Two days before the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a conflict that resulted in the deaths of 4,488 U.S. soldiers and thousands of civilians, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed her support for the war and the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein.
“I would have overthrown Saddam Hussein again,” Rice said to a packed house at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium on Monday.
The war began March 20, 2003, following the United States’ and United Kingdom’s allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to international security. A survey conducted later by the Iraq Survey Group found Iraq did not possess WMDs at the time of invasion, but intended to resume its weapons programs if the United Nations lifted its sanctions.
As National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush and later Secretary of State, Rice oversaw the war effort with other Cabinet officials including her predecessor Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Part of her task included engaging in a media campaign to advocate the need for war with Iraq.
“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But, we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” Rice told CNN in a 2003 interview.
The conflict formally ended on Dec. 15, 2011, and remaining U.S. troops left the country three days later.
Rice said Monday that Hussein was a “cancer in the Middle East” that needed to be removed from the region, despite the lack of discovered WMDs and the deaths that resulted from the conflict.
“It is absolutely the case that the loss of lives will never be brought back and any of us who had a part in that decision will have to live with the lost and maimed lives,” Rice said. “But, nothing of value ever comes without sacrifice and I believe that Iraq has a chance. It may not make it, but it has a chance to be a state that will not seek weapons of mass destruction, will not invade its neighbors, will be a friend of the United States and will have democratic institutions that may, over time, mature.”
Rice said if given the opportunity, the administration would have sought to understand tribal relations more thoroughly earlier and would have begun reconstruction from the country’s borders and worked inward toward Baghdad, not vice versa.
Rice may not have had the hypothetical chance if a slim majority of Americans had their way. A Gallup poll released Monday showed 53 percent of Americans think the United States “made a mistake” by invading Iraq. That amount is down from the record 63 percent that opposed the war in 2008.
At the war’s outset, 75 percent of Americans supported the war and 23 percent did not.
Bobby Inman, Lyndon B. Johnson Centennial Chair in National Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that history would view the conflict as “one of the great fiascos.”
Unlike its approach toward Germany and Japan after World War II, the United States did not properly plan for how it would reconstruct Iraq’s government and economy after toppling Hussein’s government in a way that would transform the country into a successful democracy, Inman said.
"When you do not look at the historical record and understand it, you are destined to make big mistakes," Inman said.