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Jeb Bush seems to be following the plan he laid out months ago, when he mused about how he wanted to win the presidency: By threading the needle between the base and the establishment Republicans to narrowly win the nomination, then running toward the center against a Hillary pulled to the Left by her own base. Agree or disagree with him, by most accounts his speeches have been substantive, and thoughtful. But he had a misstep on Monday, when he responded to a question that he expected to be asked instead of the one that was actually asked:
Asked on Fox News (in an interview to be aired tonight) if he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq, knowing what the world now knows, Jeb Bush replied: “I would have and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
It was clear to me at the time that he had misinterpreted the question, thinking she was asking him if he would have done it with information available at the time. His point was that the real problem with Iraq was not in the decision to invade, but in the failure to secure the new nation in the aftermath, a failure that his brother conceded, and wasn’t rectified until the surge after the loss of Congress in 2006.
Jeb’s political adversaries, both left and right, of course immediately seized on the opportunity to declare him either historically ignorant or foolish. His critics to his right, including Rubio and Paul, didn’t cover themselves in glory. And yesterday (unfortunately) he walked it back. But in criticizing him as creating a “revisionist history” of the war, Andrew Rosenthal is revising history himself (as many have attempted to do over the past decade).
The former president likes to say Congress had the “same intelligence” he had when they voted to authorize the war, which sounds good, but is not exactly true. George Bush decided to invade Iraq long before the National Intelligence Estimate was ever even drafted. Its purpose was not to inform policymaking, but to fool Congress, the United Nations, the American people and the rest of the world into supporting the war.
The world now knows that the document was reverse-engineered to suit a policy that had already been created. The assessments of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs were wrong, and hotly disputed within the intelligence community at the time; the Bush administration just conveniently forgot to mention that to Congress.
The assumption here is that the sole reason for invading Iraq was WMD. Despite the repeated obfuscation from war opponents on this subject, that is simply untrue. Yes, the Bush policy for Iraq was regime change. But unfortunately for the narrative, so was the Clinton policy, half a decade before the invasion:
Let me be clear on what the U.S. objectives are:
The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region.
The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq’s history or its ethnic or sectarian makeup. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else.
The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.
My Administration has pursued, and will continue to pursue, these objectives through active application of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The evidence is overwhelming that such changes will not happen under the current Iraq leadership.
In the meantime, while the United States continues to look to the Security Council’s efforts to keep the current regime’s behavior in check, we look forward to new leadership in Iraq that has the support of the Iraqi people. The United States is providing support to opposition groups from all sectors of the Iraqi community that could lead to a popularly supported government.
Those are words that could have been said by George W. Bush, but in fact they were from Bill Clinton’s own speech at the signing of the Iraq Liberation Act, in 1998. While Saddam’s continuing violations of the UN resolutions were part of the problem, they were only part. Opponents to removing Saddam during the Bush administration would play a little rhetorical illogic game. They would point to each of the reasons put forth, and then find an example of some other regime that was doing that particular thing, to show some kind of policy inconsistency: North Korea was working on nuclear weapons; the Saudis had been supporting terrorism; Iran was oppressive to its own people. Why pick on poor Saddam Hussein? Such was the media mendacity that I was compelled to write a glossary at the time so that sane people could understand what their code words meant. Examples:
Nations that we either defeated or liberated six decades ago, and then paid to rebuild half a century ago, and continued to pay for their defense through the Cold War, which has been over for more than a decade, who now feel that they are thereby entitled to obstruct or dictate our foreign policy, which is driven by our own self defense, in the furtherance of the business interests of their corrupt governments and the brutal dictators that they cynically coddle.
“going it alone“:
Meaning 1: Taking action in concert with numerous European and Middle-Eastern nations, and others around the globe, but without France and Germany.
Meaning 2: Using the coalition from (1) to enforce numerous UN Security Council resolutions, including one that was passed within the past three months, which was supposed to be final, without going back to the Security Council, hat in hand, to get yet another “final” resolution…
“rush to war“:
Waiting a dozen years after Saddam signed an agreement to relinquish his weapons of mass destruction; waiting almost half a decade after he threw out the arms inspection teams who were there to see that he carried out his commitment; waiting a year and a half after being attacked by Middle Eastern forces that woke us up to the possibility of our vulnerability to people who have been threatening us for years; waiting over a year after declaring Iraq one of the nations that constitute a danger to the planet; carefully crafting and passing yet another UN Security Council resolution reiterating all the previous ones, with the stated intent of being a final one; waiting two months after the submission of a declaration in response to that supposedly final resolution that was 12,000 pages of non-responsiveness, before actually taking any significant military action to see that Saddam’s capability to attack his neighbors and our own nation is eliminated through military force.
The decision to remove Saddam Hussein never rested on any single justification; it was a confluence of several reasons (as seen in Clinton’s own speech on signing the Iraq Liberation Act). In George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech prior to the invasion, he said himself that:
The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or disfigured.
Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained: by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape.
If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.
And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country.
And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.
WMD became the key issue only because UK Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted on getting approval from the United Nations, which in a sane world shouldn’t have been difficult, given Saddam’s continual flouting of its resolutions, but in the real one, in which it is a club for the coddling of dictators, in fact was. WMD was the only reason that the General Assembly might have found persuasive. And so Colin Powell was compelled to give his speech, based on the best intelligence on the subject available at the time, and it turned out to be in vain, with a failure to get a resolution.
What should Jeb have said? Here’s what I would say:
”There were always numerous reasons to remove Saddam Hussein, even without the WMD justification, as even Bill Clinton stated during his own presidency. Doing so was not a mistake. The mistake was having an inadequate plan to deal with the power vacuum in the aftermath. My brother has acknowledged that, and he partially rectified it with the surge in 2007 that put down Al Qaeda in Iraq. But in his rush to “end,” rather than win the war, Barack Obama abandoned that fledgling nation, squandering all the gains from the sacrifice of our troops, and creating a new vacuum that has been murderously and cruelly filled by ISIS. I think it’s incumbent on those who today claim that removing Saddam was a mistake should describe what they think today’s Middle East would look like if we hadn’t.”
If he wants to take back the narrative from the Left, now would be a good time to start.