Such a framework discourages sensitivity to the sorts of popular passions, fears, and conventional wisdom that do tend to produce bad wars. Consider, for example, current issues involving Syria (a topic on which, by the way, the Washington Post editorial page has been consistently pro-intervention). Rhetoric about the need to stand firm in Syria because of supposed Iranian or Russian designs on taking over the whole region sounds like the domino theory all over again. Domestic political passions play a role, too, with some who favor keeping U.S. troops in Syria sounding like they do so mainly because Donald Trump favors taking them out.
The attributing of bad wars to a lack of government transparency is a shirking of responsibility. It is a way of blaming on postulated liars and secret-keepers in government some tragedies that stemmed much more from large numbers of Americans—in the public, the press, and Congress—who allowed themselves to get swept up in certain sentiments and assumptions. These Americans did not adequately question these assumptions or think hard about where these sentiments were driving the country. Such questioning and hard thinking, along with a critical self-examination of one’s own beliefs, are necessary to reduce the likelihood of the United States getting mired in still more misbegotten wars.
Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor at the National Interest and the author of Why America Misunderstands the World.