by E.C. Fish on March 25, 2013

FISH LOGO“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ . . . ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”
–Ron Suskind, quoting unnamed Bush administration official, 2004

If this week’s coverage of the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War did nothing else, it showed in rather stark terms just how lousy a job we as a nation have done in dealing with this war and its consequences, or the lack thereof. Ten years after launching what turned out to be an utterly pointless war, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney were all at liberty to repeat the same silly assumptions and disproven assertions they used to foment that conflict, to the same media they’ve used as a mouthpiece for the duration, and that media was still around in barely altered form (give or take Rumsfeld’s tweets) to give them an uncritical forum.

That these gentlemen (among others) effectively lied us into war, while the media not only allowed but in many cases aided and abetted them such that they have managed to get through the last ten years with no real accountability or consequence of any kind, is only one example of our near-complete collective failure to reach any kind of closure on the war. The legal system failed: laws both national and international were demonstrably broken, and charges from lying to Congress to profiteering to, arguably, depraved indifference homicide — all fitting the heading of war crimes — have gone unpursued. Representative democracy failed: the main reason those charges went unpursued was President Obama’s decision to “move forward, not backward” on the subject, a de facto presidential pardon that dwarfs Ford’s of Nixon; the most notable difference between Democrats and Republicans is the fact that most of those Democrats who needed to do so have apologized for their actions. The media failed: after playing an integral role in disseminating the pro-war case and editorially marginalizing those inconvenient facts that failed to support it, the media at large hasn’t really atoned for its role beyond a few too-little-too-late mea culpas, and those media figures who have spent the better part of the last decade being wrong about the war (I’m looking at you, Friedman, though you’re in company) have continued their careers without a hitch.

Lacking anything like a real truth-and-reconciliation process, we now find ourselves in a divided nation, wherein lies are still used as acceptable political currency. If our political process seems to be ailing, it is likely the result of the tons of moldering Bush administration leftovers no one has seen fit to dispose of. The mechanisms of public manipulation used so successfully by the neocon war hawks of the early 2000s — disinformation, fear-mongering, and the assumption of a crisis-based “by any means necessary” mentality — are now somewhat ironically wielded by the conservative deficit hawks of the early 2010s to address a national debt that was expanded by trillions of dollars by the War on Terror. The executive and legislative branches of government and the legal system are now looking forward from rather than back on the financial crisis, giving those responsible the same Get Out Of Jail Free card that was issued to the architects and administrators of the war.

Our trust in our institutions, while up slightly from last year’s historic lows, still bears the mark of the last decade’s worth of their untrustworthy behavior. This distrust has, in turn, been amply exploited by a conservative establishment that, at its worst, seems to have brought the war home and declared it on us.

Worst of all, calls for war — in Syria, Libya, Iran, and let’s not be too hasty about leaving Afghanistan — still continue at a time when few of us have really faced up to the human cost of our other recent wars nor fully considered the tens of thousands that have been killed or maimed in them. Some commentators this week — notably MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, in a panel discussion following a re-airing of the documentary Hubris — declared a war with Iran inevitable, just like Iraq was back in the day.

It’s a hoary cliché that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but given the situation, it merits yet another repetition. However exploited or manipulated we as a people have been, our institutions and the things they do on our behalf are, in the end, answerable to what we are willing to accept from them. The story of the Iraq War should be a cautionary tale — let’s hope it sinks in well enough to raise our standards next time.

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E. C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

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