This past Sunday, the New York Times presented a symposium of sorts on the future of the Iraq War, titled "How To See This Mission Accomplished." Having led the drumbeat to this quagmire so elegantly behind the error-plagues reportage of Judith Miller, one would imagine that there would be an increased onus on the Times to impanel the sorts of thinkers who have historically provided the clarity that went missing in the run-up and prosecution of a war that's no longer seen as sensible by mainstream America. One would, however, be gravely mistaken. If the Times was looking for a teachable moment, they managed to largely find the wrong set of instructors.
Nine people contributed their ideas to "accomplishing the mission." As far as a description goes, I simply cannot improve upon Spencer Ackerman's census:
The New York Times's Iraq symposium is filled with neocons; disgraced administration stooges; fake liberals; non-liberal members of the reality-based community like Paul Eaton and Anthony Cordesman and Nate Fick; and Anne-Marie Slaughter.
Some of the people Ackerman does not name in his lede include war architect and PNAC flunky Richard Perle, Baghdad bag-man L. Paul Bremer, "conduit for neo-con disinformation" Danielle Pletka, and neo-con welfare queen Frederick Kagan. On your 52-card deck of the Iraq War idiots, these people are all face cards.
Perle's use of the forum, which takes the position that the "seminal mistake" of the Iraq war is "arrogant belief that we know better than the Iraqis how to rebuild their devastated society." Of course, Iraqi society was not devastated by accident. It was devastated by an invasion that Perle helped script. Now, Perle's deeply engaged in the process of not seeing the forest for the trees crashing on his head:
Iraqis know far better than we what makes sense for them. When administration officials and members of Congress, with their diplomatic, intelligence and political advisers -- whose knowledge of Iraq is often recent, shallow and wrong -- hector and lecture the Iraqis who are struggling to find a way forward, I wonder whether we have learned anything from our past mistakes.
Coming from the man who once suggested that "We Won Years Ago," this belies either a deeply guilty conscience or a stunning lack of self-awareness.
Bremer, meanwhile, has had a rough go of it since he left Baghdad and became one of the White House's fashionable targets for why it all went so horribly wrong. But once a patsy, always a patsy, I guess, because Bremer's contribution is so rife with misinformation, it's hard to see where Bush ends and Bremer begins:
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's successful operations against Shiite militias in southern Iraq and Baghdad have encouraged the Kurds and Sunnis to agree on the elements of laws on oil industry development and revenue sharing. So the Maliki government should have the latitude and authority to quickly use Iraq's oil revenues for urgent projects all over the country, including training Iraq's own security forces. This would relieve the American taxpayer's economic burden and show Iraqis that a federal political structure can serve all the people.
Of course, the fact is, al Maliki's recent counter-insurgent operations were failures, the Kurds have drawn their own circle and kept their own counsel, the Iraqi government is still lacking the authority to do much more than send itself on vacation, and there's no end in sight to the American taxpayer's burden.
Pletka's lenses are so rose-colored that she's a clear and present danger at every stop-light she encounters. Petraeus has "wrought wonders," and the surge has "convinced both Sunni and Shiite rejectionists that United States forces would remain the strongest in Iraq for the time being" (Pletka's apparently never heard of Moqtada al Sadr!). She's all about convincing us that our "Iraqi allies" are not "merely mercenaries," and that we need to "maintain an imposing presence in Iraq for a long time to come" so as to ensure "that all sides have enough of a stake in the new order so that violence loses its appeal." It's hard to square that logic with the fact that the U.S. has been arming both sides to the teeth willy-nilly.
And then there is Kagan, worried sick that the U.S. Congress might wise up at any moment and cease funding the mythology he's spun into a tidy cottage industry on America's op-ed pages. Tearing apart Kagan's logic has historically been a thankless task. Nevertheless, those who toil at the effort, as Spencer Ackerman does, deserve encouragement. If only the Times would subject these ideas with a similar dose of scrutiny, instead of continuing to give the Iraq war's most notable losers a forum that those who pegged this fiasco as a fiasco from day one the prominence that they now deserve.