Yesterday, the Justice Department announced a $5 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs for its role in the financial crisis. On the one hand, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer group of guys. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity to consider if anyone could have fled a smoldering crater and gotten off lighter than Lloyd Blankfein and Company.
And the answer is… of course they could! A literal smoking crater in the form of the war against Libya will do. Of course, it wasn’t really a war that caused that crater; at the time, our commander-in-chief was at pains to make clear it wasn’t a war, so as to show that he didn’t require congressional approval. It was, in a phrase that would become a Washington joke, a “kinetic military action.” Sure, we were dropping munitions out of military aircraft in the confines of a treaty agreement on to human beings engaged in political exertions who were killed by those bombs, but hey… whoa, “war”? What are you trying to suggest here, buddy?
It’s worth looking back at the track record of Washington’s war mongers, and the smoldering wreckage they have created. It’s a project I tried to inspire with my piece celebrating [Anne-Marie] Slaughter Day.
The problem with this sort of writing is a) it takes time and research, and b) it is impolite. Pointing out idiotic things one’s peers have written and shining a bright light on their results is not the way to win friends and influence in Washington. It is a worthwhile calling for the analysts among us who care about right and wrong, but it is terrible for getting ahead in Washington, a town where truth is beside the point.
And at least Slaughter and Kristof and Beinart simply stopped writing about their Libya experiment once it destroyed Libya and created ISIS. Upping the chutzpah quotient is Shadi Hamid, who got a twofer: urge the United States into a war, then rewrite your own rationale after the fact and write a counterintuitive Think Piece explaining why the critics were wrong and the war was a success. Ben Friedman says what needs to be said to Hamid at the National Interest. But don’t hold your breath for a response. If anything, Hamid might get a book deal out of the thing.
Ask yourself: If you were paid for nothing more than predictions regarding your area of expertise, how long would you continue to be paid if you were monumentally wrong on the matters you chose to discuss and declined to subject yourself to criticism on the matter? Or what if you played tendentious games with history, like Hamid?
Fry cooks at McDonald’s face stronger standards of accountability than do our modern-era Kennans. For our foreign policy mandarins, there’s no need to respond to the lowly scribes who point out their fatal errors.
It’s awful that Blankfein and his henchmen got off as clean as they did. But at least they have natural predators. When it comes to the Washington foreign policy community, no one even pretends to care. If we start a war and destroy a country, that’s all just Over There. No prosecutor with any sense is going to chase down that offense.
So as things unfold over the next week or two with Goldman, consider: Yes, they have given up $5 billion. It will fix nothing. But perhaps we should aspire to a state in which the architects of our war-crazed foreign policy faced at least the superficial amount of public scrutiny that our financial gurus have faced. Sad to say, it would be better than the level of accountability they face at present.