Henry Farrell notes a contradiction in Brooks’s embarrassingly belated realization that George W. Bush is not, in fact, a Burke/Oakeshott conservative. My favorite example from the Brooks archives, however, has to be this one:
Because of that legacy, we stink at social engineering. Our government couldn’t even come up with a plan for postwar Iraq — thank goodness, too, because any ”plan” hatched by technocrats in Washington would have been unfit for Iraqi reality.
I tell Oakeshott that the Americans and Iraqis are now involved in an Oakeshottian enterprise. They are muddling through, devising shambolic, ad hoc solutions, and learning through bumbling experience. In the building of free societies, every day feels like a mess, but every year is a step forward.
Yes, an extraordinarily ambitious plan (led by a Secretary of Defense committed to proving theories about warfare that would use as few troops as possible) to depose the government of a society riven by a complex web of sectarian conflicts, economically dependent on a single resource not evenly distributed throughout the country, and long governed by a brutal despotism representing a minority faction and transforming it into a stable pro-American pro-Israeli democracy was an example of the Oakeshottian conservatism of the Bush administration…because they had no idea what the hell they were doing or how they would accomplish their grandiose schemes. Right.
The Iraq War is a case in which Burkean conservatism (or its Foucauldian variants) has a great deal of wisdom to offer, and its advice is “it was an extraordinarily stupid idea.” That Brooks tried to turn this theoretical line into a defense of the war tells you what you need to about him. He was sort of the Oakshottian variant of Hayek-stops-at-the-water’s-edge libertarians, who’s now backtracking after his hack defenses of the war have proven disastrously wrong. I can’t say that I’m terribly interested in what he has to say at this point.