Neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer reminds me of a book review by the late Dorothy Parker. Commenting an opus of which she obviously disapproved, Miss Parker opined that it was not a volume to be tossed aside lightly, "but rather hurled with great force."
Surely, Dr. Krauthammer is not someone to be taken lightly. In addition to being a medical doctor, he is a Pulitzer Prize—winning columnist and a frequent commentator for Fox News and other mass media venues. Last year, Financial Times named him "America’s most influential commentator." Alas for America. For Dr. Krauthammer’s prescriptions for America and much of the rest of the world are worthy of being "hurled with great force."
Krauthammer used his considerable influence in 2002 and 2003 to help sell much of the American public on the war for which the Bush administration was clearly itching. It began with the president’s talk about "regime change" in Iraq, a policy adopted in the late 1990’s by the Clinton administration and the Republican Congress. When that didn’t win the country over, Iraq’s "weapons of mass destruction" became the new mantra. The neocon high church choir took up the theme and was soon singing, chanting and beating the drums for another war with Iraq. And there was Krauthammer in the midst of them.
In words reminiscent of the "mushroom-shaped cloud" warning of Condoleezza Rice, then the president’s adviser on national security, Krauthammer warned in 2002 that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein was in hot pursuit of a nuclear bomb to go with the chemical and biological weapons that the Bush administration and its echo chamber in the neocon press told us with certainty he possessed.
"…[I]f he comes into possession of nuclear weapons in addition to the weapons of mass destruction he already has, he is likely to use them or share them with terrorists," Krauthammer wrote. "The threat of mass death on a scale never before seen residing in the hands of an unstable madman is intolerable — and must be preempted."
In March of ’03, the president and his allies in the "coalition of the willing" launched a war for the ostensible purpose of disarming the Iraqi dictator. It’s worth recalling, however, that the war was called not "Operation Iraqi Disarmament," but Operation Iraqi Freedom. Liberation, via regime change, remained at the heart of the enterprise. And no member of the Fourth Estate was more wildly enthusiastic about the prospects for a liberated Iraq than "America’s most influential commentator." By April of ’03, Krauthammer was hailing the successful "Three Week War" as a "revolution in world affairs." Krauthammer is, of course, the kind of "conservative" who glories in revolution.
"It is one thing to depose tin-pot dictators." he exulted. "Anyone can do that. It is another thing to destroy a Stalinist demigod and his three-decade apparatus of repression — and leave the country standing. From Damascus to Pyongyang, totalitarians everywhere are watching this war with shock and awe."
"Shock and awe," mind you. Yes, Krauthammer likes to help the Bush administration stay "on message." In August of ’03, he was still bullish on the transformation of Iraq. "With its oil, its urbanized middle class, its educated population, its essential modernity, Iraq has a future," he wrote. "Once its political and industrial infrastructures are reestablished, Iraq’s potential for rebound, indeed for explosive growth is unlimited." The use of the word "explosive" in that sentence carries a certain irony that Krauthammer surely did not intend. In October of ’04, Krauthammer was still singing the praises of the great American "revolution" in the Middle East.
"Establishing civilized, decent, nonbelligerent, pro-Western polities in Afghanistan and Iraq and ultimately their key neighbors would, like the flipping of Germany and Japan in the 1940s, change the strategic balance in the fight against Arab-Islamic radicalism," he wrote. Nowadays, however, America’s own Charles "the Hammer" seems not quite so optimistic. All that is hindering the great transformation of Iraq into the New York or California of the Middle East, he has discovered, are the Iraqis. Someone, it seemed, forgot to give them the playbook.
Once out from under the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis have ostensibly been given their freedom. They are free to kill one another, which a good many of them have been doing with reckless abandon. Here is Krauthammer’s description of the fighting in Iraq in a column published last week.
"Thousands of brave Americans have died trying to counter, put down and prevent civil strife," he noted. "They fight Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad, trying to keep them from sending yet one more suicide bomber into a crowded Shiite market. They hunt Shiite death squads in Baghdad to keep them from rounding up random Sunnis and torturing them to death." In other words, we are killing Sunnis to keep them from killing Shiites and killing Shiites to keep them from killing Sunnis. Seems fair. So why can’t they all just get along?
What bothers Krauthammer, though, is that some people want to blame this civil war on America. (Gee, wonder where they ever got that idea.) "We have made a lot of mistakes in Iraq," he conceded, though he apparently still does not believe that the first one was going there. But "to place the blame on the one player, the one country, the one military that has done more than any other to separate the combatants and bring conciliation is simply perverse," Krauthammer declared.
Right. Just because all our president’s horses and all our president’s men can’t put Iraq together again, don’t blame the great decider-in-chief and his minions for pushing the country over the brink to begin with. Blame the Humpty Dumpties of Iraq. Never mind that there was no civil war there before the U.S. and coalition forces arrived to perform regime change. The Iraqis were living under a brutal dictatorship that somehow did not prepare them for the "cakewalk" in which they were supposed to welcome Americans as liberators and shower them with flowers, not fragments from grenades and car bombs. According to various polls, some 90 percent of the Iraqis now believe they were better off before we "liberated" them and 60 percent think killing members of the American occupying force is a good idea. (Ungrateful wretches!)
Blaming the United States for the civil war in Iraq “overlooks the plainest of facts,” Krauthammer argues. “Iraq is their country. We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war.” Brilliant! Except for the plain fact that when the Bush administration launched “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Krauthammer and other cheerleaders for Bush War II were gushing over the future of a liberated Iraq that would, of course, choose a constitutional democracy, and would by now be living in harmony among themselves and their neighbors, “happy ever-aftering” in peace and prosperity. Instead, the sinful Iraqis have fallen into sectarian violence and strife, even civil war. That must have come as a terrible surprise to the disappointed Dr. Krauthammer.
Because we’ve never seen that happen before in the Middle East, have we?
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.