Well-Intentioned Or Evil: Revisiting George W. Bush’s Iraq Legacy

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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I’ve been critical of Jeb Bush’s inability to answer the question of whether — knowing what we know now — he would have invaded Iraq (it took him five times to get it right).

The caveat is an important one. That’s why I greatly preferred Megyn Kelly’s line of questioning to Jeb over Chris Wallace’s to Marco Rubio. (Wallace kept trying to get Rubio to concede that going into Iraq was a “mistake,” but this question is sort of open to interpretation. Was it a mistake to invade Iraq if, at the time, George W. Bush sincerely believed they had WMDs?)

Semantics aside, not everyone agrees with my premise. My bloggingheads sparring partner Bill Scher recently alleged on Twitter that I was leaving out two key facts: “1. W responsible for biased intel analysis process 2. Which led him to disregard WMD inspection results.”

This is to suggest that Bush was knowingly cherry-picking intelligence in order to justify an invasion — a much more serious accusation than simply suggesting that Bush — in hindsight — got it wrong.

But it also seems to defy history. Consider a couple quotes from 1998 — long before Bush was “responsible for [a] biased intel analysis process.” Consider this from Nancy Pelosi in 1998: “As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”

Others cautioned that Saddam would soon obtain — and use! — WMDs. “[M]ark my words, [Saddam] will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them,” President Bill Clinton warned. “He will rebuild his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and some day, some way, I am certain he will use that arsenal again, as he has 10 times since 1983,” National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said in 1998.

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Speaking of historical revisionism, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews recently claimed that “There was no intelligence [Iraq] had a weapon. Never was. It was completely made up by Cheney and the rest of the neocons.”

The above quotes seem to poke holes in the veracity of Matthews’ statement, but it turns out, he has a long history of misrepresenting his own views on the war. Back in 2006, Media Matters for America compiled a dossier on Matthews, which came on the heels of his erroneously boasting that he had been “against this bullshit war from the beginning.”

Read the whole thing, but here’s a sample that will put his recent quote in better perspective:

Matthews was chief among the cheerleaders when Bush delivered a nationally televised speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, in which he declared that “[m]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended,” all the while standing under a banner reading: “Mission Accomplished.” Despite lingering questions over the continued violence in Iraq, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, and the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, Matthews fawned over Bush: “He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. … He looks for real. … [H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does. … We’re proud of our president. … Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president.” (Emphasis mine.)

Though certainly not unanimous, the truth is that there was a strong bipartisan consensus that Iraq had WMDs. This included President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and even Nancy Pelosi. It also, apparently, included Chris Matthews.

Matt K. Lewis