Two days ago, when the one and only Ragin Cajun, James Carville, was in the middle of a passionate, 30-minute long commencement address at LSU’s Manship School of Communication, Gov, Bobby Jindal was in Iowa, taping the latest edition of “Iowa Press.”
Carville implored students, parents, faculty members, and everyone within earshot (including those, like me, who watched the speech live on the web) to redouble their commitment to LSU and the American public education system, tracing its origins all the way back to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and reminding the audience that it was our most famous and beloved Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who signed the law that provided land grants for colleges and universities all over the country, including LSU. Carville’s point was simple but profound. He acknowledged that some may only want to hear him through the lens of politics, but this, he said, was different. “It’s not red and blue. It’s purple and gold.” The audience roared.
Carville was ferociously, directly, and rightfully critical of the governor’s negligence and the ways in which Jindal has systematically undermined the value and integrity of Louisiana’s higher education system. Carville also challenged the candidates seeking to replace Jindal to sign onto a constitutional amendment that would ensure LSU’s funding met the SEC average, offering to cut a $5,000 campaign donation to any candidate, Republican or Democratic, who would be willing to champion that cause.
Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, was, once again, 1,000 miles away in Iowa, attempting to inflate his presidential trial balloon by saying whatever he could to earn ink.
In January, while he was in the United Kingdom, Jindal parroted a thoroughly debunked conspiracy on so-called “no-go zones.” But somehow, bizarrely, the backlash seemed to embolden him. By the time he came back home, Jindal was insisting that America’s immigration system needed to be reformed in order to prevent observant, fundamentalist Muslims from entering our borders, under the specious pretense of counterterrorism and the delusional, paranoiac, xenophobic, and comically naive belief that the American legal system could somehow be overthrown by Shariah Law.
A few weeks later, he pivoted to another issue: Embracing a so-called religious freedom act that would allow overt discrimination against same-sex couples in the private marketplace and prohibit the government from doing anything to stop it. For Bobby Jindal, religious freedom seems to be squarely and cynically defined around protecting the intolerance embraced by some in far-right evangelical protestant churches.
It is remarkable, particularly for the son of two devout Hindu parents, that he seems so totally incapable of recognizing the cognitive dissonance: Sounding a false alarm about Muslims operating under their own rule of law in Western countries while promoting legislation that would allow others to essentially do just that right here in the United States, all under the pretense of a grossly defined notion of “religious freedom.”
But Jindal didn’t make news on Friday in Iowa for what he said about marriage equality or “religious freedom;” the real news was about what he said about America’s war in Iraq.
March 20, 2003 seems like only yesterday and an eternity. In his introduction to James Carville, Jerry Ceppos, the dean of the Manship School, reflected on how much about technology and communication and news-gathering have changed since Katrina made landfall ten years ago this August.
The same can be said, of course, about the beginning of Iraq War.
I was a sophomore in college, which means that Mark Zuckerberg was a freshman and still almost an entire year away from launching an irreverent little website that he called “The Facebook.” Twitter wasn’t even yet a distant dream. Steve Jobs’s biggest success that year was a movie about a lost fish called “Finding Nemo;” the iPhone was four years away from even being introduced. To borrow from Dean Ceppos’s hypothetical: Would we feel any differently about the Iraq War if, before we had invaded, we could have read the Facebook profiles and statuses of the teenagers and college students in Baghdad? Would our understanding of the threat of weapons of mass destruction have changed if inspectors and reporters were able to live-tweet their findings, instead of packaging them into a dense report that almost no one read? Would a technology like the iPhone have provided Iraqis with the ability to instantly and collectively call Saddam’s bluff?
These are all provocative questions, but ultimately, they are rendered moot. Because the question that is so often repeated about Iraq- “Knowing what we know now, would you still support the invasion?”- is based on a fundamentally false presumption: The idea that we didn’t know or somehow couldn’t have known that America was being drawn into a war based on faulty intelligence. We knew it then. We knew David Kay’s report was misleading at best and predetermined at worst. We knew that Hans Blix and UN weapons inspectors were unable to find any corroborating evidence. We knew there was no connection between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al-Qaeda.
This is not a case of hindsight being 20/20. It’s the main reason that Democrats, in 2008, supported a freshman Senator from Illinois over Hillary Clinton: He’d been publicly opposed to the war from the beginning, a rare and prescient voice willing to speak out against “dumb wars,” and she had voted in favor of authorizing force.
Bobby Jindal, once again, is attempting to rewrite history. According to The Des Moines Register, Jindal believes that the current crisis in Iraq and the proliferation of ISIS in the region have nothing to do with America’s decision to invade the country and should be blamed, instead, on President Obama’s decision to end our combat mission and foreign occupation. Jindal specifically points to the President’s unwillingness to agree to a “status forces agreement,” without mentioning that this agreement would have exposed American soldiers to criminal and civil liability in Iraqi courts. That was a non-starter for obvious reasons, and so, the Obama administration rejected it. Bobby Jindal, however, would have us believe that President Obama, in doing so, gave birth to ISIS. It’s not only profoundly naive; it is also egregiously offensive and a fundamental misapprehension of America’s role in the conflict, the context, the history, and the present-day reality. Quoting from The Des Moines Register (bold mine):
Jindal didn’t specifically say he would have invaded Iraq given what he knows today. He said it’s not “productive” to consider hypothetical questions about foreign policy, but he fully defended the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
“At the time, I think President Bush absolutely made the right decision,” Jindal, who is considering running for president in 2016, said during the taping of “Iowa Press.”
This isn’t just nonsensical; it is transparently hypocritical: Jindal seeks to blame President Obama based on a set of hypothetical questions about foreign policy, while, at the same time, absolving President Bush from any responsibility over what is perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.
But it’s earning him headlines, and at this point, that may be Bobby Jindal’s only hope.
** I’m going to continue to use Jindal’s portrait as a featured image on stories like these, because, after being accused by his chief of staff of being a race-baiter merely for uploading this photograph, I went to the governor’s office. This is the very first thing that greets you when the elevator doors open.