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“Gravely Wrong And Unapologetic”: Neoconservatives; That Iraq Question Roiling The GOP Field Is Stupid

The Iraq hypotheticals currently ensnaring the Republican Party’s presidential candidates are “asinine” and the worst of “gotcha journalism,” argue some of the neoconservative thinkers who advocated most aggressively for the 2003 invasion.

Questioning whether the United States should have gone to war in Iraq is pointless, they say, because decision-makers never get to make future decisions with the benefit of hindsight.

“Nobody lives life backwards,” said Eliot Cohen, a founding member of the Project for a New American Century and later a top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “At the time, reasonable people could disagree over whether to go to war in Iraq. It’s really a silly hypothetical, and the people who ask it should know better. You don’t get to relive history that way.”

“It reflects more on the media’s obsession with a new litmus test,” said Danielle Pletka, the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “One isn’t president or commander in chief in hindsight.”

The United States continues to suffer the consequences of the Iraq war: thousands of American lives lost at a cost of billions of dollars. Assessments after the initial invasion found that the massive weapons of mass destruction program the Bush administration used as one of the primary reasons to go to war simply didn’t exist.

And in the instability that followed the U.S. withdrawal from the country, another deadly terrorist group emerged: the so-called Islamic State, which has beheaded Americans and threatens U.S. allies in the region.

So the price of invasion has certainly been very steep, and worth assessing.

The press has savaged Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio over the past week for saying both that the invasion of Iraq was the right decision and that they would not have invaded Iraq with the benefit of current knowledge—that intelligence assessments of Iraq’s WMD program were wildly incorrect.

In the years after the invasion of Iraq, neoconservatives have expressed few regrets about their efforts to encourage the toppling of Saddam Hussein via invasion.

Bill Kristol, the founder and editor of the hawkish Weekly Standard, said that even knowing what we know now, he would have still pushed for an invasion.

“Then would have surged troops much earlier,” he said, “and would not have thrown it all away after the war was effectively won at the end of 2008.”

But Kristol doesn’t hold it against Republicans like Bush and Rubio for thinking differently: “Can’t blame candidates for not wanting to spend time and effort taking on the politically correct No position,” he said.

And those who disagree with The Weekly Standard’s editor, one of the most ardent advocates of the invasion, shouldn’t expect an apology. In an email to The Daily Beast, Kristol signed off:



The Iraq question, first asked by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly of Jeb Bush, should not have been unexpected. Nor was it inconsequential: The heart of the question is whether, absent the threat of a major Iraqi WMD program, the invasion of Iraq was still wise.

But both Cohen and Pletka said the structure of the question pointed to something deeper about American press coverage of American politicians—the desire to catch a politician off guard in a moment of uncertainty rather than trying to achieve a deeper understanding of where candidates stand on various issues and how they would react in a crisis.

“I think it’s an asinine question that says more about the politicization of debate than it does about the candidates themselves,” Pletka said.

Cohen, who wrote his first book in 1978 and joined the policy planning staff of the office of the secretary of defense in 1990, called the “gotcha journalism” view of foreign policy poisonous and counterproductive—and said it is more prevalent now than in previous years.

“In past eras in the United States, people would have serious conversations about foreign policy…which is going to be necessary, because the world is now such a complicated place,” Cohen said. “People are going to [need] the patience to examine each of the candidates on both sides and get a sense of where they stand.”

The press, he said, should focus on building up a “composite portrait” of presidential candidates and their foreign policy views on China and on Iran.

Added Pletka, “Wouldn’t you rather hear what they would do now about Iraq? Now that’s a harder question.”

“Anyone in their right mind hasn’t been happy if you look at Iraq—you certainly have to ask yourself [about] the return that we got for the investment in blood and treasure…People should ask themselves what are the lessons to be learned from the whole Iraqi experience,” Cohen said.

While he dismissed the current GOP debate as a “silly hypothetical,” Cohen did say revisiting the Iraq War is necessary. He identified three areas presidential candidates should be questioned about on Iraq: What the war taught us about America’s ability to acquire intelligence on weapons of mass destruction programs; the ability of the U.S. government to adapt to challenges such as counterinsurgency and building up a foreign military, and how to disengage properly after an invasion.


By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, May 20, 2015


May 22, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Media, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Errors And Lies”: The Iraq War Wasn’t An Innocent Mistake; The Bush Administration Wanted A War

Surprise! It turns out that there’s something to be said for having the brother of a failed president make his own run for the White House. Thanks to Jeb Bush, we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.

But many influential people — not just Mr. Bush — would prefer that we not have that discussion. There’s a palpable sense right now of the political and media elite trying to draw a line under the subject. Yes, the narrative goes, we now know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on.

Well, let’s not — because that’s a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it’s false. The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.

The fraudulence of the case for war was actually obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games — the talk about W.M.D that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11.

And at this point we have plenty of evidence to confirm everything the war’s opponents were saying. We now know, for example, that on 9/11 itself — literally before the dust had settled — Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, was already plotting war against a regime that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. “Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] …sweep it all up things related and not”; so read notes taken by Mr. Rumsfeld’s aide.

This was, in short, a war the White House wanted, and all of the supposed mistakes that, as Jeb puts it, “were made” by someone unnamed actually flowed from this underlying desire. Did the intelligence agencies wrongly conclude that Iraq had chemical weapons and a nuclear program? That’s because they were under intense pressure to justify the war. Did prewar assessments vastly understate the difficulty and cost of occupation? That’s because the war party didn’t want to hear anything that might raise doubts about the rush to invade. Indeed, the Army’s chief of staff was effectively fired for questioning claims that the occupation phase would be cheap and easy.

Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.

Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: We were lied into war.

Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn’t say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.

On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn’t get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.

But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took us into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty individuals accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign-policy team, led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.

So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a national point of view the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 18, 2015

May 19, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Damn Ebenezer Cheney!”: The Ghost Of Christmas Past

All the hullaballoo over the United States government’s’ use of torture as an officially-sanctioned intelligence gathering process was bad enough. It brought back memories of a shameful period in American history. But when Dick Cheney reappeared to defend the practice of torture, it was the worst specter of Christmas past. He managed to rekindle one of my few regrets in nine years working on the Hill. Damn Ebenezer Cheney!

My great remorse from that period is that a Democratic House majority passed on an opportunity for a little justice. In late 2008, after the election of Barack Obama but before his inauguration, a group of Democratic staffers quietly drafted a policy memo trying to convince our bosses to introduce a Motion of Censure against President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and assorted others in the Bush Administration for their decision to invade Iraq. That decision cost the lives of 4,500 Americans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and more than $1.5 trillion dollars. It threw the Middle East into what may be perpetual chaos. And, all of it was predicated on lies.

We tried to sell the idea of a Resolution of Censure — far short of impeachment and requiring only a majority vote in the House, but it never picked up any steam. Everyone, we were told, had pretty much turned the corner. Congress was occupied with getting ready for a new president and a new session. America was just plain “Bushed” by the events of the last Administration and simply wanted them all gone. Nothing happened.

So, as our memo predicted, “People who campaigned on accountability and said, ‘judge us by our performance,’ walked away from the most corrupt, inept, secretive and ideologically-driven White House in American history without ever once being held accountable.”

And only much later did it occur to me that we should have left President Bush out of it and pushed for the censure of the Cardinal Richelieu of the administration, Richard B. Cheney. No-one on earth could have had a problem with that. Cheney was so mean, even his friends didn’t like him.

The disappointment had faded a bit over time, but then the Dark Eminence of Iraq re-emerged, completely unrepentant, to defend the use of torture — even deny that waterboarding, starvation and anal feeding were torture, although the rest of the world is pretty clear about such practices. And, even though the United States prosecuted Japanese army officers for using identical tactics on U.S. military prisoners in the Philippines during World War II.

Cheney continues to insist that the U.S. gained valuable information from the use of torture, even though genuine intelligence professionals have revealed that any usable intel came before the waterboarding began. He continues to claim that waterboarding isn’t actually torture because the White House had a memo from its Attorney General’s Office attesting that whatever they wanted to do was pretty much okay. That memo, of course, was totally repudiated long ago.

But a stubborn refusal to admit any mistakes in judgment isn’t exactly new for Dick Cheney. He still insists that Saddam Hussein’s was in the process of developing WMD, including nuclear weapons, though the accusation has been thoroughly and authoritatively debunked. He still claims some sort of alliance existed between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda without the slightest indication or evidence, and despite the fact that a pact between a Sunni Muslim dictator and a stateless Wahhabi jihadist organization would have defied all logic.

The saving grace is history. When the history of the Bush Administration is finally written, Cheney won’t be allowed to just sit and growl at anyone who questions anything he did or said. History will not be intimidated. History may tell us whether George W. Bush was complicit in some of the most tragic, ill-advised and downright shameful decisions of his administration, or simply oblivious. But it will be very clear about the role of Dick Cheney.

Merry Christmas, Dick.


By: David Helfert, Professor of Political Communication, Johns Hopkins University; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 22, 2014

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Christmas, Dick Cheney | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enhanced Interviewing”: Five Questions Chuck Todd Should Ask Dick Cheney On Sunday

This Sunday, Dick Cheney will be interviewed by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. If the former vice president’s previous appearances on that program and others are any indication, he will likely say things that are untrue, and say them with that quiet yet firm Cheneyesque confidence that makes it clear that anyone who disagrees with him is either a fool or a traitor, if not both.

So I thought it would be worthwhile to offer Todd some suggestions on questions he might ask Cheney, in order to elicit the most revealing answers as we have this vital debate on our recent past.

You have long insisted that techniques like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation are not torture. In order to come to that conclusion, you must have a definition of torture that those techniques do not meet. So what is your definition of torture?

This may seem like a matter of semantics, but it is an absolutely central question to this entire debate, and one that neither Cheney nor any of the other Bush administration defenders of the torture program have ever answered. When asked, Cheney has always simply insisted that we didn’t torture, and that the “enhanced” techniques we used aren’t torture Why? Because they aren’t. Unlike most sane Americans, I’ve actually read Cheney’s turgid memoir, “In My Time,” and there too he simply states flatly that “The program was safe, legal, and effective,” but not torture.

There is a common definition of torture — the infliction of extreme physical or mental suffering in order to obtain information or a confession — that is reflected in U.S. law, the UN Convention Against Torture, and in the minds of pretty much everyone around the world. Under no reasonable interpretation of the term would something like stress positions, which are designed to produce excruciating pain and which have been used as a torture technique for centuries, not qualify. But Cheney doesn’t agree. So he really ought to tell us what he thinks does constitute torture.

We’ll have a new president in two years. Would you advise him or her to restart the torture program?

Two days after taking office in 2009, Barack Obama signed an executive order banning the use of cruel and degrading techniques, and declaring that all U.S. personnel, whether in the CIA or any other agency, would have to abide by the interrogation guidelines set out in the Army Field Manual. It also revoked a 2007 order signed by President Bush, which had declared that “members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces” were outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

What I asked yesterday applies here: Since Cheney is an enthusiastic defender of the torture program in place during the Bush years, and since there are still terrorists in the world, one might presume that he believes not only that it was right to torture suspects in the past, but that we should continue to torture suspects in the future. He should have the chance to make clear whether that is in fact what he believes, and what his advice to the next president would be.

If things like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation are “safe, legal, and effective,” but are not torture, would you recommend that other countries also use them on prisoners they hold?

Some liberals have noted that Cheney’s implicit position is that these techniques are not torture if we perform them, but would be torture if someone else did. Since this is obviously not something anyone would admit to believing, Cheney should be asked directly if he thinks other countries should also start using these techniques. That would apply to our allies, but it could also apply to less friendly countries like China or Russia. And of course, the natural follow-up is: If an American is captured in some conflict and is subjected to things like waterboarding and stress positions, would Cheney tell that person that not only hadn’t he been tortured, but he had been treated in a safe and legal manner?

During the run-up to the Iraq War and in its early days, you told the American people many things that were false. I know you still believe that all things considered, the war was the right thing to do. But do you think that if you and other members of the Bush administration had argued only from what you actually knew to be true, the public would have supported the war?

The Iraq War’s defenders furiously resist the idea that it was sold on false premises. Some of the things administration representatives said, like “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” were misleading bits of fear-mongering, but were technically hypothetical. However, many of the other things they said were provably false. That’s why, if and when Todd asks such a question, he should have some specifics at hand to keep Cheney from simply asserting that it was all a matter of interpretation and our judgment based on what we thought at the time. What distinguished Cheney’s remarks from those of some of his colleagues was that they were spoken without any qualification or hedging, but were stated as undeniable facts.

For instance, in an August 26, 2002, speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cheney said: “We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” That was false. He also said: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Not only was this not true, the idea that there was “no doubt” about it was also not true — it was a matter of vigorous debate within the intelligence community, a fact of which Cheney was surely aware.

In an appearance a week later on Meet the Press, Cheney said, “we do know, with absolute certainty, that [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” Tim Russert then asked: “He does not have a nuclear weapon now?” And Cheney replied, “I can’t say that. I can say that I know for sure that he’s trying to acquire the capability.”

Or there’s his statement that “it’s been pretty well confirmed” that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta traveled to Prague to meet with Iraqi intelligence officials, an utterly bogus story that was nothing like “pretty well confirmed” when Cheney made the claim. I could go on, but it’s worth probing whether Cheney thinks that deceiving the public in the manner they did was necessary to achieve what he sees as a greater good.

Since the end of the recession, the economy has created over 10 million new jobs. Even if we count from the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency when hundreds of thousands of jobs were being shedded every month, he has still overseen the creation of a net of six million jobs. In its eight years in office, the Bush administration created a net of 1.3 million jobs. Why has Barack Obama done better than your administration did on job creation?

This is a non-torture-related bonus question. Perhaps Cheney would respond, as many conservatives would, that Barack Obama deserves no credit for anything good that happens with the American economy. But the follow-up would then be, does that mean George W. Bush had no effect on the economy either? The Bush administration enacted huge tax cuts which, all the administration’s representatives assured the public, would result in an explosion of job growth. That never happened. How would Cheney explain it?

One thing we should be able to agree on is that Todd shouldn’t waste his time with Cheney doing things like handicapping the 2016 presidential race. Cheney doesn’t answer questions very often, so when he does, the interviewer ought to make the most of the opportunity.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 11, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, Torture | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama’s Iraq Is Not Bush’s Iraq”: Plainly And Simply, Obama Didn’t Lie Us Into This War

Last week, a Politico reporter phoned me to ascertain my thoughts on the new war. Among the questions: Was there concern among liberals that Barack Obama was in some sense now becoming George Bush, and did I see similarities between the current war and Bush’s Iraq war that, come on, be honest, made me squirm in my seat ever so slightly? My answer ended up on the cutting-room floor, as many answers given to reporters do.

But since I’m fortunate enough to have a column, I’d like to broadcast it now, because the answer is a reverberating no. In fact it’s hard for me to imagine how the differences between the two actions could be starker. This is not to say that they might not end up in the same place—creating more problems than they solve. But in moral terms, this war is nothing like that war, and if this war doesn’t end up like Bush’s and somehow actually solves more problems than it creates, that will happen precisely because of the moral differences.

The first and most important difference, plainly and simply: Obama didn’t lie us into this war. It’s worth emphasizing this point, I think, during this week when Obama is at the United Nations trying to redouble international support to fight ISIS, and as we think back on Colin Powell’s infamous February 2003 snow job to Security Council. Obama didn’t tell us any nightmarish fairy tales about weapons of mass destruction that had already been destroyed or never existed. He didn’t trot his loyalists out there to tell fantastical stories about smoking guns and mushroom clouds.

The evidence for the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State is, in contrast, as non-fabricated as evidence can be and was handed right to us by ISIS itself: the beheading videos, and spokesmen’s own statements from recruitment videos about the group’s goal being the establishment of a reactionary fundamentalist state over Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. That’s all quite real.

Difference number two: This war doesn’t involve 140,000 ground troops. That’s not just a debating point. It’s a massive, real-world difference. I know some of you are saying, well, not yet, anyway. Time could prove you right. But if this works more or less as planned, it establishes a new model for fighting terrorism in the Middle East—the United States and Arab nations and fighting forces working together to do battle against terrorism. That’s kind of a huge deal.

Which leads us to difference number three: This coalition, while still in its infancy, could in the end be a far more meaningful coalition than Bush’s. The Bush coalition was an ad hoc assemblage bribed or browbeaten into backing the United States’ immediate geopolitical aims. It was brought together pretty much so Bush could deflect the essentially true unilateralist charge and stand up there and say “41 countries have joined together” blah blah blah.

This coalition is smaller, but the important point is that it’s not built around a goal that is in the interest only of the United States. Defeating the Islamic State is a genuine priority for the region, and the idea that these gulf states that have been winking at or backing violent extremism for years might actually work with the United States of America (!) to fight it is little short of amazing. I’m not saying Obama deserves the credit here, although it seems clear he and others in the administration have worked hard on this point. Rather, the fact is that the Saudis and the Emiratis and others are now doing, however reluctantly, what it’s in their self-interest to do.

Whatever their motivation, the mere fact that they’re signing up for the fight is striking. One should never be optimistic about the Middle East, but if we look at the situation with a little more historical sweep, we can hope that this could be the moment when, after many years of letting these cancers spread, some key players in the Arab world start to try to get their own house in order a little bit with respect to extremism. And if they do that, maybe in the near future some of these regimes will start to see that the darkness in which they make their subjects live has to be lifted.

The irony is not lost on me that Saudi Arabia, our most crucial partner here, may well have beheaded more humans this year (46 so far) than ISIS has. But if these autarkies really do work to arrest the Islamic State, maybe they’ll eventually see that the only real way to make extremism seem unappealing is to make moderation—well-functioning economies, a little free speech, maybe an unrigged election now and again—seem appealing.

There are many ways that what started in Syria Monday night can go wrong. I really don’t think Bashar al-Assad shooting down a U.S. plane is one of them; I suspect Assad knows exactly how long it would take for the United States to decimate his entire air-defense system, and I bet the answer is “not very long.” However, ISIS could shoot one down. What happens to public opinion when there’s an American death, or two? When the Iraq army, even with the benefit of 200 U.S. airstrikes, can’t retake any ground, as appears to be happening now? And what would Congress do in the event of such realities? At the very least Obama does have to get congressional assent in the near future.

So this war could end up being the disaster critics are predicting. But already, it’s not some other things. It’s not a morally dubious hegemonic enterprise built on a pile of lies. That may or may not give it a better chance of success, but at least it means we don’t have to be ashamed of what our country is doing.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 24, 2014

September 25, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iraq War, ISIS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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