In the dumbed-down debate we're having, there are only two sides: Pro-war and antiwar. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war. Second, the antiwar types aren't really pacifists. They favor military intervention when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur or starvation in Somalia or doing whatever that was President Clinton did in Haiti. In other words, their objection isn't to war per se. It's to wars that advance U.S. interests (or, allegedly, President Bush's or Israel's or ExxonMobil's interests).This is where the mea culpa turns into something else completely -- starting with an attack on those who now understand, or knew all along, that the administrations reasons for going to war were not the reasons we were given.
Because yes, there is a substantial proportion of the anti-war movement that opposes wars fought solely to "advance U.S. interests" -- and, as it happens, quite a substantial proportion of the "pro-war" crowd feels the same way. (Jonah refers to this fact in a sidelong manner when he outlines the "silly" lines of the debate -- as he defines it -- above.)
Americans tend to approve of wars fought to defend ourselves or save the lives of innocents. They tend to disapprove of wars fought to advance economic or geostrategic interests. That's why the war was never, ever, ever presented by the administration as anything but a regrettable but necessary act of self-defense, which would benefit the whole world.
The whole problem with this war was that, despite all the security and liberation rhetoric spewed by the administration and its supporters -- and, apparently, swallowed whole by folks like Fukuyama -- it seems that none (zero) of the policies implemented around the war campaign were oriented toward security or liberation. Every element of the war's execution and aftermath seems to have been carried out with an eye toward advancing U.S. interests -- specifically, the economic and geostrategic interests of the administration's political allies. All indications that there was significant and thorough planning done for post-war Iraq -- for parceling out oil fields, for building bases, for telecom contracts, for leasing armored SUVs for official use -- it simply had nothing to do with returning Iraq to the Iraqis. That's not incompetence or faith; it's simply greed.
Now we have the Baker group (allegedly) contemplating once again installing a US-friendly strongman dictator to keep the oil flowing. Now we have about a million displaced Iraqis hating America for what Bush did to their country. Now we have a stability paradox in Iraq -- if we stay there will be trouble, and if we go it will be double.
These are the fruits of a war fought to "advance U.S. interests" . . . those, and some stock index inflation triggered by hemorragic government spending. Anybody want to tell me how it's pacifistic or naive to think that the greatest country on Earth should have a better motivation than that to bring the hammer down?
Nonetheless, in the very next sentence, Goldberg proceeds to explain that those wacky America-haters who assumed that Bush was lying about the reasons are one reason that he's taken so long to come around to what he now calls the truth -- specifically:
The WMD fiasco was a global intelligence failure, but calling Saddam Hussein's bluff after 9/11 was the right thing to do. Washington's more important intelligence failure lay in underestimating what would be required to rebuild and restore post-Hussein Iraq.The problem here is that this position is no less preposterous than the one Goldberg is renouncing. He wants to shift, as so many are attempting to do, away from the position that Iraq will be okay, really, have faith -- and toward the "boy, was that a mistake" position . . . which seems meaningful, until you realize that this shift:
1) Brings him (at best) only marginally closer to the reality of the situation; and
2) Allows him to continue arguing for more of the same bad policy, on the grounds that we stepped in it, now we have to clean it up.
Indeed, by arguing that this was simply an incredible mistake, Jonah implies that the administration can be trusted to try to "fix" it. This seems to be the fallback position for most administration supporters, and it's what's so dangerous about pushing the incompetence explanation for what went wrong in Iraq.
What went wrong in Iraq was that the administration got more or less what it wanted. Trusting them to fix the problem will only compound it.
And, incidentally, what all of the above also adds up to is that this ridiculous state of affairs can't be taken to prove a damn thing. We could have fought the same war and actually made democratization and security our priorities, and who knows? It seems like we had a real opportunity in the early days after the regime fell.
But the real reason many of us were so reflexively opposed to the war wasn't some sort of inherent pacifism, it was a certainty -- based on the histories of men like Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Bush Senior -- that they had their own agenda, and would simply craft the necessary rhetoric to get the American people behind them. And, whaddya know, we were right. People who failed or chose not to understand this fact at the time can be forgiven, but it'd be nice if they acknowledged it now, rather than writing it off to "incompetence" and the like.
Sure, maybe it's annoying to have some bunch of liberals pointing out that these people were crooks and swindlers and shouldn't be trusted. Maybe it's tempting to write us off as a bunch of nuts. But, really, the administration has too often made the wrong decisions, too consistently undermined their own stated goals, for any attentive observer to not at the very least seriously consider that we're right, that these people are flat-out lying about what they hope to accomplish. Jonah never even raises the possibility.