The 'National Review' Flip-Flop

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National
Review has issued a surprisingly semi-sober editorial
acknowledging the state of the Iraqi occupation. They condemn the
Wilsonianism neoconservative mindset that thinks that American can
import democracy to Iraq. They also denounce the extreme optimism
that denies any American failures or difficulties that occur in
Iraq. While not admitting that the war was a bad idea to begin with,
they at least call for a relatively prompt withdrawal from Iraq.
Good for them.

The
editorial concludes,

Ultimately,
even if our choices now can help or hurt, it is Iraqis who have
to save Iraq. It is their country, not ours. In coming weeks and
months, we will have to defer to the authorities we hope will
eventually take control, in the process endorsing compromises
that we will consider less than ideal. But it is time for reality
to drive our Iraq policy, unhindered by illusions or wishful thinking.
We should do what we can to give Iraqis a chance at a better future,
then pray that they take it.

I
couldn't agree more, but it would be nice if our friends at National
Review could admit that they were the ones full of illusions
and wishful thinking. Maybe they could issue a mea culpa
and apologize to us unpatriotic
conservatives
who have urged a "self-fulfilling defeatism."
Just for fun, I thought it would be nice to compare what National
Review's new illusion-free editorial board thinks to earlier
comments made in the nations premiere conservative magazine.

Now:

Since
the conclusion of the war, the Bush administration has shown a
dismaying capacity to believe its own public relations. The post-war
looting was explained away as the natural and understandable exuberance
of a newly-liberated people.

Then:

Violence
is latent in Iraq, but with forethought and goodwill retired general
Jay Garner and the several hundred other American officials of
the newly formed Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance
should be able to contain and defang it. The initial outburst
of looting in Iraqi cities has struck some as an unwelcome surprise.
But looting happens in war, and even more in the vacuum created
by the collapse of a totalitarian regime.

Everyone
was looting in Germany in 1945, including from art collections
and museums. In Yeltsin’s Russia, everyone knew Communism had
stolen so much from them that they felt impelled to take back
anything they could, by whatever means. Saddam Hussein stole the
whole of Iraq, and the looters are also only trying to lay hands
on a little of their own. Why, as a war correspondent in the Six
Day War of 1967, I took from a Syrian trench a copy of Balzac’s
Pere Goriot in Russian, presumably abandoned by a Soviet adviser.

The
Great Sorting Out: Iraq has been reborn; how shall it grow up?

David
Pryce-Jones
May,
05 2003

Besides,
there is the point I started out with. Whether you think these
treasures belong to Iraqis or to all mankind, they are treasures
nonetheless. They should therefore be stored and displayed in
the safest place we can think of. Where would that be? Well, that
depends on what course you think world events are likely to take
over the next few decades. I don't believe Saddam Hussein's Baghdad
would be near the top of anybody's list, though. Saddam's regime
was lawless, and its fall – however it fell – was bound
to be accompanied by civil chaos. It seems, in fact, that the
old despot had helped himself to some of the museum treasures,
and used them to adorn his own numerous palaces….

As
a matter of fact, we may reasonably hope that the West is precisely
where the artifacts looted from the Iraqi National Museum will
end up sooner or later. The Times quotes Mohsen Hassan,
a deputy curator of the museum, as saying that many of the looters
were middle-class people who knew exactly what they were looking
for. My guess is that there were some museum employees among them…
What the city undoubtedly has many more of, though, are well-educated
people who are utterly penniless. These people know that even
"priceless" objects do, in point of fact, have prices
– that private collectors in other countries will pay large
sums of money for them. Then, 20 or 40 years in the future, when
those collectors pass on and their irresponsible heirs sell off
their estates, those objects will find their way to institutions
here in the West.

I
am therefore sanguine about the looting of the Baghdad museum.

Churning:
Rethinking the Iraqi National Museum
by John Derbyshire
April
17, 2003

Now:

Secretary
of defense Donald Rumsfeld denied the obvious reality of a guerrilla
resistance and compared it to urban street crime in the United
States.

Then:

History
has some lessons to teach us here. In 1945 Germany resisted the
allied advance to the bitter end, relying on the fanaticism of
the SS and calling up elderly men and 14-year-old Hitler Youth,
despite the deep war-weariness of the German people. There were
even plans for a campaign of guerrilla resistance – the so-called
“Werewolves” – after a formal German surrender. The wartime
allies took this threat very seriously.

With
Hitler’s death, however, the Nazi myth of totalitarian power evaporated
and the entire apparatus of terror collapsed. Those who had acted
from Nazi conviction – like Saddam’s thugs – vanished
into the shadows, deprived of the drug of power that had sustained
them in their wickedness. Those who had acted from fear –
like ordinary Iraqis today – were suddenly released from
a living nightmare. Not a single “Werewolf” emerged from his lair.
And the allies, who had arrived as conquerors not liberators,
soon found themselves handing out food parcels to a grateful German
population.

That
will happen in Iraq too. When? That no one can predict with certainty.
But happen it will – and not long after the battle of Baghdad
is joined.

Cracks
in Iraq's Resistance: expect a mood change
by John O Sullivan
April
1, 2003

Now:

But
this concession points to an intellectual mistake made prior to
the occupation: an underestimation in general of the difficulty
of implanting democracy in alien soil, and an overestimation in
particular of the sophistication of what is fundamentally still
a tribal society and one devastated by decades of tyranny…

But
Iraq was not a Wilsonian – or a “neoconservative” –
war. It was broadly supported by the Right as a war of national
interest. The primary purpose of the war was always to protect
U.S. national security, by removing a destabilizing and radical
influence in the strategically crucial Persian Gulf and eliminating
a potential threat to the United States.

Then:

The
only constant is that [liberal elites] will probably proclaim
themselves to be Wilsonians a year from now when Iraq is calmed
down and a consensual government established there. Yet while
the elites of America and Europe chatter on, so also does the
building of democracy in Iraq…

Removing
dictators and implanting democracies, after all, used to be just
as much a Democratic idea as was the use of force to ensure
national security in a world of dangerous and criminal tyrants
[emphasis added]. But now the sorry crop of would-be presidents
resembles Republican antiwar contenders circa early 1939, who
would have been outraged had we agreed to join Britain in stopping
a nascent Hitler in Poland and France…The future of the Middle
East, the credibility of the United States as both a strong and
a moral power, the war against the Islamic fundamentalists, the
future of the U.N. and NATO, our own politics here at home –
now hinge on America’s efforts at creating a democracy out of
chaos in Iraq.

The
Event of the Age
by Victor David Hanson
October
23, 2003

[President
Bush] made it clear that America’s days of tolerating Arab dictators
for the sake of an illusory stability are over.

Skeptics
argue that the notion of exporting democracy to Iraq is Wilsonian
utopianism. Iraqis, they argue, are too fractured and divided
for democracy, and what they really need is a “strong hand” (read:
another dictator or at least a strongman) to hold them together.

A
recent three-week visit to Iraq and months of working with Iraqi
democracy activists, have convinced me that the naysayers are
too quick to dismiss the potential for democracy in Iraq. But
on one point their arguments have force: We should not take it
for granted that democracy will come easily to Iraqis. Thus far,
the administration has done way too little to advance the process
of creating democratic values and institutions.

Democratizing
Iraq
:
The U.S. needs to do much more to make it happen
by Eleana Gordon
December
1, 2003

The
fact that Iraq's people deserve liberation is also important –
even if it makes me sound like a Wilsonian liberal, something
I have always hated. Still, that is where I stand.

This
Is Where I Stand
by Bruce Bartlett
February
18, 2003

Some
people may take this as gloating, and perhaps it is. But again,
let us look at what our new allies at National Review said
shortly after the fall of Baghdad. You see the editors came up with
a “Hall of Shame” to highlight the “many pundits, pols, and, yes,
celebs” who “said so many wrong – and downright silly –
things about the war in Iraq, prewar. We knew that back then, but
now that Baghdad has effectively been liberated by the U.S.-led
Coalition, we provide a handy snapshot of what was said by some
of those who should be looking down and making their apologies.”

Among
the statements worthy of the Hall of Shame that they highlighted
to show how evidently wrong they were was this fatalist line by
Eric Alterman.

Is Wolfowitz
really so ignorant of history as to believe the Iraqis would welcome
us as “their hoped-for liberators”

And
this defeatist statement by Nicholas von Hoffman

…while I
found few people willing to fight for Saddam, I encountered plenty
of nationalists willing to defend Iraq against Yankee invaders.
And while ordinary Iraqis were very friendly toward me, they were
enraged at the U.S. after 11 years of economic sanctions….

….So if Saddam
thinks the average Iraqi is going to miss him, he’s deluding himself.
But if President Bush thinks our invasion and occupation will
go smoothly because Iraqis will welcome us, then he too is deluding
himself.

Hall
of Shame: Media recriminations after VB Day

by NR Staff
April 20, 2003

Well
it looks like its National Review who looks downright silly
now. Of course all these terrible things that von Hoffman and Alterman
predicted are happening to Iraq. The antiwar right has predicted
many of the other problems that would occur trying to occupy Iraq
and impose democracy on it well before the War even started. Are
the hundreds (potentially thousands of American lives), not to mention
the thousands of dead Iraqis, really worth removing a “destabilizing”
influence and “potential” threat from the Middle East? Perhaps our
friends at National Review can tell us why in their next
editorial.

April
20, 2004

Marcus Epstein
[send him mail]
is an undergraduate majoring in history at the College of William
and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, where he is an editor of the conservative
newspaper, The
Remnant
.
A
selection of his articles can be seen here
.

Marcus
Epstein
Archives


        
        

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