bombings, killings, human suffering all around,
and nothing in sight in Iraq but the bad choices
of continued military dictatorship or fundamentalist
Islamic rule, everyone but the war planners now
regard Iraq as a disaster.
spring, most people [at least in the U.S.] thought
the war planners were decisive geniuses who had
pulled off an amazing feat of military management.
Donald Rumsfeld boasted: "Never have so many been
so wrong about so much."
critics didn't believe him, but it took time for
the full evidence of failure to emerge. Today,
the war critics are the prophets and the war planners
are regarded as hopelessly naive architects of
a quagmire. Bush's wars have not only failed to
achieve their stated aims, they have left the
world more unsafe, unstable, and violent.
this, David Krieger of Counterpunch suggests we
rephrase Rumsfeld: Rarely in history have so few
been so wrong about so much. The common question
everyone asks is: what were they thinking? What
they were thinking is not all that different from
what most central planners think. They just took
these ideas to their logical culmination.
start with the big error. They believed that their
will alone was enough to make and remake a country
(whether Iraq or Afghanistan) and the world. They
saw people as pliable, all events as controllable,
and all outcomes as the inevitable working out
of a well-constructed plan. Being the top dogs
of the world's only superpower, they never doubted
their ability to dictate the terms and so they
had no plan for what to do if things went wrong.
forgets several essential components of the structure
of reality. People's free will is often backed
by the willingness to undertake enormous sacrifice.
Such sacrifices are made every day by average
Iraqis. Most especially it overlooks certain underlying
laws that limit what is possible in human affairs.
In the scheme of how the world works, even the
largest state is only a bit player. It is capable
of creating enormous chaos and transferring huge
amounts of wealth, but not of controlling events
themselves. Government action often generates
results opposite of those the policy is constructed
Bush administration did not want to believe this.
They had a very simple model in mind, namely that
Iraq was a country lorded over by a single dictator,
and so all that was necessary to take over the
country was to displace (decapitate) the dictator
and install a new form of government that would
run the country according to the liking of the
Bush administration. It further believed that
all resistance could be crushed by a proper application
of violence and the threat of violence.
truth is that no society operates like this. Human
beings don't respond well to being treated like
prisoners in someone else's central plan. If the
desire is to wholly manage the future, the mega-planner
is always a mega-failure, if not always in the
short term certainly always in the long term.
The Bush administration had bigger dreams than
Wilson or FDR. But as Maureen Dowd aptly puts
it: "The group that started out presuming it could
shape the world is now getting shoved by the world."
the meantime, tens of thousands of lives have
been snuffed out due to the decisions of this
administration - which, if you think about it,
is an unpardonable crime. To convince themselves
of the rightness of their cause, however, the
Bush administration turned to an ancient myth.
They came to believe that the nobility and constructive
power of war far outweighs its costs. For intellectual
support, neocon scholars promoted the pre-Christian
romance of war, the idea that war gives life meaning
and provides an essential opportunity for bravery,
camaraderie, and the cultivation of character,
in the life of the individual soldier and that
of a nation.
all lies: war is about blood and destruction and
nothing more. The destruction is wrought against
the enemy and the victor. After the "heroic" and
"noble" struggle is over, what are we left with?
Debt, body bags, and a generation scarred by witnessing
destruction on a scale no private parties could
be capable of. War leaves in its wake a culture
that has a lower regard for financial prudence,
for freedom from leviathan, and for the value
of life itself. War is uncivilized. It is a barbaric
enterprise. It has never moved society forward.
It is always a setback. It promises to give life
meaning but ends in attacking the very source
thing war does do in the short term is cause people
to rally around the flag, an effect which the
political cynics count on to cover the disaster
that war always is. But there was more than this
operating at the White House. They didn't want
to merely boost Bush's poll ratings; they wanted
to instill a new national ethos to supplant one
that they didn't like. The neocons who gave us
this war believed that Americans needed a new
civic mythology to unite the country around great
ideals, and that cheering on a war would revive
the idea of national unity.
longed for the Cold-War ideal when an entire population
hunkered down as hostages to the doctrine of mutually
assured destruction. Their writings heralded the
eras of "national greatness" when the Panama Canal
was built, when every business displayed a Blue
Eagle, when every American mourned the death of
JFK, when everyone cheered the moonshot. The "national
mood" following 9-11 convinced them that this
could be revived.
more than that, they continue to convince themselves
of the great Lincoln Myth, a man who used immoral
means to unite a country but somehow managed to
emerge from it with the reputation of a great
liberator, a new founding father. The trick, they
believed, was to have the "moral determination"
to inflict as much violence as possible in the
hopes that they would be seen as visionaries,
and to utterly demoralize the enemy.
fact, the idea of national unity, beloved by every
would-be tyrant, is something to be feared. It
is not a sign of freedom but of despotism. It
is the morality of the ant heap. In any case,
the forced unity of the World War II era is long
gone. Good riddance. The country is too diverse,
and the culture too broken into niche markets,
too many people too knowing. May the un-American
"unity" of the World War II period never return.
were also serious miscalculations concerning Iraq.
The first one is political. They believed that
they could ignore the country's internal ethnic
and religious diversity, particularly the religious
longings of the Shiites. Perhaps they believed
it would be enough to pass a First Amendment to
convince these people to privatize their beliefs
in the national interest. If so, this is nothing
but a variant of the initial error that government
can bring about miracles. They are now dealing
with managing intractable social and cultural
conflicts, and shocked that all their talk about
freedom and diversity is falling on uncomprehending
course there is a contradiction associated with
attempting to impose any form of freedom by force.
The best symbol of the Bush administration's failure
in this regard is the fate of the Iraqi dinar,
which the administration assumed would vanish
after the invasion. Today it is still the national
currency, and the US has taken to printing it,
with Saddam's picture. They have utterly failed
to manage the money in Iraq.
points to another serious miscalculation. No effort
at all was put into how these great conquering
heroes would manage an economy after they took
power. It's as if they just completely forgot
about the people's needs for electricity, clean
running water, food, and communication. The one
principle that has guided the occupiers in their
economic affairs in Iraq has been that whatever
happens, the US should be in charge of it. The
error has led them to kick out private entrepreneurs
who attempted to start cell phone companies and
that the Bush administration ever really understood
what freedom really meant. They believed it was
something granted by government, or the military
as a proxy for government. They believed that
freedom is something that exists because of the
people running the government or the laws that
fact, freedom means the absence of government.
It can never be granted by the state. It can only
be taken away by the state. If a government manager
desires freedom for a society, his only path is
to get out of the way. That is something the Bush
administration refuses to do at home or abroad.
They can say they want freedom, but in this case,
freedom is reduced to a fiction.
speaking of fiction, we now come to the biggest
error of all. The Bush administration believed
that even in the age of Google, it could still
bamboozle the population with claims utterly contradicted
by reality. It was clear from the beginning that
the Bush crowd of Ford-era relics and sheltered
academics was not web savvy in any sense. They
were in a state of denial about the information
age, and instead chose to govern as if Walter
Cronkite were still dictating what people heard
example, they believed they could continue to
assert that Saddam had WMDs and that somehow this
would become accepted truth. How could they be
so naive? Their sophistication involved old technologies
of the kind you find in the energy industries.
This is why the administration always seems to
be behind the curve. The average evening web surfer
is more ahead of the news and events than the
people who gather in the Oval Office to discuss
the future of the world. The web has found these
level of arrogance also had an effect on how the
Bush administration believed it could fund this
war. It is increasingly clear that the total cost
of the Iraq war will run into the hundreds of
billions, and they proceed as if there are no
worries about paying it. Of course the administration
benefits by the presence of that great marble
palace down the street that promises to print
unlimited quantities of dollars to pay for whatever
government wants to do. But even then, there are
limits. The budget deficit has already passed
the $500 billion mark and the national debt is
an incomprehensible $6.8 trillion - and the Bush
administration is completely unconcerned about
it. Outside sources now say that there isn't enough
money to keep troops in Iraq past March. But by
the time the limits become really obvious, the
Bush administration may have already packed its
bags to leave town.
is something grossly immoral about a regime that
saunters into town, bankrupts its host country
and destroys a few others in the process, making
mess after mess and still not being held accountable
for it. Making matters worse is the reality that
it and its friends in industry will take off with
all the loot. After all, all this money is going
somewhere, and it isn't to average Iraqis!
scandal speaks to a larger truth. The war policy
of this administration may have failed in every
way to achieve its stated aims, but it has succeeded
in the one way war does succeed: it has transferred
huge amounts of money and power from the private
sector to the public sector. In believing that
war is good for the ruling regime, rarely have
so few been right about so much.
God forbid our being forced to suffer under such
rule again. The only way to prevent it is through
a broader acceptance of the great truth of our
time and all time: the state, no matter who is
in charge of it, is always and everywhere the
enemy of peace, prosperity, and civilization.
H. Rockwell, Jr. is president of the Ludwig von
Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor
© 2003 LewRockwell.com
September 7, 2003