Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bush and the Iraq War: My Take

President George W. Bush and the Iraq War... Why did we go in? Was the invasion justified?

I really hadn't thought much about these things for quite awhile, until a recent discussion brought them to mind again. Then I became keenly aware of the condemnation being heaped on Bush. No WMDs were found, the war was a huge mistake, and we had no business going over there and disrupting the lives of the Iraqi people.

That's not what I remember!

Mulling it over later, I decided I needed a refresher. So I went on the Internet to see what I could find. Not surprisingly, there's enough out there to keep any historian happy for a lifetime. I'm not a historian though, and I just wanted a quick overview of some basic facts. So I headed to a couple of (to me) obvious sites. Below is some of what I found.

Wikipedia, the Internet's online encyclopedia, has a lot of information about the Iraq War. A couple of representative articles include "Rationale for the Iraq War" and "Iraq War". A scan of these shows that the reasons and issues surrounding the invasion were very complex. A couple of items from the second article that I want to point out include:
  • Hans Blix, the lead weapons inspector, said that "Iraq's declarations with regards to WMD still could not be verified."

  • And this: "After investigation following the invasion, the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group concluded that Iraq had ended its nuclear, chemical, and biological programs in 1991 and had no active programs at the time of the invasion, but that they intended to resume production if the Iraq sanctions were lifted."
(That's what I find there as of this writing, anyway. Someone could come along and edit these articles later.)

And here's a list of articles I found at Townhall.com, a favorite news and opinion site. Notice their dates. I purposely looked for material from that time because I wanted to see what the thinking was back then, not what it is today.
  • WMD's by Emmett Terrell, June 19, 2003. Apparent evidence for their existence.

  • WMD's and the Iraq War by Mona Charen, June 24, 2003. Reasons for the invasion. Reasons why other countries can have WMDs but Iraq couldn't.

  • Discovering WMD by Robert Novak, August 9, 2003. Pending revelation of post-invasion successes in finding evidence of WMDs.

  • 'Just in time' WMD by Charles Krauthammer, October 10, 2003. More evidence and theorizing about what happened to Saddam's WMDs.

  • Who thought Iraq had WMD? Most everybody by Larry Elder, May 25, 2006. The title speaks for itself. It's interesting to note some of the names on the list, including foreigners and some notable Democrats.

  • The real story on WMDs needs to be told -- but carefully by Hugh Hewitt, June 22, 2006. More post-invasion evidence of WMDs. And terrorists were looking for them too.
OK, enough. I'm not trying to write a book!

Now, before I say anything else, let me say this: For purposes of this discussion, forget hindsight! What we now know, or think we know, is totally irrelevant here. Bush didn't have that information available to him then. He had to make his decision based on what was known and believed at that time.

It happens to all of us sooner or later, doesn't it? We have big decisions to make. We find out all we can, get advice, think long and hard... Then we make what seem to us to be the best choices, often with a lot of uncertainty. Later we realize that, despite our best efforts, we were wrong. Subsequent events provide new evidence; we find new information; or maybe we just grow up a bit and become a little wiser. Whatever the case, there's no point beating ourselves up over it. All we can do is learn what we can from our mistakes and then move on.

Why can't we extend the same charity to others? Including President Bush and all the other leaders who decided to invade Iraq?

So what are the facts?
  • The President of the United States is the Commander-In-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. Our national security is his number one responsibility. I'm sorry if this sounds cold, but the fact of the matter is that Bush's concern was us, not the Iraqis. The one who was supposed to be looking out for them was their own president, Saddam Hussein. That said, I'm sure most Americans realize that, with some exceptions, our military did go out of their way to avoid unnecessary harm to the Iraqi people.

  • The invasion was authorized by Congress. Congress voted its approval. That includes people who are now opposed to the war. (They have awfully short memories, don't they?)

  • The widespread belief at that time was that Saddam Hussein was a very real threat. That wasn't just Bush's personal opinion. Republicans, Democrats, and international leaders thought so too, and had suspected it for years. There were also intelligence and weapons inspection reports that seemed to confirm it.

  • Saddam Hussein's own behavior gave credence to those suspicions. I don't doubt he would have continued to be a problem for as long as he remained in power.

  • Have we really proven there were no WMDs? I don't think so. And even if there weren't any at that time, there's reason to believe Saddam would have tried to get them again when he thought he could get away with it.
So, should we have invaded Iraq or not? I don't know. I've never had a strong opinion about that one way or the other, and I still don't. What do I really know? I wasn't there. I didn't hear the discussions or read the intelligence reports. I don't know what went through President Bush's mind. I do know there were undoubtedly many factors which most people aren't aware of.

But one thing I don't question. George W. Bush is basically a decent man. Right or wrong, I believe he made this decision in good faith, based on the best judgment he could make, using the information he had available to him at that time.

I think the contempt he's getting now is unjust.

This past Saturday The Kansas City Star published a quote from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was Bush's ally and is now getting the same kind of flak from his own people. He said: "This isn't about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It's a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam's history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over 1 million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking U.N. resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons program or is that a risk it is responsible to take?"

Bush could have said that.

What if we hadn't invaded Iraq? Only God knows. Maybe Saddam Hussein would never have been more than an irritating gnat. But I wouldn't bet on it.

There's a fact of history that I find particularly haunting: Adolf Hitler could have been stopped much sooner than he was. But Europe was still recovering from the Great War — World War I — and wanted to avoid another conflict at any cost. European leaders tried to appease Hitler instead. Appeasement didn't work. It seldom does, not with that kind of evil. All it accomplished was to allow Hitler to keep going. You know the rest.

Bush didn't risk that mistake.

The photo is by Eric Draper and is in the public domain.

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