NEW YORK -- In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Paul Bremer criticized the Obama administration’s policy in the Middle East and argued that the United States needs to make “a clear commitment to help restabilize Iraq.”
Notably, Bremer’s op-ed -- “Only America Can Prevent a Disaster in Iraq” -- neglected to mention his own role in helping to destabilize Iraq following the Bush administration’s disastrous 2003 invasion. As U.S. presidential envoy to the nation, Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army at the beginning of the occupation, a critical blunder that was followed by years of sectarian violence.
The Iraq war, which Bush officials and media advocates sold as easy and inexpensive, grew into the biggest U.S. foreign policy debacle in a generation, resulting in the deaths of over 4,500 U.S. soldiers and 100,000 Iraqis. It also cast a shadow over the U.S. media, which largely promoted the administration's bogus case for war.
Now Bremer and others who were largely discredited when it comes to Iraq are back in the spotlight, and they're being treated as credible experts on the growing chaos in the country. Iraq is once again in the news because the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an extremist group, has taken several major cities and set its sights on Baghdad.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who pushed for the Iraq invasion soon after the unrelated 9/11 attacks, appeared Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, one of the most influential media figures to have promoted the war, could be found talking Iraq across the dial on ABC’s “This Week.”
In recent days, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose legacy is inextricably linked to his backing of Bush in Iraq, called for intervention. Former Bush-era officials Doug Feith, in Politico, and Andrew Card, on CNN and Fox News, have taken aim at the Obama administration for its Iraq policy and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011. Historian and prominent Iraq war-supporter Robert Kagan expressed support for U.S. intervention Monday in a New York Times profile.
Even former Times reporter Judith Miller, who has become synonymous with the media's failure during the run-up to the war in 2002 and 2003, recently appeared on Fox News to, of all things, criticize media coverage of Iraq.
James Fallows, an Atlantic correspondent and author of the book, “Blind Into Baghdad,” tweeted Friday that “no one who stumped for original Iraq invasion gets to give ‘advice’ about disaster now [or] should get listened to.”
The media hasn't listened to Fallows, and several Bush-era figures have been allowed to weigh in with little, or no, acknowledgement of their past actions or statements.
Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, said weeks before the invasion in February 2003 that Iraq posed a threat because of the “connection between three things: terrorist organizations, state sponsors, and weapons of mass destruction.” In reality, Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda had little to no presence in the country before the invasion, and there were no WMDs.
Around the same time, Wolfowitz told Congress that “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 to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army.” Wolfowitz also told Congress that Iraq could finance its own reconstruction” with oil revenues” and do so “relatively soon."
On "Meet the Press" Sunday, host David Gregory asked Wolfowitz if he, and other Bush administration veterans, were “culpable of underestimating the level of sectarian violence, warfare in the country that creates the potential for this kind of terrorist state to develop today.”
Gregory told HuffPost he asked the question to try to hold Wolfowitz accountable for what happened over a decade ago. But Wolfowitz largely dodged it and turned instead to al Qaeda, which he said is "not on the road to defeat.” Later in the broadcast, Wolfowitz criticized the Obama administration for a “lack of seriousness” in dealing with the Syria crisis. "I would do something in Syria," he said. "It's a bad situation."
Gregory defended the Wolfowitz booking Monday, telling The Huffington Post that it’s worthwhile to speak with Iraq war architects when seeking to answer the question, “How did we get here?”
He said the reason to have such guests on isn’t to re-litigate the 2003 invasion. Instead, he wants to examine why the Bush administration’s goal of training an Iraqi army and helping to create a self-sustaining, democratic government after U.S. withdrawal didn’t come to fruition.
It's understandable that journalists like Gregory don't want to get bogged down rehashing the invasion when assessing the current crisis. But if they want to give platforms to Wolfowitz, Feith, or Bremer, it's imperative to question why these people deserve to be listened to on Iraq now, given their past claims and actions.
During a Monday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Bremer went as far as to suggest the need for “some troops on the ground.” (President Barack Obama has ruled out putting U.S. troops on the ground, though the AP reported Monday that the White House is considering sending in some special forces soldiers.)
In response, Bloomberg Politics editor Mark Halperin challenged Bremer on why the United States should, once again, play a role in determining Iraq’s government.
“What business is it of the United States, at this point, who is in the government of Iraq?” Halperin asked. “Why isn’t that up to the people of Iraq, civil society and leaders there, to figure it out, and not the United States?”
Bremer, echoing his Monday column and decade-old calls for U.S. intervention, responded that “there is no one there who can do it, and no other country who can do it.”
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