Karl Rove calls the invasion of Iraq "the most consequential decision" of former President George Bush's two terms, and Bush's former political adviser devotes a chunk of his new memoir to defending it.
In the nearly 600-page book, "Courage and Consequence," Rove takes two chapters to attack the belief that the Bush administration exaggerated the case for the invasion of Iraq. One attacks former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who first argued in July 2003 that the Bush administration had "twisted" the evidence that Iraq was re-arming, and a second, titled "Bush Was Right on Iraq," criticizes Democrats who followed suit.
Rove writes the major argument that underpinned the U.S.-led invasion - concerns that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's government was concealing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and a nuclear bomb program - was based on "an overwhelming international and domestic consensus" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
"The charge that Bush lied was itself a lie," Rove says. But he says he and the White House failed to mount a sufficient response to an accusation that polls show a majority of Americans came to believe.
"I know how carefully people on both sides of the aisle examined this information and examined these conclusions, because this was a question of war or peace. This was a question of whether our country was going to go to war and send our military, our brave men and women, into combat, and this is not a decision that anyone in our government, Democrat or Republican, takes lightly," Rove told CNN's "The Situation Room."
Fact Check: Did an 'overwhelming' consensus on Iraq's weapons exist before the invasion?
- The consensus was hardly overwhelming internationally. While Britain strongly supported war and called the evidence "beyond doubt," France, Germany and Russia issued joint statement in February 2003 declaring that, "While suspicions remain, no evidence has been given that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction or capabilities in this field."
- In March 2003, less than two weeks before the invasion, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix specifically addressed one of the most dramatic U.S. allegations: that Iraq was using mobile biological weapons laboratories. "No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found," Blix said.
- Nor was the consensus completely solid within U.S. intelligence, as investigations since the invasion concluded. The 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that summarized most of the U.S. intelligence on Iraq included conclusions that were "overstated or not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting," the Senate Intelligence Committee reported in 2004. The State Department's intelligence bureau disagreed that Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons program, and the Department of Energy disputed a highly publicized piece of evidence top administration officials were citing as evidence of that.
- Rove correctly points out that several leading Democrats echoed the
Bush administration's arguments for the invasion, including some lawmakers who later alleged they had been misled. But Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against authorizing the invasion by a 2-to-1 margin, and 21 of the 50 Democrats then in the Senate opposed it as well.
- And while the Bush administration may not have launched an "all-hands-on-deck" counterattack, as Rove says it should have, one attempt at blunting the allegation triggered another problem. White House adviser Lewis
"Scooter" Libby "undertook vigorous efforts to rebut this attack" in the following week, according to the prosecutors who ultimately convicted him of perjury, obstructing justice and lying to investigators probing the exposure of former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, former Ambassador Wilson's wife.
Libby was not charged with leaking the name, only with trying to obstruct the subsequent investigation. His 30-month sentence was commuted by Bush before he reported to prison.
- Rove appeared before the CIA leak grand jury five times, but was never charged. The disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's role with the CIA ultimately was traced to then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who also did not face charges.
In defending his old boss, Rove is stretching the consensus that existed at the time and ignores much of what has come to light since. And the administration didn't take the allegation of dishonesty lying down, as the evidence presented in the Libby case showed.
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