Frank Rich's opposition to anything George W. Bush has ever done or might ever do led him to be much more prescient about the failures in Iraq than many were (including me). Today, he writes (TimesDelete) about the attempt to hold Donald Rumsfeld accountable for his persistent botching of the war:

Mr. Rumsfeld is merely a useful, even essential, scapegoat for the hawks in politics and punditland who are now embarrassed to have signed on to this fiasco. For conservative hawks, he's a convenient way to deflect blame from where it most belongs: with the commander in chief. For liberal hawks, attacking Mr. Rumsfeld for his poor execution of the war means never having to say you're sorry for leaping on (and abetting) the blatant propaganda bandwagon that took us there.

This is a little glib. I don't know of many conservative hawks critical of the war who don't hold Bush accountable for keeping a defense secretary of such manifest failures of judgment. It's just that in a presidential system, short of the extreme option of impeachment, we're stuck with the president we have. We're even stuck with his veep. But we're not necessarily stuck with a SecDef. Hence the focus. As for liberal hawks, many have said they're sorry for their own past mistakes, but, unlike Rich, don't want to throw in the towel, for the sake of the Iraqi people and America's longterm interests. Out of genuine concern for the security of thwe West and genuine revulsion at the evil of Saddam's regime, we believed WMD intelligence before the war; and, after 9/11, felt it reckless not to assume the worst. That is not the same as "abetting propaganda". And if it was, it was certainly unwitting.

Rich was right about the character and judgment of some of these people in the White House; and he was certainly right when I was wrong. I genuinely didn't think they'd be this incompetent or doctrinaire. I genuinely didn't think one of the most experienced foreign policy teams in high office would throw out the Geneva Conventions almost off-handedly; or dismiss serious military concerns about troop levels, when evidence of crisis was staring them in the face. So my and other criticism of Rumsfeld is driven not as a way to distract from our past misjudgments, which we've acknowledged, but to do as good a job as we can to help rectify and atone for them. After all, this is not about us or Rich; it's about Iraqis, the sacrifice of so many to bring a better future to that region and the world, and doing all we can to salvage what's left.

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