My Facebook feed is filling with a clip from Megyn Kelly’s Fox News Channel show the other night, which featured the chyron headline PRES BUSH’S PROPHETIC IRAQ WARNING. The piece features a 2007 statement made by then President G.W. Bush warning against premature withdrawal from Iraq:
I know some in Washington would like us to start leaving Iraq now. To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we’re ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States. It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to Al Qaida. It’d mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It’d mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It’d mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.
Kelly reacts as if she had just heard from Nostradamus, and turns to former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, who then blames Obama for ISIS.
This clip keeps being sent to me as proof that Dubya told us so, and that Obama is an idiot. Let’s remember a few things:
1. Bush sold the Iraq War on the premise that it would be relatively quick, that we would get in there, knock off Saddam, and the grateful Iraqis would respond by setting up a functional democracy in the Middle East, one that would be our ally. Let’s remind ourselves what the Bush administration was saying, via Dick Cheney, in September 2003, six months after the Iraq war started:
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to one of the most quoted passages from MEET THE PRESS when you were on in March, and that was trying to anticipate the reaction we would receive from the Iraqi people. Let’s watch:
(Videotape, March 16, 2003):
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct and we’re not treated as liberators but as conquerors and the Iraqis begin to resist particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don’t think it’s unlikely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators. I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with various groups and individuals, people who’ve devoted their lives from the outside to try and change things inside of Iraq.
The read we get on the people of Iraq is there’s no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: We have not been greeted as liberated.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we have by most Iraqis. I think the majority of Iraqis are thankful for the fact that the United States is there, that we came and we took down the Saddam Hussein government. And I think if you go in vast areas of the country, the Shia in the south, which are about 60 percent of the population, 20-plus percent in the north, in the Kurdish areas, and in some of the Sunni areas, you’ll find that, for the most part, a majority of Iraqis support what we did.
MR. RUSSERT: People like Ahmed Chalabi, former Iraqis who came in and briefed—you talked about—did they sell us a bill of goods? Did they tell us this would be easier, that we’d be welcomed with flowers, and not the kind of armed resistance we’re being met with?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think they felt—certainly, they were advocates of the U.S. action because they wanted to liberate Iraq from, you know, what has been one of the worst dictatorships of the 20th century, the Saddam Hussein regime. And I see and receive evidence on a fairly regular basis. I mean, if you go out and look at what’s happening on the ground, you’ll find that there is widespread support.
The point is this: you don’t get to praise Bush for his 2007 foresight without recognizing that his catastrophic lack of same embroiled the nation in this pointless war.
2. It was George W. Bush and the Iraqi government who decided when U.S. troops would leave, not Barack Obama. From Time, October 21, 2011:
In one of his final acts in office, President Bush in December of 2008 had signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that set the clock ticking on ending the war he’d launched in March of 2003. The SOFA provided a legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after the United Nations Security Council mandate for the occupation mission expired at the end of 2008. But it required that all U.S. forces be gone from Iraq by January 1, 2012, unless the Iraqi government was willing to negotiate a new agreement that would extend their mandate. And as Middle East historian Juan Cole has noted, “Bush had to sign what the [Iraqi] parliament gave him or face the prospect that U.S. troops would have to leave by 31 December, 2008, something that would have been interpreted as a defeat… Bush and his generals clearly expected, however, that over time Washington would be able to wriggle out of the treaty and would find a way to keep a division or so in Iraq past that deadline.”
But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.
So, while U.S. commanders would have liked to have kept a division or more behind in Iraq to face any contingencies — and, increasingly, Administration figures had begun citing the challenge of Iran, next door — it was Iraqi democracy that put the kibosh on that goal. The Bush Administration had agreed in 2004 to restore Iraqi sovereignty, and in 2005 put the country’s elected government in charge of shaping its destiny. But President Bush hadn’t anticipated that Iraqi democracy would see pro-U.S. parties sidelined and would, instead, consistently return governments closer to Tehran than they are to Washington. Contra expectations, a democratic Iraq has turned out to be at odds with much of U.S. regional strategy — first and foremost its campaign to isolate Iran.
President Obama was faulted for not pushing harder against the Maliki government to amend the SOFA so that US troops could stay longer. It may be a fair criticism, but that brings us to the third point:
3. Three out of four Americans in 2011 wanted the president to withdraw all US troops from Iraq. Read the Gallup poll; how soon, and how conveniently, we forget. You cannot keep US soldiers in a hopeless war with 75 percent of the country against that policy. Gallup’s poll numbers show that even though the percentage of Americans in 2014 who believe total withdrawal was the right thing is down to 61 percent, that’s still a strong majority. President Obama did what the Iraqis would allow him to do — it’s their country, after all — and what the American people wanted him to do.
This Bush prophecy business is b.s. through and through. It’s important to say that now, because Dick Cheney, one of the principal architects of one of the worst disasters in US foreign policy and military history, is now making an “I Told You So” tour, back in Washington (a standing ovation at AEI!) spreading his wisdom to appreciative conservative audiences. It’s like they let Bernie Madoff work on Wall Street again, or returned the FEMA portfolio to Brownie.
This is Republican poison. And you watch: Rand Paul aside, the whole party is going to swallow it again, like dogs going back to their own vomit.