Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Aghast from the Past: Watching the Hubris Documentary

For me, watching the hour-long documentary Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, based on the book of the same name, was what I imagine an acid flashback to be like.  Horrific, surreal.  Shocking.  I'm referring not just to the "shock" of reliving old horrors but also being caught unawares by them, having been far enough removed from them in time to take for granted they were permanently behind me, over with, not to be suffered again, nor worried over or even thought much about.

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As I phased gradually back into the present, groping about for familiar objects and wiping cold sweat from my brow, it dawned on me I have no reason to believe this can't or won't happen again.

Any critic of the Bush administration or the Iraq War already knows the basic story, but for me this was the first time I'd watched or read anything that focused exclusively on the case made for going to war, as opposed to any aspect of the nine-year debacle that followed. .  It was also the first time I'd seen all these bits and pieces tied together into one nauseating narrative, a s of how the agenda of a few warmongering men (and yes, "warmongering" is precisely the word) was launched like an unmanned freight train labeled "Get Saddam" the very day that an enemy with no connection to Saddam or Iraq whatsoever killed 4,000 Americans.

The level of deception, fanaticism, and opportunism exhibited by members of the Bush administration seems like something out of a prologue to a dystopian novel  elected leadership   This shameful fabrication could not have succeeded without the complicity, haste, political fear, and naïveté from the Congress, from the press, and to the extent we can be held responsible, from the American public.

Even in retrospect it seems preposterous this case did succeed.  And yet here we are, three trillion dollars deep, 100,000+ dead civilians, 5,000 soldiers killed and 30,000 wounded, a legitimate but protracted war in Afghanistan, and the stains of extradition, torture and unilateral war under false pretense that will surely hinder our ability to serve as the model for democracy, diplomacy, and power-with-restraint that the world desperately needs, and pines for.

And for what? So a few old-timers could pursue a personal vendetta against Saddam? So they could stake their claim to history by deposing a petty dictator (which seemed like low-hanging fruit at the time)?  Such theories are ludicrous, even to me.  After all, wouldn't one war --- a legitimate war against a legitimate enemy  --- be enough to satisfy those leaders who hungered for it?

And yet when you remove the fabricated arguments, what possible reasons for going to Iraq are left, besides personal ones?  I don't know whether I believe the leading perpetrators -- Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, etc. -- committed the fraud consciously, or if they were so blinded by ambition or hatred or whatever that they'd actually lost the ability to distinguish between fact and fabrication, to say nothing of being blinded to the moral and practical implications of their actions.

And if they were so blinded then, might they be just as blind now?  Is their mistake too grievous to admit to themselves, much less to the public?  Hubris ends with a clip from a 2010 interview with former President George W. Bush, coinciding with the release of his memoir Decision Points.  When Matt Lauer asked him if he would ever consider apologizing for the Iraq War, Bush replied:  "I mean apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision. And I-- I don't believe it was the wrong decision."

Given the incredible circumstances that led us to Iraq in the first place, would it be silly of me to harbor an equally incredible hope?  My hope is this:  That some day just one of these men will accept responsibility for leading us into Iraq under false pretenses; that, overcome by a mighty wave of courage and clarity, one of them will proclaim: "Going to Iraq was wrong. It was personal, and it was wrong."

I know, a pipe dream.  But what a gift it would be, to history, to humanity.  To our prospects for enduring peace on the other side of war.  What a gift that would be.