03/01/2006 03:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

American Idealism, Buckley-Style

Let the revisionism begin.

William F. Buckley, Jr.'s syndicated column of February 24 starts out strong ("It Didn't Work"), then quickly deteriorates into a sad Balinese dance of hand-wringing and finger-pointing that will surely serve as the model for all the morally obtuse disclaimers and mendacious "analyses" to come, both from the ever-hypocritical Republican right and their supine Democratic enablers.

The catastrophe in Iraq, Buckley tells us, is the fault of "Iraqi animosities" and the "ice men" who exploit and foment them. True enough, as far as it goes. And--?

And nothing. That's it. As for the U.S.--well, our "postulates," if not entirely accurate, were at least (as always) above reproach. One was that the Iraqi people would "suspend internal divisions" for the sake of a better political system. Another was that the invading American army would succeed in training both Iraqi soldiers and politicians to cope successfully with insurgents.

And there you have it: We tried to do the right thing, but the tribal ingrates and religious maniacs wouldn't let us help them. As for the Bush administration, no harm, no foul. It "can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia." By this, does he allude to the reasonableness of our subversion and destruction of the democratically-elected Allende government in Chile? The support of right-wing, nun-murdering death squads in El Salvador? And--oh, never mind. Who can remember at this point...

Buckley assures us that we needn't conclude that "the postulates do not prevail." No, he's got chicken soup for the imperial soul: "It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair." Well, no one wants that. And everyone wants to be "healthy." Shaking his fist at the bad guys, he concludes: "The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism."

Perhaps only William F. Buckley can eulogize a war conceived in hubris and sold with lies, the collapse of a society and impending dissolution of a state, the deaths of tens of thousands (mostly civilians) and the mutilations of hundreds of thousands and the lifelong trauma to their families (let no one say "for nothing"), and the sheer waste of a generation's collective wealth, by referring to and defending "postulates." But then, Buckley likes taking the lofty view. Maybe the air up on Olympus, while suitable for the gods, has destroyed what is left of his mind. How else to explain the fact that he actually seems to believe this contemptibly dishonest and nakedly self-serving effort at moral exculpation?

Quick, before joining him in the defense of the shrine of "American idealism," someone should point out, among other things, the following:

• The invasion of Iraq was sold to us as a response to Al Qaeda. But it was known, from the beginning, that Al Qaeda had minimal involvement with Iraq. In fact it has only entered, in force, after we were kind enough to knock down the political and societal walls that had kept it out. No, Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan--and Pakistan, and Indonesia, and other places not relevant to the "postulates."

• Osama Bin-Ladin, invoked by George Bush as a combination Professor Moriarty and Keyser Soze, causes our Dear Leader to lose not a minute's nap. "Wanted Dead or Alive," as soon as W won his dream job and became "a wartime president," morphed to "Don't Ask/Don't Tell."

• We were warned that Iraq was a threat to us. It wasn't. We were warned, over and over, in absolute terms, that they menaced us with terrible weapons. These, as even our president's dog now knows, were lies promulgated in defiance of abundant information to the contrary. Not "errors in judgment" or "reasonable mis-readings of the data." They were witting, calculated lies.

• The rise of the insurgents, the collapse of civil order, the looting, the destruction, the violence, the conversion of Iraq into a Disneyland for terrorists: all of this was predicted in detail by the State department and the CIA. All of these warnings were deliberately ignored. People who wrote them, and protested, were fired.

• No plans were made for the day after the military victory. Everything we were told would result from the invasion was at best a naïve fantasy of self-infatuated neo-con intellectuals, thrilled at the opportunity--for once in their daydreaming, foundation-coddled lives--to be men of action and shapers of history. "We're an empire now," said one triumphant imbecile. "We create our own reality." You can hear more respectable, and more credible, dialogue on Star Trek. (The first generation.)

• Our soldiers, whom Buckley disdains to mention, were criminally under-equipped from the start. There weren't enough troops--even the hapless Paul Bremer concedes as much in his memoir--and the poor bastards who were (and are) there didn't (and don't) have the right equipment. Now, having endured unnecessary danger and injury, they have returned to find veterans' benefits and facilities cut--except for those killed, whose coffins we are not allowed to see by an administration and a Republican Congress unembarrassed, even now, to exhort us to Support the Troops.

• We were told that the Iraqis would pay for their own "liberation" with their oil wealth. They haven't. Oil production is a fraction of what it was before the invasion, and the administration lacks the nerve (let alone the honesty) to include the cost of this disaster to us in its formal budget.

• In pursuit of his "American idealism" we have perpetrated smaller, more sophisticated versions of the Soviet horrors that Buckley and his friends made careers of condemning: torture and its outsourcing via "rendition;" the endless internment of (mainly innocent) "terror suspects," in conditions of inhuman deprivation and without hearing the charges against them, in Guantanamo and, worse, Afghanistan; illegal wiretapping at home; disinformation from the government; propaganda from its Pravda-like arm at Fox News and among the noble, self-righteous demagogues of right-wing radio; open and endless (and endlessly evolving) lies from public officials, from the President and the Vice-President on down; one-party rule by officials swimming in corruption, and so on. No wonder vodka's made such a dynamite comeback!

• We are, thanks to our idealistic pursuit of the postulates, despised around the world as never before. If Buckley is nostalgic for the "Yanqui Go Home" days in Latin America, let him ride the two miles between the airport and Baghdad.

• No one responsible for this absolute crime against the Iraqi and the American people has been punished. No display of ineptitude has gone unrewarded with a medal or a promotion. Donald Rumsfeld, who should be doing penance in a cave or a prison cell somewhere, continues to proclaim his philosophy. "Taking responsibility" means uttering the magic phrase, "I take full responsibility," after which nothing happens and the catastrophes continue. "Responsibility" never, ever leads to consequences. The only speck of decency in this entire moral farce is that we suspect that Colin Powell sometimes feels bad about some things.

Buckley, in his stout defense of the shrine of our "idealism," fails even to vaguely allude to this administration's crimes at home and even larger crimes abroad. But wait. Have we forgotten anything? Yes. This: even the above indictment seems to be premised on the idea that, however mendaciously sold and ineptly prosecuted, the invasion was conducted in good faith. We meant well. We wanted to bring freedom to the oppressed Iraqi people and security to ourselves.

Does anyone, apart from the blithering Buckley, the fearless chickenhawks at the right-wing think tanks, and the useful tools in Congress and the media who campaigned for this debacle, actually still believe this? Did George W. Bush mean well? If so, then this will stand as the crowning achievement in a life of unswerving incompetence, dishonesty, and the evasion of responsibility. It's one thing to run an oil company into the ground; it's quite another to do the same to the U.S., and still have millions of the faithful able to call you, without laughing or blushing, "a good Christian man."

Did Dick Cheney--the Jabba the Hutt of Washington--mean well? The idea is laughable and the possibility of it is science fiction.

And if they didn't mean well? If Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the entire cast of this disgraceful criminal opera didn't care all that much about the freedom of the Iraqi people, then what did they care about? What did they want?

But we know what they wanted. They wanted political power, personal power, war profiteer wealth, and glory. That is the "American idealism" that motivates these people. Memo to Buckley: Stick that up your "postulate."