Given the great success of recent American foreign policy initiatives driven largely by the neoconservatives, the New York Times apparently decided it is “Neocon Day” today. To celebrate, the Gray Lady published two op-eds on Iraq that sing the praises of our efforts there.
In the first, David Brooks highlights how successful our nation-building project is going in Iraq. I wonder if this column will be his “Mission Accomplished” banner should security in Iraq deteriorate, as is suggested by a recent increase in violence and the presence of many unresolved issues.
With the carelessness of those who talk about natural disasters as good for the economy (displaying Bastiat’s broken windows fallacy), Brooks notes that “It’s hard to know what role the scattershot American development projects have played, but this year Iraq will have the 12th-fastest-growing economy in the world, and it is expected to grow at a 7 percent annual clip for the next several years.” Hmmmm, blow the hell out of a country for years then pour tons of money into it and voila, a signal success for nation-building! Moreover, we are told that “Violence is down 90 percent from pre-surge days.” Talk about cherry-picking a statistic. And as Celeste Ward of the RAND Corp and others have argued, the decline has had little to do with American efforts or the surge.
But most egregiously, even if we accept Brooks at his word that things are starting to look bright all over, he fails to examine both sides of the ledger and factor in the cost in terms of our blood (over 4000 Americans killed and multiples of that wounded) and treasure (probably over $2 trillion dollars), not to mention the pain and suffering of millions of Iraqis (and a minimum of 100,000 civilian deaths). With that accounting in mind, I’d want a lot more bang for the buck than we are seeing in Iraq even if I were a simple utilitarian (and I’m willing to concede that some gains for the living in Iraq have been made).
In the second piece for Neocon Day, Paul Wolfowitz argues that we must continue our commitment to Iraq and model it on our efforts in South Korea following the Korean War. Like with most bad analogies, Wolfowitz breezes over the very different situations (the threat of the Soviet Union just for starters) we faced in the 1950’s compared to today. Moreover, despite the subsequent success in South Korea, a good realist then and now could have questioned whether the commitment was necessary for U.S. interests. And last I checked, that is the point of our military and foreign policy institutions.
These two pieces prove that bad ideas are not fated to death. Neoconservatives should have been run out of town on a rail by now. Instead, we have the New York Times giving them yet more precious real estate to spread their destructive views.
6 thoughts on “Happy Neocon Day”
Nice to have you back.
“Bang for the buck”: our bangs, or theirs? Perhaps you could have labeled this post, “When will they play baseball in Iraq?” The decades of authoritarian rule that preceded today’s economically successful democracy in Korea are unlikely to be replicated in Iraq where we have pushed the country into a premature democracy instead, incapable of instituting a political unity not present in the surrounding society. Also, will Iran provide the sort of external bugaboo to bolster internal unity that North Korea has for the ROKs? On the other hand, oil is a resource that can subsidize quite a bit of graft-y unity building. Perhaps the government of Iraq (such as it is) should engage in a frenzy of soccer stadium construction in the hopes of building national unity through sports. Then we’ll have to hope the edifices are put to better use than the soccer stadium the UN built in Kabul.
It seems to be more role around here to defend Brooks, so here goes today’s edition:
Seeing the headline on his column, I was ready to express the same irritation as GC, since I too strongly opposed the war. But I actually think Brooks was fairly even-handed today, basically just saying that the “surge” helped things, but not all things, and that therefore it would be foolish to abandon the country entirely when they still need help.
That’s pretty moderate position. He really wasn’t crowing about how the invasion of Iraq in the first place was a great thing.
Fair enough. But the “look how well things are turning out” trope is a) misleading; and b) no doubt one that will be harnessed for future adventures by Brooks’ allies. This is why those of us who disagree need to match them every step. Remember, Iran policy is still in play.
That sounds right. And we are in complete agreement about Wolfie.
Stephen Walt agrees with me: http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/08/31/whitewashing_the_failure_in_iraq