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Why No One Should Still Be a Neocon (II)

Game of Thrones / HBO

Jonathan Tobin picks up on a questionable argument about Game of Thrones to celebrate George W. Bush’s foreign policy record:

Whatever happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, President Bush and those who helped craft that “freedom agenda” that is so despised by his immediate successor stood up for the highest values of Western civilization [bold mine-DL].

This is profoundly wrong, and the reason why it is wrong is very relevant to yesterday’s post on neoconservatism. One glaring problem is that the Bush administration’s actions frequently made a mockery of its liberationist rhetoric, and its “freedom agenda” was usually little more than a desperate justification after the fact for policies that had otherwise been discredited or couldn’t be defended any other way. Once the original arguments for invading Iraq were shown to be pernicious nonsense, the Bush administration fell back on justifying the war in terms of democracy promotion. Even then the rhetoric of liberation soon gave way to the reality of propping up a semi-authoritarian ruler in Baghdad who remains in power to this day. The rest of the “freedom agenda,” such as it was, mainly resulted in supporting and indulging petty rulers in the former Soviet Union in their abuses of power.

Very few would try to argue that illegal warfare, torture, and a multi-year military occupation of another country represent the “highest values of Western civilization,” and these are were all bound up in practice with the “freedom agenda” and the ideological fantasies of Bush’s Second Inaugural. It would be entirely fair to say that the “freedom agenda” and the high-flown rhetoric of that speech were expressions of the same ideological compulsions that produced the invasion and occupation and the appalling treatment of detainees. Bush and his allies weren’t upholding our highest values. They were desecrating many of them in the most appalling way, and doing so with the arrogant conviction that they were defending freedom in the process. That is the record that neoconservatives want to laud and celebrate.

I’m not persuaded by the argument that the character Daenerys Targaryen and George W. Bush actually have all that much in common, but that isn’t important. What matters is that identifying this character with Bush becomes an excuse to use a fictional model to try to vindicate the horrible, real-world policies of the Bush administration. It doesn’t make much sense to identify a princess living in impoverished exile trying to return to her own country with the leader of the world’s most powerful state that ordered the invasion of someone else’s country, but it does tell us something disturbing about the mentality of interventionists generally and neoconservatives in particular that they think she is one of them.

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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