The Iraq war contributed many things to our culture, like enhanced interrogation techniques, axis of evil, zip-cuffs, YouTubes of soldiers dancing to Ke$ha, and the anniversary ritual of the Iraq War Apology. On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it's important to remember that one of the most prominent critics of the war at the time was Janeane Garofalo. Yes, Janeane Garofalo, the second most successful alum of The Ben Stiller Show. It means a lot of other people have some explaining to do. The Iraq War Apology generally follows a pattern. An apologist for being an Iraq war apologist must show humility, wisdom, and principle. Here's the formula:
1. I was but a lowly worm, powerless to change anything…
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, for Newsweek: "I could have set myself on fire in protest on the White House lawn and the war would have proceeded without me."
Ezra Klein for Bloomberg View: "I was a college student, young and dumb."
Jonathan Chait for New York: "I wasn’t afraid to alienate my colleagues, editors, and employer, but I didn't go out of my way to do it, either. I have a lot of regret for this."
2. …and I was fooled by bad intelligence that fooled the most powerful people in America….
Frum: "How solid was that evidence? Those of us without high security clearances could never truly know. We had to rely on those we trusted—like National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice... I was less impressed by [Ahmed] Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those 'others' was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought."
Klein: "I thought that if U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell and former President Bill Clinton and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair all thought it was necessary, then that was because they had intelligence proving as much."
Chait: "While the Bush administration deliberately twisted and overhyped evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the legitimate evidence did show, albeit less dramatically than the administration said, that Iraq had active unconventional weapons programs. This was the judgment of fellow Western intelligence agencies. It was also a logical inference from Saddam Hussein’s refusal to fully comply with U.N. demands even after threatened with invasion. (That Iraq refused full compliance was documented at the time by Hans Blix, Butler’s successor, but this has largely been brushed aside in the retrospective critique.)"
3. … and sure, OK, I was wrong…
Frum: "By the time we’d shifted the basis for the war from WMDs to democracy, we were already committed to a strategy in which nation building was a distant afterthought."
Klein: "Rather than looking at the war that was actually being sold, I’d invented my own Iraq war to support -- an Iraq war with different aims, promoted by different people, conceptualized in a different way and bearing little resemblance to the project proposed by the Bush administration. In particular, I supported Kenneth Pollack’s Iraq war."
Chait: "The biggest single conceptual failure of my argument for war is that I gave absurdly little thought to the post-invasion phase. I was aware that the Bush administration was deploying far too few troops to the front for a workable occupation while blatantly lying about the war’s likely costs. I assumed that its real plan was to decapitate the Iraqi leadership, install a more pliant and less brutal military figure in Saddam’s place, and call it democracy."
4. … But! I will not apologize for defending America and/or the hope of democracy and freedom around the world!
Frum: "The transformation of the Middle East that George W. Bush promised has arrived, although in a grotesquely ironic form. From Tunisia to Bahrain, authoritarian regimes are toppling. What’s replacing them isn’t 'freedom,' but a new—and often harsher—Islamist rule. Yet it’s also true that in the new Middle East, the influence of al Qaeda has waned."
Chait: "[Anti-interventionists] believe that being right on a major event — to them, the major foreign-policy event — ought to usher in wholesale vindication, a complete sweeping out of the existing thought, and existing thinkers, that led to the disaster. I think the lessons of the failure of the war — my failure, too — need to be embraced. My reading of history is that sweeping, myopic responses to major recent events usually spawn errors of their own. The people demanding apologies today will find themselves being asked to supply apologies of their own tomorrow."
Klein: Fine, it's hard to pin this one on Klein. But he quotes Kenneth Pollack, whose influential book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, led many liberals to support the war. Pollack says:
“Whether the war was ‘worth it’ is a judgment that is going to vary from person to person,” he said. “And that view will change over the course of time. What strikes me as far more important right now is the lessons we take from it.” Those lessons, he continued, include, “always be skeptical of even the strongest intelligence,” “keep in mind the potential for unintended consequences,” “don’t ever go to war on the cheap,” and “start with the end state you want to achieve and build back from there.”
And then there's another Iraq war anniversary genre: The Sorry-I'm-Not-Sorry response.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "When people say to me, you know, 'Do you regret removing him?' I say, 'No, how can you regret removing somebody who was a monster, who created enormous carnage?'"
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz: "If I had been running things they would have been run very differently. I would have started a counterinsurgency strategy. I can't claim I saw it at the beginning, but very soon. And we see from the surge that started in 2007 after four years how quickly things turned around even though they had deteriorated badly those four years. To me that's almost a laboratory demonstration that if we had started with a counterinsurgency strategy from the beginning, things would have never gotten out of hand." Was it worth it? "Compared to the alternative of doing nothing, I think yes."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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