William F. Buckley’s publicly stated views on the Iraq war were indeed nuanced by the standards of the ongoing debate, in which the contestants seek to either defend or discredit the bulk of what President Bush has done since deciding to invade. (See this column, written after he told a newspaper he would have opposed the war if he had known there were no WMD and that Saddam Hussein was not an “extra-territorial menace,” for an example of this nuance.)
Buckley placed a far higher priority on the United States achieving a workable and honorable settlement in Iraq than many on the antiwar left (and some on the antiwar right). He supported the surge. He certainly didn’t shed any tears over Saddam’s ouster. And he continued to support Republicans who were unabashedly pro-war. But I think it is also fair to say that he came to view that Iraq project with a great deal of skepticism, he was reading and approvingly quoting antiwar conservatives, and while unwilling to retroactively condemn the invasion he no longer viewed it as necessary given the facts as we now know them. Of more enduring significance, Buckley was not a proponent of the “rogue state rollback” idea that is a cornerstone of some conservatives’ foreign policy.
John Kerry made “nuance” a dirty word, especially as it pertains to Iraq. It shouldn’t be.