Donald Trump stands accused of "trashing the GOP brand" by many of the same GOP politicians and pundits who have no reluctance in "trashing" the most consequential recent decision made by a Republican president — the decision to go to war in Iraq.
When asked a few months ago whether he would have authorized the 2003 war in Iraq, as his brother President George W. Bush did, Republican candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush first said yes, "I would have." Then, when criticized days later, the younger Bush did a 180: "So here's the deal. 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." Other Republican candidates — with the exception of Sen. Lindsey Graham — quickly jumped on board the "I wouldn't have gone into Iraq" bus.
Commentator George Will, who calls Donald Trump "vulgar," once robustly supported the Iraq War. He later called it "the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history."
And Trump is hurting the Republican brand? Let's revisit.
After 9/11, 90 percent of Americans expected an Islamic terror strike again within six months to a year. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, against whom we had previously gone to war in 1991, was shooting at the British and American planes patrolling the "no-fly zones." He was sending $25,000 to families of homicide bombers who struck in Israel. He was stealing from the so-called Oil-for-Food Program, doing who knows what with the money. He had attempted to assassinate President George Herbert Walker Bush, and he had used chemical weapons on the Iranians and his own people on Iraqi soil.
George W. Bush sought and obtained a resolution from the House and from the Senate, and got a unanimous resolution from the United Nations that told the dictator to fully and thoroughly declare what he did with his chemical and biological weapons — or face consequences. At that time over 70 percent of Americans supported going to war in Iraq. Two months after the invasion, a Gallup poll found 79 percent of Americans thought the war was justified — whether or not there was evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons — while only 19 percent believed weapons were necessary to justify the war.
Bush retained the same CIA director, George Tenet, who served under Bill Clinton. Tenet assured Bush that this assertion that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk." All 16 of our intelligence agencies told Bush — at the highest level of probability — that Saddam possessed WMD. The only dissent was over how far along he was in his nuclear weapons program.
After the invasion, Bush sent in weapons hunter David Kay, and later Charles Duelfer, to locate the expected stockpiles. They did not find stockpiles, but both said that Saddam retained the intent and the capacity — waiting only for the expected lifting of sanctions to restart his chemical and biological programs.
Our current director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said that he believes Saddam did possess the stockpiles, but "unquestionably" got rid of them during this run-up in an effort to "destroy and disperse" evidence just before the war began. Top Iraqi general Georges Sada says that he helped send the WMD out of Iraq and into Syria via planes and trucks.
The New York Times reported last year that American soldiers were getting sick because of the chemical and biological material they were encountering: "Jarrod L. Taylor, a former Army sergeant on hand for the destruction of mustard shells that burned two soldiers in his infantry company, joked of 'wounds that never happened' from 'that stuff that didn't exist.' The public, he said, was misled for a decade. 'I love it when I hear, oh there weren't any chemical weapons in Iraq,' he said. 'There were plenty.'"
But The New York Times said the chemical and biological materials encountered by the soldiers were not evidence of an "active" chemical and biological weapons program. Active? Who said anything about "active"? The war resolution simply asserted that Iraq possessed these weapons, demanded their dismantling and an accounting of this dismantling.
Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, who just retired, only days ago said: "I talked to all the Iraqi generals. They'll tell you there were nuclear weapons. They believed there were. The bottom line is they absolutely believe there were nuclear weapons on the ground. To say we shouldn't have went in there now because we know there wasn't any or we didn't find any, I think is a little bit of hindsight."
In December 2011, President Barack Obama, who had called Iraq a "dumb war" designed to divert attention from George W. Bush's "failing economy," pulled out. He did so after calling Iraq "sovereign, stable and self-reliant," leaving no stay-behind force.
Our American military did its job. Rather than remind the American people of why we went to war — the near-unanimous intelligence and the very real evidence that the stockpiles were there — the Republican presidential candidates run from the war like scalded chickens.
But it's Donald Trump who has "hurt the Republican brand"?