Tom Engelhardt : Neocons Playing at War

Roundup: Historians' Take

Tom Engelhardt, writing for (January 2004):

[T]he neocon utopians who dreamed up our distinctly unpeaceful Pax Americana in deepest, darkest Washington and out of whole cloth seem to have imagined global military domination as something akin to the board game Risk. They too were, after a fashion, Risk managers, seeing themselves rolling the dice for little weapons icons (most of which they controlled), oil-well icons (which they wanted) and strategic-country icons (which they needed). They were consummate game players. It just so happens our planet isn't a two-dimensional gameboard, but a confusing, bloody, resistant, complex place that exists in at least three dimensions, all unexpected.

I mean if you think I'm kidding -- about children playing games -- just remember that we have a President who, according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, keeps a"scorecard" in his desk drawer with the names/faces and personality sketches of al Qaeda adversaries (and assumedly Saddam) and then X's them out as they're brought in"dead or alive." Think tic-tac-toe here.

The president and his men, in short, have been living in a fantasy world that makes The Lord of the Rings look like an exercise in reality. Even before the Iraq war, this was worrisome to the adults who had to deal with them. This is why there was so much opposition within the top ranks of the military before the war; this was why there was no Pentagon planning whatsoever for the post-war moment (hey, you've just won the Iraq card in your game, now you fortify and move on); this was why, for instance, General Anthony Zinni, Vietnam veteran and former CentCom commander, who endorsed young George in the 2000 race, went into opposition to the administration; this is why a seething"intelligence community" has been in near revolt after watching our fantasists rejigger"intelligence" to make their"turn" come out right; this is why our great"adventure" in the Middle East pitched over into the nearest ditch.

2004 should be a fierce holding action for them. The question is -- as with Richard Nixon in 1972 -- can they make it through to November before the seams start to tear. They might be able to. But here's the thing: Sooner or later, the children will leave the stage and some set of adults will have to start picking up the pieces. If the 2004 election is theirs, however… well, sometimes there are just things, our planet included, too broken to fix.

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Rebecca - 1/16/2004

While I am not a fan of our current president or the war in Iraq, I am disgusted with immature dismissals of the administration's goals and the intellectual capacity of its leaders. First and foremost, your commentary belittles the administration and paints the leadership of our country as children, unable or unwilling to see the consequences of their actions. Rather than attempting to *gasp* understand a viewpoint other than your own, you simply dismiss it as childish, stupid and ignorant. This you-don't-agree-with-me-and-therefore-you're-dumb logic masquerades as intelligent commentary when, in actuality, it's nothing more sophisticated than the logic of children. Ironic.

In a larger issue, why does the academy ignore its pre-war ramblings that the government needed to do more to intervene on behalf of Afghani women? Why do we ignore the fact that Saddam Hussein was actually a horrible dictator and the Iraqi people are undeniably better off now that he's gone? Why do we simply dismiss the administration when they are clearly acting out a logical agenda, albeit one we may disagree with?

On a side note, the term neo-conservative implies that the person in question was, at one time, a liberal. Used first in the 1930s and popularized in the 1960s, neo-cons are socially liberal folk who support war. Attaching the label neo-con to the administration devalues the term, as 90% of conservatives would be transformed into neo-cons.