Politics & Policy

Vanity Unfair

A response to Vanity Fair.

Editor’s Note: On Friday, Vanity Fair issued a press release highlighting excerpts of a piece in their January issue on “neoconservative” supporters of the war in Iraq who today, unsurprisingly, have some negative things to say about how the war is going and how the Bush administration has been handling it.

In the wake of the press release – which has gotten considerable play on the Internet – some of those “neoconservatives” highlighted in the article have responded to the excerpts and its misrepresentations, in some cases, of what they said. We collect some of those reactions — including from Eliot Cohen, David Frum, Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, and Michael Rubin — below.

N.B. This symposium has been amended since posting (to include additional respondents). — KJL

Eliot A. Cohen

Being neither Republican nor Democrat, and thinking the government’s conduct of the Iraq war an entirely appropriate subject of political debate I do not think anyone should have kept mum in an interview of this kind until an election had passed. That said, I had assumed that the interview would not be published until January, and find the timing of this release of excerpts tendentious, to say the least.

I stand by what I said, however, which is no different from what I have said in other venues, including in articles in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal as well a in a variety of print and television interviews over several years. Indeed, insofar as I have any personal regrets as I look back on my public statements about the war, it is for not having spoken up even more often and forcefully than I already have. I believed in 2003 that the war was just and appropriate, and have been deeply distressed at its conduct. There is no public service, however, in misleading ourselves about the situation in which we find ourselves, or in softening critiques which are necessary if we are to do better in the future.

– Eliot A. Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS.

David Frum

There has been a lot of talk this season about deceptive campaign ads, but the most dishonest document I have seen is this press release from Vanity Fair, highlighted on the Drudge Report . Headlined “Now They Tell Us,” it purports to offer an “exclusive” access to “remorseful” former supporters of the Iraq war who will now “play the blame game” with “shocking frankness.”

It cites not only myself as one of these remorseful supporters, but also Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, and others.

I can speak only for myself. Obviously I wish the war had gone better. It’s true I fear that there is a real danger that the US will lose in Iraq. And yes I do blame a lot that has gone wrong on failures of US policy.

I have made these points literally thousands of times since 2004, beginning in An End to Evil and most recently in my 22-part commentary on Bob Woodward’s State of Denial (start here and find the remainder here.) I have argued them on radio and on television and on public lectern, usually in exactly the same words that are quoted in the press release.

“[T]he insurgency has proven it can kill anyone who cooperates, and the United States and its friends have failed to prove that it can protect them.”

“I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.”

And finally that the errors in Iraq are explained by “failures at the center.”

Nothing exclusive there, nothing shocking, and believe me, nothing remorseful.

My most fundamental views on the war in Iraq remain as they were in 2003: The war was right, victory is essential, and defeat would be calamitous.

And that to my knowledge is the view of everybody quoted in the release and the piece: Adelman, Cohen, Ledeen, Perle, Pletka, Rubin, and all the others.

(Not that it matters, but this fight is very personal for many of those people. Cohen and Ledeen have both had children serve in Iraq, Cohen’s in the Tenth Mountain Division, Ledeen’s daughter in the civil administration and his elder son in the Marines. As a civilian adviser in Iraq, Rubin displayed impressive personal courage living solo for long periods of time in the Shiite zones of east Baghdad.)

Vanity Fair then set my words in its own context in its press release. They added words outside the quote marks to change the plain meaning of quotations.

When I talk in the third quotation above about failures “at the center,” for example, I did not mean the president. If I had, I would have said so. At that point in the conversation, I was discussing the National Security Council, whose counter-productive interactions produced bad results.

And when I talked in the second quotation about “persuading the president,” I was repeating this point, advanced here last month. In past administrations, the battle for the president’s words was a battle for administration policy. But because Bush’s National Security Council malfunctioned so badly, the president could say things without action following – because the mechanism for enforcing his words upon the bureaucracy had broken.

In short, Vanity Fair transformed a Washington debate over “how to correct course and win the war” to advance obsessions all their own.

How was this done?

The author of the piece touted by the press release is David Rose, a British journalist well known as a critic of the Saddam Hussein regime and supporter of the Iraq war. (See here and here for just two instances out of a lengthy bibliography.)

Rose has earned a reputation as a truth teller. The same unfortunately cannot be said for the editors and publicists at Vanity Fair. They have repackaged truths that a war-fighting country needs to hear into lies intended to achieve a shabby partisan purpose.

— David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This originally appeared on “David Frum’s Diary” on NRO.

Frank Gaffney

In the annals of political dirty tricks, last weekend’s bait-and-switch caper perpetrated by Vanity Fair will probably be but a footnote. Still, the magazine deserves contempt for having made promises it had no intention of honoring, promises about facilitating a serious discussion of President Bush’s efforts to fight our Islamofascist foes in Iraq and elsewhere by some of the most adamant supporters of those efforts. None of us who responded candidly on the basis of such promises to thoughtful questions posed by reporter David Rose would likely have done so had the magazine’s true and nakedly partisan purpose been revealed.

Perhaps we should have known better, given Vanity Fair’s generally venal character. We were encouraged to overlook that sordid record, however, on the grounds that the author would be Rose — a journalist who had earned a reputation of late for fair and honest treatment of matters such as this. It is all the more discomfiting that — in the wake of the magazine’s misleading press release released last weekend which selectively quotes from an as-yet-uncompleted-and-unpublished article — Rose failed to respond honestly when asked by an NPR reporter on Sunday morning why Richard Perle, Ken Adelman, David Frum, and others had “chosen this time” to criticize President Bush and his war effort. The correct answer was we had not “chosen” this time to do so. Rather, Rose’s editors had selected this juncture in the election cycle to publicize our respective views in the worst possible light. Transparently, their hope was that such a premature and selective release would further undermine at the polls both President Bush’s party and a war Vanity Fair does not support.

As with others, I find myself being quoted not only out of context but making remarks that have — albeit in more fulsome ways — been said by me many times before. As with their remarks, mine have been part of the texture of the debate about Iraq for years. They do not reflect remorse about effort to help free the long-suffering people of that country, and others under Islamofascist assault, let alone a so-called “neo-culpa.”

For the record, I remain convinced that the liberation of Iraq was a necessary and laudable measure to prevent a megalomaniac from handing off to terrorists weapons of mass destruction for the purpose of attacking us and our allies. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. government has proof that Saddam Hussein had precisely such plans ready to implement. In fact, such evidence was actually documented in the Iraq Survey Group’s final report released last year with much obscuring fanfare about the absence of recovered WMDs.

I am also as committed as ever to the consolidation of the fully justified liberation of Iraq. I have repeatedly urged the president, both in person and through other channels, to make use of the full panoply of economic, financial, political, and military measures — a true War Footing — necessary to achieve it. Those who would have us do otherwise are deceiving us and/or themselves. This is true whether they are a) Democratic politicians so hungry for power that they are willing to compel our defeat in Iraq, without regard for the ultimate costs to the country; or b) Republicans like former Secretary of State James Baker, who insist we must negotiate with enemies like Iran and Syria to “secure their help” in the country that they, among others, are doing so much to destabilize.

Finally, I am persuaded that President Bush wants to do the right thing, just as he says he does. What is mystifying to me and to many of my colleagues is why, then, has he repeatedly allowed subordinates who do not want him successfully to act on his principles to continue to hold senior posts, and to get away with undermining him and his policies. As I have said and written many times in recent years, such tolerance — and the incoherent thinking and irresolute behavior associated with it — confuses the American people, emboldens our enemies and alienates our friends. We hope by pointing out these shortcomings to help sensible, capable people do better, not to encourage their replacement with people who are clueless about this war and/or truly incompetent with respect to its prosecution.

I trust that these convictions, and those of others interviewed by Rose, will be accurately reflected when he finally has his full article published — hopefully, without the subterfuge and spin that characterized the publication of this press release about it.

 – Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He currently is president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

Michael Ledeen

My experience with Vanity Fair is even more extensive than David Frum ‘s, having been the subject of a 30,000 word screed that ends with the author’s bland confession “there is no evidence for any of this.” So I am not at all surprised to see the editors yank words from me, David, and others out of context and totally misdescribe what we think, do and feel. I do not feel “remorseful,” since I had and have no involvement with our Iraq policy. I opposed the military invasion of Iraq before it took place and I advocated — as I still do — support for political revolution in Iran as the logical and necessary first step in the war against the terror masters.

Readers of NRO know well how disappointed I have been with our failure to address Iran, which was, and remains, the central issue, and it has been particularly maddening to live through extended periods when our children were in battle zones where Iranian-supported terrorists were using Iranian-made weapons against Americans, Iraqis and Afghans. I have been expressing my discontent for more than three years. So much for a change of heart dictated by developments on the ground.

So it is totally misleading for Vanity Fair to suggest that I have had second thoughts about our Iraq policy. But then one shouldn’t be surprised. No one ever bothered to check any of the lies in the first screed, and obviously no fact-checker was involved in the latest “promotion.” I actually wrote to David Rose, the author of the article-to-come, a person for whom I have considerable respect. He confirmed that words attributed to me in the promo had been taken out of context.

— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

This originally appeared in NRO’s The Corner.

Richard Perle

Vanity Fair has rushed to publish a few sound bites from a lengthy discussion with David Rose. Concerned that anything I might say could be used to influence the public debate on Iraq just prior to Tuesday’s election, I had been promised that my remarks would not be published before the election.

I should have known better than to trust the editors at Vanity Fair who lied to me and to others who spoke with Mr. Rose. Moreover, in condensing and characterizing my views for their own partisan political purposes, they have distorted my opinion about the situation in Iraq and what I believe to be in the best interest of our country.

I believe it would be a catastrophic mistake to leave Iraq, as some are demanding, before the Iraqis are able to defend their elected government. As I told Mr. Rose, the terrorist threat to our country, which is real, would be made much worse if we were to make an ignominious withdrawal from Iraq.

I told Mr. Rose that as a nation we had waited too long before dealing with Osama bin Laden. We could have destroyed his operation in Afghanistan before 9/11.

I believed we should not repeat that mistake with Saddam Hussein, that we could not responsibly ignore the threat that he might make weapons of mass destruction available to terrorists who would use them to kill Americans. I favored removing his regime. And despite the current difficulties, I believed, and told Mr. Rose, that “if we had left Saddam in place, and he had shared nerve gas with al Qaeda, or some other terrorist organization, how would we compare what we’re experiencing now with that?”

I believe the president is now doing what he can to help the Iraqis get to the point where we can honorably leave. We are on the right path.

— Richard Perle is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He has served as chairman of the Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board during this administration.

Michael Rubin

Some people interviewed for the piece are annoyed because they granted interviews on the condition that the article not appear before the election. Vanity Fair is spinning a series of long interviews detailing the introspection and debate that occurs among responsible policymakers every day into a pre-election hit job. Who doesn’t constantly question and reassess? Vanity Fair’s agenda was a pre-election hit job, and I guess some of us quoted are at fault for believing too much in integrity. What the article seeks to do is push square pegs into round holes. Readers will see that the content of the piece does not match the sensational headlines. Were people gathered around the author gripping about Bush? No. Were people identifying faults in the implementation? Yes. Are people sick of the autodafe whereby pundits demand “neocon” confessions to fit their own silly conspiracy theories? Yes. Have those interviewed changed their mind about the war? I have not, no matter how self-serving partisan pundits or lazy journalists want to spin it. I can’t speak for others. Again, despite the punditry out there, the so-called neocons are not Borg.

Now, for my own quote: I absolutely stand by what I said. Too many people in Washington treat foreign policy as a game. Many Washington-types who speak about Iraq care not about the U.S. servicemen or about the Iraqis, but rather focus on U.S. electoral politics. I am a Republican, but whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power, Washington’s word must mean something. Leadership is about responsibility, not just politics. We cannot go around the world betraying our allies — in this case Iraqis who believed in us or allied with us — just because of short-term political expediency. This is not just about Iraq: If we abandon Iraq, we will not only prove correct all of Osama Bin Laden’s rhetoric about the US being a paper tiger, but we will also demonstrate — as James Baker and George H. W. Bush did in 1991 — that listening to the White House and alliance with the United States is a fool’s decision. We can expect no allies anywhere, be they in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, if we continue to sacrifice principles to short-term realist calculations. It’s not enough to have an attention span of two years, when the rest of the world thinks in decades if not centuries.

— Michael Rubin is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of The Middle East Quarterly. He served in Iraq as a political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority from 2003-2004. This originally appeared on NRO’s The Corner.

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