It’s depressing to read Tom Nichols try to rationalize the Iraq War and excuse its supporters (like himself). Nichols even realizes, to some degree, the exceptional mess that the Bush administration created.
I supported the war, just as I supported the 1991 war. […]
Nonetheless, we screwed up the execution beyond belief. I have spent ten years in classrooms with many of the men and women who saw it first-hand, some of whom paid dearly for the arrogance of Rumsfeld and others. I am continually stunned by what I hear, and I can only agree with Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who often said: “There were 500 ways to do it wrong, and two or three ways to do it right. What I we didn’t understand was that we were going to go through all 500.”
But (in the comments):
My point, exactly, is that many liberals and many academics cannot think clearly about the Gulf War because they are obsessed with Bush. If that’s the “focus” you’ve noted, then I’m pleased that you understood the post.
Who, in the run-up to the Iraq War would have believed that Bush, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, and the rest of that clown car, had the ability, the intelligence, the knowledge or the sense of duty and humility to organize a cup of coffee, let alone a massive war and occupation in the Middle East - of all places?
Q: Don, why did you put ant-poison in the coffee?
A: You go with the granulated white powder you have, not with the granulated white powder you might want.
Doug Feith, the man Norman Schwarzkopf said was the stupidest person in the world. And Dick Cheney - did anyone read Schwarzkopfs book? And why would anyone trust the “experts” who trusted our soldiers to these people ever again? I can remember, so clearly, in the run-up to the war, feeling a terrible sense of horror as the media, the pundits, and the experts almost unanimously cheered for the catastrophe that unfolded just as many of us predicted. I can also remember wishing fervently to be surprised - wishing to see a success, one that would show my forebodings to be the product of error and ignorance. Maybe things would go brilliantly or even not disastrously and I could, shamefaced and happy, just work on my business and leave politics to the smart people. But no, things worked out as every clear eyed observer said it would.
Zinni says Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time - with the wrong strategy. And he was saying it before the U.S. invasion. In the months leading up to the war, while still Middle East envoy, Zinni carried the message to Congress: “This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don’t feel it needs to be done now.”
But he wasn’t the only former military leader with doubts about the invasion of Iraq. Former General and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Centcom Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, former NATO Commander Wesley Clark, and former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki all voiced their reservations.
Zinni believes this was a war the generals didn’t want – but it was a war the civilians wanted.
"I can’t speak for all generals, certainly. But I know we felt that this situation was contained. Saddam was effectively contained. The no-fly, no-drive zones. The sanctions that were imposed on him," says Zinni.
"Now, at the same time, we had this war on terrorism. We were fighting al Qaeda. We were engaged in Afghanistan. We were looking at ‘cells’ in 60 countries. We were looking at threats that we were receiving information on and intelligence on. And I think most of the generals felt, let’s deal with this one at a time. Let’s deal with this threat from terrorism, from al Qaeda."
And even yet, here’s Tom Nichols
My own theory is that intellectuals hated Bush not for what he did, but for who he was. Specifically, they hated him because he didn’t care about them. It’s important to remember that many people espouse politics as a form of self-actualization: they choose political positions based on what they think those positions say about themselves to others: “I support Obamacare because I love the poor, and that makes me a good person, and certainly a better person than you,” or “I hate gay marriage because Jesus loves me more than you and I’m going to Heaven.” Sanctimony is always the dread companion of political conviction.
This is really sad and sadly unreflective - talk about “sanctimony”. Perhaps some of us are “obsessed” about Bush because he sent our soldiers off to fight so lightly, so carelessly, without armour, without a plan, with Ayn Rand groupies sitting in air conditioned palaces in the Green Zone while multiple tour “stop-loss” troops endured the aftermath of Operation Grand Fuck Up. Perhaps Dr. Nichols psycho-analysis is misplaced, and his obsession with the motives of people who detest Bush and Rummie and the rest of the neo-con cranks for what they did to America is a feeble attempt to deflect blame. Anyone can play at this game.
Actually, the point is that, in all of human history, if you grant the government surveillance powers, it will use them and, in using them, expand them, and it will end up using them on its own citizens simply because that is always the path of least resistance. This is why James Otis got all up in the king’s grill about the Writs Of Assistance. This is also why we have the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. It’s not because of what British soldiers already had done in Boston and in Philadelphia. It was about what, if they weren’t stopped by the force of law, they then would do later on. Hysterical Charles Pierce
Well, that’s a hilarious summary of human history, but let’s take a look at the 4th Amendment, presuming Charles means the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
If you read this long paragraph very very carefully, you will find that it does not forbid surveillance. In fact, the Amendment is written in the cheery assumption that the government (the gubmint, in Libertarianese), will be able to search places and seize persons or things! OH MY GOD! THE CONSTITUTION IS PRO-STASI! Here’s the thing, Chuck, if I can call you Chuck. Only nutballs and libertarians think that the government should not be permitted policing powers (Libertarians only support police states operated by private corporations or feudal masters who they can grovel to). And most of us over the age of 4 realize that abuses of those powers can happen, in fact, do happen. That’s why we have procedural safeguards. That’s why the 4th amendment says “unreasonable searches and seizures” not “any searches and seizures”. Because most of us think in this evil world the cops should be able to find kiddie porn on the computers of Republican Congressional aides, or decode messages from Mexican drug gangs or even listen on on Al Qeda conversations. And once you go from silly purity to only permitting surveillance under law, using proper safeguards and stuff, you should stop shrieking “I’M BEING OPPRESSED” and fucking try to make sense. Is that too hard?
For nearly seven decades, American efforts in the Middle East have been based on a bipartisan consensus—one of the few to be found in U.S. foreign policy—aimed at limiting Moscow’s influence in that region. This is a core interest of American foreign policy: it reflects the strategic importance of the region to us and to our allies, as well as the historical reality Russia has continually sought clients there who would oppose both Western interests and ideals. In less than a week, an unguarded utterance by a U.S. Secretary of State has undone those efforts Tom Nichols, John R. Schindler September 16, 2013, National Interest
What does it mean that a 70+ year bipartisan consensus implemented at the cost of trillions of dollars and millions of lives (dead, wounded, refugees) could be “undone” with a single statement from the U.S. Secretary of State? It means that America’s effort to pick up the imperial mantle from the Brits after WWII has been built on the sands, and only now, under the Obama Administration, are we considering US national interest in place of imperial interest.
Because “limiting Moscow’s influence” is not a coherent policy or a policy that can lead to any positive outcome. It is based on the imperial assumption that the people and governments of the Middle East don’t have interests of their own, but are ready to be suborned by opponents in the imagined Great Game. As a result of this policy, the USA has repeatedly allied itself with dictators, crooks, religious fanatics - and then repeatedly found out that those “governments” are not actually friendly, reliable, or even stable. We crushed every attempt at reform and then were shocked to see the reform movements become hostile to the United States.
The human catastrophe in Syria is fueled by money from our client states on the Persian Gulf - who are also buying power for fanatics in Libya and elsewhere - and by the mess we created in Iraq. From the overthrow of a reformist government in Iran in 1953 by the CIA, to our support for SAVAK, to Brzeznski’s short sighted fatal alliance with Mullahs in Afghanistan to our financing of the Mubarak regime, the US government’s “bipartisan consensus” has been both a moral failure and disaster for US interests. In the long run, the prosperity of the United States is not dependent on whether “Moscow” has influence in the Middle East at all.
Imagine that our human rights President, Jimmy Carter, and Brzezinski had not funded a bunch of superstitious, oppressive, heroin smuggling, theocrats and warlords in Afghanistan and had, instead, allowed Communist Afghans to carry out the land reform that so offended our “allies”. In this alternative history, there would be no Al Qeda. Pakistan would have a secular state on its western border and the unrest in its tribal areas would have been from peasants wanting the same land and liberty that their brothers had on the other side of the pass. Or it could have turned out worse - that seems likely. But one doesn’t have to imagine the Soviets had good intentions or would get a good result to suspect that setting up the Saudi/Gulf-States, Pakistani ISI/ Jihadi network was not a great idea.
Read Brzesinski’s memo to Carter. It has all the same themes we find in Nichols and Schindler: the need to demonstrate “resolve”, the unexamined theory that opposing “Moscow” was obviously important, a marked lack of interest in how local conditions would affect results and a kind of domain expert short sightedness about global effects - by which I do not mean geopolitical chess games. What I mean is that these “experts” did not stop to consider what long term interests of the prosperity and security of the United States might involve or how tradeoffs work. Brezezinski did not even suggest to Carter that maybe in the long run Pakistan might be destabilized by a stronger ISI running a theocrat militia in Afghanistan or that the cost of funding the anti-soviet army might pay for enough oil independence to reduce America’s worries about the Middle East and certainly there was no discussion of what path might create the least human suffering and devastation. These things were outside scope - because “limiting Moscow’s influence in that region” was a “bipartisan consensus” and there was no need to rexamine goals.
When we read that “we must oppose Y’s influence in X” the question to ask is: why? What do we get out of it? What danger are we averting by, e.g. hastening the collapse of Russia’s ally in Syria and its replacement by Quatari funded fanatics? In some cases, the US definitely has an interest in stepping in - I don’t deny that. Neither do I suppose that Putin has good intentions or that lambs will lie down with lions and not get eaten. But if our experts on foreign policy are going to command some of the respect they think they deserve, they need to make a case that goes beyond reflexive great power gamesmanship.