Bernie Sanders Asked Bill Kristol to Apologize for Pushing the Iraq War. Guess What Happened Next.

As the Iraq War began in 2003, Kristol, a key backer, declared that he’d be “happy to be held to a moral standard” if he was wrong. He was lying.

William Kristol at Politicon at Pasadena Convention Center on July 30, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Politicon)
Pundit Bill Kristol at Politicon in Pasadena, Calif., on July 30, 2017. Photo: John Sciulli/Getty Images for Politicon

On Memorial Day weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., got into an online tussle about the Iraq War with Bill Kristol.

No one outside of the inner circle of the George W. Bush administration bears greater responsibility for the war than Kristol. He co-founded a think tank whose purpose was to make the case for war, wrote a book and dozens of articles calling for an invasion, and appeared constantly on TV explaining why it had to happen.

After Kristol attacked Sanders’s foreign policy acumen, Sanders asked him, “Have you apologized to the nation for your foolish advocacy of the Iraq war?” Here’s what Kristol said:

Kristol’s response is particularly striking because on March 28, 2003, just 10 days after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, he appeared on C-SPAN and made a great show of being “happy to be held to a moral standard” if his predictions about the war were wrong. Specifically, Kristol said, the grounds for war would be grievously weakened if Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction; or Iraqis did not treat the U.S. as a liberating force; or the U.S. did not leave behind a democratic government.

Of course, none of those things happened. Kristol’s entire performance that day was a masterpiece of prevarication and bad faith. But 16 years later, as seen in edited highlights below, his most egregious lie is his pretense that he would ever be willing to be held accountable for his actions.

I would be shocked if we don’t find weapons of mass destruction, and I think that is one of the main rationales for the war. … I expect us to find them and if we don’t find them, that would undercut in part the rationale for the war. … Obviously that would be a great blow if Saddam has not been developing weapons of mass destruction. …

I would agree that if after the war, we aren’t treated more or less as a liberating force, then that would also be a rebuke to the Bush administration and to those of us who counseled that this war was just and necessary. I accept the possibility that I’m wrong. …

We should follow through and be serious about helping the Iraqi people rebuild their country and about helping promote a decent and democratic government in Iraq. It would be a less morally satisfying and fully defensible war if we don’t follow through as we should. …

I’m happy to be held to a moral standard. I ask that it be a serious moral standard.

The death toll of the Iraq War is incalculable, both because the U.S. doesn’t care enough to count Iraqi deaths and because the dying isn’t over. The consequences of the war will reverberate throughout the Mideast and the world for the rest of our lives. What we can say is that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed.

We measure the number of American military dead more precisely: Almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq. The families of many of them were surely visiting their graves this weekend. All you need to know about Bill Kristol is that he spent that time proclaiming that we should not expect him to apologize for cajoling us into a war that created so many tombstones.

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