Tuesday, January 20, 2004

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More on Sachs on Clark

O.k., I said I wasn't going to go through the rest of Sach's post, but I've got a couple of minutes to spare and somehow I can't resist. On to the second section of his post, where again he juxtaposes Clark quotes:

[Non-Times-Op-ed Clark:] "Finally, after training our forces on Iraq, the Administration essentially declared - we're going it alone. Instead of using diplomacy backed by force - as we did so effectively in the Balkans - this Administration's diplomacy was only a fig leaf. The United States was going to war no matter what. The Administration went to the UN with a "take it or leave it offer," which reflected a combination of indifference and disdain. It did not explore every diplomatic option; it did not do everything possible to bring allies with us."

[Times-op-ed Clark:] "As for the diplomacy, the best that can be said is that strong convictions often carry a high price. Despite the virtually tireless energy of their Foreign Offices, Britain and the US have probably never been so isolated in recent times."

There simply isn't any contradiction between these two claims.

The first quote says, roughly:

The Administration didn't use real, effective diplomacy. Rather, it had already decided to go to war, and only went through a show of diplomacy, dissing our allies and the UN along the way.

The second quote says, roughtly:

The best that can be said for their dogmatic (sham) diplomacy is that it will have bad consequences. As a result of it, we have alienated everybody and are now more isolated that we've been in modern times.

These two passages not only don't contradict each other, and not only don't even come near contradicting each other, but in fact express basically the same position.

There is simply no plausible interpretation of the passages on which they are even remotely at odds with each other. What is Sachs thinking? Is it the reference to "tireless energy"?

Again, the only thing I can figure is that Sachs's objections are based on his acceptance of something like the following premiss:

(P) If an individual, N, says anything even remotedly positive about an action, A, or anyone who advocated undertaking action A, then individual N believes that action A should have been undertaken.

This entails that if you call the Blitzkreig effective or innovative, you think that Hitler was justified in initiating WWII. The premiss is absurd.

Oh, and all this would have been clearer if Sachs had included the rest of the Times quote above:

"Diplomacy got us into this campaign but didn?t pull together the kind of unity of purpose that marked the first Gulf War. Relationships, institutions and issues have virtually all been mortgaged to success in changing the regime in Baghdad. And in the Islamic world the war has been seen in a far different light than in the US and Britain. Much of the world saw this as a war of aggression. They were stunned by the implacable determination to use force, as well as by the sudden and lopsided outcome."

Whew...if that's praise, who needs criticism? (Oh, and: "implacable determination," like "tireless energy": not something you want everybody to have... Saying that somebody has it doesn't mean that you don't think that the world would have been better off if they didn't have that particular virtue.)


Best perhaps to look at Sach's own words:

Here's his (Sachs's) conclusion:
"But I simply don't see how these two pieces, from April and November, can be read as expressing the same opinion of the war."

And here's one of his reasons:
"If the administration's diplomacy "was only a fig leaf," why does he praise the State Department and UK Foreign Office for their 'virtually tireless energy,'..."

At the risk of belaboring the obvious (...er, too late), he does so because praising someone's "virtually tireless energy" in pursuing a certain task does not mean that you think they should be pursuing that task, nor that it's good to have "virtually tireless energy" when pursuing a task like that. I have several friends who tirelessly pursue projects that I think aren't worthy of their time. Here it becomes pretty clear that Sachs does accept premiss P (above). Sachs thinks that Clark thought the war was a good idea because he thinks that Bush and Blair pursued it with "tireless energy"--but that's simply not a plausible belief to attribute to someone. Saying that someone has "virtually tireless energy" is like saying that someone is relentless (or that they have "implacable determination")--that can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what end they are pursuing.

Sachs continues:
"If the administration's diplomacy "was only a fig leaf," why does he ....note that "strong convictions often carry a high price?..."

Huh? If he notes that their diplomacy was a sham, why does he also note that the attitudes that drove that sham diplomacy have other bad consequences, too? Am I missing something here????

"...If "every diplomatic option must be explored and exhausted," why was it the right decision to move in March rather than wait for late April?..." (If Clark means that it was the right decision only in terms of military preparedness, surely he could have included some caveat on diplomacy?)"

For the fourth time: it WASN'T (according to Clark) the right decision to move in March rather than April. Rather, he only expresses the carefully conditionalized claim "IF the choice was betweeen attacking in March with fewer troops and attacking in April with more, THEN they made the right decision." But, again, the antecedent of the conditional is false: the other, better option was not attacking at all.

Furthermore, the rest of the passage above shows, I think, what's really bothering Sachs--it's not that Clark actually says anything that means that he thought that the war was a good idea, its that he doesn't include enough passages that make it clear that he DIDN'T think it was a good idea. That's a very different thing, and such alleged omissions constitute rather shoddy evidence. Given all the pointed criticisms in the essay, plus the fact that all the unalloyed praise is of the troops and none is of Bush or Blair, plus the fact that every claim about Bush or Blair that can be construed as positive is about something OTHER than their decision to go to war (e.g. their energy), conjoined with the fact that that alleged praise comes coupled with an indication of the bad consequences that result from the possibly praisworthy bits... Well, we have to spin things at implausibly high RPMs to make this seem like praise of the decision to go to war. At the very most we might squint enough to make this look like it's insufficiently critical of the decision to go to war...but that's a very different thing than being an endorsement of the decision.

Again: praising the way the war was conducted in no way entails praise for the decision to initiate the war.

"Most importantly, the basic underlying conviction of the November speech--that this war was a strategic mistake, and that we should have focused our efforts on Al Qaeda instead--is entirely absent from the letter and spirit of the April op-ed."

Again, at most a sin of omission. But think about this claim for even a second:
In this op-ed in which Clark praises the generals and the troops but not Bush or Blair, and in which he notes several bad consequences of the decision to go to war, he does not come right out and say that it was a bad decision. Therefore he thinks it was a good decision.

Steve! I beseech thee! Ask us not in seriousness to accept this inference, for it is stinky, and hard to swallow...

Sachs again:
"The comments on "stability" seem to be in strong support of the Bush Doctrine."

No, they seem to be strong support of stability. Again: 'policy x will have a good consequence' doesn't mean 'It was smart to initiate policy P'

" Indeed, how else can we understand his claim that Bush and Blair "should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt"? "Philosoraptor" argues that "Resolve in the face of doubt, if it is a virtue at all, is a virtue even when one has undertaken an enterprise in error"; but this is grasping at straws. (Can you imagine Howard Dean saying that Bush "should be proud of [his] resolve"?) Clark was clearly not praising Bush and Blair for their pagan self-assertion, or for pursuing an absurd policy as knights of faith. In the context of the piece, he was saying that they made the right move."

Well, I've already covered the guts of this. As for my alleged straw-grasping... I'm not sure. Again, I've heard lots of people who detest Hitler call him a military genius (which isn't true, but that doesn't matter. But if calling somebody a genius is consistent with thinking that what they did was wrong, then it seems that praising someone's resolve (a pretty generic kind of virtue) is consistent with thinking that what they did was wrong.

Contemplate if you dare the mind-bending awfulness of the following inference:

1. HD was against the war
2. HD would have never said x
3. WC said x
4. WC was not against the war]


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