Did Donald Trump really oppose the Iraq War from the start?

By news.com.au, Gavin Fernando

Time and time again, Donald Trump has made it clear that he opposed the US invasion of Iraq from the beginning.

Just a couple of weeks ago, in a major foreign policy speech, he said: "I was totally against the war in Iraq, saying for many years that it would destabilise the Middle East."

He has criticised Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton for voting in favour of an invasion in 2002, which gave George W. Bush the authority to make war.

"I was against the war in Iraq," he said on Face The Nation earlier this year. "I wasn't a politician, but I was against the war in Iraq. She voted for the war in Iraq."

It's a key part of his presidential campaign; one that implies sound judgment and precise foresight in a situation where, at the time, most people were expressing a different view.

In a televised Republican Primary Debate last September, he said: "I'm the only person on this dais - the only person - that fought very, very hard against us ... going into Iraq.

"In fact, a delegation was sent to my office to see me because I was so vocal about it. I'm a very militaristic person, but you have to know when to use the military. I'm the only person up here that fought against going into Iraq."

But is there actually any evidence of him publicly protesting the invasion before it began?

A Howard Stern interview Trump gave in 2002, on the first anniversary of September 11, suggests otherwise.

In the audio - which was unearthed by Buzzfeed - Stern asks him for his view outright.

"Are you for invading Iraq?"

"Yeah, I guess so," replied Trump. "I wish the first time it was done correctly."

It may not have been a vehement admission, but certainly contradicts his reflection on the matter now.

A few days ago, Fox News anchor Bret Baier asked him to clarify this.

"I just want to clear this up," said Baier. "There's audio of you...'

Trump interjects: "No there isn't. No there isn't."

"There's a Buzzfeed piece...'

"Let me just say, yeah, I'm talking to Howard Stern weeks before, first time anybody had ever asked - and don't forget, I was a civilian.

"Whenever anyone asked me about the war, I said very weakly, 'Well, blah blah blah, yes, I guess."

But then - as Baier points out - Trump described the war as a tremendous military success on day one. His response to this was similarly a little obscure.

"What I said, what I said is it was a success because they thought it was a success but before that I said they shouldn't go in."

Before what? According to PolitiFact, there was no evidence of Donald Trump voicing his opposition to the war before it started.

In fact, he didn't really begin to take a more tough, direct stance against it until 2004, more than a year later.

As far back as 2000, in his book The America We Deserve, Trump speculated on whether Iraq did indeed have nuclear weapons. He said: "We still don't know what Iraq is up to or whether it has the material to build nuclear weapons. I'm no warmonger.

"But the fact is, if we decide a strike against Iraq is necessary, it is madness not to carry the mission to its conclusion. When we don't, we have the worst of all worlds: Iraq remains a threat, and now has more incentive than ever to attack us."

In January of 2003, just a few months before the invasion was under way, Trump was asked whether the economy or the Iraq war should take greater priority for President George W. Bush.

He said: "Well, he has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps, because perhaps shouldn't be doing it yet, and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations, you know. He's under a lot of pressure. I think he's doing a very good job. But, of course, if you look at the polls, a lot of people are getting a little tired. I think the Iraqi situation is a problem. And I think the economy is a much bigger problem as far as the president is concerned."

A week after the war began, The Washington Post reported him saying "the war's a mess".

Yet he told Fox News' Neil Cavuto that it "looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint."

He added: "I think Wall Street's just gonna go up like a rocket, even beyond, and it's gonna continue and, you know, we have a strong and powerful country and let's hope it all works out."

In February this year, in an interview with Fox News, Trump referred to an interview he did in 2003 with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough.

"I was saying we shouldn't be in Iraq. We shouldn't go into Iraq. Get the hell out of Iraq, and we certainly should have."

But he wasn't quite so direct in the 2003 interview cited. Rather, he said: "It wasn't a mistake to fight terrorism and fight it hard, and I guess maybe if I had to do it, I would have fought terrorism but not necessarily Iraq."

In fact, it wasn't until 2004 that Trump really started speaking out against it.

He spoke to Stern again in April that year, where he directly stated: "Iraq is a terrible mistake."

In an interview with Esquire, in August 2004, he was more direct and vocal. "What was the purpose of this whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who've been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!"

No one is disputing these points, but this was more than a year after the war began.

Today, he seems to be conflating how he (and the growing public) felt about the war in hindsight, with how he felt before it began.

In reality, the evidence - and lack thereof - suggests otherwise.

- news.com.au

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