In today’s WSJ, Karl Rove describes what he views as his biggest mistake: Failing to refute charges that President Bush lied about WMD to lead the country into the Iraq War. Rove writes:
At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding [to the charge that Bush lied] but decided not to relitigate the past. That was wrong and my mistake: I should have insisted to the president that this was a dagger aimed at his administration’s heart. What Democrats started seven years ago left us less united as a nation to confront foreign challenges and overcome America’s enemies.
We know President Bush did not intentionally mislead the nation. Saddam Hussein was deposed and eventually hanged for his crimes. Iraq is a democracy and an ally instead of an enemy of America. Al Qaeda suffered tremendous blows in the “land between the two rivers.” But Democrats lost more than the election in 2004. In telling lie after lie, week after week, many lost their honor and blackened their reputations.
I completely agree. The rising popularity of the mantra, “Bush lied, people died” was (as Rove writes) like a dagger aimed at the heart of the President’s administration. It surely led to the GOP being walloped in the 2006 elections, though it had not yet gained enough steam to topple Bush’s reelection in 2004.
But more than that, Rove correctly argues, the political success of “Bush lied, people died” left an indelible stain on public discourse, as “it opened the way for politicians in both parties to move the debate from differences over issues into ad hominem attacks.” If they wish to become a majority party again, the GOP needs to rise above this sort of vitriol with careful, persuasive reasoning, both in the advancement of their ideas and in their refutation of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi’s agendas.
Well intentioned people can disagree on whether the Iraq War should have been waged. But we should not forget that many people on both sides of the aisle thought Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of WMD. Surely Rove has more to say on this topic in his memoir, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.
So what did happen to the WMD? Hussein had it at one time. Did he destroy it, like he said? Did he give it away? The best take I’ve heard on this is from Saddam Hussein himself on 60 minutes. The interview was taken shortly before his execution. Hussein explained that he did not actually have any WMD in 2003, but that he needed his enemies to think he had them. Having risen to power with brutality and thuggery, he had to rely on fear to remain in command. [If the video’s don’t work, the transcript is here.]