- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

The Delusions of Iraq War Hawks

David Brooks made a revealing comment in an interview [1] with Charlie Rose last week (starts around 37:00):

And Iraq was Iraq, and it didn’t work out. But at least it was a belief in essential progress [bold mine-DL]– that history is not just an endless war of all against all, but a common march toward a more common future.

I suppose this is as close to an admission of error as one is likely to get from most Iraq war supporters, but this is a remarkable refusal to rethink any of the assumptions of the pro-war position. Brooks says that “it didn’t work out,” as if it was merely accidental that waging aggressive war against another country didn’t produce the desired results. Earlier in the interview he is lauding the virtues of the “liberal global order,” but he doesn’t seem to understand that waging preventive war against another state represents a violent attack on and subversion of that very order.

Many Iraq war advocates indulged unrealistic and ideological fantasies of what would happen after the invasion, but the war didn’t happen because of a “belief in essential progress.” (That wouldn’t have made the war any less unjust, but it simply isn’t true.) The motivation behind the invasion was an irrational fear of a foreign threat that was wildly exaggerated in the minds of the war’s supporters. The war was the product of panicked overreaction, dishonest claims, and shoddy reasoning. Above all, it was the product of having enormous military strength and no compunctions against using it against a much weaker country. Continuing to insist on the supposedly high-minded reasons for launching an illegal war almost fifteen years after the fact shows that many hawkish supporters of the Iraq war still won’t accept that the war was a massive blunder and terrible crime.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "The Delusions of Iraq War Hawks"

#1 Comment By Liam On November 14, 2017 @ 9:30 am

Brooks is fundamentally resistant to seeing his own punditry as part of the problem of which he complains. So he has a tick of introducing a distancing maneuver to avoid have to see that reality.

#2 Comment By SteveM On November 14, 2017 @ 9:43 am

Agree 100%. David Brooks being occasionally insightful is like a broken watch that is right twice a day.

Moreover re: “but a common march toward a more common future.”

Great pick up. A blatant example of Elite arrogance, hubris and conceit. I.e., the Elites define the common future for disparate cultures regardless of their values and then organize a common march (war) to shove it down their throats using other people’s blood and treasure.

The quintessential monument to Washington/Pentagon Elite arrogance is the massive American embassy in Baghdad. Ostensibly the nerve center of the common future imposition overseen by them. The last Americans out of Iraq should be a demolition team that blows up that monstrosity as a symbolic rejection of warped American exceptionalism.

#3 Comment By Winston On November 14, 2017 @ 10:26 am

Everything is following the Yinon Plan quite well. Look it up. The only real counter to western and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East is an adversary’s possession of nuclear weapons. Nations embroiled in bitter civil wars can’t develop nuclear weapons. If the overthrow of a dictator happens to result in an extremely unlikely representative democracy replacing him that’s simply icing on the cake. All in all, a quite Machiavellian plan, but that’s realpolitik for you.

#4 Comment By “elites” and commissars On November 14, 2017 @ 10:29 am

“And Iraq was Iraq, and it didn’t work out. But at least it was a belief in essential progress – that history is not just an endless war of all against all, but a common march toward a more common future.”

Or, as Lazar Kaganovitch put it, “Why wail over broken eggs when we are trying to make an omelette!”

#5 Comment By cka2nd On November 14, 2017 @ 11:32 am

“The motivation behind the invasion was an irrational fear of a foreign threat that was wildly exaggerated in the minds of the war’s supporters. The war was the product of panicked overreaction, dishonest claims, and shoddy reasoning.”

Aside from the dishonest claims and shoddy reasoning, I don’t think this explains why Rumsfeld, Cheney and the neo-cons, the actual architects of the drive to war, were so hot to invade Iraq. Did they really fear Saddam Hussein and Iraq that much, on behalf of the U.S., Israel or our Arab clients? Was the invasion a product of panic or overreaction, or of a long-term desire to invade the country for which 9/11 served as a convenient casus belli?

“Above all, it was the product of having enormous military strength and no compunctions against using it against a much weaker country.”

This gets to why the war hawks felt that they could accomplish their goals, but it still doesn’t explain why Iraq was the desired target, as opposed to Afghanistan, for instance.

#6 Comment By IndependentMan On November 14, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

How much talking heads like Brooks should carry the blame for the baffling stupidity of the Iraq regime change effort is questionable. I remember General Powell and former President Clinton expressing support for the war. I remember major news media outlets like CNN and Fox whipping up the winds of war. Brooks is an intellectual, a journalist, whose thoughts are followed by people Daniel Larison, myself, and others who care about these issues. He hardly sets the agenda.

That said, the media machines, pundits and politicians who got our nation involved in Iraq can have their hindsight sentiments, like Mr. Brooks does. I’d like my friends and my fellow soldiers back, those whose lives were spent up, ended or ruined in these conflicts. The election of Trump shows that the American people, and that includes many veterans of that conflict, want to see the leaders of the ’00s and mainstream intelligentsia make a penitence more than losing face on the public stage. They want them gone.

#7 Comment By Donald (the left leaning one) On November 14, 2017 @ 12:40 pm

“How much talking heads like Brooks should carry the blame for the baffling stupidity of the Iraq regime change effort is questionable.”

No one would assign primary blame to them. But secondary blame? Sure. You can argue about how much, because the rest of my claims depend on imagining what might have happened. Imagine some parallel universe where most pundits on TV and in the press subjected the prowar arguments to withering scrutiny on a daily basis. Instead, for the most part the press and the pundits went along or only expressed mild misgivings. In the parallel universe opposition by pundits might have encouraged others to question the prowar claims, and there might have been more willingness on the part of some politicians to stand up to the Bush Administration.

In other words, imagine a universe where most pundits thought and reasoned like Daniel Larison. Suppose they had a wide audience. I think that could have made some difference. Bush might have gone ahead anyway, but there would have been more opposition from the Democrats and a few Republicans than there was.

#8 Comment By jk On November 14, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

“Iraq was Iraq.” Wow, another callous neocon chickenhawk that sits behind his desk and fantasizes about grand strategy, social engineering experiments, goes to Davos, and snubs his nose in his business class as he flies over Trump voter land, go figure. We did something is the logic. The appearance of doing something is the worst reason to do something.

Nothing about the 500,000+ killed or missing Iraqis, let alone $5tn+ us dollars burned, and thousands of US service members killed, and plethora of knock on effects we are still “cleaning up” and may never extricate ourselves from because it “is our duty.”

This is the epitome of the interchangeable “Centrist” Democrats/Neocons/Neolib – and it’s people like him and putrefaction of the DNC are the reason Trump could win 2020.

#9 Comment By jk On November 14, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

It’s also empty suits and no skin in the game talkers like him that lead to the mass distrust of the “elites” and the MSM.

I do not care much about blind anti-intellectualism but I don’t blame them for the spite of the “elites.”

#10 Comment By JessicaR On November 14, 2017 @ 12:58 pm

Daniel Larison, thank you for writing this piece.

Yes, Independent Man, I agree with you that Trump’s election was in large part a reaction to the terrible foreign policy of mainstream politicians who pursued their own agenda–campaign contributions and political support from war hawks?–at the expense of working class Americans who paid the real price.

I don’t know if you remember Hillary Clinton’s comment after her pro-war vote? Something like “My vote for war was really a vote for peace.” SHe argued that a pro-war vote would force Saddam to negotiate. I read it as a cynical attempt to play both sides of an issue.

The trouble with her claim was that a high-ranking Iraqi defected during her husband’s presidency and told the CIA in his debriefings that Hussein had destroyed his WMD. In other words, she had no doubt known the WMD claim was a lie. She also declined to read an intelligence report casting doubt on the WMD claim, even though she was urged to do so by Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time.

Even though I have serious disagreements with Trump over the wall and a few other issues, I prefer him to her.

I do believe, though, that a writer of Brook’s prominence and papers like the NYT and WaPo may not set the agenda but they manipulate the public into accepting it. That gives Brooks some major responsibility for what happened.

#11 Comment By Cynthia McLean On November 14, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

Don’t forget the OIL. $$$$$$$$

#12 Comment By JefeTex On November 14, 2017 @ 2:17 pm

There appear to have been at least three, probably four, reasons for the invasion of Iraq. (1) to convince Middle Eastern states to lend their police and intelligence organizations to the war on terror by; (2) making an example of the most prominent anti-US Arab regime in the region. Next, control of Iraq by a US-aligned regime would put most world oil outside Venezuela, Russia and Iran under the control of the US or its allies. Finally, I think there was also (4) a deliberate attempt to undermine the post-1945 entrenchment of international law as a restraint on the actions of the great powers — this norm favors weaker and smaller states and constrains US interests.

#13 Comment By Patrick D On November 14, 2017 @ 2:32 pm

“Don’t forget the OIL. $$$$$$$$”

Economic determinism arguments are exaggerated.

While it is always good to ask who benefits, the answer to that question alone is insufficient. While greed is a strong motivator, it is pale in comparison to the desire for power and messianic American exceptionalism. The combination is mighty heady stuff.

Here is link to a list of international oil companies in Iraq. Of the list of 21 companies, only 2 are American and one of those pulled out in 2016. Also note that the list includes companies from more than a few countries that opposed the war.

[2]

#14 Comment By b. On November 14, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

“a common march toward a more common future”

At gunpoint. One can still hear the beat of rubberstomping jackboots in Congress today, and it ain’t echoes.

“The motivation behind the invasion was an irrational fear of a foreign threat that was wildly exaggerated in the minds of the war’s supporters. The war was the product of panicked overreaction, dishonest claims, and shoddy reasoning.”

I reject this. Hysteria might have been the motivation of a population embracing its own victimhood while abdicating its responsibilities as citizens – own your blowback – but it was not true of the various Perpetrators in Chief.

Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice et.al. were very much aware that Iraq was not a threat at that time – if it had been, they would have attacked it in the same manner they attacked North Korea. There is no way that Powell did not know that his “phialandering” in front of the UN was nothing but a con. I know that the Ignorance Dodge is making a comeback – if only the President had known – but it does not hold. Too many of these individuals expected to profit personally from this “short and victorious” war, and too many did despite the cost to others.

The Bush Doctrine itself laid out clearly the rationale for preventive war, i.e. war against a nation that, by definition, has yet to become a threat.

The motivations were profit, whether financially or politically or both. It was the next step in disaster capitalism – do not wait for the crisis, engineer it. The entire undertaking of Operation Iraqi Liberation was based on the assumption that swift victory was certain, and plunder guaranteed. That was the bipartisan consensus, a resounding “Yes we can” to the new age of American unilateralism, to impunity of purpose, to the “unipolar” moment – the moment in which the US neoconlib elites pushed so far up their own “unipole” they could no longer see the light if they cared.

These guys were fearless. Greed, I say. Hubris. Incompetence, I grant. Ignorance, not. Idiots, as they say, will try anything. That’s how we know they are idiots. But not all idiots are unaccountable for their actions. Let us not forget the sophistication of idiocy on display in Congress, to this very day.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 14, 2017 @ 6:04 pm

That B. good.

#16 Comment By Hexexis On November 14, 2017 @ 7:02 pm

“But at least it was a belief in essential progress”

A belief not limited to Iraq war hawks but spread thruout the political spectrum, despite its ceremonious burial in 1991: Christopher Lasch, The True & Only Heaven: Progress & Its Critics. Brooks et al. live in what Lasch called “educated insularity.”

#17 Comment By Dan Green On November 15, 2017 @ 9:22 am

The last war we won was WW 2. Haven’t won one since. Wars are always marketed as protecting our interest. Now that is being questioned.

#18 Comment By Annab On November 15, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

I was there. American media portrayed the French for abstaining in the Iraq war to the point that they wanted to change the name of the French Quarter in New Orleans to something non-french! We do not have the right to have pre-emptive war based on our “perhaps knowledge” of something detrimental to us.

#19 Comment By TR On November 17, 2017 @ 12:02 am

I agree with “B” but JefeTex’s fourth point above is a new one for me and profoundly disturbing. I think Cheney, for from being disturbed, could have made it a positive talking point and perhaps did in off-limits circles.

#20 Comment By Josep On November 18, 2017 @ 5:11 am

@Annab
George W Bush called himself a Christian, but based on his actions, he openly proved himself to be anything but. It makes me so angry to see how a large population of a well-respected nation known for the words “freedom and justice for all” would be unable to see through the racist, Francophobic BS being churned out by the American media.
Had I been an adult in America at the time, I would’ve fled to a country that didn’t do this. Japan, the Czech Republic, Singapore and Panama come to mind, since the governments in those countries didn’t bash America like those of France, Germany and Belgium did. (correct me if I’m wrong, though)

P.S. How did the writers here at TAC cope with all the Francophobia in the American media during the Iraq War?