Why all the focus on Iraq?

Hi SD,

Please help me understand the importance of voting for or against the Iraq war. Why don’t the candidates just say, “Maybe I was wrong. But I don’t understand how my inability to predict the future correctly impacts my qualifications to be president. I supported the Iraq war based on my best judgment, which turned out to be wrong. But I don’t think you should judge me on one decision. People make mistakes and grow. Nobody is perfect, omniscient all the time. I got it wrong. Let’s move on.”. I think trying to say “I opposed it the whole time” is pointless, as nobody can predict the future, and people change, and it’s a pointless, childish metric for measuring someone’s overall judgment.

Speaking more broadly, is it more politically valuable to be a stick to your guns type, showing your firm moral convictions? Or is it more attractive to voters if you are willing to change your opinion based on processing of new information as it develops? I would argue the latter, as I don’t want to vote for someone who thinks they know all the answers already. What do you guys think?


They’re trying to paint each other as being someone who doesn’t stick to his guns, and who flip-flops depending on which way the wind is blowing. Pardon my mixed metaphors. It really makes no damned difference in the real world.

But isn’t being someone who sticks to his guns such an old-fashioned notion? It’s like your Grandpa who is racist till the day he dies. No one is giving him awards for sticking to his guns. Why don’t people praise those who are flexible enough to consider new information coming in and other factors when deciding how to feel about something? That seems to me a more valuable characteristic in a political leader. I mean, if we all were right the first time, then life and learning would be pointless. It appears our culture only wants those who are prescient. While I feel consideration of the facts is important and making a well-thought-out decision is key, it’s unrealistic to expect your leaders to have a perfect track record. Dwelling on such a narrow slice of history (I opposed the war in Iraq…no you didn’t…yes you did…) is pointless and doesn’t say anything about the actual judgment of a candidate beyond the very specific circumstances of that particular decision.

If I were a candidate and someone pulled that bullshit on me I would say so what? I made a mistake! Mistakes mean you’re human. But trying to extrapolate someone’s future behavior based on one decision says more about the weakness of your argument than about me, because it cherry-picks the facts to suit your narrative, which you only have because you are too afraid to talk about our current issues.


Politics today is all about emotion. Not about rational thinking. Your rational thinking is leading you astray.

All politicians are prone to saying different things to different audiences. A speech to factory workers and one to factory owners will emphasize different topics.

In our modern era where all the speeches are recorded, it’s easier for the opposition to play “gotcha” with the other party’s speeches than it once was.

The vast bulk of the uneducated and mostly disinterested public hasn’t caught up with this new reality yet.
As well, politics today has devolved into a simple Punch-and-Judy morality melodrama. “Us Good - Them Bad” is all the complicated it gets. There is no nuance beyond that level in many voters’ minds. So the politicians are doing their damnedest to play to that audience. As are the media because that’s what sells.

In that environment, simple litmus tests are ideal political fodder. Given that most thoughtful commentators now believe Iraq was a large strategic blunder for the US, it becomes an easy litmus test to apply that most seasoned politicians will fail and most newbies/outsiders will pass.

It’s no deeper than that.

Since Iraq was a blunder of monumental proportions, and one which was foreseeable at the time, then politicians who voted for it are going to be tainted by it. Its not something you can get away from by claiming “wish I knew better”, just ask the last two SecStates.

Its a big difference from voting for farm subsidies one year and then regreting it.


About the nicest thing one can say about many a politician from that era or equally about a great many ordinary Americans is: “The group-think was especially strong at that time and that person fell for it.”

This week being the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the “US good - Them bad” groupthink is especially strong right now again.

In the case of Hillary, I think it plays into the " I’ll support whatever’s popular to get ahead" narrative that’s been played about her (one which IMO is simplistic, but not wholly inaccurate).