This has been a completely bewildering time for anyone who remembers the run-up to the Iraq War. As Iraq falls to pieces, unrepentant neocons — Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, L. Paul Bremer — have returned like shambling, half-chewed zombies to advocate more war. And the incredible part is that they're being treated as legitimate commentators by a slew of media outlets.
Antiwar liberals, leftists, and paleocons have been fuming at the return of these warmongers and their interventionist liberal enablers. This leads Jonathan Chait, who was a war supporter in 2003, to complain that liberals aren't arguing with the likes of Cheney on the merits.
So let's do that. And then let's discuss the real problem with the return of the neocons, which is that it is symptomatic of a foreign policy establishment that is dangerously tilted toward military action in any and all situations.
Thankfully, President Obama made it clear this week that American troops "will not be returning to combat in Iraq." However, he did say that the U.S. is prepared to take "targeted and precise" military action against Sunni insurgents who are threatening the integrity of the Iraqi state. The idea is that airstrikes or some other modest military intervention will give the government of Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki breathing space to solve Iraq's underlying problem: Crippling political dysfunction caused by Maliki's increasingly sectarian and autocratic rule.
This is a terrible idea. As Kevin Drum points out, there is every chance that should Americans rescue his government, Maliki will seize the chance to put off political accommodation yet again. Furthermore, on top of the very real possibility of Iraqi civilian casualties, there is the fact that limited strikes won't do much to change the military equation in the country. There are something like 7,000 ISIS fighters, compared with 250,000 well-armed Iraqi troops. If the Iraqi government can't get it together to defeat such a tiny force, after nearly a decade of being armed and trained by U.S. forces, then American help will not save them in the end.
In short, Iraq must stand on its own two legs or collapse. We can either prolong the inevitable reckoning or drag ourselves into another pointless bloody catastrophe.
We should resist token airstrikes out of a misguided desire to "do something." We should not trick ourselves into thinking that American legitimacy is somehow tied up in the Iraqi state. And we should resist those whose only interest is in establishing an American military hegemony.
This is where Chait misses the point. The run-up to the Iraq War showed that American political culture is almost completely incapable of considering foreign policy on the merits. Even aside from Iraq, many American military interventions have gone very wrong, which you'd think would set a high bar for proposed new ones. But the opposite is true.
Bush and his cronies easily got the vast bulk of American elites on board with an illegal, pointless war of aggression that was obviously a disastrous strategic error, arguably the worst in our history. Our political culture is riddled with jingoistic idiots who clearly think little of gravely harming the national interest and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
Back in 2002–03, knowledgeable people who raised very strong objections against Bush's rush to war — objections that were proved completely right — were smeared as Saddam-supporting dupes and fifth columnists and railroaded out of the national discussion. All supported, of course, by the "objective" mainstream media, which deliberately undercounted anti-war protests, conspired to remove anti-war voices, and credulously accepted Bush's bogus assertions.
Now, things aren't nearly as bad as they were back then. But the fact that Dick Cheney — Dick Cheney — is still in the newspapers shows there is still much rot in the system. That is why the unrepentant neocons trying desperately to rehabilitate their wrecked reputations are being met with contemptuous scorn. To "engage" not only gives them respect they do not deserve but also creates the impression that a nonslanted debate is even possible.
It ain't, not in this country. Cheney and his ilk ought to be met with jeers and storms of rotten fruit.
That’s not to say we ought to do nothing at all. As I’ve argued previously, there are nonviolent ways the U.S. can help in Iraq. But if there’s anything the last decade has taught us, it’s that keeping the war machine in its cage is a constant struggle.