I was recently emailed this great article by Professor Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby and a contributor at Foreign Policy. It speaks pretty well for itself — though it’s extremely sad that something so obvious has to be repeated over and over and over in our insane media environment, as it should go without saying:

How not to learn from past mistakes

By Stephen M. Walt
Foreign Policy
September 12, 2011

If you’re still wondering why the United States is in trouble these days, a good place to start is Bill Keller’s piece in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine. It’s a softball attempt at self-criticism, in which Keller reflects on why he was wrong to favor war in Iraq, and it illustrates a lot of what is wrong with entire foreign policy establishment in the Land of the Free.

The tone is mildly sorrowful, but there’s only a hint of genuine regret. One gets little sense that Keller has lost much sleep over his error, and he barely acknowledges that the war he and his associates enabled left hundreds of thousands of people dead, created millions of refugees, and squandered trillions of dollars.

Instead, he tells us that his post-9/11 hawkishness came from “a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the [9/11] attack.”

Excuse me? I’m all for fatherly devotion, but I also expect people in a positions of authority like Keller’s to keep such feelings in check and think with their heads and not just their hearts. And did Keller ever stop to think about the Iraqi fathers and daughters whose lives would be irrevocably shattered by the U.S. invasion?

Keller makes much of the fact that lots of other liberal pundits were hawkish on the war, a group he refers to as the “I Can’t Believe I’m a Hawk Club.” This defense amounts to saying “Ok, I was wrong, but so were a lot of other smart guys.”

What he fails to mention is that plenty of others got it right, including the thirty-three international security scholars who published a paid advertisement on Keller’s very own op-ed page on September 27, 2002. But did Keller or any other members of the Times’ editorial board reach out to them, to see if their opposition to war was well-founded? Of course not.

Finally, Keller’s reflections are silent on what the Times has done to prevent similar debacles in the future. Let’s not forget that Keller & Co. hired William Kristol, who deserves as much blame for the war as anyone, to write an op-ed column a few years back, long after the Iraq War had gone south. That little experiment didn’t work out too well, but it gives you some idea of the Times’ learning curve.

To cap it all off, turn to yesterday’s Book Review, where the cover story is neoconservative David Frum’s review of Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s new book on how America can get its mojo back. Frum is the former Bush speechwriter who gave us the phrase “axis of evil,” and co-author (with Richard Perle) of one of the most comically over-the-top books on the “war on terror.” And like Keller, Frum, Friedman and Mandelbaum were all enthusiastic Iraq War hawks too.

There you have it, folks: on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the Times gave prominent place to four people who were all vocal supporters of the invasion of Iraq, a decision that did far more damage to the United States than Al Qaeda ever did.

Instead of holding itself accountable for its past misjudgments and looking elsewhere for expert advice, the Times — like most of the foreign policy establishment — continues to run on autopilot and recycle the same ideologues. And if the country keeps relying on advice from those who gotten so many big things wrong in the past, why should it expect better results?

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I wrote the following as a response

I was just in Egypt talking to some people from Cairo, and they were asking me why America supports Israel so uncritically, and why they engage in all the disasters (like the Iraq War) that follow from this support.

“What is the benefit?” they asked.

“There is no benefit,” I said rather miserably, knowing what was coming next.

“So why do they do it? It’s not hard to learn about the Middle East and behave in a different way. Yani, we don’t want to be your enemy. We respect your country. But we can’t respect the way it behaves. There is no sense to it.”

I tried to explain. I told them about the Israel lobby — how there are wealthy groups that know how to wield political influence so that there is a price to pay for making Israel angry, but there’s no price to pay for making Israel happy.

“How can they have so much power?” they asked. “Surely they don’t have infinite money, and it causes the US so many problems.”

“Well,” I said, feeling silly, “our politicians tend to take the path of least resistance. There’s no leadership. If it’s easy, they do it, because they care first of all about getting elected, second about everything else. Most of our journalists are the same way — they care about their jobs, not about the truth. Even when I was at Stanford studying political science, you could see the classes the kids took seriously — the ones about “security” and “strategy” — and the classes they only took “for fun,” like human rights and the environment or whatever. By the time they get into office, they don’t know how to care about anything, and a lot of time they don’t know anything except politics. There’s no culture of real vigilance or independent thought. So they can be led around by the nose by anyone who wants to pressure them.”

Even as I was saying all this, I was thinking, “These are not good enough reasons. People are being destroyed. Everyone thinks we’re crazy. And the only reason I can come up with is because our elites are too lazy to care.”

It’s really shocking when you think about it. I wonder how we can fix it.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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