Busy busy, but wanted to toss this up – this is excellent, a piece by Andrew Bacevich – former Army officer, teaches at Boston U., author, and his own kid was killed in Iraq. It’s in the form of an “open letter” to Paul Wolfowitz – those of you who slugged it out in the political arena around the time we marched off to war in Iraq will recognize the name. And perhaps spit it out, like nails.
In a fascinating take, Bacevich talks about the neoconservatives’ theory of the Iraq war, the intellectual reason Wolfowitz and others decided we needed to attack Iraq. It wasn’t about oil. It was, instead, America’s opportunity to prove America’s might, it’s willingness to go to war for what it considered “just” ends, to demonstrate and cement our morally deserved hegemony. In other words – America does what America wants, and the world is better off for it.
Except, of course – it wasn’t:
You immediately saw the events of 9/11 as a second and more promising opening to assert U.S. supremacy. When riding high a decade earlier, many Americans had thought it either unseemly or unnecessary to lord it over others. Now, with the populace angry and frightened, the idea was likely to prove an easier sell. Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater.
In an instant, you grasped that the attacks provided a fresh opportunity to implement Wohlstetter’s Precepts, and Iraq offered a made-to-order venue. “We cannot wait to act until the threat is imminent,” you said in 2002. Toppling Saddam Hussein would validate the alternative to waiting. In Iraq the United States would demonstrate the efficacy of preventive war.
So even conceding a hat tip to Albert Wohlstetter, the Bush Doctrine was largely your handiwork. The urgency of invading Iraq stemmed from the need to validate that doctrine before the window of opportunity closed. What made it necessary to act immediately was not Saddam’s purported WMD program. It was not his nearly nonexistent links to Al Qaeda. It was certainly not the way he abused his own people. No, what drove events was the imperative of claiming for the United States prerogatives allowed no other nation.
I do not doubt the sincerity of your conviction (shared by President Bush) that our country could be counted on to exercise those prerogatives in ways beneficial to all humankind — promoting peace, democracy, and human rights. But the proximate aim was to unshackle American power. Saddam Hussein’s demise would serve as an object lesson for all: Here’s what we can do. Here’s what we will do.
But it all came to shite. Which prompts Bacevich to say:
One of the questions emerging from the Iraq debacle must be this one: Why did liberation at gunpoint yield results that differed so radically from what the war’s advocates had expected? Or, to sharpen the point, How did preventive war undertaken by ostensibly the strongest military in history produce a cataclysm?
Not one of your colleagues from the Bush Administration possesses the necessary combination of honesty, courage, and wit to answer these questions.
And they haven’t been pressed on it, either.
A lot of lefties still regard Bush, Cheney – Wolfowitz – as war criminals, or the equivalent thereof. But what I have wanted is a legitimate mea culpa from these people – an admission, and an actual recognition, that the Iraq war was wrong, it was always going to end in the failure it did, that we were too optimistic going in, that war is the last thing that goes according to plan. It was, to steal the term from the documentary that aired on Rachel Maddow’s show, hubris. Pure and simple.
But beyond that, it was the bridge too far. A truly conservative nation never would have gone out on a limb with speculative, “preventative” war. And in doing so – and in putting it on the credit card, not paying for it as we went along – we screwed ourselves. We gave the country a nice little shove down the far side of the bell curve so many of us perceive to be slaloming down.
War in Iraq didn’t shore up or prove the legitimacy of our hegemony. It undermined it, in every way possible.
Has Wolfowitz learned? I wouldn’t bank on it. Have the average Americans who howled at the Dixie Chicks, munched on “freedom fries” and sneered when Bush spoke beneath that “Mission Accomplished” banner learned? I hope some of them have, anyway. Others, well, you reap what you sow. Too bad all of us had to reap what a loud and insistent few sowed.