As Obama well knows, ISIS is not, in fact, unique in its brutality. They are not the first actors in the region to execute prisoners, kill children, rape women, or threaten genocide. Saddam Hussein did all that. Bashar al-Assad turned chemical weapons on children. Is that somehow less brutal than beheading journalists? How can a man who regarded the Iraq War as stupid, despite the fact that the regime we overthrew was every bit as brutal as ISIS, now cite the supposed "unique" brutality of ISIS as a primary justification for taking America to war in Iraq?
He was appealing to our fears and disgust, not our reason, much like his predecessor.
Obama also believes the Iraq War was stupid because the claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction falsely inflated the threat he posed to Americans. Bush talked about WMDs in that 2002 speech, and went on to say this:
Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time... Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles—far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and other nations—in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work. We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States. And, of course, sophisticated delivery systems aren't required for a chemical or biological attack; all that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it.
Although Hussein did not possess WMDs, he did possess a large, experienced army; ballistic missiles; and Iraqi intelligence operatives capable of perpetrating terrorism. If Obama thinks the lack of WMDs fatally undercut the 2002 case for war in Iraq, how is it that he now thinks national security requires intervention against a group with no WMDs or ballistic missiles or highly trained international intelligence apparatus? Didn't Hussein pose a bigger potential threat in 2002 than ISIS does now? "ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria and the broader Middle East, including American citizens, personnel, and facilities," Obama said. "If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies." Nearly all of that could've been truthfully said about Hussein.
Bush said it.
For a moment, Obama indicated that he would explain how his effort will be different from bygone failures. I perked up. "I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said, as if to reassure a dubious public. "It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partners’ forces on the ground." That's a relief to those of us who don't want to see another 5,000 American soldiers shipped home in body bags, several times more with missing limbs or brain injuries, and a years-long epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse.