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August 10, 2007


Brava hilzoy. A pleasure to read.

Good work, Hilzoy. You've summed up the major reason I've basically given up on political weblogging, really: I simply can't bring myself to treat those habits of thought, or the people who hold them, with any real measure of courtesy or respect. It's stupid stuff, and is responsible for tragedy on a scale that boggles the mind and heart, and it's got to go if America's to have a future brighter being the next generation's Brazil. It deserves all the scorn and derision that anyone may wish to heap on it, and it deserves condemnation as a great evil. It is not "just another way of looking at it", or any adult habit that should be granted any legitimacy at all.

Obviously this doesn't quite fly with a policy of etiquette, which is why I went quiet.

The lesson I learned from Reagan (and Carter) was that for a lot of people, politics is purely superstition. There are the Lucky and the Doomed, and people consider it lucky to support the former and unlucky to support the latter. That's it; that's the entirety of their thinking about politics. By his own admission, young stupid Rod Dreher fell into this category and (the truly unforgivable thing, as you observe) remained in it well into adulthood. Even now, I think, he turns against Bush not because Bush is substantively the worst president in the last 100+ years but because Bush is no longer popular--because he has moved from the Lucky to the Doomed.

I Thought the American Right Hated Iran ?

Maybe they're just making fun of Bush and his Homies

Meanwhile, the candidate who voted for the war has a wide lead over the candidate who insists he wouldn't have.

Kinda like the last election, too.


One stray thought: Notice that Rod's belated hippiedom excuses him for having made bad choices. "I had a heretical thought for a conservative - that I’ve got to teach my kids that they must never ever take presidents and generals at their word." is the lesson of the thoughtless, stupid, and those who refuse to take responsibility for their bad decisions. The right lesson is "Question authority, listen to the answers, test them, and give your support to those who tell you true things honestly." The class of presidents and generals includes many liars, but also many honest men and women, and it's the duty of adult citizens to separate the honest ones from the rest, not to dismiss them all. He's only replaced adolescent hero worship with adolescent cynicism - but he's still letting himself be a tool.

And this is where I start frothing at the mouth again.

Model 62, that's "the candidate who said at the time of her AUMF vote that invading was a bad option has a wide lead".

I am reminded strongly of the whiny memoir "Blinded By The Right," by David Brock, in which the author set out to explain how he could have systematically lied and attacked people in the name of a party that wanted him to be a second-class citizen. The answer was that after being taunted by radical whackadoos at Berkeley in the 70s, he was naturally so traumatized that he was unable to admit that his theocon "friends" despised him.

One thing that strikes me about all of these apologia is that these pundits' peer group -- other conservative pundits, think-tankers, media personalities, and party leader -- seem to have offered a lot of reinforcement to this sort of whiny, callow groupthink. How often have you wondered what "liberal media" the conservatives are talking about, or how they can get quite so upset about an occasional newspaper or professor, when they control all three branches of the government and most of the media? The cult of victimhood in the modern conservative movement is amazingly strong, and it seems that in that circle, stories like Dreher's or Brock's are given a lot of sympathy.

One other point Brock made that may shed some light on Dreher and Ignatieff, is that until he stopped working for conservative journals, he had never been fact-checked. Let me repeat that: when he moved to mainstream reporting, he was blown away to find that they actually checked his facts instead of letting him publish whatever came into his cute l'il head, or outright encouraging him to lie. In that context, Ignatieff's belated realization that facts matter is somewhat more plausible.

Personally, I blame the teachers. :)

I'm reminded of Robert Heinlein's old "Man is not a rational animal. Man is a rationalizing animal." It seems to me what's going on with people like Dreher and the aforementioned Ignatieff is that their thinking is not, well, orthogonal to actual reasoning, but is rather intended to mimic reasoning. Ignatieff's babbling is meant to confuse--it's unclear because if it was made clear, his idiocy, self-contradictions, and hypocrisy would be too obvious for anyone to ignore, even people who have a stake in going along with him because they made the same mistakes he did. If Orwell was writing Politics and the English Language today, Ignatieff would be a perfect exemplar for his claim that unclear writing both comes from and contributes to unclear thought.

Rilkefan that's "the candidate who tried to have it both ways at the time of the AUMF vote, hedging her bet (denominated in the only currency that matters in the Senate) in favor of invasion with non-binding platitudes to the contrary is the one with the wide lead."

But now I have a better understanding of how it's possible for a candidate who committed that teensy-weensy mistake to have the lead today.


You might have explained this already in another thread, but I'm curious you react to this piece. For someone who thought invading was a bad idea, Clinton seems to have been awfully supportive.

I hope she decides that giving me millions of dollars for no apparent reason is as bad an idea as a preemptive war against Iraq...

The analysis that seems to ring true for these repentant warheads that they wanted to be the people their exile friends thought they were. The war was some kind of aspirational moment where they could do a Grand Thing and thereafter bask in the feeling of righteous benevolence. Of course, the same exiles are unrepentant (Kanan Makiya doesn't see any need for American war supporters to apologize for what's been done to Iraq/Iraqis and I don't imagine Chalabi is having trouble sleeping).

Ignatieff alludes to this but it seems to sum up a lot of the other pundits: I hope it's not as juvenile as regretting not having enlisted when they were younger, but I'm not sure that trying to impress someone with the size and power of your army is any more mature. Think of how much trouble would have been saved of they could just go rescue a cat in a tree or something.

Is it all just misguided altruism, some perverse need to help someone and burnish one's social/intellectual standing?

If we take either Dreher and Ignatieff at their word, then I think we really have to ask: why are people who are, by their own account, not just mistaken but completely clueless among the people who are given platforms to express their opinions?

Because the people who own the US media like their employees to be completely clueless in the ways Dreher and Ignatieff are. If fact, if Dreher and Ignatieff stop being completely clueless in a satisfactory way, they'll stop appearing in their current media outlets.

It's really time for American grownups to stop believing that the US media has some sort of interest in presenting reality accurately. It's like believing in Santa Claus.

Not only is there no evidence for it, the very idea makes no sense. Why would media billionaires and giant corporations want to give Americans an accurate view of reality? It would cost them both money and power, and as you may have noticed, generally people do not act so as to make themselves poorer and less powerful.

Model 62, note also that she said after the invasion that the "new doctrines and actions by the Bush Administration undermine these core democratic principles - both at home and abroad. I believe they do so at a severe cost. In our efforts abroad, we now go to war as a first resort against perceived threats, not as a necessary final resort." Certainly it was a bad vote (and probably a worse vote by Kerry and Edwards), but there were compelling political and even philosophical reasons for it, and as president her correct policy analysis (in my view anyway) will be what's important.

Turbulence, I'm on record at my blog and in MY's comment section saying that I think his commentary on HRC was hackwork. I've been pretty disappointed in the quality of thought in the liberal wonkosphere on this issue. And that's as someone who (as best I can recall) has happened to have been proven entirely right by events.

Shutting up now on this because it's a distraction from hilzoy's post.

Paul: Digby once commented that both those who enlisted or submitted to the draft in Vietnam and those who were active in war resistance went through a step of maturity - they decided on a course of action involving matters larger than themselves, with a variety of opportunities and risks, and proceeded according to that choice. The chickenhawks and other war-for-other-people boosters never made a meaningful choice; they opted out in a way that the active folks on either side of the war legitimacy argument didn't. And ever since then, they've been stalled. This is compatible, I think, with Maha's recent comment on pre-adolescent features in the conservative movement's approach to sexuality - one can have multiple arrests in development.

Rilkefan: It's a peculiar sort of correct policy analysis that calls for continuing to engage in known casi belli (like permanent bases in Iraq) while reducing soldiers' ability to defend themselves effectively. Unless, of course, the policy outcome one wants is continued indefinite war. And that's all I've got to say about that.

So much of punditry is simply support for us against them using whatever ammunition is handy, the result being at most trivial debating points. It frankly surprises me that Hilzoy expects any level of intellectual rigor from its practitioners.

These are stupid, stupid people. The reason they have an audience is that lots and lots of "well-informed" people in our society take the same attitude towards foreign policy as they do towards their favorite sports teams.

I could, for example write, a narrative just as coherent as Dreher's about rousing moments as a young Lakers fan growing up in the 80s and how I detested the Celtics (those Massachusetts liberals!). And my narrative would culminate in the decision to invade Iraq because, dammit, the Celtics and their Boston liberal ilk had to be proved wrong.

But this is the attitude of many, many people who are passionate and who vote. Their beliefs are not based on any serious contemplation of their consequences. They hold the convictions that they do because those convictions make them feel good about themselves, about their identities, about their team's standing in the world.

" They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq’s fissured sectarian history."

What a bunch of BS. A lot of people, and many who spoke out against the war, did so exactly because they knew the history.

What I am still waiting for someone to say, however, is that they were wrong, not because of the way it has turned out, but simply because they realize that we should not have invaded a sovereign nation which had posed no threat to us simply because there was an outside chance (which there really wasn't, as some people realized) that they may become a threat to us in the future.

Bush has often said that democratic nations don't go to war. Not true, obviously .

Even if things had turned out wonderfully, I still would say we should not have invaded. And, btw, I fully supported the invasion of Afghanistan.

As an aside, the coalition country which has suffered the most casualties in Afghanistan as a percentage of its population is Canada. Yet there are still plenty of people who sneer because they didn't join the "coalition" in Iraq.

My first real political memory came in 1979. It was listening to Jimmy Carter tell the nation about the failed hostage rescue mission.

Obligatory moment of pedantry. The US Embassy was taken over in November 1979. Operation Eagle Claw took place the following April.

As for Dreher's veneration of Reagan, apparently he remains oblivious 200+ marines killed in Lebanon and that same Reagan exchanging weapons for hostages with that same Iran.

On the other hand, perhaps if Dreher was able to overlook the above, then that really and truly demonstrates the bowel-like depths of how low George W. Bush has brought this country.

Excellent work, Hilzoy.

I agree more or less until I reach the Lebanon note, and then I feel like I am in a dream in which Hilzoy rebels against her entire history of making sense. I don't see it. The first implication is that if one makes a grievous error, one should compound it in order to show some sort of serious intent. This looks like Bush country to me. The second implication, or rather in this case supposition, lies in the assertion that Hilzoy, and by extension, the good old US of A knows who had the effrontery to attack the peacable US Marines mildly asleep in their barracks, who from the sense that there was a palpable insult, as if they had been invited to be there, as if their presense meant something actual in the context of the internecine conflict that they blithely imposed themselves upon, and yet without any mention of the probability that Hilzoy's proposed retaliation would have killed many uninvolved parties and been an extension of the original thoughtless imposition. This is Madelaine Albright's sort of dismissable collateral damage as far as I can see. And yes, I find it offensive. I admit that all of it is more or less off topic from the thrust of the posting, but still its there as an assertion in the posting, and I have to say, if you mean it, you've got to be kidding.

It seems to me that hilzoy is right on Lebanon - even heroically right, given how painful the conclusion is.

Mike Schilling is exactly right -- pundits are interested only in scoring debating points for their respective teams.

Contrast the facile "lessons" learned by Ignatieff and Dreher with those set forth by former Defense Secretary McNamara in his book "In Retrospect." Many of the lessons and much of the reasoning in that book, written in the mid-1990s about the Vietnam War, were and continue to be directly applicable to our situation in Iraq. Yet no one with any influence bothered to apply them.

One final thought about McNamara. I just watched "Fog of War," in which he describes how Tommy Thompson, an American diplomat who had experience with Khruschev, explicitly disagreed with President Kennedy about whether the Soviet Union could be persuaded to negotiate a resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis. This disagreement occurred at a moment when tensions were as high as could be imagined and when Kennedy was leaning toward a military response. Yet Thompson voiced his disagreement, and Kennedy listened and changed his mind. It's very likely that nuclear war was averted because of Thompson's courage and Kennedy's open mind.

I'm no big fan of Kennedy's, but the contrast could not be greater between how things worked in 1962 and how things have worked under the Bush Administration.

excellent -- there's an old billmon post somewhere where he quotes an old bolshevik (i think) who says something like "i was right to be wrong, and you were wrong to be right." that's what the excerpt from genius #2 reminded me of.

Nor can people like Brent Scowcroft, Jim Webb, Wes Clark, and others who opposed the war before it started be dismissed on these grounds by anyone who is not, frankly, delusional.

Gen. Anthony Zinni should also be in this list.

That said, if I had somehow been handed this situation and had to deal with the bombing, I would absolutely have attacked the camps affiliated with the organizations most likely to have carried out the attacks,

When you say "most likely", what exact standard of proof are you referring to? Would you have ordered attacks on a camp that you believed had an 80% chance of being affiliated with the barracks bombers? A 50% chance? A 20% chance?

And when you say attack, what exactly do you mean? Would you be willing to launch an air or naval bombardment of a civilian refugee facility? Would you have sent marines into the camp to hunt down the bad guys? If so, how would they figure out who is a barracks bomber and who is a random civilian? Would they use their excellent knowledge of arabic and keen insight into middle east factional politics to intuit who the guilty parties were?

Also, how many civilian casualties would you have been willing to incur in the course of such operations? 10? 100? 1000? Or, would there be no limit to the number of innocents that might be slaughtered in the pursuit of whatever noble goal we would be pursuing?

And how on earth would you manage force protection inside a refugee camp? I'm not saying it is impossible, but it does strike me as a challenging tactical problem to say the least.

and I would also have tried to reconfigure our forces so that we could stay without being sitting ducks.

What makes you think that was feasible? I'm assuming you have some specific plan in mind...

Why? In general, I am not a fan of the idea that our credibility requires doing all kinds of things -- staying in the war in Vietnam, staying in the war in Iraq, etc. That said, I think it's a terrible thing to let people draw the lesson that if you are attacked, you will flee.

OK, now I'm rather confused. You seem to advocate the idea that structuring military operations in order to ensure particular reputational outcomes is bad in general, but then you seem to say it would be OK in this case without saying why. If it is a bad idea in general, I don't see where you explain why it would be a good idea here.

The truth is, unless we're insane, we will withdraw in some cases when we're attacked. Committing to a policy of always retaliating to attacks and never withdrawing is just stupid; letting our personal egos compel us closer and closer to such policies is even more stupid.

I also think that there are limits to what we can do to avoid giving this lesson: staying in Iraq, or Vietnam, until the end of time plainly exceed those limits, and the fact that when Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon after eighteen years of occupation, their opponents said: ha ha! we have shown that they are paper tigers who can be forced to leave! shows that sometimes, staying somewhere until the end of time is the only way to avoid someone drawing that conclusion.

Now I'm really confused. There is no basis to believe that this is what forces opposing Israel in Lebanon believed. Even if it was what some of them said (and you've provided no evidence that that is even the case), political and military entities lie as a matter of course. Surely you're not suggesting that we should take such all statements at face value? Are you?

And there is no reason to make ourselves and our soldiers hostage to other people's idiocy.

But isn't that precisely what we do when we insist that we must never be seen to withdraw?

In this case, however, I think it would absolutely have been right to retaliate,

Um, oh my. I find this somewhat disturbing. I'm having trouble imagining how any particular operation in the chaos of the Lebanese civil war could be "absolutely right", but apparently there are no shades of gray here.

especially since more or less everyone knew where the relevant camps were. I mean, I knew (more or less) where they were at the time, and I was working in a youth hostel in Jerusalem.

OK, now I have to wonder if you're joking. Why should any of us believe that this information that everyone just "knew" was correct? Why should we believe that it wasn't a deliberate disinformation campaign put out by any of the relevant intelligence services or political factions?

More to the point, when you say that everyone "knew", did you all know in the same sense that everyone "knew" that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction? Or was this a different kind of unsubstantiated knowledge?

Grackle, Hilzoy explained that she got her understanding of the lebanese thing from an israeli perspective. It all follows from that.

Seems to me the two comments above are heading towards posting rules warnings, e.g. with "OK, now I have to wonder if you're joking" and "from an israeli perspective. It all follows from that". Assuming your interlocutor is arguing in good faith isn't optional.


Why would you assume that my suggestion that hilzoy was joking wasn't a compliment? The more I read her footnote, the more ironic it sounds: after a long post exploring how various people justified crazy military action on the basis of bizarre untruths, hilzoy adds a description arguing that she would have launched a crazy military action on the basis of rumors she heard in the unofficial capital of one of the countries participating in the war.

I personally find the irony hilarious. I really do think this is an intentional joke. Alternatively, it might be an experiment: if hilzoy posts something that most people here basically agree with and then tacks on something contradictory to the end, will anyone complain? Or have we perfected the echo chamber. Or I could just be wrong. Happens all the time in fact.

For the record, I agreed with most of this post. The parts that I raised questions about were...well, rather unclear to me. I'm not entirely certain how I could argue that hilzoy is arguing in bad faith a position that I mostly agree with...? Nevertheless, good job on the posting rules watch. I'll be more careful next time.


Also, as you might imagine, it is not clear to me that hilzoy is right on Lebanon as you assert. If you'd like to take a stab at the questions I posed to her, I'd certainly be interested in seeing what you have to say.

J Thomas: I did? Where?

Turbulence: we aren't talking civilian refugee facilities, or terrorists holed up in a village somewhere. We're talking training camps. Their operation was more or less an open secret because the Lebanese government, which had basically no control outside parts of Beirut and a few of its suburbs, had absolutely no power to enforce anything in the Beka'a valley, and so there was no real need for secrecy. (I mean, at the time the government did not have enough power to issue license plates valid in the whole country.) Syria effectively controlled the Beka'a, and allowed all sorts of terrorist groups to train there.

For a few cites, try: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or do your own Google search.

Sorry: didn't mean that last sentence to come out snippy.

well written, Hilzoy.

I was one of the 9% of Americans who did NOT support Bush immediately after 9/11. I knew all the way back then, just instinctively, that he would have far too much power and misuse it. Then when they began talking about going after Iraq, I remembered Colin Powell's press conference in Egypt in February 2001 where he said:

And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq…

I knew that we were being bamboozled. Those were some of the hardest days of my life, vainly trying to stop this American locomotive from tumbling down the hill of misery and woe. I was against the war not because I think America does things wrong, or because of partisan reasons. I was against it because it didn't make any sense. We rushed through it without properly debating and thinking about it. (and I fear we will rush through the withdrawal again without properly thinking about it---at a very expense).

Those two guys you quote are not sincere in their confessions. They are trying to position themselves on the bandwagon, hoping and perhaps knowing that they will not be held accountable for what they've done.

As long as pundits who have pressed for this war continue to be rewarded by corporations with plush jobs, we have not learned our lesson.

It is unfortunate, but I think we're not even close to resolving this pundit problem. If anybody thinks they are going away simply because they were proven wrong about Iraq is not seeing things clearly. They are here to stay for some time. Neo-cons are here to stay for some time also. They will have a strong influence even in the next administration (a Democratic one) because their voices are still being shouted out to the rooftops of America. They ought to be ignored, but alas, we're still going to hear from Bill Kristol and his ilk until the day he dies.

And as far as Iraq goes, we should stop deluding ourselves that even with a Democratic administration we're actually going to get out. We're not. We're building the world's largest embassy. We don't make that kind of investment without properly securing it. A small force guarding the premises will not properly secure it. We're envisioning a long-term occupation here. And the Democrats right now are still too weak to actually do something brave, alas. so sad.

Speaking of mistakes:

"Ignatieff is the son of Canadian diplomat George Ignatieff and Alison Grant, and the grandson of Count Paul Ignatieff, Minister of Education to Tsar Nicholas II and one of the few Tsarist ministers to have escaped execution by the Bolsheviks."

And they shot Anastasia...

Heckuva job, Trotsky!

Maybe someone has said this upthread but the difference between an "academic" answer to a question and a political answer to a question is not, in fact, the difference between and actual academic and an actual politician. There are academics who have Weber's "ethic of responsibility" and there are politicians who do not--in fact that is why he wrote "politics as a vocation" as there are many politicians who are as reckless and foolish and ideological as any academic ever dreamed of being.

Something else I want to say is that something that most academics and ordinary people know and that our political leaders and their academic lackeys forgot is that *war is not a thought-exeperiment* and it is most assuredly not a game. There's no time out, no backsies, and no do-overs to war regardless of whether the war is a "good thing" or a "bad thing" and any person who thought it was a game or would run like clockwork or a cakewalk or whatever convenient phrase they used should have been drummed out of the academy, the political realm,and out of humanity and civilization to boot.


Turbulence: "Or have we perfected the echo chamber"

I'm probably the most active dissenter from hilzoy's posts on this blog - almost certainly among the liberal commenters. I recently spent a whole thread arguing that her profession view of her study area is logically ruled out by mine, and I've vociferously argued against her readings on numerous occasions. And, well, I think I'm familiar enough with her writing to know she's very serious and careful and therefore as (I guess) a not naturally ironic person she flags it clearly.

In short, I thought your comment became sigh-y and well-nigh snide - you could have just said, "I think X is entirely wrong, because blah", and if X had turned out to be a joke, there wouldn't have been a foul.

But of course I'm not very familiar with your writing, and if I misread your tone, as it sounds like I did, then, well, apologies.

"Hilzoy explained that she got her understanding of the lebanese thing from an israeli perspective."

I did? Where?

"I think it would absolutely have been right to retaliate, especially since more or less everyone knew where the relevant camps were. I mean, I knew (more or less) where they were at the time, and I was working in a youth hostel in Jerusalem. But this is still the second-best option; the best, by far, would have been to do this right from the outset."

Israeli media, israeli rumors.

Here's the USMC version.

The marines went in with a specific mission -- to evacuate US citizens. Then they left. The mission was successful -- they rescued all the americans who wanted to be rescued by them. That was the beginning for us. Who would you have bombed at that point?

Then they went in again with the mission of evacuating the PLO. The mission was successful -- they evacuated the PLO fighters and they left. Who would you have bombed at that point?

Then lebanese christian terrorists with israeli assistance and perhaps disobeying israeli orders killed the PLO's wives and children who had been left in lebanon. Sharon had given his personal promise that would not happen. The US envoy had given his personal promise it would not happen. If the marines had stayed at the airport they would not have been able to stop it. While in absolute numbers this was not very important -- surely less than 5000 casualties, maybe less than 1000, it has had a disproportionate effect. Since then, every time the USA has negotiated with palestinians -- PLO, PA, etc -- some of the palestinians we negotiated with were men who had lost their wives and children because they believed an american promise.

The US government freaked out. We sent the marines back to the airport a third time. We had to do something to make up for our mistake in trusting Sharon.

So -- who would you have bombed at that point?

It was completely unclear how our marines at the airport would actually affect anything, except to show our concern. Officially they supported the lebanese government, but they couldn't actually do anything. The lebanese mostly ignored them. Sometimes when lebanese factions were shooting artillery at each other and both were near the marines, the marines got fired on by accident.

There were some incidents with the israelis. Israeli units did "reconnaissance by fire". That is, they'd ramble around lobbing shells in all directions. If anybody shot back they were enemy combatants and the israelis would kill everybody in the area. If nobody shot back but only some unarmed civilians died, the area was considered pacified. And they were accidentally shooting at marines. Luckily the marines maintained their discipline and never shot back, and eventually the diplomats got it resolved and israeli patrols stopped doing reconnaissance by fire at the marines. The marines started out with no low-level communication with israelis because they didn't want to look like israeli allies. This was a mistake. We should have gotten low-level communication with every army or militia that was willing to talk to us.

So our marines sat there, reinforcing their position, demonstrating resolve or something, because we didn't know what to do. We felt responsible for the massacres and ideally we would have brought the dead back to life but we couldn't. We felt responsible to the lebanese government not to just abandon them but we weren't ready to occupy lebanon with several divisions. So OK, the christians had multiple factions that didn't get along. The sunnis had multiple factions that didn't get along. The shias had multiple factions that didn't get along. After awhile the israelis left beirut -- they'd gone in to catch the PLO who had been killed as much as they were going to be, and they weren't doing anything else useful. All these other people were shooting at each other.

Who would you have bombed at that point?

J Thomas: I see: physical location determines sources of information. My mistake.

More substantively: I agree with you about the idiocy of the peacekeeping mission, which was obviously the one I was talking about. I fail to see how anything I said implies that I would have bombed anyone at the various junctures you mention. I mean: I really do not see where you're getting that at all. All I said was that after Hezbollah blew up 241 of our servicemen and -women, along with a lot of French and some Lebanese, we should have retaliated against their training camps, whose location was known.

Do you dispute the fact that those training camps were in the Beka'a Valley near Baalbek? If so, on what grounds?

Rod Dreher is an experiment in how stupid people think. His preferred method is to attach his loyalty to one principle or group, then adhere to it regardless of countervailing evidence and arguments.

For example, when Israel invaded Lebanon, he offered post after post about the fact that Hezbollah aren't very nice guys, and Israel is on our side, without ever troubling himself as to whether what Israel was actually doing was helpful or not.

He emerged from the right-wing paramedia, so it's not a huge surprise that his thinking is so stunted and unchallenged.

The idea that it's "heretical" for a conservative to question politicians and generals... it's the substitution of identity politics for rational thought. Dreher's conservatism certainly has nothing in common with Burke's, that's for sure.

Ignatieff, God only knows what his problem is. He's been rewarded for being the Msuhy Serious Responsible moderate?

I don't know if it's just a US thing, or just a us in the Bush era thing, but the root problem is that the gates are wide open for fact-free discussions and determinations of policy.

"We need to look tough!", Bill Kristol writes three times a week. That's not a bad principle to bear in mind, but it's also not the only principle in the world. Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. For every valid principle, there is an equal and opposite one. Empiricism is the only way out of the morass, and it's not as common as it needs to be.

And the identity- and emotion-based arguments that the hundreds of Rod Drehers force on us every day certainly aren't part of the solution.

I fail to see how anything I said implies that I would have bombed anyone at the various junctures you mention. I mean: I really do not see where you're getting that at all.

Hilzoy, I apologise, I misread you.

In this case, however, I think it would absolutely have been right to retaliate, especially since more or less everyone knew where the relevant camps were. I mean, I knew (more or less) where they were at the time, and I was working in a youth hostel in Jerusalem. But this is still the second-best option; the best, by far, would have been to do this right from the outset.

I read that as "the best, by far, would have been to do this -- right from the outset.".

I thought you were saying to bomb the training camps right from the outset. But I see now you were saying it would have been better to do this right, from the outset.

What would have been right?

Our side was convinced it was wrong to simply abandon lebanon at that point, after our broken promises to PLO and lebanese government.

Should we have moved in, in force? Should we have taken beirut, house by house and block by block? Assuming the israelis left.... The israelis didn't want to do that because it looked too tough. And all they wanted to accomplish was kill off the PLO, not to actually restore peace and freedom to lebanon.

I suppose we could have symbolicly bombed training camps.

Here's the thing about infantry training camps. You can look from the air or from satellites and see that they're infantry training camps. So, how do you tell whose training camps they are?

In afghanistan we bombed training camps that we said were al qaeda. Sometimes the training was in arabic and sometimes in a local language. The local language training was probably taliban and the arabic training might have been AQ. Was it built with AQ money? Maybe. If you bomb it at some random time which recruits do you get?

If the syrians built training camps in lebanon, and sometimes syrians trained in them, and sometimes hezbollah, and sometimes whoever else, you might send some kind of message by bombing a syrian training camp in lebanon. Strong chance the people training in it won't be hezbollah but somebody else. Not clear *which* message you send to syria, hezbollah, etc. But it would make americans feel better, and that's one of the most important goals for US military action.


While I digest the links you kindly provided, I'd like to clarify one of my questions. I don't doubt that you knew the location of the camps, but I really don't see how you could be certain that the bombing was caused by one particular group associated with the camps.

Hilzoy, has the US or one of its close allies ever done anything in Lebanon that merited violent retaliation, so long as the retaliation wasn't aimed at civilians?

J Thomas: Ah. -- No, I didn't mean that we should have bombed the training camps straight away.

"Doing things right": I just think that one should not put soldiers in harm's way without some actual plan about what they are supposed to do if harm befalls. I don't think we should have been willing to take Beirut street by street or anything, but somehow, between there and giving them orders not to carry their weapons loaded, I suspect there's a better alternative.

Similarly, I thought that the rules under which the UN peacekeepers were supposed to operate in Bosnia were silly. Better no presence at all than that; certainly better not to say that some towns are safe havens when they're not.

Donald Johnson: one of its close allies has. To my knowledge, we had not, during the conflict in question at least. (My grasp on the 1950s etc. isn't adequate for me to rule it out altogether.)

And Turbulence: good point. I recall its being fairly clear that Hezbollah was behind it, and since then I think it came out that that was confirmed by intercepts at the time. But: absent reasonable certainty, I would not have retaliated.

Okay, hilzoy, fair enough. I think the US was shelling Lebanese positions before the Marine barracks bombing, but I've never been clear on the details. (Such as why we were doing it and whether civilians were killed.)

We were participants in a car bombing a few years afterwards in Lebanon that killed 80 people--it was an assassination attempt against a Hezbollah leader, I think, that went wrong.

The pundit beating is appreciated, but I think it's still a bit naive, since you seem to be presupposing good intentions marred by incompetency in order to explain their behaviour.

I think it is much simpler in that a seemingly marginal factor, namely the pundits concern for their career, played a much bigger role in their decision making process:

As has been documented numerous times by Yglesias, Alterman et al there have been close to no repercussions for being wrong on this issue, as far as careers are concerned - criticizing the government line, however, didn't yield any advantages for those few who did, in fact many of them are still treated with suspicion. Pundits knew that or at least instinctively sensed it and became more interested in going with the flow, than actually doing their jobs.

I find Garance Franke Ruta's statement on this helpful, if scarily apologetic (but maybe she's just a very nice person):

It was the sort of trendy position in Washington amongst a certain young group of people and if you had a dissenting viewpoint there was no social support for that dissenting viewpoint except amongst people who were about twice your age and had been socially marginalized in Washington.

It is often very helpful to simply repeat propaganda, ignore the facts and not do your job. Often the general public (not to speak of the government) too prefers these fairytale versions of reality (Reagan was strong, SH involved in 9/11) so the pundits are just giving them what they want.


There is only one signals intercept that I'm aware of: in the 2003 US court decision that convicted Hizballah of the barracks bombing, one piece of evidence used was an NSA intercept indicating that orders for the attack came from Iran. However, the intercept has never been declassified. Th judge examined it under seal.

In all honesty, I don't think that tells us anything. The intercept was never contested in court and was never subject to a real adversarial process. All we know is that the NSA, under the orders of the Bush administration in 2003, implicated Iran in an attack back in 1982. I think you can appreciate why I might be skeptical of such "evidence".

Of course, once you say that you wouldn't attack absent real evidence, most of my questions become moot.


I think Donald Johnson is correct: in retaliation for the embassy bombing, Reagan ordered naval bombardment of Druze positions. I believe (but am not certain) that this bombardment caused numerous civilian casualties.

Also, I feel that if I were one of the betrayed PLO fighters who was stupid enough to trust America, I would have concluded that the US had double crossed me.


To my knowledge, we had not [done anything in Lebanon that merited violent retaliation], during the conflict in question at least.

Donald Johnson:

I think the US was shelling Lebanese positions before the Marine barracks bombing, but I've never been clear on the details.

This is from Colin Powell's autobiography:

On August 29, before the airport truck bombing, two Marines had been killed by Muslim mortar fire; on September 3, two more, and on October 16, two more. Against Weinberger's protest, McFarlane, now in Beirut, persuaded the President to have the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey start hurling 16-inch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would. When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American "referee" had taken sides against them. And since they could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target, the exposed Marines at the airport.

has the US or one of its close allies ever done anything in Lebanon that merited violent retaliation, so long as the retaliation wasn't aimed at civilians?

The only important thing I can think of, apart from our at-the-time-informal alliance with israel, is that we were foreign forces occupying their country. I can understand that idea.

It doesn't explain why they bombed our embassy first.

Well, but we were shelling lebanon some.

We started out not exactly taking sides, and then we did take sides.

General Mead spoke of Geraghty's problems in a presentation at Claude Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C., on 14 September 1983:

. . . with the situation that you find yourself in now, what options do you have? Withdraw? Attack? Hunker down?

. . . Do you attack? It's not a military problem. Who do you attack? Do you take on the Druze, the Shia, the Muslims? Who do you attack?

Do you hunker down? Isn't that a wonderful expression? Hunker down. Well, you remain on the defensive right now, being responsive to the political arena in hopes that some type of political solution can be arranged through Special Envoy Bud McFarlane. . . ."

Colonel Geraghty recognized that providing U.S. naval gunfire support to the LAF had changed the nature of his mission. The Marines were now considered legitimate targets by ]anti-government forces. Commenting on this matter in an interview conducted during his return home from Beirut in November 1983, he remarked:

The firing we did in support of the LAF up at Suq al Gharb, that clearly changed our roles . . . It's a milestone, no question about it in my opinion. It moved us from a previous, very careful, razor edge line of neutrality that we were walking, and treating all the Lebanese communities alike . . . When we provided support . . . [to] the Lebanese at Suq al Gharb, that, to me, moved it to a different category. . . .

The Lebanese had run quite low on ammunition and it would have been unconscionable for us not to have provided support at a very crucial time for them. . .

I suppose it's worth mentioning that I do not support any retaliation at all, just the particular sort I mentioned. Why we would hit the Druze, under the circumstances, is beyond me, even leaving aside the very important matter of civilian casualties.

FWIW, our marines in beirut had been getting artillery and rocket fire from the druze, phalangists, shia, israelis, pretty much everybody but the lebanese army. We may have gotten a few shells from them too, by accident.

A lot of the attacks on our positions were probably accidents, they were aiming at somebody else nearby and happened to miss and hit us.

Our response was generally to get an accurate position for them, and then hit them with a flare. That showed them we could hurt them if we wanted to, and they generally laid off. The first time one of them didn't lay off after that warning we did attack them with real explosives.

There's a lot of this kind of stuff going around now.

Dreher and Ignatieff, and lots like them, seem bitterly disappointed, even disillusioned, in the agenda in Iraq. Not because it was, on its face, a bad idea, but because we failed to prevail. We failed to bend the world to our will, which seems in their minds to be the definition of "weak" and "ineffective". So, they are ashamed.

I've not read a single one of them who has taken our current circumstances as an opportunity to question the underlying policies, and, frankly, view of the world and our place in it, that motivated both Vietnam and Iraq.

The problem in Iraq was not that we've done a piss-poor job of it, although we have. The problem is that it was a bad idea, based on and justified by bad policies, and motivated by an unrealistic, self-aggrandizing, and (IMO) insane understanding of how the world works.

I don't think that's sunk in yet.

The lesson I wish Dreher would learn, and pass along to his children, is that we are good when we do good, and when we do not, we are not.

Given the lesson that Dreher et al do seem to be taking away from the situation, what I expect to see is, in about 25 years, a generation of youngsters whose first political memory was our debacle in Iraq, and who believe it's in their power to restore our lost honor and glory by throwing some other punk nation up against the wall.

I don't think the right lessons are sinking in.

Thanks -

Unbelievable thread. Hilzoy's post was among the best I have ever read, and the discussion has been serious and learned.

I don't mean to disparage the importance of the argument over Lebanon, but it does seem to me that there is a larger point that is more important - what does it mean if we nominate / elect a candidate who not only got Iraq wrong, but who can't admit her error?

We, the people, really failed when we re-elected Bush despite his evident mendacity and incompetance, and this same failure to hold our top leadership to account creates an environment where foolish pundits are not held to account either. The two are linked.

A sense of shame is important in any decent society. If you screw up badly enough you lose your job and your opinions are no longer taken seriously. This is not to say there is no path back, but that path is demanding and requires a reformation of character completely lacking in Dreher and Ignatieff's accounts.

As Publius often points out, the only way to teach this lesson to politicians is to not elect them. And if we repudiate our politicians for being wrong about Iraq, we are also repudiating the pundits who made the same mistakes.

Democrats are failing their duty right now, because it is very important that we nominate a candidate who repudiates the wrong thinking that led us into this foolish war. Obama and Edwards meet this critical test, Clinton does not. For all the love I have for Clinton (Iraq aside I would love to vote for her) we cannot progress as a peaople until we repudiate our foolishness.

The furious beating Obama has taken in the past few weeks over foreign policy mis-statements is fed by a furious desire to avoid holding foolish politicians and pundits to account, because that is genuinely threatening to the establishment.

A lot is at stake. With the assaults on the Constitution we have seen in the past few years, with the mammoth physical infrastructure we are building in Iraq almost undebated, with the power grabs by the Executive, we are entering truly dangerous territory. We are far enough along so that we need to elect a leader who says not only that mistakes weere made, but openly proclaims we have made a wrong turn, and that we now have to back-track to where we made that great mistake and consciously turn the other way to keep our national soul.


Why we would hit the Druze, under the circumstances, is beyond me

The Druze were fighting with the Phalangists and Gemayel's government, which we supported.

if you are going to say "I was right" the format should be "here is my post from before the war" "here is their counter argument" "here is the result".

I am a litle concerned that the same people who accepted there were WMD would now crow about how they never really believed it, quoted figures about deaths and strength of iraqi forcs that had no relationship to reality etc. And often more foam than logic came out of their mouths (same for hte other side!).

What seems to hapen in history is when one side wins sudenly all the reasonable people on the other side seem to disappear and suddenly it seems like it was a obvious conclusion with all the facts available.

the Bill Kristols of the world offer no mea culpas because they have no sense of shame

Bill Bennett is also a member of the shameless crowd and the Claremont Institute is chock full of them. In fact, Claremont is going to give Rumsfeld an award named after Winston Churchill on November 17.


I'm seconding russell's summary:

The problem in Iraq was not that we've done a piss-poor job of it, although we have. The problem is that it was a bad idea, based on and justified by bad policies, and motivated by an unrealistic, self-aggrandizing, and (IMO) insane understanding of how the world works.

I don't think that's sunk in yet.

No, that clearly hasn't sunk in. And if it remains unsunk after the last couple of years... what will it take?

My own mea culpa: I opposed the Iraq invasion for many of the same reasons other posters have cited but, at that point, BushCo incompetence wasn't included. In fact, I was terrified that they would make it work, despite all the cheese-eating no-imminent-threat Saddam-fellating voluntary-warfare bullshit illegitimate reasons why it was a bad idea. After all, the winners write history.

So I have to confess that I was actually grateful when the incompetence began to be exposed. I was thinking (okay, imagining) that we'd all, as a nation, declare "Game over" and triumphantly withdraw, with lots of Marshall Plan-style funding in our wake. The 2004 election was a rude surprise.

And now we have not only these flaccid non-apologies but also direct calls for a do-over. It's now considered patriotic to wish for a terrorist attack on American soil.

When I lived in Houston in the mid-'80s, in the aftermath of a petrodollar crash, there were lots of bumperstickers saying "Lord, gimme another boom! I promise I won't piss it away this time!"

Live and not learn, that's our motto.

Cheney explaining the war's stupidity.

This is a great post, hilzoy. I would tend to go a little easier on these people, because I think that being partisan is systemic in the world of political commentary (and in the academic world too). If you've carved out a place for yourself as a political commentator, it's generally because of your ability to defend the ideas that your potential employers are pushing. And then what you write becomes part of your identity. And then when you write something new, you're thinking about how it squares with everything else you've written, and how it might leave you open to attack.

It's the same in the academic world. There's a huge furor over things like whether grammar is innate, or whether the mind can be described reductively. If you're a grad student, and your adviser is pushing some aspect of Searle, you stand out by finding some new way of justifying Searle. Then you have Searle down pat, and you have your place in the battle over qualia or whatever, and it starts to seem sort of suicidal to think about how Searle is totally wrong.

Maybe it's systemic to the human race. I often find myself looking for an angle on the data that fits what I want to believe -- and I'm under no pressure to say anything in particular about anything.

I suspect that on some level, it's harder for Ignatieff to admit that the people who were right were not just crazy hippies -- the same ones who seem to have unhinged Dreher -- but people who thought a lot more clearly about Iraq than he did, than to think seriously about why he got things wrong.


I think one explanation is that many of these people have been put in positions to put a happy face and nice story on empire. It's a more sophisticated type of control but it has infected our foreign policy for the last 3 or 4 decades. A couple of weeks ago I read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Although that book mostly dealt with the 70s and 80s, it is quite relevant to what is happening today.

There are serious, systemic issues with the way foreign policy is handled today. I Iraq war, in one part, was just the culmination to the system set in place during that time. After all ask yourself where that $500 billion and counting has gone.

Cheney explaining the war's stupidity.

Yeah, but that was before his brains were eaten and his body taken over by the alien death zombies.

I would tend to go a little easier on these people

I respectfully disagree.

These folks are not crazy Uncle Bob who rants about Osama and the Mexicans at Thanksgiving dinner. They actually get paid, and quite often paid very well, to pontificate, publicy, on matters of great importance.

They are responsible for what they say, and what they have said.

It's not OK that they were wrong. It's not OK that they failed to be critical of the justifications presented for the war. It's not OK that they allowed their own prejudices to predetermine their analysis of the situation.

They could have done better. All they had to so was put their assumptions aside and ask some simple, obvious questions in good faith.

They don't get a pass.

Thanks -

I am a litle concerned that the same people who accepted there were WMD...

I don't actually recall anyone on the left saying that Saddam had any significant amounts of WMD. What I do recall was two separate points: first, that he might well possess some WMDs left over from the Iran-Iraq war but not enough to merit an invasion; and second, if he did actually possess WMDs, invading Iraq would put our troops in severe danger, since it solved Iraq's deployment problems.

As to the OP, excellent as per usual, but I notice the lack of what I consider to be the key word: enablers. These people -- these self-confessed ignorami and idiots -- enabled, and in many cases, fomented a war. There should be no clemency for that.

Hilzoy: "There is, by now, a whole genre of mea culpas written by people who support Iraq."

That's true, but I take you to have meant "by people who supported the invasion of Iraq," and not to mean what you actually wrote and which stands. Lots and lots of people are willing to "support Iraq."

Regarding Iraq, historians will judge the venture in the next couple of decades. It is too soon to give a final verdict on the whole thing, in my mind.

We did remove the Sunni wall of protection by taking down Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athist party structure, which is allowing for the current Shi'a rumble from Iran. We created a temporary vacuum, and Iran began an immediate encroachment. Being familiar with the ex-pat Shi'a community abroad and understanding how these "ladies in waiting" have also had influence on current events in Iraq is also a missing piece of the puzzle. Some of the same leadership who ran clandestine operations into Iraq under Saddam Hussein, hold onto the threads of power in Iraq's government today. And revenge is best served cold, when turning the tables on the Sunni.

Tammy Swofford

(This is late, but...)

Some of us in the US can watch CBC, which has more vigorous political humor than we do. Michael Ignatieff is not revered in his native land for his pompous airs or intelligence. Here is an example of how viewers of Rick Mercer's show have pictured Michael:


Aside from the photo games, he has a reputation on RMR and 22 Minutes for being the sort of intellectual who "has the power to cloud his own mind".

I've met Dreher before. He's not a very deep or very original thinker. His "crunchy conservative" schtick is pretty week, too, because he'll ultimately butter his bread on the side of unregulated big business conservativism vs. real environmentalism.

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