Jeb Bush is campaigning to be the next president of the United States. I still find that just... astonishing. How in the world could he think that America would be ready for another Bush?
(Yes, I know that he hasn't "officially" announced his candidacy. He did, however, admit that he was running for president - accidentally - before reversing course after remembering that the law on campaign donations changes after a candidate declares his candidacy.)
Now, he's had a bad week, saying that yes, he would have invaded Iraq even knowing what we know now. Even Republicans were taken aback by that, so he's been hemming and hawing ever since, attempting damage control. At one point, he claimed that even answering the question would show disrespect to our military!
Finally, he threw in the towel. Knowing what we know now, he agreed that it was a mistake to invade Iraq. (He still doesn't admit how that action created ISIS, though, or helped Iran, or... well, much of anything else. After all, he actually says he gets his foreign policy advice from his brother! And most of the people on his staff were involved in that terrible, terrible decision.)
The other Republican presidential candidates - and there seems to be a million of them, already - were happy that Jeb Bush stumbled. And most Republican leaders - though not all - have come to a consensus on the Iraq War issue.
But as Josh Marshall at TPM points out, they're still lying to us:
As the GOP has quickly settled into a new consensus that the decision to invade Iraq was - at least in retrospect - a mistake, it has come with a willful amnesia bordering on a whole new generation of deceit about exactly what happened in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. To hear Republican presidential candidates tell it, Americans believed Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of Weapons of Mass Destruction which justified and necessitated the invasion. Since he didn't, there was no reason to invade. The carnage and collateral effects we've seen over the last dozen years only drives home the point: knowing what we know now, the invasion was a mistake. We wouldn't do it again.
While it's welcome to see the would-be heirs of President Bush, including his own brother, acknowledging the obvious, this history is such a staggering crock that it's critical to go back and review what actually happened. Some of this was obvious to anyone who was paying attention. Some was only obvious to reporters covering the story who were steeped in the details. And some was only obvious to government officials who in the nature of things controlled access to information. But in the tightest concentric circle of information, at the White House, it was obviously all a crock at the time.
While it is true that "WMD" was a key premise for the war, the sheer volume of lies, willful exaggerations and comically wishful thinking are the real story.
Let's start by reviewing some essential history and the several categories of willful lies that paved the ground for war.
First, it is true that US intelligence agencies believed well before President Bush even entered the White House in January 2001 that Saddam Hussein likely continued to possess or be developing some chemical and possible biological weapons capacity, as he had prior the Gulf War in 1991. Other Western intelligence agencies believed the same. But the nerve gas that Saddam used against Kurdish civilians in the 1980s never posed any imminent threat to the United States or really any direct threat to the United States mainland at all. These junior WMDs were a real issue. And that is why there was a broad consensus in favor of re-instituting the inspections regime that had been in place into the 1990s.
It was from this kernel of truth that the Bush administration and numerous neoconservatives policy experts and propagandists spun up a web of lies and willful exaggerations that goaded the country - already traumatized and angry after the 9/11 attacks - into war.
Marshall goes into details about this. If you don't remember this as clearly as I do, it's a good read. I don't want to copy it all here, so let me just finish with this:
It is very important to remember that before we invaded, Saddam Hussein actually did allow inspectors back into the country, thus undermining the key argument for following through with the threat of invasion in the first place. But the critical point is that we didn't invade Iraq because we had "faulty" intelligence that Iraq still had stockpiles of sarin gas. The invasion was justified and sold to the American public on the twin frauds of the Iraq-al Qaeda alliance and the Saddam's supposedly hidden nuclear program. As much as the White House and the key administration war hawks like Vice President Cheney tried to get the Intelligence Community to buy into these theories, they never did. And to anyone paying attention, certainly anyone reporting on these matters at the time, it was clear at the time this was nonsense and a willful deception.
At the time, I did buy into some of that. (I was trying to pay attention, but I'm not a journalist.) I accepted our government's claims that Saddam Hussein wanted to get nukes, though it was clear that it was a long-term problem, if so. (I knew that an Iraq-al Qaeda connection was a crock. If you knew anything at all about Iraq, that never did make any sense.)
I still opposed the Iraq War, for at least three reasons:
- We were already engaged in a war in Afghanistan. If at all possible, why not finish the war you've got before starting another one? (Note that Afghanistan might not have turned out so badly if we'd kept our eye on the ball. We took people and equipment out of Afghanistan in order to fight in Iraq, and that let the Taliban recover.)
- UN weapons inspectors were searching for WMDs in Iraq, so why not let them continue? Sure, Saddam was playing games with them. But he really couldn't stop them. Threatening invasion in order to get them back in the country was fine, but that made an invasion completely unnecessary (even if Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction).
- We were still keeping a no-fly zone over Iraq, so Saddam Hussein couldn't really do anything, anyway. There was absolutely no need to invade the country, certainly not any pressing need.
Even if the Republicans in the Bush Administration hadn't been lying to us, the war would still have been a bad idea. But they were lying to us. And as Josh Marshall's column points out, they're still lying to us.
The Bush Administration used deliberate lies, exaggeration, and implications they knew were untrue in order to drum up support for what they wanted to do. And knowing what we know now, they almost certainly would still have invaded Iraq, don't you think? After all, Bush got re-elected.
Mission accomplished, right?