There is a torrent of Iraq War soul-searches in the media right now, and they continue to stick in my craw for their evasiveness, especially after the brutally self-critical tone of Andrew Sullivan’s professed regrets for his support.
I was looking forward to something similar from former Bush speechwriter — Mr. Axis of Evil himself — David Frum, and I did not get it:
My youngest daughter was born in December 2001: a war baby. When my wife nursed little Beatrice in the middle of the night, she’d hear F-16s patrolling the Washington skies.
In October, I attended a crowded briefing in the fourth-floor auditorium of the Executive Office Building, at which the Secret Service explained its plans to protect the White House against a biological attack. They weren’t very reassuring. Basically, we’d all be dead. Even more disturbing were the small-session briefings by staffers for the new Homeland Security adviser. They warned of simultaneous car bombings at strategic intersections, targeted assassinations of officials as they retrieved their morning papers from their stoops, and poisonous gases released in Metro stations.
Like many Washingtonians, my wife and I had prepared an emergency kit in the basement: canned goods, bottled water, flashlights, batteries. We had an evacuation plan, a rendezvous point two hours outside the city, and a stipulated wait time after which she was to presume I was a casualty.
These anxieties may sound luridly overdramatic today, but they suffused the mental atmosphere of the government of the United States as President Bush made the fateful decision to launch the Iraq War.
Frum goes on to talk about his own growing misgivings, how they were pointless given that he was ‘just a speechwriter,’ and how he recognized the incompetence of the occupation.
I am not impressed.
Everyone was scared after 9/11. Fine. Threats were suddenly appearing in subtle and unpredictable places, sparked by Islamist rage. Understood. What on Earth did that have to do with a hobbled, mainly-secular dictatorship? Could not even David Frum, surrounded by tales of impending doom though he was, not distinguish between the threat of radical Islamist terrorism from the imaginary threat of an unrelated despot in an unrelated country? Was no skepticism of any kind brought to bear?
Even Ezra Klein, of whom I am a fan, in copping to being wrong in his initial support of the war, is saying “sorry” for the wrong thing:
. . . at the core of my support for the war was an analytical failure I think about often: Rather than looking at the war that was actually being sold, I’d invented my own Iraq war to support — an Iraq war with different aims, promoted by different people, conceptualized in a different way and bearing little resemblance to the project proposed by the Bush administration. . .
. . . It wasn’t worth doing precisely because the odds were high that we couldn’t do it “right.”
I leave it to Jordon Bloom at The American Conservative to answer this:
To say “It wasn’t worth doing precisely because the odds were high that we couldn’t do it ‘right’” assumes it’s actually a matter of odds, not morality or Constitutional prerogatives. Can Klein answer what odds would have been good enough to justify the death of thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in a war in which the United States only had the faintest national interest? . . . in light of being deceived, is a little skepticism of either the information the government releases to the public or the projection of American power abroad too much to ask in light of his mistake?
There it is: a lack of skepticism. A stunning, troubling lack. That credulity, that “unforced error,” is the moral crime that Sullivan recognizes. Klein gets there, however, somewhat:
the people who are most persuasive aren’t necessarily the people who are actually right. Argument is a skill. Authority is a position. Trusting too much in either can lead you astray.
What’s difficult for me here, even as I witness those whom I greatly admire rending their garments about their support of the war, is that even to someone as distant from it all as me, it was glaringly obvious that the case for war presented by the Bush administration was a giant crock of shit. Speeches and responses to questions full of spooky hypotheticals and what-ifs; a sudden fixation on a rogue state that also happened to be one rich with oil and a former target of the same folks who had been in power a decade before; the convenience of a military conflict that would not be so covert as one waged against shadowy terrorists, but rather ready for television; a president, clearly too dumb to grasp nuance or tolerate details, smirking and strutting his way into a decade of atrocity, barely able to keep a straight face while he dishes out his rhetorical flak.
Why did anyone buy it? At times, in 2002 and 2003, I thought I might be going crazy, as so many smart, connected, informed people were so sure this was not only a good idea, but critical. To me, it was snake oil. And I wasn’t even thinking about how well or poorly the occupation might go, or whether Iraq would become a liberal democracy. I was still at square zero: We should not have this war because its justifications are fake.
This is why we need a skeptics’ movement, folks. Because skepticism ain’t just for deities, aliens, and alt-med. It’s for the shit we’re told by people twirling their mustaches right in our faces.
9 thoughts on “The Blood Will Not Come Off, Ctd.”
While certainly much of the support was based on lies, I think the moral arguments against the war were far more crucial. The idea that there’s some kind of right to a preventive war (this was NOT a preemptive one!) is dangerous and radical. For a little trip down memory lane re:the secular movement, here’s links to CFI’s journal issues of the day:
Free Inquiry: http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=index_23
Skeptical Inquirer: http://www.csicop.org/si/archive/P54/
More people ought to use the mustache twirling as a metaphor for villainy, especially by corporate and political interests. I often refer to the people trying to do bad as cartoonishly evil, from the no-abortions-for-medical-reasons guys to the bring-it-on warhawks. Anyone who sees those guys as a force for good needs to have their head shaken out like an Etch-a-Sketch.
it was glaringly obvious that the case for war presented by the Bush administration was a giant crock of shit.
They raised the standards of evidence. For every point of credibility Colin Powell sacrificed, Hans Blix got 2. And, yes, you’re right. Maybe next time it’ll take more than some chicken blood on a shirt.
What got to me most at the time was how so many people who had openly recognized Shrub’s shortcomings were suddenly lining up behind his butt, lips at full pucker.
It was as if they thought each plane that went down somehow increased his IQ by ten points, and shortened each White House nose by ten inches.
“Frum goes on to talk about his own growing misgivings, how they were pointless given that he was ‘just a speechwriter,’ and how he recognized the incompetence of the occupation.”
Do not believe anything that comes from Frum. He is an arsehole, sweet sort and simple. And to think of the mother he had – there was a real journalist and a personalitty, not some washed up has been.
I was living just north of Atlanta when 9/11 happened. I was working at a medical software company. About two to three weeks after the attacks the slow tedious process of digging through the smoking pit looking for body parts to bury was still being featured on the news. The TVs in the lunch room would normally play pro-company propaganda no one watched were all tuned into CNN. I was trying to enjoy my lunch with a couple of co-workers. My co-workers were all cloaked up just could not talk about anything other than the Twin Towers. By this time such a conversation would steer to who would be punished for such an affront to the United States. .
I told them not to worry. War was coming. As a country we were starting to recover from the shock. We are starting to get pissed. We will want our revenge. I was asked with whom we would fight. I told them it did not matter. We would sort through our long list of countries the government did not like and pick one. Then we would start to kill people. We were going to kill a lot of people. We were going to kill people in job lots for “Freedom” , “Democracy”, and un-spoken vengeance. I did express hope that we would kill the right people. But I did point out that given our government’s current leadership (Bush and company) I had my doubts.
Honestly I don’t understand all this soul searching. I knew a war was coming when I heard the news of the second plane strike. It all just a matter of time and a target for our anger.
There is no excuse for supporting the U.S. attack on Iraq.
“it was glaringly obvious that the case for war presented by the Bush administration was a giant crock of shit.”
@Kraut: I object to you calling David Frum a “washed-up hasbeen”. He’s a washed-up never was!
Oh well, with him moving to the USA I guess Toronto’s gain is Washington’s loss! But you’re right about his mother. One would have hoped for better things. The really scary thing is that Frum is one of the only rethugs who makes any kind of sense – though extremely rarely.