The Corner

re: Freedom Isn’t Free

In response to Carol Iannone’s posting over at Phi Beta Cons.  First of all, I do not distance myself from the war in Iraq.  (I can’t speak for the others, some of whom I do not know and most of whom I seldom if ever see; the idea that the neoconservative form a cohesive cabal is the stuff of the conspiratorial flowcharts of some progressive and libertarian publications, and the DIA sources of Seymour Hersh).   

I support the liberation of Iraq and I am dedicated to achieving the best possible outcome.  On this day especially, it is imperative to acknowledge the sacrifices which so many have made, both soldiers, and those like Fern Holland and Steven Vincent, who were civilians.  If I ever changed my mind on the war, you would hear it directly from me, and not from an ethically-challenged Vanity Fair journalist.

The topic of conversation with Vanity Fair is the very issue about which you are frustrated:  Implementation.  Your statement that people believe that faith in the universal desire for liberty alone would be enough is a straw man argument.

It is correct to say that the neo-cons are ideological supporters of the war; it is inaccurate to say they are the architects; they were shut out early and often.  The NSC and the CPA leadership were neo-con free zones.  Who were the implementers and who made the decisions?  The Frank’s and Abizaid’s, Rumsfeld’s, Hadley’s, Armitage’s, Khalilzad’s, Bremer’s, Garner’s, McManaway’s, O’Sullivan’s, Kennedy’s, Crocker’s, and a host of others.  Feith and Wolfowitz played roles as well, although they were not as bureaucratically effective as Armitage, O’Sullivan, or Kennedy. 

How did other myths develop?  If you look at David Rieff’s New York Times Magazine piece on pre-war planning, you’ll see that it is based almost entirely on secondary or anonymous sources.  George Packer filled in gaps from left wing blogs; this showed poor journalistic judgment.  Sy Hersh has an agenda.  You just had a lot of very lazy or ideological reporting, and you had some greed.  The idea that journalists care about the public good is rubbish:  Many rush to literally cash in on the public mood. 

If reporters were serious about accountability, they’d demand the declassification and release of all pre-war documents so they could see the real debate.

Back to Vanity Fair: On November 7, they told CNN they released portions of the article early because “at a time when the vice president says the administration is going full speed ahead with its Iraq policy and when the president is saying Donald Rumsfeld’s job is secure, the magazine felt it was in the public’s interest to hear what these men are saying about the war before the election.”   And yet, they cherry-picked what was released to give a false impression of what was said.  Vanity Fair: If you really cared about Iraq and were not just interested in a cynical pre-election ploy, release the full-transcripts of every interview now.  Either stand by your stated principles, or expose yourself for what you are.

Is The Vanity Fair interview or this posting a ploy to escape responsibility?  Absolutely not.  I can give specific mea culpas about specific decisions in which I was wrong.  And it’s fair for the public to hold decision-makers accountable.  But if lessons are to be learned, it is imperative to be precise when identifying both the decision-makers and the decisions, instead of whipping up lynch mob frenzy.  

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.