George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq has proven so colossally counterproductive it almost beggars belief. This is finally, belatedly, reflected across a spectrum of opinion that includes virtually everyone who is not in the Bush inner circle or on the Washington Post editorial board or the Weekly Standard masthead. Speaking for the bedrock institutions of the establishment on The Charlie Rose Show recently, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, admitted, “There’s no question that it’s helped to weaken America’s standing in almost every other country in the world. It’s just added to the notion of an America out of control, an America that doesn’t know how to deal with the world.” Jessica Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added, “The war has cost us deeply in credibility, in respect…. even our closest allies don’t trust what our next instincts would be.”
Ironically, the very same people who counseled us into this catastrophe remain in control of the debate on what is to be done about it. In fact, most of the “liberal hawks” who spent their time attacking not merely the analysis of their more cautious comrades but often their patriotism and intelligence have only seen their prestige and positions enhanced. On Charlie Rose George Packer, who equated warnings of the failure of this benighted enterprise with possession of “second-rate minds,” was wondering why Bush was building “these enormous bases that do have the look of permanence. And I don’t quite understand why that hasn’t been cleared up by the Administration: What are our intentions in the long run in Iraq?” (Hmmm, billions for bases and nothing for reconstruction. George: Does this calculation really require a “first-rate mind”?)
To address this incongruity I’ve picked a short (representative) Honor Roll of people in a variety of fields whose prescience and patriotism led them to risk their positions and/or prestige in public life to warn their nation of impending catastrophe:
Soldier. On October 10, 2002, Maj. Gen. Anthony Zinni (Ret.), former chief of US Central Command, gave a speech in Washington in which he repeated numerous points he’d made during the run-up to war (and which cost him his appointment as George W. Bush’s special envoy to the Middle East). “If we think there is a fast solution to changing the governance of Iraq,” Zinni warned, “then we don’t understand history, the nature of the country, the divisions or the underneath suppressed passions that could rise up. God help us if we think this transition will occur easily.” Honorable mention goes to: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was cashiered after accurately informing Congress that the occupation of Iraq would require “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers”; and Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.), who predicted that the result of a unilateral US invasion would be “to supercharge recruiting for Al Qaeda.”
Bureaucrat. Ambassador Joe Wilson for going public about the Administration’s deceptions regarding alleged Iraqi uranium purchases and braving the Rove slime machine’s wrath toward himself and his wife. Honorable mention goes to John Brady Kiesling, a young foreign service officer who resigned his job in protest over the Bush/Cheney lies.
Statesman. Al Gore, speaking to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in September 2002, warned, “If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after quickly defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” For this he was attacked as “crazy” and “unhinged” by armchair neocon warriors and assailed by his fair-weather friends at The New Republic, who complained, “Bitterness is not a policy position.” Honorable Mention goes to Senators Russ Feingold, Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama for eloquently, albeit unsuccessfully, seeking to awaken their party to its responsibility to demand answers to difficult questions about the invasion.
Economist. In November 2002, Yale’s William Nordhaus analyzed the overall effect of a war, both in terms of direct costs and its impact on the economy. He offered a conservative scenario in which expenses were assessed to be a mere $99 billion over the next decade. But under his second scenario, the likely costs rose as high as $1.9 trillion, which included the cost of a lengthy postwar occupation ($500 billion) and an economic downturn ($391 billion). He was widely derided by prowar pundits at the time, but his numbers have proven painfully accurate.
Scholar. John Dower, dean of twentieth-century Japanese historians, joined thirty-five colleagues to warn, in a January 2003 statement, “As students of the Japanese occupation, we believe that the Bush administration’s plans for war and occupation in Iraq are a historical mistake and strongly urge the United States to seek a peaceful solution to the present crisis.” Dower added in an interview, “We do not have the moral legitimacy we had then, nor do we have the other thing that was present when we occupied Japan–the vision of the American public that we would engage in serious and genuinely democratic nation-building and that we would do this in the context of an international order.”
Journalist. In the November 2002 Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows did the due diligence avoided by the government and after surveying the views of a collection of spies, Arabists, oil-company officials, diplomats, scholars, policy experts and soldiers, presented a far more realistic assessment of the likely cost of occupation than the Administration would countenance. Honorable Mention goes to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post and the Washington bureau of Knight Ridder for their refusal to swallow the official line on weapons of mass destruction, while so many of their colleagues were parroting Administration disinformation.