I believe that those of us who advocated the war, whether inside or outside government, carry lifelong responsibility for that advocacy. You do not disburden yourself of that responsibility by changing your mind after the fact. What matters to posterity are the things you said and did at the hour of decision. You cannot revoke the irrevocable.
I still think President Bush did right to warn the world of an “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address, a speech to which I made some modest contributions. (I tell the story in a memoir, The Right Man.) Back then, it was controversial to claim that North Korea was proliferating weapons technologies to Iran and Syria, or that Shiite Iran armed and supplied Sunni Hamas. These things are now universally known. But the step from describing the problem to acting on it was large and inadequately considered.
Inside the Bush administration, we thought we were ready to remake Iraq for the better—but we were not. We were ignorant, arrogant, and unprepared, and we unleashed human suffering that did no good for anyone: not for Americans, not for Iraqis, not for the region. Almost two decades later, the damage to America’s standing in the world from the Iraq War has still not been repaired, let alone that war’s economic and human costs to the United States and the Middle East.