A glimpse of David Frum and his great burden

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The American Neoconservative Olympus is a diverse and very inclusive place, which strives hard to maintain a mix of representatives from all the worthy nations and peoples as it oversees the Grand March of History. Americans, embarassed Canadians, nostalgic Brits, random Iraqi grifters, more Brits, supporters of the Shah, American think-tankers, um…, well, a lot of nations and peoples. It was to this height that for a glorious, glorious historical moment, David Frum once ascended, an apotheosis binding the TRUE Canadian spirit—-not the weak tea namby-pamby socialist health care spirit, but the true, courageous one—-into the rarified height of foreign policy insight, the place so enlightened and elevated it could “create” its own reality.

But with such great achievement comes great burdens, burdens of knowledge that have weighed upon David’s shoulders, a responsibility that he has borne for us all these years. We were lucky to have him, it seems, for the situation was more dire than it ever appeared to our own eyes. But now, at long last, David has decided that the time is ripe to unburden himself.

And, oh, what a burden it was! The having of a “war baby” in the middle of the battle zone of Northeast Washington DC, the basement store of canned goods, the meetings with people to be “less impressed” by, such as Ahmed Chalabi, and the tedious conversations with them about the future role of Iraq as a source of oil SCREECHING GEAR NOISE wait, what was THAT?

I was less impressed by Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those ‘others’ was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought. In 2002, Chalabi joined the annual summer retreat of the American Enterprise Institute near Vail, Colorado. He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to US dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia.

[emphasis mine] Wait, I thought we weren’t supposed to make such scurrilous accusations? The USA, go to war for OIL? Ah, but I forget myself, this is knowledge only to be comprehended by the Olympians, whose true significance we are not supposed to understand. It is only for people who contemplate the nature of time itself.

Yet that discussion never really happened, not the way that most people would have imagined anyway. For a long time, war with Iraq was discussed inside the Bush administration as something that would be decided at some point in the future; then, somewhere along the way, war with Iraq was discussed as something that had already been decided long ago in the past.

The order to begin work on the Iraq sections of the 2002 State of the Union address—what became known as the “axis of evil” speech—was delivered to me in the form of a conditional: what might the president say if he decided … etc.

The complex possibilities, the hypotheticals? Who but a man like David could ever have understood them? How dare the naysayers, the people who were prematurely right, the garrulous Greenwalds of the world be so small minded as to point out such negligeable details…as that there were no WMDs? There may not have been WMD in this reality, the reality of the small-minded reality-watchers, but in the Greater, more True Reality, there were WMDs, WMDs in Saddam Hussein’s heart. That people died for WMDs that weren’t there? A matter of poetry, inner angst, and deep feeling…

When Christopher Hitchens read in 2007 that Mark Daily, a young American killed in action in Iraq, had been moved by his arguments for the war, he summoned to mind the self-questioning verses of William Butler Yeats:

Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot? …
Could my spoken words have checked
That whereby a house lay wrecked?

By 2007 it was clear that—whether the initial case for the war had been right or wrong—the management of the war had gone badly wrong.

…but only in the world in which WMDs did not exist. In the world in which they did, there was no poetry. Poetry and not-poetry, all at once. Do you not understand? No, you cannot understand.

So now, ten years hence, David finds an opportunity to unburden himself. But how can he? He can, at best, give us a little glimpse of what he has carried on our behalves.

The U.S.-led war unleashed a horrible civil war inside Iraq. But as the example of Syria shows, it’s just wrong to assume that Iraq would have been spared a civil war if Saddam had been left in place. The deluge was coming in Iraq, whatever outside powers did. And while the war planners deserve blame for the failure to keep order, the vast majority of the post-2003 casualties inside Iraq were inflicted by other Iraqis, not the coalition forces.

The screaming, maimed Iraqi child? Would have screamed anyway. The war would have happened anyway. Except, it wouldn’t, because Saddam would have had WMDs. Except Saddam had no WMDs, except in the Greater Reality in which he did. Or would have. But there would have been a civil war in Iraq? With or without the WMDs? I’m getting confused, because I cannot encompass the kinds of possibilities that David can and does. Anyway, the point is, the Iraqi child would have screamed no matter what.

Because, you know, David was totally helpless to stop it. I mean, yes, he was brought up to the Mountain to represent us among the great ones, but in the Greater Reality, he could not have done anything to stop what was going to happen.

Over the past 10 years, there have been few days when the war in Iraq was absent from my thoughts. People often ask me whether I have regrets. It seems absurdly presumptuous to answer the question. I could have set myself on fire in protest on the White House lawn and the war would have proceeded without me.

But David would never have done that, because if he had set himself on fire on the White House lawn, an act no one would have noticed, he would have been able to think of Iraq every day for the past 10 years. He wouldn’t have been there to answer the important question of whether he has regrets. And in any case, if he had, and it did matter, Saddam would have instigated a civil war anyway. While developing WMDs.

Never fear, though. David will continue to bear these burdens. Because, despite all the small-minded critics and the naysayers, David is here to share with us a great insight.

Pretty obviously, I would not just be walking out of there. So I made them an offer: I’d stay for exactly 30 minutes. I’d answer any question they wanted to ask, as fully as I was able. Then I’d leave. They agreed, and I stepped onto the lip of the stone fountain to be heard. And then an unexpected thing happened. As we spoke together, their anger abated. They didn’t like Saddam, most of them, any better than Tony Blair or George W. Bush liked Saddam. What they wanted was to be heard.

Those among us who didn’t appreciate David, didn’t understand what it meant to be Called to serve the Greater Reality, what is it that they wanted? Why, they wanted to be heard. Like the woman weeping quietly by her ruined Baghdad house. She wants to be heard too. Like the oil bubbling quietly away, the oil that David and the less-impressive Ahmed Chalabi did and did not discuss as an alternative to Saudi oil, which was was or was not an advantage of war with Iraq, at least not in the Greater Neoconservative Reality.

And, like everyone, what does David want? To be heard. Though we may not appreciate the inner truth behind what he tells us, he like all people, former neoconservative speechwriter or not, sometimes just need to unburden themselves. Even if the burden is quantum, ever-shifting, ephemeral, beyond logical or moral comprehension.

(hat tip to abdar nitangae via backchannel communication)

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on March 19, 2013 9:07 PM.

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