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What the Iraq disaster can teach us about Trump

Robert Draper on the enduring relevance of America’s disastrous Iraq invasion.

A US army tank along a road on March 19, 2003, inside the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq.
Scott Nelson/Getty Images

In 2003, America invaded Iraq. The war cost trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and destabilized both the US and the Middle East. And for what? Iraq had no WMDs. Even if they had, they posed no threat to us. Why did we do it? What do we need to learn from it?

That’s the question Robert Draper has spent years trying to answer. In 2007, Draper wrote Dead Certain, a study of the Bush administration with access to the president himself. But there was a hole at the center of that book, and Draper knew it: He still didn’t quite understand what led Bush to invade Iraq. And so he set out to fill the hole. Draper’s To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq is based on interviews with more than 300 people involved in the run-up to the Iraq War, and the stories they tell offer the clearest, most damning, most useful account of that decision to date.

There’s a reason I wanted to have this conversation right now. The Iraq War isn’t just past. It’s present. It’s part of how George W. Bush’s Republican Party fell to Donald Trump. It’s a study in the ways a president led by conviction and dismissive of expertise can warp the federal government (sound familiar?). It’s a reminder that belief can be as dangerous as cynicism. It’s a lesson in the way that, when information is uncertain, assumptions rule all. And for all the differences between Bush and Trump personally, closely studying the Iraq War reveals a key continuity between them, and a reason Republican administrations keep leading to catastrophe.

My full conversation with Draper can be heard on The Ezra Klein Show.