Monday, June 23, 2014

There was a post at Crooked Timber on the recent reappearance of the architects of the Iraq war in the mainstream media

There were a number of hugely educational comments by Bruce Wilder:

Bruce Wilder 06.19.14 at 7:08 am

“I’m a stopped clock, and I’m bound to be right, eventually” doesn’t seem all that persuasive to me, but it might be different on Fox News.

I was never of the opinion that “success” required staying in Iraq for an indefinite period bordering on the infinite, and that withdrawal would cause “failure”, but if I did, I might feel vindicated by the course of events.

I never thought that the unprovoked U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was some great gift of freedum, which the undeserving Iraqi savagery should feel deeply grateful, but if I did, I might think the U.S. didn’t so much fail, as it was failed.

Did common sense and reasonableness ever have a place in the post-9/11 American foreign policy?

Bruce Wilder 06.19.14 at 5:20 pm

To elaborate: however powerful a parasite may be, it is simply not true that the parasite understands how the host works, or has an interest in making the host work well. The grifter or thief or mobster lives on the dysfunction of the society, as well as its function, but is likely to confuse the former with the latter. The thief appreciates, in his way, the value of the institutions of private property or money, and may well understand in some dim way that he participates in an assault on those institutions, but he never expects that his assault will cause the institution to collapse. If he imagines any consequence beyond his own satisfaction, he probably thinks his victims will come back stronger than before. The sheep will breed more lambs and grow more wool. Against reason, he imagines a positive response from his depradations.

The Project for a New American Century types saw the establishment of the American Imperium, rooted in the occupation of Germany and Japan and those nation’s subsequent economic miracles, as a precedent, if not truly a model. This would be an opportunity, in the wake of the end of the Cold War, to push back the frontiers of Empire, to create a new occupation, followed by a new miracle.

They cobbled together some PR drivel and farcical narratives from storehouse of American myths of WWII and the Cold War, and trumped up a melodrama of “weapons of mass destruction”. It was absurd, but it was met by weakmindedness and moral vacuum, which continues to this day.

“The plan” was really no plan at all. The principals simply had no idea what actual planning required, consisted of. If you look into the details of the operation, you can see some feeble attempts at planning, which serve to highlight how determined the principals were to screw it all up. The intelligence agency at the State Dept did some excellent work. The guy they put in charge of the Occupation before Bremer seemed sensible enough. And, in the same palsied spirit, you can see the consciousness of lies about WMD and the intention to reconstruct Iraq — to solve the country’s problems with electricity, water, poverty and sewage.

The important thing to realize is not that the problems of Iraq, however they may be identified or enumerated, were “too difficult”, and therefore nothing should have been attempted. That’s not a useful parsing; that’s just more weakmindedness. The important thing to realize that this is a case of the fox taking charge of the chicken coop.

Bruce Wilder 06.20.14 at 2:32 am

Layman @ 63: [some of those who promoted the war (e.g. Cheney) secretly had permanent occupation in mind…] You see the rest as useful idiots. Some were, but it’s hard to believe that they were all one or the other; that no one not in on the con ever asked how & when we get out.

The point of my comment @58 (née 57) was that those not-in-on-the-con have to be able to recognize that the con is a con, and treat it accordingly, drawing attention to its nature, and the nature of its proponents. The success of a con depends on getting a lot of people not in on the con to play along, — in this case, the “Very Serious People” mentioned by Bad Jim @ 8, for example, people paid to model idiocy in the Media and to keep the discourse in the double-digit-IQ range. WMD was a PR invention and means of cynically manipulating public opinion, but it was treated — and is still treated — as if it is a required aspect of shared reality in the mainstream media.

Weakmindedness plays a large part in how “the pattern of discourse” others have been commenting on, is perpetuated.

Why did “no one . . . ever ask how & when we get out”? I’m sure some people did ask, and were frozen out and bullied. No one lost their job in the mainstream Media advocating for Bush’s invasion of Iraq; the consequences for those questioning U.S. policy or journalistic standards at leading outlets haven’t fared as well.

Even Colin Powell, whose brand-name Powell Doctrine asked the exit strategy question, was Secretary of State; he was willing to go before the Security Council and present a fraudulent case. Is he routinely referred to in the Media as the disgraced former Secretary of State? That’s what a healthy discourse would look like. We wouldn’t be just looking for apologia, we’d be routinely dishing out disgrace, like we meant it. Maybe even prosecuting war criminals. But, no, we look forward, and make no judgments.

Bruce Wilder 06.20.14 at 5:37 am

Powell admits it was a mistake, in the ritualistic rhetoric of apologia issued by someone, who thinks people should continue to trust and honor him (as per the OP), but he doesn’t, even now, identify it as a con. And, people don’t generally dishonor him as a liar and someone, who failed his country in an office of great trust — Ed Herdman did not do so in his comment, he made more excuses for Powell. Instead of confronting the horror of what Powell did, in the service of a criminals committing a great crime, Ed Herdman offers fanciful counterfactuals. He made sure the U.S. had some international support for its ill-advised war crime. (How’s that an excuse?)

I’m not concerned with whether Cheney and company somehow bullied and humiliated Powell; boo hoo, the might General got bullied on the playground — I’m concerned that Powell shamed his own country, and contributed mightily to the injustice and misfortunes of the world we live in.

My point, here, isn’t to beat up on Ed Herdman, who is a thoughtful commenter; it is to question how we all became so weakminded. This is a “consensus” as Ed Herdman called, and I think he called it that correctly. And, it is a real problem: a pattern of discourse that drives politics into the ditch, again and again.

Bruce Wilder 06.20.14 at 6:04 am

roy belmont @102

My father used to like to say, “You can’t cheat an honest man,” an echo, I’m sure of the 1939 film by W.C. Fields: “You can’t cheat an honest man; never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump.”

The confidence we want to place in our leaders is our fault.

Bruce Wilder 06.20.14 at 5:14 pm

Ed Herdman @ 107

I cared enough about what Powell said in his apologia to go to da Google and find some snippets on YouTube and the New York Times report of the first interview where he expressed his revised view, etc. before I wrote my comment. So, yes, I saw or heard how ambivalent he was, how he continued to endorse the war itself as a policy and how he emphasized the long hours he spent with George Tenet going over the “evidence” (a dramatic embellishment of the lie! — of course, he didn’t blame poor George Tenet, he unctuously assure his interviewer), etc.

EH: I think you’re creating one where you concoct a scenario where Colin Powell pushed a war he didn’t think was just or likely to succeed.

By pushing so hard to make this a question of sincere intent, you are dragging the whole discussion down a rabbit hole. I’m not constructing a counterfactual at all; I’m relying on the factual. Colin Powell did advocate for a war that was unprovoked, and told lies to create the impression that there was provocation. He did advocate for a war for which the planning was extremely poor. Those are facts. Whatever imaginary construction with which you want to clothe those facts, your argument should have to fit those facts, to take account of those facts, to confront and account for those facts.

The original con created a fog to distract and obscure those facts. The work of the UN inspectors and the intelligence agencies and common sense was buried underneath the melodramatic talk of mushroom clouds and aluminum tubes and mobile labs and absurdly tenuous links alleged between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

I want us to let go of the con and its fog, and look with appropriate horror on what was wrought under its cover.

Layman commented @ 63, “it’s hard to believe that . . . no one not in on the con ever asked how & when we get out.” That brought to my mind the example of Colin Powell. His subsequent apologia are premised on the idea that he was not in on any con, man of military honor and rectitude that he likes to portray. His name is famously attached to a doctrine that includes the idea that every intervention plan should come with an exit strategy. These are facts. He was a General. Secretary of State. I really do not want to go further than the facts.

Powell’s job was to be an intelligent and discerning consumer of intelligence. He had considerable resources at his disposal in his own Department and in the larger intelligence community and in the international community of which he was among the most prominent leaders, formally and informally, with acquaintance and contacts of long duration, from his long career. He was trained. He had experience and authority.

As Secretary of State, he squandered the little remaining credibility of the U.S. facilitating an ill-planned war of aggression (– a war crime by America’s own definition) that ended in a humiliating and enormously costly failure. That’s the culminating achievement of his career, and I’d like him to be “honored” for it appropriately, not with continued deference, but with the contempt that his failure to serve deserves.

Yes, I get that one can get lost in the details of whether Powell knew, or should have known, that the script he read at the UN was false and deceptive. Was Powell fooled? Whose lies were in the script he read? (Wait! He was reading a script? Is the Secretary of State an actor assigned from Central Casting?) And, on and on. Did the whole Administration fool itself? Could Powell have known that the planning for the invasion and occupation was faulty? Was he responsible for that? Did he fight the good fight with Rummy and lose in inter-office politics?

To take Roy Belmont’s pointer, that’s just re-creating the confidence game, with all its distractions and misdirection of attention. You’re back to trying to track under which shell is the pea. And, still failing to notice that it was a shell game all along.

Bruce Wilder 06.20.14 at 5:26 pm

Bill Kristol — a face for radio, a voice for writing, and a mind for television.

Lee A Arnold:

I was on the fence about invading Iraq. I don’t think a war of choice is a good idea, I don’t think breaking international law is a good idea, and I don’t think getting into something you don’t understand is a good idea. And I never believed the weapons of mass destruction thing. BUT I think that getting rid of dictators is usually a good idea, especially a cruel one. I prefer to discuss real events unless the conversation is meant to be theoretical or psychological. What the U.S. is doing now seems to me to be smart.[!?!] . . .

That was a superb example of the OP’s recommended rhetoric of self-rehabilitation.

Should we expect you on Fareed or Face the Nation this Sunday?
Bruce Wilder 06.20.14 at 6:17 pm

It’s so easy to get distracted by the fascinating game of thrones, which is the Middle East.

For geographic, not ethnic reasons, Iraq will tend to become one country one way or another, whether it is ruled from the headwaters or the delta, the center or from Iran, it will tend to become one country, even if that means domination of large parts of the population by other parts.

The U.S. is clearly out of its depth in the chaos of Syria/Iraq, not least because of the American relationships with Saudi Arabia (which is backing ISIL — are we not supposed to notice?) and Iran (which is a major support to the Shiites in Iraq). Why is the U.S. implacably hostile to Iran and strongly supportive of the Saudi’s? Just on the surface, Saudi Arabia would seem like an enemy of the U.S., and Iran, if not an ally, then at least a potential cooperative partner regionally. This craziness, I think, is directly traceable to allowing American foreign policy to be hijacked by oil interests operating covertly.

If we had truly wanted stability in Iraq, it would have been achievable, if and only if we were willing to see the Iraqi’s use the oil for their own development and industrialization, foregoing in fairly short order the imperative to export it all. As long as Iraq (and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other Gulf States) are extractive regimes, extracting and exporting the oil, there are strong political economic incentives to concentrate income, wealth and power in very few hands, which leaves most of the population very, very poor and without prospects. The West wants the oil, with increasing desperation, so maybe we don’t really want a vigorous mass-market economy in the Middle East consuming its own oil and producing its own food and manufactured goods and generally enjoying a high standard of living. It’s a quandary, and though an enlightened regard for mutual benefit and human rights and welfare might, theoretically, animate American foreign policy, we settle the difficult question by allowing oil and financial interests to drive the conduct of policy and military intervention, and the oil companies and international banks prefer to promote extractive regimes, that concentrate the wealth in financial instruments and export the oil.

We are not a nice species, we humans.

Bruce Wilder 06.20.14 at 6:36 pm

One of the sadder aspects of the futile effort to make sense of the George W Bush Administration’s Iraq policy is the way it corrupts our whole concept of what a foreign policy in the American national (aka public) interest would look like, how it would be formulated or conducted. Conmen do not model well statesmen. They really don’t.

Bruce Wilder 06.21.14 at 5:33 pm

J Thomas: “It sounds like you’re saying “Yes, of course he was wrong, but putting that aside, if we ignore that he was plainly wrong, we can argue that he wasn’t *really* wrong. He had reasons for what he did, and when he had reasons that means it was OK.”

I especially enjoyed that.

Peter K:“Didn’t the Bushies understand that such massive negligence and dishonesty would damage their brand?”

They did not care. That’s part of the essential difference between a con game and equity investment in a continuing, value-generating enterprise. “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” or variations on that theme, and the assurance that someone else will hold the bag or clean up the mess, and then a new con game can be introduced, a new brand. Because the con-man is not building something to last; the con-man’s long-term plan is to be gone. The con-man is not aiming to create value to be realized in the long-term; the con-man is extracting cash from destruction of the long-term.

It doesn’t matter, for example, that they spent $13 billion on the reconstruction of Iraq, when $60 billion was needed and $18 billion was appropriated; it matters that they spent it without accomplishing anything but lining the pockets of private contractors (with ties to one or more of the political factions in on the con, in the U.S. or in Iraq or in Kuwait), and no one — at least no one important, but almost no one unimportant, either — was prosecuted for stealing the money or wasting it. Iraq needed electricity, clean water, sewage treatment and efficient rail transport. It didn’t get them. It got some dilapidated schools painted, but not repaired and some police stations that couldn’t be used because the plumbing didn’t work and a variety of electrical generating projects that couldn’t be connected to the electrical grid. And, Cheney collected retirement bonuses from Halliburton, but, hey, he made a “mistake”; they all made “mistakes”.

Anarcissie 06.21.14 at 6:34 pm

Among the having-been-wrongs is at least one hot presidential candidate; it might be more interesting to go into that situation, than to belabor such hulks as Cheney and Powell, who are (hopefully) now politically aground and rotting.

Bruce Wilder 06.21.14 at 7:18 pm

But, clearly we do need to belabor the hulks. When you cannot recognize the con game for a con game, even after it is over, it’s never over. It’s never over until someone stops it.

There’s two halves of the pathetic human attempt to do stuff: the speculative formation of expectation, the analysis prior to experience, the promise of reward, the planning and the organization. That’s one. And, then there’s the aftermath; the feedback, the governance (telling word, no?), the retribution, the taking stock. We do not take the latter half seriously enough, and then we wonder why our politics spirals ever downward, as we look forward . . . to still more and worse crap.

Bruce Wilder 06.21.14 at 11:30 pm

Iran aspires to be a modern, constitutional, industrialized social welfare state, while Saudi Arabia is determined to remain a medieval autocracy (with iphones and themeparks).

I think the contrast between them highlights the extent to which U.S. foreign policy is the wholly-owned subsidiary of reactionary business interests, which use American power abroad in highly destructive and unethical ways, to benefit parasitic business interests at public expense, that are then covered domestically by a modicum of propaganda efforts, aided by the ignorance and disinterest of the American public. The Iraq War was unusual, in that it was highly visible in the U.S., at least at the outset, and required a large-scale propaganda effort, to cover up just how costly and destructive to U.S. interests it was.

The Iranians are pissed off at the U.S. for trying to impose an autocratic state on Iran, which is kind of telling in itself, but it’s not as if the 9/11 hijackers were Iranians . . . or Iraqis. In Iraq, right now, the U.S. is supporting the Iranian-backed government against the Saudi-backed ISIL. It’s funny how these things work out.

So, here we are commenting, “judiciously, as you will.”

Bruce Wilder 06.22.14 at 4:24 pm

Peter K @ 219

PK: Did you watch the Fox News clip of Megyn Kelly slamming Cheney?

Yes, it was amusing. But, what’s your point? That Fox News, literally, has a brand, and wants to protect it? Duh. Megyn Kelly plays a certain, assigned role. Remember election night with Karl Rove? It is what she does.

PK: Iran aspires to be modern? The people do maybe. The regime wants nukes and is opposed to Israel. The Saudis have oil and have a detente with Israel . . .

You wrote this dreck, and then concluded your comment with the throwaway, “low quality comments”? Really?

I’m not going to carry a brief for Iran. My points were about the self-destructiveness of American foreign policy and the propaganda that covers for that destructiveness. When I wrote, “Iran aspires to be modern”, I was referring to a commitment expressed in national policy; Iran has poured resources into education and science in recent decades. The literacy rate has more than doubled since the fall of the Shah, and Iran has one of the most vigorous national scientific establishments in the world. They have a national policy of developing nuclear power, similar to the policy of the French. It is the U.S., which insists that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, while the horizon on the development of an actual weapon recedes steadily; the regime emphatically denies it, and its powerful religious leaders insist on moral principle, that Iran should forswear nuclear weapons. Of course, the U.S., with its hostility, has given Iran strong motivations to get nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, it is the U.S.’s great, good ally, Pakistan, which has received billions in U.S. military aid, hosted Osama bin Ladin, and given nuclear tech to Libya and North Korea. And, Pakistan’s educational investments? Explosive growth of Madrassas to radicalize the population and turn out militants, funded in part by the Saudis, of course.

Again, the point, here, is not to paint any country as “good guys” or “bad guys”. The point is to expose the ridiculousness of such cartoonish propaganda, and to expose the self-destructive policy choices such propaganda covers.

Bruce Wilder 06.22.14 at 8:19 pm

J. Thomas: . . . you said it in a way that would encourage people not to listen.

I thought he said it in way that expressed very well his contempt for those, who seem determined not to hear.

I appreciated your more prosaic statement of the case, but do you really think omitting profanity removes anything but an excuse?

bob mcmanus @ 225, 228, 229

The purpose of much centre-left discourse is to feel informed, righteous and aggrieved, and excused for passivity. . . did the discussions on the left in 2002-03 about WMD, Powell’s veracity and integrity, the arguments for and against the invasion “make any sense?” . . . As long as you are giving a single thought to “What do we do about Iraq?” Halliburton, Exxon, and the Pentagon will use that five steps ahead of where you think they are. They will make history while you watch.

You are on an end-of-thread roll.

A few weeks ago, I read David Kaiser’s No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War. Though certainly not the author’s intent, he describes quite well the initial stages during which America’s nascent corporate state was organized for world domination.

Contrary to Layman @ 67, the United States did intervene in WWII in a big way, prior to Pearl Harbor, but FDR chose to walk a political tightrope by refraining from a declaration of war, trying to gain time and space for industrial and military mobilization, even though the absence of a declaration of war meant it was difficult to manage the total mobilization of society that the scale of effort ultimately required.

FDR appointed Republicans to head the War and Navy Departments (there was no Defense Department, yet), beginning the precedent that Democratic Presidents have followed through Obama. He effectively drafted leading businessmen to planning commissions, including the head of General Motors, and a number of other leading businessmen of the day. There was a remarkable degree of public-spiritedness in all of this, with businessmen serving for a $1 a year and some hard-nosed negotiating over whether the government would own the war production facilities or intellectual property it was going to pay for, and how much profit business should expect to earn from the war effort. FDR did not want anyone coming out WWII with the kind of money and power that the DuPonts came out of WWI with.

Of course, in the 1930s, there were plenty of people, including leading lights of the Democratic Party, both liberal and conservative, who were highly skeptical of the motives and practices of corporate America. Organizing countervailing power was the major project of the New Deal.

I see the Rise and Fall of that New Deal America in the course of subsequent history. It’s not nostalgia, I think, so much as a recognition of the cyclical process of institutional aging. Powell was a spokesmodel for a senile, syphilitic corporate America, retaining the form but corruptly stripping out truth and substance from the precedents of WWII. George W Bush giving an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, and refusing to take “yes” for an answer was history repeating as farce. The war machine that ground Japan to helpless surrender in less than 4 years while invading Nazi Europe, couldn’t win a war in one of the poorest countries in the world in more than a decade of spending every year more than that country’s GDP.

That Empire, that world order, created in WWII and its aftermath, is coming apart, like a termite-ridden house or a cancer-ridden nonagenarian. It’s all blowback all the time, now. While we’ve been contemplating the consequences of the failure of the Iraq War, a humanitarian crisis is erupting out of central America that’s challenging Obama’s hardline immigration policy — Honduras is breaking down into lawlessness. I’m sure somebody on Fox News is struggling to find a way to make that into a Islamic Clash of Civilizations, and some leftist is trying to remember what Eisenhower had to do with it.

Thailand. Ukraine. The Euro Crisis. The list is very, very long, and remarkably diverse and, increasingly, all-encompassing.

bob mcmanus: When your only thoughts are “What do we do about Halliburton, Exxon, and the Pentagon,” and the answer is not “HRC instead of Paul” but rather what does America look like when corporations and the MIC are smoldering ruins then and only then will you be really helping Iraq.


I have a lot of friends, who want to talk about HRC, as if she doesn’t work for them, as if she really thinks she and Bill earn those $200,000+ speaking fees, by “working hard” and that she remains “independent”.

I don’t hold out much hope for organizing insurrection, especially in the goldfish bowl that is the twitterverse. But, remember Bruce’s dictum: Conservatives make revolutions.

The preservationist instinct among American liberals runs very strong, but is fundamentally misinformed about the limits of practical possibility. Their conservative counterparties . . . “misinformed” doesn’t begin to cover the case, does it?

Bruce Wilder 06.22.14 at 10:02 pm

LFC @ 238

I didn’t mean to ignore you. I thought you answered your own question. I was referring to the history of American support for the Shah’s regime (and for shading that regime’s character away from constitutional monarchy and toward autocratic repression — SAVAK and all that.) So, yes, the 1953 coup d’état on behalf of corporate oil interests, though the history goes back at least to the Persian Corridor in WWII, when Mohammad Rezâ Pahlavi displaced his father with Soviet and British connivance, and American troops played an occupier’s role.

From an Iranian’s perspective, this wasn’t an isolated incident in 1953, it was a pattern of American subversion of Iranian national aspiration, which has continued to the present day. The U.S. leads Western efforts to impose draconian economic sanctions on Iran, which constrain their government’s efforts to develop the country and visibly reduce the prosperity of the country. The American story — nukes and Israel — is not credible to Iranians (and not entirely credible even to disinterested observers), but the threat of subversion, assassination, military attack or even invasion is very real. The U.S. attacked Iran in 2005 with the Stuxnet virus, and there have been naval incidents as well as assassination attempts. The U.S. or Israel has assassinated Iranian scientists, and the Iranians may have attempted to assassinate U.S. officials in central Asia in retaliation.

I don’t think it is really in the U.S. national interest for U.S. to be a friend of petty tyrants and mobsters, and an enemy of people trying to build their countries as modern, inclusive political economies, with elections and social welfare, etc. But, it’s what we do, because U.S. foreign policy is the creature of predatory business interests by default.

Bruce Wilder 06.23.14 at 4:54 am

Ronan(rf) @ 247: What corporate interests are placated by isolating Iran?

It’s the Saudis and their allied Gulf states, whose fear and loathing of the Iranians, drive this. And, the Saudis have many friends in international oil and international finance. Not least among them, the House of Bush.

That conflict and enmity have many dimensions: ethnic, cultural, historical, religious, as well as political and economic. The key economic problem is the extractive resource economy model that the Saudis exemplify, which practically requires an extremely reactionary politics, even if tradition and religion did not put such politics on steroids. Big oil, big money, and repression attract a very ugly sort of Western support.

Iran is a challenge to Saudi Arabia on many levels. It’s a big challenge to its religious authority and cultural authority, to an extent and depth that no one in the West can appreciate. (Locally, Iran is the populist religious leader of the underclass, which doesn’t make the Saudis or Gulf emirates love them anymore.) More important with regard to the Western interests, Iran doesn’t embrace the extractive resource economy model to the same extent, doesn’t seek to concentrate wealth in the hands of a very few, and repress the rest, and so does not appear to be as open to corruption by the corrupt. Iran wants to sell a relatively modest quantity of oil and natural gas, and buy stuff — buy development into a modern industrial superstate — not just financial instruments for a sovereign wealth fund.

Thanks Bruce your the bomb.

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