The media’s dogged determination to chase every Republican
presidential contender down and pummel them for comments about the Iraq
War is remarkable to behold, since they are simultaneously willing to
let the only 2016 candidate who votedin favor of the war skate
by without answering questions about it, or anything else for that
matter. While Hillary Clinton is given months to prepare for her ninthquestion
from the press since declaring a candidacy, every Republican is
peppered with heavy fire from a throng of journalists on an hourly
Much has been made of the remarkable inability of the Republican
candidate actually named “Bush” to express a clear position on the Iraq
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
has also been accused of flip-floppery, because just over a month ago he unambiguously declared the war was nota
mistake, and said “the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein
doesn’t run Iraq.” However, he now says he would not have voted in favor
of the war.
Rubio spokesman Alex Conant clarified to CNN
that the Senator stands by his earlier statements, thinks the decision
to go to war was correct at the time given the intelligence at hand, but
says he would not approve of the war knowing what we know now, which
are the exact terms of the question media Democrats are hammering
Republicans with. “Bush did not make a mistake when he ordered invasion
given intelligence and Saddam’s actions,” said Conant.
The problem with squaring this particular circle is that Rubio’s
March 30 comments forcefully asserted the Iraq War was not a mistake,
which means failing to invade Iraq would have been a mistake, even with the benefit of hindsight and the information available in 2015.
Rubio canreconcile those positions logically, but he needs
to do it explicitly, keeping in mind that his speaking skills and
foreign policy focus are major bullet points on his presidential resume.
He cannot leave this to spokesmen, or the guesswork of supportive op-ed
writers. As he crafts his definitive statement on Iraq, Rubio should
clearly reference his past statements, remain keenly aware that he
stands accused of flip-flopping in the first degree, and understand why
the media keeps dropping this question, with its “if we knew then what
we know now” payload, on Republicans.
First, here is what Rubio said on March 30, with the necessary context, from an appearance on Fox News’ “The Five.” After
discussing the dangers of growing Iranian influence in ISIS-torn Iraq,
host Julie Roginsky noted that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was seen as “a
great counterweight to Iran,” so his removal and the subsequent
deterioration of Iraq empowered the mullahs of Tehran.
“Was it a mistake to go to war in Iraq?” Roginsky asked.
Rubio’s response, in full:
No, I don’t believe that it was. The world is a better
place because Saddam Hussein doesn’t run Iraq. Here’s what I think might
have happened, had we not gone in. You might had an arms race
between Iraq and Iran, they both would have pursed a weapon. We would be
dealing with two problems, not just one. We forget that Iraq, at the
time of the invasion, was in open defiance of numerous United Nations
Security Council resolutions, that the United Nations refused to
enforce. They refused to comply with allowing inspectors in, repeatedly.
This was a country whose leader had gassed his own people on numerous
So I think hindsight is always 20/20, but we don’t know what the
world would look like if Saddam Hussein was still there. But I doubt it
would look better in terms of — it would be worse — or just as bad for
I think it’s very difficult to predict… I think — a better notion is,
at the end of the Iraq war, Iraq had an opportunity to have a stable,
peaceful future. The U.S. pulled out, completely abandoning it to
Maliki, who then proceeded to move forward on these very aggressive
strategies against the Sunni. Creating the intellectual and —
environment, that allowed ISIS to come back in and take advantage of
Rubio went on to stress that whatever hindsight revealed the actual
state of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program to be, the dictator “was in open
violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, including not
allowing inspectors to come in on the ground, et cetera, and the world
refused to enforce it.”
As CNN notes, this position is consistent with the one Rubio expressed on their “State of the Union” show in 2010.
However, during a Q&A session at the Council on Foreign Relations
on Wednesday, Rubio said he did not think “Congress would have voted in
favor of the authorization” for invading Iraq if they knew everything
that was known today.
“Not only would I not have been in favor of it, but President George W. Bush would not have,” the Senator asserted.
It is interesting to watch the Democrat media rush forward with these
“hindsight” questions when their man Barack Obama reacts so bitterly to
questions about whether his much more recent Iraq pullout, which paved
the way for ISIS to invade, was a mistake in hindsight. Apparently
hindsight is valid when peering back at 2002, but not 2011.
One reason we are getting all these “if you knew then what we know
now” questions about the Iraq War is to smokescreen the real criticism
of Obama’s failure. His catastrophic mistakes in Iraq were obvious given
what was known at the time, and smarter men tried to warn him
about. He ignored them, and the Iraqis, because he had a political
agenda that involved convincing the American people that terrorism had
been smashed, al-Qaeda was “decimated and on the run,” and ISIS was but
the “junior varsity league” of terror.
Obama and Clinton supporters are desperate to reframe the critique of
Obama’s foreign policy as “would you have worked harder on that Status
of Forces agreement with Iraq, if you knew ISIS would invade?” because
it makes him look better, and makes his critics look unreasonable.
“Would you have supported George Bush on the Iraq War, if you knew what
would happen?” is a tactic to set them up as hypocrites for denying
Obama comparable benefit of the doubt, or to retroactively pin the rise
of ISIS on George Bush.
Every Republican candidate who ever said anything supportive of the
Iraq War, whether they held any public office in 2002 or not, will be
accused of flip-flopping if they now concede they would not have voted
for it with the benefit of hindsight.
Also, media liberals would very much like to get hawkish Republicans
on the record saying the Iraq War was a complete blunder, to dispirit
the Republican Party’s supporters in the military community. It would
complete the process of absolving the lunatic Left of responsibility for
their excesses during the latter Bush years.
Rubio was correct in that Fox News interview to challenge sanguine
assumptions about the pastoral scenery on the road not taken. We cannot
say what the murderous Saddam Hussein would have done if left in power.
The brief for war presented by the Bush Administration covered far more
than his drive to obtain nuclear weapons, which was not anywhere near as
sated as history revisionists would have us believe. Flagrant defiance
of U.N. resolutions, without consequence, was destroying the credibility
of an international institution liberals claim to deeply believe in.
Iran and other bad actors would have been inspired to even greater
defiance… and as the utter debacle of Obama’s “nuclear negotiations”
illustrates, the mullahs aren’t exactly model citizens in thistimeline.
As for ISIS, there is no reason to feel confident that Saddam would
have kept them bottled up in Syria or neutralized them. ISIS could
easily have ended up in an alliance with Saddam’s Iraq – the remnants of
his Baath party certainly seem to get along with them well.
Supporters of the Iraq war had a theory that establishing a
purple-finger beachhead for democracy, after decapitating the Hussein
regime, would make the Middle East more stable by giving it a shining
example to counter the bloody allure of Islamist fundamentalism. It
didn’t work out that way… but was it absolutely, 100 percent foolish for
them to try, given the post-9/11 atmosphere? It is not as if Democrats
can claim to have learned any lessons about the folly of regime change,
since Obama and Clinton did the same thing in Libya – even more
unilaterally, and with even more hideous results.
There is a way for a gifted orator like
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
to explain that he haslearned
those lessons– that he is not interested in second-guessing the past,
or speculating about what he would have done, if he had been in position
to cast the vote Hillary Clinton actually did cast. It’s not
unreasonable to take stock of mistakes that have been made, and gambles
that didn’t pay off, while also understanding positive consequences, and
admitting that hindsight really isn’t20/20.
Even those who disagree with the vision Rubio articulates would
respect his willingness to stand by everything he has said, acknowledge
that it seemsat variance with what he now says he would have
done in 2002, and explain why it is not 2002 any more. “It wasn’t a
mistake, but I wouldn’t have done it” is tricky political ground, but
it canbe held.