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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, June 30, 2004

 
Credibility Gap

The Political Animal takes bloggers to task for being too hard on the liberal hawks and neocons who are now having second thought about the war. He says we should warmly embrace them to our side. Since I just wrote about this last night, I feel I should answer that complaint.

First of all, it would be a lot easier if they didn't feel it was necessary to insult the millions of people who did make the right call while they are expressing their regrets. That indicates to me that they are not very likely to pay any heed to those voices in the future. But, that's not the real problem.

In order to truly understand what went wrong with this war, you have to look at what was being said and what was being heard before we went into it. I'm not seeing a lot of that from the Mea Culpa singers. Peter Beinert (with whom I regrettably proved Kevin's point by being deliberately snarky) was one of the few to actually examined his prejudices and preconceptions as a way of explaining why he came to the conclusions he did. As far as I know, he is the only one to do that. All the others are based upon misplaced trust in the administration and a shock that they could have been so dishonest/incompetent/incoherent. They have not grappled with the fact that they chose to ignore plenty of evidence prior to the invasion that should have tipped them off. I can think of a handful right off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are plenty more:

First and foremost was the fact that the primary forces agitating for the Iraq invasion had been agitating for it long before 9/11 and for entirely different reasons than those stated at the time. Indeed, those same forces had completely missed the threat of assymetrical terrorism as it grew up in the 90's and essentially just piggy backed their pre-existing goals onto the terrorist threat after the attacks. This was evident even then --- long before Richard Clarke started publicly talking about people's hair on fire. There were people shouting into the wilderness about this absurd neocon notion of the Pax Americana and nobody was listening. There were those who noticed that belligerant unilateralism and the "preemption doctrine" which was supposedly in response to the attacks ("9/11 changed everything") were, in fact, pillars of the neocon philosophy going back to the 70's and had been heavily pushed since the end of the cold war. Someone might have asked if these beliefs were actually relevant or adequate to an entirely new threat paradigm.

Another obvious tip off was our abandonment of Afghanistan. There we had the heart of al Qaeda in our grasp and a democratic revolution and billions of dollars in reconstruction promised and yet once the war drums began pounding for Iraq, we dropped it all like a hot potato. A small, experimental version of the Iraq Democracy Project unfolded in real time, failed spectacularly and nobody noticed.

The fact that the US impeded the inspections process should have made people wonder about our true motives. Saddam let in the inspectors and they reported that he was being quite cooperative (by historical standards) and that they weren't finding anything. Under those circumstances, the US refusing to give the locations of WMD to the inspectors to investigate should have set off some alarm bells.

Powell's presentation to the UN was lame even before 99% of had been disproved. It was thin gruel to anyone who hadn't already made up their mind that we were marching off to war, come what may. The whole thing was based upon his personal reputation and credibility. Big mistake and one that people should really think about going forward. This "trust us" business has been shown (as throughout history)to be a fools game.

The administration refused to discuss the potential costs of the war and publicly argued with the uniformed services about the necessary troop levels. This should have raised eyebrows. There were plenty of people who thought this was odd and questioned whether the administration knew what it was doing. The hawks didn't take these opinions into account.

Most importantly, there were those like Wes Clark and others who warned that invading Iraq would exacerbate the terrorist threat and that we were making a grave mistake in not concentrating everything we had on al Qaeda. If the decision for war had been at all thoughtful on the hawk side there would have been a long and detailed debate about it because this wasn't a hawk vs dove argument, it was a hawk vs hawk argument. That so many refused to listen even to their own kind on such a matter of huge importance to the security of the country is probably the biggest sin they committed.

As I wrote earlier, I think this invasion was mostly an emotional response to the attacks. And I would be remiss if I didn't chide the prime mover behind the hysteria (aside from the admnistration, of course) which was the media. (Unbelievably, it was this hysteria that bush blamed for the flat economy a few months ago. Chutzpah, thy name is Junior)

9/11 was the story of a lifetime. It made overnight stars out of nobodies and gave huge amounts of face time to journalists. Indeed, it glamorized them in a way that hadn't been seen since the days of Woodward and Bernstein. In the run up to the Iraq war, the Bush administration made the smartest decision they've made in their entire administration. The media were already primed for "9/11: The Invasion of Iraq" but as the administration made its case for war, they simultaneously began the process of training the reporters for their embedded assignments. They sent them to "camp" and brought them into their confidence and gave them a personal stake in the outcome of the war debate. (Read all about it, right here.) Imagine the disappointment if they'd had to turn in their khaki safari jackets and go back to reporting dull stories about medicare.

Many in the media itself admitted at the time that they were quite shocked at the numbers of people showing up to protest the war around the world. They didn't even cover the story in the beginning. Yet, the polls consistently showed a large number of people even here in the US who were against the invasion and many more who wanted the administration to go much more slowly. This story was virtually ignored, and when it was covered, it was as if it was some sort of a sideshow.(Read this condescending piece of garbage, if you need a reminder --- it's about 3/4 of the way into the transcript.) From the moment the drums began in the summer of 2002 --- certainly from the time that Cheney made his speech in late August --- the war was treated as an inevitability by the media.

I realize how difficult it was to swim against that tide. It was exciting and difficult to resist, even for people like me. We were living history. But, at some point you had to step back and look at the magnitude of what we were contemplating --- particularly the huge step away from our post war consensus against wars of aggression --- and see that this thing was being rushed into production without adequate debate or planning. Saddam had been sitting there for a long, long time. There was no reason to believe that he couldn't have sat there for a few more months until we exhausted all other options. The fact that Bush and Cheney refused to do that should have been the deal breaker.

It's never easy to admit you were wrong. But, it is almost more important to realize why you were wrong than to admit it in the first place. If we could all wait to see how things turn out and then just say "whoops, sorry" and all would be well, then life would be pretty easy.

The fact is that the liberal hawks, especially, made the invasion palatable and acceptable to many people who trusted them. That is a heavy burden. I'm glad they've seen their error, but it doesn't mean we're on the same team, as Kevin seems to think. So far, I've seen little reason to believe they won't do exactly the same thing again if their blood gets up and they decide the opposition consists of people they don't wish to be associated with. I hope I'm wrong.





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