Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gerson and the lessons not to learn

So... a former speech writer for President Bush has a new book coming out. Unsurprisingly, in an excerpt for Newsweek, we disover that - gasp! - a speech writer for Bush can lie quite glibly and shamelessly.

"Please don't be afraid of staring new wars!" he says; "the lesson to be learned from Iraq is not that it's stone stupid to mix it up in a foreign country over a bunch of lies spread by people like me!"

But rather than risk acting like him, let's actually discuss what he says, and point out how stupidly dishonest he is based upon that.

… There is also danger in learning the wrong lessons from Iraq—or in overlearning the lessons of caution. Some claim the American project in Iraq was doomed from the beginning, because Iraqis and Arabs more broadly are culturally incapable of sustaining democracy.


Has anyone ever actually made this argument? I mean, you hear people insist that "some claim this, and they're wrong", but who has actually claimed this? I've never heard the argument made.

I have heard an argument made that freedom does not come from being conquered... you don't become free because someone forces you to be free. That is self-evident, of course, but it's something the Bushies seem to ignore.

This is an interesting rhetorical game that Gerson's playing. He's trying to claim that the fight is between "those who think democracy is possible," and "those who don't", but the battle is actually between "those who want to kill untold numbers of innocent people at a staggering cost," and "those who disagree with the mass killing, or feel that freedom can't be imposed by conquest, or otherwise think that another method of change is more likely to be successful, or productive."

(Oh, Gerson? In anticipation of your response, yes, Saddam Hussein was a bad man who engaged in mass killing on his own. And the US invasion made things worse, in the short term, and in the mid-term. Your wishful thinking that there might be a better day dawning any time now isn't credible; it's your style of wishful thinking that got us into Iraq in the first place.)

The issue at the root of things is a simple one that people like Gerson like to bury. Freedom comes from within. If you want to build a stable, liberal democracy, you have to have two things within the people. First, they have to be willing to take on risk, because there will always be someone who is willing to threaten them. If they are afraid of any threat, they certainly won't stand up to the neighborhood strongman. Second, it requires that each person placing the well being of the entire nation on a par with their own. They must be willing to sacrifice something they can have in return for making their nation better. For example, they should be willing to pay a fair share of the tax burden for the good of the nation... oh, wait, heh, sorry. That's the problem with the Republican Party, not the problems with Iraq.

But look at it from the Iraqi perspective. You have three distinct groups of people, all of whom want what's best for themselves. It takes an idiot to assume that they'll all come together for "the common good", especially when one of them - the Shiites - are a majority all by themselves. The Sunni and the Kurds both have to trust the Shiites; the Shiites have to be willing to sacrifice some of the power they could have for the good of the Sunnis (the folks who Saddam favored), and the Kurds.

And how did Gerson and the rest of the Bushies think they could make the Shiites feel so expansive and generous? By bombing the hell out of their country, and sending in armed strangers to take control. It doesn't take an expert in foreign relations to notice that this isn't a recipe for happiness and goodwill.

Gerson tells another wonderful lie, one that is stupendous in its breadth and imagination.

But in Iraq there was no alternative to elections. After the invasion and liberation—undertaken, it bears repeating, primarily for reasons of national security—the president was not about to install a potential Shia dictator in place of the old Sunni dictator. That kind of cynical power game would likely have facilitated a massive Shia retribution and perhaps even genocide against the Sunnis.


The Bush plan was to appoint a ruler for Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani said "nope, ain't gonna happen." Bush backed down, and called for national caucuses to appoint a government. Sistani said "nope, ain't gonna happen." Bush backed down again, and this time, he did what Sistani wanted, and had direct elections.

There was no alternative to elections, I'll grant you that, but it has nothing to do with Bush's desires. I found it absurdly cynical and dishonest that Bush and the Bushies celebrated the elections, when the elections were Sistani's victory over Bush... but Bush always did have a penchant for trying to steal the limelight, claiming "accomplished-ments".

Gerson also pulls out this old, tired chestnut:
Another false lesson is found in the assertion that the Iraq War has actually been creating the terrorist threat we seek to fight—stirring up a hornet's nest of understandable grievances in the Arab world. In fact, radical Islamist networks have never lacked for historical provocations.


Yes, that's correct, Gerson, Osama bin Ladin did not crash the planes into the World Trade Center towers or the Pentagon because we invaded Iraq. People do not take revenge for things that haven't happened yet. Duh.

But in invading Iraq, we pissed off a whole bunch of new folks in that region, from those in Iraq who've suffered because of our actions, to those in other nations who see the harm we've caused. Those who might have told us where Osama was hiding might now decide that they don't want to put themselves at risk of retribution; those who disliked us a bit might be willing to turn a blind eye to an incipient attack; and those who hated us, but not enough to kill people, might just have changed their minds when they've seen pictures of devastation in Iraq, or had friends or relatives killed by our actions. Are you really too stupid to understand that, Gerson? Or are you foolish enough to think the American people are too stupid to see through the bullshit?

And finally, he pulls out this doozy:
If America were really to retreat in humiliation from Iraq, Islamist radicals would trumpet their victory from North Africa to the islands of the Philippines … increase their recruitment of the angry and misguided … and expand the size and boldness of their attacks.


Read the article. Read it carefully. Where, precisely, does he acknowledge that this means it was indescribably stupid for Bush and the Bushies to trap our forces there? When does he accept responsibility for having created a situation from which he feels we can't retreat? Where does he admit that they screwed up majorly in forcing us to continue to watch our military folks suffer, and die, in Iraq, with no certainty that any good will ever come from it?

Instead he argues for continued fighting, and at the same time is cheerleading the start of the next war, whenever it may be. He's claiming that he wants to make sure the right lessons are learned.

But along the way, he demonstrates that he hasn't learned anything. So why trust him?

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