Two different guys.
As the bleating of the Republican war caucus gets louder and louder, it's beginning to sound a lot like 2002, when the Bush administration was treating us to daily news about the terrifying threat posed by Saddam Hussein's vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, ready to incinerate us all in weeks if we didn't launch a war. Some of the same people who made the case then are making the case now that we need to start bombing Iran. As you're watching them, it's hard not to shake your head and say, "Are these people insane? Do they actually believe that it's a good idea for America to start another war in the Middle East? My god, are we getting on this train to disaster again?!?"
But before we all get too frustrated, it's important to remember one thing: now matter how loud people like Liz Cheney may shout (and somebody please remind me why anyone should give a crap what she thinks), no matter how much infantile chest-beating we get from the Republican candidates (sample Mitt Romney quote: "I will station multiple aircraft carriers and warships at Iran's door"), this will be a very different debate from the one we had back then. The reason is simple: We've got a different Decider.
It was extremely satisfying to see President Obama, at his press conference yesterday, treat the grunts of those lusting for war with Iran with something approaching the contempt they deserve:
Now, what's said on the campaign trail -- those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.
This is not a game. There's nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.
Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.
There are lots of reasons to be worried about this problem, from the horrifying possibility that a President Romney would feel obliged to follow up on the absurd things he's saying now, to the unpredictability of Israeli actions, to the potentially awful consequences of an Israeli strike that occurs with or without Washington's approval. But whatever else happens, in this country we aren't going to see those calling for sanity get marginalized the way they were in 2002 and 2003. In any debate, particularly one on foreign policy or matters of war, the media will define the debate by where the president and the administration stand. He's the one with the biggest megaphone. Ten years ago, that megaphone was booming, "They're going to kill us! Be afraid! Warwarwar!" and that became the axis around which the debate turned, enabling the people who turned out to be right to be dismissed as loons whose ideas didn't need to be part of serious discussions about Iraq. Today that megaphone is saying—and appropriately so—"Just calm the f--k down."
For now, anyway.