From the grave, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the godmother of the neoconservative movement, speaks: the Iraq war was something of a mistake.

Kirkpatrick, best known as the combative UN ambassador during the Reagan administration who argued that the United States should be kind to authoritarian regimes that were partners in the crusade against communism, died last December. She had just completed a book entitled Making War To Keep Peace, which is being published next month. In the book, she reports–apparently for the first time–that she had “grave reservations” about George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. She notes that at the time, “I was privately critical of the Bush administration’s argument for the use of military force for preemptive self-defense.” She does not say where and to whom she voiced her misgivings–if she did. Most strikingly, she argues that the war–with respect to bringing democracy to Iraqis–did more harm than good.

It’s stunning criticism from a hawk who for over two decades has been a guiding light for the neocons who cheerleaded the nation to war in Iraq. In her book, she contends that the invasion has so far been counterproductive:

On a personal note, I have dedicated much of my professional life to reconciling what I consider the twin goals of American foreign policy, and that is why President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war has troubled me deeply.

These twin goals of our foreign policy are, first, ensuring our security and, second, promoting democracy and human rights. An appropriate balance between the two must exist, and that balance must be determined within the unique circumstances of any situation. Yet, for democracy to take hold in a given region, it must be preceded by institutions that are receptive and willing to support democracy–because democracy requires security as a prerequisite. That is why, throughout history, if the single force of political stability in a region is removed without critical institutions in place to fill the resulting vacuum of power, the security of societies and their budding institutions will be precarious at best.

Unfortunately, what we face in Iraq today is a vacuum of power, a lack of stable institutions needed to govern, and the problem that the promise of democracy for which our nation stands may be lost in the essential scramble for safety and stability in the streets. This is one of the reasons I am uneasy about the war we have made here–for we have helped to create the chaos that has overtaken the country, and we may have reduced rather than promoted the pace of democratic reform.

Kirkpatrick suggests the Bush administration and her neocon colleagues rushed into the war irresponsibly:

Iraq presented a very different set of circumstances from Afghanistan, however. These are things we ought to have known and taken into account when weighing our decision to invade in 2003.

Iraq lacked practically all the requirements for a democratic government: rule of law, an elite with a shared commitment to democratic procedures, a sense of citizenship, and habits of trust and cooperation. The administration’s failure involved several issues, but the core concern is that they did not seem to have methodically completed the due diligence required for reasoned policy-making because they failed to address the aftermath of the invasion. This, of course, is reflected by the violence, sectarian unrest, ethnic vengeance and bloodshed we see in Iraq today.

No “due diligence.” Kirkpatrick is politely charging that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and other top administration aides invaded a nation recklessly. Can there be a more damning indictment?

In the book, Kirkpatrick does not engage in self-criticism. Before the invasion, she was part of the commentariat that helped create the context for the war. Three weeks after September 11, she suggested that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Kirkpatrick declared, “Many people believe that it is likely that the hijackers had the support of Iraq. We know that Saddam Hussein has always said that we did not defeat him [in] the Gulf War, that it was just one battle, and that there would be more.”

In a June 2002 interview with the Financial Times, Kirkpatrick said that she had “some questions” about whether it would be “prudent” to launch a preemptive strike on Saddam’s regime, noting such an attack could “win recruits for the most radical Islamists.” But on October 9, 2002–the day after Bush made a nationally televised speech asserting that Iraq posed a direct threat to the United States because it was loaded with weapons of mass of destruction and in league with al Qaeda–Kirkpatrick appeared on PBS’s Newshour and praised the president for presenting an “effective and clear explanation of the US case…against Iraq.” She voiced no reservations about a preemptive war with Iraq. And when Bush two weeks later said the United States could live with Saddam’s regime if it met “all the conditions” of a United Nations disarmament resolution, Kirkpatrick called this gesture a mistake.

Shortly before Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, he asked Kirkpatrick to head the US delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. She took the job, and her primary mission soon became preventing the commission from passing a resolution condemning the Iraq invasion as illegal. Despite being “privately critical” of Bush’s decision to invade, Kirkpatrick, according to her new book, believed the invasion was legal under international law, mainly because it was not a new war but a response to Saddam’s failure to abide by the cease-fire terms of the first Gulf War. Thus, she writes, she was able to be a forceful advocate of Bush’s right to invade Iraq, “even though I did not agree with the president’s choices.” A week after the invasion, Kirkpatrick beat back a resolution at the Human Rights Commission that challenged the legitimacy of the war.

Whatever her private concerns, she publicly defended the war. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on June 13, 2003, Kirkpatrick derided critics of the war. She singled out an editorial that had appeared in the International Herald Tribune. The paper had argued, “we did not like [Bush’s] combative doctrine [of preemptive force] when it was formally unveiled…because it seemed to walk away from America’s historical inclination to work with other nations to preserve the peace and to rely on force only when its security was directly threatened.” Kirkpatrick called this “one of the silliest arguments” made against the war. In a September 30, 2003 speech at Georgetown University, she appeared to endorse the war and Bush’s use of preemptive military action. Yet in her book, Kirkpatrick recounts that she did not support the “Bush administration’s assertion of its right to preemptive action in self-defense.” Now when it is too late–she is gone, the war is still here–Kirkpatrick says that Bush’s primary rationale for the war was misguided and that the administration acted negligently by attacking Iraq without adequate preparation.

Kirkpatrick is the latest in a parade of Bush aides and associates who have expressed disappointment and dismay with Bush and his war. Matthew Dowd, the chief campaign strategist for Bush’s 2004 reelection effort, recently told The New York Times that he had lost faith in Bush and believed US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. Dowd indicated he felt the need to do penance for having enabled Bush to win reelection. Kirkpatrick offers no apologies for her own complicity, and only a small slice of the book concerns Iraq. Yet those few passages–each written in a dispassionate manner–show that as Kirkpatrick neared death she was troubled by the most important and consequential endeavor of the neoconservative movement, which she had inspired and led for decades. This is no deathbed confession. But it is a sharp parting shot: a mother’s rebuke.


DON”T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris “the most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations” and “fascinating reading.” The Washington Post says, “There have been many books about the Iraq war….This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft.” Tom Brokaw notes Hubris “is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For highlights from Hubris, click here.