You mean, we *weren’t* greeted as liberators?

John McCain accuses Colin Powell of getting us into the Iraq War.

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama for re-election is welcome as a sign of the thinking of one piece of the conservative establishment, and also as a fairly clear sign that Powell thinks Obama is going to win. And Powell, in addition to saying nice things about Obama, hit Romney on two sore spots: his ignorance of foreign affairs and the variability of his positions. I.e., he managed, in his preternaturally calm voice. to raise both the Commander-in-Chief test and the character issue. Still, unless Powell goes out on the stump or works the phones, I wouldn’t have expected it to matter much.

That clearly isn’t the view from the other side of the line of scrimmage. The Red Team is frankly decompensating. Sununu’s casual race-card play (and semi-retraction) is nothing new, coming from Sununu, but it’s a little bit surprising Romney couldn’t, or didn’t want to, rein him in. He knows, or should know by now, that in a Presidential campaign no Sununus is good Sununus.

And of course John McCain being vicious is about as newsworthy as the Pope saying Mass. I’m sure he’ll never forgive Powell for what he regards as a betrayal in 2008, and his hatred for Obama seems to be boundless.

Between them Sununu and McCain managed to ensure that even relatively low-information voters learned about Powell’s endorsement, which could otherise have slipped comfortably under the radar. And the President was happy to keep the story alive another day.

But the weirdest aspect of the story is the issue McCain chose to attack Powell on: the invasion of Iraq. Powell properly gave Obama credit for getting us out of Iraq. McCain – yes, the McCain who in 2008 wanted to keep our troops in Iraq forever – decided to spice up his second day of atttacks on Powell’s character by saying:

Colin Powell, interestingly enough, said that Obama got us out of Iraq. But it was Colin Powell, with his testimony before the U.N. Security Council, that got us into Iraq.

Now, how many different ways is that weird?

1. First, it’s obviously untrue. Powell was the PR front for the Iraq War, not the decider. To what extent he had sniffed the b.s. by serving that big, fat b.s.-burger to the Security Council is an open question, but he surely wasn’t the author either of the idea of an invasion or the specific arguments he made to get the Security Council to support it. (And Powell is still mad at the neo-cons who handed him the b.s. and told him it was ground round.)

2. Second, Bush was the President. In the end, Bush got us into Iraq, even if Cheney was the puppet-master.

3. Third, I thought McCain thought the war in Iraq was a Good Thing: “necessary and just.” Now, dear reader, you don’t think that, and I don’t think that, but in official wingnut mythology we were the problem; by not supporting the war, we created a political situation that led to the Stab in the Back that alone prevented the creation of a stable, democratic Iraq allied with the U.S. and Israel. So of course you and I think Powell badly blotted his copy-book that day in front of the Security Council, but where does John McCain get off saying so?

Perhaps the sheer idiocy of the Iraq adventure has now penetrated even John McCain’s thick skull. But this is an odd way of saying so, isn’t it?

The least hypothesis that covers these facts would seem to me to be that (1) they’re losing this election, after thinking for a week they were winning it; (2) they know they’re losing it, whatever it says in the NRO or even the WaPo; and (3) they’re sore losers.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

17 thoughts on “You mean, we *weren’t* greeted as liberators?”

  1. “… by not supporting the war, we created …”

    Uhhhhh… Should I really take a long peek through the archives? You had good company: Kevin Drum, Yglesias, the Holbos, Robert Farley, BDL, John Cole, yadda yadda. But, still, no need to whitewash, eh?

    Ok, took a peek. All you have to do is saunter around the first two weeks of March, 2003.

    I’ve blown some big ones in my life, that’s for sure. But not that one.

    But addressing the substance of this post, it was at the time and remains so to this day my assessment that Colin Powell’s bald faced lying at the UN is what sealed the deal for the Iraq War. So nice of him to make some small amends by picking the better center-right Republican, but he still has a lot to answer for.

    1. It’s important to note that, of the people you list, John Cole had a complete ideological overhaul since the invasion, and claims (and seems) to be a different person. Basically everyone else on your list (that I follow at all; I’ve vaguely heard of one Holbo, and haven’t heard of BDL) basically claims to be the same person they were at the time, but wiser.

      Also: I can’t actually tell from your comment what you allege was Kleiman’s stance in 2002-2003. You “took a peek”; care to describe the results more clearly?

      1. I was cautiously, and unhappily, pro-war. Why?`

        (1) I was convinced by Iraqi behavior that they had something to hide, probably a revived nuclear program but possibly something really nasty on the biological side. (Chemical weapons shouldn’t be categorized as WMDs.) (2) It seemed obvious that, if we had to attack, the time to do so was before rather than after they had operational nuclear or bio weapons. (3) I took seriously the humanitarian groups’ estimates of civilian deaths from a combination of our sanctions and the way the Ba’ath responded to them. (50k per month dead is the number I recall.) (4)I hoped a strong war powers resolution might lead Iraq to capitulate on the weapons issue, as Libya later did.

        But the neocon stab-in-the-back story isn’t about opposition to the initial invasion. It’s about the refusal of many of us to support The Endless Surge.

        Yes, of course in retrospect the invasion looks like “worse than a crime: a blunder.” But I still haven’t heard a coherent story about what we should have done instead, once Bush I had converted Saddam Hussein into an implacable enemy and then left him in power.

        I’m glad you’re sure that Powell was lying rather than lied-to. But what’s the evidence? In any case, those loons would have gone in without an SC resolution if they couldn’t go in with one.

        1. It’s also a different thing to support the War powers resolution in Sept 2002, vs supporting the actual invasion in 2003

          1. I’m not so sure. It was pretty obvious that W was a liar from the get go. Anybody could see that resolution was just pure BS……..W’s goal was war and he was gonna do it any way he could.

        2. “I still haven’t heard a coherent story about what we should have done instead”

          Why on earth need we have done anything at all? The Iraqi regime, nasty as it was, was not threatening its neighbors, and had no capacity to threaten the United States. The U.N. inspectors were day by day verifying that there was no nuclear weapons program. What downside do you see in letting sleeping dogs lie? How about a coherent story for the invasion? I still haven’t heard one of those that wasn’t full of lies.

          1. And assuming that a 50K a month death toll, in perpetuity, is OK with everyone, we could have kept it this way.

        3. Wow. You still think you made the right choice. At least this puts your support of the drug war in a new light.

    2. I agree that Mark is letting Powell off too lightly on the UN speech. The man was Secretary of State, not an Assistant Press Secretary. Surely he has some responsibility for verifying facts he’s going to present to the UN in support of a war, and the resources to do so.

      1. I agree completely. I totally lost all respect for him after he gave that speech…..he knew better and he did it any way. Who cares who he endorses.

        1. Powell’s speech to the UN was very much in line with what I have been led to believe was his cover-up of My Lai. I rather suspect that Powell was rejected by the Republicans well before he first supported Obama. But he clearly is a very complex and very capable man. For a non West Pointer to achieve five stars suggests there is a lot there. Did he go out on a limb out of loyalty and then have the limb sawed off?

          Interesting speculation, but I’m glad to have Powell publicly supporting Obama. Romney is an ice berg who views America as a potential Titanic.

          1. The last U.S. general with five stars was Omar Bradley, who died in 1981.

            Colin Powell is a capable, and I imagine largely honorable, man who should hang his head in shame for the rest of his life.

  2. Is the “stab in the back” story now the standard right-wing line on Iraq? I’m not so sure, actually. It’s certainly the neocon line. But the right-wing line on something is usually some combination of “whatever will get our guy elected” and “whatever will annoy the lefties”. Right now these point in opposite ways vis-a-vis Iraq, and Republican politicians aren’t really called on to take a stand right now anyway, so at the moment I don’t think there’s a right-wing line. Similarly, on Afghanistan, where they do need to take a stand, they were all over the map (from “the quagmire symbolizes Obama’s failure” to Ryan’s “got to stay and not give a withdrawal date and be resolute” to Eastwood’s “immediate withdrawal”) – until Romney’s third debate flipflop to the “fixed timeline” position, which neatly gives them a position that both annoys the lefties and could help their guy get elected.

    Down the road, of course, the right-wing historians will kick in. At that point my guess is it will be some combination of the stab-in-the-back story, and the liberal-internationalists-forced-him-to-turn-a-great-victory-into-failed-nation-building view. Whatever it is, it’s got to be the liberals’ fault.

  3. If Obama loses the election, you can blame/thank the Right for bamboozling him. How is it ethical that an entire news network questions the President’s citizenship for four years to create doubt in voters while a fringe element of the far right demonizes and degrades him? Most of this is financed by the rich who want to keep their stranglehold on the flow of wealth in our country. Watch the white hands apply the Blackface to our first African-American President at

  4. Maybe you’re overlooking Occam’s Razor here?

    McCain, being an epistemically-closed wingnut in good standing, is simply following the prime directive of blaming anything Bush screwed up on the black guy.

  5. “No Sununus is good Sununus.”

    Thanks, I’m Mark Kleiman, I’ll be here all week.

    That line made me laugh.

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