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William F. Buckley: Bush Will Be Judged on “Failed” Iraq War

Posted on Mar 31, 2006
From Bloomberg News

Former CNN host Judy Woodruff speaks with National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. at his home on Long Island, NY.  Asked about his regrets over the years, Buckley said it was a mistake to have opposed civil rights legislation in the 1960s. “I think that the impact of that bill should have been welcomed by us,” he said.

If he’d invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn’t get him out of his jam,Ӕ the father of the American conservative movement says of the president, in a Bloomberg News interview with Judy Woodruff.
Buckley also calls Rumsfeld a “failed executor” of the war, but maintains that Cheney was misled on the WMD issue.

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    BY JUDY WOODRUFF                      

    AS BROADCAST Mar. 22, 2006

    MR. BUCKLEY:  In 1955, it was generally assumed that conservatives, A, didn’t think.  To the extent that they did think, it was simply because they needed to emanate in some way their special interests.  They were easily depicted as fat and lazy and cigar-smoking and uninteresting.

    MS. WOODRUFF:  You were famous for this line when you launched the National Review:  We will stand athwart history and yell stop. Did you succeed?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, in a sense we did, because when I wrote that line, which was for an editorial in the first issue, I had primarily in mind the claims of Marxism.  Marxism presented itself as an absolute irreversible call of history.  The historic claims of communism were going to assert themselves and make everything else sound irrelevant.  So in that sense, I said we are athwart history yelling stop.  And the answer is that absolutely did happen, most formally with the end of communism, the [inaudible] of communism in 1991.

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Do you have any major regrets along the way about positions that you espoused or people you championed?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  I think we made a mistake in 1962 in opposing the Civil Rights Act.  There were two or three acts that—The one that was opposed by Goldwater, who in the matter, by the way, was constitutionally advised by a man who 10 years later was Chief Justice of the United States. 

    MS. WOODRUFF:  William Rehnquist.

    MR. BUCKLEY:  On the Civil Rights bill.  And we were persuaded that was correct.  I regret it.  I think that the impact of that bill should have been welcomed by us.  And that sort of transcended what would have become a constitutional formalism.

    I’m also sad that there wasn’t as much of an evolution in libertarian policies as I’d have liked to have seen.  It’s simply accepted by everyone, including workaday conservatives, that education and health are substantially statist enterprises.  I regret this.  I think it was a surrender in principle and an abandonment of ideas that might have profited the republic hugely. 

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Federal spending as a percentage of the gross national product is 20 percent.  It was 17 percent when you started the National Review.  Conservatism has succeeded and government’s bigger.  Is that a contradiction?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  No, it’s not necessarily a contradiction because you have to ask would it have been bigger yet. 

    But it would be useful, I think, if one could routinely read an index that communicated to you the extent to which government was absorbing more and more of the gross national product and taking on functions which would have been best handled by the private sector.

    MS. WOODRUFF George W. Bush is widely considered to be a domestic conservative, and yet—you talk about spending—he’s the one who oversaw the passage of this big Medicare prescription drug program, the biggest, what, expansion of entitlements in 40 years.  Is George W. Bush really a conservative?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, I think he is really a conservative, but I think that he simply has not exerted himself at that level of traditional conservative concern for federal expansion.  And you correctly point out that that medical bill is overwhelming in terms of its claims on federal spending.

    So the answer is no, George W. Bush has not assigned particular attention to that.  He’s never even vetoed a spending bill.  So that his concern has been so completely on the international scope that he can be said to have neglected conservatism at the level you speak of.


    MS. WOODRUFF:  You generated a fair amount of attention recently when you wrote that the Bush policy in Iraq, you know, had failed, and you said they now have to cope with failure.  You talked about how hard it’s going to be for the president to step back from what you call his high-flown pronouncements.

    I want to ask why you supported this war in the first place.

    MR. BUCKLEY:  I resisted endorsing a potential war, as it then was, up until a moment when Mr. Cheney gave a speech in which he spoke absolutely positively about these weapons of mass destruction.  We know now that they did not exist, but we also know that they were thought to exist by the most sophisticated intelligence sources—and not, by any means, all American; they were Israeli, German, French, English.  So that we went into war assuming that we were stopping him from deploying those weapons.

    We found out that they weren’t there.  What we then proceeded to do has not worked.  That’s simply bad executive action insufficiently thought through and terribly, terribly disadvantageous.

    Let me say something that [inaudible].  The notion of failure has to be conjoined to a notion of time.  If we had sent some Jesuit missionaries to Iraq, we would have been taught by history that we might wait 100 years before there was genuine reform.  But what we did anticipated almost immediate success, and our failure to do that punishes us as days go by.  It can’t possibly be conceived of as a defensible mission if it takes 20 years.  But we’re pushing the margin of our patience in a point that is not unreasonable.

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Who is to blame?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, the president.  The president is to blame.  And he doesn’t hesitate to accept responsibility.  Time after time he says I’m going to send troops, I’m going to do this—he doesn’t even say “we.” He says “I”.  And he is supremely responsible.

    MS. WOODRUFF:  You mentioned the vice president.  Give us your assessment of the leading architects of the war—the vice president and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, I think Mr. Rumsfeld is a failed executor.  I don’t think he was necessarily involved as an architect of the war.

    I think Mr. Cheney was flatly misled.  He believed the business about the weapons of mass destruction.  Now, whether Mr. Cheney engaged in Wilsonian dreams about how a democracy would ignite in Iraq and spread ineluctably south or east, I don’t know.

    MS. WOODRUFF:  You mentioned that we’ve seen this neoconservative Wilsonian tendency embracing—wanting to export American values around the world, and this has been adopted by the Bush administration.  Is this a conservative—

    MR. BUCKLEY:  I don’t think so.

    MS. WOORUFF: approach?

    MR BUCKLEY:  No, I don’t think so.  The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geostrategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the resources of a free country.  So it is not conservatism.  A conservative always measures capabilities and resources, and these are simply incapable—now, even as they were in the 1919—of bringing on democracy.

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Do you have a formula for the United States getting out of Iraq?  You said it’s failed.

    MR. BUCKLEY:  No.  No, I don’t have a formula.  I think it’s important that we acknowledge in the inner counsels of state that it has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure.

    But I don’t think there is a formula for withdrawal.


    MS. WOODRUFF: You were intimately familiar with some of the political giants of the last half century.  Let me just name a couple of them.

    Richard Nixon.  Just cast your take.

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, Mr. Nixon was one of the brightest people who ever occupied the White House.  Just an enormous capacity to remember and to organize.  But he suffered from basic derangements.  He couldn’t govern his own life and did things so stupid as to lead to his ejection from office.  And things that weren’t at all necessary.  The notion that he was politically threatened in 1972 turned out to be paranoid.

    So he—and Henry Kissinger makes such a good point about him.  He said that he never knew a man who both wanted to be president as badly as he did and hated being president. 

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Ronald Reagan?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Ronald Reagan confounded the intellectual class, which disdained him, thought him not too bright and vulgar in his orientations.  He has proved anything but that.  And year after year there is more and more evidence of his ingenuity, of his historical intelligence.  So that we are, I think, moving in the direction of acclaiming him as a man of singular talents and singular gifts in communicating to the very broad constituency, that there were natural divisions in acceptable activity and acceptable activity. 

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Let me ask you about one Democrat.

    MR. BUCKLEY:  That’s all we admit, right?

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Our most recent two-termer, Bill Clinton.  Any thoughts?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, I think Bill Clinton is the most gifted politician of, certainly of my time.  There’s nobody who can match him.  He generates a kind of a vibrant goodwill with a capacity for mischief, which is very, very American, and a sense of survivability, which is dismaying.  He gives the impression that nothing in the world can ultimately really hurt him.  I don’t think anybody could begin to write a textbook that explicates his political philosophy because he doesn’t really have one.

    MS. WOODRUFF: George W. Bush?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq.  If he discovered the—if he’d invented the Bill of Rights, it wouldn’t get him out of his jam. If the Iraq venture fails,  so also will he fail in terms of the ranking of his administration.  Because there is nothing conceivable, in my judgment, that could rescue him if we proceed towards disaster in Iraq.

    That’s a tragedy in the Greek sense of that one little failing which ends up being critical to the entire canvas.  I hope it won’t happen, but it doesn’t look good.


    MS. WOODRUFF:  Do you ever get tired of being given all this credit for the rise of conservatism in America?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, when conservatism proceeds in the wrong direction, I do.  It’s an amusing paradox.  I’m referred to as the father of conservatism, but then when things go badly the question logically arises, is there a paternal responsibility?  One simply has to cope.

    MS. WOODRUFF:  Has being in power been good for conservatives and conservatism?

    MR. BUCKLEY:  It’s a sly but merited point that you make.  Because often giving power to a minority causes an exhaustive appropriation of that power without a commensurate sense of fulfillment

    So I would say it’s a good thing to remind oneself, and I’m grateful to you for doing so, that the exercise of freedom does not in and of itself guarantee commendable action. 

    MS. WOODRUFF: Bill Buckley, longtime host of Firing Line,Ӕ everybody agrees you brought an amazing passion and a civility to political discourse. Is that missing today on both sides of the divide?

    MR. BUCKLEY: Oh no, I don’t think so. You find both civility and passion. There’s lots and lots of good discussion going on.

    MS. WOODRUFF: You don’t think the civility is —some of it is, been lost.

    MR. BUCKLEY: Well, by your standards and mine that may be true. But not by common standards.

    MS. WOODRUFF: What do you watch on television?

    MR. BUCKLEY: Well, I almost always watch the seven o’clock Lehrer program. And then the rest is just… see, nothing is sort of scheduled.

    MS. WOODRUFF: So I have to ask you about the blogs. Do you read the blogs? What do you think of the blogs?

    MR. BUCKLEY: Well, I think it is a very healthy development. National Review has its own blog which is very well patronized, called National Review Online. And, I see it not as regularly as I should. But its halfway between entertainment and duty.

    MS. WOODRUFF: But they are a good thing? Blogs, all in all?

    MR. BUCKLEY: I think so. They can be abused. Everything can be abused. The press. Television. But the notion that without a lot of capital you can crank up the means by which to communicate your views to whomever wants to look at them is pretty encouraging, I think.

    MR. BUCKLEY: I think I’ve struck you dumb…[ laughs]

    MS. WOODRUFF: [ Laughs ] Bill Buckley, thank you very much, this has been wonderful.

    MR. BUCKLEY:  Delighted to talk with you.

    MS. WOODRUFF: Thank you, thank you.

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    By Michael, November 7, 2006 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    In a world of dreadfully dull and earnest intellectuals Bill at least had personality and wit as well as a formidable intelligence. Many an academic round table discussion has been advanced and even made interesting because of bill buckley.

    If you have ever been to some of these political round table discussions Bill probably has saved many an audience members life who from sheer boredom have a tendency to become suicidal at these events.

    I don’t see why liberals would necessarily criticize Buckley. He is admitting the war in iraq is a failure.

    What Cheney knew or didn’t know or the “real” motivations behind Cheney, Rumsfield and the Bush Administration’s actions are cause for endless speculation … but not much more.

    In any event, this appears to be a failed presidency and administration and it is time for the American public to remove them from office and put in place a group of men who have a viable plan for fighting terrorism as well as a viable plan for trying to fix up the mess in Iraq.

    Report this

    By Scott Dash, October 20, 2006 at 8:11 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Without Buckley all these years we’d be a socialist country.

    Report this

    By Whitey, April 13, 2006 at 11:40 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Boy, do I miss Firing Line and also those debates with Bill and whoever, moderated by Michael Kinsley.

    Report this

    By candide, April 12, 2006 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Yes, good for Bill Buckley.  But remember also that when the war was going well he supported sending Christian missonaries to Iraq to convert the Muslims.  I’m afraid he is in his Alzheimer phase.

    Report this

    By Dale King, April 10, 2006 at 6:29 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    It is clear the readers and responders to this blog are narrowly solipsist’! Seems synicism rules the day in this blog, with very little complex thinking. Everything is reduced to a simplisitic view that anyone with an alternate view is a ‘villain’ or that he is ‘bad’, ‘ignorant’ theme.

    Shame, makes reading these blogs tedious and boring, since nothing of substance surfaces to actually think about.

    As a South Park Conservative, I had hoped for something intelligent and intellectual here, but only more bashing. Oh well, will look elsewhere for a sincere debate.

    Report this

    By Roy Wolfe, April 6, 2006 at 4:08 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Fair’s fair:  I’ve detested William Buckley for all his works since the appearance of his God and Man at Yale - all his works but one: the adulation he managed to generate in a young Chris on those many sailing trips they shared.

    Dreadful as the man is, was, and no doubt will remain, he does at least deserve a little bit of the “Jenny Kissed Me” treatment:

    Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
    Say that health and wealth have missed me,
    Say I’m growing old, but add,
    Jenny kissed me.

    Report this

    By Richard La Brecque, April 5, 2006 at 11:02 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Woodruff is certainly a lightweight, as evidenced again in her interview with Buckly, who has always been an entertaining egomaniac and solipsist.  I really enjoyed the comments on the interview—can’t fool the discerning anytime!

    Report this

    By francis sarguis, April 5, 2006 at 10:15 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Buckley is definitely off on one thing.

    Rather than being misled, Cheney (and his carefully designed entourage) were the engine for the virtually unilateral Iraqi invasion.  I see Cheney as the super blackhat in his drama, whereas Rumsfeld (who has plenty to answer for) was an eager supporter of the adventure.


    Report this

    By Carlos Placci, April 5, 2006 at 3:38 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Dick flatly misled?

    Poor   Mr   Buckley.  He has not learned anything.

    Report this

    By EDT, April 3, 2006 at 10:59 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Bush’s story is not one of a single “error” that will lead to his undoing, in the “Greek tragedy” sense. His story is one of conceit, self-interest, corruption, and lies, through and through.

    And how is it defensible for Buckley to speak so fondly of Reagan, the prez who expanded our federal debt more than any other? That is just nuts. Buckly is clearly intelligent - it makes me want to believe those who call him a CIA-appointed apologist.

    Report this

    By Matt, April 2, 2006 at 8:58 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Buckley is one of the oldest pipes in the Mighty Wurlitzer.  He has been part of CIA the propaganda machine from it’s inception.  At this point he is singing the fall-back tune.

    If there is any justice at all, Bush will be judged not only for the crime of agressive war in Iraq, but for the murder of 3000 Americans.

    9/11 was an inside job:

    Report this

    By Freedem, April 2, 2006 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Buckley was always the agent of misdirection, for all the years of propaganda and attack, the two biggest lies still stick in mind and craw.

    The first he re-states here again of the Libertarian Idea that a government is only a government if we call it that. <a > I have written extensively</a> as to why that is a fraud, and is indeed the prime conservative concept that generates support from people who think Liberals are against freedom.

    The other is so ingrained that I only once saw BB state it outright, That Capitalism and Free Enterprise are synonomous”, and the statement set off much of what I have discovered about economics.

    Imagine my suprise when <a > Microsoft proved that this was as much a fraud </a> as the Libertarian concept of Government, and no more related to actual principals than the rest of the blather.

    At it’s heart, all right wing thought becomes “Social Darwinism”, and the only variant is the blather of the package wrapping to hide the fact that it wants the worst for the majority of folk, so a few can live off the blood of the rest.

    Report this

    By tharpa, April 2, 2006 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Any time you see the name Judy Woodruff you know you in for some underwhelming softball and her performance with this subject offered no upside surprises.

    Buckley, as mentioned by other posters, does an excellent, if shameless, job of praising the very same administrators whose policies he now admits have led only to failure. He does so in part by implying that the neocons are somehow different from the President and Vice-President who are ‘responsible’ but not actually the ones who made the policies. Makes perfect sense when talking to people like Woodruff who never call anyone on anything.

    The big stores for me the past few years in terms of US politics are this:

    First, there is no mainstream media to speak of which means that the fraud in elections, illegal propoganda practices, lying to the people etc. etc. carries on apace, indeed a successful administration - which this one has been so far politically - is one by being skilled at working the country in the absence of a bona fide Fourth Estate.

    Second, there is no opposition party in the US. This relates to the first.

    Indeed, the two together means that we have right now a form of capitalist-oligarchical fascism. Fascism in that the power of the state - which still does come from the people, at least in terms of tax receipts - is increasingly controlled by and channelled into the CEO business-sector classes whose interests are not those of the vast majority of citizens.

    The US is not truly a functioning democracy, nor a healthy democratic republic. It is not extreme right wing by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it in the centre any more. Most importantly, the entire system has become impossible to perceive clearly. It is deeply neurotic, with many addictions, bad habits and so forth.

    And it looks like things will get much worse before they are going to get better. The sort of conservatism promoted by Buckley has little to do with what is going on nowadays either in Washington or Main Street. He’s smart and a great guy, but no longer relevant except to help thicken (and justify) the fog of complacent ignorance that seems all-pervasive nowadays.

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    By porter, April 2, 2006 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    In the interview he seemed almost as unconvinced as Mc Cain on MTP 4/2//06,  but he LOVES hearing himself speak although the affected broad a’s are subsiding with age as water seeks its own level.

    Report this

    By felicity smith, April 2, 2006 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Mr. Buckley must be the only person in America who thinks Cheney was an innocent, a naif (and to this day continues to be one, still duped into believing that those weapons are there, somewhere.) After a certain passage of time one has to question the original naivete of Mr. Cheney. That inanity aside, #6305 said it all.

    Report this

    By LTJ, April 2, 2006 at 7:07 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    On most issues, I’m not a conservative - and I’ve strongly disagreed with the War on Iraq, from day one.  But, for many years I’ve also had a certain respect for William F. Buckley Jr.  I believe it was well over 30 years ago that Buckley grew his own marijuana plant and took the resulting joint on his sailboat out beyond the coatal limit of U.S. jurisdiction (then only 3 miles).  There, he claims to have tried MJ for himself, and then concluded that it was not such a big deal and that the legal penalties were excessive (even in the early 70’s!).  Since that time, Buckley has favored marijuana decrimalinization, and even toyed with legalization, on a Libertarian basis.
      It seems to me that the current Administration has tried to remove most of such freedom-loving, Libertarian thinking from the Republican position.

    Report this

    By TomChicago, April 2, 2006 at 6:35 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Buckley’s conservatism bears no resemblance to that of the current regime, characterized by their enormous spending and egregious meddling.  His own brand of wing-nuttery can be recalled in his suggestion, several years ago, that HIV-positive men be tattooed across the ass. 
    Also typical, unhappily, is the fantasy about Jesuit missionaries spreading the Christian gospel through the Muslim lands.

    Report this

    By G. Anderson, April 1, 2006 at 11:54 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    For some reason, those that oppose this administration always seem to take heart when conservatives make statements, similiar to the ones liberal Democrats been making since Bush was sworn into office. 

    But they seem to forget one thing. This administration doesn’t really care what anyone else says, or thinks, about it’s policies, whether they are conservative or liberal.

    Bush has his own agenda, that he will pursue to the bitter end. Come hell or high water.

    Nothing short of impeachment will stop it.

    And so, while Bush continues to steer this country in the direction of ruin, and trample into dust the Democratic institutions that were built by the blood sweat and tears of countless Americans, unless these words can be transformed into political action they are empty.

    As long as there are Senators and Congressmen who are warped enough, and sick enough to follow Bush, placing party above country,
    no amount of talking will change a thing.

    And however comforting this kind of article will be to the “I told you so gang”, the rest of us feel very much like the witnesses to a catastrophic train wreck happening in slow motion.

    Report this

    By paradoctor, April 1, 2006 at 11:12 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    In 1996 Buckley denounced the war on drugs as a failure; 10 years later it is still on. Now he denounces the war in Iraq as a failure. Will this too still be going on in 10 years?

    Report this

    By BB, April 1, 2006 at 8:35 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Cheney? Misled? Wait a minute…yeah my constitution says that it doesn’t matter what the hell the vice president thinks since he has no ‘yea’ vote unless one, and one person only, stops breathin’. Seems the Reagan apologists and mythmakers are gearing up for George’s rewrite already.

    Report this

    By Ian Brewer, April 1, 2006 at 7:10 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I don’t buy it. This is a failure of right wing ideology, not a matter of competence. Buckley is just trying to salvage his noxious philosophy from the dustbin of history where it belongs next to Stalinism.

    Report this

    By James Powell, April 1, 2006 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    It is interesting that Buckley thinks Cheney is to be excused for his misdeeds in getting us into this insane war because he was fooled by someone so as for him to believe there were WMD.  The problem is that he still thinks the WMD crap and the other misinformation the administration fed us was true.

    Report this

    By Nero, April 1, 2006 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    At the same time it’s refreshing to see a name brand conservative serve as the voice of dissent from within. It’s been tough for me to stomach Buckley for a long time but he is a respected voice amongst his own and perhaps he can gain some traction in arguments that the Dems just can’t seem to win, much less put on the table long enough to be debated.

    Report this

    By JSD, April 1, 2006 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Progressives also need to be aware of the great service for justice that Mr. Buckley has rendered in condemning the so-called war on drugs in 1996.

    A quote from Mr. Buckley at the forum he sponsored: “ is our judgment that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states. We all agree on movement toward legalization, even though we may differ on just how far.”

    Here is the link:

    Report this

    By JSD, April 1, 2006 at 1:01 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Criticisms of Bush by conservatives like William F. Buckley Jr. are important to progressives and the cause of removing, at least the Christian Right and the so-called Neocons, from Federal power. Removing the corporatists and their inhuman agendas would take something on the order of another social revolution like the “Sixties” movements. I am sure that it is underway—as we speak.

    Report this

    By harald hardrada, April 1, 2006 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    buckley now has an out: he’s just an old fart

    he used to be a young fogey & he’s never had an original thought

    he’s protecting cheney so as to avoid seeming to have misjudged cheney’s character—it’s bad enough that he misjudged bush’s character, overrated his intelligence & overvalued his competence

    buckley found his metier in writing bullshit—anybody who believes what he says is a fool

    Report this

    By JP, April 1, 2006 at 7:07 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Cheney was misled?  Wasn’t he running over to the CIA building more than any VP before him, prodding the folks about what they’d found on Iraq?

    Seems to me Cheney is the one suggesting they acknowledge connections that don’t exist.

    Report this
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