So, let’s get a couple of inconvenient truths out of the way before we tackle the real and hypothetical questions about what Republican presidential hopefuls would have done if they had known then what they know now about Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction — WMD.
The first inconvenient truth concerns the Vietnam War. Democrats have never gotten over the Vietnam War. News media types who tend to be progressive haven’t, either. That may be one reason why they ask Republican candidates about the beginning of the Iraq war — the one that began in 2003, not the 1990-91 version.
The question for Democrats is: wh
y did Vietnam end in defeat? The right answer to that question has very little similarity with the common perception. In fact, the U.S. phase of the Vietnam War did not end in defeat. When the United States completed its withdrawal in 1973, the Vietnam War was pretty much won. Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had negotiated a peace treaty, albeit a flawed one. But if the United States had fulfilled its end of the treaty with the South Vietnamese, it is quite likely the south would have avoided what happened in 1975.
Indeed, the reason the south lost was because congressional Democrats refused to fund replacement military equipment promised to the South Vietnamese and blocked any sort of U.S. assistance to the south, such as spare parts for its F-4 fighters, when the North Vietnamese formally invaded in early 1975. President Gerald R. Ford could do nothing because Congress passed laws prohibiting it, and after the 1974 Democratic landslides in congressional elections, they had veto-proof majorities.
Second question: The question about Iraq shouldn’t be about what one or another candidate would have done in 2003. Rather, it should be about what Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democratic candidates would have done in 2011 when President Obama ordered a complete U.S. pullout.
Nearly all military officers and diplomatic personnel urged a residual force. That required a Status of Forces Agreement — SOFA — spelling out certain conditions for remaining. The U.S. military has SOFAs with a lot of countries around the world, Germany and Korea, to cite two well-known ones. However, the Obama administration never negotiated seriously with the Iraqi government about this, eventually blaming them — rather than
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — the real culprit.
The inconvenient truth is that our Iraq war was pretty much won by 2010. The big surge, approved by President George W. Bush and implemented by Gen. David Petraeus, had brought peace and stability to Iraq. A lot of folks think we wouldn’t be in the fix we are in today with ISIS if the United States had left 10,000 troops in Iraq in 2011.
So, what of those hypothetical and real questions about the beginning of the 2003 Iraq war? As noted above, there really are two questions with two very different answers. Both are hypothetical, one partially and the other completely.
The completely hypothetical question is this: “Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?”
The partially hypothetical one is this: “Knowing what we knew then (in 2003), would you have invaded?”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has the answer correct right from the beginning. He responds, to the annoyance of the questioner quite often, that asking about the invasion based on what we know now is an irrelevancy because that is simply 20-20 hindsight. For most people, the answer is obviously NO. True, some neo-conservatives would have invaded simply to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Former President George W. Bush seems to be in that camp. Most likely, former Vice President Dick Cheney surely is.
But most people, especially senior military officers who would be asked for advice, would say that without evidence of Iraqi nuclear weapons, a costly invasion is not recommended.
And right here, let’s get our definitions right, something progressives often gloss over. Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMD, include more things that nukes. WMD also includes chemical weapons and biological weapons. Iraq manifestly DID have chemicals because Saddam is well understood to have used them on his own people, as well as employing them against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
So, if the answer to question No 1. is “probably not,” then, what is the answer to the other one? For Rubio, it was “yes.” Jeb Bush eventually got around to something like the same thing. Many progressives would answer “No” no matter what. Some of them voted against the war at the time, the time when President Bush asked for and got a congressional resolution. They have never gotten over the Vietnam War. They would not support war short of an invasion of the West Coast.
This answer, however, is more complicated for most. First, it’s quite true that the intelligence services got it wrong when they affirmed that Saddam had nuclear weapons. But we know that in retrospect. We knew, or believed, something different at the time.
The intelligence was united on this point. Biden said so at the time, and he was then either chairman or ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Those of us with security clearances saw some of that intelligence.
It is further useful to point out that a former Air Force intelligence officer of my acquaintance notes that a small nuke is about the size of a refrigerator and can easily be transported in the back of a pickup. A lot of people think Saddam simply exported his nukes when the heat got hot after 9-11.
So, the correct strategic answer to all this is that the Democrats are to blame for the outcome of the Vietnam War, and it will be President Obama who is to blame when ISIS conquers both Syria and Iraq. Conquers, that is, unless Iran launches direct military action in Iraq, triggering a general Middle Eastern War.
Editor’s note: Reid K. Beveridge is a retired Army and Delaware National Guard brigadier general and resides at Broadkill Beach. He can be reached at Beveridgere@prodigy.net.