I find it almost impossible to write another post
about our nauseatingly immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq. I've made my
views clear, and offered numerous reasons for my conclusions. See, for example,
Way Out – But Out," "A
Genuine Mission Impossible," and "Get
Out Now: Just Do It." And "The
Missing Moral Center: Murdering the Innocent" concerns the moral dimension
that almost every pundit, and the vast majority of Americans, adamantly refuse
to acknowledge to this day.
I offer the following comments about the Symposium
of Wise People offered by The New Republic only as an exercise in
what perhaps should be called the sociology of the banality of evil. These are
the Wise People who make murderous catastrophes of this kind possible. Even
at this late date, they are incapable of acknowledging and admitting what they
have done. For some additional commentary on this TNR collection of abominables,
see Spencer Ackerman here
I want to make a few observations about Peter Beinart's piece, since Beinart
is one of the so-called "opinion leaders" endlessly encouraging the Democrats
to adopt a more "muscular" foreign policy. One might be pardoned for having
thought that the Democrats hardly needed encouragement on this point: from World
War I (from which sprang the
endless train of horrors that still consumes us today), through Korea, Vietnam,
and Clinton's beloved, "humanitarian" bombing campaigns and
their attendant lies, the Democrats have never been shy about murdering
people who don't threaten us. Today, we have a number of prominent Democrats
who are more hawkish about Iran than even Bush can credibly be at the moment
"Bomb 'Em Yesterday, AKA Torture" Clinton). I still think it almost certain
that Bush will find his warmongering groove in the next year, and Bombs Over
Iran will shortly follow. No national Democrat will oppose him, not in any way
that matters or deters him. Ah, but Beinart isn't concerned with the facts or
the reality of the matter, you see. Oh, no: he is concerned, as are all such
Establishment types, with how Democrats are perceived. Too many people
think of the Democrats as "weak," and that needs fixing. For a discussion of
some of Beinart's deeper analytic inadequacies and dishonesties, see this
Beinart was, of course, a major booster of the invasion of Iraq. Let us be
precise: Beinart strongly urged the invasion of a country that had not attacked
us, and that did not threaten us. This is the advocacy of illegitimate, immoral,
and illegal aggressive war. Let us always remember the exact nature of the crime
But now Beinart's
"I can't even imagine Iraq anymore. It exceeds my capacity to visualize
horror. In a recent interview with The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid,
a woman named Fatima put it this way: 'One-third of us are dying, one-third
of us are fleeing, and one-third of us will be widows.' At the Baghdad morgue,
they distinguish Shia from Sunnis because the former are beheaded and the latter
are killed with power drills. Moqtada Al Sadr has actually grown afraid of his
own men. I came of age believing the United States had a mission to stop
such evil. And now, not only isn't the United States stopping it – in some important
sense, we are its cause."
No, Beinart: not "in some important sense." The United States government
and its military are the cause – in every "important sense." And
the U.S. government was aided and abetted by Beinart and his fellow warmongers.
But the collective "we" is critical to Beinart's purposes, since he is determined
to avoid accountability at every turn. That "we" carries profound meaning. As
Arendt observes: "[W]here all are guilty, no one is." The "we" washes Beinart
clean of sin, or so he hopes.
See if you can follow the ludicrous desperation of Beinart's argument. He
moves from this statement: "In a particularly cruel twist, the events of recent
months have demolished the best arguments both for staying and for leaving"
– to this one: "Today, the honest arguments for staying or leaving are simply
that we can't do the opposite." This irrefutable chain of logic leads to his
"At this late date, the United States has only one card left to play
in Iraq: the threat to leave immediately. Except for Sadr, virtually no one
in Iraq's political class wants that to happen. We must wield that threat as
dramatically as possible, and, if Iraq's leaders don't respond, leave as fast
as we humanly can."
This is surpassingly, stupendously stupid. I discussed the ridiculousness of
this idea just last week: if we threaten to leave – and if we convince the Iraqis
that we really, really, really mean it – a miracle will occur. No,
it won't – and neither Beinart nor anyone else can provide even the
smallest piece of evidence to make the possibility of the required miracle believable
to any degree at all.
Beinart appears to have become confused about where and when his hero FDR
employed the various tactics that Beinart so admires. Beinart is still wedded
to his "carrot" that will enable the miracle: "a temporary troop increase
and a dramatically larger, World Bank-overseen development effort." If you
should think he doesn't mean this, Beinart spells out these details should
the Iraqis bow to our demands:
"If the Iraqis really strike a constitutional deal that the
prominent leaders in all three major communities publicly support, the United
States must try to make it stick. That would mean temporarily sending more troops
to secure key Baghdad neighborhoods and then flooding those neighborhoods
with public-works programs that put young Sunni and Shia men to work."
Now, I could be wrong about this, and I'm sure someone will tell me if I am.
But I don't think FDR used TVA-like projects in Germany and Japan while World
War II was still raging across the world. No, I'm certain he
didn't. If Beinart's views weren't so repugnant and literally insane, I
might give him a point or two for creativity. A New Deal for Iraq! Well, I suppose
"creative" is one word for it.
Beinart and all hawks of similar inclination refuse to give up the idea that
"we meant well," just as he refuses to surrender the myth that American willpower
can still make this work, even at this late date. As I've discussed in
detail, one of Beinart's fundamental problems is not that "[he] can't even imagine
Iraq anymore." His problem is that the reality of Iraq never was clear
to him. Iraq, its own history, peoples, cultures, and aspirations never
assumed solid shape before his eyes, so Beinart, just like those driving
the Bush administration's foreign policy, deluded himself that we could shape
Iraq in our own image. The presumptuousness, arrogance, and colonialist condescension
of this view cannot be allowed into Beinart's consciousness.
Given his still unshakable basic beliefs, to say that Beinart's concluding
paragraph is inadequate and unsatisfactory hardly captures the nature of the
"'Were not those right who held that it was self-contradictory to try to
further the permanent ideals of peace by recourse to war?' wrote John Dewey
in The New Republic in 1919, confessing his despondency at the outcome
of World War I. Yes, they were right then, and they are right now. War can be
necessary, but, in the decade between the liberation of Kuwait and the liberation
of Kabul, it became the repository for too many of our hopes for a better world.
Now that we have seen the liberation and destruction of Baghdad, it won't be
again for a long, long time."
Beinart still insists that his advocacy of non-defensive war was a "repository"
for "our hopes for a better world." He still refuses to admit that he "hoped"
to bring about "a better world" by "travel[ing] long distances in order to
kill foreigners," in Jim
Henley's entirely accurate phrase. [I should add that Beinart's mention
of Dewey's "despondency at the outcome of World War I" carries especially heavy
irony – since The New Republic was a particularly influential force in
dragging the United States into World War I, especially through the writings
of Herbert Croly. I discussed that history in the
second half of this essay.]
People with views like Beinart's will never acknowledge the
true nature of their mistake. Given even less than half a chance, they will
do it all again. So take this warning: whenever any of these unreconstructed
hawks again announce their abiding love of war, and be assured they will, condemn
them, ridicule them and, most of all, ignore them. They will lie, as
they always do, and tell you, for example, that a nuclear Iran is "unacceptable"
and "intolerable" – even though any threat an Iran with nuclear weapons might
represent still lies years in the future, and even then, it would be capable
of being contained and deterred.
Beinart and his fellow warlovers are filled with regret now, only because
the devastation and horror are so immense they cannot be denied. But most Americans
have an attention span measured in months and, in the very best case, perhaps
a year. Moreover, the horrors of Iraq still have no reality for most Americans,
least of all with regard to how those horrors affect Iraqis. To the extent
they are aware of them at all, that awareness will fade quickly enough.
And then the stage will be set for the next war, and Beinart and his crowd
will propagandize for it once more. For pity's sake, don't let them get away
with it again. Remember, and I mean this literally: they will be getting
away with murder.
Just as they did this time, and as they do every time.