As much contempt as I feel for BushCheney, Inc. and its insane mission to Mesopotamia, I can only feel even more for the so-called "liberal hawks" such as Paul Berman and George Packer, who did as much as anyone to validate the invasion of Iraq, especially among other liberals in the political press, and who are now engaged in the most breathtaking evasions of responsibility for the ongoing catastrophe they helped to commence. Here's Packer in a 2006 interview attempting to explain What Went Wrong:
It's not just an engineering problem. There were ideological failures. A lot of the ideas were wrong. The ideas about what Iraq was and what we were going to get into and the ideas about our role, the U.S.'s role, not just in Iraq but in the world-they were wrong. People like me who were sympathetic to the possibility of getting rid of this dreadful tyranny were really in a bad position, because there was only one administration that was going to do it, and this administration had already shown some of its colors. Now, I don't think it had shown its incompetence in 2003. At that time, people may have thought this administration was ruthless, that it was monolithic in its aims and methods, but not that it was incompetent. That understanding is because of the Iraq War (and of course Hurricane Katrina was the final nail in that particular coffin). But that was not the wrap on them in 2003, and there's a bit of rewriting of history when people say, "You had to know that they were going to screw this up because of who they are." Well, that's a bit too convenient for me. What people said in 2003 in opposition to this war was not that they're going to screw this up, but rather that they're doing this for malicious reasons and it's going to create an explosion in the Arab world while simultaneously antagonizing our allies. Let's take those one at a time. Doing it for malicious reasons: I've never bought the idea that this was a war for oil. It doesn't make sense on the face of it, and that argument is in my book without being explicit. Explosion in the Arab world: not an explosion but a pretty strong wave of anti-American revulsion, and among a tiny minority-yes, they've come to Iraq to fight us, and that's something we should have anticipated. Antagonizing our allies: I've been worried about that from the start. In so many ways, this war was being undertaken at the wrong time and in the wrong way. But that's sort of the bad hand you're dealt by history.
Later in the interview, Packer elaborates some on the "ideological failures" he now concedes:
Our power is not inherently good. The neoconservatives thought it was. Therefore, they argued, we don't need Europe. Who cares if Egypt objects? Our power is good! Well, that's theology, and I was deeply worried about it from the start. Those are some of the bad ideas, and they led to other ideas, like the idea that somehow the Iraqi Shia would accept us, that they would somehow be philosophically sympathetic to us. That was a neoconservative idea in a rarefied world of a few thinkers, disciples of Bernard Lewis, and that was wrong. Totally wrong. They got a lot wrong.
"They" were wrong. Packer was "worried" about the theology of American goodness "from the start." The notion that "the Iraqi Shia would accept us" was "totally wrong." Yet he was, as he himself admits, "intellectually. . .open to hearing what [the neocons] had to say." The neocon analysis of "a deep political pathology" in the Middle East "all seems true to me today, still. Nothing in the Iraq War of the past three years has belied it." If the Shia now don't seem to appreciate our presence, nevertheless "there were many towns and cities where we were cheered" and "most of" the Iraqis were "grateful for their liberation."
In other words, the Iraq War failed because the neocons were naive, too enveloped in American innocence, not because the whole notion of invading Iraq in response to the events of 9/11/01 was inherently deranged. If Packer was "sympathetic to the possibility" the invasion might succeed, he could not really have been that worried about neocon theology, and by his very own logic, had the Bush administration shown more competence in prosecuting the war, all of these second thoughts about "ideological failures" would have been moot. There seem to be lots of things about the war that Packer, at least in retrospect, claims caused him disquiet, but not enough to make him take a step back from the precipice and warn his neocon friends their assumptions might be "wrong." The most he will accept is that he was "in a bad position," that he was dealt a "bad hand. . .by history."
The liberal hawks are very eager to blame the failure of their misbegotten adventure on the tactical mistakes of BushCheney. Not only was it "monolithic" and "ruthless," but, lo and behold, it was also incompetent! In this post at Crooks and Liars, Barbara O'Brien describes how rerunning "old tapes" of previous wars affects each generation's perception of war-fighting. According to O'Brien, much of the calamity of the Iraq war derives from the viewing of such tapes from Vietnam: Iraq was, in part, "about erasing the shame of Vietnam with a glorious victory." She worries that we will find ourselves "replaying old Iraq tapes someday." If we do, they will likely be the tapes we can see Packer recording even now. There were good reasons to invade Iraq--"getting rid of this dreadful tyranny"--but the Bush administration fouled it up. If only we'd fought the war George Packer wanted to fight (inviting our allies along in a "war of liberation" rather than a self-defensive war against WMD), things would have turned out all right. That these potential allies would have been even less willing to fight Packer's War than they were Bush's War doesn't occur to him.
Packer reveals the extent of his self-delusion (and, in my opinion, that of most of those who still won't face up to the consequences of the war they supported) when he lashes out at his critics:
. . .The left wants "I was wrong;" the right wants the media's line; and they resemble each other in the shallowness of their thinking. But this is about the war; and it's too big, too serious, too deep for it to be about whether I or anyone in my position was right or wrong. It just annoys the hell out of me, and honestly-the people who want that kind of thing are people for whom the war isn't real. It's just an argument they want to win.
How convenient. The war's "too big, too serious" to require any accountability on the part of those who truly got it "wrong." Those who got it right are so annoying when they seek such accountability! Better to be wrong than to be so "shallow" as to think that getting it so thoroughly and disastrously wrong means you ought to change your thinking on the subject.
It's pretty shameless to assert that those who want to stop the carnage think "the war isn't real." If George Packer couldn't have foreseen that BushCheney's war on Iraq would turn out the way it has, he's the one living in a fantasy world. And it wouldn't be worth arguing about it all, if his fantasy hadn't also required the deaths of 3,000 soldiers to fulfill his illusions.
NOTE Just to keep this post up-to-date, here's another bit of liberal-hawk evasion, from Jacob Weisberg at Slate:
There is, of course, no way to know what might have happened if we hadn't made these mistakes, and others. An American defeat still would have been possible with better planning, sufficient troops, realistic goals, and sound strategy. But even in this mistakenly chosen war, our failure wasn't inevitable. It is the product of blunders made along the way by President Bush and his people—and the blunders they are making still.
Always with the "they."