Why should we listen to these conservatives on foreign policy?

When considering what kind of platform to offer conservative commentators' criticism of President Obama's reaction to events in Iran, the media should remember these commentators' previous discredited claims, predictions, and analysis about other foreign policy issues, particularly the Iraq war.

On newspaper opinion pages and in recent appearances on cable news, conservative commentators have criticized President Obama's reaction to unfolding events in Iran. However, in considering what kind of platform to offer these commentators' criticisms, the media should remember their previous discredited claims, predictions, and analysis about foreign policy issues, particularly the Iraq war.

One prominent example is the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which stated in a June 18 editorial: “Now the President who likes to say that 'words matter' refuses to utter a word of support to Iran's people. By that measure, the U.S. should never have supported Soviet dissidents because it would have interfered with nuclear arms control.” And in a June 15 editorial, the Journal wrote, “President Obama came to office promising the world's dictators an open hand in exchange for an unclenched fist. ... [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has repudiated the President's diplomacy of friendly overture. It turns out that the 'axis of evil' really is evil -- and not, as liberal sages would have it, merely misunderstood. The [Iranian] vote should prompt Mr. Obama to rethink his pursuit of a grand nuclear bargain with Iran, though early indications suggest he plans to try anyway.” The editorial asserted that if a report in The New York Times was correct, “then Mr. Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter and the mullahs will play him for time to get their bomb.”

However, the Journal editorial page has a record replete with discredited claims, predictions, and analysis about foreign policy:


January 22, 2003:

We don't have much time for the argument that President Bush's Iraq policy is about “blood for oil.” But if anyone is looking for reasons to doubt his stated commitment to bring democracy to that country, they need only look at the way his Administration has been handling the Iraqi opposition.

The Iraqi National Congress is by far the most significant player in that movement. It's an umbrella organization led by Ahmad Chalabi, a University of Chicago-educated mathematician and banker. Its professed goal is a unified, pluralistic and democratic Iraq -- which is why it draws support from among all Iraqi ethnic groups, including the two Kurdish factions. In 1996 it succeeded in unifying the Kurds and actually taking ground from Saddam's army only to be turned back after the Clinton Administration denied air support. The INC has since brought out scores of defectors and tons of information on Saddam's weapons programs.

All in all a good set of allies -- to everyone but the State Department. Back in November we reported that Foggy Bottom was nickel-and-diming the aid requests of the INC, contrary to the spirit of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act and Mr. Bush's statements about helping Iraqis liberate their own country. Our editorial apparently got some White House attention and the group's 2002 funds were finally released.

But 2003 finds State still trying to micromanage the INC budget, balking at funds to help the INC cooperate with Defense Department efforts to train Iraqi exiles, to restart the group's satellite TV channel, and even for the post of Arab media coordinator. We could go on. But the truth is that much damage has already been done. If the U.S. invades, the INC won't be the military or public relations asset it might have been.

February 25, 2003:

We hope Messrs. Bush and [Tony] Blair understand that the ultimate political endorsement for disarming Iraq is not a nine-to-six Security Council vote, if by some miracle that can be achieved. It will be the nasty weapons and the cheering Iraqis the coalition finds when it liberates the country. And if the President continues to bow to the U.N. rebuffs much longer, Mr. [Richard] Holbrooke won't be the only Democrat attacking him from the right.

April 16, 2003:

With the Pentagon declaring the end of “major combat” in Iraq, most Americans are responding with relief and pride. Our troops have performed with skill, courage and even honorable restraint in deposing a dictator half a world away in less than a month. The puzzle is why some Americans, especially media and liberal elites, continue to wallow in pessimism about this liberation.

Two weeks ago these elites were predicting a long war with horrific casualties and global damage. Then at the sight of Iraqis cheering U.S. troops in Baghdad, they quickly moved on to fret about “looting” and “anarchy.” Now that those are subsiding, our pessimists have rushed to worry that Iraqi democracy and reconstruction will be all but impossible. What is it that liberals find so dismaying about the prospect of American success?

In discounting these gloomy new predictions, it helps to consider their track record. Among the anticipated disasters that haven't come true: a “nationalist” uprising against U.S. troops, a la Vietnam; the “Arab street” enraged against us; tens of thousands of civilian casualties and a refugee and humanitarian crisis; bloody house-to-house urban combat; Iraq's oil fields aflame, lifting oil prices and sending the economy into recession; North Korea (“the greater threat”) using the war as an excuse to attack; the Turks intervening in northern Iraq and at war with the Kurds; and all of course leading to world-wide mayhem.


We don't write this in any spirit of gloating, because in fact this union of American left and far right may pose a long-term problem for liberated Iraq. Nation-building will require both patience and political consensus to succeed. Looking for vindication, these voices may too quickly look for reasons to call every mistake or difficulty a disaster -- and demand a U.S. retreat. As optimists ourselves, we'll hold out hope that the sight of free Iraqis will cause at least some of them to revive their faith in American principles.

Other misinformation

WSJ falsely claimed that FISA court approved “warrantless wiretapping program” exposed in 2005

WSJ editorial falsely asserted "[n]ot a single man, woman or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since the morning of September 11"

WSJ defended Bush domestic surveillance program with falsehoods -- again

Salon.com executive editor Gary Kamiya also noted the recent Journal editorials on Obama and Iran and the paper's past record on foreign policy issues.

Other prominent media conservatives also strongly supported action against Iraq in the time leading up the war, yet are now criticizing Obama for his response to Iran and North Korea. Media Matters for America has also provided examples of misinformation from those figures:

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post columnist

Current statements on foreign policy:

On June 16, Krauthammer said of Iran on Fox News' Special Report: “What we have here is a regime whose legitimacy is challenged, and this revolution is going to end in one of two ways -- suppressed, as was the Tiananmen revolution in China, or it will be a second Iranian revolution that will liberate Iran and change the region and the world. And the president is taking a hands-off attitude. Instead of standing, as [Ronald] Reagan did, in the Polish uprising of 1980, and say we stand with the people in the street who believe in democracy. It is a simple statement. He ought to make it.” Later, Krauthammer said “there is no way [Obama] is going to sweet talk Iran out of its nukes” and that “the only chance, short of a military attack, of stopping this program is with a revolution in the street, which would change the orientation of Iran and change it away from an existential enemy of America, Israel, and the Arab states. That's what's at stake.”

Also during the show, Krauthammer said of North Korea: “Long-range missile tests, the explosion of a nuclear weapon probably a third the size of Hiroshima, the declaration that the plutonium the Bush administration had frozen will be weaponized entirely, the entire stock, and the declaration that the uranium program which the Bush administration talked about, which Democrats had said was an invention of the Bush administration, the uranium enrichment is going to start up. All of that and the seizure of two Americans. If that is not a repudiation, a humiliating repudiation of the Obama policy on North Korea, then nothing is.”

Past statements:


In a February 1, 2002, Washington Post column (retrieved from the Nexis database), Krauthammer predicted that an invasion of Iraq would lead to the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East, saying: “Iran is not a ready candidate for the blunt instrument of American power, because it is in the grips of a revolution from below. We can best accelerate that revolution by the power of example and success: Overthrowing neighboring radical regimes shows the fragility of dictatorship, challenges the mullahs' mandate from heaven and thus encourages disaffected Iranians to rise. First, Afghanistan to the east. Next, Iraq to the west.”

On the June 1, 2004, edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Krauthammer said, "[I]t's the beginning of the end of the bad news. I mean, we're going to have lots of attacks, but the political process is under way."

In addition, in a March 7, 2005, Time column, Krauthammer wrote:

Two years ago, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, I argued in these pages that forcefully deposing Saddam Hussein was, more than anything, about America “coming ashore” to effect a “pan-Arab reformation” -- a dangerous, “risky and, yes, arrogant” but necessary attempt to change the very culture of the Middle East, to open its doors to democracy and modernity.

The Administration went ahead with this great project knowing it would be hostage to history. History has begun to speak. Elections in Afghanistan, a historic first. Elections in Iraq, a historic first. Free Palestinian elections producing a moderate leadership, two historic firsts. Municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, men only, but still a first. In Egypt, demonstrations for democracy -- unheard of in decades -- prompting the dictator to announce free contested presidential elections, a historic first.

And now, of course, the most romantic flowering of the spirit America went into the region to foster: the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, in which unarmed civilians, Christian and Muslim alike, brought down the puppet government installed by Syria. There is even the beginning of a breeze in Damascus. More than 140 Syrian intellectuals have signed a public statement defying their government by opposing its occupation of Lebanon.

Other misinformation

Krauthammer calls possible torture prosecutions “banana republic politics... as is happening in Hugo Chavez's land-- Obama's new pal”

On Special Report, Krauthammer asserted that Giuliani's recommendation of Kerik for DHS secretary “is, in some odd way, exonerating”

Krauthammer falsely claimed Obama's Iran policy “takes all aggression, all threats, everything serious off the table”

Krauthammer's claims about Bush's “steely” resolve against Al Qaeda conflict with reported facts

Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard

Current statements on foreign policy:

Also on the June 16 edition of Special Report, Barnes said, “Look, here is one of my objections, and that is President Obama says it's meddling if we support the democratic forces in Iran. Meddling. That's not meddling at all. That's supporting the people who see America as a model that they like to emulate.” Earlier, he said there is a “totally false choice between on the one hand, if we talk tough and we support the democratic freedom forces in Iraq -- rather in Iran, that are in the streets, that want to have fair and honest elections, if we support them that somehow we will alienate this regime.” He continued: “But it never works that way. Actually, you strengthen your hand, as Ronald Reagan found out in dealing with the Soviets. All of a sudden, they were making concessions on nuclear arms deals and so on that they had never even considered before. ... Obama talks about, well, we had this election campaign, and there was a debate, and so on. And now we're going to check to see if the vote was counted correctly. He acts like it is Florida in 2000 between Bush and Gore. The question here is the survival of one of the most hideous regimes in the world. And that's what's important.”

Past statements:


On the January 18, 2003, edition of Fox News' The Beltway Boys, Barnes said, "[L]ook, the problem is not winning the war in Iraq. That's going to be easy. The problem right now is Hans Blix, the United Nations inspector in chief in Iraq, who seems to think his job is containment. You know, he says these inspections are a form of containment, and he wants to keep the inspectors there as long as possible, it seems to me, and has even said so."

On the April 10, 2003, edition of Fox News' Special Report, Barnes said: "[T]he good news is contrary to what you hear in the media, it gets easier now. The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war. ... Hezbollah is a part of the war on terrorism. Syria harbors terrorists in the Biqa Valley, Hezbollah and so on. The Saudis export terrorism in terms of Wahabi Islam, and things can be done to crack down on that. It doesn't mean sending troops into Riyadh or into Damascus or things like that. But certainly the U.S. now has leverage that it didn't have before winning this triumph in Iraq. ... [L]ook, it is clear what victory in the war is. When you see those statues topple and you know that's victory."

On the October 27, 2003, edition of Special Report, Barnes said, “But these terrorists are hitting soft targets. I mean, the U.N., the hotel, the Red Cross -- these are relatively soft targets. And I think they have a bad strategy. What do they gain from killing a lot of Red Cross personnel and a lot of U.N. personnel? I don't think they warm the hearts of Iraqis. They certainly don't build up more support in Europe or the United States. It is a last-ditch -- I think it is a desperate effort by these terrorists. It's not representative of a significant guerrilla force that's fighting the United States there.”

In addition, on the November 17, 2005, edition of Special Report, Barnes said, “I think he [Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA)] is just plain wrong in some of the things he said. And I certainly disagree with some of the others. But here is what he is wrong about, Brit [Hume, host]. You raised one of them. And that is, he says the war is intensifying. It's not intensifying.”

Other misinformation

Barnes: Obama not “strong on national security” because he opposed war “when the entire world believed” Saddam had WMD

Barnes: Guantanamo is “kind of a country club”

Fred Barnes: “MoveOn.org -- which hates the war, hates the military, hates America -- endorsed Obama”

On Fox News' Beltway Boys, Barnes denied that humans are a cause of global warming

Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard

Current statements on foreign policy:

On May 31, Kristol said on Fox News Sunday that “it might be worth doing some targeted airstrikes to show the North Koreans -- instead of always talking about, 'Gee, there could be consequences,' to show that they can't simply keep down the -- keep going down this path.” And in a June 16 Weekly Standard blog post, Kristol wrote of Iran: “Question for White House spokesman Robert Gibbs: As 'things' have continued to unfold, is President Obama now willing to condemn the brutal actions of a violently illiberal regime? If not, what would the regime have to do to generate clear moral and political condemnation from our 'deeply troubled' president?”

Past statements:


In testimony delivered February 7, 2002, before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Kristol said: "[A]s in Kabul but also as in the Kurdish and Shi'ite regions of Iraq in 1991, American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators. Indeed, reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan." Kristol continued: “The political, strategic and moral rewards would also be even greater. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated and Syria cowed; the Palestinians more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel; and Saudi Arabia with less leverage over policymakers here and in Europe. Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power presents a genuine opportunity -- one President Bush sees clearly -- to transform the political landscape of the Middle East.”

In an April 28, 2003, Weekly Standard column, Kristol wrote: “The United States committed itself to defeating terror around the world. We committed ourselves to reshaping the Middle East, so the region would no longer be a hotbed of terrorism, extremism, anti-Americanism, and weapons of mass destruction. The first two battles of this new era are now over. The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably. But these are only two battles. We are only at the end of the beginning in the war on terror and terrorist states.”

And on the April 1, 2003, broadcast of WHYY's Fresh Air, Kristol said, “There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular.”

Other misinformation

Kristol says “juvenile” DHS report “reveal[s]” Obama administration “think[s] about veterans” as “pathological killers”

NY Times' Kristol stressed need for foreign policy experience before Palin pick -- but now says “insiders ... overly value” it

Kristol falsely claimed Dems “renounce[] the use of force” against “jihadist Islamic threat”

Kristol attacked Fitzgerald's “politically motivated attempt to wound the Bush administration,” but he defended Starr investigation

The Washington Times

Current statements on foreign policy:

On June 17, a Times editorial stated that “American dithering radiates weakness and indecisiveness. It tells the Iranian regime that the United States is so eager to make a deal that it will not even defend its principles. The crisis seems to be an inconvenience that risks delaying the implementation of the vaunted 'engagement' plan. The administration would like to see this messy situation go away so the stately process of diplomacy can continue its march, unburdened by annoying freedom seekers with their banners, their chanting and their ideals.” It continued:

The president should make a strong statement of support for the Iranian people to make clear that the world's greatest democracy approves of their actions. The United States must stand for the ideals that have been the hallmark of American idealism since the country's founding. We must take a strong stand against arresting opposition politicians, killing peaceful demonstrators, harassing and intimidating the press and perpetrating election fraud. It is our vocation as a nation to take a stand for freedom of speech; freedom of assembly; the right to redress grievances; free, fair and transparent democratic processes; and the aspirations of human liberty."

The Iranian people are fighting to create change they can believe in while the Obama team is sending a signal that says “No, you can't.”

A May 27 editorial also asserted, “While President Obama pushes soft power, the North Korean dictator plays hardball. North Korea's underground nuclear test and missile trials show that the regime is probing Mr. Obama's resolve. Pyongyang apparently has concluded that the president's rhetoric of conciliation and understanding betrays serious weakness as a global leader. Like all tyrants, Kim Jong-il sees an open hand as a weak one.” It also stated: “So far, the United States and other countries have failed to press North Korea to the limit of these U.N. measures, preferring diplomacy over action. This has only served as a means for North Korea to pursue its nuclear ambitions while the West mouths empty words." It argued that “President Obama should order the U.S. Navy, acting under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, to inspect all shipping in and out of North Korea. Measures also should be taken to inspect all aircraft and ground transport. If more resolute action is not taken, North Korea will hold a knife to the throat of the world -- forever blustering demands into its frightened ear."

Past statements:


From a June 16, 2003, Times editorial:

From the beginning, Mr. [Colin] Powell pledged to promote foreign service officers wherever possible, a promise he has fulfilled. Though there are many talented and qualified FSOs, in the Foggy Bottom lingo, many more are disdainful of President Bush and have worked at cross-purposes with the White House. Career FSOs have pushed for “engagement” with Iran and North Korea, directly undermining the president's demands for tough stands against the two remaining “axis of evil” regimes. Nowhere has this insubordination been on greater display than in Iraq and the preparation for a democratic government.

State Department careerists have installed Saddam Hussein loyalists into key positions in the new government, while at the same time trying to shut down the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress. Only because of Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator and one of the “good” career diplomats, have Baathists been banished from public life. Replacing Mr. [Richard] Haass with someone loyal to President Bush ideally someone as loyal as Mr. Powell himself and committed to the President's agenda will not be a panacea that cures all of Foggy Bottom's many problems. But it will be a start.

In addition, from an April 7, 2003, Times editorial:

Now that Saddam's Hussein's dictatorship is coming to an end, Capitol Hill supporters of Iraq's long-suffering democracy movement are more determined than ever to force the State Department to halt its efforts to deny assistance to the Iraqi National Congress, the main umbrella group for pro-democracy forces in Iraq. As Joel Mowbray reported Thursday on the op-ed page of The Washington Times, Secretary of State Colin Powell's department is working to undermine the INC by placing pro-Saudi individuals, some of them friendly to Saddam's Ba'ath Party, into key positions in a transitional Iraqi government.


As part of its longstanding effort dating back to the Clinton administration to marginalize and undercut Mr. Chalabi and the INC, the State Department has been blocking $7 million in aid for Liberty TV which is supposed to have been the main vehicle for broadcasting factual information into Iraq. Five senators have sent a letter to President Bush, made public last week, criticizing State Department stonewalling and urging the administration to free up the money for the station.


In an interview with this newspaper on Saturday, [Sen. Jon] Kyl [R-AZ] emphasized that the next important battle in Washington over the future of Iraq could take place this week, when a House-Senate conference considers a $2.5 billion Iraqi aid package. A key question is whether State or the Defense Department will administer the lion's share of the assistance to post-Saddam Iraq. So long as State continues to try to make life unpleasant for the INC, it can count on growing questions about its fitness to manage the Iraqi aid program.

Other misinformation

Wash. Times misrepresented Obama's position on Iraq war funding bills

Wash. Times claim that Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib were “completely unrelated” contradicted by bipartisan Senate report

Overlooking reported diplomatic overture in 2003, Wash. Times editorial declared that “Iran has shown no serious interest in negotiating” about its nuclear program

Stephen Hayes, The Weekly Standard

Current statements on foreign policy:

Discussing Obama's response to the postelection protests in Iran on the June 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Hayes said:

We have moved, I think, from the Bush administration's policy of soft regime change to a policy now of de facto regime preservation, which I think is deeply disturbing and shameful.

The president has failed to really offer his support for the protesters at any time, and he has failed to directly question the results of the election.

Then, last night in an interview, he said, “Well, it doesn't really matter whether Mousavi is declared the victor or Ahmadinejad. There aren't major policy differences between the two.”

I think that may have been true before the election. We don't know whether that would be true going forward.

But in any case, it was an awful thing to say. Because the protesters who are on the street right now are there largely for one of two reasons -- either they are supporters of Mousavi or they think the election was fraudulent.

So, by him saying that, he is, in effect, saying, “What you are doing doesn't matter that much.” And I think that is shameful.

Past statements:


Media Matters has identified instances in which Hayes advanced falsehoods and distortions to defend attempts by Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration to link Al Qaeda and Iraq. For example, on the December 9, 2005, edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Hayes defended Cheney's December 2001 claim that 9-11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. According to Hayes: “If you look at the front page of The New York Times in the days surrounding the vice president's claim, The New York Times was reporting the same thing.” But as Media Matters noted, even after the Times and numerous other news outlets subsequently reported in May 2002 the FBI and CIA's finding that "no evidence" existed to substantiate the claim, Cheney continued to raise the possibility that such a meeting took place.

Additionally, in an article in The Weekly Standard's November 24, 2003, issue, Hayes attributed to “a top secret U.S. government memorandum” -- which Hayes identified as a memorandum produced by former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith -- the conclusion that Saddam and Osama bin Laden “had an operational relationship.” Hayes wrote of the memo: “Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources.” In a January 9, 2004, interview with Denver's Rocky Mountain News, Cheney cited Hayes' article, claiming that "[i]t goes through and lays out in some detail, based on an assessment that was done by the Department of Defense and was forwarded to the Senate Intelligence Committee some weeks ago." Cheney added: “That's your best source of information.” However, following the publication of Hayes' article, the Pentagon released a statement asserting that "[n]ews reports" about the memo “are inaccurate,” and that the portion of the memo to which Hayes' article referred “was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions.”

Other misinformation

Cheney biographer Hayes' pattern of falsely defending the Bush administration's Iraq policy

Official Cheney biographer thoroughly discredited by Senate Intelligence Committee on Iraq connection to 9-11 attacks

CNN's Blitzer failed to note Hayes' false Iraq-Al Qaeda reporting, Cheney connections

Stephen Hayes: Conservatives' favorite authority on “The Connection”

From the June 17 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

BAIER: Well, officials in Iran told the media there -- or the word got out that they were accusing the U.S. of meddling in internal affairs, calling it “intolerable.” That's the response you heard from the White House press secretary.

And you also saw just a glimpse of some of the cell-phone video that we're getting from some of those protests, many of them violent. We just don't know the extent of them because the reporting on the ground is still sketchy.

Let's bring in our panel. Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard. Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief for Fortune magazine. And syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Steve?

HAYES: We have moved, I think, from the Bush administration's policy of soft regime change to a policy now of de facto regime preservation, which I think is deeply disturbing and shameful.

The president has failed to really offer his support for the protesters at any time, and he has failed to directly question the results of the election.

Then, last night in an interview, he said, “Well, it doesn't really matter whether Mousavi is declared the victor or Ahmadinejad. There aren't major policy differences between the two.”

I think that may have been true before the election. We don't know whether that would be true going forward.

But in any case, it was an awful thing to say. Because the protesters who are on the street right now are there largely for one of two reasons -- either they are supporters of Mousavi or they think the election was fraudulent.

So, by him saying that, he is, in effect, saying, “What you are doing doesn't matter that much.” And I think that is shameful.