March 24, 2008
For the past week, Slate has been asking “liberal hawk” pundits who supported the Iraq invasion to explain what they think they got wrong. They are, to put it mildly, unpersuasive. Christopher Hitchens, naturally, thinks he wasn’t wrong at all, while Richard Cohen doesn’t think he really got it all that wrong, and besides, Michael Moore is fat. The only apologia that can be read without the risk of gagging at the stench of pomposity and cover-your-ass flop sweat is from Timothy Noah, because it includes this extremely accurate observation:
Why should you waste your time, at this late date, ingesting the opinions of people who were wrong about Iraq? Wouldn’t you benefit more from considering the views of people who were right? Five years after this terrible war began, it remains true that respectable mainstream discussion about its lessons is nearly exclusively confined to people who supported the war, even though that same mainstream acknowledges, for the most part, that the war was a mistake. That’s true of Slate‘s symposium, and it was true of a similar symposium that appeared March 16 on the New York Times‘ op-ed pages. The people who opposed U.S. entry into the Iraq war, it would appear, are insufficiently “serious” to explain why they were right.
The answer, of course, is that we Iraq war critics only opposed the invasion because we’re dirty America-hating radicals who lack the balls to send other people into battle. As Jim Henley points out, “many [war supporters] feared that if the United States did not go to war, it might make some hippie, somewhere, happy.” The Sixties must be killed, over and over, and if killing that phantom means real flesh and blood soldiers get it in the neck, too, then so be it.
A frequent theme of the mea-not-so-culpas from the pro-war pontificators is that the passions and anger generated by 9/11 clouded their judgment and made them suckers for Bush’s message. This is the pundit equivalent of a cheerleader saying “I was drunk” when asked why she allowed the football team to pull a train on her in the locker room after the homecoming game. When Bush came calling with a bouquet of dead flowers and a box of rotten candies, the pundit class decided to bend over, close their eyes and think of Churchill.
I opposed this filthy war right from the start. Not because I’m a pacifist, not because I’m a hippie, not because I hate America, not because I’m clairvoyant and not because I’m a genius with hidden sources of information. I opposed it because I’m an American with a functioning brain who has arrived at a ripe old middle age with his eyes open and his faculties intact, who has been paying attention these past few decades and who hates being played for a sucker.
For all these reasons, I realize I’m disqualified from offering my views on the war in respected journals of opinion, television programs or newspaper op-ed columns, so I offer my conclusions here:
1. There was and is no reason to think that Bush and his cronies ever believed a single word they spoke about Iraq posing any kind of threat to America. Well before 9/11 the Bush administration had already revealed its moral squalor, cronyism and willingness to lie, eagerly and extravagantly, to get what it wanted. The scare stories were never convincing to begin with — the vaunted Al-Qaeda connection was a disgustingly obvious bit of opportunism, and no country that has endured a decade of crippling sanctions could be in any shape to gin up a nuclear weapons program, period — and they became ludicrous as Bush’s people became ever more desperate to push their war. Remember the remote-controlled planes that were going to cross the ocean and drop anthrax spores on our cities? The germ warfare labs that turned out to be hydrogen tanks for balloons? When the UN inspection teams went in and the first indications of the deception came to light, Bush went into overdrive to launch the invasion. A few more months of inspections and the lie would have been completely exposed.
2. There was and is no reason to think that Bush and his cronies ever saw this war as anything but a way to cement their own power (and set the stage for the next Republican presidential contender) by exploiting yellow-ribbon fever, thus silencing the doubts about Bush’s legitimacy after the Supreme Court decided to vote from the bench. At first it was all going to be a fun bit of down home ass kickin’ for a dark-skinned guy nobody liked anyway, followed by an endless round of parades that would cow or drown out any critics still willing to raise their voices while the Republicans strutted around and grabbed their crotches. Control over Iraq’s oil fields would be a bonus. I believe it was Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek who said the war would look better once it was over. Even after the dimensions of the Iraq disaster became clear, it remained useful as one of the two loaded dice in Bush’s crap shoot. Whenever the poll numbers looked too bad, roll some good news from Iraq or roll some bad news in the form of ginned-up terror alerts.
3. At no point have Bush and his cronies conducted this war as though they believed their own scare stories. Ammo bunkers, weapons sites and radiological waste dumps that had been kept under lock and key by the UN were left open to looting. We now know that explosives from the Al Qaqaa munitions complex were used to create roadside bombs deployed against our soldiers. Our continued presence in Iraq is the gift that keeps on giving for al Qaeda and other Islamists, yet Bush will brook no talk of withdrawal, and the GOP chants “Support the troops!” whenever the topic is raised. This war’s propaganda value may have dimmed, but it still serves as an immense pork barrel spending program for Bush cronies, and they will continue wringing money out of it until their fingers are pried loose from power.
4. When America faced its greatest need in a generation for rational discussion and realism, its pundits didn’t simply fail to do their jobs. They threw their standards out the window, took out their toy soldiers and got sloppy drunk on Rambo juice. At a time when America desperately needed them to look Caesar in the eye and ask him hard questions, they opted to bend the knee and kiss his ring — along with anything else he put in front of them.
They weren’t just stupidly, astonishingly, spectacularly wrong — they were offensively, childishly and spitefully wrong. They accused doubters of being, at best, Sixties nostalgists and deluded flower children; at worst, of being potential fifth columnists and traitors.
Do you think they’ve learned anything? Read this passage from Richard Cohen, then you tell me:
I was miserably wrong in my judgment and somewhat emotional, and whenever my resolve weakened, as it did over time, I steadied myself by downing belts of inane criticism from the likes of Michael Moore or “realists” like Brent Scowcroft, who had presided over the slaughter of the Shiites. I favored the war not for oil or empire (what silliness!) or Israel but for all the reasons that made me regret Bosnia, Rwanda, and every other time when innocents were being killed and nothing was done to stop it. I owe it to Tony Judt for giving me the French ex-Stalinist Pierre Courtade, who, wrongheaded though he might have been, neatly sums it all up for me: “You and your kind were wrong to be right; we were right to be wrong.”
“We were right to be wrong.” Because to the likes of Richard Cohen, the most important thing in the world is not to be Michael Moore. His criticism was “inane”? I hate to say this, Rich, but for at least the past five years, Michael Moore has been right a lot more often than you. A lot more often.
As you all know, we’ve just blown past the 4,000 mark for American soldiers who’ve died for a pack of lies in Iraq. Since protest marches are ignored and those who have been right about Iraq all along are largely frozen out of the discussion, I suggest a new way to commemorate this benchmark: let the warwhore pundits hang up their typewriters, turn off their PCs and pack up their crayons. Let them do the honorable thing and resign from their positions. Drop the syndicated columns, tear up the book proposals, tell the squawk-show hosts to find another set of talking heads. Let them, in other words, shut the hell up.
Since I remain a realist, I’m not suggesting that the abrupt absence of Richard Cohen and Andrew Sullivan will clear the way for a new generation of fresh thinkers. Christ — if anything, the next generation will probably be even worse.
But something good may come of it. Newspapers may finally stop kidding themselves about the value of their op-ed pages, lobotomized by decades of spin and the frothings of conservative party aparatchiks masquerading as public intellectuals, and simply run pictures of cute pets. Or children’s letters to Santa. Or something.
Anything but you, guys. Anything but you.