Heading for the Tall Grass

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Being "right" can sometimes be an unwelcome, and even dreadful, thing. Take, for instance, a boy who is convinced that a monster lives in his closet. He may hope he’s wrong. He may take solace in his parents’ soothing reassurance that the alleged monster is just a figment of his imagination.

But what if the door swings open and a beast really does emerge? The child may have a fleeting thought of, "Ah ha! See? I told you so!" But his glee will quickly evaporate in the face of his new, perilous situation.

On September 20, 2004, I wrote a column entitled It’s Almost Scapegoat Time. In that piece, I predicted the war in Iraq would end in failure and, when the failure became undeniable, the neo-conservatives would begin searching for a "fall guy" to take the blame:

My prediction is that the Iraqi situation will continue to deteriorate over the next year or two. At some point, the American people will then rise up and demand answers. Any number of things may be the final straw, such as the initiation of a draft or the extension of hostilities outside of Iraq. But whatever the underlying cause, the American people will not continue to bleed in Mesopotamia indefinitely.

At that time, our good friends the neocons are going to be in a serious bind. Having agitated for this war based on dubious arguments and questionable political maneuvering, they may find themselves in the spotlight.

In an honest culture, the neocons would stand up and take the blame. They would admit that this whole debacle was their idea, and that they were being deceptive when they sold it to the American people. They would offer sincere apologies and then fall on their swords as a way of making amends to their fellow countrymen.

But, alas, we live in foul times. And the neocons do not follow the code of the Samurai. So in keeping with America’s degenerate contemporary culture, what they really need is a “fall guy.” The neocons need to find a sucker to whom they can pass the buck while they lick their wounds and live to fight another day…

Over the past several months, things in Iraq have, indeed, descended into a full-scale melt-down. And, true to this prediction, the neocons have emerged from their lairs to discuss the war in a breathtakingly mendacious and utterly unbelievable article in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair Magazine.

In my earlier commentary, I guessed that the neocons would try to deflect blame onto one of several targets:

#1 President Bush:

In practice, this would be simple. Rummy and Wolfie would merely have to resign, while stating that their plans were brilliant but that Bush lacked the brains and courage to carry them through. They could point to numerous incidents where he disagreed with their proposals or allowed other White House factions to influence him. Cheney and Feith could write memoirs claiming that they begged Bush not to do X or Y…or claiming that they were just “following orders.”

#2 The military:

The second, more feasible route would be to blame the military leadership for corruption and incompetence. Perhaps the brass prefers to sit in comfy offices instead of being out with the troops? Maybe they were receiving kick-backs from contractors? Or possibly they were just too inept to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion?

After all, you can hardly blame Wolfie for the fact that the generals couldn’t comprehend his brilliant strategy. Clearly, what is needed is a thorough house-cleaning of the Pentagon brass so that outrages like this never happen again.

#3 The American people:

This alternative is usually reserved for megalomaniacs facing their final Götterdämmerung. Think Napoleon at Waterloo or Hitler in his bunker.

When things were going up in smoke, they turned their wrath on their own people, accusing them of being un-deserving of their grand visions.

As quickly became apparent in the Vanity Fair piece, the neocons have chosen option number 1, and have decided to toss the president overboard:

According to Perle, who left the Defense Policy Board in 2004, this unfolding catastrophe has a central cause: devastating dysfunction within the administration of President George W. Bush. Perle says, “The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn’t get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.… At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I don’t think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty.”

To David Frum, the former White House speechwriter who co-wrote Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address that accused Iraq of being part of an “axis of evil,” it now looks as if defeat may be inescapable, because “the insurgency has proven it can kill anyone who cooperates, and the United States and its friends have failed to prove that it can protect them.” This situation, he says, must ultimately be blamed on “failure at the center” — starting with President Bush.

Kenneth Adelman strays briefly into an attack on the military and CIA with his comments:

“The most dispiriting and awful moment of the whole administration was the day that Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to [former C.I.A. director] George Tenet, General Tommy Franks, and [Coalition Provisional Authority chief] Jerry [Paul] Bremer — three of the most incompetent people who’ve ever served in such key spots. And they get the highest civilian honor a president can bestow on anyone! That was the day I checked out of this administration. It was then I thought, There’s no seriousness here, these are not serious people. If he had been serious, the president would have realized that those three are each directly responsible for the disaster of Iraq.”

While the neocons (surprisingly) didn’t attack the antiwar movement in the excerpts, they did take a few shots taken at the American people:

As the author, Vanity Fair’s David Rose, notes:

Their [the neocons] dismay extends beyond the tactical issues of whether America did right or wrong, to the underlying question of whether exporting democracy is something America knows how to do.

While these arguments were predictable, the neocons are nothing if not resourceful. In the course of the Vanity Fair piece, they also managed to come up with a few additional arguments that I hadn’t anticipated. These are real gems…unabashed signs of psychopathology.

The first of these is the "Adam-and-Eve" defense (as in, "Don’t look at me, it was all her fault")

Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute freedom scholar:

“Ask yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes.”

That one is bad enough, but their next excuse is so breathtaking in its gall that I wouldn’t have dreamed it possible, even for the neocons. If anyone still doesn’t "get it" when it comes to this crew, I give you the incomparable Richard Perle:

Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad.

One can only stare at the words in stunned silence.

Frum, Perle, Ledeen, Wolfowitz, and the rest of them were just wandering around Washington, minding their own business, when, lo and behold, the government decided to invade Iraq. Forget all that nonsense about the Office of Special Plans, ignore the reams of propaganda, and discard all those silly pronouncements from the Project for the New American Century. Heck, the neocons were just as shocked and surprised by the whole thing as the rest of us.

No matter how low my opinion of the neocons might have been (and it’s always been very low), even I hadn’t have thought them capable of this level of disingenuousness. I’d like to say this whole Vanity Fair piece merely represents a case of rats jumping from a sinking ship, but after all the death and mayhem these people have caused, that would be an insult to rats.

Nevertheless, this isn’t just about the past and the present. Amid these revelations are important issues with serious ramifications for our future. America is about to enter one of the most critical periods in its history. The American people are going to want answers regarding this mess, and those answers will shape their opinions regarding our foreign policy for decades to come. Our entire political class, from Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton to Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger, are going to strain every muscle and sinew to steer the public away from a systematic criticism of American interventionism. The establishment will be aided in this effort by a bewildering assortment of public and private institutions.

There are simply too many people making too much money and wielding too much power from the imperial project for it to go down without a fight. The military-industrial complex makes billions in profits. The diplomatic corps gets to stick its collective nose into every corner of the world. The various think-tanks garner millions of dollars in grant money to study our global "policy options." The generals get to move little figurines around on great big maps and play Napoleon Bonaparte.

Like a giant tapeworm in the alimentary canal of our body politic, they’ve engorged themselves on our blood and taxes for far too long to go away quietly. None of these groups is going to abandon interventionism just because a few thousand soldiers (and a few hundred thousand Iraqis) died in this war. Those lives simply don’t mean that much to the folks who control and benefit from these policies.

But we libertarians know the truth. Frum, Perle, and the others notwithstanding, this war was not a failure because of poor execution. It was not a noble idea messed up by an idiot president and some incompetent generals.

"Democracy-spreading" in Iraq was a bastard child from the moment of its conception. The entire idea of preventative war is insane. The idea that America can be the world’s policeman is deranged and totally at odds with the beliefs of our Founding Fathers.

We libertarians must drive these points home, or this obscenity will be repeated over and over again.

The neocons have been flushed from hiding and are taking flight. We must not lose this precious moment.

Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.

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