A Costly Education for America

In a desperate 11th-hour bid to save face and salvage credibility amid the violent collapse of their predictions of a "cakewalk" victory over Iraq, neoconservative opinionmakers appear to be preparing to spin America’s likely troop drawdown as just another stage in the fulfillment of their larger plans for the region.

"In Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere in the Arab world, the forces of democratic liberalization have emerged on the political stage in a way that was unimaginable just two years ago," Washington Post syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the most widely read neocon pundit, recently wrote on The Wall Street Journal editorial page. "They have been energized and emboldened by the Iraqi example and by American resolve."

Krauthammer’s determined ignorance of an Iraq on the cusp of civil war follows the declaration by Karl Zinsmeister, the editor-in-chief of the neoconservative The American Enterprise magazine, that "the war is over, and we won."

"What the establishment media covering Iraq have utterly failed to make clear today is this central reality: With the exception of periodic flare-ups in isolated corners, our struggle in Iraq as warfare is over," Zinsmeister wrote in June. "Contrary to the impression given by most newspaper headlines, the United States has won the day in Iraq."

Backing their claims of victory with few relevant facts, Zinsmeister, Krauthammer, and other neoconservative pundits appear to be attempting to use their platforms to counter reporting that indicates the situation in Iraq is deteriorating for the American occupiers. One such article published July 27 by United Press International was titled "U.S. Plans Iraq Troop Cuts as Revolt Rages."

"The struggle against the Iraq insurgency passed a crucial tipping point Wednesday with the current prime minister calling for major U.S. troop withdrawals and the U.S. ground commander there acknowledging they will probably come next year. The commander, however, made clear he did not expect the insurgency to have dropped by then significantly below its current level," the report said.

"In Washington, well-placed military sources told UPI that ‘as many as’ ‘20,000 or 30,000’ U.S. troops might be withdrawn from Iraq next year. That would bring the current force levels of around 140,000 – which many U.S. military officers privately, and most counterinsurgency experts publicly agree are already far too low to deal with the insurgency – down to only 120,000 or 110,000 troops."

There are also the reports, given more coverage in the mainstream media after the London bombings, that rather than diminishing the threat of terrorism, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have actually increased the West’s vulnerability.

“We’re being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live,” Michael Scheuer, a retired CIA Middle Eastern specialist and author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, recently told CNN.

An American drawdown from Iraq under these circumstances would be seen in the United States and around the world as a major blow to the neoconservative school of foreign policy, which Krauthammer defines as "an unashamed assertion and deployment of American power, a resort to unilateralism when necessary, and a willingness to preempt threats before they emerge."

Which is why, in order to minimize the damage to their future ambitions for American-underwritten or -initiated military action in the Middle East, and to preserve the image of "the Bush doctrine" (which Krauthammer says is really "a synonym for neoconservative foreign policy"), the neocons are furiously spinning their way to victory in Iraq – but not necessarily out of the neighborhood.

"There are too many entrenched dictatorships and kleptocracies in the region to declare anything won," says Krauthammer, who is now pushing for "relentless and ruthless" American actions against Syria. "What we can declare, with certainty, is the falsity of those confident assurances before the Iraq war, during the Iraq war, and after the Iraq war that this project was inevitably doomed to failure because we do not know how to ‘do’ democracy, and they do not know how to receive it." Tough talk that doesn’t square with their new (and probably wise) plans to cut and run.

But if Iraq ends up in civil war, or as a Shi’ite dictatorship with Iran as the ultimate beneficiary of America’s neocon engineered project (another increasingly likely scenario), all the spinning in the world won’t be able to sell Iraq as a victory for "democracy" – or to hide the failure of neoconservative foreign policy.

At nearly 2,000 American lives and $350 billion so far spent, learning that the neocons are terrible at making foreign policy assessments and dangerous when put into positions of authority is proving to be a costly American education. The additional realization that they are also dishonest historians who play fast and loose with the facts may be one of the few benefits of the expense.

Author: Steve Breyman

Steve Breyman will teach "War in Afghanistan" at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fall semester. Breyman is a veteran of the U.S. Army.