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March 25, 2008

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Her own post, with its implicit assumption that major errors do not reflect anything about the judgment of those who make them, suggests that people who get things wrong are just as prone to self-deception as the rest of us.

tee hee :)

for the record: i was right, for the right reasons. it was easy. it took nothing but simple observation. McArdle and the rest of the self-aggrandizing wrong-and-proud should just STFU and quit embarrassing themselves about this.

I generally agree with you.

But, to play the devil's advocate, not all opponents of the Iraq war were as smart as George Kennan, and not all supporters as stupid as Jonah Goldberg.

The problem I have with all the "What we got wrong" stuff is that they always make it sound like this was tough. And in some ways maybe it was. But a lot of it was easy.

I get that it's important to learn what mistakes were made. But it's also important to remember what was done right, and that in many cases it was easy to get it right. The next time the lies are thick in the air, they'll be doing everything possible to persuade us that they might be right, and obfuscate the truth. But sometimes the truth (or at least key parts of it) is simple, and we need to remember that.

If hawks want to confess their sins, fine. But if the doves are never allowed to chime in and remind everyone that some of this was easy, then important lessons will be lost.

...why were there so few people who actually opposed the war from the outset?

A related and interesting project would be to dredge up the speeches of war opponents from 2002/3 and see if they were "right" for the wrong reasons.

I happen to recall Ted Kennedy giving a cogent anti-war speech that had held up well by 2004 (My question at the time - if Kennedy could see the issues, why couldn't Kerry?)

I don't recall any of the specifics of Al Gore's speech offhand.

Barack Obama's 2002 speech seems reasonably prescient ex post.

But I am sure we could find two other categories of speech - those which cite a million possible roads to disaster, which makes them "right" in a scattershot but maybe not helpful way; and speeches which say, for example, this war is a mistake because the entire Arab world will rise up against us and overthrow their rulers, after which we will endure three more attacks each worse than 9/11 - in others words, right conclusion, wrong reasons.

Well, I would want to gather the data before drawing a conclusion, but it would be interesting, I bet.

John: sure. However, my point was supposed to be: each of us, let's suppose, has, in virtue of our judgment, knowledge, etc., a tendency to get decisions of various kinds right or wrong with varying frequencies. Kennan-like people are overwhelmingly likely to get them right, and thus when you question "the people who got X right", you're overwhelmingly likely to find Kennan among them. Josh Marshall, whose judgment I trust (though not as much as Kennan's), is still pretty darn likely to be there. Dan Drezner, more likely than not. Some utterly average person, 50/50 chance of being on either side. Some person with bad but not truly appalling judgment, more likely to be on the 'wrong' side. Jonah Goldberg: overwhelmingly so.

In any case, the better a person's judgment, the more likely you are to find that person on the right side. Kennan is only the extreme version of this.

Tom M: "if Kennedy could see the issues, why couldn't Kerry?"

I always assumed that he could, and that his vote was political. One of many reasons I couldn't support him in the primary.

Also: the more I think about it, the more I want to make clear that I absolutely did not want to say that all supporters of the war were like Jonah Goldberg. (One is enough!)

I was using Goldberg and Kennan as ideal types to make, as clearly as I could, the point: it is not a coincidence that Goldberg ended up on the wrong side; nor, as McArdle suggests, are people with good judgment likely to be evenly distributed between the 'people who got it right' and 'people who didn't' camps. To make that case as clearly as I could, extreme examples seemed to be best.

But I don't think either that everyone who got it right was Kennan, nor that everyone who got it wrong was Goldberg.

Tom Maguire makes a good point.

I wish I had a recording of an event which would provide some excellent data for the question he raises: thirty Virginians in the Richmond office of Sen. John Warner on August 30, 2002, there to ask him to oppose a war on Iraq.

Each of us had a minute or so to speak, and what was interesting was how non-overlapping were the reasons and arguments each participant gave for opposing an invasion:

- cost (in dollars),

- quagmire,

- rifts with allies,

- inflaming public opinion in Muslim countries when we most needed more goodwill there,

- taking resources and focus away from fight in Afghanistan,

- dangers of go-it-alone foreign policy isolating us in the world,

- plain immorality and illegality of attacking a country that had not attacked us,

- the terrible consequences of the doctrine of preventive war -- if we adopt it, what's to stop every other country on earth from doing so?

- risk of tearing country apart by going to war without strong understanding of why, and strong support: when it starts to go bad, people will turn against but govt will stay in or escalate (based on Viet Nam experience)

- Bush is lying about weapons being the reason, because admin has done everything the exact opposite of a govt that was genuinely concerned to reduce nuclear proliferation

- risk to national interest if if war ended up straining military, exposing limits of military power (given ongoing commitment to Afghanistan)

And on and on. None of us had coordinated with each other; we came from all across the state in response to a MoveOn appeal.

Virtually every warning and dire prediction has been fulfilled. Any one of the ordinary people there would have been a worthy author of an op ed in the Washington Post or NY Times on the war's anniversary -- but apparently there was only room for those who got it very, very wrong.

Some utterly average person, 50/50 chance of being on either side.
I don't think thats quite right. I did a quick Google and at least some polls showed 70% support for the Iraq war in October 2002. I haven't found graphs of opinion prior to the war but this one from pollster.com covers the period after the start with a "did the right thing / not a mistake" question. The "average person" appears to have been more likely pro war for at least a large part of 2002/2003. There were some issues about whether to wait or let inspections go ahead at the time that are less clear as I recall, prior to the graph timeline, but it's not clear there was a 50/50 split at any time. The point being the pool of people against the war at the beginning is likely smaller than you imply.

I also disagree with Hilzoy's framework for discussing this issue. I value "expertise" and "proven judgment" considerably less than she does, because to me these are too often codes for "staying within the elite-approved boundaries of acceptable opinion and action".

In the summer and fall of 2002, we rabble were very divided on this war; about 30% deeply opposed, another 20% conditionally opposed; about 35% deeply in support, and the remaining 15% uncertain but willing to go along.

Pretty impressive considering the level of fear instilled by the September 11th and anthrax attacks, and the government's response.

@JayS: The support for the war soared when it was underway, likewise when it became clear to the public that it would be happening no matter what the level of opposition (post big Jan 28 and Feb 15 demos).

All through the fall of 2002, though, it was a much closer thing.

Yeah, perhaps the most odious myth of this whole affair is the claim that "nearly everyone was wrong", or "everybody thought he had WMD" etc. etc. Posters above have given their own examples of people being vocally right before the fact, I have two of my own.

In the academic environment I was in in the run-up to the war, working in an international history/international relations field (ie highly relevant), I was struck by how practically unanimous the predictions were that a) America would invade Iraq, and b)it would suck in most of the ways it has proven to suck. A great many people correctly predicated that there would be no WMD etc. etc. My impression is that, in academic circles, there was a direct correlation between knowing anything about Iraq or recent US history in the Arab world and staunchly opposing the war. Just another example that knowledge has a liberal bias.

Secondly, I was in London for the million-person antiwar march. It was extremely large. So the general public opposed the war ahead of time in great numbers also.

Sure, beltway thinktank type people were typically pro-war, whether from Democratic or Republican insitutions, but these people are political operatives (even if many are very intelligent people), and their position on any contentious hot-button issue should be judged accordingly.

Nell: I didn't mean "good judgment" in some elite-approved sense; I meant good judgment, period. As I was using it, it was close to a tautology that the better your judgment, the greater the odds of your being right.

Maguire's comment also raises the question of what kind of exposure all the different arguments against the war got in the mass media (newspapers and TV), versus fought out in more localized ways (letters to the editor of small-town papers).

Gen. Zinni's arguments got very little national exposure; he stopped being asked to appear on the cable networks, where he'd been a regular, when they realized he'd speak opposing the war. In December, an upstate New York paper wrote an article about how many places he'd spoken and how remarkable the big-media silence was on his arguments.

The biggest megaphone offered to antiwar voices was given to actors and celebrities who opposed an invasion of Iraq, who were then mocked for their lack of expertise and for "taking advantage of their fame" and "mixing politics with entertainment".

Jim Webb's op ed in the Washington Post barely caused a ripple; he spoke all over the country, but only to the groups that would invite him -- mostly military groups. The networks never called.

The actual arguments that actual ordinary people and people with military and foreign policy expertise were using to oppose the war were not engaged; they were ignored, and worse -- they were actively mischaracterized and cartoonized as being based entirely on Bush hatred, supposedly irrelevant "no blood for oil" suspicions, and hopelessly soft-headed hippie desires for peace, love, and understanding.

It's very difficult for me to write about this without launching into an invective-filled screed. It's going to take decades for me to forgive the politicians and media who prevented a real national debate over this issue.

I'd like to see some sort of "Three Strikes Rule" for pundits: If you're seriously wrong three times, you're fired. Period.

Jonah would have gone so fast, it would make his little fascist head spin. Rush, O'LIEly, Hannity -- off the air in a week.

When the papers and TV stations are scrambling for someone to tell us What It All Means, they'd be forced to go to the "Dirty F***ng Hippies", who had been right, and right, and right.

Hilzoy: I didn't mean "good judgment" in some elite-approved sense; I meant good judgment, period.

Ah.

An example other than George F. Kennan, the very embodiment of elite foreign policy, might have made that clearer.

The other thing I'd like to see -- and know I'm not going to -- is a retrospective that interleaves what was said with what we know now. That would cause all the Goldbergs to be fired for fraud and Bush to be impeached, so we can't have that.

Great stuff, Hilzoy.

It also matters how people talk about their mistakes. What I find among essentially all the war-supporting pundits is the conviction that their grounds for judgment - their values and policies - were just fine, and it's just that Bush et al are terrible executors of a glorious vision, or betrayed the grand vision for their own awful schemes. I never did support the war, but scholarship-anchored discussion at places like Crooked Timber has made me reexamine a lot of my own appraisals, like just how hard it is to make a war of liberation and restructuring occupation work, and what a huge gap there really is between wanting to intervene agaisnt genocide and actually being able to create any long-term gain.

"We learn by gambling on what we think the best answer is, and seeing how it turns out."

Life is not like a slot machine, unless you're an idiot.

"Most of us know that we have learned more about the world, and ourselves, from failing than from success."

Well, actually it's the interaction of failure and success, unless you're talking about some fuzzy character-building, Megan.

"Success can be accidental; failure is definite."

Actually, failure can be accidental too. I'll assume you've never failed at anything, Megan, rather than assume you're too lazy to actually think when you write this b.s.

"Failure tells us exactly what doesn't work."

Except when it doesn't, which you have to concede in the next paragraph.

"Failure tells us more than success because success is usually a matter of a whole system. And as development economists have proven over and over and over again, those complex webs of interactions are impossible to tease apart into one or two concrete actions."

No way of arguing with this, since developmental economics can of course be perfectly mapped to any other discipline, such as military strategy. (Actually, maybe physics is a better discipline to use: Consider a perfectly spherical* Megan McArdle, radiating bullsh*t isotropically, as the old joke goes, more or less . . . .)

"Things can fail, on the other hand, at a single point. And even when they fail in multiple ways, those ways are usually more obvious than the emergent interactions that produced a success. (...)"

Especially if you're glib and unaware of confirmation and attribution bias.

"The people who were right can (and will) rewrite their memories of what they believed to show themselves in the most attractive light;"

(shorter Megan: I'm thinking back to times when I was right about things.)

"they will come to honestly believe that they were more prescient than they were."

Since noone can be trusted, especially people who were right when I was wrong.

"The people who failed will also do this. But unlike the people who were right, there is a central fact stopping them from flattering themselves too much: things are blowing up in Iraq and people are dying. Thus they will have to look for some coherent explanation."

Or they will borrow another Friedman unit.

Guess I'm in a bad mood today, but, hilzoy,
I almost regret seeing you take this wretched "pundit" so seriously.


*not intended to be a fat joke.

Megan says:

At the decision point where we decided to go into Iraq, there were two hypotheses we could have tested:

1) Something terrible will happen if we leave Saddam in power
2) We can depose Saddam and leave the world a better place

First, this set of 'hypotheses' is ridiculously simplistic. And I mean 'ridiculous' literally. It deserves ridicule.

More importantly:

We were not "testing hypotheses". We were considering whether to go to war or not.

The consequences were not who gets to be right and who gets to be wrong. The consequences were death for, conservatively, hundreds of thousands of people, and destruction and exile for millions more.

McArdle's article is a cute and clever exercise. It's an intellectual toy. It takes no account of the cost, and reflects none of the gravity or consequence, of the decision in question.

She acknowledges no sense of personal responsibility for the position she took. It was just a tricky question that she got wrong. We all do that now and then, after all.

Her piece is childish and self-absorbed. There is nowhere in it a serious reckoning of the real issues, costs, and consequences that were in play, and that remain important now.

My understanding is that her area of professional expertise is economics. I wish she would just talk about that.

Thanks -

It distresses me that some commenters on this thread, in the depth of their self-congratulation, make McArdle's point seem almost reasonable. The essence of her argument, as I read it, is that mistaken decisions tend to make their authors scrutinize their logic and their assumptions. Decisions that are vindicated, by contrast, tend to lead to self-congratulation, as we're disproportionately likely to recall those factors in our decisions which have subsequently been vindicated and to overlook those others which have not. Given that no poster on this thread recalls having opposed the war, even in part, for reasons that have since been discredited, or at least none has been willing to publicly admit such a mistake, I'd say McArdle has a certain point.

On the whole, though, Hilzoy is closer to the mark. But I want to make explicit the assumption that I see undergirding her argument. She speaks of "track records" and of "decisions"; I take her to be saying that McArdle's real mistake is her attempt to draw broad conclusions from a single example. The important point is not that those who were wrong about Iraq are currently penning more interesting essays than those who were correct (even if that's so) - it's that if you wish to draw conclusions about which assumptions concerning foreign policy are reasonable or efficacious, you need to take a far broader view. So Jonah Goldberg's reductive view of the world, which has time and again yielded predictions that are jarringly at odds with reality, is worth dismissing not simply because he was wrong about Iraq, but because that mistake was representative of a broad pattern. On the other hand, pacifists who reflexively opposed this war like any other can hardly claim vindication - inflexible approaches need only be wrong once to be invalidated, and accordingly, no number of successes can validate the inflexibility.

Hilzoy's other point follows from those observations. Right now, as always, the most valuable people to read are not polemicists or ideologues, but thinkers whose writing reflects their appreciation of nuance, a sense of their own fallibility, and a commitment to honest inquiry. Such thinkers, irrespective of where they stood on the war, are bound to offer us something interesting. Ideologues, regardless of whether proven right or wrong, rarely can do the same.

And that, of course, is why we're all reading Hilzoy and not McArdle.

Fellowship Church of Temple Terrace

she's been trying this argument for over a year now.

    I was wrong to not foresee how humiliating Iraqis would find being liberated by the westerners who have been tramping around their country, breaking things for their own reasons and with little regard for the Iraqi people, for several hundred years. I was wrong to impute excessive competence to the government--and not just the Bush administration, but to any government occupation.

yes, indeed you were. and many people made this totally obvious objection.

    However.

harrumph!

    This has not convinced me of the brilliance of the doves, because precisely none of the ones that I argued with predicted that things would go wrong in the way they did.

(and my anecdotes are data!)

    If you get the right result, with the wrong mechanism, do you get credit for being right, or being lucky? In some way, they got it just as wrong as I did: nothing that they predicted came to pass. It's just that independantly, things they didn't predict made the invasion not work.

excellent point! likewise, if you get the wrong result, with the wrong mechanism, do you get to continue to be taken seriously as a foreign policy expert? yes!

    When I look back at the decision I made, and I try to imagine making it without what I know now, which is that Saddam didn't have WMD, could I change it? I'm not sure. I don't see any way that I could have known, without actually checking, that he didn't have at least an advanced programme.

as luck would have it, there were people in Iraq doing that checking for you. what did they tell you?

    And even with the chaos now, had we found an advanced nuclear programme, most of the doves would be finding it much harder to argue that the invasion was a disastrous mistake.

had i selected the right 6 numbers on Saturday's Powerball drawing, i'd be writing this post from the deck of my shiny new 50 foot yacht!

    As I see it, doves have, in effect, benefitted from winning a random game. Not that the result was random--obviously, there was only one true state of the world. But at the time of making the decision, the game was random to the observer, with no way to know the true state until you open the box and poke the cat.

we measured the box. we monitored the box's cat-food imports. we were poking the box. we were looking inside the box. experts had studied the box for years and concluded the cat was removed and destroyed long ago. there was no cat in the box. this wasn't random. this wasn't nuclear physics. you got it wrong anyway.

EPIC FAIL

pacifists who reflexively opposed this war like any other can hardly claim vindication

I'll just speak for myself.

I don't give a rat's behind about vindication. If I did, in fact, get a single ounce of satisfaction out of having opposed this damned war, I'd gladly trade it to have just one of the hundreds of thousands of dead people back here among the living again.

I don't care who was right or wrong. In a lot of ways, but not all, I don't even care why they were right or wrong. In this context, I'm not interested in folks who can write with nuance, or who can offer something interesting, lovely as those things are.

I want people to either discuss going to war as if it was something that actually costs a lot of people their lives, the lives of their loved ones, their homes, and in fact the very world they live in, or else I'd like them to have the good grace to be quiet.

That's all. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

Thanks -

There are people who comment here who supported the war and admit it. The main reason I put in my 'eek, I didn't mean we were all Kennan, and you were all Goldberg' caveat so quickly was that as soon as I saw that that interpretation was possible, I wanted to make it go away. I don't blame people who are, after all, busy doing other stuff and living their lives for not being all up to speed on Iraqi history and Clausewitz and everything. I mainly blame the people whose job it was to know better.

And FlyOnTneWall is right: my objection to McArdle, basically, is that she writes as though people were randomly issued views on Iraq: some right, some wrong. If that were true, her post would be right. But we aren't, and it isn't.

I imagine that lots of people were wrong for the wrong reasons. Presumably, there are people -- not as many as Richard Cohen thinks, but some -- who opposed the war because they just assume that everything we do is wrong. (The sort of people who would have opposed the Marshall Plan on principle.) Likewise, people who are inclined to think that any third world thug we oppose must be nifty. Etc., etc., etc.

But since this position was an unfashionable one, I suspect there were fewer nutcases on this side than on the other, and likewise fewer people who didn't have strong opinions but settled on the right one, for no particular reason.

There would also have been the people who opposed the war for actual good reasons. And why no one thought it was worth asking them, I have no idea.

"And why no one thought it was worth asking them, I have no idea."

Believe it or not, some were asked. It is just that their views wereeither ignored , dismissed or presented as non-patriotic.

There is a basic problem with looking at being right or wrong.

There are many people who thought that the basic idea, go in and topple Saddam was good. They still think so. Where they consider themselves wrong is that they feel they underestimated the incompetence of the administration. This gives them some sense of being "right". And as such, they really don't consider themselves wrong.

For those who were against it, there were three basic reasons:

1. Any war is wrong.
2. It will be a real clusterf**k and we won't be able to manage the consequences.
3. Saddam is really not a danger to us and we would be diverting resources away from the real battle (Afghanistan).

The first argument against is not really one against the WAR and there is no real rightness about it as it relates to Iraq.

The second argument is an argument against consequences and shows some degree of prescience (as Obama did)but there is a sense that if we could assure that the consequences would be okay, then just maybe it would be appropriate.

The third argument was really the most IMO relevant, but this is an argument that was almost never heard. Yet anyone who really looked at Iraq, the region and Saddam would have understood it to be accurate. But any such "looking" was basically forbidden by the elite. Again, though, part of Obama's argument rested on this and so did the argument of many of the Senators who voted against the resolution.

So in looking at who was right and who was wrong, we laso have to look at what about their arguments was right and what was wrong.

Comments by Cleek and John Miller pull something to focus for me. Thank you, both.

The most serious problem for supporters of the war is that people with both expertise and experience were arguing against it at the time, on the basis of their various pieces of expert lore and their direct experience of relevant matters - people like Hans Blix and John Ritter, for instance. Against those people and the evidence were arrayed a wide variety of advocates for war, from Michael Ledeen and the fans of his loathsome doctrine all the way to left-wing utopians prepared to believe in this administration creating a boundless opportunity for democratic renewal.

All of those who rejected the people with the truth on their side chose wrongly. So the key question for people in the punditocracy, like Megan, should be:

Why did you reject the people with best information? And what have you done, what are you doing, so that the next time lives and societies are at stake, you won't be part of the problem again?

It's important here not to ascribe too much weight to the people I'm feeling anger and contempt for. It doesn't matter one bit to Bush and Cheney what Megan ever thought. Nor what anyone else did, really. We know that the war was already under way - not just preparations for it, but significant commitment of troops to fighting inside terrain controlled by Hussein - while the blather was still going on, just as they were engaged in massive surveillance by illegal means long before 9/11 provided justifications.

But what people like Megan thought and wrote did matter to how other people out in the public at large thought. As Hilzoy says, not many of us can become experts or even dedicated amateurs with leisure time for extended research. We all necessarily rely on others to provide us information and interpretation; it's part of the price of living in a society more developed than the Neolithic. So when Megan screws up by rejecting those who were right, and who could have been supported at the time, she doesn't just mess things up for herself, but every reader who takes her opinion into consideration along with the rest. She - like everyone else who rejected the truth - owes those people an accounting for why they should trust her next time around.

And "well, y'know, flip of the coin" does not cut it. Not for any one of the dead, wounded, displaced, suffering, or just anyone who thinks that truth and justice are worth upholding. She couldn't have stopped the war, but by her support for it she influenced others to support it, and the fact of popularity was in time one more justification. She helped the lying destroyers, when she could have helped the informed and correct advocates of sanity. Will she do it next time?

This article by James Fallows in the November 2002 Atlantic I recall being persuasive. There were others. So it wasn’t a frozen wasteland.

Isn’t the point with McArdle she’s an entertainer, a juggler of memes, who is judged on her dexterity and the hues of her memes? In short, a professional (is there any other kind?) sophist? Cleverness being all, and all, you know?

A couple of thoughts:

When I read the quote from Megan McArdle:

"We learn by gambling on what we think the best answer is, and seeing how it turns out. Most of us know that we have learned more about the world, and ourselves, from failing than from success. Success can be accidental; failure is definite. Failure tells us exactly what doesn't work."

My first thought was, how come we didn't learn anything from Vietnam, then? Not a big enough failure? Or is she being naive or disingenuous about this learning process, which requires that failures have to be acknowledged as such before any lessons can be derived from them, and that often times people have political agendas which get in the way of this process or block it entirely?

My 2nd thought follows from the 1st, relating it to the broader discussions here on this forum and elsewhere, on the occasion of this anniversary

It seems to me that there is a counterfactual assumption underlying these discussions which I don't agree with, that is to say it postulates an alternative history that I don't think ever had any significant probability of actually being realized. It is:

That this war could have been prevented from happening, at least by anyone outside of Bush's immediate circle of advisors and decision makers.

I just don't see how it would have happened differently, even if the various pundits, media people, outside-the-loop politicians, or ordinary folks had somehow been gifted with greater wisdom, or surpassing eloquence, or marched and spoken out in larger numbers than they actually did.

Bush was going to have his war, and that was that. No one, not the US Senate, not the media, not the American people, and certainly not the United Nations, was going to get in his way and stop it from happening. That was very clear to me while it was happening. Bush wanted his war, and everyone else was simply an obstacle to be dodged, bought out, subordinated, or simply bulldozed as necessary.

Having a volunteer Army didn't hurt, but note that even the draft-era Vietnam war was not widely opposed in its early stages. In this day and age, if a President of the US is stubbornly determined to start a war, there isn't much we can do to stop that war from starting.

The key word here is: starting

The reason for this is that the President is able to dispatch forces and begin hostilities on a shorter time frame than slow moving public opinion. Stopping a president from acting in his or her capacity as CiC requires a slow build up of public opposition which simply takes too long to marshal and also depends in part on the evident cost of US casualties. The power of public opinion, etc., comes to influence the later stages of a war, just as it is doing now with the Iraq war. We have more control over how wars end than we do over how they start.

This last point is important because the ending of the last war, and how we as a nation choose to assimilate it into our sense of history, is what sets the table for the next war. This Iraq war had its genesis in the rapid and comparatively low casualty nature of the previous Gulf War (and I say that meaning no disrespect to the KIA and wounded of that conflict, but to represent the way it is commonly thought of by the general public in the US), and in the successful struggle waged by right wing commentators to reinterpret the Vietnam war as a failure of political will and a dolchstoss by the liberal media.

In this sense the contest to stop Operation Iraqi Freedom was not lost in 2002, it was lost during the 1980's, as a result of which future presidents obtained carte blanche to start wars when they saw fit. That is why we have to be very strong in addressing the way that the current war is assimilated into popular history over the next decade. What is going on now is the struggle over how the war which will (or will not) begin in 2022 will happen (or won't happen).

Bruce--
You did mean Scott Ritter, didn't you?

TLT, I think Bush was going to have his war, and that was that. No one, not the US Senate, not the media, not the American people, and certainly not the United Nations, was going to get in his way and stop it from happening. That was very clear to me while it was happening. Bush wanted his war, and everyone else was simply an obstacle to be dodged, bought out, subordinated, or simply bulldozed as necessary. is very true and bears repeating. Our judgments as the "everybody outside the immediate inner circle" majority are about us and how we make decisions and respond to the world, but preventing the war wasn't - it now seems to me - possible by anything short of actually arresting the President and VP and replacing them.

JakeB: Oh my word. Yes, I did. (I blame environmental problems. Construction work downstairs has stirred up stuff that affects my auto-immune problems, and I've been drifting in and out of a migraine. But still...wow. That's an error to be truly embarrassed about.)

Short form:
REALITY?
What a concept!

"Most of us know that we have learned more about the world, and ourselves, from failing than from success. Success can be accidental; failure is definite. Failure tells us exactly what doesn't work."

This is quite a clever - and in many circumstances, even true - rationalization. But let's be clear - it's very likely just that; a opportunistic 'explanation', a bit of mythmaking. Now, I don't know much about journalism, but it strikes me as somewhat unlikely that the editors of our major national papers all sat around as the anniversary approached, musing on the contrasting educational merits of success vs. failure in light of development economics. (Folks with actual journalistic experience are welcome to contradict me!) Instead, it seems more likely to have been influenced by the shifting social and political currents which constantly have served to marginalize critics of the war - even now, compared to what might be expected otherwise! - and the positions they speak from.

(And while I rather doubt this is Megan's intent, it is arguable that such a view does serve to cushion her from having to consider that she was fantasizing about proxy-Megans bashing imaginary violent protesters' heads in while some others us were frantically trying to stop a deeply misguided war.)

Of course learning from failure is really important, and there have been some admirable examples in the last few yearsm from Belle Waring's Why I Was So Totally Wrong On Iraq to Andrew Sullivan's recentWhat I Got Wrong on Iraq (see also digby on why Rev. Wright wouldn't have gotten that wrong). Even the useful idiocy of people like Danielle 'There's No Freedom Gene?!' Pletka can teach us things (mainly that such people need to be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible without actually entombing them underground). But of course, in pretty much every productive real world enterprise I can think of, it's also quite important to try to figure out what worked and why - to also learn from success. Stuffing unopened credit card bills in the drawer and not answering the phone - failure. Careful budgeting and reasonable frugality - success. Etc.

Of course, it is generally true that "the people who were right can (and will) rewrite their memories of what they believed to show themselves in the most attractive light; they will come to honestly believe that they were more prescient than they were. However, since the recent invention of writing&literacy, to say nothing of audio and video recording technologies, it's now at least potentially possible for one to analyze their own or others' words from the very time they were spoken or written, free from the deft re-editing of memory, in pursuit of greater accuracy.

(Granted, neither that nor death&explosions did much for, say, the New York 5-year anniversary op-ed guests; while they did reach for coherent explanations, they were rarely ones with any honest relation to the real world).

Ultimately and obviously we need to carefully look at both (all) views, try to determine what influenced people's views one way or the other, what things led people to be more likely right or more likely wrong, etc.

& yet again, fabulous commentary. A repeated sense of seeing things more clearly in consequence of fresh ideas. (The very opposite of sophistry.) High praise to everyone.

Nowadays it appears that a bottom up approach like the Anbar Awakening and provincial elections yields a better outcome for both politics and security in Iraq than trying to establish a top-down strong central government.

This approach was suggested at the outset.

That's not hindsight, nor idiocy.

I don't have the time to look up all the "What should we do now? Now that we are in Iraq" opinion pieces by much wiser people, Presidential candidates and the like. Were there any similar suggestions?

DaveC: I'm actually quite worried about a bottom-up military approach, as opposed to a bottom-up democracy approach (which I think wouldn't work just now for security reasons, but might have earlier.)

Empowering local militias who are neither accountable to nor incorporated in the Iraqi government seems to me to be a recipe for long-term disaster (i.e., civil war.) Here I'm largely following Abu Aardvark, but I think he's quite right.

"Megan McArdle . . . "seriously misguided""

All done!

I was thinking bottom up security, because locally run police and security forces are best able to identify problems.

The article pointed out the need for a military that is not just a bunch of local militias:

Now it can't be a 100-percent federal system, for three reasons. First, the country will fly apart and nobody in the region wants that. Lebanonization would not be a victory for anybody, save perhaps the Syrians. Second, a pure federal system doesn't protect the rule of law and individual liberty enough. Remember, the democratic tyrannies of the South permitted slavery after all. To ensure that the Shia don't oppress the minority Christians, Sunnis, etc., in their own communities, a strong bill of rights and legal system would be necessary. Shia customs would dominate in the Shia cantons, but there would be fundamental limits to what any state government — local or national — could do. And the last reason federalism would have to be tempered is that the oil industry and national defense should be run from the national government.

Our judgments as the "everybody outside the immediate inner circle" majority are about us and how we make decisions and respond to the world

Bruce, that makes sense to me.

One of the ideas I'm groping towards here (thinking out loud so to speak) is I guess that keeping this discussion too firmly anchored in the specific details of how this Iraq war started is risky, because it is too easily diverted into hypotheticals about: if only person X had said or done Y, then things might have been different.

I'd like to see this debate broadened from discussing the historically contingent aspects of this specific war, and get more people to address the issue that wars are by their very nature amongst the most unpredictable of human events. They are high risk undertakings not just from the standpoint of their victims, but in the sense that once they start our ability to predict the future is essentially nill from that point forward, even more so than usual.

The way this discussion is being carried out (more generally, not so much here at OW) obfuscates or denies this idea, and provides far too easy a way for war supporters to wriggle off the hook using hypotheticals. These hypotheticals are being framed in a way that maintains an illusion of control over events which is essential to the mindset needed to start a war, by pretending that with a different set of inputs we could have obtained a different set of outputs in a predictable manner.

To me it seems that this deterministic mindset is as much of a problem as the poor decision making processes which war supporters brought to bear regarding the specific details of this particular case, and they are being allowed to focus on the minutia of the latter, to the exclusion of the larger picture.


Shorter me (upon reflection):

It worries me that in the course of this debate critics of the war are claiming credit for an ability to predict events ahead of time which, while possibly obtaining some recognition of their superior wisdom, insight, knowledge, etc., also feeds the narrative that wars are in fact predictable, if you are smart enough, have enough data, etc.

I don't think that wars are in fact predictable. That should be a reason not to ever start them if we can possibly avoid doing so.

Megan McArdle has been pushing the idea that even critics of this war got it right more or less by accident. My response is that something so unpredictable should never ever be used as a matter of deliberate policy. If nobody can predict with any accuracy what will happen when a war starts, then let us not seek them out.

That is not pacifism (which would be refusing to deal with a war which seeks us out), but rather realism regarding the folly of using cost-benefit calculations to justify an inherently unpredictable enterprise.

Bruce--
no intention to embarrass you, I was just tickled (as much as I can be, since I've been half foaming with rage all day ever since hearing about today's news from Iraq) to be thinking of Suzanne Somers as a weapon of mass destruction or something along such lines.
Speaking linguistically, your error was a very natural one: "John" is one of the most common men's names and hence one of the ones that comes to mind as a default, and it shares its vowel and its structure (Cons-Vowel-Cons) with "Scott".

To alleviate the concern of someone who thinks people are being too self-congratulatory, one prediction made about the Iraqi death toll was that it could be in the hundreds of thousands in the opening months. It took years. One reason, though, that the death toll in the invasion phase wasn't much higher was that Saddam's army didn't try to re-enact the battle of Stalingrad on the Euphrates. Some opponents considered it possible that Saddam might have WMD's, and that was another reason for thinking the death toll might be extremely high.

For the most part, though, I think the war opponents were right for the right reasons. Besides, people who opposed the war weren't morally required to give a detailed prediction about exactly how it would be a screwup. All one had to realize is that war is an inherently dangerous and risky undertaking and can go wrong in a great many different ways (and always causes the deaths of innocents no matter how well it goes), so one should only go to war as a last resort.

I myself had a mixed record as a prophet. I expected the Afghanistan war to be a humanitarian catastrophe--it wasn't as bad as I expected. As a side-effect of my error, I wasn't very confident in my feeling that the Iraq War would be a catastrophe. I thought a wide range of outcomes was possible, from corrupt pro-American government established with the number of deaths in the mere thousands, to something much worse. We got the something much worse.

ThatLeftTurn, I agree that wars have many features that are unpredictable. But not all of them are. The outcome of having nobody around who speaks Arab or knows the culture is, for instance, highly predictable, as is the outcome of delivering large quantities of cash and then not auditing its dispersal. Ditto with, for instance, not seriously disciplining anyone involved with Abu Ghraib.

The war on Iraq is unusual for having so many of these predictable features, so it skews discussion, that's all. The underlying caution - war made even intelligently and competently can be wildly unlike estimates - is worth emphasizing repeatedly, I agree.

What struck me as particularly appalling with McCardle's thesis was the idea that she was viewing war as an investment opportunity. If you listen to VCs and other professional investors talk about their successes and failures, they will often tell you that they learn more from their failures than their successes. The successes can often be based on serendipity, the failures are based on unforseen circumstances, excessive optimism, underestimating resource requirements, etc.

So, the failures in investing are frequently genuine learning opportunities. However, there is a crucial difference between investment failures and being wrong about whether or not to go to war. If you invest your own money in a venture that fails, you suffer. Those who wrongly pontificated on the virtues of going to war have not suffered at all. That is an incredibly meaningful difference.

Even more so, the pro-war pontificators were glibly willing to accept the normal consequences of war -- dead and injured soldiers, dead and injured civilians, without any concomitant sacrifice or risk on their part. At a minimum that gives the impression they have a cavalier disregard for human life. And this advocacy of risk for others without any corresponding personal consequences is, I believe, at the root of all the "chickenhawk" discussions that have so rankled the wingnuts so far.

"War is not healthy for children and other living things"
Can someone explain to me why the position that war is a very, very bad option to choose, even when it is the only one left, is somehow irrational? War is a tragic choice. It should only be made in the most extreme circumstance. Iraq was not one of those.
It's just not that f*ck*ng hard to figure out; any geezer with a bong can explain it.

FlyontheWall: some commenters on this thread, in the depth of their self-congratulation, make McArdle's point seem almost reasonable.
...
Since no poster on this thread recalls having opposed the war, even in part, for reasons that have since been discredited, or at least none has been willing to publicly admit such a mistake...

If this was aimed at my comments, among others, I have a couple of responses.

The list of reasons that a large, fairly representative sample of prewar opponents of the war gave for opposing an invasion of Iraq on a specific, documented occasion was not offered in a spirit of self-congratulation. It was a direct response to Tom Maguire's suggestion that it would be interesting to see if people who opposed the war before it (officially) began had been "right for the wrong reasons."

I would be interested to hear which of the arguments I listed are considered by FlyontheWall, John Miller, Tom Maguire, or anyone else "the wrong reasons", and why. As far as I can tell, events have borne out every one of them to some degree.

As to the suggestion that those of us who opposed the war did so for "reasons that have since been discredited" but are suppressing them through selective, self-congratulatory memory: In the case of my opposition, and that of many others, there's a record.

Given the extent of blog and inter-blog discussion, the Congressional record, the existence of news archives on the net, it's striking that people who claim that war opponents were reaching the right conclusions for the wrong reasons very rarely point to specific instances of specific people making a particular argument -- much less quote them or provide a link.

In the summer and fall of 2002, I was supporting a network of people in my county to make our opposition to the onrushing war (already underway, as many of us understood at the time) visible and effective. People were coming together to gather signatures on a petition to our Congressman, to lobby in Richmond and DC, to demonstrate at the local Labor Day parade and in DC, to turn out and ask questions at a panel on the war at a local military college, to write letters to the editor so that not a week went by without an anti-Iraq-war message in the local papers. It's a little town, but there were two hundred of us active by the time the invasion began.

Any time you have a large number of people working on an issue, they're going to be coming at it from different directions. This was clearly true in the case of opposition to war on Iraq, where people who oppose all war were joined, and outnumbered, by people who opposed this war. My own feeling is that just about all of the reasons given to oppose this war were good ones, but then I'm one of those people Fly regards as a stopped clock.

As an organizer, I'm also all about the unifying principles. While some arguments are more effective in some settings than others, there's very little benefit in putting one person's argument above another's as the "right reason".

In this case, unity of purpose combined with the diversity of motivations was a tremendous opportunity for people to listen to and develop respect for the views of people very different from their own.

One way in which some reasons to oppose an action can be better than others is in their analytical and predictive value. To this day there's no settled understanding or agreement on why the Cheney-Bush regime invaded Iraq, the real (or original) objectives, and when the decision was made. In 2002-3, there was even more room for a huge range of opinions on this, and the expectation that time might tell which theories held up best.

Russell's response to Fly strikes a chord with me. It's appalling to elevate strategic or pragmatic cases against the war as the only really serious arguments (as opposed to those that raise the moral and human costs of war). Those arguing for war should carry the enormous burden of proof, given the inherent horrors and damage of it, the likelihood of events spinning out of control, and the repeated lesson of how much easier wars are to begin than to end.

just now catching up with my blog reading, but to i'd like to riff off of byrningman's first comment above.

mccardle loses me in sentence 1. "we learn by failing." i mean, yes, sometimes. but we learn in other ways too. one way i learn is to listen to people who actually know what they're talking about. or, by reading history books. or any number of things.

the logic is pretty scary if you think about -- it implicitly approves of "learning" by throwing human lives into a pointless war as an academic exercise. "Welp, now we's learned." ugh

Good stuff, Nell.

It also bears repeating that some of the most serious objections to the war weren't and aren't in the nature of predictions. Fundamentally, it was a war chosen anti-democratically. We as citizens never had a chance to consider honest evidence and arguments - the administration lied to us about Iraqi threats and capabilities, the relevance of Iraq to the effort to catch the real mastermind of the 9/11 attacks (who remains at large, let's note), the nature of US preparations, the conduct of US diplomacy, the costs of the war, the care given to the well-being of soldiers and veterans...in fact, no aspect of the war has ever been conducted in a consistently honest, above-board fashion.

And when a policy rests on lies, it is entirely within the just and sensible prerogative of citizens to say "no, I'm not going along." Bad means don't justify good ends - even if the war's outcome and the occupation's process were good, it would still be bad for American democracy to have done it this way. But then one of the reasons deceitful policy is bad is that it's more likely to be wrong, thanks to never having received thorough review by people both willing and able to find flaws, let alone fix them.

Further, the (I think) unprecedented scope of the lying itself complicated any effort at prediction. It's not hard at all to imagine someone who realized that there was a lot of lying going on but didn't grasp just how far, say, Judith Miller and her bosses were willing to go in pushing a known-to-them-to-be-false line of bogus claims, to pick just one example among hundreds or thousands in the media and punditry. Remember, war supporters, the burden of proof is not on critics to convince you that we must not go to war. When you want to commit the nation's lives and resources to the destruction of other nations' lives and resources, you have to persuade your fellow citizens. Lying through every available orifice and crowing later about fooling them is not persuasion.

When Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met in California for the Jan. 31 debate, their back-and-forth resembled their many previous encounters, with the Democratic presidential hopefuls scrambling for the small policy yardage between them. And then Obama said something about the Iraq War that wasn't incremental at all. "I don't want to just end the war," he said, "but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place." —From hilzoy’s first Quick Link. Seems pertinent to parts of the conversation.

Link.">http://snipurl.com/22mw0">Link.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that, had either WMD been found or 'regime change' been successful, the Iraq invasion would have been justified. 'Getting it wrong' then means having believed cooked intelligence or all too rosy post-invasion scenarios. But this implies a right of the US to unilaterally invade any country at any time as long as it 'gets it right'. It also implies that both the UN and international law are essentially irrelevant.

While I believe that the UN decision making process has to be reformed and international law has to be developed further to cope with the challenges of the 21st century, I think that disregarding both and letting one nation make decisions about war and peace is flat out wrong and will be counterproductive in facing non-proliferation and human rights issues in the future. The ease with which our international legal framework is ignored even by a lot of war opponents makes me cringe.

The outcome of having nobody around who speaks Arab or knows the culture is, for instance, highly predictable, as is the outcome of delivering large quantities of cash and then not auditing its dispersal. Ditto with, for instance, not seriously disciplining anyone involved with Abu Ghraib.

The war on Iraq is unusual for having so many of these predictable features, so it skews discussion, that's all.

Bruce,

I'm not criticizing your position here. I was making the observation that a critique based on incompetent prosecution in detail of this specific war appears to be gaining ground more generally amongst the mainstream punditry, and this alarms me.

It alarms me because this is a symmetric argument - it can be run in either direction, either for or against a given war.

If incompetence in managing the details is the hallmark of a bad war, then it can be argued that competence will be the hallmark of a good (or at least an acceptable) war next time. I expect to see this trotted out as justification for the next war, since arguments over the previous war are really arguments over justification for the next one in disguise.

Not enough Arabic translators in 2003?
No problem - this time we've got plenty who speak Farsi.

Not enough troops to secure the Iraq?
No problem - this time we allowed for that.

Did we forget to secure the weapons caches last time?
Don't worry, this time we have it all planned out.

Etc., etc...

Do you see where this is going?

I remember during both Gulf War I and OIF being told not to worry about this turning into another Vietnam, because this time we are fighting in the desert so there is no triple canopy jungle to conceal the movements of the enemy. That is an example of a counter-argument at the wrong (too specific) level of detail being neutralized to support a new conflict.

That is why it concerns me that in documenting and justifying their commendable prescience regarding the Iraq war by focusing on the details of what went wrong, critics are being led into a rhetorical trap which will be used to disqualify their opinions when the next war comes up for discussion, because "those details have been taken care of this time."

I'm not saying we should not criticize the details of how this war was planned and carried out, just pointing out that this will likely have little impact if any in trying to block the next war. Doing so will require arguments which are less tightly bound to the contingent details of what happened in Iraq.

ThatLeftTurn: What I'm about to say could sound smarmy; I'll appeal for trust and then hope to post in a manner worthy of it.

I think that our current mess is multi-faceted enough that there's room for what you want to see more of, what I'm doing, and what a lot of others are doing as well. I'm really more interested in the kind of thing I'm posting about - unsurprisingly, perhaps - but I also think that what you're talking about is important and I'd like to see it covered well too. By analogy, I majored in American history, but that doesn't think I mean the study of French literature is any less important.

I agree with Nell and novakant and Thatleftturn, incidentally. The best reasons or opposing the war were moral ones, though I'll add that the strategic ones were also very good. But focusing a little too much on those, as Thatleftturn says, just leaves one open to infection by the next war fever to come along, because people will claim that this time we've planned everything out.

Something like that argument was tried on the moral plane with Iraq. People like me often emphasized how immoral US policy towards Iraq had been in the past and the response was--"Well, that just means we have an obligation to save them from our past errors by invading." It was regarded as a logical fallacy to emphasize our past sins, or even more particularly the past human rights sins of particular people in the Bush Administration. There's never anything to be learned by going over past US crimes, or that seemed to be the attitude. I disagree with people who say that WMD's were the main reason given for the invasion--maybe that was the official justification but I heard an awful lot of prowar humanitarianism before the war started. Maybe I paid disproportionate attention to those arguments because I had close to zero interest in the WMD claims--I figured Saddam probably had a few barrels of illicit chemicals stashed away and didn't think this mattered, and it was clear to me that people like Colin Powell were faking in their alleged concern. Pre 9/11 Colin Powell had said Saddam was contained.

And I want to make my earlier post clearer--just about the only important prediction of some antiwar opponents that was wrong was the prediction that hundreds of thousands would die and there would be millions of refugees in the first months. Didn't happen that way in the first months, though mainly because Saddam's military chose to melt away, some to fight back later, rather than turn Baghdad into a giant Fallujah or Stalingrad. But eventually those dire predictions came true.

Bruce - your 2:53am comment is excellent. Much more broadly, the means are inevitably going to shape the ends.

Another comment re: Megan's claims - at this point, the 'what I got wrong' genre is relatively familiar, with a set of largely reoccurring themes. There's the honest and reflective soulsearching ones, that tend to stress what was, dryly, a misbalancing of concerns. There are the bitterly amusing ones revealing how someone chose in complete contradiction to their strongly-held ideology (overlap with the first set here). There are the ones that insist they were wrong for all the right reasons, or not really that wrong at all, if it wasn't for those medddling Bushes/Iraqis/DFH's/meddling kids, or push up-and-coming talking points/war-next-time arguments. I'm not saying we shouldn't hear these or that they have no value (and we can certainly use more analysis of the various influences upon decisionmaking, and the networks of persuasion), but it would be nice to have a wider audience for people explaining why they, early or late, opposed the war, especially to try to judge which strategies seem to have been fairly reliable, and which were less so. Also because it does seem a bit odd that the same bunch of folks who, well, got it wrong are continuing to monopolize theshared publicc onversation, with everyone else still barely getting a word in edgewise . . .

Also because it does seem a bit odd that the same bunch of folks who, well, got it wrong are continuing to monopolize theshared publicc onversation, with everyone else still barely getting a word in edgewise . . .

that's what this "wrong for all the right reasons" crap is all about. the people who got it wrong still consider themselves to be Serious Thinkers (and the media apparently agrees) and they want to keep their place as Serious Thinkers by making sure the people who did get it right continue to be marginalized - so they make up bullsh!t theories about how all the people who were right were right "by accident" or that they won't "learn anything" from their non-failure or that they're still just DFH who need to STFU and let the Serious Thinkers do their Serious Thinking. whatever it takes to maintain the illusion that the people who never got a single thing right are still worth listening to.

On learning from past mistakes, that doesn’t always come out the way you might like…

I learned a lesson from the 80s – that our policy of supporting or ignoring tyrants in the name of “stability” or “containment” was wrong. I also learned that arming and supporting insurgent groups in their quest to overthrow tyrants we didn’t like had not worked out very well. I learned from GWI that our decision not to “finish the job” had resulted in a decade of misery for the Iraqi people. Those were all lessons I had learned that led me to support direct action in Iraq 2003.

In the 80s I approved of the US supporting the status quo – “he’s a SOB but he’s our SOB” made sense to me. I came to regret that and believe I had been wrong. That led me to not support the status quo in Iraq 2003.

OTOH there are folks around who will rail against our support of the status quo in the 80s, yet say that is exactly what we should have done with Iraq 2003.

In any case my newest lesson is that I’m invariably wrong in these types of major foreign policy discussions so as has been suggested I’ll just STFU when the next one comes along.

Jonah Goldberg, by contrast, has a terrible track record: he gets things wrong all the time, and when he gets them right, it seems to be more or less by coincidence. That is because he knows almost nothing and has terrible judgment.

This is not quite right, or maybe just incomplete. An ill-informed person with poor judgment will be right about half the time, by chance. Being consistently wrong takes more than that. It means you have a view of the world that differs sharply from reality, such as thinking Mussolini was not a fascist.

As Will Rogers, I think, said,

"It's not what you don't know that hurts you. It's what you know that ain't so."

OTOH there are folks around who will rail against our support of the status quo in the 80s, yet say that is exactly what we should have done with Iraq 2003.

"Status quo" in the 1980s was not identical to "status quo" in the 2000s.

Supporting the status quo in the 1980s meant supporting Iraq in its war of aggression against Iran*. ("Border skirmishes" on both sides predated the start of the Iran-Iraq war, but Iraq was the first to invade.) It also meant supporting Saddam Hussein as he committed assassination and mass murder to gain and retain power (Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979: President Reagan took Iraq off the US list of terrorist nations in 1982, allowing US corporations to trade with Iraq). This was not an identical situation to Iraq in the 2000s.

In any case, you are kind of missing the people who opposed the status quo of the 1980s - US and UK support for Saddam Hussein's tyranny, murders, and massacres - but who would never have advocated a mass invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and kill a million Iraqis in order to install a better government. There are more peaceful solutions that kill fewer people and seem to work better in the long run.

*Though apparently the Reagan-Bush administration's selling weapons under the table to Iran meant Iran actually got better weapons than Iraq, because Iran got what they asked for and Iraq got what the US was publicly prepared to sell.

In any case my newest lesson is that I’m invariably wrong in these types of major foreign policy discussions so as has been suggested I’ll just STFU when the next one comes along.

it's not just the learning, it's how you handle the new knowledge. many popular lefty bloggers got it wrong (along with people like Sullivan and John Cole) but handled the situation honorably and humbly; they didn't lash out at the people who got it right, they admitted the mistakes they made and moved on. there was none of this "i got it wrong, but here's why i'm still so smart; and you're not so smart, you just got lucky!" nonsense that McArdle has been peddling.

I can't recommend the book "Mistakes were made (but not by me)" strongly enough to everyone on earth, including Megan McArdle (despite evidence that may not actually be on earth.)


Novakant:
There seems to be an underlying assumption that, had either WMD been found or 'regime change' been successful, the Iraq invasion would have been justified. 'Getting it wrong' then means having believed cooked intelligence or all too rosy post-invasion scenarios. But this implies a right of the US to unilaterally invade any country at any time as long as it 'gets it right'. It also implies that both the UN and international law are essentially irrelevant.
I think this is basically correct. Anti-war opposition seems to rely mostly on the perception that the war is a "mistake" but not as much as it is "unjust" (although it being "illegal" plays a large role,too). This difference is not unimportant. I get the same impression in lot of discussions about the Vietnam war.


The emphasis before the invasion might have been different. At some earlier point in the run-up it didn't seem that unlikely to a lot of people that UN-approval was possible. A lot of Anti-war sentiments would have faded away, but the problems (and the number of dead) today wouldn't be much different, I believe.

Novakant:
There seems to be an underlying assumption that, had either WMD been found or 'regime change' been successful, the Iraq invasion would have been justified. 'Getting it wrong' then means having believed cooked intelligence or all too rosy post-invasion scenarios. But this implies a right of the US to unilaterally invade any country at any time as long as it 'gets it right'. It also implies that both the UN and international law are essentially irrelevant.
I think this is basically correct. Anti-war opposition seems to rely mostly on the perception that the war is a "mistake" but not as much as it is "unjust" (although it being "illegal" plays a large role,too). This difference is not unimportant. I get the same impression in lot of discussions about the Vietnam war.


The emphasis before the invasion might have been different. At some earlier point in the run-up it didn't seem that unlikely to a lot of people that UN-approval was possible. A lot of Anti-war sentiments would have faded away, but the problems (and the number of dead) today wouldn't be much different, I believe.

Wasn't that important that it needed to be said twice, sorry.

Wasn't that important that it needed to be said twice, sorry.

I wish it could be a blogosphere convention that when someone doubleposts it is understood to be an accident which the doubleposter regrets, without needing to commit triplepost (or quadruplepost) to say so.

one of my first blog comments anywhere was to say that there needs to be a clever name for the doublePost+oops post.

i'm gonna start calling it a "doops"

My take on lessons to be learned:

That McArdle can't remember any good arguments on the anti-war side seems to me to indicate one important lesson to be learned from this war: In a debate, if you can't think of any good arguments from the other side, chances are you aren't listening. My strongest frustration from the pre-war year or so was that the anti-war case was ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE reduced to straw-man positions.

My greatest fear from that era points to what I think is an even more important lesson about going to war in a democracy: Having the debate ahead of time means that when the bad stuff does go down (and it always does in a war), the arguments against having the war won't get any stronger. If you haven't had the debate, then everyone who is appalled by the consequences will lean toward being persuaded by those arguments to which they are only just being exposed. In short, no debate leads to failure due to lack of support when the chips are down. Having the debate means that even many of those opposed will suck it up and endure.

Had we had a debate, we may or may not have ended up in a war. If we had gone to war, though, the support for the struggle would have been much stronger. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

jwg,

I remember no good arguments for going to war. I heard good arguments for removing Saddam, for lifting the sanctions, for supporting a free Iraqi people, for neutralizing any remaining NBC weapons and programs. I support all those things replacing Iran/Ayatollahs for Iraq/Saddam.

Nevertheless, the argument for war is still not there. The one that seemed to carry the day for most people was the Ledeen/Goldberg "sometimes you have to take a crappy little country and throw it against the wall."

This is quite a nice record and account of the Iraq war.

Kudos to you, and may one day our troops or most of them come home.

we all know the US leaves a contingency force behind whereever they go.

John Bougearel
successufultradingtips.com

i'm gonna start calling it a "doops"

The Doopler Effect?

It is a mistake to perceive jingoism in terms of learning from experience. The pattern repeats itself over and over, no matter how many history books have been read. There are fundamental instincts at play, and they will recur whatever the circumstances. A few people do learn, but those who succumb to tribal instincts will not listen to them - they are not interested in logic.

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Whatnot


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