I guess conservatives have given up on the whole “9/11 changed everything” gambit. At least until it’s convenient to bring it back up again. In its place we’re getting schooled on what an intractable problem the Middle East is and has been for years, it turns out: too protracted for us to fix, too ancient for us to have exacerbated. In short, nothing has changed.
Here’s where you roll footage of the blindfolded American hostages in Iran in 1979 and of the Marines in 1983 sifting through the rubble of their barracks in Beirut.
Queue up a somber voiceover from David Brooks:
If you look at the jihadists, they had a victory in ’79 by pushing the Soviets out of Afghanistan. They pushed the U.S. out of Lebanon. The pushed the Israelis out of Gaza and out of Lebanon. They’re probably pushing the U.S. out of Iraq. They are on the march.
Iraq is part of that, but it’s not the whole story. They are on the march, and they’re sidelining the reasonable people in the Middle East, who may be the majority, but right now what’s happening in the Middle East is the Israeli public opinion has gone to the center, for withdrawal, but Arab decision makers have gone to the extremes, to Hamas and Hezbollah.
And that’s just not something — we can’t call them up and have a summit. We can’t have shuttle diplomacy. We can’t invite them to Camp David because they’re so extreme, so we are constrained. . . . it’s gloomy, but it’s a long historical trend of which Iraq is an important part.
This sudden embrace of the “long view,” as Brooks calls it, is of a piece with the recent claims by some neo-conservatives that there was nothing we could have done to prevent the sectarian violence in Iraq given its “coarsened and brittle cultures.” Or as Josh paraphrased it: sure, we had a crappy post-war plan in Iraq, but that really didn’t matter one way or the other.
While it is true that you can understand little about the Middle East without understanding its history, conservatives have an obvious motive for wanting to compress the last 20-30 years of events in the Middle East. Linking the brutal events of the recent past with the brutal events of today allows them to skip over the fact that real progress toward peace and stability in the region was made in the 1990s, in part due to U.S. leadership and diplomacy. In doing so, I suppose conservatives hope to obscure what a hash they have made of the Middle East in the last 5 years.