In the future everybody will be right about Iraq for fifteen minutes

The current conjuncture is a mirror image of the period 2002-3, though both would be enclosed within larger questions of the “unipolar world” or “end of history,” to use two terms more tenable 12 years ago than today, both of them expressing the status or perceived status of the USA or American “hyperpower,” and the political-economic empire or civilization concept for which it stands or stood, as undisputed victor in the final global struggle. At that earlier moment the “people not to be listened to” were the defeatists, pessimists, skeptics, anti-imperialist lost-cause-ists, New Age pacifist-fantasists, and so on, associated with a series of widely noted decisively “proven wrong” predictions, warnings, and judgments: that Reaganism would fail both politically and economically; that it or Reagan himself would precipitate a nuclear war; that the Russian Soviet empire could not be defeated and must instead be semi-permanently accommodated at minimum in Eastern Europe; that Japan was reversing the decision of the War in the Pacific by superior economic policy; that the Gulf War would produce massive U.S. casualties in part because the American military and its civilian leadership were incompetent, while all our massively expensive high-tech weapons either did not work as advertised or were utterly irrelevant to the types of warfare we would encounter; that the war even if successful would unleash cataclysmic follow-on effects politically, militarily, economically, environmentally; and that, specifically and quite critically, Saddam’s Iraq did not possess somewhat advanced WMD programs and capabilities.

These “same people” were the ones, or were put together with the ones, who had proclaimed that the U.S. had entered a late, terminal phase of inevitable decline of a Great Power.  By the end of the roaring ’90s, the rest of us as well as a good number formerly in that camp had conceived a different notion regarding our and history’s potential, popularly realized in the parabolic Ponzying upwards of the Nasdaq stock exchange – the Gulf War wonder-weapons transmuted as 4-letter symbols. Cold War triumphalism and techno-utopianism were dealt a glancing blow by the 9/11 events – and a proximate correction in stock prices – but the first reflex was to re-double prior commitments on somewhat more sober terms, a normal and not obviously mistaken response: We would try to restore the prior optimism, return to the warm embrace of revealed historical destiny, only on a more realistic and consequential basis. This immediate response to 9/11 also produced a new reminder of the former confident conclusion, new incidents of “defeatists wrong again,” since “the same people” who had gotten all of those other things wrong also were found again saying “the same thing,” this time asserting the hopelessness of the American expedition to the Grave of Empires, seizing upon any sign of delay or planning error as evidence of unforgivable mass murderous folly and the onset of a new Vietnam.

Such judgments of historically right or wrong were all, in case it does not go without saying, blunt and superficial. Why should we presume, however, that our present judgments are essentially better or better-formed and -grounded – or, if they in fact are better judgments, that they are better for any other reason than they have absorbed the lesson of a failed praxis, filed under the rubric “neocon”? Operation Iraqi Freedom was not merely an intellectual exercise, but it was also one: What other than the actual invasion of Iraq under proven-false premises could actually prove those premises false – at least as we articulated them to ourselves while, we believed, safely ignoring the always-wrong and resoundingly re-defeated defeatists? Put differently, the reason we invaded Iraq was simply that we had not invaded Iraq yet. We had stopped just short, had left supplies and equipment and numerous commitments in place, while, so it seemed, the failure to follow the war logic to its obvious conclusion had resulted in a practically-politically unsustainable, military-strategically undesirable, and altogether dangerous state of affairs that among other things and morally unacceptably made us accomplices to genocide and countless lesser crimes, themselves leading predicates for a declaration of war against us by Islamist radicals. We had to go in again to get out, we thought: The latter part turned out necessarily much more difficult, and the liberation of peoples necessarily more bloodily terrible, than we allowed ourselves to contemplate then or can allow ourselves fully to recognize now.

Maybe 12 years from now, maybe tomorrow, maybe not for a very long time, maybe already, in any event sooner or later, many who are convinced, from the depths of their souls, often as a matter of political-professional identity, which may lie deeper for some, of their own indubitable rectitude will find themselves being listened to again, and will produce new hostages to fate, to be set next to the ones they are proudly displaying today.

24 comments on “In the future everybody will be right about Iraq for fifteen minutes

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    • Well, now is the future compared to when I wrote that title, and Iraq exists as a concept, at least. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to waste my fifteen minutes all at once by being right about it now right about now.

  1. Well Mesopotamia and Assyria, the cradles of civilization has lasted for 5,000 years, the borders will be different to a degree,

    actually surprise, you could never shut the defeatists up, the chill never shut Tim Robbins yap, Michael Moore who bordered on blood libel, as he has in practically every engagement, btw, it turns out there still are chemical weapons in Iraq, now they are in the hands of ISIS, itself a joint venture between the Salafi and the Baath,

  2. As for the First Gulf War, that one was less of a success than met the eye, after all, besides the Kuwaitis who are busy funding jihad in Syria, we save Bin Laden, from a righteous hanging from the Republican Guard,

    • Yes – as we’ve discussed before – but it was deemed a perfect little war, a demonstration that lawful restraint under the New World Order could still be great TV (that maybe the end of history wouldn’t have to be too intolerably tedious after all…) It had us, as I was trying to suggest in the post, looking forward to the sequel. Its incompleteness was part of its perfection in a way, or so it looked… at least until the Baghdadis went off script.

  3. In the future everybody will be right about Iraq for fifteen minutes

    Ha ha! Bloody brilliant, CK–I love it. (Haven’t gotten past the title, but I had to register my delight.)

  4. A typically perspicacious and incisive post, CK. Once again, you rise above the terms of contemporary political discourse and debate to speak from a higher and more compelling perspective. I don’t know how you do it, except that you’re just bloody intelligent.

    A brief first impression: In this post, you cleverly catalog a great number of political judgments, from the nineties and the ’00s, from all sides of the spectrum. When these judgments are arrayed in lists like you’ve done here, with the transitions from one vantage to another made apparent as one scrolls through them, it has the effect (as you no doubt intend) of making these judgments seem less convincing than they seemed to their purveyors at given points in time–an effect that applies not so much to any specific judgment in particular, but to the totality of them all.

    Two thoughts: 1) The gist of your post would seem to be that the universe of our political discourse is bounded by an encompassing unknown and that we are, to a large extent if not entirely, flying blind. Once, we thought had some wisdom we could rely on but that was discredited–now we have a new and opposite wisdom that we think we can rely on from here on out. But circumstances will almost inevitably arise in future that will discredit the new incarnation of political wisdom and so on, ad infinitum. If this is what you’re getting at, at least in part, I couldn’t agree more.

    Now, at the risk of garnering my usual opprobrium–you speak of the Iraq war primarily in this post but the point you’re making can of course be applied to other domains. And I’d like to apply it in passing, if I may, to one of my pet concerns–race. Once upon a time (and a very long time it was) we were dogmatically convinced that blacks were, by and large, incompetent barbarians and the best, most wise course of action was to steer well clear of them. Now, of course, we’re dogmatically convinced of just the opposite–at least we say we are. We’re flyin’ blind.

    Because the political things are not susceptible of certainties–not ever–and every regime is defective.

    Secondly, I couldn’t help but think as I read through your post: doesn’t all this cast a helluva lot of doubt on the end of history thesis?

    • As much as your compliments appeal to my vanity, Mr. M, I do have to take exception to the discussion of race in those terms.

      I do think there is room for uncertainty on contemporary understandings and usages in relation to “race,” but I don’t think there’s a respectable or defensible return to “blacks [are] incompetent barbarians,” if indeed that statement does usefully approximate some once actually existent general sentiment, among many others. Similarly, “steer well clear of them” is not what was done, at least in this country: What we or our forebears did was import millions of Africans as property and treat them and their children and their children’s children that way. Who the incompetent barbarians are in that picture is at least debatable.

      Likewise, as a man ethnically Jewish by my mother, I cannot view the uncertainty of political things and universal defectiveness of all real-existing regimes as good reason to suspect that any old belief or attitude regarding the Jews may be deserving of resurrection after all.

      If we decide to take it upon ourselves to re-consider notions of race from a political philosophical perspective, but the objective is not some kind of ethical ascent from ideas taken as common sense in the current market, then the pastime will be at best idle, and more likely deserving of whatever opprobrium it receives upon being noticed. So, just as I cannot look forward to a possible comeuppance for today’s pacifists and fashionably realists, and wonder if it might not in fact take the form of the worst of times, I would look forward even less to any discovery of the impossibility of trans-ethnic co-existence and comity, or of any final impediment to an ideal or, so to speak, natural-divine equality of the sort implicit yet incomplete in the vision of the American Founders. Put crudely, if so-called scientific racism or something like polygenism provided accurate depictions of a true state of human evolutionary biology, it still might be far preferable to act, speak, and think as if it didn’t. As a matter of fact, however, I don’t we need to worry about that one very much. I don’t think that scientific racism can possibly be found valid either on its own terms as supposed science or ethically.

      In posts I hope to publish soon I’ll try to advance the discussion further on the limitations and self-subversions of contemporary self-consciously anti-racist discourse, but I don’t feel qualified to address them except as questions of discourse rather than of, say, biological science. Can’t say more now, but I’ll urge you not to pet that concern too much, as it’s bigger than us, and is an untamed and merciless beast that has destroyed many lives. Let me know if you would like me to remove the passage on race from your comment above, and give you a chance to re-phrase it – if only for the sake of preserving your, to borrow a phrase, political viability on this subject going forward.

      • CK, in my response to your post I tried to attend to the point you seemed to be making, as well as extend the point to another controversial domain of American political discourse. In other words, not only are we flyin’ blind in relation to foreign policy we’re flyin’ blind in relation to all things–race, homosexuality, etc. In your response, you seem to be saying that, though we’re flyin’ blind in relation to foreign policy, we’re aren’t flyin’ blind in relation to the race issue. I disagree and I don’t really see how you can compartmentalize these things, aside from personal reasons, which are prejudicial. I don’t have your personal reasons to be so touchy about race–in fact I have the opposite interest–and I can’t be made to bear the burden of them, any more than I can make you bear the burdens of my personal heritage. We can only exchange points of view, with something like philosophy (i.e. something radically impersonal) as our common touchstone.

        As I said: “at the risk of garnering my usual opprobrium.” I’m well accustomed to being scolded for daring to question the received wisdom concerning race. I just happen to think that the race issue (that is to say, the ever-increasing racial balkanization of the US) is infinitely more important to the US going forward than foreign policy (though that’s important too)–which is why I won’t cease from broaching the subject where I’m permitted to do so.

        If my comments on this line are entirely unwelcome to you, just say the word and I’ll return to the shadows as a lurker. It won’t diminish my respect for your intelligence and theoretical perspective at all.

        But, no, as another questionable fellow said in a different context: “What I have written, I have written.”

        • To be clear, I don’t think we’re flying blind. I think our view may be narrower or less trustworthy than we or some of us or any of us at any given time might like to think.

          On the specific subject of race, I think that among other things we – in general – have a discourse problem, and that to engage seriously with any discourse problem, and especially one attached to high emotional investment or matters of identity, requires utmost care with the discourse itself – with the words we use and with the meanings we intend to convey or may inadvertently convey. Otherwise, when we prepare to “question the received wisdom,” we end up interrupting and distorting the inquiry with extraneous assumptions and indications, replacing one unwisdom with another, not necessarily better one, rather than advancing the inquiry reasonably, or with any hope of getting anywhere.

      • Now, I’ve yet to make the argument for natural slavery as did Aristotle and I’ve yet to make the argument for the justice of enslaving prisoners of war as did Aquinas and I’ve yet to say all the bloody awful things that Hegel says about die Schwarzen in the Philosophy of History–but am I to understand that you would scold those men if you had the chance to meet them face to face?

        Well, as I say, you’re very intelligent and I think you know you are–so much so that maybe you really could enter the lists with these worthies.

        • While preparing for my big meeting with Aristotle, Aquinas, and Hegel, I’d want to examine very carefully how their concepts of slavery and, to the extent they had any at all, of race may have differed from ours. So, though Aristotle made some observations about typical characteristics of the peoples of Northern Europe and of Asia, I don’t believe he had a concept equivalent to “scientific racism.” On the other hand, though Aristotle and Aquinas may have justified slavery, but not race slavery, Hegel considered slavery “absolutely contrary to right.” I’ll have to review sometime how Hegel deployed the ideas of ethno-national or natural characteristics of peoples, but it’s notable at this point that “race” is not a separate topic in his major works. He saw the overall movement of history as an overcoming of the degraded concept of the human that allowed for slavery, and the world historical era announced by the French Revolution as an era of the necessary universalization of its core values. Otherwise, analyzing his view of racial or proto-racial categories is a more complex undertaking then I can attempt now.

          • Well, my comment was a little snarky and I regret that.

            Having said that…

            So, though Aristotle made some observations about typical characteristics of the peoples of Northern Europe and of Asia, I don’t believe he had a concept equivalent to “scientific racism.”

            No, Aristotle was a philosopher who, in the realm of the human things, always began at the level of common sense and never entirely departed therefrom. In Leo Strauss’ telling, for Aristotle philosophy was prior to common sense whereas for the moderns common sense is prior to philosophy. So I think we can safely say that Aristotle had a concept of “commonsensical” racism.

            though Aristotle and Aquinas may have justified slavery, but not race slavery

            You seem to suggest that the latter is not as odious as the former, whereas I might suppose the opposite to be true.

            Otherwise, analyzing his view of racial or proto-racial categories is a more complex undertaking then I can attempt now.

            No need to undertake a research project into Hegel’s views on race. You’ve read The Philosophy of History. What is your response to the things that Hegel says about blacks in that work? If you disagree with his thoughts on blacks as expressed in that text, but otherwise find yourself experiencing a general affinity for Hegel’s philosophy, then how do you explain away his views on blacks–how do you isolate that aspect of his work from the rest of it? I ask in all sincerity.

            • Will get to this later, have to run, but just want to correct any impression that I view race slavery, in particular the institution in America or envisioned by the Nazis, as in any respect less odious than the institution in general. Not sure what I said that suggested it.

              Hegel will take more time.

              • The peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend, for the very reason that in reference to it, we must quite give up the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas–the category of universality.

                The Negro, as already observed, exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state. We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality, all that we call feeling, if we would rightly comprehend him; there is nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in this type of character.

                ~Hegel, The Philosophy of History (Sibree trans.)

                From the section: “Geographical Basis of History”

                • Thanks.

                  I still don’t have time to go into this subject in detail, but the impulse to declare such passages obviously racist will tend to reflect the uses made of them or of similar statements by racists.

                  Despite possible appearances, Hegel does not embrace polygenism or scientific racism. The title of the section – in full “The Natural Context or the Geographical Basis of World History” – points to his divergent approach. So, for him, the “peculiarly African character” does not stand for traits that happen to emerge spontaneously, because inherited directly, in members of an African “race.” For Hegel African culture, up to and including typical traits of individual Africans as observed by others, stands as a product of geography, not of genes. In other words, there is no reason to conclude from Hegel’s analysis that a “Negro” brought up in a different environment (one not isolated from the rest of the world) would develop the same characteristics. Indeed, there are points in Hegel’s short review of the history of Africa in which he describes Africans emerging from the interior of the continent at first displaying the savage traits he considers typically African, but, after exposure and habituation to life on the coasts of the continent, being largely transformed. In short, Hegel is here extending notions that can be traced especially via Montesquieu all the way to Aristotle, and that fall under the heading of geographical determinism.

                  The other main element of Hegel’s analysis that many readers today will be inclined to repudiate, and that will reinforce the possible misinterpretation of his views, is his insistence on the superiority of Western or European culture as he understands it. Though horrendous things have been done by those who claimed superiority, or have been claimed to be just on its basis – for instance, under theories of tutelary colonialism, slavery, and forced economic re-organization – that does not mean those making the claims have done so on the same basis as Hegel. The superiority they claim, and the rationales they develop from it, may not reflect Hegel’s idea of superiority and, even less, Hegel’s rationales. Significantly, Hegel maintains his condemnation of slavery in this chapter, and apparent indifference to it is one of the main elements of his indictment as inferior of (supposedly) typical African culture.

                  I’m confident that a close reading of these and related passages specifically in light of their reputation as Hegel’s worst or most embarrassing if not unforgivable work, would be illuminating in regard to contemporary, especially post-modern and multi-culturalist dogmas. I’m sorry that I’m not in a position to attempt such a project at this time. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be.

  5. well that was one of Hegel’s less enlightened remarks, and we know similar sentiments in Der Deutschland have had consequences in the past, the German experiences with the Herero related in ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ see I didn’t go for the obvious play,

    re the Middle East, I was reading Anderson’s treatment of Lawrence, and his German doppelganger, Prufer, and his campaign to incite jihad in British territories,

  6. Having read dozens of blogs over the years, I’ve more or less concluded that yours is the only worthwhile one out there. It’s a shame you’re so niggardly with your material.

    I dreamed of being a commenter here, but alas I wasn’t ready for primetime–and I admit it.

    Although my own philosophic quest is fourth or fifth-rate at best, I do cherish philosophy and I know a first-rate philosophic quest when I see one. That’s what you have and I honor it. You’re a gifted thinker, a learned man, and an excellent writer to boot. You really, really ought to think about writing a book someday.

    May you never stop philosophizing and may God grant you a safe and happy journey!

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