Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Jeb Bush have each renounced their previous positions on the Iraq War after previously supporting the invasion, an issue that has popped up repeatedly this election cycle. But for President George W. Bush’s favorite (former) Democrat, the decision was still sound.
“I think the world is a lot better off, not withstanding all the problems in Iraq,” former Sen. Joe Lieberman told MSNBC on Monday in an interview. “I think the world is better off and the region is better off and the people of Iraq are better off.”
Lieberman was in New Hampshire to host the Problem Solver Convention with the nonpartisan No Labels, a group he co-chairs with former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Like Huntsman, Lieberman was a former presidential candidate. After running for vice president alongside Democratic nominee Al Gore in 2000, he emerged as President Bush’s top ally on foreign policy in the Senate. After a failed 2004 bid for the White House, Lieberman lost his Democratic primary in Connecticut to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont, but won re-election instead with the newly created “Connecticut For Lieberman” party.
The decision to invade Iraq has drawn more scrutiny this election cycle now that the Islamic State controls large swaths of the country as well as Syria. Jeb Bush, after initially hedging on whether the war was worth the cost, called the invasion a “mistake” in the first Republican debate and Clinton wrote in her 2014 memoirs that she “got it wrong” when she voted to authorize military force in Iraq. The war came up again Monday when a surprising source attacked Clinton over her 2002 vote – the Republican National Committee. The party organization cited her support for the war in a press release as evidence that she has “always been wrong on Iraq,” although they cited its effect on her first presidential run rather than on the region.
Critics argue that the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein set the stage for the rise of groups like ISIS by creating a power vacuum. Lieberman acknowledged “serious mistakes” in Iraq, which he said encouraged sectarian conflict and criticized President Obama for not negotiating a residual force of 10,000 or more troops to monitor the nascent government. He disagreed with the notion it was an error in hindsight.
“I don’t think the invasion and the successful overthrow of [Hussein] was a mistake, because I think he was a ticking time bomb for the Middle East and for us as well,” Lieberman told MSNBC on Monday. “I’m not giving you my long answer to this because I can go on for a long time.”
Lieberman said he was unlikely to endorse in either party’s primary, but said he found it “encouraging” that Clinton was distinguishing her foreign policy from Obama on the campaign trail.