George Packer: The Assassins’ Gate

I’m watching Generation Kill and wanted some more background, so I picked up this book on Juan Cole’s recommendation. Packer says he supported the war “by about the same margin that the voting public had supported Al Gore,” and there is an “I wuz duped” tone to the book that helps reinforced the voices of the dozens of individuals quoted and mentioned who actually tried to improve the situation rather than give people the results they wanted, and who were marginalized or fired for their troubles.

But it also occasionally brings out a defensive side of Packer, who spends a few pages pointlessly attacking antiwar protesters for being naive.

The movement’s assumptions were based on moral innocence–on an inability to imagine the horror in which Iraqis lived, and a desire for all good things to go together, for total vindication. War is evil; therefore, the prevention of war must be good.

Now really, holding the protesters to some pure ideological standard is absurd. The point of protesting wars is, namely, to protest, not to propose: an act of disagreement when no other power is available, by joining up with whatever strange bedfellows are available to oppose them. Plenty of them had read Kenneth Pollack’s damn book (now out-of-print but readily available for $0.01), found it unconvincing, and decided that no, war in Iraq was still a bad idea, perhaps by the margin that Gore lost to Bush. Plenty of them had supported military action in Afghanistan and/or Bosnia. Plenty of them, including many of the organizers, fairly loathed ANSWER for being pointlessly annoying and divisive. So what? All protesters have are numbers, which are still a poor substitute for actual power.

Packer’s feels like a justificatory posture. If he couldn’t have seen through the smokescreen, then others did not either; they opposed the war for the wrong reason, ignoring Saddam Hussein’s horrible crimes and pushing pure isolationism. Against them he mentions the general populace:

And so the American people never had a chance to consider the real difficulties and costs of regime change in Iraq.

Despite the best efforts of the media and the government to disguise such, there was no shortage of information out there for those who choose to look for it that described exactly these difficulties and costs. (Even Walter Pincus and Dana Priest brought some warnings to those who read past the first page of the Post.) No one should be making excuses for “the American people,” and certainly not from ignorance. We all have blood on our hands, George. Own up.