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McCain (Mis)Speaks

May 29, 2008

Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky (tomdispatch)

The Iraq war was a disaster for Iraq, a disaster for the United States, a disaster for the Middle East, a disaster for the world community, but most of all, it was a disaster for the experts.

They were wrong about its difficulty. (It was to be either “a cakewalk” or “a walk in the park” — take your pick). They were wrong about how our troops would be greeted (“as liberators” said Vice President Dick Cheney on September, 14, 2003; “with kites and boom boxes” wrote Professor Fouad Ajami on October 7, 2002). They were wrong about weapons of mass destruction. (“Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise” wrote Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen on February 6, 2003.) They were wrong about how many troops would be needed. (“It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct a war itself,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on Feb 27, 2003.)

They were wrong about the number of casualties. (“…we’re not going to have any casualties,” said President George W. Bush in March, 2003). They were wrong about how much it would cost. (“The costs of any intervention would be very small,” according to White House economic advisor Glenn Hubbard on October 4, 2002). They were wrong about how long it would last. (“It isn’t going to be over in 24 hours, but it isn’t going to be months either,” claimed Richard Perle on July 11, 2002.) They were wrong about the “sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network,” as Secretary of State Colin Powell put it in addressing the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. They were wrong about the likelihood of Iraq descending into civil war. (“[There is] a broad Iraqi consensus favoring the idea of pluralism,” insisted William Kristol and Robert Kagan on March 22, 2004.) There was, in fact, very little they were not wrong about.

Who are we to make such charges? Not to be boastful, we are, respectfully, the CEO and president — the founders, as it were — of the Institute of Expertology, which has been surveying expert opinion for almost 25 years. It is true that our initial study, The Experts Speak: The Definitive Guide to Authoritative Misinformation, came under attack back in 1990 because, at the time, we failed to find a single expert who was right, although we readily conceded that, in statistical theory, it was possible that the experts were right as much as half the time. It just proved exceedingly difficult to find evidence of that other 50%.

In Mission Accomplished!, our new study of the experts — people who, by virtue of their official status, formal title, academic degree, professional license, public office, journalistic beat, quantity of publications, experience, and/or use of highly technical jargon, are presumed to know what they are talking about — we once again came under attack from critics who claimed that our failure to include any misstatements by Senator Barack Obama betrayed a political bias. These allegations were quickly refuted. Everybody knows that Obama has no experience and therefore does not qualify as an expert. Senator Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize the Iraq war, did make the cut, but the presidential candidate-cum-expert of genuine interest is Senator John McCain.

At first, we were impressed by the senator’s statements in Republican primary debates about how he had actually opposed the Bush administration’s conduct of the war from the start. As he told CNN’s Kiran Chetry, in August of 2007, “I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three-and-a half years.”

Well, having dug into those missing years a bit, here, for the record, is what we found to be Senator McCain’s typical responses to some of the key questions posed above:

How would American troops be greeted?: “I believe… that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” (March 20, 2003)

Did Saddam Hussein have a nuclear program that posed an imminent threat to the United States?: “Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon.” (October 10, 2002)

Will a war with Iraq be long or short?: “This conflict is… going to be relatively short.” (March 23, 2003)

How is the war going?: “I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical.” (September 10, 2003)

How is it going (almost two months later, from the war’s “greatest critic”)? “I think the initial phases of [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise.” (October 31, 2003)

Is this war really necessary?: “Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war.” (August 30, 2004)…

READ MORE AT TOMDISPATCH.COM

Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky are the co-authors of the recently published Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak, which provided the basis for this essay. Their previous book, also a product of The Institute of Expertology, is The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation. They appeared recently on Bill Moyers Journal.

Copyright 2008 Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky

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