Newsweek’s 20/10 Project has a list of the Decade’s Worst Tactical Blunders. It might not be a shock that Newsweek decided three of the top four were made by Team Bush – and the fourth was John Kerry for letting Swift Boaters prevent him from taking that awful Bush out. What might be surprising are the authors of the little articles that accompany the list. The number one blunder was "Bush’s Katrina Flyover." The author was Bush-hating atheist scold Bill Maher:
But there was something about Bush’s response to Katrina that did bother me—oh, yeah, it was that he didn’t have one. Nor did the former dildo salesman he appointed to head FEMA. In other words, I get far more angry when politicians don’t do their jobs than when they get their pictures taken pretending to do somebody else’s.
The second biggest blunder of the decade was "Kerry Lets Himself Get Swift-Boated" by Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter. Conservative "lies" outpaced liberal "facts," thanks to Kerry’s decision to stay out of the rebuttal battle:
While the accounts of the anti-Kerry veterans were full of lies, they penetrated the consciousness of voters before news organizations could complete investigations and report the facts. The Kerry campaign chose to respond to the charges with surrogates rather than the candidate himself—a terrible tactical error.
Instead of disappearing, as the campaign hoped, the story snowballed amid the controversy. It fit the "he said/she said" adversarialism of cable news, which was just then coming to set the pace for political debate. The episode was final proof that in the polarized media world, both sides have not only their own opinions but their own facts.
This is actually a perfect choice of blunders for Newsweek, which routinely presented Kerry in 2007 and 2008 as a courageous war hero without any real need for investigative journalism, and when another storyline emerged, they savaged it.
Sadly, Newsweek didn't find space in its Top Ten for "Newsweek's Untrue But Deadly Guantanamo Koran-Flushing Story."
The third biggest blunder of the decade was "De-Baathification," by Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandasekaran, and he replayed his typical narrative that neoconservatives completely botched Iraq:
The decision to purge members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party was made by the very same neoconservatives in the Pentagon who cherry-picked bits of intelligence to justify their case for invading Iraq....
Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. 1 didn’t just ban high-level Baathists from top government jobs. It prevented tens of thousands of Iraqis who were low-level party members—people who had joined to avoid police harassment or secure college admission for their children—from returning to their jobs in factories, in schools, in hospitals.
Overnight, legions of Iraqis found themselves without work and without the prospect of ever finding a decent job. Among them were 15,000 teachers. A week later, Bremer dissolved the Iraqi Army. The two decisions did more than anything else to transform the U.S. effort to rebuild the country into a bloody, chaotic mess. Faced with no future in the new Iraq, it was only natural that many of newly dispossessed would take up arms. But the neocons who led us into the war never fully thought through the consequences of their actions.
The fourth biggest blunder of the decade was the "Mission Accomplished" event, by former Time reporter John Dickerson. "The 'Mission Accomplished' banner that hung on the USS Abraham Lincoln became shorthand for the Bush administration’s hubris and flawed Iraq War planning," he wrote. The Bush team was cocky and petty:
The president, in full flight gear, made a flashy arrested landing. He emerged smiling and victorious to the raucous reception of the flight crew. It was the fanciest end-zone dance in American political history. The landing was off-message not just because it suggested the fighting was over when it wasn’t. The president was supposedly visiting the troops to celebrate their work, but the showy landing made the story about him.
Over time, the White House would compound the problem by blaming the crew for hanging the banner. The suggestion was that Bush aides would never have been that cocky. This not only made the Bush team seem petty, but it was at odds with the facts. At the time of the landing, White House aides had boasted they’d been able to align the president’s lectern so that when he spoke to the cameras the banner would be framed perfectly in the background.
The rest of the list would never displease a liberal: SEC Misses Madoff, Alan Greenspan’s Interest-Rate Policy, Israel’s 2006 Invasion of Lebanon, The TimeWarner-AOL Merger (a nice shot at the competition), GM’s SUV Mistake (as in investing heavily in making them), and then, at number 10, McCain Suspends His Campaign (over the financial crisis). That article came from leftist blogger Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos. It was one long taunt, including this:
McCain got to D.C. and accomplished nothing. Early Thursday, he admitted he hadn’t even read the bailout plan (all three pages of it). Rep. Barney Frank openly mocked, "We’re trying to rescue the economy, not the McCain campaign." A White House meeting with the president, the candidates, and congressional leadership became a PR disaster.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tightened the screws, saying, "He was the last person to speak at the meeting, talked for a couple of minutes, and really didn’t say anything substantive." Not a single Republican defended McCain. His campaign staff admitted they’d walked into a Democratic "buzz saw." Unsurprisingly, Obama’s cool demeanor played better. McCain, who’d insisted he wouldn’t debate without a bailout agreement in place, blinked. When the curtains were raised Friday evening, McCain was on stage beside a bemused Obama. The implosion was complete.