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We Don’t Need To Hear From Any Iraq War Hawks

Jonathan Chait is partly right here, but his observations are not as significant as he seems to think they are:

Providing air strikes, aid, and intelligence coordination to a government that has requested it may or may not be a good idea. (I’m undecided, leaning against.) It is not the same thing as invading and occupying a country. Indeed, the ideological fault lines of the current debate aren’t even the same [bold mine-DL]. Former Bush staffers and Iraq War champions David Frum and John Bolton have argued for a policy of non-intervention. Should they be ignored because they got Iraq wrong in 2003? The Center for American Progress is advocating air strikes. Should it be heeded?

It’s obviously true that some combination of U.S. airstrikes and military aid aren’t anything like a full-scale invasion and multi-year occupation of the country, but this doesn’t mean as much as Chait thinks. It’s also true that Bolton and Frum have made uncharacteristic arguments against military intervention in this case, but then they have done so for utterly predictable hard-line, anti-Iranian reasons. Bolton’s support for “non-intervention” in Iraq doesn’t mean anything, since he just wants to prioritizeoverthrowing the Iranian government first and then “destroying” ISIS:

Instead, our objective should be to remove the main foe, Tehran’s ayatollahs, by encouraging the opposition, within and outside Iran, to take matters into their own hands. There is no need to deploy U.S. military power to aid the various opposition forces. We should instead provide them intelligence and material assistance, and help them subsume the political differences that separate them. Their differences should be addressed when the ayatollahs’ regime lies in ashes. And as Iran’s regime change proceeds, we can destroy ISIL.

So we see here that Bolton’s so-called “non-interventionist” position is even more absurd and dangerous than the pro-intervention arguments that are currently circulating. Even when Bolton seems to be against intervention in one place, that’s only because he’s even more eager for it somewhere else. No matter what they may be saying about foreign policy at a given moment, ignoring Bolton and Frum is a good idea because their judgment has almost always been extraordinarily bad. That’s the point that Fallows et al. have been trying to make: pay no attention to people with a record of catastrophically poor judgment.

Every debate about foreign intervention over the last five years has included this observation that “X is not Iraq,” as if anyone seriously believed otherwise. Each time that opponents of intervention objected to the use of force and/or the arming of insurgents in Libya or Syria, hawks would give the reply, “No one’s calling for another invasion of Iraq!” Mind you, some people are proposing that the U.S. send some unspecified number of ground forces into Iraq, but we’re still being told that we should ignore the similarities to the pre-war debate from 2002-03 and the lessons available from the very recent American experience in that country. Regardless, comparisons with the original Iraq war debate don’t require us to believe that the proposed intervention is anything like the Iraq war. It is quite bad enough on its own. These comparisons are meant as a warning against endorsing the use of force without thinking through the consequences, which is one of the consistent bad habits of knee-jerk interventionists in every debate. They are also meant to remind us that interventionists routinely exaggerate threats in order to frighten people into supporting military action. This is happening again. For example, the Cheneys describe ISIS’ control of territory in Iraq as “a strategic threat to the security of the United States.” This is ridiculously wrong, as is everything they say that follows. Chait writes:

We shouldn’t disregard Dick Cheney’s arguments about Iraq because he’s Dick Cheney. We should disregard them because they’re stupid.

Well, yes. So Chait agrees that the Cheneys should “shut up,” or at least that everyone should ignore them, but just wants to phrase it in another way. That isn’t because Chait isn’t thinking about the problem, but because he has thought about it enough to know that Cheney and his daughter have zero credibility.

The truth is that we’re hearing a lot of the same alarmist and misleading rhetoric from hawks that we heard twelve years ago. Many of the loudest proponents of military action are the very same people responsible for launching and running the Iraq war and the people that cheered them on in the media. They continue to be taken only too seriously when they speak on foreign policy issues. Their contribution to the debate so far has been almost wholly pernicious, and I doubt it is likely to improve as time goes by. In any case, it’s not as if unrepentant Iraq war hawks are ever going to “shut up.” Contra Beinart, there is absolutely no danger that any of them are going to “written out of the debate.” Unfortunately, the danger as always is that these people will define the terms of the debate and drive it in their direction simply being the loudest and most shameless participants.

Chait is mostly wrong that “the ideological fault lines” aren’t the same. He can find some liberals that are pro-intervention now that were against the war, and he has identified a handful of hard-liners that were all for the war and now don’t want a new intervention (albeit for extremely hard-line reasons). Chait is an example of a previously pro-war liberal that now claims to be more skeptical about using force in Iraq. Nonetheless, overall the fault lines are depressingly familiar. Neoconservatives, liberal hawks, and more than a few “centrists” will loudly demand action while the rest of us marvel at how these people still have any influence in the wake of one policy failure after another.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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