Republican warmongers are beating their drum again.
By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet
The Iraq War hawks are back. And they have two knee-jerk ways of seeing the convulsions in Iraq where Sunni militants have seized cities from Syria to Baghdad’s doorstep, killing government workers and civilians, and grabbing weapons from a vanishing Iraqi Army.
First, it is always President Obama’s fault; and second, the U.S. must return to war, despite what has been one of the biggest debacles in American military history. Hawks are only happy when we are at war, fueling the military-industrial complex as U.S. soldiers die and platoons of maimed veterans return home to underfunded medical care.
The Iraq hawks are furious that the war effort, with almost 4,500 troop deaths, 320,000 veterans with brain injuries, costs estimated to top $4 trillion, and 650,000 or more Iraqi civilian deaths has come to this.
The war hawks despised Obama’ sensible remarks Friday, “This is not solely or even primarily a military challenge.” Worse yet, the president said that the answer was political—not more war. “The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together.”
Below are eight of today’s back-to-Iraq war hawks whose views should be firmly rejected. Many were war cheerleaders in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion, celebrating the fantasy of greater American glory by choosing to go to war. Indeed, as Rush Limbaugh said on nationally syndicated radio Friday, Obama has always planned on “losing in Iraq. It would be a repudiation of [George W.] Bush.”
Obama has his hawkish side—namely drone warfare. Indeed, on Saturday there were reports that a U.S. aircraft carrier was nearing Iraq. But that is not the same as George W. Bush’s cabal, which made “935 false statements” to Congress, the United Nations, and public to push for war between the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and 2003’s invasion, as documented by the Center for Public Integrity.
Yet the same warmongering editorial pages and many of the same writers who gladly carried the water for Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan are back at it.
As The Washington Post’s liberal blogger Paul Waldman aptly wrote Friday, the path forward is steeped in irony, the biggest of which may be that the U.S. is now finding itself allied with Iran to save the “corrupt and thuggish [Iraqi] government,” while the army that we bankrolled and trained fell apart. “There are few people who understand Iraq less than the Republican politicians and pundits who are being sought out for their comments on the current situation.”
We’ll turn to some of his right-wing WaPo colleagues in a minute, but our list of eight hawks to ignore starts with the man who still seems rattled by the fact he was not elected president in 2008.
1. Senator John McCain. Just because you had the terrible fate to be a Vietnam War prisoner-of-war and a defeated candidate doesn’t make you Washington’s wise man about all things war-related. This week, McCain has ended his anti-Obama remarks in the Senate by throwing down his text and stamping away. As Waldman reminded us, in 2003 McCain said invading U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators. He’s also said that centuries-old disputes between Sunnis and Shiites are not a factor in the region’s continuing unrest. Oh really? McCain also believed that the longest war in U.S. history would be brief.
2. Senator Lindsey Graham. The other half of the Senate’s dynamic pro-war duo is the Senator from South Carolina, who, after a classified Senate briefing told reporters that U.S. airstrikes were needed. “If American airpower is not interjected into the equation, I don’t see how you stop these people,” he said. “We’ve got another Benghazi in the making here,” she added, referring to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya that killed four people including the U.S. Ambassador.
Like McCain, you can assume that if Obama followed their advice, they’d still say it wasn’t enough. Moreover, how is Iraq’s collapse into civil war like Benghazi? That was an attack on an embassy outpost, whereas here the militants have seized the northern part of a vast country. Republican utterances like these are truly idiotic, throwing out “Benghazi” like programmed robots.
3. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon. Congress’s war hawks are not confined to the Senate. In the House, the chairman of the committee that oversees the Pentagon has been a voracious Obama critic on all of the recent big foreign policy challenges—Syria, Ukraine and now Iraq. On Friday, he sprouted a variety on the line that is echoing around the right-wing opinion pages: forceful action is needed and that’s just what we’re not getting from Obama. “The White House has a history of ‘considering all options’ while choosing none,” McKeon told UPI. “There are no quick fix solutions to this crisis and I will not support a one shot strike that looks good for the cameras but has no enduring effect.”
What Obama actually said on Friday was that he was looking at several options–political, diplomatic and possibly airpower. “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of options that could help support Iraqi security forces, and I’ll be reviewing those options in he days ahead.”
4. Former George W. Bush Speechwriter Micheal Gerson.There are plenty of hawks with prominent podiums as Washington Post columnists—and we’ll get to more shortly. But the WaPo’s Gerson represents a special breed that needs to be chastized: he was Bush’s top speechwriter in the run up to the 2003 invasion, where he helped craft the lies that launched that war—hundreds of White House statements. Today, he and his warmonger brethren are touting a slick line, trying to bait Obama into sending in ground troops by saying that the President isn’t a strong enough leader. “Risk aversion, it turns out, can multiply complications,” he wrote in a Thursday piece entitled, “End of Illusions.”
Talk about hypocrisy: the war-of-choice in Iraq was a neo-con illusion, based on a vain belief that the U.S. could redraw the political map of the oil-rich region. We’re sure seeing how that’s worked out.
5. Wall Street Journal Columnist Daniel Henninger. This longtime editorial writer is doubling down on Gerson’s critique that Obama isn’t a manly enough president. He has the gall to suggest that it hardly matters if the U.S. got into Iraq over false pretenses, as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham) may be a bigger threat than Saddam Hussein’s purported-but-nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. “Now, if you want to vent about ‘George Bush’s war,’ be my guest. But George Bush isn’t president anymore.” Henninger complained, saying that Obama was allowing a “restored caliphate,” or Islamic state, and surely American intelligence agencies saw this uprising Sunni coming. Maybe they didn’t see it—and that is why Obama is doing what George Bush didn’t do: pull the trigger based on real facts.
Indeed, on Friday, Obama alluded to the intelligence gaps in his remarks, saying that was a reason to go slow. “We want to make sure that we have good eyes on the situation there. We want to make sure that we’ve gathered all the intelligence that’s necessary so if, in fact, I do direct and order any actions there, that they’re targeted, they’re precise and they’re going to have an effect.”
6. Fox News Analyst/WaPo Writer Charles Krauthammer. The syndicated columnist has been one of Obama’s most persistent critics—saying, as was the case with the U.S. intervention in the Libyan civil war, that what the president did was too little, too late. Krauthammer told Fox News on Thursday that the seizure of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and rural stretches was a national security threat that transcended Obama’s leadership—as if north-western Iraq should be the 51st state.
“Obama threw away the fruits of victory,” he said. “Al-Qaida is arguably now the strongest it has ever been and it’s a result of Obama’s policies.” This is fantasy. The entire experience in Iraq hasn’t been a military victory, as America’s enemies have been waiting for us to leave—and once we did they surfaced and began reclaiming territory. But Krauthammer, who evaded military service during the Vietnam War, believes that there’s glory in foreign war without end.
7. The Weekly Standard’s Max Boot. Like Krauthammer, Boot takes personal offense that the military’s victories in Sunni-dominated Iraq are unraveling. “Mosul was the last major city to be pacified by the successful ‘surge,’” he said, referring to Obama’s decision to increase troop levels in 2010, as the Pentagon and Senate hawks wanted and got. Boot absurdly blames Obama for “restarting the war” by withdrawing troops too quickly—and says that Henry Kissinger never made that error at the end of the Vietnam War.
But unlike Gerson, Henninger and Krauthammer—who bait Obama but never say what they’d do—Boot says that what’s needed is American soldiers: “See if Iraq might be willing to accept the return of U.S. military advisers, intelligence personnel, Predators, and Special Operations Forces, along with enhanced military aid.” That’s a formula for creating a divided Iraq with troops on whatever border emerges for decades—just like North and South Korea.
8. Washington Post Columnist Jennifer Rubin. The WaPo columnist, whose feature is called Right Turn, makes this list for the type of opinion journalism she typifies: making nasty personal swipes as if scoring points in the sport of politics is all that matters. After Obama said why a military solution will not work, she wrote, “In case you weren’t sufficiently concerned about the president’s lack of spine and clarity on Iraq, his brief appearance today should have shaken you from your slumber. He seemed to come out with a statement because everyone is clamoring for him to say something, not because he had anything much to say.”
For the record, here’s what Obama said ending his remarks in Friday: “We’re not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we’re not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country.”
Excuse me, that’s saying something—not ducking.
What’s going on is George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq lit a time bomb that has cost trillions of taxpayer dollars, killed thousands of U.S. soldiers, maimed 320,000 with brain injuries, and left more than 650,000 Iraqis dead. Despite everything the U.S. has tried, Iraq is still falling into chaos and civil war of its own making. Yet America’s war hawks want us to go back in, for ridiculous reasons that can only make a bad situation worse.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).