October 7, 2005
Hate to say I told you so
This long review of George Packer's The Assassins' Gate is worth watching an ad to read. I'm guessing that book and Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid are probably bookends of a good understanding of what happened in Iraq, whether or not they offer any headlight into the future, and I hope to check them both out soon.
Packer's a liberal hawk who supported invading Iraq, but he honestly charts the political bullying, ideological purity, and blind ambition that brought us to this point in two countries' history. Liberal hawks confound me, both politically and ideologically. Mike said some time ago that he thought some previously sensible people just had their heads rearranged by 9/11; I think a realistic grasp of the situation's essential graspability has eluded them ever since. Liberal hawks and neocons alike simply couldn't imagine that al Qaeda, being equally evil, wasn't equally powerful as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. But it seems to me that, although they're certainly very dangerous, they're several orders of magnitude less numerous and solidly based. They don't number in the millions. They don't have an armed military, let alone a navy or an air force. They don't command an entire nation's industrial economy. And yet Bush said this Wednesday:
the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.
I mean, come on. Even the Iranian mullahs aren't as stable and powerful--or as radical--as all that. If that Dark Empire were ever to arise, if the Islamic radicals had a country to run and defend, they'd have to deal with the same realpolitik that kept even the evil Saddam Hussein pretty much in line. Countries have things like buildings and industries and civilian populations--you know, big targets. Countries can't just hide in caves.
This week's Terror Speech (and New York terror warnings?) was so cynically produced that I doubt if even the administration meant it to be anything more than a spook-tale to keep us dumb and submissive. Maybe Bush is just trying to portray the government that's likely to arise in Iraq as the culmination of a superterrorist scheme that he was in the process of thwarting when a bunch of lazy cowards stopped him, instead of the entirely predictable result of his ill-founded invasion. Either way, BushCo has its own agenda, which has fuck-all to do with realistically assessing the real threat, let alone making us safer. And you won't hear the superterrorists complaining.
The thing is, instead of being constantly and repetitively reminded how very, very bad the superterrorists are, I'd actually like to defeat them, and I know the liberal hawks really would, too. So I just don't get how the Bush administration suckered them into this disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Granted, there's never been a liberal argument short of pure dovishness for leaving Saddam Hussein in power, but it's not inconsistent or dithery to recognize that sometimes doing something might be sufficiently difficult and dangerous and counterproductive that wisdom has to nudge ideology into just seeing how things shake out on their own, especially on fronts that are peripheral to your immediate goals.
Beyond that, having first somehow accepted that invading Iraq would a) address the terror problem, and b) even potentially result in a net gain, how did any liberal EVER think this administration could do it the right way? For that matter, how can conservatives like George Will now so breezily assert that Bush isn't capable, period, of sussing out the appropriateness of a jurist's qualifications and constitutional philosophy, and yet all this time have presumed some preternatural canniness on Bush's part vis-à-vis the complicated geopolitics of a historically chaotic region? Has anyone besides political gangsters and blind opportunists been doing any thinking at all for the past five years?
Well, anyway, what a mess. And even though the liberal hawks betrayed themselves, it's not like the administration needed or cared about their support. This war was obviously written on the wall a long time ago. Maybe these liberals were right to stay engaged, given that it was going to happen anyway, and, although it's the neocons who've fucked us in Iraq and in the bargain surrendered untold yardage in the war on Islamic terrorism, it will be the liberals who get stuck holding the bag, because only liberals can resolve it, to whatever extent it can be resolved. Only liberals can be trusted to follow through on the "humanitarian" part of a supposed "humanitarian intervention." When reality demonstrates incontrovertably that soldiers and bombs can do no more good, and the final damages are tallied and resigned to, the interventionist conservatives, whose faith in bombs and soldiers is bottomless, will blame the humanitarian liberals for deciding it is enough.
The truth will be in the books, though. Now, what do we do about the superterrorists?
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