It’s easy to see clearly in hindsight. But sometimes it’s worth looking back at what people foresaw. The current crisis in Iraq displays more starkly than ever the wilful blindness of the architects of America’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003....
“When Saddam Hussein and his regime are nothing more than a horrible memory, the United States will remain committed to helping the Iraqi people establish a free, prosperous and peaceful Iraq that can serve as a beacon for the entire region.”
That’s what Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defence in the Bush Administration, told the Iraqi-American community in Detroit in February 2003.
Wolfowitz was one of the most influential of that group of intellectuals and political activists who had, for 30 years before 2003, urged that America must use its military might to oppose totalitarian dictatorships. They had attracted the label “neo-conservative”. But the title of the Four Corners program I made about them, which was aired just a week before the Iraq war began, was “American Dreamers”.
Paul Wolfowitz’s friend and academic ally, Lebanese-born Shi-ite Fouad Ajami, put it this way: “An idea is attached to this war, there is no doubt about it … it really is about the reform, not only of Iraq but … of the Arab world, an attempt to show the Egyptians and the Saudis and others that there is another way of organising political life.”
This was not mere rhetoric for the masses. The neo-cons believed it. And they had persuaded George W. to share the vision. In late February, he told the neo-cons’ own think tank, the American Enterprise Institute: “A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions.“
It was a beautiful dream. But to many, even then, it was extraordinarily naive.
The neo-cons, said Kurt Campbell, were not conservative at all: “one of the most powerful contributions that conservatives have made to our understanding of how to conduct foreign policy is not to overestimate consequences, don't be overly optimistic… if necessary be pessimistic… I think there is entirely too much optimism about what are the potential hopeful consequences of a major war in Iraq.”
When dreamers control armies, their dreams can be dangerous. But it tends not to be they who suffer, when the real-life nightmares arrive.