If you weren't aware of the widespread problems with the New York Times reporting during the run-up to the Iraq War more than a decade ago, this lede from today's page-one Times story about political developments inside that besieged country might not seem unusual:
He took millions of dollars from the C.I.A., founded and was accused of defrauding the second-biggest bank in Jordan and sold the Bush administration a bill of goods on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
At first championed by the Bush administration's neoconservatives as a potential leader of Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi ended up persona non grata, effectively barred from the wartime American Embassy here. Now, in an improbable twist of fate, Mr. Chalabi is being talked about as a serious candidate for prime minister. He has also been back to the embassy.
If you are aware, the gaping holes in the above description are profound.
Here's what the Times left out of its Chalabi story today and here's what the newspaper continues to grapple with eleven years after President Bush ordered the costly invasion of Iraq: Chalabi was reportedly the main source of bogus information that former Times reporter Judith Miller used in her thoroughly discredited work about Iraq's supposedly brimming stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It was Chalabi who wove Saddam Hussein fiction and it was Miller, then a widely respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who gave it the Times stamp approval as the paper did its part to lead the nation to war. (Miller is now a Fox News contributor.)
That history is one that the paper continues to wrestle with, especially as the effects of the war return to international focus and the country struggles with internal violence that threatens its very stability.
From the June 29 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News' upcoming investigative report on the growing crisis in Iraq will feature Iraq War architect Dick Cheney blaming President Obama for the turmoil there.
The special, Iraq and the Rise of a Terrorist State, is set to air on June 27 and will examine the current state of Iraq as "al Qaeda threatens to take over." The report will also feature former Vice President Dick Cheney in order to add his commentary on "who says he knows who is to blame: President Barack Obama":
Iraq is in turmoil as an offshoot of al Qaeda threatens to take over and expand their reign of terror. We look at what happened there and the danger this explosion of violence has created for the entire Middle East and beyond. Chris Wallace interviews former Vice President Dick Cheney who says he knows who's to blame: President Barack Obama. We examine that claim and explore the threat America and the rest of the world faces if the violence spreads beyond the Middle East.
Fox's willingness to give air time to Cheney to cast blame on President Obama for the current situation in Iraq completely ignores the former vice president's own role in creating the problems there. Even the network's own Megyn Kelly called out Cheney, telling him that "[t]ime and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong in Iraq as well, sir." Fox's promotion for the Iraq special does not indicate if Cheney will be held accountable for his Iraq role.
Former President Bill Clinton also weighed in on Cheney's denial during an interview with NBC Meet the Press host David Gregory, calling Cheney out on "the mess that he made" in Iraq:
"Mr. Cheney has been incredibly adroit for the last six years or so attacking the administration for not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the mess that he made," Clinton told NBC News "Meet The Press" host David Gregory. "And I think it's unseemly. And I give President Bush, by the way, a lot of credit for trying to stay out of this debate and letting other people work through it."
Clinton argued that if the U.S. had not gone to war with Iraq during the Bush administration, the chaotic sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq in recent weeks would not be happening.
"Well, it might be happening in Syria, but what happened in Syria wouldn't have happened in Iraq. Iraq would not have been, in effect, drastically altered, as it has been," said the former president.
Mainstream media have been quick to embrace Iraq war architects in their rush to explain the growing turmoil in the region, often without calling them out for their part in creating the crisis. Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and Cheney have all been regular figures across the Sunday news shows since the current Iraq crisis surfaced.
This won't be the first Fox News special to practice questionable judgment in an effort to make the news fit into the network's narratives. Previous specials have been met with controversy after relying on debunked myths on Benghazi, providing no evidence of voter fraud in a report on voter fraud, and falsely blaming unions for problems created by the recession.
From the June 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
Loading the player reg...
Karl Rove argued that the Obama administration's effort to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq in 2011 failed because Obama placed unprecedented conditions on Iraq -- conditions that the Bush administration actually included in its 2008 agreement with Iraq.
Fox contributor Karl Rove went on the June 20 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom and accused the Obama administration of adding unprecedented demands into the renegotiation of the 2011 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq. According to Rove, the U.S. and Iraq failed to agree because the Obama administration insisted on parliamentary approval of the agreement -- a condition that "was impossible for Iraqis to meet" and divergent from "what we've done in any other country around the world where we have a Status of Forces Agreement" (emphasis added):
BILL HEMMER (co-host): Are you of the mind that the reason why we did not leave a force of 10,000 behind in Iraq -- you know, the president said yesterday 'the Iraqis didn't let us, Maliki would not give us the agreement, so we had no decision but to pull out.' Are you of the mind that this administration did not want that agreement in order to have the reason and the rationale to pull American forces out of Iraq and say to the American people 'campaign promise fulfilled, the Iraq war is winding down and now ended.' What do you think?
ROVE: Well it's hard always to define intent, but I do think the administration, they said they wanted it, they assigned Joe Biden to negotiate it, and then at the last minute they put in a condition that was impossible for the Iraqis to meet -- that is to say, they wanted parliamentary approval of the SOFA. That's not what we've done in any other country around the world where we have Status of Forces Agreement. We've signed it with the leader of the country. And Maliki had the authority to do it, but it was impossible for him to go to his parliament at that time because he was trying to form a government and this would have been embroiled in domestic politics. So the administration basically made it impossible to do the deal.
From the June 20 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
Loading the player reg...
From the June 19 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
Loading the player reg...
From the June 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...
From the June 16 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
Loading the player reg...
NBC and ABC's Sunday news shows turned to discredited architects of the Iraq War to opine on the appropriate U.S. response to growing violence in Iraq, without acknowledging their history of deceit and faulty predictions.
This week a Sunni Iraqi militant group (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) seized control of several Iraqi cities and is focusing their sights on taking control of Baghdad and the rest of the country. The United States is still debating a response to the escalating violence, and has reportedly moved an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf.
To discuss the growing unrest and potential threat of terrorism that could emerge, NBC's Meet The Press turned to Paul Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration.
Wolfowitz, who served in the Bush administration from 2001 -- 2005 as Deputy Secretary of Defense, is universally recognized as one of the original architects of the Iraq invasion. He infamously predicted the war reconstruction effort could pay for itself from Iraqi oil revenue (for reference, the cost of the Iraq War is now estimated to be more than $2 trillion), and publicly accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction long after the intelligence community informed the Pentagon that he did not. Later, Wolfowitz claimed that the conflict was primarily about liberating the Iraqi people rather than confronting the WMD threat, while also making the assertion -- without evidence -- that without the invasion, "we would have had a growing development of Saddam's support for terrorism."
Ten years after the start of the war, Wolfowitz admitted that the Bush administration bungled the conflict and should never have taken control of the country away from Iraqi leadership, despite having been the first senior Bush official after September 11, 2001 to call for Hussein's overthrow.
And on June 15 from his NBC platform, Wolfowitz opined that the current Iraqi violence could be traced to the absence of U.S. troops, suggesting that we should have stayed in Iraq just as we "stuck with South Korea for 60 years." When Meet The Press host David Gregory asked the former Bush official for advice on how to mitigate the potential terrorist threat merging from ISIS, saying "what do you do then, as a policy matter, to stop this," Wolfowitz responded that the Obama administration must convince the Middle East that the U.S. "is serious," arguing, "I would do something in Syria."
That same day ABC's This Week invited network contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol to discuss how the U.S. should handle the growing violence in Iraq, a notable decision given Kristol's poor record on Iraq War predictions.
Earlier this week, Bloomberg View columnist Barry Ritholtz took Art Laffer to task for a piece of economic analysis the former Reagan adviser penned in 2009 that proved drastically wrong. Ritholtz used the column to ask : Why aren't pundits held accountable?
It's an important question, and one that warrants consideration, particularly as unrepentant architects of the Iraq War enter the public sphere to opine on the deteriorating situation in that country.
Following President Obama's speech on the increasing violence in Iraq, Ari Fleischer weighed in on Twitter:
Regardless of what anyone thinks of going into Iraq in 2002, it's a tragedy that the successes of the 2007 surge have been lost & abandoned.-- Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) June 13, 2014
As critics were quick to point out, it's impossible to have a credible discussion about the situation in Iraq without consideration of how we got there in the first place (also, we actually invaded Iraq in 2003). And it's certainly convenient for Fleischer to wave away questions about the initial invasion given that he helped to sell it as President Bush's press secretary.
Here are some quotes from the former Bush flak that Think Progress assembled in 2007, when Fleischer surfaced as a leading voice behind that year's escalation:
"[T]here's no question that if force is used, it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we're on." [2/14/03]
"My point is, the likelihood is much more like Afghanistan, where the people who live right now under a brutal dictator will view America as liberators, not conquerors." [10/11/02]
"There have been contacts between senior members of -- senior Iraqi officials and members of the al Qaeda organization, going back for quite a long time. ...Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development. There are contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda." [1/27/03]
"There is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. ... And all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes." [3/21/03]
"[N]o, I don't think there's any chance of losing the peace, but it is going to be a battle to continue to win the peace." [5/19/03]
Fleischer has no apology for what he did -- he'd simply prefer not to speak of it.
The role people like Fleischer played in supporting and selling the invasion of Iraq and whether or not they've assessed that role and found their actions wanting are factors media should consider as they report on current efforts by conservatives to pin all the blame for the current state of that country on President Obama.
This need for pundit accountability isn't limited to Iraq. Earlier this month, Fox News hosted Oliver North to criticize President Obama for negotiating with terrorists to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. North, of course, is famous for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which he facilitated the illegal sale of missiles to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. prisoners in Lebanon.
Such pundit antics are par for the course at Fox, which hosts Judy Miller to discuss Middle East weapons of mass destruction, Mark Fuhrman to opine on race, and "heckuva job" Michael Brown to talk about disaster relief.
Fox News exploited the violent turmoil in Iraq to baselessly lay blame for increasing gasoline and oil prices at the feet of President Obama. Fox hosts cited Obama's alleged "policy mistakes" in Iraq as the impetus for the rising cost of petroleum products, continuing a long pattern of attacking Obama over the price of gasoline while ignoring the fact that global market trends are largely out of the president's control.
On the June 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade and Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney discussed the impact of the recent turmoil in Iraq on the global oil market. Varney used the opportunity to attack President Obama for the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq from 2009 through 2011:
VARNEY: Let me make this very clear, we are all paying for the president's policy mistakes. The retreat in Iraq, the chaos in Iraq, will be paid for by us at the pump.
The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was completed on December 18, 2011. According to data from the United States Energy Information Agency (EIA), the market prices of crude oil and refined gasoline have fluctuated since that time, but the withdrawal itself spurred no appreciable price corrections. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, overlaying the prices for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil with inflation adjusted prices for gasoline, confirm that the withdrawal had no lasting impact on market prices:
Reputable market analysts agree that the outbreak of violence in Iraq -- the world's eighth largest oil producer -- is driving market speculation and investment in petroleum futures. This in turn has resulted in a slight, but noticeable increase in global crude oil market prices during the past several days. Varney is correct in noting that instability in Iraq is impacting global oil prices, but his analysis veered into well-worn Fox News paranoia when he used that fact to pin the blame for rising prices on President Obama.
Fox has a storied history of blaming this president for rising oil and gasoline prices.
A Fox News timeline stripped more than six years of the Iraq War from the record in order to link escalating violence in Iraq to decisions made by the Obama administration.
This week an extremist group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized control of Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and vowed to march on more top targets like Baghdad. In response, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for a state of emergency and appealed for U.S. military assistance by way of airstrikes.
The June 12 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom attempted to tie the escalating violence to President Obama and the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. As an illustration, anchor Patti Ann Browne laid out a timeline of U.S. engagement in Iraq, and eventual withdrawal -- a timeline that eliminated over six years of critical moments, agreements, and damaging scandals from the record:
BROWNE: It's been a long battle to liberate Iraq. It was over a decade ago in October 2002 that Congress agreed to U.S. involvement in Iraq. That was followed by President Bush signing Authorization of Military Force.
BROWNE: Then in March 2003, shock and awe. The United States launching strikes against Baghdad after the deadline for Saddam Hussein's exile expired.
BROWNE: Fast forward to 2007, President Bush announced the surge, the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Iraq.
BROWNE: And then, the end. 2011. President Obama announcing the end of the Iraq War and saying troops will be withdrawn by the end of that year.
Fox's timeline glosses over years of crucial events in the war. Noticeably absent:
May 1, 2003: President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq from the deck of an aircraft carrier, less than two months after U.S. troops entered the country and toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.
January 25, 2004: Former CIA weapons inspector testified that the U.S. intelligence community failed to determine that the Iraqi weapons program was in a state of disarray prior to the U.S. invasion of the country.
April 30, 2004: Photographs emerged showing American soldiers torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. At least 11 U.S. military police personnel went on to serve prison sentences for the crimes.
June 28, 2004: U.S. officials transferred formal sovereignty of Iraq to Iraqi leaders.
November 17, 2008: U.S. and Iraqi Parliament ratified a status of forces agreement that mandated the end of 2011 as the date by which American troops must leave Iraq.
From the October 28 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...
The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens used the possibility of military intervention in Syria to rewrite the history of the Iraq war, falsely claiming the Bush administration's case against Iraq was supported by solid evidence.
Stephens, the Journal's foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor for international opinion pages, criticized the Obama administration's case for intervention in Syria by comparing it to Bush's decision to invade Iraq, which he claimed was made based on "highly detailed" intelligence revealing weapons of mass destruction. Stephens claimed the "testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix" supported the Bush administration's case for war, and accusations that the Bush administration lied were "libel" and "cheap slander":
Then there's the intel. In London the other day, Mr. Kerry invited the public to examine the administration's evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons, posted on whitehouse.gov. The "dossier" consists of a 1,455-word document heavy on blanket assertions such as "we assess with high confidence" and "we have a body of information," and "we have identified one hundred videos."
By contrast, the Bush administration made a highly detailed case on Iraqi WMD, including show-and-tells by Colin Powell at the Security Council. It also relied on the testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix, who reported in January 2003 that "there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared," that his inspectors had found "indications that the [nerve agent VX] was weaponized," and that Iraq had "circumvented the restrictions" on the import of missile parts.
The case the Bush administration assembled on Iraqi WMD was far stronger than what the Obama administration has offered on Syria. And while I have few doubts that the case against Assad is solid, it shouldn't shock Democrats that the White House's "trust us" approach isn't winning converts. When you've spent years peddling the libel that the Bush administration lied about Iraq, don't be shocked when your goose gets cooked in the same foul sauce.
So what should President Obama say when he addresses the country Tuesday night? He could start by apologizing to President Bush for years of cheap slander. He won't.
But Hans Blix told CNN in 2004 that the Bush administration "chose to ignore" his team's concerns about the lack of solid evidence in favor of war, and that prior to the invasion the evidence of WMDs in Iraq was revealed to be "shaky":
"I think it's clear that in March, when the invasion took place, the evidence that had been brought forward was rapidly falling apart," Hans Blix, who oversaw the agency's investigation into whether Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Blix described the evidence Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 as "shaky," and said he related his opinion to U.S. officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"I think they chose to ignore us," Blix said.
Furthermore, an investigation into the lead up to the Iraq war found that statements President Bush made about Iraq misled the American people and Congress by inaccurately depicting the available intelligence. The 2008 Senate Intelligence Committee's report found that "policymakers' statements" in particular misrepresented the nature of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that Bush's allegations "that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership" were "not substantiated by the intelligence." The report also found that statements by Bush and Vice President Cheney indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists for use against the U.S. "were contradicted by available intelligence information."
While there are serious questions about the wisdom of using military force in Syria, any debate must include the facts -- not the Journal's fanciful rewriting of history.