Eating Crow

As the president convenes a policy summit on Iraq – and speaks only to his neocon “critics,” whose big beef is that he hasn’t yet invaded the entire Middle East – we have more defections from the War Party to report. In the American Spectator, Neal B. Freeman, 54, a longtime conservative activist and member of National Review‘s board of directors, relates his struggles with the neocons over the Iraq war (via Daniel McCarthy):

“In our final meeting before the balloon went up in Iraq, I pleaded with my NR colleagues to reconsider their drum-beating for war. … I thought then and I think today that if NR had opposed the invasion it could have made a decisive difference within the conservative movement and, radiating its influence outward, across the larger political community. There were no takers for my brief. … In an overwrought phrase that I regretted instantly, I characterized the decision to invade Iraq as ‘stupid, dangerous, and hubristic.’ (I recall the phrase only because it was tossed back at me repeatedly in the early months of the war, as if it had been memorialized on a plaque in the Hall of Crazy Sayings.)”

Stupid, dangerous, and hubristic” – sounds about right to me. No reason to regret that phrase – and every reason to throw it in the faces of his neocon tormentors, who consider hubris a virtue instead of a fatal vice. Freeman’s long association with NR came to an end when David Frum published a screed excommunicating conservative critics of the war – such as Pat Buchanan, Bob Novak, and others, including myself – from the “respectable” precincts of the Right. And now more conservatives are joining the exodus, if not so dramatically: not only Francis Fukuyama, who has issued his own book-length mea culpa, but also John Derbyshire, the British-born professional curmudgeon and closet paleocon, whose recent belly-crawling apology in National Review is something we’d like to see more of:

“Since the Iraq war was obviously a gross blunder, is it time for those of us who cheered on the war to offer some kind of apology? Here we are – we, the United States – in our fourth year of occupying that sinkhole, and it looks pretty much like the third year, or the second. Will the eighth year of our occupation, or our twelfth, look any better? I know people who will say yes, but I no longer know any who will say it with real conviction. It’s a tough thing, to admit you were wrong. It’s way tough if you’re a big-name pundit with a reputation to preserve. For those of us down at the bottom of the pundit pecking order, the stakes aren’t so high. I, at any rate, am willing to eat some crow and say: I wish I had never given any support to this fool war.”

It is a tough thing to admit you were wrong – unless, of course, you weren’t wrong, but instead foresaw the total disaster this invasion would be for the United States. My contention – and that of others – is that the advocates of this war never had American interests in mind when they signed their names to declarations calling for “regime change” in Iraq. They never cared about the aftermath – only that the invasion got going before anyone could linger too long over the bogusevidence” of Iraq’s WMD.

Derbyshire tries to exculpate himself, albeit only partially, claiming that he saw the war as an opportunity to strike fear in Arabic hearts, and teach the nasty buggers a much-needed lesson in the wake of 9/11 – but the foreign policy of a great nation is not and cannot be predicated on a gesture. This is reality – not a play. Real lives are at stake. That may or may not matter to Derbyshire – surely the fact that we are talking, in large part, about Middle Eastern lives inclines me to lean toward the latter. After all, he also writes:

“We are not controlling events in Iraq. Events in Iraq are controlling us. We are the puppet; the street gangs of Baghdad and Basra are the puppet-masters, aided and abetted by an unsavory assortment of confidence men, bazaar traders, scheming clerics, ethnic front men, and Iranian agents. With all our wealth and power and idealism, we have submitted to become the plaything of a rabble, and a Middle Eastern rabble at that. Instead of rubbling, we have ourselves been rabbled.”

Yes, well what about those “confidence men,” not to mention “ethnic front men and Iranian agents”? Are we really talking about Arabs, here? Derbyshire seems to think so, but I don’t think it was Iraqis who got us into this war and are now profiting the most from it. The real “confidence men” are in Washington, not Baghdad: their names are Wolfowitz, Perle, Ledeen, Rubin, Franklin, and Frum, and their “ethnic front man,” Ahmed Chalabi, is an Iranian agent if ever there was one. So Derbyshire is wrong, there. But when he is right, he is very, very right:

“The lazy-minded evangelico-romanticism of George W. Bush, the bureaucratic will to power of Donald Rumsfeld, the avuncular condescension of Dick Cheney, and the reflexive military deference of Colin Powell combined to get us into a situation we never wanted to be in, a situation no self-respecting nation ought to be in, a situation we don’t know how to get out of. It’s not inconceivable that, with a run of sheer good luck, we might yet escape without too much egg on our faces, but it’s not likely. The place we are at is surely not a place anyone in 2003 wanted us to be at – not even Vic Davis Hanson.”

“Evangelico-romanticism” succinctly and very aptly describes our president’s adolescent fantasies of a “global democratic revolution,” and the Rumsfeldian mindset is perfectly captured in a phrase like “bureaucratic will to power.” Although “avuncular condescension” understates the considerably darker persona of President Cheney, who comes across as something a bit more sinister than a know-it-all uncle.

For all his gruff, hardboiled realism, however, Derbyshire can be charmingly naïve: what makes him think “the place we are at now is surely not a place anyone in 2003 wanted us to be”? Where are we, exactly, come to think of it? On the brink of war with Iran, that’s where – precisely where a small but influential cabal wanted us to be, and knew we would be, if their scheme to lie us into war succeeded. Even then, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the neocons were plotting a showdown with Iran – preparing the ground for the next war.

Derbyshire’s naiveté does not end there, however. He seems to have been taken in by the neocons’ “mission accomplished” propaganda, which we were bombarded with in the early months of the war, when the insurgency was said to consist of a few stubborn “dead-enders,” like those Japanese soldiers found still fighting World War II on some isolated Pacific atoll. Derbyshire avers:

“As it is, the shock value has all been frittered away. Far from being seen as a nation willing to act resolutely, a nation that knows how to punish our enemies, a nation that can smash one of those ramshackle Mideast despotisms with one blow from our mailed fist, a nation to be feared and respected, we are perceived as a soft and foolish nation, that squanders its victories and permits its mighty military power to be held to standoff by teenagers with homemade bombs – that lets crooks and bandits tie it down, Gulliver-like, with a thousand little threads of blackmail, trickery, lies, and petty violence.”

What “victory” did we “fritter away”? Only the illusory one our Boy Emperor proclaimed from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, dressed in that silly military get-up like Commodus in the arena. And I might add that “teenagers with homemade bombs” have held off quite a number of supposedly “mighty” military powers. The list includes Derbyshire’s home country, Great Britain, which fell into socialism and an advanced state of decay just as soon as the sun began to set on its vaunted “empire.” Dragged down by their “stupid, dangerous, and hubristic” foreign policy of swaggering Kiplingesque imperialism, the Brits went the way of their Roman predecessors, and that, too, is where we are headed – for the dustbin of history, the graveyard of empire, where the bleached-out bones of would-be global hegemons molder slowly into the earth.

Derbyshire’s fantasy about striding into the Middle East and striking fear and awe in the terrified minds of the region’s inhabitants, then vanishing into the distance, had nothing to do with the actual aims and ambitions of the war he supported. Aside from being morally reprehensible and damaging to the long-term interests of the United States, such a capricious and cruel policy is simply not the way Americans operate. Derbyshire mistakes us for the Israelis. The U.S. government is eager to have us accept the premise that we are in Iraq to do some good: every intervention is, for us, a “humanitarian” intervention – no matter how many innocents we slaughter.

The invasion and conquest of Iraq has but one goal, made all too clear by the news that a provision prohibiting the establishment of permanent military bases in Iraq was recently struck from the military appropriations bill in committee.

Our rulers dream of Empire, and they are not about to be deterred by the gentle reproaches of a few dissident Democrats, or the characteristic reluctance of the American people to be dragged into overseas adventures. Derbyshire is right to apologize for his great mistake in supporting the first phase of this crazed scheme to succeed where Alexander the Great failed. Now let him add his voice to those of us protesting the advance on Damascus and Tehran.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].