Leading article Australia

Mugged by reality

28 June 2014

9:00 AM

28 June 2014

9:00 AM

When American neoconservatives rose to intellectual prominence in the 1970s, they were invariably described — not least by themselves — as ‘liberals mugged by reality’. Four decades later, that definition has acquired even more resonance now that the US-led effort to remake Iraq as a viable democratic state has ended in a bloody shambles.

The Washington neocons, claiming a manifest destiny and infused with a sense of American exceptionalism, were the principal driving force behind the Iraq war. But they had many allies not only inside the US Democratic party (think Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, though not Barack Obama) and Britain (think Tony Blair and of course The Spectator’s own Mark Steyn, Paul Johnson and Charles Moore) but also in Australia.

In the countdown to ‘shock and awe’ in March 2003, most prominent conservatives here unashamedly championed the Bush doctrine of preventive war and regime change. We were told that Saddam Hussein was the new Hitler, but with WMD, and that failure to bring his regime down would amount to another ‘Munich’: appeasement in our time. We were reassured that victory would be a ‘cakewalk’ and that ‘the Iraqi people will welcome us with flowers.’ And so on.

The result has been a disaster. Leave aside the costs in blood, treasure and credibility, we are witnessing the creation of a terrorist safe haven for a new generation of jihadists in a place that knew of no Sunni insurgencies and suicide bombings before we ‘liberated’ the Iraqi people from a Sound of Music-loving, cigar-smoking and secular tyrant.

You might think that what the legendary US diplomat-scholar Karl Eikenberry says is ‘the most catastrophic foreign-policy mistake in the history of the US’ would have discredited the Iraq war hawks — just as opponents of free-market reforms have been discredited in the post-Stone Age, and Laborites such as Arthur Calwell and Jack Lang were marginalised after the end of White Australia.

And yet among our estimable colleagues in the conservative commentariat, the idea that the disaster unfolding across Iraq is linked to the invasion in 2003 seems to evoke incredulity and exasperation. Others have a get-out clause: that although the war was conceptually sound, its execution was badly bungled. But it is absurd to draw a clean distinction between conquest and occupation. Such critics don’t seem to understand that, as the distinguished Chicago University political scientist John Mearsheimer points out, if you invade arbitrarily created states such as Iraq, you invariably end up occupying them. ‘A leads to B; A is easy; B is a nightmare,’ warns Professor Mearsheimer. ‘Therefore don’t do A to start with.’ You’d think this is a simple proposition for conservatives who should be wary of radical change, conscious that it is fraught with the danger of unintended consequences.

The point here is that the tried and tested strategy of containment had kept Saddam in his box. But by preventively destroying the Sunni-run state (based, let’s not forget, on dodgy intelligence), we have unleashed age-old demons that continue to wreak havoc across the Middle East. If ever a road to Hell was paved with good intentions, it would start with the democratic crusade to topple Saddam Hussein and end with the mess-in-potamia today.

The alarmists’ credibility problem

The science is settled; namely, that perhaps the science of climate change isn’t exactly, er, settled after all. We’re referring to the news that a group of researchers have themselves researched the extravagant, alarmist, apocalyptic ‘scientific’ claims peddled by climate cassandras over the last few years. Their conclusion? ‘The failure of specific predictions to materialise creates the impression that the climate science community as a whole resorts to raising false alarms. When apparent failures are not adequately explained, future threats become less believable.’

Well blow us down with a paddock full of windturbines! The study, done by a group of scientists (from a variety of disciplines) at University College London, will of course be denounced by the climate enthusiasts and their groupies. But in keeping with the finest traditions of global-warming orthodoxy, the study carries its own dire warning; namely that by resorting to exaggerations and doomsday scenarios in order to attract media attention for their cause, such hyperbole actually has the opposite effect to that intended. It turns the public off, with many folks simply deciding that the issues are ‘too scary to think about’.

For Australians to pay the slightest heed to the global warming alarmists is like letting Wayne Swan handle your superannuation portfolio.

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  • Cardinal fang

    Your first sentence immediately destroyed any credibility your May have. You used neoconservatives and intellectual in the same sentence . Being on the same page is challenging enough but in the same sentence? Please.