Romney, with Cheney, Rove, All Admit Defeat in Iraq

Dick Cheney was scheduled to appear at a $15,000-a-head Beverly Hills luncheon fundraiser for Mitt Romney on Monday, giving him a chance to watch the foreign policy debate that night from Hollywood. It would have been a fitting place for Cheney to hear his old fighting buddy from the Vietnam deferment trenches, Mitt Romney, auditioning for president, declare: “We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan. That’s not the right course for us.”

Apparently, our warrior veep is the forgiving type, because he, Glenn Beck and Josh Romney made a joint appearance at a gala Texas fundraiser on Thursday night. Praised by Romney for his “wisdom and judgment” earlier this year, Cheney even threw a $4 million bash for Mitt at his Jackson Hole, Wyoming home in July, where reporters in attendance were told that no photos of the two together could be taken. Like every other neocon soldier-in-my dreams vet on Romney’s national security and foreign policy advisory committee (17 of 24, including Liz Cheney, worked for W), the ex veep is apparently not taking all the peace pablum Romney served up at the final debate too seriously.

Neither is Karl Rove, who once headed the White House Iraq Group and now runs American Crossroads, the ultimate Romney superpac. The night before the debate, Rove appeared at Duke University to tussle with Howard Dean about an array of issues, with Rove still pushing the value of “boots on the ground” to counter terror.

Peter Wehner, who ran Rove’s Office of Strategic Initiatives and said as late as 2008 that he didn’t “see any reason why you’d get away” from the “working” Iraq war policies, is now the senior adviser to the Romney campaign who blogs on its website. Wehner, regarded as “the intellectual” of the Bush White House, is the only person to get special thanks from Romney in the acknowledgements of his 2010 book, “No Apology,” and from Rove in his 2010 memoir “Courage and Consequence,” where Wehner is described as a “trusted former colleague” who “helped craft every chapter and every episode.” The only person other than Wehner that Romney said in his book “sharpened my appreciation of the dangers presented” by the Obama “shift in our foreign policy” was Dan Senor, the onetime top aide in Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Government who’s become the on-camera face of Romney foreign policy in this campaign.

Though Papa Bush is supposed to headline a Houston fundraiser at the end of the month for Romney, that other war champion, Bush II, is still conveniently hiding out, endorsing Romney two months after his parents did while the elevator door closed on an inquiring reporter, invisible at the RNC and even invisible now in the last-minute Texas cash surge. Mitt and W. went to the Harvard Business School at the same time, though it’s doubtful the party pooper and partygoer were very close. But Romney recounts in his book “Turnaround” just how they bonded in the lead-up to and during the 2002 Olympics, when Bush delivered hundreds of millions to Mitt’s games.

Romney says that Bush asked that an apartment be built in a large hallway behind his Olympics box where he and his family could relax over the course of the three-hour Olympic opening ceremony, and Mitt obliged. “President Bush invited me to join him in his limo,” gee-whiz Romney also wrote. “Cool. It’s quite narrow inside; the thick protection panels, of course, make it smaller. People waved heartily when they saw him drive by. Here was the leader who had declared War on Terror, who had invaded Afghanistan to root out the Taliban. This was more than your average president.”

Cheerleading aside, Romney’s Iraq reversal at the debate, lost in the press coverage of his more timely headstands and pirouettes, takes on historic importance, signaling at last an official GOP bow to the disaster of its war, which was used only eight years ago as the party’s rationale for its most recent presidential win. Romney was until recently deriding “the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence”, insisting that we should have left up to 30,000 troops there, and declaring that Iraq was “the right decision” that he supported then and supports now.

In “No Apology,” Romney lays out a list of examples of the U.S. encouraging jihadists by abandoning the fight, starting with Lebanon in the Reagan era (without ever mentioning who was president). “Only in recent years,” he concludes, “has American resolve in Iraq and Afghanistan provided a counterexample of Western fortitude in the face of jihadist attacks,” implicitly linking Iraq to 9/11. When Bush gave Romney a prime-time spot at the 2004 RNC, Romney referred to Iraq as “the just war our soldiers are fighting to protect free people everywhere,” and said “there is no question: George W. Bush is right and the ‘Blame America First’ crowd is wrong.” And in June 2009, when he appeared at the Heritage Foundation to begin his second presidential campaign, he called Iraq an “astonishing success” that had “proven the critics wrong” and “eliminated the threat Iraq represented.”

At the same time that the campaign went ahead with the Cheney fundraiser in Dallas and two other Texas events, it cancelled one slated for Midland, the onetime home of those good old boys, Bush II and Tommy Franks. Romney named retired CENTCOM commander Franks to chair his military advisory committee the day before the debate where he waved the poll-tested white flag of GOP surrender about the war Franks led.

The timing of the Franks appointment was a bit awkward, since mild-mannered debate moderator Bob Schieffer had denounced Franks in 2008, when he took $100,000 from a phony charity that ate most of the money it said it was raising for wounded veterans. Franks wanted to be paid for the use of his name. “We don’t hire our generals to rubberstamp every idea their civilian bosses up with,” contended Schieffer, adding that we select them for their military expertise. Franks, said Schieffer, “went along with a plan that violated the first rule of warfare: never invade unless you have an overwhelming advantage and a firm idea of what to do next.” Schieffer asked: “What kind of PERSON would insist, or even ALLOW himself, to be paid to raise money for those who were wounded while serving under him?”

From 2005 to 2007, Franks was a $60,000-a-year director of OSI Restaurant Partners, the Bain Capital-owned company that runs the Outback Steakhouse chain (he’s also a director of Chuck E. Cheese). He was a $240,000-a-year member of the board of Bank America when it collected $45 billion in TARP funds, resigning, with nine other directors, in 2009. USA Today reported that the staggered resignations “were seen as an effort to overhaul leadership to appease both federal regulators and angry shareholders,” another Obama administration action Franks probably opposed.

Beyond the Schieffer critique, here’s the rest of the wartime resume of the beret, boots and bluster general:

*Left it to Afghan warlords to cut off the escape route for Mullah Omar, Ayman al-Zawahri, and Bin Laden at Tora Bora, giving OSL another decade on the loose until Obama got him;

*Asked Bush to do the “Mission Accomplished” celebration, marking closure for the troops, only eight years before Obama actually brought them home;

*Recommended Hamid Karzai to lead Afghanistan and said all he needed was $4 million in American aid to build an Afghan army;

*Protected the Oil Ministry and oil facilities while he let Iraqi mobs loot and destroy museums, hospitals, colleges and almost every other government office;

*Famously said of American fatalities in the Iraq war: “If it costs 500 lives, that’s ok, or 5000, okay, or 50,000, that’s ok with me;”

*Was called “the worst general” to lead a US force since William Westmoreland in Vietnam by Lawrence Korb, a Reagan assistant defense secretary;

*Provoked “justified criticism” for his failure to plan for a post-invasion Iraq, according to American Enterprise Institute historian Frederick Kagan, who’s cited in the acknowledgements to Romney’s “No Apology” as a “vital national resource in matters relating to foreign and military policy;”

*Quit a few months after premature Iraq victory, signed $5 million book deal and began collecting $75,000 per speaking engagement.

In any real world, where incongruities mattered, Romney’s embrace of Cheney, Franks, Wehner, and Senor, to say nothing of the Bushes, while disowning their war would be headlines. Instead, though Iraq was the dominant policy question in American politics for nearly a decade, it’s MIA in this campaign.

Research assistance provided by Jacob Anderson, Andrea Hilbert, Max Jaeger, and Catherine Thompson.

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