Sunday, September 05, 2004

Buyers Remorse

One commenter on an earlier remorse attacked my "buyers remorse" on Iraq. This is a bit of a sore point, so let me explain.

There was a fine piece written by Ken Pollack in the New Republic (linked above) essentially arguing the following, which I find persuasive:

a) There was a very compelling argument, in the abstract, for a military invasion of Iraq. Even without WMD, the fact is that the status quo in Iraq was not a stable position--both for humanitarian and geopolitical reasons, you couldn't keep Iraq "in a box" (under sanctions plus no-fly zone, etc.) for much longer. Therefore you either normalized (which would make the WMD issues more pressing with each passing year) or you invaded. I still find this a compelling argument and one hard to counter, in the abstract.

b) However, the argument in (a) depends upon implementation issues, that is, ones confidence that the invasion and post-conflict activities would be handled sensibly and correctly. Too many folks (including me) dealt with the argument only at the level of (a) without dealing with the questions at the level of (b)--again, this is something Pollack argued effectively. In essence, we were too trusting that the self-interest of the administration would cause them to handle the conduct of the war and post-war in the right way.

c) The bottom line is that the administration did not deal with the issues at the level of (b) that they could have adequately planned for. Obviously, war throws up all kinds of unforseen consequences, and it's unfair to blame the administration for things that almost no one anticipated. But any number of dimensions, the administration clearly blew things where they should have known better. Not enough troops--check. Unrealistic belief that they'd be treated universally as liberators--check. Battle plan designed aimed just to quickly destroy Saddam's army, but not to pacify territory once taken--check. Failure the utilize the compendious post-war planning that people in the executive branch had actually conducted--check. One can go on. Almost all of these things can be chalked up to ideological blindness, a willingness to believe that because the cause was just (a) that the implementation questions didn't need to be grappled with seriously.

d) The big question, in my mind, is whether Democratic hawks like me should have anticipated the complete failure of the administration to deal with the implementation issues effectively and, as a result, should have opposed the war not because of its justification, but because of our distrust of the current administration. Again, as a number of the TNR writers noted in the symposium of which Pollack's piece was a part, this would have required a level of partisanship that, at the time, I wasn't willing to entertain. I think for fear of being grouped in with the Deaniacs, it is probably the case that I didn't approach the issue with the level of partisanship that was actually appropriate to the situation.

In terms of the present election, however, I think that Kerry should hit the administration repeatedly, relentlessly, and as harshly as the situation requires on precisely this point: that the administration took a just war and just completely blew it. And if they blew something this important, can we trust them with four more years? My answer is an unambiguous no.


Palooka said...

This is just unbelievable. If you supported the WAR, what did you think was going to happen? I think it's fair to say that YOU made a mistake. Just say it. Don't try to appease your guilt by chocking it all up to mishandling the war--that's baloney.

I never pretended that the Iraq war was some immoral crusade. In fact, I thought the only moral thing to do (where the Iraqis are concerned) was to remove that butcher. But I was always wary of the complications and fall out of a pre-emptive war against Iraq. Was it on our interest? That's what mattered to me, and I was unaware of the answer.

Here I am, today, feeling pretty happy things weren't much, much worse. And here you are, today, whinning that your dream of the perfect little war didn't come true.

Believe me, I am not one left wanting for criticism of the administration regarding Iraq, but to blame the Administration for a war which has been, at least by my appraisal, fairly successful. 1000 dead? That's too many, but I expected several thousand dead just in the initial invasion, and I always viewed "winning the peace" as the primary difficulty.

If one views Iraq through the lens of history, then those "blunders" and "miscalculations" seem more like par for the course. Again, I am not sure what YOU expected from war, but those are your miscalculations. Don't project your shortcomings onto the Administration. If you regret the Iraq war, then take responsibility for the judgment YOU made. Come on, it'll feel better.

Anonymous said...

Pollack is right that few people before the war challenged the WMD claims (in public, at least). He has been proven wrong on everything else. Iraq wasn't a "threatening storm"; in fact, as we can see now, it is more accurate to say it was decaying. Palooka says he expected thousands of dead in the invasion, but as it turns out, in conventional conflict with Iraq, the US military is almost untouchable - so much for Iraq invading its neighbors again. The hawks who talk about implementation failure - true enough that there were plenty of mistakes, but all these surprises point to something deeper, that there are some basic inaccuracies in their worldview.

Anonymous said...

If one believes that the war was a just and proper cause that the Bush administration bungled, how does that lead one to support for Kerry (unless, of course, one starts with support for Kerry for other reasons)?

I mean, if there are two kinds of errors possible (errors in identifying how to resolve issues like Iraq circa 2002 and errors in implementing a particular policy), then isn't it the case that the Democratic party in general and John Kerry in specific hasn't given us reason to think that he'd make the initial decision well? That is, Kerry voted against the Iraq war in 1991, voted for a war in Iraq in 2002, and thinks both his votes are wrong. Even the most able administrator can't overcome that kind of record, and there isn't much reason to think that Kerry is some extraordinary adminstrator, is there?

StevenTeles said...

I should note that I support the Democratic ticket for reasons having nothing to do with Iraq (mainly economic policy, esp. taxes). So even if Bush had run the war splendidly, I'd still vote against him.

Palooka said...

It's really no surprise you're a Dem. After all, you can't even admit you made a mistake. Personal responsibility isn't exactly the personification of the modern Democratic Party.

Anonymous said...

Its not so much that Kerry is necessarily a good admnistrator. Its that we know that Bush has proved to be an absolutely incompetent administrator as far as the post-war situation in Iraq is concerned, and has shown no willingness to take responsbility for his failures or those of the neocons. Kerry only has to be halfway competent to do a better job than Bush.