“That anyone pays [attention] to neocons after their serial disasters is eloquent testimony to [the] irresponsibility of US foreign policy institutions” — Stephen Walt, on Twitter, June 17.
If Walt is correct, then these foreign policy institutions, as well as the mainstream media, were pretty irresponsible in the days following the domino-like overrun of Iraqi cities by Sunni-led ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) this month. While the very architects and defenders of the Bush Administration’s War in Iraq were scheduled in rapid succession on that first weekend’s round of talk shows, The New York Times actually sent a reporter out to Robert Kagan’s house to talk about his exhausting New Republic treatise promoting – again – America as both the reluctant and righteous superpower that must intervene to keep the world right.
In the NYT article, “Events in Iraq Open Door for Interventionist Revival, Historian Says ,” Jason Horowitz takes a sycophantic turn on the shopworn story of the “Kagan clan,” and while Iraq is literally burning, expends precious ink telling us “Mr. Kagan, who often works in a book-lined studio of his cedar home here in the Washington suburbs, exudes a Cocoa-Puffs-pouring, stay-at-home-dad charm.”
If that weren’t cringeworthy enough, there is a color photo of Professor Coco-Puff in his one-percenter studio in the Washington ’burbs, and a line about how he fell in love with his now-Assistant Secretary of State wife Victoria Nuland, “talking about democracy and the role of America in the world.”
But the swift rebuke of Kagan, his family and ilk in the last week indicates that, like the Twisted Sister declaration of war against the shackles of self expression in the 1980’s, “we’re not going to take it anymore,” the sorry predominance of the warmonger in our mainstream discourse – at least on the issue of Iraq – is coming to an end.
“With Iraq in the news again, a whole host of war boosters have re-entered the public conversation, despite their utter lack of credibility,” wrote Slate’s Jamelle Bouie “Neocons deserve one thing: to be ignored.”
The Atlantic’s James Fallows, who has been criticizing the Washington media hive for decades, is usually a soft touch. But the re-emergence of the folks like Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan’s little brother Fred Kagan appeared to set his teeth on edge.
“In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”
There was this Tweet from Mother Jones, reacting, as many across the Twitter universe did, to Paul Wolfowitz making the June 15 Sunday talk show rounds.
“Why in the hell are people letting Paul Wolfowitz act like he’s an expert on Iraq?” the magazine demanded, leading to a piece by David Corn, who reminded that Wolfowitz had not only been wrong on how many troops it would take to stabilize the country after tearing it up in 2003, but had early-on dismissed the idea of a sectarian civil war (between Shia and Sunni).
Now, the deputy secretary of defense is on TV insisting, as he did with Chuck Todd on MSNBC the other day that he was “no architect” of the war in Iraq. “If I had been the architect, things would have been run very differently. So, that’s not a correct label.” He said the same to CNN’s Chris Cuomo who introduced him as such. It seems he has been denying it for years.
Like his neocon comrades—Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kagan, and others—Wolfowitz does not deserve to be presented as an expert with important ideas about the ongoing mess. He and the rest of this gang should have had their pundit licenses revoked after the Iraq War.
Matt Berman at The National Journal seems to suggest these neocons are a bit delusional about their cache with the American public. He pointed to a recent op-ed by former vice president Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz Cheney in The Wall Street Journal. The Cheneys, “without a hint of self-awareness,” writes Berman, attempt to blame Obama for the current situation in Iraq, at one point writing, “rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”
You may remember that when Dick Cheney left office in 2009, his approval rating was at 13 percent. At that same time, just 25 percent of Americans approved of how the Bush administration handled the war in Iraq during his presidency. Cheney may not know it, but this isn’t a particularly trusted foreign policy brain trust we’re talking about.
Luckily, when one of these blossoms pops up on Morning Joe or CNN, there is someone to pluck it out of the dung. Example: former Iraq viceroy Paul Bremer, who is often credited with singlehandedly losing the first and most important battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, did his circuit last week. CNN’s Erin Burnett didn’t skip a beat.
Erin Burnett, arguably one of the most corporate of the corporate mainstream anchors on cable today, nonetheless seemed genuinely flummoxed over Bremer’s suggestion that another intervention into Iraq was in order. She pummeled him to the point where he sputtered, “Usually the system goes, you ask a question, the guest answers is, then you ask your next question.”
Former Bush Ambassador to the UN John Bolton got equally flustered in a interview with “The Independents,” a panel of libertarians on the Fox Business channel. Host Kennedy came out swinging on the issue of his culpability, leaving Bolton to charge, “I am not responsible for Iraq today. That’s because of what Barack Obama did!”
Things got decidedly more interesting as some of the architects have decided to double down and advocate for more war, including airstrikes and “boots on the ground.”
Blaming Obama was one thing – petty, politically predictable – but asking America to put more men and women at personal risk after so many had been killed and maimed — and for what? – this is the height of Big Daddy Mendacity. Especially hearing this from Wolfowitz, Kristol, Fred Kagan, and Sen. John McCain, the orchestrators and promoters of the so-called “surge” in 2007. That spectacular plan, touted as the key to saving Iraq, didn’t “win” the war but likely helped put Iraq on the path we see now.
Even David Ignatius, who could hardly be called “critical” of anything most of the time, blamed “America’s failed intervention in Iraq” for the shattering of the “rough balance in the region” in a column June 17. Talk about losing the narrative.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” John Heilemann, Bloomberg Politics managing editor, told Kristol to his face on Morning Joe when Kristol suggested U.S. soldiers in Iraq once more.
“This is American blood you’re talking about! You want to send people into another intervention in which most people in the country believe that this is a centuries-old sectarian violence that we have no place and no ability to solve!”
But what did he really expect from Kristol, who in 2003 told Terry Gross on NPR that “I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America, that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni.”
Jim Newell at Salon questions the judgment of the “upper echelons of the media” for letting these guys trot out their demands for open-ended intervention in Iraq – a plan which poll after poll indicates the American people are squarely against.
“There are probably only 10 or 20 people total in the United States now who agree with the neocon consensus that Iraq must be reinvaded indefinitely,” he wrote. “Why offer such a fringe opinion such ample media space? What sense does that make?”
It doesn’t make any sense unless they give ample space to the other side – Stephen Walt, Andrew Bacevich (check out his delicious takedown of Robert Kagan on June 4), and others who’ve been critical of the War in Iraq all along, not just when Obama won the White House.
Until then, the strident media pushback will have to do. And there is no one better than Jon Stewart who last week called out the media’s “rush to get the band back together” with “old Johnny Rotten” McCain as the proverbial front man.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for FoxNews.com, a regular contributor to antiwar.com, and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Border News Network. Follow her on Twitter @KelleyBVlahos