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‘Iraq didn’t work out, but at least it was a belief in progress’ — David Brooks reflects on a BIG mistake

Media Analysis
on 19 Comments

Charlie Rose asked David Brooks last Friday night about America’s role in the world. The New York Times columnist said he rejected Trump’s slogan, of America First, as too selfish, then brought up the Iraq war.

We’re actually all better together. And we’re better when we cooperate. This is especially true when you’re the top dog nation. And Bob Kagan and many other people have made this point. When you’re the top dog nation, you want multilateral power because it gives you a tool to extend your power. If we go back to where we’re all dog-eat-dog in a Hobbesean wilderness, that’s not good for any of us. And so what Trump embodies and his foreign policy embodies is an inherent suspicion of social connection, whether it’s global or personal. So it’s an assumption, that we’re all competing against each other, that we’re in a world of us and enemy, us and enemy, us and enemy. That’s his view of race in America–

You’re just locked in conflict, and that conflict is the essential order. And of course that’s sometimes true. But that doesn’t mean it’s always true, and the belief in the liberal global order was the belief that we’re not locked in conflict, we can be locked in conversation. Sometimes there will be arguments, and sometimes there will be competition. But essentially it’s a compensation between human beings where the barriers between us were not essential. We’re not defined by our difference, we’re defined by our common humanity.

That’s what the liberal order used to believe in and people like me used to, you know, advocate for [making a bit of a fist] spreading democracy around the world. Sometimes we were naive. And Iraq was Iraq, and it didn’t work out. But at least it was a belief in essential progress– that history is not just an endless war of all against all, but a common march toward a more common future.

I think that’s what’s called a “limited hangout.” Brooks ought to cop to the mistake, call neoconservatism neoconservatism, and tell us why he believed that load of bollocks that a common march to progress could begin with a murderous invasion. He should also explain why no media figure/intellectual has paid the price for that mistake.

Speaking of belief, Brooks is most compelling in that interview in his spiritual comments about the meaningful life and the central commitments of a life of purpose. He verges into the New Age and pastoral here, for instance when he describes the mountains of life and the false summit of ambition and ego in life’s first adult phase, and the looming mountain of dedication to “the big thing.” Or when he describes the four central life commitments, of family, vocation, community and philosophy/faith, commitments to oneself and others that he says he will explore in his next book. These observations were stripped, in the Charlie Rose format, of any reflection about Jewishness/Zionism. But Brooks has said that Israel made him gooey-eyed on his 12th visit there, and of course his son volunteered for the Israeli army, and neoconservatism was a philosophy of regime change that came out of the Jewish community to which he subscribed. He has been committed to a view of history that is as selfish and chauvinistic as Donald Trump’s.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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19 Responses

  1. pgtl10 on November 13, 2017, 3:43 pm

    And Iraq was Iraq and it didn’t work out. But at least it was a belief in a central progress.

    A disturbing quote because David does not see Iraq as a group of people with their own lives but as an experiment like they are lab rats. as long he believed he was doing the right thing who cares about people’s lives destroyed and devastated by an invasion?

    Iraq was set back a century because of the US invasion. Iraqis lost their lives and guys like David act like it is no big deal. This indifference is narcissistic and psychotic.

    • chocopie on November 14, 2017, 12:35 am

      To him they’re not real people, I think. His thinking is limited.

      • eljay on November 14, 2017, 8:02 am

        Brooks thinks like a Zionist: People of his mindset…
        – are entitled to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them; and
        – must not be held accountable for the (war) crimes they perpetrate, support or defend, especially if they (say they) desire “peace”.

        Brooks is a hateful and immoral person.

    • druid on November 14, 2017, 11:49 am

      And especially when he waxes poetic about the meaningful life, etc. What about the meaning of the lives of the millioin he and his ilk have extinguished. What a jerk!!!

  2. festus on November 13, 2017, 4:05 pm

    These people are completely insane.

    • Kay24 on November 14, 2017, 7:39 am

      They are. Yet, Americans keep voting for them, appointing them, giving them prominence, and not holding them accountable for their insane policies, and deadly mistakes.

    • joemowrey on November 14, 2017, 10:26 am

      Yes they are, absolutely bat-shit crazy. I’m not sure what scares me more, the idea that they are evil enough to spew this kind of destructive nonsense, or the idea that they may actually believe their own delusions.

      The worst part is that there are so many people who think guys like Brooks are rational, intelligent human beings, deserving of respect and recognition.

  3. John O on November 13, 2017, 4:27 pm

    Phil, I read those three paragraphs quoting Brooks directly very slowly and carefully. Because gobbledegook (or “bollocks” as you called it – so glad to see a fine, very English, insult take off in the US) is so much harder to read than common sense.

    E.g. “You’re just locked in conflict, and that conflict is the essential order. And of course that’s sometimes true.” Surely, if it’s the essential order, it’s always true. But then that would mean agreeing that it is “the essential order”, whatever the hell that means.

    • Citizen on November 14, 2017, 7:07 am

      “….whatever the hell that means.”

      Try social Darwinism and Nazi philosophy–Zionist philosophy too.

  4. Walker on November 13, 2017, 7:26 pm

    Brooks didn’t advocate an invasion of Iraq for the sake of democracy. He advocated the invasion to eliminate the supposed intolerable threat posed by Saddam’s WMDs.

    From his March 24, 2003 Weekly Standard column:

    . . .What matters, and what ultimately sprang the U.N. trap, is American resolve. The administration simply wouldn’t let up. It didn’t matter how Hans Blix muddied the waters with his reports on this or that weapons system. Under the U.N. resolutions, it was up to Saddam to disarm, administration officials repeated ad nauseam, and he wasn’t doing it. . .

    Earlier in the same column Brooks alludes to the “fog and verbiage” of those opposing the invasion.

    Who’s generating the fog and verbiage now? Who’s trying to muddy the waters?

    • druid on November 14, 2017, 11:52 am

      No, he supported for greater Israel’s long-term plans. They were in the way!!! To Iran? To Syria?

    • James Canning on November 15, 2017, 1:36 pm

      Bravo. Neocons wanted to eliminate Saddam because he was rewarding the families of suicide bombers attacking Israel.

  5. Keith on November 13, 2017, 7:42 pm

    PHIL- “He has been committed to a view of history that is as selfish and chauvinistic as Donald Trump’s.”

    Absolutely! Furthermore, his view of history and the struggle for power is camouflaged by liberal, feel good rhetoric. And he earns his living by misrepresenting and selling imperial warmongering and neoliberalism to a mass audience. He is an integral and shameful part of the imperial doctrinal system.

  6. JosephA on November 13, 2017, 11:07 pm

    It’s disturbing that people can refer to the genocide of over 1,000,000 Iraqi children so casually (this man, as well as Madeline Albright). Certainly, war criminals and war profiteers should be locked up, but there’s a special place for their apologists.

  7. Kay24 on November 14, 2017, 7:06 am

    The neocons and zionists in the Bush administration all pushed very hard for that bloody war in Iraq. Now they nonchalantly dismiss it as something “that did not work out”. Their attitude is disgusting to say the least.

    Never mind, we waged an unnecessary war on a sovereign nation, toppled their leadership, got their leader killed, decimated the country, opened the borders for terrorists to go on suicide missions in market places, and employment agencies, and started a sectarian war, which Hussein prevented…most of all millions of Muslims have been killed, millions maimed, and millions are now homeless, and these filthy human beings, only regret that “it did not work out”.

    Imagine his outrage had these been Jewish lives. What now? Let’s go on and try the same thing in Iran, that might “work out”. Let’s continue to do Israel’s bidding, and pour in trillions of dollars to fight their wars. Protecting our dear and only true “buddy” in the ME is a costly business, but David Brooks will be all eager to do it again, without hesitation. How patriotic.

  8. Citizen on November 14, 2017, 7:13 am

    Seems, from the quotes from him above, David Brooks is missing some brain cells, or, if not, there’s some dirth of communication between them. “Cognitive dissonance. ” My own take is Brooks is an ideologue, and such types are always packed with selective lack of empathy. It’s significant that his son volunteered to join the IDF, not the US Army.

    Disagreement At NYT Over David Brooks Not Disclosing Son’s IDF Service via @TPM

  9. Hemlockroid on November 14, 2017, 10:17 am

    Because DT became Prez, he is head of GOP. At least he’s anti-Iraq War which pours hot coals atop the heads of these bloody murderers.

  10. Boomer on November 14, 2017, 1:09 pm

    Neocons are as disgusting now as before. When prepubescent boys engage in mock war games, we see normal behavior, not pathology. When neocon pundits team with the military- congressional-industrial complex to deploy American youth in wars of aggression (not their own children, of course), we see evil in action.

  11. James Canning on November 14, 2017, 11:44 pm

    The idiotic US invasion of Iraq was “a belief in essential progress”! What utter rubbish. However, Brooks may be referring to how G W Bush was duped into starting the war.

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