I came into this job eight years after September 11, 2001. I cannot imagine 3,000 Americans killed on my watch. I cannot imagine polls showing that 90 percent of us anticipated another attack within 12 months of the first, perhaps with chemical or biological weapons. I can imagine how you must have blamed yourself during those long, dark days, and spent every waking hour asking, "What can I do so this never happens again?"
This brings me to the Iraq War, a mission I once called "dumb."
Seventy-six percent of Americans, at the time, supported your decision. You obtained approval from Congress. By contrast, 47 percent support my actions in Libya, less support than for any military action taken in the last 40 years. Unlike you, I did not seek approval from Congress even though I once said the Constitution requires it.
Thanks to the Iraq War, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi surrendered his WMD. He poses no direct threat to America and cannot use these terrible weapons on his own people. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, invaded his neighbors, used chemical weapons on his own people and shot at our planes patrolling the no-fly zones. All 16 of our intelligence agencies thought he possessed stockpiles of WMD, a prospect that threatened to make the 9/11 carnage look small.
I even opposed the "surge" in Iraq and predicted its failure. I now see this unpopular decision for what it was -- one of the most courageous decisions ever made by any of the 43 Americans who have sat behind this desk.
I vividly recall shaking my head during the speech you made to make the case for the "dumb" war. A disapproving New York Times wrote: "President Bush sketched an expansive vision. ... Mr. Bush talked about establishing a 'free and peaceful Iraq' that would serve as a 'dramatic and inspiring example' to the entire Arab and Muslim world ..."
Now I understand why, in 2008, you signed National Security Presidential Directive-58, Advancing the Freedom Agenda: "To protect America, we must defeat the ideology of hatred by spreading the hope of freedom. Over the past seven years, this is exactly what the administration has done."
It began with newly liberated Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives by leaving their homes to vote for the first time. Your Freedom Agenda ignited the promising, historic "hope and change" we are now witnessing all throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
You were right. I was wrong. The nation -- and the world -- owes you a huge debt of gratitude.
Let's do lunch and then sneak in a round of golf. The "near beer" is on me.
With respect and appreciation,