- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2015

Theoretical questions about starting the Iraq War have flummoxed Republican presidential hopefuls, but Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that he welcomed the opportunity to revisit history and had a few what-ifs he wanted to ask Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Paul, a Kentucky Republican making a White House run, said presidential candidates should be answering the hypothetical questions about whether, knowing what they know now, they would support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led to more than 4,000 American troops killed and ongoing turmoil in the region.

The question recently tripped up Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another likely Republican contender.

“I think all the questions are important and valid because we seem to have recurring topics,” Mr. Paul said at an event at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. “It’s like, we have a strongman, we get rid of the strongman, we have chaos, we have the rise of radical Islam. It’s happened repeatedly. It happened in Iraq. It happened in Libya.”

Mr. Paul said he intends to ask Mrs. Clinton whether, knowing what she knows now, she would still support the use of U.S. air power to help topple the regime in Libya in 2011.

“Because by all objective measures, it is a disaster. I call it a jihadist wonderland [in Libya]. Our ambassador was assassinated, a third of the country pledges allegiance to ISIS, I would call it a failed state,” Mr. Paul said, referring to an acronym for the Islamic State group and its terrorist army.

SEE ALSO: Marco Rubio takes digs at Hillary Clinton on ‘constant scandal,’ age

Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state at the time of the invasion and has crowed over the death of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. But Mr. Paul said the country has been left in chaos by the U.S.-led international effort to support rebels who deposed and killed Gadhafi.

The Clinton campaign did not respond when The Washington Times posed the question.

Still, some Republicans challenged the validity of journalists hurling theoretical “knowing what you know now” questions at presidential candidates.

Former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu slammed the news media for asking “dumb questions.”

“When you ask the question, ‘knowing what we know now,’ nobody knows what you mean,” Mr. Sununu said on Fox News, defending the tortured answers to those questions by Mr. Rubio and Mr. Bush.

“Does that include knowing that the bulk of Saddam Hussein’s sarin gas went to Syria where [President Bashar Assad] is using it? Does it mean that [President Obama] was going to fail to get a status of forces agreement and pull all our forces out and create chaos in Iraq that sets the tone for why that question is being asked?” said Mr. Sununu, who served as chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush.

“It’s an easy question for a journalist to ask. It’s a dumb question for a journalist to ask,” he said. “Marco was right, and Jeb Bush was right.”

Mr. Bush has taken the brunt of the criticism for answers about whether he would order the Iraq invasion knowing what he knows now.

Mr. Bush wrestled with the question for four days last week, giving various responses and saying he wouldn’t answer theoretical questions, before moving to end the relentless inquisition by flatly stating that in retrospect he would not start the Iraq War.

“I would not have gone into Iraq,” he said at a campaign-style stop in Tempe, Arizona.

Mr. Rubio was pressed on the question on “Fox News Sunday,” where he struggled to avoid calling the invasion a mistake by President George W. Bush.

Mr. Rubio previously defended the Iraq War by saying that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, echoing the justification offered by George W. Bush after he left office.

“He made the right decision based on the information he had at that time,” he said. “We’ve learned subsequently that that information was wrong and my answer was — well, if at the time it would have been apparent that the intelligence was wrong, I don’t think George Bush would have moved forward on the invasion and he certainly wouldn’t have had congressional approval.”

Mr. Rubio continued: “But presidents don’t have the benefit of hindsight. You have to make difficult decisions based on the information that’s before you at that moment.”

Other Republicans eyeing the presidential race jumped at the chance to say they wouldn’t have invaded Iraq.

“I think if you look what’s happened today, and the answer is no. I mean, with that hindsight, no, I would not have done that,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said without prompting at a breakfast meeting in Rock Rapids, Iowa, reported The Texas Tribune.

Mr. Perry quickly pivoted to more recent military decisions, drawing a connection between the fall of Ramadi over the weekend to the Islamic State and Mr. Obama’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.

“You know what happens when law and order, when structure, is not in place? Chaos will fill that, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen in that region,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and one of the most hawkish members of Congress, also said that in retrospect the Iraq War was a mistake.

“If I knew then what I know now, would I have launched a ground invasion? Probably not. I’d probably have had another approach to Saddam,” Mr. Graham said on “CBS This Morning.” “But that is yesterday’s thinking. What do we do today and tomorrow and the day after? We have to reset Iraq.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.



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