With the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion coming up next month, we can expect a surge of explanations for what made that catastrophe possible. An axiom from Orwell — “who controls the past controls the future” — underscores the importance of such narratives.
I encountered a disturbing version last week while debating Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Largely, Wilkerson blamed deplorable war policies on a “bubble” that surrounds top officials. That’s not just faulty history; it also offers us very misleading guidance in the present day.
During our debate on Democracy Now, Wilkerson said:
What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process. . .
But why does this happen?
“These things are happening because of that bubble that you just described,” Colonel Wilkerson told host Amy Goodman. “You can’t get through that bubble” to top foreign-policy officials, “penetrate that bubble and say, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing, both to American civil liberties and to the rest of the world’s appreciation of America, with these increased drone strikes that seem to have an endless vista for future?’”
Wilkerson went on: “This is incredible. And yet, I know how these things happen. I know how these bubbles create themselves around the president and cease and stop any kind of information getting through that would alleviate or change the situation, make the discussion more fundamental about what we’re doing in the world.”
Such a “bubble” narrative encourages people to believe that reaching the powerful war-makers with information and moral suasion is key — perhaps the key — to ending terrible policies. This storyline lets those war-makers off the hook — for the past, present and future.
Hours after my debate with Wilkerson, I received an email from Fernando Andres Torres, a California-based journalist and former political prisoner in Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Referring to Wilkerson as “that bubble guy,” the email said: “Who they think they are? No accountability? Or do they think the government bubble gives them immunity for all the atrocities they commit? Not in the people’s memory.”
Later in the day, Torres sent me another note: “Not sure if we can call it a bubble, ’cause a bubble is easy to break; they were in a lead bunker from where the bloody consequences of their action can pass unnoticed.”