Last week Jeb Bush sounded completely flummoxed when he tried to answer a simple question regarding his brother’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq. His stumbling efforts first to evade the question and ultimately to answer it did little to suggest that he is qualified to be the country’s next president. Pretending the Iraq invasion is ancient history isn’t going to wash, any more than claiming the question is too hypothetical. Both suggest ignorance, if not cowardice, and neither answer addresses the real issue that the invasion poses.
Hillary Clinton has handled the question much better and much more forthrightly, decisively saying that she made a mistake in voting to support the invasion back in 2003, but she hasn’t really addressed the question fully either. Ms. Clinton is clearly the most qualified presidential contender (including those either announced or available). No one who reads her review of her years as the nation’s Secretary of State (“Hard Choices”) can come away with other than a sense of awe at how fully knowledgeable she is about the many issues currently crowding the future president’s foreign policy agenda. It would take a Jeb Bush (or any other candidate) a full year in office just to gain a modicum of insight and understanding of the issues Ms. Clinton already possesses.
(Many will claim that “Hard Choices” is a self-serving politician’s book, but in it Ms. Clinton doesn’t duck any punches. She addresses fully the Benghazi tragedy and covers every other incident of note (including those that could be considered personal disappointments or unattained goals) that her four-year tenure at State included. You may not like Hillary for any number of reasons, but if you read her book, you will not be able to say you don’t admire her. Simply stated, the book is the work of a true public servant.)
Jeb Bush got himself hooked on the petard of his brother’s Iraq invasion when he somewhat ignorantly blamed the existence of ISIS on President Obama. That comment, clearly motivated to appeal to an ignorant GOP base, just doesn’t fly in the face of reality. ISIS is clearly the outgrowth of the initial invasion of Iraq and the subsequent botched attempt to install a pro-Western democracy in the ruins of Saddam Hussein’s defeated regime. No one, other than Dick Cheney and his band of merry fools (Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, et al.), today claims that the invasion of Iraq was a good decision or that the post-invasion administration of the country was anything other than grossly incompetent.
But just in case there are doubters on that point, here’s what we should all be able to agree to:
- Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and was no threat to the United States.
- Saddam Hussein had no part in the 9/11 attacks and was never involved in any conspiracy with radical Islamists.
- Saddam’s regime, while brutal as to his citizens (particularly those who represented a threat to his continuing control), was a safeguard against the rise of an organization like ISIS or al Qaeda.
- The threat to U.S. security was exacerbated by the invasion of Iraq, since it led to the disenfranchisement of Ba’athists (Sunnis), many of whom now form the core of ISIS.
- The world in general, and U.S. interests in particular, are far less safe now with Saddam Hussein out of power and with Iraq torn between Shi’ite allegiance to Iran and its own corrupt and feckless government, which lacks a military capable of defending its own homeland.
- The people of Iraq are no more “free” now, with their country threatened by ISIS, and with a civil war fomenting even without ISIS, than they were under Saddam.
Jeb Bush may not need to acknowledge any of the foregoing realities to get nominated by his party. Today’s Republican Party is almost ignorant enough to accept the falsities that Fox News purveys, and in a political campaign, whoever sounds the most anti-Clinton/Obama will probably get nominated. But in a general election, any opponent should be able to skewer Mr. Bush with his inability to divorce himself from his brother’s incompetence and malfeasance.
Hillary should be able to carry that fight. If she can’t, she doesn’t deserve to be the president.
But whether she does or not, neither candidate is likely to address the real underlying issue in the decision to invade Iraq, and it’s the one the country needs to hear.
The invasion of Iraq was illegal as a matter of international law, and it was immoral as a matter of natural law. It was illegal because it represented an infusion of military force in a preemptive manner that violates the United Nations charter and generally accepted international doctrines. The simple rule is that your country may not attack another country unless that country has attacked or is attacking you. Iraq was not such a country. It was a sovereign state with whom the United States had no military hostilities. The claim of WMDs, even were it not bogus, was not a sufficient basis to render the invasion legal.
The war was immoral because it is wrong as a matter of natural law for one nation to unilaterally exert military force on another. It was immoral for Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor. It was immoral for the United States to invade Iraq.
Those realities aren’t being addressed by Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton or any other candidate. They aren’t being pressed by the media, nor are they likely to be raised by the public. But they are the realities that anyone who would be president should acknowledge. For until we do, the United States will lack the moral authority to seek a new world order on matters of war and peace and on issues such as worldwide climate change, poverty, and disease control.
The next president should be qualified for the office. But he or she should have more than experience and expertise as his or her list of qualifications. He or she should also be prepared to affirm morality as the underpinning of our foreign policy.