Julian Borger / The Guardian – 2006-11-04 23:25:52
WASHINGTON (November 4, 2006) — Several prominent neoconservatives have turned on George Bush days before critical midterm elections, lambasting his administration for incompetence in the handling of the Iraq war and questioning the wisdom of the 2003 invasion they were instrumental in promoting.
Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman, who were both Pentagon advisers before the war, Michael Rubin, a former senior official in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, were among the neoconservatives who recanted to Vanity Fair magazine in an article that could influence Tuesday’s battle for the control of Congress. The Iraq war has been the dominant issue in the election.
“I think the influence will be on morale [among Republicans],” said Steven Clemons, the head of the American Strategy Programme at the New America Foundation. “I think they are confusing the right. What this is yielding is ambivalence, and people will stay at home.”
Mr Perle, a member of the influential Defence Policy Board that advised the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in the run-up to the war, is as outspoken in denouncing the conduct of the war as he was once bullish on the invasion. He blamed “dysfunction” in the Bush administration for the present quagmire.
“The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly,” Mr Perle told Vanity Fair, according to early excerpts of the article. “At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.”
Asked if he would still have pushed for war knowing what he knows now, Mr Perle, a leading hawk in the Reagan administration, said: “I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, ‘Should we go into Iraq?’, I think now I probably would have said, ‘No, let’s consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists’.”
The Bush administration admits it was mistaken in believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but the president and other top officials maintain that Iraq is better off as a result of his removal.
An overwhelming majority of Americans, however, now believe the war was not worth the cost in blood and resources. The public rethink by top neocons comes at a time of rising violence, with the US death toll climbing steadily towards 3,000 and the United Nations estimating that many Iraqis may be being killed by the conflict each month.
Kenneth Adelman, another Reagan era hawk who sat on the Defence Policy Board until last year, drew attention with a 2002 commentary in the Washington Post predicting that liberating Iraq would be a “cakewalk”.
He now says he hugely overestimated the abilities of the Bush team. “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent,” Mr Adelman said.
“They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.”
He too takes back his public urging for military action, in light of the administration’s performance. “I guess that’s what I would have said: that Bush’s arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked ‘can’t do’. And that’s very different from ‘let’s go’.”
Mr Adelman, a senior Reagan adviser at cold war summits with Mikhail Gorbachev, expressed particular disappointment in Mr Rumsfeld, who he described as a particular friend. “I’m crushed by his performance,” he said. “Did he change, or were we wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never really challenged before? I don’t know. He certainly fooled me.”
Mr Adelman said the guiding principle behind neoconservatism, “the idea of using our power for moral good in the world”, had been killed off for a generation at least. After Iraq, he told Vanity Fair, “it’s not going to sell”.
Michael Rubin, who worked on the staff of the Pentagon’s office of special plans and the coalition provisional authority in Baghdad, accused Mr Bush of betraying Iraqi reformers.
The president’s actions, Mr Rubin said, had been “not much different from what his father did on February 15 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up and then had second thoughts and didn’t do anything once they did”.
Mr Frum, who as a White House speechwriter helped coin the phrase “axis of evil” in 2002, said failure in Iraq might be inescapable, because “the 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”.
The blame, Mr Frum said, lies with “failure at the centre,” beginning with the president.
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