Blasts from the Past

“A successful intervention in Iraq would revolutionize the strategic situation in the Middle East…and all to the benefit of American interests.”



If you’re looking for stock tips or advice on where to place your money in the sixth race down at the track, Robert Kagan is obviously the man to see. He penned the words above back in 1998, and don’t you feel we have benefitted so much? Of course, Kagan doesn’t say what “successful” means; was it just the overthrow of Saddam? If so, then “mission accomplished.” We just might have to wait a bit longer for all the dividends.

I came across the Kagan quote in Andrew J. Bacevich’s The New American Militarism, a not-so-recent book (previously mentioned here) that I finally read, in preparation for writing a bio on the president who helped revolutionize the strategic situation in the Middle East. It struck me, as Bacevich traced the role of the neocons (especially Kagan and some select others) in providing the ideological rationale for much of the Bush-era foreign policy, how wrong these guys have been. Over and over again. As a group, the neocons disdain foreign policy realists. But when your world view is driven by an ideology — an arrogant one at that, built on the shaky base of American exceptionalism — you tend to lose sight of some things. Facts, say. Oppposing views that might have some credence. Any grasp of human (or at least American) failures and frailties.

Here’s another of the wonderful predictions from Neocon World, cited by Bacevich:

“A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated and Syria cowed.” William Kristol  offered this in February 2002, as he began the drumbeat for war in Iraq. Iran isolated? I guess, if you mean, does anyone want to take it to the dance. Yet it still manages to stir up a bit of concern here, hmm, and maybe has some lingering influence in the region? And Syria cowed? Maybe. I haven’t read much about Syria lately. But the US military in Iraq (a sure sign that the country is friendly, since they’ve let us stay so long) says Syria still allows insurgents to operate there. Doesn’t sound real cowed to me. Of course, maybe the problem is Iraq is not free, elections to the contrary. Or not oil-produc — no, wait, there’s about 2 million barrels a day flowing now, with more to come. Not what it could be, but still oil producing. So, again, why not more isolation and cowering in the region?

iraq road

Is it this road, Bill?

Kristol and Kagan tag-teamed for this one: “The road that leads to real security and peace [was] the road that runs through Baghdad.” I hear Kabul has a road like that. Maybe Islamabad too. And one day, can you see it, wending its way through Tehran…

The neocon penchant for dazzling predictions has deep roots, back to one of the movement’s first lights, Norman Podhoretz. Of course, in his day communism and the Cold War consumed the neocons, leading Podhoretz to say in 1980: “Surrender or war are the only remaining choices.” Of course. And six years later, as Gorbachev and Reagan were already becoming buddies, and the economic collapse of the Soviet Union was becoming clear, if not foreordained: “‘The present danger’ of 1980 is still present today.”

The bum insight and advice we’ve gotten from the neocons wouldn’t be so bad if it just meant blowing this month’s rent on the ponies. But we’re talking hundreds of billions here, and still counting. Death tolls in the thousands (not including the locals), and still rising. And the lingering notion that we have a duty, a God-given right, to wage war so we can remake the world in our image.

I know, I know, it’s easy to cherry pick predictions and arguments from the past and show how wrong they were. But the consistency of the neocons’ mental meltdowns is what’s striking. Especially as I did some more Bush research and came across a February 2000 article in Harper’s by Kevin Phillips. The one-time Republican operative who popularized the notion of the party’s “Southern strategy,” now a prolific documenter of what is wrong with American politics (primarily, too much influence by the rich). He’s been called a “populist crank,” and sometimes I wonder about his depth of historical knowledge. But Phillips seems to have good insights on politics. And g0od predictions.


They don’t make ’em like they used to; dynasties, that is

In the Harper’s article, he foreshadowed his 2004 book on the House of Bush, American Dynasty. His point/prediction in 2000 was, Dubya represented the restoration of a failed ruling line, and in the past, the sons of deposed leaders did not do so well. Phillips said Bush II, like past dynastic restorers, would likely “ride into office on an arrogant, memory-driven [He tried to kill my daddy] dynamic that quickly leads to mistakes and failure.” More specifically, Bush fils “would find himself bound to replay some version of his father’s endless pleading for capital gains tax reductions.” And Phillips suggested the possibility of a “Bush restoration implod[ing] on its own whir of cocky inadequacy,” leading to disaster for both the family dynasty and the Republican Party.

We don’t know if Bush’s presidency has assured dynastic destruction and Republican irrelevance. But I’d be more likely to take Phillips’s tip down at the track than the neocons. Give me clear vision over rosy glasses any day.

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