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Here’s What the Presidential Candidates Said About the Iraq War at Their First Debate

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Back In 2002, former President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, setting off a lengthy war that cost thousands of lives. We now know that that much of the evidence Bush used to justify the war was inaccurate, according to CBS News. He and the rest of the American government believed at the time that Iraq had direct ties to terrorist organizations linked to 9/11, and that Saddam Hussein had secret weapons of mass destruction. This has since proven to be false, and the war remains a contentious issue in politics.

Though the war began over a decade ago, it remains a major topic of conversation and was discussed at the first presidential debate of 2016.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about the Iraq War at their first debate on Monday:

Hillary Clinton

Secretary Clinton has faced major backlash for voting for the Iraq War when she was a Senator from New York in 2002. “I made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple. And I have written about it in my book (Hard Choices), I have talked about it in the past,” Clinton said in 2015, according to Politico. But she actually didn't have to speak much about this decision on Monday, as much of the conversation revolved around whether or not Trump supported the invasion (hint—he did).

And though Trump was quick to criticize her actions in Iraq as Secretary of State, Clinton talked more broadly about her plans to defeat ISIS in response to a question from moderator Lester Holt on how the candidates plan to keep Americans safe.

"We're making progress. Our military is assisting in Iraq. And we're hoping that within the year we'll be able to push ISIS out of Iraq and then, you know, really squeeze them in Syria. But we have to be cognizant of the fact that they've had foreign fighters coming to volunteer for them, foreign money, foreign weapons, so we have to make this the top priority," she said.

Donald Trump

Shortly before Congress voted on the Iraq War, Donald Trump expressed support for the decision to invade. Though he maintains that he was always against the war, he did not say so publicly until 2004, according to CNN. As Clinton brought up the fact that he was for the war in the first debate, Trump spoke over her, repeatedly telling her that she was wrong.

Trump also accused Secretary Clinton and President Obama of essentially creating the terrorist group ISIS due to their decision to leave Iraq in 2011. But President Bush actually signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to leave the country on the designated date in 2011, as attempts to negotiate a longer stay were unsuccessful, according to TIME magazine.

Clinton was quick to dismiss this claim as well. "But the larger point—and he says this constantly—is George W. Bush made the agreement about when American troops would leave Iraq, not Barack Obama. And the only way that American troops could have stayed in Iraq is to get an agreement from the then-Iraqi government that would have protected our troops, and the Iraqi government would not give that," she said.

Lester Holt fact-checked Trump and reminded him of his 2002 support for the Iraq War shortly after the businessman had finished his response to Clinton’s answer:

HOLT: Mr. Trump, a lot of these are judgment questions. You had supported the war in Iraq before the invasion. What makes your...

TRUMP: I did not support the war in Iraq.

HOLT: In 2002...

TRUMP: That is a mainstream media nonsense put out by her, because she—frankly, I think the best person in her campaign is mainstream media.

A full annotated transcript of the debate can be found at The Washington Post.


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