Should We Just Tune Out The Neocons?


Fallows is disgusted that Kagan, Kristol, and company are being allowed to participate the public conversation about Iraq today:

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 wrongWrong 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.

I hold a somewhat different view, although I feel perhaps even more strongly than Fallows (with no legs to stand on, given my record). As long as these people forthrightly acknowledge they were terribly wrong in the past, they have every right to participate in the current debate. But when they either excise that past from history or even claim they succeeded, my head explodes. Beinart is pretty close to me on this:

Saying that Iraq hawks should have to squirm their way through debate number two [their past] before getting to debate number one is different than saying, as Paul Waldman recently did in The Washington Post, that “On Iraq, let’s ignore those who got it all wrong.” In fact, the two positions are antithetical.

You can either ignore the people who got Iraq wrong or you can ask them tough, searching questions about why they got it wrong. Doing the latter brings past debates to bear on present ones, and helps clarify what our disastrous 2003 intervention can teach us about intervention today. Doing the former offers no such opportunity at all.

Chait agrees, noting that those who would shush the neocons have also made mistakes:

Most Democrats in Congress opposed the Gulf War, warning of Saddam Hussein’s fearsome, World War I–style fortifications and citing 45,000 body bags as an indication of the likely U.S. death toll — predictions that turned out to be wildly incorrect. Why shouldn’t anti-Gulf war Democrats — that is, the vast majority of Democrats — have been excluded from subsequent foreign policy debates? If your answer is “because people died — Iraq,” then then you’re not arguing that pro-war arguments should be ignored because they’re analytically wrong, you’re arguing they should be ignored they’re inherently morally suspect, regardless of accuracy.

When you’re trying to set the terms for a debate, you have to do it in a fair way. … We shouldn’t disregard Dick Cheney’s arguments about Iraq because he’s Dick Cheney. We should disregard them because they’re stupid.

Stupid is too kind. They are the deranged views of a man with a mighty ax to grind and a sense of shame surgically removed. Larison makes an important point:

The Iraq war in particular was the greatest foreign policy blunder in a generation. Surely it must count against someone more to get a major policy decision horribly wrong than to be on the “wrong” side of a more debatable and relatively minor decision.

He follows up:

Chait is mostly wrong that “the ideological fault lines” aren’t the same. He can find some liberals that are pro-intervention now that were against the war, and he has identified a handful of hard-liners that were all for the war and now don’t want a new intervention (albeit for extremely hard-line reasons). Chait is an example of a previously pro-war liberal that now claims to be more skeptical about using force in Iraq. Nonetheless, overall the fault lines are depressingly familiar. Neoconservatives, liberal hawks, and more than a few “centrists” will loudly demand action while the rest of us marvel at how these people still have any influence in the wake of one policy failure after another.

Waldman weighs in:

Is there a bit of over-enthusiasm with which people like me are attacking the return of the Iraq War caucus? Maybe. Part of it comes from the fact that a decade ago, those of us who were right about the whole thing were practically called traitors because we doubted that Iraq would turn out to be a splendid little war. And part of it comes from the fact that the band of morons who sold and executed the worst foreign policy disaster in American history not only didn’t receive the opprobrium they deserved, they all did quite well for themselves.

Paul Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank. Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks, and George Tenet—a trio of incompetents to rival the Three Stooges—each got the Medal of Freedom in honor of their stellar performance. Bill Kristol was rewarded with the single most prestigious perch in the American media, a column in the New York Times. (The drivel he turned out was so appallingly weak that they axed him after a year.) The rest of the war cheerleaders in the media retained their honored positions in the nation’s newspapers and on our TV screens. The worst thing that happened to any of them was getting a cushy sinecure at a conservative think tank.

(Image from HuffPo’s “True Chyrons For Bush-Era Iraq War ‘Experts’“)