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Why It’s a Waste of Time To Listen to Iraq War Hawks

Peter Beinart makes [1] an odd argument:

Part of the rationale for giving people who got Iraq wrong last time the chance to explain why this intervention is different is that they may be right. Supporting the Iraq invasion was an unusually big mistake, but sooner or later, almost everyone who offers opinions about war makes mistakes. Ted Kennedy opposed overthrowing Manuel Noriega. Colin Powell opposed the Gulf War, as did most Democrats in Congress. Jimmy Carter thought it such a bad idea that he urged other nations to reject authorization for force at the UN. Michael Moore opposed NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo.

This list is revealing, but not in the way Beinart intends. Beinart takes for granted that pretty much every other modern military intervention before the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do, and so assumes opponents were badly mistaken. There are two rather glaring problems with this. The first is that it is not remotely obvious to anyone except consistently hawkish interventionists that invading Panama and bombing Serbia were the right things to do. Insofar as both of them helped pave the way for the later, more costly illegal war in Iraq, they did real harm to the U.S. Because neither was actually necessary for U.S. security, it was wrong for the U.S. to resort to force in these countries. Kosovo arguably provided a pretext for later Russian interference in its near abroad, and the war in 1999 demonstrated that the U.S. and its allies would trample on international law when it suited them to do so. The farther we get from the debates of 1990-91, the harder it is to fault skeptics for their caution and reluctance. While it may have been justifiable and legal to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, it is also the case that the war embarked the U.S. on a course of twenty years of sanctioning, bombing, and eventually invading the country. As the current debate shows, the U.S. is still in danger of being pulled back in. The costs of our Iraq policy over the last two decades have been enormous, which makes it fair to wonder if the skeptics in the early ’90s deserve a lot more credit for their caution than they usually receive.

More important, Beinart treats the Iraq war hawks’ “mistake” (colossal blunder would be more accurate) as if it were the same as the “mistakes” of opponents of previous wars, but there is almost no sense in comparing them. Interventionists routinely warn about the “costs of inaction,” but the Iraq war and the Libyan war (which Beinart also supported) show us the measurable and sometimes very steep costs of doing what they advise. The Iraq war in particular was the greatest foreign policy blunder in a generation. Surely it must count against someone more to get a major policy decision horribly wrong than to be on the “wrong” side of a more debatable and relatively minor decision.

Then there is the refusal of many Iraq war hawks to own up to what they got wrong. Many of the loudest advocates for action in Iraq today have remained either oblivious to the consequences of the policies they supported, or they actively deny responsibility for those consequences. Unlike Beinart, many Iraq war hawks have never admitted significant error. At most, they have usually retreated to the last defense of the ideologue: “The policy was sound, and it was just the execution that failed.” They haven’t repudiated their old views, and they have never taken responsibility for the failure of the policy they supported. Indeed, so delusional are some of them that they insist that the Iraq war had been “won” right up until U.S. forces left. So one of the reasons that it is appropriate to pay little or no attention to the predictably hawkish recommendations of Iraq war hawks is that they have proven to be impervious to evidence that their previous assumptions were profoundly wrong. It is impossible to take seriously arguments from people that willfully ignore their own past mistakes in analysis and judgment.

As long as Iraq war hawks pretend that recent events have somehow vindicated their old arguments, their arguments should be dismissed as the desperately self-serving claims that they are. Another reason to pay them no mind is that many of them are repeating similarly misleading arguments [2] and perpetuating false assumptions about the efficacy of hard power that led them to blunder as badly as they did twelve years ago. Having learned absolutely nothing from their failure, they have nothing to teach anyone else. They are free to say their piece, but it would be a waste of time and energy to pretend that they are saying anything worth listening to.

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21 Comments To "Why It’s a Waste of Time To Listen to Iraq War Hawks"

#1 Comment By John On June 18, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

Herein lies the great failures of media today.

– If it can’t fit on a postcard and be read aloud successfully by a middle-school student, it won’t be heard by most of the electorate (to say nothing of its elected leaders).

– All experts are treated as if their expertise were equal or their recommendations could not be questioned aside from opposing experts.

Kristol, Wolfowitz, Feith et al have made it clear that they understand this conflict as a magical external force (ISIS) that fights a rightful government, without reference to the history of ethnic-religious tension that this conflict represents. To them, it’s a matter of killing everyone wearing the ISIS team jersey so that the survivors can greet us as liberators. But something this insanely stupid has to be taken as seriously as the explanation that this is a civil war whose root causes cannot be addressed through bombing campaigns, because American media is fundamentally advertising for political positions.

#2 Comment By philadelphialawyer On June 18, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

And even many of the hawks who do, ever so grudgingly, admit that they got Iraq wrong, do so for the wrong reasons:

Glenn Beck:

“From the beginning, most people on the left were against going into Iraq. I wasn’t. At the time I believed that the United States was under threat from Saddam Hussein. I really truly believed that Saddam Hussein was funding terrorists. We knew that. He was funding the terrorists in Hamas. We knew that he was giving money. We could track that. We knew he hated us. We knew that without a shadow of a doubt. It wasn’t much or a stretch to believe that he would fund a terror strike against us, especially since he would say that. So I took him at his word.

“[…] Now, in spite of the things I felt at the time when we went into war, liberals said: We shouldn’t get involved. We shouldn’t nation-build. And there was no indication the people of Iraq had the will to be free. I thought that was insulting at the time. Everybody wants to be free. They said we couldn’t force freedom on people. Let me lead with my mistakes. You are right. Liberals, you were right. We shouldn’t have.”

I believe Thomas Friedman has made similar statements.

The problem, of course (leaving aside all the other obvious make weights and lies), is that it is simplistic bordering on idiotic (or, at least, it would be, if it was presented in good faith, which it probably isn’t) to say that the post invasion occupation of Iraq failed because Iraq or Iraqis were not “ready” for “freedom” or did not “want” to be “free.”

“Freedom,” for Iraqis, does not flow from the barrel of an American gun. Nor does it take shape on the basis of a fig leaf, Chicago-style American rigged “election” (in which the USA decides who can even run!).

It was not that “the liberals” were proven right because of their cynical (if correct) estimation of the racial, cultural or otherwise backwardness, stupidity or “ingratitude” of the Iraqis, and that the Becks and Freidmans of the world were only proven wrong, because, in their mistaken but oh so high minded innocence, in their belief in universal brotherhood, and that all men are created equal and so on and so forth, they “overestimated” the Iraqi love of “freedom.” Cuz that ain’t what happened.

The real “insult” here is to the liberals, who are put in the ungracious position of having to say, “yes, I was right, but not for the reasons you say” and to the intelligence of anyone who reads this tripe. Imperialist adventurism of the Western variety is NEVER based on a belief in the competence of the to-be-conquered non Europeans at issue. It is never undertaken for “their own good,” and it never results in their “freedom.” By definition, any nation, no matter how bad its regime, is more “free” under one of its own, who has reached power on his own (even if not democratically), than it is under Donald Rumsfeld, or his hand picked quisling successor.

And yet some would call this revisionist CYA nonsense “admirable.”

#3 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On June 18, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

Zzzzzzzing!

#4 Comment By collin On June 18, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

I highly recommend listening to the band of Iraq war leaders Kristol, Cheney, Graham & McCain. (TDS called McCain the “Johnny Rotten” of the band.) By listening to them today and comparing statements made to 10 years ago, you realize their current Iraq statements don’t make sense. Even after 9 years of war, Iraq ain’t fixed then any action is bound to be a failure.

#5 Comment By Andrew On June 18, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

Glenn Beck:

“From the beginning, most people on the left were against going into Iraq. I wasn’t.

Glenn Beck:

Education–high school, one course in theology in Yale. The end;

Military education–zero;

Military combat and operational experience–zero;

Border line suicidal and schizophrenic, struggled with alcoholism–100;

Analytical abilities–zero;

Knowledge of economics–zero;

Knowledge of geopolitics–zero;

Knowledge in any meaningful field–zero;

Behaving like a clown–100.

That pretty much sums it up. Making conclusions is, of course, left to people.

#6 Comment By Tim D. On June 18, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

Besides dealing with the war hawks, what’s really remarkable is how they’re treated with deference by the mainstream media. Few people have called the war hawks on their BS. Then again, many said journalists supported the initial invasion, too (e.g. Thomas Friedman).

What’s really disturbing is the misinformation large media expunge, especially Fox News. Local newspapers do a better job of reporting facts. Heck, even comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do a better job of informing audiences. The Iraq warmongers and journalists who pander to them live in the Fox News cocoon, where this alternative universe, alternative narrative is screwing with our ability to maintain national interests both home and abroad.

tldr – These guys are crazy!!

#7 Comment By a spencer On June 18, 2014 @ 6:36 pm

>>waste of time

as well as money and lives.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 18, 2014 @ 6:42 pm

Kosovo: no genocide

Panama: I am not sure what the point was in invading Panama to arrest one guy with who were quite complicit is aiding until he decided to go his own way. Strange that.

But your overall point here is one I can lean towards.

The examples are all assuming that those actions were wise.

And it is frustrating that admitting error while hard is a must to avoid the same in the furture – but then maybe, that just my own bitterness – desiring a mea culpa . . .

But worse is to use the same rhetroic that created the mess to say,”told you so.”

But it seems to be the style of discourse these days. “Chase me ’round this circle and when you catch me, we should be running the other direction on the same circle — we shouldn’t be on in the first place.

#9 Comment By k margos On June 18, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

Hey Andrew, at least Glen Beck like Rod Dreher, was man enough to admit he was wrong. One only hopes Beck learns from his mistake.

#10 Comment By Andrew On June 18, 2014 @ 8:24 pm

@k margos

Hey Andrew, at least Glen Beck like Rod Dreher, was man enough to admit he was wrong. One only hopes Beck learns from his mistake.

Sure, admitting a mistake is a noble thing to do, and I like Rod a lot. But how about not picking such causes as war as the subject of own public support, especially when one has the ability to reach very many? I don’t see many CIA officers or Division or Fleet Commanders commenting on the issues of brain surgery or the development of the technological norms in nuclear power plant construction. What credentials (apart from degree in journalism–which is a glorified degree in English), experience, knowledge or ability Christiane Amanpours or Glenn Becks of our world have as to state publicly their opinions on matters of war and peace in which they have only ONE role–to be merely a reporter, that is a conductor of the other people’s opinions. People die at war and then the consequences of those wars linger for decades to come but sure there will never be a personal responsibility of those who agitated for them, especially such useless wars as Iraq.

#11 Comment By tbraton On June 18, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

It’s not an original thought by me, but I was struck by an observation made by someone else during the past few days which epitomizes the absurdity of these neoconservative hawks. It was recently pointed out by someone I can’t remember (else I would give him or her credit) that these hawks were arguing back in 2002-2003 that Iraq would be a “cakewalk” and the U.S. would be out of Iraq in short order and they are now arguing that we got out of Iraq at the end of 2011 (pursuant to GW Bush’s timetable btw) much too soon. It is impossible to reconcile those two positions. I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” In this case, expressing those two thoughts is not the sign of a first-rate intelligence but of a first-rate mental illness.

#12 Comment By William Dalton On June 19, 2014 @ 2:14 am

“While it may have been justifiable and legal to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, it is also the case that the war embarked the U.S. on a course of twenty years of sanctioning, bombing, and eventually invading the country. As the current debate shows, the U.S. is still in danger of being pulled back in. The costs of our Iraq policy over the last two decades have been enormous, which makes it fair to wonder if the skeptics in the early ’90s deserve a lot more credit for their caution than they usually receive.”

More pointedly, it was the Gulf War and its aftermath, including ten years of bombings and stationing in Arabia of U.S. forces by Bush I and Clinton, which were the prime motivating causes of the attacks of 9/11.

If someone had argued, and were believed, in 1990 that America had a choice between going to war to free Iraq or not, and that if we succeeded, which we easily could, it would mean suffering one day seeing jumbo passenger jets hijacked and flown into some of America’s most iconic structures, taking the lives of thousands, would America have said, “Yes, we’ll pay that price, it’s the right thing to do?”

Just remember, every time someone argues, on prudential or moral grounds, that America should go to war or initiate bombing in some foreign country, that the result will be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who will respond by dedicating their lives to exact upon us the most terrible revenge possible, and that some of them might just luck out and succeed in doing so.

#13 Comment By William Dalton On June 19, 2014 @ 2:15 am

“While it may have been justifiable and legal to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, it is also the case that the war embarked the U.S. on a course of twenty years of sanctioning, bombing, and eventually invading the country. As the current debate shows, the U.S. is still in danger of being pulled back in. The costs of our Iraq policy over the last two decades have been enormous, which makes it fair to wonder if the skeptics in the early ’90s deserve a lot more credit for their caution than they usually receive.”

More pointedly, it was the Gulf War and its aftermath, including ten years of bombings and stationing in Arabia of U.S. forces by Bush I and Clinton, which were the prime motivating causes of the attacks of 9/11.

If someone had argued, and were believed, in 1990 that America had a choice between going to war to free Kuwait or not, and that if we succeeded, which we easily could, it would mean suffering one day seeing jumbo passenger jets hijacked and flown into some of America’s most iconic structures, taking the lives of thousands, would America have said, “Yes, we’ll pay that price, it’s the right thing to do?”

Just remember, every time someone argues, on prudential or moral grounds, that America should go to war or initiate bombing in some foreign country, that the result will be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who will respond by dedicating their lives to exact upon us the most terrible revenge possible, and that some of them might just luck out and succeed in doing so.

#14 Comment By HyperIon On June 19, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

Beinart is part of the problem he is “discussing”. Our failed media are encouraged to ask two questions of EVERYONE criticizing Obama’s Iraq policy:

1. what action do YOU propose?
2. And when that has been done, what do YOU propose to do afterward.

I have heard much of “Obama bad, Obama’s policy is a failure”. But who actually believes that after american air strikes kill lots of people, the situation will be better? We are reported to by idiots.

#15 Comment By no grappa On June 19, 2014 @ 1:45 pm

Yes, to learn from failure one must first acknowledge failure. Very little of that from the erstwhile know-it-alls who ran us onto the rocks in the ME.

#16 Comment By Ed K On June 19, 2014 @ 2:32 pm

Good article,I ead once a quote about the TV media stated “The more you watch the less you know”, but the best quote that I read recently in article by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts stated that “The American public contains a large number of misinformed people who think they know everything”.
[3].

#17 Comment By philadelphialawyer On June 19, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

k margos:

“…at least Glen Beck…was man enough to admit he was wrong. One only hopes Beck learns from his mistake.”

I would be more impressed with his mea culpa if he did not cloak it in wholly false and self serving rhetoric. And if that rhetoric did not paint himself as the upholder of universal values who was proven “wrong” about the Iraqi by overrating them, and that makes the “liberals” seem correct only because they opposed the war on racist grounds.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the Becks (and Friedmans) of the world who are the anti Arab racists, and have been all along. They thought that the Iraqis would meekly bow to the US and all its military might. And, when they did not, they put that down to racial backwardness, ingratitude, a lack of desire for “freedom” and so on. When the real reason is that, yes, there are universal values, a few anyway, and one of them is that no one likes to be ruled by folks from half a world away who have no respect for one’s culture. That is the first basis of “freedom,” ie self determination, and self respect. Everyone hates a quisling. That’s what the Iraqi resistance proved, NOT that Iraqis were not “ready for freedom.”

When Beck and Friedman et al admit that, and admit that they got it wrong, and the liberals got it right, on that basis, then, and only then, will I think they have learned anything from their “mistake,” and give them any credit for “manning up.” As it is, they are still whining babies, blaming the Iraqis for their own stupidity and arrogance, and not really admitting to anything.

#18 Comment By Frommer Bishkva On June 20, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

Two separate, fundamental issues are at play here. 1) should we have gone and 2) what to do once we were there.

Should we have gone? NO. The causus belli was flawed, based on lies. OK. Even Fox News now agrees.

Once we’re there, once we’re in, we have a responsibility. Every president inherits stuff: good things, bad things. Its his duty to make the best of what he inherits. Obama did not.

I would not blame him to the same degree as Bush, but it’s obvious he valued getting out more highly than finishing the job. We have 150,000 troops protecting Europe and the far east. Under the circumstances, not even 20,000 for Iraq?

#19 Comment By Victor Tiffany On June 20, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

“While it may have been justifiable and legal to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, it is also the case that the war embarked the U.S. on a course of twenty years of sanctioning, bombing, and eventually invading the country.”

Not to mention that the war involved American troops in Saudi Arabia which turned bin Laden’s hatred toward the U.S. The first Gulf War directly led to 9-11.

Now we’ve become an “overstretched” superpower with a huge national debt to pay.

#20 Comment By philadelphialawyer On June 20, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

FB:

“Once we’re there, once we’re in, we have a responsibility. Every president inherits stuff: good things, bad things. Its his duty to make the best of what he inherits. Obama did not. I would not blame him to the same degree as Bush, but it’s obvious he valued getting out more highly than finishing the job. We have 150,000 troops protecting Europe and the far east. Under the circumstances, not even 20,000 for Iraq?”

Er, one of the things that Obama “inherited” from Bush was an agreement to withdraw all the troops. Which Obama followed to the letter. Thus, he valued getting out no more highly than Bush did. Indeed, many of Obama’s leftist supporters criticized him for not leaving sooner, faster and more completely.

Also, while the record is contentious, a good claim could be made that Obama actually DID try to get a new “SOFA” out of Maliki, but failed. In other words, we, the USA, were, in effect, thrown out of Iraq. Iraq no longer wanted our troops, not any of them, and certainly not twenty thousand.

#21 Comment By James Matshall On June 22, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

I know some people freak out at even the mention of Marine Le Pen, but she is right about saying that the right versus left myth is a fraud, a scam to promote infighting of the people while the masters of deceit force their will upon us all. She’s right about many things.