“Iraq,” observes New Yorker staff writer Packer (Blood of the Liberals, 2000, etc.), “is the Rashomon of wars.”
Which is to say, no one can be sure why the U.S. government decided to invade Iraq: Ask any given official, get a different reason from the one offered by the office next door. Yet, to judge by its intellectual architects, the war is on at least one level a war of ideas: Here were men such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Robert Kagan, informed not only by the neoconservatives of the 1960s but, perhaps more importantly, by the communist Trotsky, transposing his permanent revolution onto an Islamic battlefield. Interventionist and even imperialist, these men (and a few women) had little pull with a GOP in opposition to the sort-of-interventionist Bill Clinton, which expressed that opposition by urging America isolationism; it was the task of the neo-neocons to “take over—or take back—the Republican Party. Then, in a few years, the nation. After that, the world.” The brilliant geopolitical technocrats in their ranks had their chance once George W. Bush got into office, Packer observes, though Bush had non-intellectual reasons of his own for wanting to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein. Six days after 9/11, Bush declared, without evidence, that the Iraqis were involved; given events, no evidence was necessary, and so Bush ordered the American army in Afghanistan, where the terrorists were, to transfer their attention to Iraq, saying, “Fuck Saddam. We’re taking him out.” Enter a new breed of ideologues, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who, Packer shows, have no ideas but bad ones. Exit the intellectual architects. Enter kid soldiers with ideas of their own about how to conduct a war; says one to a prisoner, “I will fucking kick your ass. I will cut you up.” Exit the anti-Saddam resistance within Iraq, which has a new enemy.
As memorable as Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and of surpassing immediacy.