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This week's tenth anniversary of the catastrophic U.S. invasion of Iraq produced perhaps the most bizarre post-mortem in in recent history. While liberal supporters of the war like Ezra Klein and Jonathan Chait lined up to apologize for their error, right-wing cheerleaders like Peggy Noonan and Ross Douthat lamented only that President Bush's calamitous conflict ultimately enabled a Democratic return to power. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other actual architects of the war that killed 4,500 Americans, wounded over 30,000 more and catapulted Iran to regional power reemerged not to seek penance but instead to claim success. And to the degree they made any mistakes at all, former Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley proclaimed, it was only due to a "failure of imagination."

Of course, if that troubling formulation sounds hauntingly familiar, it should. As it turns out, the 9/11 Commission said the exact same thing about that other national security disaster of the Bush tenure.

On Friday, Hadley took to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post to polish the turd that was the Bush's administration Mesopotamian misadventure. In his airbrushing, "ultimately, the United States achieved its national security objectives." And while "the war went too long and cost too much -- in the lives and treasure of Americans, our coalition partners and Iraqis," Hadley acknowledged, "History is likely to show that the Pakistani-based 'core' of al-Qaeda responsible for 9/11 was defeated in Iraq." If Team Bush got anything wrong, Hadley wrote, it was certainly understandable why:

It was less an intelligence failure than a failure of imagination. Before the war, no one conceived what seems to have been the case: that Hussein had destroyed his WMD stocks but wanted to hide this from his enemy Iran. [Emphasis mine.]
But as you'll see below, his Washington Post piece wasn't the first time Condi Rice's understudy compared the decision to invade Iraq to an ill-timed fart.

At a March 15th forum organized by the RAND Corporation and Foreign Policy magazine, Hadley made the same point. Admitting the White House did not foresee the Iraqi army melting away into a multi-year insurgency for which "we did not have a plan B," Hadley claimed:

"It's really a failure of imagination. It never occurred to me or anyone else I was working with, and no one from the intelligence community or anyplace else ever came in and said, what if Saddam is doing all this deception because he actually got rid of the WMD and he doesn't want the Iranians to know? Now, somebody should have asked that question. I should have asked that question. Nobody did. It turns out that was the most important question in terms of the intelligence failure that never got asked." [Emphasis mine.]
As it turns out, Hadley was just doing a copy and paste from the 9/11 Commission. In July 2004, the panel charged with investigating the successful Al Qaeda attacks that killed 3,000 Americans presented their findings. As Chairman Tom Keane explained, that disaster could be chalked up to a "failure of imagination." As the Telegraph reported:
The most important failure" leading to the attacks was "one of imagination," it concluded. "We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat."

Tom Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said: "[They] penetrated the defences of the most powerful nation in the world. They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned the international order upside down"...

Mr Kean, a Republican, spoke of a failure "of policy management, capability and above all imagination; on that September day we were unprepared. We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over a considerable period of time."

Now, it's one thing to point to cognitive dissonance as the failure which enabled the success of Osama Bin Laden's surprise attack on the United States. It's another issue altogether in the case of Iraq, a war of choice 18 months in the making. But for Team Bush, Hadley's make-believe claim about a "failure of imagination" was standard operating procedure for an administration which routinely turned to the my-dog-ate-my-homework defense. After all, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people," Condi Rice said, "would try to use an airplane as a missile." And, President Bush told us after Hurricane Katrina swallowed New Orleans 2005, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." As he was heading out the door in January 2009, Vice President Dick Cheney admitted the Bush White House didn't foresee the meltdown of Wall Street--or pretty much anything else:
"No, obviously, I wouldn't have predicted that. On the other hand I wouldn't have predicted 9/11, the global war on terror, the need to simultaneous run military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq or the near collapse of the financial system on a global basis, not just the U.S."
In August 2004--one month after the September 11 panel issued its report--President Bush offered the American people a novel explanation for the growing chaos and carnage in Iraq:
"Had we had to do it [the invasion of Iraq] over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success - being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day." [Emphasis mine]
Stephen Hadley notwithstanding, "catastrophic success" is not a "failure of imagination." It's just failure.
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