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?
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.”
Andrew Sullivan, the conservative blogger, has questioned whether it was foolish to trust the Bush administration to wage the war competently. After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Mr. Sullivan posted such pained thoughts questioning the moral justification for the war that he was inundated with e-mail messages telling him to buck up.
“Now I’m being bashed for going wobbly,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I’m still in favor of this war and still desperately want it to succeed, but when the case we made for war is undermined by events, we have to acknowledge that and explain why the case for war still stands. Sometimes politicians have to stick to scripts regardless of the facts, but a writer has an obligation to be more honest.”
These second thoughts seem a bit late to some non-conservative hawks like Kenneth M. Pollack and Fareed Zakaria. Although Mr. Pollack, a senior fellow at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution, wrote an influential book urging war against Iraq, he called the administration’s plan ill-conceived before the war began. Mr. Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, turned on the administration shortly after the occupation began.
“All the big mistakes were made in the first three or four months, when the administration didn’t send in enough troops and spurned international cooperation,” Mr. Zakaria said. “But the neoconservatives were cheering them on. Now that it’s going south, they’re simply blowing with the wind. In retrospect, the critics I have a lot of respect for are the realist conservatives who said long before the war that you’re opening up a hornet’s nest and the costs will outweigh the benefits.”
The columnist George Will suggested the administration get a dose of conservatism without the “neo” prefix, and Tucker Carlson, of CNN’s “Crossfire,” said he, too, had gained respect for old-fashioned conservatism.
“I supported the war and now I feel foolish,” Mr. Carlson said. “I’m just struck by how many people like me who were instinctively distrustful of government forgot to be humble in our expectations. The idea that the federal government can quickly transform the Middle East seems odd to me for a conservative. A basic tenet of conservatism is that it’s much easier to destroy things than to create them – much easier, and more fun, too.”
Mr. Wolfowitz disputed the notion that American officials had unrealistic expectations. “The purpose of this war wasn’t to remake Iraq any more than the purpose of World War II was to remake Germany and Japan,” he said. ” But having removed Saddam Hussein, we have to put something better in his place. Do they think it would have been realistic to continue with another 12 years of containment after Sept. 11?”
Samuel P. Huntington, the Harvard professor who famously predicted that the cold war’s end would be followed not by the global spread of Western capitalism and democracy but by a “clash of civilizations,” said he agreed with the need to combat foreign enemies with pre-emptive action in some cases. But he did not consider Iraq one of those imminent threats and opposed the invasion.
“We just didn’t realize how totally different the culture is in Middle Eastern countries,” he said. “Before the Iraq war, I predicted that we would quickly defeat Saddam Hussein and then find ourselves in a second war against the Iraqi people that we could never win.” A similar prediction was issued last fall by Owen Harries, the former editor of The National Interest. In an essay in “The American Conservative,” Mr. Harries quoted Edmund Burke’s classic essays on the dangers of remaking society at home or abroad.
“We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing and hitherto unheard of power,” Burke wrote of the British empire in the 1770’s. “But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.”
It would be hyperbolic to say that Burke’s heirs quite share his sense of doom. But they’re not sounding much cheerier these days.
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