War Is Over (If You Want It)

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" cliche, thirty years
after its sell-by date, by adding "even liberals like [ex-New
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 tete-a-tete 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

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