Iraq war cheerleader humbled —but no apology

The March 24 New York Times features a profile of Iraq war propagandist Kanan Makiya, with the somewhat misleading title “Critic of Hussein Grapples With Horrors of Post-Invasion Iraq.” Makiya was more than a “critic of Hussein,” which implies a principled dissident—he was a prominent cheerleader for foreign military aggression against the country of his birth. The Times account portrays him as somewhat humbled:

Until the American invasion in March 2003, Mr. Makiya, an Iraqi-American born in Baghdad in 1949, was the leading intellectual voice crying out for Western and Arab nations to topple Mr. Hussein. He was a close friend of the Pentagon darling Ahmad Chalabi, and had the attention of neoconservatives. Vice President Dick Cheney praised him on “Meet the Press,” and Mr. Makiya was one of three Iraqi-Americans who met with President Bush in the winter of 2003.

Those were simpler days indeed, before the endless waves of car bombings, before the thousands of Iraqi and American deaths, before the descent into chaos and sectarian violence that has driven liberal idealists like Mr. Makiya into bouts of hand-wringing over a single inescapable question: what went wrong?

Which brings us to Mr. Makiya’s next book.

“I want to look into myself, look at myself, delve into the assumptions I had going into the war,” he said. “Now it seems necessary to reflect on the society that has gotten itself into this mess. A question that looms more and more for me is: just what did 30 years of dictatorship do to 25 million people?”

“It’s not like I didn’t think about this,” he continued. “But nonetheless I allowed myself as an activist to put it aside in the hope that it could be worked through, or managed, or exorcised in a way that’s not as violent as is the case now. That did not work out.”

At least (unlike the men who exploited him for war propaganda) Makiya has enough conscience to be humbled—even if he exploits his own anguish to shill his next book. But the Times doesn’t tell the half of how hubristic he was before the war—a pillar of the neocon agenda to remake the entire political order of the Middle East. We noted in December 2002 that Makiya told a “Post-Saddam Iraq” conference held by the American Enterprise Institute (where he headlined with Richard Perle) that the Iraq invasion would represent “a historic opportunity that is as large as anything that has happened in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.” After the invasion, he and his pal Chalabi had direct access to the vice president—although he was, to his credit, among the first to warn of descending chaos. But Patrick Seale wrote wrote in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat that figures like Chalabi and Makiya were part of the probelm, because they are “considered traitors and quislings by the Iraqi population.”

The most perverse part of the Times story is the closing line:

Talk turned to…the pressure that Hillary Rodham Clinton was facing to apologize for her Senate vote authorizing President Bush to go to war.

Mr. Makiya stared into his glass of red wine. “That’s so Maoist,” he said. “People shouldn’t feel the need to apologize. What is there to apologize for?”

We guess being an elite neocon intellectual means never having to say you’re sorry.

See our last post on Iraq.