Actually, two Washington Post Op-Eds. Yet we can dispense with one as not worthy of attention: one columnist continues his self-contradictory campaign of earlier pieces to arm the “moderates” among the rebels in the particular case of Syria in order to keep that conflict from getting even worse. (The rest of the regular Tuesday lineup is filled out with making fun of the recent CPAC conference, and calling for legislation to forbid food stamp purchases of “junk foods.” Big issues, those.)
But let’s get serious. On March 19, 2003, U.S. troops invaded Iraq to inaugurate a conflict that would cost over 4000 American and untold numbers of Iraqi lives and at least a trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money, and would result in a country that is so politically divided today that, for example, the Vice President has been under criminal indictment, with a situation on the ground where the average citizen lives in fear of the next car bomb. It is exactly ten years later that Compassionate Conservative (Michael Gerson) has chosen to pen a column called “Obama’s foreign policy and the risks of retreat” (or in the print edition, “Creating a global vacuum”), which he begins by characterizing the world as in chaos and ends by invoking the specter of Munich 1938.
Before getting to what is in between, however, I must digress. If the PTB and the MSM have not learned the lessons of Iraq, it may be that neither has the left. I remember that at the somewhat anemic protest at the Washington Monument ten years ago tomorrow, as well as at the bigger and better protest in DC on a bitterly cold day two months earlier, there were a lot of “no war for oil” signs. One is invited to think of the CEO of Standard Oil getting President Bush on the phone and saying, “let’s go.” Thus this week a lot of attention is being paid (by the Guardian, TPM, HuffPo and last night’s FDL Late Night, at the least) to a recent Daily Beast article by former Bush speechwriter David Frum in which he reminisces about the times and says in particular that Dick Cheney and infamous Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi talked a lot about Iraq as “an additional source of oil.”
For us to swallow this is infantile leftism. Frum was a low level staffer without much access to the administration’s inner workings, who is surely aware that no one will fault him now for saying that oil was a factor, and who is working from memory. (And his memory is faulty in at least one detail in his original post. He writes “My youngest daughter was born in December 2001: a war baby,” and follows this with a series of statements about what was happening in DC at the time. One of these that I saw yesterday when I first looked at the article, since edited out, was a statement that sniper attacks had been terrorizing the suburbs. In fact these attacks took place almost a year later. I guess it’s good to know that Frum came to realize that this was incorrect.)
In fact, the war was started because overthrow of Saddam Hussein had long been on the agenda of key Bush administration figures, certainly including those who consulted with the Project (then called Committee) for the New American Century, the think tank whose manifesto included that goal, namely, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith. Thus any scrap of so-called intelligence, no matter how shaky, that lent weight to the position was eagerly embraced. (Some would even say they “lied” about this intelligence, and I have no basis upon which to disagree.) Oil was a factor in these people’s thinking, as was global power politics, and just plain old hatred of Arabs/Muslims (their minds not making any distinction between these groups). It is just possible that genuine concern over Saddam Hussein’s treatment of his people was a factor in the consciousness of some of our leaders, but I wouldn’t weight it highly.
In this context, without anywhere even mentioning Iraq, CC starts by reviewing the turmoil today in the MENA region and the rise of Asia, and then says:
Barring the option of utter despair, these challenges would seem to require expanded, sophisticated American engagement to shape an economic and security environment favorable to our long-term interests. Do any of these problems grow easier with time and inattention?
After this rhetorical question he laments that our actual response has been “budgetary chaos and military cuts, ideological self-questioning and mixed leadership signals.” A bit further on he castigates “the Rand Paul right” for opposing drone warfare, i.e., “a campaign conducted by U.S. intelligence services and military forces with exceptional patience, restraint and care in targeting.” (Tell that to the survivors whose loved ones were killed by drones hitting funerals.) This is followed by a claim that Obama himself is ambivalent on all these issues, and finally a caution that, after all, isolationism is too familiar an American tendency.
In short our concerned columnist, appealing to a traditional notion that foreign policy here and elsewhere is something methodically developed by a State Department/Foreign Ministry, and backed up by a War/Defense Department/Ministry, all with the guidance of the Chief Executive, wants this complex to act more forcefully against threats to “the national interest.” This is not how foreign policy actually happened with Iraq, and there is no reason to believe it is how business is conducted now. And there is no hint in CC’s thinking of guarding against the influence of moneyed interests, ethnic prejudice, or simple ego tripping in determining what the so-called national interest constitutes.
That is to say, he has learned nothing from the Iraq disaster.