I know it's a pretty high bar, but Bill Kristol, the founder of the Project for a New American Century that spawned the Iraq war, the man whose editorials often seem to be inserted directly into the president's speeches, and who once boasted that "Dick Cheney does send over someone to pick up 30 copies of [The Weekly Standard] every Monday," has now just written the single most deceptive piece of the entire war.
The charitable view is that he's lost his mind. The less charitable view is that he's now officially surpassed Dick Cheney as the most intellectually dishonest member of the neocon establishment (the highest of all high bars). The truth-shattering piece appeared yesterday on the front page of the Washington Post Outlook section. It is entitled "Why Bush Will Be A Winner."
I had a preview of this deluded triumphalist drivel a couple of days earlier -- on Thursday afternoon specifically. Even more specifically, I was on the 4:00 pm Amtrak Acela from New York to Washington.
Kristol was sitting a row behind me, talking on his cell phone with someone who apparently shared his optimism. "'Precipitous withdrawal' really worked," I overheard him say, clearly referring to the president's use of the term in that morning's press conference. "How many times did he use it? Three? Four?" he asked his interlocutor, and the conversation continued with a round of metaphorical back-slapping for the clever phrase they had "come up with."
I, of course, have no idea who was on the other end. Tony Snow, perhaps? After all, he and Kristol were colleagues before Snow left Fox. But whoever it was, the emphasis during their conversation on the significance of the "clever" phrase has been emblematic of the White House prepping of the president.
Instead of sending their boss out with the real facts or logical arguments, Bush's aides and their friends (see Kristol) concoct some nonsense phrase in the spin lab, hand it to him and tell him to go out there and repeat it as often as he can. The latest is "precipitous withdrawal." It's the new "cut and run." It's actually not all that new: back in January 1969, Richard Nixon used it again and again in his famous "Silent Majority" speech: "The precipitate withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster not only for South Vietnam but for the United States and for the cause of peace." Again and again throughout the speech, Nixon used the phrase to paint the nightmarish consequences of a "precipitate withdrawal" from Vietnam. Almost forty years later, George Bush is using the slightly tweaked "precipitous withdrawal" to paint his own nightmarish scenario of what will happen if American forces leave Iraq. And for that, apparently, we have Bill Kristol to thank. At least partially.
In an interview with David Carr in March 2003, Kristol sounded just as pleased with himself and with his president as he's sounding today. "I'm a little amused but pleased," he said, "that the bus has become more crowded and that it is headed in the right direction." Well, the bus is a lot less crowded today -- and a lot more dilapidated. But Kristol remains as confident as ever that he and Cheney and their other neocon friends are still steering it in the right direction.
It is truly incredible that, at this late date in the Iraq debacle, there are still people who believe that a few well-focus-grouped phrases will change the tragic facts on the ground.
My chance encounter on the 4:00 pm Amtrak was a glimpse into their thinking. Kristol's Washington Post piece is the entire Bush-era conservative brain laid bare.
It isn't pretty. In fact, the Washington Post should have put some kind of warning on the piece for pregnant women, heart patients, and anyone with an allergy to bullshit. And if the pipeline from Kristol to the White House works the same for this piece as for "precipitous withdrawal," the country is in even worse shape than we thought.
So what did he say? I'll take it in order, and focus on national security.
After allowing that the war has been "difficult," he writes that "we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome."
Really? Not only does he give no evidence for this, not only does he ignore all the overwhelmingly contradictory evidence; he also conveniently neglects to even define what a "successful outcome" would be.
Then comes an onslaught of lies:
"The war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well."
Afghanistan is in fact teetering on the precipice of chaos. Indeed, 2006 saw the highest number of coalition deaths since the war began. The next highest before that? 2005. The Taliban is making a comeback and unrest among Afghans is growing. Obviously, Kristol's definition of "reasonably well" is very different than the experts'.
Then he's onto Pakistan, where, according to Kristol, "al-Qaeda may once again have a place where it can plan, organize and train." But, according to the National Intelligence estimate, there is no "may" about it, and this is not a future possibility, but a current reality. And, in what is unequivocally one of the greatest failures of the Bush administration, the NIE report concludes that al-Qaeda is "better positioned" to "strike the West" than at any time since 9/11.
But no worries, because, according to Kristol, "These Waziristan havens may well have to be dealt with in the near future. I assume Bush will deal with them, using some combination of air strikes and special operations."
Hear that? We're apparently just going to sort of casually start bombing Pakistan. That's the sort of thing that would make me nervous if I thought Kristol had any pull with the White House. Oh, wait...
Then on to Iraq. Just imagine what would have happened if we hadn't gone in:
"...Saddam Hussein would be alive and in power and, I dare say, victorious..."
Victorious? What does that mean? This, according to Kristol: "...He might well have restarted his nuclear program, and his connections with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups would be intact or revived and even strengthened..."
Ah, yes, that old, completely discredited war horse, the Saddam/al -Qaeda connection rides again. That'll no-doubt be high on the setlist when Kristol and Cheney are still touring with BushMania in 2012.
Then, putting aside his future delusions, Kristol treats us to his current ones:
"We are routing al-Qaeda in Iraq, we are beginning to curb the Iranian-backed sectarian Shiite militias and we are increasingly able to protect more of the Iraqi population..."
Actually, a growing percentage of the Iraqi population is no longer even in Iraq. Since we invaded Iraq, around 2 million Iraqis have left the country, with another 2 million still there, but having fled their homes.
But Kristol is just warming up. Now he starts to swing for the fences:
"The fact is that military progress on the ground in Iraq in the past few months has been greater than even surge proponents like me expected, and political progress is beginning to follow."
Preposterous. What "political progress" is he talking about? The fact that the Iraqi parliament is about to take the month of August off? Even President Bush's own "mixed bag" interim report on the benchmarks found little or no positive movement on political goals.
Gosh, Bill, how can we keep this great success going?
"It would help if the administration would make its case more effectively and less apologetically."
In other words: they should be repeating more of the clever phrases he sends over to them.
"It would help if Bush had more aides who believed in his policy, who understood that the war is winnable and who didn't desperately want to get back in (or stay in) the good graces of the foreign policy establishment..." (i.e. more people like Kristol).
"If the president," Kristol concludes, "stands with Petraeus and progress continues on the ground, Bush will be able to prevent a sellout in Washington."
What does he mean by "a sellout?" Is he already dusting off the stabbed-in-the-back theory from Vietnam: that, of course, we could have won, if only the soldiers hadn't been stabbed in the back by the media and anti-war liberals.
Kristol has plans for the next president too: "Following through to secure the victory in Iraq and to extend its benefits to neighboring countries will be the task of the next president."
Extend its benefits? Hear that 2008 GOP presidential candidates? Bill Kristol thinks you should run on a platform of "I pledge to take what we did in Iraq to even more countries around the world."
For Kristol, "What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president. I like the odds...."
I'll take that bet. And you can, too. Kristol will be sitting in for an online chat at the Washington Post Monday at noon. It's entitled: "Outlook: Bush Will Win."