Donald Trump constantly brings up Iraq to remind voters that Jeb Bush supported his brother’s war, while Trump, alone of the Republican candidates, supposedly opposed it well before it started.
That is a flat-out lie. There is no evidence that Trump opposed the war before the March 20, 2003 invasion. Like most Americans, he supported the invasion and said just that very clearly in interviews. And like most Americans, Trump quickly turned on a once popular intervention — but only when the postwar occupation was beginning to cost too much in blood and treasure. Trump’s serial invocations of the war are good reminders of just how mythical Iraq has now become.
We need to recall a few facts. Bill Clinton bombed Iraq (Operation Desert Fox) on December 16 to 19, 1998, without prior congressional or U.N. approval. As Clinton put it at the time, our armed forces wanted “to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” At the time of Clinton’s warning about Iraq’s WMD capability, George W. Bush was a relatively obscure Texas governor.
Just weeks earlier, Clinton had signed the Iraq Liberation Act into law, after the legislation passed Congress on a House vote of 360 to 38 and the Senate unanimously. The act formally called for the removal of Saddam Hussein, a transition to democracy for Iraq, and a forced end to Saddam’s WMD program. As President Clinton had also warned when signing the act — long before the left-wing construction of neo-con bogeymen and “Bush lied, thousands died” sloganeering — without such an act, Saddam Hussein “will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he’ll use the arsenal.” Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, often voiced warnings about Saddam’s aggression and his possession of deadly stocks of WMD (e.g., “Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face”). Indeed, most felt that the U.S. had been too lax in allowing Saddam to gas the Kurds when it might have prevented such mass murdering.
In October 2002, President Bush asked for the consent of Congress — unlike the Clinton resort to force in the Balkans and the later Obama bombing in Libya, both by executive action — before using arms to reify existing American policy. Both the Senate (with a majority of Democrats voting in favor) and the House overwhelmingly approved 23 writs calling for Saddam’s forced removal. The causes of action included Iraq’s violation of well over a dozen U.N. resolutions, Saddam’s harboring of international terrorists (including those who had tried and failed to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993), his plot to murder former president George H. W. Bush, his violations of no-fly zones, his bounties to suicide bombers on the West Bank, his genocidal policies against the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, and a host of other transgressions. Only a few of the causes of action were directly related to weapons of mass destruction.
Go back and review speeches on the floor of Congress in support of the Bush administration’s using force. Some of the most muscular were the arguments of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid, and Chuck Schumer. Pundits as diverse as Al Franken, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, and Fareed Zakaria all wrote or spoke passionately about the need to remove the genocidal Saddam Hussein. All voiced their humanitarian concerns about finally stopping Saddam’s genocidal wars against the helpless. The New York Times estimated that 1 million had died violently because of Saddam’s governance. And all would soon damn those with whom they once agreed.
No liberal supporters of the war ever alleged that the Bush administration had concocted WMD evidence ex nihilo in Iraq — and for four understandable reasons: one, the Clinton administration and the United Nations had already made the case about Saddam Hussein’s dangerous possession of WMD stockpiles; two, the CIA had briefed congressional leaders in September and October 2002 on WMD independently and autonomously from its White House briefings (a “slam-dunk case”), as CIA Director George Tenet, a Clinton appointee, later reiterated; three, WMD were only a small concern, at least in the congressional authorization for war, which for the most part dealt with Iraq’s support for terrorism in the post–9/11 climate, violation of the U.N. mandates, and serial genocidal violence directed at Iraq’s own people and neighboring countries; and, four, the invasion was initially successful and its results seemed to have justified it.
The WMD issue was largely a postbellum mechanism of blaming conspiracies rather than anyone’s own judgment when violence flared. Did the disappearance of WMD stocks really nullify all 23 congressional writs?
Support for the invasion reached its apex not before the war but directly at its conclusion, when polls in April 2003 revealed approval ratings between 70 and 90 percent, owing to Saddam’s sudden downfall, the relatively rapid end to the fighting, and the avoidance of catastrophic American casualties.
In late April 2003, initial worry about the absence of WMD stockpiles was soon noted — after all, the 2004 presidential primaries were less than a year away — but largely dismissed, given that Congress had sanctioned the war on a variety of grounds that had nothing to do with WMD, and it was not clear where or how known stockpiles had mysteriously disappeared, after their prior demonstrable use by Saddam. (Did Clinton get them all in his 1998 Desert Fox campaign? Did Saddam himself stealthily destroy them? Did he send out false intelligence about them to create deterrence? Or were they moved to Syria — where WMD turned up later during the Obama “red-line” controversy?)
Only as the postwar violence spiked in June and July 2003 did the fallback position arise of having been cajoled by “bogus” intelligence and thus having been “misled” into going along with the “Bush and Cheney” agenda. Had the occupation gone as well as the initial war, missing WMD would have been noted in the context of there having been roughly 20 other writs for going into Iraq.
A veritable circus of opportunistic protestations followed as violence continued. Barack Obama — who had opposed the war in 2003 but, as an Illinois state senator, was not in a position to vote against it — predicated his 2008 presidential candidacy on pulling out all troops. As a senator in 2007, he opposed the surge. He predicted that it would not only fail, but also make things worse.
When the surge made things far better, Obama dropped most mentions of Iraq from his campaign website. He certainly never referred to his confessions during his Senate campaign of 2004 that he then had had no major disagreements with Bush’s policies during the postwar occupation (e.g., “There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage”). Nor did he recall that, also in 2004, he confessed to having no idea whether he would have voted for the war. (“I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don’t know.”) Obama seemed to suggest that the Senate had its own intelligence avenues apparently separate from the Bush–Chaney nexus.
The surge engineered by General David Petraeus worked so well that Iraq was not much of an issue in the 2008 general election. President-elect Barack Obama entered office with a quiet Iraq. For example, about 60 American soldiers died in 2010 in combat-related operations in Iraq — or roughly 4 percent of all U.S. military deaths that year (1,485), the vast majority of these due to non-combat causes (motor-vehicle and training accidents, non-combat violence, suicide, drugs, illness, etc.). Although Obama had once stated that Iraq was the unwise war (in comparison to the wise Afghan war that he supported during the 2008 campaign), the relative post-surge quiet had changed somewhat, for a third time, popular attitudes about the war. Indeed, Afghanistan by 2010 was the problematic conflict, Iraq the apparently successful occupation.
It was wrong to invade Iraq with ample reason and congressional approval but fully justified to take out Gaddafi for no national security purpose whatsoever and leave a huge mess in the wake.
Ethics and politics are opposites.
The Iraq invasion has always been the meme it was only about the WMDs:
If it was solely about WMDs, we would have aggressively searched all convoys on the highway from Baghdad to Syria – consequences be damned. Others argue the UN inspection teams had a line on the number of Iraqi CWs (5,000) and their locations. SOF teams spread across western Iraq reported their chemical detectors were alarming. Not one, or two, but all of teams reported their detectors alarming. Also, there were no explanations for artillery shells at Al Muthanna and elsewhere appearing to have been freshly cleaned – not even a speck of dust on them.
Our entry into Iraq was always about the threat environment and the times. America, at home, was still jittery about September 11th. The threat environment – we knew Saddam was deeply engaged in enabling terrorists across the region, particularly awarding bounties for every Israeli killed. How soon would it be for a dead American? How soon before the Iraqis got lucky to shoot down a US or UK aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone? How soon before the Iraqis lob a Scud missile in any direction? How soon would it be before Saddam’s sons ice the old man and take over – and create a more dangerous Iraq, one closely allied with AQ?
Intelligence is all about the best information available, the assessment and whether it’s actionable. It’s not perfect. In the end, it’s deciding about going, or not going. Both have consequences. And, the order of battle, that’s always thrown away when first contact is made with the enemy.
There were over 6,000 chemical bombs unaccounted for and 15,000 unaccounted for artillery shells. Yet somehow the 5,000 WMD that were found were the ones the UN “accounted” for rather than the ones that weren’t accounted for. I suppose that is why there is no reference in the declassified document about what was found by our troops to them being the ones the UN “accounted” for.
Nor were there any explanations about why the “water purification units” as Kay concluded they were, were buried. Those were the ones the CIA said were the mobile bio labs. The ones one of my buddies who was a 3rd Group Team Sergeant was in and who said they were identical to the way Powell described them in his speech before the UN.
Yes, the armchair generals back here did a wonderful job in their pre- and post- invasion assessments. Those of us who were there didn’t see what we saw and know nothing about what went on. And just for grins, the next time you hear the, “they were old” line about the WMD that has been publicly acknowledged of being there, ask the armchair general if they would volunteer to be exposed to contents of one of those WMD since they pose no threat according to them. Usually you’ll get a strawman excuse.
Sadly, Orwell’s Memory Hole is alive and seems to be quite efficient in prepping the leftist propaganda battlefield on this, and every other collectivist SJW talking point.