With Iraq splitting into three (eight years ago, I explained why this was going to happen and why the US should get behind it), I wondered whether any establishment media outlets would refer to a civil war there. I did a search for the applicable terms, and came up with … not much. Apparently, if it’s happening in a Designated Enemy Country like Syria it immediately gets called a civil war. But if it’s happening in a country we ourselves destroyed, we can’t bear to be overly accurate and descriptive in our nomenclature, so it’s just “militants.”
I also searched for “Iraq Vietnam.” Because you don’t have to be a historian to remember that this sounds an awful lot like the endgame in Vietnam:
White House officials said the president did not envision any circumstances in which ground troops could return to the country. Air strikes, however, are under active consideration. On Thursday the US began airlifting planeloads of its citizens from Iraq.
Here, I was intrigued to see that my search returned one big hit: a Daily Beast article by the ultimate foreign policy insider: Leslie Gelb. According to the headline, “Iraq Is Vietnam 2.0 And U.S. Drones Won’t Solve The Problem.” I thought, “Huh? That sounds reasonably insightful and even minimally sane. What’s going on?”
And then I read the article. Really, it is remarkable. Not for anything it intended. But rather as a perfect microcosm of the horrific failings of America’s inbred, immoral, ineducable foreign policy elite.
It starts immediately after the headline, when Gelb explains that “The problem is the Iraqi government.” I thought, “Holy shit, that is exactly what the foreign policy establishment kept saying about Vietnam, all the way to the bitter end! Is Gelb channeling Colbert? Demonstrating why Iraq is like Vietnam by saying the same incredibly stupid and self-serving things insiders once said about Vietnam? A kind of performance art, maybe?”
And then I read on and realized that no, Gelb really is this blind. He’s not playing parody. He is parody.
So what’s the problem? The problem is not that these Iraqis weren’t well trained and equipped, it was they did not have a government worth fighting for. The Maliki government is Shiite, exclusionary and anti-Sunni. It is corrupt and inefficient. In sum, like most of these great freedom-fighting government we’ve backed over the decades—corrupt and inefficient. And certainly non-inclusive in its politics, certainly not welcoming of potential opponents, certainly ill-disposed to give non-Shiites a legitimate share of power. So the Iraqi troops throw down their arms and run away.
Look, Gelb supported the war in Iraq. He was part of it. He lent it triple-distilled establishment cred. So how incredibly psychologically convenient for him that “the problem” isn’t the war he supported, the war that killed up to 500,000 Iraqis and turned another 4,000,000 into refugees (in a population about 20% the size of America’s), the war that destroyed whatever infrastructure was holding the country together.
No, the only problem is the Iraqi government.
And it actually gets worse from there.
The U.S. fights in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Vietnam and other places (maybe next in Syria), provides billions of dollars in arms, trains the friendly soldiers, then begins to pull out—and what happens? Our good allies on whom we’ve squandered our sacred lives and our wealth fall apart.
Our lives are sacred. But those far-away, brown-skinned lives? The hundreds of thousands of them in Iraq? Not only are they not “sacred,” they’re so meaningless they’re not even worthy of mention in a magazine article.
And this notion that when America “squanders” (rare moment of honest nomenclature there) the lives of its soldiers in foreign wars, we’re doing it for the good of the people of the countries we invade, rather than for our own selfish ends? It’s the psychological gift that keeps on giving, enabling people like Gelb to go on supporting America’s wars because America’s wars really aren’t wars at all, no, America’s wars are in fact simply the magnanimous gifting of freedom and democracy to poor benighted peoples overseas, bestowed in beneficence by a generous, loving, enlightened people. Gelb’s subtext is right there, though it would be considered uncouth in his circles to say it plainly: You’re welcome, Iraq, you fucking ingrates. Now no more freedom gifts for you until you show us you’re mature enough to use them responsibly.
Actually, I think Lyndon Johnson said it better: “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” Another unintentional bit of ironic Gelb performance art, doing his part to cement the parallels between America’s premier foreign policy disasters.
Either our super foreign policy elite hasn’t read Reinhold Neibuhr, or they can’t understand him: