Who's Sorry Now?

It was a pleasant weekend for those of us who have been against the
Iraq War from the beginning. The Washington Post had an article on the
bitterness and regrets of those in the Bush administration who
concocted and ran the war and have now left. Some of them have
nightmares. Nothing like the nightmares of the prisoners of Abu Ghraib
or Guantanamo or the Black Sites, but hey, a few nightmares are
progress. Maybe they will have more, and then they will have mental
breakdowns and they can experience electroshock therapy -- that would be
a nice payback for them. In the New York Times magazine, there was an
article about Kanan Makiya, an exiled Iraqi scholar who was a big
cheerleader for the war, and who seems to have given Bush and Cheney a
rationale that they could use as a cover for their real motives. At
the end of the article, there's an interesting interview with Ali
Allawi, who was the Minister of Finance in the Iraqi transitional
government in 2005 and into 2006. Allawi was opposed to the war, but
went to Iraq to try and put Humpty back together again. He failed.
And, of course, there's Blackwater. Whoops. Americans have recently
gotten a good look at our very own right wing death squad (paid for by
us to the tune of 445,000 per soldier, per year), and we know there
are more RWDSs where that one came from. And I loved the headline of
David "the Pig" Brooks' op-ed in last week's Times, "The Republican
Collapse
" -- is there a lovelier phrase? I used to send letters to David
Brooks asking when the New York Times was going to fire him. He never
responded.

All the same, though, the emerging consensus (another vast rightwing
conspiracy to my mind) is that everyone's intentions were good, if not
great. Makiya, for example, knew all the horrors that Saddam Hussein
had committed against the Iraqis and the Iranians, and just wanted to
get him out of there, even if the odds, as he calculated them, against
actually establishing a stable government were 20-1. He thought Ahmed
Chalabi was going to be the Nelson Mandela of Iraq. And the same for
Meghan O' Sullivan, who was about THIRTY when the fates of the Iraqis
were put into her hands -- she just wanted to help. As for Karl Rove
and that Permanent Republican Majority -- well, he didn't mean to hurt
anyone -- really, the one who's been hurt here is Karl himself (also the
refrain of Clarence Thomas).

What I see here, especially when you add in the Israelis and the
Neocons and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, is a perfect storm of
opportunism, opportunism compounded of ignorance, greed, self-regard,
power-lust, and sheer shallowness. "Opportunism" is when you use
someone else for your own ends, thinking that you will pretend to give
the other guy what he wants and in doing so, you will get what you
want. I think the World Champion Opportunist Award these days goes to
those Israelis who ally themselves with the American Rapture people,
knowing full well that in Rapture theology, the wholesale conversion
of the Jews is the prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. These
Israelis will work with people who anticipate another Holocaust -- who
hope for it -- in order to get American money and arms for Israel. That
is opportunism taken to a new level -- but not that new.

The Iraqi exiles thought they would use the American government and
military to get their country back. The Neocons and Israel thought
they would use the Americans to get rid of Saddam and remake the
Middle East so that Israel would be more secure. Rove thought he would
use "war" to entrench his power base. Cheney thought he would use the
exiled Iraqis to get access to Iraqi oil fields and to establish an
authoritarian presidency in the US. Bush thought he would use everyone
to get a sense that he had both avenged his father and outdone him.
Tony Blair thought he would use his alliance with Bush to press some
of his own programs, like helping Africa and distinguishing Britain
from Europe. Rumsfeld thought he would use the war to remake and
outsource the army, thereby enriching his friends. Erik Prince thought
he would use the American taxpayers to get rich and also to move
toward an American theocracy. The religious right thought they would
use the war and consequent "patriotism" issues to consolidate, fleece,
and militarize their base. The Free Market theorists thought they
would use taxpayer money to experiment with privatizing the Iraqi
economy. The result is failure and recrimination, not to mention a
refusal by almost every one of these people to take responsibility for
what they've done. As they see it these days, bad things in Iraq just
happened somehow.

Opportunism often looks good on the surface, but it is based on
manipulation rather than relationship, and masks an absolute
misunderstanding of human nature. What happened with the Iraq war was
no mistake and no accident. It grew out of the failure of
conservatives, from the time of Ronald Reagan, at least, to understand
and accept the necessity of government in a complex and populous
society, and therefore to think about what government could and should
do. The more they refused to think about it, the less they knew.
Reagan, with his smiling soothing phrases and his tone of benign
condescension, served as an appealing front man for what the nasty and
unlamented Lee Atwater himself called "ruthless ambitions and moral
decay". Reagan Republicans thought of government as a mechanism for
increasing their own power and wealth. They never accepted that the US
has many different regions, ethnicities, and enclaves, all of which
have equal claim to citizenship. From at least the 1960s, the
Republican Party has worked actively to pit region against region,
class against class, and ethnicity against ethnicity, and to reap
profits therefrom. Men like Karl Rove came to think habitually in
terms of propaganda, manipulation, and deceit.

These were the people Makiya and Chalabi turned to for help against
Saddam. These were people who were so cavalier that they didn't bother
to read the reports of their own experts about how difficult the
aftermath of the invasion would be. Allawi was smarter, though. He
says in the Times, "Ahmad Chalabi, Kanan Makiya, all of these people
became media stars, but their influence on decision making was next to
nothing. I can't believe that a person like Wolfowitz or Cheney or
whoever it was in the neocon cabal would allow themselves to be
manipulated... They are far too cynical. They have their own agendas.
And these agendas were boosted by Iraqis who seemed to be singing from
the same song sheet. The Iraqis gave them credibility, gave them
substance. But I don't think they were influenced by them."

Various rightwingers maintain that if the Iraq adventure had worked
out, we would all be praising the Bush administration. What they don't
understand is that it could not have worked out because of how it was
conceived and the shallowness of the motives behind it. This was
evident in 2003. In fact, it was evident in 2000. When the vote in
Florida turned out to be rigged, or at least suspect, Bush and Cheney
did, not what honorable men to, but what opportunists do -- they used
intimidation (against the vote counters) and influence (on the Supreme
Court, notably with Clarence Thomas) to seize what might or might not
have been theirs by right (everyone who has read The Best Election
Money Can Buy
knows that Jeb and Katherine Harris also set up the
Florida vote ahead of time, but I think it was in the counting that
the real theft took place). Bush could have exerted himself both
publicly and privately to make the vote count as scrupulous as
possible. He did not. The apple was offered to him and he bit it. He
never understood what elections represent in the US -- not seizure of
power but acceptance of responsibility -- and so he has never understood
his position or his job. His idea and Cheney's idea was that they were
going to use their jobs to get what they could for themselves and
their powerbase, just as they used the election controversy to get the
job. They have surrounded themselves with people of like mind and
those who don't think this way have left or been forced out.

The clusterf**k of opportunism that is the last seven years was bound
to end in a cluster of fingerpointing and grievance. People hate
feeling used and betrayed, even as they are using and betraying
others. Remember when Bush expressed his annoyance at the ingratitude
of the Iraqis? And have you noted the resentment of the religious
right at being the last to know that nobody in the Bush administration
actually cares about their agenda? Were the Republicans grateful to
Katherine Harris? Nope -- they let her humiliate herself in front of the
whole nation. Those Iraqis -- they sure don't show much loyalty to
Blackwater. Even Alan Greenspan has done what he can to divorce
himself from the very people he sucked up to five years ago.

Is it possible to have no sense of civic responsibility at all?
Yes -- that's what Free Market theory, and the last generation of
Republican culture is about. It elevates commerce and deal-making
above every other human activity, and therefore glorifies opportunism.
A generation of coaching by Free Market gurus has robbed Americans of
the means of a decent existence.The reason we can't get out of Iraq is
that none of the opportunists dares to admit why he or she wanted to
make a war there in the first place, and so we, the American people,
don't actually know what the goal was and can't ever judge whether it
has been achieved. Though Cheney's goal was to secure the oil, he
can't admit that to the Iraqis, who don't want to give up the oil. If
the Iraqis' goal was to use our military to fight the battle and then
take over themselves, they ceded that goal every time they flattered
the Americans. If the Israelis consider their existence to be worth
every American sacrifice of money, corruption, and human life, they
dare not say so. If the military industrial complex really is happy to
profit from death and destruction, do they actually pretend to their
children that they are human? A lot of PTSD says they do. I could go
on.

In order to gain power, the Republicans long ago (and knowingly,
thanks, Mr. Atwater and others) handed the citizenry, and themselves,
a bill of goods, a set of philosophical and economic ideas that were
bankrupt. The citizenry, suckers that we were, bought it because it
appealed to their worst selves. The price we have paid and will
continue to pay in Iraq for this bad bargain is a steep one, and could
break the bank. But if we don't understand how we got here, we could
buy it again, because the politicians and the pundits still have it
for sale.