John Feehery: Speaking Engagements



Posted on March 20, 2013


Ten years.

It has been a decade since America invaded Iraq.

Historians will have a field day analyzing every aspect of this war, from beginning to end, and at every point in between.

The war was a mistake, a giant mistake.   It cost more than 8 trillion dollars and while it deposed an evil and brutal dictator, it did so with an unnecessarily high cost in blood and treasure.

I can’t get over the fact that we went in over false pretenses.  This wasn’t the only time America justified our entry into war for fraudulent reasons.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident was made up.  We got into a scrape in with the Spanish thanks to the passion of William Randolph Hearst, when he remembered the Maine.

But getting into war for the wrong reasons is never justifiable, in retrospect.

I remember watching the Dan Rather interview with Saddam Hussein in the days leading up to the war, thinking to myself that he was telling the truth, that he didn’t have those weapons of mass destruction that everybody was talking about.

But I worked for the House Republican Leadership at the time, and I was powerless to voice my opinion very far or very wide.  Plus, for me, it was a gut instinct, not anything based on any facts.

I remember when Colin Powell addressed the United Nations.  I kept thinking that they had to have some other justification then just weapons of mass destruction, because what if there were no weapons.  I felt they were putting all of their eggs in that one basket.

But Powell went all in on that one argument.  He was Colin Powell and he would never let his pretty substantial reputation be besmirched with a bad call, or so I thought, so I agreed with him.

I remember I was in a meeting with the House Republican leadership and Karen Hughes, the President’s top communications person, and I chimed in and said that the American people had to feel like they were part of this war, that we were all in this together.

It turned out that the best way for Americans to help the war effort was to go shopping.  That was the White House response.

I remember when John McCain demanded that we raise taxes to help pay for the war.   The White House and House Republicans said that raising taxes would hurt the economy and slow economic growth.

Instead, it would be future generations that would have to sacrifice for this war, with all the debt we piled on them.

I guess I agreed with the White House thinking back then, although in retrospect, it seems all so irresponsible.

New rule:  If you are a generation that goes to war, you should start paying for that war immediately.   It’s not fair to pass the bill on to your great-grandchildren.

I remember seeing Jerry Bremer and his top flack as they briefed the Speaker on what was really going on in Iraq.  Almost every decision they made was exactly the wrong decision, but they seemed so fucking self-confident when they were talking to the Speaker.

I did not like Jerry Bremer, who wore combat boots in the Speaker’s Office.    You could see that he thought of himself as a modern day Douglas MacArthur.   But he wasn't a general.  He was a second-rate diplomat who thought he was God.  But God is infallible.  Bremer, not so much.

I remember hearing that a lot of my former colleagues, younger staff members who had about as much experience as I did in setting up new countries (which was none) were going over to Iraq to help them transition to democracy.   One set up the stock market, even though he had no experience in finance.   How strange, I thought at the time.

I never made it over to Iraq.  I was getting married, and having a son, and I guess I wasn't adventurous enough to see what I could see over there.

Two good friends of mine did make the trip and I thought they did it for all the right reasons.  I respected their judgement and I thought they added a great deal of good experience to our operation.  But that was at the tail end of our occupation.  By then, the initial wave of young Bush people had already made a mess of it, and they were in fix-it mode.

The reason the Republican party lost credibility was because of the Iraq War.  The reason George Bush left office with his polls numbers in the low twenties was because of the Iraq War.  The reason Bush wasn't invited to the convention in 2008 or 2012 was because of the Iraq War.  The reason our debt is about three trillion more than it ought it to be is the Iraq War.

Now, not everything about the Iraq War was a disaster.  We did kill Saddam Hussein and he was a bad dude.  Iraq is now pumping out more gas than Iran and I suppose that is a good thing (although thanks the shale gas revolution, we don't need that gas as much anymore).

But, on balance, the Iraq War was a huge mistake.  Republicans should start acknowledging that.  It will help them regain credibility with the voters.

Yes, hindsight is twenty/twenty.   But I hope we learn from our mistakes.  I am not sure we will.

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