Blogs > Liberty and Power > Just Unbelievable. Unbelievable.

Apr 19, 2004 2:11 pm

Just Unbelievable. Unbelievable.

You can be certain that a disaster must be in the making, when reality manages to seep through even into the editorial ranks at National Review. Via Matthew Barganier (and as David Beito already mentioned here), I note that those self-same editors who have been endlessly advocating for remaking the entire Middle East -- for which project the invasion of Iraq was only the very first domino, you will undoubtedly recall -- are now announcing that we must be"realistic," and they even dare to criticize the Bush Administration for believing its own propaganda!

I mean, really. How much lower can you get:

Since the conclusion of the war, the Bush administration has shown a dismaying capacity to believe its own public relations. The post-war looting was explained away as the natural and understandable exuberance of a newly-liberated people. (Now some Coalition officials suggest that a crackdown would have sped the reconstruction.) Secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld denied the obvious reality of a guerrilla resistance and compared it to urban street crime in the United States. Every piece of good news has been hailed as turning the corner, even as the insurgency has remained stubbornly strong.

It is easy now to pick at what seem to have been errors in the occupation. There probably weren't enough troops. The administration probably wasn't determined enough to get international help, even on its own terms — although this would have had to happen in an environment poisoned by U.N. fecklessness and French bad faith in the run-up to the war. The administration clearly wasn't ready for the magnitude of the task that rebuilding and occupying Iraq would present.

Even if the administration had avoided these mistakes and made all moves correctly, it is still possible Iraq would be very messy. But this concession points to an intellectual mistake made prior to the occupation: an underestimation in general of the difficulty of implanting democracy in alien soil, and an overestimation in particular of the sophistication of what is fundamentally still a tribal society and one devastated by decades of tyranny. This was largely, if not entirely, a Wilsonian mistake. The Wilsonian tendency has grown stronger in conservative foreign-policy thought in recent years, with both benefits (idealism should occupy an important place in American foreign policy, and almost always has) and drawbacks (as we have seen in Iraq, the world isn't as malleable as some Wilsonians would have it).

Of course, being anxious to maintain their credibility and avoid a quick trip to the Institute for the Criminally Ignorant, also known as the Asylum for Deluded Nation-Builders, the NR editors are quick to assure us that the invasion of Iraq was not a"neoconservative war," and that it was urged"primarily" only as a war"to serve U.S. interests."

But this is only true if you construe"U.S. interests" to require regime change for every third- or fourth-rate dictatorship in the world -- and if you believe that the existence of any government not to our liking gravely imperils our own safety. Simple common sense ought to inform you that this is clearly and obviously not the case (and a tiny smattering of history wouldn't hurt either) -- but common sense and the kind of lowered"expectations" that NR urges now, now that Iraq shows every sign of exploding into even more of a hell on earth than it was before, are qualities that have been notably absent from the pages of National Review for more than a year. And after pushing the notion of turning Iraq into a model of democracy for the Middle East, they actually have the nerve to say that"it is time for reality to drive our Iraq policy, unhindered by illusions or wishful thinking." (The title of the editorial is, and I do not make this up:"An End to Illusion." We've gone through the looking glass, Alice.)

If the NR editors truly expect us to believe that they never endorsed the kind of neoconservative nation-building project that requires projecting American force into every corner of the globe, then the only possible response is the one Al Franken employs when confronted by similar instances of mendacity. This is not to suggest that I agree with Franken's liberal politics; obviously, I do not. But his response is the only appropriate one that comes to mind:


There, I feel better now. Try it. Say it as loudly and in as drawn-out a manner as you can. You'll feel better, too. I guarantee it.

(Cross-posted at The Light of Reason.)

UPDATE: If you want to consider a remarkably blatant example of the kind of foreign policy"thinking" that goes on at National Review, consider my discussion of a Jonah Goldberg article from a number of months ago. Goldberg's policy prescriptions are typical of NR; the only difference is that, in this instance, he was unusually clear about his motives and goals.

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