The philosophers behind the bloodbath in Iraq are now washing their hands
Here come the odious excuses
By Robert Fisk
11/11/06 "The Independent" -- -- "Great news from America!" the
cashier at my local Beirut bookshop shouted at me yesterday morning,
raising her thumbs in the air. "Things will be better after these
elections?" Alas, I said. Alas, no. Things are going to get worse in
the Middle East even if, in two years' time, America is blessed with a
Democrat (and democratic) president. For the disastrous philosophers
behind the bloodbath in Iraq are now washing their hands of the whole
mess and crying "Not Us!" with the same enthusiasm as the Lebanese
lady in my book shop, while the "experts" on the mainstream US east
coast press are preparing the ground for our Iraqi retreat - by
blaming it all on those greedy, blood-lusting, anarchic, depraved,
I must say that Richard Perle's version of a mea culpa did take my
breath away. Here was the ex-chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy
Board Advisory Committee - he who once told us that "Iraq is a very
good candidate for democratic reform" - now admitting that he
"underestimated the depravity" in Iraq. He holds the president
responsible, of course, acknowledging only that - and here, dear
reader, swallow hard - "I think if I had been Delphic, and had seen
where we are today, and people had said: 'Should we go into Iraq?' I
think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other
Maybe I find this self-righteous, odious mea culpa all the more
objectionable because the same miserable man was shouting abuse down a
radio line to me in Baghdad a couple of years ago, condemning me for
claiming that America was losing its war in Iraq and claiming that I
was "a supporter of the maintenance of the Baathist regime". This lie,
I might add, was particularly malicious since I was reporting Saddam's
mass rapes and mass hangings at Abu Ghraib prison (and being refused
Iraqi visas) when Perle and his cohorts were silent about Saddam's
wickedness and when their chum Donald Rumsfeld was cheerfully shaking
the monster's hand in Baghdad in an attempt to reopen the US embassy
Not that Perle isn't in good company. Kenneth Adelman, the Pentagon
neocon who also beat the drums for war, has been telling Vanity Fair
that "the idea of using our power for moral good in the world" is
dead. As for Adelman's mate David Frumm, well he's decided that George
Bush just "did not absorb the ideas" behind the speeches Frumm wrote
for him. But this, I'm afraid, is not the worst to come from those who
encouraged us to invade Iraq and start a war which has cost the lives
of perhaps 600,000 civilians.
For a new phenomenon is creeping into the pages of The New York Times
and those other great organs of state in America. For those
journalists who supported the war, it's not enough to bash George. No,
they've got a new flag to fly: the Iraqis don't deserve us. David
Brooks - he who once told us that neocons such as Perle had nothing to
do with the President's decision to invade Iraq - has been ransacking
his way through Elie Kedourie's 1970 essay on the British occupation
of Mesopotamia in the 1920s. And what has he discovered? That "the
British tried to encourage responsible leadership to no avail",
quoting a British officer at the time as concluding that Iraqi Shia
"have no motive for refraining from sacrificing the interests of Iraq
to those which they conceive to be their own".
But the Brooks article in The New York Times was also frightening.
Iraq, he now informs us, is suffering "a complete social integration",
and "American blunders" were exacerbated "by the same old Iraqi
demons: greed, blood lust and a mind-boggling unwillingness to
compromise, even in the face of self-immolation". Iraq, Brooks has
decided, is "teetering on the edge of futility" (whatever that means)
and if American troops cannot restore order, "it will be time to
effectively end Iraq", diffusing authority down to "the clan, the
tribe or sect" which - wait for it - are "the only communities which
Nor should you believe that the Brooks article represents a lone
voice. Here is Ralph Peters, a USA Today writer and retired US army
officer. He had supported the invasion because, he says, he was
"convinced that the Middle East was so politically, socially, morally
and intellectually stagnant that we (sic) had to risk intervention -
or face generations of terrorism and tumult". For all Washington's
errors, Peters boasts, "we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to
build a rule-of-law democracy".
But those pesky Iraqis, it now seems, "preferred to indulge in old
hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of
corruption". Peters' conclusion? "Arab societies can't support
democracy as we know it." As a result, "it's their tragedy, not ours.
Iraq was the Arab world's last chance to board the train to modernity,
to give the region a future...". Incredibly, Peters finishes by
believing that "if the Arab world and Iran embark on an orgy of
bloodshed, the harsh truth is that we may be the beneficiaries"
because Iraq will have "consumed" "terrorists" and the United States
will "still be the greatest power on earth".
It's not the shamefulness of all this - do none of these men have any
shame? - but the racist assumption that the hecatomb in Iraq is all
the fault of the Iraqis, that their intrinsic backwardness, their
viciousness, their failure to appreciate the fruits of our
civilisation make them unworthy of our further attention. At no point
does anyone question whether the fact that America is "the greatest
power on earth" might not be part of the problem. Nor that Iraqis who
endured among their worst years of dictatorship when Saddam was
supported by the United States, who were sanctioned by the UN at a
cost of a half a million children's lives and who were then brutally
invaded by our armies, might not actually be terribly keen on all the
good things we wished to offer them. Many Arabs, as I've written
before, would like some of our democracy, but they would also like
another kind of freedom - freedom from us.
But you get the point. We are preparing our get-out excuses. The
Iraqis don't deserve us. Screw them. That's the grit we're laying down
on the desert floor to help our tanks
Neocons turn sharply on Bush administration
by David Rose
November 3, 2006
As Iraq slips further into chaos, the war's neoconservative boosters
have turned sharply on the Bush administration, charging that their
grand designs have been undermined by White House incompetence. In a
series of exclusive interviews, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, David
Frum, and others play the blame game with shocking frankness. Target
No. 1: the president himself.
I remember sitting with Richard Perle in his suite at London's
Grosvenor House hotel and receiving a private lecture on the
importance of securing victory in Iraq. "Iraq is a very good candidate
for democratic reform," he said. "It won't be Westminster overnight,
but the great democracies of the world didn't achieve the full, rich
structure of democratic governance overnight. The Iraqis have a decent
chance of succeeding." Perle seemed to exude the scent of liberation,
as well as a whiff of gunpowder. It was February 2003, and Operation
Iraqi Freedom, the culmination of his long campaign on behalf of
regime change in Iraq, was less than a month away.
Three years later, Perle and I meet again at his home outside
Washington, D.C. It is October, the worst month for U.S. casualties in
Iraq in almost two years, and Republicans are bracing for losses in
the upcoming midterm elections. As he looks into my eyes, speaking
slowly and with obvious deliberation, Perle is unrecognizable as the
confident hawk who, as chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board
Advisory Committee, had invited the exiled Iraqi dissident Ahmad
Chalabi to its first meeting after 9/11. "The levels of brutality that
we've seen are truly horrifying, and I have to say, I underestimated
the depravity," Perle says now, adding that total defeatan American
withdrawal that leaves Iraq as an anarchic "failed state"is not yet
inevitable but is becoming more likely. "And then," says Perle,
"you'll get all the mayhem that the world is capable of creating."
According to Perle, who left the Defense Policy Board in 2004, this
unfolding catastrophe has a central cause: devastating dysfunction
within the administration of President George W. Bush. Perle says,
"The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get
made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out
At the end of the day, you have to hold the president
I don't think he realized the extent of the opposition
within his own administration, and the disloyalty."
Perle goes so far as to say that, if he had his time over, he would
not have advocated an invasion of Iraq: "I think if I had been
delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should
we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's
consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us
most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to
I don't say that because I no longer believe that
Saddam had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, or
that he was not in contact with terrorists. I believe those two
premises were both correct. Could we have managed that threat by means
other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have."
Having spoken with Perle, I wonder: What do the rest of the pro-war
neoconservatives think? If the much caricatured "Prince of Darkness"
is now plagued with doubt, how do his comrades-in-arms feel? I am
particularly interested in finding out because I interviewed many
neocons before the invasion and, like many people, found much to
admire in their vision of spreading democracy in the Middle East.
I expect to encounter disappointment. What I find instead is despair,
and fury at the incompetence of the Bush administration the
neoconservatives once saw as their brightest hope.
To David Frum, the former White House speechwriter who co-wrote Bush's
2002 State of the Union address that accused Iraq of being part of an
"axis of evil," it now looks as if defeat may be inescapable, because
"the insurgency has proven it can kill anyone who cooperates, and the
United States and its friends have failed to prove that it can protect
them." This situation, he says, must ultimately be blamed on "failure
at the center"starting with President Bush.
Kenneth Adelman, a lifelong neocon activist and Pentagon insider who
served on the Defense Policy Board until 2005, wrote a famous op-ed
article in The Washington Post in February 2002, arguing: "I believe
demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a
cakewalk." Now he says, "I just presumed that what I considered to be
the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed
going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most
incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them,
individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly,
Fearing that worse is still to come, Adelman believes that
neoconservatism itselfwhat he defines as "the idea of a tough foreign
policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral
good in the world"is dead, at least for a generation. After Iraq, he
says, "it's not going to sell." And if he, too, had his time over,
Adelman says, "I would write an article that would be skeptical over
whether there would be a performance that would be good enough to
implement our policy. The policy can be absolutely right, and noble,
beneficial, but if you can't execute it, it's useless, just useless. I
guess that's what I would have said: that Bush's arguments are
absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the
drawer marked can't do. And that's very different from let's go."
I spend the better part of two weeks in conversations with some of the
most respected voices among the neoconservative elite. What I discover
is that none of them is optimistic. All of them have regrets, not only
about what has happened but also, in many cases, about the roles they
played. Their dismay extends beyond the tactical issues of whether
America did right or wrong, to the underlying question of whether
exporting democracy is something America knows how to do.
I will present my findings in full in the January issue of Vanity
Fair, which will reach newsstands in New York and L.A. on December 6
and nationally by December 12. In the meantime, here is a brief survey
of some of what I heard from the war's remorseful proponents.
Richard Perle: "In the administration that I served [Perle was an
assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan], there was a
one-sentence description of the decision-making process when consensus
could not be reached among disputatious departments: 'The president
makes the decision.' [Bush] did not make decisions, in part because
the machinery of government that he nominally ran was actually running
him. The National Security Council was not serving [Bush] properly. He
regarded [then National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice] as part of
Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute freedom scholar: "Ask
yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are
women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet
Miers, and Karen Hughes."
Frank Gaffney, an assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan
and founder of the Center for Security Policy: "[Bush] doesn't in fact
seem to be a man of principle who's steadfastly pursuing what he
thinks is the right course. He talks about it, but the policy doesn't
track with the rhetoric, and that's what creates the incoherence that
causes us problems around the world and at home. It also creates the
sense that you can take him on with impunity."
Kenneth Adelman: "The most dispiriting and awful moment of the whole
administration was the day that Bush gave the Presidential Medal of
Freedom to [former C.I.A. director] George Tenet, General Tommy
Franks, and [Coalition Provisional Authority chief] Jerry [Paul]
Bremerthree of the most incompetent people who've ever served in such
key spots. And they get the highest civilian honor a president can
bestow on anyone! That was the day I checked out of this
administration. It was then I thought, There's no seriousness here,
these are not serious people. If he had been serious, the president
would have realized that those three are each directly responsible for
the disaster of Iraq."
David Frum: "I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could
persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would
feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the
big shock to me has been that although the president said the words,
he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe,
Condoleezza Rice. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Michael Rubin, former Pentagon Office of Special Plans and Coalition
Provisional Authority staffer: "Where I most blame George Bush is that
through his rhetoric people trusted him, people believed him.
Reformists came out of the woodwork and exposed themselves." By
failing to match his rhetoric with action, Rubin adds, Bush has
betrayed Iraqi reformers in a way that is "not much different from
what his father did on February 15, 1991, when he called the Iraqi
people to rise up, and then had second thoughts and didn't do anything
once they did."
Richard Perle: "Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear
on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no
voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened
after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I'm getting damn tired of
being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing
down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had
no responsibility for that."
Kenneth Adelman: "The problem here is not a selling job. The problem
is a performance job.
Rumsfeld has said that the war could never be
lost in Iraq, it could only be lost in Washington. I don't think
that's true at all. We're losing in Iraq.
I've worked with [Rumsfeld]
three times in my life. I've been to each of his houses, in Chicago,
Taos, Santa Fe, Santo Domingo, and Las Vegas. I'm very, very fond of
him, but I'm crushed by his performance. Did he change, or were we
wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never really challenged
before? I don't know. He certainly fooled me."
Eliot Cohen, director of the strategic-studies program at the Johns
Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and member of the
Defense Policy Board: "I wouldn't be surprised if what we end up
drifting toward is some sort of withdrawal on some sort of timetable
and leaving the place in a pretty ghastly mess.
I do think it's going
to end up encouraging various strands of Islamism, both Shia and
Sunni, and probably will bring de-stabilization of some regimes of a
more traditional kind, which already have their problems.
news is that the United States remains a healthy, vibrant, vigorous
society. So in a real pinch, we can still pull ourselves together.
Unfortunately, it will probably take another big hit. And a very
different quality of leadership. Maybe we'll get it."
David Rose is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.
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