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July 16, 2009

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ken layne?
isn't ken laybe the guy from wonkette?

i wouldn't give rachel lucas too much credit.

i don't think that was a sincere estimate; it was a rhetorical ploy.

what she meant was, "fewer than the number that died on 9/11".

because the iraqis were responsible for 9/11, don't you know.

According to antiwar.com, American deaths in Iraq

Since war began (3/19/03): 4325
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03) 4186
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03):3864
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3466
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09):97


So 139 until Mission accomplished. so the estimates for war casualties were not bad; and another 322 until capture of Saddam.

Suppose order had been maintained and the Iraqi army had not been disbanded?

I think almost all the rest falls on Rumsfeld and the other non-planners.

PS. If we behave better will you come back after your holiday? or if we behave worse? If you are producing a book, will you let us know?
Or how about a reading list for while you are "gone"?

we were going to be greeted with flowers.

there is no credible evidence that the Republican party deserves to be anywhere near the presidency for the next two generations.

"ken layne?
isn't ken laybe the guy from wonkette?"

Ken Layne has been at Wonkette for quite some time now, yes. He's always been far more in the "funny writer" category than he's ever been in the "writer of serious commentary" category. In fact, he's pretty much never been in the latter category. I imagine he wound up in that survey simply because he was one of many well-known bloggers at the time, and he responded.

He and Matt Welch and a handful of others, who were never part of the wackoid wing, were a fairly tight circle of the time.

2003 was a very different time for blogging than 2009 is.

Oh, I should mention that Tim Blair was a good friend of Matt and Ken's, but he's the only one of the three who quickly and fully drank all the kool-aid, and went off the deep end.

I think it may have had something to do with his essentially establishing the brand of "iconoclastic rebellious blogger against the liberal assumptions of the mainstream media" in Australia, and diving down that hole at 10 gees. But I'm just speculating here.

But, really, just about all of the folks who started out only a little crazy went through a process of getting unbeliveably vastly more crazy as the years wore on, and their echo chamber reinforced their assumptions. I could run though a list of all these folks, elaborating on how each, in their own unique way (not Matt and Ken), went vastly more wackier than they'd ever remotely been in their early days of blogging, but it'd pretty much wind up sounding like personal abuse, and thus rather unproductive, so I won't. The short version is that everyone's worst characteristics became fifty times worse as they became ever more invested in a more and more extreme alternative version of reality.

Full disclosure: of the ten people surveyed, five of them threw me some links back in 2002, though with the exception of Glenn Reynolds, only about 2-3 each.

New governments do not appear by magic. People who have been brutalized by dictatorships do not suddenly start believing in the rule of law.

I guess Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick left out a few things.

"I suppose if one imagined that we'd just roll into Baghdad, depose Saddam, and head home, that might be in the right ballpark, but that just raises the question: how could anyone think that that was likely to happen?"

Just for the record, putting on my mind-reading cap, or, that is, to try to recapituate as best I can of what people were saying at the time, I'd say that's pretty much exactly what all the people surveyed were pretty much thinking. That, somehow or other, Iraqis thrilled to get rid of Saddam would just constitute themselves a working government in very short order, the U.S. would have largely pulled out, there'd be no more fighting, and things would generally go pretty swimmingly from there, at least as regards U.S. involvement.

Why would they think that? Yeah, I'd have to agree that not a lot of thinking went into that sort of reasoning, beyond generalities about people loving freedom, that such matters will just work themselves out, and that it really wouldn't be our problem, anyway.

But the figures mentioned were very clearly estimates of answering the question of "what will it take to knock down Saddam Hussein's government and formal military?," not "what will we be doing for the next five or ten years after that?"

"Iraqis thrilled to get rid of Saddam would just constitute themselves a working government in very short order, the U.S. would have largely pulled out, there'd be no more fighting, and things would generally go pretty swimmingly from there, at least as regards U.S. involvement."

Well put.

To make things worse we were listening to Iraqi exiles telling us just that.

"Iraqis thrilled to get rid of Saddam would just constitute themselves a working government in very short order, the U.S. would have largely pulled out, there'd be no more fighting, and things would generally go pretty swimmingly from there, at least as regards U.S. involvement."

Just to repeat myself: I have no problem with ordinary people -- people who are trying to inform themselves in between doing their jobs, taking care of their kids, etc., etc. -- making this kind of mistake. I don't even have a problem with people who undertake to write publicly making it, so long as they hedge their views with appropriate qualifications, like "of course, I don't really know what I'm talking about here, but offhand, I would think...".

But the idea that people who write publicly, for however large an audience, would blithely pronounce about this without giving it the slightest thought, and then go one to cast everyone who disagreed with them as unpatriotic wimps who were objectively pro-Saddam -- that I have a huge problem with.

And I don't think you can think what Gary just said if you've given the slightest thought to the difficulties of creating a whole new system of government.

But if the 300,000 US troops that should have been deployed to maintain order had done so, and the Iraqui army/police force had been retained and deployed, given the previously tightly controlled society, I believe order would have been maintained with few casualties.
Many of the early "terrorists" were the newly unemployed Sunni army.
Like graffiti on the subway, if the government offices and museums had been protected from day 1, the transition could have taken place.

If someone cautiously competent had been in charge of the invasion and occupation, all probably would have gone well.

When I looked up the casualty statistics I was amazed how many were post capture of Saddam, and how minimal prior to that date.

Hilzoy,

I don't remember ANY discussion of what we would do after we won the initial battle before the war started. I am getting older, but I don't even remember any opposition talking about the "what happens once we defeat Saddam" question. Do you have any references from before the war on that point?

And I don't think you can think what Gary just said if you've given the slightest thought

Well, that's the problem right there. The idealogues infested the government, and replaced thinking with reflexive ideology.

And it's a long term problem that's infested many conservative circles for decades. I remember seeing this kind of thinking in dealing with creationists--they throw all these concepts around, but don't have the foggiest clue of how they would actually work in the real world.

Marty: I don't know how far back you want to go, but I recall worries about what we'd do if we deposed Saddam being one of the main reasons for stopping where we did in Gulf War 1. Offhand, I think I recall James Baker bringing this up, and Wes Clark. I certainly worried about it, but I wasn't blogging then.

(Why did I worry about it? Besides the fact that it just made sense, I've read a fair amount of history, and lived nearby to a war or two -- mostly, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in '82. It made me think about this stuff.)

Hilzoy: Thanks. I really did not think about it much at the time. I recall clearly expecting that the Iraqi exiles we were dealing with would quickly move into the power void and create calm. I always wondered how many others had that expectation.

Gary, Any thoughts on this?

Quite simply, the neocons who pushed for war were extremely naive. And that is, after all, about the worst thing you can say about a conservative. Traditionally, for a liberal, being naive is a minor failing so long as your heart is in the right place, but for a conservative it is enough to get you laughed out of the movement. (Given the extraordinary levels of naivety among Bush-era conservatives, liberals have had to take the failing more seriously).

Conservative hawks have traditionally (and still do) mock liberals for being so naive as to believe that anything positive can possibly be achieved by diplomacy with Bad People, because war is all that they understand. What they failed to realize is that there are more than one way to be naive -- and one is being naive about what military force can achieve. They seemed to think of the US military as a cure-all miracle drug. Just apply a little selective military force, and everything will come up roses.

"Gary, Any thoughts on this?"

Indeed. This guy had interesting observations on the idea.

"So 139 until Mission accomplished."

I guess the point is that, at "mission accomplished", the mission wasn't accomplished.

"If someone cautiously competent had been in charge of the invasion and occupation, all probably would have gone well."

Someone cautiously competent would not have invaded.

"I recall worries about what we'd do if we deposed Saddam being one of the main reasons for stopping where we did in Gulf War 1"

Yes, worries expressed quite eloquently and thoroughly by Dick Cheney. Cheney's comments on the topic from Gulf I were *very* widely cited as an objection to the invasion before March of '03.

There's also this from Brent Scowcroft's WSJ editorial from August 15, 2002:

The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam's regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive--with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy--and could as well be bloody.... Finally, if we are to achieve our strategic objectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation.

Scowcroft's comments here were typical of those expressed by the GHW Bush "new world order" realists, including Baker.

"Quite simply, the neocons who pushed for war were extremely naive."

For "naive", I would substitute "didn't give a flying ****".

You beat me to that, Gary. Yes, if Mr.Richard Bruce Cheney had be involved in the Third Gulf War (second with direct US involvement) all of that unpleasant stuff would not have happened. I wonder what happened to him. ;-)

And Marty, the State Department had detailed plans prepared long in advance but Rummy forbade his underlings to make any use of them. Iirc some of these later claimed that Rummy threatened to fire anyone even mentioning those plans.

Actually the term casualty includes not just deaths but injuries so they were all even further off. I think combat injuries is over 30,000.

"So 139 until Mission accomplished."

I guess the point is that, at "mission accomplished", the mission wasn't accomplished.

Russell, you are the first to address, if dismissively, my original comment pointing to number of US dead.

To me the remarkably low number of casualties throughout the rest of 2003 points to the conclusion that if the initial occupation had been handled properly: impose order, don't allow breakdown of civil order and looting of ministries, museums and caches of weapons, the cost to US of the invasion and occupation might have been minimal.

during the occupation, it isn't until November 2003 that there is a month of US dead over 50.

Now maybe it is better for the future of the world if the "lesson" is that any invasion and occupation is costly. Just looking at the original evidence Hilzoy pointed to - US casualties- (which I've more narrowly examined by taking US dead) and actually examining it, suggests that occupation might have been a lot less costly if done competently.

I was not in favour of your invasion (one of the few positives for me of our Prime Minister Chretien was that he was not convinced by Bush and refused to have Canada sign up for the Iraq war). so i'm sympathetic to the "lesson", but the evidence to me says Rumsfeld and the incompetent planners, the switch from Garner to Bremer and resultant decision to dismantle Iraqi army are, based on this statistic, more probably the culprit. right. Those who predicted casualties were probably doing so based upon the expectation of a competent US military headed by people like Powell had been in Gulf War I, rather than the Rumsfeld designated team.

I'm suggesting that the lesson really parallels Katrina -if you are administratively incompetent, you can screw up badly. Doing the mission badly doesn't actually tell us that the mission was impossible and shouldn't have been undertaken.

I'm not saying US should have invaded and occupied Iraq. Just that the evidence doesn't make Hilzoy's case that the predictions were silly, unless the assumption of a competent US invasion and occupation was risible at the time.

To make things worse we were listening to Iraqi exiles telling us just that.

Exactly. To the extent there was any plan, it was to make Chalabi the head of the government, with perhaps a brief occupation (30-60 days) required until he was in full control. This rested on the fantasy that the Sunnis wouldn't react violently to a Shia-led government nor the Kurds take the opportunity to try to break away. It also required believing Chalabi was who he said he was and ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. That it, the war was based on the worst sort of wishful thinking, and the insanity Gary refers to is the increasing disconnect between that and reality.

Thanks Gary, so they did understand it by geography,not so much discussion of the ultimate ethnic issues. "And Marty, the State Department had detailed plans prepared long in advance but Rummy fn the citiesorbade his underlings to make any use of them. Iirc some of these later claimed that Rummy threatened to fire anyone even mentioning those plans."

It would be intereesting to know when they realized the "exiles" had no standing anymore in Iraq.

"Everybody Loves Chalabi!" was certainly one of the shortest-running sitcoms of all time.

Johnny C: I do think that things could have been a lot better had we been competent. But I don't think these predictions make sense, regardless. First, if I recall correctly, a lot of our troops were operating out of secure bases, which helped keep casualties down, but also kept them isolated from Iraqis. Second, it was always going to take years, not months (let alone weeks), and I just don't see how we could have kept casualties nearly as low as the predictions over that period of time, unless we were taking force protection measures that made it hard for us to do the job we needed to do. Finally, when you're making a prediction like this, you need to take into account the possibility that Stuff Goes Wrong. Especially in war.

Building a government on the basis of next to nothing, with people who have been brutalized for decades, is hard work, and work that involves spending a lot of time with those people. To harp on a point I've made before: if the people understand why you're there, and accept your presence (even if they don't like it), you can get their cooperation, which helps a lot. We were in this position in Japan and Germany after WWII. But not here.

To my mind, that (plus the fact that, in my experience, many Arab cultures are very proud -- if I had to rank the cultures I'm familiar with from most to least likely to accept an occupation they didn't see as legitimate, the Arab cultures I know would rank somewhere near the bottom of the list) made it very likely that we would meet a lot of resistance, not necessarily immediately, but eventually, if we were there for long. And we had to be there for long.

And that means bad things. Assuming for the moment a perfect US army with no bad soldiers anywhere, you still have a lot of 20 year olds in a strange country whose language they don't know and whose customs are unfamiliar, and where opponents might be anywhere, kicking down doors in the middle of the night. That inevitably leads to bad things happening, even (as I said) assuming an army of saints. More so given an army of actual human beings.

We had a very short window in which we could count on sheer relief that Saddam was gone to help us out. That's why I was so completely aghast when we stood by as Iraq was looted. I remember sitting there, watching Rumsfeld say "stuff happens", or whatever he said, watching the footage of people making off with generators and office suites while our soldiers stood by, thinking: Oh. My. God.

Doing the right thing would have helped. But not, imho, nearly enough. We were always going to wear out our welcome. And it was always going to take a long time for Iraq to be anything remotely resembling back on its feet.

An important Democrat estimate was a tad low as well. "In this most likely case, the campaign would likely last four to eight weeks and result in roughly 500 to 1000 American combat deaths." Kenneth Pollack, Threatening Storm, p. 251.

The really sickening thing is that Cheney was presenting the immanent war in Iraq as easily won, with few potential complications in the aftermath. But in his position (secretary of defense?) during the first war in Iraq he defended Bush Senior's decision to not pursue further hostilities after kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. He said because of the religious and ethnic divisions, such an invasion would produce a civil war and hence "a quagmire". So Cheney really knew the second time around what would be involved, but he lied to the American people just to get them to go along with his war.

It would be intereesting to know when they realized the "exiles" had no standing anymore in Iraq.

The CIA had long considered Chalabi a fabricator and held him in very low esteem. In fact, most intelligence services did. But credulous ignorant people like Doug Feith and friends loved him.

I think you've got things a little bit twisted around. There was never any reason to assume that the "exiles" had standing of any kind, besides their own glowing self-reports. And there were lots of reasons to assume that the exiles lied a lot. Figuring out that we should not rely on these people was not hard.


Don't forget that these same pro-war bloggers AlSO all assumed that Saddam did have WMD -- specifically, that he had chemical weapons ready to go, available for use against U.S. forces if he chose to do so.

Even if you only count the initial defeat and taking of Bagdhad, many of these chickenhawks were on the low side (i.e., real number about 150). Had the Iraqis possessed and US chemical munitions against US troops, that number would have increased substantially.

Yes, we had chemical suits and all that, and chems aren't quite the doomsday devices as sometimes portrayed, so it would not have been mass slaughter. But inevitably there would have been some slip-ups with suits, some units that would have been hit due to their degraded performance in suits, some cases of heat stroke or vehicle accidents due to the restricted visibility, etc. 250-500 wouldn't be a bad guess, with some upside risk if we ever got surprised.

Bottom line is that these jerks were predicting 50 casualties AGAINST A CHEMICALLY ARMED FOE, at least one that they believed had and would use such weapons. Crazy!

But if the 300,000 US troops that should have been deployed to maintain order had done so, and the Iraqui army/police force had been retained and deployed, given the previously tightly controlled society, I believe order would have been maintained with few casualties.

We didn't have the logistics or manpower to keep such a large force in Iraq for any length of time. That we needed that many troops is likely true. That we could have gotten thm over there and kept them there for more than a couple of tours is unlikely. And the cost would have been staggering.

An important Democrat estimate was a tad low as well.

Ken Pollack wasn't "an important Democrat." He didn't (and still doesn't) hold elective office or a position in the DNC.

Regardless, he was excessively hawkish about the Iraq war. Liberal hawks were equally delusional as right wing hawks. That much is, sadly, quite true.

"Russell, you are the first to address, if dismissively, my original comment pointing to number of US dead."

I didn't intend to be dismissive. I simply wanted to point out that "mission accomplished", in the sense of "end of normal combat operations against the Iraqi armed forces", was kind of a pointless milestone.

That's when the hard stuff actually began, which is a point I think you'd be in agreement with.

I don't know if a better run occupation would have cost fewer American casualties. Maybe, maybe not, we simply can't know. As hilzoy points out, a better run occupation might have involved much more, and more vulnerable, contact between American forces and Iraqis. Keeping the largely Sunni army and police force in place might have provoked a stronger reaction from the Shia.

It's hard to say.

What I do think is true is that a better run occupation would have resulted in fewer Iraqi casualties, and would have allowed Iraqi civil life to resume much, much more quickly. Far fewer Iraqis would have emigrated, and there would be a larger population of professional people in place.

I have no argument with your basic point that the occupation was run poorly, and that a better run occupation would have resulted in significantly less death and mayhem. I'm just not sure it would have resulted in significantly fewer American lives lost.

We'll never know.

"To my mind, that (plus the fact that, in my experience, many Arab cultures are very proud -- if I had to rank the cultures I'm familiar with from most to least likely to accept an occupation they didn't see as legitimate, the Arab cultures I know would rank somewhere near the bottom of the list) made it very likely that we would meet a lot of resistance, not necessarily immediately, but eventually, if we were there for long. And we had to be there for long."

I believe this is the most concise explanation of what we didn't understand (or accept, as the administration probably got this view from some) I have read.

Mistakes were made, as they are in war. Decisions got reversed, direction of policy changed, this wasn't really taken into account until much too late.

"We didn't have the logistics or manpower to keep such a large force in Iraq for any length of time. That we needed that many troops is likely true. That we could have gotten thm over there and kept them there for more than a couple of tours is unlikely. And the cost would have been staggering."

"Now what if 18,000 Americans were killed every year in a terrorist attack and the President made the same appeal? Would any "serious" pundits object to such a military campaign (or two)? Not a chance.

And yet when the President proposes spending $1 trillion to save the lives of tens of thousands of uninsured Americans, the proposal is decried as socialistic, an example of reckless spending, a deficit-busting giveaway to the undeserving delivered via a soak-the-rich form of class warfare (because to fund it, effective tax rates would be raised to the levels that prevailed during the Communist 90's)."

Eric,

Then I suppose the staggering costs did impact decision making on the war after all?

How many jobs with the One's porkulus save or create?
BObama - 3.5 million
JBiden - 3.5 million
Everyone else in the MSM - 3.5 million

Actual answer: ________________

Bwahahahahahaha

Even after the war started, Instacracker was treating casualty claims as inflated and the end of the war as due within days. From his MSNBC blog on April 8, 2003:

The latest Iraqi claim I could find was for 500 civilian casualties and it’s almost surely inflated. Various antiwar groups are claiming to keep count, but their numbers, as several different commentators have observed, appear to be bogus. So I think it’s very possible that Iraqi civilian casualties, too, will turn out to be under 500.

in my experience, many Arab cultures are very proud -- if I had to rank the cultures I'm familiar with from most to least likely to accept an occupation they didn't see as legitimate, the Arab cultures I know would rank somewhere near the bottom of the list

I don't really buy this. Arab cultures may or may not be particularly "proud" -- as phrased this statement sounds so vague as to be meaningless. In my experience though, most of what I've heard Americans say about Arab culture has been completely unfounded, wrong, or universal human nature. I'm no longer willing to accept these sorts of statements without a cite from the sociology or psychology literature.

I mean, do you think that Arab cultures are more proud than the French or the Japanese or the Spanish?

Even if I believed that Arabs were particularly "proud", it doesn't follow that this should matter at all. After all, every single human being is proud to some extent and all cultures are proud. There are no cultures that react well to bombardment, invasion, and occupation. This is a universal human truth.

Turb: just going by what I know. -- Accepting the presence of foreign occupiers, when they are not there for some obvious reason (like having just lost a war your country started) is not, I think, the normal thing to do. But some countries are more likely to do it than others, I think. It helps if thinking something like: "oh well, better make the best of a bad situation, and pride be damned" is normal in one's culture, or if one has a quietist "political power is always corrupt and our enemy, so the fact that the corrupt enemies are, in particular, foreign is no big deal" tradition, or a tradition of quiet acceptance of, and obedience to, power, or a tradition of everyone being out for him- or herself in whatever environment they find themselves in. (I find some of these admirable and some not.)

It hurts, I think, if you have any tradition that makes the mere presence of outsiders in positions of power hard to tolerate. Offhand, I would think that things like remembering the humiliation of defeat and occupation not just for generations but for centuries would be a bad sign. That means that one of the narratives that lies ready to hand is one in which opposition to occupation is everyone's duty.

I have only been to parts of the Arab world that are not Iraq, but my sense was that a lot of people there have not yet fully gotten over the Crusades. I doubt that the Crusades were as traumatic for Iraqis, but everything I've read suggests that defeats from centuries before still rankle. Not a good sign.

From the Predictions:

Osama Bin Laden -- do you believe he's still alive?

Yes:
No: John Hawkins, Charles Johnson, Henry Hanks, Laurence Simon, Rachael Lucas, Glenn Reynolds, Tim Blair, Ken Layne, Steven Den Beste
N/A: Scott Ott

"We didn't have the logistics or manpower to keep such a large force in Iraq for any length of time. That we needed that many troops is likely true. That we could have gotten thm over there and kept them there for more than a couple of tours is unlikely. And the cost would have been staggering."

Eric, my hypothesis is that if an overwhelming occupying presence had been there initially, US hadn't allowed infrastructure to be destroyed, had kept Iraqi army/police in place, much of the terrorism and sabotage wouldn't have happened.

Reduction of numbers would then have been appropriate.

If I recall the war was supposed to be self-financing from oil production. Of course if you destroy/don't protect the pipelines hard to produce revenue. maintained

Then I suppose the staggering costs did impact decision making on the war after all?

Yes and no. As I mentioned, we didn't have the means to keep them there regardless, and that was likely the deal breaker - not the costs.

That being said, Rummy and some of the others in the Bush admin (as opposed to the nation builder faction) were trying to deliberately do it on the cheap, and keep force numbers low, so that they could then move on to Syria and Iran. For this group, proving that regime change could be achieved with a light force, for a limited economic commitment, was part of the plan.

Not that it worked out.

Russell and Hilzoy: I was dismayed by the decision to invade, but also remember, like Hilzoy, being appalled by American troops standing by and watching the looting. My suspicion is that this, plus not guarding the weapons caches, plus disbanding the Iraqi army/police is what turned a "simple" occupation into the nightmare it became.

If you hadn't effectively armed the post invasion enemy, I suspect fewer casualties (my impression that most of the weaponry was domestic supplied rather than imported)

If from the start, patrols had been joint Iraqi-US. If the Iraqis had been doing the kicking down of doors, while US supervised.

Re the soldiers: For several decades starting in 1956, UN peacekeeping was just that- UN troops standing between sides keeping the peace. Much more the role of policemen rather than a soldier. Canada initially played a leading role. Obviously the training of soldiers for this role was very different. The Canadian military chafed at it. Better to be a killing machine and get the glory than the more modest policeman role. Maybe one needs a separate corps trained for the mission.

Hilzoy, I do have a hidden agenda as to why it is important not to learn the wrong lesson. When genocide is happening it would be good for the international community, with the US in the lead, to step in. If the "lesson" of Iraq is that occupation is incalculably costly, this will be a veto to stopping genocide. If the lesson is -to do an occupation you have plan and do it intelligently, it will remove one obstacle to "doing the right thing".

Any chance we'll see a follow-up post on all the wildly, hysterically wrong anti-war predictions of mass casualties, chemical warfare and the unleashing of a wave of terrorist attacks inside the US? Because I think, ultimately, reality played out a whole lot more like the pro-war side thought it would, notwithstanding the massive problems the invasion created.

just going by what I know.

Well, most Americans go by what they "know" when talking about the nature of the Arab mind and what they know is usually wrong. Perhaps you're special in this regard, although, since you're unwilling to cite any research, I don't see any reason to believe that to be true.

But some countries are more likely to do it than others, I think.

I don't see why this should be true, or at least why we should assume such differences are large enough to matter.

It helps if thinking something like: "oh well, better make the best of a bad situation, and pride be damned" is normal in one's culture, or if one has a quietist "political power is always corrupt and our enemy, so the fact that the corrupt enemies are, in particular, foreign is no big deal" tradition, or a tradition of quiet acceptance of, and obedience to, power, or a tradition of everyone being out for him- or herself in whatever environment they find themselves in. (I find some of these admirable and some not.)

But all of these elements are present and in fact common in many Arab cultures. I dare say they're present in all cultures. So I don't get what you're saying here. Arab cultures are less tolerant of occupation than other cultures because they have lots of elements that make cultures more tolerant of occupation? Eh?

It hurts, I think, if you have any tradition that makes the mere presence of outsiders in positions of power hard to tolerate. Offhand, I would think that things like remembering the humiliation of defeat and occupation not just for generations but for centuries would be a bad sign.

You mean like how the Chinese and Japanese and Koreans and Vietnamese have woven in their history of foreign domination into the fabric of their culture and national narratives? Or the way people in Yugoslavia or Ireland or Scotland have done that? Surely you've heard some great rants from your Pakistani associates about the evils and stupidity of British rule and partition. It seems like the behavior you're ascribing to Arab cultures is found just as much in many non-Arab cultures.

That means that one of the narratives that lies ready to hand is one in which opposition to occupation is everyone's duty.

But we know that only a small fraction of the Iraqi population believed that opposition was their duty since only a small fraction actively participated. Now a much larger fraction refused to actively help Americans, but this was hardly irrational: did you think there was an irrefutable case for trusting and supporting George Bush?

I have only been to parts of the Arab world that are not Iraq, but my sense was that a lot of people there have not yet fully gotten over the Crusades.

WTF? What makes you think that Arabs have failed to get over the crusades any more than other cultures have failed to get over various long forgotten invasions? I mean, I speak with Arabs often and I can't remember when one of them mentioned the crusades to me.

I doubt that the Crusades were as traumatic for Iraqis, but everything I've read suggests that defeats from centuries before still rankle. Not a good sign.

But a sign that is present for several billion people in the world today. This is quite frustrating: you're taking universal human attributes and claiming that they're somehow uniquely devoted

I understand that these are just your subjective impressions, but let me suggest that if your impressions have any basis in reality, you should be able to find some research confirming them in a few minutes of google searching. If you can't, then maybe it is time to admit that your impressions were completely unfounded.

"I believe this is the most concise explanation of what we didn't understand (or accept, as the administration probably got this view from some) I have read."

I highly commend George Packer's The Assassins' Gate to your attention as an account of what happened.

"Mistakes were made, as they are in war. Decisions got reversed, direction of policy changed, this wasn't really taken into account until much too late" is a statement made in passive voice that sounds as if benign people made innocent mistakes in good faith; this is not what happened. A great many political figures willfully ignored facts brought to their attention because they weren't facts they wanted to hear, and the facts weren't in accord with their desires or ideology. These people willfully caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and thousands of Americans, and great suffering, more than just by making simple or innocent errors. It's necessary to study how and why this happened, and who was responsible, to make sure such things don't happen again as regards, say, Iran, or any other threatened military actions against other countries, and to learn which individuals and which political ideologies to hold in specific distrust.

Among other specific people, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and both neoconservative and liberal hawks had an ideology that entirely failed. It's crucial to learn what the points of failure and blindness were, and to not replicate those failures again.

Right now, the same lies and scare tactics are being used to drum up The Threat Of Iran. Many of the same sort of lies as were used to falsify the threat of Saddam's WMDs ("these aluminum tubes can only be used for missiles!") are being used against Iran ("they have an ongoing nuclear weapons program! They almost have weaponized uranium!"); following the details of these lies, and who they're coming from, and why, is crucial to not wind up in yet another horrific mistake of an unnecessary, criminal, war.

Also, Thomas Ricks' Fiasco, and as a crucial adjunct context on the evolution of "the war on terror," and what it's entailed, Jane Mayer's The Dark Side.

"Any chance we'll see a follow-up post on all the wildly, hysterically wrong anti-war predictions of mass casualties, chemical warfare and the unleashing of a wave of terrorist attacks inside the US?"

Predictions of chemical warfare, and the unleashing of a wave of terrorist attacks inside the U.S. weren't "anti-war" predictions, but predicted likelihoods produced by the U.S. military and intelligence services. The latter, in particular, was something that one wacky anti-war leftist known as "Dick Cheney" was absolutely convinced of. The former was why the U.S. military went into combat carrying chemical warfare suits. Crazy leftists!

The mass casualties predicted by the "anti-war" factions were correct: they simply took place over the longer time range that such people also largely predicted the war would continue to go on to.

If you'd like to see posts detailing this, setting aside that numerous ones have already been made throughout the blogosphere over years, I'm sure any number of us could freshen one up for you, if need be.

Now, the left isn't immune from criticism, and there were various statements made by some leftists in the immediate wake of September 11th that I remain critical of, and which I strongly believe did "the left" as a whole some disservice in lessening what should have been far greater credibility in more important, later, predictions and cautions.

And those can be looked at, too. But in the end, those opinions were all marginalized by the mass media, and run completely roughshod over politically, including, for the most part, by Democrats in Congress, so in the end they matter far less, because they mattered far less at the time then the illusions of the neo-conservative and strongly pro-war advocates.

I have only been to parts of the Arab world that are not Iraq, but my sense was that a lot of people there have not yet fully gotten over the Crusades.

WTF? What makes you think that Arabs have failed to get over the crusades any more than other cultures have failed to get over various long forgotten invasions?

This might be an interesting question if it weren't for the fact that the part I put in italics is not something that Hilzoy wrote, but some imaginary part you've made up to ask her about as a piece of straw.

This might be an interesting question if it weren't for the fact that the part I put in italics is not something that Hilzoy wrote, but some imaginary part you've made up to ask her about as a piece of straw.

Gary, I don't understand your point here. Can you clarify?

Hilzoy contended that Arab culture was "proud" and therefore more hostile to occupation than other cultures. Therefore, I assumed (perhaps you can correct me here) that hilzoy does not consider the fact that some Arabs talk about the crusades to be relevant to the discussion except insofar as what this tells us about Arab cultures IN COMPARISON with other cultures. After all, Arab cultures do not differ in this regard, than these statements have no relevance to hilzoy's argument, right?

Beware the missing conditional: After all, if Arab cultures do not differ in this regard, than these statements have no relevance to hilzoy's argument, right?

"Any chance we'll see a follow-up post on all the wildly, hysterically wrong anti-war predictions of mass casualties, chemical warfare and the unleashing of a wave of terrorist attacks inside the US? Because I think, ultimately, reality played out a whole lot more like the pro-war side thought it would, notwithstanding the massive problems the invasion created."

The "mass casualties" predictions were right--the number of deaths in the invasion phase was possibly in the 10,000 range, if one only counts civilians. It was that "low" because Saddam's forces temporarily melted away rather than fight a Stalingrad style battle in the major cities. But the mass casualty predictions have been more than borne out since. As for terrorist attacks, there have been plenty, but since they didn't occur in the US I suppose that's no big deal.

And if this war went the way the prowar side thought it would, then they are even more morally depraved than I would have given them credit for.

I suppose if one imagined that we'd just roll into Baghdad, depose Saddam, and head home, that might be in the right ballpark, but that just raises the question: how could anyone think that that was likely to happen?

Is it logical to think that would be likely? No.

Was that a common notion at the time? Seemingly, yes.

From what I understand, our leaders were genuinely surprised when the Iraqi army did not fully engage them upon invasion. They did not expect what happened - that many of the Saddamites would realize the futility of direct engagement and would instead melt back into the civilian population in order to begin an insurgent uprising. The fact that this was clearly the best hope the Saddamites had for longterm success (ie maintaining power) was not anticipated by our people in charge.

OT: The first three letters of the code I had to enter to post the above entry were "bye".

:-(

Good luck in all your future endeavors, hilzoy!

The thing that gets me is how this group of right-wingers - media and administration officials at the time - mocked and demonized anyone that disagreed with them even in the slightest. It's one thing to hope for an outcome and to love your country, it's an entirely different story to actively behave in ways that actually damage your country through bullying, intimidation, and in some cases, outright lying and criminal activity. And yet they are all better patriots than I....

Interestingly in the war games used in preparation of the war the 'Iraqis' were prevented from acting not according to Rummy's plans after the results made them look bad (like Iraqi forces using couriers on motorbikes instead of wireless making the standard US tactic of going after the communication lines ineffective).
And then there were the leaked original shock-and-awe plans that intended large scale terror bombardment with estimates of half a million civilian dead on the first day.

Everything I've read or heard about the run-up to Iraq drives me to the conclusion that these guys had basically taken the decision long before '03, probably before 9/11.

Their decision making process about almost everything was based on what they wanted the truth to be. They seemed to believe that if they asserted it long and loudly enough, the world would somehow magically comply with their understanding (or, misunderstanding) of reality.

Their own fervor and force of will would make it so.

This is as true of both the folks who came at with the best of motives as it is of those who came it from the worst.

They had an understanding, or a belief, or perhaps more accurately a delusion, about how the world should be and how other people and nations would and should respond to our actions, and nothing was going to make a dent in that.

IMO it was an episode of true collective insanity. Stupid, hubristic folly.

Reality always trumps both the best and worst of intentions.

Saddam ran a police state that made Abu Ghraib look likes childs play.

Saddam committed genocide against the stateless Kurds.

Saddam started a disatrous 8 year war with Iran.

Saddam invaded and annexed a member of the United Nations, Kuwait.

The sanctions which destroyed Iraq's society and economy were a decade long effort to remove Saddam from power.

Saddam wouldn't cooperate with the UN weapons inspectors which were the terms of his surrender after being kicked out of Kuwait. He wanted to bluff Iran.

The minority Tikriti clan of the minority Sunnis ruled over the majority Shia and Kurds.

I don't really care how many people rightwingers thought would die at the beggining of the war.

Saddam committed genocide against the stateless Kurds.

It was a horrific attack, but not genocide.

Saddam started a disatrous 8 year war with Iran.

Which we urged him to do and supported him in the process!!!

But what's your larger point? That the invasion was worth it? Really?

"Saddam started a disatrous 8 year war with Iran."
Of which the US was supportive, because in the 1980's the US hated Iran more

"Saddam invaded and annexed a member of the United Nations, Kuwait."

Because he thought the US ambassador had consented.

Why has the US the right to kill civilians and invade countries?

If you want to stop genocides, do it through the United Nations.

Russell, hubristic folly, like the Titanic.
Perhaps the motive: we're going to do it with minimal troops so when we want to attack Syria/Iran no one is going to be fussed by the cost.

What I find difficult to understand is how Cheney could have gone from understanding the costs at the time of Gulf I. Did he not believe it but was just reciting the Bush/Powell/Scowcroft line? What changed?

Saddam wouldn't cooperate with the UN weapons inspectors

And yet, they were on the ground in Iraq, checking out every site that US intel told them to check out and were coming up with...nada. So instead of letting them keep looking, Bush yanked them out so that he could invade under the pretense that Saddam...wasn't cooperating with inspections.

Brav-O.

Me:
"Saddam committed genocide against the stateless Kurds."

Eric:
"It was a horrific attack, but not genocide."

I suggest you read wikipedia before being so glib:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1988_Anfal_campaign

Me
"Saddam started a disatrous 8 year war with Iran."

Eric
"Which we urged him to do and supported him in the process!!!"

Me:
So fucking what? And where's the evidence we encouraged him to invade? Practically every major country on Earth backed him against Revolutionary Shia Islam.

Eric:
But what's your larger point? That the invasion was worth it? Really?

My point is these are facts types like you ignore while focusing on the moronic right wing, a convenient straw man.

Article 2 of the 1949 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines Genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". In December 2005 a court in The Hague ruled that the killing of thousands of Kurds in Iraq in the 1980s was indeed an act of genocide.[15] The Dutch court said it considered "legally and convincingly proven that the Kurdish population meets requirement under Genocide Conventions as an ethnic group. The court has no other conclusion than that these attacks were committed with the intent to destroy the Kurdish population of Iraq."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1988_Anfal_campaign


genocide-denial. Nice, you'll do anything to support your thesis I guess....

Peter K: relax. Why do you always leap to accusations and personal attacks? I didn't insult you. Keep it civil.

I have seen this challenged as a genocide. I'm not strongly committed to the proposition. Either way, it was a horrific incident which is what I wrote. I'm perfectly willing to concede it was an act of genocide.

My point is these are facts types like you ignore while focusing on the moronic right wing, a convenient straw man.

Not ignored at all. Saddam was unquestionably a brutal dictator. I've written as much on numerous occasions. Repeatedly. In fact, it was the left, not right, focusing on Saddam's actions during the period we supported him with arms, intel, hardware and dual use items.

As for the invasion, I would argue that we have made the situation worse, at an enormous cost. Many hundreds of thousands have died as a result of the invasion. Millions turned into refugees - forced to resort to prostitution to make ends meet in places like Syria.

And that there are other, even more brutal dictators/regimes (like North Korea). But I don't think we should invade North Korea. And me saying so doesn't mean I'm ignoring all the evil done in North Korea either.

And where's the evidence we encouraged him to invade?

In declassified CIA files, and other written accounts from/of the period. Check wiki for some useful footnotes.

I was surprised the extent the Iraq War changed how I thought about our government. My thoughts at the time were along the lines like it's inevitable and I hope they know what they are doing. Clearly they didn't. But, having seen the results, I don't think anyone could have.

It was also interesting to see the democratic congress critters reaction. It kinda sent me off to Chomsky-land.

"But, having seen the results, I don't think anyone could have."

Fledermaus, i'm not clear what this sentence is saying.

If you are saying:
- no one warned, this is not the case- UN inspectors said we've looked everywhere you told us to look, there are no WMD

-no one predicted necessary troop levels, this is not the case General Shinseki did and was forced to retire because Bush/cheney/Rumsfeld didn't like the answer

-no one could have planned occupation, this is not the case General Garner with very limited time tried to do so, he was replaced after about a month- much of his advice was ignored or countermanded including not disbanding the Iraqi army

"But what's your larger point? That the invasion was worth it? Really?"

My answer is. so far it seems yes. We'll see if we really have the inyegrity to refuse to let the Iraqi people suffer at the hands of another brutal government, or "stay the course" to ensuring they have a legitimately elected representative government that can ensure personal security.

"My answer is. so far it seems yes."

Worth it to whom?

Worth it to whom?

Well, a couple hundred thousand people have been permanently liberated from the fear of having to suffer at the hands of another brutal government. That has to count for something.

""My answer is. so far it seems yes."

Worth it to whom?"
Well, it would be a significant number of the 22M, most I would guess once we are gone to our corner, and if it is for them then I think it should be to us.

We should remember that, while there were civilian caualties, many Iraqis lost their lives for freedom also.


We should remember that, while there were civilian caualties, many Iraqis lost their lives for freedom also.

Marty, I hate to break this to you but mortality studies indicate that the death toll in Iraq rose significantly after the war. The conflicts we unleashed ended up killing (directly or indirectly) a lot more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein managed to kill in the years before the war.

If you thought Saddam Hussein was bad in terms of killing lots of Iraqis, then you must conclude we're worse.

"What I find difficult to understand is how Cheney could have gone from understanding the costs at the time of Gulf I. Did he not believe it but was just reciting the Bush/Powell/Scowcroft line? What changed?"

I think that it's completely clear from all the accounts now researched and published, by Mayer, Ricks, Woodward, Packer, and so many others. I've quoted at length before on this subject.

The short version is that there was an episode where a bioweapons attack alarm went off in the White House, and Cheney was given reason to think he was fatally infected; simultaneously, he began reading raw intelligence on a daily basis, full of horribly scary threats (the overwhelmingly majority of which were unreal, which is why principals aren't supposed to read raw intelligence, but wait for analysts who know their job to filter out the chaff first).

In short, this made him a crazy paranoid person, and since the focus he, Rumsfeld, and others of their thinking remained entirely on a basis that "you can't have a group seriously threatening the U.S. without a state backing them," that therefore Iraq had now become that state threat that therefore now existentially threatened the U.S. in the long term; plus, as part of the strategy of removing all such threats, it was necessary to take down a country that wasn't such as pushover as Afghanistan, as a demonstration; plus, oil. Plus, it was like plucking out a really really really annoying thorn that had been bugging you for a decade. And making your government look impotent and weak, in your view.

All these factors, and a few others (in Bush's, I'll do what Dad couldn't do seems to clearly have been one of them), came together to make, in their fervored minds, it seem like a splendid idea to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

But motives did vary depending on which individual you're discussing. With Cheney, paranoia probably loomed largest.

Number of deaths during the invasion was practically zero. You could argue that the invasion was over once we caught him and killed his kids and chemical ali.

The deaths since then were very painful, but not expected for an occupying force. They occurred in occupied Germany; the difference here is that the invasion deaths were s small that the post invasion deaths looked very large.

You can argue that the post-invasion deaths were terrible, but I don't think you can use the to argue that people mis-estimated the number of war deaths when they were clearly referring to the invasion only.

Don't forget that many of the people who focus on these deaths to argue that the Bush admin were over-optimistic and unrealistic were the same ones who siezed with glee on our inability to secure a museum in a war zone. Can some of you at least own up to that publicly?

Eric: But what's your larger point? That the invasion was worth it? Really?
Your mind-reading cap doesn't work as well as you think it does.

As a result, you're coming across as arrogant, rude, presumptuous, and entirely wrong.

You're arguing with some imaginary Eric in your head, and clearly haven't bothered to familiarize yourself with his long history of writing and views, before attacking for beliefs that are nothing remotely like those he actually holds.

This tends to not work out well.

"Nice, you'll do anything to support your thesis I guess...."

This is, again, the sort of personal attack for which you have absolutely no basis whatever. Please stop.

Marty: "My answer is. so far it seems yes."

I would look to surveys of Iraqis, myself.

You have to, again, look at the costs, not simply the benefits. The estimates of Iraqi casualties vary widely; IBC is conservative, and goes with ~92,000-101,000; The Lancet studies suggested 654,965 excess deaths related to the war, or 2.5% of the population, through the end of June 2006. That was, obviously, before three more years of war. Opinion Research Business says it's "over 1.2 million deaths (1,220,580)."

Any way about it, it's a lot of dead people, not to mention the far greater number of wounded, not to mentioned the smashed institutions, the ethnic cleansing, the internal religious/ethnic war, the terrorism, the bombings (both by "terrorist groups" and the U.S.), the smashed country, as well as the millions of internal refugees, and tens of millions of external refugees.

Polls of Iraqis -- whom it seems to me are actually the only people with a right to an opinion on this -- have varied at different points since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, and also, of course, vary depending on such matters as whether you're Sunni or Shia, Kurdish, secular, and so on. Here is one compilation out of many such reports on such polling.

The overall consistent opinion of Iraqis overall has stayed between 53% and 63% saying that the invasion was "a mistake." The numbers have generally tended towards the higher figure than the lower.

I really don't see where your personal opinion would be considered of any worth by any Iraqi. I would suggest asking some Iraqis with dead relatives what they think, and asking some of "the approximately 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Jordan and other neighbors of Iraq, as well as the 2.7 million internally displaced persons within Iraq" what they think.

And then I'd ask you why you think your opinion is more relevant and valuable than the Iraqis who have been polled whom I've cited.

"Well, it would be a significant number of the 22M, most I would guess"

Why do you choose to "guess," on a matter of life and death of millions of people whom you don't know, rather than actually investigating the facts of their opinions? Doesn't that strike you as more than a touch arrogant and irresponsible?

"Don't forget that many of the people who focus on these deaths to argue that the Bush admin were over-optimistic and unrealistic were the same ones who siezed with glee on our inability to secure a museum in a war zone. Can some of you at least own up to that publicly?"

Feel free to name the people who comment here whom you're referring to, and you can get answers from them.

"Why do you choose to "guess," on a matter of life and death of millions of people whom you don't know, rather than actually investigating the facts of their opinions? Doesn't that strike you as more than a touch arrogant and irresponsible?"

Guess was an inappropriate and inaccurate word. i did not have the numbers in front of me, thanks for providing them. I also appreciate you recognizing that depending on who you are (Kurd, Shia,Sunni) and your status under the previous regime those poll numbers might be different.

Thanks again for the clarification.

Shouldn't have to say this here, but don't forget to subtract at least one from the death toll for purposes of this particular political discussion.

"I also appreciate you recognizing that depending on who you are (Kurd, Shia,Sunni)"

Obviously, the invasion was and remains more popular with Kurds than any other group, and more popular with Shias, as a rule, than Sunnis.

The question that remains is not "did X number of people benefit?," but "was the benefit obtained by Y number of people worth the cost to Z number of people?"

Naturally, opinions change over time. But even if we assume that the figures change at some point in the future, be it in two years, five, ten, twenty, fifty, or whenever, so that a majority of Iraqis do decide it will have been worthwhile, one might remember that:
a) the dead don't get a vote in the poll; and:
b) did it make sense at the time for the U.S. to go ahead and decide for Iraqis, and kill, wound, and displace, millions of Iraqis, with the hope that this would improve the lot of the survivors, no matter that for at least many years later, the answer of the majority of surviving Iraqis was clearly, inarguably, no!?

Some might, of course, decide for Iraqis of the future, that it will have been for the best for Iraqis.

And I'm sure they wouldn't think of themselves in the least as being arrogant or paternalistic, or having specifically arrogated to themselves the power of life and death over millions of people of a culture and people they were unfamiliar with.

One might consider, as an American, how one might feel if a foreign state had invaded us, and done the same to us, for Our Own Good. Even if we, twenty or fifty years down the line, decided that it had been for the best, in the long run, after all.

These all strike me as things worthy of consideration, when thinking about these issues.

And personally, when contemplating any other wars in the future, I'd think a great deal about all the dead children, and fathers, and mothers, and daughters, and sons, and cousins, and uncles, and aunts, and those merely with limbs torn off, blinded, brain-damaged, their homes stolen forever, their lives never to be the same, and so on, when considering the possible "benefits" of a "good war" for a Noble Cause like Freedom and Democracy.

But that's just me.

"Shouldn't have to say this here, but don't forget to subtract at least one from the death toll for purposes of this particular political discussion."

I wrote and deleted a paragraph that skirted distinctly around that topic, but deleted nonetheless because even the skirting would have made what was being skirted obvious to those who knew.

Let's just say that in all wars, lots of people die, and many are injured, and it's extremely personal to everyone who knows anyone who was so affected. More personal than to those for whom the war was merely an abstraction that happened to Other People.

But in respect of that idea, and that history, I do my best to avoid going for someone's throat using that.

"Some might, of course, decide for Iraqis of the future, that it will have been for the best for Iraqis.
And I'm sure they wouldn't think of themselves in the least as being arrogant or paternalistic, or having specifically arrogated to themselves the power of life and death over millions of people of a culture and people they were unfamiliar with."

I couldn't agree more with this basic premise. None of the decision making was that straightforward. What gets lost in all of these discussions is that since "Gulf War 1" there had been more than a few Iraqis encouraging the invasion for non-WMD related reasons. In fact, we deserted the resistance and left them to Saddams punishment(please don't ask me to go find the cite for this tonight).

We should not be so arrogant as to presume that we should invade and free all the peoples of the world. However, we should be prepared, once engaged, to ensure we honor whatever commitment that incurs.

I do not pretend to know if all Iraqis will ever see it as worthwhile. (Unfortunately, all Americans don't think the Civil War turned out right.)

I believe, an opinion, that the outcome to date is on the path to honoring that commitment and achieving a result that is worth the cost. I believe the majority of Iraqis will agree in the future. I believe it is quite possible that the majority of Kurds and Shia agree now.

However, we should be prepared, once engaged, to ensure we honor whatever commitment that incurs.

Let me see if I've got this right: George HW Bush shot his mouth off and made some grandiose promises that he had no intention of keeping. Some poor bastards in Iraq actually believed him (rule #1 for survival: do not trust the United States to protect you) and got themselves killed. Therefore, you feel that the United States is bound to fulfill HW's crazy statement no matter how many people end up dying or how much it costs. Is that right?

I'm sure there were some Iraqis who wanted Saddam gone. I'm not sure most of them would have backed the invasion if you told them that our glorious little operation would kill people at a rate higher than Saddam did and that we'd rack up a million plus bodies and 4 million plus refugees. And after all that death and misery, we'd have given them an unstable theocratic state where women had less freedom than they did under Saddam! What a deal!

Look, there were probably a bunch of people who thought that other countries should have invaded the US and gotten rid of Bush or should invade the US now and get rid of Obama. But you can't assume that simply because such people exist, they must be representative in any way of the population at large.

"I believe the majority of Iraqis will agree in the future."

Shorter me: I believe it's entirely possible this will happen, and I think that, eventually, it's even probable that it will happen, given a long enough period of time to achieve distance from the suffering of the past six years.

I don't think that in the least justifies the decision to invade Iraq, or makes it retroactively moral or correct.

Anything can be justified by the rationale that, eventually, things will turn out better. According to such reasoning, Lenin's government was a good idea, and so was Stalin's, because look how much better things are now in Russia, and the former Soviet republics, and the former Warsaw Pact nations. Mao was great, because look how prosperous China is now becoming. Hitler's plans were fantastic, because eventually Germany was reunified, and is prosperous and well-off.

I'm no philosophy student, but I don't actually believe that we live in, inevitably, the best of all possible worlds.

I think being responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people in the name of doing good is what's called a "war crime."

I don't know what could be a greater evil than willfully killing hundreds of thousands of people from a position of ignorance, and without the clear invitation of the majority of them, let alone that we still haven't even achieved the retroactive approval of anything approaching a majority of them.

Most Iraqis -- and we know this as well as we know any mass opinion -- consider our invasion a great and terrible crime and mass murder. I gave you a link all about it, and can give you plenty more detailed ones.

And one of the greatest shames of my life is that I didn't speak out against this war before it happened.

"What gets lost in all of these discussions is that since 'Gulf War 1' there had been more than a few Iraqis encouraging the invasion for non-WMD related reasons."

I have no idea what "these discussions" you are referring to, because obviously anyone unfamiliar with the history of George H. W. Bush's having encouraged the Shia uprising at the end of Gulf War 1, and our then having done nothing to aid them while they were slaughtered, would be too ignorant to be entitled to speak about any of these issues. Certainly no regular commenter here is unaware of such basic history.

As well, various exiles, the most respectable of whom was Kanan Makiya, favored our invasion.

But, you know, they were a handful of Iraqis who had long lived in exile. I can find you a proportional number of expatriate Americans who currently believe America would benefit from an invasion and regime change, but that doesn't come close to meaning another country owes them that, or that most Americans would think it's a good idea, or that twenty or fifty years down the road, if most Americans agreed it had been for the best, that it would be a good idea today.

Much much much shorter me: two wrongs don't make a right.

What Gary said. Again and again.

I think the operable lesson is that if we want to help a beleagured population, we shouldn't shock and awe them into good health. We shouldn't wreak such havok that we send 4 million+ refugees scattering, upset the social order and lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths. There are better, cheaper, more humane way to act the good samaratin.

It is my unrelenting hope that some good comes of this whole affair. For the Kurds, I am hopeful. For the Shia that are still alive (and for those whose family members are not lost), I have hope. But this was not the type of campaign that we should feel particularly proud about. The Kurds were in decent enough shape before we invaded. And the good done for some Shia is hard to quantify against the backdrop of unthinkable suffering for so many. Millions really.

Interesting that Marty made reference to 22 million Iraqis. The population was closer to 26 million pre-invasion. The others paid the ultimate price for our magnanimity.

"But that's just me."

Posted by: Gary Farber | July 17, 2009 at 10:58 PM

Gary, you are wrong again. It is not just you. I completely agree with what you said in that post. well said. (Seems Eric does too!!)

@Peter K:
The sanctions which destroyed Iraq's society and economy were a decade long effort to remove Saddam from power.

Leaving aside the other unpleasantries stated... how does the intent behind the sanctions somehow make them dismissible, let alone a good thing? The sanctions regime was monstrous in its effects, and the US was perfectly culpable for it. One must recall that it amounted to collective punishment ("rise up and depose your government, and we'll let you stop watching your children die"), and also that the major reason it was so "effective" (or less euphemistically, brutal) was because of the US military's decision to intentionally target sensitive civil infrastructure in order to "accelerate the effect of the sanctions". We're talking about war crimes - state terrorism, to not put too fine a point on it. But then, it was done in the interest of "liberating" the survivors - which would have at least given them a more American-friendly dictator, even if their lot in life wouldn't necessarily improve.

The actions you glibly cite here as justifications for the war are somewhat irrelevant, given that the US would have in all probability cheerfully made nice with a military junta replacing Saddam's anti-Americanism but not his domestic policy. Even if this weren't true, the rest of your results-based analysis is morally hollow for reasons pointed out above.

What Gary said. Again and again.

Yeah. Gary, you're doing yeoman's work on this thread (especially here) and I applaud you for it.

One tiny detail that bears inclusion in this discussion is the fact that even if, for the sake of argument, we were to grant Marty's guess that life in Iraq is better for most people, that's not why we invaded. We did not invade Iraq to overthrow a dictator and install democracy and make life better. We invaded Iraq to destroy Saddam's stockpiles of WMD--stockpiles whose existence, we now know, was a deliberate and calculated fabrication. And I think we can also say with some certainty that without the pretext of WMD, the invasion would not have been possible.

And I think this is something that needs to be included in our cost/benefit analysis. Beyond the blood and treasure, the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost, the millions displaced--was the cause so great, and the need so pressing, that it was "worth" taking the country to war under false pretenses? I think for many of the war's most impassioned advocates, the answer is yes. I seem to recall Thomas Friedman, at some point, at least tiptoeing up to the line of saying that bringing democracy to the Middle East was such a great and noble endeavor that if the American people had to be lied to in order to make it happen, well, so be it.

The war was built on lies...a campaign of lies, one after another, stretching over months. Was it worth it?

Even by hilzoy's low standards this post is stunningly disingenuous. She keeps the old answers, but changes the question. She will not be missed.

"Well, a couple hundred thousand people have been permanently liberated from the fear of having to suffer at the hands of another brutal government. "

Yes, by virtue of being permanently liberated from this mortal coil.

Hundreds of thousands of others, more like the low millions, have abandoned the country.

The civic infrastructure of the country is in ruins. The political leadership of the country is absolutely vulnerable to interference from us and from Iran. A plain and basic level of simple physical security for ordinary people has yet to be achieved, and does not appear to be in the works anytime soon.

And the brutality of whatever government emerges from the mess remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, other notable brutal thugs have done quite well off the of Iraq war. Islam Karimov, a man who boils his opponents alive, received enormous support from the US. What about the oppressed Uzbekis?

The Chinese may have gotten a leg up in their oppression of the Uighurs through being given the opportunity to interrogate Uighurs held at Guantanamo. What about the Uighurs?

Any number of brutal thugs have done a land office business by hosting our torture programs. What about the Syrians, the Egyptians, etc etc etc?

In terms of our own interests, invading Iraq did incredible violence to our international reputation and credibility, and to our internal political health.

Some portion of the Iraqis still living in Iraq (in both senses of the word "living") are undoubtedly happier post-war. Some are not. Some are dead, and some are gone from Iraq forever.

And I can't say it's done a damned thing for us. On the contrary.

So I call it, at best, a wash. A bloody, expensive, divisive wash, that will continue to cost us in lives and money for at least the next ten years.

That's my take.

And now, eight years later, we are finally getting back to the business of dealing in a hopefully effective way with Al Qaeda and the Talibs in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

How that will turn out is anybody's guess.

"We did not invade Iraq to overthrow a dictator and install democracy and make life better. We invaded Iraq to destroy Saddam's stockpiles of WMD--stockpiles whose existence, we now know, was a deliberate and calculated fabrication."

IMVHO, we invaded Iraq because a bunch of think-tank geniuses like playing Risk on a real board.

At your convenience, kindly read A Clean Break, a briefing prepared by Doug Feith and Richard Perle for Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, 7 years before the invasion and 4 years before Bush was even President.

And no, I'm not buying into the Neocon/Zionist cabal conspiracy theory. I'm simply pointing out that a noble concern for the liberty and well being of the Iraqi people was something like item 197 in these guys' punch list of reasons to invade Iraq.

You obviously don't get Tim Blair's sense of humour. He's an Aussie, remember. Sheesh.

Brian at 09:49 AM writes: "Even by hilzoy's low standards this post is stunningly disingenuous. She keeps the old answers, but changes the question."

I'd like to point out that this is simply completely false.

The original:

If we go into Iraq, how many casualties do you expect to see (on the side of the US and our allies)

John Hawkins: "Probably 300 or less"
Charles Johnson:"Very few"
Henry Hanks: "Less than 200"
Laurence Simon: "A Few hundred"
Rachael Lucas: "Less than three thousand"
Scott Ott: "Dozens"
Glenn Reynolds: "Fewer than 100"
Tim Blair: "Below 50"
Ken Layne: "a few hundred"
Steven Den Beste: "50-150"

Compare to what Hilzoy quoted in her post. It's simply identical cut-and-paste, and no context removed (there were other questions and answers, but Hilzoy gave the link to them, her point remains that the rest of the responses were generally also wrong).

What Brian is referring to here with his accusation is a mystery. Perhaps he could elucidate?

Perhaps he believes John Hawkins should have phrased his question differently, and meant something differently from what he asked, and that's how the answers should be read? That's the most charitable guess I can can make, but it's rather a wild guess.

I referred to such an interpretation of what was meant by all, here, July 16, 2009 at 11:09 PM.

Regardless, Hilzoy simply directly quoted what was asked and answered, changing no context, and linking to the original for everyone to read for themselves. This is a perfectly honest, responsible, and sensible thing to do. If anyone doesn't like how it reads in the light of six years passing, well, hmm.

Ken Layne's Fox News archive:

http://www.foxnews.com/column_archive/0,2976,39,00.html

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,45965,00.html

"The war isn't over, of course. But allegedly corrupt French figure skating judges have replaced military tribunals as the judicial scandal of choice. The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay get three squares a day, top medical care, a Muslim chaplain from the U.S. Navy and cigarettes and hugs from the Red Cross. Will their final judgment be issued by the International Skating Union? Will they all get gold medals and go home as heroes with lucrative endorsements?"

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,48822,00.html

"Is it worth pursuing a peace deal when the Palestinians are being paid by Iraq to blow up their sons and daughters? When the Palestinians are applauded by the Arab nations for the bloodshed? Should we even bother with heartfelt discussions about U.N. inspectors and diplomacy when Iraq is a proud example of state-sponsored terrorism? What do we get from ignoring Mohammed Atta's meeting with Iraqi spies in Prague? Should we play nice with the psycho who parades his enemies' families on satellite teevee just to teach those exiles a lesson?"

Brian wrote: "Even by hilzoy's low standards this post is stunningly disingenuous. She keeps the old answers, but changes the question. She will not be missed."

"Changes the question"? Sorry; it reads like the same question to me, namely: How could a group of people who consider themselves knowledgeable about Iraq be so consistently wrong?

If you mean she asks it of pundits, rather than Bush administration officials, I think that's a distinction without a difference. The pundits deserve less blame, because they had less responsibility for the outcome. But their assessments were just as misguided.

I agree with what was said up near the start of the thread. People who present themselves as knowledgeable have a duty to be knowledgeable. In this case, that meant being aware of what the State Department and various NGOs knew at the time; that occupying Iraq was going to be difficult and dangerous.

Whatever anyone's view of the merits of invading Iraq, AFAIK pretty much everyone today agrees that the occupation was badly botched. The misjudgments of six years ago are relevant now because the unfounded certainties still flow from pundits and government officials; only the issues have changed.

Is not the aftermath of hubris supposed to be instructive?

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