Politico published a piece over the weekend about President Obama’s challenges in Iraq, which was otherwise unremarkable except for a quote about midway through the article.
“This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” said Doug Feith, a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration.“They were pretty blase,” Feith said of the Obama team. “The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”
The piece added that Feith would, true to form, like to see the White House deploying a “residual force” to Iraq.
That Feith disagrees with the Obama administration hardly comes as a surprise, but what was striking about all of this is the context of his criticisms: Politico presents Feith’s condemnations as if they have value. Indeed, Feith is presented to readers as a credible voice whose assessments of U.S. policy in Iraq have merit.
The article never mentions, even in passing, that Feith was a national laughingstock during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration, getting practically everything about U.S. policy in Iraq backwards. General Tommy Franks, the former Commander of the U.S. Central Command, once famously referred to Feith as “the dumbest f***ing guy on the planet.”
And yet, there Feith is in Politico, taking shots at Obama, without so much as a hint that news consumers may – just may – want to take his perspective with a healthy dose of skepticism, given his humiliating track record.
Of course, my point is not to pick on Politico alone. It’s not the only major news organization that’s stumbled into familiar mistakes. Take the major Sunday shows, for example.
Bill Kristol, for example, was on “This Week” yesterday, sharing his criticisms of Obama’s handling of Iraq – and no one laughed in his face. On “Meet the Press,” viewers saw Paul Wolfowitz. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made not one, but two Sunday show appearances, popping up on “Face the Nation” and “State of the Union.”
When most media professionals reflect on the period preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there’s a general consensus that it was not American journalism’s finest hour. News organizations needed to be skeptical, but weren’t. Reporters needed to push back against dubious sources, but didn’t. Nearly everyone in the business realized that we’d all have to be better next time.
Over the weekend, then, it was hard not to wonder: are our memories really so short?
More broadly, it’s nearly impossible to reconcile members of the Bush/Cheney team pretending to have credibility. Feith is an easy target, but he’s hardly the only one: Dick Cheney is offering guidance to congressional Republicans on, of all things, foreign policy; Donald Rumsfeld still shows in face in public and is sought after in GOP circles; and Condoleezza Rice presents herself as a successful former official.
The political world never fully came to terms with the scope and the breadth of the Bush/Cheney failures. In more ways than one, we’re still dealing with the consequences.