In what was a remarkable admission that contradicted - to a large extent - the past statements from his onetime boss, former Bush strategist Karl Rove said on Tuesday evening that had the President known Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, the United States would not have gone to war.
"In the aftermath of 9/11 the concern was about a tyrant accused of enormous human rights abuses," but who also possessed weapons of mass destruction, said Rove. "Absent that, I suspect that the administration's course of action would have been to work to find more creative ways to constrain him like in the 90s."
The remarks, delivered at a debate in New York on Bush's legacy, came amidst a vigorous defense by Rove on behalf of the war's purpose and outcome. At no point was it mentioned that the administration -- specifically Vice President Dick Cheney -- reportedly advanced faulty or poorly sourced information to fit the conclusion that Iraq possessed WMD, or that intelligence reports from the run-up to the war suggested that such a case was flimsy. Later in the event, Rove argued that Saddam Hussein was supporting terrorism, poised a grave threat to the region, and had systematically duped the international community into assuming he was armed.
"He told his interrogators it made him look big in the neighborhood," said Rove, before noting all of the Democratic officials who believed as much.
As such, Rove argued, the Bush administration was justified in the course it chose and the world better off for its actions.
And yet, his remarks stand in contrast to those offered by the president himself, both recently and in the past. In an interview that aired last night with ABC's Charlie Gibson, Bush declared that the greatest regret of his presidency was "the intelligence failure in Iraq." But he claimed it was "hard... to speculate" as to whether or not he would make the same decision to invade with the correct information.
Back in December 2005, however, Bush did just that, declaring the WMD issue effectively irrelevant when he said that, "knowing what I know today, I would have still made that decision."
"So, if you had had this -- if the weapons had been out of the equation because the intelligence did not conclude that he had them, it was still the right call?" Fox News' Brit Hume asked.
"Absolutely," replied Bush.
On Tuesday night, Rove wasn't the only Iraq war protagonist indulging in a bit of retrospection. Bill Kristol, of the Weekly Standard and Project for a New American Century fame, said he agreed with the sentiment that "the President would not in fact have gone to war if he had known what seems to be the case, that Saddam did not have functioning weapons programs at the time."
At the same time, Kristol too, argued that the decision to invade was ultimately correct, asserting that with Hussein still in power, radical groups would be more empowered, and radicalism would be resurgent far more than it is today.