I often strive to be evenhanded. I really do. At other times my anger and frustration at American foreign policy leads me to lose any sense of dispassion. With Hanson, I fear, evenhandedness is impossible. In Friday’s National Review Online, the classicist and yeoman farmer plumbs new depths of surreal self-parody.
How can one mock Hanson’s reminders of all the good things that have happened in Iraq, the Middle East, and South Asia? The Iraqis, he tells, us, “have been given a chance for something different than the old nightmare….” Indeed they have.
But Hanson doesn’t stop there.
Long forgotten is the inspired campaign that removed a vicious dictator in three weeks. Nor is much credit given to the idealistic efforts to foster democracy rather than just ignoring the chaos that follows war — as we did after the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan, or following our precipitous departure from Lebanon and Somalia.
Yes, we should give props to the Bush team for not letting Afghanistan slowly spiral into chaos. And applause to the idealism of an Administration willing to pursue the invasion, regime change, and occupation of Iraq without much in the way of a post-war plan, sufficient troops, or government oversight of an army of private contractors.
The whole essay goes on and on in this idiom. Historical details contort into strange and sublime shapes. Sometimes they appear out of the dim recesses of neoconservative fantasy, in which, for example, the end of the Cold War had nothing to do with Reagan bucking his hard-line advisers and accepting Gorbachev as a negotiating partner. Hanson draws false equivalences of many kinds, including a rather strained analogy between the US failure to take decisive action against the ongoing genocide in Rwanda and invading Iraq with inadequate force and preparation.
But the clear height of Hanson’s indifference to his own craft comes towards the end of the screed.
The conventional wisdom was that, after Afghanistan (7 weeks of fighting) and its postbellum stability (a government within a year), a more secular Iraq (3 weeks of fighting) would follow the same timetable. In September 2002, well after the “miracle” in Afghanistan, I listened to a high-ranking admiral pontificate that war on the ground was essentially over in the new age of Green Berets and laptops, that after Bosnia and Afghanistan, air power and Special Forces were all that were needed.
We should take a moment to reflect on Hanson’s strange turn of phrase: “a more secular Iraq….” Is this a Freudian slip? The result of a bad editing job? Or did Hanson really believe that a more democratic Iraq would be more secular than Hussein’s regime? [Thanks to PM for pointing out my misreading of Hanson’s strained point].
But the most important, and revealing, part of this windup to Hanson’s conclusion is his use of the passive voice: the “conventional wisdom was that.” His construction nicely evades the question, “the conventional wisdom among whom?”
Hanson’s apologies for the Bush administration all share a similar refrain: it wasn’t their fault, it was the spirit of the times. We cannot blame Rumsfield for refusing to listen to those who called for more post-war planning and to those who suggested the US needed more troops to stabilize Iraq. The Administration found itself caught up in the “conventional wisdom,” even though reports prior to the invasion pointed to heated debate over all of these issues within the Executive Branch.
Anyway, read the whole thing. It isn’t so much a cogent argument as it is a series of sentences strung together: signs and mumblings signifying nothing.