Back up on that horse!

by Daniel on January 16, 2007

When you make a bad prediction, you need to be sure that you don’t lose your nerve. The best thing to do is to assess your new information, pluck up your courage, and make a brand new prediction about something else …

Megan McArdle was wrong about Iraq, but those of us who were right on every important detail (we know who we are[1]) shouldn’t be acting all smug, and we certainly shouldn’t be making acid remarks about the credibility of the people who got it wrong, because hey, the important thing is to all learn from this experience so that we can make better decisions and predictions in future. No really, it was the antiwar side that had made up their minds before making any arguments, the antiwar side that kept changing their arguments with the prevailing winds, and the antiwar side that were the worst offenders in terms of nasty triumphalism afterwards. Me neither.

I’m not sure I recall this “let’s not argue about who killed who’s cat” stuff as being a particularly common reaction in the right wing blogosphere to massive failures in public sector projects, but there is more joy in heaven, etc, etc, etc. At the very least, presumably Megan won’t be quite as quick to start acting as a news aggregator for Lancet mortality study hacks and cranks, next time round.

So anyway, if we’re all learning from our mistakes and improving our decision making processes, then probably the best way of going forward is to take what we’ve learned about the advisability and consequences of the Iraq War as it was fought in 2003, and apply them to the new, very similar, but smaller and therefore easier problem of predicting what will be the result of the “surge” strategy of sending 20,000 more troops there now? Personally, I think it’s not going to work[2]. How about you, Jane Galt?

[1] Actually I screwed up pretty badly once, in 2005, on Iraq, because I predicted that the secularists would have much more success in the elections than they actually got, and that the base of support for the insurgents was much smaller than it actually was. Looking back at the original post, it appears that my main mistake was that I read the Economist and believed it. I have adjusted my weightings accordingly.

[2] Sorry, can’t be more specific than that. Off the top of my head I can come up with five scenarios:
a) Al-Sadr shifts his operations to another part of Iraq, leaving a load of troops doing nothing in Sadr City as open street war flares up in Basra
b) The US troops get bogged down in urban combat until their Iraqi allies turn on them and/or a massacre of civilians happens
c) Military coup or other collapse of the Maliki government
d) Al-Sadr demonstrates his political nous once more, and calms down his operations, carrying out only enough hit-and-run attacks on US troops to keep his popularity up. Then he forms a nationalist bloc with one or more of the Sunni parties. Political collapse of the Maliki government.
e) outright Rwanda-style massacre of Sunnis and Sadrists by the Badr Brigades.

the point is that there are about a million ways in which this could go wrong, and only one way it might go right, a point that John has made on a number of occasions.

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1

Barry 01.16.07 at 2:40 pm

Daniel, the last is an excellent point, and the real heart of the matter.

Somebody put it like this: a friend decides to attack somebody; you warn him that (a) the victim might win/lose but put a huring on your friend and/or (b) your friend could be jailed/sued/prosecuted.

Later, your friend calls you, mocking you for predicting that the other guy was going to hurt him, and demanding that you bail him out of jail.

2

P O'Neill 01.16.07 at 3:07 pm

It would help if they even had their objective function sorted out. Today’s WSJ has a news story that begins “RICE AND GATES PITCHED success in Iraq as the way to contain Iran” — so in fact on top of all the other policy goals for Iraq, some now discarded, it’s also apparently the key instrument for dealing with Iran.

3

SamChevre 01.16.07 at 3:37 pm

I think you are being both unreasonable and deliberately ignorant.

If I predict that raising cotton in Indiana won’t work, because it is too dry–and you try growing cotton in Indiana and it fails because it’s too cold–I was right that it wouldn’t work–but not in a way that would cause you to think I’m likely to be right when I predict that growing rye won’t work either, because it’s too dry.

Similarly, if you thought that the War in Iraq would fail, because the US would lose 50,000 troops taking Baghdad — you may have been right that it would fail, but not in a fashion that makes me trust your judgment next time.

Now–if you were protesting that the War would go well, but the occupation would fail because of Sunni/Shia fighting–you were right in a fashion that would make me trust your judgment next time. Some people were right in this fashion–but, in my recollection, relatively few.

4

Dan Simon 01.16.07 at 3:45 pm

probably the best way of going forward is to take what we’ve learned about the advisability and consequences of the Iraq War as it was fought in 2003, and apply them to the new, very similar, but smaller and therefore easier problem

It’s extremely important to distinguish between “the Iraq War as it was fought in 2003″, and the Iraq occupation as it was managed in the years 2003-2007. The antiwar side’s predictions about the war in 2003–that is, the invasion and conquest of Iraq–were virtually all incorrect: a long, bloody, expensive campaign in which Saddam Hussein goes for broke, attacks Israel and unleashes his full arsenal of non-conventional weapons; a tide of Muslim anti-Americanism toppling the more moderate Middle Eastern governments like so many houses of cards; a neglected Al Qaeda emerging from its Afghan defeat even stronger and more dangerous than before. In contrast, the pro-war side’s predictions–Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsing quickly, amidst celebrations throughout Iraq–were essentially correct. (For the record, I gave concerns about a difficult, costly military campaign at least some credence at the time.)

On the other hand, the optimistic predictions of a great many of the war’s supporters regarding the subsequent occupation turned out to be way off the mark–as did, I might add, the predictions of many of the war’s opponents, who expected an American military rampage across the Middle East and subsequent Muslim/Arab backlash. I don’t recall anyone predicting Iraq’s Shia-Sunni conflicts to spread across the entire Middle East–to the point where the Saudi government would actually side with Israel against its Shia adversary in Lebanon–but perhaps somebody did.

Following the war, though, many of its opponents did warn that establishing democracy in Iraq would be much more difficult than the optimists believed, and that a prolonged American “nation-building” occupation–particularly a badly mismanaged one–could inflame hostility among Iraqis. (Indeed, although I had supported the war, I had exactly the same concerns.) These warnings were in fact quite prescient, and it was a terrible mistake for the war’s proponents, giddy from their recent military victory, to shrug them off.

5

Watson Aname 01.16.07 at 3:50 pm

I don’t have time to chase archives at the moment samchevre, but it seems to me your recollection is quite flawed.

Most people I was talking to and many people I read at the time were certain the US forces would have little trouble with the Iraqi forces in conventional engagements. I don’t think anyone expected the Iraqi army to roll up quite as fast as it did, but nobody expected a serious challenge in that sense. What they did expect was an inability to manage the country afterward, and devolvement into drawn out guerilla tactics. Large scale corporate graft and the failure of US’s `annointed’ government to be accpetable to people who actually lived there were also predicted. If you think the occupation has failed simply because of Sunni/Shia fighting, you have a, shall we say, `interesting’ take on it.

While nobody that I know of predicted the particular twists and turns we’ve seen exactly, the above scenario is broadly speaking exactly what happened.

6

Chris Bertram 01.16.07 at 4:00 pm

samchevre clearly didn’t follow Daniel’s writings in the run-up to the Iraq war. Dan may have been light on the _exact_ way things would pan out, but he was clear about one thing: the war would fail because the Bushies would fuck-up through incompetence.

See http://tinyurl.com/tnrt8

(Feb 2003)

Followed by the postwar

http://tinyurl.com/y286t6

(May 2004)

7

Barry 01.16.07 at 4:00 pm

Samchevre, please note that the war could have gone wrong by (a) major urban warfare, (b) guerrilla warfare), (c) (many other reasons, mostly unlikely).

Of (a) and (b), war supporters needed to get BOTH right. Bummer, that.

Now, I’m working from memory here (not having the ability to process the entire internet), but I don’t recall too many people saying that there would be (a), but that (b) wouldn’t happen. IIRC, it was (b) or both.

8

Dan Simon 01.16.07 at 4:02 pm

I don’t think anyone expected the Iraqi army to roll up quite as fast as it did, but nobody expected a serious challenge in that sense.

Well, here’s what Brent Scowcroft said at the time (see http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110002133):

The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam’s regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive–with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy–and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.

Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict. This time, using weapons of mass destruction, he might succeed, provoking Israel to respond, perhaps with nuclear weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East. Finally, if we are to achieve our strategic objectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation.

He was wrong on every count–including, I would argue, his last one. (America’s choice of a “long-term military occupation” was, I believe, a self-inflicted wound.)

9

Dan Simon 01.16.07 at 4:04 pm

Oops–blockquote problems. That last paragraph should be in the blockquote, except for the last two sentences.

10

joe o 01.16.07 at 4:07 pm

11

SamChevre 01.16.07 at 4:17 pm

Barry and Chris,

I read to much–pro-war and anti-war–to do a good job of remembering who wrote what when; if Daniel was right on what would go wrong, I’ll happily admit that his judgment was good.

But Barry–I’m disagreeing with you. If you predicted (a) (major urban warfare) and (b), and (a) didn’t happen, then I say that whatever else you got right, your judgment was non-trivially wrong–just as non-trivially wrong as someone who predicted not (a) and not (b).

12

John Emerson 01.16.07 at 4:20 pm

Even if some of the people who were right were really wrong, the ones who were wrong are still wrong.

Almost everybody who opposed the war did so for a complex of reasons. One group of reasons was over the necessity of the war. Another was over the cost, including the cost of the occupation. Still another was just because of the probability that the Bush administration would screw the war up and use it to hand out goodies to its friends. All three were generally justified.

Galt should have been forgotten long agao, anyway.

13

Barry 01.16.07 at 4:38 pm

Samchevre, I won’t accuse you of not reading what I wrote, or ask you to ‘read with reading comprehension, this time’ – I’ll just point out that you’re wrong. Talk with somebody who understands logic, or better yet, an engineer with reliability training, or somebody who understands basic probability.

14

dsquared 01.16.07 at 4:43 pm

Kieran was actually a lot righter and a lot more specific in what he wrote at the time, but I get all the credit because of Brad DeLong’s plugs, for which I am eternally grateful.

15

Barry 01.16.07 at 4:44 pm

“Galt should have been forgotten long agao, anyway.”

Posted by John Emerson

Should have been, yes, in a better world. Megan has found her niche, and we’ll hear from her again and again. She failed as a businesswoman, twice, IIRC, even with some of the best B-School education that money can buy. But a pundit/propagandist – that, she’ll be good at. Well, as good as needed, which isn’t very good; the standards are low, and she isn’t the only person busily working to lower them.

I predict a steady career for her over the next few decades, moving around the ‘think tanks’, putting ‘resident scholar’ on her business cards, attending propaganda events disguised as conferences, etc.

16

SamChevre 01.16.07 at 4:48 pm

Barry–I’m an actuary; I have a more-than-cursory acquaintance with probability.

There are two questions; maybe you’re answering one and I’m answering another.

Let’s assume a situation where (a) and (b) and (c) are necessary for the plan it to work, and you predict not-(a), and actually get (a) and not-(b)

1) Will this work?
You get this one right.

2) Are your predictions better than random guessing?
On this, I say that you are no better than the person who said (a) and (b); you both got one wrong.

17

Madison Guy 01.16.07 at 5:18 pm

But what if the chaos was pretty much what was intended?

With Iraq in total chaos and much of its oil off the market, there still seems to be way too much oil slopping around in world oil markets. What peak oil? Did we really invade Iraq to keep its oil in the ground? Prices falling, still too much oil. Hey, what about finding a pretext to attack Iran?

18

John Emerson 01.16.07 at 5:30 pm

The question to get right or wrong was the yes or no Iraq question. It’s not a matter of summing the scores on a bunch of sub-questions to get an SAT score. Some people will be right for the wrong reasons, some of the people who were wrong might have been all right except for one single point, but the final, win or lose score is the yes or no answer. This is beginning to sound like the losing football team that gained more yards and completed more passes than the winning team.

19

abb1 01.16.07 at 5:37 pm

…the “surge” strategy of sending 20,000 more troops there now? Personally, I think it’s not going to work[2].

The “surge” has nothing to do with any surge, additional troops is a red herring; the “surge” is a change of strategy by decisively taking the Shia side in the conflict. The US troops are not going into Sadr City, because the Shia establishment is going to be dealing with Al Sadr. The US troops will be manning roadblocks in Sunni areas of Baghdad and dropping bombs there on anything that moves.

Also, of course no military coup or any collapse of the Maliki government is possible, because it exists in the Green zone, which is, in a sense, as far away from Iraq as Washington, DC.

I don’t see why this new strategy shouldn’t work, as long as the Sunni resistance is strong enough to keep on providing real danger to the Iraqi government so that it needs US support to survive. I think the odds are pretty good. Though clearly the Bushies can screw up anything.

20

stostosto 01.16.07 at 5:44 pm

Regarding consequences of the Iraq war that were or were not predicted, there are others than how the internal Iraqi situation developed. For instance, how do these fare?

* Respect for international law

* The UN’s credibility

* The Transatlantic relationship

* The credibility of the USA

* The credibility of the US government

21

John Quiggin 01.16.07 at 5:44 pm

As a matter of interest, I linked to the Fallows piece when it came out

But the more important point is not accurate prediction of detail but understanding the basic fact that few wars go well for those who start them.

22

Will 01.16.07 at 5:49 pm

In the spirit of Jane’s post, from what I can tell, the only lesson to be learned from the prognostications of the doves, if this thread is any indication, is that Bush is incompetent; a “fuck-up” as Chris said above.

I’m not sure what this gives us in terms of making these hard decisions in the future. In almost exactly 2 years, the Bush is a fuck-up problem takes care of itself.

Is there any more constructive feedback to be given to the erstwhile hawk Jane Galt?

23

Will 01.16.07 at 5:53 pm

John, thanks. But Jane, and I (a supporter of the invasion), need to improve our decision making process. Maybe we don’t need to predict the details, but a general statement the wars rarely go well doesn’t much help. How could we have know a priori that *this* war wasn’t going to go well?

24

perianwyr 01.16.07 at 6:08 pm

a) The stated goals, both short and long-term were very hazy and based on questionable premises.

b) The previous war in the area ended with a refusal by GHW Bush to do exactly what was in the plan for this one, with the reasoning that what is happening now would be the result.

c) The folks that ran it didn’t plan for the aftermath.

These are my three reasons for knowing, beforehand, that this war was going to be an exercise in goat copulation.

25

stostosto 01.16.07 at 6:09 pm

Drats. That old John Quiggin-post that he links to in #19 links to a piece about a speech made by Al Gore in 2002. In that speech, Gore got it almost exactly right. And he does it by extrapolating from the by then unfolding negligence and incompetence demonstrated by the Bush administration in Afghanistan.

Would that the Florida debacle had gone through the sliding door. *shudder*

26

John Quiggin 01.16.07 at 6:15 pm

“How could we have know a priori that this war wasn’t going to go well?”

Since most wars go badly, this is the wrong question. The right one is:

“What would lead us to think that this would be one of the few wars that would go well?”

27

matt m 01.16.07 at 6:15 pm

Let’s assume a situation where (a) and (b) and (c) are necessary for the plan it to work, and you predict not-(a), and actually get (a) and not-(b)

1) Will this work?
You get this one right.

2) Are your predictions better than random guessing?
On this, I say that you are no better than the person who said (a) and (b); you both got one wrong.

What if all I need to predict is not-[(a) and (b) and (c)]? What if you need for some reason to flip 10 heads in a row and I predict that you won’t? Is my prediction a failure or no better than random guessing if I didn’t specify which flips would be tails?

28

Timon Braun 01.16.07 at 7:06 pm

Were the Kurds also wrong to support the war? Is it possible that they were right for their reasons, and I was right to oppose it because I felt that if you have to ask whether to go to war, the answer must be no? There were too many variables for anyone to claim they foresaw them; it is more useful to evaluate motives than conclusions. The Kurds were resisting extinction and they were at least as “right” as I was, even though we disagreed. This is important because there is some notion that if Bush’s gamble had somehow succeeded (Sadr killed early by Khoei’s avengers, Saddam killed in the first weeks …) his idiocy would have somehow been validated, and
I would need to apologize for resisting a dangerous policy.

29

P O'Neill 01.16.07 at 7:09 pm

Speaking of the Lancet, it’s time for the experts to get to work on trashing a lower number

MR. LEHRER: Today, the United Nations issued a report that said 34,000 Iraqi civilians have died in sectarian violence in the last year. What’s the message of that, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Message is we better help this government stop the sectarian violence. I hear all kinds of different numbers, but the fact is that too many have died as the result of Shias killing Sunnis, Sunnis killing Shias and that I have made the decision that it is best to try to help this government stop this sectarian violence.

30

blah 01.16.07 at 7:23 pm

Excerpt from “Why We Didn’t Remove Saddam” by George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time (2 March 1998):

While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in “mission creep,” and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. . . We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.’s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different–and perhaps barren–outcome.

http://www.thememoryhole.org/mil/bushsr-iraq.htm

31

Matt Kuzma 01.16.07 at 8:03 pm

Wow. The line of reasoning that Megan McArdle and samchevre use, along with the revelation Ms. McArdle has concerning her failure to predict a correct outcome all underscore the amateurish mindset the proponents of this war have had all along.

To say that being right for the wrong reasons is just as bad as being wrong is only getting half the point. Even if I’m right for the right reasons, that doesn’t mean I ever knew anything at all. I keep seeing this argument that says “If you say I will fail for X reason, but I actually fail for Y reason, then you haven’t done anything to inspire me to believe in your predictions because you just lucked out” but what they don’t seem to realize is that, even if you’re right you still probably just lucked out. Just because a prediction turns out to be right doesn’t mean it was based on sound reasoning and it doesn’t mean you should give any greater weight to to future predictions.

The fact of the matter is that wisdom knows to be uncertain. The point is not that we predicted that the Iraq invasion would fail, or that it would succeed but that the occupation would fail. The point is that those of us who weren’t excited about the war knew enough to be cautious. We knew enough to recognize that it could fail.

The correct course of action for the future is not to figure out what specific act of prediction lead you astray, but to recognize that your predictive power just isn’t all that great, no matter what information you have. Be humble and recognize that all your plans could very well go wrong and consider the cost of that possibility.

And I love the revelation “Hussein was behaving exactly as I would if I had WMDs, so I assumed he had them as well.” Seriously, you did that?

32

Barry 01.16.07 at 8:37 pm

Posted by Will:

“I’m not sure what this gives us in terms of making these hard decisions in the future. In almost exactly 2 years, the Bush is a fuck-up problem takes care of itself.”

Well, we’ll undoubtedly see more such decisions. One of the lessons that future Bushies will take from this is that, even if you screw up the war quite badly, you can still get re-elected.

“Is there any more constructive feedback to be given to the erstwhile hawk Jane Galt?”

Go directly to Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Megan is clearly on the propagandist fast track; truth and her are not friends. There is no constructive criticism for her.

“How could we have know a priori that this war wasn’t going to go well?”

Let’s start by cutting through the BS (BTW, I would use the term ‘Meganism’, but she didn’t think this line of bull up). The most striking difference between (the first Gulf War + Afghanistan war) and the invasion of Iraq was that many supporters of the first pair of wars were opposed to the second pair. If it had been just doves, the sort who had opposed pretty much all post-WWII US wars, then she’d have had a point. But it wasn’t.

So, when you see people who would be expected to support a general category of action, opposing a particular instance, pay attention to their opposition.

33

Andrew 01.16.07 at 8:38 pm

By the time the Iraq war started, there was plenty of evidence from Afghanistan that the Bush admin didn’t give a toss about following up the initial stages of the invasion with anything resmbling intelligent reconstruction. No evidence of a different approach was in evidence with regard to Iraq.

What more do people need? You watch an administration in real time fuck up an important occupation and then wonder sagely whether they should be allowed to do another one just for the hell of it? Please.

It wasn’t that hard to make the right call.

34

vkri 01.16.07 at 9:09 pm

I opposed the war because I thought:
A. Saddam did not have WMD (If he actually did, the US would not have considered the option of invasion. See for example: North Korea).

B. The invasion by itself would be pretty straightforward, simply because opponents would go underground to fight a terrorist campaign.

C. Winning an insurgency even in territory with potential local support requires a 10:1 military superiority (10 military for 1 terrorist. See for eg. Indian activity against islamic terrorists in Kashmir). Technology is not much help in this regard, only sheer manpower.

D. I did not think that the US Govt could project this sort of military manpower.

E. It was reasonably clear that the US & British Govts were lying to the public, the UN inspectors pretty much made this obvious, also reason A.

F. Iraq had little or nothing to do with 9/11. Afghanistan did, Pakistan did and probably Saudi Arabia did. I thought attacking Afghanistan was a good thing. Attacking Iraq because of 9/11 was a waste of military and diplomatic capital.

Jane Galt (Megan McArdle) is a dishonest hack. She and her ilk attacked people against the war then, for not believing Iraq was worth attacking, and she is attacking them now for being right.

35

David Wright 01.16.07 at 9:23 pm

McArdle’s post-mea-culpa analysis is so lame because she has failed to make clear with whom she is arguing. There are basically four flavors of people in this game.

1. Pacificists, neo-pacificsts, and internationalists. These are people who believe that war is never just, or just only when you are directly attacked, or just only when a world government gives its blessing. They will latch on to any argument against the Iraq war. They would have been disappointed to see the war go well. Their favorite war is the Vietnam war.

2. War-mongerers and the fear-motivated. These are people who are either gung-ho about war in general or so easily frightened by the mere spectre of an enemy that the war-mongeres can bring them to heel on the flimsiest pretense. The former will never admit that the Iraq (or any) war is going badly, while the latter can always be brought arround by scare tactics. Their favorite war is WWII.

3. Foreign policy realists. These are people who have no problem using military force to further immediate national interests, but are reluctant to assume military risks for more idealistic or distant goals. They thought the Iraq war was misguided from the beginning, but they are willing to contemplate changed tactics that might have immediate pay-offs. Their favorite wars are the myriad cold war scrimmages.

4. Foreign policy idealists. These are people who would like to use military force in support of idealistic goals with only a distant or tangential benefit to the national interest. They wanted the Iraq war, but realize that it has gone poorly. They would like a different leader, but would settle for a different strategy, in support of their orginal ends. Their favorite war is the Kosovo conflict.

(1) and (2) actually make up the majority of the population. Clearly (1) are Democratic party stalwarts and (2) are Republican party stalwarts. At the beginning of the war, there were a lot of (2) masquerading as (4), and now that the war has gone badly, there are a lot of (1) masquerading as (3).

But really (1) and (2) are so ridiculous as to be unworthy of debate. The reason McArdle’s case is so lame is that she imagines all doves belong to (1). The really interesting foreign policy debate is between (3) and (4). That is where the real meat of the debate is.

(3) and (4) don’t really fit well into the usual Democratic and Republican boxes. Democrats like to think of themselves as idealists, and there have been Democratic (4)s such as Clinton, but now most Democrats sound like (3). Republicans like to think of themselves as realists, and there have been Republican (3)s like Kissinger but now most Republicans sound like (4).

36

Sven 01.16.07 at 9:55 pm

They would have been disappointed to see the war go well.

That’s the great thing about pacifists. Anyone else would kick you in the nuts for making such a stupid statement.

37

Thers 01.16.07 at 10:08 pm

There were too many variables for anyone to claim they foresaw them

Exactly so. But this was itself one good and rather obvious reason to oppose the war: that there were far too many variables in play and thus no special reason to believe that only the rosy scenarios put forward by the administration would come to pass (that the reconstruction would be paid for by oil revenues, for one thing).

Sometime in in the Fall of 2002 I remember listening to NPR and hearing William Kristol saying that “the law of unintended consequences” was the one “legitimate dove argument.” Then about a week later I heard Noam Chomsky talking about “unintended consequences” on, I think, Democracy Now.

Which made me laugh. Jeez, it really wasn’t all that hard to predict that the thing would go sour, frankly. Never hire a contractor whose estimate is too rosy, whose previous work was shoddy, and who won’t or can’t tell you how he plans to clean up afterwards.

38

blah 01.16.07 at 10:09 pm

The majority of the U.S. population is made up of pacifists and war mongerers? That is just silly. To the extent that most people have any articulable foreign policy views, they are probably hold some version of the realist viewpoint.

39

Doctor Slack 01.16.07 at 10:42 pm

Andrew has it exactly right.

40

John Emerson 01.16.07 at 11:41 pm

In almost exactly 2 years, the Bush is a fuck-up problem takes care of itself.

For my those are going to be a very long two years. It will be like sharing my room with a case of old, unstable dynamite. Maybe nothing at all will happen, and maybe BOOM!

41

Henry (not the famous one) 01.16.07 at 11:46 pm

There was a different basis for opposing the war in 2002 and 2003 and it did not depend on predictions of “success,” however that was defined. A preemptive war of this sort is to international law what a lynch mob is to due process. Even if the U.S. had found canisters of ricin or a rudimentary nuclear weapons program buried outside Tikrit, the invasion was illegal from the outset.

Of course, nearly four years later we can see that it was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.[1] But even if the coalition forces had used the right mixture of force and friendship, or if J. Paul Bremer had not debaathified every institution in sight, or we had not decided to allow the Shi’a militias to return in force in the first weeks after the fall of Baghdad, do we really think that the U,S, would not be sitting on the same ungrateful volcano[2]? Put another way, do we think that the forces we unleashed would accept U.S. tutelage, whether it came in the form of our man Ahmed Chalabi (assuming, of course, that he was our man) or lectures on democracy from Zalmay Khalilzad? The catastrophe we have created was made worse by the manifold incompetence of the Bush administration, but it was bound to happen in any event, given the imperial blindness that launched this crusade in the first place.

[1] Talleyrand’s words–damned if I can link to wikipedia.
[2] Churchill’s words, from the last imperialist foray into Iraq.

42

blah 01.17.07 at 12:25 am

SEN. CLELAND: And if you took out Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party, the secularist party, don’t the Sunnis and the Shi’ite Muslims make up a majority of the population in Iraq, and wouldn’t that give Iran a strong hand there, and we ultimately end up creating a Muslim state, even under democratic institutions?

***

GEN. CLARK: Yes, sir. I think that there is a substantial risk in the aftermath of the operation that we could end up with a problem which is more intractable than we have today.

One thing we’re pretty clear on is that Saddam has a very effective police state apparatus. He doesn’t allow challenges to his authority inside that state. When we go in there with a transitional government and a military occupation of some indefinite duration, it’s also very likely that if there is an effective al Qaeda left — and there certainly will be an effective organization of extremists — they will pour into that country because they must compete for the Iraqi people; the Wahabes with the Sunnis, the Shi’as from Iran working with the Shi’a population. So it’s not beyond consideration that we would have a radicalized state, even under a U.S. occupation in the aftermath.

SEN. CLELAND: General Hugh Shelton told me about a week ago, in his great North Carolina accent, which I understand — that if Saddam Hussein were removed and the Ba’ath Party ousted, that the Kurds, the Shi’ites and the Sunnis would go at each other like banshee chickens.

http://www.iraqwatch.org/government/us/hearingspreparedstatements/sasc-092302.htm

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a 01.17.07 at 1:22 am

My position was: the U.S. shouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq, and it shouldn’t have gone to war in the ex-Yugoslavia either. I don’t remember many people agreeing with that position, but I still think it’s the correct one.

44

TheIrie 01.17.07 at 5:21 am

Chris writes: “Dan may have been light on the exact way things would pan out, but he was clear about one thing: the war would fail because the Bushies would fuck-up through incompetence.”

Is is at all conceivable that the disaster in Iraq is not due to incompetence, i.e. the inability to realise ones aims and intentions, but because all of the rhetorical measures of success are in fact entirely incidental to the actual objective. Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote before the war “Not only does America benefit economically from the relatively low costs of Middle Eastern oil, but America’s security role in the region gives it indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region.”

That being the motivation, the war is still potentially a success. All they need is to get the permanent bases in, and to privatise the Iraqi oil, as they are currently trying to do through a new Iraqi oil law. Death and destruction in Iraq is politically inconvenient, but as long as it can be spun that its not our fault, this problem can be overcome. Anyone opposed to this, should sign my petition on the Downing street website:

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Iraqi-oil/

45

Brendan 01.17.07 at 5:35 am

OK well I have read the original article linked to. May I just point out that it is the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard in my life?

To begin with ‘philosophically’ it presupposes that there is an objective, value neutral way of saying that something is ‘like’ something else. Otherwise we have no ‘objective’ ‘value neutral’ way of saying something is NOT like something. But this is nonsense. It’s obvious that the way the question is framed there will always be ‘wriggle room’ for the pro-invasioners to get out. For example if someone predicted that the Americans would lose 55,000 soldiers then the pro-invasioner could always reply back (after this whole holocaust is over)…’ah! But we actually only lost 50,000! So you were completely wrong weren’t you?’.

Second: (this is a minor point) like most pro-invasioners, Megan wants to draw a strict and hard and fast line between the ‘war’ (which, allegedly, was a triumphant success) and the ‘occupation’ (which, everyone now admits, has now failed). But in reality there is no such division. If you invade a country, unless you leave immediately (and by immediately I mean ten minutes after the cessation of hostilities) then self-evidently there will be an occupation. It is in integral part of a war in which you seize territory. Pro-warriors claim that many anti-war predictions (i.e. of casualties) were ‘false’ because they did not occur during the ‘war’, only during the ‘occupation’. But not only is this dichotomy not tenable, it also ignores the fact that the occupation is ongoing. As a matter of fact it would not at all surprise me if, in 20 years time, when this is all over, American casualties exceed 50,000. Because the ‘war’ never ended. It is still ongoing. And it, therefore, has not been a success.

Third: As a matter of fact in the real world, you DO get brownie points for being right even if your reasoning was wrong. Copernicus’ arguments for heliocentrism were mainly nonsense (being mainly neo-Platonic assumptions about the heavenly spheres) but we still give him the credit for proposing heliocentrism. This goes doubly in a war situation. If someone had told Hitler in 1939: ‘look, you will succeed in conquering Russia, but Britain will hold out, and when the Americans come into the war, eventually the two of them combined, they will beat you’….he would have been ‘wrong’ about the mechanism for defeat, but right about the salient point, that Hitler would lose the war. Likewise, some (maybe all, who knows or cares?) might have been wrong about the precise ‘mechanism’ by which America lost Vietnam. But everyone could see, by about 1969, that the salient point was that American would lose the Vietnamese war. How precisely it would happen was of less consequence.

Fourth: as has been pointed out, the pro-invasioners are pretty careful about who they quote from the ‘anti-war’ side, tending to choose the wackiest and most bizarre predictions. In fact, as I well recall, large numbers of people did in fact make accurate predictions about what would happen in Iraq: e.g. that there would be civil war, that there would be an insurgency etc.

Fifth: again as has been pointed out, the vast majority of wars fail, and the vast majority of invasions fail given enough time. This might of course be a very long period of time indeed. The British held Ireland (well parts of it ) for between 400 and 1000 years (depending on who you listen to) but eventually they were kicked out, because in the loooooong term occupations tend to fail. The Romans held an Empire for 1000 years. The British held India for centuries. But eventually, these powers were kicked out.

And so, eventually, I know that the Iraqis will succeed in kicking out the Americans (the British are already leaving). This might take a much longer time than anybody thinks at present. But in the loooong term it is almost certain that the occupation will fail. And again this could have been predicted (and was) before the invasion. And it was known with as much certainty as anything can be in international affairs.

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bad Jim 01.17.07 at 5:47 am

It may well be that most of the authorities in the U.S. and U.K., both pundits and politicians, figured that the invasion was inevitable, and that therefore the safest position to take was to support it. Were it to succeed, it would have been fatal to one’s career to have opposed it; were it to fail, one would have plenty of company.

Those who calculated thus may rightly accuse most of us who objected out of mere principle of not having been serious, since our livelihoods were not on the line.

The rest of us will do well to remember everyone who advocated attacking a country that didn’t pose an imminent threat and discount their pontifications accordingly.

47

ajay 01.17.07 at 5:57 am

the vast majority of wars fail, and the vast majority of invasions fail given enough time. This might of course be a very long period of time indeed. The British held Ireland (well parts of it ) for between 400 and 1000 years (depending on who you listen to) but eventually they were kicked out, because in the loooooong term occupations tend to fail. The Romans held an Empire for 1000 years. The British held India for centuries. But eventually, these powers were kicked out.

On the other hand, the Americans still occupy America, and I don’t see much risk of the First Nations uniting to throw them back off the beach at Massachusetts. Nor would I bet much on the Russians being kicked out of Siberia, or the Turks abandoning Constantinople and Anatolia, or the Australians leaving Australia in the face of an aboriginal insurgency, or the Maori kicking the pahe out of New Zealand.

Get the picture?

48

Marc Mulholland 01.17.07 at 6:11 am

It’s silly to nit-pick, of course. All pro-war arguments were on one essential theme: It Will Make Things Better. All anti-war arguments were on one essential theme: It Will Make Things Worse. Everything else was an assortment of more or less convincing elaborations, usually more illustrative of domestic politics than anything else.

History, since, has decided.

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Brendan 01.17.07 at 7:32 am

‘Get the picture?’

I was acting on the assumption that the Americans did not plan that kind of invasion: i.e. a colonial invasion in which you swamp the invaded territory with settlers and then push the indigenous inhabitants off to smaller and smaller areas of land, where they can be ‘dealt with’ at a later date.

Looking at things even now, there’s no evidence that the USA wants to do that. There are no waves of American settlers zooming off to Baghdad. Au contraire.

50

K. Williams 01.17.07 at 8:25 am

This isn’t really germane to the original post, but is it really true to say that, in the case of the U.S., the vast majority of wars have failed? Just looking at the history of American military interventions in the twentieth century, it seems to me that most of them, to greater or less extent, succeeded, from a strict foreign-policy perspective.

51

Patrick 01.17.07 at 8:26 am

As far as I can recall, most of us dirty f*cking hippies thought invading Iraq was wrong because war is a very, very bad idea. War is unhealthy for children and other living things and all that. The war mongers thought it would be fun; get to fly jets and land on aircraft carriers. I am amazed that the discussion assumes that war is okay, instead of a last desperate option when all else fails. Someone pass me a joint.

52

emma 01.17.07 at 8:27 am

I personnaly tend to believe that even if the war in Iraq led to desirable results, it would not proove that war opponents were wrong. It would only prove that war partisans were “morally lucky”, to take Bernard William’s expression. Indeed, the reasons to oppose the war before it starts are good or bad independently of the particular way the war unfolds. This is because the reasons to oppose the war was based on a prediction, thet it will certainely fail, which are not rendered unaccurate in case the war unexpectedly turns right. In other words, I do not believe in moral luck.

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Brendan 01.17.07 at 8:56 am

Of course some people have even more innovative arguments as to why, even though they were wrong, they weren’t wrong.

‘In my own mind, I believe my support of the war was based on two things: The assumption that the CIA would have a better ability to predict the presence of WMD than I would, and the belief that the Iraqis would value freedom.

Both of those are clearly wrong. The latter, tragically so. Primarily, it’s clear to me that:

a) many people who don’t earn their freedom themselves don’t value it.

b) If a country’s citizens don’t value their freedom enough to try to rebel against their tyrants, they aren’t worthy of our aid.’

Golly.

(From the comments section in the link above).

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John Quiggin 01.17.07 at 9:04 am

“This isn’t really germane to the original post, but is it really true to say that, in the case of the U.S., the vast majority of wars have failed?”

I had a go at this topic here. Although the US has done much better than other countries, its record since 1950 doesn’t suggest that it’s exempt from the general proposition that starting wars, or continuing them when you have a chance to make peace, is a bad idea.

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SamChevre 01.17.07 at 9:15 am

I thought Jane Galt and David Wright (#35) are agreeing.

In other words, the fact that the pacifists were right this time, and the war-mongers were right the last time, doesn’t add to their credibility much. The key is to sort out the realists who are actually realistic, and the idealistists who are sufficiently-grounded-in-reality-to-be-useful, from the war-mongers and the pacifists.

I do find it funny that people think I was/am a supporter of the Iraq War.

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K. Williams 01.17.07 at 9:23 am

Well, I think it’s important to distinguish between “starting wars” and “continuing them when you have a chance to make peace” — the Korean War was clearly successful and necessary, in the sense that it prevented North Korea from taking over the entire Korean peninsula, but (as you argue) it also could have been ended much earlier than it was. Still, I don’t think that makes the Korean War a failure (as Vietnam clearly was and as I think Iraq is well on its way to being).

In any case, I still can’t see how one can say that, even since 1950, most US military interventions have been failures, though that may simply be a function of the fact that the US has done a good job of only going to war against significantly weaker opponents.

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abb1 01.17.07 at 9:24 am

TheIrie #44 has a good point. Everyone says that this war is a disaster, yet the Bushies now have an internationally accepted client Iraqi government that’s totally dependent on them. Exxon is likely to get pretty much unlimited rights to the Iraqi oil for a few decades, the US government will probably get basing rights in Iraq for a hundred years, plus pan-Arab nationalism is dead, the Arabs are fighting each other like crazy. Not too shabby, I must say, and for just a trillion of mostly someone else’s dollars.

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Brendan 01.17.07 at 9:40 am

Er….I don’t mean to be rude, Abb1, but that’s bollocks. The current Iraqi government leans as much to Iran as it does to the US: moreover it will fall when the Americans begin to pull their troops numbers down (and this is an inevitability). The current surge will fail, when it does, increasing pressure will be brought to bear on the Americans to leave. The high oil prices that are a direct result of this war have overwhelmingly benefitted enemies of the US (China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran) not the US. Moreover what we might be seeing now (or then again, might not) is a turning point in history, in which the Shia, who, up until now, have been oppressed for centuries, begin to attain political power, and the Shias have regularly been shafted by the US (who tend to back Sunnis)…and they well know this. Rising Shia power also threatens all the US clients states in the region…Saudi has been protected (for once the war plays in the US’ favour) by the rising oil prices but that won’t last forever: if and when the Americans most loyal client state collapses it’s all over for American influence in the Middle East.

Also look at South America. For the first time since 1492 South American Indigenous people are gaining some political power and the Monroe Doctrine lies in tatters. It’s inconceivable this could have happened had the Americans not taken their eye off the ball and concentrated on the Middle East.

And as the Americans are driven out of the region, China will pick up the slack.

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ajay 01.17.07 at 10:57 am

“If a country’s citizens don’t value their freedom enough to try to rebel against their tyrants, they aren’t worthy of our aid.”

There’s a good argument to be made that the record of other people installing democratic governments isn’t as good as the record of people installing their own. The former has basically 2 successes (Germany; Japan) and any number of failures.

“For the first time since 1492 South American Indigenous people are gaining some political power and the Monroe Doctrine lies in tatters”.

In tatters? Really? Which European power has been interfering in the Americas? Surely not Spain again?

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Donald Johnson 01.17.07 at 10:58 am

David Wright’s classification system (which samchevre buys into) is not wrong, but it is self-serving–he presents the “realists” and the “idealists” as the good guys, while the “/internationalists” are lumped in with the crazy warmongers as irrational. But a lot of us in his first camp are realistic enough to recognize that countries always concoct some noble-sounding goals when they want to go to war. There’s a reason why we expect very high standards to be met before dropping bombs and blowing the limbs off children. But hey, we’re just silly that way.

Besides, if idealists were really so idealistic, I’d expect to see more of them calling for war crimes trials for Americans, not just deposed dictators. Hitchens at least is consistent on this (with respect to Kissinger–I haven’t heard whether he wants the current crop of torturers jailed), but he’s the rare exception amongst the so-called idealists.

By the way, note that in public debates of foreign policy in the US, Wright’s “idealists” and “realists” are the only ones that get a hearing. It’s a way of framing the debate to keep out the riffraff, just as Wright advocates.

61

Michael Mouse 01.17.07 at 10:59 am

I think Daniel’s missed off the most likely mechanism for failure: the Big Push* simply won’t make much difference. Even at the height of this Big Push, US troop numbers will still be lower than they were at the peak of the occupation. The mess of competing militias and external influences is not going to be resolved by any swift method.

There’s no good outcome from here, alas. The three basic options are:
a) Pull out in despair

b) Throw in silly numbers of troops and install a repressive government that’s willing and able to squash ethnic conflict with an iron fist (traditionally a dictator, but perhaps a nominally democratic head for form’s sake) over many years
c) Leave things dragging on interminably, with the death and misery toll rising, until you cave in and do either (a) or (b).

And I did say that before the war. But I’m a pacifist so never worth listening to, apparently.

* I still have trouble believing that Bush himself used the phrase “Big Push”, given that the previously most famous military action bearing that name was the Somme in 1916. It seems to me much more the sort of piss-takey label that sneaky pacifists like me would try to make stick for the propaganda edge.

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Brendan 01.17.07 at 12:17 pm

OK if you insist: the Roosevelt Corollary. And yes I know that that was allegedly replaced by the Good Neighbour Policy. But…..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_Corollary

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Barry 01.17.07 at 12:54 pm

Posted by ajay: “There’s a good argument to be made that the record of other people installing democratic governments isn’t as good as the record of people installing their own. The former has basically 2 successes (Germany; Japan) and any number of failures.”

That would assume that, in those other cases, the intervening government was actually trying to install a democracy, rather than ‘our SOB’, with a democratic facade.

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rea 01.17.07 at 1:02 pm

War supporters insisted that Saddam had WMD; those of us who opposed the war were skeptical, but pointed out that if Saddam really did have WMD, attacking him would be a dangerous and bloody business.

As things turned out, Saddam did not have WMD, and attacking him was therefore not nearly the dangerous and bloody business we feared, although of course, the aftermath of defeating Saddam has been quite amply dangerous and bloody.

Somehow, however, this sequence is being cited as showing that the war supporters were right and the war opponants were wrong. It shows, I submit, just exactly the opposite.

65

MQ 01.17.07 at 1:18 pm

Is there a more dishonest hack on the net than Megan McArdle? This one is pretty intense even for her, though.

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Barry 01.17.07 at 1:29 pm

mq, I’d hate to search for the most dishonest hack on the net; that could be a sould-destroying search. Megan is merely a professional propagandist, not much different from an AEI/Heritage ‘scholar’ or a TCS astroturf/junk scientist.

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abb1 01.17.07 at 2:22 pm

The current Iraqi government leans as much to Iran as it does to the US

Maybe they like Iran more, but there’s hardly any doubt that in the end of the day the US – not Iran – will build permanent military bases all over the place and US businesses will reap oil profits, even if they have to build 10-meter-high walls around the oil fields and pipe lines.

And, like I said, perhaps the most important result is general unrest in the region, sectarian tension and clashes; every group will be trying to please the Americans to get some advantage. Iran is simply one of these groups; so what if it’s somewhat stronger now. That’ll just make Saudi and Jordan (and perhaps even Syria) more obedient. It’s a simple game: as long as they keep fighting among each other you can’t lose.

Nasserism is the greatest danger to US imperial interests there, not Iran; and Nasserism is completely gone now.

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Uncle Kvetch 01.17.07 at 2:34 pm

I couldn’t put my finger on what was bugging me about this thread, but commenter “kia” over at Roy Edroso’s place inadvertantly nailed it for me:

Well I read that whole thing and didn’t notice mention of any dead people in it. She could be talking about some little dispute over the decorations for the Senior Prom. Apparently the consequence of being wrong that falls most heavily on her is that people feel entitled to say mean things about her, or to not take her as seriously as she thinks she deserves.

I couldn’t have said it better. “Hack” is far too gentle a term for this.

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aaron 01.17.07 at 2:52 pm

Many of us who supported (and currently support) the war also expected a longer and bloodier occupation. We considered that it might work. But giving the circumstances, a failed occupation was still better than ineffective weapons inspections, looking weak, and leaving Iran protected due to the Iraqi threat should we engage Iran (and don’t forget all the great intelligence we have access to due to the invasion). Even a failed occupation would be a win for us (I’m not willing to call it failed, right now it’s stagnating at worst).

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roger 01.17.07 at 3:42 pm

Samchevre, about this comment:

“Similarly, if you thought that the War in Iraq would fail, because the US would lose 50,000 troops taking Baghdad—you may have been right that it would fail, but not in a fashion that makes me trust your judgment next time.”

Your comment actually points to the incoherence of the administration’s narrative going into the invasion. The premise was that Saddam Hussein’s deadly stockpile of chemical and other weapons could deliver a stunning blow to the U.S. This was coupled, with the usual blithe incoherence, with the idea that U.S. troops would cakewalk into Baghdad.

Antiwar people that actually believed Bush might well have predicted the 50.000 casualties. However, since the Bush administration’s case for invading was laughable, I, before the war, thought that one should take Paul Krugman’s line: since the U.S. military spends more in a season than the Iraq GDP, it would be a relatively short conventional war. That would be followed by a long and nasty unconventional war, unless the U.S. quickly shunned occupation and got the hell out of dodge. I didn’t think the latter was likely.

The pro-war arguments at the time, and now, almost have to be at least 50 percent correct, since they always involve affirming mutually inconsistent, and indeed contradictory, conditions. These are perfect arguments for Bush’s base, which seems to consist of people who’ve undergone voluntary lobotomies. Those predicting the cakewalk were able to overlook the lies that formed the premise of the war – good for them! Being a cynical warmonger eager both to express one’s own vanity in other people’s blood and feed an already overfinanced war machine does have its advantages.

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roger 01.17.07 at 3:58 pm

ps – one of the advantages of having a blog is that you can see if you really got things right, or if you were wrong, and why. We wrote this on March 31, 2003, and, except for the names – this was when Garner was in charge, before Bremer – it pretty much stands on its own:

… we are seeing the war split into two. One is the war against Saddam the Horrific. The other is the war against the post-Saddam guerrilla. The latter has no name, yet; the incipient program is simply, repel the invader. As the invader triumphs, setting up a state run by Rumsfeld’s creepy buddy, Jay Garner (who has a first class ticket to Bushs monster ball, being one of the numerous hawks who have day jobs as Perlish vultures), we will have a new war. In this one, the Iraqi state will be our ally against Iraqi “terrorists” — that is, the people who are firing on American forces and their Iraqi collaborators. In the new war, the goal will be a lot clearer — it will be to repel the occupiers. As the krewe of Iraqi exiles preferred by the Pentagon are installed (over the resistance of other Iraqis) get set up, the traditional lines of the conflict will become clear a client state, an imperialist sponsor, and the usual poisonous symbiosis between them, with the client depending on the sponsor to sustain it at the same time that that dependence renders it illegitimate.”

Not very hard to foresee.

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Brendan 01.17.07 at 5:16 pm

‘And, like I said, perhaps the most important result is general unrest in the region, sectarian tension and clashes; every group will be trying to please the Americans to get some advantage. Iran is simply one of these groups; so what if it’s somewhat stronger now. That’ll just make Saudi and Jordan (and perhaps even Syria) more obedient. It’s a simple game: as long as they keep fighting among each other you can’t lose.’

Just for the record, since we are on the subject of predictions, I think this prediction is total nonsense, and I think that events over the next ten years will demonstrate that.

I also think that your preconceptions are blinding you to a very obvious fact: that ties related to religion are likely to be stronger and more profound (and last longer) than those based on race (‘pan-arabism’). Nasserism, which was a thoroughly totalitarian and anti-democratic force, was never really going to last, and had little appeal beyond Egypt (don’t confuse the fact that Nasser is generally respected for standing up to the Americans and British with agreement with his political theorising). There are Nasserite political parties in the Middle East but people don’t vote for them because they don’t want Nasserism.

Saudi and Jordan simply couldn’t be more pliant: they are American client states, but insofar as they can, it will be high oil prices that will enable them to do so.

And why should Iran kowtow to the Americans? They have the oil and, increasingly, the Americans don’t. And if the Americans try a boycott or anything silly, then the Chinese are the wave of the future, not the Americans.

Incidentally, why should American oil firms continue to reap profits? Iraqi oil production is falling and will probably continue to fall, as the civil war tears the country apart. This means less and less money for more and more risk; it also pushes the price up, which benefits Iran, Venezuela, Russia…ie American enemies. All of whom are already making their presence felt in the Middle East.

This leads to an attack on Iran, which would be a sign of weakness, not of strength. To quote FPIF ‘The long-term impact of a nuclear strike on Iran is likely to be catastrophic and not only because it would enrage Shiites in Iraq. Local U.S.-backed dictators might find themselves facing unrest as well. If Hezbollah rocketed Israel, Tel Aviv might decide to invade Syria, igniting a full-scale regional war. It is even possible that Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf might fall, ushering in an Islamic fundamentalist regime. In that event, India would almost certainly intervene, which could spark a nuclear war in South Asia. ‘

This would push oil prices even higher, and almost certainly mean the end of the American presence in the Middle East.

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roger 01.17.07 at 5:59 pm

PS – oops. I should have said zero percent. “The pro-war arguments at the time, and now, almost have to be at least 50 percent correct, since they always involve affirming mutually inconsistent, and indeed contradictory, conditions.” Pro war predictions, to be even close to being correct, had to ignore at least one of their conditioning claims.

Interestingly, the more an anti-war person thought that Bush was sincere or that the administration was honest, the more wrong they would be – only those who premised that the president is a pompous, swaggering incompetent, his v.p. a thug, and his secretary of defense was suffered from a form of mad cow syndrome – mad vanity syndrome, perhaps – would have had a chance of predicting the course of this war.

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Donald Johnson 01.17.07 at 7:50 pm

Roger’s comment about massive US casualties as an incorrect prediction of the antiwar side is correct–I remember reading some of those predictions and they explicitly said that if Saddam really did have massive stockpiles of WMD’s, the loss of life (largely civilian, but also American military) could be staggeringly high. Imagine if Saddam had used chemical weapons in Sadr City.

Apart from WMD’s, some of the predictions of very high death tolls in the invasion were made under the assumption that Saddam’s forces might try to turn Baghdad into Stalingrad. It wasn’t assumed that he necessarily would, but if he did, then the death toll would have been massive. Instead most of his forces melted away and instead we have the massive death toll (largely Iraqi, but with tens of thousands of US dead and wounded) in the insurgency phase.

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EthanJ 01.18.07 at 9:44 am

Failure was overdetermined.

SamChevre, you make a mistake with disjunctive probability and conditional events.

If you predicted (a) (major urban warfare) and (b), and (a) didn’t happen, then I say that whatever else you got right, your judgment was non-trivially wrong—just as non-trivially wrong as someone who predicted not (a) and not (b).

What if I offered ten possible reasons for failure, and got one right? Would I be 90% wrong and unreliable?

Suppose I argue the plan is a bad idea – success is highly unlikely because it there are too many uncertainties, and if “success” happens, it will cost too much. I reject a priori any argument that the plan can achieve success at a reasonable cost. I then posit ten possible reasons for failure (A thru J). I further argue that I suspect (A) may happen, and if not(A), then that (B) will occur. As events transpire, (A) does not happen, (B) happens, and the plan fails. Am I “wrong”?

Do I become “right” if I add the trivial observation that, because I think success is only possible at an exorbitant cost, I necessarily predict that efforts to cut corners in plan implementation will result in failure, probably in ways I cannot now predict?

The burden of proof is on the advocate of the plan. It is not the opponents of the war who must prove they were right to find fault, it is the supporters who must prove they were right to launch such an ill-advised campaign.

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SamChevre 01.18.07 at 4:41 pm

ethanj,

If you “offered 10 POSSIBLE reasons for failure” as POSSIBLE reasons, then no–the 9 that didn’t happen don’t count against you.

And don’t get me wrong; the average hawkish pundit comes out worse–much worse–than the average dovish pundit. But it seems to me that James Fallows prediction (comment 10) ought to count as BETTER than Brent Scowcroft’s in #8, even though they predicted the same outcome.

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aa 01.19.07 at 12:26 am

I got it: If you say you’re going to spit a petunia out of your mouth which will turn into a bird and fly away, and I say you won’t, then unless I can predict what you actually are going to do, I’m just as loony as you are.

But I don’t see how that works. How did you get there, again?

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abb1 01.19.07 at 6:02 am

In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia. He won all major battles, captured the capital, liberated the serfs and brought enlightenment values.

But Moscow was looted and burned, the winter harsh, the army had no supplies and he had to retreat, harassed by ungrateful and unreasonable dead-enders along the way.

Two years later Paris fell.

I don’t think anyone in 1811 predicted this exact sequence of events, though apparently a lot of people thought that invasion wouldn’t be a good idea – for obvious reasons.

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Dread Pirate Roberts 01.19.07 at 9:51 pm

I believe one should never fight a land war in Asia and never deal with a Sicilan when death is on the line. Does that make me right for the right reasons or or for wrong reason. Even if it is a push I am still smarter than Jane Galt.

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