Ask a different question and you'll get a different answer - that is my take on Mitt Romney's latest alleged "flip-flop". Both the interesting Jon Chait and the invaluable Byron York tells us that Romney has changed his view on the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. Mr. York:
In an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" a few days ago, Mitt Romney was asked whether, given what we know today, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. Romney wouldn't say.
Wednesday morning, in an interview on MSNBC, Romney got the question again. This time, his answer was not only different but definitive: No, the U.S. would not have invaded Iraq had officials known there were no weapons of mass destruction there.
"Well, if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction -- if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in," Romney said.
"You don't think we would have gone in?" asked MSNBC's Chuck Todd.
"Well, of course not," Romney answered. "The president went in based upon intelligence that they had weapons of mass destruction. Had he known that that was not the case, the U.N. would not have put forward resolutions authorizing this type of action. The president would not have been pursuing that course."
Romney's statement on MSNBC is not only a change from what he said on Fox a few days ago. It's also a change from his position during his first run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2007-2008. In a January 2008 GOP debate in Florida, Romney was asked, "Was the war in Iraq a good idea worth the cost in blood and treasure we have spent?" Romney answered: "It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now."
Here is the actual debate question from 2008:
MR. RUSSERT: The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll today, the highest percentage ever of Americans -- six in 10 -- said that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the price we have paid in blood and treasure. Every Democratic -- (applause) -- excuse me. Excuse me, please. The Democratic nominee will go to the country and say the war in Iraq is a bad idea not worth the price in blood and treasure, and we should get out.
I want each of you to take 30 seconds. Will you go to the country, Senator McCain, and say the war was a good idea worth the price in blood and treasure, and we will stay?
And Romney's answer:
MR. ROMNEY: It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now.
It was not well managed in the -- after the takedown of Saddam Hussein and his military. That was done brilliantly, an extraordinary success. But in the years that followed, it was not well -- we were undermanaged, underprepared, underplanned, understaffed, and then we come into the phase that we have now. The plan that President Bush and General Petraeus put together is working. It's changing lives there.
And perhaps most importantly, it's making sure that al Qaeda and no other group like them is becoming a superpower, if you will, in the communities, and having a safe haven from which they launch attacks against us.
It's critical for us. When we think about debating the Democrats, they might want to go back and talk about what happened at the beginning. But the most important issue is what do we do now, and their just run and retreat regardless of the consequences is going to be a real problem for them when they face a debate with a Republican on the stage.
It strikes me that there is a large difference between retrospectively describing the likely play of the political process, as Romney was doing recently, and assessing the fundamental desirability of removing Saddam.