11/16/2005 11:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Writing on the Iraq Wall

First, in the "we weren't all wrong" department, I just unearthed this from a David Corn email dated December, 2001:

Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterrorism chief (who worked in the Reagan White House on the programs that provided covert support to the contras in Nicaragua and the mujahhedin in Afghanistan), argues it would be a "huge mistake" to redirect the war on terrorism against Iraq. The wider-war advocates, he says, "cannot find a pretext for doing it related to September 11, so they are now saying Iraq is involved in weapons of mass destruction. But they have no reasonable plan, no magic button to push. They want to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but the only way to do that is put U.S. ground forces in Iraq. That would be a bloody mess and we would have no support whatsoever from other countries." Cannistraro is adamant that the Hussein-hunters have a policy goal (bring me the head of Saddam!) but no strategy for achieving that end and "no concept of a post-Hussein" Iraq. "If
you want," he adds, "you can have bombing in Iraq and throw money at the INC" -- the Iraqi National Congress, an anti-Hussein opposition group that heretofore has displayed minimal effectiveness -- "but that won't do the trick." To have any hope of removing Hussein, the Bush administration would have to mount a go-it-alone, expensive occupation involving massive numbers of U.S. troops. And that, Cannistraro maintains, would undermine U.S. efforts against terrorism everywhere else.

Okay, so let's hire Vince.

Second, I wrote in an email blast to my radio show listeners in May of 2003 (not available to me on this computer) a self-described "wild idea" in answer to the question then ambient--if Saddam didn't have WMD, as it was then appearing he didn't, why would he have stiff-armed the UN inspectors for so long? My answer: he's a brutal dictator enormously weakened by Gulf War 1 and the subsequent sanctions, he's living in a hostile neighborhood, and he was trying to keep the Syrians, Iranians and Israelis in some doubt about his ability to do them harm.

I cite that only to prove that sometimes just a year in Harvard grad school in poli sci puts you in a better position to make informed guesses than going for the whole doctorate.

In that spirit, I go out on the following limb: the Senate's oh-so-delicate walking away from full arm-link with the President on the war is just the beginning. Here's how this story ends: for purely political reasons, the US gets out far sooner than the true believers would like, far later than the anti-war folks would have wanted, and at a time determined (as was the onset of the war) by the political calendar. And this was all predictable: the US public may have a long attention span for certain things--celebrity trials, celebrity marital disputes, missing white women--but, when it comes to foreign wars, there's a time-and-casualty clock ticking in the nation's head. You can't be sure exactly when the alarm rings that signals end-of-toleration for the adventure, but we've clearly passed that point, and now all that's left is to manage the pullout as deftly (and, if you're the President, as much as you can to show we've "won") as possible.

What I've always found so shocking about the neo-cons is not their ignorance of the history of Iraq--check the experience of the Brits at the end of World War One if you want to read some familiar-sounding quotes. After all, the "best and the brightest" that got us into Vietnam were similarly ignorant about the history of that country. What is indeed shocking is how ignorant the neocons were/are about this country; viz, you can't run an empire from a nation whose population really doesn't give a fuck about the rest of the world.