National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Neo-Cons Now Blame Bush for Iraq Debacle

WASHINGTON — The mid-term elections sounded the requiem for the group of neo-conservatives who helped design the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq.

It’s over for them and their big dreams of preemptive wars and conquest of the Middle East. If anything, this group has left America weakened by the tragic military misadventure in Iraq.

They convinced President Bush it would be a "cakewalk" to invade and occupy Iraq but it has turned out otherwise. Those power-driven ideologues have learned that the price for their dream was high — too high.

So much for their calamitous "Project for A New American Century" which laid out the agenda to transform several Arab nations to their liking. It also meant sending Americans to kill and die for reasons yet to be explained by the president.

The neo-cons now blame a dysfunctional Bush administration — not their own ignorance of the history of the Arab world. They have belatedly learned that Iraqis — like any other people — will fight any foreign invader and occupier. History would have shown them that overcoming an insurgency in the form of internal resistance has been a losing proposition.

Look at the experiences of such high-powered nations as the U.S. in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the French in Algeria. Among the first of the Iraq war architects to bail out was Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy defense secretary, who now heads the World Bank. When he spoke several months ago at the National Press Club and was asked about Iraq, he replied: "That’s not my problem."

Many top-strata Pentagon civilians close to Rumsfeld’s inner circle are expected to be getting pink slips when Rumsfeld departs after former CIA director Robert Gates is confirmed as his successor.

Another Iraq hawk who has departed is Douglas Feith, the former Defense Department official who set up a separate intelligence unit in the Pentagon to offset the more dovish CIA analysis of the mythical military threat by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Feith is now teaching at Georgetown University.

David Rose has written about the demise of the neo-cons in an article titled "Now They Tell Us" to be published in the January issue of Vanity Fair magazine. Rose quotes Richard Perle, who long advocated "regime change" in Iraq, as being shocked at the brutality of the war.

"I underestimated the level of depravity," Perle told Rose, adding that "an American withdrawal that leaves Iraq as an anarchic ‘failed state’ is not inevitable but is becoming more likely."

And get this: Perle, former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, blamed Bush.

"The decisions did not get made that should have been made," Perle said. "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible," he said.

In retrospect, Perle said, if he had the chance to do it again, he would not have advocated the invasion of Iraq.

Rose said he had expected to encounter disappointment among the neo cons but instead found them to be despairing and angry over the incompetence of the Bush administration they once saw as "their brightest hope."

Former White House speechwriter David Frum who coined the "axis of evil" slogan for Bush to single out Iran, North Korea and Iraq as dangerous, also blames Bush for the Iraq quagmire.

Rose quoted Frum him as saying that the insurgency has proved "it can kill anyone who cooperates" with the U.S. — and the U.S. has "failed to prove it can protect them." That situation, he added "must ultimately be blamed on failure at the center, starting with President Bush."

With friends like the neo cons, Bush needs no enemies.

There is an irony in the president’s diplomatic visit to Vietnam this week, evoking memories of another U.S. military misadventure.

But he will also see a silver lining even in defeat, as old wounds are forgotten and new friends are made.

For that reason Bush should swallow his pride, acknowledge a colossal mistake, restore our moral image on the international stage and set the nation on a peaceful course in the 21st century.

It’s not too late.


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