One of the modern favorite past times of a whole lot of people who know nothing more about war than what they see on TV or read on the internet is to believe the so-called definitive accounts of so-called journalists and self-righteous politicians when they declare that the actions of the political enemies were uncalled for, unjust, or outright criminal. This method for rewriting history began in the heady days of the media blitz against winning in Vietnam and continues today through the ongoing efforts of people who often ironically lived during the Vietnam era.
What the hacks and neonobles writing this propaganda fail to understand is that war, like any other human endeavor, is an imprecise and flawed process more often prone to failure than to success. While people like Peter Bergen and John Kerry want to do is to present a body of carefully selected facts, often devoid of real context, crafted to fulfill their own preconceived notions of who is right and who is wrong and convince any gullible soul, who does not have a skeptical eye for claims of indisputable proof, that their explanation is the only acceptable one.
None of this is to say that mistakes have not been made since 9-11. Of course they have, both mistakes we know now and mistakes we will come to realize long after the deeds are done. Mistakes, however, do not mean that the effort itself was invalid or in vain. Instead, mistakes mean that someone made the wrong choice under stressful conditions using the information and experience he had at the time.
What the likes of Bergen and Kerry want to somehow prove now is that all of the world’s troubles in central Asia can be laid at George W Bush’s feet because he decided to invade Iraq instead of single-mindedly focusing on killing Osama bin Laden. The Bergens and Kerrys of the world have invented a pantheon of decisions they would have made differently, albeit they have the advantage of presenting their views years after the actions occurred, that would have prevented things from happening the way the have.
And, they are probably right about a lot of the things they say. Mistakes were made. Opportunities were lost. Information was ignored or misinterpreted. Indeed, all of these things and more happened during the Bush administration and helped lead to the present circumstances.
Frankly, though, every point they make about the mistakes made by the evil Bush administration can be made about any political administration who has ever used military force in a mistaken or ineffectual way. George HW Bush probably made a mistake when he did not take out Hussein in 1991 when he had the chance or when he failed to support the Shi’a uprising in Iraq in 1992. Bill Clinton made multiple mistakes starting with his failure to adequately respond to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to his failure on multiple occasions to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
Further, none of these criticisms can be made or taken in a simplistic, linear way. It was not as if the only thing going on in 1991 or 1993 or 2002 were the subjects under criticism. These events exist in a broad and deep context filled with complexity far greater than a self-serving summary in a political magazine can possibly communicate.
So, yes, mistakes were made. Risks were taken that failed. Consequences have been suffered as a result. None of these things invalidate the need for action or expose those who made the decisions to some kind of moral indictment, unless one extends that invalidation and indictment to every decision maker who made bad decisions or whose risks failed to pay off.
What would benefit everyone now would be if, instead of trying to place the blame, people like Bergen and Kerry would be working as hard trying to come up with solutions. How much better off would we all be if these people would turn their attention toward preventing the same mistakes from happening again instead of glorying in the fact that they did happen?
Unfortunately, no one will ever know because they never do.