I watched George and Laura Bush's interview on CBS Sunday Morning today. It was pretty good. The interviewer walked a fine line, keeping it a human interest story while asking some pretty tough questions about Iraq and Katrina.
Mr. Bush stated that one of the regrets of his presidency was not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said that it gave him a sick feeling. My ears perked up at this. Was he admitting that the invasion perhaps should not have happened?
Of course not. And how could he say that, even if he did think it was true? He asked so much of so many and the damage to persons and families has been so massive, that there is no way he could ever admit that it was a bad decision.
No, he said that the sick feeling was because he knew that not finding those weapons would undermine the legitimacy of the invasion in people's minds. Then he explained that the real reason for the invasion was to try to topple a brutal dictator's regime and plant a fledgling democracy in the middle east hoping that it might spread.
In a sense, he is right. That is the only reason that ever made sense for the Iraq invasion. Iraq was never a huge threat. We actually invaded Iraq because it was a small threat. There is no way anyone would invade North Korea, another part of the "axis of evil", with its gigantic standing army, much scarier weapons arsenal and even more insane leadership. Iran? No chance.
The only reason to attack another country preemptively, the only reason to start a war with another country with little immediate justification, was to take advantage of public sentiment following 9/11 in order to try this experiment in nation destroying/rebuilding.
But there is a problem with Bush's reasoning now. While this may have been the real reason for the invasion of Iraq, this was not the reason that was given. Weapons of mass destruction was IT. That was the reason. That was the case that Colin Powell presented to the UN. That was the case that the President presented at his State of the Union (making use of sloppy, false intelligence concerning "yellow cake" pursuits in Africa by Saddam).
So whatever a person's feelings are on the Iraq war, we must admit that we invaded under false premises. These premises were contrived and yet they were also legitimately believed by many. But they were wrong. This democracy-building-through-aggression idea is a post-hoc rationalization given to the public - even though it probably is the real reason that the Bush administration wanted to invade.
It became obvious they would find a reason. First the UN inspectors needed to be let in (and rightly so). Then there were access and timeline issues. Then we would only stop the invasion if Saddam and his family would leave....which they didn't, but can you imagine spending tens of billions to position ourselves for invasion and then not doing it? No, if Saddam and all the top Baathists had left, we would have found another reason - to prevent chaos, to assist the Iraqi people, something.
And what is the problem with making war when it is not a necessity? Thousands of US soldiers have been killed. Tens of thousands wounded and many of those disabled. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children have been killed, wounded and disabled. Families upon families upon families all over the world have been deprived of their loved ones.
It seems shallow to reflect on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the project in light of all those lives, but sending those resources towards the war has affected people's lives too.
I don't think Mr. Bush is a bad guy on a personal level. I think his intentions were good, but his judgement was way off. And he insists that he has always stuck to his principles. I just wish he would admit that the national and international community was not sold the Iraq war with the premises that he now uses to justify it.