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August 31, 2010

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Economics, over the years, has become more and more abstract and divorced from events in the real world. Economists, by and large, do not study the workings of the actual economic system. They theorize about it. As Ely Devons, an English economist once said at a meeting, “If economists wished to study the horse, they wouldn’t go and look at horses. They’d sit in their studies and say to themselves, ‘What would I do if I were a horse?’”

--Ronald H. Coase

Meh. On pretty much all of those, she's wrong about why she was wrong.

For example, on the financial crisis, she blames the housing bubble for, "wholesale runs on the money markets, the collapse of the shadow banking system, and 10+% unemployment", when really all that should be attributed to wrong guess #3 -- her conviction that the SEC decision in 2004 to relax investment bank leverage rules was OK.

Worse, none of this seems to amount to anything more than a list of wrong guesses. What's she gonna to do to improve her analysis going forward? Stop trying to guess what Saddam is thinking?

What's she gonna to do to improve her analysis going forward? Stop trying to guess what Saddam is thinking?

Yeah, I tried to suggest that this was a bad analytical model to be applying.

Thus, interpreting Saddam's actions should have been low on the list of evidence for WMD, or the lack thereof, with "what are the inspectors who are there following our best intel finding" placing much, much higher.

So you're telling me that I shouldn't be spending a lot of time thinking about what my almost-3-year-old has to say when I ask her if she was eating chocolate if there is chocolate all over her hands and face and chocolate wrappers all over the floor? Really? Are you sure?

She just doesn't want to admit that she favors the mob, especially if that mob desires the death of foreign bodies.

I suspect we could find her intellectual fathers in those olde tyme pictures, smiling proudly, around a burnt and lynched body of a "suspicious" character.

Without">http://www.withoutsanctuary.org/main.html">Without Sanctuary

hairshirthedonist,

It might be sh!t, your 3-year old is playing with, but you’re in such denial, unwilling to face facts, you keep yelling, "Where did you get that chocolate! I know what chocolate looks like, and you have the evidence all over your face"

In most cases, those in denial, see what they want to see. Fnck the facts.

Well, my mind must work more like an Iraqui dictator's than does Megan's. I was saying back in 2002 that Saddam's strategy was "implausible deniability" -- keep declaring that you don't have "WMD", but never convincingly enough to let your enemies be absolutely sure that you're a paper tiger.

I know, I know: anybody who examined the actual evidence knew perfectly well that Saddam WAS a paper tiger. Saddam tried hard to hide that, for his own reasons. So did Dick and Dubya, for theirs.

--TP

On pretty much all of those, she's wrong about why she was wrong.

Well, she wouldn't want break her streak.

I was insufficiently empathetic in imagining how Iraqis would feel about our invasion. We liked the French for giving us military help during the Revolution. Now imagine that France had invaded in order to liberate us from the British.

This is actually my favorite. In order to be seen as liberators, one must do more than just claiming that status. Given our history in the region (including eg our direct support of Saddam when it was convenient for us), there's no reason whatsoever for the Iraqi people to have believed that our motives were altruistic. Or for informed Americans to think this, for that matter.
As usual, in the eyes of some the only mistakes America is allowed to make are ones like this: being too altruistic and too naive.

Id also take issue with I was astonished that Democrats managed to hold their coalition together to pass an incredibly unpopular policy in the odd belief that it would somehow get more popular later.

The Dems were derailed by the economic collapse- she seems to be saying that she expected the Dems to fall apart even thought she didn't expect the economic crisis. And that doesn't make sense to me as a prediction, let alone one she got wrong.
And she, perhaps intentionally, linked to Obama's job approval on health care (which actually hasn't falled particularly since the bill was signed), rather than support for the bill. Which is odd, since that's available on pollster as well. Although it shows the bill is more popular now than when it passed (but trending against now). But linking to the first chart implied (to me) that this was the best proxy she could find, rather than being the one with the trend that suited her case the best. Not exactly honest, there.

I do applaud her for the effect, even though I really think something along the lines of Model 62's point would make the effort much, much more useful. Not just what she got wrong, but what led her to the wrong conclusion. For example, points 3, 5, 6, 7, 10- she trusted private markets and actors responding to those markets to provide systemic security/stability. Or, on the points about comparing WWII to Iraq, she apparently feels comfortable in her knowledge of where she went wrong (ie "if Iraq had been more industrialized and bourgeoise, and if we had destroyed their infrastructure, *then* things would've worked out ok"- this is just another assumption from someone currently admitted that their assumptions about Iraq have been very wrong).

I erroneously believed that I could interpret the actions of Saddam Hussein. He seemed to be acting like I'd act if I had WMD. Whoops! I wasn't an Iraqi dictator, which left huge gaps in my mental model of Hussein.

Id love to hear her explain what exactly she meant here- what things he did that didn't map to a dictator without WMDs. Other than post-facto fictions (eg 'he kicked out the inspectors so we had to invade'), I don't know what would justify this.

McCardle references mea culpas by Brad Delong, as impetus for her own.

Here's one of DeLong's:

"In my belief that large, leveraged financial institutions had sufficient caution and sufficient control over their derivatives books that their derivative positions did not pose major systemic risk."

.. rewritten in McCardlese:

"I erroneously believed I could interpret the actions of large, leveraged financial institutions. They seemed to be acting like I would act if I WASN'T hiding WMD on my books. Oopsies! I wasn't a reptilian Randian mofo, which left huge gaps in my mental model of large, leveraged financial institutions."

Another mea culpa not too many people know about.

Saddam Hussein:

"Hmmm, let's see, where would Megan McCardle hide if she was me for a day and George W. Bush wanted me dead and my country destroyed?
I know, I'll put on this dress and a pair of pumps and slip into this hidey-hole in the desert. There. Geez, it's dark and a little hot in here. Whoops! Dammit it all to that two-faced Rumsfeld! I wasn't a nitwit with a blog and a magazine column, which left huge gaps in my mental model of McCardle."


I clearly remember trying to figure Iraq out in 2002 and 2003 and reading the left-wing web, as much as I could find of it. Places like Counterpunch, & Antiwar, not to lump them together.

The bulk of what they had was incredible nonsense. Sheer paranoia and foolishness. The Americans are just trying to steal the oil. Saddam is a great guy, and so on. I'm sure somebody could look back and pick out something that was spot-on, by today's standards, but the bulk was just awful.

And since I had to pick one side or the other...

And since I had to pick one side or the other...

... I picked the side that created over 100000 corpses.

History has proven that the pro-corpse faction's propaganda was "paranoia and foolishness" about balsa drones, mobile bioweapons reactors, and mushroom clouds.

Fred,

That's like David Broder falling off a fence. Or maybe an argument formed based on internet comments.

I clearly remember trying to figure Iraq out in 2002 and 2003 and reading the news, as much as I could find of it. Places like the White House, & DoD, not to lump them together.

The bulk of what they had was incredible nonsense. Sheer paranoia and foolishness. The Iraqis are going to nuke New York. Saddam is working with Al Queda, and so on. I'm sure somebody could look back and pick out something that was spot-on, by today's standards, but the bulk was just awful.

And since I had to pick one side or the other...

Yes, I know it's juvenile, and not terribly helpful to debate, but come on, making the "left-wing web" saying things that are ridiculous, as a reason to support invading, when much more ridiculous things were on the TV and newspapers every day?

I just realized I care more about what Eric Martin has to say about Andrea McArdle than what McArdle herself has to say.

oops, that's Megan, not Andrea

The Americans are just trying to steal the oil.

But the Americans were trying to steal the oil.

Iraq nationalized oil production in 1961.
It's not nationalized any longer.
You might call it "privatization at gunpoint".

I erroneously believed that I could interpret the actions of Saddam Hussein. He seemed to be acting like I'd act if I had WMD. Whoops! I wasn't an Iraqi dictator, which left huge gaps in my mental model of Hussein.

This is actually a very common trope, and I'm not sure I understand it.

A lot of people insist that he was, in some way, acting as if he had WMDs.

I'm not sure how they mean this. I've since decided that it was just a made-up response ("Well... he *acted* like he had WMDs!" which is like a bully saying that a victim *acted* like he wanted a punch in the face).

But I am curious if anyone knows of any actual meaning to that phrase.

I've been thinking about that, joel hanes.

It used to be that an empire's armies went out and made the world safe for the empire's business.

Iraq was different. American firms haven't gobbled up all the prime oil concessions. BP did pretty well, for example. But everybody's getting a sizable chunk, even the Russians.

When we think of globalization, we usually think of capital flowing hither and yon to set up shop where the cheap labor is. Capital is also going hither and yon into foreign banks and foreign oil firms while foreign banks and foreign oil firms are sending their capital here. So if the empire's business class has transformed itself into the global business class, it only makes sense that the empire's armies would then venture out to make the world safe for the global business class.

Kinda puts "the world's policeman" in a new light.

Longhairedweirdo-

As I recall, Saddam was always doing a few bits of delay and obfuscation with the inspectors. Saddam clearly did not want a completely open inspection process, in the sense of he often did as much as he could to make things tough. That's plausibly consistent with the idea that he was trying to hid banned weapons. Its also consistent with the idea that he was rather uncomfortable with people telling him what to do. Its consistent with the idea that for a long time his underlings had inflated their capacities, as had their underlings, on down the line. Its also consistent with the idea that he wanted to make it seem like maybe he did have some weapons in reserve somewhere as a deterrent to invasion or attack.

Saddam is a great guy, and so on.

You seriously remember "Saddam is a great guy" being a significant meme on the Left in the run-up to the war? Not 'let the inspections do their jobs' or 'this war will cause more misery than it can hope to prevent' or 'the history of trying to meddle with this sort of thing is not good'?

Because I don't remember a single person making that argument from the Left. I do remember a number of people on the left pushing the picture of Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand as evidence that the opposition to his regime was neither humanitarian nor principled though. So perhaps you're misremembering which side it was and when- it was the Right, in the 80s.

As I recall, Saddam was always doing a few bits of delay and obfuscation with the inspectors. Saddam clearly did not want a completely open inspection process

How exactly does differentiate between "Hussein clearly did not want a completely open inspection process" and "Hussein's government was not very competent and failed to satisfy all sorts of small demands by the inspection regime"? I mean, if we're going to pretend that Hussein's government was brilliant and super competent, then any failure to provide the inspectors with whatever they ask for is a sign of deception. But if instead you assume that the Iraqi government is not super competent, then some screwups and failures are to be expected without necessarily treating them as evidence of deception.

Turbulence--

Too true.

Because I don't remember a single person making that argument from the Left.

Thanks for making that point, I'd missed that among the other absurdities in Fred's post.

American firms haven't gobbled up all the prime oil concessions.

It's my belief (for which I can admittedly offer no evidence) that had things in Iraq gone as expected by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, and their ilk, that only American oil companies would now have such concessions.

In the event, the neocons and their ilk were both incompetent to carry out their aims and unwarrantedly optimistic about how the US would be perceived by the people of Iraq. Chalabi isn't running things, and major oil concessions went to non-American transnats.

I would guess that Cheney's a lot happier with transnational oil companies making money off Iraq's oil than he would be if Iraq's oil production was still nationalized.

Anyone at least trying to figure out how someone in another culture thinks, and acknowledging that they are not being very successful, is to be encouraged. Because the most common mistake that people make is to assume that everybody else is "just like us" -- wants the same things out of life, and will make the same choices and decisions in the same circumstances. But it just ain't so.

For one example from the right, see the predictions that the Iraqis would great American troops with flowers. For one from the left, see the predictions that Iran's government would yield peacefully to popular pressure in the last election there.

Sorry, but the people involved are, due to culture and environment, not like you. They don't think like you do. And, while it may be possible to predict how they will jump in a particular situation, it requires something beyond just assuming that "all people want the same things and see the world the same way."

Because the most common mistake that people make is to assume that everybody else is "just like us" -- wants the same things out of life, and will make the same choices and decisions in the same circumstances. But it just ain't so.

I disagree in part; obviously, we should consider that people around the world might have different value systems and beliefs and dreams than we do. However, a lot of our foreign policy blunders could have been avoided just by assuming that people in foreign lands were like us and did share our values. For example, there is no way that Americans would greet an occupying army with flowers and candy if America were invaded. Americans are a fiercely nationalistic people with a deep sense of national pride. The notion that we'd greet an occupying army with anything less than rage is just absurd.

Our problem was not that we insisted on seeing Iraqis as people too much like ourselves. Rather, our problem was that we insisted on seeing ourselves as perfect angelic beings and then convinced ourselves that everyone else in the world saw our halos too.

For one from the left, see the predictions that Iran's government would yield peacefully to popular pressure in the last election there.

I don't recall anyone on the left saying that. Certainly, the lefty foreign policy wonks I read thought that such an outcome would have been...unlikely. I'm sure there were some lefty folks who had no serious foreign policy credentials that convinced themselves that the Iranian regime was about to fall, but I don't see why anyone should give credence to people who don't know anything about foreign policy, lefty or otherwise.

Sort of OT, but not really (h/t Freidersdorf):

Churchill (Winston, not Ward):

“The word ‘appeasement’ is not popular, but appeasement has its place in all policy,” [Churchill] said in 1950. “Make sure you put it in the right place. Appease the weak, defy the strong.” He argued that “appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace.” And he remarked on the painful irony: “When nations or individuals get strong they are often truculent and bullying, but when they are weak they become better-mannered. But this is the reverse of what is healthy and wise.”

I watched Obama's speech, and I was thinking about Andy Olmsted, and how very, very much we and Iraq have lost as a result of this idiotic war.

If people like Jonah "Throw some crappy little country against the wall" Goldberg and Megan "You mean not everyone likes having someone else decide to overthrow their government by force? Who knew?" McArdle and Tom "Suck. On. This." Friedman had lost their jobs as a result of their blithe support for a war that would obviously mean the deaths of tens of thousands of people, we could at least point to a silver lining. Nothing that begins to stack up to the lives that were lost, but at least something.

But nooooo....

Exactly. The fact that Hans Blix was basically screaming that he had found nothing has been conveniently forgotten. The "Saddam acted fishy" ex post facto reasoning is pretty tired at this point; I thought people gave up on that by 2005.

Does anyone remember Blix's last pre-war report to the UN which contained zero evidence of WMD, but had a remote control plane that was apparently the smoking gun we needed to start the war?

Saddam may have resisted inspections at some point (though this, too, is likely exaggerated), but he totally called our bluff and allowed unfettered inspections well before shock-and-awe.

Also, how hard was it to apply Occam's razor in 2003? There was no incontrovertible evidence presented of Iraqi WMD -> Bush released or leaked every bit of evidence we had including stuff that was known to be false before the invasion -> it's most likely that no one has incontrovertible evidence of WMD. QED.

The blog-o-verse wasn't as well populated then as it is now, but I don't recall many people making this obvious argument.

"It's my belief (for which I can admittedly offer no evidence) that had things in Iraq gone as expected by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, and their ilk, that only American oil companies would now have such concessions."

So, what you're saying is, the reason your enemies didn't do what you said they'd do, wasn't that you were wrong about their motives, it's just that they were such failures at doing what you said they'd do, that you can't even produce evidence that they were trying to do it.

Or maybe you were just wrong about their motives...

My understanding at the time was that the motivation for the 2nd Gulf war were:

1. He tried to have an American President assassinated, and American Presidents are touchy about such things even if the assassination target isn't their dad.

2. At the rate Saddam was buying up foreign heads of state with the Oil for Food money, we weren't going to be able to maintain the sanctions for very much longer. And once they ended, he'd be destabilizing the Gulf again.

3. Establishing something like a democracy in the Gulf would destabilize the area in a good way, assuming we could pull it off. (Of course, the other Gulf states are aware of this, hence their support for the insurgency.)

Our grabbing Iraq's oil didn't figure in this, and given that we hadn't grabbed Kuwait's oil when we had the chance, it was irrational to think otherwise.

As for the WMD, the evidence as to what Saddam was trying in that area was mixed. On the one hand, the inspectors weren't finding much, just some dual purpose facilities. (Iraq had an amazing capacity to produce insecticides, don'tcha know. Perhaps they were planning on floodinging the world market.) On the other hand, it's never really safe to assume somebody who'd be trying to hide something if they had it, isn't succeeding in hiding it.

But mainly, it was an excuse. Thought so at the time, too.

that was pretty much my thinking, Zach: if we know he has WMD, why haven't we been able to get the inspectors on the ground to verify it ? how good is W's evidence, if it can't produce a single positive result on the ground ?

but such questions were met with a fusillade of objections, mostly: he moved them! he hid them! he's not letting us see everything! why don't you believe your own President ?

round and round

1. He tried to have an American President assassinated, and American Presidents are touchy about such things even if the assassination target isn't their dad.

This supposedly happened in 1993. (It probably never happened at all: http://www.newsweek.com/2008/03/22/saddam-s-files.html). Clinton responded with cruise missile strikes - not an invasion.

Establishing something like a democracy in the Gulf would destabilize the area in a good way

Is there actually a good way to destabilise a region? Also, this implies that democracy is contagious. History is against you here.

If McCardle had said "Saddam was acting as I would expect someone with WMD to act", would that have been so horribly wrong as to merit the derision now being cast her way? And if not, how is that statement substantively different from "He was acting as I would act if I were in his position." Which is what she said. Which is a fairly typical mode of analyzing another's motives, i.e. put yourself in his/her shoes and try to see it from their perspective.

The problem is, she supported the invasion. She compounds this by taking positions that aren't popular here at ObWi. Therefore, anything she says is ispo facto stupid.

A lot of people have said, in effect, the absence of WMD made the invasion a bad call. It was the perceived presence of WMD that tipped the balance in favor of invasion for many of us. We were wrong.

put yourself in his/her shoes and try to see it from their perspective.

That's a pretty good starting point for analyzing someone else's motives. If it's also your stopping point, especially with someone most of whose experiences you've never shared and in whose immediately relevant situation you've never been, then you're doing it really badly.

So, what you're saying is, the reason your enemies didn't do what you said they'd do, wasn't that you were wrong about their motives, it's just that they were such failures at doing what you said they'd do, that you can't even produce evidence that they were trying to do it.

Brett, according to the official plan, the US was to install a "viceroy" (that's a quote) for at least a five year period, and this viceroy would oversee Iraq's government and economy (which includes, prominently, the oil industry).

After the viceroyship ended, there was to be a gradual transfer of power to selected Iraqi leaders (Chalabi was high on the list).

Now, that plan didn't work out because the Iraqi people didn't seem to like it, and, especially, Grand Ayatollah Sistani said, basically, "Oh hellll no!" and demanded elections pronto.

We were fighting the Sunnis - they were the insurgents. And Sistani could mobilize the Shiites. Which would have left us with few allies south of Kurdistan.

So Bush acquiesced and held elections, which saw the ascendancy of Iranian-formed, Iranian trained Shiite political parties. Those parties were not exactly amenable to US plans for the oil sector.

At the rate Saddam was buying up foreign heads of state with the Oil for Food money, we weren't going to be able to maintain the sanctions for very much longer. And once they ended, he'd be destabilizing the Gulf again.

What do you mean? The first time he started a war, we backed him to the hilt. The second time, he got beaten back so hard that he was barely holding on to power. There was absolutely zero evidence, or any logical reason, to think that he would attempt to destabilize the Gulf again.

And here's the thing: if he did, we could beat him back then!!! Just like Gulf I. There was no need to rush to war with Iraq because at some future point we might need to go to war with Iraq.

Especially because we already had a war going on. Which tends to make another kind of difficult. And expensive. Which it was. And it was entirely unnecessary.

Iirc the Bush adminsitration tried to interest US (and British) oil companies to invest but those companies took a close look and said 'no thanks'. Those pesky Iraqi oilworkers threatening to rather blow the installations up than accepting the raw deal offered them might have something to do with it. The non-US companies may have acted a bit more subtly and without the historical ballast. As for evidence, some Bush insiders were quite open about their anger that it was foreign companies that made the money from Iraqi oil. Also there were clear and open statements that is was in the US interest to prevent future rivals (China etc.) from getting access long before the invasion. Imo oil was one motive but not the only one.
But one thing is clear: the Bush administration tried to sell off Iraqi national assets, which is against established international law the US at least formally recognizes. And don't forget the "the war will essentially pay for itself" (iirc it was Wolfowitz that said that).

If McCardle had said "Saddam was acting as I would expect someone with WMD to act", would that have been so horribly wrong as to merit the derision now being cast her way?

I did not heap derision on her. I merely pointed out that attempted mind-reading should not be high on the list of evidence used to justify a war.

Especially when there is hard evidence from inspectors on the ground in Iraq to go on.

That should trump attempted mind reading - especially when the mind reader admits that since she was not exactly like the object being observed, there are gaps in her mental model.

That suggests that she will attempt mind reading in the future, despite the fact that those gaps will exist for just about any subject.

The problem is, she supported the invasion. She compounds this by taking positions that aren't popular here at ObWi. Therefore, anything she says is ispo facto stupid.

Did I say that? Actually, I said the exact opposite: that it was a poor excuse, and not an indictment of all of her analysis.

A lot of people have said, in effect, the absence of WMD made the invasion a bad call.

Not me. I've said, repeatedly, that WMD is a vague term that obscures more than it illuminates. That the consensus was that Saddam didn't even have a nuke program, let alone a nuke weapon, let alone a delivery system, let alone a willingness to share one with his sworn enemies.

I've said that the WMD that Saddam allegedly had was not a good casus belli - that old and decaying chem and bio agents in the form that Saddam had were no more deadly than conventional explosives and, again, he was opposed to al-Qaeda and vice versa.

The invasion was a bad call regardless. And yet, it was clear he had no WMD anyway due to the fact that the inspectors were finding none.

It was the perceived presence of WMD that tipped the balance in favor of invasion for many of us. We were wrong.

While it is true that you were wrong, it helps to probe the reasons why so that the same mistake is not made again.

That's the point of a mea culpa. Or at least, it should be.

Here, McCardle doesn't offer that. Quite the opposite: since her judgments are based on mind-reading, and she admits that she can only really read the minds of people just like her, then she will make the same mistakes repeatedly. Which is my point: that's a lousy excuse and she should try harder.

I watched Obama's speech, and I was thinking about Andy Olmsted, and how very, very much we and Iraq have lost as a result of this idiotic war.

You weren't the only one having said thoughts, Hil.

I merely pointed out that attempted mind-reading should not be high on the list of evidence used to justify a war.

This is inherently derisive. McCardle never purported to read anyone's mind. You read this into her statement to make a debating point.

McKTexas:

"the perceived presence of WMD"

If I witnessed a magician sawing a lady in half on stage (killing her), should I not rush the stage and kill the magician who has provided my perception?

It is my perception that Republican Party demagoguery is going to lead to the murder of American Muslims on American soil. It is my perception that a defunded HCR next year will lead to the death (I perceive murder) of Americans with preexisting medical conditions.

What do you suggest I do to prevent these acts?

I wonder -- if Saddam Hussein did have WMD and we had not invaded Iraq, and he used them in an American city, killing, say, hundreds of thousands of Americans, what would have happened at the hands of the resulting mob to those of us whose misperception it was that he did NOT have WMD?

Instead, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, millions are displaced, thousands of Americans are dead, many tens of thousands more Americans are damaged beyond repair (Alan Simpson wants to cut Veteran's benefits, too, by crackie), crimes of torture have been committed, and the moral standing and possibly the treasure of the United States are finished.

No one has been punished.

Yet.


I clearly remember trying to figure Iraq out in 2002 and 2003 and reading the left-wing web, as much as I could find of it. Places like Counterpunch, & Antiwar, not to lump them together.

The bulk of what they had was incredible nonsense.

Oh brother. Glenn Greenwald has a very nice survey of very solid, very reasonable opposition from many on the Left, and some on the right. Including, importantly, Dick Cheney! explaining in 1994 why invading Iraq would have been a bad idea post Gulf I

see here.

Greenwald does omit another big one: Brent Scowcroft!

Wikipedia has more.

And, regardless, the burden of proof (by an overwhelming standard) is on those that argue for unleashing the unthinkable horrors of war. There was little doubt that tens of thousands of lives would be lost. To advocate for that, you better have rock solid reasons, not merely: I was unimpressed with some of the arguments against that appeared on the Internet, therefore Bombs Away!

This is inherently derisive. McCardle never purported to read anyone's mind. You read this into her statement to make a debating point

Huh? That is what she said. "Reading Minds" is just another way of saying, "Trying to figure out what person X is thinking."

And her glib excuse captures it nicely: "Whoops! I wasn't an Iraqi dictator, which left huge gaps in my mental model of Hussein."

Which mental model would that be other than attempting to read the mind of Hussein?

I think you are "reading" too much into the statement "reading minds."

McTex: and, regardless, I did not even use the phrase "mind reading" in this post that I supposedly used to heap derision on her. So, yeah.

"Reading Minds" is just another way of saying, "Trying to figure out what person X is thinking."

No, it isn't. We are lawyers, we try infer what our opponents will do, i.e. their intentions, from a broad range of tangible and intangible clues, hints, signals, contexts, etc. It's not mind reading.

and, regardless, I did not even use the phrase "mind reading" in this post that I supposedly used to heap derision on her. So, yeah.

Nor did I in my original comment. You did in your first reply to me. And you were deriding her and her analytical methodology. In fact, the whole business of intelligence is inference and deduction of another's intent. It isn't mind reading.

No, it isn't. We are lawyers, we try infer what our opponents will do, i.e. their intentions, from a broad range of tangible and intangible clues, hints, signals, contexts, etc. It's not mind reading.

Mind reading is short hand for trying to figure out what someone else is thinking. I think, again, that you are making too much of it. And, again, I said it in a comment after the post was written, and after you accused me of heaping derision on her.

Nor did I in my original comment. You did in your first reply to me.

McTex: You said that I was heaping derision on her before I used the phrase "mind reading" - so using that phrase as the basis of your case that I was deriding her is, shall we say, weak sauce indeed.

In fact, the whole business of intelligence is inference and deduction of another's intent. It isn't mind reading.

Not exactly. One also observes empirical phenomenon, such as the presence or absence of item X.

In this case, we had inspectors on the ground looking for items X. They found none, which makes trying to figure out Saddam's intentions moot.

Hard evidence of the existence of things is better than trying to figure out if something exists based on trying to...figure out what another party is thinking (not mind reading, just figuring out how their mind is working I guess).

she's wrong about why she was wrong

I smell tag line!

"Today's Atlantic Magazine. Not just wrong: META-WRONG."

Our problem was not that we insisted on seeing Iraqis as people too much like ourselves. Rather, our problem was that we insisted on seeing ourselves as perfect angelic beings and then convinced ourselves that everyone else in the world saw our halos too.

Very nicely put, Turbulence.

I did not heap derision on her.

That's because you're too nice a guy, Eric, but I have no such compunctions.

Based upon her extensive record, Megan McArdle is a shoddy thinker, a mediocre intellect, and a moral wretch.

Eric, in response to "At the rate Saddam was buying up foreign heads of state with the Oil for Food money, we weren't going to be able to maintain the sanctions for very much longer. And once they ended, he'd be destabilizing the Gulf again."

You wrote:

"What do you mean? The first time he started a war, we backed him to the hilt. The second time, he got beaten back so hard that he was barely holding on to power. There was absolutely zero evidence, or any logical reason, to think that he would attempt to destabilize the Gulf again.

And here's the thing: if he did, we could beat him back then!!! Just like Gulf I. There was no need to rush to war with Iraq because at some future point we might need to go to war with Iraq."

While I think the Iraq war wasn't well advised considering what the Bush Administration knew about the state of the nuclear weapons development, it doesn't seem like you were being fair to the argument.

First, the sanctions regime really was falling apart. And that really did seem to include pretty close to bribery with the Food for Oil money which was supposed to be going to 'food' for his people.

Second, point one didn't change until we literally had most of the invasion force in place off the coast. So we shouldn't talk about the sanctions regime as having much support in general until it became obvious that the US was willing to invade over the issue.

Would that scenario have played out differently if the sanctions regime really had the full support of much of the world? I don't know for sure, as counterfactuals are rough, but I'm guessing the scenario would have played out differently.

Third, the 'we could beat them back then' argument isn't as strong with the nuclear history. We may never know why Saddam was so stupid as to invade Kuwait less than a year before he had access to nuclear weapons (according to the after-war reports of the international inspectors who were shocked at the advanced stage of the program they had missed for years). But we do know that he successfully gamed the system before. The sanctions system with aggressive inspections was supposed to keep that from happening again. They were crumbling, as Clinton noted on December 16, 1998. Which is why *Clinton* started attacking suspect sites then. Arguing that we could wait until after he had nuclear weapons really does strike me as waiting too long.

Now as it happens, the Bush administration internal reports appear to suggest that he wasn't making progress along his previous lines.

But McCardle didn't have access to that. In light of the above, her call was *wrong* but not the level of crazy that you and others here seem to suggest.

If the rest of the world had been supporting sanctions before the Marines were literally at the beach, if Saddam hadn't been bribing the countries in question with Food for Oil money, if the inspectors had not been locked in their hotel for 3 years before the Marines were literally at the beach, and if Clinton hadn't been making the same arguments, McCardle's call would have been the kind of half-assed thing being suggested here and in the comments.

So, what you're saying is, the reason your enemies didn't do what you said they'd do, wasn't that you were wrong about their motives, it's just that they were such failures at doing what you said they'd do, that you can't even produce evidence that they were trying to do it.

Well, it's clear that whatever plans the administration had for the post-invasion period went badly off-track. So it's not reasonable to infer that something wasn't planned because it didn't occur.

First, the sanctions regime really was falling apart. And that really did seem to include pretty close to bribery with the Food for Oil money which was supposed to be going to 'food' for his people.

I didn't actually disagree with this. But I have said in the past that we had a better chance of fixing the sanctions regime than invading Iraq and remaking it into a stable, peaceful, liberal western democracy.

Third, the 'we could beat them back then' argument isn't as strong with the nuclear history. We may never know why Saddam was so stupid as to invade Kuwait less than a year before he had access to nuclear weapons (according to the after-war reports of the international inspectors who were shocked at the advanced stage of the program they had missed for years). But we do know that he successfully gamed the system before.

What do you mean "gamed the system before"? After Osirak, there was no inspections/sanctions regime for him to game. He didn't achieve that progress despite inspections/sanctions.

The sanctions system with aggressive inspections was supposed to keep that from happening again. They were crumbling, as Clinton noted on December 16, 1998. Which is why *Clinton* started attacking suspect sites then. Arguing that we could wait until after he had nuclear weapons really does strike me as waiting too long.

The inspections system was working before the invasion. We had inspectors on the ground.

And the sanctions regime was collapsing, but not with regard to nuclear technology/fuel. Just in the sense that Saddam was able to skim money from sales of oil.

Now as it happens, the Bush administration internal reports appear to suggest that he wasn't making progress along his previous lines.

But McCardle didn't have access to that. In light of the above, her call was *wrong* but not the level of crazy that you and others here seem to suggest.

First of all, I never said she was crazy. Second, the nuclear program information was available in the declassified NIE. Further, Hans Blix was publicly in Iraq, and publicly not finding any WMD, let alone nukes.

Now, as you are aware, a nuclear program is the hardest thing to conceal because it requires massive infrastructure.

If the rest of the world had been supporting sanctions before the Marines were literally at the beach, if Saddam hadn't been bribing the countries in question with Food for Oil money, if the inspectors had not been locked in their hotel for 3 years before the Marines were literally at the beach, and if Clinton hadn't been making the same arguments, McCardle's call would have been the kind of half-assed thing being suggested here and in the comments.

A few thoughts:

1. Saddam was not bribing countries, but companies. Some of the companies taking money were American companies.

2. The rest of the world did support arms embargoes. The sanctions were overly broad anyway, resulting in much death and hardship for the Iraqi people. They needed to be smartened to focus on WMD and little else.

And, regardless, the inspectors were in Iraq, checking out every site they were told to by US and British intel.

They found nothing.

Nada.

That should have trumped everything.

Brett, what do you think was discussed at Cheney's super-secret Energy Task Force meetings in early 2000 ?
You remember, the Task Force that was so secret that even the names of the attendees had to be kept secret ?

One reason it was so super-secret was that they made contingency plans to divide up Iraq's oil. (As you say, the WMDs were just an excuse, and 9/11 ditto.)

As for Kuwait: we were riding to thier rescue. It would have looked pretty bad for us to turn around and sieze control of the resources that are the basis of their entire economy. Might be the kind of thing that would give the Saudi's a case of the whim-whams.

One reason it was so super-secret was that they made contingency plans to divide up Iraq's oil. (As you say, the WMDs were just an excuse, and 9/11 ditto.)

Wait a minute, what?! How do you know this?

Secrecy is seldom perfect.

FOIA requests have been routinely (and illegally) stonewalled, but some documents have leaked.

Check out the Judicial Watch and Project Censored links at the bottom of this Wikipedia page


Um. That's a lot to hang on some charts and maps of Iraqi oil production.

What Hogan said. There are enough plausible alternative explanations for why those documents would be there that I can't use their presence to justify belief in a "war for oil" explanation.

"The inspections system was working before the invasion. We had inspectors on the ground."

That isn't what Clinton told us in December of 1998. According to him they were locked up in their hotels, unable to inspect anything. Which is why we were bombing in 1998. And that didn't change until we literally had our carriers floating off the coast. That was UN Resolution 1441, November 8, 2002. The invasion was March 19, 2003. Between 1998 and the very end of 2002, the inspectors were not able to move freely. Only then did Saddam start letting the inspectors really inspect, after more than four years of obstruction and only with the threat of war literally before him.

And then in December of 2002, we saw reports like this from Blix (transcript here

"During the period 1991-1998, Iraq submitted many declarations called full, final and complete. Regrettably, much in these declarations proved inaccurate or incomplete or was unsupported or contradicted by evidence. In such cases, no confidence can arise that proscribed programmes or items have been eliminated."

also:

These reports do not contend that weapons of mass destruction remain in Iraq, but nor do they exclude that possibility. They point to a lack of evidence and inconsistencies which raise question marks which must be straightened out if weapons dossiers are to be closed and confidence is to arise. They deserve to be taken seriously by Iraq, rather than being brushed aside as evil machinations of UNSCOM.

Regrettably, the 12,000-page declaration, most of which is a reprint of earlier documents, does not seem to contain any new evidence that will eliminate the questions or reduce their number.

Even Iraq's letter sent in response to our recent discussions in Baghdad to the president of the Security Council on 24th of January does not lead us to the resolution of these issues.

I shall only give some examples of issues and questions that need to be answered, and I turn first to the sector of chemical weapons.

The nerve agent VX is one of the most toxic ever developed. Iraq has declared that it only produced VX on a pilot scale, just a few tons, and that the quality was poor and the product unstable.

Consequently, it was said that the agent was never weaponized.

Iraq said that the small quantity of [the] agent remaining after the Gulf War was unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991.

UNMOVIC, however, has information that conflicts with this account. There are indications that Iraq had worked on the problem of purity and stabilization and that more had been achieved than has been declared. Indeed, even one of the documents provided by Iraq indicates that the purity of the agent, at least in laboratory production, was higher than declared.

There are also indications that the agent was weaponized. In addition, there are questions to be answered concerning the fate of the VX precursor chemicals, which Iraq states were lost during bombing in the Gulf War or were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.

I would now like to turn to the so-called air force document that I have discussed with the council before. This document was originally found by an UNSCOM inspector in a safe in Iraqi air force headquarters in 1998, and taken from her by Iraq minders. It gives an account of the expenditure of bombs, including chemical bombs by Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War. I'm encouraged by the fact that Iraq has now provided this document to UNMOVIC.

The document indicates that 13,000 chemical bombs were dropped by the Iraqi air force between 1983 and 1998, while Iraq has declared that 19,500 bombs were consumed during this period. Thus, there is a discrepancy of 6,500 bombs. The amount of chemical agent in these bombs would be in the order of about 1,000 tons. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must assume that these quantities are now unaccounted for.

The discovery of a number of 122 mm chemical rocket warheads in a bunker at the storage depot, 170 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, was much publicized. This was a relatively new bunker, and therefore the rockets must have been moved here in the past few years at a time when Iraq should not have had such munitions. The investigation of these rockets is still proceeding.

and

At my recent meeting in Baghdad, the Iraqis have committed themselves to supplementing the list, and some 80 additional names have been provided.

In the past, much valuable information came from interviews. There are also cases in which the interviewee was clearly intimidated by the presence of an interruption by Iraq officials.

This was the background to Resolution 1441's provision for a right for UNMOVIC and the IAEA to hold private interviews "in the mode or the location" of our choice in Baghdad or even abroad.

Today, 11 individuals were asked for interviews in Baghdad by us. The replies have been that the individual would only speak at Iraq's Monitoring Directorate or at any rate in the presence of an Iraq official.

This could be due to a wish on the part of the invited to have evidence that they have not said anything that the authorities did not wish them to say. At our recent talks in Baghdad, the Iraqi side committed itself to encourage persons to accept interviews in private, that is to say alone with us. Despite this, the pattern has not changed.

Now he also says a number of nice things about recent change (with the US Navy poised for war off the coast) but as of January 27th he still didn't feel like he was getting full cooperation.

The US couldn't even get reopened inspections AT ALL until we threatened war AND actually had moved enough of our people into the theater to prosecute it. Even then, Saddam was delaying compliance in what reasonably could have looked like (at least I thought it was reasonable for example) a stall tactic to get into the summer when invasion would have been much less likely. All the while, we would be paying for the cost of operating a war fleet and war presence.

I can see why that didn't look like actual compliance rather than delay. Even if McCardle couldn't think like Saddam.

And again. I want to be clear that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong, and it is perfectly right to show various reasons why that is so. But I'm not comfortable with an over-debunking which encourages a smugness which is seen in the comments here and elsewhere. If the UN hadn't let the inspections just die for four year until the US invasion fleet was just off the shore, we could have had a very different world. Yes, Bush bears the responsibility for the immediate decision. But structurally he had a chance to make that decision because the international structures didn't even bother trying for four years. There were good decisions that good have been made before Bush even took office that did not occur.

That isn't what Clinton told us in December of 1998.

Because inspectors weren't on the ground then. I never claimed they were, so no need to rebut. We agree that they weren't on the ground until 2002.

All the while, we would be paying for the cost of operating a war fleet and war presence.

I can see why that didn't look like actual compliance rather than delay. Even if McCardle couldn't think like Saddam.

Or not. The inspectors found nothing, following our hottest tips. They were on the ground, even if we had to threaten war to get them there. Seems like a pretty small cost, really, compared to the costs of the actual war itself. Right?

Not to mention that our hottest tips came from obvious frauds like curveball. That, and we made up a lot of stuff about yellowcake uranium and aluminum tubes to try to bring nukes into the discussion.

Which brings me, again, to what I mentioned upthread, and what your links confirm:

There was no evidence of a nuclear program, and that is the hardest thing to hide.

The WMD that Saddam was alleged to have were old, decaying chem and bio weapons that were only really suitable for battlefield deployment in any way that was more deadly than conventional weapons.

Even if we thought he might be hiding some chem and bio shells and bombs, that was not a casus belli.

There is no way to justify going to war on that premise.

I want to be clear that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong, and it is perfectly right to show various reasons why that is so. But I'm not comfortable with an over-debunking which encourages a smugness which is seen in the comments here and elsewhere.

Of course. As the Law of Compulsive Contrarianism (aka "Megan's Law") dictates, even when "liberals" are right about something, there always exists some sense in which they're still wrong about the exact same thing.

Coming up next on this very thread, for your reading pleasure: An infinite number of angels will dance on the heads of an infinite number of pins. Everybody sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Better to be smug and right than to be smug and wrong.

It's 42 angels, Uncle Kvetch, on one pin.

I want to be clear that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong

Thank you.

There were about 1,000 reasons presented for invading Iraq. Every clique, claque, focus group, and unfocused group had their own unique set of excuses for why it was terribly urgent to rain bloody hell down on the heads of the Iraqi people.

If you were to construct a Venn diagram of all of the different communities and their reasons for invading, the intersection of those reasons -- the motive they all had in common -- was that what we really, really needed to do post 9/11 was f up some Muslims in the Middle East.

Mission accomplished.

We may never know why Saddam was so stupid as to invade Kuwait less than a year before he had access to nuclear weapons

I dont know why having just a few nukes would've been particularly useful for Saddam in 1990. First, he clearly didn't expect the response of the US, or the entire invasion is idiocy. Second, if he had a few nukes at the time of the Kuwait invasion, all he could've done was made absolutely certain that he would be killed by the US. There are like 8 people in the entire country who wouldn't have supported a full-fledged invasion if he had nuked our troops, Israel, or some other friendly target.
Thinking that Saddam was a homicidal maniac who didn't care about his own safety is exactly the sort of poor and unjustified in-their-shoes reasoning that started this thread.

Gotta punch the hippies, even when they're right! Can't have people thinking hippies might have good ideas.

Iraq wouldn't have been invaded if Bush hadn't taken office, and wouldn't have been invaded if the Bush administration hadn't lied continuously. Even the Democrats who wimped out and voted for the authorized use of force wouldn't have proposed it on their own.

The war for oil explaination is based on the psychological need to see one's opponents as, not merely wrong, but evil. There never was any other solid basis for it.

For my part, I thought there was a really good case for assasinating Saddam. But heads of state are inexplicably hostile to the idea of assasinating heads of state. For some bizzare reason they'd rather kill hundreds of thousands of people at the bottom of the pyramid, rather than the dude at the top.

You'd almost think they were more bothered by a slightly heightened chance of being killed themselves, than the certainty of mass slaughter.

The war for oil explaination is based on the psychological need to see one's opponents as, not merely wrong, but evil. There never was any other solid basis for it.

Yeah. The US has never fought a war for oil, or initiated a coup in a Middle Eastern country for oil.

What's funny to me is that people on the right simultaneously chide others for:

1. Suggesting that we fight wars to protect/secure vital interests such as oil.

2. Being so naive and do-goodish to suggest that we are wrong to fight wars to protect/secure vital interests such as oil.

"War for oil" doesn't mean making sure a vital resource can make it to market, so that we can compete on an equal basis at buying it at market prices. It means the sort of war to take resources that we haven't been involved in for my whole life.

But heads of state are inexplicably hostile to the idea of assasinating heads of state.

Perhaps the government failed to assassinate Hussein because they didn't think it was possible. I mean, in the early days of the war, there were something like 50+ targeted leadership strikes intended to kill Hussein. They all failed. Maybe we lack the skills needed to reliably assassinate foreign heads of state.

Brett,

"War for oil" means many things.

In one example, do you think we toppled Mossadegh because he was going to deny the world's markets with access to Iranian oil? Or was it his likely muscling out of BP and other related interests?

You say that's a thing of the past, and the US doesn't act so brashly any more, but it's not entirely clear that this is the case. We haven't succeeded, but that doesn't mean we didn't try.

You haven't actually responded to my points regarding our initial "viceroy" model for Iraq.

Maybe we lack the skills needed to reliably assassinate foreign heads of state.

"The CIA: Proudly Assassinating Castro Since 1961."

Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

President James Earl Carter, January 23, 1980.

Some other interesting reading here.

So yeah, not your classic "invade and take their stuff" gambit, but as always, cherchez l'argent.

And, in fact, some people are actually evil, and some of them find their way into governments. Even democratic ones.

Is that even controversial?

"War for oil" doesn't mean making sure a vital resource can make it to market, so that we can compete on an equal basis at buying it at market prices.

By this reasoning, things like cartels, tariffs, and agricultural subsidies are all legitimate pretexts for the violent overthrow of sovereign governments.

A rather...exhilarating take on international law, I must say. So when do we nuke the EU? Before Nebraska, or after?

You say that's a thing of the past, and the US doesn't act so brashly any more, but it's not entirely clear that this is the case. We haven't succeeded, but that doesn't mean we didn't try.

I don't understand why it's so difficult to accept the idea that the United States would send its armies abroad to protect the free market system (or, in the case of Iraq, extend the reach of the free market system), even if the benefits of the adventure don't directly accrue to the United States. After all, that's exactly what the United States did throughout the Cold War.

You haven't actually responded to my points...

I wouldn't hold my breath on that.

The war for oil explaination is based on the psychological need to see one's opponents as, not merely wrong, but evil.

This need is commonly referred to as "libertarianism."

And just to be perfectly clear, Brett, you're the one who couches all of your political speak in language referencing either authoritarianism, enslavement or criminal victimization (taxes are theft/mugging, government is a protection racket, etc.).

Now, if you want to defend a set of theses in which authoritarianism, slaveholding and criminal activity are not evil, I'm prepared to hear them. Otherwise, that's about the most pathetic attempt at, "Nuh-uh, YOU are!" that I've ever seen, and I read Marty's posts.

The war for oil explaination is based on the psychological need to see one's opponents as, not merely wrong, but evil. There never was any other solid basis for it.

Herm. Going to war will lead to mass deaths of people who don't deserve to die. (Enemy soldiers and other "lawful targets" aren't the bad guys.) It will typically entail huge amounts of harm to many of the survivors.

Supporting mass killing and suffering *is* evil, in most cases, and there weren't any exception reasons why mass killing and suffering was mandated in Iraq.

I'd say that "war for oil" makes people sound not just evil, but *petty* - "it's just about *money*".

But any excuse for war other than clear, imminent danger of an attack is typically evil by a great many moral theories. A lot of people threw around the idea of "just war" in the case of Iraq, but I didn't see anyone support it all that well.

Zach:

Also, how hard was it to apply Occam's razor in 2003? There was no incontrovertible evidence presented of Iraqi WMD -> Bush released or leaked every bit of evidence we had including stuff that was known to be false before the invasion -> it's most likely that no one has incontrovertible evidence of WMD. QED.

Well... I made the awful mistake of assuming he had to have something more solid. I figured Cheney couldn't bareassed lie about "we know what he has and where it is" unless we had even more secret information that we couldn't reveal yet.

I figured no one - *NO ONE* - could have handled the risk of such utter humiliation as would face George W. if he was wrong, and there was one thing I was sure about, and that was that he couldn't bear humiliation.

Plus, it was a common talking point - he has additional information that he can't share, because it would reveal sources and methods.

I was astounded that this really was all they had.

Great post, Eric! You thoroughly eviscerate not only Ms. McCardle (sp?), but the entire conservative talking point syllabus for the Iraq invasion and occupation. Nicely done.

For some bizzare reason they'd rather kill hundreds of thousands of people at the bottom of the pyramid, rather than the dude at the top.

It'd be incredibly destabilzing to allow assassination as a legitimate weapon of war. And it would not, as you suggest, actually settle any military matters unless the target government were to collapse.


"War for oil" doesn't mean making sure a vital resource can make it to market, so that we can compete on an equal basis at buying it at market prices. It means the sort of war to take resources that we haven't been involved in for my whole life.

Let's leave aside the qualifier that suggests you are aware of the US waging war to secure resources in the past.
Let's also ignore how friendly dictators have often traded US support for their positions for friendly negotiating positions for US corporations, probably during your lifetime unless you are very young.
But: how in the blinding snow does a self-proclaimed libertarian justify using force to compel other groups to sell their resources?

But: how in the blinding snow does a self-proclaimed libertarian justify using force to compel other groups to sell their resources?

Thanks, Carleton. Now I can pick my jaw up from the floor, where it has been resting since late afternoon while I tried to find the words for what you just said so succinctly.

If I didn't know so much, much better I would have said that Brett was trying to point out that resources belong equally to everyone, so it's fair to go to war to compel other people to share. Ha ha.

Just exhibits that writing through experience brings so a great deal depth and relevance to kinds readers. Thank you for sharing.

Kuwait was a war for oil under those same terms. Yet generally considered justified. Which suggests that the oil/not-oil distinction isn't all that important.

If Kuwait had tried to close its markets to the US and Saddam had promised to open them again, the first US Gulf War might have looked rather differently. There was no 'need' to overthrow the Kuwaiti government. On the other hands there were discussions (post Bush II's invasion) to take the oil regions from Saudi Arabia and to add them to the new Iraq (interestingly those are also the Shiite regions of SA) because the puppets in Baghdad would be more amenable (and less embarassing) to US interests than the corrupt terror exporting Saudi elites.

"But: how in the blinding snow does a self-proclaimed libertarian justify using force to compel other groups to sell their resources?"

Are you really that confused about the difference between somebody describing their understanding of what motivated a war, and approving of that war? As I said, I think there was a strong case for assassinating Saddam. For waging war on the country he had in his grip? Not so strong.

It's commonly assumed at this site that Republican policies are rooted in evil motives. Aside from the sort of petty corruption that's endemic in our political class, I don't think this is the case. I don't think it's true of Democrats, either.

This doesn't mean I necessarily agree with their policies. "The vice-President isn't the avatar of an elder god of evil." should not be taken as an endorsement.

"Kuwait was a war for oil under those same terms. Yet generally considered justified. Which suggests that the oil/not-oil distinction isn't all that important."

Uh, no. Leftie critics of that one sometimes said we wouldn't have expelled Saddam from Kuwait if there were no oil involved. But the moral justification offered for the war was that Saddam was guilty of aggression and violation of international law by invading and conquering one of his neighbors.

It is a reasonable argument, though not one heard much in the US when our ally Indonesia took East Timor with our help. Nor did we hear this one made so much in the mainstream when the US invaded Iraq.

Err yeah about East Timor, it was the reason I opposed Iraq, it was a country where conditions for nation-building were damn good (hell they'd voted to expel the Indonesians and to have the UN come in) and still it is and was fraught.

How much worse was it going to be going into a place *as* the foreign army without any kind of a mandate from the people and with a troop made up of soldiers who were primarily trained for battle rather than nation-building (which is an entirely different and more delicate toolset)?

If I could spot this as a teenager, how did so many people miss it?

"War for oil" doesn't mean making sure a vital resource can make it to market, so that we can compete on an equal basis at buying it at market prices.

Brett, watch out for that petard. 'To make sure a vital resource can make it to market' sure sounds like you are approving of doing something like that. Or at least accepting. 'I don't agree with forcing someone who has a vital resource to make sure it is available at market prices, but I can understand where they are coming from...'

... so that we can compete on an equal basis at buying it at market prices.

That 'we' is so cute. Why am I positive you are not really concerned about Chinese and Indians buying this stuff at market prices?

It's commonly assumed at this site that Republican policies are rooted in evil motives. Aside from the sort of petty corruption that's endemic in our political class, I don't think this is the case. I don't think it's true of Democrats, either.

Ugh, Stephen thanks for the typo head's up.

Sorry Megan ;)

this is a dubious standard to employ for someone who is in the business of providing analysis from the august pages of The Atlantic. To put it another way, her mental model presumably has huge gaps about most things using the criteria of "actually being like what is being observed," and, thus, this is either a poor excuse or a fair warning about the quality of analysis forthcoming on most issues. Let's assume the former.

It's derisive, even if "heaping" may have overstated the case a bit. Moreover, as shown below, you would disregard all evidence in support of the possible presence of WMD for what inspectors on the ground failed to find. This is not reason or logic, it is ipsi dixit: inspections trump all, period, full stop.

As Seb and others have pointed out, Saddam was the opposite of forthcoming about his WMD, sanctions were failing and it wasn't until we were on the verge of invading that inspections were allowed. At that point, we had three choices (1) accept the findings of the inspectors (who could not and did not rule out WMD) and go home, (2) continue to hover endlessly, degrading morale, unit cohesion and effectiveness or (3) invade. Items 1 and 2 had their own not inconsiderable downsides, not the least of which would be Saddam's remaining in power after having stared down and run off the great Satan.

None of the above justifies the invasion in hindsight, WMD being the tipping point for many of us (not you, I understand that part). But you write as if the only item at play was the inspections and everything else was a lie woven by the genius GWB.

And, regardless, the inspectors were in Iraq, checking out every site they were told to by US and British intel.

They found nothing.

Nada.

That should have trumped everything.

Eric, I am fairly sure the time will come when I will rely on US intelligence reports and you will point out how historically unreliable our intelligence apparatus has been. Let me also point out that the CIA Director told Bush that the presence of WMD was a "slam dunk". You would disregard this entirely? Without the keen advantage of 20-20 hindsight?

Seb makes the point better than me: the self-congratulatory orgy of being right is way over done.

Brett, watch out for that petard. 'To make sure a vital resource can make it to market' sure sounds like you are approving of doing something like that. Or at least accepting.

Jeebus. Doesn't anybody know how to play this game?

LJ, Brett isn't "approving" or "accepting" anything beyond the One Eternal Truth, which is that libruls suk. Brett didn't support the war, but all the people who opposed it who aren't Brett were and are still wrong. If you keep trying to find some deeper level of argument from Brett (or Sebastian, for that matter), you're just going to give yourself a headache.

I don't know why people find it so hard to wrap their heads around the idea that in these United States, "libruls suk" is a perfectly coherent and Very Serious political platform, one that has provided any number of mainstream political commentators with lucrative, high-profile careers (cf the subject of the original post). The notion that hippie-punching is some kind of means to an end, just one part of a broader and more constructive political program, is nothing short of quaint at this point.

Consider this: one of the most prominent political bloggers in the country is calling for bringing back DDT as a solution to NYC's bedbug infestation. Now, the people who actually study bugs and how to kill them are unequivocal: bedbugs are resistant to DDT. And that seems pretty damning, until you accept the idea that Glenn Reynolds doesn't give two sh*ts about bedbugs, or about DDT, for that matter. The thought process is far simpler: environmentalists oppose DDT --> environmentalists, being a subset of libruls, suk --> bringing back DDT will piss them off --> We 1, They 0.

It's pure lizard-brain tribalism. And the fact that it so often comes from self-proclaimed "libertarians" and "independents" just adds a refreshing dose of comedy to the whole thing.

Moreover, as shown below, you would disregard all evidence in support of the possible presence of WMD for what inspectors on the ground failed to find. This is not reason or logic, it is ipsi dixit: inspections trump all, period, full stop.

Inspections are the most certain method.

I never said that I would disgregard ALL other evidence, but it certainly stands to wit that if our best intel says that the WMD are at locations X, Y and Z, and the inspectors go to sites X, Y and Z, and they don't find any, then at least THAT intel is inferior to the inspections.

But by all means, if we had intel on WMD that was persuasive, and somehow NOT verifiable by inspectors on the ground, it could be considered in the overall scheme.

I'd love to hear what that intel could be, though.

At that point, we had three choices (1) accept the findings of the inspectors (who could not and did not rule out WMD) and go home, (2) continue to hover endlessly, degrading morale, unit cohesion and effectiveness or (3) invade. Items 1 and 2 had their own not inconsiderable downsides, not the least of which would be Saddam's remaining in power after having stared down and run off the great Satan.

First of all, this is all premised on:

1. The fact that Saddam might have some old chem and bio weapons was a legitimate, legal casus belli.

2. That, if #1 was satisfied, it made sense from a strategic point of view to invade Iraq anyway.

Since neither #1 or #2 was the case, the whole thing is moot (but you acknowledge that my opinion on this differs, and I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but it's still relevant).

Regardless, though, the inspectors could rule out a nuclear program, and did. That should have been enough.

But then, we didn't invade because of WMD, and that should be clear at this point.

But you write as if the only item at play was the inspections and everything else was a lie woven by the genius GWB.

Again, intel that said WMD is at X, Y and Z was either bad intel or exaggerated intel when inspectors went to X, Y and Z and didn't find the WMD.

It's possible that Saddam could have moved around some of the old, decaying chem and bio stuff, but he couldn't move a nuclear reactor around.

Let me also point out that the CIA Director told Bush that the presence of WMD was a "slam dunk". You would disregard this entirely? Without the keen advantage of 20-20 hindsight?

But not all WMD are the same!

As I've said for the umpteenth time, I thought we would find some old and decaying chem and bio weapons - some shells and bombs that are only particularly lethal on a battlefield assuming that they hadn't already degraded too much. They were decades old at that point.

So Tenet saying that is, also, meaningless unless you think that:

1. The fact that Saddam might have some old chem and bio weapons was a legitimate, legal casus belli.

2. That, if #1 was satisfied, it made sense from a strategic point of view to invade Iraq anyway.

The war was sold on Musroom clouds, aluminum tubes, yellowcake uranium, nuking one of our cities and suitcase bombs.

The slam dunk was about something that was much, much, much and much less of a threat.

"Let me also point out that the CIA Director told Bush that the presence of WMD was a "slam dunk""

The CIA Director said that making the case for Iraqi WMD would be a slam dunk -- not that the presence of WMD was a slam dunk.

As it happens, the CIA director was right.

CBS News Interview of George Tenet:

What Tenet didn’t know was that the next bloodletting would be his. It came in another White House leak, this time to reporter Bob Woodward. An unnamed source described to Woodward a pre-war meeting in the Oval Office. The CIA was showing the president how to present to the public the case for weapons of mass destruction. Woodward wrote “Tenet rose up, threw his arms in the air. 'It’s a slam dunk case!'"

"I never got off the couch, I never jumped up, there was no pantomime. I didn’t do my Michael Jordan, Air Jordan routine for the president that morning," Tenet tells Pelley.

"What did you mean by slam dunk?" Pelley asks.

"I guess I meant that we could do better," Tenet says.

"Do better?" Pelley asks.

"We can put a better case together for a public case, that’s what I meant. That’s what this was about," Tenet explains.

Tenet says the president wasn’t happy with the presentation. So he was telling Mr. Bush that improving the presentation would be a slam dunk. But Tenet says the leak to Woodward made the remark look like the decisive moment in the decision to go to war.

Seb makes the point better than me: the self-congratulatory orgy of being right is way over done.

Elsewhere on the interwebz, the attitude being expressed here is known as "butthurtedness." You were wrong, and you were wrong for entirely predicable and foreseeable reasons. (Reasons that were, in fact, predicted! And foreseen!) If the people who got it right are now lording it over you, well, deal with it. And maybe examine your decision-making apparatus to see how you can avoid the same mistake the next time.

"What did you mean by slam dunk?" Pelley asks.

"I guess I meant that we could do better," Tenet says.

Slam dunk = we could do better.

Everyone knows that. It's a qualified statement meaning 'room remains for improvement.'

You were wrong, and you were wrong for entirely predicable and foreseeable reasons.

Phil makes my point. There was never any side to this issue but his/Eric's. Everyone else was an idiot.

Phil makes my point. There was never any side to this issue but his/Eric's. Everyone else was an idiot.

McTex: Except I didn't say that!

I never called anyone an idiot.

Quite the opposite. In the post-9/11 climate, it was quite understandable that people got swept up in the climate of fear and distortion. Many of my favorite thinkers supported the war.

That's why Bush et al pushed for Iraq right then and there (despite the fact that Afghanistan was unfinished, and there was no real urgency with respect to Iraq): they knew that if they waited, it would be a harder sell, and they knew that the American public was fearful and, thus, susceptible to talk of mushroom clouds, yellowcake, suitcase bombs and nuked cities (even though Iraq didn't even have a nuke program, let alone a bomb).

Remember, these guys had wanted to invade Iraq since the early/mid 1990s - Cheney, Feith, Perle, Khalilzad, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld were part of PNAC, an organization that petitioned Clinton to invade, and which put out numerous papers on why invading Iraq was a good idea.

On 9/11 itself, Rumsfeld was asking Clarke to link the attacks to Iraq. Bush too.

That's odd, no?

And maybe examine your decision-making apparatus to see how you can avoid the same mistake the next time.

This, to me, is the crux of it. Because if there's one thing I feel absolutely sure about, there will be a next time.

Unfortunately, given that many of the architects of our excellent adventure were just given TV airtime to take the President to task for not giving GWB enough credit for his awesomeness -- and given Tony Blair's new book ("Yeah, it's a bummer about all those dead kids and everything, but I'd do it all again") -- and given the iron-clad conviction of so many serious people out there (and right here) that the real tragedy of the Iraq war is that stupid peaceniks got an excuse to get all cocky about being "right," when they were just lucky...

...given all that, I think it's safe to assume that absolutely nothing has been learned. And when the next Republican administration decides that we absolutely cannot wait another day to act against Iran or Venezuela or Yemen or whoever, people like Phil and Eric and I will once again be wrong...even if we're right.

"Uh, no. Leftie critics of that one sometimes said we wouldn't have expelled Saddam from Kuwait if there were no oil involved. But the moral justification offered for the war was that Saddam was guilty of aggression and violation of international law by invading and conquering one of his neighbors."

There have been plenty of other violations of international law by invading neighbors before and since Kuwait's invasion by Iraq. Most of those we let slide. We didn't with Kuwait because of oil. Yet most of the people here and elsewhere in the US, even on the left, seem to be ok with it. Which strongly suggests that the 'war for oil' part of the decision isn't really how they/you make the decision of whether or not a war is moral.

It has always been a sidenote and a catchy slogan, never a good faith argument.

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