A Retrospective of Retrospectives

Five years past the invasion of Iraq, every body has been posting their own recollections—with a surprisingly small number of mea culpas. Over at Cynic’s Party, “Blogenfreude” summarized the roundup on Slate quite ably:

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I believed the groupthink and contributed to it,” by Jacob Weisberg.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I seriously misjudged Bush’s sense of morality,” by Andrew Sullivan.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I didn’t realize how incompetent the Bush administration could be,” by Jeffrey Goldberg.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? Rather than bore you with the answer, here are lessons from the experience,” by Lord William Saletan.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I thought we had a chance to stabilize an unstable region, and—I admit it—I wanted to strike back,” by Richard Cohen.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I didn’t,” by Christopher Hitchens.

Ignoring Hitchens’ grating arrogance, the Jeffrey Goldberg case is an interesting one. Spencer Ackerman looked back on how Bush was hyping the Saddam-AQ connection (”The danger… is that Al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness,” sayeth the Dubya), and the ways Goldberg and Steven Hayes of the Weekly Standard played into it. It is a devastating case study of how the many journalists who are consistently, provably, wrong and deceitful continue to fail upwards:

Goldberg, in The New Yorker, wrote two pieces — one in March 2002 and the other on the eve of the invasion — backing the Saddam/Al Qaeda claim… Hayes, in the Standard, has made a career out of pretending Saddam and Al Qaeda were in league to attack the United States. He published a book — tellingly wafer-thin and with large type in its hardcover edition — called “The Connection.” One infamous piece even suggested that Saddam might have aided the 9/11 attack….

By contrast, Goldberg and Hayes have seen their careers flourish. Goldberg traded his New Yorker post for a lucrative spot at The Atlantic. Hayes wrote a lengthy hagiography of Cheney for major New York publisher, HarperCollins. Publicity for the book got him a special spot on “Meet The Press,” befitting his status as a high-profile television pundit who is never treated as the conspiracy theorist he is.

Other high profile journalists with long records of failure about the Iraq War include William Kristol, now comfortably ensconced at the New York Times editorial page.

But what of our leaders, those we have elected to defend and protect our interests?

President Bush cannot muster any regrets or instances of mistakes being made in the passive voice, and even sees the current Iraq-on-a-precipice as the final throes of Osama bin Laden (much like Cheney’s 2005 assertion). He even tries blaming the Germans for the intelligence failure, instead of the laziness of the CIA quoting sources it never debriefed. No one in the administration—not Richard Perle, not Doug Feith, neither Dick or Bush—has been willing to take responsibility for the colossal and humiliating failures of intelligence that have brought us to 4,000 dead troops and untold tens of thousands of dead Iraqis.

Breaking down Iraq by the numbers, we can see a country at the true turning point: it will either crest the top and continue toward a hopeful reconciliation, or the many contradictions in its current status will result in an ignominious failure—by no means a sterling success, and even should the most ideal predictions turn out, a pyrrhic victory.

Sadly, none of our current crop of leaders or candidates is interested in realism (to mean in this case pragmatism). We cannot stay in Iraq in its current state for 100 years as John McCain wishes, nor can we magically whisk two brigades a month out of the country, as Barrack Obama wishes. Given the growing unrest in the Sons of Iraq, it is unlikely the status quo of bribery and reckless arms distribution can continue much longer… but neither is it likely that yet another withdrawal into our viceroy outposts will be able to keep the peace.

Indeed, no one has offered solid, real world solutions for the Iraq conflict. The Army continues to bleed mid-level officers who are sick of spending all their time fighting a war they don’t think they can “win.” The tax payers continue to chafe at the rising costs of running America’s global empire in a time of economic uncertainty, as the country’s diplomatic and aid-based programs are slashed. Complete withdrawal will result in a bloodbath, but American cannot keep her finger in the dam forever—sooner or later, something must break.

I only pray it is not us. But in any case, five years on, I don’t see how we can reasonably expect a happy ending to this mess.

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3 Responses to “A Retrospective of Retrospectives”

  1. on 25 Mar 2008 at 12:15 am peter jackson

    “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.” Georges Clemenceau

    If this is your understanding of practical war, as it is mine, the entire Slate series comes off as so much self-concerned whining.


  2. on 27 Mar 2008 at 3:50 am Joshua Foust

    I would agree with you, and with Clemenceau, if not for all the wars are that are a series of catastrophes that resulted in humiliating defeat. But yes, the Slate series is nothing more than moral masturbation.

  3. on 27 Mar 2008 at 11:32 pm peter jackson

    Yeah, humiliating defeat is bad. And an excellent reason for placing a really high bar for making war. Which is why The Afghanistan and Iraq wars are the only two US military actions that have occurred in my lifetime (I’m 43) that I personally feel were justified. Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia… none of them were justified. The Gulf War is a special case. I opposed it vehemently as it was occurring, but understanding now as I didn’t then that Saddam had designs on the region that would have almost certainly erupted into an even larger, more catastrophic regional war with grave consequences for US interests, I probably would have supported it. But that’s not to say that I’m not still freaking furious that we left Saddam in power. If it weren’t for that colossal blunder you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. Not that I regret having a conversation with you, Joshua, of course, it’s the topic. You and I both believe the Iraq war was unnecessary, just for different reasons.


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