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The Wrong Questions About Iraq

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The Wrong Questions About Iraq


Jeb Bush’s tightrope walk between family loyalty and rational foreign policy makes for morbidly fascinating political theater. But the question he muffed, and continues to muff, is the easy one.

Republican presidential candidates are tripping all over each other to say that knowing what we know now, that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, of course they would not have invaded Iraq in 2003. From Fox News to the Sean Hannity Show to a campaign event in Nevada, however, Bush has not been able to bring himself to say that. “Based on the information we had,” he said in Reno, the invasion was “the right decision.” Given 20-20 hindsight, “I don’t know what that decision would have been,” he told Hannity.

Most of us have moved way beyond that, as documented by an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll last year that found 71 percent of Americans do not think the Iraq war was worth it.

Going forward, there are far more relevant questions that Republican and Democratic candidates alike need to answer. For instance, what if the intelligence had been solid and Iraq really did have WMD? Knowing what we know now, not about WMD but about the geopolitical consequences of our intervention, would you still have gone into Iraq? Or would you have tried to find another way to contain Saddam? For instance the way we already were containing him, with sanctions, no-fly zones and bombing attacks on Iraqi military forces?

And while we’re on the subject, what do you think about pre-emptive warfare, on the premise that a nation or a leader is an imminent threat? Was George W. Bush justified in viewing Iraq as an imminent threat? Do you agree? What other countries would you attack or invade on that basis? Syria, which had and may still have chemical weapons? North Korea, which has nuclear weapons? What about Iran — is it an imminent threat? Would you stop nuclear negotiations and start bombing its nuclear facilities? Would you put boots on the ground, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he might in Syria? Would you feel a calling or an obligation to rebuild these nations and spread democracy there after we bomb and/or invade them?

As it happens, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky addressed a lot of these questions this week. “Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, things have been worse and America has been less safe,” he said Wednesday on CNN, citing Iraq and “Hillary’s war in Libya” as examples. He threw in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as well, saying it was a mistake to try to degrade him because “as we degraded the strongman Assad, ISIS grew.” Americans, he added, should ask themselves whether they want a leader “who will perpetually get us involved in foreign war over there when the result is not to America’s best interests, or someone who will be more reluctant.” And by the way, he said, “even at the time” and given the intelligence, he thought invading Iraq was a mistake.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is among those who has said the same, and he also came down firmly against nation building. “It is not the job of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to transform foreign nations into democratic utopias,” he said on Fox News.

Jeb Bush, by contrast, and maybe in deference to his brother, is far less categorical. “Am I the same as my brother? Of course not,” Bush told Hannity. “For example, our foreign policy ought to be grounded in not just the export of our own values or nation building — those are good sentiments — but first and foremost in security and peace.”

So, they’re “good sentiments” and still on the table. All those who want to build another couple of nations in the Middle East and try to sell them on values like diversity and feminism, raise your hands.

That’s what I thought.

In his 2010 book, Decision Points, George W. Bush wrote that “the world was undoubtedly safer with Saddam gone.” But that was a questionable assertion even while he was in office. By fall 2006, according to The New York Times, U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that “the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.” The assessments didn’t improve with time. “The glaring lesson of the war is that American ground invasions destabilize the Middle East, instead of stabilizing it,” David Rohde wrote in The Atlantic in 2013, the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war.

This is the discussion we need in 2016. It’s a lot more complicated than whether we should have gone to war against a dictator who turned out not to have WMD.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. 

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Jill Lawrence

Award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence is a nationally syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. She also contributed to The Surge: 2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Race (2015). Lawrence has discussed political and policy developments on television, radio, and many other media outlets. She was an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in 2014, teaching on the relationship between politics and the media.

Lawrence has covered every presidential campaign since 1988, as well as historic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the Clinton impeachment, the Florida recount, and the 1993 and 2009 battles over health reform.

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  1. anothertoothpick May 14, 2015

    The fact that we are even listening to another Bush is astounding.

    To begin with, Jeb and the American Supreme Court stole the presidency in 2000.

    The Bushes have done so much damage to this country Including the appointment of John Roberts (citizens united) it is going to take generations, if ever, to recover.

    1. mike May 14, 2015

      And you think Hillary is the future, funny!!!

      1. JPHALL May 14, 2015

        So who do you think is the future? Obviously none of the present clown brigade offered by the Republicans. I have yet to see anyone else!

        1. mike May 14, 2015

          Definitely not Hillary!!!

          Clowns only in your mental midget eyes.

          1. JPHALL May 14, 2015

            Nice reply for avoiding naming anyone worth considering on the Republican side as worthy! Subject: Re: Comment on The Wrong Questions About Iraq

          2. mike May 15, 2015

            No, they are all worthy of presenting their case, who rises to the top of the ticket is another story.
            You have only one, an old women, stale, has lied repeatedly and has been caught in lies, whose negatives are higher now than her positives. For a party to have just one white person to present to the American people just shows how bad a shape it is in. The same person who lost last time to a political neophyte the first time around. Many people after 25 years in the public arena have already formed an opinion of her. Who the republicans run against her is another story. What I do see in the republican party is real diversity, 2 Hispanics, a women, a black, youth, and of course some white guys.
            Her refusal to meet with the press just shows how poor a campaigner she is. She and the left thought there would be a coronation of Hillary but that doesn’t seem the case now.
            PS: Hillary is not the future.

          3. JPHALL May 15, 2015

            All unproven accusations except for infidelity by Bill.
            Subject: Re: Comment on The Wrong Questions About Iraq

          4. mike May 15, 2015

            Keep living in denial, it fits you!!!

          5. JPHALL May 15, 2015

            So why don’t you show some proof for your accusations? Then I could, as you say, stop living in denial. But that is not the right wing way. Just accuse and never prove anything. Subject: Re: Comment on The Wrong Questions About Iraq

          6. mike May 15, 2015

            Really!!! She was caught lying the press conference about the server and emails, and cell phones.
            Claiming they were Dead broke when they left the Wh.
            That’s a start. She is not likable. Look at her negatives.

          7. JPHALL May 15, 2015

            Is that all you have after 20 plus years of accusations? As to the Emails, nothing has been proven other than she ran a private server and dumped Emails. Rice and Powell did pretty much the same.
            Subject: Re: Comment on The Wrong Questions About Iraq

          8. mike May 15, 2015

            She lied during the press conference, go watch her eyes she never once during her statement ever looked at the press standing less that 5 feet from her and at eye level with her. Her eyes were up to the left or right never directly at press. That’s the actions of a liar.
            Many Americans have stated in the polls she is not trustworthy or honest. Her negatives are greater than her positives, a big difference from a year ago.
            NARA rules state that all employees have to be connected to a govt. server and ALL EMAILS ARE THE PROPERTY OF THE GOVERNMENT UNTIL RELEASED BY NARA OFFICIALS. You seem to forget even Obama told his cabinet to be connected to govt. servers. She used a private server, deleted emails she was not entitled to delete, and expects the American people to believe her. Because of what she did many more Americans do not trust her.

          9. Sand_Cat May 15, 2015

            Give it up mike. We missed your condemnation of the Bush people who did the same thing. And all of her “lies” put together couldn’t equal one of Bushes,’ largely because most of them are right-wing lies about her.
            And again, the examples you give vie with one another about which is the most trivial. So she did some rhetorical excess: they were “broke” when they left the White House. Geez, ‘lies” like that could end the world. Of course, you’ve never been guilty of such exaggeration!
            Again, WHO among the GOP morons isn’t far worse, in all respects, especially when it comes to lying? Are they really the best you can do? Are the “lies” you cite when challenged even worth mentioning, even if true? I can easily imagine the scorn with which you would dismiss similar charges against the GOP, and rightly so. I’m sure a few minutes’ search of the statements of any of the clowns the GOP offers, and especially of W and Cheney would produce hundreds, if not thousands, of such amidst the big ones like WMD in Iraq, etc.

          10. mike May 15, 2015

            Now I know you are back in the catnip.
            If you are talking about private emails in the Bush days then you need to do your homework. In 2009 and 2013 the NARA put new rules and regulations into effect on how all govt. emails were to be handled, it said all emails must go through govt. servers. Plus ALL emails are the property of the govt.. When leaving a position officials of the NARA will review with employee those emails that can be removed. Heck, even Obama requested that all emails be on govt. servers. What you ignore is that Jackson of the EPA was using an email with another name to conduct govt. business so as not to be transparent.
            You can play your partisanship all you want but at least know the facts.
            As to her untrue statements, it goes to the core of her character, she has been judged to be dishonest and untrustworthy(same as Obama) by many Americans which the polls are showing.
            i laugh every time you bring up Cheney, get with the real world. Someday you will wake up after Obama is gone and see just how he hoodwinked you.

          11. JPHALL May 15, 2015

            You are a waste of time! You never answer a direct question and keep repeatiing opinion. You never have the facts. Goodbye Subject: Re: Comment on The Wrong Questions About Iraq

          12. mike May 16, 2015

            I answered, you just don’t want to hear the truth.

            Polls show she has slipped since she announced her run, her positive has dropped below 50% and more negative than positive numbers in others. Not trustworthy or honest.


          13. JPHALL May 16, 2015

            NO YOU CONTINUE TO AVOID THE QUESTION. The question was and continues to be who is running that represents the future as you put it? You are obsessed with Clinton and can offer no one else. Subject: Re: Comment on The Wrong Questions About Iraq

          14. mike May 16, 2015

            Keep trying!!
            I am not going to waste my time telling you, of all people, who should be better for the future of this country on the right, when all you can say is “Clowns”, others saying “morons”, etc.. You don’t want an honest conversation. Time will tell, but I will take our variety, youth, over a old white women who lacks character and honesty. Your party is based on one person, which just shows how far down the left has fallen under Obama.
            Why should you care anyway who the Republicans put up since in your warped brain no one can beat her(except herself). You should be dancing in the streets and laughing your stupid and ignorant head off since she is better than apple pie.

          15. JPHALL May 16, 2015


          16. mike May 17, 2015

            Intellectual conversation, Really?? Now that’s a joke. You have formed your opinion that all republicans are clowns and you expect me to waste my time. No, if you wanted an “intellectual conversation” you would not show your personal distain for anyone on the right and tell me why they are clowns. I told you what the majority of Americans have expressed in polls to Hillary’s character, I have shown how she was poor a candidate she was in 2008 losing to Obama, I have shown how she broke the govt. rules in having a personal server and illegally deleted emails, THAT WERE THE PROPERTY OF THE FEDERAL GOVT.. I have given my reasons for not liking her.
            No, your intellectual conversation is repeating the diarrhea of the left. All emotion and no substance.

      2. Sand_Cat May 15, 2015

        Almost ANYONE is better than ANY of the GOP lunatics.

        1. mike May 15, 2015

          I needed a good chuckle!!
          Only lunatics I see are those in lockstep with Hillary, the only person the left thinks they have. She ain’t that good.

  2. 1standlastword May 16, 2015

    How’s the legitimacy of this question: What historically has proved more dangerous for America, our corporate driven foreign policy and our empty suit politicians or terrorists?

  3. Proud Liberal May 19, 2015

    Bush administration knew there were no WMD back then. The real question would be “Would you lie to the American people to get us into another war?”


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