Conservative pundits made wildly wrong claims about how Iraq would turn out -- what are they saying now about the Middle East?

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN, BRIAN LEVY, ROB MORLINO & KURT DONALDSON

Numerous conservative pundits offered highly optimistic predictions about the U.S. invasion of Iraq regarding the conflict's duration, difficulty, and human and financial costs -- nearly all of which have proven to be wrong. But rather than hold these "Pollyanna pundits" accountable for their past misjudgments, the media have again provided a platform for their views about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. And echoing their rhetoric on Iraq, these conservative pundits have advocated further military action by the United States and its allies.

In its efforts to sell the American people on the Iraq war, before and after the invasion, the Bush administration has received the support of a cadre of conservative pundits who offered highly optimistic predictions regarding the conflict's duration, difficulty, and human and financial costs -- even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Indeed, the disastrous situation has proven nearly all of these predictions wrong. "Yet by some curious code of Beltway etiquette," American Prospect editor-at-large Harold Meyerson wrote in a September 1, 2005, article, "the war hawks are still sought out for their judgments on war and peace, geopolitics, and military and political strategy." Rather than hold these "Pollyanna pundits" accountable for their past misjudgments, the media have again provided a platform for their views as the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has escalated in the past two weeks. And echoing their rhetoric on Iraq, these conservative pundits have advocated further military action by the United States and its allies.

The following list juxtaposes the strategic advice recently put forth by seven such pundits on the Middle East crisis with the wildly inaccurate prognostications they earlier offered on Iraq.

Weekly Standard editor William Kristol

THEN ...

  • "The larger question with respect to Iraq, as with Afghanistan, is what happens after the combat is concluded. [...] And, as in Kabul but also as in the Kurdish and Shi'ite regions of Iraq in 1991, American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators. Indeed, reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan.

    "The political, strategic and moral rewards would also be even greater. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated and Syria cowed; the Palestinians more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel; and Saudi Arabia with less leverage over policymakers here and in Europe. Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power presents a genuine opportunity -- one President Bush sees clearly -- to transform the political landscape of the Middle East." [Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 2/2/02]

  • "The United States committed itself to defeating terror around the world. We committed ourselves to reshaping the Middle East, so the region would no longer be a hotbed of terrorism, extremism, anti-Americanism, and weapons of mass destruction. The first two battles of this new era are now over. The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably. But these are only two battles. We are only at the end of the beginning in the war on terror and terrorist states." [4/28/03 column]
  • "There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular." [National Public Radio, 4/1/03]

NOW ...

  • "The deaths are worth it if it leads to Hezbollah being expelled from Lebanon, disarmed, the Lebanese government able to observe sovereignty, and then we will have a peaceful and democratic Lebanon that is perfectly happy to live in peace with Israel and its other neighbors. That's why this is a great opportunity. It's unfortunate that Lebanese get killed in the cross fire, but at the end of the day, this is really much better for Lebanon than them being forced to tolerate Hezbollah, as they were forced to tolerate Syria for all those years, occupying their territory." [Fox News' Big Story with John Gibson, 7/18/06]
  • "We have to be ready to use military force against Iran, if it comes to that. [...] We have to stop them from getting nuclear weapons. We can try diplomacy. I am not hopeful about that. We have to be ready to use force. [...] [T]he Iranian people dislike their regime. I think they would be -- the right use of targeted military force, but especially if political pressure before we use military force -- could cause them to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power. There are even moderates -- they are not wonderful people, but people in the government itself -- who are probably nervous about [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's recklessness. [...] This is the moment to set them back. I think a setback to Hezbollah could trigger changes in Iran. People can say, 'Wait a second, what is Ahmadinejad doing to us? We're alone. The Arab world is even against us. The Muslim world is against us. Let's reconsider this reckless path that we're on.' " [Fox News Live, 7/19/06]
  • "The right response is renewed strength -- in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions -- and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement." [Weekly Standard, 7/24/06]

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer

THEN ...

  • "Iran is not a ready candidate for the blunt instrument of American power, because it is in the grips of a revolution from below. We can best accelerate that revolution by the power of example and success: Overthrowing neighboring radical regimes shows the fragility of dictatorship, challenges the mullahs' mandate from heaven and thus encourages disaffected Iranians to rise. First, Afghanistan to the east. Next, Iraq to the west." [The Washington Post, 2/1/02]
  • "[I]t's the beginning of the end of the bad news. I mean, we're going to have lots of attacks, but the political process is under way." [Fox News' Special Report With Brit Hume, 6/1/04]
  • "The Administration went ahead with this great project knowing it would be hostage to history. History has begun to speak. Elections in Afghanistan, a historic first. Elections in Iraq, a historic first. Free Palestinian elections producing a moderate leadership, two historic firsts. Municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, men only, but still a first. In Egypt, demonstrations for democracy -- unheard of in decades -- prompting the dictator to announce free contested presidential elections, a historic first.

    "And now, of course, the most romantic flowering of the spirit America went into the region to foster: the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, in which unarmed civilians, Christian and Muslim alike, brought down the puppet government installed by Syria. There is even the beginning of a breeze in Damascus. More than 140 Syrian intellectuals have signed a public statement defying their government by opposing its occupation of Lebanon." [Time.com, 3/7/05]

NOW ...

  • "The road to a solution is therefore clear: Israel liberates south Lebanon and gives it back to the Lebanese.

    "It starts by preparing the ground with air power, just as the Persian Gulf War began with a 40-day air campaign. But if all that happens is the air campaign, the result will be failure. Hezbollah will remain in place, Israel will remain under the gun, Lebanon will remain divided and unfree. And this war will start again at a time of Hezbollah and Iran's choosing.

    "Just as in Kuwait in 1991, what must follow the air campaign is a land invasion to clear the ground and expel the occupier. Israel must retake south Lebanon and expel Hezbollah. It would then declare the obvious: that it has no claim to Lebanese territory and is prepared to withdraw and hand south Lebanon over to the Lebanese army (augmented perhaps by an international force), thus finally bringing about what the world has demanded -- implementation of Resolution 1559 and restoration of south Lebanon to Lebanese sovereignty." [The Washington Post, 7/19/06]

  • "Democrats can't understand -- if you're dealing with an existential enemy, an enemy who wants to kill you, and you're not arguing about territories or stuff over which you can have a compromise, you can't have negotiations that will succeed. All you can have is appeasement. And Israel appeased over seven years with the urging of the Clinton administration. It gave up territory, it armed its enemies, and what we have now is a direct result of that appeasement. A Trojan horse entered into Israel -- in Israel and Gaza and in Lebanon -- and what's happening is that that Trojan horse is striking back." [Fox News' Special Report With Brit Hume, 7/21/06]

Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes

THEN ...

  • "[T]he good news is contrary to what you hear in the media, it gets easier now. The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war. [...] Hezbollah is a part of the war on terrorism. Syria harbors terrorists in the Biqa Valley, Hezbollah and so on. The Saudis export terrorism in terms of Wahabi Islam, and things can be done to crackdown on that. It doesn't mean sending troops into Riyadh or into Damascus or things like that. But certainly the U.S. now has leverage that it didn't have before winning this triumph in Iraq. [...] [L]ook, it is clear what victory in the war is. When you see those statues topple and you know that's victory." [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 4/10/03]
  • "But these terrorists are hitting soft targets. I mean, the U.N., the hotel, the Red Cross -- these are relatively soft targets. And I think they have a bad strategy. What do they gain from killing a lot of Red Cross personnel and a lot of U.N. personnel? I don't think they warm the hearts of Iraqis. They certainly don't build up more support in Europe or the United States. It is a last-ditch -- I think it is a desperate effort by these terrorists. It's not representative of a significant guerrilla force that's fighting the United States there." [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume 10/27/03]
  • "I think he [Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA)] is just plain wrong in some of the things he said. And I certainly disagree with some of the others. But here is what he is wrong about, Brit. You raised one of them. And that is, he says the war is intensifying. It's not intensifying." [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 11/17/05]

NOW ...

  • "Right now, a cease-fire would be a huge mistake, because what would serve the U.S., what would serve Israel, what would serve the fledgling democracy in Lebanon would be for Hezbollah to be destroyed as a military operation and as a political force in Lebanon, or at least crippled. [...] [National Public Radio correspondent and Fox news political analyst] Juan [Williams] seemed to like what Senator [Christopher] Dodd [D-CT] was talking about, that golden age from 1967 to 2000 of diplomacy and negotiation. Look where we wound up after that. We wound up with an Iran aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. We found Israel threatened by terrorists on two borders. We found Syria as a country that's now a client state of Iran and is a haven for terrorists. Iraq's better, but there's no improvement in the Middle East. It's probably worse off after this great age of negotiation and diplomacy." [Fox Broadcasting Co,'s Fox News Sunday, 7/16/06]
  • "Look, there is one thing that has to happen now. And that is for a cease-fire not to take place and the Israelis allowed to continue to try to cripple Hezbollah. If that doesn't happen, we're worse off than we were before the war. One of the things that Condoleezza Rice says that was encouraging, she denied that it was absolutely untrue, an Israeli newspaper report, that the U.S. would give Israel one more week, obviously it needs more than one week to do the job." [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 7/24/06]

Los Angeles Times columnist Max Boot

THEN ...

  • "Pity the poor Democratic presidential candidates. They're really in a bind: They have no choice but to join in the international rejoicing over the capture of the Butcher of Baghdad, but at the same time they can't simply offer blanket approval for President Bush's Iraq policy. With the economy picking up steam and Bush stealing their best issue with his Medicare bill, they can't afford to give up this all-important area in which to criticize the incumbent. But what can they say when the situation in Iraq appears to be looking up?" [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/03]
  • "Iraq is starting to resemble the 1994 movie 'Speed.' Like the bus on which Sandra Bullock and company were trapped, the country is in constant danger of blowing up. To avoid disaster, it has to keep moving, crashing through some obstacles and avoiding others. As long as it maintains momentum, its occupants will survive. [...] More bombs, both real and metaphorical, are certain to go off in the days ahead, but Iraq already has confounded many Western 'progressives' who doubted that the Arab world could ever make progress. The bus may be rickety and it may have lost some passengers, but -- guess what? -- it's on schedule toward its final destination: democracy." [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/04]
  • "At the time, this kind of talk was dismissed by pretty much everyone not employed by the White House as neocon nuttiness. Democracy in the Middle East? Introduced by way of Iraq? You've got to be kidding! The only real debate in sophisticated circles was whether those who talked of democracy were simply naive fools or whether their risible rhetoric was meant to hide some sinister motive.

    "Well, who's the simpleton now? Those who dreamed of spreading democracy to the Arabs or those who denied that it could ever happen? Of course, the outcome is far from clear, and even in Iraq democracy is hardly well established. Yet some pretty extraordinary things have been happening in the last few weeks. [...] Maybe, just maybe, those neocons weren't so nutty after all." [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/05]

NOW ...

  • "The real problem is that Israel's response has been all too proportional. So far it has only gone after Hamas and Hezbollah. (Some collateral damage is inevitable because these groups hide among civilians.) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is showing superhuman restraint by not, at the very least, "accidentally" bombing the Syrian and Iranian embassies in Beirut, which serve as Hezbollah liaison offices. [...] Iran may be too far away for much Israeli retaliation beyond a single strike on its nuclear weapons complex. (Now wouldn't be a bad time.) But Syria is weak and next door. To secure its borders, Israel needs to hit the Assad regime. Hard. If it does, it will be doing Washington's dirty work. Our best response is exactly what Bush has done so far -- reject premature calls for a cease-fire and let Israel finish the job." [The Weekly Standard, 7/20/06]

Former CIA director James Woolsey

THEN ...

  • "If Saddam uses biological weapons that have been genetically modified, in order to be resistant to vaccines for anthrax, or to antibiotics or to smallpox, and you find out, because you've waited, at some point, that it was this six-month period in which he was able to do that, who that is arguing for the delay will stand up and take responsibility and say, gee, you know, I'm really sorry? [...] I don't think it's hypothetical at all. And nor do people who work on biological weapons believe that it is hypothetical. I would submit to you that genetically modified work is going on in Iraq right now. It's clear that we know that. And I think people who argue for delay, need to take responsibility for the consequences of the delay they're alleging." [ABC's Nightline, 3/4/03]
  • "It's really quite fitting at the end of this incredible year, 2003, that Saddam is captured by American soldiers hiding in a hole, together with other rats. And I think we ought to play it that way. Humiliation, not physical abuse or anything like that, but letting it be known that this was the way he was caught, humbled, not only captured, is I think an important part of all of this. And it will have an effect, also, on the Tikritis, other Tikritis and Ba'athist resistance. There could still or will still be some attacks. There was a bloody one today, killing 20, as your report said, 20 police. But this is, if not the beginning of the end, this is at least the end of the beginning of getting rid of the Ba'athist resistance." [CNN Live Event, 12/14/03]

NOW ...

  • "I think we ought to execute some air strikes against Syria, against the instruments of power of that state, against the airport, which is the place where the weapons shuttle through from Iran to Hezbollah and Hamas. I think both Syria and Iran think that we're cowards. [...] Iran has drawn a line in the sand. They sent Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel. They're pushing their nuclear weapons program. They're helping North Korea, working with them on a ballistic missile program. They're doing their best to take over southern Iraq with Muqtad al-Sadr and some of their other proxies. This is a very serious challenge from Iran, and we need to weaken them badly, and undermining the Syrian government with air strikes would help weaken them badly." [Fox News' Big Story with John Gibson, 7/17/06]
  • "Syria has been deeply involved in what's going on with Hezbollah and Hamas. And I think that we can work together with the Israelis; we can't expect them to do everything. It might have been better for them to have gone after Syria than Lebanon, but nonetheless they are doing what they believe is in their national interest. And I think that we should not stand here and wait for Iran to come after us. [...] The Sunni Muslims, even in Saudi Arabia, but certainly in Egypt and Jordan and elsewhere, have not come to the support of Iran and Syria and Hezbollah and Hamas in this. So I think we would be not stretching at all to deal with this problem before it manifests itself in some Iranian strike against us in the West." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 7/18/06]

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)

THEN ...

  • "I think that this is one of the most powerful cases we could make -- that, in fact, the entire process of peace in the region will become much easier once you don't have Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And I think, frankly, at that point, the Syrians will start backing down and the Iranians will start backing down." [Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, 12/6/02]

NOW ...

  • "The United States should do a couple things. First of all, we should indicate to the Lebanese government that we would be willing to back them if they were willing to take control of their own country, and that if they're not willing to take control of their own country, they need to stay totally out of the fight. Second, we should indicate that as long as there's a single missile in South Lebanon or a single Iranian revolutionary guard in South Lebanon, that Israel has total legitimacy in going in there and taking apart the entire Hezbollah structure as far north as they have to go, and as intensely as they have to go. Third, we should indicate to Syria and to Iran that we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop them from intervening in Lebanon. There's already been a U.N. resolution against Syria for assassinating Lebanese officials. And I think, frankly, we should send several fairly direct signals to Syria and Iran that we are determined that they withdraw from this." [Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, 7/20/06]
  • "Well, first of all, it's very clear that the United States should have as goals to replace the North Korean, Iranian, and Syrian dictatorships with governments run by people in their countries as democracies who want to be prosperous and free and safe, and who don't want to spend all of their money trying to be military powers. I think there are ways, as Ronald Reagan did, to do that nonviolently, but I think that should be our goal." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 7/26/06]

Fox News host Sean Hannity

THEN ...

  • "You know what I find amazing -- one of the most successful military operations -- I mean, the left wanted to criticize the president so bad, 'It's a quagmire, we don't have enough troops, the battle plan needs to be written straight across the board.' [...] [T]he Democrats are bragging they think we didn't do the right thing here." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 4/11/03]
  • "[T]he proof will be in the pudding. Because they're going to see that their country is a lot freer, they'll have more liberty. [...] You keep mentioning these same naysayers. On every step of the way, they thought this military operation, they were lecturing us on how it wasn't well thought out. This rolling was a bad idea, we didn't have enough troops there, it was going to be a quagmire. All of these thousands, according to naysayers, of troops are going to die. [...] [T]hey've actually made fools of them themselves." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 4/10/03]
  • "Democracy may be alive in the Middle East. Now, over the weekend, various news outlets reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has ordered his country's constitution changed to allow for challengers on this fall's presidential ballot, a move that Mubarak himself had recently dismissed as futile. And earlier today, this was the scene in Beirut, Lebanon, where more than 25,000 protesters cheered the resignation of the pro-Syrian puppet government. Now, the question is, for the first time in decades, could Lebanon now be looking at the dawn of a possible peaceful day? And could either of these things have happened without the spread of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan? Well, maybe angry liberals should think about that when they criticize President Bush's foreign policy." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 2/28/05]
  • "We're close to being finished [in Iraq]." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 11/21/05]

NOW ...

  • "We know that Iran and Syria, that they're responsible. They've been behind -- they've supported these terrorist acts from the very beginning, the kidnapping of these solders. They're surrogates for Hezbollah. They're surrogates for Hamas, Islamic Jihad. So now the question is raised, if it's really Syria and Iran, [former vice presidential candidate] Jack [Kemp], and we know that they're responsible, does that -- can reasonable people conclude that we're going to have to have a conflict with them and that we have to then judge whether or not that conflict would better to take place now than later, when perhaps they have nuclear weapons?" [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 7/16/06]
  • "I think one of the questions for the United States is, 'Are we, the United States, going to have to in the future, near future, perhaps in the distant future, be at war with Islamic fascist terror regimes like Syria, like Iran?' And if the answer to that question is yes, we're going to have to be at war and that they're at war with us, that they attacked us on 9-11, you're dealing with these terror groups today. Isn't it better to make the decision -- for the United States to engage that before they have nuclear weapons?"[Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 7/17/06]
  • "But is the world defining peace as the absence of overt conflict? Isn't peace defined by the ability to defend yourself? For example, are we going to wait until we have a nuclear-armed Iran until we deal with a guy that denies the Holocaust, and wants to annihilate Israel, and wipe them off the face of the Earth?" [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 7/19/06]
  • "But don't we have to defeat Syria and Iran? If they are a terrorist, they're fomenting terror, they want to annihilate Israel, ultimately, don't we have to defeat them? And if we do, wouldn't it be better before they got a nuclear capability of some kind?" [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 7/20/06]
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