When U.S. President Donald Trump launched his election campaign in 2015, he branded himself as a “non-interventionist” candidate.
Trump claimed he was against the devastating 2003 U.S. military invasion of Iraq led by former President George W. Bush that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Bashing Republican and Democratic Party rivals, he alleged that he was one of few presidential candidates to speak out against the invasion. Throughout the campaign, Trump pointed to his 2004 interview with Esquire where he expressed criticism of the invasion to “prove” that he was against it.
“Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we’re in. I would never have handled it that way,” he told the magazine.
Opponents, however, have raised the fact that Trump had casually expressed support for the invasion as it was being planned a year earlier. When radio host Howard Stern asked him in 2002 if he supported invading Iraq, Trump said, “Yeah, I guess.”
The debate over whether he supported the so-called “Operation Iraqi Freedom” did not come to a close upon getting elected. Republicans continue to claim he didn’t support the invasion while Democrats say he did.
But while mainstream media has remained focused on this debate, they have rarely mentioned his administration’s support for the invasion. In fact, many of his top picks were directly involved in supporting and executing the imperialist attack.
And now that Trump is deploying more U.S. troops to Iraq to fight the Islamic State group, his administration’s position on intervention in the Middle East is becoming more relevant than ever.
Here are just three of Trump’s cabinet picks who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Vice President Mike Pence
U.S. President Donald and Mike Pence | Source: Reuters
As opposed to Trump, Pence’s position on the 2003 invasion of Iraq was clear from the onset.
Comparing former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to German fascist Adolf Hitler, the former Indiana representative called the Baathist leader “a threat to America’s national security and to world stability."
During a 2002 segment of CNN’s “Crossfire,” Pence alleged that Hussein had connections to the al-Qaida militant group.
“I believe that the next logical step in the war on terrorism is to confront Saddam Hussein once and for all,” he said, the Huffington Post reports.
“We’re not beyond a reasonable doubt that Saddam Hussein and his regime has been behind a decades-long war of revenge against the United States of America, using surrogate terrorist organizations to kill Americans and to kill Jews.”
Despite admitting that the U.S. didn’t have proof of Hussein allegedly possessing weapons of mass destruction, Pence continued to call for his violent overthrow. He even admitted to studying former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s anti-Nazi military tactics to gain insight about how to remove Hussein.
Pence, who pushes for continued U.S. involvement in the Middle East, is in talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss increasing joint military cooperation.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson | Source: Reuters
Similar to Trump, Tillerson’s position on the invasion remains clouded by conflicting reports.
Tillerson, who headed multinational oil giant ExxonMobil in 2003, allegedly opposed the Iraq invasion but felt “helpless” to act against it, according to company historian Steve Coll. Some have also pointed out that Tillerson’s company is one of the main supporters of USA Engage, a lobby group that has been critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
These reports, however, fail to mention his financial interest in supporting the Iraq invasion for the sake of company profits.
Months after the invasion, TIllerson cut oil deals with Iraqi Kurdistan and the new central government Baghdad, forcing both to compete against each other. In the course of one year after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, ExxonMobil and the U.S. government purchased 40 percent of Iraq’s oil, Veterans Today senior editor Gordon Duff told PressTV.
These oil purchases were made at “highly discounted prices” that benefitted Tillerson and his company.
Today, Tillerson continues to criticize certain aspects of the invasion, which he has called “well-intended.”
“I think in that regard the decision to go into Iraq and change the leadership in Iraq upon reflection was perhaps not – did not achieve those objectives, we do not have a more stable region in the world and our national security has not been enhanced or is still certainly under threat today,” Tillerson told Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., earlier this year during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation.
Despite these criticisms, Tillerson has not spoken out against the invasion overall. In fact, he and his company at the time benefitted handsomely from it. ExxonMobil and others paid the post-invasion Iraqi government less than $2 a barrel for oil, raking in billions of dollars for the company while leaving the country broke.
Secretary of Defense James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis
General James Mattis | Source: Reuters
Out of all of Trump’s cabinet picks, Mattis is probably the one with the clearest record on the invasion — he helped plan and execute it. Serving as a major general of the U.S. Marine Corps, his divisions were responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis who died from coordinated land and air attacks.
Nothing exemplifies Mattis’ role in the imperialist invasion more than the Mukaradeeb wedding party massacre. On May 19, 2004, over a year after the invasion began, he personally ordered the mass bombing of a wedding ceremony that resulted in the deaths of 42 people. Claiming the wedding was a hoax, and that it was an “enemy safe house,” it only took him 30 seconds to decide to bomb the area.
Following the bombing, the Associated Press released video footage proving it was, in fact, a wedding party. Mattis was then dubbed “Mad Dog” within the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces because of his ruthlessness throughout the invasion.
Sure, like Tillerson, Mattis has gone back and criticized certain elements of the invasion. During a 2015 security conference, he called the timeline of the invasion a “strategic mistake.” He’s also called for increased U.S. diplomacy with Middle Eastern countries as opposed to military conflict.
These talking points, however, do not eliminate his complicity and leadership in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crimes.