Marco Rubio crashes and burns on Iraq question, says war was “not a mistake”

In the aggregate, crowded primaries are full of surprises. But for individual candidates, most of the questions are totally predictable. When one candidate or surrogate says something absurd or objectionable — President Obama isn’t a Christian, President Obama doesn’t love America, I wouldn’t attend a gay wedding, etc. — you should expect to get asked about it. Every candidate will.

So when Jeb Bush gave four answers in four days last week to the same question — “Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq?” — one would expect that his primary opponents realized that they were about to get asked the same question, and spent all of five minutes coming up with a better answer than “yes.”

If Marco Rubio’s appearance yesterday on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace is any indication, he did not take those five minutes.

Wallace started by showing Rubio clips from March and May, respectively, in which he gave two contradictory answers to the “knowing what we know now” question. In March, Rubio insisted that “the world is a better place” because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, which itself justifies the Iraq War. In May, Rubio insisted that given the intelligence we now have available, both he and former President Bush would have left Hussein in power. But when Wallace offered Rubio a chance to clarify his response, Rubio, like Bush, chose to reject the premise of the question rather than answer it, repeatedly insisting that the Iraq War was a good idea based on the intelligence President Bush had at the time. When pressed by Wallace  to answer the question as asked, Rubio dodged by saying he didn’t understand it.

Here’s the video, via RawStory:

Based on that series of questions, here is what we do know:

  • Knowing what we know now, Rubio does not think George Bush would have invaded Iraq.
  • Knowing what we know now, Rubio does not think it was a mistake to invade Iraq knowing what we knew then.
  • Knowing what we know now, Saddam Hussein did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Knowing what we know now, Rubio would not have bet on Manny Pacquiao to beat Floyd Mayweather.

The one thing we are left not knowing is precisely what Rubio was asked: whether he would have invaded Iraq given what we now know about the evidence presented to the American people at the time.

It’s bad form for Rubio to weasel out of the question, but going beyond that it’s simply not true to say that if George Bush knew what we knew now he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. President Bush did know what we know now: The intelligence used to support the administration’s case for invading Iraq ranged from faulty to downright fraudulent.

Given the opportunity to do it again, President Bush absolutely would have invaded Iraq. To frame the decision as an honest mistake as opposed to deliberate dismissal of the information available is to be willfully ignorant of “what we know now.”

So we can chuckle about Rubio’s caginess in answering a simple question on a Sunday talk show (again), but we can’t forget the bigger lie behind his non-answer.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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10 Responses to “Marco Rubio crashes and burns on Iraq question, says war was “not a mistake””

  1. KristineRWeber says:

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  2. BeccaM says:

    The problem is conservative orthodoxy competing with two mutually exclusive versions of reality.

    In fact-based reality, “knowing what we ALL know now” (as opposed to what the anti-war side was saying all along from late 2001 onward, that Iraq did NOT have WMDs and was no threat to anybody but its own citizens), of course it was a mistake to invade and occupy. It was a foreign policy blunder (and a subsequent war crime) unlike any other. Now that der Shrubbenfuhrer’s hagiographic period has long since passed, it is not at all uncommon for the conservative right to pretend his presidency never even happened. And so some of them are willing to admit the Iraq invasion was not a good thing.

    However, in GOP/Fox-News-based reality, their own dead-enders (archetyped by Darth Cheney) continue to believe Iraq was responsible for 9/11, that Iraq had WMDs, and that it is somehow unpatriotic to even suggest that American and allied forces troops fought, suffered, and died for nothing. (They just LOVE to conflate troops doing their duty, faithfully and loyally, with the responsibility of those in command — the president and his generals — to send these troops on honorable and worthwhile missions, as if criticizing the latter impugns the former.)

    So the GOPer would-be presidential candidates don’t know how to answer the question, not when they know it’s more than their hardcore base listening. And particularly since admitting any form of retrospective hindsight, regrets, or simply reconsideration of decisions made is itself a heresy among their party. Unlike with Reagan, wherein they simply pretend now he never did any of the things which would’ve gotten him drummed out of the party today (such as raising taxes, repeatedly, or negotiating with America’s foes, or enacting immigration reform measures), Iraq and ISIL are constantly in the news now and constantly serving as a reminder that it was America’s former GOP leaders who destabilized the region.

    The reason the GOPer candidates can’t seem to come up with a coherent, rational answer to such a simple question is there is no answer which will satisfy these mutually exclusive realities. Jeb is going to be in trouble now because he’s finally denied the faux reality where Iraq was deemed an imminent WMD threat to America and was responsible (at least in part) for 9/11 — which is the reality of the GOP hardline base, the ones who get their information from nowhere but Fux News and hate radio. But going that route threatens turning off everybody else, which now has begun to include the remaining sane part of the Republican party.

    Basically, they’re screwed either way. Admit it was a mistake and lose a significant portion of the bloody red meat GOP base needed to win the nomination (and the general election). Or hold tight to the Cheney/Dubya doctrine — and alienate everybody with a functioning memory and critical thinking abilities (a group which does include a significant number of non-crazy conservatives).

  3. Cervantes says:

    It was not a mistake. They did it on purpose.

  4. FLL says:

    I sometimes think that Marco is really just trying to pad his bank account with money from the gullible rather than make a serious attempt at winning the Republican nomination. He must have gotten that get-rich-quick idea from televangelists.

  5. 2karmanot says:

    The Rubicon is just in it for the grifting like the rest of the clown bus.

  6. FLL says:

    The vast majority of American voters are concerned with which political party is going to put American soldiers in harm’s way, which is to say, put boots on the ground. American voters don’t like the idea. Review the evidence:
    (1) George W. Bush, 2001-2008—started two wars.
    (2) John McCain, 2008—”Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”—He didn’t get to start a war with Iran. Too bad for Internet commenters who wanted to see a U.S. vs. Iran war.
    (3) Mitt Romney, 2012—”President Obama’s greatest failing, from a foreign policy standpoint, which is he recognized the gravest threat that America and the world faced as — and faced was a nuclear Iran and he did not do what was necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly… Finally, the president should have built a credible threat of military action and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.” (link here) Once more time, too bad for Internet commenters who wanted to see a U.S. vs. Iran war.
    (4) Republican U.S. senators, 2015—Unsuccessfully try to scuttle any peace deal that Obama makes with Iran. Once more time, too bad for Internet commenters who wanted to see a U.S. vs. Iran war.

    I’m not sure if Internet asswipes understand that Iran is a millennia-old civilization with a population of 78 million, and a war between the two countries would be catastrophic for both—or maybe Internet asswipes do understand, which is, y’know, why they are called asswipes. And finally, there is the occasional Internet commenter who conflates a catastrophic U.S.-Iran war with drones targeting individual al-Qaeda and ISIS commanders. It’s guaranteed that the vast majority of American voters don’t indulge in that kind of conflation.

    And then there’s Hillary, who, like so many spineless politicians (that is to say, probably the vast majority of politicians), holds her finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. In 2002, she decided that the prevailing winds were in favor of starting an unnecessary war in Iraq. Do American voters equate that with the three stooges who actually created the Iraq War, George W, Cheney and Rumsfeld? No, I don’t think they do. But don’t take my word for it. Ask around (I mean outside the Republican echo chamber). Majority voter sentiment is pretty clear. As much as it may hurt the feelings of some, the Republican echo chamber is doomed in 2016.

  7. nicho says:

    It’s also ludicrous to keep repeating that the world “is a better place” now that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. No it’s not. It’s markedly worse than when Saddam was in power. Was he brutal? Yes. So were the people trying to take him down. You don’t survive by playing nice with them. And he was no more brutal than George Bush with his “shock and awe” and Barack Obama with his weekly kill lists, drones, and efforts to overthrow democratically elected governments.

    Under Saddam, Iraq was a secular state, in which women had a great deal of freedom. He kept warring factions at bay and kept AlQaeda out of Iraq. Was he a nice guy — absolutely not — but when put alongside current “leaders” in that area, including our own occupying forces, he wasn’t much different from any of them.

  8. gratuitous says:

    The unspoken subtext of “no one could have imagined that invading Iraq might be a Bad Thing” is that anyone who said so at the time doesn’t count. They’re just a bunch of dirty fucking hippies in rainbow fright wigs, and nobody should pay any attention to them.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Its not just Rubio. All the Republicans are having a problem with it. Jeb Bush has taken positions on both sides and other Republicans just wish it would go away. It’s not going anywhere. Like their bigoted positions on LGBT rights, the Bush/Clinton/Obama wars are going to haunt them.

    For their part Democrats have a hard time dealing with their party’s role in murdering half a million Iraqi children, inventing the bs ‘intelligence’ on WMDs long before Bush heard the term and for their rabid support for the invasion.

    Both parties are going to pay a big price for past and current US military wars of aggression to make the world safe for Halliburton. The Bushes, the Clintons and Obama are war criminals.

  10. goulo says:

    As a recent Ted Rall comic about this asks:

    “WHAT ‘hypothetical’? “WHAT do we ‘know now’ that we didn’t know then?”

    …It is frustrating that the mainstream media is so complicit in acting as if “Back then, no one could have imagined that invading Iraq might be a Bad Thing…” :/

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