After Atrios wrote the ever-controversial statement that war isn't always good, Kevin Drum responds with
In general, it's hard to fudge on war: you either support it or you don't. After you've examined everything, talked to everyone, and thought long and hard, you draw together everything in your experience and make a decision. The gears may turn in private, but the final result represents one of the ultimate tests of someone's foreign policy judgment.Atrios parries
What's always bothered me most about the incompetence dodge isn't the basic set of reasons set out by Yglesias and Rosenfeld. Instead, what has long bothered me most about it was that pre-war it was probably the most derided (or, in the vernacular of the day, most "morally unserious") argument against the war. Imagine a senator getting up and giving a speech which said, in essence, that if we had competent people running the show we should go to war, but since George Bush is incompetent it'd be a really bad idea. The fine folks at Joe Lieberman Weekly would've really taken that argument seriously. But now it's the favored position of all those self-appointed very serious people.
In the name of consistency, I think it should be generally agreed that if you advocated war against state/people/ideology X, it should be for reasons that stay more-or-less consistent throughout the conflict. A war that is based on ever-changing founding rationales is, by definition, going to be fought using ever-changing strategies. If you simply want to destroy a nation's economy and ability to make war, airpower alone does, in fact, give you a decent toolbox to work from. If your goals are more humanitarian, a different strategy needs to be pursued. It is extremely dangerous - to all involved - to change your strategy midstream. (This can still sometimes be necessary if the current strategy is proving disastrous.)
To use the WWII metaphor beloved by warbloggers, the destruction of the Nazi state was a worthwhile endeavour long before the Red Army began liberating Auschwitz. (Obviously, we could say that the war became much more
supportable after that. But who remained to be convinced by January of 1945?) You could reasonably have supported WWII all the way through without knowing the exact end point - the liberation of Japan and (most of) Germany, the end of the Holocaust, the Marshall Plan, etc. In contrast, you really could only support Iraq if you believed that a) George Bush's end-state was a correct one, and
b) you were certain that it was within the means of the US government to achieve. Believing A marks you as a garden-variety liberal. Believing B marks you as gullible, if not delusional.
What always struck me about the argument that Iraq was a humanitarian war/liberation was that, chronologically, it was only advanced by the Bush Administration as the main
rationale for the war after WMDs and terrorism had struck out. That is, Sensible Liberals like Joe Lieberman, Peter Beinart, and others should have realized that they'd already
been lied to about two previous rationales for this war, but decided to take Bush seriously for #3. (It's also worth saying that many of these liberals were happy to change their rationales post facto
: Ignatieff initially supported a war to disarm Saddam, then became an ardent liberationist sometime in 2004. The dishonesty astounds.) This decision on their part had nothing to do with who was talking (Bush) and everything to do with who was listening - Bush, Rumsfeld et al were saying exactly what these liberals wanted to hear: America was a force for good in the world, we were going to make Iraq in to a democracy, et cetera. From the beginning, these people decided to believe lie #3, after lies #1 and #2 were revealed, not because it was anymore plausible but because the voices in their head made them feel better.
And yes, at this point we have to say that the lie of "humanitarian intervention" was - without question in the case of Iraq - at least as fraudulent as the case for WMDs and terrorism. Just as WMDs and terrorism were empirical, testable theories (either they existed or not) the US Army and other national governments have sufficient history with foreign occupations at this point for us to judge whether Bush, Rumsfeld, and Franks were actually - as in, in reality - going to be able to "win the peace".
Had they amassed sufficient forces in March of 2003 to control events in Iraq after the initial fighting was over - that is, after the Baathist state collapsed? We can say from subsequent events that this was not the case, but this was knowable at the time
, if you cared to. CNN, the New York Times, and many other media outlets were reporting that the Coalition had somewhere in the range of 150,000 combat troops, with some margins. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others said repeatedly and publicly that they wanted that number to shrink drastically
in a period of months.
Meanwhile, Gen. Shinseki famously said that occupation was going to require "hundreds of thousands" of troops, with the assumption they would be there for years. So you've got military professionals (not Shinseki alone, but most prominently him) telling us what is required, based on historical evidence and analysis. On the other hand, you've got the American leadership publicly stating in early 2003 that they intend not to carry out this occupation in a competent way - indeed, ruling competence out from the beginning. Finally, you've got liberals supporting this war on the grounds that they expect it to be fought competently. Why? Because, in Michael Ignatieff's words, he couldn't imagine how incompetent the Bush Administration would be. Wasn't he listening? Does he want us to forget that the war plan was semi-public knowledge at the time?
Do he and all pro-war liberals want us to forget that plan was, to use a word, insane?
The short answer is No, he wasn't listening to the actual words being spoken by the Bush Administration, and No, he wasn't seeing the actual events as they unfolded. Every scrap of supporting evidence was accepted without question, while the mountains of contrary evidence were dismissed and ignored. Like Creationists, for whom every complexity is the work of God, and every fossil is planted by Satan himself, the liberals who supported this war decided to see what they wanted and constructed their beliefs after the fact. Unlike creationists, however, the people who supported this war have helped lead to the deaths of thousands.