The Iraq War and History as Self-Flattery

The 10 year anniversary of the invasion shows how we don't want to "look back" on things that might demand onerous labor on our part.

In his post arguing that the failures of the Iraq War are likely to be repeated, Jim Fallows makes the following point:

After Pearl Harbor, after Vietnam, after World War II, after the 9/11 attacks, even after civilian disasters like the Challenger explosion or Katrina, there were official efforts, of varying seriousness and success, to find out what had gone wrong, and why, and to yield "lessons learned." That hasn't happened this time, for a lot of reasons. 
For the Bush Administration, there was no "failure" to be examined and explained. For the Obama Administration, the point was to "look forward not back." People in the media and politics who were against the war know that it can grow tiresome to keep pointing that out. 

Example: Barack Obama would not be president today if he had not given a speech in Chicago in October 2002, saying that he (as a mere state senator) did not oppose all wars but was against a "dumb" and "rash" war in Iraq. Listen to how he talked in those days! He also denounced "the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne." Because of that speech, six years later Obama could argue that his judgment had been right, and the vastly more experienced HIllary Clinton's had been wrong, about matters of war and peace. But there's no percentage for him in bringing that up now.
Fallows's piece is all about the failure of Americans to revisit an important episode in our history. For those of us who've spent a good deal of time discussing the pernicious effects of racism, "look forward not back" is a familiar phrase. It's usually stated as thought it were some inviolable and honorable principle, when in fact it is an effort to escape accountability. As I said yesterday, it's not so much that we don't want to "look back" so much as we don't want to "look back" on things that might demand onerous labor on our part. Faced with a credit-card bill, I have often thought to suggest we should "look forward not back." Faced with a paycheck, not so much.

What separates the Iraq War from everything else Jim mentions here, is that it indicts not just an administration, but an entire class of "Serious People." These people tend to be powerful and they are insulated by the distance increasing distance between those who agitate for wars and those who fight them. They are insulated by the death of 120,000 Iraqi civilians. Given that, Jim is probably right. It will almost certainly happen again.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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