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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Latest Iraqi war casualty -- conservative belief in "personal responsibility"

To the list of conservative principles which are being tossed aside like yesterday’s trash in order to defend George Bush, let us add the ostensible virtue of “personal responsibility.” Remember those lectures we used to have to endure about how Americans are so coddled and selfish and lazy and don’t take “personal responsibility" for their actions and their failures? We were treated to stirring moral tributes like this:

Conservatives believe that traditional morality serves as the best protection against the ills that plague society. The government should encourage policies that promote morality and discourage immorality. Personal freedom demands personal responsibility, and liberty is no excuse for irresponsible behavior.

Sadly, self-proclaimed conservatives seem to have as little use these days for the virtue of "personal responsibility" as they do for their other discarded beliefs of the past -- such as distrust of the federal government, or their steadfast and loudly touted belief in the rule of law.

As pretty much everyone (including the Father of Modern Conservatism himself) now recognizes, the pet neoconservative project of invading and bombing Iraq in order to transform it into a pro-U.S. beacon of peace, stability and freedom is a wholesale disaster, an abject failure on virtually every level. The cost of our little adventure is incalculable and will be with us for a generation, at least – the destruction of American credibility; the indescribable weakening of our military which leaves us vulnerable to real threats and enemies; and the staggering cost in both money and lives. And in return for these incomparable harms, we have installed pro-Iranian Shiite theocrats in one of the Middle East’s most strategically important countries and have brought that region to the brink of full-scale sectarian war. A more destructive and complete disaster is hard to imagine.

For the last couple of years, the tactic of war proponents was to simply deny reality and pretend that the disaster in Iraq was just fiction, nothing more than the invention of an American-hating media. That little tactic isn’t working any longer. All but the hardest-core Bush loyalists have abandoned this war long ago. And anyone with eyes can see that our Iraqi project is a disaster – at best, it will achieve nothing in exchange for the incalculable costs our country has endured and will have to pay for a long time to come. At worst, it will ensure the opposite of our goals.

Finally forced to accept the reality of their failure, war proponents have only two choices left: (a) admit their error and accept personal responsibility for their horrendous lack of judgment and foresight, or (b) blame others for their failure while insisting, in the face of a tidal wave of evidence, that they were right all along. Guess which option these Shining Beacons of Personal Responsibility are embracing?

For the entire war, the Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. On virtually every matter relating to the war, the Congress deferred to the Bush Administration and “interfered” with nothing the Commander-in-Chief wanted. Bush followers have controlled every aspect of this war from start to finish. If they were looking for someone to blame for its failure, one would think they would look to those who controlled the war top to bottom, back and front. One would be wrong.

The finger-pointing began this weekend when Bill Kristol, unquestionably one of the most influential war proponents most responsible for our invasion, essentially acknowledged that his Iraqi project was failing by blaming the military for failing to fight the war hard enough. Just like the slightly modified Leninists that they are, neoconservatives are blaming the faulty and insufficiently loyal implementation of their theories for this failure while insisting that their theories remain pure and good (“Communism didn’t fail because it’s a wrong theory, but because it was poorly implemented by Stalin”).

In fairness to Kristol, he has been blaming Rumsfeld and the military for a couple of years now for the failure of the war. But that’s only because Kristol has long recognized that the war was failing, and got an early jump on his campaign to ensure that he is not stuck with the blame. The consequences which will be unleashed by a failed war effort in Iraq are astronomical. This war failure is killing George Bush’s presidency, and someone is going to be saddled with an extreme amount of blame and guilt over what has occurred.

What we see now are the rats on the sinking ship scrambling around desperately to point fingers in order to ensure that the blame and the consequences are heaped on someone – anyone – other than them. For Bill Kristol to go on national television and blame the Bush Administration and our country’s military for the failure of his war is an act that is as despicable as it is revealing of the true magnitude of the desperation of the war proponents.

And then we have those self-defenders who will sink a level lower than even the level to which Kristol descended by seeking to blame war opponents for the war’s failure. At least Kristol had the intellectual honesty and decency to try to shove the blame onto those who actually influenced the prosecution of the war (the Defense Department and the military). These "blame-the-war-opponent" types are actually trying to blame their own failures on people who control nothing and influenced nothing.

Unsurprisingly, a rather pure example of this cowardly refusal to accept responsibility for one’s mistakes has been offered up by the always self-justifying Bush apologist Jeff Goldstein, who shared this blame-shifting gem with us yesterday:

One of the important points made in this excerpt (the entire piece is available to subscribers only) is that a goodly portion of our success or failure in Iraq has ultimately to do with how we react in terms of either lending our support or leveling our criticisms against the campaign.

And this is (and has been) a crucial component of the war—one that many on the anti-war side are loathe to admit: that their constant naysaying, though it is well within their right to voice, has objectively hurt the war effort, particularly when the criticism incorporates carefully-crafted falsehoods many of the war’s critics know for a fact to be objectively untrue.

From my perspective, there comes a time when, having registered disagreement with the war, the war’s critics (and here I’m not talking about critics of individual strategical or tactical initiatives, but rather those who have been against the effort from the start) simply wait and—if things fail—rush to brag of their prescience and perspicuity. But in the meantime, actively working to undermine the effort by presenting our enemies with a rabidly partisan divided front (one of their chief aims, remember)—whether it be through suggestions that we are in Iraq “illegally”, or that the President “lied” to take us to war, or seemingly hoping, on a daily basis, that the whole thing devolve into a civil war—matters. And not just rhetorically.

One can bet the mortgage that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this over the next few months – between now and, say, oh, November or so. Those who insisted on this war, who started it, who prosecuted it, who controlled every single facet of its operation – they have no blame at all for the failure of this war. Nope. They were right all along about everything. It all would have worked had war critics just kept their mouths shut. The ones who are to blame are the ones who never believed in this war, who control no aspect of the government, who were unable to influence even a single aspect of the war, who were shunned, mocked and ridiculed, and who have been out of power since the war began. They are the ones to blame. They caused this war to fail.

The Chief Blame-Passer, the President who is blessed with Infallibility on the Big Issues, has already laid the groundwork for this blame-shifting by repeatedly reminding us of our obligation to engage in only what he deems “responsible debate” about the war, lest we embolden the enemy and undermine our war effort:

We face an added challenge in the months ahead: The campaign season will soon be upon us -- and that means our nation must carry on this war in an election year. There is a vigorous debate about the war in Iraq today, and we should not fear the debate. It's one of the great strengths of our democracy that we can discuss our differences openly and honestly -- even in times of war. Yet we must remember there is a difference between responsible and irresponsible debate -- and it's even more important to conduct this debate responsibly when American troops are risking their lives overseas. . . . .

When our soldiers hear politicians in Washington question the mission they are risking their lives to accomplish, it hurts their morale. In a time of war, we have a responsibility to show that whatever our political differences at home, our nation is united and determined to prevail.

Virtually every prediction the President and his followers made about this war has proven to be false, while virtually every prediction made by war opponents has proven to be true. The President and his followers controlled every part of this war with an iron fist, ignoring anything which their political opponents said and insisting on the right to exert full-scale, undiluted control over it. And now it has failed. And it’s everyone’s fault except theirs.

Claimed conservative belief in “Personal Responsibility”:

R.I.P. -- 1964-2006.

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