Commenting on the weird zeitgeist that prevailed in the United States between September 11 and the start of the Iraq war, a commenter at Spencer Ackerman's blog named Robert-Paul unearths this gem:
The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man.
This was written 2,500 years ago by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, but it perfectly describes the run-up to Iraq. The similarities don't stop there; here is more of that passage:
The lover of violence was always trusted, and his opponent suspected.. . . . The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood, because a partisan was more ready to dare without asking why. (For party associations are not based upon any established law, nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest.) The seal of good faith was not divine law, but fellowship in crime. If an enemy when he was in the ascendant offered fair words, the opposite party received them not in a generous spirit, but by a jealous watchfulness of his actions. Revenge was dearer than self-preservation. Any agreements sworn to by either party, when they could do nothing else, were binding as long as both were powerless. But he who on a favourable opportunity first took courage, and struck at his enemy when he saw him off his guard, had greater pleasure in a perfidious than he would have had in an open act of revenge; he congratulated himself that he had taken the safer course, and also that he had overreached his enemy and gained the prize of superior ability. In general the dishonest more easily gain credit for cleverness than the simple for goodness; men take a pride in the one, but are ashamed of the other.
The cause of all these evils was the love of power, originating in avarice and ambition, and the party-spirit which is engendered by them when men are fairly embarked in a contest. . . . But, when men are retaliating upon others, they are reckless of the future, and do not hesitate to annul those common laws of humanity to which every individual trusts for his own hope of deliverance should he ever be overtaken by calamity; they forget that in their own hour of need they will look for them in vain. . . .
[B]urning their boats, that they might have no hope but in the conquest of the island, they went into Mount Istonè, and building a fort there, became masters of the country to the ruin of the inhabitants of the city.
Talk about being condemmed to repeat the past: fast-forward to Atrios, our modern-day Thucydides, writing about our own times:
In the pre-war period in this country there was something truly wrong with our country. Madness had taken hold and infected our public discourse. Those of us who came to the rather obvious conclusion that the notion that Saddam Hussein was any kind of threat to this country was absurd, and that we should invade Iraq because maybe some day in the future he could become a threat was even more absurd were treated with derision and scorn and utterly marginalized.
What was so frustrating at the time was not simply that a bunch of otherwise intelligent people seemed to have come to the horribly wrong conclusion that invading Iraq was a good idea. What was more frustrating is that there was a collective blindness to the dishonest and destructive way the war was sold, that it seemed not to bother these people that the multiple and shifting dishonest rationalizations for war suggested that there was something deeply wrong with the whole endeavor. It was frustrating that people who supported the war were happy to climb on board not just with the war but with the truly awful people who were the architects of both the war and the propaganda war which, among other things, involved tarring war opponents as brutal-dictator lovers. It was frustrating that they signed up for the whole goddamn enchilada.
Frequently it's been pointed out that they shouldn't have trusted these people to "do it right." But more than that it should have been obvious that they shouldn't have trusted these people to "do the right thing." They made clear during that time that they were, in fact, very bad people.