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An unfair litmus test

Opposition to the war in Iraq should not be a condition for joining the Obama administration.

November 24, 2008

Some ardent supporters of Barack Obama are aggrieved because the president-elect's emergent national security team includes supporters of the Iraq war, which Obama famously opposed. Making opposition to the war a litmus test for service in the new administration would be both unfair and impractical.

It would indeed be troubling if the new president were turning to figures who subscribed to some of the extreme justifications for the 2003 invasion, such as the notion that Saddam Hussein had a role in 9/11 or a simplistic conviction that Iraq could painlessly be transformed into a U.S.-style democracy. Both theories, cherished by so-called neoconservatives, have been discredited. In the exceedingly unlikely event that individuals with such views put themselves forward for positions in the Obama administration, they should be prepared for rejection.

Yet many in Congress who voted to authorize President Bush to use force in Iraq -- including 81 Democrats in the House and 22 in the Senate -- did so for other reasons. Some were nobler than others. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's yes vote probably was influenced by a fear that opposition to the war would harm a future campaign by her for the presidency. Still, Clinton and others who supported the Authorization of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution had been warned by experts, not all of them in the Bush administration, that Hussein likely possessed weapons of mass destruction. This fear, fueled by the dictator's past use of such weapons, wasn't confined to Congress or to neoconservatives in the administration.

Granted, most Democrats in the House and almost half of those in the Senate opposed the resolution, some because they doubted that Bush was sincere in promising to continue to seek a peaceful end to Iraq's conflict with the United Nations. Outside Congress, the resolution was opposed by many in the media (including this editorial page) and by state and local officials such as Obama.

Many Obama supporters have committed to memory what he said on Oct. 2, 2002: "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. 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."

Prescient words, but reasonable people disagreed with them. Or they thought that the alternative to military action -- an Iraq capable of unleashing chemical or biological weapons on its neighbors -- was the worse evil. Some of those people agree unreservedly with Obama's vision of this country's role in the world. For him to treat them as pariahs would be inconsistent with his pledge of a forward-looking administration.

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