In an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" a few days ago, Mitt Romney was asked whether, given what we know today, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. Romney wouldn't say.
"Oh boy, that's a big question," Romney answered. "And going back and trying to say, given what we know now, what would we have done? Would we have invaded or not? At the time, we didn't have the knowledge that we have now." Romney mentioned intelligence before the war suggesting that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. After the war, U.S. and international inspection teams did not find those weapons, which had been the basis for much of the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq. Still, Romney told Fox's Chris Wallace that the invasion was "appropriate at the time" because the U.S. acted "in light of that belief" -- that is, in intelligence that turned out to be faulty.
Wednesday morning, in an interview on MSNBC, Romney got the question again. This time, his answer was not only different but definitive: No, the U.S. would not have invaded Iraq had officials known there were no weapons of mass destruction there.
"Well, if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction -- if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in," Romney said.
"You don't think we would have gone in?" asked MSNBC's Chuck Todd.
"Well, of course not," Romney answered. "The president went in based upon intelligence that they had weapons of mass destruction. Had he known that that was not the case, the U.N. would not have put forward resolutions authorizing this type of action. The president would not have been pursuing that course."
Romney's statement on MSNBC is not only a change from what he said on Fox a few days ago. It's also a change from his position during his first run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2007-2008. In a January 2008 GOP debate in Florida, Romney was asked, "Was the war in Iraq a good idea worth the cost in blood and treasure we have spent?" Romney answered: "It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now."
Coming just days after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, Romney's answer is likely to cause consternation among Republicans who maintain that going to war was the right decision, even in light of the failure to discover WMD. But Romney's new answer is not terribly different from what even some George W. Bush loyalists have said in recent years. For example, in his memoir, Courage and Consequence, former top Bush aide Karl Rove wrote: "Would the Iraq War have occurred without WMD? I doubt it: Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the threat of WMD. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations."