Letters

George Packer and other readers respond to Gary Kamiya's essay "The Road to Hell."


Salon Staff
October 11, 2005 1:37PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

In Gary Kamiya's thoughtful and generous review of my book "The Assassins' Gate," a point is made that I would like to correct. Kamiya imputes to my book the idea that Israeli interests were one of the two leading factors behind the Iraq War. I never made this claim, nor do I subscribe to it. The relevant passage, on Page 32, partially quoted by Kamiya, will make this clear to readers.

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-- George Packer

Gary Kamiya responds:

I'm pleased that George Packer found my review of his excellent book thoughtful. However, I never stated that his book maintains that Israeli interests were one of the two leading factors behind the war. I argued only that he maintained that "the intellectual origins of the war were inseparably tied to neocon concerns about Israel." The intellectual origins of the war are, of course, not necessarily the same thing as its causes. I make it clear that Packer holds that Paul Wolfowitz's desire to atone for Bush the elder's failure to oust Saddam also played a key role in the intellectual genesis of the war. Here's the relevant passage from my review: "'Why Iraq?' Packer asks. 'Why did Iraq become the leading cause of the hawks?' He gives two reasons: Paul Wolfowitz's desire to atone for America's failure to topple Saddam at the end of the first Gulf War, and the neocons' obsession with defending Israel.")

Here is the entire passage on p. 32 Packer cites.

"Does this mean that a pro-Likud cabal insinuated its way into the high councils of the U.S. government and took hold of the apparatus of American foreign policy to serve Israeli interests (as some critics of the war have charged, rather than addressing its merits head on?) Is neoconservative another word for Jewish (as some advocates of the war have complained, rather than addressing their critics head on)? For Feith and Wurmser, the security of Israel was probably the prime mover. But for others, such as Wolfowitz, Iraq stood for different things -- an unfinished war, Arab tyranny, weapons proliferation, a strategic threat to oil, Democratic fecklessness -- and regime change there became the foreign-policy jackpot. A leading Israel journalist, Ari Shavit, answered the conspiracy theory this way: Jews are drawn to ideas. The idea of realigning the Middle East by overthrowing Saddam Hussein was first proposed by a group of Jewish policy makers and intellectuals who were close to the Likud. And when the second President Bush looked around for a way to think about the uncharted era that began on September 11, 2001, there was one already available."

I quoted part of this passage in my review, with ellipses marking the part that was edited out (between "prime mover" and "The idea of realigning the Middle East...") Unfortunately, because of a coding error, the ellipses did not appear in the original version. The story has since been corrected. In any case, nothing in the full passage above contradicts the assertion that Packer "makes it clear that the intellectual origins of the war were inseparably tied to neocon concerns about Israel."

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Gary Kamiya writes, "In a just world, Bush, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Feith and their underlings would be standing before a Senate committee investigating their catastrophic failures, and Packer's book would be Exhibit A." No. In a just world, these people would be taken out and shot. As for Packer, and his unwillingness to believe his own eyes, he may not realize or admit it, but there were plenty of antiwar lefties who knew before the war that the Bush team didn't have a chance. The fact is that the election of 2000 revealed the Bush team for anyone who was willing to look -- they were and are cheaters -- always willing to use illegality and dishonesty to try to get what they want, and what they want is something for themselves, not for the public interest, whether that public is the American public or the Iraqi public. To a man, they knew nothing about war. The "moral innocence" was theirs. They intended to visit suffering upon some people very far away for their own purposes. Packer and all the pro-war hawks are as corrupt as the neocons are, because they retain some sort of sentimental attachment to their former idealism about whether "war" can be good or bad. A war of independence has to come from those who want to be liberated -- many of us "soft" lefties knew that.

The war in Iraq was a cheat from beginning to end. It could not have turned out any differently. The very idea of Packer and Berman and the others sitting in the U.S. and vaporing on about manipulating Iraqi lives and politics is deeply disgusting. Packer may have made some progress toward redemption by writing a good book, but until he admits that he never knew what he was talking about before the war, and that antiwar protesters did know what they were talking about, he is still in the dark hole, and deserves to remain there.

-- Jane Smiley

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In discussing the antiwar movement, "The Road to Hell" seemed to debate the reasons for going to war that were presented after the fact. I attended a protest in Washington and one in New York before the war for one simple reason: inspections had found no WMD. It was clear at that time that Iraq had few, if any, such weapons and Iraq was not a threat to the U.S., and therefore the premise of the war was false.

-- Lawrence Leinweber

George Packer may have learned his lesson about the perils of naive idealism, but the sad truth is that many of us were sensible enough -- and "conservative" enough, in the real sense of the word -- never to have considered this a lesson we needed to learn. And the sadder truth is that those of us who did know better are no closer to genuine influence in this country's foreign policy than we were before the Iraq disaster.

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Public life, be it in government or via opinion-making, is not, first and foremost an opportunity for personal growth. As the Bush/Iraq war chillingly illustrates by its absence, public life requires not only intelligent, well-educated men and women, but sensible ones as well. Packer's growing consciousness, while surely commendable, does not absolve him in the slightest of remarkably stupid judgment. Nor does it absolve us from casting a very critical eye on his future analyses of American foreign policy.

And, given the sheer number of "thoughtful, brilliant" people who bought into Bush's folly -- from Tom Friedman to David Remnick and Walter Russell Mead -- we should cast that skeptical glance very far indeed.

-- Richard Einhorn

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I got to about Page 3 and then stopped when I realized that Gary Kamiya tipped his hand and determined where the secret Jews who are at the root of all evil in the U.S. foreign policy establishment really lie. What started out as a potentially interesting read devolved into the same old, same old. We'll never really know what George Packer's book is about because Gary Kamiya wants to use it as a rhetorical device upon which he can stand and recite his typical Israel the Nefarious cant.

-- Stephen Rifkin

The number of liberal intellectuals who supported invading Iraq is the same as the number of conservative intellectuals: precisely zero. Anyone who was incapable of understanding the absurdity of destroying the Iraqi geographic barrier to fundamentalism while expanding the very terrorism we were supposedly fighting has no credentials as an intellectual.

-- Joe Budd

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George Packer may have written a great book, but he and the neocons were seriously out of touch with reality. Two points they both seem to have ignored, but are commonly known:

First, regarding Kuwaiti cheers for American soldiers: The Kuwaitis were being liberated after another country had invaded them. In other words, American soldiers were the liberators, not the invaders. Same with France, Holland and Belgium when they were liberated from the Germans in World War II.

Second, regarding the Hashemite monarchy of Jordan moving over to Iraq. Did anybody ever bother to point out to the neocons that Iraq used to have a Hashemite monarchy, put in place by the British, and that this monarchy was overthrown by the Iraqis in 1958? Why would the Iraqis want it back?

-- Annie Reasoner

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