THE BLOG

Some Still Don't Know What We Knew Then and Aren't Sure What We Know Now

05/19/2015 04:54 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016

Former First Brother Jeb Bush sure popped the top on a can of worms when he was asked if he would have made the same decision his older brother did to invade Iraq in March 2003. Within a week, and apparently because he didn't want to be too critical of his brother, he'd produced four different answers, none of them very definitive or very certain.

Then, because he's considered an eventual leading candidate, if not the leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, every other real or imagined candidate felt compelled to jump in with their response to what they would have decided twelve years ago based on what we knew then or what we know now or what we thought we knew then or think we know now but didn't know then.

The entire discussion is totally vaporous. In fact, we did know then what we know now. The George W. Bush Administration did know in 2002 that there was no concrete justification for war with Iraq. But they chose not share what they knew. In fact, they put on one of the hardest hard-sell campaigns in history to distort it.

Let's review a little history:

• Vice President Dick Cheney told a VFW Convention in August 2002, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." Yet the U.S., British and other intelligence services all agreed there was no credible evidence that Iraq had WMD or any intention of attacking the U.S., our friends or allies.

• In 1997, the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported there was no indication Iraq ever achieved nuclear capability or had any physical capacity for producing weapons-grade nuclear material in the near future. In February 2001, the CIA reported to the White House: "We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction programs." Yet in March 2003, Vice President Cheney claimed on Meet the Press that Iraq "has reconstituted nuclear weapons."

• In April 2001, the U, S. Energy Department told the White House that aluminum tubes Iraq had bought could not be used for nuclear weapons production. In late 2001, the State Department agreed. Yet on Sept. 8, 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." And in his 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush said the tubes were "suitable for nuclear weapons production."

• In late 2002, the CIA told White House officials not to include assertions about Iraq obtaining the uranium from-Niger assertion in speeches. Yet the assertions were included in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech.

• In September 2002, a Department of Defense intelligence report found "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities." Yet in October 2002, President Bush claimed that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons."

• Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC) conducted more than 900 inspections at more than 500 sites in Iraq beginning on November 27, 2002. The inspectors never found that Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons, or that it had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. After a warning from the U.S., UN inspectors left Iraq on March 18, 2003. The U.S. invasion began the next day, March 19, 2003.

• On May 1, 2003, President Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" in Iraq. U.S. forces never discovered any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

• On May 16, 2003, L. Paul Bremer, Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq issued an order to "de-Ba'athify" the Iraqi Army. This put thousands of seriously pissed Sunni military officers on the street with weapons and without jobs, in a tribal society that was 60-70% Shi'a. Bremer claims he was given the order by Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, who worked for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld claims he seldom met with Bremer, whose office in the Pentagon was literally across the hall from Rumsfeld's. President Bush says he didn't know anything about it until it happened. Everyone blamed someone else for the decision.

• Here's what we know now about those ousted Sunni military leaders. They became the leaders in the Sunni Uprising in 2004, and reportedly formed the initial military leadership for ISIS.

That's what we know now about what we knew then. We also know that ignoring what we knew then cost 4,493 American lives, an estimated 500,000 Iraqi lives, 100,000 wounded and $2 trillion in U.S. funds. And while there's no doubt that Saddam Hussein was an unspeakably horrible dictator, the precipitous collapse of his regime has left a large portion of the earth in the flames of ethnic and tribal warfare.

I hope Jeb figures out what he knows now and won't worry too much about hurting his brother's feelings.