At least one Republican eyeing a 2016 presidential campaign still supports the Iraq War: John Bolton.
The hawkish former United Nations ambassador, 66, told the Washington Examiner in an interview this week that he stands by the decision made by his old boss, President George W. Bush, to invade Iraq and topple dictator Saddam Hussein. Bolton, long a strong supporter of the Iraq war, said his opinion wasn't altered by the post-war discovery that Hussein's regime did not possess weapons of mass destruction.
"I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct. I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces," Bolton said. "The people who say, oh things would have been much better if you didn't overthrow Saddam miss the point that today's Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone."
U.S. and foreign intelligence services indicated leading up to the war that Hussein possessed weapons and of mass destruction, and helping to secure support for the invasion at the U.N. and in Congress. The intelligence turned out to be untrue, turning most Americans against the war after it bogged down. Support never rematerialized, even after a military "surge" spearheaded by Bush pacified Iraq.
The issue was raised anew this week when Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother of George W. Bush, came under fire for appearing to say in a Fox News interview that he would have still gone into Iraq in 2003, even if he had had accurate intelligence. Bush later recanted, saying he had misunderstood Megyn Kelly's question. He now says the question is too hypothetical to answer.
Some of Bush's likely competitors for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination have come out in favor of the Iraq war based on the intelligence available at the time, but opposed if they knew then what is known now. That is probably the safe political position to take in the Republican primary. But Bolton was critical of the notion that the Middle East would be "sweetness and light" today had the U.S. not ousted Hussein.
"And that's the other fallacy of those who say it was clearly a mistake, because you can't assume if he had stayed in power, sweetness and light would prevail in the Middle East today," Bolton said. "I am convinced he would have gone back to the search for nuclear weapons. He had kept 3,000 scientists and technicians together, he called them his nuclear Mujahadeen. They're the ones with the intellectual capability to rebuild the program."
More broadly, you were going to get the Arab spring anyway," Bolton continued. "The Arab spring was not caused in any way by the overthrow of Saddam — it began in Tunisia for God sakes. And the effect of the Arab Spring gone wrong and the continued rise of Islamic fundamentalism across the region would have happened anyway. You can never tell but that there might have been some Iraqi Shia who decided to assassinate Saddam for all that he had done to repress the Shia and Iraq would have descended into chaos."
Bolton served as under secretary of state for arms control and international security under George W. Bush, a post he was appointed to before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that he held during the run-up to the Iraq War and after the invasion, before being installed as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. The announcement of Bolton's 2016 plans could reportedly come as soon as Thursday.