20 years after the Iraq war, some senators still think it was worth it
The Senate will this week mark the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by voting to repeal the outdated military force authorization that greenlit the war, a bipartisan effort to officially conclude a misguided conflict that the US America is still paying today.
Nineteen Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to advance its repeal on Thursday, a largely symbolic move that supporters say is designed to reaffirm Congress’s authority to declare war. Yet that leaves intact the 2001 Broad Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that every presidential administration since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks has used to wage war across the globe.
There is a broad consensus in Congress and among the audience that bad intelligence led to President George W. Bush’s decision to launch air strikes on Iraq on March 19, 2003, and that this resulted in the loss of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and trillions of wasted US dollars.
But there are still Republican senators who argue that good things came out of the war and that the whole enterprise was ultimately worth it. This view, however, is not shared by more recent GOP arrivals in Congress, reflecting a party shift under former President Donald Trump that increasingly questions US involvement in the abroad, including in Ukraine.
The initial vote to authorize the war, 77 to 23, followed a months-long campaign by the Bush administration to sell the public on its decision to invade Iraq, which was made in the days following the September 11 attacks. Administration officials have used false and misleading intelligence to claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including biological, chemical and possibly nuclear weapons.
“Put simply, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002. “There is no doubt that he is hoarding them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. ”
In the days before Congress passed the war authorization resolution, Bush himself raised the specter of nuclear annihilation and falsely insinuated that Iraq was linked to the 9/11 attacks in discussing supposed links between Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda. Iraq played no role in the September 11 attack. United Nations weapons inspectors found no evidence of ongoing WMD programs prior to the invasion. Later, the United States found no usable biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, or any ongoing programs to develop them.
But these lies and insinuations convinced a large part of the American public. On the eve of the congressional vote, 79% of the public said they believed Hussein was on the verge of having or already had nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, 66% thought Iraq “helped terrorists in the September 11 attacks.” A total of 62% supported the invasion.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this popular support, the Bush administration deeply politicized the passage of the resolution by Congress. They made sure to push it in the final weeks of the 2002 midterm elections in order to force Democrats to take a public stance before Election Day while running ads targeting them as weak against terrorism or even as possible traitors.
Most Senate Democrats voted for the resolution, which was jointly introduced by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (DS.D.) and Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Bombing Iraq was a bipartisan project George HW Bush and Bill Clinton had been involved in, after all, from Bush’s Gulf War in 1991 to Bill Clinton’s strikes in 1998. Many also feared they were on the wrong side of the war. a war vote, as they were also on the 1991 resolution on the Gulf War.
HuffPost interviewed more than a dozen US senators, some of whom were in Congress on October 11, 2002, when the vote authorizing force against Iraq. Read their views on the war and its justification below:
Senator Mike Rounds (RS.D.)
Was it a good decision to invade?
With all the information we have, yes. I was a brand new governor, I hadn’t even been sworn in yet, but I had been elected. And I remember [Health and Human Services Secretary] At that time, Tommy Thompson came to visit us and told us of their concerns and of the bio-weapons they believed to contain. [Saddam’s] hands. At that time, it was not a question of will that we had a loss of life, it was a question of how much or how big the loss of life could be. It was a very disappointing time. Based on the information we had at the time, I thought it was the right decision…. These biological weapons were never found, but if they were, it would have been a clearly justified war.
To this day, there remain unanswered questions about intelligence assessments. I think we have to judge the members’ votes and the administration’s decisions to commit forces by what intelligence told them at the time, not what we know now.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Everyone believed at the time, based on the information provided, that there were weapons of mass destruction. This was the justification for the war. He got rid of a terrible dictator. Clearly, he left behind a struggling Iraq. But I think the real question is, if we knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war with Iraq? The answer is probably no. But I don’t believe that the people who argued for the war lied about it. I wasn’t there, but my memories are based on the information they had in front of them, they honestly believed there was. It was not as if Saddam Hussein was transparent and did his best to prove that he was not. It did not comply with all kinds of United Nations and international requirements. I certainly think that has had an impact on our politics. I think the use of force in the future would probably be more skeptical and more cautious given that experience. But I imagine there are a lot of people in Iraq who are happy that Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge.
Senator Thom Tillis (RN.C.)
I feel like a lot of good has come out of this war, a lot of bad continues to be there in terms of destabilization, how much of a role Iran plays in that, so we certainly haven’t reached Our goals . The circumstances that led the administration to decide to go there predated me, so I will not be going to Monday morning quarterback.
Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama)
Looking back, coaching the next day, no, it was not the right thing to do, we all know that. Many people were killed, we lost a lot of money and we stayed there for a long time. We can’t get in and out. We should have been healed by the oil they had there. I spent a lot of money and also lost a lot of friends there.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah)
I think the benefit of hindsight is that we made the mistake of going there and anticipating that we could create a liberal democracy in Iraq, and I feel the same way about Afghanistan. I think we’ve learned that people have to fight for their own freedom and we can’t give it to them on a bloody platter.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
[The U.S. invaded Iraq to] get rid of a villain. I’m glad we did.
[Repealing the Iraq war authorization] is a good symbolism of the end of this war. I am disappointed that we cannot end the Afghan war, which has also been going on for 15 years. [Paul is referring to his support for repealing the 2001 AUMF that continues to authorize military force in Afghanistan.]
Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.)
The information that was used to travel to Iraq appears to have been erroneous. But here’s what I would say: it’s a nascent and ineffective democracy. It’s better than Saddam. The world is better off with the death of Saddam, and with all the struggles against democracy in Iraq, we are better off with democracy gaining a foothold in Iraq. We still have soldiers there, and so from an overview, I think the world is always better when democracies replace dictatorships.
I think the effort to argue with 20 years of hindsight that we were justified in going to Iraq is absurd. IThis is one of the most catastrophic foreign policy mistakes in our country’s history. or frankly any other country.
It was the beginning of putting this kind of hardship on our credit card. What we got out of it, it looks like you were risking a lot and not gaining much. Because so many treasures and lives were lost there… it’s clear that you lose a lot of lives once you step into the field, you spend a lot of money to do so.
Do whatever seems like [it’s] probably going to be difficult to measure the net gain. when you do, there should be something you could easily say, hey, we’re better at that. It’s probably difficult.
I really appreciate the men and women of service who have mobilized. It’s been 20 years since I went to Iraq and Kuwait. So I’m very grateful for their service and just hope that we can see some stability in that area. The threat from Iran is very real, and Iraq is an important part of it.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine)
I remember secretary [Colin] Powell called me the day before the vote and helped persuade me to support authorizing the use of military force. He wasn’t the only one to believe there were weapons of mass destruction, but obviously that turned out to be a gross exaggeration.
Do you regret having voted for the war?
My recollection is that we were misled by the administration at the time. George W. Bush and I were governors together at that time. I think what happened there was a disservice and, in retrospect, tragic.
The war was one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes of a congressional administration in our history. I was Lieutenant Governor of Virginia when they were debating the war, and I remember why they were forcing this before a midterm election…the administration decided, “Oh, well, we could do that and improve our chances in a midterm election. I just felt like there has to be a better way to make decisions.
Republicans I know say this has made Iran far more powerful than it otherwise had been. Saddam was a villain, but Saddam was a drag on Iran, and the vacuum he created in Iraq emboldened Iran and also led, as vacuums do, to the growth of groups like ISIS. I think most people, if it was a secret ballot right now if they could go back and have Saddam there and a less powerful Iran and an ISIS that was never born you would probably have a vote of 100 versus 0 there.
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