Appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney dodged a question about whether or not the U.S. should have invaded Iraq in 2003. Instead of answering the question about knowing what we know now, Romney, who’s flip-flopped between calling the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq “appropriate” and an “astonishing failure,” stood by his support for the war when he knew only what he knew then:
WALLACE: [L]ooking back, and hindsight is always 20/20, should we have invaded? […]
ROMNEY: At that time, we didn’t have the knowledge that we have now. At that time, Saddam Hussein was hiding. He was not letting the inspectors from the United Nations into the various places that they wanted to go. The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] was blocked from going into the palaces and so forth. And the intelligence in our nation and other nations was that this tyrant had weapons of mass destruction.
And in the light of that — that belief, we took action which was appropriate at the time.
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While running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 at the height of the run-up to the Iraq war, Romney campaigned alongside President George W. Bush. Then-Romney aide and now-adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters: “Al Gore has been a critic to the president’s policies in regard to the war on terrorism, specifically on the plans with regard to Iraq. Mitt’s position is that he supports the president.”
In his 2007 presidential campaign, Romney answered the same question Wallace posed the same way. “I supported the president’s decision based on what we knew at that time,” he said, noting that Hussein had not allowed inspectors in. But, as Media Matters pointed out at the time, by the fall of 2002, U.N. inspectors had entered Iraq and were making progress taking stock of weapons of mass destruction programs.
Today, Romney repeated the false claim that Hussein never allowed inspectors in, adding that “the IAEA was blocked from going into the palaces.” However, in a March 2003 Wall Street Journal op-ed, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog wrote: “In the past three months they have conducted over 200 inspections at more than 140 locations, entering without prior notice into Iraqi… presidential palaces.”
Ignoring altogether what the Iraqi government wanted, Romney said the U.S. “should have left 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 personnel there.”
Asked by Wallace if, as president, Romney would send troops back to Iraq, the candidate replied, “I think the decision to send U.S. troops into a combat setting is a — is a very high threshold decision. This is not something you do easily.” Perhaps he should apply that principle to his reflections about the initial invasion.