Tag Archives: Iraq

Reasonable People

Over at Shadow Government, Peter Feaver defends the cost of the Iraq War. His “sanctions were falling apart; we had to do something” argument has always struck me as a bit odd – had we invested a tenth of the diplomatic capital we spent on badgering the U.N. and assembling a coalition of the willing on containing Saddam, I imagine we could have done something to shore up the sanctions regime –  but I’m more interested in discussing his broader decision-making calculus:

I believe reasonable people can look at that ledger (or a more complete version of it) and conclude that the Iraq war was not worth it. I also believe reasonable people can look at that ledger and conclude that the Iraq war was a defensible gamble or even the right decision. However, I do not think that reasonable people can seriously look at that ledger and conclude, as so much of the angry-shout part of the commentariat does, that all of the evidence stacks up on only one side of the balance sheet.

Even if you accept Feaver’s (highly-skewed) framework, it’s worth remembering that many war-making decisions involving the weighing of complicated costs and benefits – Iraq included – are discretionary. I admit I have a hard time comparing the abstract risks of regional instability and proliferation to the very real human cost of the invasion, but I suppose Feaver has a point insofar as the Middle East may have been more conflict-prone had Saddam remained in power. At the end of the day, however, this analysis includes untold numbers of independent variables, which makes it difficult for anyone other than an omniscient deity to accurately assess the war’s costs and benefits, which is precisely why “reasonable people” disagree vehemently over these issues.

So, given what should be an overwhelming presumption against war, death, violence and destruction and the difficulty inherent in any comparison that involves tenuous hypothetical scenarios and abstract considerations like stability and proliferation, shouldn’t our first instinct be to stear clear of these arguments altogether? Threats against the United States demand a response, obviously, but Feaver’s argument rests on assessing other, less tangible concepts like “regional stability.” If reasonable people can disagree over the merits of a proposed military expedition that bears no direct relationship to national security, I think it’s best to avoid that debate altogether and mind our own business.


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Against Guesswork

Johnathan Chait and Alan Wolfe are back to arguing about Saddam Hussein’s state of mind before the Iraq War. Now, I have no special insight into the thought processes of a deceased Arab dictator, but I’m pretty sure Wolfe and Chait are in the same boat. Much like the debate preceding the invasion over Saddam’s intentions, we’re left to argue about the mind of an inscrutable autocrat with little in the way of actual facts. And yet decisions about war and peace frequently hinge on what amounts to amateur psychology.

One of the reasons I’m sympathetic to the realist paradigm is that it takes the guesswork out of international politics. Many observers assumed that Saddam’s peculiar personality rendered traditional realist predictions unusable.  But now that the invasion’s over, we know his actions fit quite comfortably within the realist paradigm: Saddam chose not to restart a WMD program because his capabilities were limited and because he feared US retaliation. In other words, a straightforward weighing of interests would have saved us a great deal of trouble.

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy

Quote of the Day

Matthew Yglesias, after noting that most foreign policy experts opposed the invasion of Iraq, writes:

One of the most annoying habits of the press and the DC conventional wisdom more generally has been a persistent habit of ignoring these facts in favor of the rhetoric of “seriousness” that casts war opponents as a much of ignorant hippies and foul-mouthed bloggers who, at best, were right about Iraq by accident or something. But the vast majority of credentialed experts in Middle East regional studies, and the vast majority of credentialed experts in international relations have always been extremely skeptical of the adventure in Iraq.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, The Media, Worthy Links

Victor Davis Cassandra

Greenwald the Indispensable highlights a noticeable shift in rhetoric from Senators Feinstein and Wyden on torture. The worst part about this nonsense is that Democrats are literally following a script laid out by Victor Davis Hanson, National Review’s resident classics scholar fire-breathing populist. Hanson remains serenely self-confident that his absurdly inflated assessment of the terrorist threat is God’s Own Truth, and therefore predicted that liberals would quickly jettison their “extremist” positions on FISA, torture and Iraq upon assuming power. Now that Feinstein and Wyden have capitulated, he’s two-for-two in the predictions department.

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Dissent is Conservative

Jonah Goldberg recounts National Review’s clashes with the Bush Administration:

We have criticized the Bush administration from the Right. We were very skeptical about the DHS reorganization, the federalization of airport security, his faith-based initiatives, big-government conservatism and compassionate conservatism. We opposed his signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, his steel tariffs and his expansion of national service programs. We opposed the campaign finance “reform” he signed into law and his farm bill. We led the opposition to his amnesty plan for illegal immigrants and against Harriet Miers.

We defended two out of three of his Supreme Court justices, his position on embryonic-stem-cell research, and the topplings of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. We liked tax cuts before he became president and we will long after he has departed. We supported the idea — if not always the effort — to privatize Social Security.

Well, yes – I suppose these are all instances of real disagreement between the magazine and the Bush Administration. Of course, the only conservatives siding with the Administration during the Miers debacle or the steel tariff debate were, errr, employed by the Administration at the time. In other instances – immigration reform, for example – I seem to recall a few supporters of the president outside his immediate circle, but it’s not like National Review’s opposition to amnesty was a profile in political courage. The activist GOP base was dead-set against comprehensive immigration reform, so it made perfect sense for the Right’s flagship magazine to lead the charge against Bush.

Opposing “compassionate conservatism” required no special measure of bravery or insight on the part of National Review’s editors. Questioning the invasion of Iraq, the president’s fondness for invasive surveillance, or our treatment of enemy combatants, on the other hand, would have taken real cojones. And while I think it’s unreasonable to expect the flagship publication of the American Right to disagree with a Republican president on everything, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a self-proclaimed magazine of ideas to air vigorous debate on the great issues of our time. Failing to give voice to the legions of conservative and libertarian critics of the Bush Administration’s policies on torture, surveillance, and the war did an immense disservice to American conservatism. I’m afraid National Review’s record of dissent is a lot less impressive than Jonah Goldberg might think.

UPDATE: Here’s Kathryn Lopez:

I was thinking about this point Jonah makes while I was moderating a panel on the cruise Friday on the Bush administration. We had all kinds on the panel — those who condemn Bush as a socialist, among other things, to those who worked for the man and will defend him on plenty of merits. NRO reflects this range as well (the panel was composed of people who have or regularly write for us).

Calling Bush a socialist is more likely to elicit nods of approval than condemnation from conservatives these days. Again, it’s not particularly controversial or brave to criticize the Bush Administration for excessive spending or going soft on immigration. Taking the Administration to task for policy failures that remain popular with movement conservatives, on the other hand, requires real gumption.

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Filed under Conservatism, The Media

The Sound of Silence

The David Brooks column everyone is talking about is, I think, one of the best examples of the Republican Party’s unwillingness to grapple with the Iraq War and its aftermath. The impending intra-party fight Brooks describes centers on social and economic policy, with nary a mention of the war or foreign affairs. As an Iraq hawk, I suppose Brooks has something of an incentive to downplay foreign policy disagreements, but I also think this emphasis reflects a broader political reality: the failure of the Iraq War has not seriously damaged Republicans’ long-term political prospects. Which is a shame, because despite all the hemming and hawing about Bush’s domestic spending, the Iraq debacle is by far his biggest failure.

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Filed under Conservatism, Foreign Policy, The Media


The trouble with being linked to by the Daily Dish is that my three latest posts discuss Will Smith, Greek basketball, and Morrissey (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If you’re interested in something a bit more serious, I recommend these passable entries on secession, the future of the Republican Party, and the Iraq War’s political implications (or lack thereof).

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