Florida Sen. Marco Rubio today set himself apart from his GOP presidential rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, by declaring he would not have supported invading Iraq in 2003 if he knew the Middle Eastern nation did not possess weapons of mass destruction or the means to create them.
In response to questions from PBS’ Charlie Rose, Mr. Rubio aligned himself with comments by former President George W. Bush that United States had sent troops to topple former dictator Saddam Hussein on false information that indicated the nation was not developing and concealing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Mr. Rubio said that, had U.S. intelligence shown that the nation had no such capacity, he would not have favored the invasion.
“Not only would I not have been in favor of it, President Bush wouldn’t have been in favor of it, and he said so,” Mr. Rubio said, apparently referring to the former president’s acknowledgement in his 2010 book Decision Points that the evidence he and his staff presented was erroneous.
The legislator, elected in 2010, thus distinguished himself from former Vice President Dick Cheney—who has adamantly maintained the invasion was worthwhile—and from former Gov. Bush, who said in an interview with Fox News he would have launched the overthrow mission “with the intelligence they got.”
He has since avoided answering directly whether he would have approved the attack in hindsight, calling such questions “hypothetical” and maintaining he would have pushed for an invasion with the information available at the time.
Mr. Rubio echoed his rival, however, in placing blame on the intelligence community.
“President Bush has said he regrets the intelligence’s fault, and I don’t think the Congress would have voted in favor of authorizing getting involved in Iraq,” he said.
He also noted Iraq’s history as a pariah state that had developed and utilized weapons of mass destruction and barred United Nations overseers from its facilities.
“Let’s also be fair about the context: yes, there was intelligence that was faulty, but there was also history with Iraq, of evasion, it was a country that had mobile units in the past,” he said “It is a country that had actively, not so long in the past, at the moment of that decision was made, had invaded a neighboring country in Kuwait. It was a country that had an open dispute going on with international bodies about the inspections, and allowing international inspectors to come in and view things.”
He argued that, if the former president had the correct information, he would not have approved a ground assault on the country—something the ex-commander-in-chief himself has not said.
“Ultimately, though, I do not believe that if, if the intelligence had said, ‘Iraq is not having the weapons of mass destruction capability,’ I don’t believe President Bush would have authorized use of force,” he said.
Mr. Rubio’s statement contrasted with the more hawkish stance he took on foreign policy in his speech before the Council shortly before, in which he complained that America’s military might had “deteriorated” under President Barack Obama.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama’s former secretary of state, voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq while a senator representing New York.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another GOP contender for the White House, has also said he would not have invaded Iraq if it were known the country had no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons capacities.
Mr. Rubio’s statement today did appear to conflict with past comments, such as when he said in a Fox News appearance earlier this year that the invasion was not a mistake, and when he told CNN in 2010 that the United States is safer and better off as a result of the intervention.
Ross Barkan contributed reporting.
Updated to include Mr. Rubio’s past comments on the Iraq conflict and that Charlie Rose, and not Richard Haas, questioned Mr. Rubio.