Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Iraq question

A few weeks ago, GOP presidential hopefuls were asked: "if you knew then what you know what, would you invade Iraq?"

In principle, there are roughly four different answers you can give:

i) A libertarian like Rand Paul would reformulate the question: "Given what I knew then, I opposed the war!"

That would invite a follow-up question: "So why did you think it was wrong at the time?"

ii) The respondent could challenge the question: presidents don't have the benefit of hindsight. They must make important decisions based on the information they have at the time. 

iii) A respondent could say "no." 

That would invite a follow-up question: "So what do we know now which leads you to believe the invasion was a mistake?" 

iv) A respondent could say "Yes, but…"

In other words, he could say it was still the right thing to do, but we should learn from our mistakes. If we had it to do over again, we should change the strategic objective and/or the tactics.

That would invite a follow-up question regarding the alternative strategy and tactics.


  1. Iraq’s pattern of concealment, evasion, and lying naturally fed suspicions that it was hiding WMD. As former UN inspector Charles Duelfer wrote in his book Hide and Seek: the Search for Truth in Iraq:

    “The Iraqis did not have WMD. But neither could we ever trust them. Given the track record of past concealment and their reluctant admissions of key program elements, [UN inspectors] had no reason to give Iraq the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, we knew that Iraq’s account was wrong at particular points and those points were more logically explained by a decision by Iraq to retain weapons than by the explanations Iraq offered, which were akin to “the dog ate my homework.”

    After the 2003 war, Duelfer headed a massive U.S. effort to research the WMD issue thoroughly. Its findings were published in the so-called Duelfer Report ( The report’s “key findings” ( state:

    Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities.

    Read more:

  2. The question is malformed, I think. Given the benefit of hindsight most any decision can be found wanting.

  3. I don't think we know enough yet. There are things that were going on that are still classified, so it's all academic

    No one really knows what they would do until they have all the facts. The goal is to minimize the loss of human life and protect American interests. You do that by encouraging geopolitical stability around the world and by containing instability. Sometimes that means that you need to drop a bomb on Hiroshima. Sometimes that means that you need to show the Soviet Union that you can wipe them out better than they can wipe you out without actually pulling the trigger. Foreign policy is a delicate balancing act and you need to know how to use both diplomacy and arms effectively and efficiently.

    Among the things that hinder any POTUS are ineptitude, political opposition, and public opinion. If you erode public opinion for one party's Presidents, the resulting division in society will result in erosion for the other parties' Presidents. That's the dynamic that the MSM hasn't figured out yet.