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The Bombs of Brookings
Liberals Take the ‘Think’ Out of Think Tank

“We cannot yet be sure that the situation in Iraq is totally hopeless.” —Michael O'Hanlon

Michael O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the center-right think tank that poses as a liberal alternative to the Heritage Foundation. Brookings manages the disguise because anything that falls slightly to the left of the still-dominant and loony right looks liberal, even though, in more honestly liberal times—in the 1960s, say—today’s liberal Democrats are more conservative than Ronald Reagan in his Berkeley-protester-bashing prime. They love war, hate taxing the rich and worship corporate and military America almost much as your average backwoods Louisiana Klansman (almost, only because your average Klansman, being ignorant, dumb and poor, generally reserves a residue of hate for the rich, too.) So the liberalism of the Brookings Institution is more a convenient assumption than a fact, and a pitiable assumption at that, considering how much Brookings still guides the liberal agenda on foreign affairs. Have a look at its fellows’ recent OpEds: Benjamin Wittes arguing that “the courts can’t fix Guantanamo” and suggesting that, to get somewhere on the issue, “Human rights groups and lawyers for the detainees would have to drop their insistence on habeas corpus litigation as the essential mechanism of judicial review in this conflict.” Lovely liberalism, that.

Or Daniel Byman writing another apology for America’s blood-oil alliance with Saudi Arabia (“the United States must coordinate its Iran policy with Riyadh to make sure that the Saudis are confident that the United States will ensure the kingdom's security against Iranian ambitions.”) Or Michael O’Hanlon, writing in the Washington Times (the Fox news of print) that Britain’s withdrawal from Iraq is acceptable “at one level” (who ever said the imperially condescending style of the white man’s burden died with Kipling?) while “on balance the British decision is bad news.” Note what comes next. It’s not bad news for Iraq. It’s bad news for the Americans: “We need more help in Iraq, not less. The British troop drawdown works against the overall thrust of the surge strategy. It is not a fatal problem for the coalition, to be sure. But it is surely not good news.” This is what passes for a liberal foreign policy think tank in the United States. With friends like these, is it any wonder the allegedly more liberal Congress has no idea what to do next? It gets worse, thanks to the tanker in chief.

Case in point: O’Hanlon has a piece on Iraq in today’s Journal (Wall Street’s, not Candide’s) called “Iraq Deserves One More Chance.” He makes this startling argument, ridiculing Democrats for thinking about repealing the law that authorized Bush to wage war on Iraq: “[T]he proposal to rescind the war authorization seems, almost five years after the fact, largely irrelevant. Members of Congress had access to much the same classified intelligence on Iraq as did the administration prior to the 2003 invasion. The claim that Mr. Bush misled them and the country while making the case for war (even if partly true) does not seem reason enough to justify such a measure.”

Think about those lines for a moment. It’s irrelevant to rescind a congressional measure based on false pretenses? O’Hanlon dispenses with those false pretenses by peddling another: Members of Congress were not given access to “much the same classified intelligence” as the administration. O’Hanlon himself, barely two paragraphs down, concedes what everyone knew: Democrats were frozen out of the loop: “After six years of being largely shut out of policy making by the Bush administration,” O’Hanlon writes, and suffering the consequences of Karl Rove's zero-sum approach to politics and patriotism, they have had enough.” So were they or weren’t they shut out of Iraq policy making? Of course they were. Since then, two congressional elections have thrown out one rubber stamp Congress and replaced it with a slightly less rubbery one, with a turn-over warranting very much of a look back at the war authorization, one of the most destructive acts Congress has passed since the Truman administration. New Congress, new laws. Is O’Hanlon so enamored of the Bush administration’s autocracy that he’s joining in the congressional bashing now?

There’s also that parenthetical he throws in there, about the administration misleading Congress: even if partly true. The “even” is a preface of scorn, the “partly true” a blatant lie: It isn’t partly true that the administration was misleading. It is demonstrably true. Again, Hanlon himself demonstrates the lie at the heart of the administration’s claim that Saddam had to be taken out, when he writes, critically, that the war in Iraq “is indeed bad, very bad, and the Bush administration has done a poor job with a war that it chose to launch at a time and place of its choosing.” For a think tanker of O’Hanlon’s caliber, the contradictions, the not-so-white lies, the sophistry, the apologies for the indefensible are, even if partly true, a bit much. You begin wondering if he’s not invested in defense stock up to his tanking gills.

All his arguments of course are a set-up for the howler de resistance: “We cannot yet be sure that the situation in Iraq is totally hopeless.” Well, no, nor could Hitler in his bunker be sure that the situation in Germany in the early days of April 1945 was “totally hopeless,” but at least he had the good sense to commit one marginally decent act in his life and blow his brains out. The suicide of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” which the administration and the Pentagon are still managing to refer to as such, began in March 2003, the day it was launched. We’re at the putrefaction stage now, for which O’Hanlon has this suggestion: “Patience makes sense, for now.” It always does, when you’re not the one watching your own country’s putrefaction. Naturally, one of the “liberal” guests at a January 10 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq was none other than Michael O’Hanlon. With liberals like these, Iraq needs no enemies.

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