The End of History, Or at Least of Responsibility

I picked up PJ O’Rourke’s Give War a Chance recently.  There’s a lot of foreshadowing of our neocolonial inconclusive experience in Iraq.

Admittedly, it’s sometimes tough to tell whether O’Rourke is being serious, given his careful efforts to obscure his meaning with a dense haze of smarm and snark.  But his dislike of straw-man liberals comes through loud and clear.  “Liberalism is a philosophy of sniveling brats.”  (Three sentences later: “Yes, name-calling, in which conservatives such as myself are so loath to indulge, is a favorite tactic of the liberals”).  As is his conclusion that because the US is good, everything it does is good, seen here in a column written in Berlin in November 1989:

We won.  And let’s not let anybody forget it.  We the people, the free and equal citizens of democracies, we living exemplars of the Rights of Man tore a new asshole in International Communism.  Their wall is breached.  Their gut-string is busted.  The rot of their dead body politic fills the nostrils of the earth with a glorious stink.  We cleaned the clock of Marxism.  We mopped the floor with them.  We ran the Reds through the wringer and hung them out to dry.  The privileges of liberty and the sanctity of the individual went out and whipped butt.

And the best thing about our victory is the way we did it— not just with ICBMs and Green Berets and aid to the contras.  Those things were important, but in the end we beat them with Levi 501 jeans.

Now, I’m fortunate enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall.  It was a glorious time.  And we did win the Cold War, with arms and with culture.

In fact, we won the Cold War not because we were perfect, but despite our mistakes.  Had we not lost 30,000 soldiers in Vietnam, at great cost to our appeal to the rest of the world, would we have failed to win the Cold War?  Had we failed to send money and arms to Saddam Hussein, the contras, Ferdinand Marcos, and the Afghan mujahideen, would we have bowed down to the Soviet Union?

Of course not.   We were a democratic, capitalist bloc.  No other system of government can top that.

(Maybe a billion people in a capitalist dictatorship can, but that’s a discussion for another day).

People like O’Rourke came to believe that our innate awesomeness beat the USSR (who everyone agrees was seriously terrible), and before that Nazi Germany and Japan (ditto), so therefore we are forever awesome.  Anyone who criticizes our actions is actually just jealous of our innate awesomeness, and therefore unpatriotic at best, traitorous at worst.

I know this line of rationale because I embraced it in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.  “Liberals have lost sight of the good that America can do,” I thought.  “They used to say ‘no justice, no peace,’ but now that a confrontation with Saddam is at hand, they say, ‘no justice, no problem!'”

So I brushed aside well-informed descriptions of the difficulty of what we were undertaking in Iraq, such as this article, this one, and this one.

But when you believe you’re innately on the right side of history, you overlook the details of what you’re actually doing.  The debate over invasion of Iraq, and the invasion of Iraq, had very little to do with Iraq.  It reflected our own pathologies and psychodramas.  Fantasies of making Muslims “suck on this” “because we could,” of “creating our own reality,” and of America-hating experts and liberals, replaced strategic thought and discussion.

And like the dotcom bubble, or the housing bubble, it couldn’t last forever.

Trillions of dollars gone,  millions of lives lost or uprooted, because enough Americans believed we were living in a post-responsibility era.

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