The Neocons Are Back to Relitigate the Invasion of Iraq

The crisis in Iraq has reopened the arguments about the legacy of the 2003 U.S. invasion and the neocons are back to make their case.

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The crisis in Iraq has reopened the arguments about the legacy of the 2003 U.S. invasion and the neocons are back to make their case. They're in interviews. They're on television and the Sunday shows. And, as the Iraqi government's very existence is threatened and Americans start assessing blame for how we got here, here's what the original war's biggest boosters are saying today. 

First, from abroad, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared on Sky News to argue that it was "profoundly wrong" to link the current crisis to the 2003 invasion, which he vigorously championed:

You can carry on debating about whether it was right or wrong what we did in 2003 but whatever had been done, you were always going to have a problem of deep instability in the region and in Iraq."

Blair also predicted that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would have been trampled underfoot by the same forces that wrought change around the region during the Arab Spring — making sectarian civil war inevitable.

Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who is often credited with making the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda in the run-up to the war, chimed in with Politico last week to connect the Obama administration strategy for withdrawal from Iraq to the current failure:

They were pretty blasé. The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”

Arguing against Sen. John McCain, who claimed last week that this current crisis could have be avoided, as well as Feith was John Cassidy, who responded thusly:

If, in the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush had treated the arguments of Feith, McCain, and other advocates of the Iraq War with the disdain they deserved, we (and the Iraqis) wouldn’t be where we are today."

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in particular has been active lately. For a sense how the surreal past-is-prologue carousel is playing out, consider this story from 2003, in which Wolfowitz — often called the "architect" of the Iraq War — delivered testimony to the House Budget Committee contradicting the troop assessment given by then-Army chief of staff (and recently-deposed Veterans Affairs Secretary) Gen. Eric Shinseki:

In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force.

Paul Wolfowitz appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday and sought to reiterate that this conflict was being fueled by al-Qaeda (and President Obama's weakness) and not sectarian conflict:

This is more than just an obscure Shia/Sunni conflict. This is Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda is not on the road to defeat, Al Qaeda is on the march. Not just in Iraq, in Syria, and Libya. And we have real enemies of the United States. And what we should be looking for are friends."

He was rebutted on-air by The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins, who later wrote of how the invasion of Iraq empowered Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Shiite majority, all of whom waited out the American stay:

But, in the two and a half years since the troops’ departure, Maliki has been free to pursue a stridently sectarian project, which has cut the Sunnis off from political power. He has alienated—even, in some cases, arrested—the most reasonable Sunni leaders and embarked on mass arrests of young Sunni men. In the process, Maliki has to a great extent driven the Sunnis back into the arms of the extremists."

He concludes glumly: "The 'divine conquest' of Mosul by a group of Islamic extremists is a bitter consequence of the American invasion."

Finally, just this morning, Wolfowitz appeared on CNN's "New Day" to argue these points with Chris Cuomo. Here's what Cuomo said:

There’s a bunch of defenders saying we had to go in, Saddam Hussein was horrible, we did the right thing, and this administration screwed it up. I think that’s not only misleading but and counterproductive, because you can’t put forward a unified front.” 

Wolfowitz fired back : "You can put forward a unified front if you have a unified position.”

The exchange prompted this reaction online, which Cuomo himself retweeted:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.