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Rep. John Duncan on Becoming an Antiwar Republican


Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), who will retire in January after 30 years in the United States House of Representatives, is the subject of a new biographical feature article at the Knoxville News Sentinel. Included with the article is video of an interview with Duncan in which he describes how he developed “into sort of an antiwar Republican” in the process of examining US military actions in Iraq and experiencing pressure from successive presidential administrations to support that intervention and its escalation.

After having voted in the House to authorize the Gulf War in 1991, Duncan explains that watching the ensuing US invasion of Iraq led him to realize that the war had been promoted based on false information. In particular, Duncan mentions being told before the vote about “all these elite troops” in Iraq under the control of Iraq President Saddam Hussein, who was made to “sound like another Hitler.” “And then,” says Duncan, “I saw those same ‘elite troops’ surrendering to CNN camera crews and empty tanks, and I decided then that the threat had been greatly exaggerated.”

Moving forward five or six years, Duncan relates that his questioning of the propriety of US military action in Iraq increased during the years of US bombing that took place between the Gulf War and later Iraq War due to reading reports, including one detailing that “one of our bombs had gone astray and killed I think it was seven little boys who were playing soccer in a field in Iraq, and it described this horrible anguish of this father whose little boy had had his head blown off.”

Years later, the 2002 House vote on a new authorization for use of military force (AUMF) for Iraq, which would authorize a second invasion of the Middle East country, was approaching. By then, Duncan’s antiwar sentiment had firmed. He mentions in the interview a meeting he had at the White House at that time with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as well as George Tenet and John McLaughlin who were then, respectively, the director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). A purpose of the meeting was to convince Duncan to vote for the Iraq War. They failed in that effort.

As Duncan relates his comments at the meeting, he told Rice, Tenet, and McLaughlin that “traditional conservative positions” of “being against massive foreign aid,” “being against huge deficit spending,” “not wanting the US to be the policeman of the world,” and “being the biggest critics of the [United Nations]” all lined up against voting to authorize the Iraq War. The war was justified as enforcing UN resolutions. “If you get past all those traditional conservative positions,” Duncan then asked, “do you have any evidence of any imminent threat?” “They didn’t,” continues Duncan.

On October 10, 2002, Duncan, who is an Advisory Board member for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, was one of only six Republican House members to vote against the Iraq War authorization. Duncan, in the interview, describes that vote as being, over the next three to four years, “clearly the most unpopular vote I had ever cast.” “When I pushed that button to vote against that war,” Duncan says, he wondered if he was ending his political career.

Watch here Duncan’s discussion, from the interview, of US intervention in Iraq and his move toward the antiwar position:


Watch more of Duncan’s interview and read the feature article about him here.
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