On Sunday, Elliot Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, published an article in POLITICO Magazine arguing that Obama is, as the headline declares, “the man who broke the Middle East.” He isn’t alone. Blanketing the airwaves and op-ed sections of newspapers, former officials like Vice President Dick Cheney and former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer have found themselves nearly unchallenged in supporting the vision of the Bush administration in launching the war in Iraq in the first place, all while laying the blame for Iraq’s current turmoil at the feet of the current White House. While the Abrams and Bremers of the world find themselves back in the spotlight, the media has done a less than impressive job raising the profile of those who rightly doubted the wisdom of invading Iraq. Here’s a few of them for future reference:
1. Brent Scowcroft
Scowcroft served as the National Security Adviser to President George H.W. Bush, a role he’d first played under Gerald Ford. Though still closely aligned with the elder Bush, Scowcroft was sharply critical of the rationale for going after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. While members of the younger Bush’s administration were busy spinning media reports that the Hussein was closely tied to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, Scowcroft was knocking down that belief.
“We’ve got to be looking at priorities here,” Scowcroft told PBS in October 2001. “Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common. As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren’t for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein. … That doesn’t mean they can’t cooperate, and might not cooperate. But what I’m saying is we need to get our priorities straight, and we’ve got them straight right now. We’re going after the number one target.”
2. Gen. Anthony Zinni (ret.)
A former Marine General who commanded U.S. Central Command during Operation: Desert Fox, which struck at Iraqi installations during the Clinton administration, Zinni was no stranger to the country. Zinni served as the U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East in the lead-up to the war, and openly questioned the argument that invasion was necessary. “I can give you many more [priorities] before I get to that,’’ Zinni told an audience at the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee in 2002 when asked if the United States should move to remove Hussein. Instead, Zinni said the country should focus on negotiating peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and on eliminating the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaida. “We need to make sure the Taliban and al-Qaida can’t come back,’’ he said.
When his skepticism was proved to be correct, Zinni wasn’t shy about saying so. “Yes, in my view, it was a blunder,” Zinni said in 2004, talking with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “The president was not served well with strategy, planning, and decisions made from there. I think they misled him on what to expect — the rationale, the elements for the strategy, to the situation on the ground. It wasn’t going to be a pie-in-the-sky welcome in the streets with flowers. Anyone who knew the region and knew the country knew what this was not going to happen.”
3. Richard Clarke
As he detailed in his book “Against All Enemies,” former National Security Council counterterrorism director Clarke saw from very early on that the Bush administration would be focused on Iraq no matter how tenuous the connection to al Qaeda. “I think we knew prior to 9/11 that there was serious interest in having something happen with Iraq,” he said to PBS. “Beginning on the night of 9/11, we have the secretary of defense and others talking about going to war with Iraq. I think we knew pretty much that week that the probability of finding a justification for going to war with Iraq was high on their agenda.”
“Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq … We all said, ‘but no, no, al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan,’” Clarke said in an interview with CBS in 2004. “And Rumsfeld said, ‘There aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan, and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.’ I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with [the September 11 attacks].’” In recent months, Clarke has said that the actions the Bush administration took in Iraq “probably fall within the area of war crimes.”
4 & 5. Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame
In his January 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush said “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” the infamous 16 words that were later proved to be based on shoddy intelligence deliberately spun to sound more definite than it actual was. Former Ambassador Joe Wilson in July of that year wrote at the Washington Post that when he had been sent to Niger to investigate the claims, he found no evidence that Hussein was actually purchasing yellowcake uranium from the west African country. “The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership,” Wilson wrote. “If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.”
A few days after Wilson’s piece, the Washington Post’s Robert Novak wrote “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.” Plame’s identity as a CIA operative was to this point undisclosed, launching an investigation into just who in the Bush administration leaked the classified information. The result is that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, close aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice over the disclosure.
6. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Lee first made waves in 2001 for her being the sole “No” vote against the authorization to use force against Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. Less than two years later, Lee was one of a small number of Democrats committed to avoiding war with Iraq. “We do not have to go to war, we have alternatives,” she said at the time. Lee also led the charge on a bill in the House that would have expressed the sense of Congress that “the United States should work through the United Nations to seek to resolve the matter of ensuring that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction, through mechanisms such as the resumption of weapons inspections, negotiation, inquiry, mediation, regional arrangements, and other peaceful means.” That bill died in the House International Relations committee.
In the end, she was one of 133 in the House to vote against the war in Iraq. Recently, Lee introduced several amendments to the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act formally barring the U.S. from funding renewed combat operations in Iraq.
7. Howard Dean
Before his campaign collapsed in early 2004, former Vermont governor Dean was the leading candidate in the Democratic primary because of his prescient stance against the war in Iraq. “My view of this is since Iraq is not an imminent danger to the United States, the United States should not unilaterally attack Iraq,” Dean told PBS’ Gwen Ifill in February 2003, a little less than two months before the invasion was launched. “Iraq does not have nuclear weapons. They do not have much of a nuclear program, if they have one at all left. And they have not… there is not any particular evidence that is convincing that they have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. All those three things would constitute, in my view, a reason to defend our country by unilaterally attacking. But those are not the cases.”
In the same month, Dean slammed Congress for passing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force giving the Bush administration a green-light to act. “Had I been a member of the Senate, I would have voted against the resolution that authorized the President to use unilateral force against Iraq — unlike others in that body now seeking the presidency,” Dean said in a speech at Drake University. “That the President was given open-ended authority to go to war in Iraq resulted from a failure of too many in my party in Washington who were worried about political positioning for the presidential election. To this day, the President has not made a case that war against Iraq, now, is necessary to defend American territory, our citizens, our allies, or our essential interests.”
8. Colin Powell
Though a controversial choice for this list, Powell actually has more credibility to speak on the issue of Iraq than any other Cabinet-level member of the Bush administration. Critics of Powell will never forgive him for his role in selling the war, including his dramatic presentation at the United Nations making the case for Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. In the years since, however, Powell has acknowledged that the information he had provided was “not solid.” In an interview with Barbara Walters soon after leaving the administration, Powell said: “I’m the one who presented it to the world, and (it) will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It is painful now.”
In his memoir, he also he writes that his presentation at the U.N. was “one of my most momentous failures. … I am mad at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.” While some say that he dodged his own personal responsibility for Iraq, this is far more than many officials have given, many of whom are now making the case that it’s really Obama that is to blame for Iraq’s current situation. In addition, unlike many of those officials, Powell has actually served time in the military, including being Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War.
It was pointed out that the above list includes exactly zero Iraqis. This point is well-taken, as cable networks reaching out to Iraqi members of government, journalists, university professors, and average citizens would do a much better job of framing the conflict than the political sniping from Bush-era proponents of invasion. For example, the non-profit group Niqash has been reporting from on the ground in Iraq as the crisis has unfolded and its writers would be a welcome presence on television screens.