Archive for May, 2004

18.05.04

The Hawks Loudly Express Their Second Thoughts

Outside Analysis


The following article is more broadly about how initial supporters of the war in Iraq are having second thoughts, or doubts about how it has been conducted. It’s relevant to this site for two reasons: 1) it mentions a number of neoconservatives (Max Boot, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, and more) amongst the ranks of the disappointed, and 2) it speaks of how traditional conservatives (like CNN pundit Tucker Carlson, for example) are waking up to the fact that they allowed themselves to be spun into supporting a war which is not reflective of a conservative view of government’s role.

That sentiment is summed up best in this sentence:

How, they wonder, did so many conservatives, who normally don’t trust their government to run a public school down the street, come to believe that federal bureaucrats could transform an entire nation in the alien culture of the Middle East?

Good question.

The article is worth reading just for the quote near the end from Edmund Burke about empire. I’m archiving the entire article here; you can access the original at the link below.

The Hawks Loudly Express Their Second Thoughts
The New York Times > Week in Review

By JOHN TIERNEY

Published: May 16, 2004

WASHINGTON — Not long ago, the word “triumphalist” was being applied to the neoconservatives and other intellectuals who championed the war in Iraq. Now the buzzwords are “depressed,” “angst-ridden” and “going wobbly.”

After the setbacks in Falluja and Najaf, followed by the prisoner abuse scandal, hawks are glumly trying to reconcile the reality in Iraq with the predictions they made before the war. A few have already given up on the idea of a stable democracy in Iraq, and many are predicting failure unless there’s a dramatic change in policy – a new date for elections, a new secretary of defense, a new exit strategy.

Most blame the administration for botching the mission, and some are also questioning their own judgment. How, they wonder, did so many conservatives, who normally don’t trust their government to run a public school down the street, come to believe that federal bureaucrats could transform an entire nation in the alien culture of the Middle East? To these self-doubting hawks, the conservatives now blaming American officials for Iraq’s problems are reminiscent of the leftists who kept blaming incompetents in the Kremlin for the failure of Communism.

Some hawks are staying the course. Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, is still defended by The Wall Street Journal editorial page and columnists like Charles Krauthammer, of The Washington Post, and William Safire, of The New York Times, who has dismissed the idea of speeding the transition as “cut and walk fast.” Rush Limbaugh has accused liberal journalists of overreacting to the prison scandal.

When asked on Friday about the criticism from his fellow neoconservatives, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz acknowledged difficulties but seemed unfazed. “Saddam’s murderers and torturers who abused the Iraqi people for 35 years have proven to be a tough as well as ruthless enemy,” he said. “But no one should have expected a cakewalk and that’s no reason to go wobbly now. I spend most of my time with officers and soldiers, and they’re not defeatists – not even the ones who suffered terrible wounds in Iraq.”

But many hawks across the political spectrum are having public second thoughts. The National Review has dismissed the Wilsonian ideal of implanting democracy in Iraq, and has recommended settling for an orderly society with a non-dictatorial government. David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, wrote that America entered Iraq with a “childish fantasy” and is now “a shellshocked hegemon.” Journalists like Robert Novak, Max Boot and Thomas Friedman have encouraged Mr. Rumsfeld to resign.

Robert Kagan and William Kristol, two influential hawks at the neoconservative Weekly Standard, warned in last week’s issue of the widespread bipartisan view that the war “is already lost or on the verge of being lost.” They called for moving up the election in Iraq to Sept. 30 to hasten the transition and distract attention from American mistakes.

“There’s a fair amount of conservative despair, which I respect,” Mr. Kristol, the magazine’s editor, said in an interview. “My sentiments are closer to anger than to angst. My anger is at the administration for having made many more mistakes than it needed to have made. But we still have to win and we still can win.”

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