Sunday, January 18, 2009

Under George W. Bush, neoconservatism entered its "Hoo Hah!" period; then, as the invasion of Iraq turned into something for which one looks to assign blame instead of credit, entered its "Who, me?" phase; and has now been officially inaugurated by the Prince of Darkness himself, Richard Perle, into its "Who am I?" period. You might have heard some silly rumors that a group of people called "neocons" had a lot to do with pushing us into war. Perle is here to set you straight. "Understanding Bush's foreign and defense policy," Perle writes, "requires clarity about its origins and the thinking behind the administration’s key decisions. That means rejecting the false claim that the decision to remove Saddam, and Bush policies generally, were made or significantly influenced by a few neoconservative 'ideologues' who are most often described as having hidden their agenda of imperial ambition or the imposition of democracy by force or the promotion of Israeli interests at the expense of American ones or the reshaping of the Middle East for oil—or all of the above. Despite its seemingly endless repetition by politicians, academics, journalists and bloggers, that is not a serious argument. I may have missed something, but I know of no statement, public or private, by any neoconservative in or near government, advocating the invasion of Iraq primarily for the purpose of promoting democracy or advancing some grand neoconservative vision... This neoconservative conspiracy is nonsense, of course, and no serious observer of the Bush administration would argue such a thing, not least because there is not, and cannot be, any evidence to substantiate it."

"So if it was not a neocon master plan," continues Perle, "how did we end up invading Iraq?... I believe that Bush went to war for the reasons—and only the reasons—he gave at the time: because he believed Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States that was far greater than the likely cost of removing him from power." The terrible thing is that Perle doesn't seem to realize what a damning indictment this is. If Bush really thought that the efforts to "contain" Iraq that had begun under his father taken up so much time and labor had failed completely and that, despite all the intelligence showing otherwise, the dictator had managed to re-arm himself to a scary degree, the kindest explanation is that he must have been both very stupid and a paranoid fantasist. This would be the cue for someone to repeat the canard that "everyone" thought that the containment strategy was a complete sham and that Saddam was sitting on a mountain of WMDs. Sure; that's why so many Washington players, including the men Bush would appoint as his Secretary of State and Vice-President, had been insisting, as late as 2000, that we had nothing to fear from Iraq. (Did Bush ever think to ask them, when they were agreeing with him about the threat Iraq posed, why they'd been lying up to then?)

In 2003, Perle described the Iraq War as "a war with very few casualties and the opponents anticipated massive casualties," adding that "it is now clear that it was a war of liberation and is so regarded by the people of Iraq." Note the "was"--mission accomplished, right? Today, he sums it up a little differently, but his principal concern seems to be to insist that this was a failure of government, not one of ideological thinking. It's easy to see why: ideological thinking is his bag, whereas nobody ever got his speaking engagements to Republican audiences canceled by bitching about how government screws everything up. "I believe the cost of removing Saddam and achieving a stable future for Iraq has turned out to be very much higher than it should have been, and certainly higher than it was reasonable to expect. But about the many mistakes made in Iraq, one thing is certain: they had nothing to do with ideology. They did not draw inspiration from or reflect neoconservative ideas and they were not the product of philosophical or ideological influences outside the government. " Instead, Bush was undone by the unworkability of government and by the many back-stabbers and traitors who Perle would like to think that this most loyalty-obsessed and bubble-protected of presidents had to contend with at every turn. "If ever there were a security policy that lacked philosophical underpinnings, it was that of the Bush administration. Whenever the president attempted to lay out a philosophy, as in his argument for encouraging the freedom of expression and dissent that might advance democratic institutions abroad, it was throttled in its infancy by opponents within and outside the administration."

This kind of blame-shifting suggests that Perle may be the last person in the English-speaking world who thinks that there may still be something to be gained from staying on George W. Bush's good side. Perle, who back around 2003 praised Bush for admitting to how little he knew, probably thinks that Bush isn't smart enough to detect the shiv to the ribs in this, Perle's disavowal of his reputation as the "architect" of the Iraq War: "I certainly supported and argued publicly for the decision to remove Saddam... But had I been the architect of that war, our policy would have been very different." It's a shame that the man who not only knew what needed doing but, unlike the President over whom he now insists he held no special sway, knew how to do it right, doesn't run for office, thus denying us the chance to take full benefit of his wisdom. All he can do, apparently, is hang around the think tanks emitting these brilliant ideas for those foolish enough to believe in government to pick up on and screw up, not that he had anything to do with their picking up on them in the first place. Thank God we at least have his interviews, so that we can read about how right he was and always will be, and dream of the possibilities.

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