Have you heard that we won the Iraq War? Well, sure, we’ve still got 142,000 troops there, we’re spending $12 billion per month on it and hundreds of Iraqis per week are dying violent deaths. What’s more, none of the fundamental political questions that divide Iraq’s murderous factions have been settled, and the place is poised to collapse into genocidal anarchy–which might engulf the entire region–should President Obama withdraw our troops too hastily. So we’re going to have to stay, well, perhaps forever.
Why, you may ask, would I call such a catastrophic situation “victory”? Well, I read it in the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, and they would never lie to me. There, George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, explains, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.” This view is dutifully seconded by ex-McCain flack Michael Goldfarb in The Weekly Standard: “Obama has inherited victory in Iraq…. The victory in Iraq is Obama’s to lose.” Goldfarb trots out the old “even the liberal New Republic” cliché, thirty years after its sell-by date, by adding “even liberals like [ex-New Republic editor] Peter Beinart are demanding that their fellow Democrats admit their mistake.” Perhaps Goldfarb is genuinely unaware that the “liberal” New Republic has championed neoconservative wars for longer than most of our soldiers have been alive, or that in 2003 TNR editor Beinart was one of the war’s most vociferous supporters. (He has since retracted his support and apologized.) But Goldfarb must have been aware–since it appeared in the same column he quoted–that Beinart also added, “Iraq watchers warn that communal distrust remains high; if someone strikes a match, civil war could again rage out of control.” Beinart also noted that whatever happened, it wouldn’t “justify the Bush administration’s initial decision to go to war, which remains one of the great blunders in American foreign policy history.” But like Thiessen, and echoed by many of the same neoconnish voices that misled the nation into this costly quagmire, Goldfarb is ruling reality out of bounds in the service of setting President Obama up for failure. This has been the strategy of the losing side in the last election, and it is one that the Obama administration and its supporters ignore at their peril.
I first noticed this phenomenon just before the inauguration, when I did a Hardball spot with a Bush flack named Ron Christie. I later learned from his bio that Christie’s “depth of knowledge and service in the American political scene, combined with his unique experience at the highest levels of global and domestic policy-planning, makes him one of the leading authorities on the state of the world today.” This is good to know because during our brief tête-à-tête with Chris Matthews, the man gave every appearance of being seriously deranged. Our topic was whether, after eight years of his presidency, Bush had succeeded in uniting or dividing the nation. Christie answered the question by explaining that Bush had united America because he kept us safe. He kept repeating this, apparently unaware that even if it were true, it had nothing to do with the question. Is Canada united because it has not been attacked? Is Bosnia? Is Iran? Were Spain and England attacked to call attention to their internal divisions? Though he may not have understood this, Christie’s views echoed those expressed by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the 9/11 attacks on God’s anger at America for its toleration of abortion, homosexuals and the like–to say nothing of the responsibility for the attacks his argument implies for the fellow who happened to be president while our intelligence agencies were asleep at the switch.
In the context of our discussion, Christie’s robotic responses were a bit baffling. But in the context of a White House memo leaked in December, his comments–like so many we heard in Bush’s final days–became intelligible. Bush “kept the American people safe,” the memo told his flacks. And in their endless exit interviews, Bush and Cheney returned to this talking point. Here’s Cheney with Fox’s Chris Wallace: “The actions that we took, based on the president’s decisions and based on some outstanding work by the intelligence community and by the military, has produced a safe seven and a half years.” And again, to CBS’s Mark Knoller: “We’ve managed to keep the nation safe from further terrorist attacks for the last seven and a half years.” At the same time we heard from ex-Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan in the Journal: “At least Bush kept us safe.” Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner added in USA Today, “Bush Kept U.S. Safe.” And on it went.
In fact, this claim, too, is nonsense. Sixteen US intelligence agencies reporting together in 2006 found that Bush’s misadventure in Iraq has “helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism,” according to the New York Times, and that “the overall terrorist threat has grown since the September 11 attacks.” A 150-page Government Accountability Office report issued in November found virtually every agency in Bush’s government woefully unprepared to “keep us safe.” For instance, the Department of Homeland Security “lacks not only a comprehensive strategy with overall goals and a timeline but also a dedicated management integration team to support its management integration efforts.” It has failed to coordinate with other agencies such as FEMA, the Justice Department or the Agriculture Department to undertake the most fundamental survival tasks in the event of disaster.
In fact, Bush left the nation in greater peril than it was in on August 6, 2001, when he was informed that Osama bin Laden was “determined to attack in US” and responded, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now,” before deciding to spend the rest of the day fishing. You can look it up.