The Associated Press and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume uncritically reported Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that he did not "think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered" in Iraq, as well as Cheney's claim that when Cheney said in May 2005 that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes," he was referring to "the series of events that took place in" 2005. In fact, some did anticipate a violent insurgency if the United States invaded Iraq, and Cheney explicitly based his "last throes" assessment on the insurgency's "level of activity, from a military standpoint."
In June 19 reports, the Associated Press and Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume uncritically reported Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that he did not "think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered" in Iraq, as well as Cheney's claim that when Cheney told CNN's Larry King in May 2005 that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes," he was referring to "the series of events that took place in" 2005, specifically the setting up of an interim government, the drafting of a constitution, its adoption in a national referendum, and the December elections. In fact, some people did anticipate a violent insurgency if the United States invaded Iraq, including the Army War College and former members of the George H.W. Bush administration. And, contrary to Cheney's characterization now of his 2005 comments, he explicitly based his "last throes" assessment on the insurgency's "level of activity, from a military standpoint."
As The American Prospect's Greg Sargent and the weblog Think Progress have noted, Cheney's assertion at a June 19 speech at the National Press Club (NPC) in Washington that no one "anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered" is simply false. As Media Matters for America has documented, USA Today reported on October 24, 2004, that "[m]ilitary and civilian intelligence agencies repeatedly warned prior to the invasion that Iraqi insurgent forces were preparing to fight and that their ranks would grow as other Iraqis came to resent the U.S. occupation and organize guerrilla attacks." The same USA Today article also noted an Army War College report published in February 2003 suggesting that military planners could expect a lengthy insurgency. Although the report did not offer a time frame for the length of the insurgency, it stated that "[t]he longer U.S. presence is maintained, the more likely violent resistance will develop." One part of the Army War College report stated that the United States could eventually become trapped between an "impatient" Iraqi population, which will resort to "violent measures to hasten the departure of U.S. forces," and the fact that "a premature withdrawal from Iraq could lead to instability and perhaps even civil war." Others also predicted the violence. For example, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wondered, in a September 27, 2002, column, if "America [is] really prepared for hundreds of casualties, even thousands, in an invasion and subsequent occupation that could last many years" because "an invasion of Iraq may not be the cakewalk that the White House expects."
In contrast with the AP and Special Report, a June 20 Washington Post report on Cheney's speech, by staff writer Thomas E. Ricks, noted that others had indeed predicted the insurgency's violence. "Despite Cheney's assertion that no one foresaw how difficult the post-invasion phase would be," Ricks reported, "defense and Middle East experts have said that administration officials during the run-up to the war ignored their warnings about potential obstacles ahead." Aside from the Army War College report, Ricks noted a December 2002 gathering of "70 national security experts and Middle East scholars" at the National Defense University. According to Ricks, those involved "issued a report concluding that occupying Iraq 'will be the most daunting and complex task the U.S. and the international community will have undertaken since the end of World War II.' " Ricks also reported that one of the participants sent a copy of the report to then-undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas J. Feith, but said he never heard back from Feith or " 'anyone else' over there."
Media Matters has also noted that projections of post-invasion instability in Iraq had surfaced in 1991 following the first Gulf War. Indeed, it was the prospect of "incalculable human and political costs" in a postwar Iraq that reportedly led to former President George H.W. Bush's decision to refrain from overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Then-Secretary of State James A. Baker shared the senior Bush's reservations. "Removing him [Saddam] from power might well have plunged Iraq into civil war, sucking U.S. forces in to preserve order," Baker wrote in 1999. "Had we elected to march on Baghdad, our forces might still be there." Even Cheney himself appeared to believe this: the September 29, 2004, Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that, in an August 1992 speech to the Discovery Institute, he defended the administration's decision not to invade Iraq and remove Saddam from power after the Persian Gulf War:
A transcript of the 1992 appearance was tracked down by P-I columnist Joel Connelly, as reported in today's In the Northwest column.
"And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?" Cheney said then in response to a question.
"And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."
The end result, Cheney said in 1992, would be a messy, dangerous situation requiring a long-term presence by U.S. forces.
"I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today, we'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home," Cheney said, 18 months after the war ended.
Also, as noted by Think Progress, contrary to Cheney's claim that he was referring to Iraqi political events when he said that the insurgency was in its "last throes," Cheney mentioned, in support of his "last throes" assertion reports that "lead terrorist" Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been injured. From the May 30, 2005, edition of CNN's Larry King Live:
KING: When do we leave?
CHENEY: We'll leave as soon as the task is over with. We haven't set a deadline or a date. It depends upon conditions. We have to achieve our objectives, complete the mission. And the two main requirements are, the Iraqis in a position to be able to govern themselves, and they're well on their way to doing that, and the other is able to defend themselves, and they're well on their way to doing that. They just announced that in the last day or two here, there've been stories about a major movement of some 40,000 Iraqi troops into Baghdad to focus specifically on the problem there.
KING: You expect it in your administration?
CHENEY: I do.
KING: To be removed. It's not going to be -- it's not going to be a 10-year event?
CHENEY: No. I think we may well have some kind of presence there over a period of time. But I think the level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency. We've had reporting in recent days, Larry, about Zarqawi, who's sort of the lead terrorist, outside terrorist, Al Qaeda, head of Al Qaeda for Iraq, may well have been seriously injured. We don't know. We can't confirm that. We've had reporting to that effect.
So I think we're making major progress. And, unfortunately, as I say, it does involve sending young Americans in harm's way. But America will be safer in the long run when Iraq and Afghanistan as well are no longer safe havens for terrorists or places where people can gather and plan and organize attacks against the United States.
From the June 19 Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize Luncheon at the National Press Club:
QUESTION: About a year ago, you said that the insurgency in Iraq was in its final throes. Do you still believe this?
CHENEY: I do. What I was referring to was the series of events that took place in 1995 [sic: 2005. Noted in original]. I think the key turning point, when we get back 10 years from now, say, and look back on this period of time, and with respect to the campaign in Iraq, will be that series of events when the Iraqis increasingly took over responsibility for their own affairs. And there I point to the election in January of '05, when we set up the interim government; the drafting of the constitution in the summer of '05; the national referendum in the fall of '05, when the Iraqis overwhelmingly approved that constitution; and then the vote last December, when some 12 million Iraqis, in defiance of the car bombers and the terrorists went to the polls and voted in overwhelming numbers to set up a new government under that constitution, and that process of course has been completed recently with the appointment by Prime Minister Maliki of ministers to fill those jobs.
I think that will have been, from a historical turning point, the period that we'll be able to look at and say, that's when we turned the corner; that's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you think that you underestimated the insurgency's strength?
CHENEY: I think so. I guess if I look back on it now, I don't think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered. I guess the other area that I look at, in terms of an area where I think we were faced with difficulties we didn't anticipate was the devastation that 30 years of Saddam's rule had wrought, if you will, on the psychology of the Iraqi people. Very, very hard to go from the way they were forced to live for a long period of time to a situation in which they have the opportunity for self-government, for setting up and operating their own free and democratically-elected society. That's a huge transition to make.
And if I look back on something that I underestimated, it would be the extent to which that society had been damaged by that series of events that had occurred over 30 years during Saddam's rule, up to and including the 1991 uprising where so many Iraqis rose up against the regime, and then were slaughtered by Saddam Hussein's forces.
From the June 19 Associated Press report on Cheney's speech, by reporter Tom Raum:
Cheney defended his comment last year, often ridiculed by administration critics, that the Iraqi insurgency was "in its final throes."
He said he was referring to a series of events including elections and the drafting and acceptance of a new Iraqi constitution that he believes history will show to be pivotal.
But the vice president did say that he underestimated the strength of the insurgency in some of his earlier remarks.
"I don't think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered," Cheney said. He said much of the continuing violence has its roots in "the devastation" that 30 years of Saddam Hussein's iron-fisted rule "had wrought on the psychology of the Iraqi people."
Asked if there was any possibility that the military draft would be restored, Cheney said, "No, none that I can see. I'm a big believer in the all-volunteer force. I think it's produced a magnificent military."
From the June 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: And Vice President Cheney said something on Iraq today that most people probably already knew or thought, but that no one at his level had ever before acknowledged. Pentagon correspondent Mike Emanuel reports.
EMANUEL: Vice President Cheney, at a National Press Club luncheon, says he underestimated the strength of the insurgency in Iraq.
CHENEY: If I look back on it now, I don't think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered. The other area we didn't anticipate was the devastation that 30 years of Saddam's rule had wrought, if you will, on the psychology of the Iraqi people.
EMANUEL: The vice president also defended his comment last year that the Iraqi insurgency was, quote, "in its final throes." The vice president said he was referring to the series of events when the Iraqis increasingly took over responsibility for their affairs.
CHENEY: And there I point to the election in January of '05, when we set up the interim government, the drafting of the constitution in the summer of '05, the national referendum in the fall of '05, when the Iraqis overwhelmingly approved that constitution, and then the vote last December.
EMANUEL: Cheney said it all came together when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki formed a permanent government.
CHENEY: That's when we turned the corner. That's when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.
EMANUEL: But in the present Iraq, hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi troops moved forward into eastern Ramadi. This is videotape actually shot by one of the 101st Airborne soldiers involved in the operation. An AC-130 gunship fired on a gang of suspected insurgents. Ramadi is the capital of the massive Anbar province and is believed to be a key operating location for the insurgency.