Byron pointed out earlier that Mitt Romney, when asked today, would not commit to the idea that the Iraq War had been worth it, in hindsight. I noticed this, but I had forgotten that this is not the first time the topic came up for Romney. In fact, I wrote about this more than four years ago, as my friend Jim Antle of The American Spectator reminds me.
In September 2007, both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were suggesting that the Iraq War might have been a mistake in hindsight. Gingrich was saying so much more clearly, albeit subtly. Romney, then a candidate for president, was saying it only by omission, but his spokesman seemed to be egging me on when I asked him about it.
Like Gingrich, Romney supports the Iraq-war effort today, says he is glad to see Saddam Hussein gone, and opposes a withdrawal timetable. He says he will not second-guess President Bush (or Sen. Hillary Clinton) for going to war based on the intelligence then available in the risky post-9/11 world.
Yet he is unique among the serious Republican presidential contenders because he has never said he would do it all over again, and they all have. Asked in a June 7 debate whether it had been a mistake to invade Iraq “knowing everything you know right now,” he refused twice to answer. He called the question an “unreasonable hypothetical” and said that the issue was a “non-sequitur” and a “null set” (he meant to say “moot point”) because we’re already in Iraq.
In the most recent New Hampshire debate, Romney was markedly cautious on Iraq, drawing ire from some conservative commentators and Sen. John McCain. But more importantly, Romney spoke repeatedly of the Iraq surge (which he endorsed) as a tactical means of ending the war and bringing troops home as quickly as possible. This has been a staple of his recent war rhetoric, in contrast to his more hawkish rivals, who all say explicitly that they would do it all over again.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks of the Iraq invasion as part of “going on offense” against terrorists — a military venture of unquestionable value. For McCain, the war has been mismanaged and poorly planned, but the invasion was still “necessary and just.” Even former Sen. Fred Thompson (R.), the GOP newcomer (and the frontrunner in one national poll), said on Friday that if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq, “we would face a situation worse than what we face today.”
Romney’s spokesman, Kevin Madden, did not discourage the idea that Romney does not share their view or that of Bush. “Any candidate that can convince the American electorate that they represent a real change is, I think, always going to be at an advantage,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean criticism [of Bush]…What it does represent is a recognition that even in the last eight years, there have been some things that could have been done better.” Madden could point to no statement by Romney committing him to the idea of doing Iraq all over again.
Perhaps Romney's answer shouldn't come as a surprise. The Iraq war has been disowned by a large number of the original post-9/11 war hawks, including even David Frum, writer of the "Axis of Evil" speech. Frum went so far as to defame my old boss Robert Novak as unpatriotic because Novak opposed that war.
Perhaps Romney is even being too timid on this point. Perhaps enough has happened now that all of the Republican candidates should be admitting that, knowing what we do now, the intervention was poor policy. But at least we can say that three of the Republicans currently vying for the presidency (Romney, Gingrich and Ron Paul) have at some point demonstrated signs of recognition that the Iraq War is not an event whose wisdom is unquestionable.