There has been a lot of talk this season about deceptive campaign ads, but the most dishonest document I have seen is this press release from Vanity Fair, highlighted on the Drudge Report. Headlined "Now They Tell Us," it purports to offer an "exclusive" access to "remorseful" former supporters of the Iraq war who will now "play the blame game" with "shocking frankness."
It cites not only myself as one of these remorseful supporters, but also Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, and others.
I can speak only for myself. Obviously I wish the war had gone better. It's true I fear that there is a real danger that the US will lose in Iraq. And yes I do blame a lot that has gone wrong on failures of US policy.
I have made these points literally thousands of times since 2004, beginning in An End to Evil and most recently in my 22-part commentary on Bob Woodward's State of Denial (start here and find the remainder here.) I have argued them on radio and on television and on public lectern, usually in exactly the same words that are quoted in the press release.
"[T]he insurgency has proven it can kill anyone who cooperates, and the United States and its friends have failed to prove that it can protect them."
"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."
And finally that the errors in Iraq are explained by "failures at the center."
Nothing exclusive there, nothing shocking, and believe me, nothing remorseful.
My most fundamental views on the war in Iraq remain as they were in 2003: The war was right, victory is essential, and defeat would be calamitous.
And that to my knowledge is the view of everybody quoted in the release and the piece: Adelman, Cohen, Ledeen, Perle, Pletka, Rubin, and all the others.
(Not that it matters, but this fight is very personal for many of those people. Cohen and Ledeen have both had children serve in Iraq, Cohen's in the Tenth Mountain Division, Ledeen's daughter in the civil administration and his elder son in the Marines. As a civilian adviser in Iraq, Rubin displayed impressive personal courage living solo for long periods of time in the Shiite zones of east Baghdad.)
Vanity Fair then set my words in its own context in its press release. They added words outside the quote marks to change the plain meaning of quotations.
When I talk in the third quotation above about failures "at the center," for example, I did not mean the president. If I had, I would have said so. At that point in the conversation, I was discussing the National Security Council, whose counter-productive interactions produced bad results.
And when I talked in the second quotation about "persuading the president," I was repeating this point, advanced here last month. In past administrations, the battle for the president's words was a battle for administration policy. But because Bush's National Security Council malfunctioned so badly, the president could say things without action following - because the mechanism for enforcing his words upon the bureaucracy had broken.
In short, Vanity Fair transformed a Washington debate over "how to correct course and win the war" to advance obsessions all their own.
How was this done?
The author of the piece touted by the press release is David Rose, a British journalist well known as a critic of the Saddam Hussein regime and supporter of the Iraq war. (See here and here for just two instances out of a lengthy bibliography.)
Rose has earned a reputation as a truth teller. The same unfortunately cannot be said for the editors and publicists at Vanity Fair. They have repackaged truths that a war-fighting country needs to hear into lies intended to achieve a shabby partisan purpose.