Last week was the anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. For friends and family members of the thousands of Americans and allies killed or wounded in that struggle, or of the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, wounded or displaced, it probably wasn’t a happy one.
We don’t know whether these people expected or required an apology from the war’s advocates in the media. But they got them nonetheless from several careerists eager to demonstrate that they had changed.
Most rightbloggers were disinclined to apologize, but weren’t able to rouse much enthusiasm for the anniversary either, for which they blamed liberals.
We’re so old we remember President Bush telling America about Saddam and his WMDs and how “it would take just one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known,” leading conservatives to compare him with Winston Churchill, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Frodo Baggins. Back then rightbloggers were warbloggers, bravely manning their keyboards in defense of the war and whatever other wars they could squeeze in after it (“Iran & Afghanistan & Us,” headlined Michael Ledeen in 2002; “We’ll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later”).
Liberals who’d been taken in by this transparent fraud pled guilty last week — with an explanation. While “sorry” for backing the war, Ezra Klein said his mistake was “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.” We look forward to reading someday how that war came out. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine said he had “several regrets” about his war support, and named them. But, he went on, “I didn’t write any of these things at the time. Why not?” He never quite explained, though he did add, “I wasn’t afraid to alienate my colleagues, editors, and employer, but I didn’t go out of my way to do it, either,” which maybe says it all.
Rightbloggers, who don’t have to even pretend to have consciences, generally had more options. They could stick up for the war, or pretend famous liberal George W. Bush’s big-government enterprise had nothing to do with them, or embrace the only truly conservative, manly reason to oppose the war: It made them look like assholes.
The war anniversary did find some former engineers of the cataclysm allowing as how they might have been a teensy bit off: for example, Paul Wolfowitz, whom CNN called the “Godfather of the Iraq war” in 2003, was sufficiently abashed that last week he tried to blame it all on Colin Powell. But most were serene and comfy about their decisions; John Yoo actually referred to “Monday morning quarterbacking.” (Bush, Cheney, and other top dogs kept a low profile; their day of reckoning, as Tomas Young put it, will come later.)
A few apostate rightbloggers have acknowledged the new realities. Andrew Sullivan — who famously declared in 2001 that “the decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead–and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column” in the War on Terror — has had a change of heart, or of something: last week he asked forgiveness for his previous excitement, explaining that “Rumsfeld and Cheney were great at projecting confidence, competence and management skills. And we were all still traumatized by 9/11 and grappling with how to respond to it.” Some people are easily traumatized, we guess. Later Sullivan expanded: “I cannot undo the damage and do not seek to put this behind me. Instead it is in front of me, a constant reminder that fixed convictions are dangerous…” We learn with astonishment from Wikipedia that Sullivan is 49 years old.
Some bailed, but belligerently, from their earlier zealousness. Back in 2002 Daniel Pipes was so enraged by anti-war professors that he wrote, “the time has come for adult supervision” and called for “outsiders… to take steps to create a politically balanced atmosphere, critique failed scholarship, establish standards for media statements by faculty and broaden the range of campus discourse.” In 2006 he called the war a success and said, “I continue to be in favor of the campaign to eliminate the rule of Saddam Hussein, with all the dangers to the Iraqis, to the region and to ourselves.” In 2007, though, his feet got a little cold; “The occupation is lost but the war can be won,” Pipes said. “Keep U.S. troops in Iraq but remove them from the cities… President George W. Bush is right to insist on keeping troops in Iraq. In part, America’s credibility is on the line.”
Last week, Pipes donned his love beads and longhair wig and told whoever still listens to him that “George W. Bush naïvely convinced himself and others that Iraq could be free and prosperous and even a model for the region. He then led a trillion-dollar effort that cost thousands of lives and came up woefully short… This should offer a pointed lesson for future temptations to ‘nation build.'” If the next Republican president just yells HULK SMASH on TV and pushes a big red button, we won’t have these problems.
Some played it cagey: Ace of Spades was as recently as 2006 yelling at Arabs, “Did you think we were just going to let your fellow Muslims kills us, with only the smallest amount of help from you in stopping them, forever?” In 2007, though, he weakened and admitted that “a NPR interview with a company commander in Baghdad basically convinced me that our boys were far too precious a commodity to waste in a futile effort to redeem the Iraqis.”
Last week Spades, under the headline “Iraq, 10 Years Later,” directed readers to a Timothy P. Carney column that, in Spades’ description, “questions whether [the war] was ‘conservative’ in ambition in the first place.” Conservatism cannot fail, apparently; it can only be failed.
Carney’s column told us that “rallying behind Bush’s ambitious ‘freedom agenda’ meant abandoning a core insight of conservatism,” a sin against the faith that fortunately cannot happen again: “These days, it looks like the Right is coming home… The 2012 GOP primary had its saber-rattling moments” — boy, you can say that again — “but most candidates said they didn’t want war with Syria or Iran.” Of course they said that; no candidate ever says he wants a war — he just finds himself pushed toward that regrettable extremity; you know, like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) when he recently suggested something “other than sanctions” (hint, hint, boom) would be needed to keep Iran from getting the Bomb.
Some rightbloggers wouldn’t even make that much adjustment to current popular taste. FrontPageMag chose simply to repeat founder David Horowitz’s 2004 “Why We Are in Iraq” column, in which Horowitz explained that the war was necessary because, basically, liberals opposed it (“The unholy alliance between radical Islam and the American left is forged by their perception of a common enemy, which is the United States…”). He had also predicted “if the United States were to leave the battlefield in Iraq now,” a “bloodbath” would “flow into the streets of Washington and New York and potentially every American city.” Well, guess now we’ll never know.
Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit quoted Iraq vets who’d “do it again”; surprisingly, none of them reported that hippies spat on them when they came home. Later Reynolds referred to the unfavorable reviews of the war as “TRIUMPHANT SCHADENFREUDE,” and countered thus: “Poll: Americans Prepared for Military Action Against Iran.” Next time’ll be different!
National Review offered a tight-jawed pro-war editorial (“The notion that Bush ‘lied’ about Saddam’s weapons is itself a dastardly lie. That Saddam had WMD was a matter of bipartisan and international consensus…”) and let two of its writers who’d fought in Iraq explain to readers why it was worth it. Pete Hegseth said the war was a great success, but that Obama, “eager to fulfill a campaign promise,” spoiled it because he “ended the war before wobbly Iraqi institutions could mature, undermining the chance for a lasting peace, inviting chaos in the future, and making the world a more dangerous place.” The withdrawal seems to be what both the American people and the Iraq government wanted, but never mind, Hegseth’s stabbed-in-the-back characterization will come in handy during some future war under a Republican administration.
Hegseth’s colleague David French lamented that America “lost resolve” when it lost faith in the war: “We act weak in the aftermath of the Iraq War not because we’ve been defeated or rendered weak by vast casualties — like those of the Western Front in World War I — but because we choose to be weak,” he said. “…The people of the Middle East tend to respect strength and despise those who appear weak — viewing them not with pity but with contempt and loathing. It’s simply sad that our enemies can lose a war and yet feel victorious because those Americans who largely did not fight are ‘war-weary.'” If only French could explain to all Americans, as Niedermeyer did to his ROTC platoon, that they’re worthless and weak — but that would require more of them to read National Review, an unlikely prospect.
There was one outcome of the war that rightbloggers unequivocally regretted.
“The Iraq war elected Obama,” headlined W. James Antle III at The Daily Caller.
“No Iraq war and there’s no Obamacare,” he mourned, surveying a Flanders Field of liberal legislation. “No Dodd-Frank. No $800 billion stimulus plan. At least some of that $6 trillion in new debt may never have been amassed.” “It was the Iraq War that made the passage of Obamacare possible,” wept Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner. “…Personally, I supported the war at the time and the subsequent ‘surge’ strategy, but in hindsight, given the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it’s hard to see how the endeavor was worth the tremendous financial cost and American deaths involved.” Not to mention Obamacare!
Not only that: “even though Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney weren’t culture warriors or evangelical Christians,” said Ross Douthat at the New York Times, “in the popular imagination their legacy of incompetence has become a reason to reject social conservatism as well.” (As Douthat is a God-botherer from way back, we can well imagine he’d rather think the war is why Americans didn’t flock to the Rick Santorum campaign.)
Some rightbloggers remembered — after a long spell of amnesia during the days when the war was popular — that a lot of Democrats had supported the war too, and leaned on that as a defense. “There’s a lot of Republican self-criticism and self-examination going on,” said Peggy Noonan. “What about the Democrats’?”
“If they’re going to claim that the Bush administration lied,” said John Hawkins of Right Wing News, “then there sure are a lot of other people, including quite a few prominent Democrats, who have told the same ‘lies’ since the inspectors pulled out of Iraq in 1998,” and provided examples from Bill Clinton, Tom Daschle, et alia. This is a good point, but Hawkins seemed to think his examples “prove that the Bush administration didn’t lie about weapons of mass destruction,” rather than that these Democrats were either gullible or duplicitous, a judgment Hawkins usually has no problem passing on them.
Some seemed to look forward to the day when some future war(s) would sanctify this currently unfashionable one.
Walter Russell Mead said in 2010 that in “20/20 hindsight,” the grounds for the war were perhaps specious, but “I continued to support — as I still continue to support — the American involvement in that war… If we allowed ourselves to lose that war, we would have thrilled and energized terrorists all over the world,” etc. Last week Mead noticed that Obama had warned Syria over chemical weapons, and headlined, “Ten Years after Iraq, US Threatens to Bomb Middle East Country over WMD.” Also Obama expressed concern over Iran and nuclear weapons, which to Mead meant that “Syria isn’t the only country Obama has threatened over its WMD.” Twice as bad — or good, from Mead’s perspective: “Americans may be disillusioned with Iraq,” he said, “but the Iraq War hasn’t turned them against similar entanglements the way its opponents had hoped it would.” If we invade enough other countries, maybe no one will remember who exactly pushed us into Iraq.
“Regardless of whether the invasion of Iraq was a good idea or not,” said Ed Morrissey in his anniversary edition at Hot Air, “the continuing occupation by the international coalition and then partnership with the US and the new republic of Iraq at least prevented the nation from becoming a failed state run by terrorists and radicals.” As Morrissey had just informed us that a fresh wave of bombings in Baghdad killed 56 people, we were confused by this claim. Morrissey went on to denounce “the remote-control decapitation of the Qaddafi regime,” and added, “allowing the same result in Syria would be a mistake that the West will regret for decades to come.” Perhaps he thinks we should have thousands of troops in Libya and Syria as well as Iraq, a hard sell under present circumstances.
Or is it? Last week Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade and retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney suggested that Saddam’s elusive WMDs went unfound because they had actually been sent to Syria, where they were used in the Aleppo chemical weapons attack. If they can spread that one around, it’ll be two birds with one stone — War on Terror I and War on Terror II justified simultaneously! And perhaps it doesn’t have to get around — maybe the only ones they have to convince are one another. When the time comes and the right people are in office, they’ll tell us whose “one vial, one canister, one crate” we’re supposed to be scared of, and wait for us to climb on board. And when the entire Middle East and the U.S. Treasury are both in flames, maybe — maybe — they’ll apologize.