Marc Mulholland makes a very good point and one that has to be frank left me stumped. Regarding the “Anti (this) War (now)” position, which I had hitherto believed was my own view on the Iraq War, the question is quite simple.
Looking at the way in which Iraq has progressed since the war, is it really credible to say that this is just the result of poor planning? Does it not, in fact, make a lot more sense in light of the facts to say that this was a fundamentally misconceived objective which could not have been achieved by any plan at all and should never have been attempted?
There is a further question, which is implied prudentially if not logically by the first two, which is that given the failure of the Iraqi experiment (and given that the success story in Afghanistan appears to also be drifting somewhat), is there not very strong evidence indeed for giving up on the entire project of democratic interventionism?. This appears to have been John’s response to Marc’s question, but I don’t think it’s really open to me or anyone who agreed with me at the time, because I made a big deal of saying that I would have been in favour of the Iraq War under different conditions, and at various points argued quite strongly that ATWN was not a de facto “war never” policy.
I think that these are pretty difficult to answer. Although I do believe that some fairly serious mistakes were made, my original belief (that the Democrats would have fought a better war) is not really credible (this is one of the problems of developing your political philosophy through jokes). I also think it’s too easy to help oneself to “arguments from the generals” and say that everything would have been different if there had only been X hundred thousand more troops committed to the operation, or if the immediate post-invasion tactics had been adjusted in some way or other.. Looking at the way in which Iraqi civil society has gone, it just doesn’t seem right to me to believe that there was some technical fix early on which could have made everything go right. What we are looking for is a coherent story about how Iraq could have developed less fractiously, with less tension between the religious communities and without a big nationalist resistance movement developing. I will say straight up here that I am not at all happy with any of the suggestions that I’m making here and regard the ATWN position as shipping water quite badly at present; I’d be grateful for any suggestions to patch it up in comments.
The reason I’m not prepared to abandon ship yet, however, is that I don’t want to sign up to a particular fatalist view of interventions which gathers (in my opinion spurious) support from casual observation of Iraq, Congo and the former Yugoslavia. This is the “ancient hatreds theory”, which suggests that “artificial” states cannot be made to work other than as tyrannies, because they have an inevitable tendency to fragment into mono-ethnic or religious subgroups in a murderous way.
I think that this view mixes up cause and effect. These states didn’t fall apart because of the ancient hatreds; the ancient hatreds grew up because the state fell apart (my chief reason for believing this is the ludicrous historical lengths to which the Serbs had to go in order to dredge up a reason to have ancient simmering hatred for the Bosnians). When a state and its apparatus of law and order fall apart, there is a Hobbesian demand for security. Such a demand creates an opportunity for a thug with an eye for the main chance to grab a load of valuable things, and the creation of spuriously plausible Hobbesian proto-states is the way in which they are grabbed. Racial, ethnic, historic and religious group identities are not fundamental in failed states; they’re just a way for the gangs to delimit themselves and facilitate the business of grabbing anything not nailed down. Or to put it another way; if law and order broke down in the North of England tomorrow, it would not be at all difficult for some Thomas Friedman figure to pull out a folio of Shakespeare and write columns for the New York Times explaining how the ancestral hatreds between Lancashire and Yorkshire meant that England was never a viable state.
Similarly with Iraq. I don’t believe that communalism was an inevitable outcome. There were two real mistakes made. Of these, I think it’s pretty widely accepted that premature de-Ba’athification was one of them, but I don’t think enough comment has been made on the folly of picking a fight with Moqtada al-Sadr, a folly which John (and Juan Cole) spotted the moment it came out of the trap and to which all manner of other problems (the gangsterisation of Basra, the Badr Brigades, the fundamental shift toward Iran and away from nationalist Islamism) can be traced.
However, the kind of Iraq that would have been left if these mistakes had not been made would have looked like … well, an uneasy coalition of Ba’athists and Islamists. It would not have been much of a democracy (true, Sadr’s position was always in favour of early elections, but there is more to democracy than elections and Iraq would certainly not have had a recognisably democratic constitution). It would have been an Islamist state and, after a short honeymoon period (lasting basically as long as the first military coup), an anti-Western one.
On the other hand, look at what we have now. The trouble in Iraq seems to have been that the perfect has been the enemy of the good (or more accurately, the barely acceptable has been overwhelmed by an alliance of the perfect and the terrible). The objective should have been to make stopgap repairs to the institutions destroyed during the war and then get out, leaving behind an humanitarian aid programme. It appears to me that more or less every day the coalition has stayed in Iraq since about Q3 04 has been spent making Iraqi civil society weaker, not stronger. Of course, there would be a substantial risk that such a course of action would result in a new dictatorship or in civil war, but it is not as if this can be guaranteed not to happen anyway. My intuition here is that when you undertake an intervention of this sort, you are basically swapping “what’s on the table” for “what’s in the box”, that this gamble has to be assessed on its merits ex ante (in my view, Saddam was bad enough that it was at least in principle worth taking) and that once you’ve found out what was in the box, there is no point in staying around to make things worse.
So anyway, would the Democrats have done this any better? Would they thump. So it appears that “Anti This War Now” should have actually been “Anti More Or Less Any Version Of The Iraq War That Was Actually Fought, But Perhaps Not In Such A Way As To Generalise To A General Prohibition On Wars”. Or more succinctly, I should have withheld support for intervention in Iraq not pending more competent operational command, but pending a more sensible and proscribed theory of the limits of nation-building. (If I were more determined to rewrite history with myself on the right side, I might try to argue that this would be a likely outcome of the process of building a coalition in the UN around realistic war aims. But I doubt you lot would let me get away with it).
 One could even extend this to an argument against humanitarian interventionism, but I think that might be going too far. A humanitarian intervention is one with a specific aim or preventing a specific catastrophe rather than an attempt to remake a society. There is a tendency among intervention fans to tack one onto another, but it is not a necessary connection, it is a tendency which ought to be resisted and I don’t think that democratic interventionism ought to be allowed to drag humanitarian interventionism below the waves. I have my own scepticism about humanitarian interventionism, particularly after having seen some of the crazy non-plans cooked up for Darfur over the last two years, but this is a separate question.
 I am using the term “humanitarian intervention” because it seems to have a clear meaning, albeit one which is not respected anything like as much as it ought to be. The Euston Manifesto group and the Henry Jackson Society seem to prefer “responsibility to protect“, but they use the term in which “protect” has a wider and vaguer scope than “protect from a specific and imminent humanitarian crisis. The refusal to define what the responsibility to protect is a responsibility to protect from leaves me at least rather suspicious that the operational definition will be “responsibility to protect from a deficiency of convenience to US foreign policy objectives”.
 And Jim Henley, although I am mainly concerned with citing people who believed in one version or another of “not this war now”.
 This is the opposite of the “Pottery Barn Rule“, that having caused a disaster placed the obligation on the international community to make Iraq work. In fact, Pottery Barn does not operate such a rule, and even in china shops which do have a “you break it, you bought it” policy, they almost always demand cash compensation rather than help in mending the vase. This is probably on the basis that the kind of klutz who breaks one piece of china is probably the worst person to try to put it together again and will probably break something else in the attempt, and thus I should perhaps be thinking about reappropriating the analogy for more accurate use.