Marco Rubio and Chris Wallace had a vigorous back and forth this morning on Fox News Sunday, centered around whether Rubio would describe the invasion of Iraq as a “mistake.” Quizzing GOP candidates about their views on the Iraq War is entirely legitimate, but at a certain point, trying to catch candidates in a possible flip-flop over an impossible hypothetical becomes a waste of time.
Rubio’s answer here seems perfectly reasonable: The U.S. should not have invaded Iraq if it could have known there were no weapons of mass destruction there. But he refuses to characterize Bush’s decision as a “mistake,” since Bush did not and almost certainly could not have known whether Iraq really did or did not have WMDs, and that’s where Wallace keeps pressing him. Asking Rubio whether he thinks it was “a mistake knowing what we know now” almost doesn’t even make sense.
As Eliana pointed out on Thursday, and others have noted too, the “knowing what we know now” question simply isn’t a very important one to ask of candidates. It tells us something about how they weigh the costs of the invasion against what they think the benefits have been, but it doesn’t tell us much about how they would act as president, since neither of those things is known to presidents making such decisions. As Rubio told Wallace, “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.” And the media’s favorite line of questioning this week reveals little about how Rubio or any presidential hopeful will make difficult decisions based on what’s before them.