Thursday, July 10, 2008

Right and wrong on Iraq

Following my posts about the Virtual Army Experience at Summerfest and "being serious about Iraq, Jay Bullock posts this. He wonders if he is being unfair to me. That's not for me to say, but he is certainly mischaracterizing my position. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. If so (but I don't think so), I will now.

I did not say that people who opposed the Iraq war are not serious or unthinking. As Jay acknowledges, I wrote that the war was a very difficult question. By definition then, I think reasonable and serious and thinking people could have opposed it. (I wasn't in the pundit game back then so I did not publicly say anything and, honestly, I am not sure what I would have said. I think I was very slightly in favor of going ahead but was mostly glad that it wasn't my call.)

My second post ("Being serious ...) was prompted by commenters who repeated the slander that "Bush lied and people died." If you believe that, I do think that you are either misinformed or hopelessly partisan; even not serious.

Jay suggests that I regard people who "oppose war" (by which, I take it, he means pacifists) as "unthinking, uncaring, unfeeling."

Actually, I don't. I have a great deal of respect for clear-eyed pacifists. I'm not saying that only Christians can be pacifists, but there is a quite honorable tradition of pacifism among Christians with a reasonable amount of support in the teachings of Jesus. What bothers me is those who don't want to acknowledge that this pacifism is very likely to lead to earthly slaughter. If you truly want to be a pacifist, you have to accept that and argue that there is a greater good to be served. There are some rather noble historical examples of leaders (Ghandi, King) who understood this. Although, having said that, this type of self effacement may not turn out so well if you aren't up against power that has bought into - call them what you want - Judeo-Christian or western liberal or enlightenment values. Had Ghandi faced Stalin or Hitler rather than the U.K and USA, both would be probably be tragic historical footnotes. It's tought to heighten the contradictions if the society doesn't think that there are any.

Jay goes on to suggest that, if you thought it was a close call, you should be opposed now. But that doesn't follow. What we should do in Iraq today is not controlled by a posthoc reasssessment of whether we should have gone in the first place. I was uncertain about the war ex ante. I am pretty sure that withdrawal now would be a disaster.


Dad29 said...

I'm not so sure that "leaving now" would be a disaster--given that the departure is orderly, the troops are not endangered, etc.

By all credible reports, such as Yon and the London papers, Iraq is damn near pacified. If that's the case, what's the point of hanging around?

Afghanistan beckons.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

This is a very good post.

You're arguing about sunk costs. Anti-war types (who are not genuine pacifists) focus on the past and what has been lost and make that the basis of their argument. The problem of course is that the past is a sunk cost - it cannot be changed whether we leave now or we turn Iraq into our 51st state.

I fully agree that the "Bush lied, people died" types are hopelessly partisan. But so are the people who equate anything but total support for the war and the Administration with cut and run.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

Oh and I've wanted to say this for a week:

Anyone on both sides of the Summerfest war game issue who cares about it for more than 15 seconds is hopelessly in need of a social life.

Jay Bullock said...

ATV, the sunk cost argument generally suggests that whatever you have spent previously is not a reason to keep spending more in the hopes that things turn around. When you realize 30 minutes into the movie that it is horrible, your having spent $10 and 30 minutes is not reason enough to stay to the end, since you could be doing something you actually enjoy with the other 60 minutes.

We could be doing something else right now that would actually be, you know, helpful with our $700m a day and 155k troops.

Rick, I wrote the post because it is incredibly frustrating for those of us who were right to be told that we could not have been right, because we were too stupid or silly or unserious or uncaring about the suffering of the Iraqi people. (That last is a bitter, bitter irony in retrospect.) I remember 2002, I remember what I was told, and I remember knowing that invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do despite being yelled at by my TV and my colleagues and the internets that I was wrong.

Well, I, and many others who predicted almost exactly the way the course of events would play out and were laughed off the national stage in 2002-2003, have since been vindicated. Yet we get no respect, no sense of recognition that, in fact, we had the right answer. Instead, we get told, quite rudely, that we "did not understand the situation" well enough to have possibly made an informed decision, to have possibly been right.

It is deeply insulting and I'm sick of it.

Jay Bullock said...

Additionally, Rick, I wonder how you square this:
I have a great deal of respect for clear-eyed pacifists.

With these:
[War] critics don't believe that. War, to them, is just undifferentiated killing. There is nothing about what we fight for and how we fight that is distinctive. But, in a world where evil exists--where there are Nazi Germanys, Soviet Russias and Al Qaeda--that leads to the charnel house just as certainly as a mindless celebration of conquest.

[P]eace activists did not understand the situation in Iraq.

krshorewood said...

Sunk costs do not forgive that the money was misappropriated, which if true should lead to impeachment and criminal indictments at the most, or the good character to resign as many leaders have done when they have committed a colossal screw up like this invasion.

And that fact that people may have speculated until the cows come home (not as much as conservatives like to imagine) about Hussein's threat to the US, why was Bush in such a hurry?

Could it be the 2002 midterms?

John Foust said...

Jay, I think they call that the Biblical approach to written argument: Toss out enough contradictory phrases so you can always cover your behind later. Or maybe it's a lawyerly thing.

Rick Esenberg said...

Part of the problem Jay is that you changed what I wrote. I was referring to critics of the VAE.

But putting that aside, I did not write that pacifists were, however you put it, unthinking or uncaring or unreasonable. My point is that pacificism will lead to slaughter. The lion has this tendency to eat the lamb.

There are those who believe that violent resistance is nevertheless wrong either because they think that somewhere in the future pacifism will change things (a price worth paying for death in the short run) or that God is served by it and that is more important than earthly consequences. In my Christian tradition, there is some support for that view, although, ultimately, I think it fails on theological as well as consequentialist grounds.

But if pacifists understand and acknowledge those consequences I do have respect for them. I just think they're wrong.

As for whether critics of the war were right, my argument is that you focus on what went wrong in Iraq and tend to underestimate the risk of not acting. You disagree with my assessment of that. That does not mean that either you or I are unreasonable. I responded to your post because I think that you were reading something into what I said that wasn't there.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me that the left has the nerve to drive US oil dependency more and more on the Middle East by refusing to drill for oil here and then have the nerve to blame everyone else when we have to defend our interests.

Jay, why don’t you use your supernatural predicting powers to tell us how the US can pay off its massive debts and where it can get the oil? Certainly, you would deserve the respect you so now desire if you could.

AnotherTosaVoter said...


You are correct, this is how sunk costs are most frequently described.

But it also works both ways: if X has been wasted thus far on project A, that does not by definition mean project A has to be completely abandoned.

It's a false choice.

Xoff said...

Pacifism will lead to slaughter?

And our current policies have led to ...

perhaps a million dead Iraqis (we don't even try to count them), 4 million refugees, countless wounded (again because we don't count), and a devastated country.

Stopping this senseless bloodshed in Iraq is not pacifism. It is common sense. We should not have been there to begin with, and the Iraqis don't want us there.

You don't have to be a pacifist to think that. You just have to be clear-eyed.

Anonymous said...

xoff -

so you agree that the left should have never made us highly dependant on foreign oil?