I think her point may have been a little more subtle than her headline writer's. For West noticed a telling phenomenon taking place among the panelists at the event, an inability of supposedly intelligent men to answer obvious questions:
The classic clueless moment, however, came later in an answer to a question from the floor: Did the administration ever tell Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia to bar combatants from crossing their borders into Iraq or else? And if not ("not" is clearly the answer since these borders have been Grand Central Station for jihadists), why not? Mr. Wolfowitz owned up that the U.S. had said something or other at some point but overall, the consensus on the dais came down to a big, shrugging non-answer.This type of shrugging response is not actually a Big Lie, it is a sigh of resignation, an admission of defeat, that signals to the listener, "there is no point in even trying to explain..." Gloria Emerson wrote about the US government losing Vietnam in Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from a Long War. Now--whatever he says to the contrary--his performance at the Hudson Institute makes it clear that Douglas Feith has published a first-person account of losing Iraq. He clearly feels guilty about his role, which must be why Feith says he is donating proceeds to a charity for wounded veterans. If he wanted to spare the Administration embarrassment, he would have slipped quietly away. Instead, like a Shi'ite celebrating the martyrdom of Ali, he flagellated himself in full view of an audience, live and on C-Span.
I got one of those answers myself, at least from Mr. Feith. I asked: What did these gentlemen think the U.S. would ultimately get out of Iraq in exchange for our massive investment of blood and treasure? And had they learned anything to make them doubt the president's often repeated promise that Iraq would become an "ally" in the "war on terror?" Shrug. Not interested in answering.
Russians believe suffering purifies the soul. And certainly, the panel of experts who discussed Feith's book helped make some things perfectly clear. They provided a valuable look inside the "bubble" of the American foreign-policy establishment. Admitting they were "clueless" about the insurgency, the panelists demonstrated a striking lack of curiosity. For as West pointed out, they didn't deal with any larger issues:
They had assembled at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. for a discussion of Mr. Feith's new book "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism," but what they were drawn to discuss was went wrong with the war in Iraq.As it happened, I sat a couple of rows in front of West, next to the man who asked the question about why the US didn't scare off Iraq's neighbors, Ali Alyami, of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Saudi Arabia. I saw a lot of familiar faces in the room, Bushies and Reaganites who had crossed my path since coming to Washington. I don't know how it came across on C-Span, but the feeling in the room was akin to visiting a family sitting shiva.
It is a rather large topic. Would it cover, perhaps, such grand themes as the multicultural Big Lie that insists Western ways may be grafted — presto! onto Islamic cultures? Or maybe the difficulties inherent in the Western-style, humane projection of power against 7th-century terrorist barbarians? No.
Only Dan Senor seemed to have a reasonable perspective on events. He impressed Diana West, and he impressed me. He pointed out that the Iraq war is not a hypothetical academic or bureaucratic excercise, but a real war affecting real people. He stated that the Americans can go home, but the Iraqis must live with the consequences.
Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Peter Rodman, on the other hand, looked like broken men. At one point someone in the audience passed around a note to the effect that this panel makes one despair of American leadership. The body language, the silences, the glances, the sighs, the shrugs all added up to a sense of loss, pathetic rather than tragic, for there was no greatness to it.
Hudson deserves great credit for hosting this panel discussion.