There is no question in the minds of any but the most diehard supporters of George Bush that what has happened in Iraq can only be described as a debacle. The only serious debates that are occurring now center around two issues: (1) How could this mess have happened? and (2) What is to be done now.
As is usually the case when a policy starts to go seriously wrong, people involved in it start to divulge previously confidential information in a way that seeks to deflect blame from themselves and put it on others. Current and former administration officials are currently leaking information all over the place, a sure sign that insiders have acknowledged that the policy is a failure and that the only thing remaining is to determine who gets saddled with the blame. It is usually in the swirl of charges and countercharges that ensue from such attempts at blame avoidance that one can try to piece together the truth from the debris. While doing this truth reconstruction, one has to be aware that all the people speaking out now have an element of self-interest in revealing what they want you to know.
The latest is the broadside delivered by Lt. Col. Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State, who blames the whole Iraq fiasco on what he calls a ‘cabal’ of policy ideologues led by Cheney and Rumsfeld who, in their zeal to control and remake the Middle East, ignored the long-time professionals in the State Department and other agencies who knew something about what was likely to be encountered if an invasion of Iraq was carried out. (See here for the full transcript of Wilkerson’s speech.)
Wilkerson’s public denunciation of Cheney and Rumsfeld as the prime architects of the failed Iraq policy was followed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft’s interview in the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine (see here for excerpts) where he describes the way the current administration distanced themselves from those who said things they did not want to hear.
It may only be a matter of time before Colin Powell comes out publicly as well, with his own version of events. Powell has a long history (going back to the days when he was asked to investigate the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and initially said that nothing had happened) of being willing to go along with all kinds of dubious policies in order to advance his career. But when things go wrong, he leaks information to reporters suggesting that he was secretly opposed to the failed policy all along, and tried to challenge it unsuccessfully. The image that he tries to convey is that if not for him, things would have been much worse, and that is why he did not speak out or resign when flawed policies were adopted.
Powell’s biggest challenge so far has been to resurrect his image following his shameful performance at the United Nations on February 5, 2003, when his speech just prior to the invasion of Iraq was based on information that was known to be either false or dubious or misleading. That speech convinced many people, both here and abroad, that the case for war was strong. To be quite honest, even at that time, anyone who had been following the WMD saga closely knew that it was very unlikely that Iraq had any WMDs or was even close to having any capability to produce them. Many knowledgeable observers were highly skeptical of Powell’s speech even then. But Powell’s speech provided the cover for those who wanted the US to, for whatever reason, attack a country that had never threatened it.
But that speech has come back to haunt him as it has emerged that almost all the arguments made for war were false. As is usually the case when Powell is involved in a policy fiasco, news stories based on ‘anonymous but highly placed’ sources have come out how he himself was dubious at that time about the information on which his speech was based, but that he felt that he had been deceived.
Thus Powell tries to burnish his image, suggesting that he was the one wise and ethical person in the group, trying to influence policy in a good way but unable to do so because of the Machiavellian actions of others who maneuvered against him.
But this particular case is a hard sell. It may not be enough to put Powell in the position where he loves to project himself be, as the squeaky clean person surrounded by knaves. He may have to come out publicly, though that risks opening himself up for public questioning, something that carries its own dangers.
All these issues are coming to head as rumors swirl endlessly in the news media about where special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity will lead. Will it end up in indictments? Will it reveal who was behind the infamous ‘sixteen words’ about the uranium from Niger? Will it open the door to how it could possibly be that the US blundered into what journalist Patrick Cockburn calls “one of the greatest disasters in American history,” even worse than Vietnam?
The Fitzgerald investigation is winding down. The term of the grand jury empanelled in this case ends on October 28th. Stay tuned this week for developments …
FILM REVIEW: GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK
I just saw the new film Good Night, and Good Luck about Edward R. Murrow’s struggle with Senator Joe McCarthy during the 1950s red scare and witch hunts. I found the film to be thoroughly engrossing, especially as an allegory of current events about the relationship between the media and politics. The film raised a lot of themes that I found particularly relevant and I will write about them later. Any one who likes the genre of political films will not want to miss it.