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Johann Hari, a former left-wing Iraq hawk like myself, turns a review of a book by Nick Cohen, current left-wing Iraq hawk, into the opportunity for a great essay on the phenomenon. My main disagreement is that I think Hari overemphasizes the idea that democracy, freedom, etc. aren't important subjective aims of Bush, Cheney, neoconservatism etc.

I spent a lot of time puzzling over Bush's sincerity or lack thereof with regard to his idealistic rhetoric before the war, and in retrospect it was all wasted time. It's interesting to wonder how it's possible -- or if it's possible -- for a man to speak grand words about liberty in the morning and defending systematic torture in the afternoon, but it's not actually relevant. The main point was that there was simply never any good reason to believe the more idealistic aspiration sometimes associated with the war had any decent prospects of success. It was fundamentally dumb to think that invading and conquering Iraq could turn it into a stable liberal democracy if only we wanted it badly enough and that the main issue was whether or not Bush "really" wanted it. It was just fundamentally a dumb idea, and that's what I should have seen at the time. It still seems to me that Bush may well have been dumb enough to sincerely believe in it on some level, but it was still dumb -- that's what matters.

Defense Department photo courtesy of Ping News.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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