Who’s Sorry Now?

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a speech given at the Libertarian Party of New York state convention, on April 24. The second part will appear on Friday.

The neoconservative propagandists who tirelessly called for the invasion of Iraq, who agitated for it over a period of some 10 years, and echoed every lie promoted by the War Party, are now beginning to back away from their own horrific handiwork. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, they are trying to distance themselves from the bloodshed, the horror, the clear hatred of the Iraqis for their American “liberators” – oh no, they cry, we didn’t mean this! We didn’t mean for this to happen!

While George W. Bush urges us to “stay the course,” the radical wing of the War Party, or at least some prominent individuals associated with the neoconservative faction of this administration, are beginning to have second thoughts about the consequences of the war they worked so hard to unleash. David Brooks, writing in his New York Times column, calls himself “a humbled hawk,” and whines “I never thought it would be this bad.” You can hear his voice cracking, the poor pathetic little pencil-necked geek. How the mighty have fallen!

It seems like only yesterday that the same David Brooks, as a founding editor of The Weekly Standard, was excoriating the “anti-American” left (and us antiwar right-wingers) for predicting the disaster he goes on to detail. Brooks and his fellow neocons spent the better part of the last few years exhorting Bush to ignore the advice proffered by his own father, the Europeans, and much of the rest of the world, and invade a country that never posed a threat to the United States and never could. When Bush’s own generals expressed doubts about the feasibility of occupying Iraq for any extended period of time, The Weekly Standard published an editorial expressing utter horror that any military man should have the chutzpah to speak out against their war plans. After all, Brooks and Bill Kristol huffed, the civilians are supposed to be in charge of the military, not vice-versa, and the generals had best go “back to their barracks” if they know what’s good for them.

When General Eric Shinseki said it would take at least 200,000 troops to pacify and occupy Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz slapped him down in public and said he didn’t know what he was talking about. Today it is clear that Shinseki was right, and Wolfowitz was dead wrong, even as our military struggles to maintain even a semblance of order in Iraq – and 20,000 more troops are on the way, with more to come.

It was the former chairman of the joint chiefs, General Anthony Zinni, who said this war amounted to a “brain fart” emitted by some policy wonk who hadn’t thought out the consequences of his plan. When Defense Secretary Dnald Rumsfeld said he was “surprised” at the high level of casualties in the war against the Iraqi insurgents, Zinni said:

“I’m surprised that he is surprised because there was a lot of us who were telling him that it was going to be thus. Anyone could know the problems they were going to see. How could they not?”

They might have known but they sure as heck didn’t care, did they? Anybody who raised these objections was called a “traitor” – as General Zinni was typified by the neocons in this administration, according to the testimony of former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski. Now, he’s called a prophet – and the neocons, the David Brooks of this world, are backpedaling so fast they’re in danger of tripping over their own feet. Here’s Brooks:

“I didn’t expect that a year after liberation, hostile militias would be taking over cities or that it would be unsafe to walk around Baghdad. Most of all, I misunderstood how normal Iraqis would react to our occupation. I knew they’d resent us. But I thought they would see that our interests and their interests are aligned. We both want to establish democracy and get the U.S. out.”

None of this is quite believable. Anyone could have surmised that the Iraqis would resent the invasion and occupation of their country. After all, how would Brooks feel if a foreign army marched into Washington, D.C., took over the place, and, to add insult to injury, instead of just openly looting and trashing the place, promptly declared that they were there to “liberate” Americans – and then proceeded to loot and trash the place anyway, all the while forcing us to keep up the pretense of our alleged “liberation”?

It is a testament to the power of ideology – neoconservative ideology and the worship of abstract “democracy,” in this case – that someone could start from the premise that the interests of the invaders and the invaded could ever be “aligned.” Not since the fall of Communism have we seen this kind of doublethink openly expressed. But Brooks doesn’t hear the absurdity in what he is saying. With unctuous sincerity, Brooks is baffled by the utter wrongness of his idea that the Iraqis would welcome us as “liberators,” and he implicitly blames not the Bush administration – and himself – but the Iraqis. He writes:

“I did not appreciate how our very presence in Iraq would overshadow democratization. Now I get the sense that while the Iraqis don’t want us to fail, since our failure would mean their failure, many don’t want to see us succeed either. They want to see us bleed, to get taken down a notch, to suffer for their chaos and suffering. A democratic Iraq is an abstraction they want for the future; the humiliation of America is a pleasure they can savor today.”

Oh, those terrible Iraqis, why they’re just like the Al Qaeda terrorists, apparently, who supposedly hate us because we’re so free, so wonderful, so rich, and so full of ourselves. It’s a strange way to talk about a people we’re supposed to be “liberating”!

Brooks blames the “humiliation of America” on the Iraqis who dare to object that we’re occupying their country, not freeing it. But who are the real authors of this horrifically bloody public shaming? Why blame the Iraqis? After all, wasn’t invading them our idea, not theirs, in spite of what Ahmed Chalabi, the convicted liar and embezzler, led the Defense Department to believe? It was David Brooks who, from his perch as the official conservative commentator at PBS’s News Hour, had the following exchange with Mark Shields:

MARK SHIELDS: Once again we’re going to war with those at peril divorced from those at policy. Let’s be very frank about that. There aren’t going to be any mothers staying up late on Capitol Hill because their sons are over there. That’s one; second, Jim, being frank, who is going to pay for it? This is an administration Jack Kennedy said pay any price, bear any burden. This is an administration that won’t even ask Jack Welsh or Donald Trump to forgo their tax cut for the war. I mean, what are we going to do afterwards? Who is going to be with us? Are we going to be the first western Christian pro-Israeli occupying force, military occupying force of an Arab nation in that region?

JIM LEHRER: There’s about 12 questions there, David.

DAVID BROOKS: I’d say they’re all irrelevant…. The crucial issue is: are the risks of going in greater or less than the risks of not going in? The people who don’t want to go in have to accept the fact they’re going to produce a world in which Saddam Hussein continues to have weapons of mass destruction, continues to cement the political climate in the Middle East. To me, many people who are against the war, they have all sorts of issues they talk about, whether Bush is corrupt, corporate class, whether we should go to the UN. But the only issue that really matters is what is more dangerous for us. And if you’re against Bush going in, you have to say it’s acceptable, the status quo is acceptable. Saddam Hussein is acceptable the way he is.

Brooks hasn’t got a leg to stand on, because he was warned, and it’s on the record. His response was to dismiss it all with a wave of his hand and airily declare it “irrelevant.” Except, guess what, it wasn’t at all irrelevant, as we learned in the aftermath of our great “victory.” Because there were no “weapons of mass destruction.” There were no nukes, no chemical weapons, and no means of delivering either. As for Saddam’s much-touted links to Al Qaeda: none of it was real. It all turned out to have been a big lie.

So we took the risk for nothing. And now we are paying the price: over 700 dead, and the casualty rate is escalating, along with the scope and intensity of the battle. And what about the political climate today in the Middle East, which Brooks was so worried about? Is it better or worse since the conquest and occupation of Iraq? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Iraq today is a seething cauldron of ethnic and religious conflict and the scene of a rapidly escalating anti-American insurgency, but the problem isn’t just restricted to our newfound colony. A firefight recently erupted between Jordanian soldiers and Americans stationed in Kosovo: three Americans were killed, and ten were wounded, with one Jordanian casualty. The gunfight, which lasted a full ten minutes, was apparently the result of a previous discussion over the Iraq war, which ended in voluble disagreement – and gunfire. King Abdullah of Jordan has consistently been our faithful ally, albeit disagreeing with our knee-jerk pro-Israel foreign policy and obsession with Iraq: that we are now engaging in pitched battles with Jordanian troops – and in the heart of Europe, no less! – is indicative of how much we are hated throughout the Middle East.

Brooks tries to appear honest, and humble, in admitting his shock at the carnage: but what did he expect? He also tries to weasel out of having been so very wrong by claiming that he predicted that “we would be forced to climb ‘a wall of quagmires.'” But if you look at the transcript of the April 11, 2003 edition of the PBS News Hour that he refers to, it is clear from the context that he is being more than a bit sarcastic:

“I would say what we are going to climb here is a wall of quagmires; the military quagmire, we got all upset for a few days about that; the looting quagmire, there’s going to be political corruption quagmire.”

He then predicted “a series of problems” based on “the Soviet experience.” But of course the Soviet Union did not fall because of a U.S. invasion. Communism imploded due to its inherent inability to achieve a standard of living even remotely comparable to that of the West. The Marines never marched into Red Square. McDonald’s did.

It’s a case of “pessimism” versus “idealism,” he piously averred, although what is so damned “idealistic” about bombing a country, killing thousands of its citizens, and then trying to run their lives is a mystery to all but the neocons.

Ah, but Neoconservatism as an ideology is quite capable of turning black into white. Everything about it is an inversion. Historically, it is leftism turned into rightism: politically, it is conservatism, Soviet-style.

The Soviet aspect of all this comes out in Brooks’s non-apologetic apologia, in which he manages to weasel out of any responsibility for the lives lost, the treasure spent, the disaster unfolding before our eyes. I was wrong, he says, but I was really right. Although there is no mention of “dialectics,” Brooks conjures the spirit of the old Pravda by replicating the opportunism, the blind sloganeering, and the Panglossian “idealism” that served as the Soviet rationale for the murder of millions. He writes:

“We hawks were wrong about many things. But in opening up the possibility for a slow trudge toward democracy, we were still right about the big thing.”

What’s a few hundred – or a few thousand – or even tens of thousands of dead American soldiers, not to mention many more dead Iraqis, in the face of “the big thing”? And what is this “big thing”? Here, again, the Soviet style of neoconservative ideology comes to the fore, because this is how the Commies used to talk. When, during the 1930s, anti-Communists would bring up the gulags, the show trials, the utter lack of individual rights, the mass murders, the “liquidation” of the kulaks, and other atrocities, the comeback was always “you can’ t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” A few bourgeois corpses on the road to the Workers Paradise was a small price to pay for the Big Thing proclaimed by the Marxist “idealists” in the Kremlin, who thought they embodied the spirit of History. The pronouncements of the neocons are infused with a similar air of historical inevitability. While success in Iraq may not be right around the corner, Brooks exhorts us to take the long view:

“Despite all this – and maybe it’s pure defensiveness – I still believe that in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing.”

So when the parents of the fallen ask: Did my son die in vain? Did my daughter die for nothing?, the neocons are ready with their answer: Get back to me in twenty years….

Go to the second part of the speech.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was 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].