The 2016 presidential candidates have already been facing tough questions from the media regarding their stances on various issues, and thus far the war in Iraq has been a major topic.
Although the U.S. military is still embroiled in a complicated situation in Iraq, presidential hopefuls have been forced to analyze how they would have acted if they were running the country before the invasion of 2003. It’s important to understand how presidential candidates will approach foreign policy if elected to office, but it’s tough to get a real answer regarding how they would have acted in retrospect. Obama gained leverage in 2008 because he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, but the situation is entirely different now and the “would you have invaded” question is growing increasingly irrelevant.
Although former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has yet to officially declare his candidacy, he’s likely to come under the most scrutiny regarding Iraq simply due to his last name. His father sent troops there during his presidency, and his brother is to blame for starting the war currently going on there now. The question has plagued Bush since a Fox News interview on Monday, in which Megyn Kelly asked if he would have invaded Iraq in 2003. “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush said, according to CNN. “And so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.” He has since dismissed the question as a “hypothetical” and claimed that asking whether the war was justified does a “disservice” to the troops that served or died there.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida recently claimed that he would not have authorized a war in Iraq if he had known that the country did not possess weapons of mass destruction. He made that claim without any insult to former President George W. Bush’s actions, instead blaming the intelligence at the time. “Not only would I not have been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it, and he said so,” Rubio said, according to The Hill. “President Bush has said that he regrets that the intelligence was faulty. I don’t think the Congress would have voted in favor of authorization if they had known that.”
Most of the other GOP hopefuls have echoed Rubio’s sentiment. “Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn’t go into Iraq,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “At the time, the intelligence reports indicated that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction that posed a significant national security threat to this country. That’s the reason there was such widespread bipartisan support for going into Iraq. We now know in hindsight, those intelligence reports were false.”
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has claimed that “invading Iraq was a mistake,” framing his answer in the larger context of future foreign policy decisions in the Middle East. “I think it’s a really important question and I don’t think it’s just hypothetical,” Paul said, according to Talking Points Memo. “Because we seem to have a recurring question in the Middle East whether or not it’s a good idea to topple a secular strong man or secular dictators and what happens after that.” Paul also included a jab at Hillary Clinton, claiming that all presidential candidates should be asked whether they supported “Hillary’s war in Libya.”
Clinton, of course, voted in support of the Iraq invasion. That’s a major part of the reason she failed to win the nomination in 2008. In her book "Hard Choices," Clinton describes her regret regarding that decision: “While many were never going to look past my 2002 vote no matter what I did or said, I should have stated my regret sooner and in the plainest, most direct language possible … I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.” As Paul noted, Clinton’s foreign policy outlook was further tested during her stint as Secretary of State. The way former Secretary of State Clinton has approached war in the Middle East seems clear, so the hypothetical scenarios are less relevant for her.
The hypothetical scenarios shouldn’t necessarily be relevant to anyone. Yet they will inevitably be asked to all of the candidates, and the answers that they choose definitely reveal much about their respective character. The consensus seems to be that, in retrospect, nobody thinks invading Iraq was a good idea. At the time, it was a much easier cause to support. Now that we’ve seen how the candidates respond to the issue, it’s time to ask them how they’ll handle the current situation in Iraq. It’s a much more difficult question, but a much more important one for the future of the nation.
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