Peggy Noonan: Iraq “Half-Killed” the GOP

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I never thought I’d be quoting Peggy Noonan to the extent I do in this post, but her latest column is an enjoyably slashing critique of the effect of the Iraq war catastrophe on the Republican Party.  It also coincides nicely with my series of “anniversary cards” to the Iraq invasion. From my perspective, she’s not right on the money on everything she says–as usual, e.g. she gives the mediocrity that was President Ronald Reagan way too much personal credit for “vision” and “stewardship” during his administration–but in general, her points should be well-taken by the bloodied remains of her party. The rest of us can just enjoy the spectacle of the good ol’ party beating up on itself.

Did the Iraq war hurt the GOP? Yes. The war, and the crash of ’08, half killed it. It’s still digging out, and whether it can succeed is an open question….:

It ruined the party’s hard-earned reputation for foreign-affairs probity. They started a war and didn’t win it. It was longer and costlier by every measure than the Bush administration said it would be. Before Iraq, the GOP’s primary calling card was that it was the party you could trust in foreign affairs. For half a century, throughout the Cold War, they were serious about the Soviet Union, its moves, feints and threats. Republicans were not ambivalent about the need for and uses of American power, as the Democrats were in the 1970s and 1980s, but neither were they wild. After Iraq it was the Republicans who seemed at best the party of historical romantics or, alternatively, the worst kind of cynic, which is an incompetent one. Iraq marked a departure in mood and tone from past conservatism.

It muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation. No Burkean prudence or respect for reality was evident. Ronald Reagan hated the Soviet occupation of the Warsaw Pact countries—really, hated the oppression and violence. He said it, named it, and forced the Soviets to defend it. He did not, however, invade Eastern Europe to liberate it. He used military power sparingly. He didn’t think the right or lucky thing would necessarily happen. His big dream was a nuclear-free world, which he pursued daringly but peacefully.

It ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980. This has had untold consequences, and not only in foreign affairs. And that ascendance was hard-earned. By 2006 Republicans had lost the House, by 2008 the presidency. Curry quotes National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru at a recent debate at the American Enterprise Institute: “You could make the argument that the beginning of the end of Republican dominance in Washington was the Iraq War, at least a stage of the Iraq War, 2005-06.” In 2008 a solid majority of voters said they disapproved of the war. Three-quarters of them voted for Barack Obama.

It undermined respect for Republican economic stewardship. War is costly. No one quite knows or will probably ever know the exact financial cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is interesting in itself. Some estimates put it at $1 trillion, some $2 trillion. Mr. Curry cites a Congressional Budget Office report saying the Iraq operation had cost $767 billion as of January 2012. Whatever the number, it added to deficits and debt, and along with the Bush administration’s domestic spending helped erode the Republican Party’s reputation for sobriety in fiscal affairs.

It quashed debate within the Republican Party. Political parties are political; politics is about a fight. The fight takes place at the polls and in debate. But the high stakes and high drama of the wars—and the sense within the Bush White House that it was fighting for our very life after 9/11—stoked an atmosphere in which doubters and critics were dismissed as weak, unpatriotic, disloyal. The GOP—from top, the Washington establishment, to bottom, the base—was left festering, confused and, as the years passed, lashing out. A conservative movement that had prided itself, in the 1970s and 1980s, on its intellectualism—”Of a sudden, the Republican Party is the party of ideas,” marveled New York’s Democratic senator Pat Moynihan in 1979—seemed no longer capable of an honest argument. Free of internal criticism, national candidates looked daffy and reflexively aggressive—John McCain sang “Bomb, Bomb Iran”—and left the party looking that way, too.

It killed what remained of the Washington Republican establishment. This was not entirely a loss, to say the least. But establishments exist for a reason: They’re supposed to function as The Elders, and sometimes they’re actually wise. During Iraq they dummied up—criticizing might be bad for the lobbying firm. It removed what credibility the establishment had. And they know it.

Dear Mr. Wolfowitz: Iraq Didn’t Go Quite As You Planned

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One more (at least) in my continuing series of Iraq war “anniversary cards,” if you will. This one is from an open letter by Andrew J. Bacevich to Bush doctrine architect Paul Wolfowitz.

So even conceding a hat tip to Albert Wohlstetter, the Bush Doctrine was largely your handiwork. The urgency of invading Iraq stemmed from the need to validate that doctrine before the window of opportunity closed. What made it necessary to act immediately was not Saddam’s purported WMD program. It was not his nearly nonexistent links to Al Qaeda. It was certainly not the way he abused his own people. No, what drove events was the imperative of claiming for the United States prerogatives allowed no other nation.

I do not doubt the sincerity of your conviction (shared by President Bush) that our country could be counted on to exercise those prerogatives in ways beneficial to all humankind — promoting peace, democracy, and human rights. But the proximate aim was to unshackle American power. Saddam Hussein’s demise would serve as an object lesson for all: Here’s what we can do. Here’s what we will do.

Although you weren’t going to advertise the point, this unshackling would also contribute to the security of Israel. To Wohlstetter’s five precepts you had added a silent codicil. According to the unwritten sixth precept, Israeli interests and U.S. interests must align. You understood that making Israelis feel safer makes Israel less obstreperous, and that removing the sources of Israeli insecurity makes the harmonizing of U.S. and Israeli policies easier. Israel’s most effective friends are those who work quietly to keep the divergent tendencies in U.S.-Israeli relations from getting out of hand. You have always been such a friend. Preventive war to overthrow an evil dictator was going to elevate the United States to the status of Big Kahuna while also making Israelis feel just a little bit safer. This audacious trifecta describes your conception. And you almost pulled it off.

Imagine — you must have done so many times — if that notorious mission accomplished banner had accurately portrayed the situation on the ground in Iraq in May 2003. Imagine if U.S. forces had achieved a clean, decisive victory. Imagine that the famous (if staged) photo of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad’s Al Firdos Square being pulled down had actually presaged a rapid transition to a pro-American liberal democracy, just as your friend Ahmed Chalabi had promised. Imagine if none of the ensuing horrors and disappointments had occurred: the insurgency; Fallujah and Abu Ghraib; thousands of American lives lost and damaged; at least 125,000 Iraqis killed, and some 3 million others exiled or displaced; more than a trillion dollars squandered….

[P]reventive war was supposed to solve problems. Eliminating threats before they could materialize was going to enhance our standing, positioning us to call the shots. Instead, the result was a train wreck of epic proportions. Granted, as you yourself have said, “the world is better off” with Saddam Hussein having met his maker. But taken as a whole, the cost-benefit ratio is cause for weeping. As for global hegemony, we can kiss it goodbye.

PS: Edited to add just this deliciously sharp little jab from Bacevich to the whole Bush Iraq enterprise and it’s managers:

One of the questions emerging from the Iraq debacle must be this one: Why did liberation at gunpoint yield results that differed so radically from what the war’s advocates had expected? Or, to sharpen the point, How did preventive war undertaken by ostensibly the strongest military in history produce a cataclysm?

Not one of your colleagues from the Bush Administration possesses the necessary combination of honesty, courage, and wit to answer these questions. If you don’t believe me, please sample the tediously self-exculpatory memoirs penned by (or on behalf of) Bush himself, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Bremer, Feith, and a small squad of eminently forgettable generals.

Pre-Iraq War Flashback: Ron Rosenbaum’s Red Herring (October 2002)

Did anyone ever actually trust this man?

Did anyone ever actually trust this man?

I wrote the article that follows in response to a cutting dismissal of the brand new anti-war movement that sprung to life in the fall of 2002, just as it became clear what the Bush-Cheney administration was up to with its pot-stirring war preparations. It was intended as a letter to the editor for the New York Observer, where the offending article I was responding to was published,  but became too long for that purpose. I tried to place it at DemocraticUnderground.com, but they passed on it.

In any case, reading old  pablum from George Packer  and Bill Keller in the “liberal hawk” organ of record (Judy Miller‘s New York Times), I thought of this piece which expressed my disgust with the useful idiots of the center left pundit class lending aid and comfort to the Bushist program. Truly nauseating stuff, these guys wrote, if you can stomach it.

Anyway, without further ado, my response to “all that.” Continue reading

A Tory on Britain’s Sinking into an American-made Quagmire

Rory Stewart, Tory MP from Cumbria, made these observations on the 10th anniversary of British collusion with the Bush-Cheney catastrophe in Iraq. He describes the situation well and asks excellent questions, especially the very last one in this excerpt.

[O]ver the last eighteen months, this relationship has unraveled
First, contrary to the Vice-President’s predictions, the Iraqis have
insisted that every last US soldier depart. They have refused visas to
so many US diplomats that half the new multi-billion dollar Embassy is
empty. As the last US troops withdrew, they were attacked by a Shia
terrorist group; two months later that group was brought into the
Iraqi government. The day that the last soldier left, the Shia
Prime-Minister sent tanks to arrest the Sunni Vice-President.
President Obama personally called the Kurdish leader – who had been
one of the US’s closest allies – asking him to step aside and allow in
a more balanced government. The Kurdish leader refused. Three months
ago, Vice-President Biden begged the Iraqi Prime-Minister not to
release an Iranian terrorist commander, (who had been arrested by
British troops. The Iraqi Prime-Minister ignored the Vice-President,
and released him.

In August and September, Iraqi banks were teaming up with the Iranian
government to break sanctions. Iranians were being allowed to ship
weapons through Iraq to prop up the Syrian regime. And in December,
the Iraqi Prime-Minister, who arrested 615 Sunni Arabs in an hour, a
year ago, lined up his troops against the Kurdish militia. On one day
last year, there were simultaneous attacks in ten cities, killing
fifty and wounding two hundred.

Saddam – an extreme dictator – has gone. The media is much freer now.
Many young Iraqis, and particular Kurds, are very grateful that the
old regime has fallen, and are proud of their new culture. But the
international community has not achieved its objectives – however
often it redefines them. First, we aimed to create a ‘democratic Iraq,
at peace with itself and its neighbours’. By 2009, we talked only of a
stable, representative government, a place where terrorists could not
operate, and “an ally”. Instead, after a decade, a trillion pounds,
and more lives than anyone would want to count, we have helped to
create a place, which sometimes looks like a corrupt and fragile
democracy, and sometimes like a Shia rogue state – somewhere on a
scale between Iran and Pakistan.

The question for Britain is what aspect of our culture, our
government, and our national psychology, allowed us to get mired in
such catastrophe?

Hat tip, once again, to The Browser.

Happy 10th Anniversary, American Catastrophe in Iraq!

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Peter Van Buren, author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, shares his mordant thoughts on the anniversary of what he calls American’s worst foreign policy blunder. Read the whole article here:

The Iranian leadership watched carefully as the American imperial version of Iraq collapsed, concluded that Washington was a paper tiger, backed away from initial offers to talk over contested issues, and instead (at least for a while) doubled-down on achieving nuclear breakout capacity, aided by the past work of that same A.Q. Khan network. North Korea, another A.Q. Khan beneficiary, followed the same pivot ever farther from Washington, while it became a genuine nuclear power. Its neighbor China pursued its own path of economic dominance, while helping to “pay” for the Iraq War by becoming the number-one holder of U.S. debt among foreign governments. It now owns more than 21% of the U.S. debt held overseas.

And don’t put away the joke book just yet. Subbing as apologist-in-chief for an absent George W. Bush and the top officials of his administration on this 10th anniversary, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently reminded us that there is more on the horizon. Conceding that he had “long since given up trying to persuade people Iraq was the right decision,” Blair added that new crises are looming. “You’ve got one in Syria right now, you’ve got one in Iran to come,” he said. “We are in the middle of this struggle, it is going to take a generation, it is going to be very arduous and difficult. But I think we are making a mistake, a profound error, if we think we can stay out of that struggle.”

Think of his comment as a warning. Having somehow turned much of Islam into a foe, Washington has essentially assured itself of never-ending crises that it stands no chance whatsoever of winning. In this sense, Iraq was not an aberration, but the historic zenith and nadir for a way of thinking that is only now slowing waning. For decades to come, the U.S. will have a big enough military to ensure that our decline is slow, bloody, ugly, and reluctant, if inevitable. One day, however, even the drones will have to land.

And so, happy 10th anniversary, Iraq War! A decade after the invasion, a chaotic and unstable Middle East is the unfinished legacy of our invasion. I guess the joke is on us after all, though no one is laughing.

“Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East,” Bush told Chirac.

Whenever I read an account of the lead-up to the Iraq war, I usually marvel over how much the critics of the war got right. We guessed Saddam was not lying about weapons of mass destruction. We knew from the beginning the Bushists were going to have the war no matter what anyone else said. We knew they had been planning it all along. We knew they were not going to topple Saddam and *poof* like magic a wonderful new Iraq would appear. We knew they had let the sectarian monster out of the labyrinth. We knew they didn’t give a shit about the members of the military they were using and reusing and reusing again and again to fight their war. We knew!

Now I find out, the truth was probably even weirder than we suspected.

Vanity Fair has a six-page excerpt from Kurt Eichenwald’s 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars up on its site and its an eye-opening read. Most of it confirms what critics suspected. I always did know Bush was an embarrassment, but if the following scene Eichenwald describes actually took place… well, there just are no words!  This is alleged to have occurred in a phone call between the two world leaders as Bush was trolling for support for his Iraq policy from UN Security member nations, at the insistence of Tony Blair, in the late fall of 2003:

But before Chirac could elaborate on that point, Bush veered into another direction.

“Jacques,” he said, “You and I share a common faith. You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we are both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share one common Lord”

Chirac said nothing. He didn’t know where Bush was going with this.

“Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East,” Bush said. ‘’Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.”

Gog and Magog? What was that?, thought Chirac.

“This confrontation,” Bush said, “is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a new age begins.”

Chirac was bewildered. The American president, he thought, sounded dangerously fanatical.

After the call ended, Chirac called together his senior staff members and relayed the conversation.

“He said, ‘Gog and Magog.’ Do any of you know what he is talking about?”

Blank faces and head shakes.

“Find out,” Chirac said.