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The Iraqi Ministry of Planning burns after being hit by a missile in 2003
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/FILE/ALI HEIDER
The crisis in Iraq has reached a critical point, as the Obama administration debates how to stop the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — in its conquest of Iraqi cities and villages. All U.S. forces left Iraq in late 2011, the result of the Iraqis not wanting to extend the terms of the status of forces agreement that dictated how American troops could operate. That marked the end of a war that lasted nearly a decade in which a well-documented campaign to push for war against Saddam Hussein drowned out any criticism ahead of the launch of combat operations.
Now, those same architects are invited to write op-eds, speak on television panels, and generally give their opinion on today’s Iraq with little to no pushback on just how wrong they got it a decade ago. The situation as it stands in Iraq is not the same as in 2003 and the administration is now considering air strikes to slow the progress of ISIS. But so as to not allow the ones who broke Iraq in the first place to go entirely unchallenged, here are some of the top advocates for launching the war in 2003 — along with their misleading statements and incorrect predictions — and what they have to say about Iraq now.
L. Paul Bremer
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, center, in 2004
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/STAFF SGT. D. MYLES CULLEN/U.S. AIR FORCE
Role in 2003: Bremer was the first head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), making him the civilian administrator of Iraq after invasion. One of the first things he did in the role was sign Coalition Provisional Authority Orders Number 1and 2, completely dismantling Iraq’s government and military. During his time running Iraq, at least $9 billion of reconstruction funding went missing. In 2006, Bremer insisted that most of Iraq then was at peace, telling “Face the Nation” that “we’re facing a small group of ‘bitter-enders.’”
Now: “It is time for both American political parties to cease their ritualistic incantations of ‘no boots on the ground,’ which is not the same as ‘no combat forces.’ Of course Americans are reluctant to re-engage in Iraq. Yet it is President Obama’s unhappy duty to educate them about the risks to our interests posed by the unfolding drama in Iraq.” [WSJ 6/16/14]
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MATT ROURKE, FILE
Role in 2003: As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Blair was the U.S.’ chief international ally in making the case to go to war with Iraq. One the eve of war with Iraq, Blair argued to Parliament that Saddam’s clear possession of weapons of mass destruction warranted invasion. “To retreat now, I believe, would put at hazard all that we hold dearest, turn the UN back into a talking shop, stifle the first steps of progress in the Middle East; leave the Iraqi people to the mercy of events on which we would have relinquished all power to influence for the better,” he said.
Now: “The reality is that the whole of the Middle East and beyond is going through a huge, agonising and protracted transition. We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven’t. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not; and whether action or inaction is the best policy and there is a lot to be said on both sides. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it.” [Personal essay 6/14/14]
Paul Wolfowitz in his role as World Bank President
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS
Role in 2003: Wolfowitz, a veteran of the Reagan administration, was Deputy Secretary of Defense at the time of the invasion. Though he later admitted that the invasion was mismanaged, among the quotes that Wolfowitz provided to help sell the war: “It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself,” and “The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”
Now: “Look, it’s a complicated situation in which you don’t just come up with, ‘We’re going to bomb this, we’re going to do that.’ I think a fundamental point which was brought onto us in 1990 when the Saudis agreed to everyone’s surprise to allow American troops into Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait. They said to us, ‘If this were the United States of Jimmy Carter or of Ronald Reagan, that walked away after a few American casualties, we would not have said yes. We believe President Bush is serious.’ We have to convince people in that region, Kurds, Iraqis that Maliki is a big part of the problem.” [Meet the Press 6/15/14]
Doug Feith in 2005
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI
Role in 2003: In the run-up to the war, Feith was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the number three person at the Pentagon. In that position, Feith oversaw the Office of Special Plans, in which it collected raw intelligence without analysis from the CIA or other members of the intelligence community. Later on, the Department of Defense’s Inspector General would say in a report that Feith’s ofice “developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers.” He later defended this by saying: “What we did after 9/11 was look broadly at the international terrorist network from which the next attack on the United States might come. And we did not focus narrowly only on the people who were specifically responsible for 9/11.”
Now: “This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest … They were pretty blasé. he president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.” [POLITICO6/12/14]
Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLES DHARAPAK, FILE
Role in 2003: As Press Secretary in the Bush administration, Fleischer had the job of selling the media on the war’s benefits and ease. Among the quotes he gave from the podium in the White House Press Briefing Room include: “[G]iven the chance to throw off a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, people will rejoice,” and “there’s no question that if force is used, it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we’re on.” In 2011, he praised the decision to withdraw the last U.S. troops from Iraq as President Bush had negotiated.
Bill Kristol, center, speaks on HBO in Feb. 2014
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/HBO, JANET VAN HAM
Role in 2003: One of the most outspoken private civilians urging war, Kristol has been a neoconservative standard-bearer for decades now. As Media Matters notes, at the time Kristorl insisted that Iraq was “going to be a two month war” and while testifying before Congress proclaimed that “American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators.”
Now: “It’s a disaster. … It’s a disaster unfortunately made possible, certainly more by our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. President Obama said two days before election day, in 2012, ‘Al Qaeda is on the path of defeat, the war in Iraq is over. That was enough to get him re-elected. Let’s have a look today. ‘Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, the war in Iraq is over.’ Neither is true. It’s a disaster for our country.” [This Week 6/15/14]
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
Role in 2003: McCain was a forceful advocate for launching military force in Iraq, using his position as a war veteran to help make the case. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has a devastating supercut video of several of the statements McCain made about how easy the war would be for Americans.
Now: “What about the fact that General Petraeus had the conflict won thanks to the Surge and if we had left a residual force behind that we could have — we could, we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are facts. Those are fundamental facts. … The fact is we had the conflict won, and we had a stable government, and a residual force such as we have left behind — we even have forces in Bosnia, Korea, Germany, Japan. But the president wanted out and now we are paying a very heavy price.” [MSNBC 6/13/14]