Iraq War

If you are someone who cares about such things, you probably already know that Donald Rumsfeld’s new memoir, “Known and Unknown,” has created some controversy thanks to the former defense secretary’s expectedly self-serving justification of the Iraq war. The Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward, who wrote several behind-the-scenes books about the Bush administration, took particular exception to Rumsfeld’s version of events and wrote about the subject here.

In addition to the financial cost and the loss of lives, our country’s reputation was tarnished on the world stage thanks to Rumsfeld and company’s unnecessary war. Consider that context as you read the following quote from NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel in a report on the protests in Libya.

“People here have been told by Gadhafi that the United States wants to invade and make Libya into another Iraq. They seem to believe it,” Engel said while in Tripoli, the capital of Libya.

I wish President Obama’s detractors would keep that in mind when they criticize him for allegedly “apologizing for America.” That’s not exactly what Obama has done; he essentially has said that the reckless line of thinking that led to the Iraq war was not the way America normally conducts itself on the world stage. Perhaps Obama’s critics will accept this fact someday, though I am not hopeful on that front; regardless, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration who led our country into the Iraq war need to accept that they were wrong to do so.


It’s hard to believe the end of the decade is already upon us.

Have 10 years really passed since people worried about Y2K computer problems and how the country would heal in the aftermath of closest presidential election in U.S. history? Has it really been a decade since the last New Year’s Eve celebration free of the terrorism worries that come with living in the post-9/11 world?

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999 well. It was the first time I rang in the new year in La Salle County, and I spent much of it watching the late Peter Jennings anchor ABC’s coverage of “Millennium Eve.” Jennings was on air for 25 consecutive hours, and I recall watching much of it. By the time the night was over, Jennings likely was passed out from exhaustion, and I found myself quietly singing Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” in an attempt to coax the party host’s toddler daughter back to sleep.

Yeah, it was an interesting night, and all the more memorable for it.

So much has happened since then. The Bush-Cheney presidency came and went, with its highest and lowest points arguably both involving warfare. Bush did an excellent job of rallying the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but stained his legacy by following that up with the increasingly unpopular Iraq war. (The Afghanistan war seemed like the right post-9/11 move, but unfortunately, Bush switched the military’s main focus to Iraq before the job was finished there.)

Closer to home, Illinois went through two governors who are unforgettable for the wrong reasons. George Ryan was sentenced in 2006 to six years in prison for racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud crimes committed while he was secretary of state. More recently, Rod Blagojevich was arrested and indicted on abuse-of-power charges, impeached and removed from office, and continues to be a national embarrassment to the Land of Lincoln.

At least Illinois made up for its political woes by delivering the country its first African-American president. Barack Obama galvanized voters in 2008 and faced numerous challenges throughout the first year of his presidency.

Tiger Woods began the decade by becoming the youngest player to win one of golf’s four major championships. He ended the decade by becoming the butt of many jokes after his wife caught him playing on other courses.

There were several notable natural disasters mid-decade: the tsunami that killed more than 225,000 people; Hurricane Katrina, which decimated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi; and a 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Of course, these things are just the tip of the iceberg that was the first decade of the third millennium. It will be interesting to look back to this moment of time 10 years from now. If there is anything this past decade has proven, it is this: You can expect the unexpected to happen.

Say what you will about George W. Bush and his presidential policies, but he earned back an ounce of my respect after saying he won’t put politics above country by criticizing President Obama.

“I’m not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence,” said Bush, speaking Tuesday in Calgary, Canada.

“I love my country a lot more than I love politics,” Bush said. “I think it is essential that he be helped in office.”

Spoken respectfully like a former president who understands the enormous responsibilities of his successor. Too bad Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, hasn’t adopted the same approach to life after the White House.

Cheney took to the airwaves Sunday to criticize Obama and blame the recession on Democrats and the rest of the world. To his credit, CNN’s John King asked Cheney why people should listen to him:

KING: There are people I assume watching this interview right now, and people in this town who would say, why should we listen to you? And they would say that because of the context of the Bush administration numbers.

They would say, you know, what did you do when you were in charge? And they have some numbers to back up their case. And I want to show some to our viewers.

 When you came to office, the unemployment rate in the country was 4.2 percent, when you left it was 7.6 percent. The number of Americans in poverty when you arrived, just under 33 million, over 37 million when you left. The number without health insurance, a little over 41 million when you came, over 45 million approaching 46 million when you left.

And you came with a budget surplus of $128 billion and in the final year, the budget deficit was a record $1.3 trillion. So what would you say to someone out there watching this who is saying, why should they listen to you?

CHENEY: Well, there are all kinds of arguments to be made on that point. But there’s something that is more important than the specific numbers you’re talking about, and that had to be priority for our administration.

Eight months after we arrived, we had 9/11. We had 3,000 Americans killed one morning by al Qaeda terrorists here in the United States. We immediately had to go into the wartime mode. We ended up with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of that is still very active. We had major problems with respect to things like Katrina, for example. All of these things required us to spend money that we had not originally planned to spend, or weren’t originally part of the budget.

Stuff happens. And the administration has to be able to respond to that, and we did.

I think it’s also — you talked the unemployment…

KING: But you’re a conservative administration, spending more than $1 trillion.


CHENEY: We always said — I always said that wartime scenario is cause for an exception in terms of spending. It was appropriate in World War II, certainly, and I think it’s appropriate now.

Not surprisingly, Cheney uses the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an excuse for everything that went wrong during the Bush administration. And I’m sure the Obama administration will use the recession as its scapegoat. But the difference between the two cases is this: The recession is a legitimate, inherited excuse for government spending, whereas 9/11 didn’t force our country into the Iraq war — unless you believe the false spin that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to the terrorist attacks. And 9/11 certainly didn’t cause the recession — wartime spending is supposed to help employment figures, not do the opposite. And wartime spending is a poor excuse for the Bush’s administration’s lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina.

Cheney, you’re doing a heck of a job. Now shut up and go away already, Dr. Strangelove.

News item: Investment adviser Bernie Madoff, 70, pleaded guilty Thursday to masterminding the largest Ponzi scheme  in history, fleecing thousands of investors of an estimated $65 billion. The maximum prison sentence he faces is 150 years.

News item: Muntadhar al-Zeidi, 30, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush, was convicted of assault Thursday and sentenced to three years in prison for the Dec. 14 incident.  Many Iraqis believe al-Zeidi should be honored as a hero for hurling his shoes at the man who started the Iraq war.

Bread Line suggestion: Put both men in the same cell. Order al-Zeidi to throw a shoe at Madoff for every person financially ruined by the latter man’s Ponzi scheme. That should last about three years. Madoff’s victims would feel a little better and al-Zeidi would be considered a hero in America, too.

* * *

Bread Line bonus: Learn how to play “Six Degrees of Bernie Madoff” – It’s like playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”!

FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly was named one of the “Worst Persons in the World” on Monday’s edition of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” This is not shocking or unexpected, as Olbermann often tweaks O’Reilly that way. However, this time stood out to me because of the unbelievable O’Reilly quote Olbermann used against his talk-show rival.

“Look,” O’Reilly said Friday, “by all accounts, the Bush administration defeated Al Qaeda, all right? Al Qaeda was marginalized, been downgraded as a threat to the world. So we won the terror war. We won the war in Iraq, at great cost, no doubt. No doubt. But we won.”

Just to make sure Olbermann hadn’t used an O’Reilly quote out of context, I found a FOX News transcript of Friday’s “O’Reilly Factor.” O’Reilly definitely credited the Bush administration with defeating Al Qaeda and winning the so-called “war on terror.”

O’Reilly uttered the quote during a segment called “Is Obama administration’s attack on Rush Limbaugh a distraction from more serious issues?” Ironically, the “conversation” between O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and former federal prosecutor John Flannery was all over the map and didn’t address the topic until the segment was halfway over. (Click here to read the transcript.)

O’Reilly made the comment in response to Flannery saying he applauds the Bush administration and Karl Rove for finally agreeing to let Rove testify before the House Judiciary Committee investigating whether there was corruption in the Justice Department during Bush’s presidency. It was an odd, off-topic response from O’Reilly.

As for the question posed in the segment’s title, O’Reilly and Coulter agreed that the Obama administration is attacking Limbaugh to distract the American people from more pressing issues like the economy. However, they didn’t expound on their answers, just agreeing on them before the segment ended.

In my opinion, of course the Limbaugh attacks are a distraction, but the reason they still have legs is because (1) they resonate with a large number of people and (2) a lot of Republicans are falling into the trap by trying to distance themselves from Limbaugh and then apologizing to him the next day. Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves for looking like they aren’t allowed to have an opinion contrary to what Limbaugh says. It will be interesting to see how long they carry on like this before they are able to change the subject in the news cycle.

Some food for thought for those who support continuing the Iraq War but are appalled by the amount of spending in the $787 billion federal stimulus bill aimed at jumpstarting our nation’s flagging economy:


President-elect Barack Obama vowed Tuesday to veto any move by Congress to block the use of an additional $350 billion in federal bailout funds.

Isn’t it amazing that Obama isn’t even in office yet and already has to threaten a veto to the Congressional leaders of his own political party? Obama is the Democrat with the most political capital to spend, and thus far he generally seems to be using it wisely, yet Democratic leaders in Congress are pushing back at the popular head of their political party.

That probably isn’t a good move by Congressional leaders. It surely is a puzzling one, considering how President George W. Bush pretty much had his way with Congress throughout his two terms – including the past two years with the Democrats in charge – even as Bush’s popularity steadily dropped. It is no coincidence that Congress’s approval rating dropped steadily as well. Congressional Democrats should have felt empowered to stand up to Bush during the past two years, but generally they barked about Bush and his policies without applying any bite.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is the worst offender. He tends to shoot from the hip and talk tough before inevitably changing his mind and making excuses for why he flip-flopped. The latest example of this is the Roland Burris situation. As recently as January 4 on “Meet the Press,” Reid adamantly insisted that Burris would not be seated in the Senate because he was appointed by a governor accused of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder. But as soon as that situation came to a head two days later, Reid and his second-in-command, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), started backpedaling so fast they fell on their backsides. Now Burris is scheduled to be sworn in as Illinois’ junior senator Thursday.

Reid also did some backpedaling in regard to another topic on the aforementioned episode of “Meet the Press.” Host David Gregory noted that in 2007, Reid said the Iraq war was lost – something no longer considered conventional wisdom thanks to the U.S. troop surge committed that year. There is debate about whether the Iraq war can be “won,” per se, but now that it looks like Reid may have been wrong, he refuses to admit he spoke too soon. Gregory pressed him on this issue and only let him off the hook after it was clear Reid wasn’t going to give a satisfactory answer no matter how bad his runaround sounded.

In the past, Reid has called Bush “a liar,” “a loser” and “the worst president we’ve ever had.” Despite his strong partisan language, Reid always seemed to misplace his backbone whenever Bush wanted something passed through Congress. Yet Reid apparently has no qualms about smack-talking Obama for no good reason. Last week Reid felt compelled to tell us, “If Obama steps over the bounds, I will tell him. … I do not work for Barack Obama. I work with him.”

Technically, Reid is right. He doesn’t work “for” Obama, he works for his constituents. But Reid needs to work “with” Obama to get our country back on track, so why bother making that statement in the first place? Doesn’t Reid care about whether he is perceived to be helping Obama get things done? Perhaps he wants to seem like he has more power than Obama, or at least as much. But the reality is that people will overwhelmingly choose Obama’s side over Reid’s, and for good reason. Obama hasn’t let us down yet; Reid and his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, have.

I wonder what Nevada residents think of Reid’s flip-flopping and foot-in-mouth disease. Are they dissatisfied enough to vote Reid out of office next year? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Reid needs to control his mouth and develop a smooth working relationship with Obama – otherwise the Democrats should seriously consider replacing him as Senate majority leader.

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