GOP Candidates Debate Iraq And Islam In Iowa

by Kirsten O'Regan

Potential Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush had a terrible time this week trying to clarify his stance on brother George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq — first supporting the move, then denouncing it — and other GOP contenders have now weighed in on the invasion and the war that followed. Senator Rand Paul said Saturday that toppling Saddam Hussein hastened the rise of radical Islam and destabilized the region, in comments made at an Iowa GOP convention where Republican speakers focused on the threat of Islam.

Paul, who announced his candidacy for 2016 on April 7 with the words “We have come to take our country back,” was asked for his opinion on the Iraq war in an interview aired on NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday. He fired back another question — “Is it a good idea to topple secular dictators? And what happens when we do?” — before saying, “when Hussein was toppled, we got chaos. We still have chaos in Iraq. I think it emboldened Iran. I think — we now have the rise of radical Islam in Iraq as well.”

Paul added that the same thing had occurred in Libya, where the U.S. played a crucial role in toppling Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011. The country is now in utter chaos, with Libya Dawn — a loose coalition of militias, some of whom are affiliated with extremist groups — controlling swathes of the country. “Is intervention always a good idea?” he asked. “Or sometimes does it lead to unintended consequences?”

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Paul’s skepticism, and his latent condemnation of the war as a colossal error, lands him in good company — as AP notes, most candidates have now come to the same conclusion as the American public: that 2003’s invasion, and the resulting loss of 4,491 American (and many more Iraqi) lives, was a bad call. The current mess in Iraq, and the collapse of Bush’s rationale for the war in the first place (no evidence of weapons of mass destruction has yet been found), make it a seeming no-brainer.

After all his flip-flopping, Jeb Bush’s final statement this week put him in this camp as well. “Knowing what we know now, I would not have engaged, I would have not gone into Iraq,” he told Fox News Thursday. Even Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton — who voted for the war — has by now admitted she “got it wrong.”

Rick Santorum, who also voted for the invasion and continued to support it as the war dragged on, seemed to get it right when he said: “Everybody accepts that [it was a mistake] now.” This week, almost the entire GOP field seemed to prove him correct, when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all said that — with hindsight — they would not have authorized the invasion.

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Although this stance requires a sobering critique of both a conservative president and a military intervention (the GOP outcry over defense cuts might lead one to believe they’d champion the chance to use more money on military engagement), it also makes sense — especially given the causal connection Paul has drawn between the Iraq war and Islamic extremism. This analysis seemingly puts Paul in the company of the University of Nevada student who this week told Jeb Bush, “Your brother created Isis!

At the Iowa convention Saturday — sponsored by the state’s Republican Party and the biggest conservative gathering of 2016 yet — the threat of Islam was clearly on the mind of every present Republican contender. Speakers Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum all whipped up the fear of Islamic extremism while tracing its rise back to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Cruz, speaking via video link, warned, “It is a dark and dangerous world… And it has got much more dangerous over the last six years.”


Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy who helped to organize the convention, even alleged that Clinton’s adviser Huma Abedin has “extensive personal and family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” according to The Guardian. “[Obama] appeases our enemies and uses funny language to describe them,” Santorum said in his address. When asked how to distinguish an Islamic extremist from a peaceful Muslim, he answered:

If you look at Islamists, they all have the same ideology. By and large the only difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Isis is the methods they will take to impose their theology.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, went against the grain, and supported the Iraq invasion — to a warm reception from his audience. “All I can say is that President Bush, W., had the same information everybody else in the world did and made the best decision he could and if anybody thinks Saddam Hussein was a good guy, they need to go back in time and check out the facts,” Graham said. Turning to military vets, he added:

If you fought in Iraq, it worked. It's not your fault it's going to hell. It's Obama's fault. You did your job.

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