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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Iraq

Former national security official Susan Rice

If Joe Biden takes my advice and chooses Susan Rice to be his running mate, then there will be criticism from people who opposed the Iraq War. That's because if you Google "Susan Rice" and "Iraq War," you will find several sources, including Wikipedia, that say she supported it. Let me try to save critics and journalists from that error by setting the record straight.

From everything I've been able to find, Rice did not support the Iraq War. She opposed it, in a show of wise and independent judgment.

I came by this information by falling victim to these sources and including a line in a recent column saying she endorsed the invasion. Shortly after it appeared online, I got a nice email from her press spokesperson, Erin Pelton, thanking me for the column but informing me that Rice opposed the war.

This came as a surprise. I asked for documentation but wasn't convinced by the information she sent. I talked with Pelton by phone; she said she would see what else she could find.

Then, Rice called and explained, in a gracious and congenial way, how frustrating this "urban legend" has been for her. She recounted her thinking, assured me that colleagues from the Brookings Institution, where she worked at the time, would back her up, and said, with a laugh, "I'll swear on a stack of Bibles!" Unsure what to think, and with the deadline for the Tribune's print edition looming, I deleted the reference.

Later, I contacted Michael O'Hanlon and Ivo Daalder, fellow foreign policy scholars who were at Brookings with Rice at the time. O'Hanlon told me, "Susan was consistently against it from 2002." Daalder concurred: "Susan was definitely against the war."

Their memories confirm what Rice wrote in her memoir, Tough Love: "From the start, I viewed that war of choice as a dangerous diversion from the main objective of defeating al-Qaida globally and in Afghanistan." She served as an adviser to Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign "because he was the only leading Democratic candidate to oppose the Iraq War." She signed up with Barack Obama in 2008 because he also opposed it.

But she got falsely tagged as a supporter of the war, and the stain has refused to come out, mainly because of two statements that have been misinterpreted.

In a December 2002 interview on NPR, she said: "It's clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It's clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're on. I think the question becomes whether we can keep the diplomatic balls in the air and not drop any, even as we move forward, as we must, on the military side."

But O'Hanlon notes: "The military options she alludes to are not specified. For the Clinton administration, they were typically airstrikes or cruise missile strikes of limited duration and effect, not invasions."

Rice also endorsed the idea of "regime change." But there is less there than meets the eye. Bill Clinton signed a bill making it U.S. policy to "support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime." But he didn't think the cause called for a U.S. invasion. The point was to encourage Iraqis to do the job.

In that December interview, Rice also said: "The administration frankly owes the American public a much fuller and more honest assessment of what the costs will be of the actual conflict, as well as the aftermath, the post-conflict reconstruction. And the costs are going to be huge."

Rice didn't oppose the invasion as boldly and unequivocally as some did. Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast said he listened to interviews she did before the war and concluded, "I still can't tell whether Susan Rice supported the war or opposed it." But being cautious and circumspect is not the same thing as supporting the war.

Why does all this matter? First, because the Iraq War was the biggest foreign policy catastrophe since Vietnam, and one most experts endorsed. Second, because Rice had to know her views carried a real risk. Most Democratic senators voted for the war resolution — including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Had the outcome been a glorious triumph, her opposition might have doomed her from serving in another administration.

A lot of smart, knowledgeable people made the mistake of endorsing the Iraq War. Susan Rice deserves credit for not being one of them.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The press sure seems to love glorifying Republican presidents against the backdrop of possible war. 

Rushing in to get the behind-the-scenes telling of how Donald Trump decided to approve the drone killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed while traveling in a convoy near the Baghdad International Airport on January 2, CNN collected pleasing quotes from administration officials. Steering clear of any dissenting voices, the news outlet reported there had been  “serious debate within the administration leading up to the strike,” CNN stressed that Trump, who was “wary of war,” had been “defiant” on the day the kill order was given, and seemed to “be freshly aware of the gravity of his role and the power he wields.” Perhaps most importantly, the raid represented an “immediate victory” for Trump. 

Got that? Anti-war Trump was deeply engaged with advisers, at turns “defiant” and reflective while he scored a major “victory.” Left out of that GOP-delivered narrative that portrayed the president as a modern-day FDR, was the idea that Trump has no idea what he’s doing and with the rogue raid he represents a growing danger to America’s national security. 

Meanwhile, the first expert the New York Times quoted in the wake of the deadly strike was a conservative hawk, and the first column the paper published about the raid was from a conservative hawk. 

Elsewhere, “CNN is allowing a parade of Republican lawmakers to go on air and cheerlead for war with Iran, and barely bothering to ask any of them how the U.S. keeps the region safe or what the plan is,” writer Matthew Chapman noted on Twitter. “We’ve learned much less since 2003 than we should have.”

Indeed, for days it’s been hard to shake the “here we go again” feeling as news consumers are hit with lots of White House-friendly narratives about the unauthorized raid in Iraq. It’s impossible not to think back to how the mainstream media effectively co-sponsored the disastrous war in Iraq back in 2003. 

Battered by accusations of a liberal bias and determined to prove their conservative critics wrong, the press during the run-up to the war — timid, deferential, unsure, cautious, and often intentionally unthinking — came as close as possible to abdicating its reason for existing in the first place, which is to accurately inform citizens, particularly during times of great national interest. The press went out of its way to tell a pleasing, administration-friendly tale about the pending war.

In truth, President George W. Bush never could have ordered the invasion of Iraq — never could have sold the idea at home — if it weren’t for the help he received from the press, and particularly the stamp of approval he received from so-called liberal media institutions such as the Washington Post, which in February of 2003 alone, editorialized in favor of war nine times. By the time the invasion began, the de facto position among the Beltway chattering class was clearly one that backed Bush and favored war.

At least during the Bush years during the run up to the Iraq War, Republicans went to some lengths to produce the appearance of bogus intelligence to support its premise for an unprecedented pre-emptive war for the United States. Recall that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was drafted by the White House to give a wildly hyped presentation at the United Nation just weeks before the invasion where he supposedly laid out the U.S.’s ironclad proof that Saddam Hussein posed a weapons of mass destruction threat to the world. And the media fell for it. “He persuaded me,” the Washington Post’s Mary McGrory announced. “And I was as tough as France to convince.”

In the end though, the entire presentation turned out be a mountain of lies and disinformation, which Powell himself eventually conceded. Today though, the Trump White House doesn’t even bother to put on a show. Instead, officials have simply told reporters that the assassination raid was done in order to fend off some vague looming threats against American troops in the region. There’s no documentation. There are no intel report, no photo surveillance, and no intercepted communications. It’s just the Trump White House, which lies about everything, making a hollow claim to cover for an unauthorized military strike. 

And note that the justification Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave, that Soleimani was planning future attacks on U.S. troops and therefore had to be killed, doesn’t make any sense since, obviously, those supposed plans to kill U.S. troops, didn’t die with Soleimani. I mean, there is an Iran military that could conceivably carry out those attacks. 

Yet for several news cycles the administration’s thin justification was treated as serious

CNN: “Pompeo: Strike on Soleimani disrupted an ‘imminent attack’ and ‘saved American lives'” 

 

USA Today: “Trump: Iran’s Soleimani was plotting ‘imminent’ attacks on diplomats, soldiers before US killed him”

 

ABC News: “US strike on Iran’s Soleimani saved hundreds of American lives, disrupted attacks in three countries: State Dept.”

When Pompeo appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend the administration’s paper-thin justification for the assassination strike, he was met with mostly differential questioners who effectively tip-toed around the large elephant in the room: Trump and his lieutenants were possibly lying about everything in conjunction with the assassination. 

The good news is there is already far more media skepticism about Trump’s dangerous maneuver than there was during Bush’s rush to war, when the nation’s post-9/11 nationalist fever was still strong. That might be because Trump isn’t nearly as popular as Bush was at the time, and because Democrats are quickly standing up to Trump. 

Still, lots of warning signs remain that the Beltway press hasn’t learned enough lessons from its Iraq War debacle.

IMAGE: Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney (left).