Donald Trump rarely misses an opportunity to tout his early opposition to the war in Iraq. But how early did his opposition come?
If it predated the invasion (and Trump had ample opportunity publicly to oppose intervention during the long build-up to the war), then he can claim to have been prescient, assuming that the war was a mistake. If not, then Trump was just one of many voices who expressed disillusionment when things didn’t go well.
It turns out that Trump’s public opposition post-dates the invasion by about 16 months. No statement of pre-invasion opposition has been found.
It’s true that about a week after the March 2003 invasion, Trump described the war as a “mess.” But that’s not the same thing as opposing it. The invasion did not seem to begin auspiciously for the U.S. Here at Power Line, we expressed dismay about this. But we certainly didn’t oppose the war. Neither, it seems, did Trump.
Trump voiced public opposition to the war for the first time (so far anyone has been able to confirm) in the summer of 2004 during an interview with Esquire, an interview with Larry King, and an article by Reuters. By then, he was following a fairly large pack. For example, as the Huffington Post points out, the New Republic, which initially supported the invasion, had turned against it.
Were Trump’s 2004 statements prescient. I wouldn’t say so. He dismissed the idea of Iraq becoming truly democratic, and predicted the U.S. withdrawal would lead to “a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over.”
Iraq became democratic — one can debate whether it’s “truly democratic,” whatever that means. The “most vicious guy” did take over part of Iraq nine years or so after Trump made his prediction, but the leaders of the government in Baghdad do not now and never have fit that description.
Trump based his 2014 criticism to a considerable extent on the fact that WMD were not found in Iraq. That’s not prescience. There’s no evidence that Trump said before the invasion that, contrary to intelligence reports, Saddam didn’t have WMD.
Moreover, Trump clearly did not consider the Iraq war to be the epic failure he now says he deems it. President Bush’s decision to launch the war did not stop him from voting to reelect Bush. It’s unlikely that Trump would have voted for Bush in 2004 if he thought that the war was the epic failure he now portrays it to be.
Finally, as a general matter, Trump can hardly claim to be prescient given that he voted to reelect a president he claimed (just three years later) is probably the worst in American history. Why would anyone vote for a presidential candidate who confesses to such bad judgment?
I mean a guy like that might even think that Hillary Clinton is “terrific” and wish her to be the nominee of the party he supported.