[WOLF] BLITZER: And a lot of people were saying, getting rid of Saddam was the easy part. What happens afterwards is going to be a nightmare.
And a lot of the Bush administration officials seem to have neglected that advice that they were getting from some of the early — from the first Bush administration, the president's father's administration, the Brent Scowcroft, the James Bakers.
They were suggesting, you know what, this is not going to be simply a matter of getting rid of Saddam. Then you've got to figure out what to do next.
[MICHAEL] RUBIN [AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE]: Well, actually, I just looked up an interview with Ed Djerejian, who's the director of the James Baker Center. And what he said is he believed it would take two to three months to put Iraq back on its feet. That was the advice which many of the so-called State Department Arabists were giving us as well. What we most estimated is the goodwill of the Iranians. When we struck a deal — when Zalmay Khalilzad struck a deal with the Iranians for non-interference before the war, we trusted them. That was our mistake. And it would be a mistake to, again, put our national security in the trust of Iran's words.
Wrong. It is quite well established at this point that after the fall of Saddam, the Iranians reached out to us with peace feelers, and we threw them back in their face and rattled our sword in their direction for good measure. The mistake that was made was ours, in rejecting the only opportunity we've had to limit their involvement in Iraq and reduce the pressure they've felt to build a nuclear weapon.
RUBIN: Well, I'd second what David said, that that decision, Paul Bremer was the result of that decision. What there was was a debate within the administration about, you have the Iraqi opposition. You had, I believe it was seven key figures. And the question was whether to allow them to become a provisional government. They had already been self-selected through a number of conferences. Or whether there would be some sort of American presence first. The real debate in Washington was whether we would have more influence before liberation or after liberation. And ultimately, it was the National Security Council, the national security adviser which made the decision to go with an American occupation presence.
BLITZER: And you think that was a blunder?
RUBIN: I do believe it is one the greatest blunders we have made. The Coalition Provisional Authority and Paul Bremer did a lot of good, but nothing they accomplished which was good couldn't have been accomplished without an immediate transfer of sovereignty. And the fact that we labelled ourselves an occupying power, unlike in Bosnia, unlike in Kosovo and elsewhere, really put — it justified all the insurgent rhetoric against us. And it turned our allies from those creating a democracy into collaborators.
Wrong. As this Frontline special makes quite clear, Jay Garner went into Iraq with mandate to quickly establish a provisional Iraqi government (of which Chalabi was supposed to be the head.) The reason it wasn't working was because we had destroyed the Iraqi government, and there was nothing there ready to replace it. When it becames apparent that it wasn't working, poor old Garner was yanked back to the U.S. and replaced the "Proconsul" L. Paul Bremer. We were doomed to occupation from the minute we decided to invade, not from the minute Condi Rice supposedly made the unilaterial decision that we would stay in Iraq forever.
If you're waiting for anyone to learn any lessons from the Iraq debacle, you'll be waiting quite some time. Another AEI neo-con, Joseph Muravchik, is advocating to his fellow neo-cons to get back in the game:
Neoconservatives have the president’s ear, but they also have lots of baggage. To stay relevant, they must admit mistakes, embrace public diplomacy, and start making the case for bombing Iran.
"Baggage"...indeed. And how shall they become "relevant" again? By writing ham-handed op-eds in the L.A. Times. He starts with the usual arguments "Iran will give nukes to terrorists/Iran will bomb Israel into oblivion", but then gets to the fun stuff:
Tehran can build influence on a mix of ethnicity and ideology, underwritten by the region's largest economy. Nuclear weapons would bring regional hegemony within its reach by intimidating neighbors and rivals and stirring the admiration of many other Muslims.This would thrust us into a new global struggle akin to the one we waged so painfully with the Soviet Union for 40-odd years. It would be the "clash of civilizations" that has been so much talked about but so little defined.
Iran might seem little match for the United States, but that is not how Ahmadinejad sees it. He and his fellow jihadists believe that the Muslim world has already defeated one infidel superpower (the Soviet Union) and will in time defeat the other. Russia was poor and weak in 1917 when Lenin took power, as was Germany in 1933 when Hitler came in. Neither, in the end, was able to defeat the United States, but each of them unleashed unimaginable suffering before they succumbed. And despite its weakness, Iran commands an asset that neither of them had: a natural advantage in appealing to the world's billion-plus Muslims. If Tehran establishes dominance in the region, then the battlefield might move to Southeast Asia or Africa or even parts of Europe, as the mullahs would try to extend their sway over other Muslim peoples. In the end, we would no doubt win, but how long this contest might last and what toll it might take are anyone's guess.
Here's his chain of reasoning: because Muslims naturally rallied to the defense of the Lebanese people, and nuclear weapons will give Iran regional dominance, it will somehow be able to overcome that the majority of the world's Muslims are Sunnis who are naturally hostile to Iran, and somehow use being looked upon with favor by the world's Muslims to become a world power that will rival us in dominance. That it is now hardly a measurable threat to us is irrelevant, as neither were the Soviets initially and yet they were able to contend world domination with us for 50 years.
Does this argument make any sense at all? It is actually possible to defeat his entire paragraph, one sentence at a time, but his argument is so implausible that it cannot possibly be necessary to point out every single error in his reasoning.
This the neo-con who believes it's time for the neo-cons to make a comeback. That would make it the most incredible comeback of a political movement in world history, if they were able to do it in the midst of Iraq falling to pieces, imperiling security throughout the Middle East, because of the invasion they helped to launch.
What's truly pathetic about Rubin, Muravchik and their ilk is not that anyobdy in America believes their wild and hyperbolic claims. If only 10% of people bought into their nonsense, that would still be 30 million Americans (P.T. Barnum knew of that which he spoke.) No, the saddest thing about this is that their egregious mistakes prompt in them no self-criticism, no reflection, no shame, and no humility. That they were utterly and completely wrong about the war in Iraq leads no member of the public face of the neo-con movement to repudiate their former incorrect beliefs, and try to puzzle out how they could possible be so wrong (probably on that same hilltop where Charles Krauthammer and Christopher Hitchens should be.) No, instead we have them going to CNN and trying to blame the Bush administration for the "bungled occupation", attempt to rewrite history and "correct" their own motives, and shill for war in Iran. If there were any justice in the world these men would be out of jobs, and out of the public eye. Unfortunately, the worst consequences of their hubris and error fall upon the Iraqis whose country we have destroyed.
Update: As for another neo-con, Ken Silverstein at Harper's Magazine demonstrates to us why Ken Adelman's boo-hooing about the Bush administration mis-managing Iraq is particularly pathetic.