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Bush case for Iraq war: Does it matter if it was an honest mistake?

Karl Rove says President Bush really believed Iraq had WMDs. But that doesn’t excuse an action that endangered the lives of thousands.

By Stanley Kober / May 19, 2010


What if former President Bush did not lie about the case for war in Iraq, but made an honest mistake, one that was made by many others?

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That’s the argument Karl Rove, one of his closest aides, is making in his new book, “Courage and Consequence.” He claims that the president truly believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

But even if true, this argument is not exculpatory.

Since when has honesty been an excuse for starting a war under erroneous assumptions? In what other profession would such an argument be made and taken seriously?

Imagine a medical doctor who diagnosed cancer in a limb and amputated – only to have a biopsy reveal there was no cancer. If the doctor then insisted it was an honest mistake, would such an explanation be accepted with no further action taken, or would the doctor come under professional scrutiny for incompetence?

If that is the level of accountability we expect from medical professionals if they endanger the life of a single individual, should we not hold our highest political leaders to the same standard when they propose war – an action that endangers the lives of many thousands?

Mr. Bush’s decision to initiate the war was not the only government error that endangered lives. In his recent testimony before the Chilcot commission, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that both the US and British governments had planned for a potential humanitarian crisis – which did not occur – but failed to foresee the role that Al Qaeda and Iran would play in postwar Iraq.

Yet the rationale for the invasion of Iraq was the result of a threat assessment directly correlated to the terrorist attack of 9/11 – which was undertaken by Al Qaeda. So the response was to raise the threat profile of Iraq, but to ignore Al Qaeda?

Al Qaeda had attacked in Africa and Yemen, it had gone all the way to the United States, but it never crossed the minds of Washington policymakers that it would go to Iraq?

Can Mr. Blair be serious? Is this the care a responsible leader shows before sending troops off to war?

In concluding his testimony, Blair accepted responsibility for the decision to go to war. But what obligations does such responsibility entail?