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Architects of Iraq Invasion Return to Blame Obama

By David Lerman
June 20, 2014 12:00 AM EDT
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Dick Cheney is back, warning of terrorists “on the march.”

Condoleezza Rice has re-emerged, urging patience in the Middle East. Even the ubiquitous John McCain has amped up his rhetoric, calling on President Barack Obama “to get rid of his entire national security team.”

The band of architects and supporters of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein is back together, many of them waging a blame-Obama media offensive as the president weighs whether to take military action against Sunni militants in the turmoil threatening to break apart the country.

The interventionist Republicans, who sometimes called themselves neoconservatives, are portraying Obama as a weak leader because of his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq in 2011 after failing to reach a security agreement with the Iraqi government for an extended U.S. presence.

“Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” former Vice President Cheney said in a Wall Street Journal column on June 17 written with his daughter Liz, a former State Department official.

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White House officials shrugged off the criticism.

“Which president was he talking about?” Obama spokesman Jay Carney deadpanned yesterday at the White House, when asked about Cheney’s remark.

The criticism is unlikely to sway much of the public, said James Mann, a resident fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, and author of “Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet.”

‘Tone-Deaf Quality’

“There’s a tone-deaf quality to it,” Mann said of the attacks. “The strategic mistake since going into Iraq was all theirs. The mistake was going in.”

A majority of the American public has for years considered the Iraq war to be a mistake, with 57 percent saying so in a Gallup poll of 1,023 adults conducted Feb. 6 to 9.

Cheney, the leading advocate for war in 2003 in President George W. Bush’s administration, championed the rationale that Saddam had amassed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and he predicted days before the 2003 invasion that Americans would “be greeted as liberators.” Neither proved to be true.

The volley of attacks and counterpunches underscores the potency of the Iraq war as a political issue more than a decade after the invasion.

‘Wrong Side’

Obama won the presidency in part on his opposition to the war, and Democrats are responding to the Republican criticism by blaming Bush and Cheney for miring the U.S. in Iraq in the first place.

“Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said this week on the Senate floor in responding to Cheney’s attacks.

Some of Cheney’s former deputies have hit the cable TV talk circuit to join in the criticism of Obama’s Iraq policy.

“This war isn’t over,” said former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in a June 17 interview on MSNBC. “We may try to say it’s over, but it’s still with us.”

Yet Wolfowitz sought to distance himself from the Bush admininstration’s handling of the Iraq war, which lasted longer, cost more and took more American lives -- 4,490 -- than the Bush administration had projected.

Ground Troops

Wolfowitz, who was deputy to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, objected when he was described by the interviewer as an architect of the war. “If I had been the architect, things would have been run very differently,” Wolfowitz said.

Similarly, Senator McCain, an Arizona Republican, recalled on MSNBC that he had called for Rumsfeld’s firing because of “the lack of leadership and the failure in Iraq.” As McCain recounted it, the surge of troops he’d advocated won the war, only to be followed by the “colossal failure” of Obama pulling out U.S. forces.

Paul Bremer, who led the provisional authority governing Iraq after the U.S. invasion, also appeared on television programs this week to advocate for stronger U.S. action.

“I’m not in favor of sending combat forces into Iraq at the moment, but I can well imagine that we would have to have some troops on the ground,” Bremer said on MSNBC. He is best known for issuing an edict purging all members of Saddam’s Baath Party from the military and security services, eliminating a role for the minority Sunnis.

Rice’s Portrait

Rice, a former secretary of state and Bush’s national security adviser before the Iraq invasion, visited the State Department this week for the unveiling of her official portrait. While avoiding any direct reference to Iraq at the ceremony hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, Rice spoke of the need for patience as countries in the Middle East “find their way to stable democracy.”

“Let me just assure you that today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same,” said Rice, now a professor at Stanford University in California.

Richard Perle, who headed the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board under Bush, said his former colleagues are right to speak up now against Obama’s policy.

“It was reckless and unnecessary to pull out as abruptly as we did,” Perle, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said in an interview. “‘He was trying to meet a pledge he made during the campaign’’ to end the Iraq war, he said of Obama.

Sending Photos

Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, fired back in a tweet this week with photos of Cheney, Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, who regularly denounces Obama’s foreign policy.

‘‘The only thing I want to hear from Iraq war architects is an apology,’’ Reid’s Twitter post said.

E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has called himself a ‘‘communitarian liberal,’’ said ‘‘Cheney is very invested in the decisions he made and believed in.’’

‘‘It might behoove him to acknowledge some errors,’’ Dionne said in an interview. ‘‘The thing clearly didn’t go as planned.’’

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net Larry Liebert, Justin Blum

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