To begin with, Trump declared:
I was an opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning—a major difference between me and my opponent. Though I was a private citizen, whose personal opinions on such matters was not sought, I nonetheless publicly expressed my private doubts about the invasion.
By way of proof, Trump cited an interview with FOX’s Neil Cavuto, conducted several months before the invasion, and about which he recalled saying the following lines: “Perhaps [we] shouldn’t be doing it yet,” and “the economy is a much bigger problem.”
Over on the internet, Trump’s contention that he was publicly against the invasion was met with immediate derision. Among the sources cited to the contrary was Politifact, which as recently as June 22nd rated Trump’s campaign statements about his opposition to the war as “false,” and concluded:
We searched newspaper articles and television transcripts from 2002 and 2003 amid the debate leading up to the Iraq War. We didn’t find any examples of Trump unequivocally denouncing the war until a year after the war began.
The site did, however, link to a 2002 interview with Howard Stern, in which Trump was asked whether he supported the looming invasion and responded “Yeah, I guess so.” Surprising exactly no one, Trump did not mention this interview in his speech on Monday.
Buzzfeed, meanwhile, had already posted much of the same Neil Cavuto interview—giving Trump’s quote some context. When read fully, his position on the Iraq invasion circa 2001 seems less averse and more ambivalent, if not plainly disinterested:
Well, I’m starting to think that people are much more focused now on the economy. They are getting a little bit tired of hearing, We’re going in, we’re not going in, the—you know, whatever happened to the days of Douglas MacArthur? He would go and attack. He wouldn’t talk. We have to —you know, it’s sort like either do it, or don’t do it.
As far as the cautionary foresight that Trump had been touting?
This is his full quote from the Cavuto interview:
Well, [the president] 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. He’s—I think he’s doing a very good job.
“Do it or don’t do it,” is not the same thing as “don’t do it.” And, “I think the president is doing a very good job,” is not the same thing as “the president is taking the country to war and I believe it is wrong.”
Apparently impervious to this reality, Trump continued onwards in his storytelling about the events surrounding September 11, listing the many ways in which he had been righter, and wiser, than those in power. If the Iraq invasion had been a mistake, then its aftermath had been a gross miscalculation of epic proportions.
I have long said that we should have kept the oil in Iraq—another area where my judgment has been proven correct … I was saying this constantly and to whoever would listen: Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil, I said—don’t let someone else get it. If they had listened to me then, we would have had the economic benefits of the oil, which I wanted to use to help take care of the wounded soldiers and families of those who died—and thousands of lives would have been saved.
At this moment, Trump was in his element. “Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil” he intoned, pleadingly, as if this was the last shred of economic acumen left in the world. It seemed so simple, after all. Why didn’t we just keep the oil, as Trump had advised?