The tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq is upon us. It is a time to remember just how awful that war has been, especially for the people of Iraq; a time to recognize just how large a mistake it was; and a time to renew the call to bring war criminals, like Cheney, to justice.
But purveyors of that war deny the horrible reality they created. Today comes word that Paul Wolfowitz, who pressed hard for invasion, is ducking responsibility. He still thinks the basic idea of the war was sound, but that “It wasn’t conducted according to my plan.”
He is wrong. While others certainly had larger roles in the war plannning, he was a central player. Let's remember, it was he who publicly rejected the analysis of General Eric Shinseki, and supported the ridiculous Rumsfeld idea that the US could win with a "light footprint". Wrong. And wrong in a way that was calculated to make the war seem easier, because it would not take as many US troops. Wrong.
Wolfowitz is wrong in a larger, strategic sense, too. The war itself was a strategic error. It is obvious now, and was obvious at the time, that the US did not have sufficient power to achieve the aims it had set for itself in Iraq: a "regime change" that would require (even though Bush and company denied it) an occupation. To attempt to do this without extensive support from other countries in the world was folly from the beginning. Wolfowitz fancies himself a strategic thinker, but it was precisely on the grand strategic issue of matching goals and capabilities that he failed most grievously. A more prudent, realist approach would have led to a conclusion that the war could not be "won" at reasonable cost. Stephen Walt summarizes it well:
All in all, the decision to invade was taken with a degree of carelessness and callowness unworthy of any country with pretensions to global leadership.
From a Confucian perspective, "carelessness and callowness" can be taken as expressions of inhumanity: a lack of concern for the human toll of war. Mencius tells us:
"You defy Humanity if you cause the death of a single innocent person, and you defy Duty if you take what is not yours." (Hinton, 13.33)
That pretty much sums up the Iraq war: killing innocents and taking what is not yours. But Wolfowitz compounds the inhumanity through his denial, as Mencius further suggests:
"But in ancient times, when the noble-minded made mistakes, they knew how to change. These days, when the noble-minded make mistakes, they persevere to the bitter end. In ancient times, mistakes of the noble-minded were like eclipses of the sun and moon: there for all the people to see. And when a mistake was made right, the people all looked up in awe. But these days, the noble-minded just persevere to the bitter end, and then they invent all kinds of explanations." (Hinton, 4.9).
Of course, in acting that way, in dissembling and denying, the so-called "noble-minded" of today are not really noble-minded at all. They are reproducing the original inhumantiiy that caused so much suffering to begin with.
Stop inventing "all kinds of explanations," Mr. Wolfowitz, and just accept responsibility for an avoidable strategic error and a terrible human tragedy.