"Just before the “Mission Accomplished” phase of the war, I spoke about Kurdistan to an audience that included Norman Podhoretz, the vicariously martial neoconservative who is now a Middle East adviser to Rudolph Giuliani. After the event, Podhoretz seemed authentically bewildered. “What’s a Kurd, anyway?” he asked me."*
I am trying to come up with an analogy that will do justice to this. The best I can think of is: imagine that some country conquered the USA in 1870, that that country's plans for us depended on the USA remaining one unified country, and that it emerged that a major advocate of the invasion did not know, while he was urging the country to go to war, what a "Confederate" was. It's exactly that appalling.
Moreover, think of all the other things Podhoretz must not have known if he didn't know what a Kurd was. He must not have known what the major fault lines in Iraqi society are. He must not have known much about the Anfal campaign: maybe he knew that Saddam had gassed people, but he could not have known why. He could not possibly have been following the first Gulf War very closely, since it's hard to imagine how he could have done so without hearing about our protection of the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Likewise, he could not have known why the northern no-fly zone was necessary.
Moreover, Podhoretz could not have known much about the history of our interventions in the area, which include things like this:
"Toying with the Kurds - then abandoning them - is not new to the United States. In 1974, Henry Kissinger encouraged Iraqi Kurds to riot against their government in order to drain the energy of the Iraqi army and divert Baghdad's attention from supporting Syria's efforts to combat Israel. Kissinger fanned the flames of conflict in Iraq and was very generous with the Kurds, prompting Mustapha al-Barzani (the father of current leader Massoud) to send him expensive rugs as a token of appreciation and a gold necklace for his bride on the occasion of Kissinger's marriage in March 1974.
This, among Kissinger's numerous endeavors, was revealed during the Watergate investigations of 1976, in what became known as the Pike Report. The testimony said that Kissinger had armed and financed the Kurds to dissuade Iraq from "adventurism", such as coming to the aid of Syria. The report adds, "Our clients, who were encouraged to fight, were not told of this policy." The Kurds were never meant to win, only to weaken Iraq and materialize US interests in the Middle East. The Kurds - Barzani in particular - should know better and re-read the history of their people's friendship with the United States."
He couldn't have known about the predictable sequel, either:
"When Iran and its allies pulled their support from the Kurds in 1975, Iraq razed hundreds of Kurdish villages and moved half a million Kurds to "resettlement" camps that operated as militarized ghettos. Barzani again left the country for Iran and soon settled in America, where he died in 1979; his son Massoud leads the KPD today."
Actually, it's not even worth enumerating all the particular things someone must not have known if he didn't know what a Kurd was. There are certain things you just pick up if you follow an issue, or a country, at all. If you follow Iraq at all, you cannot possibly not know what a Kurd is. So forget my earlier analogy about hypothetical invasions of America in 1870: what Podhoretz said is like one of the accountants who certified Enron's books asking: "what's a balance sheet?", or someone who trumpeted the safety of the Titanic asking: "what's a hull?"
Norman Podhoretz advocated invasion, and he did so not just as a random citizen in some dingy bar somewhere, but as someone who had considerable influence over policy-makers in Washington. "There can be no victory in this war [the war against terrorism] if it ends with Saddam Hussein still in power", he wrote (pdf). In the same article, he says that we might need to topple "five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world", and that he can imagine our having to establish "some kind of protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia". And apparently, he did so at a time when he had not bothered to find out who the Kurds were.
No one with any intellectual integrity would sign off on Enron's books without figuring out what a balance sheet was, or advise people that the Titanic was safe if he didn't know which of those thingies on a ship was the hull. Likewise, no one with any intellectual integrity would advise a President to go to war when he knew so little about the country he proposed that we invade that he had to ask "What is a Kurd, anyway?" Moreover, no one with anything resembling a conscience would urge that we send our soldiers off to fight and die, or that we unleash on one country, let alone "five or six or seven," the death and immiseration that war always brings, unless he had satisfied himself that invading that country was in fact necessary, and that that war would be worth the price that others would pay. Norman Podhoretz was willing to urge the sacrifice of other people's lives without, apparently, bothering to learn the most basic facts about what he was talking about. You do the math.
Now he's advising Rudy Giuliani's campaign, and telling President Bush to bomb Iran. I wish I had some confidence that he has bothered to figure out who the Shi'a are, but I don't see any reason whatsoever why I should.
*Footnote: I am, of course, relying on Goldberg's account of his exchange with Podhoretz. Goldberg has generally struck me as reliable. Podhoretz, not so much. Here's Ian Buruma quoting Podhoretz' latest book:
"He describes the dispute between opponents of Bush's war and its defenders as "no less bloody than the one being fought by our troops in the Middle East," indeed as "nothing less than a kind of civil war."
Not a person on whose sanity and intellectual integrity I'd want to put a lot of weight. Just one more difference between me and George W. Bush, apparently.