David Brooks starts off his apologia with some stoned-dorm-room stuff about how if Hitler had been strangled in the crib we wouldn’t have the GI Bill or as many women in the workforce, which means that nobody can really held responsible for Iraq. It does not improve from there. First, note this crafty bit of dissembling:
Which brings us to Iraq. From the current vantage point, the decision to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush and supported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.
The implication is that more than 70% of the public supported the war ex ante. But if you click the link — which readers of the hard copy edition won’t be able to — you’ll see that the 72% approval rate comes from a poll done with the troops already in the field. Before this rally effect, support was significantly lower. A majority of the public still supported the war, but particularly given the post-9/11 context this support was rather tepid. So I’m afraid Brooks can’t brush this off by saying that the consensus was wrong — there was plenty of opposition at the time even as the public was being misled.
It gets worse:
The first obvious lesson is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.
That doesn’t gibe with the facts. Anybody conversant with the Robb-Silberman report from 2005 knows that this was a case of human fallibility. This exhaustive, bipartisan commission found “a major intelligence failure”: “The failure was not merely that the Intelligence Community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.”
As Chait observes, the obvious problem here is that Robb-Silberman was only allowed to go forward on the condition that it would not judge the administration’s responsibility. As he explains the evasion: “Step 1: Prevent a Senate report from looking into whether the administration lied. Step 2: Ignore the existence of the report that did show the administration lied. Step 3: Pretend that an intelligence failure and a deliberate effort to cook the intelligence are mutually exclusive.” When congressional investigators were finally allowed to judge the administration’s culpability, they found them plenty culpable.
In addition, Chait is still being too generous to himself and other supporters of the Iraq War by continuing to use the essentially useless term “weapons of mass destruction.” There was, I agree, some evidence that Iraq possessed some of what were labelled WMD as the term was used, even if the administration exaggerated some of it and made up a lot more of it. What there never was any serious evidence that Iraq had WMDs that would pose any threat to American civilians or more threat to people under Huessein’s control than any number of conventional weapons. And, as always, what Davies said. If you’re a sophisticated observer and were still taking the administration seriously after Colin Powell went to the UN and lied his ass off that’s on you.
After some of the dime-store Brukeanism that Brooks remarkably used to defend the Bush adminisration’s lack of planning, the punchline:
I wind up in a place with less interventionist instincts than where George W. Bush was in 2003, but significantly more interventionist instincts than where President Obama is inclined to be today.
If I understand correctly from the preceding paragraphs, this means that the U.S. should ramp up the killing without even the pretense that it’s bringing democracy with it. I suppose Brooks has learned something, but it’s really not the right lesson.
…Greg Sargent has more on the attempt to whitewash Iraq.
…and see also Maloy.