Iraq: The Real Story

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The intellectual laziness on the part of Republicans, conservatives, and yes, Christians too, is, at times, overwhelming. Today and tomorrow in this space I’m excerpting from two articles by Victor Davis Hanson on this general topic of foreign policy and American intervention overseas. If you read them both, you’ll understand more than most — including the GOP candidates for president. Here’s Hanson:

Donald Trump’s account of the Iraq War is all wrong. Why aren’t his Republican opponents saying so?

Donald Trump constantly brings up Iraq to remind voters that Jeb Bush supported his brother’s war, while Trump, alone of the Republican candidates, supposedly opposed it well before it started.

That is a flat-out lie. There is no evidence that Trump opposed the war before the March 20, 2003 invasion. Like most Americans, he supported the invasion and said just that very clearly in interviews. And like most Americans, Trump quickly turned on a once popular intervention — but only when the postwar occupation was beginning to cost too much in blood and treasure. Trump’s serial invocations of the war are good reminders of just how mythical Iraq has now become.

We need to recall a few facts. Bill Clinton bombed Iraq (Operation Desert Fox) on December 16 to 19, 1998, without prior congressional or U.N. approval. As Clinton put it at the time, our armed forces wanted “to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” At the time of Clinton’s warning about Iraq’s WMD capability, George W. Bush was a relatively obscure Texas governor.

Just weeks earlier, Clinton had signed the Iraq Liberation Act into law, after the legislation passed Congress on a House vote of 360 to 38 and the Senate unanimously. The act formally called for the removal of Saddam Hussein, a transition to democracy for Iraq, and a forced end to Saddam’s WMD program. As President Clinton had also warned when signing the act — long before the left-wing construction of neo-con bogeymen and “Bush lied, thousands died” sloganeering — without such an act, Saddam Hussein “will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he’ll use the arsenal.” Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, often voiced warnings about Saddam’s aggression and his possession of deadly stocks of WMD (e.g., “Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face”). Indeed, most felt that the U.S. had been too lax in allowing Saddam to gas the Kurds when it might have prevented such mass murdering.

In October 2002, President Bush asked for the consent of Congress — unlike the Clinton resort to force in the Balkans and the later Obama bombing in Libya, both by executive action — before using arms to reify existing American policy. Both the Senate (with a majority of Democrats voting in favor) and the House overwhelmingly approved 23 writs calling for Saddam’s forced removal. The causes of action included Iraq’s violation of well over a dozen U.N. resolutions, Saddam’s harboring of international terrorists (including those who had tried and failed to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993), his plot to murder former president George H. W. Bush, his violations of no-fly zones, his bounties to suicide bombers on the West Bank, his genocidal policies against the Kurds and Marsh Arabs, and a host of other transgressions. Only a few of the causes of action were directly related to weapons of mass destruction.

Go back and review speeches on the floor of Congress in support of the Bush administration’s using force. Some of the most muscular were the arguments of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid, and Chuck Schumer. Pundits as diverse as Al Franken, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, and Fareed Zakaria all wrote or spoke passionately about the need to remove the genocidal Saddam Hussein. All voiced their humanitarian concerns about finally stopping Saddam’s genocidal wars against the helpless. The New York Times estimated that 1 million had died violently because of Saddam’s governance. And all would soon damn those with whom they once agreed.

No liberal supporters of the war ever alleged that the Bush administration had concocted WMD evidence ex nihilo in Iraq […] The WMD issue was largely a postbellum mechanism of blaming conspiracies rather than anyone’s own judgment when violence flared. Did the disappearance of WMD stocks really nullify all 23 congressional writs?

Support for the invasion reached its apex not before the war but directly at its conclusion, when polls in April 2003 revealed approval ratings between 70 and 90 percent, owing to Saddam’s sudden downfall, the relatively rapid end to the fighting, and the avoidance of catastrophic American casualties.

When the surge made things far better, Obama dropped most mentions of Iraq from his campaign website. He certainly never referred to his confessions during his Senate campaign of 2004 that he then had had no major disagreements with Bush’s policies during the postwar occupation (e.g., “There’s not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage”). Nor did he recall that, also in 2004, he confessed to having no idea whether he would have voted for the war. (“I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don’t know.”) Obama seemed to suggest that the Senate had its own intelligence avenues apparently separate from the Bush–Chaney nexus.

The surge engineered by General David Petraeus worked so well that Iraq was not much of an issue in the 2008 general election. President-elect Barack Obama entered office with a quiet Iraq.

We can surely argue about Iraq, but we must not airbrush away facts. The mystery of the current Iraq fantasy is not that a prevaricating Donald Trump misrepresents the war in the fashion of Democratic senators and liberal pundits who once eagerly supported it, but that his Republican opponents so easily let him do it.

Read more: VictorHanson.com

Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense.

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