If you missed it, a few days ago, Jeb Bush sent his conservative cohorts into full-bore damage control by telling Megyn Kelley on Fox News that he would still have invaded Iraq even “knowing what we know now”. After several flailing attempts to undo the harm he had done with that monstrously stupid statement, Dubya’s brother finally allowed that he “misunderstood” the question that was put to him. Fortunately, that didn’t lay the matter to rest because the media pounced and initiated a re-litigation of how we got into Iraq in the first place.
In the process of rehashing all that, still more evidence and testimony has surfaced confirming what most Americans have come to believe; i.e. we were misled into an unnecessary war and that it simply wasn’t worth it. Of course, with a national election ahead and campaigning already under way, that opinion just had to be changed. Enter conservative “spin doctors” with the three attempts at revisionist history that follow.
Attempt #1 held that the GW Bush administration placed itself on war footing due to “faulty intelligence”. That deceit was batted down by Mike Morrell, the CIA deputy charged with laying out and interpreting the pre-war intel to which Bush/Cheney were exposed. In Morrell’s view, there just was no clear cut case for the one that Bush/Cheney used to sell the country on the need to invade Iraq. (1)
Attempt #2 involves conservatives’ now ongoing attempt to pivot away from the foregoing, focus on the mess that now exists in Iraq and surroundings, and blame it all on Obama; i.e. if only he had left US troops in Iraq, the rise of ISIS and what it has unleashed, would have been avoided. (2) The problem here is that such a claim doesn’t square with the facts. Specifically, in late 2008, then-President Bush agreed to a complete withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq by mid-2011. That was a fait accompli that Obama inherited when he took office in 2009. Once into 2011, the new president tried to re-negotiate that arrangement and leave a residual force in country. He was rebuffed by the Iraqi government and so, had no choice but to honor the commitment that Bush had made earlier.
Attempt #3 is yet another “pivot”. It seeks to justify the war by asking what seems like a rhetorical question “Isn’t the world better off with Saddam deposed and dead?” The frank answer to this query is “NO, because as despicable a tyrant as Saddam was, he was the necessary evil that gave Iraqi Sunnis power and kept them safe from the depredations of their Shiite countrymen. Once Saddam was gone, that control ceased to exist. The Shia took over the government, disenfranchised the Sunnis, and thus provided the impetus for the formation of ISIS” and the hell and barbarism that has followed.
At present, the foregoing three attempts at “spin” or versions of same are being touted by conservatives in and out of government. The need here is twofold: Protect the viability of the one candidate who is believed to have the best chance of re-taking the White House, and convince conservative voters that their support for the war was well-founded; based on truth rather than fiction.
The success of these stabs at damage control will depend on how vigorously the media engage in fact-checking. For example, if investigative reporters practice due diligence, seek out and promptly publicize facts and the historical record, it’s possible that Jeb’s pursuit of the GOP nomination may never gain traction. If he does become his party’s nominee, then he is going to have a lot to answer for and that includes the lies and distortions that have been pushed to save his political life and polish the Republican brand.
In contrast, if the fact-checkers go “squishy” and slack on their job, then we have been failed by the very institution that is supposed to support our democracy and that is a free and informative press. (3)
1. Those claims included reference to a “mushroom cloud” and Cheney’s unequivocal claim that Saddam Hussein had “reconstituted” his nuclear weapons program.
2. This canard has been trumpeted on the Senate floor by John McCain with much bluster, podium-pounding and finger-wagging.
3. The importance of fact-checking was promoted on this site in a recent blog with an emphasis on who benefits from it.