Every War Is a War of Choice

In 2004, Tim Russert challenged President Bush with this question, “In light of not finding the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?” President Bush stumbled in his reply, “I think that’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit.”

Even though President Bush was unable to answer the question, Russert was merely highlighting the fact that opponents of the Iraq War frequently criticize the conflict as a “war of choice” rather than a “war of necessity.” It was a fair question and deserved a better answer than what the President gave.

What would have been a good answer to Russert’s question? The best I’ve seen appeared in an Op-Ed last week in the Wall Street Journal. In this particular article, David Rifkin and Lee Casey argue that almost every war that America has ever fought has been a war of choice. They write:

“All wars are wars of choice, because it is almost always possible not to fight. The real question is whether the price of peace outweighs the costs of war.

“Although the U.S. has resorted to armed force hundreds of times, it had engaged in only 10 major conflicts before 9/11, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War. In each instance, American leaders chose to go to war because they believed national interests were at stake. However, in only three of these conflicts was the nation’s existence even arguably threatened. And, even in each of these instances, options other than war were available. . .

“In 2003, President Bush chose to confront Saddam Hussein – who indisputably was hostile to the U.S., who had used weapons of mass destruction in the past, and who had given aid to terrorist groups (though not directly to Osama bin Laden). The president may well have acted on faulty intelligence – as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence now claims – but he did not ignore or suppress intelligence proving that Saddam wasn’t a threat after all. Rather, he acted on available intelligence and in light of Iraq’s past record.

“Going to war may have been a choice others wouldn’t have made. But it was no more a war of choice than any of our other wars.”

This one is a must-read:

“Every War Is a Choice” – by David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee Casey (Wall Street Journal)


  • Scott

    I agree that Bush didn’t give a good answer, but I don’t think that this article gave a better answer. To say that all wars are wars of choice does not solve the problem, but rather demonstrates a lack of specificity in the question asked by Russert.

    I don’t want to re-open another discussion about Bush’s intentions and all the stuff that we’ve talked about before. Instead I’d like to pose a question that I think gets lost in all the discussions of what mostly amounts to semantics.

    If you were president, and if you were able to make the decision to go to war with the knowledge that we have now, would you make the same decision?

    I ask because so many of the defenses of Bush that I’ve seen on this blog seem unclear as to whether they are defending the President or defending the war itself. I say, forget blame. Let’s just say our entire government or country is to blame (if there is any blame to be assessed).

    If we want to learn from history, we should be clear about the lessons, and therefore do our best to see in history more than just the same political partisanship that dominates our present debates.


  • Darius

    To answer your question, Scott… Yes, I would make the same decision to invade Iraq. However, since I have all the knowledge now, I would send in greater forces and vanquish the enemy before the terrorists took root. Saddam was still a vile killer who threatened political stability in the region and was a danger to our allies (potentially even us).

  • Truth Unites... and Divides

    Scott: “If you were president, and if you were able to make the decision to go to war with the knowledge that we have now, would you make the same decision?

    How about having all leaders in all countries and all throughout history asking that very same question?

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