Politics & Policy

Trump’s Dishonest Iraq War Revisionism

(Joe Raedle/Getty)

Donald Trump’s star turn as an unexpected ally of Code Pink was widely panned last Saturday evening. Standing next to Jeb Bush at the Republican party’s fractious South Carolina debate, Trump seemed determined to indulge the most idiosyncratic of the anti-war movement’s critiques. The invasion of Iraq, he proposed, was based upon a “lie.” Its advocates, he submitted, were engaged not in a mistake, but in a conspiracy. And, worst of all, George W. Bush was to blame for 9/11.

For now, I shall let those chips fall where they may, and focus on a question that is related but a touch less explosive. Certainly, Trump sounded at times like Michael Moore, and he brought back into the fray a host of poisonous questions that have not been seriously re-litigated since the election of 2008. But of far more concern to me going forward is that Trump’s whole line of attack is built upon a highly questionable premise: To wit, that he was a consistent and outspoken opponent of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 foreign policy.

As Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski has recorded in depth, there is no evidence whatsoever that Trump opposed the Iraq War, and, in fact, solid proof that he was in favor of doing something about Saddam Hussein and his weapons programs before George W. Bush was even inaugurated. These facts being as they are, that Trump so triumphantly stakes his claim as a modern day Cassandra is little short of extraordinary. There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with his arguing that Iraq was a mistake; indeed, as remarkably popular as the war was at the time, this is now the assessment of the majority of the American people. But, by retroactively characterizing this judgment as initial rather than reflective, Trump is claiming an at-the-time prescience that there is no proof he exhibited, and he’s using it to hit his Republican rivals for their supposed stupidity. 

#share#Absent any new information, it is reasonable for voters to believe that Trump has a clean slate in this realm — not because he had some special insight that allowed him to correctly predict the future in 2004, but because he was not a politician until the summer of 2015 and can therefore not be blamed for the decisions of those who were. Whether this innocence is a strength or a weakness will depend upon your perspective; personally, I would rather have somebody who knows what he’s doing in the White House, lest he be easily rolled by the permanent bureaucracy and the lobbyist class. Either way, though, I hope that I will be forgiven for being rather amused by the protean manner in which Trump’s novelty is regarded by his fans. As I understand it, we are supposed to look back to the swirling debate over Iraq and praise Trump’s purely private skepticism, and to do so without question or doubt; at the very same time, we are expected to willfully ignore the rest of his concrete record on the grounds that he’s an “outsider.”

Trump is claiming an at-the-time prescience that there is no proof he exhibited.

Or, put another way, Trump wants us to rig the game so he will always emerge as the winner. Irritated that Trump repeatedly gave money to the Democrats, including before the 2008 wave? Upset that Trump praised Nancy Pelosi as “terrific” when she picked up the gavel that would pass Obamacare? Annoyed that Trump called for an assault-weapons ban just as the right to keep and bear arms was being restored piece by piece? Angry that, just three years ago, he was slamming Mitt Romney for his harsh stance toward illegal immigration? Don’t be. He “wasn’t a politician” back then, and besides, “that’s just what businessmen do.” If, on the other hand, you are impressed that Trump isn’t on record anywhere supporting the War in Iraq . . . well, that’s because he has always had brilliant instincts and will make a top-notch commander in chief.

#related#Trump’s role as a supra-political Rorschach test has by now been well-established — the man does, without doubt, have a keen knack for malleability, most evident in matters of foreign policy. Simultaneously, Trump manages to appear as the strongman crusader who will bomb the s**t out of the bad guys, submit terrorists to techniques worse than waterboarding, and intimidate every other government with one narrowing of his eyes, even as he plays the Taftite opponent of foreign adventurism who will bring back your tax dollars for some “nation building at home.” If that is what a good portion of the Republican base is looking for in a president, that is its prerogative; all’s fair in love and war, and profitable will be the man who can flit seamlessly between the two. But for the rest of us — many of whom have grown tired of the intellectual incoherence and practical vacillation that have marked the unlovely Obama years — elasticity and expedience are not virtues, and nor is the cynical retconning of recent history. In keeping with his penchant for playing all sides of every game, Donald Trump was silent on Iraq right up to the moment at which it turned nasty. He must not be allowed to pretend otherwise.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

Most Popular


What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More