Knowing What We Know Now . . . How Does One Answer a Dishonest Question about Iraq?

“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”  ―Thomas Paine


A Little Sympathy for Jeb

Back in March of 2015, Jeb Bush stated, in response to a question, that, knowing what we know now about Iraq, he still would have authorized the Iraq War.  But then, after reconsidering, Bush walked back his position, saying that he really would not have authorized it.  “So here’s the deal,” Bush told an Arizona audience.  “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions, knowing what we know now, I would not have engaged.  I would not have gone into Iraq.  That’s not to say that the world is not safer because Saddam Hussein is gone.  It is significantly safer.”  (Read more about this here.) So, why was this question such a thorny one, and what was the problem with giving a simple answer to it?

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The Problem with the Question

The problem with the question is that it carries the following subtext: Since we never found the Weapons of Mass Destruction that we were told existed, was it wise to invade Iraq?  The question is a dishonest one, because, since most of the American public is not aware that Weapons of Mass Destruction were indeed discovered, it is difficult to know how to answer.  The truth is that President George W. Bush preferred to take heat from critics of the war, rather than make widely-known the fact that WMDs had been found.  President Bush did not want terrorists to target the WMDs for theft.

The fact that President Bush withheld this story from public consumption achieved the effect of rendering the public, in large part, ignorant of the facts.  So, how is a politician supposed to answer the question?  Based upon the truth?  Or based upon what most of the public perceives as being the truth?  Knowing that liberal journalists love to report gotcha-style sound bites, instead of thoughtfully elaborated answers to questions, it would seem that a simple “no” to the question might prove to be best, given the reality that most people have not a clue that WMDs were ever found in Iraq.  However, if most of the public knew the truth—or if the media were honest and willing to widely report the truth—a “yes” answer might not prove so controversial, after all.


Partial Removal of WMDs to Iran, Syria, and Lebanon

Iraq WMDAlthough WMD sites were found in Iraq during the war, many others were likely removed to Iran, Syria, and Lebanon before Bush was able to mount a full-scale invasion, according to Romanian intelligence defector Ion Mihai Pacepa, who has said that an intelligence operation to remove chemical weapons was drawn up by the Soviet Union for Libya, and that, thirty years ago, Romanian President Nicolae Ceauşescu and KGB Chairman Yury Andropov revealed the existence of such a plan for Iraq as well.  It was “perfectly obvious” to Pacepa that the Russian GRU (an abbreviation of Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie , which means Chief Intelligence Office) helped Saddam destroy, hide, or transfer his chemical weapons prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  “After all,” he said, “Russia helped Saddam get his hands on them in the first place.”  (Read more here.)


The Gray Lady Breaks the Story!

Here is what the New York Times had to say about Iraq’s WMDs, when they broke the story, in October 2014: “The secrecy fit a pattern.  Since the outset of the [Iraq] war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons . . . was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military.  These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State . . . controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.”  The Times goes on to report that the US government “withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors.  The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.”  (Read more New York Times reporting here.)

So, if the Times is to be believed, US soldiers started to encounter WMDs in 2004, but the information was kept tightly under wraps, because of the danger that terrorists might find out about them and attempt to get their hands on them.  This risk was seen as potentially more lethal than that posed to US troops, due to an occasional misdiagnosis or improper medical treatment.  The Times would seem to be censuring Bush for medical problems that arose for soldiers who did not always understand the chemical hazards they might encounter.  A more balanced insight might offer the recognition that it is possible that, on the whole, the greatest benefit was derived from keeping the WMDs a secret.

Here is what US News had to say: “The New York Times . . . has re-ignited a 12-year-old debate: Was then-President George W. Bush right about [attacking] Iraq?  The report examined US service personnel’s encounters with abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq—and some conservatives were quick to pounce on the story as evidence that claims by Bush in the lead-up to the war that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction were true and that the United States’ 2003 invasion was justified.”  (Read more here.)

The fact that 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, and aviation bombs were found scattered across Iraq is an important one.  But it should be pointed out that President Obama followed suit with Bush, maintaining a policy of silence with regard to the WMDs found in Iraq.  So, if the Times wished to be fair, they could hold Obama to account, as well, for enforcing the same policy.


An Appropriate Answer to the Question

After Jeb Bush was asked the Iraq question, many other candidates were asked the same question.  Most of them just chose to say “no” without trying to elaborate.  And who can blame them for not wanting to get into it?

In the future, if the topic comes up again, an appropriate answer might go something like this: “If the New York Times report that Iraqi WMDs actually exist is true, then a defensive invasion to protect Americans would be a proper consideration.”  This is not really a yes or no answer, but it would, in one sentence, alert the public to the fact that the question being asked is dishonestly simple, compared to the nuanced reality being presented in answer to it.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

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