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It pays to be wrong in the foreign policy game


(photo: williac/flickr)

Forgive the pun, gentle reader.

Stephen Walt today ponders a simple question: Why doesn’t anyone in the foreign policy establishment ever apologize for being wrong on matters of war and peace:

At this point, don’t you think that William Kristol owes his fellow citizens an apology for his repeated war-mongering about Iraq, a war that cost the United States over a trillion dollars, killed thousands of people, and created millions of refugees? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear George W. Bush and Dick Cheney admit their numerous mistakes and express some regret for them, instead of trying to stonewall the judgment of history? Couldn’t a few of the ambitious “visionaries” who created the Euro say they’re sorry they didn’t listen to the skeptics who warned that Europe lacked the institutional mechanisms needed to make a common currency work? Shouldn’t Elliot Abrams show some contrition about his role in fomenting the disastrous Fatah-coup attempt against Hamas, which left the latter in charge in Gaza? And so on. Heck, we’re still waiting to hear regrets from the folks who brought us the financial crisis of 2007-2008, although Bernie Madoff did offer up something of an apology for his massive swindle.

What the good Professor overlooks is the fact that there are no institutional incentives for apologizing. In fact, foreign policymakers and pundits have little reason to even be right about issues of war and peace. Being utterly and totally wrong doesn’t affect them getting paid, regardless of how many die as a result. Have any of the individuals behind the various idiotic decisions made during the Bush years faced any career setbacks? Bill Kristol was given a column at The New York Times; John Yoo got a job at Berkeley; John Bolton found himself a cushy job “advising” Mittens’ on foreign policy. And fucking et cetera.
And it’s not like any of these brave warriors will ever face any legal repercussions for their actions. Not in America, at least. “Looking forward,” and such.
Not having to be right extends as well to “liberal hawks.” How many of them are still gainfully employed as writers? All of them, except for the dead one. Many of these intellectual stalwarts actually saw their careers take off after advocating the invasion of Iraq, either as born-again conservatives like Christopher Hitchens or as supposed “liberals,” such as anyone still writing for the New Republic. We wouldn’t still be joking about “Friedman units” if theTimes had fired him for being an divorced-from-reality idiot. (“Which time?” you ask.) Sure, some of them “reconsidered” their advocacy — once the splendid little war proved to be an utter catastrophe. But, they never had to face any institutional consequences for being wrong. In fact, they’re allowed to dust off their old arguments for brand-spanking-new military adventures in Libya and Syria. Coming soon, the liberal justification for war in Iran. Coming soon after that, their reconsideration of the war in Iran.
And even when they do apologize, they manage to cowardly shift the blame. Matt Yglesias pointed to his unthinking love and admiration for the Democratic establishment and Kenneth Pollack: “My betters told me the war was a great idea.” Bill Keller blamed his infant daughter. This “it wasn’t my fault” bullshit extends most egregiously to our elected representatives. “Faulty intelligence, faulty intelligence,” says our brave Democrats.
As a 22-year old kid in Bakersfield, I came to the conclusion that the cause for war was a pack of lies armed with nothing more than an internet connection and a critical mindset. But, then again, I am not employed by a liberal newspaper or think tank.
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Philippe Duhart

Philippe Duhart