Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey—er, David Brooks

In his latest column, David Brooks takes a look at the educational system, the financial meltdown and the past eight years in Iraq and explains how it all makes sense.
Brooks’ argument is that “While invading Iraq, the nation’s leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddam’s terror. We had a financial regime based on the notion that bankers are rational creatures who wouldn’t do anything stupid en masse” (schools are in there too).
These, which Brooks considers the big two of the policy failures that he’s covered, “spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We have a prevailing view in our society — not only in the policy world, but in many spheres — that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.” The good news: Neuroscience is making us more informed that emotion and rationality are intertwined. Someday, this will make our policies better!
Brooks doesn’t explain how this will work, or how this would have helped in Iraq or with the financial meltdown … possibly because the division of our mind into rational and emotional is completely irrelevant to the failures he’s referencing.
It’s true, our government and pundits—including Brooks— painted a rosy picture of how our troops would be welcomed as liberators and garlanded with roses. But plenty of others predicted we’d be greeted with hostility; the Bush administration chose not to listen (Brooks, at the link, scoffed that critics were “Chicken littles”), even dismissing a general who predicted we’d need thousands more troops than planned to maintain order.
And there comes the crux: The problems in Iraq weren’t the result of a naive faith in human reason, they were the result of Bush’s incompetence. Bush claimed we had to invade Iraq to destroy WMDs that didn’t exist and break up an equally non-existent link with al Qaeda. He wanted the invasion badly enough that he, Cheney and Rumsfeld either lied through their teeth or deluded themselves like Jack trading a cow for magic beans (only Jack, of course, actually got something out of the deal).
We didn’t send in an undersized force just because we thought the Iraqis would be rational, we sent it in because that was Rumsfeld’s policy: Our cool tech made boots on the ground obsolete and unnecessary. We didn’t alienate Iraqis by the use of torture because anyone was irrational, we did it as official US policy.
I think Brooks’ column is yet another version of the “no one could have anticipated” excuse so many Iraq supporters have trotted out—we didn’t make mistakes, it was some totally unfathomable, unpredictable twist of fate that has us still in Iraq after eight years (sorry President Obama, having thousands of troops and contractors still in Iraq is not a complete withdrawal). Everyone thought the WMDs were there. Everyone trusted the Iraqis to use freedom wisely (Brooks seems to imply that in refusing to do what we wanted, the Iraqis were irrational—rationally, who wouldn’t welcome the kindly Americans taking over their country?).
At the same time, he avoids any admission that he was as wrong about Iraq as anyone. Those quotes from his columns at the link show him insisting that there will be no civil war, no insurgency, etc., etc. So even by his own standards, it wasn’t just our leaders who couldn’t understand human nature.
Perhaps all that neuroscientific will someday enable Brooks to right an intelligent column.
(Hat tip to the Daily Howler for spotting this).


Filed under Politics

7 responses to “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey—er, David Brooks

  1. Pingback: More deep thoughts from David Brooks (and a few other people) « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: David Brooks does not get noir « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Slapping around David Brooks some more | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  4. Pingback: And more links (gotta clear out those bookmarks!) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  5. Pingback: Syria and pundit job security | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  6. Pingback: I haven’t picked on David Brooks in a while … | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  7. Pingback: Peace and prosperity are the point (a late 9/11 post) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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