Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has stumbled in his effort to answer questions about the wisdom of invading Iraq, given intelligence failures revealed since his brother George W. Bush launched the war in 2003. Members of the media have taken the opportunity to ask other would-be or already-declared presidential candidates what they would have done about Iraq, given what we know now about the bad intelligence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s regime. Taking advantage of Jeb Bush’s waffling, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz have already answered unequivocally that they would not have proceeded with the war with that knowledge.
Quin Hillyer at National Review Online makes the case, as few are willing to do these days, that even with the faulty intelligence invading Iraq and ousting Saddam was still the right call. Still, the politics of defending the Iraq war more than a decade after it began are fraught with peril for Republicans, and perhaps the most vulnerable is the candidate with the last name Bush.
There are more interesting questions, though, than the hypotheticals being asked of Bush, Cruz, Christie, and the other top-tier GOP candidates, none of whom were in Congress or in positions of influence on national security during the 2003 invasion. But the leading Democrat in the 2016 presidential race was a powerful and influential figure on national security and foreign policy from the 2003 invasion through the 2011 withdrawal of troops. Doesn’t Hillary Clinton have some Iraq questions to answer?
Clinton was a U.S. senator in 2003, famously supporting the Iraq war, as most national Democrats did at the time. The vote ultimately doomed her 2008 presidential campaign, allowing the freshman and anti-war senator Barack Obama to outflank her on the issue. But Clinton’s Iraq story doesn’t end there.
“Knowing what we know now, would you have supported and authorized the surge in 2007?” seems like a relevant question for Hillary Clinton, who was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee when President Bush authorized the troop surge of 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. She opposed it from the beginning, voted for a funding bill to begin troop withdrawal, and expressed strong, almost hostile, skepticism of the reports from multi-national security force commander General David Petraeus that the surge was seeing remarkable success. From a political view, this was more than understandable; Clinton was running for the presidential nomination in a party that was deeply against the Iraq war, opposed to President Bush’s efforts to improve the war effort, and eager to get the U.S. out of Iraq. Furthermore, the surge and the war as a whole was deeply unpopular throughout the country at the time. Opposing the surge was a no-brainer for Clinton, and as Defense Secretary Robert Gates later revealed in his memoir, Clinton made it clear her position was made primarily for politically reasons.
Despite the naysayers, the counterinsurgency strategy ended up paying dividends for the United States and the Iraqi people. Sectarian violence plummeted by the end of 2007, as did U.S. casualties. The mismanagement of the war in its early years had been corrected through the leadership of Petraeus and Gates. From the beginning of the surge through the first few months of the Obama administration, Iraq became a much safer and more secure place than it would have been without the surge. That's what we "know now." Would Clinton have acted differently than she did, with that knowledge?
Here’s another relevant Iraq question for Clinton: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011?”