Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Neoconservatism, circa 1776.

The Iraq War will always be linked with the term ‘neoconservative,’” George Packer wrote in his book on the war, and he is probably right. The conventional wisdom today, likely to be the approved version in the history books, is that a small group of neoconservatives seized the occasion of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, to steer the nation into a war that would never have been fought had not this group of ideologues managed somehow to gain control of national policy.

This version of events implicitly rejects another and arguably simpler interpretation: that after September 11, 2001, American fears were elevated, America’s tolerance for potential threats lowered, and Saddam Hussein naturally became a potential target, based on a long history of armed aggression, the production and use of chemical weapons, proven efforts to produce nuclear and biological weapons, and a murky relationship with terrorists. The United States had gone to war with him twice before, in 1991 and then again at the end of 1998, and the fate of Saddam Hussein had remained an unresolved question at the end of the Clinton administration. It was not so unusual for the United States to go to war a third time, therefore, and the Bush administration’s decision can be understood without reference to a neoconservative doctrine. After September 11, the Bush administration weighed the risks of leaving Saddam Hussein in power against the risks of fighting a war to remove him and chose the latter, its calculus shaped by the terrorist attacks and by widely shared suppositions about Iraq’s weapons programs that ultimately proved mistaken.

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