The Icarus SyndromeI was working in Silicon Valley for the last couple of years of the boom. The bust came as no surprise to me. I was working for a real estate investment company up through 2006. The later financial meltdown came as no surprise to me. I was freelancing up through 2003 and so was listening to a lot of NPR. The mendacity of our Iraq venture came as no surprise to me.

I do not say these things to show how clever I am. It is precisely because I am not clever that I mention them. If I noticed these things, it could not have been subtle. It could not have required great insight. It could not have required special knowledge or training or powers.

There are people I read all the time who were in favor of invading Iraq. These are smart, well educated people. And they look back at their opinions leading up to the Iraq war and they ask, "How was I fooled?" Peter Beinart tries to answer this question in his book The Icarus Syndrome: a History of American Hubris.

It is an interesting book—very well researched. But mostly, it is just an apologia for his earlier endorsement of the war. And it seems to show that Beinart hasn't learned a damned thing. Unlike Norman Solomon's excellent War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, Icarus doesn't think that wars are generally a bad idea. He thinks we just have to pick well.

Here's the thing: Beinart was deceived by the likes of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. You see, he kept warning people that we shouldn't go to war—that it might all end like Vietnam. And it didn't, see! Like the Persian Gulf War. That was fucking brilliant! Sure, there were roughly 30,000 Iraqi conscripts killed. But we didn't see them. We didn't know them. So it was brilliant. Right?

Beinart has determined that there were three bad wars during the 20th century: World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq. In between them, we lost sight of the fact that war can be a terrible thing and then: bam! We fight a war that we end up regretting. That's the thesis of this City University Associate Professor and New America Foundation Senior Fellow. Question: how do you know someone is a Serious Thinker without looking at his job title? Answer: If he's been wrong about the most important policy issue of his day, he's Very Serious!

The worst thing about all the supposed liberals who have traditionally been hawks—people like Beinart—is not that they were previously wrong and have seen the error of their ways. It is that they have only seen the error of their specific opinion. In most cases, it is not as clear as it is for Beinart. I'm pretty sure that most of them will repeat the same mistake. The next war will be different in some fundamental way that necessitates its support. In Beinart's case, there is no doubt. What he needs to write is a history of his own intellectual hubris.[1]



[1] I read this book because of all the praise that The Crisis of Zionism has received. And it looks like it might be a very good book. The guy is most clearly smart and knowledgeable. But those two qualities have never stood in the way of war mongering.