Should We Listen to Those Who Were Wrong on Iraq in 2002?

Last week, I wrote a post over at the Washington Post expressing amazement that so many of the people who were so spectacularly wrong on Iraq in 2002 are now returning to tell us what we should do about Iraq in 2014. While it went out under the headline "On Iraq, let's ignore those who got it all wrong," I didn't actually argue specifically that they should be ignored, just that we shouldn't forget their track records when we hear them now (although I did allow that seeking out John McCain's opinion on Iraq is like getting lost and deciding that Mr. Magoo is the person you need to ask for directions). Then yesterday, after Dick Cheney popped up with a predictably tendentious criticism of Barack Obama, I wrote another post on the topic of our former vice president, and here I did get a little more explicit about how his opinions should be greeted, after running through some of his more appalling howlers:

There is not a single person in America — not Bill Kristol, not Paul Wolfowitz, not Don Rumsfeld, no pundit, not even President Bush himself — who has been more wrong and more shamelessly dishonest on the topic of Iraq than Dick Cheney.

And now, as the cascade of misery and death and chaos he did so much to unleash rages anew, Cheney has the unadulterated gall to come before the country and tell us that it's all someone else’s fault, and if we would only listen to him then we could keep America safe forever. How dumb would we have to be to listen?

Is there a bit of over-enthusiasm with which people like me are attacking the return of the Iraq War caucus? Maybe. Part of it comes from the fact that a decade ago, those of us who were right about the whole thing were practically called traitors because we doubted that Iraq would turn out to be a splendid little war. And part of it comes from the fact that the band of morons who sold and executed the worst foreign policy disaster in American history not only didn't receive the opprobrium they deserved, they all did quite well for themselves. Paul Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank. Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks, and George Tenet—a trio of incompetents to rival the Three Stooges—each got the Medal of Freedom in honor of their stellar performance. Bill Kristol was rewarded with the single most prestigious perch in the American media, a column in the New York Times. (The drivel he turned out was so appallingly weak that they axed him after a year.) The rest of the war cheerleaders in the media retained their honored positions in the nation's newspapers and on our TV screens. The worst thing that happened to any of them was getting a cushy sinecure at a conservative think tank.  

But Jonathan Chait sounds a note of dissent on the idea that all these people should simply be ignored, and I think he probably has a point:

When you're trying to set the terms for a debate, you have to do it in a fair way. Demanding accountability for failed predictions is fair. Insisting that only your ideological opponents be held accountable is not fair. Nor is it easy to see what purpose is served by insisting certain people ought to be ignored. The way arguments are supposed to work is that the argument itself, not the identity of the arguer, makes the case. We shouldn't disregard Dick Cheney's arguments about Iraq because he's Dick Cheney. We should disregard them because they're stupid.

In my Cheney post I did make some attempt to address his argument about Iraq, but it was rather hard to find, because like most conservatives, he (and daughter Liz, with whom he co-wrote that op-ed) are silent on what they would actually do that Barack Obama is not doing. But when it comes to the war brigade, we can do both: We should keep recalling their past blunders, and look thoroughly at what they're saying now. They can and should be accountable for both their past and their present. The latter is showing no greater promise than the former did.

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