Thursday, January 25, 2007

What If The Surge Works?

Surely someone has pointed out by now what will happen if the surge works--or even if by some other mechanism an even slightly better Iraq emerges, post-surge.

A few things to make clear before the punchline:

1. I don't have a right to a position on the surge.

2. In the past I've said that, if you held a gun to my head and made me decide, I'd reluctantly give a surge the green light.

3. I'm not even sure about that anymore.

4. I desperately want something--anything--to work in Iraq...including, of course, the surge.


But we need to be clear about two points:

A. If Iraq improves after the surge--regardless of whether the surge causes the improvement--conservatives will immediately begin the Reaganification of George W. Bush. That is, they will resume trying to heroify the decidedly unheroic. Many of them were still trying to make Bush a hero when he was already a manifestly terrible president. Many of them still dogmatically insist that he's non-terrible. Any hint of success of any kind after the surge will give them a straw to grasp at, and the half-finished hagiographies will be taken up and completed. He'll be resolute, he'll be precient, he'll be, of course, Churchillian.

But

B. He will, of course, deserve none of those accolades, even if the surge is directly responsible for improving Iraq. If, through a series of lies and moronic errors, you manage to monumentally screw something up, and then you throw an ill-advised Hail Mary that happens to clean up part of the mess you made through dishonesty and incompetence, you don't deserve any credit. Stupidity and dishonesty are not praiseworthy. Luck is not praiseworthy. Stupidity and dishonesty plus luck are not praiseworthy. Bush is a terrible president even if space aliens happen to show up tomorrow and shower us with gold, oil, and dancing girls (or guys, as your preference might have it). A lucky accident can't change that.

BUT...be prepared, because A (above) is a lead-pipe cinch.

I'm hoping that something--anything--will work in Iraq. I'm hoping that the surge will work. And that means hoping to have to put up with infuriatingly foolish, dogmatic, and baroque conservative campfire stories about how Bush '43, the Glorious and Resolute, was right all along.

It's false, and it's going to make me barf every time I have to hear it. But it's approximately a million times better than watching Iraq continue to vivisect itself.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luck has been praiseworthy all of Duhbya's life, starting with his selection of parents. Why should the future be any different?

That said, it's a pretty far-fetched hypothetical. We've had surges in Iraq before, just without all the marketing hype. They haven't secured the peace. This one won't either since all it adds is the aforementioned hype.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am utterly confident that the surge will accomplish nothing praiseworthy at all, and thus I'm not very worried about conservative deification of Bush based on the surge's success.

Of course, if I'm wrong about the surge accomplishing something, I think I'll be so goddamn thrilled that Iraq isn't a festering hellhole of blood and terror any longer that, hell, at that point, who cares whether they make up shit about Bush? I mean, they're going to make up shit about him anyhow, they might as well have some sort of slim justification.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I had a prof in grad school claim that there are three kinds of error bars -- the ones you'd bet lunch on, the ones you'd bet your career on, and the ones you'd bet your like on.

Saying that the surge ain't going to work is probably (for me) at level two.

And I, too, would be far happier if I am wrong.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The observation that this isn't about Bush anymore is to your credit I think, WS. You exhibit more wisdom than what's shaping up to be a majority of the Senate.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, Jim, I often think--and suggest that my students think--in terms of how much the'd bet on the proposition under consideration.

Though, Tom:
I think this IS still largely (though not mostly) about Bush. And there's nothing wrong with that, either. Our president says something about our country, as does what we say about our president. Conservatives criticize liberals for continuing to point out that Bush is a bad president who lied us into a war, etc., etc....even while conservatives themselves continue to deny these facts.

If conservatives really want it to not be at all about Bush anymore, then they'd admit that facts so that we could move on.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If conservatives really want it to not be at all about Bush anymore, then they'd admit that facts so that we could move on.

Yeah, the standard conservative line seems to be, "This isn't all about Bush! Why won't you liberals realize that? If we all just did exactly as he says, everything would be fine, because he's such a great leader, Churchhillian really, and such an inspiring speaker, and he did not lie, and, and, and . . . Where was I? Ah, right. Why do you liberals make it all about him?"

1:24 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I typoed. Last line should say "the facts" not "that facts" (not a typo for "that fact", either.).

1:47 PM  
Blogger Paul Siegel said...

Real success is impossible. Even if Bush gets to stop the war between Sunnis and Shiites, this would not be a success. A democracy Iraq is not. Shiites already mistreat women. The Iraqis favor Hezbollah and hate Israel. Iraq will be closer to Iran.

As I said before, success is impossible.

5:01 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

There are many facts I wish you'd admit, WS. But if you want to defend Jimmy Carter, there's no point in bludgeoning you about it.

Bush sucks. There you have it. That does not make his opponents an iota better or wiser.

The senate is about to do something really lousy. If one believes the surge will make things worse, that would be a principled opposition. A true (un)believer like Russ Feingold, I have no problem with. However, I detect little more than everybody else playing oracle, as if there's more virtue in predicting doom and being proved right than doing everything you can to keep a slim (and perhaps only) chance alive.

For the record, there are plenty of conservatives who are down on Bush. Since Iraq sucks, he is by any definition in absolute terms a bad president. My continued support comes from not from dogma, but my analysis of the alternatives. By your lights, I'm unmistakably wrong. But I don't think certainty is possible in these things, not about the surge, and not even when it comes to Jimmy Carter.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as if there's more virtue in predicting doom and being proved right than doing everything you can to keep a slim (and perhaps only) chance alive.

The problem, Tom, is how this plays out in reality, not the belief.

If there's a 95% chance of absolute apocalyptic disaster in Iraq, then the guy who predicts doom and does everything he can to keep us from going down that path actually is more virtuous than the fellow who cries valiantly "I'm holding to the 5% chance of success," and sends more troops to their death.

And of course, I can theorize a case where the percentages are more balanced, the belief that Iraq will come to tears is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and clinging to the slim margin of hope makes it more likely that we'll win, sure. I don't think that 'clap harder' is always invalid, and I can see that in many situations, trying to steer a middle course would lead to disaster.

The problem is that since your president, your party, and your political fellow travelers had a nearly unrestricted free hand in the buildup, planning, and execution of this conflict, at this point I don't think that there's much you can actually point to and say, "Oh, if only we'd tried harder. Oh, if only it hadn't been for those doomsayers."

My point is that Iraq is a huge fucking disaster precisely because of the people who have been doing everything they can to keep a slim chance alive. The chance is too slim to be useful, and has been since the beginning.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The problem, Tom, is how this plays out in reality, not the belief.

If there's a 95% chance of absolute apocalyptic disaster in Iraq, then the guy who predicts doom and does everything he can to keep us from going down that path actually is more virtuous than the fellow who cries valiantly "I'm holding to the 5% chance of success," and sends more troops to their death.


I dunno if all the new converts to political realism think that this token surge really carries much of a risk of precipitating absolute apocalyptic disaster. I dunno if many think that it would even make things measurably worse, although the rhetoric (Sen. Hagel comes to mind) trends that way. And though I don't doubt for a minute your concern for our troops, and if I had a genuine sense that they thought their sacrifices are useless (as happened in Vietnam eventually, no dispute from me), I'd be for taking a powder.

But we, you and I, consider them heroes, I think, and they consider themselves heroes, too. Taking 5% chances is part of the hero business. The stakes are high.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Depends on what you mean by 'realism.'

If you mean "new converts to the view that America has no moral obligations to non-Americans," then most war critics are not and have never been realists...though a *SOME* do sound like realists these days. Hard-core anti-war types will use ANY argument to avoid a war...though they constitute a minority.

If you mean "new advocates of viewing the situation realistically (i.e. not through ideologically-clouded glasses)", then most of us have been realists in THAT sense all along, and it's you and your boys who have been, well, unrealists.

And it's interesting that you'd assert that intentions are legitimate targets of criticism now. You've mantained here that we should have supported Bush's war on humanitarian grounds. But those grounds were NOT Bush's reasons for going to war.

So...intentions matter when Dems have the wrong ones, but they don't matter when Republicans do...

The double standard once again.

I'm done with this conversation. it's going nowhere fast.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

That's a shame. It was just getting interesting, where the moralizing of intentions runs into the wall of realism.

Kosovo could have gone badly, you know. We got a bit lucky.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I don't see how you could say that when we've been over exactly the same ground about 100 times...

2:56 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't recall you proving it couldn't have gone badly, or even see how it would be possible.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Nobody's talking about Kosovo.

Besides, Kosovo was undertaken for humanitarian reasons, and we weren't systematically lied to about it. Sure, Clinton would every now throw out the (true) claim that some of our strategic interests were tangled up in Yugoslavia...but there was never any doubt that it was a humanitarian mission.

Different kettle of fish entirely.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

advocates of viewing the situation realistically (i.e. not through ideologically-clouded glasses

Clearly, I was speaking of the surge. I wasn't starting a rehash of the reasons for war either.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

My bad. Sorry.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

No prob. As for the rest, never mind.

12:52 AM  

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