“They lied. And they said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”
Donald Trump loudly proclaiming George W. Bush and his administration deceived America into invading Iraq was undoubtedly the highlight of Saturday’s debate.
During a fierce exchange with Dubya’s brother Jeb, Trump torched conservative foreign policy dogmas on both the Middle East and Russia.
“You can’t fight two wars at the same time,” Trump yelled about the favored GOP candidate policy of taking on the Assad regime and ISIS simultaneously.
The Republican front-runner said positive things about conservative bogeyman Vladimir Putin and his involvement in Syria, which Bush strongly denounced.
And then Trump went for the jugular on Bush 43’s record in office. Deploring the Iraq war as one “big fat mistake,” Trump took a step further in saying the war was launched on sheer lies from the White House. (RELATED: Trump Goes All-In Against The War In Iraq)
Obviously, that didn’t sit well with George Bush’s brother and the two men vying to be the next president spent an entire round slinging insults at one another.
For a Republican presidential candidate, the comments about Putin and Syria are pretty unorthodox; only Rand Paul would’ve been likely to say such things on a debate stage. But the claim Bush and his staff knowingly lied to the American people about Iraq’s WMDs is uncharted territory for a Republican candidate.
The consensus among the punditocracy is that Trump’s latest remarks would hurt him in South Carolina. While commentators have made this claim after every “controversial” thing Trump has said, there is some evidence this one might have a negative effect. George Bush still has an approval rating in the 70s among Republicans, and the former president enjoys wide popularity in the South.
It’s a big risk to tell a national audience then that he lied to get America into a war, but the upcoming primary will prove if it was a gamble worth taking.
And it might be if it draws Trump’s rivals into celebrating the Iraq war as not only necessary, but as a stunning achievement.
Cutting out the line about Bush lying and 9/11, we’re left with Trump saying Iraq was a major mistake. Jeb didn’t directly refute this point, but only asserted that his brother “kept us safe.” However, his rogue protege Marco Rubio discarded the merits of hindsight and outright said the Iraq invasion was the right thing to do.
On Iraq, Rubio said, “George W. Bush enforced what the international community refused to do. And again, he kept us safe, and I am forever grateful to what he did for this country.”
Bush has stated at times before that Iraq was a mistake but the refrain on “keeping us safe” — which Rubio is now using as well — puts a focus on what the last Republican president’s chief effort at achieving such a goal. The Iraq war was launched on the declared purpose of keeping America safe from terror.
Trillions of dollars and thousands of lives later, Iraq now plays host to ISIS and is drawing into Iran’s orbit. With that in mind, it’s difficult to claim Bush kept the U.S. safe and made the world a better place by intervening in Iraq.
Leaving behind the talk about lies, that was the very point Trump was trying to make in his criticism of the Iraq war and what lessons we should draw from it. He mentioned the cost, how it has led to further destabilization in the Middle East and how a post-Saddam Iraq has empowered Iran.
The majority of Americans agree that the invasion was a mistake. When President Bush left office, he had a approval rating of 29 percent in large part due to his handling of the war. Time has brought that number up a bit, but reminding Americans of the reason why viewed Bush unfavorably seven years ago and then trying to defend it is probably not the best idea for winning a general election.
But while Jeb Bush may say it was a mistake for his brother to go into Iraq, there appears to be no lessons learned from the intervention for the two establishment candidates right now. Bush and Rubio all seem more than willing to continue the Bush Doctrine in the Middle East.
The Bush Doctrine preached military action in order to achieve regime change in the direction of liberal democracy. Both candidates want regime change in Syria and appear willing to use ground troops to accomplish such a mission.
Senator Rubio backed the Libyan intervention that resulted in the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi and the country’s descent into a Mad Max film. Rubio still stands by that decision and Bush seemed to approve of the intervention as well in an interview with The Daily Caller last summer. (RELATED: Jeb Bush Lays Out His Foreign Policy Vision)
Considering the situation in Syria, taking out Bashar al-Assad could possibly result in the same chaotic Thunderdome we’re seeing in Libya. Forcing the downfall of a brutal regime that is presently the only thing standing between the Islamic State and the East Mediterranean doesn’t seem like the brightest idea.
Both of these proposals could be seen as bad in light of what happened in Iraq, but that would require dispensing with the mindset that convinced our most powerful leaders that America was capable of creating a democracy from the ground up in Mesopotamia.
Additionally, the two Republican Floridians are also a rebrand of George Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” Rubio presents compassionate conservatism with better articulation and a young face. And Jeb is basically George without the mispronunciations and Texas charm.
While the Republican National Committee called for a new GOP in its autopsy report of the 2012 election, it apparently figured it was better to dial the clock back to 2000 and run on the proven Bush formula for all time.It’s sad to think the Republican establishment grasped little from the Bush years except that they should be brought back with different faces and different names.
Failing to understand why the Iraqi invasion went wrong makes it very likely we’ll have another catastrophe which wastes blood and treasure again.
Like the restored Bourbons who ruled over France after the fall of Napoleon, mainstream Republicans have learned nothing and forgotten nothing when it comes to an interventionist foreign policy.