Given the wisdom imparted by the famous quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," what lessons have we learned from our recent experience in Iraq? That war is hell? That nothing works as planned? That we shouldn't meddle in Middle Eastern politics? That intelligence gathering is largely unreliable?
While each of these observations is valid, the lesson I take away from that stunning debacle is this: We can't trust Ivy Leaguers. Why? Because virtually every civilian mistake in Iraq -- every false assumption, unforced error, miscalculation, and public relations fiasco -- can be traced back to an Ivy League graduate.
George W. Bush: The only president in history to hold degrees from both Yale and Harvard, Bush had a weakness for believing every optimistic thing he was told. He believed the wrong people, he attacked the wrong country, he left a foreign nation in shambles, and he turned a balanced budget back home into a deficit that ran into the trillions... and still lost the damn war.
Donald Rumsfeld: A preening ego-maniac who ruled the Department of Defense as his own personal fiefdom, rewarding those who agreed with him and ridiculing those who didn't. Although Rummy made one egregiously wrong-minded decision after another, he cavalierly passed the buck whenever anything failed. A Princeton graduate.
Dick Cheney: The administration's pre-eminent chicken-hawk, a saber-rattling toy soldier who bullied aides, misrepresented the facts, compromised the CIA, neutered the State Department and convinced President Bush that "Curveball" was a valuable intelligence asset instead of the slick, pathological con man he was. A Yale grad.
L. Paul Bremer: When Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, it left 250,000 soldiers with no job, no paycheck, and no prospects -- but still in possession of their weapons. His de-Baathification of the Iraqi government resulted in everyone who knew how to do anything -- process a document, manage an agency, run a public utility (insuring that electricity and water remain available) -- getting thrown out of work and being replaced by American-approved lackeys who didn't have a clue. Bremer holds degrees from Yale and Harvard.
Paul Wolfowitz: With a straight face, he told a congressional committee that the Iraq occupation wouldn't cost the American taxpayer any money because the war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil revenues. If there were any justice in the world, this arrogant, supercilious man would have been publicly horsewhipped. Instead, he was appointed chairman of the World Bank. A Cornell grad.
Douglas Feith: While serving as Bush's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, he created the "Office of Strategic Influence," a propaganda machine designed to influence policy-makers through the use of disinformation and fake news stories. As one of the "Bush Six," Feith was under consideration by a Spanish court for charges of war crimes. A Harvard grad.
George Tenet: As Director of the CIA, he assured the President, the National Security Advisor and the U.S. Congress that not only were those intelligence reports of Iraq having WMD (weapons of mass destruction) accurate, their veracity amounted to a "slam dunk." Forced to resign in disgrace, Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and put out to pasture. Earned a masters degree from Columbia University.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby: One of the administration's most vigorous behind-the-scenes boosters and cheerleaders, a convicted felon who served as Dick Cheney's chief advisor, trusted confidant, and bag man. Like Cheney, an alumnus of Yale.
John Yoo: The White House lawyer whose convoluted interpretations of the U.S. Constitution provided the Bush administration with the legal basis for using torture and for acting without the approval of Congress. Yoo holds degrees from Yale and Harvard.
Alberto Gonzales: As the 80th Attorney General of the United States, Gonzales, like Yoo, also served as the administration's unofficial Minister of Obfuscation and Compliance. Nicknamed "Alfred E. Neuman" because of his goofy demeanor, Gonzales is likely to go down as one of the weakest Attorneys General in history. A graduate of Harvard Law School.
If you think we've unfairly stacked the deck against these Ivy grads, blaming them for things that would've happened in Iraq no matter who was in charge, or what college they attended, think again, and let the Great Financial Meltdown of 2008 be your guide.
The upper echelon of the financial movers and shakers who laid that ungodly egg were also Ivy Leaguers. Henry Paulson (Dartmouth), Tim Geithner (Dartmouth), Jamie Dimon (Harvard MBA), John Thain (Harvard MBA), Lloyd Blankfein (Harvard), Vikram Pandit (Columbia) and Ben Bernanke (Harvard).
Clearly, we need more corn-fed Iowa State alumni making our decisions.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org