Ed Driscoll

Was the Iraq War a Mistake?

“It’s become the gotcha question for Republicans seeking to win their party’s nomination for the 2016 presidential campaign: Knowing what we know now, would you have ordered U.S. forces into Iraq?,” Michael Rubin writes at Commentary:

Would the Islamic State have existed if the United States had not gone to war? Saddam Hussein turned toward religion and privileged radical clerics in the wake of his defeat in Kuwait. That’s the time when he put “Allahu Akbar” on the Iraqi flag and commissioned a Koran made from his blood. According to the State Department Human Rights reports, Fedayeen Saddam was rampaging through Baghdad beheading women it accused of loose morals in the years before the U.S. invasion. And then, of course, there was the case of Laurence Foley, a U.S. diplomat assassinated in Amman in 2002 on the orders of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man responsible for Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State. Foley’s assassination shows the group to have been active before the war.

It is embarrassing that Governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, and others are so ill prepared for the Iraq War question, but it is also embarrassing that the media also conflates so many decisions about the Iraq war into one. First, there was the decision about whether to use military force to oust Saddam. (My take: the right call). Second, there was the decision about whether to replace Saddam with a more democratic structure or his sons or a strongman general (My take: Bush made the right call). Third, was the decision about whether to spend tens of billions seeking to reconstruct and develop Iraq (My take: huge mistake). The world is better without Saddam. Most of the Iraqi deaths following the invasion were caused not by the United States but by the terrorists and Iranian-backed militias whom American forces were fighting. George Bush understood that the proper course of action, as the “Iraq war mistake” question implies, was not to give those terrorist free reign over Iraq. It is sad that so many Democrats and now Republicans give in to what amounts to a journalistic auto-da-fé in which candidates accept a twisted and inaccurate narrative imposed by journalists guided more by politics than fact.

Why don’t we have candidates smart enough to respond to the question, “Was the Iraq War a mistake?”, with something a reply along the lines of, “Certainly, the current war is a mistake; as the New Yorker noted last year, Barack Obama was solely responsible for American troops leaving Iraq in 2011, which created the vacuum that ISIS quickly filled.” And if pressed, respond, “Wait, you’re asking if a war we won is a mistake? A war that Hillary approved? a victory that Joe Biden celebrated?”

Or as Allahpundit writes at Hot Air, after watching “Chris Wallace [spend] three minutes trying to get Rubio to say whether the Iraq war was a mistake,” Rubio “had a better answer available if he wanted it:”

Sure, he could have said, the war was a mistake in hindsight because we naively assumed Bush’s Democratic successor would finish what he’d started with nation-building in Iraq. If Obama had insisted on a residual force of U.S. troops, if he’d been quicker to pull the trapdoor on the ruinous Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq might be relatively stable and ISIS-free today. As it is, the country’s falling apart. In hindsight, it was a mistake for Republicans to launch a war whose successful conclusion might eventually be entrusted to Barack Obama. How come he didn’t give that answer?

Why, oh why, can’t have we candidates who can play the media soundbite game?

Update: Nolte knows how to play the game: