(updated below - Update II)
In today's New York Times, the grizzled warrior David Brooks performs a chest-beating war dance over Afghanistan of the type he and his tough guy comrades perfected in the run-up to the Iraq War. It's filled with self-glorifying "war-is-hell" neocon platitudes that make the speaker feel tough and strong. No more hiding like cowards in our bases. It's time to send "small groups of American men and women  outside the wire in dangerous places." Those opposing escalation are succumbing to the "illusion of the easy path." Chomping on a cigar in his war room, he roars: "all out or all in." The central question: will we "surrender the place to the Taliban?," etc. etc.
Needless to say, Brooks was writing all the same things in late 2002 and early 2003 about Iraq -- though, back then, he did so from the pages of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Kristol's The Weekly Standard. When I went back to read some of that this morning, I was -- as always -- struck by how extreme and noxious it all was: the snide, hubristic superiority combined with absolute wrongness about everything. What people like David Brooks were saying back then was so severe -- so severely wrong, pompous, blind, warmongering and, as it turns out, destructive -- that no matter how many times one reviews the record of the leading opinion-makers of that era, one will never be inured to how poisonous they are.
All of this would be a fascinating study for historians if the people responsible were figures of the past. But they're not. They're the opposite. The same people shaping our debates now are the same ones who did all of that, and they haven't changed at all. They're doing the same things now that they did then. When you go read what they said back then, that's what makes it so remarkable and noteworthy. David Brooks got promoted within our establishment commentariat to The New York Times after (one might say: because of) the ignorant bile and amoral idiocy he continuously spewed while at The Weekly Standard. According to National Journal's recently convened "panel of Congressional and Political Insiders," Brooks is now the commentator who "who most help[s] to shape their own opinion or worldview" -- second only to Tom "Suck On This" Friedman. Charles Krauthammer came in third. Ponder that for a minute.
Just read some of what Brooks wrote about Iraq. It's absolutely astounding that someone with this record doesn't refrain from prancing around as a war expert for the rest of their lives. In fact, in a society where honor and integrity were valued just a minimal amount, a record like this would likely cause any decent and honorable person, wallowing in shame, to seriously contemplate throwing themselves off a bridge:
I MADE THE MISTAKE of watching French news the night of Colin Powell's presentation before the Security Council. . . . Then they brought on a single "expert" to analyze Powell's presentation. This fellow, who looked to be about 25 and quite pleased with himself, was completely dismissive. The Powell presentation was a mere TV show, he sniffed. It's impossible to trust any of the intelligence data Powell presented because the CIA is notorious for lying and manipulation. The presenter showed a photograph of a weapons plant, and then the same site after it had been sanitized and the soil scraped. The expert was unimpressed: The Americans could simply have lied about the dates when the pictures were taken. Maybe the clean site is actually the earlier picture, he said.
That was depressing enough. Then there were a series of interviews with French politicians of the left and right. They were worse. At least the TV expert had acknowledged that Powell did present some evidence, even if he thought it was fabricated. The politicians responded to Powell's address as if it had never taken place. They simply ignored what Powell said and repeated that there is no evidence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and that, in any case, the inspection system is effective.
This was not a response. It was simple obliviousness, a powerful unwillingness to confront the question honestly. This made the politicians seem impervious to argument, reason, evidence, or anything else. Maybe in the bowels of the French elite there are people rethinking their nation's position, but there was no hint of it on the evening news.
Which made me think that maybe we are being ethnocentric. As good, naive Americans, we think that if only we can show the world the seriousness of the threat Saddam poses, then they will embrace our response. In our good, innocent way, we assume that in persuading our allies we are confronted with a problem of understanding.
But suppose we are confronted with a problem of courage? Perhaps the French and the Germans are simply not brave enough to confront Saddam. . . . Or suppose we are confronted with a problem of character? Perhaps the French and the Germans understand the risk Saddam poses to the world order. Perhaps they know that they are in danger as much as anybody. They simply would rather see American men and women--rather than French and German men and women--dying to preserve their safety. . . . Far better, from this cynical perspective, to signal that you will not take on the terrorists--so as to earn their good will amidst the uncertain times ahead.
I do suspect that the decision to pursue this confrontational course emerges from Bush's own nature. He is a man of his word. He expects others to be that way too. It is indisputably true that Saddam has not disarmed. If people are going to vote against a resolution saying Saddam has not disarmed then they are liars. Bush wants them to do it in public, where history can easily judge them. Needless to say, neither the French nor the Russians nor the Chinese believe that honesty has anything to do with diplomacy. They see the process through an entirely different lens.
This was speech as autobiography. President Bush once again revealed his character, and demonstrated why so many Americans, whether they agree with this or that policy proposal, basically trust him and feel he shares their values. Most Americans will not follow the details of this or that line in the address. But they will go about their day on Wednesday knowing that whatever comes in the next few months, they have a good leader at the helm.
I mentioned that I barely know Paul Wolfowitz, which is true. But I do admire him enormously, not only because he is both a genuine scholar and an effective policy practitioner, not only because he has been right on most of the major issues during his career, but because he is now the focus of world anti-Semitism. He carries the burden of their hatred, which emanates not only from the Arab world and France, but from some people in our own country, which I had so long underestimated.
In dealing with Saddam, then, we are not dealing with a normal thug or bully . . . The Baathist ideology requires continual conflict and bloodshed. . . . The CIA and the State Department might think otherwise, but we are not all game theorists. Human beings are not all rational actors carefully calculating their interests. Certain people--many people, in fact--are driven by goals, ideals, and beliefs. Saddam Hussein has taken such awful risks throughout his career not because he "miscalculated," as the game theorists assert, but because he was chasing his vision. He was following the dictates of the Baathist ideology, which calls for warfare, bloodshed, revolution, and conflict, on and on, against one and all, until the end of time.
EITHER SADDAM HUSSEIN will remain in power or he will be deposed. President Bush has suggested deposing him, but as the debate over that proposal has evolved, an interesting pattern has emerged. The people in the peace camp attack President Bush's plan, but they are unwilling to face the implications of their own. Almost nobody in the peace camp will stand up and say that Saddam Hussein is not a fundamental problem for the world. Almost nobody in that camp is willing even to describe what the world will look like if the peace camp's advice is taken and Saddam is permitted to remain in power in Baghdad, working away on his biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs . . .
You begin to realize that they are not arguing about Iraq. They are not arguing at all. They are just repeating the hatreds they cultivated in the 1960s, and during the Reagan years, and during the Florida imbroglio after the last presidential election. They are playing culture war, and they are disguising their eruptions as position-taking on Iraq, a country about which they haven't even taken the trouble to inform themselves. . . . For most in the peace camp, there is only the fog. The debate is dominated by people who don't seem to know about Iraq and don't care. Their positions are not influenced by the facts of world affairs.
So now we stand at an epochal moment. The debate is over. The case has gone to the jury, and the jury is history. Events will soon reveal who was right, Bush or Chirac. . . . But there are two nations whose destinies hang in the balance. The first, of course, is Iraq. Will Iraqis enjoy freedom, more of the same tyranny, or a new kind of tyranny? The second is the United States. If the effort to oust Saddam fails, we will be back in the 1970s. We will live in a nation crippled by self-doubt. If we succeed, we will be a nation infused with confidence. We will have done a great thing for the world, and other great things will await.
Look at that last paragraph. He proclaimed that "events will soon reveal who was right, Bush or Chirac." On the eve of the war he cheered on, as he celebrated the fact that "the debate is over" and war was imminent and inevitable, he identically vowed: "Events will show who was right, George W. Bush or Jacques Chirac." Soon we would know.
Did Brooks ever tell his readers what we found out about that? Did he ever acknowledge that the French -- whose opposition to attacking Iraq and skpeticism about WMD claims he attributed to cowardice, anti-Semitism, paranoia over American deceit, anti-American hatred, bad character, and lack of reason -- turned out to be right and Brooks and friends were miserably wrong? Did he ever retract his smears that the American "peace camp" was driven by hatred, anti-Semitism, and ignorance about Iraq, or acknowledge that his claims about Saddam -- that his ideology "calls for warfare, bloodshed, revolution, and conflict, on and on, against one and all, until the end of time" -- were at least just as applicable to Brooks himself and his own neoconservative movement?
On the fifth anniversary of the attack on Iraq, Greg Mitchell noted that although Brooks "bears special blame -- shame -- not only for his writing, but for serving as senior editor of the most influential pro-war publication, The Weekly Standard," no such acknowledgment -- at least as of May, 2008 -- had ever issued from him. Instead, drinking from the well of the most accountability-free profession (punditry) in the most accountability-free nation for elites, he now just blithely moves on to the next war as though the last one never happened, though this time he's posing as an expert in the pages of The New York Times. Yet again, only he and people like him are strong and courageous enough to confront the towering enemy (by sending other people "outside the wire in dangerous places"). Those opposed to the war or even to escalation are cowards who want to "surrender to the Taliban." And even with the unbroken record he has on Iraq that should shame and discredit him for life (or at least until there's some serious examination, acknowledgment and repentance), he is the second-most influential commentator among "Congressional and political insiders" -- second to one of the very few commentators who did more to bring about that war than Brooks himself did. What type of nation do you think we will be if "insiders" have their views most shaped by people with the record of David Brooks and Tom Friedman?
UPDATE: As Brooks demands, it's high time they stop hiding in their safe bases and they get themselves "outside the wire in dangerous places":
KABUL, Afghanistan — A roadside bomb and assault-rifle fire killed four United States soldiers and a Marine in three different attacks in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, where new American brigades are pressing offensives against a resilient and dug-in Taliban and other insurgents.
The attacks on Thursday in Zabul and Nimruz Provinces pushed the number of American military deaths in Afghanistan to 218 this year, already 41 percent more than in all of 2008. The soaring toll, coupled with the Taliban’s growing strength and fears that the Aug. 20 Afghan presidential election may have been rigged in favor of President Hamid Karzai, have stirred increasing opposition in the United States to further troop deployments.
British forces, who have also faced fierce Taliban resistance in Helmand Province, have suffered 80 deaths already this year, nearly three-fifths more than all of last year . . . .
And let's send a bunch more there, too. It's only been eight years.
UPDATE II: Along these same lines, long-time national security official Gary Sick reviews the falsehood-heavy record of those who have, literally for decades, been issuing dire warnings about Iran's imminent nuclear capability. We'll undoubtedly be hearing panic-stricken war cries from these very same people -- more loudly than ever now -- about the need to militarily confront the Persian Hitlers.