John Bolton's Revisionist History Of Iraq War Criticism

Angry walrus and potential presidential candidate -- who knows? -- John Bolton has a piece in today's Daily Beast, and it really is a dilly! It's all about how President Barack Obama's stewardship of the Iraq War -- which amounts to little more than adhering to the Status of Forces Agreement agreed to by former President George W. Bush in 2008 -- will "wreck" Iraq. Along the way, we get this wonderful rewrite of history:

One of the main criticisms of President Bush's decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was that the United States had attacked the wrong target. Iraq wasn't the real threat, said these critics, it was Iran. In fact, they argued, by eliminating Saddam -- who long advertised himself as the Arabs' defender against the Persians -- Bush had actually strengthened Iran, laying the foundation for Tehran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East.

Now there's a toxic intellectual asset for you! Insofar as contemporaneous criticism of the Iraq War held that military resources were being misallocated, the most fervent critics held that it was our enemies in Afghanistan -- not Iran -- that were the real threat. That Iraq served, largely, as a massive opportunity cost to Afghanistan, is something that Obama spoke out on before his presidential campaign even heated up, and while proponents of getting out of both Iraq and Afghanistan were probably disappointed in this, during the campaign he constantly promised to to refocus on the Afghanistan theatre. If anyone was criticizing the Bush administration for not taking the fight to Tehran, it was his overambitious neo-con allies, who believed that they possessed Green Lantern's power ring.

As to how the removal of Saddam Hussein would create a vacuum for Iran to fill, well, this is what is known as a natural consequence of going to war in Iraq in the first place. But don't take my word for it! As one Army officer, Matthew Valkovic, wrote to Thomas Ricks earlier this year, "Saddam, the Sunni, pan Arab bulwark, made sure Shia and Persian influence was kept at bay. Now, with Saddam no more, the balance has clearly shifted the other way."

And here's Iraqi Parliamentarian Khalaf al-Ulayyan, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight, in June of 2008:

DANA ROHRABACHER: Maybe if you could just...if it's possible to answer with a yes or no, would you have preferred that the United States not have conducted the military operations it did in order to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein? Would you have preferred that we not do that now, in retrospect...

KHALAF al-ULAYYAN, Member of the Iraqi Parliament: We would prefer if it didn't happen because this led to the destruction of the country.

ROHRABACHER: So you would have preferred the United States not to have gone in and got rid of Saddam Hussein?

al-ULAYYAN: The United States got rid of one person, but they brought hundreds of persons who are worse than Saddam Hussein.

ROHRABACHER: That's a fair answer.

al-ULAYYAN: And, unfortunately, now Iran is going into Iraq, and this is under the umbrella of the American occupation of Iraq.

Of course, the Iraq War ended up being a boon to every bad actor in the region. It meant de facto appeasement of al Qaeda and the Taliban -- who were allowed to reconstitute themselves in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and it's surely done little to prevent Hamas and Hezbollah from being empowered and emboldened.

Of course, Bush's folly was the belief that deposing Saddam would lead to some grandiose regional restructuring in which these radicalized regimes collapse under the threat of U.S. intervention, paving the way for democracy to flourish everywhere. Those success stories never happened. For a long while, the Bush administration attempted to stretch its case and pretend that Libya was some sort of success story in this regard, when that nation agreed to dismantle its WMD program in December of 2003. Bush lifted trade sanctions against Libya nine months later.

But in 2009, Lockerbie bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi was freed from prison in Scotland and returned to a hero's welcome in Libya. And that's when everyone decided it'd be best if we just forgot all about how Libya was supposed to be the ultimate example in this silly Iraq-War-begets-democracy fantasia.

Bolton now believes that it's Obama's adherence to the Status of Forces Agreement that "will leave Iran the increasingly dominant player in an ever-more-dangerous region." I'll not dispute the potential, or the potential danger, of Iran being a dominant player. But I'm sorry to inform Mr. Bolton that we crossed the Rubicon on that inevitability on March 20, 2003.

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