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George Will Has A Question For Republicans About Iraq, And So Do I

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George Will has a question for Republican candidates for President:

Here is a question for Republican presidential aspirants:

Given the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and given that we now know how little we know about “nation-building” and about the promotion of democracy in nations that need to be “built,” and given that Saddam Hussein’s horrific tyranny at least controlled Iraq’s sectarian furies, and given that Iraq under him was Iran’s adversary, and given that 10-year wars make Americans indiscriminately averse to military undertakings — given all this, if you could rewind history to March 2003, would you favor invading Iraq?

On some level, of course, one could argue that this isn’t a relevant question. The Iraq War started eleven years ago and the last American forces withdrew from the country two and a half years ago. On some level, the wisdom and consequences of the Iraq War are a matter for historians to debate rather than the kind of hot button political issue that we usually ask candidates for President. We don’t ask candidates in 2014 what they think about President Johnson’s decision to escalate the military involvement in Vietnam that his predecessor had begin, for example, so what’s the point of asking them about something that happened in the past that we can’t really change?

As Will suggests in his column, though, the question is important because it provides a clue into how a candidate might view foreign policy questions going forward. If we know that a candidate would still launch the Iraq War today even knowing what the consequences would be, and that the justification for war would turn out to have been false, then it raises legitimate doubts about how they would approach a decision about whether or not to intervene elsewhere in the world in the future. Indeed, I would argue that anyone who would answer “yes” to Will’s question is questionable at beast, and possibly not fit to be Commander in Chief at worst. Saying that you would willfully engage in activity that you know has no legitimate basis, and which would have disastrous consequences in the future shows what can only be described as an appalling lack of judgment.

It strikes me, though, that Will isn’t asking the right question. Hindsight, after all, is 20/20 and it’s easy for a politician to say that, if they knew then what we know now, that wouldn’t launch the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The more interesting question, and one that perhaps has more potential to tell us how a candidate thinks about these issues is to ask them if, knowing only what was available to the President at the time, they would have followed President Bush’s example and invaded Iraq.

Let’s keep in mind what this means. Yes, there was evidence at the time suggesting that Saddam Hussein was continuing to operate some kind of WMD program in Iraq in violation of the treaty that ended the Persian Gulf War more than a decade earlier and other international agreements. However, there was also reason at the time to call into question the veracity of much of this evidence, including evidence that called into serious doubt the veracity of the man who was one of the West’s chief intelligence sources on Iraq at the time.  Additionally, although Sadddam was not fully cooperating with UN weapons inspectors, apparently in large part due to his efforts to maintain the illusion of a WMD program that no longer existed, there were inspections prior to the invasion that disputed the Bush Administration’s assertions regarding Iraqi WMDs. Indeed, Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspection program, said publicly that no evidence of an ongoing WMD program existed that the UN inspectors could find during the time in Iraq.  Other evidence that didn’t become public until much later also called those claims into question.  In addition to all of that, former Bush advisers such as Richard Clarke have said that they lobbied against a war that would depose Saddam precisely because it would lead to the kind of destabilization that we are seeing play out before our eyes today. In an interview yesterday on CNN, as a matter of fact, Clarke noted that Dick Cheney was one of the main people to raise that very argument in 1991 when the question of whether or not to proceed to Baghdad after pushing Iraq out of Kuwait came up in the closing days of the Persian Gulf War. As Clarke put it, Cheney seems to have forgotten about those concerns entirely when he became Vice-President. The point of reciting all of this is to make clear that there were as many reasons not to go to war in 2003 as there were arguments in favor of it, perhaps more, but that the Bush Administration chose to ignore the critics and proceed with a plan that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

It would be interesting, indeed quite important, to know whether candidates running for President now or in the future would be able to recognize the fact that even with the evidence available in 2002-2003, and without any ability to see the future consequences of an invasion, there was still an argument against war in Iraq that was, arguably, stronger than any of the arguments in favor of it. That’s the kind of question that might actually be able to tell us something about how a candidate thinks. Something tells me, though, that most of the Republicans who do run for office in 2016 will spend more time blaming President Obama for whatever happens in Iraq over the next two years than they will considering the possibility that all of this could have been avoided if one President had made a better choice a decade earlier.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    One thing I can never get past is that GW ran with “no nation building” as a core component of his foreign policy. I guess that was before they discovered the joys of war profiteering.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 3

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Yes, there was evidence at the time suggesting that Saddam Hussein was continuing to operate some kind of WMD program in Iraq in violation of the treaty that ended the Persian Gulf War more than a decade earlier and other international agreements.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the reading of this. That you wrote this with the full knowledge that all that evidence in favor of the invasion was cooked up… Doug, I don’t know if you are being kind to a fault, or just as naive as Colin Powell.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 4

  3. @OzarkHillbilly:

    Do you deny that pretty much every intelligence agency on the planet believed this to be true.

    As I go on to note, of course, there was plenty of reason to call those conclusions into doubt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 10

  4. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Do you deny that pretty much every intelligence agency on the planet believed this to be true.

    Me, me, me!!!!
    I’ll deny that…there was plenty of uncertainty regarding that in almost every intelligence agency…except perhaps the one set up by Wolfowitz at the Pentagon.
    One of the Bush Administration biggest sins was cherry-picking the data they wanted and ignoring the uncertainty…lying by omission.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 2

  5. C. Clavin says:

    @anjin-san:
    Bush reversed almost every single campaign position he had on January 19th, 2001…the minute he was inaugurated on January 20th, 2001. Seriously…Bush-world was upside down…black was white…up was down…in was out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  6. C. Clavin says:

    It would be interesting, indeed quite important, to know whether candidates running for President now or in the future would be able to recognize the fact that even with the evidence available in 2002-2003, and without any ability to see the future consequences of an invasion, there was still an argument against war in Iraq that was, arguably, stronger than any of the arguments in favor of it.

    Perhaps the most cogent thing you have ever written.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    I can’t speak for Republicans (or for Democrats for that matter). I can only speak for myself. I’ve been unwavering since before the invasion in my belief that invading Iraq was a mistake. Even if everything that was believed about WMD etc had been true. You only need to ask yourself one question: how willing are we to spend a generation occupying the country while the institutions it needs are cultivated?

    I don’t think we’re willing now. I didn’t think we were willing then.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 0

  8. Tillman says:

    the Bush Administration chose to ignore the critics and proceed with a plan that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

    It didn’t come out of nowhere.

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Do you deny that pretty much every intelligence agency on the planet believed this to be true.

    They strongly suspected he had WMDs because of his usage of them in the Iran-Iraq war. After Gulf War I, they didn’t have a solid intelligence source or reasoning to think he had them besides Curveball, who was considered unreliable at the time by German intelligence. But that was hyped and overstated by the Bush administration to give the appearance of an intelligence rationale for Iraq.

    Tl;dr you’re oversimplifying a bit here. That the intelligence community leaned towards thinking Saddam had WMDs is unassailable, but they didn’t consider it the sure bet that was sold to the public. Your hypothetical deals with if the prospective president, who could possibly know all this, would still go to war.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 2

  9. C. Clavin says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    Yup…I marched in NYC with 300,000 of my closest friends in February of 2003 in protest of this debacle. Doug’s point is excellent…you didn’t have to be a soothsayer to know this was a stupid idea.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  10. DrDaveT says:

    I do think Will’s question adds an important bit:

    …and given that we now know how little we know about “nation-building”

    I remember Dick Cheney telling America that not much nation-building would be needed because the Iraqi people would welcome us with open arms as liberators.

    No, really. Stop laughing; it isn’t funny.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  11. anjin-san says:

    @ C. Clavin

    In the early days of the Bush administration, there was a big effort to make it harder for consumers to get product safety information, with a special focus on automobile tires. I mean, WTF would anyone want to make it harder to find out if you have decent tires on your car?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  12. gVOR08 says:

    To your question, “…knowing only what was available to the President at the time, they would have followed President Bush’s example and invaded Iraq.” They would of course, all except Rand Paul, answer, “Intelligence…mushroom cloud…Saddam oppressing own people…Hillary voted for it.” Not an informative question.

    You assume, Doug, a degree of good faith on the part of the W. Bush administration for which I see little evidence. I would suggest a more honest question:
    Given that your big oil sponsors are pissed about the embargo your daddy put on Iraqi oil; given pressure from the Saudis to remove Saddam and weaken Iraq; given how much your popularity shot up when you invaded Afghanistan; and given the bellicose mood of the country post 9/11; would you invade Iraq?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Dave Schuler: I had at the time an objection to going to war in Iraq that I have not seen elsewhere discussed. War is a very difficult and dangerous thing. Why would you risk doing it under the leadership of G. W. Bush? An objection I believe has been amply validated by history.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  14. JohnMcC says:

    The questions Mr Will and Mr Mataconis are asking is really this: Could you have resisted the national desire for revenge/justice following the attacks we suffered on 11 Sept 01? In all honesty, the advocates of NOT invading Iraq were ‘merely’ the largest political demonstrations the world had ever seen (if you include those in Europe) but were completely lacking in Congress where they could have prevented Operation Iraqi Liberation.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  15. C. Clavin says:

    @anjin-san:
    I’ll bet that had a name like…Consumer Safety Initiative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  16. Todd says:

    Actually, this question was asked and answered. Just look at virtually every Republican candidate’s position on Iran during the 2012 primaries. They did not learn a thing. Conservatives are only “anti-war” when there is a Democrat in the White House.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 1

  17. Mikey says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    You only need to ask yourself one question: how willing are we to spend a generation occupying the country while the institutions it needs are cultivated?

    I don’t think we’re willing now. I didn’t think we were willing then.

    Which is why we were told it wouldn’t be necessary.

    I believe there was a chance–brief, and not entirely certain–that we could have had some success, not with nation-building per se, but with helping foster actual long-lasting stability in Iraq. Unfortunately, the abominable lack of planning for the post-combat phase and utter incompetent handling of it doomed what chance there might have been.

    And so here we are, actually having to consider going back in some capacity. Horrible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  18. Jeremy R says:

    @Doug:

    The more interesting question, and one that perhaps has more potential to tell us how a candidate thinks about these issues is to ask them if, knowing only what was available to the President at the time, they would have followed President Bush’s example and invaded Iraq.

    It’s also worth asking if their foreign policy can be manipulated by creepy appeals to religion:
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/intel-mountain-rumsfeld-bush-briefings-gallery-1.19826

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. grumpy realist says:

    “questionable at beast”?

    Good typo, Doug.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:

    And he totally did not build a nation. So. . . Mission Accomplished!

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  21. michael reynolds says:

    I think this may be the first useful thing George Will has written in many years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  22. DrDaveT says:

    @JohnMcC:

    The questions Mr Will and Mr Mataconis are asking is really this: Could you have resisted the national desire for revenge/justice following the attacks we suffered on 11 Sept 01?

    Huh? We had already attacked Afghanistan — you know, the ones who were actually involved in 9/11. Invading Iraq had no more to do with the events of 9/11 than invading Lithuania would have. Most of us knew that even at the time.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  23. Dmichael says:

    Stripped to its essentials, Mr. Mataconcis’s essay notes: “…there were as many reasons not to go to war in 2003 as there were arguments in favor of it, perhaps more….” Rather than treat this as some abstract policy argument, why don’t we recognize it as the most serious and consequential decision a president (allegedly with the agreement of Congress) can make. Going to war means we send our young servicemembers (men and women) to a foreign county to kill people. Inevitably, this means killing men, women and children, destruction of infrastructure and the disabling of a functioning government or parts of that government and substantially increasing the probability of long term chaos. This doesn’t include the enormous cost in blood and treasure to this country.

    We must not go to war unless we face an imminent existential threat. We faced none from Iraq in 2003 and none of the excuses to go to war were shown to be correct. Every presidential candidate must directly address this issue, including Hillary Clinton.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: I think this is a fair short summary of Will’s column:
    The Benghazi committee should investigate Libya, which with the benefit of hindsight, was a big Obama screw up.
    Republicans should be asked if, given the benefit of complete hindsight, they would have invaded Iraq.
    Bush’s policy was “ruinous grandiosity”, Obama is retreating. Republicans should articulate a new, better policy between the two.

    I’m not seeing this as terribly useful. Still, you may be right that it’s the most useful thing he’s written in years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    @ michael reynolds

    And he totally did not build a nation. So. . . Mission Accomplished!

    Apparently a man of devilish cunning & subtle lurks behind the dull facade.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. Another Mike says:

    Knowing what I know today as I sit here typing this, I would say we probably should not invaded Iraq. We should have dealt with Saddam in some other way, or not at all. And then possibly some editorialist would be posing the question, knowing what we know today, wouldn’t it have been better to have just invaded Iraq in 2003 and removed Saddam when we had the opportunity?

    I think it is understood today that an American style democratic Republican form of government will not work in a Muslim country, at least not in an Arab country. The question is whether a residual number of US military staying in Iraq for a few decades could have maintained stability and made the government work. Since that never happened, the only reason to entertain the question now is to assign blame. But really, hasn’t that been the point of the discussion all along?

    I believe there is a news story today that the ISIS was found Saddam’s chemical weapons, or some remnant of his weapons. I also do not know what to make of the fact that 550 metric tons of yellow cake uranium was removed in 2008 from Iraq to Canada for processing. I have no knowledge so as to judge whether that was significant or not.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 18

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Do you deny that pretty much every intelligence agency on the planet believed this to be true.

    Doug, I knew then it didn’t add up. Are you trying to tell me I was smarter than every intelligence agency in the world? No. Most of them had doubts. They knew it didn’t add up. That’s why they did not join us in this excellent adventure.

    But never mind, you have answered my question. You are just as naive as Colin Powell.

    By the way, just exactly who was it who told you, “pretty much every intelligence agency on the planet believed this to be true.” The same people who lied to you about WMDs? Al Qaeda links?

    I take it back, you are even more naive than Colin Powell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  28. Andre Kenji says:

    At the time, I remember that even Paulo Coelho was mocking the idea of weapons of mass destruction. Dude, even a guy that does not corrects typos in his books because he thinks that it´ll bring bad luck did not believe in these claims.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. bill says:

    @anjin-san: yet ironically the price of oil is still high, i suppose obama is repaying his oil buddies?! now see how stupid that sounds, even 10 yrs later?!

    @C. Clavin: tell that to hillary, reid, kerry, biden, etc- those war mongers were all about invading iraq…..before they were against it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  30. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:
    Really? Because I don’t remember any of them choosing an un-necessary war.
    Words are not action. Actions speak louder than words.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. C. Clavin says:
  32. Hola! I’ve been following your weblog for a long time now and finally got
    the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas!
    Just wanted to say keep up the fantastic work!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  33. Rafer Janders says:

    @Another Mike:

    Since that never happened, the only reason to entertain the question now is to assign blame. But really, hasn’t that been the point of the discussion all along?

    You know who never wants to assign blame? The people who are to blame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Do you deny that pretty much every intelligence agency on the planet believed this to be true.

    I do deny it.

    Seriously, what a stupid question to ask. First, most intelligence agencies in the world only had the intelligence on Iraq that the US and some of its other allies such as Britain fed them, so saying “everyone else believed it” is nothing other than saying “everyone else believed the lies we told them.”

    And second, even getting nonsense shoveled at them daily by the Americans, most intelligence agencies were too smart to fall for it. You didn’t exactly see Germany and Canada etc. etc. lining up to invade Iraq, did you? They knew they were being played for a fool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  35. superdestroyer says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    What is amazing is that is the Bush Administration has used the Powell doctrine in both Afghanistan and Iraq, they would have come out much better off. If they had decide what they wanted to accomplish first and then decided how to do it, then Bush II would not have left office with 20% approval ratings and the U.S. would not be heading to being a one party state in 2020.

    However, shouldn’t every government action, policy, or law be reviewed periodically to determine it the government action accomplished its goals, could it be done cheaper, or whether it is worth doing at all. Image in a decade or two after comprehensive immigration reform is passed what excuses politicians will be making to the large number of unemployed/underemployed/priced-out-of-good-housing American citizens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  36. Eric Florack says:

    Doug, your sub-point about Johnson escalation in ‘nam interests me, and is relevant because in terms of sheer numbers, Obama escalated our involvemenet as well.

    and, another similarity… the end of both conflicts came when it was politically expediant, not when it was good to do so in terms of mission strategy. in both cases, one a liberal California Republican, and a kenyan uberliberal, we were forced into snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Will’s accusation is that we failed to learn from history. thing is, he speaks to the wrong point.

    The real problem is our unwillingness to see the long tasks through.
    and as ive already suggested in another thread, i doubt the damage we did by our ealry and politically motivated retreat, can ever be repaired.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  37. C. Clavin says:

    kenyan uberliberal

    Even if the rest of your comment wasn’t full of shit…that would have nullified it…but as it is …that was just the corn in a steaming pile of dung.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  38. rudderpedals says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Doug, your sub-point about Johnson escalation in ‘nam interests me, and is relevant because in terms of sheer numbers, Obama escalated our involvemenet as well.

    Doug’s subpoint was that it already happened so let’s not assign blame. Doug’s subpoint was a red herring though, Johnson was ~50 years ago and we’re talking about things that not only just happened but things that just happened whose proponents are right now, in the papers and on TV rationalizing their poor choices despite having been proven fools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  39. Another Mike says:

    @Rafer Janders: Well, it looks like you just proved my point, along with the six others who liked your comment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  40. Dave Schuler says:

    @superdestroyer:

    What is amazing is that is the Bush Administration has used the Powell doctrine in both Afghanistan and Iraq, they would have come out much better off.

    I think that the sooner we come to the realization that there was never a “right way” to do either Iraq or Afghanistan the better off we’ll be. The “Powell Doctrine” of overwhelming force was never an available option in either place.

    Afghanistan is a large, landlocked country. Amassing a large invasion force would have required the cooperation of Pakistan and that was not forthcoming. They’re happy to get paid to let us truck fuel in a dribble through their country but they’d never grant us passage for a Desert Storm-style invasion force. And once you’ve got it there how do you supply it?

    Similarly, once the Turks had denied us a “northern flank” campaign via Turkey the possibility of a massive force campaign was foreclosed to us there as well.

    However, the real problem in both campaigns was bad, self-serving, egotistical assumptions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  41. superdestroyer says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The Powell Doctrine still applies. If you cannot accomplish your goals with the forces available, then you do not attempt to do it. Amazing how simple that is. The only problem is that leaders have to have the encourage to deal with the bad press. The problem with Bush II is that he was not competent enough to deal with his own staff and too insecure with the repercussions of not going into Afghanistan.

    However, if the goal had been to capture Bin-Laden and punish the organizers of Al-Queda, the mission could have been accomplished using the Powell Doctrine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. jukeboxgrad says:

    Florack:

    The real problem is our unwillingness to see the long tasks through

    “The real problem” is that the ultimate ending was preordained, regardless of how long we stayed.

    Sunni and Shia have been at war for over 1,300 years. As George Will pointed out a few days ago, “Saddam Hussein’s horrific tyranny at least controlled Iraq’s sectarian furies.” Notice this prediction that was made years ago, about what would happen once Saddam’s government was removed:

    … we’d have had to put another government in its place. What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi’i government or a Kurdish government or Ba’athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

    Who said that? Dick Cheney, 4/29/91. He once understood that Iraq without Saddam would be “inherently unstable.” Too bad he developed Romnesia and forgot that later.

    Conservatives think history began on 1/20/09. “A situation that is inherently unstable” is what was created when the artificial boundaries of Iraq were drawn by Western powers about 95 years ago.

    By the way, since you think we need to keep fighting wars on the other side of the planet, are you willing to pay higher taxes? Or do you favor the Bush approach, which is to send the bill to our kids?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  43. jukeboxgrad says:

    Doug:

    although Sadddam was not fully cooperating with UN weapons inspectors

    Except that he was. Blix said this (1/27/03):

    Iraq has on the whole cooperated rather well so far with UNMOVIC in this field … access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect

    That’s why Bush had to chase the inspectors out. They were in the process of finding out that there was no need for a war over WMD, because there were no WMD. That’s why they were being allowed to check “all sites.”

    And this is what Bush said on 7/14/03:

    we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.

    A glaring example of Bush telling an outright lie. One of many, many lies he told.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  44. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The French didn’t. Rather than rely on American satellite coverage they maintain their own and it was that coverage which resulted in French refusal to join the Coalition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  45. jukeboxgrad says:

    Tillman:

    That the intelligence community leaned towards thinking Saddam had WMDs is unassailable, but they didn’t consider it the sure bet that was sold to the public.

    This is the key point.

    Bush/Cheney said they knew with “absolute certainty” that Saddam was developing nuclear weapons. They said there was “no doubt.” Trouble is, there was plenty of doubt. Number of intelligence agencies that said what they were saying: zero. What they said the intel said is not what the intel said. No one else expressed the level of certainty they expressed. No Democrat did so, and no intelligence agency did so. When you pretend to know something for sure when you don’t actually know it for sure, this is known as lying.

    The proof that Bush lied is not found in what we failed to find. The proof that Bush lied is found in comparing what the intel said with what he said the intel said. Link. A lot of people have a hard time grasping this.

    And what’s stunning is that Cheney is sticking with the same old lie. Notice what he said to Megyn Kelly a few days ago:

    We inherited a situation where there was no doubt in anybody’s mind about the extent of Saddam’s involvement in weapons of mass destruction

    He is still using precisely the same untrue words (“no doubt”) that are precisely at the heart of the original lie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  46. jukeboxgrad says:

    Some further details about how Bush lied us into war. Link:

    “In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent,” Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman, said at a news conference. “As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

    Also (pdf; in your pdf reader, scroll to p. 19; the page number printed on the page is a different number):

    Conclusion 1: Statements by the President [et al] regarding a possible Iraqi nuclear weapons program were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates, but did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community. Prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, some intelligence agencies assessed that the Iraqi government was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program, while others disagreed or expressed doubts about the evidence. The Estimate itself expressed the majority view that the program was being reconstituted, but included clear dissenting views from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which argued that reconstitution was not underway, and the Department of Energy, which argued that aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were probably not intended for a nuclear program.

    This is a key point. More on the aluminum tubes here: link. The tubes are a nice illustration of how Bush lied by cherry-picking what suited him. On yellowcake, he cited UK and ignored CIA, because the latter were skeptics on the yellowcake matter. On the aluminum tubes, he did the reverse, roughly. I say “roughly” because the Bush statement about tubes was even more extreme than the CIA statement.

    Everything you need to know about Bush lying us into war is captured in the story of the tubes, because the trickery Bush used regarding the nuclear program is essentially the same trickery he used regarding all the programs (bio, chem etc). Bush et al expressed “absolute certainty” (link) about Saddam’s nuclear program, even though there were “clear dissenting views” from various agencies. And Bush et al went out of their way to hide those “clear dissenting views” and pretend they didn’t exist. There’s a word for this: lying.

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  47. jukeboxgrad says:

    And I’m going to preemptively address the response I often get when I post this material at places like National Review (before they banned liberals). A typical response sounds like this: ‘but intel is never certain and Bush had to make a tough decision with the information that he had.’ Here’s an actual example, followed by my response:

    Intel shows there is a good chance of something happening..not a 100% chance, mind you, just a chance.
    What will you do as president?

    Bush was free to make his own decision, but he was not free to lie. Consider these two statements:

    A) I’m not going to tell you what the intel says, but it has convinced me that we must attack, so you must support me.
    B) The intel says that Saddam is definitely building nukes, so we must attack.

    Your logic would be relevant if Bush had said A. A might have been an honest statement. Trouble is, he didn’t say A. He said B. B was a lie. Lying us into war is not OK. You should explain how you decided otherwise.

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  48. DrDaveT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I think that the sooner we come to the realization that there was never a “right way” to do either Iraq or Afghanistan the better off we’ll be.

    Agreed — but there was a much less wrong way to do Afghanistan, which was to choose not to start a second war when we’d barely begun the first one. Even if you think that we’d have need to invade Iraq eventually (and I don’t), there was no hurry — a few more years would have made all the difference to our ability to prosecute both the combat and the civil reconstruction of Afghanistan. Would that have made a difference in the outcome? In can’t have hurt…

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  49. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    @Dave Schuler: “I don’t think we’re willing now. I didn’t think we were willing then.”

    A critical mass had been terrorized into numbness and the GOP took advantage of it in the most vile ways imaginable, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, to say nothing of torture.

    The “deciders” belong in prison.

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  50. Another Mike says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA: Who were the “deciders”? Were they the senators who viewed the same information President Bush viewed and decided to authorize force?

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  51. jukeboxgrad says:

    the senators who viewed the same information President Bush viewed

    Yet another exceptionally popular right-wing lie. Link:

    Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material

    Most Ds in the House voted against the war, and the people who voted for the war had been fooled by intel that Bush cooked. Link, link, link.

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  52. Spinoza says:

    @Todd: Every Republican except Ron Paul, that is.

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  53. Barry says:

    @anjin-san: “One thing I can never get past is that GW ran with “no nation building” as a core component of his foreign policy. I guess that was before they discovered the joys of war profiteering. ”

    Well, he certainly never *build* a nation during his time in office.

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  54. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Do you deny that pretty much every intelligence agency on the planet believed this to be true. ”

    Yes, I do. And if you have any actual evidence of what any intelligence agency actually believed (as opposed to said), you are welcome to post it here.

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  55. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: “The real problem is our unwillingness to see the long tasks through”

    Oh, bull f-ing sh*t. Bush and Cheney botched the job, repeatedly. We can’t fix their mistakes.

    Although I would love to put you and all people who spout this nonsense into the ‘residual force’ that the right-wingers blather about. I’d love seeing how five years in Iraq would change your mind.

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