What went wrong ?

by John Quiggin on March 1, 2007

Looking back over the early history of the political blogosphere, I checked the site of one of the early European “warbloggers”, Bjørn Staerk, and found this newly published and very impressive reflective piece. Not many people have the courage to look unflinchingly at their own mistakes, but Staerk does so. A short extract

When I look around me at the world we got, the world we created after 2001, that’s the question I keep coming back to: What went wrong? The question nags me all the more because I was part of it, swept along with all the currents that took us from the ruins of the World Trace center through the shameful years that followed. Iraq, the war on terror, the new European culture war.

This mirror of “What Went Wrong” wouldn’t be a story on the same scale, but it has the main theme in common. It would be about Westerners who had their reality bubble pricked by people from an alien culture, and spent the next couple of years stumbling about like idiots, unable to deal rationally with this new reality that had forced itself on them. Egging each other on, they predicted, interpreted, and labelled – and legislated and invaded. They saw clearly, through beautiful ideas. And they were wrong.

Who were these people? They were us.

As someone else would say, read the whole thing.

{ 64 comments }

1

Andrew 03.01.07 at 11:49 am

In his comments:

“If you have ever played Diplomacy, you know that indecision and inaction, especially at the center of the board, is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately it is often true that in times of crisis, any action, even if it leads to bad things, is better than no action. “

Alert The Editors. Parody is now truly dead.

2

Mike 03.01.07 at 1:38 pm

As someone else would say, read the whole thing.

Why? So my blood pressure can go up? Is this idiot going to crawl on his bare hands and knees over broken glass to my feet to beg my forgiveness for having abetted in so screwing up my world and that of my children? No? Then he can go to hell. And his compatriots with him.

Damn them all.

3

John Emerson 03.01.07 at 2:14 pm

I think that the reason Staerk was able to change his mind is that his stated reasons for supporting the war were the same as his actual reasons. A lot of the warbloggers had a mess of hidden agendas, which meant that when their publically expressed reasons for supporting the war changed, they just had to find new reasons. For a lot of them, too, the war became their life and their identity, and many of them were nobdies before warblogging made them famous.

Some of the hidden agendas (imperialism, racism) were actually intelligible, but some (hatred of feminists, hatred of liberals, hatred of intellectuals, hatred of Hollywood and pop music) were off-the-charts barking mad, as Ramesh Pommuru, Insty, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and several people at NRO have shown us.

4

robert the red 03.01.07 at 2:57 pm

One hidden agenda is simply the desire to be “tough” and “patriotic”. These two nebulous goals form the substance of many average American citizens’ ideas about foreign policy.

5

abb1 03.01.07 at 3:00 pm

Wingnuts is a different story, this guy isn’t one. What we have here, I think, is a crisis of liberalism. Like socialists who did manage to distance themselves from stalinism and stuff like that, liberals need to get rid of western supremacists-nationalists in their midst.

6

Steve LaBonne 03.01.07 at 4:09 pm

These two nebulous goals form the substance of many average American citizens’ ideas about foreign policy.

Not to mention, of McCain’s and Giuliani’s.

7

John Emerson 03.01.07 at 5:40 pm

I forgot to mention homophobia. It bobs up from time to time in the warblogger discourse.

8

Donald Johnson 03.01.07 at 5:46 pm

Abb1 in comment 5 hits it on the nose.

And John Emerson is right too. This guy was evidently sincere. Many prowar types were just acting out of various ugly motives.

9

Grand Moff Texan 03.01.07 at 6:31 pm

Well, he seems to know that something has gone wrong, but he’s repeating all the conceptual errors that led him down the wrong path to begin with.
.

10

Uncle Kvetch 03.01.07 at 7:54 pm

They saw clearly, through beautiful ideas.

I guess this is the rub for me–I still fail to see what could possibly be “beautiful” about the idea of making the world a better place through the waging of wars of aggression.

Yes, democracy and freedom are beautiful, as are ponies, chocolate ice cream, and Jude Law. And yes, Saddam Hussein was about as unbeautiful as a human being could be and still be called human. I still don’t see how you get from these premises to the neocon dream of Better Living Through Weaponry. Nothing “beautiful” about it.

11

abb1 03.01.07 at 8:10 pm

Why, you move in – white horse, shiny armor – bad guys run away, oppressed masses greet you with flowers, lease you their oil fields for 99 years and buy Windows licenses. Other oil-reach countries follow the example. Isn’t this a beautiful idea?

12

abb1 03.01.07 at 8:12 pm

oil-rich, that is.

13

Grand Moff Texan 03.01.07 at 8:29 pm

Hmmm. Apparently I was too hard on the guy. I guess I’d have to know his full oeuvre to know how much of this bullshit is still rattling around in his skull. But, for what it’s worth, he was very civil to me on my blog.
.

14

yabonn 03.01.07 at 9:00 pm

The elites […] despise everything that is solid and proud in European culture.

Still dumb, though.

15

sglover 03.01.07 at 9:30 pm

Staerk’s essay really is a “must-read”. We’re still in the midst of a little spasm of “contrition” from many Iraq War advocates, but from what I’ve seen the overwhelming majority resort to various combinations of special pleading, blame-shifting, and ass-covering. The odious and callow Beinart is practically the master of the art — almost overnight he’s gone from milking dollars from war advocacy, to milking dollars from mea culpas. Staerk’s article puts him light-years beyond such narcissistic children. His words read like something from a sincere and thoughtful adult.

16

Bjørn Stærk 03.01.07 at 9:45 pm

Mike: Is this idiot going to crawl on his bare hands and knees over broken glass to my feet to beg my forgiveness for having abetted in so screwing up my world and that of my children?

I think if you’ve written something stupid, you should correct it later, even if it’s obvious that it was stupid, and even if it doesn’t change anything. At minimum it can be a warning for others. I’m not asking for forgiveness, and certainly not for respect.

John Emerson: I think that the reason Staerk was able to change his mind is that his stated reasons for supporting the war were the same as his actual reasons. A lot of the warbloggers had a mess of hidden agendas, which meant that when their publically expressed reasons for supporting the war changed, they just had to find new reasons.

What do you base it on that these people lied about their motives? In my experience it’s usually a safer bet that people really believe the stupid things they say. When it comes to ideas, self-deception explains more than greed.

yabonn: “The elites […] despise everything that is solid and proud in European culture.”

Still dumb, though.

Yup – so it’s a good thing I no longer believe it. I’m explaining the world view of these culture warriors, it wasn’t meant to be my own view. Anyone who knows me will recognize this, but I can see how it might be confusing to someone who doesn’t. So to be clear: That is precisely the kind of attitude that frightens me about the culture warriors, this kind of nationalist paranoia. It’s a pretty mild nationalism compared to what real extremists come up with, but it’s the first step in a wrong direction.

17

sglover 03.01.07 at 9:48 pm

“I guess this is the rub for me—I still fail to see what could possibly be “beautiful” about the idea of making the world a better place through the waging of wars of aggression.”

It’s because the echoes of “The Good War”, and the generally successful Cold War, still reverberate.

I give Staerk a helluva lot of credit. For me, one of the most dismaying things about the run-up to our grand Mesopotamian adventure was that many of our fellow citizens — people living in a time and place in which information of ALL kinds was never easier to get — were eager to take up the habits of doublethink. To them, no matter how many “proofs” of Saddam’s menace got discredited, there was never any reason to doubt the Maximum Leader. In fact, the very act of discrediting his claims was proof of treachery, untrustworthiness.

I think pretty much everyone who was sceptical about the war ran up against this. It took me a while, but eventually I figured out that facts and evidence were irrelevant — what was going on here was a contest of psychologies, not arguments. So I didn’t think anyone in the war advocate camp was capable of the kind of self-reflection that Staerk exhibits.

18

Grand Moff Texan 03.01.07 at 10:12 pm

Still dumb, though.
Posted by yabonn

In his defense, he claims (on my blog) that the ideas in his essay represent what he has rejected.

Of course, he could have told me that before I went all driftglass on him, but I’m going to have to blame him for not being clear enough.

Are you now, or have you ever been ….
.

19

Glorious Godfrey 03.01.07 at 10:41 pm

The guy is certainly far ahead of other former armchair warriors, as far as the obligation to behave like an honest adult is concerned.

That doesn’t make his musings particularly interesting, however.

Although I think he could have done without the righteous venom, Grand Moff Texan basically hits the nail on the head.

It’s not that “bringing democracy to Iraq with virtous war was a great idea, badly executed”, as many neocons are still saying. It’s not that it was not such a great idea, after all.

The fact of the matter is that the rapacious, Napoleonic, decade-old schemes of the well-connected hawks were sold to the gullible and revenge-hungry with noble-sounding rot.

As for the “culture wars” on Europe’s hallowed soil, the guy’s thoughts still appear to be a bit of a gooey mess. There’s a sense of wistfulness in there, for “people are not as patriotic as they used to be”. And it sounds like he can’t help getting peppier when the issue of headscarves at schools is brought up. I’d wager that the attendant debasement of the notions of secularity and modernity is still lost on him.

20

Grand Moff Texan 03.01.07 at 10:54 pm

Mr. Glorious, I have already admitted that my venom was somewhat misplaced, although I plead righteous confusion.

Seems like a nice guy, now with extra less stupid.
.

21

Antti Nannimus 03.01.07 at 10:55 pm

Hi,

There are so many insightful admissions in Staerk’s piece that it’s hard to believe it was written by a person who says without a hint of irony, he “had the moral courage to change the world by force”.

According to Staerk, “There aren’t many people left who believe that it was a good idea for the US, Britain and their coalition to invade Iraq in 2003.” If this is actually true, which I doubt, perhaps we can finally see a faint glimmer in the long dark tunnel.

Getting out of that tunnel is another problem though.

Have a nice day,
Antti

22

BruceR 03.01.07 at 11:13 pm

I don’t understand the invective directed at Peter Beinart, above. By February, 2003, a month before bombs started falling, the guys was already writing, “hey guys, this isn’t going to work, they have no reconstruction plan.”

If you go from pro-war to anti-war before, you know, the actual war, it may be a deathbed conversion of sorts, but he did see the light in time.

23

John Emerson 03.01.07 at 11:28 pm

What do you base it on that these people lied about their motives? In my experience it’s usually a safer bet that people really believe the stupid things they say. When it comes to ideas, self-deception explains more than greed.

Mostly because they slip so easily from one reason to another. They never seem to say “Oh! That wasn’t true! I guess the war is a bad idea.” They just change their justification and support the war exactly as before.

Second, because a religious war, an imperialist war, or a racist war against against an inferior race is not something which can be openly argued in American society today, but I think that for a lot of hawks this is the motivation. From time to time a hawk will float hints that they feel constrained by PC not to say everything they think, and I think that this is one of the things they mean.

Third, when I run into hawks at social occasions, sometimes they will let the racist-imperialism slip out, either carelessly or because they’ve misjudged me.

I’m speakig of the whole range of American opinion, but this does apply to some of the public spokesmen and prominent warbloggers.

24

The Editors 03.02.07 at 12:26 am

For those who are criticizing Staerk, it should be noted that he is regretting mistakes he made (IIRC) when he was a teenager. Which is to say, you are congratulating yourselves on having a better understanding of (essentially) American politics than a Norwegian teenager. Awesome.

25

Evan 03.02.07 at 12:27 am

Mostly because they slip so easily from one reason to another. They never seem to say “Oh! That wasn’t true! I guess the war is a bad idea.” They just change their justification and support the war exactly as before.

Ummm, but that’s not an argument for whether these people lied about their motives. That’s just how actual human minds work. Must protect brain from bad past actions by swapping in new, improved motivations.

26

Timothy Scriven 03.02.07 at 12:36 am

John Emerson, that doesn’t prove the involvement of greed necessarily, or other bad motives. What it actually shows is a process of rationalisation. No one wants to believe that they have done something truly bad, so they rationalise.

The other process it shows is peer reinforcement. They hang around other pro war blogs and an echo chamber is formed, not out of malignancy but because of several well studied cognitive biases. I believe that phenomena like these are better at explaining clearly unjustifiable political behaviour than malignancy and greed.

27

Eli Rabett 03.02.07 at 12:37 am

Acts of contrition have some value. Wringing your hands none. If this guy really has changed his mind let him beggar himself by supporting refugees.

28

sglover 03.02.07 at 1:31 am

I don’t understand the invective directed at Peter Beinart, above. By February, 2003, a month before bombs started falling, the guys was already writing, “hey guys, this isn’t going to work, they have no reconstruction plan.”

The guy’s yet another no-talent TNR alumnus who’s managed to turn a “contrarian” pose into a lucrative and easy life.

I really don’t know what Beinart was saying in February 2003. I only know that long AFTER our glorious adventure had started, when it was abundantly clear that U.S. foreign policy was a train wreck, young Master Peter got a sweet advance on a dreadful book about how further military interventions would be just dandy — provided they were run by people of HIS preferred ideological flavor.

29

Dan S. 03.02.07 at 2:34 am

Some of the hidden agendas (imperialism, racism) were actually intelligible, but some (hatred of feminists, hatred of liberals, hatred of intellectuals, hatred of Hollywood and pop music) were off-the-charts barking mad,

Emerson, I’m not grasping the distinction here, at least up to the Hollywood and pop music bit – that one is rather odd. Otherwise. they all seem relatively understandable – power, control, hatred, and so on. The feminist/liberal/intellectual hate – even the movies&music bit – that just seems the same kind of thing domestically focused: yes, that sounds insane to us, but . . .

30

John Emerson 03.02.07 at 3:26 am

25, 26: I never said a word about greed, and I don’t claim to have proven anything — this is not a court of law. I told you what I think and why. In any case, I gave three reasons, and you have addressed only one of them.

Some of the peripheral PNAC types have, in fact, made a straightforward argument for imperialism, as has Niall Ferguson. But as I said, Americans are not going to sign up for an imperialist program, so other reasons have to be given. And as I have said, I have met individual hawks who let the mask slip.

When someone unembarassedly switches from one justification of what he’s doing to a diametrically opposite one without any evident discomfort (e.g. from “Bring Democracy to the Middle East” to “Exterminate the Brutes” — not an uncommon switch) it’s reasonable to assume that the first reason wasn’t real.

My notion of “hidden agenda” might have been little sloppy. Besides the conscious real reason supported by consciously dishonest arguments, I also used it to designate the incoherent but real emotional motivation standing behind a swarm of implausible rationalizations.

Apparently you guys just came here from your psychology class, and perhaps you have been told somewhere that it’s bad to talk about hidden agendas. In the political world hidden agendas are not rare beasts.

31

H. E. Baber 03.02.07 at 4:48 am

What went wrong was the refusal to “blame the victims”–the bloodthirsty, bigoted, tribal masses under Saddam’s thumb who, predictably, set about beating up one another as soon as the thumb was lifted.

The rhetoric of spreading “freedom and democracy” struck a chord because because Americans had faith that liberal democracy was the natural state of things, that the common people everywhere were decent, tolerant and peaceful, and that all the misery and violence in nasty places like Iraq was the doing of evil dictators and their cronies. Get rid of those evil people in power and their victims, the masses, would bless us and immediately set about establishing a democratic, pro-Western government.

All the US and its allies did was to unseat one tribal warlord and now the others are fighting for turf. The losers are the educated elite. Airlift them out, give them green cards, settle them in the US, pull the troops out, and let the tribes wage war amongst themselves, as they’ve been doing for millennia, until they bomb their own country into the stone age–which is where they want it.

32

Fledermaus 03.02.07 at 4:58 am

Emerson, I’m not grasping the distinction here, at least up to the Hollywood and pop music bit – that one is rather odd.

Dan,

I’m no John Emerson. But I’ll give a stab a what he was going for here. There was and remains a class of war supporter that was convinced the war was a good thing because of the people who opposed it. I mean they are probably inclined to support most wars but the fact that Iraq pissed off all the right people – Sean Penn, ANSWER, Jane Fonda and so forth – convinced them that they were on the right track is it ticked off so many silly people (helpfully profiled by talk radio). If even the liberal Joe Lieberman supported the war of course it was going to turn out great.

And then they stuck to that position because there was always a new silly person who was opposing the war.

33

John Emerson 03.02.07 at 5:01 am

This column by Glen Greenwald talks about neocons who are unwilling to lay their cards on the table. They’re not willing to put themselves on record as to what should be done in Iran, or why, though they have very definite strong ideas about that. I think that many important hawks have been persistently evasive and dishonest from the beginning.

34

Harald K 03.02.07 at 7:29 am

sglover: “I give Staerk a helluva lot of credit. For me, one of the most dismaying things about the run-up to our grand Mesopotamian adventure was that many of our fellow citizens—people living in a time and place in which information of ALL kinds was never easier to get—were eager to take up the habits of doublethink.”

Stærk is Norwegian, he should have known better. He wasn’t exposed to the war propaganda machine, except as he sought it out on the net.

I remember the other day my brother mentioning in passing that he had been to a demonstration against the Iraq war before it started. It’s the only time I know of that my brother has expressed any political opinion, he’s as moderate as they come. I remember those demonstrations, how huge and politically broad they were. It wasn’t just a bunch of angry leftists, it was a large segment of the population actually going to the drastic step of showing their opinions on the streets, and they were: “No. Please don’t start a preventive war. It won’t work and it’s wrong.”

When I first came across Stærk’s blog, I was impressed that here was a Norwegian who was read by the world. Then I quickly saw that the reason for that was that he not only wrote in American, he thought completely in American terms. On the Norwegian political compass he is (or was?) on the far, far right.

Yes, it’s a good thing he turned around on these issues, and it is to his credit, but to come to his original position, he must have had an enormous contempt for the Norwegian media and the Norwegian political debate, coupled with a (completely unfathomable to me) respect for the US right-wing varieties of those.

And I wondered how long he could keep it up, in the face of some of the US right-wing loonies that posted in his comments sections. It was complete LGF territory.

35

Steve Sailer 03.02.07 at 9:00 am

Part of the reason for the warblogger’s ridiculous over-confidence was that the widespread predictions of doom in October 2001 over the Afghanistan War wrecked the credibility of many anti-war voices.

Having supported the Afghanistan War (as a punitive mission, but not as nation-building) but having been deeply skeptical of the Iraq Attaq from early on, I feel pretty good about my record. But how many others were right about both?

36

Glorious Godfrey 03.02.07 at 10:00 am

For those who are criticizing Staerk, it should be noted that he is regretting mistakes he made (IIRC) when he was a teenager. Which is to say, you are congratulating yourselves on having a better understanding of (essentially) American politics than a Norwegian teenager. Awesome.

The notion that waging war in Mesopotamia is “essentially American politics” goes a long way towards explaining how the whole sordid affair was doomed to turn out, doesn’t it?

I have never been one to congratulate myself for pointing out the obvious, by the way.

For instance, there’s no merit in stating that most attempts to find a common motivation for the pro-war camp become futile if one considers the categories “insider” and “cheerleader”. All insiders were cheerleaders, but not all cheerleaders were insiders.

There are certainly common elements in the thinking of almost all armchair warriors. But the insiders’ ability to act upon them introduces the element of greed.

For instance, there’s that perverse understanding of the notion of progress that says that backwardness, however it is defined, is punishable. The Middle East, it is posited, is a backwater. This easily leads to a sense of entitlement among the insiders.

Then there’s the gross overestimation of America’s military might and of the political usefulness of force in general. The petty cheerleaders mostly seek in that a means to assert their self-perception as hard-nosed, tough, no-nonsense analysts. The disdain for the so-called intellectual left and the post-historical paradises they are supposed to inhabit is clear. The cheerleaders’ jingoism is taken care of, too.

But this is not just a matter of political philosophy. As it happens, America’s monstrous military budget is the biggest barrel of pork in the history of mankind. The insiders’ militarism and their greed become indistinguishable.

Rummy was kind of fond of “force modernization”, wasn’t he? Was his vision associated with budget cuts?

37

bad Jim 03.02.07 at 10:12 am

Fledermaus «32» is surely right that many war supporters were confirmed in their position by the perceived odiousness or silliness of the antiwar demonstrators. It’s odd, though, that they were never bothered by the bloodthirsty racism of some of the war’s loudest supporters.

38

Glorious Godfrey 03.02.07 at 10:23 am

Oh, and the fact that after thirty-odd comments the word “oil” only pops up in one post is not entirely irrelevant. Perhaps it is due to people’s aversion to pointing out the obvious. Or perhaps it shows how difficult it still is to get rid of the conventions of public discourse imposed after 9/11.

39

Hidari 03.02.07 at 10:58 am

‘Part of the reason for the warblogger’s ridiculous over-confidence was that the widespread predictions of doom in October 2001 over the Afghanistan War wrecked the credibility of many anti-war voices.

Having supported the Afghanistan War (as a punitive mission, but not as nation-building) but having been deeply skeptical of the Iraq Attack from early on, I feel pretty good about my record. But how many others were right about both?’

Well you can certainly justify Afghanistan as a punitive mission, but that’s certainly not how it was sold at the time. Au contraire, just recently, Tony Blair: ‘ told reporters he believed Afghan people deserved to live in a democratic country without oppression.’ Not much about punitive missions there.

But this indicates yet another problem about pro-war bloggers (and politicians in general): their short termism. Pessmistic predictions about Iraq and Afghanistan were based (implicitly) on reasonable time scales: i.e. 5-10 years. But the pro-war people seemed to think in terms of weeks or months. In other words, just because Afghanistan hadn’t fallen to pieces within ten minutes of the invasion, it was loudly proclaimed that it was a ‘success’ and that ‘everyone’ who had predicted otherwise was wrong. Likewise in Iraq (this was complicated by the fact that Iraq began to fall to pieces almost immediately), just because the US reached Baghdad (which very very few people had claimed they were not capable of) it was loudly proclaimed that all the nay-sayers were wrong, that the mission was a ‘success’ and so on.

But neither Iraq NOR Afghanistan look so great now, do they?

As far as ‘other motives’ for war bloggers goes, I think the ones that are particularly interesting are those of those on the left who turned right, like Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens. Whatever one thinks about their ideas and philosophies, the idea that they performed this stunning volte-face PURELY for ‘rational’ or ’empirical’ reasons simply can’t be sustained. Hitchens in particular talks about his conversion to neo-conservatism in openly religious language, as though he had had an epiphany (in the original meaning of that word).

Nick Cohen is less messianic, but, at the risk of sounding like a cut price Freudian, he seems to have a huge sense of resentment about his family ‘forcing him’ to grow up as a ‘leftie’, as well as a deep sense of paranoia and a tendency towards conspiracy theories: consider his strident claims that the media are ‘dominated’ by the ‘dhimmi’ left, who are all working behind the scenes to suppress his wonderful book (or whatever).

Of course, both of these men, and others who think like them (like Martin Amis) also simply have a deep and visceral dislike of Arabs and Muslims.

40

Steve LaBonne 03.02.07 at 12:00 pm

Pessimistic predictions about Afghanistan look pretty damn good nowadays. Firt of all, the “Coalition” didn’t win that invasion, it paid the warlords to win it, with predictable consequences for the aftermath which have been amply borne out. Second, it was a complete failure as a “punitive expedition”. The Taliban seems to be in pretty fine fettle these days, and by the way where’s bin Laden?

41

Roy Belmont 03.02.07 at 12:21 pm

H.E. Baber-
“…and let the tribes wage war amongst themselves, as they’ve been doing for millennia, until they bomb their own country into the stone age—which is where they want it…”
Hidari-
“…a deep and visceral dislike of Arabs and Muslims.”
Well yes.
It seems important that people not stumble into the ready-made pitfall of the invasion of Iraq being all and only a total mistake.
It is a mistake by the publicly-stated aims of the perpetrators, but they’ve proven themselves to be consistently truth-deficient, and secretive, conniving villains in gross.
Iraq may well bear a feasible and desired outcome as it is now – broken, fragmenting, with a puppet military that’s no threat to anyone in the region but other Iraqis. This is a country that threw missiles into Israel during the first Gulf War, no? Won’t be doing that again anytime soon, though, will they?
So the task isn’t really to adjudicate the already-accomplished whatever-it-is that’s happened to Iraq – nice to see at least some right thinking minds recognize their lapses, but we’re not through here, the hour’s late, and there’s much more work to be done.

42

John Emerson 03.02.07 at 12:29 pm

I didn’t actually think my assertion that hidden agendas were involved would be that controversial. It’s documented now that Iraq was in Bush’s sights the day he was elected, and that PNAC was targetting Iraq two or three years before that. 9/11 was stirred into prowar arguments which already existed. Democracy, humanitarianism, and WMD were added as needed.

The word “oil” is taboo and isn’t the whole story, but it was a geopolitical (=~ “imperialist”) war. There was also the monopolar window of opportunity when the US had world military preponderance — “This is our chance to….do something or another”.

Fledermaus is about right. Warbloggers very quickly slipped into weird attacks on disfavored sorts of Americans. The reconstruction of American society by the marginalization of liberals and destruction of political and cultural liberalism may have been the most important goal for most of them.

43

Uncle Kvetch 03.02.07 at 3:22 pm

I don’t understand the invective directed at Peter Beinart, above. By February, 2003, a month before bombs started falling, the guys was already writing, “hey guys, this isn’t going to work, they have no reconstruction plan.”

Yes, and so he deftly switched from “pro-war” to “anti-anti-war,” a shift that has exceedingly common among our chattering classes these past few years.

Beinart’s sole mission at this point is to ensure that the catastrophe of Iraq not sour Americans on the general necessity of travelling long distances to kill foreigners at great expense. With so many “good wars” still out there waiting to be fought, it’s critical that the American people not start thinking too hard about what war, and what it’s good for.

44

Uncle Kvetch 03.02.07 at 3:23 pm

“a shift that has been exceedingly common”

45

yabonn 03.02.07 at 5:04 pm

I’m explaining the world view of these culture warriors, it wasn’t meant to be my own view.

I had understood these were part of the essential ideas of the culture warriors you still shared, but i misread.

Apologies, then.

46

Chalmers 03.02.07 at 6:04 pm

Answer to Sailer, how many were right about both?
Lots–including about half the Democrats in Congress.

Probably on balance intervention in Afghanistan was justified. But even that one isn’t a slamdunk. Al Qaeda seems still to have a reasonably secure base in the region.

But it was the Iraq war that brought it back from near total discreditation among extreme Muslims.

We need a theory of war, that provides a compelling rationale for restraining ourselves. Something like realist theory, derived from Waltz, who opposed intervention in Vietnam, in the Gulf, and in Iraq.

We need in particular to be able to say why even if states like Iraq and Iran and North Korea DO acquire nuclear weapons, we can live with that prospect. If their having the Bomb canNOT be lived with, then there will remain a compelling case for more wars. (Though there is yet more compelling case–if their having nuclear weapons is so fearsome–for offering them large positive incentives to forgo building them.)

Letting the assumption “rogue states getting nuclear weapons is a casus belli” go unchallenged is fraught with danger.

47

Grand Moff Texan 03.02.07 at 6:07 pm

you are congratulating yourselves on having a better understanding of (essentially) American politics than a Norwegian teenager

Regardless of origin, the idea of “European political correctness is annoying, let’s go kill Arabs” is stupid even for a teenager.
.

48

Barry 03.02.07 at 6:24 pm

Another answer to Steve Sailer:

The overwhelming majority (90%?) of the American people supported the invasion of Afghanistan; about two-thirds opposed the invasion of Iraq. So that gives just over half of the American people were right.

49

nick s 03.02.07 at 6:37 pm

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

Indeed.

I think we’ve gone past the stage where mea culpa was acceptable. We’re at the point where ‘mea culpa… and I’m sitting the discussion of the next war out’ would be helpful. It’s become commonplace to joke about Steven den Beste’s decision to devote his purple pen to anime, but at least that won’t lead to WSJ op-eds on grand strategy against Iran.

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nick s 03.02.07 at 6:45 pm

And it’s educative to see #31 confirming #30. Lord Melvyn had an ‘In Our Time’ about Heart of Darkness the other week; I think Nostromo is the better parallel, but it’s a longer book and didn’t get the Coppola treatment.

My take is that the ‘incompetence dodge’ better applies to Afghanistan. Then again, I remember listening to World Service reports in the early 1990s, when the country had been left to the warlords.

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roger 03.02.07 at 8:02 pm

I think the guy who rights Belgravia dispatch is a much more impressive penitant. His question is a lot deeper than how did we support the invasion – it is, how did we enable the criminal mishandling of the occupation. He accepts the fact that the warbloggers did intervene in the war, and almost always malignly, by supporting every mis-step now blamed on Bush – the exclusion of real Iraqi participation, the taking of power by the U.S. exclusively from the very beginning, the frenzy about imposing a neo-liberal regime on Iraq, the support for Rumsfeld and the catcalling of those who criticized the response to the looting, the defense of the De-baathification meausures, the defense of the contracts handed out to Halliburtan and crew, the support for the idea that the war was over except for a few deadenders, the thirst to split up Iraq’s resources and divvy them out to American companies, the support for the razing of Fallujah, the defense of the almost unbelievable inability of U.S. forces to secure ammoes dumps, the support for the absurd disproportion given to the idea that the insurgency was all about foreign born militants creeping in from syria, the desire to use Iraq as a springboard for more wars, etc. In every case, the warbloggers were on board, and were used as a sort of mob to go after critics. To ask why I supported the war is, at best, an intro to another question: am I guilty of having enabled war crimes in, as Hitches would call it, the “killing fields” of Iraq.

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roger 03.02.07 at 8:02 pm

Oops – “who writes”

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David Bracewell 03.03.07 at 6:41 am

Roger: “I think the guy who rights Belgravia dispatch is a much more impressive penitant. His question is a lot deeper than how did we support the invasion – it is, how did we enable the criminal mishandling of the occupation. “

I find the question of mishandling is a lot shallower.

The invasion was the war crime – regardless of how the occupation was handled. And it permits us to simply ignore the larger questions around using massive violence in pursuit of Western aims and how it is that we, a few rich countries, have arrogated an entirely different and unaccountable set of international norms for ourselves.

The +mishandling+ simply flowed from the reasons the US and the UK went there. It seems to me Iraq was handled very correctly given the aims. What wasn’t acounted for was the reaction to this correct handling.

Without this handling it is hard to see how the US could have got the Iraqi cabinet to pretty much concede, in the last few days, one of the major aims of the invasion – control of its oil. Ditto with regards to ensuring Iraq would not provide a threat to Israel.

This was not just a war against Saddam, but a hostile war in pursuit of Iraqi resources, the dissolution of oil contracts with non-US/UK players and also the fragmentation of Arab power vis-a-vis Israel.

Given its underlying hositility, its total oppositional nature to Iraqi interests and feelings, the handling could only have been done better if they had achieved complete, unnoticed oppression of Iraqis – who presumably would thrive within the bounds of a democracy fulfilling its international (read US) obligations. Like H.G. Wells’ Eloi.

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roger 03.03.07 at 6:56 am

David, I disagree. I think opposition to the war was right, I demonstrated along with everyone else, and the war came. That, however, didn’t close the matter. I know it didn’t because 200-600 thousand Iraqis are dead. I find it rather disconnected to think that all routes after the war was declared lead to 200 to 600 thousand Iraqis being dead. If, say, one of those routes lead to 50 thousand Iraqis being dead, it would be wrong, but much less wrong than the route that lead to what we have now. So, no, apologizing for supporting the invasion is not the deeper move – it is seeing how that support carried over into support all of the routes that lead to the greater and greater number of deaths. To give one example: the support given for the U.S. taking unlateral control of Iraq. I think if the war supporters hadn’t supported that move, if they had vocally been against it, if they had worked to make sure that only a multinational government would be in place in Baghdad, that it might have made a space for the route that would have certainly led to a lower casualty count and a quicker end to the occupation. I don’t think, mind you, that the Bush administration would have paid attention – but I do think the falloff in the cheering section by the end of 2003 would have had a material effect on the way things went in Iraq.

I actually hold this pretty lively anger at the failure of the antiwar movement to move into an anti-occupation movement – to adapt to the war, to make demands that were timely about what was going on, instead of keeping all that virginity intact about opposing the invasion. Because I think that, too, helped kill many many more Iraqis. During the Vietnam war, the antiwar movement was much more adaptable, much more involved in what they wanted on a real time basis. The invasion as the original sin thesis worked – just as it has worked in Christianity – to cover a multitude of after the fall sins.

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David Bracewell 03.03.07 at 7:38 am

Roger:

Well, the Vietnam anti-war movement came much later in a cycle which involved the deaths of a huge number of American servicemen across the class divide. The middle class became fully engaged because many of their kids were either under threat of being drafted, at war or confronting the law.

This antiwar movement was crippled from the beginning by the flight of the pro-war liberals (who in the media dominated the op-ed column inches), a void of accurate information and inadequate democratic tools to bring the governments in the US, UK and Australia to account. No pressure coming from the politicians. And three messianic idiots in Blair, Bush and Howard.

In terms of maintaining our virginity, it seems to me that you can argue both the ethical illegitimacy of the invasion and the need to internationalise the effort – or whatever – without contradiction or even breaking stride. I think many antiwar people did just this.

However, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say “I don’t think, mind you, that the Bush administration would have paid attention”. We were irrelevant. The plausibility of internationalising the effort was utterly lacking from a few standpoints.

– The pro war liberals in the UK, the neocons etc fell in love with a fusion of US military might and democracy. One accompanied the other. They were not the agents for possible change here.

– The UN, which had a grim reputation in Iraq due to sanctions, was blasted out of the place in 2003 and could provide no institutional support. Not acceptable to Iraqis, not offered by nations rendered timorous by a bellicose US who made it perfectly clear that it would not happen.

– Most importantly, it didn’t take a genius to understand that the aims behind invading Iraq were nullified by a move to remove the US from their position of control and thus had no chance of succeeding. It was as likely as the US not going to war in the first place.

In countries like the UK and US where there are few institutional tools for citizens to rein in government power, anything short of a general strike or waves of massive demonstrations would be unlikely to have any effect and the anti-war movement didn’t have that sort of pull with a pretty complacent citizenry.

I don’t think you place enough emphasis on the institutional inertia that was constructed by the US and UK after 911. It has been like righting a huge vessel that was swamped by the thickest type of bullshit. It takes time and patience.

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John Emerson 03.03.07 at 2:31 pm

I second what Donald B. says about institutional inertia. The leaders of the American state machine are constrained only by periodic elections, and if they lie their way to victory they still remain in power. The majority of the foreign-policy / military establishment remains the same, with Democrats and Republicans rotating a few people from a very small pool through at top management level. Brzezinski and Kissinger are fairly similiar people and neither pays attention about American public opinion except as a kind of resistance to overcome.

The American system of representative democracy has lots of safeguards against direct popular control of government, and these have been effective. It used to have safeguards against rash military initiatives by the executive (the mythical or extinct “checks and balances”) , but these have been steadily diminished during the whole life of the republic, and since 1941 the US has been almost continuously mobilized (with a tiny hiccup in 1945).

The state machine has its own logic, and democratic control of the machine is a long shot proposition.

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H. E. Baber 03.03.07 at 5:23 pm

H.E. Baber-
“…and let the tribes wage war amongst themselves, as they’ve been doing for millennia, until they bomb their own country into the stone age—which is where they want it…”
Hidari-
“…a deep and visceral dislike of Arabs and Muslims.”
Well yes.

You bet. I have a deep and visceral dislike of all people who are not members of the educated, cosmopolitan elite committed to Enlightenment values–including the American working class who have been instrumental in promoting the religious right hereabouts. That’s why I oppose intervening in their tribal clashes. Let these jerks kill one another off–just get the educated middle class out.

Of course, it would be even better if these jerks, in Iraq, the US, and elsewhere had the wherewithall to join the educated, cosmopolitan elite committed to Enlightenment values. But removing their local demogogues, dictators and warlords, bombing them and bulldozing their countries isn’t going to do that.

I’m not a racist–I’m a snob.

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roger 03.03.07 at 5:59 pm

Oh Mr. Baber, you aren’t a snob. You are an advocate of mass murder. Pretty simple, actually.

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Chris Bertram 03.03.07 at 6:22 pm

I think it’s Ms Baber (signatory of the Euston Manifesto, I believe).

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H. E. Baber 03.03.07 at 6:59 pm

Actually it’s Dr. Baber–I’m a snob.

I’ve consistently opposed the Iraq war from the start, in fact before the start when I demonstrated against it with about 30 people, when no one else seemed to be paying any attention.

So, roger, if pulling out now and bailing out Iraqis who will be targeted as collaborators is mass murder–what do you propose? Hanging in to police Iraq until the war of all against all is over–in the long run when we’re all dead?

I thought that what was going on now was mass murder. You think it it would be worse if we pulled out and let the warlords and gang-leaders sort it out amongst themselves–without American presence to provoke additional violence on top of that?

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roger 03.03.07 at 7:54 pm

Glad you asked, dr. H.E. “I approve of mass murder” Baber. I propose – cease fire talks. I know, how wimpy – nothing like glorying in armed gangs killing each other. But there will be no peace without peace talks. There will be no peace talks as long as the Americans keep a, trying to divide and conquer, and b., struggle desperately to nail Iraq to an illegally constructed constitution made specifically to weaken the central government and having the predictable effect of creating regional power struggles. Cease fire would involve talks between all parties in Iraq – the preliminary to it would be self policing by each party. Would this work? I don’t know. I do know that, as long as the cease fire suggestion is kept so far out of the discourse that nobody is suggesting it, it won’t have a chance. And I also know that eventually, as in Lebanon, there will be cease fire talks.

I am a little surprised that you are a doctor. Although I shouldn’t be. The articulate advocates of mass murder in the twentieth century were often Doctors.

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engels 03.03.07 at 8:22 pm

Dr Baber – I’m all for getting the US out of Iraq, but I think your remarks about the Iraqi people, not to mention working class people in America, and their purported desire to return their country to the Stone Age, are really quite offensive. As pointed out above, they echo the sentiments of rightwing imperialists, or embittered ex-imperialists, through the ages. You seem to be trying to place the blame for the ongoing tragedy in Iraq with ordinary Iraqis, when in truth it lies squarely on the shoulders of the US, including its “enlightened” middle classes.

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David Bracewell 03.03.07 at 10:09 pm

Engels: “when in truth it lies squarely on the shoulders of the US, including its “enlightened” middle classes.”

Especially its enlightened classes. This mess is a construct of US exceptionalism and perogative. It’s been around a lot longer than the massive power of the evangelical right and its form of US exceptionalism. Just as the Sunni/Shiite divide had not exploded into the present chaos until the neo-con agenda of divide and rule (generated by feckless kids of rich fathers and elite university educations, if you look at most of their backgrounds) came to Iraq. This has in turn been exploited by feckless kids of rich Saudi Arabian and Egyptian fathers who sent their kids off to ‘enlightened’, secular educations at Europe’s and the US’s top colleges.

Given this, Baber, we should be jetting out the working class Iraqis and leaving the rich feckless kids to sort it out between each other.

These bloody messes are given further life by idiots like those who signed the Euston manifesto demonising entire peoples except if they act in an ‘enlightened’ manner.

The enlightenment was an enormously complex thing but one of its chief hallmarks was that it relied utterly on exploiting a large part of the world and its people in order to thrive.

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Michael C. Rush 03.03.07 at 11:25 pm

>>Who were these people? They were us.

Sorry, no. They were the shallow, the callow, and the terrified. In other words, exactly the people who should have never been placed in positions of responsibility and decision-making in the first place.

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