What a colossal collection of self-deluded idiots (These are our "best and brightest"?)

This week's upcoming five-year anniversary of our exploits in the country formerly known as Iraq is spawning a whole host of retrospectives - sort of the public policy version of "where are they now?". Typically, these features commonly include gauzy reflections on the past, brought to us by the people who led us down this primrose path.

The New York Times today presents a set of these anniversary apologia and what is striking about this collection is how none of the participants appears to have learned a damned thing during the last five years. From top to bottom, these nine epistles are self-serving and at the same time blind to the cold, hard truths with which the rest of America has been doused. Let's take them in the same order presented by the Times:

Former colonial governor L. Paul Bremer, finds himself lamenting the lack of a plan; a quick read of the five-paragraphs he has produced here shows no indication that he in anyway felt it was up to him to develop such a plan. Of course, who would expect an "Ambassador" to develop a plan for running a foreign country (although - in fairness - when that self-same ambassador takes it upon his shoulders to pen said nations constitution, one might feel entitled to have higher expectations for such an ambassador). His paragraph is at once one that lauds his own work in predicting the terrible threats of terrorism "fifteen months before the attacks of September 11th", while simultaneously expresses his bewilderment that the "American government was not adequately prepared to deal with the growing security threats". Prescient enough to see the threat but incapable of seeing what needs to be done to adequately deal with the threat: sad.

The strongest war booster of them all, Richard Perle, is equally adept at piecing together half-truths into whole cloth. He is the first to allude to the Iraq/Iran war of the 1980s, but he comes no where near mentioning that the US supported Saddam Hussein in that war (and no one ever mentions that it was Donald Rumsfeld, Special Envoy to President Reagan, who was hobnobbing with Hussein on how best to target the waves of child soldiers Iran had lined up against the artillery we shipped over to Iraq). Perle goes the farthest in mentioning the chemical and biological attacks Hussein launched during that war, but he never talks about from whence those weapons came. At the end, he does a brilliant pirouette and attacks Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice for all of the strategic blunders of this war and leaves his old buddy Rumsfeld without a mark. Which only makes sense as why not blame the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor for the troubled war policy, instead of the Secretary of Defense? I mean just because the position Rumsfeld held was called the Secretary of War right up through WWII, does not mean that war policy was his responsibility.

In fairness, I have to leave Anne-Marie Slaughter outside the coterie of idiots, within which I decried her cohorts to be the original gangsters. Her piece, which focuses tightly on the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, does properly encapsulate the dimwitted vision that is still held by other onlookers of Iraq. In just a few short paragraphs, she highlights how the core of a nation is contained within the cultural touchstones that relate to all of its citizens and she points out that without a central organizing concept, it is hard for the parts to remain whole.

But that brief respite from the foolhardy world is then broken by the next piece, this time from Kenneth Pollack. Mr. Pollack "only wish(es) he has understood before the invasion what was the reckless arrogance of the Bush administration". Indeed, if only there had been some sign. If only there had been members of the administration who had belonged to some sort of group - a cabal, perhaps - that long before the attacks of 11 September 2001 had called for a war in the Middle East, a war to reshape that region underneath the aegis of a larger American Empire. And if only that group had some sort of catchy name, like the Project for the New American Century. Yeah, if only.

I suppose someone had to challenge Richard Perle when it comes to percent of delusional rhetoric and it is Danielle Pletka who picks up the cudgel. She begins by berating the antiwar left - as though being properly opposed to this tragic and useless war from the start was someone the wrong position to hold - and goes on to rehash tired, old arguments that many other people were wrong about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein too. This is an argument that I find truly inexplicable: just because other people thought the world was flat does not make it so. But the real whole in this argument is that when the inspectors were let back into Iraq to go to all of the places, "around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat" where the US supposedly knew the weapons to be stored - not a single popgun was found. The icing on this cake of lies comes when the auther assails the Iraqi people for not having the "freedom gene" she believed them to hold and wishes we had spent more time teaching the Iraqis the building blocks of "civil society". What tripe. What exactly is civil about attacking a country that poses exactly no threat to your own?

Nathaniel Flick attempts to answer the question posed by the Times, "what have we learned" but in doing so he too chooses to take a narrow view of the conflict: "I wish we would have known Saddam did not have biological or chemical weapons". Here is a tip: not only was that known - it was reported by the recently re-introduced inspectors - acknowledging that would not have helped us fight a better war, it would have obviated the rationale for war in the first place. It was the lust for war by a president who finds it romantic (especially when it costs him nothing) that swept that knowledge under every available rug.

The next example presented to us by the Times is the classic one of CYA. Herein, as Major General Paul Eaton blames a non-operational Congress - and a Republican one at that - for not providing the oversight tasked to them by the authors of our Constitution. Why didn't Congress defend our troops, he asks? The better question is what in God's name made him think they would? Surely no one knows better than the Army that Congress has not declared war since 1941. No, in the nuclear age the questions of life and death are too thorny for these soft souls to tussle with in any level of detail. Since the war to end all wars (or was that the First World War?), Congress has preferred to overlook that penny-ante constitutional article that assigns to the Legislative branch alone the power to declare war (I was going to link to just that particular one, but read the whole damn thing; it's not that long). Oh - I should add that in blaming a "Republican-dominated Congress", General Eaton absolves his Democratic patron - Hillary Clinton - and all of the Democratic Senators and Representatives who supported this war of their responsibility. I seem to recall one of my civics teachers telling me something about how Senators can prevent a vote on any bill by holding a filibuster; might have been nice if at least one of those Democratic Senators had taken to the floor to oppose this worthless endeavor.

I suppose we should have expected perennial war booster, Frederick Kagan to put in a piece that says we learned as a nation what he always knew (small-footprint wars are silly). According to ol' Fred, not only have we all learned what he has always known, but even he has learned that the US military is even better at counter insurgency warfare than he ever imagined. Still - and I know this is an opinion piece - but should not a newspaper that professes to contain all the news that's fit to print at least feel some responsibility to challenge the administration - and their talking heads - on the statements like: "precision-guided weapons that minimize collateral damage"? I mean really, which members of our family do we describe as "collateral damage" when a bomb falls through the roofs of their house? How many civilians can be killed due to "collateral damage" and it still be called "minimal"? Why has no one yet - in the history of warfare - given us a metric to use for acceptable levels of the killings of innocents in the pursuit of the "mission"? How does a nation that professes to hold all life sacred even allow such phrases as "minimal collateral damage" to appear in our lexicon? Kagan is beyond delusional, in that he still professes to believe in "victory" in Iraq - as though anyone has any idea of what that means.

Finally, Anthony Cordesman tells us that he never imagined the threat from Saddam Hussein would prove to be a mere mirage, but that what surprised him was the ineptitude of the "A-Team" of national security personnel assembled by this President Bush. One wonders if he was paying attention during the run-up to this war or what made him feel that these men - and it was mostly men - with a long history of being chicken hawks (quick, what is the over/under on five deferments for Dick Cheney?) could possible be competent stewards of war?

Across this chain of fools, perhaps the biggest is the New York Times itself. Perhaps never has a newspaper with such a high opinion of itself be so deluded on what has to be the most serious decision a nation makes: when, where, how and why to wage war?

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