Recently Donald Trump broke with the Republican convention and roiled the party base by boldly stating "You call it whatever you want. I want to tell you. They [the Bush administration] lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]; there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction." He also stated "We spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives. Obviously, it was a mistake. George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East."
This typically brash Trump statement went against an unwritten rule in the Republican establishment which states that it is taboo to bring up the subject of the WMDs that were not found after the invasion and occupation of secular-Baathist Iraq (all of the strands of intelligence, from Iraqi killer drones to mobile weapons labs to nuclear centrifuges fell apart after the occupation of the country and "exploitation" of its bases and facilities).
If you go to Google "images" and try finding online pictures of U.S. reconnaissance and exploitation troops uncovering the much-hyped Iraqi WMDs -- like killer drones that were said to be able to strike American mainland or mobile weapons labs -- there are none available. All that was found by the U.S. Army Joint Captured Material Exploitation Group teams were some old, corroded, un-useable, "demilitarized" artillery shells rotting in the desert from the 1980s, a far cry from the active, threatening chemical, biological and even nuclear(!) WMD program we were repeatedly told by Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice and Rumsfeld that Iraq possessed.
Trump was of course absolutely correct in his bold, in your face statement. But try telling that to the average Republican voter, the majority of whom (63 percent according to a Dartmouth College poll) believe that WMDs were found in Iraq.
It seems the Republican base has a hard time accepting the fact that their president led them into a disastrous war that took the lives of almost 4,500 brave American men and women who thought they were defending their country from WMDs (i.e. fifty percent more than were killed by Al Qaeda on 9/11) and cost three trillion dollars and spawned ISIS (where there had previously been a secular Baathist government with no WMDs) based on cooked up intel.
But the very leaders who sold them the goods on Iraq's non-existent weapons program have (with the exception of Cheney) come out and acknowledged that there were no WMDs. Bush, like Powell before him, ultimately acknowledged that the search for WMDs had ended in failure as reported in his own memoir Decision Points. Bush wrote, "No one was more shocked and angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do." When discussing the lack of WMDs, Bush would later state, "It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong." In an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz, Bush would once again confirm the lack of WMDs in Iraq:
Raddatz: Just let me go back because you brought this up. You said Saddam Hussein posed a threat in the post-9/11 world. They didn't find weapons of mass destruction.
Bush: That's true. Everybody thought they had them.
On yet another occasion, Bush said "Now, look, I didn't -- part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction."
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who made numerous declarations on the existence of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, also acknowledged making at least one "misstatement" about WMDs. He then stated, "It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there." When asked by the BBC about the lack of WMDs in Iraq, Rumsfeld would later say, "Why the intelligence proved wrong, I'm not in a position to say."
In his memoir, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld specifically mentioned the lack of WMD stockpiles in Iraq and said "Saddam Hussein didn't have ready stockpiles of WMD our intelligence community believed we would uncover. The shift in emphasis suggested that Iraq's intentions and capability for building WMD had somehow not been threatening. Many Americans and others around the world accordingly came to believe the war was unnecessary." (page 712)
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice similarly acknowledged, "What we have is evidence that there are differences between what we knew going in and what we found on the ground." Secretary of State Colin Powell would also state, "Of course I regret that a lot of it [the evidence] turned out be wrong."
To compound matters, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) created by President Bush to scour post-invasion Iraq and find hidden WMDs ultimately reported the following definitive findings to the U.S. government once their search was complete:
"Saddam Hussein ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program."
"In practical terms, with the destruction of the Al Hakam facility, Iraq abandoned its ambition to obtain advanced BW [biological warfare] weapons quickly. ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes."
"While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter."
What does all of this mean for the majority of Republicans who still cling to the stated rationale/pretext for invading and dismantling Baathist-Socialist Iraq? It would seem to indicate that they have been grasping onto straws and they should, like the Democrats who previously acknowledged that President Bill Clinton lied to them about the Lewinsky affair, acknowledge the truth, just as the very leaders who deceived them in the first place have belatedly done.
Professor Brian Glyn Williams worked for the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in Afghanistan and is author of The Last Warlord. The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior who Led U.S. Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime.