“Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake,” Trump said in February 2016.
“We should have never been in Iraq,” he added. “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew that there were none.”
With the exception of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), none of the other Republican candidates were talking like that. They acknowledged mistakes were made, but none was willing to go after the presidency of George W. Bush so directly.
But on Thursday, Trump threw his skepticism out the window and chose one of the loudest cheerleaders for the 2003 Iraq invasion to be his new national security adviser.
Bolton is a notorious warmonger, calling for the United States to go to war with both Iran and North Korea.
In the run-up to the Iraq War, Bolton was the Bush administration’s top diplomat on arms control, and he pushed the line ― which the country now knows to have been a lie ― that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq,” Bolton said in 2002.
And even though the primary justification for the war was bogus, Bolton has stood firm that he believes the invasion was the right choice.
“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” he said in 2015. “I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces.”
Trump gained momentum in part because of his opposition to Iraq. It wasn’t the primary issue in the race, but it was an important one. After all, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was widely considered to be the front-runner for the nomination. He stumbled early in the campaign, however, when he was unable to give a straight answer about whether he thought his brother’s war in Iraq was a mistake.
Trump capitalized on the war issue. He claimed, over and over, that he was against the war all along ― including before the invasion. It was a way that this real estate developer tried to show that he was better on foreign policy than his rivals were.
But there is zero publicly available evidence that Trump opposed the invasion. Instead, there was a 2002 interview with Howard Stern in which Trump tepidly supported the invasion. Trump’s dislike of the endeavor, at least publicly, came well after the war was underway.
Trump saw an opening ― dissatisfaction with the war and the Bush foreign policy legacy ― and seized on it, even if he did so disingenuously.
Bolton does not need Senate confirmation. But Paul recently wrote an opinion article counseling the president not to choose Bolton, saying it would be an abandonment of his campaign promises.
“Mr. President, you had it right in your campaign that our foreign policy has been a disaster,” Paul wrote. “Arming the neocons with massive power will only pave the way for more of the same.”