29 January 2010


The War in Iraq has been judged as the most profligate misadventure in the history of U.S. foreign policy. But, kudos to the Brits, who have a governmental system that holds inquiries which, while lacking any threat of accountability, at least tries to ascertain the facts from the prinicipals involved.

A Brit asked in rhetorical fashion (and perhaps with some incredulity): "Tell me--does the US government never hold public, sworn inquiries the way the British do? Is no one going to be called to give an account of why the US chose to invade Iraq?"

My answer: Yes, the American system of governance never holds public sworn inquiries the way of the British system. The hauling of governmental officials before an investigative body conflicts with two leading principles of American political culture: Our highest political leaders must never be accountable for actions they take while in power; and, whether their official acts are "illegal", especially the starting of wars, is utterly irrelevant. Instead of formal investigations, we wreathe them post-incumbency as elder statesmen who bask in media reverence.

It is then left for historians to investigate the Iraq War fiasco, about which, in any case, the consequences, still developing (and they could be dire), will not be clear for decades. The early histories, though, are already in print (e.g., Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq [2006], by Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas E. Ricks).

It will, also, be left for our children and grandchildren to ask of us how it was that nearly an entire country--from the intelligence and defense establishments, including the U.S. military, to Congress (failure of oversight) and nearly the entire mainstream media--could have gotten it so horribly wrong (count up the hundreds of thousands dead and even more maimed, the several million refugees, and the near total physical destruction of Iraq).

Ultimately, though, the American citizens themselves will have to answer why they were not more responsibly awake, even unto being comatose, during the hard-selling of an illegal, shoddily planned, tragically executed war. Not so difficult to blame another nation as delusional, as we did the German people--"Hitler's willing executioners" (as a book title has it)--for their cooperation with the murderous Nazi regime. But, it is not even in the realm of possible national self-reflexivity for America to look inside--the deep structure of its cultural psyche and institutions--to see how it is that we could allow the prosecution of such massive horror on another people.

Our grandchildren might want to know.

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