Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, August 25, 2006

This opening paragraph of a Michael Hirsh article is a standard take from the left and much of the right:

Criticizing George W. Bush for his mistakes in Iraq nowadays is the authorial equivalent of taking on the Washington Nationals. As a challenge, it's just too easy to be interesting, or sporting. While commentators still squabble over the details--which was worse, Rumsfeld's decision to put in too few troops or Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi army? Yada yada yada--the disastrous errors made in invading and occupying Iraq are already confirmed historical fact. They are disputed by no responsible or knowledgeable person, outside of a small circle of Kool-Aid sippers in the White House. Some new books, like Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by The Washington Post's Thomas Ricks, have supplied a wealth of fascinating new detail, but for the most part, the critics have had their day. (my emphasis)

I for one am a skeptic about the charges of "incompetence." Many of those who allege it have an axe to grind: either they were anti-war to begin with, or they're capital-d Democrats or Bush-haters, or, on the other hand, they were pro-war, but since the war is perceived to have gone badly they cover themselves by criticizing the supposed incompetence with which it was run, implying that if it had been run better, it would have been a more attractive proposition. I read a bit of the Thomas Ricks book and the guy strikes me as an idiot. The troops were on the way to Baghdad, he narrates, and some Iraqis fired at them. This was in March 2003. This, he claims, is some sort of disproof about the liberationist hopes of war advocates. This is really dumb. Everyone knew that some Iraqis would resist. To claim that the initial entry of US troops was not perceived as a liberation by most or at least many Iraqis is probably untenable, but anyway if you think that anecdotes like the ones Ricks cites are even a shred of evidence in that case, you're too obviously biased to be worth paying attention to.

Also, I should say that I lost a lot of trust in mainstream media in April 2003 when they refused to acknowledge, despite the overwhelming evidence on the ground, that US troops were greeted as liberators. It was a surreal moment, when Iraqis were cheering in the streets-- subsequent polls, elections, blog posts, etc., have confirmed that these were real, widespread emotions, not some kind of camera trick-- and the news media kept talking in the same obsolete categories. They had an obligation, at that moment, to take the scare quotes off the word "liberation." They failed, and I've never trusted them since.

I resent the phrase "confirmed historical fact." I also resent being called a "Kool-Aid sipper."


  • I resent things like the situation in Darfur, which we've done absolutely nothing about and which has claimed at least 70,000 and possibly up to 350,000 lives (depending on who you read). Isn't that a valid criticism of this administration? Could we have done something for Darfur if we had handled Iraq differently? What about Katrina? Could we have handled that differently but for Iraq? What about the growing problems in Afghanistan? What about the decrease in leverage with Iran and North Korea? What about the Israeli-Lebanese War which we're not contributing any peace keeping troops to? Don't you think it's at all plausible that we could have done more in any of these situations if we had handled Iraq better? If these aren't valid criticisms, then what is?

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 9:31 PM  

  • Were you not appalled to see few troops on the streets dealing with the looting and riots? What sort of planner doesn't make allowances for reprisal killings or Islamic insurgency - especially since we were still fighting one in Afghanistan?

    On another note, what sort of planner has, when asked by Congress, NO IDEA how many troops have been sacrificed to execute his plan?

    Not good planners, planning badly.

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:31 AM  

  • Darfur is possibly the best argument against Iraq, but there's no guarantee that we would have done anything in Darfur were it not for Iraq, nor is it clear that Iraq is what's preventing us from doing more there. Israel-Lebanon is less important than Iraq. Re: decreasing leverage with Iran/N. Korea, I've argued in the past at Tech Central that we should pull out of Iraq now to preserve the "generalized credible threat of American power," but now I'm not sure. Katrina? No, I don't think being in Iraq or not had any effect there. Is it "plausible" that a different Iraq War would have made a difference in Katrina/Israel-Lebanon/Darfur? Yes, plausible, but not likely.

    re: Looting. Hey, I could be wrong. But I think it's very difficult for soldiers to switch from killing the enemy to policing streets (different ROEs) quickly. And planning is likely to backfire: almost by definition, the more we plan, the less of a say the Iraqis have in the running of their country. Maybe being further to the "we're in charge" end of that spectrum.

    I'm not a journalist and my opinion's not worth much. The same goes for most journalists reporting on the situation. But one of the things that makes me distrustful of journalistic critiques of "incompetence" is the failure to acknowledge trade-offs. Should we have sent more troops to Iraq? Maybe, but please note that that would reduce our leverage with Iran and North Korea still further, and possibly made Iraqis feel more occupied. Should we have planned better? Maybe, but please admit that that would leave less room for Iraqi democracy. (Myself, I think Iraq was as much a revolution as a war, and revolutions are unpredictable. "Planning" was more or less bound to fail.)

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 7:17 PM  

  • So basically, you don't think the administration can be criticized for things beyong their control. If that's the case, then you shouldn't be praising them for those things either. And really, your attitude makes it seem like it doesn't really matter who's in charge here: the same thing would have happened to Gore or Kerry or McCain or whomever. Honestly, what criteria do you use to judge the president or people in general? Because it seems like you value his rhetoric above all else (which is ironic considering how poor a public orator he is).

    Or maybe, just maybe, what you value is your faith and his faith. You possibly believe that being judgemental is wrong, almost like a sin, and thus you are critical of people who are judgemental, and you praise people who are merely faithful. I'm just making guesses here, because I really can't understand where you're coming from.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 6:42 AM  

  • re: "Honestly, what criteria do you use to judge the president or people in general?"

    Not generally by management-type criteria; it's too hard to judge. Given that we're in Iraq, I don't have any particular opinion on whether Gore or Kerry would have done it better or worse than Bush. But if Gore or Kerry had been president in 2003, Saddam Hussein would still be in power there. That-- and, of course, Bush's stance on immigration, if anything even more so-- is how I judge the president.

    (I think Iraq is pretty much an unprecedented type of military enterprise. I had no priors about how difficult it would be, and I have no benchmark to judge whether this administration has done it well or badly.)

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 2:56 PM  

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