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Blue State Blues: Netanyahu, Churchill, and the ‘Ghosts of Gallipoli’

In an attempt to derail Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this week–both before and after– Democrats brought up Netanyahu’s support for the Iraq War in 2002. The first to do so was Secretary of State John Kerry–who also voted for the Iraq War–telling Congress last week: “The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush. We all know what happened with that decision.”

After Netanyahu’s triumph in Congress, Democrats continued to blast Netanyahu for his support of the Iraq war, going so far as to endorse the antisemitic canard that Israel pushed the U.S. into it. ” [Netanyahu] made the same argument over the Iraq War, that it was time for the United States to not pay attention to any world opinion, but just to go it alone,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Tuesday, who boycotted the speech and evidently had no idea what Netanyahu had just said.

It is worth noting that while Netanyahu was wrong about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction–in the same way that nearly the entire world was wrong, including, evidently, Saddam himself–he was right about almost everything else at the time.

He predicted, for example, that Iranians would rise up against their rulers. He also predicted a wave of democracy movements in the region. His mistake was to presume that the U.S. and the world would commit to long-term victory.

Yet let us accept, at least for argument’s sake, that Netanyahu was wrong about the Iraq War. (Certainly the government of Israel at the time, led by the late Ariel Sharon, was more skeptical than Netanyahu about the war, fearing a new strategic vacuum that could be filled by Iran and other forces.)

If so, he was wrong for the right reason: he wanted the international community to establish the precedent that it would enforce its efforts to stop the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons.

Netanyahu would hardly be the first world leader to be wrong about a war. One of the more famous mistakes was that of Winston Churchill, who was chiefly responsible for the ill-fated and terribly costly attack on Gallipoli in 1915-6 in the first World War.

The attack, on the northern side of the Dardanelles, was aimed at opening a second front against the Central Powers. Turkey would eventually falter, but at Gallipoli it withstood an attack at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

Churchill’s political career suffered tremendously, and he withdrew from public life, returning to the war not as a strategist but as a common soldier.

And as Christopher Klein, writing for the History Channel, notes: “Churchill, however, remained haunted by Gallipoli for decades. “Remember the Dardanelles,” his political opponents taunted when he stood up to speak in the House of Commons. When running for Parliament in 1923, hecklers called out, “What about the Dardanelles?”

Gallipoli was a failure that haunted Churchill as much as supporting the Iraq War haunts many politicians today. And yet Churchill owned his mistake, believing that he had done the right thing.

Others agreed. As historian Conrad Black notes in his biography of FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Stalin once toasted Churchill at a diplomatic conference by claiming that Gallipoli had actually been a victory whose results had been hidden by faulty intelligence.

Churchill’s example is relevant, not least because Speaker John Boehner gave Netanyahu a bust of Churchill in recognition of equalling his feat of addressing Congress three times; and not least because admiring conservatives liken Netanyahu to Churchill for their leadership in wartime. Churchill also made mistakes–terrible ones. Yet he was right about Hitler when others hid from the truth.

Churchill, like Netanyahu and unlike Barack Obama, worried more about victory than pride.

Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak

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