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10 years later: The architects of the Iraq War

They met in secret, behind closed doors, calculating, preparing, selling an Iraq invasion White House officials said would bring new freedom to the Middle East.
File Photo: Former U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer (R) leaves the heavily-fortified Green Zone June 28, 2004 in Baghdad after signing the Iraqi Sovereignty document which gave full governmental authority to the Iraqi interim...
File Photo: Former U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer (R) leaves the heavily-fortified Green Zone June 28, 2004 in Baghdad after signing the...

They met in secret, behind closed doors, calculating, preparing, selling an Iraq invasion White House officials said would end tyranny and bring new freedom to the heart of the Middle East. Things did not turn out that way. While some have moved out of the spotlight in the years since, others remain staunch advocates of the same policies that led America into a war of choice now generally seen as a massive strategic blunder. And none have publicly re-thought the decision to send U.S. troops to Iraq 10 years ago this week.

Here's a look at some of the architects, deliverymen, and champions of the 2003 Iraq War:

John Bolton Then: Bolton backed an Iraq invasion as early as 1998, when he signed a letter from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative group led by William Kristol, urging then-President Bill Clinton to attack Saddam Hussein. As the State Department’s top arms-control official during President Bush’s first term, Bolton played a role in pushing the allegation that Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Africa. A committed supporter of unilateral U.S. action, Bolton went on to serve as  U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


Since: Bolton remains an influential player in Republican foreign policy circles. A senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, he publicly mulled a 2012 presidential run before serving as a key adviser to Mitt Romney.

L. Paul Bremer Then: Known as "Jerry," Bremer was the top civilian administrator in Iraq for over a year after the invasion. He ordered the Iraqi army to disband and banned Baath Party members from the new government—moves that worsened existing tensions and appeared to boost support for the anti-U.S. insurgency. Bremer’s tenure also was plagued by charges of financial mismanagement. A 2005 inspector general’s report, disputed by the Pentagon, found that the U.S. lost track of $9 billion allocated for Iraq’s reconstruction.

Since: Bremer lives in Vermont, and paints rural landscape scenes, perfects his French cooking, and serves on several corporate boards. “I supported the war because I believed, as did the president, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction," Bremer told msnbc. “And I still support it. I believe the Iraqi people are better off being able to choose their own government.” Withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, Bremer said, has “diminished our standing in the region.” The transition from dictatorship to democracy, he added, is “damn hard—and that means there has to be American leadership.”

Stephen Cambone Then: Weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Cambone became the nation’s first ever Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence—a post which represented the “culmination of [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld's effort to politicize intelligence gathering and analysis.” Cambone helped co-ordinate the Iraq Survey Group, an international team organized by the Pentagon and the CIA to search—unsuccessfully, it turned out—for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And he was “deeply involved” in the military’s program of harsh detainee interrogations exposed in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Since: Upon leaving the Pentagon, Cambone took a job as a top executive at a defense contractor, and now teaches at Villanova University. Last summer at the Aspen Security Forum, he called the decision to invade “one of the great strategic decisions of the first half of the 21st century, if it proves not to be the greatest.”

Eliot Cohen Then: Cohen, a founding member of Kristol’s PNAC,  was a key agitator for an Iraq invasion and for a maximalist response to the 9/11 attacks. In a November 2001 op-ed in which he called the War on Terror “World War IV,”  Cohen argued that the US. should “target” Iraq because it had “helped al Qaeda” and “developed weapons of destruction.” Not long after, he touted a spurious connection between Muhammed Atta, the chief 9/11 hijacker, and Saddam’s regime. In Congressional testimony in 2002, Cohen framed a stark choice for policymakers: Allow Saddam “to acquire weapons of mass destruction ... or to take action to overthrow him.” In 2007, Cohen became a top adviser to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department.

Since: Cohen teaches at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He was a critic of President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary, citing Hagel’s reluctance to attack Iran. In 2005, Cohen acknowledged that he had erred by failing to predict “just how incompetent we would be” in stabilizing Iraq, though he added that “the basic rationale for the war still strikes me as sound.” He wrote: “Five or even ten years from now, we still may not be able to judge our Iraq venture in a definitive way.”

Doug Feith Then: As head of the Pentagon’s policy office, Feith, a neoconservative ally of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, led a newly created intelligence agency that helped build the case for war. According to a 2007 Pentagon inspector general’s report, Feith’s unit "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," and "did draw conclusions that were not fully supported by the available intelligence." General Tommy Franks, the top U.S. commander in Iraq called Feith “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet."

Since: After leaving government in 2005, Feith taught at Harvard and Georgetown. Today, he is a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. Last October, Feith accused Obama of trying to defeat Islamic extremism by blaming the U.S. "for the hatred that spawns terrorism."

Scooter Libby Then: Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Libby was destroyed by the Bush White House's determination to control the debate over Iraq intelligence. In an apparent effort to discredit Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat who had cast doubt on the claim that Saddam had sought uranium in Niger, Libby told a New York Times reporter that Wilson was married to Valerie Plame, a CIA officer. In 2007, Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and sentenced to 30 months in prison. President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence, but did not pardon him despite intense lobbying from Cheney. Two days after leaving office in 2009, Cheney said Libby “was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon.”

Since: Libby is senior vice president of the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think-tank. He lectures frequently on Middle East policy. His conviction has barred him from practicing law, but last month, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell restored Libby’s voting rights.

Meghan O’Sullivan Then: O’Sullivan arrived in Baghdad in April 2003, the month Saddam's regime fell, to serve as an adviser to Jay Garner, then the top U.S. official in the country. She went on to become a top aide to Bremer at the CPA, and a key intermediary with Iraqis, helping them write the country’s interim constitution. She then served as Bush’s top adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan and was an early advocate of the “surge” strategy.

Since: Sullivan served as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. She teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and writes a foreign affairs column for Bloomberg View.  In 2008, Esquire named her one of the most influential people of the century. Last month, she joined a group of Republicans in signing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of gay marriage.

Richard Perle Then: During the Bush administration Perle chaired the Defense Policy Board, a panel of outside advisers to the Pentagon. In that role, Perle seized on the 9/11 attacks as a reason to invade Iraq. "Even if we cannot prove to the standards that we enjoy in our own civil society that they were involved, we do know, for example, that Saddam Hussein has ties to Osama Bin Laden,” Perle said days after the attacks. The following year, he told PBS that “support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder. Now, it isn't going to be over in 24 hours, but it isn't going to be months either." In a 2004 book on the War on Terror, Perle and David Frum wrote: “There is no middle way for Americans: it is victory or holocaust.”

Since: In 2006, Perle appeared to regret the Iraq war. “I think if I 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,’” he said. But Perle, now a scholar at AEI, told msnbc that his earlier remarks had been taken out of context. The mistake was in trying to occupy Iraq rather than turning it over to the Iraqis right away, he maintained, accusing Bremer of “gross incompetence.” As for the original decision to invade, Perle was unrepentant.

Randy Scheunemann Then: As a Senate staffer, Scheunemann helped draft and push for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which made “regime change” the official Iraq policy of the U.S. and helped grease the skids for war. In late 2002, with approval from the Bush administration, Scheunemann founded the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group aimed at stoking pro-war popular sentiment, which worked closely with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. "There is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction," Scheunemann assured Americans a month before the invasion.

Since: Scheunemann was the top foreign policy adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid—despite having frequently lobbied McCain on behalf of the Republic of Georgia in the years before. Scheunemann has also represented Sarah Palin, who appreciated his loyalty during the 2008 campaign. As for Iraq, he appears to have no regrets. “Here is my take on the record,” he told msnbc via email. “Saddam will never again use chemical weapons on Iraq's people or his neighbors. We won he lost. The world is far better off without Saddam in the world.”

Dan Senor Then: As the chief spinmeister for the CPA, Senor, a former GOP congressional staffer, used frequent televised briefings to project an optimism that he knew was at odds with the reality of a war-torn Iraq. Asked by reporters about an episode of violence in 2004, Senor replied, "Off the record, Paris is burning. On the record: Security and stability are returning to Iraq.”

Since:  Last year, Senor served as a key adviser to Mitt Romney. Had Romney won, Senor was likely to get a top White House policy job. In 2010, he became immersed in the controversy surrounding a Muslim center in downtown New York, advocating for its relocation away from the Ground Zero site. Senor was urged to run as a Republican for a U.S. Senate seat from New York but ultimately decided against it. Instead, he founded a new neoconservative advocacy group with Kristol and others.

Jim Wilkinson Then: A Republican public-relations specialist who helped spread the false idea that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet, Wilkinson worked with Karl Rove and Libby on the White House Iraq Group to sell the Iraq invasion to the public. He then served as the top spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, based in Doha. In that role, "Wilkinson was known to rebuke reporters whose copy he deemed insufficiently supportive of the war; he darkly warned one correspondent that he was on a 'list.'"

Since: Wilkinson planned the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, then went on to serve as chief spokesman for the National Security Council, for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and as chief of staff at the Treasury Department during the 2008 financial crisis. In that role, he wrote an email saying he “couldn’t stomach us bailing out Lehman [Brothers]. Will be horrible in the press.” That decision was later blamed for accelerating the crisis. Wilkinson is now a top communications executive for PepsiCo.

Paul Wolfowitz Then: As Deputy Defense Secretary, the neoconservative Wolfowitz was the Bush administration’s "most passionate and compelling advocate" for war in Iraq. Rumsfeld has said it was Wolfowitz who was the first to raise the idea after 9/11 at a presidential retreat at Camp David. Shortly before the invasion, Wolfowitz testified that fewer than 100,000 U.S. troops would be needed to stabilize post-war Iraq, calling a higher estimate from Gen. Eric Shinseki “wildly off the mark.” The top U.S. commander in Iraq later said Shinseki was right.

Since: In 2005, President Bush nominated Wolfowitz to be president of the World Bank. He resigned in 2007 after The Financial Times reported that he directed the bank’s human resources office to offer a pay raise and promotion to a top communications official with whom he was having a romantic relationship. He is currently a scholar at AEI and joined other Republicans in signing a recent amicus brief to the Supreme Court backing gay marriage.

Read more: Why didn't the intel experts who knew the case was faulty blow the whistle? And what are Iraqis' lives like today, after the devastation of war?