What happened to the anti-war Democrats?

Updated
Demonstrators march in protest during a rally against a possible US and allies attack on Syria in response to possible use of chemical weapons by the Assad...
Demonstrators march in protest during a rally against a possible US and allies attack on Syria in response to possible use of chemical weapons by the Assad...
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The 2006 midterm elections swept in a wave of anti-war Democrats running against the Bush administration’s unpopular Iraq policies. The public was so frustrated with the war in Iraq and President Bush by 2006 that it returned the Democrats to power in Congress for the first time in 12 years. Sen. Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008 as the peace candidate in contrast to his Democratic rivals Sens. Clinton, Edwards, Dodd, and Biden, all of whom supported granting Bush the authority to use force in Iraq.

Although a diplomatic deal has been struck, President Obama has reserved the wiggle room to use force if necessary on Syria. Now in the position as commander-in-chief, five years later, Obama asked senators to grant him the authority to use force. The vote was eventually pulled by Majority Leader Harry Reid, but if the Syrians refuse to comply with the diplomatic resolution, Congress could face the decision all over again.

“I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda,” said Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama at a 2002 anti-war rally in Chicago.

“We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not—we will not—travel down that hellish path blindly,” then-state Sen. Obama said. His words sound all too familiar to the situation that haunts him in Syria.

But what happened to the anti-war sentiment in the Democratic Party? Wasn’t the Republican Party known for using military might to spread democracy? Democrats were were supposed to be the party of diplomacy and conflict resolution through peaceful means. Now it’s a Democratic president and Democratic senators leading the charge for war.

Democratic senators, like New Jersey’s Bob Menendez and Maryland’s Ben Cardin, were two members of the House of Representatives who voted with the minority of their colleagues against granting President Bush’s Iraq resolution in 2002. Now U.S. senators from their respective states, both elected in the 2006 midterms, Menedez and Cardin sit on the Foreign Relations Committee and supported the resolution to take military action in Syria.

“If you want to know what kind of senator I’ll be, just look at my record on the toughest issue anyone can face, the decision on when to send our sons and daughters into war,” Menendez said upon being appointed to the Senate on December 9th, 2005. “I pledge to you that I will never send New Jerseyans into a war that I would be unwilling to send my own son or daughter to fight.” Now the question remains–is he willing to send his own son and daughter off to fight in Syria?

In fact, when then New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine vacated his Senate seat in 2005 after winning the governorship, he chose Menendez as his successor over many other qualified members of the New Jersey delegation who felt they earned the appointment to the seat as well. Corzine’s selection of Menendez was linked to his vote against force in Iraq that Corzine also opposed as a senator.

“He [Corzine] was among 23 senators to oppose authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002–a vote that became a key reason why years later, wen as the new governor, he got to choose his Senate replacement in 2006, Corzine opted for Representative Robert Menendez over other prospects such as Representative Rob Andrews, a south Jersey congressman who supported the war,” wrote Bob Ingle and Michael Symons in their 2012 book on Chris Christie, The Inside Story of His Rise To Power.

Cardin campaigned in 2006 on his vote against launching a war in Iraq. He told NBC’s Tim Russert on Meet the Press that we “need to engage the international community for a political solution.”

“This is a civil war in Iraq,” Cardin said.

Yet, Cardin was a vote to support President Obama’s use of force in the civil war now raging through Syria without any international support and very little support among the American people at home.

Tuesday night President Obama said that “when dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way,” referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.”

But when then Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama gave his now famous 2002 anti-Iraq speech he didn’t seem as concerned about about the United States responding to the evils of another barbarous tyrant.

“I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States.”

What makes the fate of innocent Iraqis who were mercilessly killed and tortured at the vicious hands of Saddam Hussein any less valuable than the stores of innocent Syrians who have died at the callous hands off Bashar al Assad?

President Obama matured from a candidate using appeasing anti-war rhetoric with abandon to a serious leader and commander-in-chief saddled with grave national security responsibilities and choices. Were these Democratic senators sacrificing their anti-war principles that they fought so hard for in the House and in the heat of the 2006 midterms?  In politics 101 it’s referred to as the difference between campaigning and governing.

What happened to the anti-war Democrats?

Updated