Probably the most amazing thing about Washington and the punditocracy that surrounds it is that being ignorant, foolish or spectacularly wrong does not discredit anyone. As long as they can give authoritative soundbites, they will get columns, appearances on TV shows and places in administrations. I’ve talked in this space before about Mark Zandi, who failed to foresee the financial crisis, who predicted massive GDP increases from Obama’s stimulus and whose Moody’s gave AAA ratings to what turned out to be giant tottering piles of subprime mortgage crap. Despite this abysmal track record, he is still trotted out as an expert on economic matters. I’ve talked about Paul Ehrlich, who predicted mass starvation and disease at precisely the time that humanity was getting healthier and fatter. He also lost the Simon-Ehrlich wager badly. He is still trotted out to tell us we’re all going to resort to cannibalism in a few years. We’ve talked about Algore, who did climate science a huge disservice by touting doomsday scenarios and citing the shakiest studies as long as they had the most dire predictions.
Well, one of the worst of the “I’ve been completely wrong but you should absolutely listen to me” people are the group of neocons who touted the Iraq War. Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan have an op-ed calling for us to send troops into Iraq. But Reason reminds us of what they were saying 12 years ago:
The one point I would make is that I think in all the discussion of risks we have lost sight of some of the rewards of a reasonably friendly, reasonably pro-Western government in Iraq. It would really transform the Middle East. A friendly, free, and oil-producing Iraq would leave Iran isolated. I think Syria would be cowed. The Palestinians would, I think, be more willing to negotiate seriously with Israel after this evidence of American willingness to exert influence in the region. Saudi Arabia would have much less leverage, if only because of Iraqi oil production coming on line, with us and with Europe.
Removing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen from power would be a genuine opportunity, I think, to transform the political landscape of the Middle East. The rewards would be very great, and I would also say the risks of failing to do this I think are very great.
This was, to say the least, absurdly optimistic. I doubt that this scenario would have emerged even if Rumsfeld and Bremer hadn’t completely bolloxed the entire enterprise (speaking of Bremer, he’s calling for action as well). But even by 2006, it was obvious that the exact was opposite was going to happen. The Palestinians have been more aggressive, Saudi Arabia has been more oppressive, Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war and Iran … well, we might be fighting alongside Iran before this is over. That potential alliance wouldn’t even be a possibility if the neocons had gotten their way and we’d starting bombing Iran five years ago.
I realize this is inside Washington stuff — yakkity-yakking talking heads. But to me it embodies the biggest problem with Washington right now: a complete lack of accountability. It doesn’t matter how badly someone has screwed up. They’re never held responsible. The architects of the financial crisis write the banking reform bill. The architect of the Obamacare website clown car is allowed to finish her tenture. Even on the rare occasion someone is forced out, they fall ass backwards into lobbying jobs or commentary gigs, making millions. Sometimes they even find their way back into power. It’s like the Circle of Life, only with bullshit.
The lesson here is that Washington doesn’t care if you’re a total fuck-up as long as you are one of their total fuckups. The system does not exist to do what’s right for the country. It exists to perpetuate the elites, to keep them on the gravy train of government, lobbying and commentary. And if no problems get solved and nothing gets done and the country rambles down the road smashing into concrete dividers like a car without a driver … well, that’s just something else they can comment on and propose pointless policy for.
In a vacuum, that’d be fine. Let the elitist assholes yell at each other. But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a country under a mountain of debt, tied down with broken regulations like Gulliver in Lilliput and maybe sending more Americans into harm’s way for no clear purpose. The Circlejerk of Bullshit has a very real cost. At what point will we have had enough of this?