Western reaction to Britain's 6,000-page report on the Iraq war reflects the remorse of hindsight, but leaders who played a part in going to war are standing by their decisions.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the president and his staff have not yet read all the way through the lengthy document, but he said President Barack Obama "has been dealing with the consequences of that fateful decision for the entirety of his presidency." He also said it is important that the United States "learn the lessons of those past mistakes."
The decision to go to war was fueled by the belief that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had a store of weapons of mass destruction that could have been used on the United States and its allies. That intelligence assessment was later proved to be mistaken.
A spokesman for former U.S. President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, released a statement Wednesday saying, "Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power."
Expert: Not all alternatives exhausted
Public policy expert William Galston of the Brookings Institution told VOA on Wednesday that he agrees with the report that the international community had not yet exhausted all other options to eliminate the Iraqi threat.
He noted that U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix has maintained that the U.N. sanctions regime "was not as weak as was represented, and was not in eminent danger of crumbling, that the inspections regime was very robust, and that Saddam couldn't have done anything major without being detected or without expelling the international inspectors."
Galston says one of the big questions the report raises is "whether the status quo was as untenable as the international community said it was."
Paul Bremer, who led the occupational authority in Iraq after the invasion in 2003, wrote in Britain's The Guardian that the risks incurred by invasion were far less than those of leaving Saddam in power. He said the 9/11 attacks on the United States intensified pressure to confront international threats.
"After 9/11," he writes, "no American president could dismiss the possibility that a state sponsor would provide devastating weapons to terrorist groups, or use them itself." He notes that Saddam's government had used biological weapons against Iraqi Kurds in 1988.
Bremer concluded his piece with the assertion that "it was the correct, if difficult, decision to remove Saddam Hussein. Had we not done so, today we would likely confront a nuclear armed Iraq facing off against a nuclear armed Iran. Bad as the unrest in the region is today, that would be worse."
Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, now a senior fellow at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, wrote in London's The Telegraph Wednesday that the decision to invade was defensible. He said, "Intelligence can underestimate as well as overestimate a threat. … Saddam lied about his capabilities and about trashing them. Had he stayed in power, he would today have even larger chemical stockpiles."
But those opposing the decision to go to war at the beginning are also sticking to their positions. U.S. foreign policy analyst David Rothkopf of the journal Foreign Affairs tweeted his response to the report Wednesday, saying, "Somehow 'sorry' doesn't seem like enough, does it? OK after a small traffic accident maybe. A catastrophic war, no."
French Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud tweeted, "May I remind everybody how France was abused and denigrated for opposing the war? France was right!" He continued, "Not only a geopolitical disaster, not only distortion and manipulation, but also a human tragedy."
And the Russian Embassy in London uncharacteristically made a joke. Playing on a British slogan from World War II, the embassy posted an image saying, "Keep calm, but I told you so."
And in Washington, the U.S. State Department renewed its travel warning on Iraq. The new warning tells U.S. citizens that travel in Iraq remains "very dangerous."