The former inner circle of the George W Bush administration has taken to the airwaves and the news pages in recent days to urge a new American military intervention in Iraq and to castigate President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis.
Rather than seeing the new round of sectarian violence in Iraq as another hammer-blow to their 2003 decision to invade the country – as many of their critics do – several key figures in the Bush administration are using the conflict to defend their own records.
Leading the charge is Dick Cheney, the former vice-president who was the principal driving force within the administration behind the decision to go to war in Iraq.
Writing with his daughter Liz in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Mr Cheney complained: “Rarely has a US president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. Too many times to count, Mr Obama has told us he is “ending” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – as though wishing made it so.”
In words almost designed to raise the blood pressure of Iraq war critics, they concluded that Mr Obama “abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory”.
The Cheneys’ editorial forms part of a persistent Republican critique that the Obama administration helped foster the current crisis when it withdrew all troops from Iraq in late 2011. Administration officials counter that Mr Obama wanted to keep a residual force in the country but was blocked by the Iraqi government.
Another former Bush-era official seeking to re-enter the Iraq debate is Paul Bremer, the former diplomat who was sent to run Iraq shortly after the 2003 invasion.
Mr Bremer believes the US should launch air strikes, push back the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis), which have taken control of cities across northwest Iraq, and says that the administration will need to put special forces troops into the country to assist the air campaign. He said that the US “lost our political influence” with the 2011 withdrawal.
Apart from the initial choice to invade Iraq, Mr Bremer’s move to disband the Iraqi army has been the most criticised single decision of the US occupation.
Confronted in a CNN interview with a 2003 speech when he predicted a “prosperous, democratic Iraq, at peace with itself”, Mr Bremer responded that “every single bit of that came to pass” but that “this has all been reversed in the last two years”.
Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defence secretary during the Iraq invasion, has given a series of interviews critical of both Mr Obama and the initial conduct of the 2003 invasion. “If I were the architect [of the Iraq war], it would have been handled very differently,” he told CNN. Together with Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Mr Cheney’s former chief of staff, Mr Wolfowitz is to teach a course in the autumn run by a conservative foundation entitled ‘The war in Iraq: a study in decision-making’.
The re-entry of many of the leading figures of the Bush era into the Iraq debate prompted an angry response from leading Democrats, many of whom are very reluctant for the president to use military force again in Iraq.
“They are in a time warp,” said Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, in a speech on Wednesday. “To the architects of the Iraq war who are now so eager to offer their expert analysis, I say . . . ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ Unfortunately, we have already tried it your way and it was the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the country.”
The sharply partisan debate about Iraq is uncomfortable for Hillary Clinton, the strong favourite to be the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate who voted for the war as a senator in 2003.
Speaking on Tuesday, Mrs Clinton said it was a “mistake” for the Iraqi government to prevent US troops from staying in the country. But last week she was very sceptical about a new US intervention, describing the Maliki government as “dysfunctional, unrepresentative, authoritarian” and adding that “there’s no reason on earth that I know of that we would ever sacrifice a single American life for that”.
Get alerts on Middle East & North Africa when a new story is published