- Photo by Dion Ogust.
Let us gather together, children, in the box seats of the opera house, look at our program notes, and review the essential elements of the story, before we listen to the music.
Upon coming into office in 2001, George W. Bush was warned about coming terrorist attacks. Vice-President Dick Cheney was assigned to head the counterterrorism task force. Cheney was chief among a group called the Neocons, the Vulcans, and, most aptly, the Chickenhawks, creatures who screech most loudly for war, but have never participated in one.
Cheney’s task force did not meet until after 9/11. Eleven years later, on September 11, 2012, the New York Times released a story that there were many memos that warned about a coming terrorist attack by Bin Laden and Al Qaeda that were ignored. “Neoconservative leaders…were warning the White House that the CIA had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein…a greater threat.” Those memos were withheld from the 9/11 Commission.
The towers came down and over 3,000 people died. The identity of the perpetrators was established almost instantly since we already knew about them.
There are songs of mourning and lamentation. Then, the young tenor, representing the president, sings the first of his famous arias, “Bellicosity!” with the chorus, “We’ll get him, like they say in the Old West, dead or alive!” In one of those peculiar footnotes in the history of opera, some scenic elements failed to arrive opening night and the song was sung to an empty chair, presaging the most famous moment of the 2012 Republican Convention, Clint Eastwood performing with exactly the same prop! (Conspiracy theorists, take note).
Then it was “Off to War!” What a moment, what martial airs, with the first use of miniature drones in a musical performance. The critics were bowled over.
Into Afghanistan! Once known as the Graveyard of Empires. We would not fail as the British, the Russians, and even Alexander the Great had. No! We rushed to victory. “Hooah! Hooah!” cried the chorus, and then charged off to Imperial War Numero Duh, the Invasion of Iraq! A quick victory was had there, too! Cue the songs of celebration, “Tearing Down Saddam’s Statue!” and “The Cheer of Liberated Iraqis,” as the Neocons danced back in DC.
Then it was on to the Reconstruction. It would (we were promised) cost us nothing! A fascist, socialist, statist regime would be replaced with democracy and the freest free-market economy in the world. The desert would blossom. It would be like France, except more loyal and subservient to America. All the other repressive Middle Eastern regimes would fall as their people rose up, crying, “We want to be just like Iraq!” Which was the rousing finale! Could anyone fail to be moved to a sort of exultation of tears and then walk forth from the theater into the night air determined to launch our forces once more, twice more, thrice more, and conquer more?
Of course, neither war was actually won. It’s reasonable to say that both were actually lost. (Shhh! Don’t ask. Don’t tell.) We went into Afghanistan to get Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, but they got away. We went into Iraq because of the WMDs, but they weren’t there. The reconstruction was an utter failure. As of 2006 (six years ago), over $50 billion had been spent without returning Iraq to prewar levels. Much of that money simply disappeared. Oddly, it’s almost impossible to find an estimate of the amount dedicated to rebuilding Afghanistan. Presumably they’re folded into the war costs, about half a trillion dollars since 2001, currently running at about $20 billion a year. By contrast, according to Peter Van Buren, a career foreign service officer in We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, “The reconstruction of Germany and Japan cost only $32 billion and $17 billion, respectively,” in 2010 dollars.
That’s sad, even tragic, but it’s old news.
No, folks! It’s not! Welcome to the remake! Producer Mitt Romney is working hard, hard, hard! To bring you The Re-Flight of the Chickenhawks, Gotterdammerung II!
A chickenhawk himself—yes, he loved the Vietnam War, but avoided service—he’s assembled the old team as his national security and foreign policy advisers! Cofer Black, who was head of counterterrorism from 1999 to 2001, one of the key guys in not stopping 9/11. Then he “led the hunt” for Bin Laden. The failed hunt, not the one that got him. He systemized torture for interrogations, then went to work for Blackwater. Romney calls him his “trusted envoy to the dark side.” Ohhh, shiverrr!
There’s General Michael Hayden (a military man, but not one who saw combat). As head of the NSA he helped lead the failure to stop 9/11 and to catch Bin Laden. He was in favor of torture (he won that one), and he did succeed in secretly instituting warrantless wiretaps.
There was an organization called PNAC, Project for the New American Century. It advocated the invasion of Iraq and any place else that annoyed us. Notoriously, it suggested that the only way to transform the United States into the aggressive war machine it prescribed was to have another Pearl Harbor. If you like conspiracy theories, that’s the place to start. Their successor is FPI, Foreign Policy Initiative—same people, same attitudes, same hunger to blow something up, operatically, in the name of peace, justice, progress, freedom, and democracy. At least two-thirds of Romney’s team were members of one or both.
Dan Senor was the chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, in charge of Iraq’s nonreconstruction. He was so cynical that he said to reporters, “Well, off the record, Paris is burning. But on the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq,” displaying an ability to lie with a straight face that makes him perfect for the Romney/Ryan team.
John Lehman, once Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, thinks we’re in a worldwide holy war. He also thinks a stronger navy is the way to fight it. In addition, he criticized Obama because “We’re seeing the Soviets pushing into the Arctic with no response from us.” (Yes, that’s what he said, the Soviets).
Eliot Cohen, a PNAC founder, says we’re in WW IV and we should overthrow Iran. John Bolton is right there with him. He’s the guy with the comedy mustache. Bush made him ambassador to the UN in one of his famous “up yours” gestures, since Bolton despised that organization.
There are a bunch of others of the same lineage. They are also, most of them, tied to big money, through banking or hedge funds, to the defense industry, to right-wing think tanks, the Wall Street Journal, and Fox News. Making bellicosity pay.
We’re mostly focused on the economy and domestic issues. But presidents deal with foreign policy. If you want a team that couldn’t find a terrorist if he was hiding in their undershorts, if you want a group that thinks we won their last two wars and we should cut taxes to pay for the next two, here they are. The Chickenhawks are back! Gotterdammerung, who would’ve thunk anyone could be that dumb?