Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Liberal Hawks

Atrios really can be such a moron. If I ever turn conservative, he'll be part of the reason.

I ended up being against invading Iraq, but anybody who didn't feel the allure of ousting Hussein and building a liberal democracy must have a heart of stone. The WMD case was pathetic but that's not the case that liberal hawks relied on. There was a strong humanitarian case to be made for the war, even if it may not have been quite strong enough to justify it. If the average liberal hawk who supported invasion was a chump it was because he mistakenly thought (a) that this administration really gave a damn about human rights and (b) that this administration was minimally competent.

I don't know who's more irritating, people who continue to insist that going in was a good idea or people who insist that it was always obvious that going in was wrong.

Anyway, this kind of peurile name-calling is what makes the blogosphere so annoying and so resistant to rising above Crossfire-level discourse.

And, look, he got me to call him a moron. Now I'm doing it...um...but he started it.

(Incidentally, Atrios gave me my first and biggest link ever, so I owe him a debt of gratitude. Even if I do think that he can sometimes be a moron.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point well taken, but one thing worth mentioning (Yglesias has a post on this) is that I would never have signed up to fight this war, and I never would have wanted to send anyone I care about to fight this war.

By extension, I though it was a bad idea, simply not worth pursuing in military terms (and I did believe Saddam had weapons, I just didn't think they were a threat to us). When I started hearing about drones and other off-the-deep-end fear mongering, I knew that the real facts didn't support the blood and treasure that would be expended EVEN IF everything had gone according to plan, whatever that plan was.

I didn't think much about the democracy side of things, just the loss of life and the fact that fighting wars is, in almost all (but not entirely all) a mistake.


4:23 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I agree with you, Funkmeister. This war has lead me to believe that violence and war are justified in far fewer cases than I used to think.

Absolute no-violence-ever pacifism is still wrong (and morally reprehensible), but the OTHER pacifist doctrine that nobody ever talks about is that it's important to ramp down the ambient level of violence in order to make future violence less likely. There's no doubt that war is sometimes justified (e.g. our intervention in the former Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan)...just way LESS often than most people seem to believe.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say "If the average liberal hawk who supported invasion was a chump it was because he mistakenly thought (a) that this administration really gave a damn about human rights and (b) that this administration was minimally competent."

I suggest the alledged 'liberal hawks' are derided for precisely these reasons. I would say that both (a) and (b) are fairly obvious, and were so long before we invaded Iraq. Further, granting that the spread of democracy and the ousting of Hussein made the war morally obligatory (or at least permissible), the only justification for supporting the administration requires granting their interest and competency in pursuing these goals. Therefore, any supporter of the war either bought the WMD case, or considered this administration to be both interested in human rights and competent in pursuing them (i.e. establishing a stable post-war environment). Thus, they were chumps.

The other possibility is that the 'liberal hawks' were playing the game. They fully recognized the absurdity of the administration's posistion, but supported them in fear of politcal consequences, i.e. being painted as a pinko-commie peacenik incapable of protecting your daughter. In this case they were not chumps, merely spineless, and unable to stand up for the right course of action.

The upshot of these considerations is this: any liberal who supported the war is either incompetent in recognized the reality of the situation, or too timid to speak up for the right course of action. Either way, those politicians have a tough case to make for themselves, and deserve at least a minimal degree of suspicion from liberal bloggers such as Atrios and yourself.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

It certainly wasn't totally obvious at the outset, but shortly before the war began, when the Bush administration started using known falsehoods to justify the war, I think it became obvious that the war wasn't justified. As some Timberite put it: if you have to make up evidence, that's a good sign you don't have any real evidence.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Azael said...

So, your assertion is that anyone who thinks people were a moron because they didn't see this was a boondoggle from the beginning must have a heart of stone. Considering what this has done to our country in terms of lives lost, treasure flushed down the toilet, the sheer number of terrorists created, and the mind boggling amount of diplomatic capitol wasted... Not to mention LYING TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE and then compromising national security by outing a WMD undercover operative in the cover up...

Well, I think you have to have some pretty big cahones to characterize someone who cares deeply about the cost of all the above as having a heart of stone.

I mean, you're a philosopher. Seems to me that there's some utility function which trivially shows the balance of the "allure" of ousting Hussein and building a liberal democracy against the non stop litany of sewage flowing forth from this enterprise.

Really now. Go be a conservative. I'm sure this is going to be one of the BEST times to join. Kind of like getting in on the ground floor after all the heads are going to roll over this stinking pile.

Hey. If you didn't see it coming, I'm sorry. That DOES say something about you. And people who are swayed by bright and shiny baubles when they should be noticing the impending cliff yawning in front of them have to pay their dues too.

The ends don't justify the means or the inability to see what should have been smack in front of your face.

Sorry to again be so bold as to criticize you, but what you're basically doing is something tha my mother would never let me get away with as a kid, and I'm pretty sure she would be wagging her finger at me now if I tried to do the same.

Just take it like a man :)

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolute no-violence-ever pacifism is still wrong (and morally reprehensible), but the OTHER pacifist doctrine that nobody ever talks about is that it's important to ramp down the ambient level of violence in order to make future violence less likely.

I'm curious. What would make you believe that ambient violence makes future violence more likely? It seems a dubious proposition at best. Obviously, going to war against insurgents would cause them to be more violent, but is there any evidence that our going to war causes more violence? I always thought the threat of violence or at the lowest level, having clear boundaries drawn deterred violence.

Could you call those poor genocide victims in Darfur pacifists in the sense that you mean? They're certainly not creating any sort of ambient violence. It seems like the characterization of "ambient violence" is a rather lame one. Is it like some sort of aggregate violence cloud that blankets the world? Who gets infected by it? How would anyone distinguish "good" violence from "bad" violence within this cloud? In other words, whaaaat~? Um, better definition of terms, please? And a better line of causation certainly.

7:28 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

I certainly think endorsing the Bush actions going into the war was moronic. But perhaps there's a distinction between your position and that. Your position was likely, a well-waged war by a competent careful admin accompanied by our allies and blessed by the UN would be a good thing. I think (and thought) that the latter position is wrong (because of the multicultural nature of Iraq and the messy situations in the surrounding countries, and because of the diversion from al Qaeda and more pressing soluble problems), but not quite moronic. It's not moronic to look at a complex problem and say, Hey, I'm smart, I can fix that. But when you watch someone try to fix things, and the problem turns out to be more complex than you realized - complex for reasons that you could have adduced beforehand - it's time to revise the wisdom of your previous position. The reluctance or refusal of many liberal hawks to admit the first point, not to mention the second, does qualify them as wankers.

I'm still a liberal interventionist - this war didn't teach me anything I didn't know. Perhaps under President Clark we'll have a chance to see an actual test of my viewpoint.

9:26 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Liberal Hawks seem to have been, and some continue to be, enamored of a fantasy invasion, conducted with a magical army of 500,000 troops, conducted with utmost competence by people with a track record of caring more about human rights than their view of the U.S. national interest (someone other than, say Donald "Saddam Built My Hot-rod" Rumsfeld). Since this war was NEVER in the cards, it seems perfectly worthwhile to knock those who insisted that a badly conducted, inadequate war fought by liars, political hacks, and bloody-handed cold warriors was "good enough", especially considering the amount of death that even the "fantasy invasion" would bring to people who never consented to the destruction of their neighborhoods.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Whoa (woah? woa? How the hell do you spell that word)...

Lots of very good points/criticisms here, which I greatly appreciate, and which force me in the painful direction of further thought.

a quick point:
The formidable Armenius and I had frequent discussions in the lead-up to the war. Our fundamental moral and political commitments are the same. He was--finally and agonizingly--pro-invasion, whereas I was--finally and agonizingly--against it. He is extremely intelligent, well-informed, just and reflective. His argument, which came near to swaying me, was:

Sure these guys are liars, and sure they don't care as much as they should about human rights. But they aren't monsters. They wouldn't go to war to save the Iraqi people, and the WMD case is crap, but that's irrelevant. Pretty much everybody thinks that Saddam has WMDs, and the world would be a better place if they were destroyed. More importantly, this is the only way the Iraqi people will ever be saved. The administration has bad motives, but they're going to do something good.

I still think this is a strong argument. Remember: until the invasion, we didn't have good evidence that this adminstration was INCOMPETENT, only that it was ruthless.

More thought's needed on my part, but most of the people who I most respect were torn about the invasion for similar reasons.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

p.s. Liberal interventionism, contrary to one of the comments above, is not a fantasy. We did it--in perhaps America's finest moments--in the former Yugoslavia.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Azael said...

you said that we only had evidence of ruthlessness, not incompetence. what planet are you from? right up to the war - and even well after, they refused to give us a plan for occupation. I could go on and on about their incompetence and the evidence of it, but my cell phone keyboard won't permit it - mercifully, I'm sure.

Sorry, you defense is that you're a starstruck lover whobleft his wife and child because he believed in wuv - twu wuv.

Nice rationalization, and it does keep divorce lawyers in business. But the wife and kid still don't give a rat's ass that you were mislead by that cheap hussy.

Worse, it's more than a bit unseemly that you keep using the excuse...

3:38 PM  
Blogger Azael said...

Although I'm sure you'll dismiss it out of hand, do check out Tristero - due to my keyboard limitations, I must submit only the raw URL:


4:17 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Tristero does more question-begging than you can throw a rhetoric text at. I get no sense that he's an honest disputant. I've no idea why Digby, who's a partisan but a reasoning one, allows Tristero to post on his site.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"[T]he average liberal hawk who supported invasion was a chump...".

So was the above-average liberal hawk, the below-average liberal hawk, and every other sort of hawk and/or liberal who supported invasion. Not to mention any conservative doves out there.

I'm a lefty but no peacenik: I'm all for marching on Alamance County if need be. I have a bit of disdain for pacifists. But for heaven's sakes, you believe there was an humanitarian case for turning a sovereign nation into a battlefield? Anyone who blinded himself to the realities of a military invasion (mucho muerte) followed by a lengthy occupation (its inevitability, its expense, its creation of generations of mortal enemies, mas muerte) of a country of 25 million gun nuts (many of them afire with the flame of religious fervor) was, is, and will ever be a chump.

Call me irritating if you must, but I "insist that it was always obvious that going in was wrong."

8:19 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Don't see it, Russ. Perhaps this dispute is over the proposition that it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. I suspect that, to the shame of liberalism, many liberals deny the proposition.

Though, never having been faced with the choice, my endorsement of any answer is in large part speculative.

Azael, in his inimitable and typically off-putting way, makes an excellent point about the lack of plans for after the invasion. I can't remember what I thought about that at the time. Someone who knew that the planning was insufficient, of course, and knew that the war couldn't be successfull (morally speaking) without such planning WOULD, indeed, be stupid to support the war.

Wonder what I thought about that?

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Perhaps this dispute is over the proposition that it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees."

I suppose the important question here is: whose decision is that to make?

9:51 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Saying that the "only" way that the Iraqi people could have been freed from Saddam was through an American invasion has GOT to be some kind of logical fallacy...the excluded narrow...patio furniture...something.

10:49 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Anonymous: that has been a refrain of mine. You can choose to risk your own life in the cause of your liberation. It's an entirely different proposition for some other, who will be at no risk personally, to make that decision on your behalf, without your consultation.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

My own stilted perception is that our troops in Iraq, all volunteers, know exactly what they're fighting for, and what they're fighting against. And (most) are proud to do so.

Baghdad, 18 Oct. (AKI) - Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the terror group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has released a new statement in which it explains the reasons for its terror campaign and states that they are not fighting the US occupation of Iraq, but to create "an Islamic state which is part of the caliphate and the Muslim territory."

The message from the terror group appeared on the Internet on Tuesday, just a few days ahead of a visit to Baghdad by the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. "The secretary of the Arab League has been tasked with going to Iraq to convince the Sunnis to enter the political game so as to stop the Jihad [holy war] in the Sunni areas. With the excuse of national interest, they are trying to save the Americans," the statement says.

The terror group then goes on to reveal its real objectives, saying: "We are not fighting to chase out the occupier or to save national unity and keep the borders outlined by the infidels intact," the statement continues. "We are fighting because it is a religious duty to do it, just as it is a duty to take the Sharia [Islamic law] to the government and create an Islamic state."

4:50 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Weeeelll...anynymous and Matthew... of course I see the point but I don't think I agree. Saddam had a bigass military. We can't look at such a state and say "well, if they want to be free, they'll have to free themselves." Why not say the same thing of, say, Darfur? That's like watching a huge guy beating his wife and saying "well, who am I to judge whether to intervene?"

The proper way to make a judgment in that case is to ask "what would a reasonable person in that country want us to do?"

The answer, in this case, is fairly clear:

Best: Come in WITH A GOOD PLAN FOR POST-WAR RECONSTRUCTION, kill Saddam, go away.

o.k.: Do nothing

Worst: Come in, kill Saddam, leave the country in ruins and at the mercy of psychos.

In fact, there were actual polls taken before the war by an organization that does similarly difficult polls elsewhere, and it showed that Iraqis prefered a short war against Saddam to our doing nothing, and peferred our doing nothing to a long war.

7:43 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

"what would a reasonable person"

You missed "informed". You also assume that there is a typical person.

I'm edging towards the position that we're doing more harm than good there. The data that, as in Vietnam, we are supporting/arming a lot of insurgents among the troops we're planning on leaving to fight the insurgents - that data is going to push me over the edge as it gets better reporting.

So I think it's worstward.

12:17 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Matt Yglesias saying some of the things I said above without my concision but with reference to the actual arguments and arguers.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's what was completely obvious before the invasion of Iraq:

Duhbya and the neocons were determined to go into Iraq. War was their first resort. Terrorism was nothing more than a pretext for the PNAC program, which required war.

They could not or would not make a reasoned case for war, so they resorted to rank and obvious propaganda. Their case for illegal WMD had to be more than other people believe Saddam has them.

Containment was working despite their dismissal of it and Saddam's cheating.

There were and still are far greater threats to peace than Saddam - Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il, the loose nukes in Russia, to name a few.

The PNAC domino theory was a fantasy that no adult would have found plausible if it were fiction, instead of a plan of attack.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Azael said...

WS, your "best" scenario wasn't even possible at the time - believe K Drum, if your unwilling to take my statement of the fact. Further, every single millitary person was saying it was going to take several hundred thousand to do it right - and we simply don't have these numbers. So, either you weren't paying attention, or you simply discarded the expert's arguments and recomendations. Only in the former case can I say that you can pull some sort of "it was for freedom" schtick.

But I think you're only defense can be that you weren't paying close enough attention because the signs were quite clear they were incompetent to anyone who was...

Check out K Drums recent post on Feith for more fuel.

It's one thing to be blinded by a dream and a vision. It's quite another to keep clinging to it, claiming that being blinded and duped is far more noble than those who plainly saw it coming - but were too shrill for your manly tastes ;)

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My own stilted perception is that our troops in Iraq, all volunteers, know exactly what they're fighting for, and what they're fighting against. And (most) are proud to do so."

Ah, the vaunted 'flypaper' theory. How nice of you to volunteer the Iraqi people as cannon fodder in your experiment.

Zarqawi was relegated to the northern no-fly zone before Bush unleashed a miasma of anarchy and violence that now permits him to operate unfettered throughout the country.

And Bush had him in his sights before the war, but worried that taking him out would remove a plum justification for him to get his war on.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Well, I was paying awful damned close attention in the run-up to the war. I don't think you could plausibly pin any charge of inattention/irresponsibility on me...but I dont RECALL (note: fallible memory) anyone pointing out what Drum did in the post you reference.

So, it seems false that anybody who was for the war (though I wasn't) wasn't paying attention.

I think much of this discussion just turns on an ambiguity in "liberal hawk". By 'LH' I mean what most people have historically meant--humanitarian interventionist. Some people--e.g. Atrios--seem to be using 'LH' non-standardly...to mean 'supporter of this particular war'.

Somebody somewhere said something about somebody "clinging to their positions." Er, presumably they weren't talking about me, b/c that would be a stupid thing to say. The only position I could be accused of "clinging" [sic] to is that one could be an intelligent, well-informed, well-meaning layperson and be for the war.

I always knew that, if things turned out for the best, that the wingnuts would strut around claiming that it was always obvious that invasion was a smart move. I hadn't considered the flip side of that: that if things went south the lefties would strut around proclaiming the inevitability of THAT.

To some people, everything's obvious in retrospect.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I'm sick as hell, so please to ignore the testy tone of the last message.

My students assert that I have "the mono".

3:40 PM  
Blogger Azael said...

So, I guess you missed all the testimony before the war that it was going to take a hell of a lot more than what they were planning - these are the numbers that Drum uses and they came out prominently BEFORE the war. Myself, I always liked the rather comical results of the Millennium Challenge when looking for obvious warning signs of massive incompetence before the war. Still, there's lots of good memories still on the net.

BTW, Matt of the unpronounceable last name has a good post up about the shifting rationale... And Atrios' latest regarding Afghanistan and the whole Human Rights n' Freedom argument might be an interesting read...

It always struck me as patently odd that we'd leave Afghanistan twisting in the wind when it seemed to me to provide the perfect opportunity for doing precisely what you claim we should be doing.

Oh, and that was before Iraq, too. Just in case you missed it. :)

6:06 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Azael - see 12:28.

WS - I know you haven't been kissing students, but do they?

6:10 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


You've really lost me this time, man... I can't tell what you're trying to prove or who you're arguing against. What's Afghanistan got to do with it? I mean, I've made my position on that clear (stay in Afghanistan, get OBL, rebuild it into a liberal paradise)...so...what's your point?

I'm lost, dude. Maybe it's just b/c I'm sick.

If the troop number estimates were available before the war, I missed 'em or didn't realize their significance.

But I suspect--just suspect, mind you--that you've forgotten what the proposition at issue is.

A reasonable, reasonably well-informed and well-meaning person could have supported the war on humanitarian grounds at the time of invasion.

A reasonable person who knew every piece of info then available and who reasoned about the implications perfectly could have supported the war on humanitarian grounds at the time of invasion.

Maybe this deserves another post.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Azael said...

well, before you post again, do read Matt's article I pointed to. It takes your position head on, and - I'm sure - since it's by a fellow hawk, rather than a wooly anti war type, you might actually listen to the argument.

As to the relevance of Afghanistan, one only need to consider what it means to cut and run there, given its history, to the whole freedom and human rights agenda that you have. If one is unable to finish the projects that one starts, and moves on to the next bright shiny bauble, it's a sure sign that you have people in charge (and backing it) who's professed goals aren't in alignment with their actions. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of y'alls plan of record.

But the high order bit is that people like you are in far greater danger of losing people like me, rather than vice versa. I think Matt makes an excellent point about this that will perhaps penetrate your pride.

Then again, perhaps not.

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Weeeelll...anynymous and Matthew... of course I see the point but I don't think I agree. Saddam had a bigass military. We can't look at such a state and say "well, if they want to be free, they'll have to free themselves." Why not say the same thing of, say, Darfur? That's like watching a huge guy beating his wife and saying "well, who am I to judge whether to intervene?""


Sorry I just don't agree. Louis XIV, King George, Sukarno, Palavi, Ceacescu all had an iron grip on power and ruthlessly suppressed all rebellions. Recall how those guys were deposed.

Darfur is a different animal. That situation is more analogous to Kosovo or Rwanda, both of which warranted intervention for humanitarian reasons, IMHO. The crucial difference being that ongoing or obviously imminent genocide was present. In my (probably imperfect, I know) moral calculus, that's worthy of intervention for humanitarian reasons.

I think both those analogs in their own way demonstrated the need for a new international paradigm, one which admittedly isn't being provided by the UN. How they can realistically be compared to the Bush administration's post hoc justification for its Iraq disaster I don't understand.

Before the gas attacks or the Shia crushing? Maybe you could make the case, but the retroactive tying of this intervention to those decade-old atrocities has the whiff of desperate bootstrapping.

11:34 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Anonymous beat me to it: Saddam's "big army" had been steadily deteriorating for a decade by the time the U.S. invaded, it had no ability to operate in Northern Iraq, and the actually combat-ready units were kept out of Baghad by Saddam for fear that they could be used in a coup against him and, as Anon points out, plenty of powerful despots have been ousted by means other than an invasion and occupation by a foreign military spewing depleated uranium and cluster bombs from every orifice.

12:45 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Pre-war news articles that got it right.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Well, I don't think I have excessive pride. In fact I'm fairly willing to admit when I'm wrong--or so it seems. I've certainly done it more than, say, you have.

I have been advised by friends of mine who read this blog that I shouldn't spend time "trying to reason" with you (in particular). I disagree. I believe you can be reasoned with, and I belive that I've profited from discussions with you.

But I do have to admit that you have some tendency toward arrogant brow-beating that makes it hard to take your points seriously. You begin to sound like the left-wing analog of Bush and Co. (If you don't agree with me your are an idiot or of bad will.)

So: I'll certainly read Yglesias's post (Atrios too, though his analysis is rarely worthwhile).

But note that you have a long row to hoe on this one. TNR--a bunch of intelligent, well-informed, well-meaning liberal hawks if ever there was one--was (mistakenly, IMHO) in favor of invasion on moral grounds. *ab esse ad posse*, it is therefore possible for such a person to have held such a position.

But, of course, I may be missing something.

I do belive that I've ceased to profit from *this particular* discussion, and will post again on the subject after reading the relevant material. Maybe we can all try again then.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A reasonable, reasonably well-informed and well-meaning person could have supported the war on humanitarian grounds at the time of invasion.

... only while engaged in profoundly wishful thinking.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WS, I suspect that your students are saying that you have "teh mono." Get well soon, anyway.

About the use of "liberal hawk," I agree with you that there are two uses, but Atrios isn't at fault for using it to refer to this war (and I think it's not totally non-standard to use hawk and dove with reference to the ongoing war). The Michael Tottens, Roger L. Simons, and Norm Gerases of the world seem to use "liberal hawk" with respect to this war only, without much consideration as to what 'liberality' means.

I could say some stuff about substance, maybe (short version: I agree with Matthew Chrisman, and with anonymous on Darfur/Kosovo/Rwanda, and don't think it's smart to invade and try to leave a democracy because it's hard to install democracy that way even if you know what you're doing), but as you said this discussion may be exhausted. Mostly I wanted to get in that remark about "teh mono."

1:47 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Winston Smith took umbrage at Atrios characterizing Liberal Hawks as chumps. WS went on:
“The WMD case was pathetic but that's not the case that liberal hawks relied on. There was a strong humanitarian case to be made for the war, even if it may not have been quite strong enough to justify it.”

While a strong humanitarian case *could* have been made for invading Iraq, the humanitarian case was *not* made for invading Iraq -- at least not by anyone with even a shred of influence on the war’s preparation or execution.

My main objection to those who would support the invasion of Iraq on “humanitarian grounds” is one of process. What is the due process for a humanitarian intervention? It is generally accepted that humanitarian intervention requires a consensus of either the UN, or some broadly multi-national body directly charged with security in that region (e.g., NATO for Kosovo).

While one could put forth a case for invading Iraq as a "humanitarian intervention", the Bush administration chose not to do so. Their stated reasons for the invasion were *not* humanitarian, and it is no surprise that they didn’t try to obtain a true international consensus.

For one to claim that "humanitarian grounds" justify the invasion of Iraq is, IMHO, morally equivalent to supporting a lynching on the grounds that, while one doubts that the person lynched had actually committed the crime that inflamed the mob, one believes that he had committed some other crime for which he *did* deserve to die, and due process be damned.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Bad analogy, Jim, and obviously so.

The intention question re: Iraq, as I noted during the build-up and many time subsequently, was that there were good (though perhaps not sufficient) moral reasons to invade, but those weren't the Administration's reasons. Thus many liberal hawks reasoned like so: these assholes are doing this for the wrong reason, but it's a good thing to do and this is the only way we'll ever get 'em to do it. So THEIR intentions were bad but ours were good. A better analogy: I hire a greedy mercenary to stop a genocide. I know that the guy's an asshole, and that he'd fight for the other side if they offered him more money, but I use this bad person and his bad intentions to do something good.

12:39 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Another bad analogy, Winston.

Your hypothetical mercenary is being paid to stop a genocide, so, ostensibly, his only motivation is going to be to please you, the client, and therefore his only priority will be stopping the genocide. The Bush administration had already shown by 2002 that it's first through five hundredth priorities in any situation had to do with maximizing profits for their allies and maximizing American power. As such, they were the worst possible choices to conduct a humanitarian intervention (remember after the fall of Bagdad when the Oil Ministry was secured by U.S. troops while the rest of the city was looted? Who DIDN'T see that coming?).

And that's not even the worst part of your analogy: Iraq was not experiencing a genocide before the U.S. invaded. A better analogy would be hiring a bunch of mercs to overthrow a dictator you didn't like, and whose oil resources you could imagine putting to considerably better use. In fact, that's not an analogy, it was actually attempted. Ask Mark Thatcher.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, since this seems to be still going on, I'll jump in with my substantive comment.

First, about whether hawkery was justified given that the people prosecuting the war didn't share your humanitarian motives: The fact that they didn't share those motives did make it less likely that they'd achieve your goals. To extend the analogy, the mercenary is likely to loot and pillage; if you're going to hire him you need to take that into account. (But it still may be worth it.)

But I want to put that to one side, because I don't think the war was justified for humanitarian reasons even if it had been led by a competent humanitarian. Being in a war zone is a bad, bad thing. It's worse for civilians, I think, than living under Saddam in the late '90s. (North Korea is about the only country I can think of that'd probably be better off as a war zone, though I wouldn't advocate humanitarian war there either, because of all their weapons.)

So the threshold for starting a war ought to be very high. Much higher than the threshold for intervening in an ongoing war. Ongoing or imminent genocide--not old ones--I think, would count (although that might just mean that there is an ongoing war). But knocking over a very bad regime just to attempt to install something better is unwise. Because installing democracy at gunpoint is hard, especially if you're a foreign occupier. (Most people aren't big fans of foreign occupiers, I think.)

So it's not at all clear that a straightforward cost-benefit analysis shows that going after Saddam Hussein is worth it for the people of Iraq, even if it's done right. You're guaranteed a war zone for a while; you're pretty likely to get full-scale civil war; if you don't, you may just wind up with a milder dictator. Will this overbalance all the death, suffering, and oppression that takes place during the war? Hard to say.

In addition, I think there's a lot of danger from precedent. If you set a precedent that it's OK to invade a very bad government just to try to install a better one, that's prone to abuse whenever some powerful government wants to knock over another country for non-humanitarian reasons.

Furthermore, the U.S. has a limited amount of military strength. The humanitarian project would have been much better served if we had directed our force to ongoing crises instead of looking for dictators to overthrow. Darfur is just the most obvious place.

3:01 PM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

Well, said, Matt. The fact that a bomb-filled, basically indiscriminatly deadly war zone is worse than life under a stable dicatorship can't be overstressed. If a people decide that they would rather "die on their feet than live on their knees" it is their moral choice to make, because they are accepting the risk. It's entirely different for Americans, thousands of miles from the carnage, to weigh the issue and decide that thousands of innocent deaths and maimings and psycholocial trauma is "worth it" for the people subject to such horror.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, Matthew, Matt, and Matthew again make excellent points IMO.

I could quibble with a few details, but that would be churlish given the substantial correctness of your arguments, so far as I can tell.

Although, not to put too fine a point on it, remember that none of this shows the actual proposition at issue to be false (i.e. that a reasonable person could have at the time in question supported the war on humanitarian grounds).

This will, I guess, turn into a question about how demanding one's responsibilities are re: being well-informed and reasoning carefully about such a case. I'm going to post on this again soon, 'cause this thread--though great, IMHO--is getting too long.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Azael said...

I have been advised by friends of mine who read this blog that I shouldn't spend time "trying to reason" with you (in particular). I disagree. I believe you can be reasoned with, and I believe that I've profited from discussions with you.

Well, thanks. I can be reasoned with and when I have access to more than my cellphone keyboard, provide much more detailed reasoning of my own.

But I do have to admit that you have some tendency toward arrogant brow-beating that makes it hard to take your points seriously.

I must confess that I think much the same of you at times.

I do believe that I've ceased to profit from *this particular* discussion, and will post again on the subject after reading the relevant material. Maybe we can all try again then.

I do hope so. The reason I'm being such an insufferable prick is that I think think that this is a rather important subject and it's not so much Iraq that's the problem, it's the next one and the next one.

If your point is that a reasonable, well informed person could have been for Iraq, then - I believe - the burden of proof is on you. It's quite clear that we don't have the numbers that were bandied about even before the war by people who know what the heck they're talking about. I would like to see how you show that reasonable people - without being duped in some way - were so completely clueless as to just this one simple fact - i.e. that we didn't have anywhere near the troops required to pull this off. Again, a fact that was clearly available, prominently in the news and extremely well known by both the foreign policy community and the military.

Perhaps if we can get around the mystery of how reasonable people who were supposedly well informed managed to miss this rather significant fact, then we can move on to more subtle matters such as the complete lack of a plan and the pulling out of inspectors before they finished their job - not to mention completely ignoring their expert opinion.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I [Jim] hesitated to put forward the lynching analogy, fearing it might distract attention from my main point: The process taken matters. We accept this for domestic law withour question. Lynching is considered bad because:

1) It does not protect the rights of the accused to have the charges considered in a fair and unbiased manner.

2) It confers punishments that are not comensurate with the offense.

Similarly, I point to the generally accepted need for international agreement before conducting humanitarian intervention. The process of gaining such agreement requires that

1) The need for the intervention be established beyond reasonable doubt.

2) The execution of the intervention be designed to achieve the desired goal.

The latter point is why it was wrong to support the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. Since Bush & Co did not consider it a humanitarian intervention, one had no reason to expect them to handle the invasion as if it were a humanitarian intervention.

They signalled their intent when they undercut Shinseki, who had, in fact run a humanitarin intervention.

(BTW, the biggest failure of the lynching analogy is that a lynching does not cause the massive suffering among the innocent that the invasion has done.)


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Hey, excellent website. A great Iraq resource is Deaths in Iraq. It breaks all of the casualties down by age, race, branch of the military, country, etc.

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Blogger Roberto Iza Valdés said...

Dear administrator:

Some of our comments above may include links that are no longer valid or that do not have a nofollow value. They might very well lead you today to a third party. Therefore,
I ask you, if you would be so kind, to please delete or disregard those

Many thanks and best wishes,

Iza, Roberto Iza

Muy Señores Míos:

Algunos de nuestros comentarios incluyen vínculos rotos que bien pudieran llevar hoy a una tercera persona. Por tanto, le rogamos, por favor, que los deseche o desestime.

Gracias y recuerdos

Iza, Roberto Iza

10:42 PM  

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