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The Circle of Bullshit

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?

16 comments

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  1. yabkpjo says:

    Stuff like that is why seeing Anthony Weiner’s comeback attempt fail was oh so sweet.

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  2. richtaylor365 says:

    “Neocon”, talk about a blast from the past, haven’t heard that since, well, the Iraq War, a pejorative just dripping with bias.

    So, the post starts out bemoaning our current state of affairs, then predictably pivots to one more ,”That damn Bush, effing up the Middle East with his useless war”.

    That block quote that you posted from Reason, tell me, of those things mentioned, what do you have a problem with? Sure, it might seem like pie in the sky, but it only takes one domino to effect all the other dominoes. Would not a free democratic Iraq be a welcome change to all those lunatic regimes in the ME? Just for a minute, assume that invasion was not on the table, that we could have toppled Saddam internally, arming the resistance, assassination, whatever, you don’t think that would have been a good thing? Introducing democracy into the region, creating a stable/profitable government that other nations in the area could emulate, obtaining a reliable partner for our oil needs, these are all laudable goals.

    Not excusing, rationalizing, or condoning the Iraq War, I have said many times here that the price was too high and it was a mistake, but I can recognize the goal and still criticize it’s implementation.

    But democracy does not work when corruption is the norm, the rule of law is not respected, and basic human rights are not recognized, When Sunni, Shites, and Kurds can not get along and do not wish to share or rule a nation together, democracy will not work, that is the basic premise those “Neocons” missed.

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  3. Hal_10000 says:

    Would not a free democratic Iraq be a welcome change to all those lunatic regimes in the ME?

    Well that was the point. Kristol and his buddies were basically assuming that Iraq would become a stable democracy. It’s the political equivalent of “assume a spherical cow”. Critics who were pointing out our previous failures to “build democracy” and were dubious of the Iraq adventure were told that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Bill Kristol wrote an entire damned book about how the Iraq War was a great idea. Yeah, it could have worked. In theory. But someone who advocated gambling such enormous blood and treasure on the idea that Iraq would become a beacon of freedom — for whom that was one of the principle justifications — shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    And they’re just the latest version of this particular dance craze. It’s not just the neocons; it’s everyone. No matter how wrong and stupid someone is, they’re never too wrong and stupid to be discredited. It’s everyone. It’s the architects of the financial crisis telling us how to solve it. It’s the people who turned Healthcare.gov into a colossal goatfuck being tasked with fixing it. If a fire department were run the way Washington is, they’d hire arsonists to fight fires.

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  4. richtaylor365 says:

    Kristol and his buddies were basically assuming that Iraq would become a stable democracy.

    They were HOPING as much, for sure, along with all those dems that voted for the war, that now have selective memory, they were all hoping that Iraq would become a vibrant/profitable democracy, a beacon of human dignity in an area that had precious little. Iraq was not Afghanistan, it had educated people, a youngish population yearning for self rule, and tons and tons of oil money. Without the sectarian strife, they could have made it work if they wanted to.

    Critics who were pointing out our previous failures to “build democracy” and were dubious of the Iraq adventure were told that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

    The critics you speak of were not poo pooing the idea of a democratic Iraq, only the method (invasion,occupation) in which it was implemented. A democracy in the ME is not that far fetched, Israel has been doing it for awhile now, and doing it pretty well. They don’t subjugate their women, hang homos, kidnap school girls, or behead apostates, if only those other whack job regimes in the area could be as stable.

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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    Rich, the problem with Kristol and his ilk is not that they advocated for the war. It’s that they did so with bad arguments and used those arguments to plan the war. It’s not just that they were wrong. It’s that they were responsible. Here’s a bit more from Kristol (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/06/16/kristol-meth-2/)

    “On this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”

    That is total bullshit. It was total bullshit when he said it in 2003. It’s total bullshit now. It wasn’t people who disagreed with the war who thought Kristol was full of shit. It was people who supported the war. The State Department warned them that they needed at least 400,000 troops to keep the country stable. Military leaders said we didn’t have enough troops from the beginning. Critics told them we would need a Japan-style long-term occupation to have any hope of making democracy flourish (the book Cobra II gets into a lot of this; as Jim once said, you’ll want to hang Rummy from a lamppost by the time you finish it). The first quote above is from Congressional testimony where Kristol was allaying concerns that the war would be costly in both blood and treasure.

    But the hard realities of Iraq conflicted with Rummy’s plans to demonstrate how awesome a military genius he was. It conflicted with the neocon needs to pretend that this war would be cheap and quick and that it was America’s destiny to remake the world in a democratic image. Here’s Kristol again:

    According to one estimate, initially as many as 75,000 troops may be required to police the war’s aftermath, at a cost of $16 billion a year. As other countries’ forces arrive, and as Iraq rebuilds its economy and political system, that force could probably be drawn down to several thousand soldiers after a year or two.

    75,000 troops. $16 billion a year. Oh, and the neocons (Bremer especially) put together the reconstruction of Iraq which was a complete fiasco.

    If you want to point to why the Iraq War went so badly, people like Bill Kristol are the reason. People who insisted it would be easy, it would be cheap, there would be no sectarian violence. People who had the ears of the Bush Administration and positions of influence. Not just Kristol, but the whole gang: Wolfowitz, Bremer, Rummy, Kagan, etc.

    Fine, they had good intentions. So what? They were spectacularly wrong. The War in Iraq was not a war where they gave it their best shot and it didn’t work. They came up with a bad idea, supported it with shitty facts, put together a hideously bad strategy, denigrated their opponents as left wing isolationists and, after it blew up in their faces, still claim to be experts on the matter.

    How is this different from the architects of the financial crisis: the people who encouraged Fannie and Freddie to get bigger, who insisted that nothing was wrong, who thought subprime mortgages were the road to prosperity? Yeah, it COULD have worked out. it would have been lovely if everyone in America had become a prosperous homeowner. Wasn’t that worth trying?

    How is this different from the people who put together Healthcare.gov? Or the people who ran Fast and Furious? Or the people running the VA (who, incidentally, we found out today, were paid enormous bonuses)?

    If Kristol were just commentator, it would be bad enough. We should still treat anything he says with a truckful of salt. But he was more than that. He was a powerful influence on the Administration and walked in the circles of power. And his neocon buddies like Wolfowitz and Bremer were the ones who were in charge of the war. They made that shit sandwich. And yet they are still being trotted out as experts.

    (PS – And you simply can’t compare Iraq — a nation that has never had any Democratic tradition and consisted entirely of three separate ethnicities roped together so part of the Arab royal family would have a place to rule — to Israel — which was founded as democracy by people who came from countries with long traditions of civil government and is approaching 70 years of experience in running a democracy.)

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  6. richtaylor365 says:

    Pointing out all the things that went wrong during the execution does not make the intended goal wrong. Regime change and planting the flower of democracy there served our best interests. And no, it is nothing at all like the sub prime mortgage debacle, a silly comparison. Giving people loans that they have no way of paying back, guaranteeing default, makes no sense at all, but providing people the opportunity for self rule, to live in a land where they can participate and shape their own government, where they are free, have basic human rights and can prosper, that makes perfect sense.

    PS – And you simply can’t compare Iraq

    So a land where 3 separate ethnicities can not possibly figure out democracy, but a land of 100 plus separate ethnicities (Israel) can do it no sweat? At least the Iraqi’s had a national heritage, something to unite them and make them one people with a common interest, what did the early Israelis have? Russian Jews coming together with German Jews, coming together with Polish Jews, coming together with Jews from all over the planet, all different ethnicities coming from every conceivable type of government (Fascism, Communism, Nazism, monarchies, oligarchies,and everything in between), they made it work.

    Of course they didn’t have Sharia or live under crazy Islamic edicts, maybe that is the difference.

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  7. Hal_10000 says:

    Pointing out all the things that went wrong during the execution does not make the intended goal wrong.

    How many countries have we brought democracy to by simply toppling the ruler and walking away? Yeah, the goal was nice. But there are a lot of nice goals. I don’t see that their goal was grounded in anything approaching reality. It was *literally* crafted by academics like Fukuyama. How is this different from college professors sitting around talking about how if we got rid of our nuclear weapons and guns, peace would totally break out man? Only in this case, the professors were in positions of power and tried to execute their bone-headed plans.

    And when you’re talking about such a lofty and difficult goal, it behooves you to plan for a difficult slog. It behooves you to not sugarcoat everything and pretend this will be easy. It behooves you to ground it in something other than dorm room bull sessions and lofty ideals. And when your plans go wrong, it behooves you to maybe learn something from it, rather than trotting out the same tired rhetoric and ideas 12 years later.

    Honestly, Rich, do you *really* think we should be taking advice on Iraq from the people who created this mess in the first place? Who have a history of messing things up? Who have shown that they don’t understand the region? Who are saying the same things they were 12 years ago? From the people who executed such a poor strategy, no matter how awesome their goals might have been?

    I don’t understand what you’re arguing here. In the past, generals and leaders who lost wars were dismissed and shamed. We didn’t pay them five figure speaking fees and keep asking their advice on a campaign they already screwed up.

    “Hey, folks. We’ve resurrected General Custer from the dead and he has some great ideas about what to do with the Great Sioux War! After that, Napoleon will give us advice on how to invade Russia and Lyndon Johnson will tell us how to win a war in Southeast Asia!”

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  8. CM says:

    There is no way democracy can be installed via military invasion. It was never going to work. Aside from all the deceit and manipulation and deep cynicism and complete trashing of so much (respect for the US government, international institutions, the rule of law, don’t engaging in torture, the list is long). It was a neo-con cluster-fuck from start to finish, and somehow (god knows how, I’ll never work it out) they managed to con enough people in the US and UK to go along with them. And now these people are still in public life? George Bush nominated Wolfowitz to the presidency of the World Bank where he violated ethics rules and caused a scandal that paralyzed the institution. He was then forced to resign after governments around the world called for him to be fired! They should be treated like pariahs.

    Great post Hal. Same goes for all the Fox talking heads like Krauthammer who just talked so much shit again and again last year in the build-up to the election. Most of it didn’t even remotely reflect reality. They are simply used-car salesmen. And yet it all disappears down the memory hole.

    And yes, there are equivalent examples on the left (and you’ve noted some).

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  9. Hal_10000 says:

    Krauthammer is a cut above the rest. He actually does know some stuff and will occasionally admit when he’s wrong.

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  10. CM says:

    Not in my experience. If he does actually know some stuff that makes it even worse. Where is the shame? Apparently appearance fees take care of that.

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  11. CM says:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Friedman_Unit

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  12. richtaylor365 says:

    Krauthammer is The Man, the fact that he ruffles CM’s feathers is a ringing endorsement, not that he needed one, mind you.

    I’ll try to link more of his stuff in my posts, but until then;

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  13. CM says:

    Hilarious Rich. We’ll put you down for a firm supporter of the Circle of Bullshit then. Romney is a lock for 2016.

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  14. Xetrov says:

    CM, Do you have examples of Krauthammer comments that “didn’t even remotely reflect reality”?

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  15. CM says:

    He claimed that Romney was tied or leading in all the national polls, but in the real world Obama led in most of them.

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  16. Xetrov says:

    Can we look deeper at what he actually said during the election?

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/07/18/krauthammer_if_election_were_held_tomorrow_obama_would_win.html

    Bill O’Reilly, FOX News: If the election were held tomorrow, tomorrow, who would win?

    Charles Krauthammer: Obama

    O’Reilly: By? A lot?

    Krauthammer: No. It will be narrow. If he wins either now or November in your hypothetical, it’ll be a narrow win because he will eke it out with these constituencies.

    O’Reilly: Why would he win tomorrow?

    Krauthammer: Because you look at all the polls, the average is that you’ve got a two-point edge in the popular vote. It’s almost inconceivable that you would have that strong an excess in the overall vote and lose in the electoral college.

    That was July 2012 when he said Obama would win based on current poll numbers. Depending on when he said any specific thing about polling would determine if he was full of shit or not. There were times during the election when Romney was ahead in average polling, particularly in late October –

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/us/general_election_romney_vs_obama-1171.html

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