By Isaac Butler
You know, it's amazing, the racket that war promoters have discovered and built for themselves over the last fifteen years.
Really, it's astounding.
First, you can get paid to promote the war in Iraq, a bullshit war fought for completely fraudulent reasons that many people knew or could tell at the time were fraudulent.
Then, when that war turns out to be total bullshit and to be costing a lot of money and killing a lot of civilians, you can get paid again to write publicly about your support for the War, whether it was wrong or not, and what you've learned. You can even argue that as someone who has made a very public mistake, you should be more trusted on foreign policy, not less!
Finally, when it comes time to talk about another foreign policy issue, you can yet again make more money bloviating about it without ever acknowledging that you got the most important foreign policy issue of the post-cold-war era wrong.
Which brings us to vocal Iraq war supporter Leon Wieseltier. In 2006, after the war in Iraq was pretty clearly shown to be a fraudulent boondoggle, Wieseltier wrote this:
Since I was a supporter of the war, I have its consequences also on my own conscience. I do not believe that American troops should die for some heartless Kissingerian notion of American credibility in the world, or the like. (Anyway, it is the war itself that is doing the most damage to American credibility. After terrorism, the most immediate problem for American foreign policy in the age of Bush is anti-Americanism.)
At first, this seems all well and good. Except note that Wieseltier's certainty about his opinions remains fully intact. Compare this to Matt Yglesias's excoriating admission that "The point is that this wasn’t really a series of erroneous judgments about Iraq, it was a series of erroneous judgments about how to think about the world and who deserves to be taken seriously and under which circumstances."
This loathsome certainty would prove to be Wieseltier's calling card when it comes to this, and, well, pretty much every other issue. Here is again in 2013, writing about the Iraq war 10 years on:
The Iraq war began wrongly and ended rightly...I would not have gone to war to democratize Iraq, but I hope that we do not blind ourselves to the extraordinary changes that have taken place there, and to the possibility of a decent outcome. It is an outcome upon which we might have had an influence. The important thing is that we, the United States, stay engaged: there are pluralists and democrats of all ethnicities and confessions whom we must support, not least because Iran has other plans for them, and for Iraq. But this is precisely what we are not doing. Staying engaged is not what President Obama does best. His policy toward Iraq is goodbye and good luck.
Note how sure he is here again. He, who got the most important foreign policy question of his Elder Statesmanship completely wrong, feels comfortable declaring that the Iraq war "ended rightly" because Iraq was on its way to being a functioning democracy, if only the US had the stomach to continue occupying it indefinitely.
And now, today, Wieseltier feels not a hint of doubt, not a scintilla of shame at this, his essay at the Atlantic in which he deploys a smokescreen of linguistic and literary analysis focusing on one word ("rut") in lieu of actually coming out and saying that what he wants is to continue the status quo with Iran until forceable regime change becomes necessary. And all the while, he is just so certain.
He's certain enough to use Iranian dissidents as props:
Six years ago, when the streets of Iran exploded in a democratic rebellion and the White House stood by as it was put down by the government with savage force against ordinary citizens, memories of Mohammad Mosaddegh were in the air around the administration, as if to explain that the United States was morally disqualified by a prior sin of intervention from intervening in any way in support of the dissidents.
Even though those same dissidents disagree with him about the Iranian nuclear deal.
He feels certain enough to recommend that, after this deal is complete, the US should take a series of steps including:
...Support[ing] the dissidents in any way we can, not least so that they do not feel abandoned and alone...We need to despise the regime loudly and regularly, and damage its international position as fiercely and imaginatively as we can, for its desire to exterminate Israel. We need to arm the enemies of Iran in Syria and Iraq, and for many reasons. (In Syria, we have so far prepared 60 fighters: America is back!) We need to explore, with diplomatic daring, an American-sponsored alliance between Israel and the Sunni states, which are now experiencing an unprecedented convergence of interests.
That will encourage Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, and all-but-guarantee we go to war with them.
He's not alone in plying this kind of authority-based schtick on foreign policy. For most public Iraq hawks, the failure of the war was not really a moment for reexamining themselves, finding fault, and changing their ways. It was instead just another opportunity for them to find a new way to be right and certain and good.
Which, I suppose, is their right. If the Iraq Hawks want to continue being bad writers and thinkers giving America bad analysis and bad advice, that's fine. More power to 'em. I just don't understand why we keep giving them highly paid and visible platforms from which to dump this stuff on our heads.