The best indicator that the current Iraq policy has failed is that in the US, many former gung-ho and giddy war advocates have now decided that the war was a mistake and are now desperately casting around for excuses and planning where to lay the blame. And as they do, the policy itself descends into incoherence as people start making different claims about the causes for the war, the current status, and the reasons for the setbacks.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is always sensitive to which way the wind is blowing, said last week that “We’re on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working.” The Washington Post reported on October 5, 2006 that “The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee [Senator John Warner] yesterday offered a stark assessment of the situation in Iraq after a trip there this week, saying that parts of the country have taken “steps backwards” and that the United States is at risk of losing the campaign to control an increasingly violent Baghdad.” And a senior US State Department official said in an interview with al-Jazeera on October 23, 2006 that the world was “witnessing failure in Iraq” and that “I think there is great room for strong criticism, because without doubt, there was arrogance and stupidity by the United States in Iraq.” Although the last person later said that he had “seriously misspoken,” it is clear that he must have been representing a significant point of view within the government.
The always astute commentator Billmon analyses the latest moves by the Bush administration to deflect attention from its Iraq failures by commissioning a “study group” headed by former Secretary of State James Baker to come up with “options” but even Baker characterizes the situation in Iraq as a “helluva mess.” Billmon finds that the leaks from the Baker group provide a good example of the vapidity of the current “debate” about what to do about Iraq.
This is just one of the more extreme example of the mental silliness that, in extremis, seems to have grabbed the entire American foreign policy elite by the brain stem. It’s an exercise in sputtering incoherence, in which people who’ve spent most of their professional lives rehearsing their talking points in the green room suddenly discover they have absolutely nothing meaningful to say. But the media echo chamber abhors a vacuum every bit as much as nature does, and so we’re getting a lot of verbiage that basically adds up to nothing.
This nothing is then labeled “the Iraq policy debate.”
The current debate as to whether the US should “stay the course” or “cut and run” is obsolete. New York Times columnist Frank Rich argues that perhaps the decision to leave Iraq has already been made and that it is being held off until the elections in order to avoid harming Republican candidates. I am not so sure. After all, the only things that seem to be still on schedule in Iraq are the building by the US of the world’s largest embassy and permanent military bases. Those do not look to me like the actions of a government that is about to leave soon. In fact, on this issue there is evidence to take Bush at his word and I am confident that he is committed to staying there until his term of office ends and make it even harder for his successor to withdraw. When Bush talks about “completing the job” in Iraq, the job he is referring to is his presidency, not anything concerning “victory” in Iraq, whatever that might mean.
But what is clear is that as far as the pundits are concerned, they are now past discussing “cut and run” or “stay the course” and are clearly in the “run and blame” stage.
Perhaps the most brazen attempts at rewriting history come from those pro-war agitating pundits who now have come around to the idea that the war was a mistake. While they grudgingly concede that they were wrong about the war, they are now faced with the problem that they don’t want to concede that the people who opposed the war from the beginning were right. They have thus begun this elaborate choreographed dance designed essentially to make the case that that although the war has not turned out the way they predicted it would, they were yet right earlier when they supported the war and are also right now when they think it is a bad idea, while those who opposed the war from the outset were wrong then and are still wrong now.
In other words, these armchair warriors claim that they were wrong for the right reasons while those of us who opposed the war were right for the wrong reasons. They assert that they have now come around to thinking it was a bad idea after carefully weighing the facts, while those of us who always thought it was a bad idea are simply irrational oppositionists.
The reason for this carefully staged turnaround is so that when they begin beating the drums of war for the next country on the list to be invaded (Iran? North Korea? Syria?), they will once again be taken as “serious” analysts whose words should be listened to. They are trying to achieve this turnabout by rewriting history and ascribing facts and opinions to their opponents in order to support their position.
For example, some warmongers try to ignore the rationale that was originally given for the invasion of Iraq, that it was on the verge of unleashing mushroom clouds of nuclear weapons. Instead we are now told that the invasion was a noble attempt at bringing democracy to that Middle Eastern country. This changed rationale allows them to portray themselves as advocates for expanding democracy and freedom and to falsely characterize those who opposed the war as people who had contempt for the people of Iraq and either did not care about their democratic rights or condescendingly felt that Iraqis were not ready for democracy.
If some person brings up the pesky question of the missing WMDs, this is responded to by saying that “everyone believed that Iraq had WMDs” and that it was a genuine and universal mistake caused by receiving “faulty intelligence.” Thus they themselves cannot be personally faulted. They like to think of themselves as hard-headed realists who were misled by faulty intelligence while antiwar activists are portrayed as naïve and clueless peaceniks who do not really understand sophisticated ideas of geopolitics, terrorism, intelligence gathering and foreign policy but just happened to be right about WMDs by accident.
Take for example, one-time war enthusiast Jonah Goldberg. He has now made an about-face and wrote on October 19, 2006:
The Iraq war was a mistake.
I know, I know. But I’ve never said it before. And I don’t enjoy saying it now. I’m sure that to the antiwar crowd this is too little, too late, and that’s fine because I’m not joining their ranks anyway.
. . .
Truth is truth. And the Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003.
Bt the main point of his column is not to apologize for his past support and advocacy for a disastrous policy that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives but to assert that those who argued against the war were wrong! I like the phrase “truth is truth” because he then goes on to make a series of false statement about those who opposed the war. The first one is his failure to acknowledge that many of us did know then what he claims he only got to know now.
He ignores the fact that there was plenty of evidence that there were no WMDs to be found. Scott Ritter, a member of the inspection team, had been saying so repeatedly. UN weapons inspection chief Hans Blix had found nothing and his reports had said so. Colin Powell’s speech at the UN with his “evidence” had been examined immediately by the overseas press and his claims about the aluminum tubes and Iraq’s biological weapons capabilities and factories had been widely discounted in the rest of the world. This was well known and understood by large numbers of people.
Let us also not forget that millions of people worldwide took to the streets to oppose the war. They were not simply mindless peaceniks. They were people who rightly felt that either the war was wrong on grounds of law and morality or that no convincing evidence had been provided that Iraq was an imminent threat or both.
In the debate over the Iraq invasion, it is clear that it was the antiwar forces who were the hard-headed realists, and the pro-war forces who were living in a world of delusion, creating stories they wanted to believe to justify actions they wanted to take.
They should not be allowed to rewrite that history to serve their ends.
Next: Painting antiwar activists as mere partisans
POST SCRIPT: Lancet study of Iraqi deaths
Les Roberts, one of the lead authors of the Lancet study that found over 600,000 Iraqi deaths as a result of the invasion answers questions about the study.