Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was the latest Republican on Sunday to struggle to explain whether it was a “mistake” for the United States to invade Iraq in 2003.
In an interview on Fox News Sunday, the Republican presidential contender disputed a question about whether he’d flip-flopped.
After former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush struggled with inquiries about Iraq last week, Rubio said – knowing what he knows now – that he wouldn’t have launched the war. Six weeks earlier, Rubio had said definitively “the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn’t run Iraq.”
“That was not the same question,” Rubio said Sunday. “The question was whether it was a mistake, and my answer was, ‘It’s not a mistake.’ I still say it’s not a mistake because the President was presented with intelligence that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”
Rubio battled with Fox host Chris Wallace over questions about the war’s wisdom in hindsight, saying that “a president cannot make a decision on what someone may know in the future.”
If it had been clear in 2003 that intelligence about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction had been proven wrong, “I don’t think George Bush would have moved forward on the invasion and he certainly wouldn’t have congressional authority,” Rubio said.
“But the presidents don’t have the benefit of hindsight. You have to make difficult decisions based on the information that’s before you at that moment,” he said.
Rubio’s comments came as GOP presidential hopefuls fanned out across the Sunday political news shows, where they were asked about Bush’s take on a similar question. First he’d said going to war with the intelligence available in 2003 wasn’t a mistake; then he’d said he wouldn’t answer hypotheticals; finally he acknowledged that, knowing the facts now, he wouldn’t have made the decision his brother, President George W. Bush, made to invade.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who’s advocated a less interventionist foreign policy than other Republican candidates, was Bush’s sharpest critic.
“I think it’s an important question and I don’t think it’s a historical anecdote. I don’t think it’s something that’s a hypothetical question,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think it’s a recurring question in the Middle East: Is it a good idea to topple secular dictators? And what happens when we do?”
“I think when Hussein was toppled, we got chaos,” Paul said. “We still have chaos in Iraq. I think it emboldened Iran. I think – we now have the rise of radical Islam in Iraq as well.”
He said Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton should face similar questions about the United States intervention in Libya.
“We’re gonna have to have this debate, not only in the Republican primary but in the general, as to whether or not it’s a good idea,” Paul said. “Is intervention always a good idea? Or sometimes does it lead to unintended consequences?”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that foreign policy will be “an important part” of the 2016 campaign.
He said that knowing Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, it’s “safe for many of us, myself included, to say we probably wouldn’t have taken that tack.”
Still, he added: “I think any president, regardless of party, would have made a similar decision to what President Bush did at the time with the information he had available.”
Walker also hit President Barack Obama for pulling American troops out of Iraq, saying that “we have a very destabilized region and we need to have a strong presence there.”