When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said he wouldn’t have authorized invading Iraq based on what we know today he went out of his way to seek the cover of the man who actually did launch the invasion of Iraq, former President George W. Bush.
“Not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it,” Rubio said during a sit-down at the Council on Foreign Relations. “President Bush has said he regrets that the intelligence was faulty. I don’t think Congress would’ve voted in favor of authorization if they knew that.”
Over the course of this week, as Bush’s brother Jeb struggled to come up with his own position on the question, others have similarly suggested that George W. Bush now considers the decision to invade a mistake. So has the former President ever said he wouldn’t have made the decision to invade Iraq if he knew what we know now?
Actually, not even close.
Bush has repeatedly expressed regret over the flawed intelligence used to make the case for war. “The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq,” Bush told ABC in December 2008.
But repeatedly, and as recently as November of 2014 in an interview with CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, Bush has said that he did not regret the decision to invade or consider it a mistake.
“I think it was the right decision,” Bush said in response Scheiffer asking if invasion was the wrong decision. “My regret is that a violent group of people has risen up again.”
Bush has made similar statements since leaving office in 2009. But Rubio appears to have been referring specifically to the former President’s frankest comments which came in his 2010 memoir Decision Points where he repeatedly acknowledges intelligence failures. (Rubio’s campaign did not respond to queries requesting more details on which statements of the former President he was referring to.)
Two key passages stand out …
Still, I knew the failure to find WMD would transform public perception of the war. While the world was undoubtedly safer with Saddam gone, the reality was that I had sent American troops into combat based in large part on intelligence that proved false. That was a massive blow to our credibility— my credibility— that would shake the confidence of the American people.
And later …
No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn’t find the weapons. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do.
Bush clearly anguished over using intelligence, which proved to be false, as part of his argument for invading Iraq. But he never said that he regretted the decision to launch the invasion or that would have made it differently based on what we have learned since the war. From public statements and his memoir the former President has been clear that he still believes the decision to invade Iraq was the right decision, even in retrospect, and that the world and the United States is a safer place for his doing so.
Indeed, in other portions of his memoir he writes that war critics were naive to believe that many of the horrors that soured Americans on the Iraq War wouldn’t have befallen us even if he had opted not to invade Iraq in the first place.
Did anyone really believe that the men sawing off the heads of innocent captives or blowing themselves up in markets would have been peaceful citizens if only we had left Saddam Hussein alone? If these fanatics had not been trying to kill Americans in Iraq, they would have been trying to do it elsewhere. And if we were to let them drive us out of Iraq, they would not have been satisfied to stop there. They would have followed us back.
All of the former President’s statements match up with the ones his brother Jeb made in his now infamous interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly – acknowledging the reality that the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was false but still contending that for all the downsides the decision to invade was the right one, even with all we have learned in the intervening years.
Since Rubio made his claim, other presidential hopefuls, including Jeb Bush, have come forward to say that they too think it was a mistake to invade Iraq.
So he may no longer need the former President as an alibi for his new position. But one way or another, George W. Bush never said he thinks the invasion was a mistake or that he would have done anything differently knowing what we know now.