March 22, 2006

When Smart People Do Dumb Things  

I'm trying to curb personal spending, especially "frivolous" spending on things like books, but this one, on how the war in Iraq went awry, is really tempting. This book was excerpted in the NY Times, with a piece on how Hussein was more worried about Iran than the U.S. and so he wanted the world to think he had WMDs. He was surprised right up until our troops were just outside Baghdad. That shocked me. Even though the world believed the U.S. was serious, to the point of setting off a thousand peace rallies in scores of European capitals, Saddam was content to imagine otherwise. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Still, Bush's was different from previous administrations. When you have a fundamentally unserious president like Clinton followed by the very aggressive post-9/11 Bush, you're bound to send mixed signals. You mean you want to enforce U.N. resolutions now? Given that they had been resolutely ignored for years by Hussein meant it was no surpise that #1441 was just radio static.

Back in 2000 Bush's cabinent seemed like the '27 Yankees, the best crew since JFK's. There was a good mix of experienced hands like Cheney and younger academics like Condi Rice, and there were folks who had served in the private sector. Even the mainstream press was impressed, referring often to Dick Cheney's "gravitas". Rumsfeld, briefly, became a media darling.

But then the war came, and the best you can say is that the Administration didn't prepare us for the slog it would become. How could they have not done better with the post-war planning? I guess I'm mesmerized when the "best and brightest" get it so wrong. Reminds me how John McCain, who seems like a smart enough fellow, fought a pyrric battle for the abysmally ineffective McCain-Feingold bill which was made instantly obsolete by the 527s. It's just amazing sometimes what can't be foreseen. But on the other hand, I can't understand why I'm surprised given that brains are no guarantee of anything. Karl Marx was brilliant.

Pundit Jeff Greenfield sees the lack of postwar planning as a continual pattern in American foreign policy, which is the tendency to imagine that other cultures and peoples are no different than our own and hence liberating Iraq would be like liberating Green Bay, Wisconsin. And certainly in a multicultural society like America, the great "melting pot", it's no wonder that we have trouble imagining foreign countries as truly foreign.

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