None but the delusional at this point can claim that invading Iraq was anything but a mistake: a colossal error of moral judgment, an arrogant and uncritical analysis of our own motives, and a shallow examination of facts. Those who correctly argued it was a mistake before it happened–the “Cassandras”–haven’t yet been sufficiently praised. On the other hand, those who made the shallow case for war, and impugned the intelligence, sanity, courage, and patriotism of those who didn’t, continue to appear as experts on the TV and in the newspaper. They got it wrong the first time–really really wrong–but despite this they still weigh in now on how to fix it or the lessons to be drawn. Who says Americans do not forgive?
One of these experts is Robert Kagan. Today he considers the lessons not to be drawn from this war:
>The problem for those who have tried to steer the United States away from its long history of expansiveness, then and now, is that Americans’ belief in the possibility of global transformation — the “messianic” impulse — is and always has been the more dominant strain in the nation’s character. It is rooted in the nation’s founding principles and is the hearty offspring of the marriage between Americans’ driving ambitions and their overpowering sense of righteousness.
>Critics have occasionally succeeded in checking these tendencies, temporarily. Failures of world-transforming efforts overseas have also had their effect, but only briefly. Five years after the end of the Vietnam War, which seemed to many to presage the rejection of Achesonian principles of power and ideological triumphalism, Americans elected Ronald Reagan, who took up those principles again with a vengeance.
>Today many hope and believe that the difficulties in Iraq will turn Americans once and for all against ambition and messianism in the world. History is not on their side.
Whatever is going on in Iraq, “difficulties” doesn’t quite do it justice. In its original iteration, Iraq had nothing to do with messianism, and everything to do with 9/11 and the hysteria over terrorism. But for those who argued for the parallel claim that Iraq could be remade on the American model, just because democratic messianism has long been a dominant strain in American foreign policy rhetoric, not necessarily its reality, does not, as the death, destruction and resentment caused by Iraq amply demonstrate, mean that it should be.