In mid-January 2002, the Weekly Standard published a piece from Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol on the need for a U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The headline read, “What to do about Iraq.”
Yesterday, the exact same publication published a piece from the exact same authors with a headline that was almost exactly the same: “What to do in Iraq.”
James Fallows mocked the discredited conservatives, highlighting their consistency “in attitude as well as typography and headline writing and page layout,” before lowering the boom.
Am I sounding a little testy here? You bet. We all make mistakes. But we are talking about people in public life – writers, politicians, academics – who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense.None of these people did that intentionally, and many of them have honestly reflected and learned. But we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.
And yet, listening to them has become harder than avoiding them. As Rachel noted on the show last night, the very same people who were “disastrously wrong about what it would mean for the United States to toss a match into the tinderbox of the Middle East by toppling Saddam, all those guys who were so wrong, they either never went away in the first place or they have recently been dug back up over the last few weeks, simply for the purpose of arguing that we ought to invade Iraq again.”
I’ve seen some suggest that those who got U.S. policy in Iraq completely wrong in 2002 and 2003 need not wear a permanent scar. It’s not an entirely unreasonable point – some sensible people fell for a con job. They know better now and want to contribute to a constructive conversation about U.S. foreign policy more than a decade later. It’s hardly ridiculous to think some of them should have a voice in the discussion.
But that’s not quite what’s happening here.
When we see Kristol, Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Paul Bremer, Ken Pollack and their cohorts all over the print and broadcast media, their chosen task is not to be the target of rotten vegetables. Rather, these men still choose to present themselves as experts whose advice has merit.
It would be challenging in its own right if, say, Paul Wolfowitz showed up on a Sunday show to declare, “Look, my buddies and I may have flubbed U.S. policy in Iraq the last time around, but we’re totally right this time.” But neither he nor his pals are saying anything of the kind – the usual suspects still think they were right in 2002 and 2003, and can’t imagine why their words of wisdom would be ignored now.
Accountability may seem like a quaint, almost antiquated, concept in today’s political discourse, but that’s a shame. When life and death decisions are being made, here’s hoping accountability can still make a comeback, forcing the discredited voices among us towards obscurity.
I’m not arguing that everyone who was wrong about Iraq 11 years ago must remain silent now. I am saying that those who were wrong then but remain convinced of their own self-righteous credibility now, certain that the 2003 invasion was wise and that Iraq’s deterioration should be blamed on that rascally President Obama, all they are doing is embarrassing themselves – and annoying the rest of us.