I see from this weekend's NYT Magazine that Kanan Makiya now has regrets. One of the weaknesses of George Packer's Assassin's Gate was when, toward the end, he just couldn't bring himself to say: "My pal, Kanan Makiya--the man who convinced me more than anyone else that we should go to Iraq--was just flat-out wrong." Dexter Filkins seems to have a much milder case of the same disease in his profile, one symptom of which is this little nonsense, with which he ends (he's quoting Makiya) the first section:
“You know, in a way, the realists are right, they are always right. Even when they are morally wrong.”
You don't highlight that unless you think it has "meaning." The problem is... this is bullshit. I don't know a single (sane!) person who said, "Saddam Hussein is a great guy!" But almost everyone, including myself, who was opposed to the war said something more like: "Whoa! Holy shit! You want to do what? How?! You must be fucking kidding me!!!!" In both an interview with David Talbot in Salon and a subsequent article in Salon in the spring of 2003 (as well as on dozens of other TV and radio shows that immediately said, "Get this guy off the air!"), I more-or-less predicted there would be a violent insurgency, especially given that Rumsfeld and Cheney were running the show. It wasn't totally obvious that this would happen: but it was pretty damned likely! If it was obvious to the entire rest of the world that the U.S. was lying its way into war--don't you think the Iraqi people would notice this? Ditto that Chalabi was a slimy scumbag and was going to ride an M1-Abrams into power. How long did that stick? I mean, it's nice that we have a shiny new Counterinsurgency Field Manual and all... but: never mind. No one actually read all the previous versions. Or the whole literature, popular and technical, about insurgency warfare: it's grim reading. Instead they read Max Boot's pernicious Savage Wars of Peace and Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage & Culture and Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations.
Let's think about that for a second... our M.O. was lies all the way, our chosen Iraqi leader was a convicted criminal (who, back when he was at CENTCOM, Zinni warned us against), our thought-leaders had a message that said, essentially: "We Americans are really great at showing the brown and yellow people of the world how to live--and when they disagree with us, we have the war machines and vigorous culture to change their minds." What self-respecting Iraqi, after his cousin was dusted by a 155 shell, and reflecting on the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, Somalia, Lebanon... the French in Indo-China and Algeria... and just about every other insurgency with about two or three exceptions, would think, "Oh, better give up now and just let these guys have their way." Uh, nope--not that easy. Which is why going into a war which guarantees a long occupation is never a good idea: one or two little things go wrong that turn into one or two big ones, and then the whole affair metastasizes. And you can almost never reverse it. The Marines learned this in the '20s and '30s and codified it in the U.S.'s first Small Wars Manual. But better than continued ranting is this little remark by Graham Greene, which I came across last night as I was finishing Ways of Escape:
"The 1950s had seen the triumph of guerrilla tactics: Indochina, Malaya, the Central Province of Kenya. At the moment when the weapons of war had increased immeasurably in power and efficiency, the ill-armed guerrilla depending on surprise, mobility and the nature of his native ground had exhibited the limitations of the armament factory. The day of the Lee-Enfield and the Maxim gun were more favorable to the European than those of the dive-bomber and the Bren."
I suppose I could just as well have quoted Lawrence, writing so much earlier, but I'm not reading him just now. Besides, the Greene is more concrete, harder hitting: actual defeats instead of an ancillary victory. Well, to come back 'round to the Makiya: you're not on the "moral" side if you're 95% guaranteed to create a total disaster costing hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of lives, the complete destruction of a society, and the waste of trillions of dollars. But you remember, don't you, that Makiya said that this war was worth fighting even if it only had a 5% chance of succeeding. Everyone who disagreed with this was "immoral." How does that judgment look now?
Next up? Hitchens... the bloodiest cock-sucker of them all.