There’s an episode of “I Dream of Jeannie” from years ago when Jeannie blinks into existence tomorrow’s newspaper. Everyone is amazed and riveted by the implications of knowing tomorrow’s headlines today. Many possibilities here!
In the case of the war on terror, we could have known tomorrow’s headlines five years ago. In particular, this headline, which is supposed to be shocking and apparently has people in Washington going nuts, seemed positively ho hum: “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat: U.S. Intelligence Assessment Is Said to Find a Rise in Global Islamic Radicalism.”
Just so that we are clear on this, we should be reminded that the stated policy of the Bush administration, just before bombing Iraq’s cities and overthrowing its Sunni government, was to bring freedom, democracy, and pluralistic happiness to the country.
Five years later, the puppet government in Baghdad is still in a bunker, tanks patrol streets, there are curfews and speech controls, major parts of the country have effectively seceded, the water is dirty and disease ridden, electricity is still off, migration out increases exponentially, tribal war is routine, American soldiers’ heads are blown off if they so much as poke them out of the foxhole, and religious and ethnic hatreds grow.
We keep hearing that Iraq is “on the brink” of civil war, but how will we know when we move from brink to reality? The Sunnis hate the ruling Shiites, the Kurds hate them both, and everyone hates the Christians and Jews. It’s all about a struggle for power: who gets to twist the thumbscrews, and whose thumbs are screwed. If this is the brink, the reality will be unbearable.
Can you imagine that anyone in the US believed that the answer to these problems was to put George Bush in charge?
But it was indeed Bush’s idea that he would quell Islamic radicalism by smashing the world that the relative moderates had created, and acting precisely as the fundamentalists always claimed he would act. It’s as if the fundies themselves had written the script, and George played the leading role in a play they were directing.
Hence, even by the Bush administration’s own standards, the war on terror has increased the problem rather than diminished it.
Students of government can hardly be surprised that a government program ends up creating the very opposite of what it purported to accomplish. Welfare increases poverty, the minimum wage boosts unemployment, prohibition promotes the banned behavior, and, just as we would expect once we understand the logic, the war on terror has created and encouraged the rise of more terrorism and the ideology that backs it.
We hardly need a National Intelligence Estimate to demonstrate it to us. What this intelligence estimate really shows is that the reality has become too obvious for even the government to deny. The report cites gobs of secret data that can’t be divulged to the public. Oh sure. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the effects of all government policy, along with a bit of understanding of human nature, would have predicted this very thing.
After all, Iraq was never a hotbed of terror. The Bush administration just pretended that it was because Bush wanted to get Saddam. It wasn’t even a campaign theme. But it was first on the agenda when he came into office. 9-11 helped by whipping up the public for war, even though there was no relationship between 9-11 and Iraq. But it does appear that Bush got more than he bargained for. He can’t win this war, no matter how many Americans and Iraqis he sends to their deaths.
But who precisely benefits in the end? Fundamentalists, to be sure, but also the federal government, which gets more power and control. There is also a critical financial factor. The tens of billions that have been shoveled out by the public sector to the private sector in this war have gone mainly to Bush-connected corporations and elites. They are the ones who have benefited from the “privatization” of the war, in the name of efficiency.
But what is really puzzling here is the intellectual failure of the conservatives and libertarians who have cheered for this war from the beginning. Why do these people, who otherwise understand the failure of government in all aspects of domestic politics, believe that the government has a Midas touch in dealing with foreign affairs? Here we have a serious and dramatic example of cognitive dissonance.
It’s as if a person who is terrified of drinking poison in the morning mistakes it for an aperitif in the evening.
What a poor example these people set for the left! If conservatives and libertarians are not willing to apply their anti-government logic consistently against war, how can they be surprised that the left is not willing to apply its antiwar logic domestically? Combine the two schools of inconsistency and you have the makings of the ever-growing welfare-warfare state.
So you want to know the future? It’s not as hard as it seems. Expect every government program to fail to achieve its stated aims — domestic and foreign — and you will hit the mark every time.