What happened was that the other day Andy Sullivan wrote one of those irritating "why I was wrong about The War in Iraq" self-serving mini-confessionals that have been dribbling out from the New York Times and Slate this past week. I became annoyed, stewed on it for a bit, and then had this epiphany: why, for my Saturday Night FDL post, I will write a "Why I Was Right about the War" essay, and pretend it got wide circulation! SATIRE! COMEDY GOLD! But Jim Henley got there first and, to add insult to injury, did a pretty good job of it. So, well, plan B.
I only have one issue with Jim’s post, which I’m not really sure is an issue at all. To explain. Jim is of course a libertarian, so, fair enough, he says that back in that horrible autumn of 2002 — one of the most hideous periods in all of American history, by the way, and I hope never to see such bleakness again — he was alert to the dangers of the war for ideological reasons.
As a libertarian, I was primed to react skeptically to official pronouncements. “Hayek doesn’t stop at the water’s edge!” I coined that one. Not bad, huh? I could tell the difference between the government and the country. People who couldn’t make this distinction could not rationally cope with the idea that American foreign policy was the largest driver of anti-American terrorism because it sounded to them too much like “The American people deserve to be victims of terrorism.” I could see the self-interest of the officials pushing for war – how war would benefit their political party, their department within the government, enhance their own status at the expense of rivals. Libertarianism made it clear how absurd the idealistic case was. Supposedly, wise, firm and just American guidance would usher Iraq into a new era of liberalism and comity. But none of that was going to work unless real American officials embedded in American political institutions were unusually selfless and astute, with a lofty and omniscient devotion to Iraqi welfare. And, you know, they weren’t going to be that.
Well, yeah. But I’m not a libertarian, and that was basically my conclusion at the time also. But then you didn’t need an -ism to see the approaching disaster, you just needed, well, to be awake. As Henley concedes, to his enormous credit (I was going to say this originally, dammit):
you didn’t have to be a libertarian to figure out that going to war with Iraq made even less sense than driving home to East Egg drunk off your ass and angry at your spouse. Any number of leftists and garden-variety liberals, and even a handful of conservatives, figured it out, each for different reasons.
What all of us had in common is probably a simple recognition: War is a big deal. It isn’t normal. It’s not something to take up casually. Any war you can describe as “a war of choice” is a crime. War feeds on and feeds the negative passions. It is to be shunned where possible and regretted when not. Various hawks occasionally protested that “of course” they didn’t enjoy war, but they were almost always lying. Anyone who saw invading foreign lands and ruling other countries by force as extraordinary was forearmed against the lies and delusions of the time. It’s a heavy burden, I’ll admit. But the riches and fame make it all worthwhile.
I suppose I’m not really a very good ideologue. I mean, I have opinions on affirmative action, the capital gains tax, Social Security, whether the town should sell off that vacant lot near Wal-Mart or extend the bike trail (BIKE TRAIL, MOTHERFUCKER!!!), but, you know, it really did shock me five years ago that we were even discussing something so absurd as invading a country that had not attacked us. It would get worse in the years to come, when I discovered we we as a nation were soberly contemplating whether torture was just a forgivable "whoopsie" or instead a Patriotic Duty to Be Enjoyed.
Weren’t we… civilized? Well, apparently not.
How did we ever get so debased, as a culture? How did that evil autumn of 2002 ever come to be? How did the national consensus ever become so corrupt? What the hell happened?
I have my theories, but there is, I think, some value in just stepping back and appreciating the sheer scale of the disaster. Our democracy is deeply flawed, you know, and we are desperately vulnerable to demagoguery.
Slainte. Also, this is an old post of mine that is still funny, dammit.