There's a must-read new article by Robert Kagan, Neocon Nation: Neoconservatism, c. 1776
, that puts the Iraq war in historical context. If you disagree with what I excerpt here, please - read the whole article.
The gist is that there is nothing new or maliciously neo-con about the Iraq war. The Iraq war is perfectly consistent with 200 years of American history, up to and including the Clinton administration and virtually all US legislators and the American public. And "there has not been a single criticism leveled at neoconservatism in recent years that was not leveled at American foreign policy hundreds of times over the past two centuries." Later, he says, "The expansive, moralistic, militaristic tradition in American foreign policy is the hearty offspring of this marriage between Americans’ driving ambitions and their overpowering sense of righteousness."
Here's a little of what he has to say about the various players:On critics of the war:
"there was something more fundamental, and perhaps also more honest, about the debate over Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. When David Halberstam and others of his generation turned against the war, their objection went beyond personalities, tricks, and lies. The problem was not McNamara or Rusk or the misguided American military or the dishonest politicians. The “real problem,” Halberstam wrote, was more basic. It was “the failure to examine the assumptions of the era”—the widely shared assumptions about the nature of the Communist threat, about American interests in a place as far off as Vietnam, and above all, about the role of America in the world. It was the whole idea, which lay behind containment and the Truman Doctrine, of a “manifest U.S. destiny in the world,” the whole notion that the United States was the possessor of transcendent truth and was its best and only defender."On public opinion:
"The war was, as American wars go, immensely popular, both before and immediately following its launch—more popular than the wars in Kosovo and Bosnia, or the invasions of Panama and Grenada, and about as popular as the Persian Gulf War of 1991. It remained popular even after weapons investigators discovered none of the suspected caches of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons materials or the programs that the intelligence services of two American administrations and several European countries believed were there. A Washington Post/ABC News poll in April 2003 found that, nevertheless, more than 70 percent of Americans supported the war, and a CBS poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans believed it had been worth the sacrifice even if no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. A month later, a Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Americans considered the war justified with or without conclusive evidence that Saddam Hussein had possessed weapons of mass destruction, and only 19 percent believed the discovery of such weapons was necessary to justify the war. The war lost popular support only as it began to look as if the U.S. military was bogged down in a seemingly endless and possibly losing effort."On Democrats and Republican moderates in the Senate:
"In 2002, those voting to approve the war included everyone with even vague plans of running for president in either 2004 or 2008—not only John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Joseph Biden, but also Thomas Daschle, Tom Harkin, and Chris Dodd—as well as other Democrats who had no such plans such as Harry Reid, Byron Dorgan, Jay Rockefeller, and Charles Schumer, along with Republican moderates such as Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter. One can only speculate abut whether Barack Obama might have voted against the war had he been in the Senate in the fall of 2002. If Dodd and Harkin voted for it, either out of conviction or out of some distant thought of future presidential plans, would Obama alone have made a different calculation?"On Bill Clinton:
"...what has since been quietly and conveniently forgotten [is] that in 1998 the Clinton administration had changed its policy toward Iraq “from containment to regime change” and had begun “to examine options to effect such a change.” ...The Clinton administration had itself used force on several occasions, in Somalia, Sudan, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and, of course, against Iraq. It had used force without UN authorization. It had bombed and fired missiles into Iraq over the heated objections of France and other allies, and it had done so based on the same evidence of Saddam’s weapons programs that the Bush administration used to justify its war."On Hillary Clinton:
"When Clinton rose on the Senate floor to cast her vote in favor of the resolution “to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq,” the arguments she used were neither novel nor obviously disingenuous. ...Saddam Hussein, she noted, was “a tyrant who has tortured and killed his own people, even his own family members, to maintain his iron grip on power.” He had used “chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds and on Iranians, killing over 20 thousand people.” He had “given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members.” He had “invaded and occupied Kuwait,” and when the United States withdrew its forces after driving him out, he had taken his revenge against Kurds and the Shiites “who had risen against Saddam Hussein at our urging.” ...[However,] she opposed a “unilateral attack,” for if the United States went to war “alone or with a few allies,” such action would “come back to haunt us.” International support and legitimacy were “crucial” because, “while the military outcome” was “not in doubt,” “after shots are fired and bombs are dropped, not all consequences are predictable.”"On Obama:
"When Barack Obama talks about foreign policy, he evokes not Chomsky but Kennedy and insists America must be the “leader of the free world.” It must lead the way “in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.” Its “larger purpose in the world is to promote the spread of freedom.” He insists, in phrases that should appall any true realist, that the “security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.” He wants to increase the defense budget, to expand the size of American ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 to the Marines to ensure that the United States has “the strongest, best-equipped military in the world.” He talks about “rogue nations,” “hostile dictators,” “muscular alliances,” and maintaining “a strong nuclear deterrent.” He talks about the “American moment” and how we need to “seize” it. He says we must “begin the world anew”..."###