Desperately Trying To Be Right
Matt Yglesias points us to an article by Michael Hirsch in the Washington Monthly which at least partially makes the point that the new 9/11 boogeyman did not, in fact, require that we completely overhaul our foreign policy. Indeed, it would seem that many of the old ideas would have worked quite well if bush had had the wherewithall to actually use them. It's an interesting read.
Yglesias makes this further point:
This is not to deny that pre-Bush US foreign policy entailed, over the decades, some very serious pragmatic and moral flaws. I think it used to be the case, however, that the main elements of US strategy were basically sound, and presidents sometimes made bad decisions. Bush has turned things on their head and adopted a fundamentally flawed strategy from which he occassionally deviates by doing non-catastrophic things. In particular, it's as if Bush ransacked post-WWII history looking for the areas where American policy has been at its worst -- Indochina and Central America -- and decided to apply the animating spirit of those errors across the board.
This is because the people who have been advising Bush since 9/11 are the same people (or their intellectual heirs) who were the drivers behind those earlier bad decisions. Their defining characteristic, in fact, is that they have always been wrong about everything and they never, ever learn anything from their experience.
It is also the case that their animating principle in the first few years of the administration was to do the exact opposite of Clinton in all things. It was a simple, easy to remember formula (for simple, forgetful people) that unfortunately led them to reject long-standing, bipartisan foreign policy along with everything else. When you combined the neocon and harcore hawk track records with a mandate to reject anything that Bill Clinton might have endorsed, you ended up with the hacktacular mishmash of sophomoric chest thumping, mindless military actions and conscious rejection all mutual understanding with our allies. It was an amazing thing to watch and I'm not sure we have enough distance from it yet to even begin to understand the full dimension of the errors that ensued.
Also, you really can't discuss these people and their repeated bad decisons without mentioning the running battles with the CIA over the years. The Dick and Don Team B show, in particular, had overestimated the Soviet threat so many times in the past that the fact that anyone listened to a word they said is a testament to the sheer will of their personalities. When you come right down to it, this all goes back to the credibility issue we have discussed ad nauseum. It's true that making the wrong call about Iraq does not destroy one's credibility in one go and I certainly hope that most of the liberals who made that call will not develop an entire worldview based on vindicating that one wrong decision.
The people who were flogging Iraq for the past decade or so had all been proven wrong many, many times before. I frankly couldn't believe it when the Team B people were screaming that the sky was falling again, based on transparently flimsy evidence, and people were actually believing them. That is why there is an obvious danger in allowing people who are wrong over and over again to have privileged access to the informed discourse when big decisions are being made. In the heat of the moment people forget that these people are always wrong about everything.