Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Missing Follow Up Question: Why Iraq is Still a Landmine for Jeb and Marco

Over the last week the various talking heads have come to a consensus on two points about Iraq. One, given what we know now OF COURSE it was a mistake to go to war on Iraq. And two, why on Earth weren’t Jeb and Marco prepared to answer this obvious question in that obvious way? Well I think there are any numbers of reasons why they fell into this trap, but perhaps the simplest is this:

“Governor Bush/Senator Rubio, having conceded that with the 20/20 advantage of hindsight that YOU wouldn’t have made the decision to go to war, and moreover insist that President G.W. Bush wouldn’t have either, why have you each hired as top foreign policy advisers people who were not only centrally involved in making that decision, but deny to this date that it even WAS a mistake?”

Jeb, who was a PNAC Vulcan, and Marco, who is positioning himself as the heir to Neo-Con-ism, are STILL relying on PNAC Signatories of either the 1997 Statement of Principles or the 1998 Letter to President Clinton on Iraq. It is one thing to agree “Mistakes were made” and another to say “Hey what the hell, why not give the mistake makers another bite at the apple?” Maybe because they don’t even AGREE that they made any mistakes to start with?

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JEB the Vulcan; the 90’s Roots of the Iraq War

Was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a mistake based on false intelligence gathered post 9/11? Well for some that might be a reasonable excuse, say for the Senators who voted for the 2002 AUMF – the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq. Even they would have some things to explain and ask forgiveness for, because after all a lot of that supposed intelligence was known to be bunk at that time, and probably some of them knew that and all of them SHOULD have known that. Still there were reasonable (if cowardly) political calculations that suggested that standing in the way of those who were bound and determined to go to war come what may was a bad idea for politicians with future ambitions. Say certain Senators whose names were Kerry and Clinton, but of course not only them.

So we should not give the Signatories of the AUMF a pass. On the other hand there is a clear difference in culpability between being an accomplice after the fact and a conspirator before the fact. And the ‘fact’ in question is when the decision to go to war on Iraq was decided and by whom. And on examination that decision had little to do with intelligence gathered between 2001 and 2003, it had little to nothing to do with aluminum tubes or yellowcake or Curveball, those were instead convenient trigger points for a decision made years before. By a group that came known as the Vulcans, which overlapped almost entirely with those who signed on to the Project for a New American Century – PNAC.

Who were the Vulcans? Well the easiest test is those who either signed the Statement of Principles of the Project for a New American Century in June 1997 or those who signed the follow-up Jan 1998 Letter to President Clinton on Iraq or as in many cases both. These names and explanations for who they are can be seen at this openly anti-PNAC site, so feel free to fact check: Sourcewatch: Project for a New American Century. An examination of those names and the express goals of the PNAC and how the inclusion of Jeb Bush among the former implicates him in the latter below the fold.

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Iraq was JEB’s War: Started by the Dim Son Instead

There has been some furor over the “Would you have launched the Iraq War?” question posed to Jeb Bush mostly revolving around the question of whether he understood the qualifying “knowing what we know now” as opposed to “knowing what we knew then”. But this is to miss the point. Because Jeb was on record for launching a war on Iraq right from 1997. That is screw what we did or didn’t know in September 2001 or March 2003, Bush was ready to lead the Neo-Cons to war years before that. To see that this is true you need to examine two coupled documents from the Project for a New American Century and their signatories: the PNAC Statement of Principles (1997) and their Letter to Clinton on Iraq (1998)

Now some might make the case that the Statement was just aspirational and the Letter operational but I say that in this case that is a distinction without a difference. In 1997 Jeb Bush and Dick Cheney signed their name to a manifesto, one that committed this country to a campaign of perma-war to establish a ‘New American Century’. If only the country would put the power to do so in their hands. Which the country (with an assist from the Supreme Court) did in 2000. Which in turn made the war on Iraq a matter of when and not if. If that is you take the Neo-Cons at their word. As publically signed in a full page ad in the New York Times. The Statement opens as follows:

American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America’s role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.

We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Elliott Abrams
Gary Bauer
William J. Bennett
Jeb Bush
Dick Cheney
Eliot A. Cohen
Midge Decter
Paula Dobriansky
Steve Forbes
Aaron Friedberg
Francis Fukuyama
Frank Gaffney
Fred C. Ikle Donald Kagan
Zalmay Khalilzad
I. Lewis Libby
Norman Podhoretz
Dan Quayle
Peter W. Rodman
Stephen P. Rosen
Henry S. Rowen
Donald Rumsfeld
Vin Weber
George Weigel
Paul Wolfowitz

This is the Bush Foreign Policy. The JEB Bush Foreign Policy. And in this policy the Iraq was was a Feature, indeed the Opening Feature, and not some Bug.

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Richard Perle: "Neo-conservatives don’t exist"

Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence

“There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy,” Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. “It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.”

&

“I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world,” Perle told the foreign policy luminaries at yesterday’s lunch. “None of that is true, of course.”

Sorry this can’t be allowed to stand. The Neo-Conservatives openly and jointed outlined their principles in the Project for a New American Century: Statement of Principles and then signed it. Their website disappeared before so I will put a full copy of the statement and its signatories below the fold so that people can decide for themselves whether Perle is deluded or lying here. Because I don’t see a third alternative.Bolding is mine. June 3rd 1997

American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America’s role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.

We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

We are in danger of squandering the opportunity and failing the challenge. We are living off the capital — both the military investments and the foreign policy achievements — built up by past administrations. Cuts in foreign affairs and defense spending, inattention to the tools of statecraft, and inconstant leadership are making it increasingly difficult to sustain American influence around the world. And the promise of short-term commercial benefits threatens to override strategic considerations. As a consequence, we are jeopardizing the nation’s ability to meet present threats and to deal with potentially greater challenges that lie ahead.

We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration’s success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global
responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

• we need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.

Elliott Abrams Gary Bauer William J. Bennett Jeb Bush

Dick Cheney Eliot A. Cohen Midge Decter Paula Dobriansky Steve Forbes

Aaron Friedberg Francis Fukuyama Frank Gaffney Fred C. Ikle

Donald Kagan Zalmay Khalilzad I. Lewis Libby Norman Podhoretz

Dan Quayle Peter W. Rodman Stephen P. Rosen Henry S. Rowen

Donald Rumsfeld Vin Weber George Weigel Paul Wolfowitz

Sorry Dick that is a Neo-Conservative foreign policy and signed by what would be the top national security officials of the Bush White House and Pentagon. But where is Dick? Well his name shows up in another document, this one the Letter to President Clinton on Iraq
Jan 28, 1998

The Honorable William J. Clinton
President of the United States
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.

The policy of “containment” of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over the past several months. As recent events have demonstrated, we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. Our ability to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not producing weapons of mass destruction, therefore, has substantially diminished. Even if full inspections were eventually to resume, which now seems highly unlikely, experience has shown that it is difficult if not impossible to monitor Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons production. The lengthy period during which the inspectors will have been unable to enter many Iraqi facilities has made it even less likely that they will be able to uncover all of Saddam’s secrets. As a result, in the not-too-distant future we will be unable to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess such weapons.

Such uncertainty will, by itself, have a seriously destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East. It hardly needs to be added that if Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard. As you have rightly declared, Mr. President, the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century will be determined largely by how we handle this threat.

Given the magnitude of the threat, the current policy, which depends for its success upon the steadfastness of our coalition partners and upon the cooperation of Saddam Hussein, is dangerously inadequate. The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.

We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.

We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country. If we accept a course of weakness and drift, we put our interests and our future at risk.

Sincerely,

Elliott Abrams Richard L. Armitage William J. Bennett

Jeffrey Bergner John Bolton Paula Dobriansky

Francis Fukuyama Robert Kagan Zalmay Khalilzad

William Kristol Richard Perle Peter W. Rodman

Donald Rumsfeld William Schneider, Jr. Vin Weber

Paul Wolfowitz R. James Woolsey Robert B. Zoellick

I could have bolded more names. But what really can’t be denied is that with the notable exceptions of Rice and Powell (who were largely side-lined by the people around Cheney) pretty much the entirety of what would become the Bush National Security team had already banded together and formulated a plan to invade Iraq. In 1997.

Sorry Dick. Neo-Conservatives can try to write themselves and their role in Bush Administration policy out of history. But maybe you should have taken the PNAC website down first. You wanted a war, you got a war, too bad it didn’t work out for you. But man up here.

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Hegemony on Steroids: the NeoCons, Iraq, and Historical Revisionism

by Bruce Webb

Paul Rosenberg has started an interesting series over at Open Left that in some ways could see my post What is the Nexus? as prologue.

The first post in the series is Hegemony On Steroids–Episode 35,879: “The Neocons Couldn’t A Dunnit!” It starts by stating one set of revisionist talking points eagerly being peddled by wingnuttia (and the Village) to keep from having to take responsibility for Iraq

Last week, the day before Christmas, Digby took note of an eager wanker (Frank Harvey, pimped by Kelly McParland) making the argument that if Gore had been President instead of Bush, we would have had the exact same clusterfuck, because (a) the neocons had nothing to do with it, that’s just a conspiracy theory! (b) invading Iraq was inevitable and (c) Al Gore had all sorts of hawkish attitudes, towards Iraq in particular, so, case closed!

Well Digby did a through take down on points (b) and (c). Mainly in that Al Gore came out publicly against the then current Bush approach on Sept 23, 2002, i.e. before the war. (Extensive quotes and links at OL). Which allows Paul to pursue assertion (a).

And in the course of that he totally demolishes the twin arguments that the Neo-Cons were not powerful enough to get everyone else to go along and that in the end everybody was sharing the same intelligence analysis. Both are simple nonsense and Paul lays out the case why that is so. Conclusion of part 1

In fact, if one looks carefully at what was going on behind the screen–and even just what was going on in plain sight–it soon becomes quite apparent that BushCo and the neocons were quite aware of how utterly flimsy their “evidence” was. They may have fooled some other folks–or at least bluffed them into playing safe and stiffling their doubts–but they knew all along their case couldn’t stand the light of day.

Which is why they never laid it out for anyone else to see. They knew very well that there was no “there” there. They were eager to show us all the evidence. They just didn’t have any.

In Part 2, we’ll take a closer look.

Link to Part 2 and some comments below the fold

Hegemony On Steroids–“The Neocons Couldn’t A Dunnit!”, Part 2

After the Iraq fiasco, the key to continuing neocon power was two-fold: First, disappearing the disaster. Second disappearing the neocons themselves. The disaster was disappeared by a series of rationalizations and redefinitions, the most important of which was the replacement of the original rationale–9/11, WMDs and all that–with goal of “democratization” (which the US originally had no interest in), and the replacement of all else with the mantra, “the surge is working.” Disappearing the neocons involved a rather extensive chameleon act, a key part of which was the erasure of their fingerprints all over everything in sight.
This is where we get the common bit of hegemonic narrative used to excuse the Iraq War, the claim that “everyone” believed the intelligence that Saddam had WMDs. This narrative is not just false, it’s a textbook case of how hegemonic discourse makes it virtually impossible to think straight about anything. There’s an old adage that if you ask the wrong questions, you can’t get the right answers. Hegemonic discourse works best by making sure that nothing but wrong questions get asked.

By implicitly making the question, “did everyone believe Saddam had WMDs?”–and not even asking it, but simply asserting an answer, every question we ought to be asking is summarily swept off the table. And the chance of making a truly fundamental break with the neocon direction is substantially weakened

If some of this sounds awfully familiar it should, various commenter/war supporters here have been faithfully pushing versions of this argument for years.

In any event Paul goes on to give a detailed chronological timeline of how the intelligence was being consciously shaped around the war policy. In other words the Brits had it exactly right in the Downing Street Memo. The question of why Blair and Powell and Rice and Tenet (none of them neo-cons) and yes too many congressional democrats went along is really the theme of the rest of the piece. The whole thing is longish but certainly worth it.

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What was the Nexus?

(Update. Not that it matters much at this point but I fixed the link to the Letter to President Clinton. BW 1/3/09)

No I am not asking about a car or misspelling LexisNexis or even talking about a new sequel to the Matrix. It is instead the question to be applied to the following list of names?

Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney and then in alphabetical order:

Elliott Abrams Richard L. Armitage Gary Bauer William J. Bennett

Jeffrey Bergner John Bolton Eliot Cohen Midge Decter Paula Dobriansky Steve Forbes

Aaron Friedberg Francis Fukuyama Frank Gaffney Fred C. Ikle Donald Kagan Robert Kagan Zalmay Khalilzad

William Kristol I. Lewis Libby Richard Perle Norman Podhoretz Dan Qualye Peter W. Rodman Stephen P. Rosen

Henry S. Rowen Donald Rumsfeld William Schneider, Jr. Vin Weber George Weigel Paul Wolfowitz

The answer is below the fold.
Is it a cross section of Republican leadership? Well no, not now and not when the list was compiled. In particular there are very few actual politicians on the list, if by politicians we mean people who ran for office and won.

Is it a list of people who served in the Reagan Administration in foreign policy positions or under Bush I? Well no, though you are getting close. Because some of these people have never to my knowledge had a formal position in government at all.

And while pretty much the entire top tier of the Bush II official security apparatus is represented (Cheney, Bolton, Rumsfeld, Abrams, Libby, Khalilzad) they far from exhaust the entire list. So that is not it either.

Well then is this list somehow bipartisan? Well no, I don’t think you could find a self-identified Democrat on the list. (Though there are a couple of names I am not immediately familiar with).

No what you have here is the combined signatories (because there is a lot of overlap) of the Project for a New American Century’s Statement of Principles of June 3, 1997 and the PNAC’s Letter to President Clinton of Jan 6, 1998.

As the Bush/Cheney regime winds down there are some ongoing and persistent attempts to shape the historical legacy of both men, and as all agree Iraq is going to be the largest element in that. The standard story being pushed is that Bush was a reluctant warrior pushed into war by bad intelligence and retransigence by Saddam. And moreover that that decision was joined in by the entire center-right including both Clintons, Gore and every Representative and Senator who voted for the AUMF in fall 2002. Well sorry I am here to call bullshit on that one and a look at the Statement and the Letter say why. First from the Statement

We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Note what is missing here. There is not a hint of multilateralism in any context other than ‘American global leadership’ and not a suggestion that the goal is to spread democracy or global prosperity or anything else for its own sake. Instead this New Century is to be an unabashedly American Century to further America’s own interests. This is a straight out call for global American hegemony. So how do we get there? Well lets look at the letter.

Given the magnitude of the threat, the current policy, which depends for its success upon the steadfastness of our coalition partners and upon the cooperation of Saddam Hussein, is dangerously inadequate. The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.

We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.

. Which translated means ‘screw consultation with our allies, forget complying with our treaty obligations under the UN Charter, we need to take the bastard out using all means necessary’.

Feel free to browse around the rest of the PNAC website. You won’t be able to dodge the conclusion that a certain self-identified group of past national security officials, opinion makers, and selected academics committed themselves in the mid-nineties to an aggressive policy of using unilateral US military force to shape the world in America’s image or at least in America’s interest. Starting with an invasion of Iraq. They were not able to get Clinton to move as aggressively as they liked, and in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore didn’t quite have the public support needed to stage a military invasion of Iraq. Until of course 9/11 intervened.

In any event anyone who thinks this war was in any fundamentally contingent on anything that happened in 2001 needs to review the record. All of these people eagerly signed on to a campaign of Iraq invasion with or without ally or UN agreement four or more years prior to 9/11. And it is hard not to identify these people with those that thought Bush I was too tentative after Gulf War I. These people were itching to get a war on, and Cheney’s appointment to lead the VP search team gave them all the opening they needed. Key team members were installed at high levels in State, Defense and the WH itself and all they were waiting for was an excuse.

A last observation. Note that while the plans may have always included a Bush, George wasn’t the first choice, instead it seems like JEB was going to be the figurehead (or given that he is by all accounts smarter than W, perhaps the actual leader).

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