The Senate will mark the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq this week by voting to repeal the outdated military force authorization that greenlighted the war, a bipartisan effort to formally end a misguided conflict that the United States is still paying for today.
Nineteen Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to promote its repeal Thursday, a largely symbolic move that advocates say is designed to reassert Congress’s authority to declare war. However, it leaves intact the 2001 Broad Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that every presidential administration since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 has used to wage war around the world. .
There is broad agreement in Congress and among the public that misintelligence led to President George W. Bush’s decision to initiate airstrikes in Iraq on March 19, 2003, resulting in the loss of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and trillions of US dollars wasted.
But there are still some Republican senators who argue that good things came out of the war and that it was ultimately worth the whole enterprise. That view, however, is not shared by more recent GOP arrivals in Congress, reflecting a party shift under former President Donald Trump that is increasingly questioning US involvement abroad, including in Ukraine.
The original vote to authorize the war, 77-23, followed a months-long campaign by the Bush administration to sell to the public its decision to invade Iraq, which was made in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Administration officials used false and faulty intelligence to claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including biological, chemical, and possibly nuclear weapons, ready.
“Simply put, there is no question that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002. “There is no question that he is hoarding them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against we. ”
In the days before Congress passed the war authorization resolution, Bush himself raised the specter of nuclear annihilation and falsely insinuated that Iraq was connected to the 9/11 attacks when discussing alleged ties between Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda. Iraq played no role in the 9/11 attack. United Nations weapons inspectors were unable to find any evidence of ongoing WMD programs prior to the invasion. Later, the US found no usable biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, nor any ongoing programs to develop them.
But these lies and insinuations convinced much of the American public. On the eve of the congressional vote, 79% of the public said they believed Hussein was close to or already had nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, 66% believed that Iraq “assisted the terrorists in the 9/11 attacks.” In all, 62% supported the invasion.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this popular support, the Bush administration deeply politicized Congress’s passage of the resolution. They made sure to push it in the final weeks of the 2002 midterm elections to force Democrats to take a public stand before Election Day while running ads branding them as weak on terrorism or even potential traitors.
A majority of Senate Democrats voted in favor of the resolution, which had been jointly introduced by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (DS.D.) and Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss. ). The bombing of Iraq was a bipartisan project involving George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, after all, from Bush Sr’s 1991 Gulf War to Bill Clinton’s 1998 attacks. Many also feared they were on the wrong side. of a war vote, as they were also in the 1991 Gulf War resolution.
HuffPost interviewed more than a dozen US senators, some of whom were in Congress on October 11, 2002, when the vote to authorize force against Iraq took place. Read his views on the war and its justification below:
Senator Mike Rounds (RS.D.)
Was it the right decision to invade?
With all the information we had, yes. I was a brand new governor, I had not yet been sworn in, but I had been elected. And I remember (Health and Human Services Secretary) Tommy Thompson at that time came and visited us and talked to us about the concerns they had and about the biological weapons they believed were in (Saddam’s) hands. At that point, it was not a question of whether we would lose a life, but how much or how great the loss of life could be. It was a very sobering time. Based on the information we had at the time, I thought it was the right decision…. Those biological weapons have never been found, but if they had, it would have been a clearly justified war.
To this day, there are unanswered questions about intelligence assessments. I think we should judge member votes and administration decisions to commit forces based on what intelligence told them at the time, not what we know now.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Everyone believed at the time, based on the intelligence provided, that there were weapons of mass destruction. That was the justification for the war. He got rid of a terrible dictator. He obviously left behind an Iraq that he has fought. But I think the real question is, if we knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war with Iraq? The answer is probably no. But I don’t think the people who advocated the war lied about it. I was not here, but my recollection is based on the information before them, they honestly believed there was. It wasn’t like Saddam Hussein was being transparent and doing everything he could to show that he wasn’t. He did not comply with all kinds of international and UN requirements. I certainly think he had an impact on our politics. I think future use of force would probably be more skeptical and more cautious given that experience. But I guess there are a lot of people in Iraq who are happy that Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge.
Senator Thom Tillis (RN.C.)
I feel like a lot of good has come out of that war, there’s still a lot of bad left in terms of how destabilized it is, how much of a role Iran is playing there, so we certainly didn’t achieve our goals. . The circumstances that led the administration to decide to go there were before me, so I’m not going to quarterback Monday morning.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.)
In hindsight, training the next day, no, it wasn’t the right thing to do, we all know that. A lot of people died, we lost a lot of money, and we were there a long time. It seems we can’t get in and out. We should have been healed by the oil they had there. I spent a lot of money and also lost a lot of friends there.
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Late. Mitt Romney (R-Utah)
I think the benefit of hindsight is that we made a mistake in going in and anticipating that we could create a liberal democracy in Iraq, and I feel the same way about Afghanistan. I think we’ve learned that people have to fight for their own freedom and we can’t give it to them on a tray full of blood.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
(The United States invaded Iraq to) get rid of a bad guy. I am happy to have done it.
(Revoke Iraq’s war authorization) is a good symbolism for the end of that war. I am disappointed that we cannot end the Afghan war, which has also been going on for 15 years. (Paul is referring to his support for repealing the 2001 AUMF which continues to authorize military force in Afghanistan.)
Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.)
The information used to go to Iraq appears to have been faulty. But this is what I would say: it is an incipient and inefficient democracy. That’s better than Saddam. The world is better off with Saddam dead, and with all the fighting for democracy in Iraq, we are better off with democracy setting foot in Iraq. We still have soldiers there, and from a big picture, I think the world is always better off when democracies replace dictatorships..
I think the effort to argue with 20 years of hindsight that we were justified in going to Iraq is absurd. YoIt is one of the most catastrophic unforced foreign policy mistakes in our country’s history. or frankly any other country.
It was the beginning of putting that kind of evidence on our credit card. What we win with that, it seems that you risk a lot and don’t win a lot. As much treasure and life was lost there…it’s clear that you lose a lot of life once you get involved in the terrain, you spend a lot of money doing it.
Doing everything it seems (is) is probably going to be difficult to measure net gain. when you do there should be something you could easily say, hey, we’re better for it. That’s probably hard.
I really appreciate the service men and women who stepped up. It’s been 20 years since I went to Iraq and Kuwait. So I really appreciate your service and I just hope that we can see stability gain in that region. The threat from Iran is very real, and Iraq is an important part of that.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine)
I remember Secretary (Colin) Powell calling me the night before the vote and helping to persuade me to support authorizing the use of military force. He wasn’t the only one who believed there were weapons of mass destruction, but obviously that turned out to be a gross exaggeration.
Do you regret having voted for the war?
My recollection is that we were deceived by the administration at that time. George W. Bush and I were governors together during that time. I think what happened there was disservice and, in retrospect, tragic.
The war was one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes by a congressional administration in our history. I was a lieutenant governor of Virginia when they were debating the war, and I remember why they forced this before a midterm election…the administration decided, ‘Oh, well, we could do this and improve our chances in a midterm election. period’. I just had this feeling that there has to be a better way to make decisions.
Republicans I know say it made Iran much more powerful than it had been. Saddam was a bad guy, but Saddam was a check on Iran, and the vacuum he created in Iraq emboldened Iran and also led, as vacuums do, to the growth of groups like ISIS. I think most people if it was a secret vote right now, if they could go back and have Saddam there and less powerful Iran and an ISIS that was never born, they would probably have a 100-0 vote on that.