Iraq: Why Hindsight Is A Bitch

For the Political Science 2 course that I’m teaching, I’ve had to read an article in the course reader, taken from The New Yorker. It was a piece (subscription required) by Nicholas Lemann entitled “What Terrorists Want: Is There A Better Way to Defeat Al Qaeda?” For those interested, the hard copy of this article is in the October 29, 2001 issue of the magazine. I searched the Berkeley library for an electronic copy but came up empty.

Anyways, I bring up this piece from “ancient” history because the article seems so ironic nowadays. In the article, Lemann interviews a bunch of anti-terrorism experts, ranging from professional academics to think-tank residents about what they think are the best strategies to counter terrorism.

The heuristic point of the article–the reason why the professor assigned this reading to the class–is to demonstrate that terrorism is an essentially political phenomenon, undertaken by political actors with distinctly political motives and interests.

But what is so ironic, and even absurd, about the article is its last section, when Lemann describes a conversation he had with Kenneth Adelman, one of the neo-con architects of the Iraq War. Lemann asks Adelman what are this thoughts on how to fight back against Al Qaeda, and Adelman essentially lays out two approaches: the “narrow” and the “wide” approach.

The “narrow” approach would be just to limit the mission to bin Laden, going after his organization only. The “wide” approach, Adelman says, is to go after the governments that sponsor terrorist networks. Although this is never explicitly stated, anyone can, with hindsight, plainly see a very early articulation of the Bush doctrine.

In the article, Adelman is quoted as saying that “the big enchilada is Iraq.” He lays out some pros and cons of going into Iraq. On the con side, he says that “there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in nine-eleven” and that “the coalition won’t support us.” Just stop and think those quotes for a moment. Just think about it.

Adelman goes on to say that on the pro side, “if we’re going after international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and states that support both, Iraq comes up three cherries.”

Again, I ask you to stop and just read that quote over one more time.

And the most hiliarious/heartbreaking/ironic/tragic/absurd moment is not yet here. In the very next paragraph, Lemann asks Adelman how he would pitch the idea to Bush, and here I will quote Adelman’s entire response. Remember, this is an EXACT quote, so all emphasis are present in the original quotation.

“This is a historic moment. You have a mission. It is almost a divine mission. You have one tasks in life. That is to wage a global campaign against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Unlike any of your predecessors, including Harry Truman at the beginning of the Cold War, you have no public opposition, no congressional opposition, and meaningful foreign opposition. It is a noble, wonderful mission. Our children’s lives will be better for it. You are given the opportunity by tragedy to solve the larger problem. It is virtually impossible to wipe out terrorist groups, but, by God, you can wipe out countries that support terrorism. There are two countries that are not easy picking, but not tough–Afghanistan and Iraq. I have no evidence that Iraq was involved in nine-eleven, but I feel it. There is no reason you can’t use these ideal conditions to help fulfill your mission.”

Again, I ask you to just stop and think about that for a moment. Just think about what Adelman said, in print.

Sometimes we all take the war for granted, since it has been with us for a long time, but it absolutely, positively blows my mind that some six years ago, these kind of rhetoric were not the exception but the norm.

Of course we are now afforded the luxury of hindsight, and realize just how grotesque, how grossly wrong Adelman’s statements were. It absolutely blows my mind that someone who explicitly acknowledges, not once, but TWICE, that he has no evidence linking Iraq with 9/11, can still justify a pre-emptive war against Iraq based on FEELINGS. Feelings people, feelings.


So after six years, when thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians have died, when priceless cultural artifacts are lost, when billions and trillions of dollars have been spent, when all of our international goodwill utterly exhausted, we come back to this article.

We come to the realization that once upon a time not so long ago, these words actually came out of people’s mouths. And then you realize just how absurd this war has become, how absurd its roots were, and how its management was one of incompetence and gross errors.

This is why we can never forget history.


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