Op-Ed

Time to sober up about the Iraq War

COSTS OF WAR: Flag-draped coffins of American soldiers killed in action in Iraq being carried home.
COSTS OF WAR: Flag-draped coffins of American soldiers killed in action in Iraq being carried home. U.S. Department of Defense

“Hello, my name is A.J. and I was an Iraq War supporter.”

It is high time my fellow conservatives joined me in a 12-steps realization, and mea culpa, regarding our foreign-policy errors of the post 9-11 era. Many nowadays, thankfully, have the integrity to make the admission: Each year, the number of Republicans who openly admit that the Iraq “war” — ahem, invasion — was a mistake ticks up.

A new poll finds two-thirds of voters think a candidate’s position on the Iraq War is significant. Why? With constant talk of Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine and others, voters want a president who will not embroil us in yet another catastrophic intervention thousands of miles away and of no benefit to America.

It is not a question of the past but rather, as Sen. Rand Paul notes, a “recurring question” any president will face.

GOP presidential hopefuls faced a week of tough questions on whether they thought the invasion was a mistake. Jeb Bush seemed rattled and confused, first stating he would have invaded, then ultimately saying — but only after backlash to his initial answer — that he would not have done so, while King of the Interventionists, Marco Rubio, said the war “was not a mistake” and was “the right decision based on what he knew at that time.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker conveyed a position similar to Rubio’s while Paul indicated his opposition and Sen.Ted Cruz, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said it was not a good idea in hindsight.

The GOP field is in utter disarray on the issue. So let’s get a few of these 12-step admissions out of the way. IDS sufferers — Iraq Derangement Syndrome — may want to hang on.

First things first: No, the Iraq War wasn’t just a good-faith mistake based on the information the Bush administration had at the time. The administration sought out intelligence that favored its plan to invade Iraq — a pre-existing plan that even predated 9/11 — and ignored or silenced the intelligence that didn’t.

It’s the equivalent of deciding you want to divorce your spouse, then setting out to find any evidence of wrongdoing. The private investigator saw your wife embracing a man! Oh, it was her brother at her nephew’s soccer game? Hmm, never mind that, it’s mere semantics. You’ve got your smoking gun!

IDS sufferers’ second favorite argument is: “Well, the world is better off without a bad guy like Saddam, so it wasn’t a mistake.” OK, except this is completely inaccurate. The world is not better off without Saddam. Why? Because for all his faults, Saddam Hussein presided over a stable Iraq, served as a buffer to (a now more powerful) Iran and was no religious fanatic. When we invaded and removed him, we created a power vacuum in the country, a vacuum then filled by brutal ISIS.

Consider, for instance, the plight of Iraq’s Christians, who lived in relative peace under Saddam’s rule but, thanks to the invasion, were forced to flee in record numbers. Sure, Saddam was an awful man, but the alternative is worse. Or, are IDS sufferers saying ISIS is better than Saddam? And, does not this simplistic “bad guy out, so war good” mean we should go to war against any and all countries with a bad guy in power?

Third, no, we didn’t “win” the war at any point and, no, President Obama isn’t to blame. Lately, in an attempt to strike a two-fer coupon deal (defending the war while simultaneously striking one against Obama), the argument goes: “We were winning the war until “Obummer” decided to pull the troops out!” This is about as intellectually dishonest as it gets, since it was Dubya — not Obama — who decided on the troops’ withdrawal timetable. Again, facts are facts, and they are nothing if not inconvenient.

And no, at no point were we victorious in Iraq, unless by winning you mean a temporary win over a nebulous enemy, which required us to maintain a combative presence in the nation indefinitely. I may not be a general, but that isn’t victory. This is, of course, not an assessment of our excellent troops — Iraq was simply not winnable.

Fourth, there is the logical elephant in the room that, even assuming Saddam had WMDs, he would have used them against us, the entire premise upon which the mistaken war was sold to the American public. The very notion is absurd, and it is almost inexplicable now, in hindsight, how so many of us bought the idea with so little questioning.

Our invasion of Iraq led to deaths of more than 4,000 brave Americans and half a million Iraqis> It cost us a staggering $2 trillion (or, over 10 percent of our national debt). Yet those who seek to be our next president cannot bring themselves to clearly state we erred, and erred badly?

Instead, Rubio is, this week, quoting the action movie Taken in explaining his foreign-policy views. Does this sound like (A) a man fit to be commander in chief, (B) a teenager playing video games who’s had too much sugar, or (C) a bro at the Hard Rock Vegas Sunday pool party? (Hint: It isn’t “A”).

Meanwhile, a sharp and somber Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of the war, unequivocally and rightly stated this week that her vote was a “mistake.”

Whom will voters prefer come 2016? It’s time for both Bush and Rubio to confront the Iraq War folly — and genuinely commit to avoiding similar mistakes in the future. If they cannot, the closest either of these men should get to 1600 Penn is a White House tour with the other tourists.

A.J. Delgado is a Miami-based writer and lawyer. She writes about politics and culture.

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