Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT WENT WRONG....John Quiggin points to a long essay written a couple of days ago by Bjorn Staerk, a recovering warblogger, that tries to come to grips with "What Went Wrong." Not with them, but with us. Here's his take on the pro-war blogosphere that he was once a part of:

Among the bloggers there was a sense that there were all these brilliant people, who knew so much about history, war and society, who had previously been without the tools to express themselves. Thanks to the wonders of amateur media, we could now finally exploit this huge reservoir of expert knowledge. And when you contrasted the lazy neutrality of the old media with the energy of the new, it certainly could seem that way. Here were people who regularly would write thousands of words about the historical context of Islamist terrorism, who could write brilliantly about freedom and democracy, who commented boldly on the long trends of history. How could such people be wrong?

But what we saw was not expert knowledge, but the well-written, arrogantly presented ideas of half-educated amateurs. This, too, went all the way from the bottom to the top. It often struck us how well the writing of the best of the bloggers measured up to that of pro-war pundits and intellectuals. We thought this showed how professional the amateurs were, when what it really told us was how amateurish the professionals were.

I don't have any real comments to add, but it's an interesting, self-reflective essay that reaffirms my belief in the fundamental common sense of Scandinavians. Worth a read if this kind of thing appeals to you.

Kevin Drum 11:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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Comments

Yeah, your only problem was that you loved too much. Tragic.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on March 1, 2007 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, your only problem was that you loved too much. Tragic.

Zing! Poor Tragicomic Hawk is out of his league.

It often struck us how well the writing of the best of the bloggers measured up to that of pro-war pundits and intellectuals. We thought this showed how professional the amateurs were, when what it really told us was how amateurish the professionals were.

I thought that bore repeating -- 'cause it's true. And the amateurishness of the "professionals" is part of what ultimately gave rise to the Progressive blogosphere and its mission in highlighting the errors in fact and analysis of these emperors-without-clothes day in and day out.

Posted by: Windhorse on March 1, 2007 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Can't spell War on Terror with our error.

Posted by: Robert on March 1, 2007 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

" . . . my belief in the fundamental common sense of Scandinavians," is either naive or stupid. Scandinavians engage in some really stupid shit.

As for AH, what a load of shit. You sir, are a doughy pantload.

As for the content: gee, style isn't equal to substance. Stop the fucking presses.

Cheers,

Alan Tomlinson

Posted by: Alan Tomlinson on March 1, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

The blogosphere appears to be peopled almost entirely by twenty-year olds who couldn't think their way out of a paper bag.

Posted by: Lee A. Arnold on March 1, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't it better to err on the side of liberty?

Why, no. It's better not to err.

Posted by: dj moonbat on March 1, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

AH,

The primary reason for the invasion was WMD's -according to Bush's own words, if Saddam had "given up" his WMD's he could have stated in power so your "Liberty" false choice is bogus.

Posted by: Robert on March 1, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

"But what we saw was not expert knowledge, but the well-written, arrogantly presented ideas of half-educated amateurs."

IMHO this comment is fair, but it also applies to the professional media columnists. Take the New York Times (please!) Maureen Dowd is a writing stylist. She doesn't even pretend to have expertise. But, even the most qualified (say, Thoomas Friedman on foreign affairs) pretend to a greater expertise than they truly possess. And, the TV commenters are a lot worse.

Bloggers don't maatch up to a Platonic ideal. But, in comparison to the main stream media, the best of the bloggers do very well. I'd much rather read Kevin Drum than Maureen Dowd.

Posted by: ex-liberal on March 1, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

AH,
So you think liberty can be forced on people? I bet if country invaded the US, you'd be part of the equivalent of Vichy France. It is telling that people like you won't back up your empty rhetoric with action. If freeing the Iraqis are so important, why don't you sign up for the military? Their standards have been lowered so I am sure they'll take you.

Posted by: This Machine Kills Fascists on March 1, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Pay no attention to the idiot who posts first and posts nonsense, he's patently unserious.

Here's an excellent excerpt from the link showing Staerk having an epiphany about the wrong response to terrorism:

I'm not saying that we've become unfree, or are about to. But I think the path towards it is open. The only response to terrorism we can imagine is to give more power to the state, and once given, that power will be hard to take back.

I'm pessimistic about this, because the underlying mechanism of trading freedom for security so strong. The security is often illusory, giving us little more than a temporary reduction of anxiety. The anxiety soon returns, and more freedom must be traded away. Just as a war frenzy can spin out of control, so can a panic for law and order in the face of terrorism. Especially so since the alternative is so depressing and counterintuitive.

As I wrote earlier (Living With Terrorism), the right way to fight terrorism is to be stronger than our fear of it. There are many things we can and should do to prevent terrorist attacks, but we have to treat fear as the single most damaging weapon terrorists have. Compared to a panicked public, a bomb is relatively harmless. With weapons, terrorists can only do as much damage as a weapon can do. Through fear, they have the full powers of state and society to play with.

Maybe there is hope for warbloggers after all.

Posted by: Windhorse on March 1, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Bjorn Staerk >"...how amateurish the professionals were..."

Uhhh, still are

And Mr. Full of Crap Arnold should get out more cause he`s apparently reading too little of blogistan

Boy, talk about amateurs...

"It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it." — Upton Sinclair

Posted by: daCascadian on March 1, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Excellent reply, Kevin: "Yeah, your only problem was that you loved too much. Tragic."

Tragic for the dead and the maimed, but the American Hawk remains loud and unrepentant.

Working together, Kevin and AH are revealing a more general truth: The experts and the amateurs who focus on "history, war and society" must always beware of loving war too much, since it maximizes the drama in their areas of interest.

Anyone who opposes his position to "anti-war bloggers" has already tipped his hand.

It's one thing to be wrong. It's another thing to be wrong about war.

Posted by: clem on March 1, 2007 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Really, since the warbloggers by-and-large (and doubtless American Hawk) have supported all the domestic abridgments of liberty (habeas corpus, eavesdropping/surveillance, etc.), any claim that they erred "on the side of liberty" is patently false.

The most charitable one can be is to say that they erred on the side of war. Probably more accurately, they haven't erred at all--they simply haven't finished their program of eradicating Arabs and liberals from the face of the Earth yet.

Posted by: dj moonbat on March 1, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see how anyone could claim to be a deep reader of military history and not anticipate unforeseen problems and difficulties in Iraq. Name a substantial war in which things didn't turn out very differently than the people who started it originally envisioned? What you really had were idealists or romantics pretending like they were hard-bitten realists. History has shown us there are few things more dangerous.

I wonder at times whether American Hawk is the blogger equivalent of Stephen Colbert, someone who presents wingnut ideas in such a deadpan style he's actually funny or whether he actually believes those ideas. Of course, I wonder the same thing about Dick Cheney. To answer the silly, self-serving wingnut idea that the Iraq War has gone badly because the Iraqis don't want the freedom we're giving them, well, doesn't it seem like one of the basic aspects of freedom the ability to choose the society and culture you want? I mean, how free can you be if someone else is choosing the parameters of your freedom? The fact that the Iraqis might want a very different culture for themselves than we do is our problem, not theirs. Even if the Iraqis should embrace the free culture Cheney and his allies think they should, don't you think it might have been a good idea if someone had bothered asking the Iraqis what kind of society they wanted before we went to the trouble of invading them.

Keep up the jokes American Hawk, you make me and I'm sure many other people laugh every time we read your posts.

Posted by: Guscat on March 1, 2007 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

I will admit that I am a half-educated amateur, and a 40-something that very often can't think a way out of a paper bag.

That is why I blog. In the pre-blog days, it was pretty isolating and lonely out here at times. Now, I can connect to others through blogging at my own level, read and incorporate the opinions and thoughts of those above my level, and get details and facts from the professionals. I have been shot down when my rantings become hysterical but at other times I have been affirmed that my humble opinion is similar to others. Under this administration, I NEED that.

Blogs are too laced with opinion, even by the professionals, but that is the method of operation in the media these days. I see little that is pure fact, clean of bias, and unaffected by the writer in some measure, experts especially. By now, I am convinced that an expert opinion applies only to whomever paid their salary.

I always considered blogging the exchange of ideas, thoughts, and a volley of opinion that gets mixed and cemented by its participants into a better understanding of the issues, not a place where only facts and figures count as valid. Heck, we should be getting that from MSM, but they are almost, if not just as far from neutrality as the blog sites are.

Posted by: Zit on March 1, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

American Hawk: liberty was never in the plan.

The original idea the neocons had was to make Ahmad Chalabi the new dictator of Iraq, and have laws installed that would give US corporations most of the oil. When this didn't pan out (because Chalabi had zero support in Iraq) they went flailing about looking for other ideas.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 1, 2007 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

The original idea the neocons had was to make Ahmad Chalabi the new dictator of Iraq
and don't forget the permanent bases we were going to install there, so as to accomodate Mr. bin Laden in his fervent wish to have US troops off the holy soil of Saudi Arabia.

Mission Accomplished, but whose?

Posted by: thersites on March 1, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I may be biased as I am just a lowly commenter, but where they went wrong?

Their comment policies.

Bjorn acts surprised to find out he was involved in a massive exercise in groupthink. But that's exactly what having no comments, and banning people, and deleting comments, and limiting registration will do to you.

It also includes behaviors like allowing everyone to call anyone they disagree with a troll, or worse even, a concern troll.

What's scary is how pervasive the groupthink still is. Check out this comment about what rightwing bloggers have proven in Kevin's grrrlfriend's blog:

Since the Swift Boat scandal blogs have been riding point on one important story after another.
Since the Swift Boat scandal blogs have been riding point on one important story after another. College campus speech codes, violent peace protesters, Duke Lacrosse, the new anti-Semitism of the left, Ward Churchill, Bellesailles' made-up anti-gun research, the real Cindy Sheehan, Muslim cartoon riots, and one astroturfing scandal after another from "perennial man on the street" Greg Packer to the sinister sophistication of the Pew Charitable Trust campaign finance reform lobby.

No journalist was ever going to walk into a law library and look up the Swiftboat Vets' story. No journalist could be bothered to do the gradeschool forensics necessary to trace the Burkett memo to a Kinko's in Texas. No journalist believes that "peace protesters" are violent nor Duke Lacrosse players innocent.

So maybe most right-wing bloggers aren't journalists, but they do seem to get the word out, which is just as important.

There are also honest-to-goodness "alternative media" journalists out there like Michael Yon who believe real journalism requires a person leave the Green Zone every once in a while, but that's an issue for another day.

Posted by: jerry on March 1, 2007 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Amazing. A fear monger admits to his coin of trade.

Posted by: Disputo on March 1, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Staerk's post is truly remarkable in its dispassionate self-criticism. I don't know how anyone could read it without thinking, "Here is an honest man."

It should be a lesson to all of us, right and left.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 1, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Bjorn acts surprised to find out he was involved in a massive exercise in groupthink. But that's exactly what having no comments, and banning people, and deleting comments, and limiting registration will do to you.

Kevin, this is why I maintain the Washington Monthly should be subscribing to OUR services, and not us to yours.

Posted by: jerry on March 1, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

And the amateurishness of the "professionals" is part of what ultimately gave rise to the Progressive blogosphere and its mission in highlighting the errors in fact and analysis of these emperors-without-clothes day in and day out.

Oh, yes, the Progressive Blogosphere is a paragon of brilliance and intellectual analysis.

Tell me, do people start tying ropes to your head if you get too close to the Macy's Parade?

Posted by: monkeybone on March 1, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Nah, our balls hold us down.

Posted by: jerry on March 1, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe there is hope for warbloggers after all.
Posted by: Windhorse on March 1, 2007 at 11:51 AM

There is a "waking up" effect that is now starting to sink in for the pro-war conservatives. Liberals may be accused of being canaries in a coalmine, but the war cheerleaders unfortunately have to see the fruits of their failed ideologies after the damage has been done. The staunchest working-class war supporters where I work are all washing their hands of the mess now.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on March 1, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

The article should be read all the way through, and the comments, too. There's much more to this than an analysis of the blogosphere. What we see in this writer is an example of confusion and impotence in the face of a real threat to Western Civilization.

The first words of the first comment are, If the Western reaction to these three focus points was wrong, what should we have done instead?

I'm not seeing any answers.

It's a good essay, but a lot of baby is being tossed out with that bathwater.

Once a society can no longer find reasons why it deserves to exist, some other society will simply come in and give the people the reasons to live that they need. Better hope it's one you can live with.

Posted by: peterson on March 1, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an "amateur" myself, but back in 2002 I said that Iraq would turn out to be a bigger, meaner Lebanon if we went to war there and subsequently occupied the country. Dick Cheney used to know that back in 1991 himself. Oh well.

Garrison Keillor once made a great remark about how driving an SUV in the winter only got you stuck deeper in the snow if you were idiotic enough to go driving out in a blizzard in the first place. Well, the same applies to those neo-cons who said our military could do the job of ousting Saddam Hussein, but engaged in so much wishful thinking when it came to resolving the post-Saddam situation in Iraq.

Posted by: David W. on March 1, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK


the fundamental common sense of Scandinavians

You mean like Hans Blix?

Posted by: Mimir on March 1, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, yes, the Progressive Blogosphere is a paragon of brilliance and intellectual analysis.

It you judge the Progressive Blogosphere by the fact that by and large it has been correct in its predictions and criticisms about the war from the beginning, and has been consistently ahead of the warbloggers, the pundits, the media, and the Bush administration - then yes, it's difficult to deny that the fact that the Progressive blogs play host to some brilliant people, some possessing an advanced intellectual acumen.

Either that or these were all basic, commonsense issues that the Right was mentally incapable of grasping. Have it either way you wish.

Posted by: Windhorse on March 1, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Well, the uproar has begun on the elderly John McCain's claim on the Letterman show that American lives in Iraq have been "wasted."

The media finally weighed in after the Democratic National Committee woke up and became angry.

But . . . you read it here FIRST.

http://tinyurl.com/3c7dra

So, this cancerous old man flip flops again.

How much longer . . .

Posted by: buford on March 1, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

There is a "waking up" effect that is now starting to sink in for the pro-war conservatives. The staunchest working-class war supporters where I work are all washing their hands of the mess now.

I've been seeing this as well, accompanied by some conflicting emotions. The first is a sense of shame among these people that they're still "supposed" to be for the war despite the fact that they're not and that it has been an abject failure.

The second is a tendency to downplay their prior support for the war.

Both of these, I think, point to the fact that many people were initially pushed into supporting the war by outside pressure and emotional appeals that played on both their better and worse angels. It takes a rare individual like Bjorn Staerk to admit something difficult like this, and for that I applaud and respect him.

Posted by: Windhorse on March 1, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

But what we saw was not expert knowledge, but the well-written, arrogantly presented ideas of half-educated amateurs.

This could apply to so many groups. I immediately thought of Douggy Feith and the rest of the neo-con circus (and Tommy Frank's dead-on critical appraisal). Still, it reflects so much that is wrong in the US -- we are chock full of citizens who are easily swayed by brilliant rhetoric but are utterly incapable of critical thinking.

Posted by: freelunch on March 1, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

In 2004 one of my pro-war friends wrapped up an argument about Iraq with: "Just wait until there's Democracy in Iraq, then you'll see that you were wrong."

It reminded me of what some of my Christian friends have said to me.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on March 1, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it better to err on the side of liberty?, AH asks.

Yes, it is, but, of course, AH's error and the errors of the fools he carries water for, are not on the side of liberty, they are on the side of authoritarianism. AH and his ilk have supported the failures in Iraq, the degradation of liberties in the US, and our anti-social foreign policy. If we were actually concerned about liberty as AH pretends, none of these problems would exist; for example, the US would not be occupying Iraq.

Posted by: freelunch on March 1, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK
In 2004 one of my pro-war friends wrapped up an argument about Iraq with: "Just wait until there's Democracy in Iraq, then you'll see that you were wrong."em>

It reminded me of what some of my Christian friends have said to me.

Have you asked them how their conversation with Godot went?

Posted by: freelunch on March 1, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin quotes Quiggin: "But what we saw was not expert knowledge, but the well-written, arrogantly presented ideas of half-educated amateurs. "

Whereas what we see from war supporters on these comment threads is badly-written, arrogantly presented, slavish regurgitation of scripted bullshit talking points by completely uneducated ignorant dumbass know-nothing dittoheads.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 1, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

freelunch wrote: "... we are chock full of citizens who are easily swayed by brilliant rhetoric but are utterly incapable of critical thinking."

And that is the essential foundation of fascism, everywhere and always.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 1, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

The Right Wing insistence that the US is in Iraq to spread democracy would be amusing if it wasn't such a pathetic lie. "Bringing democracy to the Middle East" was something like reason #49 for the war, after numbers 1-48 turned out to be transparently wrong. And none of them have ever been able to point to a time when democracy was imposed on anyone. Nor have they been able to point to a case when the US made an attempt to impose anything but what the ruling elite considered to be in "American interest" -- which is to say, the interest of the American ruling and corporate elite.

Posted by: Gummitch on March 1, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

In the 1980's experts like Strobe Talbot, Clinton buddy and Sovietologist, made the observation that the USSR had many happy years ahead of it. Princeton Professor Stephen Cohen, Ted Turner and even Arthur Schlesinger among dozens of others could always be counted on to make kind and optimistic comments about that Stalinesque paradise.

Dusty Canard. Throw a dart at conservative think tanks and neo-con assemblages and you'll hit conservatives and neo-cons who also believed that the Soviets were there for a long long while.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 1, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

it's an interesting, self-reflective essay that reaffirms my belief in the fundamental common sense of Scandinavians.

Needless to say, I was not so charitable.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on March 1, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

"Throw a dart at conservative think tanks and neo-con assemblages and you'll hit conservatives and neo-cons who also believed that the Soviets were there for a long long while."

Not to mention that the accusation has no corroborating evidence and provides no context. It's simply a smear, as usual, from one of our usual trolls.

Posted by: PaulB on March 1, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

I'd remind folks of an excellent book about experts and expertise - and the limits thereof:

http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/articles/051205crbo_books1

It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlock’s new book, “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” (Princeton; $35), that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake. No one is paying you for your gratuitous opinions about other people, but the experts are being paid, and Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote. Our system of expertise is completely inside out: it rewards bad judgments over good ones.

Posted by: jackifus on March 1, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Dusty Canard. Throw a dart at conservative think tanks and neo-con assemblages and you'll hit conservatives and neo-cons who also believed that the Soviets were there for a long long while.

Actually, right-wing idol Jeanne Kirkpatrick was one of the proponents of this view -- she wrote an influential essay arguing that authoritarian states, such as the Central American dictatorships, were far more likely to fade away than the totalitarian dictatorships in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. As she wrote in her essay "Dictatorships and Double Standards" in 1979:

"Moreover, the history of this century provides no grounds for expecting that radical totalitarian regimes will transform themselves."

A brilliant theory until it came face to face with reality in 1989.

Posted by: Stefan on March 1, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK
... believing too fervently in the will of Arabs to free... American Hawk at 11:32 AM
Yes, the Arab world yearns to be free: free of Western exploitation and occupation. You are such a fool that you don't understand that you are the enemy of freedom and democracy. The US invaded Iraq to install a new, more Western friendly dictator, Chalibi. When Sistani, the power behind the Shia majority, insisted on a vote and majority rule, Republicans panicked because their war goals, as it became obvious even to them, were now impossible.
...But, in comparison to the main stream media, the best of the bloggers do very well... ex-lax at 11:50 AM
Any opinion that was contrary to the pro-war crowd was marginalized during Bush's rush to war. His claims were always page A1, contrary evidence was placed deep inside the papers. Most of the American pundit class is utterly worthless. They think of themselves as part of America's ruling class a la David Broder, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and scores of others. The reporters disregarded the rule of journalism: everything you're told by your government is told to you for a reason; and, until you discover that reason, be skeptical of what you're told.
...pilgrimages to Havana to pay homage to the lovable tyrant who rules there. mh rat 12:08 PM
You really are a clown. By the end of the 50's all those people were disillusioned with the Soviet Union, but even today many on the right still think well of Batista, Franco and other rightist dictators.

The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism:
http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Fascism/ChristianRight_AmerFascism.html

Neocon theorist Michael Ledeen draws more from Italian fascism
http://www.amconmag.com/06_30_03/feature.html

Posted by: Mike on March 1, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not praise this guy too much. Remember that one of the primary targets of the warbloggers in the early days was Robert Fisk, so much so that they coined the term "fisking" (which, I'm sorry to say, some progressive bloggers have blindly picked up) for their rebuttals. But events have not demonstrated the amateurism of Robert Fisk, quite the contrary. His analysis has generally held up, while his critics' analysis has not.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 1, 2007 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

I mean, how free can you be if someone else is choosing the parameters of your freedom? The fact that the Iraqis might want a very different culture for themselves than we do is our problem, not theirs

Iraqis are not all the same; even within ethnic groups and neighborhoods they are not all the same. Some choose freedom and democracy and some choose a variety of tyranny. The Iraqis will be governed by a democracy of those who support democracy win the ongoing civil war; the Iraqis will be governed by a tyranny if those who support one of the tyrannies wins the civil war. Without the military overthrow of the Baathist government, no choice would now be possible.

It is sad when a violent minority achieves power over the more peaceful majority, as in Iran after the fall of the Shah (or, for that matter, after Mossadegh), or Germany after the appointment of Hitler, or Cuba after Batista was overthrown. But it is unfair to say of the subjugated peoples that the tyranny they got was what they wanted.

Democracy will prevail in Iraq if the democrats win the civil war. Democracy will prevail in any region where the democrats have sufficient military power to defend their democracy. But democracy can not prevail by purely peaceful means. When democrats use purely peaceful means, they get overwhelmed by some tyrant or another.

Ghandi used purely peaceful means against the modern British who had educated him, and King used purely peaceful means against Americans, and Mandela used purely peaceful means against the S. Africans. They were successful because democracy already had prevailed in those nations (and, in the case of SA, in their trading partners).

It's anguishing that democracy can only prevail by winning wars against the enemies of democracy. It may even be the case that the American and Iraqi dead are too high a price to pay to defeat the would-be tyrants of Iraq. But it is not true to say that a victory by one or another tyrant is a choice of the people.

Posted by: spider on March 1, 2007 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: A brilliant theory until it came face to face with reality in 1989.

Russia and some of its regions have gone most of the way back to being radical totalitarian regimes. Some of the subjected countries now have democratic governments, but the USSR collapsed without reforming itself. Meanwhile, since 1989, Indonesia has become sort of democratic. Kirkpatric wasn't that far wrong.

Posted by: spider on March 1, 2007 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

Without the military overthrow of the Baathist government, no choice would now be possible.

According to your own standards for evaluating the possibilities of the future of a state that's just false.

As you and your other glib revisionist compatriots are fond of saying in defense of the current clusterfuck in Iraq, "no one can predict what will happen in the future."

So if that's true, applying your own principle that the future is not only completely unpredictable but apparently capricious and mostly random, the Baathist regime might have reformed on its own or under pressure from groups within the country, or a violent uprising might have eventually overthrown it, or some other thing might have happened.

It's pretty shameful of you to pretend that the future of Iraq was completely fixed and determined in the past when it suited your political argument, and now in the face of four years of history with clear trends and undeniable data showing the continuing disintegration of that country in every way that all of a sudden noooooo one can possibly predict the mysterious future of that country where democracy might break out at a moment's notice.

How do you sleep at night?

Also, you're exhibiting the very pleasant-language-and-ego-at-odds-with-reality problem that the author admits is at the heart of the problem with the warmongers.

Ironic.

Posted by: trex on March 1, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

the Baathist regime might have reformed on its own or under pressure from groups within the country, or a violent uprising might have eventually overthrown it, or some other thing might have happened

Oh, yes. Darfur and Zimbabwe may also be resolved without intervention. and the surge might work. one always has to acknowledge possibilities with little likelihood.

Posted by: spider on March 1, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't see how anyone could claim to be a deep reader of military history and not anticipate unforeseen problems and difficulties in Iraq. Name a substantial war in which things didn't turn out very differently than the people who started it originally envisioned? What you really had were idealists or romantics pretending like they were hard-bitten realists. History has shown us there are few things more dangerous."

That was one of the most surreal aspects of that time. Personally (and I certainly don't claim to be a deep reader of military history), while blogs and liberal/left magazines helped, on top of all sorts of random reading over the years, really, when you pare it down, my opposition to Bush's war was based on a) my middle school U.S. history textbook and b) Janis' work on groupthink. And that was sufficient. I mean, yeah, there was lots of other stuff on top of that filling in the blanks, but that would have been all I needed. And it didn't even have to be those specific things - just some basic real-world knowledge and common sense in even one of at least a dozen different domains.

AH does raise a real point, by mistake - where did the anti-stupid pointless war-bloggers err, in the sense of influencing events? Was there anything more that could have been done? In the wider, real world sense, too. I always assumed that blowing things up would have been wildly counterproductive, but besides that?

Posted by: Dan S. on March 1, 2007 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

It may even be the case that the American and Iraqi dead are too high a price to pay to defeat the would-be tyrants of Iraq.

Progressive voices, cultural experts, military men, and even strategic studies institutes warned of the chaos and sectarian carnage that would necessarily arise as an outcome of our invasion, creating the "would be tyrants" that you speak of.

Why didn't you listen to us? Your support of this war helped create the very "tyrants" you now ever-so-nobly bloviate about. And now that our predictions have been validated, why don't you admit it? Maybe take our word on something else?

Oh that's right, when we invaded it was all about the mythical WMD's and the mythical Al Qaeda connection and the nonexistent threat that was Iraq. Your patronizing concern for the Iraq people didn't emerge until your side was left with their collective dicks hanging out on the refuted justifications for war and you needed some political cover.

Bleh.

Go try selling this warmed-over crap someplace else. Does Glenn Reynolds have a comments section? This is just the kind of blather that will get him hard.

Posted by: trex on March 1, 2007 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, yes. Darfur and Zimbabwe may also be resolved without intervention. and the surge might work. one always has to acknowledge possibilities with little likelihood.

Do you even know how to make apples to apples comparisons??? That's a basic tenet of logical thinking.

The example was made in this thread that the monstrous and ostensibly utterly irredeemable Soviet regime reformed on its own; from that example we can conclude that other less monstrous and powerful regimes can as well.

But if you don't think that repressive regimes can change without being invaded -- which is an ahistoric if not puerile point of view -- then we better get crackin' on Pakistan, Uzbekistan, China, Indonesia, any number of African and South American countries, et al.

Obviously our misadventure in Iraq has put the lie to the PNAC assertion that the world can be remade democratically through war. Only the very dense would be able to look at the results of this experiment and deny them to their face.

Maybe the same kind of people who'd deny that the infrastructure is being attacked in Iraq, I don't know.

Posted by: trex on March 1, 2007 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Also goes to underline the poor education and critical abilities of those who picked up on this thread and backed it.

Not just lack of critical ability but an inherent lack of cynicism; a necesary undercurrent before belief.

Not there in many.

Posted by: notthere on March 1, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist wrote: freelunch wrote: "... we are chock full of citizens who are easily swayed by brilliant rhetoric but are utterly incapable of critical thinking."

And that is the essential foundation of fascism, everywhere and always.

Exactly. And it was self-flattering rhetoric without a hint of self-criticism.

The pro-invasion people kept hitting the same crude rhetorical buttons, drawing analogies to Rome (pax Americana, etc.) and WW II -- I'm so sick of that word 'appeasement' -- with America always cast in the role of the champion of civilization and long-term peace.

It's almost as if those were the only two bits of history most people knew about ... almost as if a lot of people's knowledge of history came from Hollywood blockbusters from the past 10 years.

Posted by: otherpaul on March 1, 2007 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

one always has to acknowledge possibilities with little likelihood.

That is precisely what you are doing with Iraq on a daily basis.

The trends clearly show that Iraq is in a spiral from which it will not emerge for years if not a decade. The more boots we put on the ground the worse the violence gets. The more money we apply the worse the violence gets. The more aggressive our tactics the worse the violence gets.

Everything we try and everything that happens the worse and more complex the situation becomes.

If anything, the situation is much more intractable than that of Saddam's regime, where a change of heart by a single family member might have changed the entire course of that country's history.

Also goes to underline the poor education and critical abilities of those who picked up on this thread and backed it. Not just lack of critical ability but an inherent lack of cynicism; a necesary undercurrent before belief.

Amen and amen.

Posted by: trex on March 1, 2007 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, yes. Darfur and Zimbabwe may also be resolved without intervention. and the surge might work. one always has to acknowledge possibilities with little likelihood.

Posted by: spider on March 1, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

Well, actually in Zimbabwe we are seeing a strike by significant sectors of society and, also, the police and troops leaving or going AWOL en masse.

So it depends on the strength of the society as to whether, ultimately, they can take it down from the inside. However, one needs to ask oneself over and over and over again whether you, as an outsider, have the right to impose an outside solution where the government isn't outright mass killing.

Hence the hurdles to be jumped to define genocide.

But then we have shown ourselves unable to act even when we shout "genocide".

Posted by: notthere on March 1, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

It may be true that removing Saddam from power allowed Al Qaida to flow into Iraq and take up the Sunni/Baathist cause against the obvious American intention to split Iraq's wealth more equitably with the Kurds and the Shi'ites, but Al Qaida is certainly battling us now in Baghdad and a few other provinces.

Skeedaddling out of Iraq at this point will also allow Al Qaida to claim a great victory. Oh yes they will! Take it to the bank! A Swiss or Cayman Islands account!

I am somewhat consoled and heartened that at least the WAH, WAH, WAH BUSH LIED crowd (some of them at least) are proposing now that the "real" war on terror is in Afghanistan and Wajiristan.
They also like to claim that the war on Iraq deflects resources needed in this "real" war, which might actually kill the real Osama, whom Bush let slip away from the mountain fastness where surely he had been holding court.

The truth of the matter is that we need to win on both fronts and on all third fronts, such as in Somalia. Terrorism is nothing if not mobile and nebulous.

Certainly,the absolute truth to tell, to really crack Wahabi extremism we might have to confront Saudi Arabia with swords drawn, but for a whole lot of reasons that would take an American president with a whole lot more popular support than George W. Bush has at the moment.

So, let's do what we can do. At the moment it does not seem to me that Iran is going to do more than kill the market for arms and explosives in Iraq by flooding it. The Qod group might try another big foray impersonating Americans or shoot down some more helicopters with their really good rockets, but other than that they will keep their heads down around Baghdad. They were probably the first to leave a few weeks ago.

In the meantime, there is a real, elected government in Baghdad, not without its own determination to survive and not without its own resources and advantages. I would not under-estimate these people and their gathering army, especially now that the payroll problem has been secured by a new framework for oil contracts that spreads the wealth, if not perfectly, at least more equitably than anything Iraq has EVER known before in its short and turbulent history.


Posted by: mike cook on March 1, 2007 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, there are about a zillion factual inaccuracies in your post. In no particular order:

At least 95% of the helicopters have been brought down by simple heavy machine gun fire, not futuristic rockets.

There is ZERO evidence of the Quds force in Iraq. Not a shred. Those who suggest the Iraqis themselves are incapable of putting on American uniforms when supposedly they were ten days away from a nuclear weapon and had deadly drones that could fly across the ocean and kill us are just plain silly.

The Iraqi government is not noble, it's corrupt. Terribly corrupt. Really, really corrupt. It has embezzled billions in American dollars and millions of its own country's oil money. Ministries defy the PM and engage in shooting matches with one another when they're not sponsoring death squads. Many of the members live in other countries and refuse to meet in Iraq to do business because it's too dangerous.

"Their gathering army" is a crock. Read the latest NIE. The army and police are rife with corruption. They've been a bust. The Bush administration isn't even bothering to lie about that anymore.

The new Oil Law may be the very thing that cracks Iraq apart. Kurdistan can negotiate contracts as if it were its own country and is squaring off over Kirkuk, where it is engaged in ethnic relocation. Turkey doesn't want the Kurds to have that oil, doesn't want them controlling Kirkuk, and is already pissed about the cross-border terrorism of the PKK. There's a strong likelihood that a new front could open up in the North because of that.

CENTCOM estimates that there are between 500 and 2000 Al Qaeda TOPS in a country of 30 million people. Do the math. They're not even a major player. Leaving will not hand them a "victory" -- invading did.

The Saudi Arabia remark was too silly to respond to.

One thing you're correct about: we're losing in Afghanistan because Bush was unserious about that country. It didn't have oil so it wasn't a PNAC concern. Things in Afghanistan are very, very bad right now, heading toward Iraq bad - and once again Bush is to blame.

Posted by: trex on March 2, 2007 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

the right way to fight terrorism is to be stronger than our fear of it. There are many things we can and should do to prevent terrorist attacks, but we have to treat fear as the single most damaging weapon terrorists have. Compared to a panicked public, a bomb is relatively harmless. With weapons, terrorists can only do as much damage as a weapon can do. Through fear, they have the full powers of state and society to play with.

Better to discover the bleeding obvious late rather than never. But it is awfully effing late.

Posted by: DrBB on March 2, 2007 at 6:05 AM | PERMALINK

Certainly,the absolute truth to tell, to really crack Wahabi extremism we might have to confront Saudi Arabia with swords drawn, but for a whole lot of reasons that would take an American president with a whole lot more popular support than George W. Bush has at the moment.

Actually, it would take one who is not actively conniving with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. to ally with the Wahabi extremists in order to combat the Shi'a extremists.

Posted by: DrBB on March 2, 2007 at 6:37 AM | PERMALINK

egbert is funnier than amchickenhawk.

Posted by: merlallen on March 2, 2007 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

Stefan: A brilliant theory until it came face to face with reality in 1989.

Russia and some of its regions have gone most of the way back to being radical totalitarian regimes.

No, not at all. They have moved back to authoritarian forms of government, but hardly totalitarian. Whereas once they were based on an all-encompassing ideology of communism, now the elites rule mainly in the name of nationalist authoritariasm.

Some of the subjected countries now have democratic governments,

Not merely some, but the vast majority, including East Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, etc.

but the USSR collapsed without reforming itself.

Perhaps you missed perestroika and glasnost? Funny, it was in all the papers.

Meanwhile, since 1989, Indonesia has become sort of democratic.

Yeah, so? That's irrelevant to what we were discussing.

Kirkpatric wasn't that far wrong.

So you're saying that Kirkpatrick wasn't wrong that totalitarian societies don't reform themselves? Then of course that proves my point that it was conservatives, more than liberals, who were predicting that the Soviet Union would go on indefinitely.

Posted by: Stefan on March 2, 2007 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

The example was made in this thread that the monstrous and ostensibly utterly irredeemable Soviet regime reformed on its own; from that example we can conclude that other less monstrous and powerful regimes can as well. But if you don't think that repressive regimes can change without being invaded -- which is an ahistoric if not puerile point of view -- then we better get crackin' on Pakistan, Uzbekistan, China, Indonesia, any number of African and South American countries, et al.

Let's also remember the example of South Africa, a repressive and evil regime which most thought would not reform on its own but which then did, in a matter of a few years, without significant bloodshed or political instability.

Posted by: Stefan on March 2, 2007 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

It's almost as if those were the only two bits of history most people knew about ... almost as if a lot of people's knowledge of history came from Hollywood blockbusters from the past 10 years.

Bingo!

Posted by: Stefan on March 2, 2007 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

trex: That is precisely what you are doing with Iraq on a daily basis.

That's true. A lot of arguments here are basically about whether something had a 25% chance or a 5% chance of occurring, or a 95% chance vs a 50% chance.

Is it more likely that the U.S. and Iraqi govt forces can prevail and attain a reasonably peaceful, canton-like governing settlement, or more likely that the Baathist regime would have reformed on its own and alleviated the gross oppression of its citizens? Is it relevant that the water and sewer systems, electricity and oil infrastructure were degrading under the Baathists, and that they have been substantially, but not uniformly or completely, rebuilt? A few people here pejoritively call the rebuilding "painting schools", whereas a few others seem to think that they are important accomplishments that conduce to optimism.

Posted by: spider on March 2, 2007 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

Is it more likely that the U.S. and Iraqi govt forces can prevail and attain a reasonably peaceful, canton-like governing settlement, or more likely that the Baathist regime would have reformed on its own and alleviated the gross oppression of its citizens?

It is more likely that had the appropriate types of pressure and engagement been applied by the international community that Iraq could have changed with minimum violence under the Baathists to a more stable and representative government than it is of that will ever happen now after the utterly destabilizing invasions. And if it does happen, it will be at the cost of more than a million lives, hundreds of thousands wounded, millions wounded emotionally

It's a shame your ego prevents you from acknowledging that and that a complete and utter absence of human empathy prevents you from feeling what the Iraqis are going through.

Well, I shouldn't say complete absence of empathy, because you apparently do care very deeply how people might feel about Bush because of all this.

Creepy.

Is it relevant that the water and sewer systems, electricity and oil infrastructure were degrading under the Baathists, and that they have been substantially, but not uniformly or completely, rebuilt

It's simply not true. Water and sewer systems are less functional than they were at the beginning of the war and electrical production is presently lower. Brookings clearly shows this, as does Stuart Bowen's reports and testimony to Congress.

Of course, this has nothing to do with anything except you trying to say "look over there, a puppy!"

The problem is, there is no puppy, no matter how many times you yell it.

Posted by: trex on March 3, 2007 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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