Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On looking backward before we plunge forward

Damn -- I didn't think I'd need that image again. But last Saturday, the Donald said this about the US invasion of Iraq at the Republican debate:

I want to tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none.

Today Max Fisher at Vox put on record a really valuable deconstruction of this assertion, demolishing the GOP mantra that GWB was a victim of faulty intelligence, while explaining that the U.S. public, the unfortunate peoples of Iraq (and Syria and beyond), and the world were actually victims of neoconservative (imperial) ideology's hold on the Washington's power elite.

A movement of high-minded ideologues had, throughout the 1990s, become obsessed with deposing Saddam Hussein. When they assumed positions of power under Bush in 2001, they did not seek to trick America into that war, but rather tricked themselves. In 9/11, and in fragments of intelligence that more objective minds would have rejected, they could see only validation for their abstract and untested theories about the world — theories whose inevitable and obvious conclusion was an American invasion of Iraq. ...

Neoconservatism, which had been around for decades, mixed humanitarian impulses with an almost messianic faith in the transformative virtue of American military force, as well as a deep fear of an outside world seen as threatening and morally compromised. This ideology stated that authoritarian states were inherently destabilizing and dangerous; that it was both a moral good and a strategic necessity for America to replace those dictatorships with democracy — and to dominate the world as the unquestioned moral and military leader.

Neoconservatism's proponents, for strategic as well as political reasons, would develop an obsession with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. That obsession would, by the end of the decade, congeal into a policy, explicitly stated: regime change. ...

... As Donald Trump's stunt showed, America's public debate over Iraq, now 13 years later, still turns largely on Bush's claims and their truth. But even if Saddam had turned out to possess weapons of mass destruction, if Bush had been right, what would it really change? The war would still have cost some 4,500 American lives and well over 100,000 Iraqi lives. It would still have destabilized Iraq, opened up the country for violent extremism, and contributed directly to the rise of ISIS.

Fisher's article is long, carefully argued and documented, and utterly sound.

All this still matters because the so-called moderates on the Republican presidential clown car have learned nothing from the Bush II disaster. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are still peddling the virtue of unilateral, military US hegemony in the Middle East.

And, according to Fisher, Hillary Clinton may not have learned much either, likely clinging to "a belief in humanitarian interventions." He concludes:

The lesson, which extends to both parties, is that a potential president's ideological views are just as important to examine and vet as are his or her policy proposals; that the line between obscure policy journals and American military action can be much shorter than we'd like to think.

That is true of any ideology, but it is especially true of neoconservatism, which we have still not chosen to vet, remarkably, even after we invested billions of dollars and thousands of lives in testing it directly in Iraq, to results apparently so damning we have still not fully absorbed them.

The Prez's foreign policy leaves a lot to be desired (Obama sure likes his drones and spooks) but his maxim might do the world some good: "Don't do stupid shit."

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