Source: Consortium News
As President Barack Obama tries to pick his way through a minefield of complex foreign policy issues -- from Iran's nuclear program to the Syrian civil war to Israeli-Palestinian peace to unrest in Ukraine -- he is beset by incessant criticism from much of Official Washington, which still retains the neocon influences of the last two decades.
Indeed, the failure to impose any meaningful accountability on Republicans, Democrats, senior editors and think-tank analysts who cheered on the Iraq War disaster makes it hard to envision how President Obama can navigate this maze of difficult negotiations and trade-offs needed to resolve conflicts in the world's hot spots.
Yet, Official Washington has become a place of "tough-guy/gal" bluster where the only purpose of negotiations is for the "anti-U.S." side to come in and surrender. That is why the likes of Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt is always calling for the U.S. to issue military ultimatums to disfavored foreign leaders, giving them the choice of doing what they're told or facing U.S. attack.
We saw the same attitude before President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003: Bush's escalating demands that Saddam Hussein surrender his stockpiles of WMD, American outrage when the Iraqi government insisted that the WMD no longer existed, and then the need to respond to Iraq's arrogance and intransigence by going to war to protect U.S. "credibility."
The fact that Iraq was telling the truth about its lack of WMD did not lead to mass firings of Official Washington's opinion leaders, nor serious consequences for politicians who collaborated in this war crime. Bush won reelection; most of the war hawks kept their seats in Congress; and Hiatt and the other neocon media personalities remained employed.
Perhaps most interestingly, a top Democratic war hawk, Hillary Clinton, is now considered the odds-on favorite to get the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Her defenders even cite bipartisan Republican praise for her foreign policy attitudes from the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney and neocon Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain.
As for buying into Bush's bogus case for invading Iraq, Clinton's backers insist that she learned from this "mistake." But there is new information in Robert Gates's memoir, Duty, that shows how little Clinton and other Democrats did learn from the Iraq War deception, even when it came to later chapters of the Iraq War.
Sen. Clinton was among the leading Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee who were completely fooled by the significance of Gates's nomination in November 2006 to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary. They again followed blindly the conventional wisdom, which at the time held that President Bush picked Gates to wind down the war and that he was essentially ceding control of U.S. foreign policy to the wiser national security team of his father's administration.
There were clear warnings to the contrary, including some published at Consortiumnews.com, that Sen. Clinton and other senators were again getting the narrative wrong, that Gates's nomination foreshadowed an escalation of the war and that Rumsfeld was getting the boot because he backed the field generals who favored shrinking the U.S. footprint in Iraq.
Writing on the Wall
This reality was even spelled out by right-wing pundit Fred Barnes in the neocon Weekly Standard, writing that Gates "is not the point man for a boarding party of former national security officials from the elder President Bush's administration taking over defense and foreign policy in his son's administration." Barnes wrote that "rarely has the press gotten a story so wrong."
Barnes reported that the younger George Bush didn't consult his father and only picked ex-CIA Director Gates after a two-hour face-to-face meeting at which the younger Bush got assurances that Gates was onboard with the neocon notion of "democracy promotion" in the Middle East and shared Bush's goal of victory in Iraq. [The Weekly Standard, Nov. 27, 2006]
But the mainstream press was enamored with its new storyline. A Newsweek cover pictured a large George H.W. Bush towering over a small George W. Bush. Then, embracing this conventional wisdom, Clinton and other Senate Armed Services Committee members brushed aside the warnings about Gates, both his troubling history at the CIA and his likely support for a war escalation.
Facing no probing questions, Gates offered up some bromides about his "fresh eyes" and his determination not to be "a bump on a log," while Clinton and other Democratic senators praised his "candor" before joining in a 21-0 vote to endorse his nomination, which went on to a 95-2 confirmation by the full Senate.
However, once installed at the Pentagon, Gates became a central figure in the Iraq War "surge," which dispatched 30,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq in 2007. The "surge" saw casualty figures spike. Nearly 1,000 additional American died along with an untold number of Iraqis. And -- despite another conventional wisdom about the "successful surge" -- it failed to achieve its central goal of getting the Iraqis to achieve compromises on their sectarian divisions.