USA! USA! June 18, 2014

“The Americans in their intercourse with strangers appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise. The most slender compliment is acceptable to them; the most exalted seldom contents them; they unceasingly harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy, but restless and jealous; it will grant nothing, whilst it demands everything, but is ready to beg and to quarrel at the same time. If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, “Yes,” he replies, “there is not its equal in the world.” If I applaud the freedom which its inhabitants enjoy, he answers, “Freedom is a fine thing, but few nations are worthy to enjoy it.” If I remark the purity of morals which distinguishes the United States, “I can imagine,” says he, “that a stranger, who has been struck by the corruption of all other nations, is astonished at the difference.” At length I leave him to the contemplation of himself; but he returns to the charge, and does not desist till he has got me to repeat all I had just been saying. It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America”

Or, as a reader was explaining to me this morning, the reason for our failure in Iraq is not that we launched a criminal war of “liberation” leading to perfectly predictable chaos that was foreseen by critics of the war (including Benedict XVI) a decade ago, but because “the towelheads” are animals who were unworthy of our largesse.  So it wasn’t really our failure at all (because America has never lost a war).  We were and remain the Greatest Country in the World and we must, in the words of Stephen Colbert, re-become the greatness we never weren’t.  The problem is the ungrateful Iraqis who failed to respond to our efforts at bombing them into the Great Society. Oh, and Obama, of course, because he’s not really an American and is secretly a towelhead too and so it’s all his fault. That’s what it means to belong to the Party of Personal Responsibility.

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  • Dave G.

    The good news is that those who still think America was ever that great are a dying breed. They’re still out there. But the numbers are dwindling.

    • Yes, that’s a good sign, because the correct response to one skewed, unhealthy extreme is to find the opposite skewed, unhealthy extreme.

      • Tom

        I think that’s how Aristotle put it. If you see someone who’s wrong, take the exact opposite position, because that’s guaranteed to be right.

        • Nordog6561

          He was being mean about the extremes.

          So average.

          • It becomes a particularly knotty problem when people become extreme about finding the mean–that we must always, in every situation, stick to the mean between two sides, whatever they may be.

          • Tom

            Gold, sir. Gold.

    • Nordog6561

      Will it be okay to think that America has been at least a teeny bit great?

      • Dave G.

        Sadly for some I fear not.

        • Nordog6561

          Are you saying you don’t think America has been at least a teeny bit great?

          • Dave G.

            Me? Very much agree that America has been more than jus a tiny bit great. An increasing number of others? That’s the question.

            • chezami

              No question on America being great. Of course it is. So is its sin of pride.

              • Dave G.

                A sin fewer and fewer Americans need worry about. At least as it relates to national pride.

  • OldWorldSwine

    God forgive me for ever supporting that war. But I really did think Saddam was sitting on a mountain of WMDs and was ready to use them. my real political education began as the weeks dragged into months, and the rationale for the war slid into vague notions of Spreading Democracy.

    • Dan C

      Here is an honest question: why wasn’t Hans Blix believed?

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        Because he wasn’t a God-fearing American.
        And because the people calling the shots on the war had a vested economic interest in invading Iraq. The fact that it demanded murder and the blood of our own children didn’t matter much to them. Those were “acceptable losses” to the corporate bottom line.

        • I remember hearing somewhere that it was part of a “domino strategy”. The idea was that Iraqis would experience freedom and representative government and that would inspire a cascade of revolutions that would see democracy come to the Middle East. (Syria was supposed to be next.)

          It was fantastically naive, but it doesn’t all have to be lain at the feet of economic interest. (Though I’m not in any way denying that that wasn’t part of it for some.)

          • IRVCath

            Right. That was the justification in a lot of neoconservative circles, that it would be a combination of the end of World War II and the Revolutions of the 80s. Which is also how they justified, after the occupation, of firing pretty much every civil servant of the old regime, even the postmen, the teachers, and the curators of the National Museum. In essence we destroyed an entire civil society in the expectation that a bunch of exiles could make everything better.

            • we destroyed an entire civil society in the expectation that a bunch of exiles could make everything better

              Phew. How unconservative can you get?

              • IRVCath

                I mean, it wasn’t much thanks to Saddam, but it was something a wise occupier would at least have kept in a fit of pragmatism. A weak civil society is better than none at all.

      • OldWorldSwine

        Because I was still naive and hopeful enough to really *want* to believe I could trust my own government. As I say, an education.

      • chezami

        Are you kidding? A pantywaist Europansy peacenik appeaser who worked for the freaking UN? Who would believe *that* guy when hard men like Cheney were speaking Hard Truths?

      • U.N. inspections are rarely able to see anything beyond what the nation being inspected wants to allow them to see. With retrospect, his reports should have been given more weight; but there was no reason to consider them definitive.

        And it should be remembered that: a) it wasn’t that Iraq had no WMD program at all, just that it was far less advanced and capable of practical application than thought; and b) the mistaken impressions of this program were supported by the conclusions of many of the better intelligence services in the West. (I even think it’s reasonable to suspect that Saddam himself had a more inflated idea of his capabilities than was warranted.)

        It’s a nice tidy little morality tale to portray an evil Cheneyite cabal lying us into war for fun and profit…tidy and not really reflective of how the world tends to work. It seems to me like it was more a matter of people seeing what they already expected to see, and then making catastrophically bad decisions fueled by fear and hubris.

        When we transmogrify public figures from real human beings into pantomime villains, we not only do them a disservice, but let ourselves off too easily. I can certainly see myself doing the exact same things as President Bush had I been in the Oval Office post-9/11–with only the very best of intentions, of course–and I can also see how if my life had taken a slightly different trajectory here and there, I might have turned out to be a man a lot more like President Obama than anyone who knows me might suspect. I’m trying to be a little slower to criticize and condemn, and especially to presume the worst before all the evidence is in–as a result. (Not always successful in that.)

        • chezami

          He did lie. He said there was “no doubt” that Saddam had WMDs when in fact there was plenty of doubt. There was no lasting, grave and certain threat, the very first criterion of just war. And as Benedict warned the outcome was highly likely to be worse than if no war had been launched. And now that this is coming true, this draft dodger is again dodging and trying to shift the blame. In a just world, he would be behind bars for murder.

        • Jim C

          Thank you for this comment. It’s intelligent, well-informed, generous, and Christian.

        • Dan C

          Iraq had a dismantled WMD program from years earlier. They did not have an active program.

          Hans Blix had extensive access.

          The decision to alienate Blix and the UN and actually denigrate him publicly was roundly endorsed. History proves him correct and the WMD issue is, as revealed years later, the pretext for a decision the administration chose.

      • Dave G.

        Like most things nowadays, the answer is probably not one we’d like to hear.

  • Alexander S Anderson
    • That’s the funniest thing ever.

  • Heh. America has intercourse with strangers.

    • SteveP

      The American Dream since approx. 1968.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Wow! That describes exactly what I have been thinking of the US, in better words than I could have used, and written by someone who does not risk being lynched, since he lived in another century…. Although I would add another word: Arrogance. (Sorry, Mark – you have my permission to delete this if you don’t find it acceptable, I just could no longer resist this itch of my fingers on the keyboard. But since I happen to be a stranger…)

  • Morris

    The people who believed the US needed to kill Iraqis did so because they wanted to believe that. You may remember the boos Ron Paul got for suggesting during the Repukelican “debates” that the Golden Rule was perhaps something to consider.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    While it’s hard to imagine what other purpose the stores of yellowcake might have, much of the weaponized chemicals left the country by truck through the northern border into Syria, whence they eventually made their way by truck bomb to Amman, Jordan.
    An Iraqi nuclear inspector in Vienna once told me that “We don’t want the Americans to stay too long; but neither do we want them to leave too early.” He was Shi’a, and added “Those are the people who have been murdering us for decades.”
    Saddam carried out quite a tour de force. His own generals were convinced there was a clandestine nuclear/chemical arsenal and that the general in the other sector had operational control. He played a shell game with the inspectors. I was told of one encounter in which Ba’athist military held the inspectors at gunpoint and refused admittance until the UN agreed to give several days advance notice of any inspection.
    [Why pretend to have weapons when you don’t? Ask Moammar Qaddafi. After he very publicly abandoned his nuclear program, the Cyrenaicans wasted little time overthrowing him. The Kurds and Shi’ites were kept in line only by the fear of more gas attacks.]
    As for the UN, Blix spoke with one voice; but not all the inspectors agreed. After all, they had only shortly before given Iran a clean bill, only to be blindsided by revelation of the clandestine program. (Hence, the Additional Protocols added to the NPT.) I did get some insight into the Safeguards programme while I worked with them; and while there are many dedicated and selfless individuals, there was also — hard to believe — politics affecting many reports.
    IIRC it was Britain that convinced the US. The French and Italians agreed.

    • This is an intriguing and informative post–thanks.

      I hadn’t realized that there was a known stockpile of yellowcake…guess I got confused by the Niger business. When that turned out to be based on a forgery, I misinterpreted the lesson as “Iraq never ever had any yellowcake of any sort”. I’m sure many made the same mistake.

      • Nordog6561

        Yeah, I remember about a year (maybe more/maybe less) after Saddam fell and the “No WMDs!” cry was heard across the land, there was a news report of the discovery of a stock of yellow cake. About 500 lbs if I remember correctly.

        I remember thinking, “Why is this a small story? Why am I only seeing this in one place?”

        Perhaps because those who control the narrative prefer “Bush lied, people died” to “Oh, there is yellow cake after all. Maybe those reports weren’t so false.”

        The thing to note, imo, is that the reasoned approach demonstrated here by Ye Olde Statistician is not in keeping with the tenor of a place more disposed of foisting blood libel onto the heads of anyone who doesn’t think the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a war crime.

        • chezami

          The war was just and wise and *clearly* met all the criteria for Just War despite what two popes and all the bishops of the world warned. And besides, it was somebody else’s fault and not the people who ordered it. And the WMDs *will* be found and we, who neither ordered nor supported it, will be vindicated for ordering and supporting it.

          • Nordog6561

            Your withering sarcasm needs a little more flare to really pop.

          • President Asterisk bears no responsibility for this debacle. It’s all Bushitler’s fault. Never mind that most of the neocons were against early pull out because though you can properly train up enlisted men in a few short years, the higher the officer ranks, the longer it takes. Generals can take decades. The Iraqis said they weren’t ready but they saluted the flag and were willing to try. The US military said the Iraqis weren’t ready to go solo but they saluted the flag and depended on the intelligence people to knock down the threats enough to keep Iraq from collapsing.

            Reports are coming out that the collapse of the army in Mosul is essentially because all the colonels and higher just ran one night. This is actually consistent with the gloomier neocon predictions.

            Accurately analyzing the cause of failures is important. Skipping obvious proximate causes to focus on older issues exclusively neither serves the Church, nor the cause of peace.

            • kirthigdon

              Interesting how it takes the US decades to train an army from top to bottom, but an outfit like ISIS can do it in a couple of years. Maybe we have a difference in motivation here. There are those who are fighting to defend their country and their religion from foreigners and then there are those who are just interested in getting as much money from the foreigners as possible and firmly intend to remain alive to spend it.

              Kirt Higdon

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The paleocons were against the war, too. And I thought the project of bringing democracy to the Arabs was doomed from the start. But note something interesting: the intensive search for the chemical weapons. That means those who initiated the war actually believed they would find them. That is, they may have been mistaken, but “lying” requires that one knows he speaks untruth.

            Britain and America thought they could pull off with Iraq what they did with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. But that whole region lacks a democratic tradition. Blair and Bush didn’t know that years later a later precipitous withdrawal would lead to a) a Shi’ite ouster of Sunnis from the government and b) an invasion by Sunni “Arab Spring” fighters from Syria. Although the fate of South Vietnam when she was abandoned should have been a hint.

            John C. Wright comments here:

            • chezami

              Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. – Dick Cheney

              There was, in fact, plenty of doubt, by lots of people who were in a position to speak to that question. Hans Blix, chief among them. Now it’s true that a person can work themselves into such a state of subjective certitude about something they want to believe that the absence of evidence does not deter them and they have “no doubt”. But that does not relieve them of responsibility when they are found to be wrong–particularly when their lack of doubt leads them to launch an unjust war that fails to meet a single criterion of just war doctrine and results in the slaughter of 100,000 people. That the Bush people lied even to themselves is no proof that they did not lie to us. It simply means that sin made them stupid. Not the first time the state has acted with sincere folly.

        • Dan C

          The yellowcake and other materials were known, controlled, and tagged by the UN. From early on.

        • Dan C

          Pretending that there was really evidence of WMD’s and wise “grown ups” know the special Truth, is a bit of the problem that got us to where we are now.

          The story, as YOS should have told, is that the materials were turned over to the UN. And that other stories all have less credible evidence than the forgered documents. That however, fails to leave the air of knowing wisdom.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Which raises the question: who planted the forgery? It came out of an Italian bag job on the Niger embassy in Rome, iirc.

      • Dan C

        Yellow cake known by the UN. In storage and controlled.

    • Nordog6561

      Hey, all that is great and all, but it just doesn’t roll of tongue as easily as, oh, say, “war criminal” or “The Thing That Was Once Conservatism” or “blood for oil murderer” etc.

    • chezami

      Still not anything near a “lasting, grave, and certain” threat. Indeed, the war failed to meet a single criterion for Just war with anything approaching accuracy. And now the last criterion, which Benedict foresaw was doomed a decade ago, is falling and the war is resulting in far greater evils than it purported to cure. Hence Cheney is in the news furiousy shifting blame as Those of Name are wont to do when the chickens come home to roost.

    • Dan C

      This is not at all demonstrated. In fact, this is legend.

  • Dan C

    Ross Douthat and David Frum, each with honest assessments. No mythologies of scary mystical disappearing weaponry.