opposition is.... an affiliate of Al Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra). This is NOT a case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Rather, we see two enemies duking it out. Why should we get involved?
- In 2003, George W. Bush argued that there would be a favorable outcome of the Iraqi invasion: the removal from power of a dangerous dictator, and the destruction of both WMDs and terrorist training camps. Today, we have no such clear objective. If we send missiles at the Syrian government, we're aiding our own enemies. If we target Jabhat al-Nusra, then what's the lesson to Syria? If we lob them indiscriminately, then how is that less monstrous that what Syria did? As of this minute, we have no clearly defined message to send, much less a clearly defined target to aim it at.
In short, George W. Bush had Congressional authorization; public support, an international coalition; American interest, and a clear objective. Five specific things that are necessary for such action. Barack Obama has none of the above.
Update: I think I should clarify the above. Declaring war without the approval of Congress is unconstitutional. However, the Administration states that this is not a declaration of war; rather it is a limited strike against offensive capabilities, which would be constitutional for the Commander-in-Chief. While this matter of semantics may seem significant to Washington politicians, there's a distinct possibility that the Syrians and their neighbors won't see it that way, and we could wind up warring whether we say we declared it or not. I'll also point out the fact that "a limited strike against offensive capabilities; no boots on the ground" PRECISELY describes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. If it's an act of war when committed against us, then it is absolutely an act of war when we commit it. You'll have to work very hard to make a convincing contrary argument.When you say "trust me" to the People, they will not do that unless you have established a record of trustworthiness. However, Obama's administration has spied on his own people and the President himself lied about it. Obama has broken innumerable promises, from closing Guantanamo, to government transparency, to Obamacare's economic impact. He has time and time again used Executive Orders to enact what should be legislative change. And now he wants to invade a country without a clear objective after having been given a Nobel Peace Prize.
Obama has earned our distrust.
And that's the difference. IF he corrects the bulleted items above by showing us the evidence, convincing us that there's a target, a favorable outcome, an American interest, and a coalition of willing partners, then he can take that to the People and Congress and earn the support he needs to act... and I'm sure the support would be bi-partisan, just as his current non-support is bi-partisan. But I'm afraid he's just not very good at foreign policy. And this is DESPITE the fact that as a candidate, he made statements like the following:
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” -- The Daily Caller... a statement he now contradicts with his actions here and in Libya.
So don't ask where the hawks went. Ask why Obama isn't walking the walk after all that talk he talked.