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Hillary Clinton’s Unlearned Lessons

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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In the end, all the Iraq War "surge" did was buy President Bush and his neocon advisers time to get out of office before the failure of the Iraq War became obvious to the American public. Its other primary consequence was to encourage Defense Secretary Gates, who was kept on by President Obama as a sign of bipartisanship, to conjure up another "surge" for Afghanistan.

Gates's Recollections

So, it was enlightening to read in Duty, Gates's recollection of his 2006 nomination and his insights into how completely clueless Official Washington was. Regarding the conventional wisdom about Bush-41 taking the reins from Bush-43, Gates wrote about his recruitment by the younger Bush: "It was clear he had not consulted his father about this possible appointment and that, contrary to later speculation, Bush 41 had no role in it."

Though Gates doesn't single out Hillary Clinton for misreading the significance of his nomination, Gates wrote:

"The Democrats were even more enthusiastic, believing my appointment would somehow hasten the end of the war. If I had any doubt before the calls [with Democrats] that nearly everyone in Washington believed I would have a one-item agenda as secretary, it was dispelled in those calls. ...

"They professed to be enormously pleased with my nomination and offered their support, I think mainly because they thought that I, as a member of the Iraq Study Group [which had called for winding down the war], would embrace their desire to begin withdrawing from Iraq."

In Duty, Gates also acknowledges that he was always a supporter of the Iraq invasion, writing that in 2003, "I supported Bush 43's decision to invade and bring Saddam down." The failure of Clinton and other Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee to fully vet Gates's attitudes on the Iraq War was a stunning failure of their own duty.

Regarding the mainstream news media's wrongheaded take on his nomination, Gates wrote:

"There was a lot of hilarious commentary about a return to "41's' team, the president's father coming to the rescue, former secretary of state Jim Baker pulling all the strings behind the scenes, and how I was going to purge the Pentagon of Rumsfeld's appointees -- 'clean out the E-Ring' (the outer corridor of the Pentagon where most senior Defense civilians have their offices). It was all complete nonsense."

Cheering on the "Surge"

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Yet, the mainstream press didn't get any closer to the mark in 2008 when it began cheering the "surge" as a great success, getting spun by the neocons who noted a gradual drop in the casualty levels. The media honchos, many of whom supported the invasion in 2003, ignored that Bush had laid out specific policy goals for the "surge," none of which were achieved.

In Duty, Gates reminds us of those original targets, writing:

"Prior to the deployment, clear benchmarks should be established for the Iraqi government to meet during the time of the augmentation, from national reconciliation to revenue sharing, etc. It should be made quite clear to the Iraqi government that the augmentation period is of specific length and that success in meeting the benchmarks will determine the timetable for withdrawal of the base force subsequent to the temporary augmentation."

Those benchmarks were set for the Iraqi government to meet, but "national reconciliation to revenue sharing, etc." were never achieved, either during the "surge" or since then. To this day, Iraq remains a society bitterly divided along sectarian lines with the out-of-power Sunnis again sidling up to al-Qaeda-connected extremists.

Playing Politics

In possibly the most shocking disclosure in Duty, Gates recounts a 2009 White House meeting regarding the Afghan War "surge." He wrote:

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"The exchange that followed was remarkable. In strongly supporting the surge in Afghanistan, Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary [in 2008]. She went on to say, 'The Iraq surge worked.'

"The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying."

Obama's aides have since disputed Gates's suggestion that the President indicated that his opposition to the Iraq "surge" was political, noting that he had always opposed the Iraq War. The Clinton team has not challenged Gates's account.

Of course, Official Washington's misreading of Gates's nomination in 2006 and its mistaken belief in the "successful surge" may pale in comparison to the fundamental crime of invading Iraq under false pretenses in 2003. But this benighted behavior continues to show how the lack of individual accountability for one failure ensures another and another.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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