In what may be a high-water mark in complacent American self-praise, David Ignatius in The Washington Post recently told the world: “The reality is that this may be the most idealistic war fought in modern times.” The solipsism, the immodesty of the statement is irritating in and of itself-but, on top of that, it’s so sloppy. What the hell is an idealistic war? Can he possibly mean one fought, on one side at least, by people who sought to gain nothing by a victorious outcome? Show me one. If you can, explain to me why people would want to give their lives in a war for which neither they, nor their families nor country, stood to gain.
Next comes the prepositional phrase “in modern times.” What are we to make of that? Are we to suppose that in ancient times, which begin at some unstated date, idealistic wars were often fought?
In ancient or modern times, are there examples of two sides fighting an “idealistic war” against each other? Since it’s hypothetically possible that two nations might wage “idealistic war” against each other, it follows that a nation can fight an “idealistic war” and from a moral or legal standpoint still be in the wrong, since one idealist must be right and the other wrong. Or could both idealists be right (or both wrong) at the same time, fighting against each other in the same war?
Mr. Ignatius goes on to say that the Iraqi mess is “a war whose only coherent rationale, for all the misleading hype about weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda terrorists, is that it toppled a tyrant and created the possibility of a democratic future. It was a war of choice, not necessity, and one driven by ideas, not merely interests. In that sense, the paradigmatic figure of the war is [Paul] Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and the Bush administration’s idealist in chief.”
The paradigmatic idealist in chief must be assigned at least partial responsibility for “the misleading hype about weapons of mass destruction,” for it was he who confessed as much when he said, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everybody could agree on.” Apparently, it is possible to be both an idealist in chief and a liar.
A couple of paragraphs later in the article, Mr. Ignatius writes: “I asked Wolfowitz if he ever worried that he was too idealistic-that his passion for the noble goals of the Iraq war might overwhelm the prudence and pragmatism that normally guide war planners. He didn’t answer directly, except to say that it was a good question.” Now there’s a hard-hitting, incisive question: Oh, pray tell, sir, do you sometimes worry that you are too good to tarry long amongst us?
Mr. Ignatius also writes that the idealist in chief’s “passion undercuts the widespread notion that Wolfowitz is simply a neoconservative tool of Israel.” But does it? There is growing talk that the idealist in chief, over and above his remarkable paradigmatic qualities, is a “Likudist,” a follower of Ariel Sharon, an Israeli Likud Party fellow traveler.
That such thoughts about Mr. Wolfowitz and his associate, Richard Perle, are being bruited about is reflected in a recent New York Times article by David Rieff. In discussing Ahmad Chalabi, the puppet installed by the Americans in Baghdad as the head of the non-Iraqi government there, Mr. Rieff suggested that Mr. Chalabi is little more than a thing the neocon cat dragged in. He also writes: “The Iraq Chalabi envisioned-one that would make peace with Israel, have adversarial relations with Iran and become a democratic model for (or, seen another way, a threat to) Saudi Arabia-coincided neatly with the plan of the administration neoconservatives, who saw post-Hussein Iraq as a launching pad for what they described as the democratization of the Middle East.”
Phrases such as “democratization of the Middle East” are often slung around by neocons. From time to time, they use one which is revelatory of their inner thinking, or so I take it. Most recently, I heard a neocon columnist refer to the democratization of the region as “draining the swamp.” It is a chilling expression, because it evokes some of the horrendous euphemisms employed by the gas-chamber fascism of 60 years ago.
It also gives a hint as to what neocons think about Arabs and the Muslim religion when the doors are closed and they are banqueting in one of those fancy think tanks of theirs. “Draining the swamp”: It calls to mind swamp rats, scum, stagnant film on backwater, refuse, filth, corruption, foul pools, spongy green swatches, mosquito breeding grounds, 50-legged crawling things. “Draining the swamp” could also be interpreted to mean getting rid of the Arabs who live in the swamp. Drain them, drain their oil.
Odd that we Americans care enough to liberate these wretches, but not enough to count how many of them we kill, either intentionally or by accident. If the government does count Iraqi mortalities, it doesn’t make its knowledge public. Iraqi ways, Iraqi people are not important enough to study. So far as I know, neither the idealist in chief nor those with whom he is most closely associated politically speak Arabic-which may explain the blank (if not hostile) expressions on Iraqi faces when the Americans come in and shout at them, “Free! Free! No charge! It’s gratis! Send in your coupons for a liberty rebate!”
The neocons, who have shown indifference if not contempt for Iraqi history, culture, religion and accomplishments (save only the rugs), have taken the trouble, however, to liberate these people. Now they are in the process of being democratized. It will be interesting to watch democratization play out.
A glimpse of what may be in store can be gotten from Mr. Ignatius’ dispatch from Iraq. “It was a classic Paul Wolfowitz moment,” he writes. “He was speaking at a new women’s rights center here nine days ago when someone asked for his advice on writing an Iraqi constitution. Wolfowitz, the professor turned Pentagon war planner, began quoting Alexis de Tocqueville’s theories about democracy to the residents of this ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates River.”
A Wolfowitzian moment! Imagine. Anyhow, it is classy to quote de Tocqueville-they do it at Harvard and Yale all the time-but it is classier yet to understand de Tocqueville. De Tocqueville explained that the American democracy which he had studied firsthand-he spoke English-was shaped by and grew out of the culture, religion, etc., of the Americans. He believed that democracy is not a collection of rules, laws and procedures which are pressed down on a people or a nation; that a political system needs to have organic unity with the society in which it operates. This being the case, four possible outcomes in Iraq spring to mind: 1) The Iraqis reject what Mr. Wolfowitz seeks to impose on them; 2) He destroys their culture, obliterates their past, decimates their religion and educes some kind of lame, twisted, Amero-Iraqi version of a democracy; 3) The Iraqis kick out the idealist in chief along with his ideals and, with pain and over an extended period of time, develop their own democracy out of their own cultural materials; or 4) The outcome will be something none can predict.
Mr. Ignatius calls the Iraqi mess “a war of choice, not necessity, and one driven by ideas, not merely interests.” Yes, a war of choice which those who started it call “preemption” and those who are disturbed by it call “aggression.” As for it being a war driven by ideas, Mr. Ignatius doesn’t know the difference between an idea and a slogan. All slogans aside, whose interests does Mr. Ignatius have in mind: the oil interest, the Israeli interest, the Halliburton interest, or the interest of some gorgeously meaningless abstraction like “freedom”?
He closes his piece of political hagiography with a declaration that “[t]he idealists can win this war, but only if they act with brutally honest pragmatism.” Someone should tell Mr. Ignatius that if the troops under the orders of the Supreme Paradigm kill enough Iraqis, the country will quiet down; a good dosing of “brutally honest pragmatism” should do it nicely. As for a neater definition of “brutally honest pragmatism,” use Occam’s razor-or please apply to the idealist in chief for clarification.