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On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and initiated the Iraq War, a conflict that endured for the next eight years. Prior to the invasion, Congress voted on and passed the Iraq Resolution: a joint resolution that authorized military action against Iraq. John Duncan Jr., the representative of the 2nd Congressional District in Tennessee, voted against the resolution, making him one of only seven Republicans to do so. Rather than conforming to the popular opinion, Duncan made a choice he believed would save countless lives and money. Duncan’s opposition to the Iraq Resolution and the war itself required immense political courage; this decision risked the support of Duncan’s constituents and forced him to overcome the obstacle of contrasting opinions.
The consequences of the Iraq War continue to plague both the U.S. and Iraq today. John “Jimmy” Duncan has consistently upheld his reputation as a man of the people. Without fail, Duncan consciously made an effort to connect with members of his community and held “Constituent days” in which he met face to face with these people to discuss any of their concerns. When voting against the Iraq War, Duncan’s decision directly conflicted with their opinion. Before the vote only “9% of Duncan’s constituents opposed the war”, suggesting that 91% disagreed with him. By opposing the vast majority of his constituents, Duncan endangered his strong relationship with them and jeopardized his own reelection: “As I pushed the button to vote against the war, I seriously wondered if I was ending my political career” he recalls in one interview. Despite this risk, Duncan stood by his belief that entering the war with Iraq was not the best decision for the United States. He accentuated his main principle of limiting government spending, stating, “I just became convinced that these wars were more about money and power than they were about any real threat to the U.S.”. Even in the face of losing his constituent’s support and subsequently risking reelection, Duncan made a decision he truly believed would benefit his country in the long run.
Both prior to and following his vote, Duncan overcame opposing opinions. When Washington discovered that he might vote against the Iraq Resolution, the White House held a meeting with Duncan in which the Secretary of State hoped to alter his stance. Regardless, he remained convinced the Iraq War was neither necessary nor worthwhile. “‘Since you’re going against every traditional conservative value… do you have any evidence of any imminent threat?’ he asked”. Adhering to his initial position, on the day of the vote Duncan acted as “one of only seven Republicans to vote against the Iraq War”. In the months, and even years, following Duncan’s vote, he faced veritable backlash from his constituents and the general public. In Tennessee, “A Baptist church disinvited Duncan from a speaking engagement; a candidate ran against him solely on the war”.
Although refuting his vote against the Iraq War may have been the easier option, Duncan did not waver in his opinion. As the war played out, and evidence came to light that Bush’s reasoning for invading Iraq possessed flaws, Duncan’s vote gained more support. In fact, today Duncan considers this vote as one of his most popular. By adhering to his opinion in the face of adversity, Duncan displayed political courage and conquered challenges from both the White House and the public. While Duncan’s vote increasingly gained favor, U.S. approval of the invasion steadily decreased due to the Iraq War’s mounting consequences. When advocating for military action, Bush argued that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and accused Iraq of supporting terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.
Eventually, coinciding with Duncan’s prediction, both of these points proved incorrect. Regardless, the U.S. continued to channel billions of dollars towards the war and continued occupation, losing many soldiers in the process. By February of 2008, only 38% of Americans believed the U.S. had made the right decision in using military force in Iraq, thus validating Duncan’s choice. In addition to the United States’ financial and personal losses, the Iraq War created a state of turmoil in Iraq. After removing Saddam Hussein from power, the U.S. expunged all remaining Baath party members from the government and disbanded the Iraqi military. The resulting sectarian violence proved extremely damaging, causing the death of countless Iraq civilians and forcing many to flee their homes. In fact, “According to UNHCR, there are 1.9 million internally displaced people in the country and 2 million refugees escaped to neighboring countries”. Additionally, the war created an economic disaster for the country, leaving Iraq in major debt with no way to recover.
Consequently, Iraq has been torn between two opposing influences: Iran and the United States. Iraq relies on the United States for diplomatic and military support. However, Iraq must rebuild its economy, and Iran possesses the ability to act as a trade ally and to assist in utilizing oil production as a source of revenue. Fifteen years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq continues to approach stability. If Duncan’s opinion had prevailed and the Iraq Resolution had been overturned, countless repercussions associated with the Iraq War may have been avoided. Jimmy Duncan’s decision to oppose the Iraq Resolution risked his constituents’ support, forced him to overcome contrasting opinions, and could have prevented the innumerable consequences of the Iraq War in both the U.S. and Iraq. By making this choice, Duncan placed American and Iraqi lives above the certainty of his political success; exemplifying the selflessness that all leaders should strive to possess. In the most recent election, after 30 years in Congress, Duncan decided not to run for reelection. In his absence, Duncan’s unique display of political courage will serve as a constant reminder to “do what is right, not what is easy.”
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