Pop, Burke, Iraq

A reader makes a good point:

Burke_3 I loved the reference to Burke, but I think you do him a disservice in the comparison. I have not heard the song, but the first lines you reprint read "Well I bought a ticket to the revolution/ And I cheered when the statues fell..."  Burke most certainly did not buy a ticket to the French Revolution. In fact, he was a critic from the start, and his criticism would have been just the antidote to the preposterous optimism leading up to the debacle in Iraq.

His "Reflections" was written at the height of Revolutionary fervor in England - leading to his isolation and sneers that he had sold out to George III or that he had simply lost his mind. It is a story that was repeated in the early days of this war - the few voices who expressed doubt were called loons, unpatriotic, or cowards. Recall, however, that Burke proved prophetic: he called the Revolutionaries "regicides" long before Louis appeared in mortal danger; he predicted the Reign of Terror; and he even foretold the rise of Napoleon's dictatorship. He argued that when you pull down all of a society's traditional pillars, you are left with nothing to maintain order, leading to a widening gyre of chaos until extreme violence leads to oppressive government. Anyone who has read the work in the last few years could rather easily substitute in for France the word Iraq and little will seem to have changed. But the implication that Burke was on ever on board for the Revolution is wrong and does a disservice to those of us who saw his cautionary words as reason enough to oppose this madness long before it started.

Agreed. I didn't mean to be taken completely literally. The war in Iraq may well prove Burke right about the capacity for societies to change by force of arms or revolution. If that had been the only rationale for war, I couldn't have supported it. I bought the WMD threat argument (and then expected a coherent, sustained, generational attempt at nation-building). At the same time, Iraq is also more complicated than the analogy might suggest because Saddam had already destroyed Iraq's civil society with the kind of rule Burke despised. And so an intervention at that point did not disrupt a functioning society, so much as interrupt a fast-disintegrating tyranny, and then allow its disintegration to accelerate. I guess I thought we could help prevent that disintegration; and had a window to rebuild a critical country in a vital region. But we never committed the resources to make that happen; and we misjudged how deep the rot had gone. Our mistakes made the attempt all the more Sisyphean.