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November 21, 2005

Comments

Bush may not be the best guy to lead us to victory in

Iraq
. But he’s the guy we have. And victory is the what we need.

As was said in the Princess Bride: "Get used to disappointment."


Tim, you do realize the consequences of that "disappointment," don't you?

first of all, the formatting of this post is really messed-up - the word "Iraq" is always on its own line.

Incompetence, failure, mistake: these may be damnable offenses, but they are not failures of will.

of course they are. it's a failure of political will to send enough troops to do the job in a reasonable time. put a thousand troops on that road: voila, secure road. not enough troops to do that? well why didn't Bush send more ? you know the answer.

Indeed, many did conclude that Kerry was weaker and more wobbly on the war than Bush. It was not mass hysteria that led millions of voters to conclude as much. Nor was it stupidity. These voters listened to the facts, and thought it out.

i doubt your mad mass mind reading skillz.

von: the main claim I wanted to make in my post was purely negative: there are certain sorts of mistakes you do not make when you really care about something; the Bush administration and those who voted for him because of the war made those mistakes; therefore, whatever their motives, a real commitment to succeeding in Iraq could not have been the primary one. It was not about what their motives actually were, nor (as far as I can tell) does it rely on any positive claim about their motives.

Specifically: I did not mean to say that the administration was either stupid or black-hearted. (In fact, one way to see my argument is: consider the level of stupidity that would be required to make their mistakes if they did really and truly care about success in Iraq. No one is that stupid. An accountant would not forget to add up the numbers on a project he cared about. An airline designer would not forget to factor in gravity if the love of his life would be traveling on the plane. Ergo, etc.)

What I did mean to say was that whatever their level of intelligence, and whatever their motives, they made mistakes that they would not have made had they really cared about success in Iraq. I did not say what I thought Bush was motivated by; only that the quotes I cited -- the first about his wanting to have a war, the second about his being off in search of the next big thing -- did not suggest that that motive, whatever it was, was a real desire to succeed in Iraq.

And the point about the tantrums was not meant to say e.g. that Iraq was just one big tantrum. It was to say: there are people whose view of their relation to the world is just all screwed up. If someone's view was all screwed up in one specific way -- not realizing that thinking really hard about something is normally essential to realizing complicated goals -- they might "care" as much as possible and still not think. The tantrums were there just because it's hard to see how someone would (in childhood) fail to notice the connection between figuring out how to get stuff they wanted and actually getting it, absent some other way of getting stuff; and since things don't normally come on command, imagining that people brought those things on command seemed more plausible.

(This may be the influence of Rousseau speaking.)

About the supporters: again, I did not want to make any positive claim about what motivated them. I just wanted to say: Bush's incompetence at prosecuting this war was quite clear by the time the election rolled around. Moreover, there was no likelihood at all that he would change. But this did not deter them from voting for him.

Stupidity would be one explanation here; but it is, as before, opposed to the one I offer. Mine is, basically, carelessness. And, again, carelessness is a negative: the absence of sufficient care. What positive motivation accounts for that absence, I really don't think I say; at any rate, I don't mean to.

(About Kerry: I think that the idea that we should not have gotten into the war in Iraq is totally distinct from the claim that we should not fight to win once we're there. And the surmise that he might be beholden to some wing of the Democratic party is a pretty weak reed stacked up against Bush's obvious and actual incompetence.

Note that the crucial question here is not: was he feckless or was he stubborn? If what you care about is winning, it ought to be: will he win or will he not? The explanation of Bush's incompetence isn't the issue here; it's the fact of it.)

Blah blah. Too long already. Thanks.

I didn't get a chance to post on hilzoy's post, so I will do so here, with a look at your cooments as well.

I think hilzoy's post was excellent, but, I must admit, for the most part, your comments are a refreshing rejoinder. Refreshing in the sense that you present a reasoned, non-demonizing response.

There are really two components to both posts. The first is to look at Bush, and those who voted for him. The second is about the current state of affairs in Iraq and what to do going fowrd.

I think hilzoy was wrong in bringing up the "temper tantrum" issue about our leader. In truht, I think Bush is the product of an environment where accountability was never required. No matter what mistakes he made, and they were legion, he never had to accept responsibility or consequences. He was always rescued.

This includes his prior drinking behaviors, low grades, and definitely almost all of the businesses he attempted to run. Not only did he not have to accept negative consequences, but he also, in a few incidents, reaped financial rewards.

This type of situation does not promote a sense of humility, of recognizing that it is always best to look outside oneself.

If you want to look at his elections as Governor and President, he won, not due to some tremendous admiration for the man, although there were those that did, but as much, if not more, by the demonizing of his opponents. My biggest criticism of Kerry was that he was working form the assumption that the majority of the electorate would actually vote based upon the realities of the world.

He did not realize, although he probably does now, that most people vote based upon a visceral, emotional response to things.

Bush, and particularly Rove, did understand that, and campaigned accordingly.

Actually, in terms of Iraq, I believe that Bush has gotten exactly what he wants from the war: re-election.

Hilzoy, I do believe Bush cared about Iraq, just not about the Iraqi people. He also, I believe, continues to labor under the illusion that he is incapable of making mistakes.

I terms of what we do now, I just don't know. Personally, I have come to believe an orderly withdrawal makes sense, primarily because our current leadership is incapable of doing anythign right there.

Kerry did not call for a withdrawal, and I think he had enough credibility world-wide to make positive changes. And I think he would have used our military in a far smarter way.

I don't think Iraq will become a failed state, although it will not be stable for a while. But then it isn't now anyway. I do think that the small number of foreign terrorists would quickly be shown the door if we left.

The fact is, there have been no signals from this administration that we actually do plan on leaving eventually. They keep using the argument that to do so would just tell the insurgents that they can just hold out. There is a basic fallacy to that argument.

If the insurgents really felt that if Iraq was stable we would leave, then all they would have to do is quiet down for a while. They haven't because they really don't believe that we ever plan on leaving.

I have to agree with cleek here. Most voters didn't have much a chance to hear the facts - they heard lies and manipulations, aided and abetted by a press whose major players are a lot more interested in protecting their access than giving us information that might upset their sources. (The case of Wen Ho Lee is particularly illuminating here, for me, but it's simply the same old thing writ large.) And the election itself included results that would be taken by international monitoring bodies as justification for a full investigation to vote tampering if they occurred in a country that requested or was required to submit to outside observers.

(I'm phrasing that carefully. I don't, right here, want to make the flat-out assertion that the election was tampered with enough to alter the voters' real intent, even though I think it was. I just want to point out that had there been the discrepencies we got in a country we were helping monitor an election for, well-established protocol would call for a lot of scrutiny, recounting, and possibly even revoting. The general public never got that datum or an explanation of why the US should be allowed a degree of statistical improbability and announced bias in vote-taking that other countries wouldn't.)

And I have to come back to a key point here: from 9/11/2001 up until quite recently, Bush had an entirely free hand. What he asked for, he got. (And he took quite a lot without asking anyone.) He didn't have to fight a powerful opposition in Congress or a hostile and skeptical public. He was a free agent in a way few presidents are, and for longer than most of those few are. Was he compelled to dismiss the plans others had made for post-war occupation and development, to oversee a system that would make Communist techniques of mind control standard practice and then lie about it, to under-fund armor for soldiers and treatment for the injured, to do so little to increase recruitment and retention? (Where was the call to arms in 2001 and 2002, and the bond drive?) He was not. Which means that if it didn't happen, it was because neither he nor anyone advising him cared enough to notice the need and request anything be done about it.

Everyone makes some mistakes. I would never set up perfection as a standard. But when it happens again and again, I do think it makes most sense to say "Bush and his advisors don't care enough about building a better Iraq to get good people and give them good resources".

Murtha suggests the simplist formulation: if you want a war, tell the nation that you are willing to draft for it if necessary. If you can't say that, you don't get your war, no matter how sad that makes you. If you won't say that, you aren't serious about the war as such.

Even without the war, you guys can still write essays about how "There's No 'I' In Team" or "We Have To Give 110%," you know.

von,

You and hilzoy seem to be talking past each other. No one doubts that deciding to go to war with Iraq shows stubbornness on the President's part. However, hilzoy's point, which I nowhere see you respond to, is that once the decision was made, failing to take the obvious and necessary steps to do it correctly, and to adjust course once mistakes became apparent, shows gross incompetence, to the extent of wishing any potential problems away.

I am not sure that this shows a failure of will on the part of the President's to think about what going to war really means and how, once the decision was made, to do it competently. However, any other explanation that I can think of is equally damning:

a. he and all of his advisors are sufficiently and foolishly optimistic that they could not think anything could possibly go wrong, and those who felt otherwise and wanted to plan for contigencies were shunted aside. While there is some evidence for this, I am not sure it is sufficient to explain the continued unwillingness to rethink our course, and to remove those responsible for the initial failures.

b. he believed that since his cause was objectively right, it would naturally work out for the best (possibly through divine intervention).

c. that his primary goal was not to win the war in Iraq, and therefore it did not matter whether he did or did not.

If there is another explanation for the level of incompetence we have seen, and the willing tolerance of the Administration to permit it to continue unchecked, I cannot think of it. I would listen to other theories, though.

What are your consequences?

IMHO, this war and the way Bush has fought it has guaranteed terrorist attacks against the U.S., not prevented any. Think Russia and Chechenya, and contemplate that we now have blood feuds with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. My only consolation is that when they get organized, they may have a preference for payback against Republicans.

If you're worried about the U.S. looking like a loser to the rest of the Middle East, I suspect that ship has sailed.

More to the point, you disagree with the entire hilzoy post. As shown in the leading quote, half of the point is that stubborness <> will. Put more simply, if everything action Bush does is a mistake, then it's reasonable to assume that he really doesn't care one way or another. Indeed, it's come out over the weekend that he's planning on withdrawing troops for the 2006 election, simply because it is to his advantage, so most of this discussion is probably moot.


Von,

Thank you for trying to elucidate your position. I, sitting on the other side of the table, have been completely unable to understand why anyone continues to support Bush. I have a greater appreciation for your reasoning.

I think you still miss Hilzoy's main point - that anyone who truly took WINNING a war seriously would have carefully examined not only all the alternaitves, but all outcomes. Bush appears to have done neither. From his lack of planning, the arguement is inescapable that he never took winning seriously. He fooled himself with easy lies and false assumptions. Oh, yes, he wanted to win. No one doubts that. But, what's that old saw, you can want in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up first? Well, we know without a doubt which one fills up first.

I will tell you what I think victory means in this context. Victory means a true democracy in a united Iraq, one where American troops, if present at all, are looking OUT of Iraq, not in.

What are the odds of that happening in any finite time frame, given where we are, and more importantly, given who lead us? Even with inspired leadership, the odds are long against victory. With Bush, victory is impossible. The only chance Bush has at "victory" in Iraq lies in the Iraqi people themselves. They must choose to make a country, we cannot make it for them. Truly, it's the only way a country CAN be made. All inspired American leadership could bring to the table is able assistance - and we have offered none of that. Instead, we have corruption, torture, dead children, and we keep retaking Fallujah. How many times must we retake that one town?

Tell me, Von, the path we must take to acheive democracy in Iraq. Convince me that ANY plan is doable, and then convince me that Bush can put that plan into effect.

Until then, I will continue to think that Bush's supporters are deluded and intentionally avoiding critical thinking.

Jake

PS - all that still begs the question of why we are even IN Iraq.

first of all, the formatting of this post is really messed-up - the word "Iraq" is always on its own line.

I was figuring that was poetic license.

Von, I think it's to your credit that you admit that the Admin mistakes. Your views on this subject are not shared by everyone on your side, and I haven't heard from either the Pres or SecDef 'I screwed up.' At most, it's 'mistakes were made' and then 'but you other guys are worse.'

Could Kerry have done better? We'll never know. We don't know who would've been SecDef, we don't know how other countries in the region and NATO would've reacted to a rejection by the public of the current direction.

My own view is that Kerry's announced policy wasn't much different from Bush's unannounced policy (see Novak's pre-election writings), and that Kerry would've been a lot less beholden to the throw-good-money-after-bad school of thought.

Your fears about being beholden to the base are not totally irrational, but represent a fundamental misunderstanding of Democratic politics. Dems govern by triangulation. Constantly running against the base. The wisdom of this consistent policy is the biggest debate on the Dem side, followed closely by 'should we be as mean as they are.' I think it far more likely that Kerry would have worked harder at victory than Bush is doing, to forestall the 'who lost Iraq' debate that would inevitably follow.

On the main point, I can't believe that you so thoroughly reject the line Hilzoy draws between wanting something and taking the steps to get it. You can say that you want X, but if your efforts to get X are incompetent and insufficient, surely someone can say 'you don't want X enough to do what it takes to get it.'

I think, by the way, that this describes the general public wrt the war plans we've frequently seen from Mr. Bird and Mr. Trevino. It may be that the all-out effort in SA, Pakistan etc that they have oftentimes suggested would "work." And it is indeed true that our armed forces prevailed over the Philippine insurgency early in the 20th century, and over the Native Americans in the 19th. We are not those people any more. We do not want victory badly enough to have Wounded Knees. Or Washitas.

Does this mean we don't have the "will" to win? If winning required this sort of thing, the answer would be yes. The thing is, as Weinberger and Powell emphasized, you have to build this into your decision making before going to war. People are willing to go to war under certain circumstances. Those circumstances did not really exist in 2002/03, but the Admin did it's best to get people to think they did.

There are plenty of times when you or I might want to see a use of force that does not comply with the Powell Doctrine. And maybe we'd be right on some kind of objecdtive moral scale. Maybe we'd even get lucky enough to get away with it. But when one gambles on a war without meeting the PD and loses, the result is what we're seeing, and worse.

That's a little long, but I think it can fairly be said that anyone serious about remaking the ME through force of arms would have worked up a plan that complies with the Powell Doctrine.

All:

Thanks for your comments. Because I'm currently on a short vacation and my internet connection is not-so-excellent (and I haven't yet figured out how to blog from a Blackberry), I won't be able to respond to each in the manner that I'd like. But I have and will read each one.

von

Whatever the actual consequences of a US pull-out, I doubt many Americans will be paying much attention to predictions of consequences (or spooky dark hints) coming from those who pushed so hard to get the US into Iraq in the first place.

Think of it as one consequence of being so wrong, for so long.

FYI: The not-so-excellent internet connection is why my post is wierdly formatted. I think I've (mostly) corrected it, but my apologies for any problems you may experience.

Hilzoy, I understand that you primarily intended to make "negative" points but, in the course of doing so, you must see that you also made several positive assertions -- which are addressed in my post.

von -- have a great vacation. (And check your email.)

Bush may not be the best guy to lead us to victory in Iraq. But he's the guy we have.

Bush proved himself too incompetent to lead the US to victory in Iraq long before 2004, a fact you yourself recognized. He did not gain any competence by winning the 2004 election: indeed, if we were to judge him by his public comments, it would appear that he thinks winning the 2004 election proves he was right all along and has fresh "political capital" to spend.

And victory is the what we need.

Why, yes. But needing isn't getting. The US needs to win in Iraq: but Bush isn't the President to do it. So, the US is headed for defeat: it's only a question of how much the US will lose before 2008, not if. That was settled in November 2004.

I now see that in what used to be the Murtha post, Mr. Bird has come around to my way of thinking. We're winning, and can draw down. We'll never kill all opponents of the Iraqi government, or even those willing to use force against it. We are not going to see a failed state, though. Nothing worse than maybe a couple of failed provinces.

Von, I wish you would have read my previous response to your comment on the subject, because you run into the same mistake.

"Incompetence, failure, mistake: these may be damnable offenses, but they are not failures of will."

I suggest the problem in Iraq is not a failure of will, but a failure of any realistic understanding of how efforts are linked to outcomes.

"If you think the current state of events is bad, wait until you see worse."

This seems to be the core point of your argument. We have to win, because failure sucks, and so we have to stay, because its the only way to win.

Well, there's two assumptions, both WRONG, in the logic.

1) That staying is any more likely to accomplish success than leaving.

2) That the "failure" that will be occasioned with us leaving is not the best case scenario.

The first point is easy enough to elucidate, since John Murtha did my heavy lifting over the last two days. I should only point out that, far from what Charles has painted him, he's an optomist.

The second is derived from the first, but maybe I can use an analogy.

You've lost 10,000 at a Roulette table in Vegas, and then you learn the game is rigged. Your wife is gonna KILL you when she finds out. She's standing right over there (hey, wave), and so as soon as you leave the roulette table, you're toast: unless you win back the 10,000.

Of course, because the game is rigged, the chance of you putting you money down on black and it coming up on black is 0%. But you've got 10,000 left (it's your child's college fund).

No end but victory right? Don't you have to plop the $10,000 down on black in the rigged game?

Thank you von for this post. i was hoping that you would respond to hilzoy because I was hoping a dialog could develop. It is important to be reminded that people on all sides (and this isn't a two sided debate) are, for the most part people of good will. One gets the impression from rightwing blogs and statements by Republicans on the House floor, that one cannot criticize without being unpatriotic. In that atmosphere it is easy to get sucked into the negativity. Not that Hilzoy did, in my opnion. I am writing about myself.
I don't think the "get out now " wing of the Democrats has much political influence on the leadership of the Democrats. That's why Murtha's statement was so striking. I just got one of those Hilary Clinton mailings requesting my opinions on the issues she deems important. The Iraq War isn't even on the list of issues. The Democrats in influential positions within the party for a long time simply didn't talk about the war. When they did begin to speak out it was nearly always in terms of some kind of organized departure, based on conditions in Iraq or a time schedule worked out with the Iraqis. Since the Bush administration itself is now looking into the option of a partial withdrawal after the election, I don't see how this kind of discussion can be considered defeatist. (not that von used the word 'defeatist").
I think that Bush is poised to betray those Americans who sincerely believe that we need to sustain a commitment to Iraq until some set of circumstances which could be called success has been achieved. I think he is all rhetoric and very lacking in will. My expectation is that he will use the elections as the excuse for a withdrawal, and spin the withdrawal as a step in a long term commitment. Then he will stand pat until our elections inspire him to make another withdrawal, also spun as part of our long term commitment. My assumption is that he is unwiling or unable to distinguish policy from spin and that his actions are far more oriented toward increasing the power of the Republcan party than toward any other goal. After all, if he was serious about a longterm commitment he would also be serious about a tax increase and some way to draft or recruit more troops. Those are tough issues and he shows no sign of being willing to face either one.

I should probably say, for the record, that when I wrote my post, I had von explicitly in mind as someone who did care about winning, and (partially) as a result did not vote for Bush. It's the people who support the war and did not draw that conclusion who puzzle me.

I don't say this because I think it affects von's points one way or the other; and I'm writing it less for von than for everyone else.

I think the clue to "what ails us" is in Von's post:

I am a war supporter who, out of disgust with the Administration, voted for John Kerry in the last election, a man who did and still does strike me as a total boob

That seems a very rational reponse to the situation.

Having sat on my side of the fence and watched those who, unlike Von or Sullivan etc., still voted for Bush was totally incomprehensible. Totally. Why on earth would you vote for more of the same catastrophic incompetence? Why? Why? Why?

If you had the ability to see that incompetence for what it was, then one would assume you'd make a similarly rational choice in the election. Those who didn't make that rational choice left me dumbfounded, and so, looking for some explanation for such madness, I concluded, that they either were "testosterone-fueled nincompoops" or they simply were not paying any attention.

I see there's a third choice. They believed in the mission Bush spelled out and (what?) hoped he'd get his act together? Again, Why, why, why?

Why would you expect him to do any better in a second term?

But then, perhaps suggesting his vote wasn't that rational, Von argues that there's no evidence to suggest Kerry would have fought the war better...

I return to my metaphor of the president driving the car over the cliff...perhaps the person next to him isn't universally considered a good driver, but so long as after throwing the President out of the car, he stomps on the breaks and then looks for a rational alternative to a Thelma and Louise style ending, he is the better choice.

late for a meeting...I'll be thinking about this and get back...

good debate though!

I think hilzoy's post was excellent, but, I must admit, for the most part, your comments are a refreshing rejoinder. Refreshing in the sense that you present a reasoned, non-demonizing response.

I concur.

I concur.

Me too.

I don't agree with Von: but I think this is the best possible response to Hilzoy's post.

You seem to have utterly missed the point of Hilzoy's argument. Utterly. This is not better demonstrated by the bizarre statement:

"Hilzoy has absolutely no idea what actually motivates the folks on the "other side" of this debate."

Nowhere in Hilzoy's post is any understanding of motivations claimed. Her premise, which apparently needs to be state a little more clearly for you -- fundamental mistakes of action are made when those taking such action fail to think, which demonstrates a lacking of care or interest -- leads her to the conclusion, via observation of the obvious debacle in Iraq and the disinterest in planning for that debacle, that Bush and his administration didn't care about the putative achievement of "winning." No claim about motivations was present nor would it be germane. You're arguing points that were never made and are not relevant.

Read it again!

I see there's a third choice

i see a fourth choice: the Iraq war wasn't their highest priority. no matter what language they use to describe the war now, they lumped all of Bush's platform together and weighed it against all of Kerry's.

in other words: i believe their current strident militaristic rhetoric about "will" and the evils of "dissent" and how the war is of the very utmost importance to everyone for all eternity is a bit hollow.

Discussing "will" in the context of the Bush administration is a misnomer, inflicted on Hilzoy by the need to respond to Charles's bizarre arguments.

Can't remember where I saw The Great Gatsby quoted as summation of this White House, but it's the best explanation I've seen:

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in a nutshell. They just don't care. They wouldn't know what "care" meant, outside the most obvious interpersonal level, if it bit them on the ass.

in other words: i believe their current strident militaristic rhetoric about "will" and the evils of "dissent" and how the war is of the very utmost importance to everyone for all eternity is a bit hollow.

Speaking of motivations, I'm a little curious as to the number of people who claim(ed) that Iraq was of paramount importance, but voted for Bush because of potential SCOTUS appointments. I wouldn't ordinarily be so cynical -- no, really! -- except that the reaction to Harriet Myers (both her nomination and ultimate withdrawal) seemed a little too... personal, if you know what I mean, to be accounted for by allegations of mere cronyism.

And include me amongst those who think that von more or less missed hilzoy's point here. Likewise, amongst those who thank von for his reasoned (if, IMO, wrong) disagreement.

I think that an additional option is being overlooked, Edward. There are people who Believed in the mission, believed Bush was the man to accomplish it, and believe that we are, in fact, winning and that the negative stories coming back to us are part of the media's attempt to sell newspapers or attack the President.

It's a perfectly self-reinforcing worldview, but I find quite a few people who have it.

Is there some reason the font size keeps jumping back and forth in Von's piece? It's very distracting to trying to read it.

Cleek,
I wish to commend you on your kindness, your post about other priorities was nicely done. I would likely have said something totally nonproduction about those who voted based on the notion that avoiding gay marriage is far more important that winning in Iraq or against terrorism.

1) The point has been made already in various ways: but if I understand well that I need to register in order to vote, yet do not register, it becomes harder to make the case that I really passionately sincerely wanted to vote.

2) Thus it is very difficult for me to understand von's argument that the administration really really wanted to secure the airport road (or provide electricity and water) but failed due to incompetence. Securing the airport road was not an insurmountably difficult task to accomplish in 2 1/2 years. These tasks were very important in terms of Iraqi morale, cooperation, pro-democracy sentiment. Sadr rules in part because of these failures.

3) However, contra hilzoy, it might be that the administration or Centcom sincerely believed the airport road could be best secured by killing the insurgents in Tikrit and Anbar province.

4) There was an item on metrics recently, that units were judged by the number of detainees/insurgents interrogated. A unit who came out of a neighborhood with no captures had failed. Guess the consequences of the policy.
No promotions or medals for successful sentry duty on the airport road. This army blows stuff up good, and does not do nation building or police work.
In other words, the will might have been there, but the strategy mistaken, and the tools available inadequate, even tho numerous.

We still do not have a military with a force structure and culture to do COH.

"Withdrawing from Iraq will leave a power vacuum that will make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like Singapore's stricter cousin. "

Okay, so: what's the scenario under which this will happen?

You seem to feel this is obvious; it's not obvious to me. Please describe the scenario, if you'd like to get started on convincing at least me that this is what will happen if... and that's the other part -- if what is or isn't done?

"Can't remember where I saw The Great Gatsby quoted as summation of this White House"

Wasn't it mandatory for every blog and commenter in creation to mention it at least once by December, 2004? Not that this was a bad law.

von #1:" Because I'm currently on a short vacation and my internet connection is not-so-excellent (and I haven't yet figured out how to blog from a Blackberry)... von #2: FYI: The not-so-excellent internet connection is why my post is wierdly formatted. I think I've (mostly) corrected it, but my apologies for any problems you may experience."

GF: "Is there some reason the font size keeps jumping back and forth in Von's piece? It's very distracting to trying to read it."

Probably some kind of a reading glitch.

"Is there some reason the font size keeps jumping back and forth in Von's piece?"

Eventually explained in comments, I see. Okay. Enjoy vacation, Von.

"Probably some kind of a reading glitch."

Well, no, it was a not-seeing-into-the-future-glitch.

Not understanding the plain words of a single post -- which is an error we can all make at times, and likely do -- and not knowing the future, are actually different things.

GF: The "future" to which you refer appears to have long ago passed. ; )

The war has gone EXACTLY as the neo (nazis) cons planned it. Business had other interests (like owning Iraq's national resources and treasury...oh wait they already did that).

But the neo cons wanted to destabilize the Middle East so its sacred cow Israel could do whatever it wants.

Apparently the plan is and has been to establish a permanent military presence. The disappearance of American jobs except those offered by WalMart leaves little choice to the average American young adult today; starve on the streets or join up.


Also, the neocons are dangerous idealogues with no real world experience, no curiosity and no ability to relate to other people. They all grew up playing Risk and nurturing masturbatory fantasies of world domination instead of dating.

Ameurrika uber alles. This is the Fourth Reich.

god help us.

Marblex: stop it with the Nazi stuff. It violates the posting rules. Consider this your first and only warning.

von,

If you want to win in Iraq, you'll have to call for Bush and Cheney to step down.

That's all there is to it. If you don't call for that, you lack the will to do what has to be done.

Because we all know Bush and Cheney lack the will. They won't even budget for the damn war.

I think that an additional option is being overlooked, Edward. There are people who Believed in the mission, believed Bush was the man to accomplish it, and believe that we are, in fact, winning and that the negative stories coming back to us are part of the media's attempt to sell newspapers or attack the President.

It's a perfectly self-reinforcing worldview, but I find quite a few people who have it.

You've got me pegged, Jeff.

I'm not of the Bush-can-do-no-wrong variety, but of a Bush-is-stubborn-enough-and-perhaps-stupid-enough to carry on, type. I'll never vote for him again.

Thanks von!

Anarch: "And include me amongst those who think that von more or less missed hilzoy's point here."

I think this may be 1% me-Anarch disagreement territory here - I disagree with hilzoy's claim that there exists no combination of arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance capable of the Iraq mess while caring. (I'd also throw in "awareness that accomplishing the task, given its theoretical grounding in a worldview rather alien to the anti-nation-building mainstream, requires a degree of public support inconsistent with flexible reactions.) I think the claim doesn't make any sense, and is simply refuted by the universally acknowledged fact of the admin's fervent desire to crush its domestic enemies and seize eternal glory. I think even Bush was aware that a failed policy would lead to him being a laughingstock of the sort his father (who is still respected by liberals like me who thought he did plenty of awful things) never was.

"Tim, you do realize the consequences of that "disappointment," don't you?"

Do you, von? Does Bush realize the consequences of his disappointing performance?

seize eternal glory

If I ever became nonpseudoanonymous and did a blog, I think I would use that as a title.

DaveC, you're welcome to it - I'll waive the license fee this time.

SomeCallMeTim: Murtha suggests the simplist formulation: if you want a war, tell the nation that you are willing to draft for it if necessary. If you can't say that, you don't get your war, no matter how sad that makes you. If you won't say that, you aren't serious about the war as such.

Or even the simpler: if you want a war, tell the nation you're willing to pay at least some of the cash for it. Forego some tax cuts. Don't charge it on the kids' and grandkids' credit cards.


Here's what I don't understand.

Why do the "no end but victory" people maintain such a laissez-faire stance with regards to the Bush administration?

Let me endorse the point others have made. Having the will to win means doing what is needed, even if that is unattractive.

Having the will to run a marathon doesn't mean talking often and loudly about how determined you are. It means doing the hard training needed, and giving up things that interfere with it.

In one sense, having the will to accomplish something means short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. In these terms I do not think there is a credible argument that Bush has demonstrated the will to achieve victory in IRaq.

Having the will to run a marathon doesn't mean talking often and loudly about how determined you are. It means doing the hard training needed, and giving up things that interfere with it.

now that's a good metaphor for this "will" stuff.

"now that's a good metaphor for this "will" stuff."

Or maybe it's like declaring a determination to lose weight, fasting for a weekend, then going back to your regular diet.

After which, you go around for two years bragging about your progress and asking people "do I look fat?" then screaming at them if they say "yes, you do".

"Hilzoy’s basic presumption seems to be that the Bush Administration is stupid and black hearted and that the Bush Administration’s supporters are testosterone-fueled nincompoops, easily misled by the latest shiny thing."

Sounds good enough for me.

Von:

Bush also "does [not] really care about Iraq per se," only for his legacy as a big thinker. What a monstrous thing to believe with more than 2000 American soldiers dead in the desert.

It is indeed a monstrous thing to believe. That I am less than sure about the part of his only caring about his legacy makes it no less monstrous.

"Indeed, many did conclude that Kerry was weaker and more wobbly on the war than Bush."

I think you could even hold that position without invalidating the thesis that a vote for Kerry was necessary for success in Iraq.

Kerry was an unknown as a war leader. Bush was a *known failure*. As so many have pointed out above, his failures were such that the only reasonable conclusion is that little thought was put into the war or its aftermath. Not just mistakes, but casually thoughtless mistakes.

There is IMO no way one could look at Bush's track record and predict success. One might look very doubtfully at Kerry's track record, but even with that (perhaps unwarrented) skepticism, I think you'd still be forced to accept the *possibility* that Kerry could lead us successfully.

Wu

Mark me down as believing that the administration's failures have less to do with a lack of care or alternate priorities and more to do with the fact that Bush II sincerely and fervently believe that all they must do in any matter is remain faithful to God and/or Neoconservatism and the world will realign itself according to their lead, either by structural or by divine means. He reads his own stubbornness as faithfulness and every setback as a test of faith.

I think this is sheer folly, but a lot of evangelicals see this as a necessary first step towards restoring their country to favor with God. I have no idea how to bridge this particular gap. I can only hope that enough Bush supporters begin to see this as a fault rather than a merit and start demanding competent planning in addition to erstwhile faithfulness.

Withdrawing now may be a better way to victory than continuing to sweep the streets for innocent bystanders and bombing out buildings. We really do fight and kill well and insofar as we capture and hold territory and have secure supply lines we are already 100% victorious. Making a people into democrats and a nation into one of laws and not of personality is about winning hearts and minds. This is the contest that Bush has no taste for and one that Kerry is better equipped to wage.

Von's claim that Kerry is more beholding to the cut and run Democrats is nonsense. It shows he has a faulty filter for Republican talking points. Kerry's strength as Senator was always in heading investigative committees and getting at the truth. In short, he knows how to do the work necessary to get a good result. He's more likely to hold people accountable for bad results and to change course when things are working out well. He's less likely to make ideology a prerequisite for working to rebuild Iraq. Limited he may be but his strengths are limitless when compared to Bush's.

God, this is familiar. Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, with my son, last week:

Me: Son, you don't get your birthday toys until your room is clean. I've told you that!
Son: But I want to play with them!
Me: Then clean your room.
Son: But I want to play with my new toys.
Me: Obviously not.
Son: (starting to cry) I DO TOO!
Me: Not enough to clean your room. We're done here. We all know what you have to do to get your new toys. Either do it or don't, but I'm not listening to another word on it.

It's like that. Only instead of with an overly dramatic eight year old, it's with otherwise reasonable adults.

You want to win in Iraq? Institute a draft. It's the only way to get the troops to do it. You know it. I know it. Everyone in the US knows it.

Either support the draft, or STFU. All this "Will to victory" BS is just cover so you can blame your "enemies" for your own failures.

You don't get to start a war, refuse to commit the resources necessary to win it, then blame everyone ELSE when you fail. You fail because of the choice you made. Own up to it, or STFU.

I think this may be 1% me-Anarch disagreement territory here - I disagree with hilzoy's claim that there exists no combination of arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance capable of the Iraq mess while caring.

Caring in an abstract sense, sure. Caring in a meaningful sense? I don't see how that can be possible, for precisely the reasons hilzoy outlined (and which were well analogized by Bernard): I cannot fathom how someone who meaningfully cared about success in Iraq could have failed to plan, and plan seriously, for the aftermath of the invasion even if for some ungodly reason they believed that we'd be greeted with only flowers and candy and sunshine and ponies. Incompetence would be to create plans that didn't work or were poorly executed; what we're seeing is the end result of the more or less complete lack of a plan (certainly the absence of a serious plan or even AFAICT serious governmental effort towards developing a serious plan), and that's another matter entirely.

[I suppose you could make the argument that the Bush Administration had such a quasi-religious belief about the way the world worked that their "faith", loosely defined, trumped all rational real-world considerations a la The Children's Crusade, but I'm not convinced that's a route any of us want to go down.]

And yes, von, I agree that that's monstrous. As near as I can tell, it's also correct. To comment on the former while completely omitting the latter is to commit the ever-popular sin of critiquing the etiquette while ignoring substantive abuses, and it's something we need to expunge from the conversation ASAP. If we cannot call liars "liars", if we cannot call torture "torture", if we cannot call monstrous acts "monstrous", we lose our most essential defense to our way of life: the truth.

No one, in regard to the 2004 elections, has mentioned the fear factor. The Bush campaign used this very effectively, and people were still pretty shaken up at having been attacked. Remember all the threats of "mushroom clouds," should we elect Kerry? Remember the changing threat levels (that have remained absolutely stable since the election)? Remember the tying together of Saddam and al Quaeda? Remember all the "I believe if we fight them over there, we will not have to fight them here?" What frustrated me at the time, and still does, was that a lot of the people voting did not think deeply at all. They merely heard the talking points, bought them for whatever reason, and voted accordingly. This has been a trend for sometime in elections here, but I think that Bush/Rove, et al, used it to great advantage....and Kerry did not. I firmly believe that a lot of people voted for Bush because his stubborness was read as strength and, thus, he gave them a sense of security.

As to Iraq, looking at the difficulty that we have today in trying to figure out what to do about it, and looking back to where we were at the time of the election, I think it was only the people willing to think deeply (like Von) who would alter their vote for Bush based upon it. That it is a massive failure is starting to hit people in the face now, and they are finally starting to question. How unfortunate that it took them so long.

They had a plan: it was Ahmed Chalabi.

Thank you, von, for writing this. I don't know how many times this past election I was thankful, for once, that I lived in Indiana, where my vote didn't matter. And it was still agony. Hilzoy: So, people who voted for Bush weren't stupid, just displaying a lack of care. That's not a whole lot better. How about this: the democrats failed to nominate a canidate who could be perceived to do better in Iraq or indeed the war on terror than a known idiot. For those not ready to completely write off their fellow countrymen, that seems a reasonable take that avoids aspersions of stupidity or carelessness.

For those not ready to completely write off their fellow countrymen, that seems a reasonable take that avoids aspersions of stupidity or carelessness.
No, I think "My Party Right or Wrong" covers it.

The Democrats are known for infighting -- we're famous for shooting down those inside our party. But the GOP? They've supplanted God, Jesus, and America in the eyes of too many of their voters. Charles there is a good example -- he'll excuse ANYTHING in an attempt to shield the party. Screw America. Screw morality. Screw ideals. The GOP trumps them all.

I vote Democratic -- straight ticket lately -- because the slavish devotion to the GOP of it's followers. I'll take my chances with the infighting, bickering, and generally disarray of the Democrats. To many members of the GOP seem to belong more to a cult than a political party.

Liberals in this country could have given more money to the effort to defeat Bush in '04, but we didn't care.

Remember all the threats of "mushroom clouds," should we elect Kerry?
Scary, scary wolves.

rilkefan: speak for yourself.

(I was halfway tempted to look myself up on open secrets and link to it, but thought better of it.)

I don't want to make this a snarky observation, but I am again a bit puzzled by the reference in the title. The Wilde farce hinges on two men who concoct a story in order to convince women to marry them and then, as a 'douce' ex machina, it turns out that the lie they told was true and everything is alright. If I were to deconstruct your essay (and btw, it is precisely what we needed here, so for that I thank you), I'd have to make reference that the premise that somehow, intentions don't matter and that lies that subsequently turn out to be true aren't really lies. Yet would the American people have voted for war had not the cherry picking and pattern of anonymous leaks not occurred? It seems awfully blithe to suggest that these lies turned out to be 'true' because now we can't withdraw from Iraq.

You also wrote:
Indeed, Hilzoy’s attack is on war supporters is not even useful as a point of rhetoric; for who on the other side will be persuaded by a post that requires them to admit that, yes, they are just as evil and/or stupid as Hilzoy paints them?

At a (mercifully) few points in my life, I was doing something that was absolutely wrong-headed and stupid and was convinced that this was what I was supposed to be doing. (as a rule, these generally involved women) My friends were the ones who said, geez, you are being an idiot, is this really what you want? In the same way, the debate has gone far past the point where one wants to keep the other sides good will, as the demonization that has gone on attests. It is now that someone says hey, you have been stupid and you need to stop. I'm not sure why, at this point in time, Hilzoy has some imperative to make sure that war supporters don't feel stupid and evil. (cue Stuart Smalley 'You are not stupid, you are not evil. You were just misguided.')

Perhaps the only way to convince people is to have a herd of scapegoats slaughtered in the media for the next month or two (per Edward's suggestion in his post) and after that, we can convince ourselves that we are good guys. This is probably the way it will work, and everyone will think that they were anti-war, but this sort of myopia is precisely why, after 9-11, far too many commentators and non-Americans took the attitude of hey, you guys had it coming (and just for the record, I think that is a monstrous thought).

While not holding Japanese cultural behavior up as a model, I would point out that the most powerful apology is not where one provides an excuse for what something happened, but when one offers no excuse at all. 'I have no excuse' and one bows to the point where their forehead touches the floor during a kneeling bow. No look how much we've helped the world, no we are the shining city on the hill. This is the Pottery Barn rule biting every administration supporter, past and present, on the ass. It should also bite people like me, who felt that the President couldn't be embarking on this wonderful adventure without some assurances of the threat (Cue the 'But he didn't say imminent!' chorus)

Kerry's famouse Vietnam point about asking the last man to die for a mistake is now answered by the notion that if you keep claiming that it is not a mistake, it will cease to be one. Fine for 'A trivial comedy for serious people', but not good enough for 2000+ dead and countless billions wasted.

It is unfair to characterize Bush as having lacked the will to win in Iraq because he and his administration planned poorly for the invasion and resulting occupation. You can have the best of intentions and still completely mess something up. We typically label those people “inept.”

No sane leader, and I believe Bush to be sane, willing sends men and women into harms way with the full understanding that those lives are being recklessly sacrificed for an unobtainable cause. I do believe that the administration displayed a startling (in hindsight) lack of judgment that has lead to the loss of many lives. But that lack of judgment does not impugn Bush’s will.

Hilzoy said: …… It's the people who support the war and did not draw that conclusion who puzzle me.

I am one of the people that felt that the US must finish what we've started. I was also pretty sure that Kerry's plan for Iraq was probably no better than the current administration's. And while Kerry may not have been "more of the same" the results of something different would probably have been similar to what Bush has accomplished thus far. I admit that this is something I cannot prove. And since Kerry did not win my opinion is strictly speculation.

So I voted based on other issues.

The way I see it, the only way to get the military out of the ditch we have currently dug for them is to stop digging. I recognize it is not a popular position to hold. But we find our military caught between a rock and a hard spot. Someone (the President) needs to make a tough decision on which is the better sacrifice for the US – our the well being of our Military, or Civil War in Iraq.

Did you sell the jade brooch your grandmother gave you? Did you trade your Camry in for a Tercel? Did you move into a studio apt? Did you quit your job changing the world one person at a time and go get a hefty salary shilling for Big Pharma in '02 so you could give more to the D candidate? Did you have the will to do what it took to beat Bush? I sure didn't - but then again, I anyway think the universe is empty of value and all actions are meaningless, predetermined, and pointless.

Bush has steely resolve...just like Winston Churchill!

This whole war in Iraq is just like WW2, why can’t anyone see this?

My dreams do not lie!

On wanting to scream.

I should probably say, clearly: my post was not directed at "war supporters". I did not support getting into the war, but I do think that the consequences of not doing it right are disastrous, and therefore I am to this day not convinced that we ought to leave, even though I think that the consequences of our staying are also horrible.

It was directed at the administration, and secondarily at people who supported that administration on the basis of Iraq.

And I did not say that either the administration or those supporters were stupid or evil. As I said earlier, my explanation for why they did what they did is an alternative to stupidity; it doesn't presuppose it. (It's compatible with either stupidity or its absence.) As for evil: that depends on what you take evil to be. If it means 'full of malign intent', again, my post is an alternative to that. It posits a lack of any clear intention at all, not the presence of an evil one.

On the other hand, you might use "evil" to mean any character trait that a responsible person would not have, since having it predictably leads you astray. Example: some of the obedient people in Stanley Milgram's experiments on obedience. (The experiments in which people were told that they were testing someone else, and that they had to shock him when he made mistakes, increasing the level each time, and lots of people delivered all the available shocks, despite screams, and in some versions apparent heart failure.)

My take on this has always been that the reason some of these people delivered all the shocks was not that they didn't see the moral problem, or had e.g. hitherto untapped veins of sadism, or that they actually believed that obeying the experimenter's orders was more important than not seriously harming another person; but just that when confronted with a situation in which they did not want to deliver the shocks and also did not want to disobey the experimenter to his face, they didn't try to figure out which reason was more important, but instead sort of froze, unable to make any decision at all. And since they were already in the experiment, absent a decision to leave it, they kept doing what they were doing.

Suppose I'm right. Is this evil? Not in the 'malign intent, preferably with horns' sense. But it might be in a different sense: to be the sort of person who just freezes in this sort of situation, even when you are shocking someone into apparent heart failure, is to have an awful character trait, and one that can (and in this case did) get people into serious moral trouble.

In this (extended) sense of evil, I guess I was saying that Bush was evil. I certainly agree with von that to send people off to die without really doing whatever you can to make sure that you've planned well, and that it's really necessary to send them, is awful. I can't see how one can maintain that Bush and his administration did make those efforts, though, so the 'awful' part I take as given.

"Bush has steely resolve...just like Winston Churchill!"

They had to take Gallipoli away from Churchill. Too much steely resolve.

I'm a Churchill booster on Gallipoli. You want an example where some "will" was needed, that's a good case. The damn admiral should've remembered his mission instead of fretting over some obsolete battlewagons.

Of course, that was one day. Charles is more like someone arguing that we should just carry on at Verdun/Somme/Passchendaele another 3 months, and surely the French/Germans/Brits will break.

Good response to hilzoy, von, but the problem I have with both your response and CB's is that when actually discussing what's happening in Iraq, your argument comes down to this:

The bottom line is that, whatever got us to this point in Iraq, we can't simply withdraw. Bush may be a fool; Cheney may be the devil’s ill-dressed stepchild. It doesn’t matter. Withdrawing from Iraq will leave a power vacuum that will make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like Singapore's stricter cousin. If you think the current state of events is bad, wait until you see worse.

There's a hole in the argument - your assertion that Iraq is winnable at this stage. Until you can establish Iraq can be won (with, maybe, some real-life examples - CB's last post is at least in the right direction here) the consequences of losing are irrelevant.

I have to agree with Morat. It's rather surreal to hear Von write about the "will to win" wrt a war "we simply cannot afford to lose" while he is on vacation.

Rock on, Von!

"(I was halfway tempted to look myself up on open secrets and link to it, but thought better of it.)"

I stopped counting after it went past $10,000.

(I hadn't noticed the total at the top until I was done.)

Oh, and as a Coloradan, particular thanks for the Stan Matsunaka donations. That was a long shot, but I'm pretty damn happy with the 2004 Colorado election results, and with the trends for the future. The Republicans have suceeded into putting Colorado well on the way to being a fairly solidly blue state, particularly if we disregard part of Colorado Springs. (Gaining control of both State houses for the first time in decades, gaining a Senate seat, and being extremely likely to recapture the governorship next year.) And the failure of TABOR demonstrated, at least to those who aren't True Believers, the, ah, limitations of that notion.

Liberals in this country could have given more money to the effort to defeat Bush in '04, but we didn't care.

If you'd written "care enough", I'd probably agree with your sentiment. As it is, though, I think you've somewhat missed the point and that this error is illustrative. For example, if the Bush Administration had planned for A, B and C (all high probability outcomes), but unfortunately outcome D (a low probability outcome) was what had happened, I might charge them with being incompetent but certainly not with carelessness, malice or anything of the sort. When it's clear that they not only failed to plan for A, B, C or D, but in fact made their plans predicated on Z happening (so unlikely as to beggar the imagination), that looks a lot less like ineptitude and a lot more like carelessness or something worse.

It'd be like, I dunno, forgetting to check that your air tank was full before you went scuba-diving -- or worse, seeing that your air tank was half-empty and deciding that it was OK since you simply weren't going to breathe that much. [You can totally swim full-speed without breathing, right?] These are mistakes that even a casual acquaintance with the subject, let alone actual competence, simply cannot admit. Pretty much the only conclusion, absent actual malice or stupidity, is that you didn't care enough to get even a casual acquaintance with the subject -- only enough to get yourself into serious trouble.

Of course, the real comparison here would not be to you going scuba-diving, but in sending others to dive for you and declaring their half-empty tanks sufficient for the task at hand. Then you, like Bush, would have possessed just enough knowledge and just little enough caring to get other people into serious trouble... or, well, dead.

"No, it wasn't any of that. I had trouble finishing Hilzoy's piece because its assumptions regarding the Bush Administration and its supporters are almost impossible to me to understand"

What I think you don't understand, apart from what hilzoy was actually saying about Bush & his supporters, is the difference between an "assumption" and a "conclusion supported by a careful argument."

An "assumption" is something you start with and don't actually back up with evidence or argument. Like the idea that if something is monstrous, it is therefore not true.

[IrrelevantNitpick] If you are planning on swimming full-speed whilst scuba diving, you are going to have problems entirely unrelated to how much air is in your tank.[/IrrelevantNitpick]

(There are also circumstances under which it's perfectly fine to go back into the water on a tank you've partly used up already, but that's even more irrelevant.)

If the Bush Administration had planned for A, B and C (all high probability outcomes), but unfortunately outcome D (a low probability outcome) was what had happened, I might charge them with being incompetent but certainly not with carelessness, malice or anything of the sort.
So here's the nub, I guess - I think they believed they had planned for the likely scenarios - they hadn't planned for a stampede of paisley unicorns, they hadn't planned for having been hornswoggled by Chalabi. Plans go awry all the time in ways that make even smart careful caring people go "D'oh!"

(p.s., hilzoy, no offense intended about the brooch etc.)

rilkefan: none taken. I only responded at all because, as Gary found out, given my personal history, it made me laugh out loud.

(I mean: during 2004 I gave well over 10% of my annual income away in political donations, not counting advocacy groups and the like. It was madness, and I knew it, but, well, you know.)

It seems to me that Hilzoy has absolutely no idea what actually motivates the folks on the "other side" of this debate.

Her point wasn't what motivates thinkers like you, but solely what motivated the Bushies. I seriously doubt that the thinking of the Bushies is similar to the thinking of a large majority of the pro-war folks, who engage in projection of their own beliefs onto Bush as if he must be thinking along the same lines.

A lot of war-supporters are sincere, but it is false to think that their sincere thinking is in any way similar to the decision-making process of the Bushies.

There is too much of a record of deceit and bad behavior by the Bushies to conclude that they are sincere thinkers. They are the reason we have not had meaningful policy debate -- they demonize anyone who even tries to be critical. This is not the mark of someone who is a sincere thinker.

Incompetence, failure, mistake: these may be damnable offenses, but they are not failures of will. Hilzoy strings together an impressive series of thinly-sourced impressions of Bush's fecklessness to prove her case to the contrary.

Thinly-sourced? The record regarding his administration's behavior is already about as ugly as it can get, and getting worse every month. Realize that huge amounts of bad behavior remain covered up because there has not been any investigation of it -- the ongoing coverups is itself powerful evidence of intentional bad behavior.

So what is the cause for so much bad behavior? -- your thesis is "stubborness."
So what causes the stubbornness? And the sourcing for this?

When you operate by deceit, you get locked into positions because to be flexible becomes a partial admission of deceit. Its not stubbornness that causes such intractability, though they may look the same -- its the necessity to stay loyal to the story and spin no matter what. Which is why Bush cares only about loyalty and pays no attention to policy discussion. He could care less about facts -- he is not motivated by them.

Bush falls into that legal categorization of intent known as "reckless" which the law ends up defining as wilful bad behavior anyway -- I know you are familiar with the concept. Its because when you repeatedly act in defiance of the facts in your face, it is fair to presume that you "willfully" intend the bad consequences of your behavior. You may not willfully intend to act badly, but you are so indifferent to proper behavior, that it is fair to say that your intent is intentionally bad.

And that is on his good days -- there is too much evidence of deliberate lying about rather serious matters to attribute his failings to "stubbornness."

and that victory cannot be achieved if we "preemptively declare defeat."

Here's where you go South in your argument.

The quoted language is your link to Fineman's article about the impact of Murtha's position.

It is crap to label it "preemptively declaring defeat" -- I have yet to see any Republican cogently argue the facts of Murtha's military points rather than relying on demonization -- a sad trend that you continue. And Murtha probably knows as much or more as anyone about what is happening and how to assess it.

For the record, Murtha is not decalring defeat nor is he calling for immediate wwithdrawal -- despite the best efforts fo the GOP to lie about this.

Re Von: Thanks! I enjoyed your argument, particularly the excellent comment that “Bush realized early on that the status quo with Saddam could not be maintained.” Indeed. From Kuwait on American policy makers realized that Saddam would not stay in his box. But a question is why and to what end? What was the status quo all about?

Re John Miller (“Actually, in terms of Iraq, I believe that Bush has gotten exactly what he wants from the war: re-election.”): You all may be interested in Frances Fox Piven’s recent book, “The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism,” where she discusses the war in terms of the exigencies of domestic policy, as opposed to the foreign policy issues that typically dominate the debate. I heard her give a lecture on the subject last month and her thesis seemed sound to me.

Re Jake’s comment (“I think you still miss Hilzoy's main point - that anyone who truly took WINNING a war seriously would have carefully examined not only all the alternatives, but all outcomes”) and Justin’s (“This seems to be the core point of your argument. We have to win, because failure sucks, and so we have to stay, because its the only way to win.”): Great points. Why do we assume that winning is important? Is it possible to want war for its own sake? Why does the language of the GWOT constantly inform us of a war without end? For my money, the closer the association one makes between the GWOT and a continuation of the CW, the more the whole dynamic makes sense. Why do we assume the Bush admin wants victory in Iraq, at least in the way it is most often defined as establishing a democratic government there? Why does the US need to win in Iraq? For a good understanding of what winning means to the admin, read how the Iraqi economic laws were rewritten while the CPA was in charge.

What I find difficult to understand is how folks can see through so many of the statements by the admin on Iraq (WMD’s, connection with 9/11, decreasing terrorism, etc.), yet accept the “spread democracy” premise at face value, as if this was a legitimate casus belli – just because the admin says this is the reason does not make it so. Where is the evidence for this rationale? I see no interest for democracy in Iraq that extends beyond rhetoric; stability yes, but democracy no. For example, if this is about democracy, how do we explain Ahmed Chalabi, the neo-con’s man, and his post-CPA positions as Minister of Oil and now as Deputy Prime Minister?

In re the comments by nous_athanatos: Perhaps a big part of the equation. Think American apocalyptic discourse, Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” (the end of the dialectic), and then read the introduction to “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” put out in Sep 2002. What’s going on here?

Re the Dems v. the Reps on the war in Iraq: Can someone please demonstrate how these two parties differ strategically or operationally on Iraq? I see tactical differences only.

I don’t understand Hilzoy’s thinking here: “I did not support getting into the war, but I do think that the consequences of not doing it right are disastrous, and therefore I am to this day not convinced that we ought to leave, even though I think that the consequences of our staying are also horrible.” My friend wants to rob a bank. I advise him that it is a bad idea. He plans to do it anyway. My response is, “Well, then you’d better do it right and here’s my advice on how to proceed”? If the war was a bad idea, how can it be done right?

The upside is that this is a somewhat better level of debate than Charles managed. The downside is that there remain a whole bunch of serious problems here:

The Credibility Gap
A whole spectrum of commentary and commentators have been digging a deep hole in their credibility since before the war began, and most of those who have persisted can provide little in the way of concrete reasons to trust their judgment now except to glower darkly about what might happen if America doesn't "stay the course" as they understand it. von is now apparently making an appeal for the opinions of these people to be treated as being equally rational and carefully-considered as those of non-war-supporters -- and that's awfully difficult to justify at this stage of the game, even if we restrict our focus to those few figures who don't treat demonization, histrionics and outright revisionism and dishonesty as tactics of first resort.

Sometimes, you don't get to act and speak foolishly and then take other people to task for actually regarding your choices as foolish. This is one of those times.

Specific Analytical Problems
The main factor that reinforces the Credibility Gap is the apparent unwillingness of warbloggers to directly confront troubling issues that are central to their case for open-ended war in Iraq.

For instance, a great deal of hope is hung on the leadership potential of a White House which has shown staggering incompetence at basic governance tasks on its own soil, let alone in Iraq. Administration metrics on "progress" in Iraq have proven suspiciously malleable and misleading (the latest supposed "turning point" was a vote on an incomplete and divisive constitution that was bedevilled by large-scale ballot fraud), yet the rest of us are continually lectured about our failure to acknowledge this so-called "progress." Various outrages, from corruption to torture (directly and by proxy) to the use of white phosphorus, are brushed aside with increasingly-tenuous presumption that Saddam Was Worse (or rationalizations that the outrage in question really isn't all that important). A dire focus is maintained on the possible consequences of "cutting and running" while little or no serious attention is paid to the possibility (not claimed only by Murtha) that the American presence fuels much of the violence. A positively creepy obsession with generating a kind of "stabbed-in-the-back" narrative about the media and dissenters on the home front remains front and centre. The daunting reality that the insurgency seems to have managed to almost completely freeze out American intel -- which is the only plausible explanation for how it's able to now operate largely through IEDs -- merits nary a mention that I've seen. And blogs like NEBV proceed from the assumption that the way they'd like to conduct the war, justifiable or not, is in any way relevant to how the White House will conduct the war.

None of it makes for impressive reading. None of it convinces me that the Credibility Gap is anything but completely deserved. And it's telling that even what passes for a decently-informed warblogger can mount little in the way of response when challenged on an issue of substance; cf. Tacitus' recent exchange with dr. ngo on this blog.

Inattention to the State of the Debate
The NEBV position -- which I understand von to be defending here -- is further undermined by an apparent inattention to the actual state of the debate. American commanders on the ground have been quite frank for some time about the diminishing returns of remaining in-theatre (aside from being the first Dem since Dean to actually grow some 'nads on the war issue, Murtha was really only distinguished in calling for an immediate withdrawal plan). The NEBVers don't appear to be able to give any solid reasons why Americans should reject that logic and support an indefinite occupation (presumably supported by a draft). Iraqis certainly show no signs of wanting an open-ended occupation, and Bush's base in America -- for all its bluster about treason and lack of patriotism and "loser-defeatism" -- shows little sign of wanting to bleed and die for a goal supposedly comparable in importance and nobility to WWII.

All of these things are signs that in many ways, events have left the NEBVers behind. And they appear to have no response to this beyond outdated pro-war boilerplate.

Do I think that people who continue to support Bush in spite of his missteps are idiotic, misled or simply evil? Based on what I've seen, it's hard to avoid the impression that some combination of the first two is widely true (I'd like to think that "misled" predominates) -- and the fact that warbloggers continue to appear much more obsessed with avoiding such charges than with mounting a solid case tends to support that impression. I don't care for throwing the term "evil" around myself (I'd much rather reserve it for people who have actually committed, ordered or perpetrated war crimes), but the bulk of war boosterism at this point is hard to see as morally edifying in any way, and there's no point in pussy-footing around that.

hilzoy: "over 10%"

Well, my point stands, I think. At some point one says, "I hate what Bush is doing to my country but I'm not going to sell my Bach cds or dip into the funds I set aside to send my kids to Harvard (they can go to Berkeley)". Christ didn't say, "Go thy way, sell 10% of whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor".

In my last paragraph above, I just wrote: committed, ordered or perpetrated war crimes

Which is a dispatch from the Department of Redundancy Department. Hopefully the meaning is clear.

I should also make clear that the Specific Analytical Problems I alluded to above are not all present in von's post specifically -- I regard them as generally present in pro-war discourse, is all.

Slightly off-topic but with regards to the Milgram experiment:

"My take on this has always been that the reason some of these people delivered all the shocks was not that they didn't see the moral problem, or had e.g. hitherto untapped veins of sadism, or that they actually believed that obeying the experimenter's orders was more important than not seriously harming another person; but just that when confronted with a situation in which they did not want to deliver the shocks and also did not want to disobey the experimenter to his face, they didn't try to figure out which reason was more important, but instead sort of froze, unable to make any decision at all. And since they were already in the experiment, absent a decision to leave it, they kept doing what they were doing."

Thank you Hilzoy! That explanation rings very true to me, but I never managed to verbalize it that way before.

Otto: "My friend wants to rob a bank. I advise him that it is a bad idea. He plans to do it anyway. My response is, “Well, then you’d better do it right and here’s my advice on how to proceed”? If the war was a bad idea, how can it be done right?"

The analogy I tend to use: I decide to kidnap you and remove one of your kidneys to sell on the black market. I have you strapped to the table, and I have opened you up and have the kidney halfway removed, when suddenly it occurs to me that what I am doing is wrong.

Should I: (a) drop my scalpel and say, "oh no, I cannot participate in this evil act any more", and leave you to bleed to death? Or (b): do my best to stop the bleeding, stitch you up, and make what amends I can?

Bonus question: if someone else is doing this, and I am a doctor tied up in a corner, (and let's assume I have tried to talk the person out of doing this before he started), should I: (a) decline to give advice on how to do this w/o killing the patient, on the grounds that since it's wrong, there's no point, or (b) offer such advice?

I have to agree with Morat. It's rather surreal to hear Von write about the "will to win" wrt a war "we simply cannot afford to lose" while he is on vacation.

We shall fight them on the beaches, and in the air, and on the forums, and in the comment threads, and at the casinos, and at the seedy little tiki bars at least thirty years past their heyday, and...

"The analogy I tend to use: I decide to kidnap you and remove one of your kidneys to sell on the black market. I have you strapped to the table, and I have opened you up and have the kidney halfway removed, when suddenly it occurs to me that what I am doing is wrong."

Unfortunately, the GOP's Iraq War would be like this, only with the perpetrator neglecting to acquire a scalpel, and so using a rusty nail instead, and failing to consider the necessity of controlling bleeding and thus not doing so.

Now, let's say the doctor bound in the corner somehow breaks free in mid-operation.

Can the patient be saved? Probably not. The patient probably bled out quite quickly.


Hey von, would you go skydiving if Bush packed your parachute?

Hilzoy: The analogy I tend to use: I decide to kidnap you and remove one of your kidneys to sell on the black market. I have you strapped to the table, and I have opened you up and have the kidney halfway removed, when suddenly it occurs to me that what I am doing is wrong.

To continue the analogy with Iraq, your choices are: should you (a) kill me in the process of attempting to stop the bleeding, stitch up the corpse to make it look tidier, and assure my grieving relatives that you're terribly sorry, then move on to the next still-living victim to kill them by half-removing their liver, while feeling good about yourself because you felt sorry and stopped halfway through; or (b) be arrested and put on trial for murder?

Von- Thank you. Your post juxtaposed with Charles' most recent 2 posts gave me the most amusement I have had in months.

Watching Charles do a complete rhetorical 180 from; begining redeployment within 6 months is the position of a loser-defeatist to "American forces should withdraw in six months." Followed by Von saying roughly: 'you must not question Republican's sincerity you simply must not.'

Just too precious for words.

"Can the patient be saved? Probably not. The patient probably bled out quite quickly."

However one wishes to characterize present-day Iraq, there seems to be quite a lot of thrashing involved, and few signs of having come remotely close to having yet bled out.

Breaking out of the analogy, one also must note that useful as it is, like all analogies, it has limits; Iraq may go into something resembling full civil war, or Lebanon of a quarter century ago, or be split up (or none of those things may happen), but it's actually never going to fully "bleed out."

How much influence we can have is another question. It generally can't be over-stated how much more important it is to focus on "what can we realistically accomplish at the price we're willing to pay?" than on "what is the outcome we desire?"

"However one wishes to characterize present-day Iraq, there seems to be quite a lot of thrashing involved, and few signs of having come remotely close to having yet bled out."

Wellll, okay, but in that case consider that the "patient" is not Iraq itself, but our odds of achieving a meaningful victory (ie, Iraq under a regime meaningfully better than Saddam, Al Qaeda unable to operate overtly or covertly, etc.).

Dear lord, it's just become clear. This is all just the Terri Schiavo thing all over again.

sorry: that was just the part of the analogy designed to answer the question: does the fact that invading was wrong mean that we should get out now? To which the answer is: it depends on whether there's ongoing damage that you can prevent by staying.

The question whether to stay now, in analogy terms, is: OK, you have realized that you should not have started the operation, but you did, and here you are. Now you realize a further thing: you are drunk, and so you might just be making things worse. Here I think the question whether or not you should continue depends on how likely you are to make things worse rather than better.

It goes without saying (I hope) that whatever the answer to that last question is, the answer to the question 'can you be the doctor in this story and not be deeply ashamed of your conduct?' is obvious. At least, for anyone capable of shame.

i'm having a bad case of cognitive dissonance reconciling this "Earnest" post, the "Six Months" post and the "Loser-Defeatist" post.

basically, i get the sense that the conservative defenders of the war think that disengagement is appropriate but don't want to hear it from the anti-war posters.

hunh?

well, if the Republican party needs cover from the Democrats to justify a withdrawal, I'm willing to provide it. Yes, I fully recognize that in 20 years the next generation of bloodthirsty neo-cons will blame the anti-war movement for stabbing the war fighters in the back. I'm sure that this war will be seen as being just a winnable as Vietnam is now seen to be. (just a little more funding and ARVN, i mean the national iraqi army, will be able to stand on its own, really.)

but that is a price i'm willing to pay if it stops this madness.

basically, i get the sense that the conservative defenders of the war think that disengagement is appropriate but don't want to hear it from the anti-war posters.

We are there for another election cycle. That is 4 years at least.

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