Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Zealots

Reflections on reading (and reading about):

Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War
by Michael Isikoff & David Corn

The Assassin’s Gate: America in Iraq
by George Packer

State of Denial
by Bob Woodward

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
by Thomas Ricks

I am currently making my way through a number of books on the run up and execution of the war in Iraq. So far I've made it through Hubris and Packer's fine and balanced book. I've also read several closely argued review essays on these books.

I find myself despairing that I don’t have the pen or the wit of a Swift or a Twain or an Ambrose Bierce. Certainly the story of our engagement with Iraq, so well documented factually in the books listed above, now demands to be distilled into the most acid satire to be truly assimilated.

The only answer to Bush’s war and the fraudulent run-up to it is well-aimed, cruelly contrived ridicule. Unfortunately, my talents, whatever they are, certainly do not incline in that direction, so you will have to be content with contempt.

But it is not as if my contempt for this enterprise is a foregone conclusion. I was coolly supportive of the first war in Iraq, which put the moral contradictions of many on the left so prominently on display (at least for me). And I have always been willing to at least entertain the notion of enforced regime change in Iraq as a humanitarian measure. (For once the Pandora’s box of change was opened, who knew what would happen—this certainly could be nothing better than a dice-roll in terms of national interest. That was obvious even to a casual observer.)

And certainly I am not opposed to using our military strength in ways that will make us safer, though in my opinion figuring out what that might be is pretty difficult.

But Bush and company lost me from the get-go with their war on Iraq. They obviously had no stomach for the hard work of anticipating consequences themselves, and nothing but contempt and hostility for those that did. Their starry-eyed visions of a sophisticated, democratic Iraq struck me as astonishingly na├»ve (surely no one actually believed that clap-trap!?); and their visions of Iraq as threat always struck me as paranoiac and/or transparently manipulative. In fact, Bush’s case for war had all the qualities of a case made entirely a posteriori, after the decision had already been made.

But what truly lay behind that decision? Some knowledge too secret, too terrible, too subtle or sensitive for mortal ears? Though some Republican loyalists grasp to this belief as some Catholics do to their mysteries, after reading these books I have no doubt that the real reasons behind the war are even more stupid, more bankrupt, and more tragicomical than the stated reasons. That’s the only thing that’s kept them secret.

If any political or moral advantage were to be gained from some hidden motive for the war, Karl Rove or some similarly ruthless political operative (in which this administration abounds) would have long since leaked the information to the press, regardless of the consequences. Since they haven’t we can feel safe that if there are any hidden reasons for war, they are not honorable and probably not rational (Pace, “blood for oil” conspiracists, who make the fatal error of half-believing the administrations press releases. The nasty truth behind the “Harvard Business School administration” is not the evil manipulative genius (if only it were so!). It is the evil manipulative incompetent.)

A reading of these books delivers a hammer-blow to anyone who believes either that this war was justified or that it was just another example of self-dealing on high. This war is deeply stupid, the process that brought it to us was often opaque and merely arbitrary where it wasn’t opaque, and the execution of the war was beyond criminal, it was insane according to the classic definition (“doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”).

The men most responsible for bringing us to the place where we are today—standing around waiting for the civil war to really get rolling—ought to be exposed, rooted out from public positions of responsibility and exposed to the contempt and ridicule of the public at large, even if that ridicule never rises to the Swiftian standards of acidity the occasion requires.

Am I calling for a witch hunt? Well, yes, perhaps I am. But in this case there are witches out there—the idiots who led us here, who lied and concealed and punished the bearers of inconvenient truth; those who sent our soldiers off to fight a war they hadn’t bother to think through; those who lived in comfortable denial about Iraq as thousands perished—these men and women have mostly been richly rewarded by the administration and it’s private industry cronies.

It’s long since past time to flush them out through some judicious but aggressively run, no-holds-barred congressional hearings. The nation and the people who serve it have been gravely injured by the arrogance, duplicity and outright stupidity of these people, and if this were a different era they’d have their foreheads branded with a scarlet N. Not for "neo-conservative," but for "nincompoop." Or perhaps "Never again."

We live in a more civilized era, but we should settle for nothing less than a purge of these people, their self-righteousness, their know-nothing attitude, their contempt for inconvenient facts and their Dilettante-ish fantasies from the government and policy circles. Such people should never again be given the opportunity to serve this country as they have served us over the last five years, and any academic institution, think-tank, or lobbying group that employs them should be an object of contempt.

For years now, government secrecy has been driven primarily by fear of embarrassment rather than fears for our security, and it is time to have a hard look at the abuses and frauds that have been perpetrated upon us in the name of safety.

If you feel differently, I invite you to take up my reading program. None of these guys are peace-niks. Some of them quite the opposite. And the picture you get of our predicament and how we got here is nothing short of infuriating. I think you will quickly agree it is time to start turning over some rocks.