No shame, no blame

    In the best of all possible worlds (to borrow a phrase from Voltaire), a fact-challenged Iraq war cheerleader would subsequently suffer a major loss of influence. But in the real world of Washington, there is no such meritocracy, and no penalty for screwing up.Exhibit A is William Kristol. Despite a long string of monumental errors, the Fox News pundit, neoconservative war hawk, and veteran inside player (Sarah Palin’s ’08 backstage sponsor; the GOP’s backstage ’93 anti-health care strategist) is still out there singing the benefits of muscular military intervention, still cracking the whip within the GOP, still insisting that America can impose democracy at the point of a gun – and rhetorically punishing any Republican who might dare think otherwise.Kristol did it again the other day, when he basically suggested that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a ’12 presidential aspirant and former national GOP chairman, was little more than a surrender monkey.While visiting Iowa on Tuesday night, Barbour broke with Kristol orthodoxy and floated a series of blasphemies. He said that the Pentagon should suffer budget cuts just like every other government agency (“Anybody who says you can’t save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon”); he said that America shouldn’t get sucked into Libya (“We might have some role in Libya, but it should not be to send American troops in there and knock heads and make Libya what we would like Libya to look like. Because it, no offense, is not ever going to look like what we’d like it”); and he questioned whether the war in Afghanistan is worth all the resources we are devoting (“What is our mission?…Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?”).Well. Any Republican who talks that way is destined to be swiftly Kristolized.The enforcer fired back within hours, on the website of his right-wing magazine, The Weekly Standard. He assailed Barbour as “irresponsible,” as someone who was merely “pandering” to the large majority of Americans who favor a reduced U.S. role in Afghanistan. He sneered that Barbour’s view “certainly didn’t constitute any kind of serious presentation of a foreign policy agenda.” And, for the piece de resistance, he called Barbour “an advocate of U.S. retreat.” (Surprisingly, Kristol forgot to point out that Barbour’s surname sounds suspiciously French.)What’s most amazing, however, is that Kristol’s interventionist credo still holds sway within the GOP (among the likely ’12 candidates, Barbour is a rare dissident). Kristol and his neoconservative pals bear great responsibility for prodding America into a needless bloody war in Iraq that has cost us roughly $10 billion a month over a span of eight years – but, actually, it’s way worse than that. Kristol did so by hyping a non-existent rationale, and then defending it for years in defiance of all empirical metrics.It’s ironic that Kristol, of all people, would fault Barbour for failing to deliver “a serious presentation of a foreign policy agenda.” What follows is a small sampling of Kristol’s “serious presentation.”As George W. Bush launched his initial invasion of Iraq, Kristol declared: “Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president.”During the prewar phase, he stated: “Nor is there any doubt that, after Sept. 11, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction pose a danger to us that we hadn’t grasped before.” (I love that phrase, nor is there any doubt.)Also on the eve of war, he stated that “democratizing the country should not be too tall an order for the world’s sole superpower.”One month into the war, he scoffed at the notion that the Sunnis and the Shiites would wage a bloody civil war and entrap the Americans within it: “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America…that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni….There’s almost no evidence of that at all.”Seven months into the war, Kristol’s magazine stated, “There can no longer be any serious argument about whether Saddam Hussein’s Iraq worked with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to plot against Americans.” And a year later, Kristol said it again: “Iraq and al Qaeda had a relationship that, by its very existence, posed a potential threat to the United States.” (The 9/11 Commission, among other probes, concluded that Saddam and Osama had not collaborated. Even the Pentagon’s inspector general said in his own report that the purported Saddam-Osama connection was a crock.)The joke about Kristol is that his confident decrees are really a cry for help.  I could go on, of course – Kristol declared in 2007 that Bush would be hailed as a “successful” president because he would leave behind “a strong economy” – but we all know how Washington works. Words are cheap, and the past is dead. There is no shame, and no blame. In the best of all possible Republican worlds, Haley Barbour would not be virtually alone in questioning neoconservative orthodoxy, and Kristol would be duly humbled by his blunders. And somebody besides me might think to invoke the words of poet-essayist George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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