This Is Not My Beautiful House

Iraqi citizens file past the scene of a car bomb attack in a Baghdad suburb in 2013.

Iraqi citizens file past the scene of a car bomb attack in a Baghdad suburb in 2013.

Toward the end of a long, rambling speech he delivered in November of 2003 at the National Endowment for Democracy’s 20th Anniversary gala, then-President George W. Bush told his audience, “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”

Earlier in the speech he had declared that the “roots of our democracy can be traced to England, and to its Parliament” and, unsurprisingly, he tied that little nugget of truth to his larger purpose by linking them to the Republican party’s patron saint:

“In June of 1982, President Ronald Reagan spoke at Westminster Palace and declared the turning point had arrived in history. He argued that…freedom had a momentum which would not be halted. He gave this organization its mandate: to add to the momentum of freedom across the world. [This] mandate was important 20 years ago; it is equally important today.” (Applause.)

Those were heady times, the early ‘aughts of the 21st century.

Mr. Bush had by then already unleashed waves of shock and awe in Afghanistan and Iraq in response to the world’s most powerful country having been caught with knickers around her ankles on the morning of September 11, 2001. Despite massive public protests and a good deal of professional skepticism, Bush administration spokespeople had kept hard at work assuring the doubters we’d be “greeted as liberators” and that it wouldn’t cost all that much.

Now, a decade down the road, comes a report from the field indicating–not to put too fine a point on it–all of that was a bunch of hooey.

This was not hard to predict. Hell, I predicted it. Lots of people predicted it. And yet “serious people” insisted it was the right and only course to take.

Well, I’m sorry. It was not the right or only course to take. In fact, the right and only course to take was outlined nearly 80 years ago by a guy who understood a thing or two about nuance, and truth, and the future.

At some point, the blinders and the rose-colored glasses must come off. Heads must be pulled from the sand. The United States of America is a great and fine country, where amazing amounts of freedom still ring. But even this bastion of elevated debate now seems in danger of sinking into the fetid swamps of partisan rancor.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been moved to peck out an “I Just Have to Say” but somehow, the confluence of the Iraq field report today and the notice of Mr. Orwell’s prescient wisdom inspired me to once again cast my railings to the digital wind.

Assuming trends trend unabated, Hillary Clinton seems in a fine position to assume the mantle that will protect the status quo, that will ensure reasonably predictable returns for the investing classes, and yet give improbably faint hope to those young and inexperienced people in the land of the free and home of the brave who still think it matters whether their leader is black, white, male, female, human, or corporate.

The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East may yet be a watershed event in human history but from the present vantage point we better hope human history has a mighty, mighty long trajectory.

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