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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Whitewashing Iraq on the Washington Post Op-Ed Page

Robert Kaplan, the national security correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, is one of our country's anointed foreign policy geniuses. In November, 2001, he attended a secret meeting (along with Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria), organized by Paul Wolfowitz, for the purpose of producing a report for President Bush on Middle East policy which, among other things, outlined all the great reasons why we should invade Iraq.

Thereafter, both Kaplan and Zakaria became two of the country's most enthusiastic pundit-advocates for invading Iraq, without ever revealing their participation in Wolfowitz's meeting (they signed confidentiality agreements not to disclose anything that was discussed). It is obviously an extremely odd situation for a "reporter" to participate with government officials in the preparation of such a report, but Kaplan told his Atlantic Monthly editors in advance and "was given approval to attend because 'everybody was in a patriotic fervor.'" None of that has impeded Kaplan's career or journalistic credibility any.

Today, this wise foreign policy analyst has an Op-Ed in The Washington Post in which he argues that the failure of the war he wanted so badly in Iraq won't fundamentally change U.S. foreign policy, but instead will lead merely to "an adjustment, not a flip-flop." Kaplan specifically claims that preemptive war on Iraq was not at all a deviation from our prior foreign policy because it was nothing more than an extension of our post-Cold War "idealistic" military interventions -- devoted towards the spreading of Good in the world -- which began with the Persian Gulf War, continued with our benevolent intervention in Yugoslavia, and merely culminated with our desire to do Good by overthrowing Saddam:

To be sure, the recent evidence that our democratic system cannot be violently exported will temper our Wilsonian principles, but it will not bury them. . . . Iraq will merely close a post-Cold War chapter in American foreign policy, one that began with the Persian Gulf War -- and with Bosnia. After the collapse of communism in 1989, idealism, the export of democracy and humanitarian interventionism were all the rage among journalists and intellectuals -- much as realism, restraint and benign dictatorship are now. . . .

The Balkan interventions, because they paid strategic dividends, appeared to justify the idealistic missionary approach to foreign policy. . . . Neoconservatives and others who had supported our actions in Bosnia and Kosovo then carried the spirit of this policy to its limits in Iraq.

See, all we were ever trying to do in Iraq was help the Iraqi people make a better life for themselves and to end oppression, so the only lesson we need to draw from all of this is that the overflowing Goodness of neoconservatives and their desire to help people just needs to be tempered a little bit by the harsh realities of a bad world. That's all: "In this decade idealists went too far; in the previous one, it was realists who did not go far enough."

This is rank historical revisionism of the most deliberately dishonest strain, designed to cleanse the sins of neoconservatives and other Iraq war advocates, and it is spreading everywhere. It is vital to preserve the truth that the invasion of Iraq was not some slightly excessive extension of our long-standing idealistic desire to help the world's oppressed people. The opposite was true.

The invasion of Iraq constituted a radical departure from decades-long American foreign policy doctrine governing what constitutes a justifiable war against another country. To justify the war which Kaplan wanted so eagerly, the Bush administration issued a National Security Strategy in 2002 (.pdf) which "shifted U.S. foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States." That militaristic hubris is the doctrine which drove our invasion (and it is still in place, as the Bush administration re-affirmed it earlier this year).

What makes Kaplan's revisionism all the more reprehensible is that it distorts not only the administration's justification for the Iraq invasion but also Kaplan's own rationale in favor of it. In a lengthy Atlantic Monthly article in November, 2002, devoted to all the great benefits we would reap from invading Iraq, Kaplan does not at all rely upon the magnanimous idealism that he now dishonestly claims animated support for the war. Again, the opposite is true.

In that war-advocating article, Kaplan argued that we have to move our military bases out of Saudi Arabia and an invasion of Iraq would allow "the relocation of our bases to Iraq." And Kaplan expressly wanted to replace Saddam with a pro-U.S. dictatorship which may -- or may not -- some day in the distant future foster democracy: "Our goal in Iraq should be a transitional secular dictatorship that unites the merchant classes across sectarian lines and may in time, after the rebuilding of institutions and the economy, lead to a democratic alternative."

Most of all, Kaplan -- like all neocons who are pathologically obsessed with matters of dominance and submission -- justified the war based on the "need" to show those Muslims that we are the mighty and powerful ones, just like we did when we shot down an Iranian civilian passenger jet in the 1980s and showed Iran who the boss is:

Keep in mind that the Middle East is a laboratory of pure power politics. For example, nothing impressed the Iranians so much as our accidental shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, which they believed was not an accident. Iran's subsequent cease-fire with Iraq was partly the result of that belief. Our dismantling the Iraqi regime would concentrate the minds of Iran's leaders as little else could.

That was Kaplan and the neocons' vision for Iraq -- permanent military bases, the installation of a pro-U.S. secular dictator (gee, who might he have had in mind?), and a display of raw power to keep the Arabs and Persians in line ("concentrate their minds"), just like that awesome occasion when we shot down their passenger plane (the invasion would also give us "a position of newfound strength" and thus President Bush, in his second term, could -- and, Kaplan assured us, would --"pressure the Israelis into a staged withdrawal from the occupied territories"). And all of that was justified by a militaristic new theory that the U.S. could invade whatever countries it wanted to invade based upon the suspicion that the country might some day pose a threat to the U.S.

The invasion of Iraq and those who advocated it, such as Kaplan, were anything but "idealistic." They were and are nothing other than malicious warmongers who invented new "theories" to "justify" waging war on countries that didn't attack us and posed no real threat to us.

What the failure of Iraq demonstrates is not -- as Kaplan so earnestly suggests today -- that the rosy-eyed, slightly naive but well-intentioned neonconservative idealists just need to be a little more restrained in their desire to do Good in the world. It demonstrates that they are deceitful, radical and untrustworthy warmongers who led this country into the worst strategic disaster in its history and should never be trusted with anything ever again. And it equally demonstrates that starting wars with no justification and with no notion of self-defense is an idea that is as destructive as it is unjust.

There is really no limit to the willingness of neonconservatives and the pro-war foreign policy geniuses who enabled them to spew untruths in an attempt to rehabilitate themselves and their militarism. Here Kaplan is making claims that are the exact opposite -- literally -- of what actually happened that led to the war and what those, like him, argued to justify that war. That they are still given space to do this by The Washington Post, and treated as "serious" foreign policy scholars, remains one of the most perplexing and dangerous outcomes of this war.

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