What They Said: America's Political Legacy on Iraq

President George W. Bush's speech onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare combat operations over in Iraq. Reuters

As Iraq descends further into sectarian conflict and chaos, the world is witnessing what many view as a fundamental failure of American foreign policy in the region, one pressed by two successive administrations as well as key allies such as the United Kingdom.

It was George W. Bush who essentially argued that the United States needed to intervene in Iraq and end the rule of the dictator Saddam Hussein lest the country become a nesting ground for terrorists who could tap the weapons of mass destruction supposedly on hand. His administration joined with his British counterpart Tony Blair to sell the war on grounds of since-debunked links between Saddam and al Qaeda along with claims about his ultimately nonexistent stocks of WMD. Yet 11 years after Bush began the war, vast swaths of Iraq are now in the hands of ISIS, a Sunni jihadist sect disdained by no less than al Qaeda as excessively violent and dogmatic.

Barack Obama captured the White House in large part on the strength of his credentials as the candidate who had consistently opposed the Iraq war from its inception -- unlike Hillary Rodham Clinton. When he engineered the pullout of American troops in 2011, Obama offered assurances that the Iraqi government was strong enough to defend itself. The merits of that assertion crumbled profoundly in recent days as a small group of ISIS fighters swept across much of northern Iraq: The Iraqi troops trained by the United States stripped off their uniforms and fled, leaving their U.S.-made equipment and arms to the enemy.

The story of the American project in Iraq now appears to be ending in dismal failure. Along the way, scores of powerful officials have offered assurances that victory was attainable and even imminent. Here are a sampling of quotes that stand out:

1. "Liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk." –  Kenneth Adelman, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, Feb. 13, 2002

2. “The time has come for decisive action to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. … Saddam Hussein’s regime is a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally Israel.” Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., addressing the U.S. Senate, Sept. 12, 2002

3. “If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.  Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well, effects American security.” – Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., addressing the U.S. Senate, Oct. 10, 2002

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