Jeb Bush put it this way: “There were mistakes made, but based on the information we had, it was the right decision.”
In other words, Bush is saying that if he too had faulty intelligence, if he too thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he too would have gone to war in Iraq. We now know of course that Saddam did not have WMD – no poison gas, no biological stuff and no nuclear weapons program.
But what if he did have chemical weapons? So what?
Poison gas was nothing new. It was first used in World War I and then again in the mid-1960s by Egypt in a war in Yemen. The Egyptians used mustard gas in an attempt to terrorize the tribes and end a civil war on terms Cairo wanted. It didn’t work, but more to the point no one really cared. The U.S. government told the Egyptians it was unhappy – and that was about it. The use of poison gas was reported in the press – it’s not as if no one noticed – and then promptly forgotten. No one suggested taking out the Egyptian strongman, Gamel Abdel Nasser.
Saddam Hussein had also used chemical weapons against his own Kurdish population, so there was reason to believe he still had a stockpile. He didn’t, but while the intelligence of this score was wrong, it was hardly goofy. Still, it didn’t justify going to war.
What about Saddam’s nuclear weapons program? That would have comprised a much greater threat – only it did not exist. The administration surely knew as much by the time the war started. (U.N. inspectors could not come up with a trace of a nuclear program.) So, again no need for war.
Saddam Hussein was an evil and reckless tyrant. He made the world a dangerous place, but taking him out made the world into an even more dangerous place. The U.S. dismembered Iraq – admittedly not in great shape under Saddam Hussein either – and surely helped produce the mess in the Middle East today. The U.S. lost 4,425 lives, 32,223 wounded and crippled Iraq.
It’s not that “mistakes were made,” as Jeb Bush likes to put it, but that his brother wanted a war that made no sense. It wasn’t the intelligence that was wrong, it was a widely-shared mindset that Iraq could be reconstituted by a quick war – and the rest of the Middle East, never mind the complexities, would happily follow. That mindset was not limited to the Bush administration but was shared by much of congress and columnists, including myself.
The virtue of a Groundhog Day is that we all get the chance to rethink yesterday. Jeb Bush ought to avail himself of the opportunity.