Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor who predicted in 2003 that proponents of the U.S. invasion of Iraq would be “vindicated” upon the discovery of weapons of mass destruction there, is holding fast to the idea that the deadly and expensive conflict was the right move. Kristol's justifications for the war, however, have changed dramatically.
In a May 20 op-ed for USA Today, Kristol argued that U.S. intervention in Iraq was justified in 2003 “to remove Saddam Hussein, and to complete the job we should have finished in 1991.” Kristol added that “we were right to persevere” in Iraq, “even with the absence of caches of weapons of mass destruction.”
Kristol went on to blame President Obama for the failure of the war and the rise of ISIS, writing, “Obama threw it all away”:
Even with the absence of caches of weapons of mass destruction, and the mistakes we made in failing to send enough troops at first and to provide security from the beginning for the Iraqi people, we were right to persevere through several difficult years. We were able to bring the war to a reasonably successful conclusion in 2008.
When President Obama took office, Iraq was calm, al-Qaeda was weakened and ISIS did not exist. Iran, meanwhile, was under pressure from abroad (due to sanctions) and at home (due to popular discontent, manifested by the Green uprising in the summer of 2009).
The Obama administration threw it all away. It failed to support the dissidents in Iran in 2009, mishandled the Iraqi elections in 2010, removed all U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, and allowed the Syrian civil war to spiral out of control from 2011 on.
We see, this week in Ramadi but this year throughout the Middle East, the predictable consequences of this disastrous policy of withdrawal and retreat.
And even though the threat is now clear as day, this administration shows no sign of changing course, as President George W. Bush did when it became clear his strategy in Iraq wasn't working.
Kristol's stance on the war's justifications today differs considerably from his arguments in favor of invading Iraq in 2003. At that time, Kristol -- one of many conservative voices drumming up support for the war -- claimed American forces “will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators” and argued that “we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction.” From the March 5, 2003 edition of ABC's Nightline:
TED KOPPEL: Does it bother you that it appears that it is going to be a largely unilateral policy? I don't want to diminish the influence of our British friends, but this is clearly an American policy.
BILL KRISTOL: It is. One would always prefer to have more allies rather than fewer. And I think we actually will have lots of help in the reconstruction and democratization, actually, of Iraq. But, look, I think what we've learned over the last ten years is that America has to lead. Other countries won't act. They will follow us, but they won't do it on their own. And in this case, I think we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq.
The editors of USA Today summarized the consequences of the Iraq War in a May 20 editorial:
Nearly 4,500 Americans died, tens of thousands more were wounded, and $2 trillion was squandered in a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction that were never found.
And though the war disposed of a bloody dictator, Saddam Hussein, it ushered in something worse, at least for the United States: A sectarian civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and gave birth to Islamist terrorism, now under the banner of the Islamic State.