Gettier Your War On

by John Holbo on August 9, 2007

We might test judgment by asking, on the issue of Iraq, who best anticipated how events turned out. But many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology. They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.

The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty … [ok, enough of that.]

Others have picked on him already, but this Ignatieff fellow, with his ‘yes, they had justified, true belief that the war was a bad idea, but it didn’t amount to knowledge’ line, is … well. (Alternative post title: when life gives you lemons, make false lemma-ade. Maybe that’s the analytic philosopher in me talking.)

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08.10.07 at 6:40 pm

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1

Amardeep 08.09.07 at 1:42 pm

That Ignatieff column has about ten too many “great quotes from famous men” for my taste. It’s an especially silly way to write when his ostensible argument is, “academics don’t have a good grip on reality.” He sounds like an academic wearing a shoddy politician’s toupee.

And: doesn’t the fact that his experience is with Canadian politics seriously qualify the relevance of his commentary for American readers?

2

"Q" the Enchanter 08.09.07 at 1:45 pm

But Ignatieff’s saying our belief wasn’t justified, because it was based all and only on ideology. On his take, we merely had true belief.

Which, come to think of it, still ain’t nothing, ya’ know. In this case at least, I think I’d rather have been lucky and right.

3

Nick L 08.09.07 at 1:48 pm

Although I don’t think the structure of the argument is prima facia absurb (plenty of people believe or predict true things for stupid reasons), I’m confused why anyone would think that ‘the president was only after the oil’ is an absurd explanation of the reasons behind the Iraq war. What events exactly are supposed to have shown that this position has been irrefutably falsified?

4

Steve LaBonne 08.09.07 at 2:06 pm

I’m more interested (if that’s the word) in the fact that we’re repeating all the same stages of the buildup to war, this time with Iran, and nobody is doing a damn thing about it.

5

dsquared 08.09.07 at 2:17 pm

because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.

btw, I think I am prepared to stick up for this as a general decision heuristic certainly no worse than “expat politicians should always be believed unquestioningly”. And with even a slight adjustment to replace “America” with “America, when governed by the Republican Party”, it actually becomes pretty bloody good.

I mean, as I believe I have only said about a zillion times, can anyone give me a single example from the George W Bush presidency when the rule “believe that (the government of) America is always and in every situation wrong” would have led you to make an important mistake? Maybe Afghanistan, but even that’s looking more debatable every day.

6

Sk 08.09.07 at 2:21 pm

“You know that things are going better in Iraq when even the Democrats begin to acknowledge it. One senator said U.S. troops are routing out al-Qaida in parts of Iraq. Another insisted President Bush’s plan to increase troops has caused tactical momentum. One even went so far on Wednesday as to say the argument could be made that U.S. troops are winning.

These are not Bush-backing GOP die-hards, but Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Bob Casey and Jack Reed. Even Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, said progress was being made by soldiers.”

Sk

7

clyde mnestra 08.09.07 at 2:22 pm

Isn’t the problem with the opening line — namely, that no one sensible thinks that judgment is tested solely by guessing the outcome? The problem is that many predicted the outcome and explained why it would happen, and were correct in both regards.

He may eventually get there in speaking about “the motives that led to the action,” but that’s an odd way of putting (to a layperson).

8

Barry 08.09.07 at 2:27 pm

SK, what you say would be reasonable, if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve heard such happy happy talk all the way down. BTW, Democratic politicians have frequently been willing to, ah, orally service the administration.

IIRC, surge supporters are claiming as good news that some (recorded) levels of violence are only at last year’s level.

9

Katherine 08.09.07 at 2:31 pm

Couple of questions SK – (a) what is the source and the timing of that quote and (b) is that you saying that Iraq is going quite well actually, or making some point or other about Democratic politicians?

10

Steve LaBonne 08.09.07 at 2:34 pm

To evaluate the meaningfulness of the happy talk, just ask the happy-talkers to describe in any kind of detail the situation on the ground which would, in their minds, constitute the “victory” or “stabilization” or whatever which would finally enable us to get out. Then be prepared for either an outpouring of purest fantasy, or a lot of stuttering and stammering (or most likely some combination of the above.)

11

clyde mnestra 08.09.07 at 2:34 pm

“can anyone give me a single example from the George W Bush presidency when the rule “believe that (the government of) America is always and in every situation wrong” would have led you to make an important mistake?”

The problem with this test, as the Afghanistan point suggests, is that the jury may still be out on important matters: e.g., Iran, North Korea, Lebanon. The rule tells us that Bush is wrong in each case (and could well be), but who can yet say?

12

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 2:39 pm

When Ignatieff says ‘it was not just about oil’ I guess that he means ‘it was also justified on human rights grounds’ and was, therefore, ‘a bit like a humanitarian intervention.’ I think, though, that he is wrong even within his own terms of reference.

According to Ignatieff, approval of the UN security council is not always necessary, to legitimate the use of force because he thinks that this body should not have the final say on humanitarian interventions. Attempts to devise an alternative to UN authorisation for such interventions revolve around issues such as ‘just cause’, ‘correct authority’, ‘right intentions’, ‘necessity’, ‘likely outcome’ and ‘proportionality’.

However, the US actually argued the invasion was justified on grounds of ‘self-defence’ and the main argument that most people had against it was about this proposition (WMD, links to Al-Qaeda, etc.).

Some people may have opposed it on other grounds (claiming that it was ‘all about oil, for example) while others may have supported it on ‘human rights’ grounds (either at the time or subsequently).

However, that was not the main issue being debated and for the latter argument to be taken seriously, its proponents have to explain how the intervention clears the bars mentioned above.

Presumably, he is saying that if it had ‘just been about oil’ he would not have supported it, but that is no defence against the charge of ‘likely outcome’.

13

engels 08.09.07 at 2:56 pm

I’ve said this before but I’m a tedious person so I’ll repeat it.

Starting an aggressive was is not something you do on the balance of probabilities. Lack of knowledge about the consequences of the Iraq project was a good enough reason to oppose it.

As for the claim that some people on the anti-war side believed stupid things, they may have done but unlike Ignatieff they made the right decision, which is the important thing from a moral point of view. Ignatieff is like a guy who got arrested for drunk driving complaining that the only reason the driver in front wasn’t over the limit too was that he hadn’t realised he was drinking low alchohol beer.

Finally, left politics is a mass political movement. Although I am afraid Ignatieff will be shocked to learn this, there are many people within that movement who do not read Foreign Affairs on a regular basis and did not care to predict the number of days it would take to capture Baghdad. But anti-war sentiment is built into the DNA of the mainstream left, in its culture and traditions. You can call this “ideology” if you want – the Decents probably do, as it is one of the things they find most irritating about the traditional left – but it is far more praiseworthy than the “unprejudiced” reasoning of the war’s supporters. What people on the traditional left knows is that wars are terrible things which have to be opposed on principle, in all but exceptional circumstances, and that our governments stated rationales for such wars have to be treated with the utmost suspicion. Bush and Blair failed to convince them that these were such circumstances and so the presumption against going to war prevailed. Unfortunately, people like Ignatieff have unencumbered themselves of any such strong “ideological” presumption against aggression, with disastrous results in his case.

14

bi 08.09.07 at 2:59 pm

“yes, they had justified, true belief that the war was a bad idea, but it didn’t amount to knowledge”

Or as I like to put it: I’m wrong, but I’m still right!

15

Xanthippas 08.09.07 at 3:01 pm

The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action.

Well, since about 90% of the people who opposed the war also didn’t trust the motives of the people rushing us towards it, then I guess that means that all those anti-war nuts were right anyway…despite yet another column in which a moron tries to explain how they were actually wrong because they were right for the wrong reasons, unlike he, who was wrong for the wrong reasons.

Or, in the real world, many people were opposed to the war because they didn’t trust the Bush administration and others opposed it because they thought it was a bad idea, and both of those groups overlap, and they were all right.

16

clyde mnestra 08.09.07 at 3:04 pm

“As for the claim that some people on the anti-war side believed stupid things, they may have done but unlike Ignatieff they made the right decision, which is the important thing from a moral point of view. Ignatieff is like a guy who got arrested for drunk driving complaining that the only reason the driver in front wasn’t over the limit too was that he hadn’t realised he was drinking low alchohol beer.”

Why can’t we stick to good reasons for condemning this essay? If by “right decision” you mean what Ignatieff means — correct necessarily only in its prediction — it’s hard to believe that’s the important thing from a moral point of view.

As to the analogy, Ignatieff *thinks* he’s like the guy who was arrested for drunk driving after believing (mistakenly) he was drinking low alcohol beer, while the guy in front got off scot-free because he actually drank low alcohol beer (but tried to drink Jagermeister).

Sorry for being troll-like.

17

mpatterson 08.09.07 at 3:04 pm

Aside from the fact that I don’t know anyone who thinks that the US is always and in every situation wrong, don’t the big neocon and Bushite backers of this adventure profess an ideological belief that the US is always and in every situation right? They wave their “god is on our side” banner rather proudly, don’t you think?

18

Hidari 08.09.07 at 3:20 pm

Isn’t it funny that only two or three years ago this thread would have immediately filled up with Decents insisting that the invasion of Iraq was clearly a triumphant success and that anyone who doubted this was obviously in the pay of Saddam Hussein (or possibly Osama Bin Laden), and yet now these people are conspicuous by their absence? But if, as Ignatieff seems to imply his decision to support the war was based on Socratic logical analysis (as opposed to his opponents, who ‘indulged in ideology’) then surely these arguments should hold up regardless of the empirical data?

After all Ignatieff’s recantation couldn’t possibly be explained by anything as simple as his desire to be on the winning side, could it?

19

engels 08.09.07 at 3:22 pm

Clyde – What?

20

engels 08.09.07 at 3:41 pm

Clyde – I am sorry but your objection to my comment does not make much sense to me. If you can recast it in a more comprehensible way, please feel free to do so, but I would request that you leave out inane rhetorical questions like “Why can’t we stick to good reasons for condemning this essay?” which do not add anything to the content of your post but merely suggest that you think that the person with whom you are conversing must be stupid and/or dishonest. Thanks.

21

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 4:06 pm

Sorry to come back again, but I am not sure if I agree with the points advanced about ‘where are all the decents?’, ‘the US is always wrong’ and the ‘left is always right to oppose aggressive wars’.

If ‘decency’ is defined as supporting the invasion of Iraq, fine. But does it mean never supporting the use of force, never supporting it without UN approval, never supporting it when the US also supports it or what? Is everyone here really comfortable defending UN inaction in Rwanda or the arms blockade against Bosnia-Herzegovina?

22

lemuel pitkin 08.09.07 at 4:23 pm

Sure, our opposition was maybe based on ideology — but then doesn’t the fact that we were right say something about the usefulness of our ideology?

In other words, “America is always and in every situation wrong” when launching unprovoked wars strikes me as a very good guiding principle. Much better and more reliable than evaluating each unprovoked war “on the merits”.

Conor Foley and others: wouldn’t the world be a much better place if the US had stayed out of both Iraq and Kosovo, than as it is?

23

Grand Moff Texan 08.09.07 at 4:24 pm

They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.

The above assertion is juvenile and baseless. I opposed the war because I knew it was based on false premises. I was right because I carefully examined the evidence and found it wanting.

That’s what thinking people do.
.

24

lemuel pitkin 08.09.07 at 4:29 pm

Also,

Starting an aggressive was is not something you do on the balance of probabilities. Lack of knowledge about the consequences of the Iraq project was a good enough reason to oppose it.

is exactly right. A very strong presumption against aggressive war may be ideologically, but it’s also the substantively correct view to hold.

And yes, that means we “miss” some “good” interventions. So what? The people for who this is a concern, I’m willing to say ad hominemly, are much more interested in their chance to support a war than in whatever good it’s supposed to produce.

There is a very, very long lists of ways to improve the state of the world that don’t involve cruise missiles.

25

lemuel pitkin 08.09.07 at 4:32 pm

Is everyone here really comfortable defending UN inaction in Rwanda or the arms blockade against Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Folks who bring up Rwanda in this context are really being dishonest if they don’t mention that there was intervention there, by the French — on the wrong side.

26

engels 08.09.07 at 4:38 pm

Conor – If that’s directed at me, I think that the use of force can be justified (I am not a pacifist) and I am a supporter of the principle of humanitarian intervention. The point I was trying to make is that part of the mission of the “decent left” (in the broadest sense which would include people I have a lot of respect for) as I see it, was to attack the “reflexive”, “ideological” pacifism of the traditional left, which they believed (perhaps rightly) to lead to inertia on occasions when intervention was called for. I think this may have been a mistake, or at least that they may have gone too far. As I said, leftwing politics is a mass movement which by its nature contains irrational (or less than fully rational) elements, simplifications, sloganeering, “ideology”, and so on. Some people did oppose the war for reasons which do not bear academic analysis. However, this institutional bias of the popular left against war imo on the whole a good thing, in part because acts as a counterweight to militaristic forces which always exist in a modern state. I do think the experience of the last few years ought to be a chastening one for anyone who had set himself the task of “enlightening” the traditional left by attacking their anti-war prejudices, which is one of the things I felt the “decent left” (like I said, in a broad, non-pejorative sense) were trying to do.

I think that Ignatieff is continuuing that project, and in a rather crude way, in his piece, when he accuses the opposition to the war of being ideologically driven and therefore, it seems, unworthy of being credited for having been in the right on this occasion.

27

engels 08.09.07 at 4:41 pm

Lemual gets what I am trying to say, although I suspect I might be more sympathetic to intervention in general than he is.

28

Joel Turnipseed 08.09.07 at 4:58 pm

Engels at 26 is about 97.6 percent right about the opposition Left… the 2.4 percent wrong (not attributing, btw, to you Engels) is epitomized in Lemuel Pitkin’s ridiculously over-simplified outrage at 25. To sum up “our” or “the West’s” involvement or lack of involvement in the Rwandan genocide by saying, simply, that the French intervened in support of the Hutu genocide is just. plain. silly. It’s true that the French trained and supported the FAR, but I’m not sure it’s true, beyond brokering a late transport of weapons into the country, that they supported the FAR all the way through the genocide–and to leave out the attempts of the U.N. forces on the ground to intervene (or the shame–especially relevant in this context–of the U.S. veto on intervention), attempts that cost the lives of U.N. forces, is cherry-picking at it’s very best (or: worst).

29

Joel Turnipseed 08.09.07 at 5:04 pm

all of which is to say: forget Gettier’s five page paper (though you’re right, John, Ignatieff’s piece does sort of take that form), it would be far more interesting to see a detailed history of this debate that took Aristotle’s Rhetoric as it’s guide–and that was aware of how often Nietzsche’s “every party has a member who so toes the party line that he commits the others to apostasy” rears its appropriate–all-too-appropriate head.

30

engels 08.09.07 at 5:07 pm

To put it another way: I suppose if you are a Decent (in the broad sense) then I imagine it must really get on your nerves when you hear people saying stuff like “War, what is it good for?”, “No blood for oil!”, etc, etc, as this seems like a gross simplification of an issue which calls for detailed, academic, cost-benefit analysis and an appreciation that these issues are never black and white, etc. Well, it doesn’t irritate me. I’m very grateful we have those people. and their anti-war “prejudices”. This isn’t to say that I think they are right to claim that war is always wrong, just that I don’t think that publically ridiculing them will make the world a better place.

The anti-war culture of the left is to my mind a very valuable thing and I would think very carefully before attacking it, and I would never do so with the messianic certainty with which some of the “decent left” brought to the task.

31

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 5:12 pm

Lemuel: Well I have no problems in opposing unprovoked wars (by anyone) and no problems agreeing that the situation in Iraq is worse than before. These are straw men.

On balance, I would agree that the intervention in Kosovo made things worse but do you not agree that the west’s neglect of the human rights situation there between 1989 and 1999 was also a mistake? I think if you apply Ignatieff’s argument here than it makes more sense (at least to me).

I am not being dishonest in not mentioning in Operation Turquoise. There were two UN interventions in Rwanda and both failed. Likewise the various UN resolutions on BiH were a cumulative disaster. I am not sure what your point is here?

There are so many conflicts that cost so many lives and which could quite probably have been ended by outside intervention that it is difficult to respond to your ‘so what?’ question. Words completely fail me at the sentence that follows.

Engels: which begs the question of what is an ‘unprovoked war’ and what is a ‘humanitarian intervention’? For all the obvious reasons we can agree that Iraq was more the former than the latter, but what really does define the latter? Is it UN approval, is it something like the formulation I used above, does it depend on the certainty of success or what?

32

luc 08.09.07 at 5:12 pm

As for decency, I’m still going for the original from Walzer:

“[a] way of escaping the politics of guilt and resentment”

No guilt about the dead, no resentment about power politics, war and empire. That is decency.

The UN does support the use of force, but has strict rules about it. Following strict rules instead of trusting the decency of some has many advantages. Even if those rules can sometimes be overly restrictive.

And now that it has been shown that following the rules would have led to a better outcome, it’s even sadder to see the UN pushed further into the mud by using hypotheticals about Rwanda and Bosnia.

33

bi 08.09.07 at 5:17 pm

Wait a minute. What’s so “decent” about a “decent left” which insists on a “detailed, academic, cost-benefit analysis”… and then _utterly fails to provide one?_

Grand Moff Texan got it right: the war was based on false premises. Saddam was dangerous because he owned WMD… which couldn’t be found. “We” had a post-war plan to bring democracy and human rights to Iraq… except “we” didn’t have any post-war plan. Iraq will see less people killed… not.

What’s so “decent” about anyone who chooses to ignore these facts, and then conclude from nowhere that the war _might_ be a good thing after all?

34

roger 08.09.07 at 5:18 pm

So, Conor Foley – if you are really a humanitarian interventionist, surely now is the time to agitate for grants in aid in the billions of pounds to those countries taking in Iraqis from our last “humanitarian intervention”, right? Those countries would be Syria, Iran and Jordan. Where’s the CIF column on this?

Three off the top of my head items on the list of humanitarian interventions that would do some good:
a. ending the attempt to enforce U.S. IP rights on third world countries via the World Bank and the IMF;
B. ending the seizure – since that is what it amounts to – of the atmospheric commons by the developed countries, whose production of CO2 is threatens a much greater human toll than ten Rwandas put together.
c. ending the cartel agricultural monopoly that allows companies like Monsanto to saturate, say, the Indian market with seeds for plants that don’t reseed – thus sending farmers into endless spirals of debt.

Now, in actuality, I don’t suppose you or any organization you belong to will seriously do anything about those items, because it would injure the comfort and affluence of the governing class in the developed countries. The U.S. and U.K. will continue, in big ways and small, to coddle the car driver. They will greedily bust any third world company that tries to manufacture cheaper drugs. And they will pursue foreign policy that is hand in glove with companies like Monsanto, inflicting, as always, immense misery on the rural areas of third world countries. Ho hum. But the exciting prospect of using weapons like little crusaders will, I imagine, make you jump up and down for joy.

Myself, I think that the liberal interventionists do someday have to come to terms with the fact that countries, especially powerful countries, aren’t moral entities, and that they have interests that will always get in the way of any longterm occupation for the good of the occupied. A world order in which the US can casually possess and produce any so called WMDs it wants to, or defy treaties on nuclear arms (as it is doing right now with India), while calling for rigorous adherence to such treaties when it suits its purposes (as it is doing with Iran), is a world in which the moral good guys double as mafia like heavies. And I’m very unsympathetic to letting mafia like heavies decide about ‘humanitarian interventions’.

35

engels 08.09.07 at 5:21 pm

Conor, I don’t think it “begs” that question. Surely I can make the points I have made without addressing the issue of exactly what qualifies as a humanitarian intervention (which I agree is a difficult one), can’t I?

36

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 5:27 pm

Roger: have you actually read any of my columns from Brazil?

Engels: my point was exactly that. It is difficult ins’t it?

37

engels 08.09.07 at 5:38 pm

Conor – You and I both agree that (i) humanitarian interventions can be justified and (ii) stating the exact conditions for them is difficult. I’m not sure why you think this contradicts anything I have written above.

38

engels 08.09.07 at 5:42 pm

…which isn’t to say that such an argument can not be made, just that you haven’t made it, and that I’m not going to fill in the gaps for you.

39

engels 08.09.07 at 5:50 pm

Sorry, #38 is impolite. I shouldn’t have pressed post so quickly.

40

clyde mnestra 08.09.07 at 5:50 pm

engels, re. #20:

As to my “inane rhetorical question,” it was not rhetorical — I can’t figure out why the wrong formalist arguments are made against this essay, when there are other grounds. So I don’t think it implies that anyone is stupid or dishonest. As to the lecture about focusing on content and minding my manners, well, see “inane”; it’s also a little rich to single out my comment, given the penchant around here for totally non-substantive snark, as in the BBC post. But I never intended to be rude.

To explain: You concede for the sake of discussion that some on the anti-war side may have believed stupid things but at least they were right in the end, which is the important thing from a moral point of view. My answer was that that if you’re talking about Ignatieff’s claim (as you explicitly were), I think he addressed the subset of people who were (supposedly) wrong on just about everything except that Iraq would be a disaster. I am resisting the notion that their “decision” (oppose the war) was “right,” and morally superior, regardless of its reasoning. (However, I do not agree with Ignatieff that one had to be able to explain the war’s motives accurately in order to be exercising good judgment.)

I think the attempted correction to your analogy is clear enough, and again focuses on Ignatieff’s claim, as I thought you were: he thinks both drivers may have made mistakes, but one (him) just happened to be unlucky on the facts.

41

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 5:51 pm

Engels: I don’t think it does and am not sure where I implied otherwise. What I said at 12 was that even if the invasion of Iraq had been advanced on humanitarian terms it was indefensible even on those grounds. What I said at 21 was that, but that still leaves open the question as to how do you define a humanitarian intervention. I repeated the same point at 31. And I implied that Roger is an idiot at 36.

42

engels 08.09.07 at 6:15 pm

Clyde – “Why can’t we stick to good reasons for condemning this essay?” is a rhetorical question. It suggests that it is obvious that the reasons people are giving here are not good ones and that the interesting question is “why” they should be behaving in such a patently irrational way. That kind of “argument” is indeed inane.

I am resisting the notion that their “decision” (oppose the war) was “right,” and morally superior, regardless of its reasoning.

Well, I think you are wrong about this. Intentions count for a lot but actions count for a lot more. Despite what you say, the example I gave does suggest this: the second driver was not guilty of drunk driving but the first one was.

43

tveb 08.09.07 at 6:15 pm

Moral of the story: intellectuals who pontificate from their abodes in “prestigious” institutions of higher learning, especially about statecraft and such, are actually hacks whose job it is to justify state power. They also tend to set up multiple straw people in their arguments to beat others with (like Mr. Ignatieff’s straw leftists who think “america” (whatever that means) is always “wrong” (whatever that means.

44

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.09.07 at 6:20 pm

There were large protests in Europe over the invasion of Afghanistan, and they weren’t right about that. Which is why it is difficult to credit the same arguments when used about Iraq. There were additional arguments re: Iraq that were more correct, and people should be given credit for those.

In VERY broad brush, the following arguments were crap:

Opposition based on ‘war for oil’

Opposition based on the idea that the sanctions were working by the same people who complained about how mean the sanctions were in 1996,1997,1998,1999, 2000, and 2001. (Note I am NOT saying that everyone who used a ‘sanctions are working’ argument falls in this catagory).

Opposition based on a lack of nuclear programs by people who were not willing to force inspections. (Again this isn’t everyone, but if you look closely it is a lot of people. The UN Security Council was NOT willing to force inspections until Bush forced their hand by making it clear he was going to invade).

Opposition based on the difficulty of defeating Saddam. (This was a surprising number of people)

Opposition based on the likelyhood of getting a broader based coalition to use against Saddam (The wishful thinking d-squared argument).

In very broad brush, this argument had some merit:

Opposition based on the idea that letting Saddam murder and rape people at whim with small scale genocide every eight years or so was better for Iraq and no more dangerous for the rest of the world than the likely civil war after you got rid of him.

45

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.09.07 at 6:23 pm

Whoops this argument also had merit:

Opposition by people who said that sanctions work to deter the nuclear program AND were not working to undermine them AND who supported inspections during the 1998-2002 period before Bush actually had troops right on the edge of invasion. (This group is A LOT smaller than people like to pretend now.).

46

engels 08.09.07 at 6:24 pm

Conor: I agree with what you said in #12. I didn’t understand the significance of your twice pointing out to me that it is difficult to agree on what a (justified) humanitarian intervention is, a point which I accept. I had assumed that you meant this point to be an objection to something I had written; fair enough if that wasn’t the intention, but then I can’t really see what you were getting at.

47

Barry 08.09.07 at 6:25 pm

“Folks who bring up Rwanda in this context are really being dishonest if they don’t mention that there was intervention there, by the French—on the wrong side.”

Posted by lemuel pitkin

They’re also dishonest if they don’t mention that the GOP was overwhelmingly opposed to any US intervention. This meant that any such intervention was a political dead issue with the USA.

48

clyde mnestra 08.09.07 at 6:29 pm

engels,

I intended to show, not simply ask, why the reasons you proffered were not especially good — that’s what followed. So your umbrage is mystifying to me — particularly, again, compared to others. The question wasn’t itself an argument; you may go ahead and condemn it as an “inane argument” if you wish, and I would agree.

If I could rephrase to make it less offensive: Why can’t we stick with the many reasons why Ignatieff’s claim is wrong on its facts, instead of making [debatable] protests against its logic? I fear the answer is because of the ivory tower tendencies Ignatieff addresses, which are true in the main, but just don’t happen to redeem him on Iraq.

49

roger 08.09.07 at 6:32 pm

Well, Conor, interesting that you think I’m an idiot. Because I do think that a man who actually has reported on, say, Brazil and the ip monopoly of the major developed power, who has seen that for the last twenty years there has been no movement on it and has given no reason to think that there will be any movement in the next twenty years, but who then claims that these same powers can constitute cuddly humanitarian intervenors is, well, a tool. I’m and idiot, you are a tool – a good place to start.

Idiots come from the Greek, idios – a private person. Not somebody who is bought, or someone whose opinion will maybe get him into a nice, juicy NGO gig. Now, us idiots don’t just read your ever fascinating journalism – although every day I moon over it and compare it to the great writers of the past – Hitchens, Cohen, you know who I mean. The giants. Sometime our eyes stray to things that the wonderful humanitarian power are doing – the 30 billion dollar us arms sale to the Saudis, for instance. The wonderful speechs by Blair in the Gulf states, where he addressed powers who haven’t held elections in, well, 4,000 years to get them all excited for a humanitarian intervention into Iran. Now, being an idiot, I didn’t see the deep logic there that a tool would see – that ability to remain credible, so that I could, well not personally but in the proxy form of some volunteer, prevent the next Rwanda! It must give a tool a nice, tooly feeling, that. Idiots like myself won’t understand. We will think that the tools should have passed, oh, some logic class in which they would understand the implication of the fact that their humanitarian reporting causes absolutely no change in the Developing countries, which continue to plow ahead with their self interested programs. But idiots do expect too much from tools, I guess.

50

tveb 08.09.07 at 6:45 pm

Roger, you forgot to add (in the definition of “tool”): “their reflexive respect for opinions emanating from the mouths of their “leaders”, who after all, have the noblest of intentions, unlike “their” leaders who are all crooks and cannot be trusted.” Examples include the ability to keep a straight face (and not die laughing) when “our” leaders make statements such as “iraq is a grave security threat to the U.S.”, “we are bringing democracy to Iraq”, or “Nicaragua is only about two nights driving distance from Harlingen, Texas’ so they can take us over”, “Contras are the equivalent of our founding fathers”, or better still, “Cuba is a grave threat to the security of the world” (to which the Mexican ambassador replied that forty million Mexicans would die laughing if they heard that).

51

lemuel pitkin 08.09.07 at 6:47 pm

One important point here is the tendency of decents to want to discuss this or that “intervention” in isolation. But you can’t argue that e.g. the U.S. should intervene in Rwanda without also, implicitly or explicitly, arguing that the U.S. should unilaterally intervene in third-world countries. And I am against that principle, it has been enormously destructive over the past 100+ years. More rules, less discretion.

Another weird lacuna in this debate is the omission of history before the end of the Cold War. “Humanitarian intervention”, aka colonialism (which was almost always defended in humanitarian terms) created the modern third world. The end of “intervention” following World War II was one of the greatest instances of genuine human progress in the 20th century. I have a lot more respect for someone like Niall Ferguson, who comes right out and embraces the continuity between imperialism and liberal interventionism, than people like Foley who don’t seem to think the enormous destruction caused by U.S. and European military intervention around the world in past centuries has any relevance for interventions today.

A third point, which Engels touched on in 26 and 30 is that the “right” view in the abstract is not necessarily the right one for a real-world political movement to adopt. Mass movements need clear, simple principles, partly because they are by their nature low-bandwidth organizations, partly because ideas and opinions are part of what constitutes them as movements as well as claims about the world, and partly because a simple set of principles is the only thing that the base can really hold leaders and representatives to. So in terms of popular politics, “no aggressive war” is infinitely superior to “aggressive war only conditions a, b, and c are met” even if the latter might be better if implemented by some benevolent dictator.

52

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 6:51 pm

Roger: I only implied that you were an idiot. Your latest post makes me think that you are a liitle bit mad.

53

tveb 08.09.07 at 6:56 pm

By the way, I did not imply that Foley was a “tool”, just that other elements should be included in the definition. I don’t know much about Foley or whether the moniker applies to him.

54

Joel Turnipseed 08.09.07 at 6:58 pm

lemuel @ 51: very level-headed of you–and I almost unequivocally agree with you. Except…

A slight revision of your history lesson is in order: FDR signed the Montevideo accords, accords which set the basis for non-intervention, in 1933. The U.S. didn’t pull out of Central America and the Caribbean (or grant, a couple years later, the Filipinos their independence charter) for wholly altruistic reasons–but it was a big precedent.

55

lemuel pitkin 08.09.07 at 6:59 pm

tveb: To be fair to everyone, Conor Foley is taking a bit more heat here than he probably deserves (including from me) as a stand-in for much more deserving “decents”, like Ignatieff.

56

lemuel pitkin 08.09.07 at 7:00 pm

Joel @ 54: Correction accepted. “Following World War II” was loose shorthand.

57

roger 08.09.07 at 7:03 pm

And yours, Colin, makes me think that you have zero sense of humor. A little word of advice, buddy. When you post on a thread, don’t pompously assure people that they haven’t read your precious articles from x. Do try to make an argument instead. Your reputation is not an argument. I know that might hurt your feelings, but Colin Foley is, uh, unknown in the States. Even if you were Thomas Friedman, though, such displays of narcissism are unpleasant.

For those who are interested in other things than the lovesong of an idiot and a tool, this Jeremy McClintock site skewers the pompous British foreign correspondent. Be sure to watch the video. It is hilarious.

58

Joel Turnipseed 08.09.07 at 7:15 pm

…also: the date shift is not entirely inconsequential to this discussion, as the pre-WWII history of the CP (and broader isolationist left) is, let’s just say, not exactly uncomplicatedly glorious in its record (however much, in an equally torturous phrase, it was complicatedly right in the basis for a lot of its ideals and activism).

Now, must go treat migraine headache for being reminded of the manuscript staring me in the face…

59

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 7:21 pm

Actually I am an Irish citizen now permanently resident in Brazil. So the joke goes:

Roger: ‘Why don’t you write something about Intellectual patents, environmental destruction and agricultural protectionism with particular reference to developing countries, you so-called humanitarian?’
Conor: ‘Err, I have done?’
Roger: ‘Pompous British tool’

I laughed until I stopped, Buddy.

60

useless eustace 08.09.07 at 7:28 pm

“Conor, I don’t think it “begs” that question”.
You’re darn right it doesn’t, it “raises” that question.

61

e julius drivingstorm 08.09.07 at 7:45 pm

Grand moff texan did get it right. But there’s only one necessary premise. Iraq did not attack us on 9-11. Had it done so, who cares whether there were WMD?

Ignatieff and the rest of the war apologists work very hard to conceal the fact that this administration knew the whole time before the invasion that there was no Iraqi connection to 9-11.

62

roger 08.09.07 at 7:46 pm

Oh Conor, you Irish rebel you! I’m so sorry. I must abase myself. I forgot how your scorching reports have revolutionized the Labour government, not to speak of the U.S., so that the entire structure of the IP system changed. No wonder you have such absolute confidence in them as humanitarian powers, and confidence, too, that when their soldiers come marching in to some suitably oppressed country, they will only and always work for the good of the oppressed, no matter where it leads them!

But, snark aside, agitate doesn’t mean write, and the argument is – I’ll spell it out for you in plain english using the ever popular power point bullets method so that even you can understand it- the following:
a. military force for liberal interventions is garnered from the most powerful Western nations.
b. those nations have interests, some of which violently conflict with the interests of third world countries.
c. those nations have also enforced a system of world wide ‘justice’ in which they maintain a double standard, deciding who gets WMD and who does not, who gets the quiet approval about dictatorship (say, Libya and Saudi Arabia) and who is spotlighted as an oppressor (Iran).
d. given the characters of these countries, one can’t expect their military interventions to be independent of those characters.
e. and given the character of the societies they intervene in, often the changes they enforce – especially economically – end up causing more and not less misery and violence.
f. the policies urged by the liberal interveners make this problem more and not less likely to happen. The liberal interveners have a curious fondness for the monarchical executive, who will use a nation’s army as a humanitarian mercenary force. Unfortunately, this also separates the army from democratic feedbacks. It makes possible executive level corruption of all types – from minor intellectual ones, such as using the military interventions as a patriotic issue to silence critics to sheer cronyism, as in the growth of private military forces. Plus, the intervenors are irresitably tempted to enforce neo-liberal norm on the countries they intervene in. Thus, you get a twofer – the degredation of democratic institutions at home, and the running roughshod over the popular will abroad.

So, wild Irish rose, do you get it now? Huh? Do you have, like, an argument about these things, or is it more a matter of feelings – your tearful and no doubt angelic feelings? Or is it hidden in your fabulous collected works, for instance the travel piece about Recife in 2005 that is a must read? Otherwise, I’ll just have to refer you to my own collected works: A Idiot’s Guide to Tools.

63

Donald Johnson 08.09.07 at 7:57 pm

Sebastian wrote–

“Opposition based on the idea that the sanctions were working by the same people who complained about how mean the sanctions were in 1996,1997,1998,1999, 2000, and 2001. (Note I am NOT saying that everyone who used a ‘sanctions are working’ argument falls in this catagory).”

Actually, there isn’t necessarily a contradiction here, though I’ll also add that I doubt very many anti-sanctions types would have said “sanctions were working” without adding what I’m about to add. Which is that sanctions did keep Saddam contained, but they were unnecessarily harsh. That’s why there was a movement towards “smart sanctions” in the years just before 9/11 happened.

I don’t think it is possible (I could be wrong) to prevent an industrialized country from developing chemical or biological weapons with sanctions unless the sanctions are so harsh they destroy the economy, which is what happened in Iraq. If that’s the choice (and someone corredt me if I’m wrong), then I don’t think that level of brutality in a sanctions policy is justified. But one can prevent the import of weaponry and nuclear material and make life somewhat more difficult for the ruling classes with less draconian sanctions.

“Opposition based on the difficulty of defeating Saddam”–

Some of this was based on the idea that Saddam’s forces might try to do a Stalingrad in Baghdad. Imagine Fallujah with nearly all the civilians present and on a 20 times larger scale. Not pretty. Fortunately, that wasn’t the strategy they chose. Some people in the antiwar camp also thought it possible that Saddam might have chemical weapons. Again, the results could have been ugly if they were used in a city. In the worst case scenario, antiwar groups pointed out that if Saddam really did have nukes, an invasion could cause the death of millions.

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Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 8:00 pm

Roger: I do not support liberal interventionism and have frequently written articles opposing it. Perhaps you are simply confusing me with someone else, given that you have now managed to get my name, nationality and political opinions wrong.

The point that I have quite specifically argued about on Darfur is that any intervening force should be African-led and should be deployed with the consent of the Sudanese Government. I am not quite sure of the relevance of the rest of your bullet points once the first one goes.

65

Patrick 08.09.07 at 8:31 pm

Ummm, not to nitpick, but isn’t it pretty obvious that Ignatieff is saying that those who got the Iraq war right through ideology had unjustified beliefs, though true ones? Isn’t it spectacularly uncharitable to read him that way?

Isn’t he saying that we should pay attention to the people who not only got it right, but it got it right using reasoning that makes it more likely that we will get these things right in the future?

Seems pretty reasonable to me, especially since I went to the anti-Afghan war rallies (oil pipeline! Israel! empire! famine!) and thought that a)the Iraq war would be monumentally catastrophic and b) that many of the people at these rallies did not have reliable epistemic habits.

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Patrick 08.09.07 at 8:32 pm

by “that way” I mean this way:

“‘yes, they had justified, true belief that the war was a bad idea, but it didn’t amount to knowledge’ line, is … well…”

67

Akshay 08.09.07 at 8:39 pm

Ignatieff reminds me of the disenchanted stalinist who once rebuked an anti-communist social democrat: “we were right to be wrong. You were wrong to be right.”

68

tveb 08.09.07 at 9:18 pm

many of the people at these rallies did not have reliable epistemic habits.

And you think people such as Ignatieff do? By the way Ig(noble)atieff is setting up a straw argument. True, there are people who have unhealthy epistemic habits (9-11 truth etc.), but shouldn’t he be engaging those who argued, reasonably (if you consider evidence based on over two hundred years of international politics/history, reasonable) that states are not generally moral agents and hence always have ulterior (i.e. power based, however you define “power”) motives and that such motives lead to actions that are not normally moral or desirable from the perspective of general human welfare (assuming universality and certain other Kantian imperatives)?
Look Ign(oble)atieff might be a passable scholar, but should he be using his freedom as an intellectual to justify state action? Even the best of the best seem to fall for this (witness John Stewart Mills’s disgraceful articles justifying British imperialism when he was in the payroll of the British East India company; he had to violate his own philosophical strictures and somehow explain why Indians did not deserve equal consideration, i.e. were not equally as “human” as other Europeans)

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Shelby 08.09.07 at 9:33 pm

Even if you were Thomas Friedman, though, such displays of narcissism are unpleasant.

That should read “especially if you were Thomas Friedman…”

E. Julius:
Ignatieff and the rest of the war apologists work very hard to conceal the fact that this administration knew the whole time before the invasion that there was no Iraqi connection to 9-11.

That work was of course complicated by Bush’s explicit statements that there was no Iraqi connection to 9-11. He stated there were links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (which there were, though I’ve ssen no evidence they were high-level or persistent) — not between Iraq and 9/11.

70

Grand Moff Texan 08.09.07 at 9:48 pm

Opposition based on the idea that letting Saddam murder and rape people at whim with small scale genocide every eight years or so was better for Iraq and no more dangerous for the rest of the world than the likely civil war after you got rid of him.

Allying with Islam Karimov in order to go after Saddam Hussein on a humanitarian pretext is a self-refuting proposition.

That’s another one I wasn’t stupid enough to fall for.
.

71

dsquared 08.09.07 at 10:01 pm

I think I was the one who advanced “oppose America always” as a decision rule, but this was satirical in intention, meant only to illustrate by juxtaposition how bloody awful Ignatieff’s implicit “take the claims of expat politicians at face value for they are brave and honest and the true heroes of democracy” rule was.

There seems to be a bit of commingling of “humanitarian intervention” and “Liberal intervention” here. The view that these two are synonymous, or alternatively that one can have legitimate humanitarian interventions in the absence of an imminent humanitarian crisis, is one that I identify specifically with Norman Geras, and I actually think it’s constitutive of what it means to be part of the “Decent Left”. If you’re in favour of either “liberal interventionism” (the point of view of Oliver Kamm, who has regularly written about how he really doesn’t care about civilian casualties in the hundreds of thousands, as long as they’re in the service of liberal democracy), or “extended concept humanitarian interventionism” (the point of view of Norman Geras), then you’ve bought the bill of goods that military force can be used to remake the world for the better and IMO you’ve left touch with reality.

72

dsquared 08.09.07 at 10:02 pm

(that’s the generic “you” btw, not any particular poster on this thread)

73

Conor Foley 08.09.07 at 10:33 pm

Thanks Daniel, that was my starting point as well, (although its obviously not everyone else’s here).

My definition of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ would be a military intervention taken in the midst of a crisis with the specific and limited objective of saving lives and subject to the criteria that I outlined in point 12.

A ‘liberal intervention’ would have a wider aim of regime change on political/human rights grounds.

Assuming that we are all opposed to the second view here (really!), I would be interested in some (sensible) views on the first.

For example, what could have actually been done to prevent genocide in Srebrenica? If it is accepted that air strikes could not have secured the town indefinitely what were the realistic alternatives? (disarmament of the town’s defenders or evacuation of the entire population are two options; providing them with more weapons to defend themselves was another, but all had fairly obvious draw-backs)? Given that it was the Iranians who did most of the arming in this case, and the US were too shit scared to put in ground troops to do anything, I do not think the question can be answered with ‘what-about-ery’ lectures on the evils of western imperialism.

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James 08.09.07 at 11:12 pm

dsquared – There is a common meme that police use force, sometime deadly force, to affect positive change in an area. The idea that a military, under military rules of engagement, might be used for a similar purpose is generally accepted as a valid position based in reality.

75

Barry 08.09.07 at 11:23 pm

Re, ties between Iraq and Al Qaida: “…(which there were, though I’ve ssen no evidence they were high-level or persistent)—not between Iraq and 9/11.”
Posted by Shelby

Wrong, unless you mean that there apparently was some AQ acitivity in the Kurdish region of Iraq – i.e., where Saddam’s writ didn’t run.

Which would lead to the conclusion that Bush should have armed Saddam, to help him, um, ‘cleanse’ that part of Iraq of AQ.

76

Bruce Baugh 08.09.07 at 11:40 pm

Conor, #73: Maybe the answer is that there were no alternatives that were both moral and practically achievable. Dsquared’s been arguing that the more specific we get about the possibilities of intervention, the worse they look, and that generalizations and wishes don’t make things feasible no matter how strongly we hope for it. I find this repugnant as a concept, just because I hate it whenever the world’s message is “you can’t get there from here”, but the world isn’t obligated to go anywhere just because you or I or anyone else want it to.

Understandbly, this is a prospect that a lot of folks don’t want to put much time in. But it seems worth taking up. Suppose that we establish that there isn’t any option that is feasible and will provide lasting relief and won’t have more ongoing bad consequences than good. What do we do then? Shouldn’t we at least be considering it as a possibility? If by some miracle it’s never happened yet, it’s going to sooner or later, after all.

The implicit assumption that there must be something we can do seems to me to lead very directly to settling for all kinds of awful things done to people who don’t deserve them simply because it’s the best that we could do if we insist on intervening.

77

roger 08.10.07 at 12:22 am

David Rieff, of all people, makes a plea for a more aggressive non-aggressive foreign policy in a National Interest article here .

There is one area of the world, however, where the West could intervene. According to the recent Oxfam report, this nation has suffered a tsunami like disaster that has put a third of its citizens, 8 million people, at risk. Four million have fled. Its major cities are now without electricity for most of the day. Its sewage systems are failing.

The nation is, of course, Iraq. Intervention – for instance, money going to those nations that shelter the refugees – could actually be made available by the responsible party, i.e. the U.S. That party could also avert disaster by encouraging the Government to hire as many Iraqis as possible for any job whatsoever, swelling the number employed by the state but absorbing the almost 60 percent employed. The U.S. could earmark money for the Iraqi government to fix its infrastructure the way it used to, for thirty years, from the seventies through the nineties, using Iraqi companies – which are organized, of course, by the state – and enticing Iraqi professionals back into Iraq. The Americans could even promise not to interfere, not to make sure that money goes to select handful of connected contractors. It could drop all pressure to pass legislation pleasing to American businesses concerning the oil fields, especially as these laws contain PoS clauses that aren’t present in the vast majority of oil contractS worldwide.

However, I would predict that this is never going to happen. There’s not an interest group in the U.S. that will work for it to happen. If it were debated, the debate would soon turn to whether the Oxfam group’s survey results were methodologically sound according to the high standards maintained by amateurs at the Malkin site.

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Shelby 08.10.07 at 12:36 am

Barry,

No, I mean in addition to the Kurdish-area activity. However, I have to run now — I’ll try to post some links tomorrow.

79

snuh 08.10.07 at 12:39 am

Opposition based on the idea that the sanctions were working by the same people who complained about how mean the sanctions were in 1996,1997,1998,1999, 2000, and 2001. (Note I am NOT saying that everyone who used a ‘sanctions are working’ argument falls in this catagory)..

i am in this category, so naturally i don’t see why the argument is crap. i thought the sanctions were effective (although cruel), but clearly preferable to the only plausible alternative, which was overthrowing saddam by war. frankly (and i would say that), i think this view has been vindicated by events.

80

luc 08.10.07 at 12:40 am

The Srebrenica case is an odd one to ask for.

The decision to commit genocide was only taken after the fall of the enclave. So to prevent genocide in the knowledge that you’d had prevented genocide is to ask for the impossible in that specific case.

The fall itself could have been prevented by air strikes (according to what I still remember), but the whole safe haven policy without actual military protection has been shown to be a bad policy.

But there’s lot’s of things that could have been done to improve that policy. Lots of things that these days is being done better in UN operations.

So the Srebrenica case has already led to important changes. If you think that under current (UN) policies an exact copy of Srebrenica could still happen, then I’m not with you.

So
(1) a better plan of action for Srebrenica would never have known that it could or would have prevented a genocide.
(2) The UN (and its members) already have learned their lessons, so the exact failure of Srebrenica won’t happen again. Other failures will.
(But then the leading member of the fantasy football UN alternatives just committed the error of Iraq, so to suggest that the “Concert” would be an improvement… No way.)

81

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.10.07 at 1:24 am

“i thought the sanctions were effective (although cruel), but clearly preferable to the only plausible alternative, which was overthrowing saddam by war.”

So were you complaining about them then? The people I heard complaining about them were trying to get them ended. (See especially French, Russian and German diplomats at the UN).

82

engels 08.10.07 at 2:09 am

I’d have to agree with Luc in wanting to define Decency as a psychological rather than an ideological tendency. In my view, its narrow meaning would be

Decent leftie n. somebody who believes that he and his (rather limited) circle of mates in the Anglo-American media, academy or elsewhere (who may or may not all be ageing Trots, Blairites and/or closet Tories) are the only true inheritors of the great leftist mantle of centuries past, and the rest of us are nothing but a bunch of stupid, irresponsible, morally deficient, Guardian-reading, anti-American, Bush-hating, BBC-watching, puppet-making, ‘No Blood for Oil’-chanting, pro-Milosevic, pro-Saddam, oil-pipeline-obsessed, Counterpunch/ZMag/London Review of Books reading, moral relativist, Michael Moore worshipping, Fidel Castro and Jacques Chirac loving, post-modernist, objectively pro-Islamofascist, Chomsky, Fisk and abb1 influenced, dirty fucking hippies who need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century by the force of the aforementioned Decent leftie’s superior intelligence, knowledge of history, international affairs and the collected works of George Orwell, and above all moral seriousness

I have also sometimes, as above, used the term in a wider, non-pejorative sense as

2. someone whom I respect, and with whom I have some points of agreement, who has mounted a serious and interesting moral critique of the ideological pacifism/anti-imperialism of the traditional anti-war left (but who may have had his or her moments of coming across, in my entirely subjective opinion, in however small and forgivable a way, like the above).

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snuh 08.10.07 at 2:11 am

sure i was complaining about the sanctions, because they seemed cruel. i supported their removal. but that seemed impossible, since it would’ve required a resolution of the UN security council, which would’ve been vetoed by any conceivable US administration.

the only possibilities that i could see were: war to remove saddam, or a continuation of the cruel but effective sanctions. my view was and remains that the latter course was preferable.

84

engels 08.10.07 at 2:16 am

The above is not to dispute Daniel’s definition of Decency, of course, but just to enable people to make sense of my earlier comments, which don’t really make sense if one understands “Decent” to mean “Liberal Interventionist”.

85

Donald Johnson 08.10.07 at 2:26 am

Snuh, you didn’t follow the issue very closely if you hadn’t heard of the smart sanctions option that some sanctions opponents were pushing. There was an article in the NATION about this by David Cortright (or Cortwright) sometime around 2000, give or take a year. Some sanctions opponents were more hardline, figuring that the US would pretend to support smart sanctions and then try to implement them in a way as draconian as the bad old sanctions actually in place. I think that was possible.

So anyway, there were four options

A) War
B) Very harsh sanctions
C) Smart (less harsh) sanctions
D) No sanctions

I leaned towards C, but had sympathy with D.

86

bad Jim 08.10.07 at 9:08 am

Some of us first learned of the impending assault upon Iraq in July 2002. There were just hints then, and the famous comment that you don’t roll out a new product in August. At the time it seemed like a purely political push to boost the Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections, and to that extent it was certainly successful.

Thus a fourth-generation Democrat like me could oppose it reflexively without even considering questions like, should we invade a country which hasn’t attacked us, which doesn’t threaten us, whose invasion would plunk us in a quagmire, which aren’t that hard to answer by themselves.

87

bad Jim 08.10.07 at 9:30 am

Is there any future for American intervention at this point, given our appetite for torture, indefinite detention, and indiscriminate slaughter pinpoint assaults from airborne weapon platforms? What could be more terrifying than finding armored troops on your doorstep announcing “We’re from the United States and we’re here to help you?”

88

Bruce Baugh 08.10.07 at 9:46 am

Bad Jim, I’ve been thinking those same questions as #87 for a while now, and it seems to me a huge blind spot in essentially all public Democratic discourse about future uses of American power. Who in their right mind would let American force near anything of value to them for any reason except inability to keep it away? And I’m not being flippant about that. Now that we’ve established a bipartisan consensus against compliance with any standard of conduct at all the moment it inconveniences any authority’s personal whims, and now that we have thoroughly broken our ability to meet any reliable standard of readiness, rest, and repair, we have a long, long road ahead of us to restore trustworthiness. And the way things are going, I don’t have high confidence that a Democratic president in 2009 will be all that serious about it, because of of the nuisance of it all.

The US’ day in the sun is over for a long time, not just as leader of any grand coalition but as partner other nations will want to be near at all.

89

better dead than red 08.10.07 at 1:59 pm

What about those who did not accept the government’s claim that the US needed to act because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction? WMD’s were the primary justification used by the current administration for war with Iraq, yet did we find any…oh, wait, right! Those mobile bio/chemical/nuclear (or nucular if you are GWB)labs and aluminum tubes. My bad, the Iraq war was 100% justified from the beginning, and I am just a whiny asshole.

90

Keith M Ellis 08.10.07 at 3:09 pm

Actually, this argument is really between ideologues and pragmatists. There’s a lot of ideologues who claim to be pragmatists—a few are evident here—but for the most part, that’s what this is about.

As a pragmatist leftist, I don’t see any reason to privilege “no unprovoked military intervention” above all other considerations. Ideologues will assert universal rules, such as dsquared does.

The claim that there’s not a large left unthinking and reflexive contingent that takes an antiwar position on the basis of something less than considered evaluation is just as silly as the claim that this isn’t true of the right. A lot of righties will support the use of military force no matter what or when. A lot of lefties will oppose it, no matter what or when. In both cases, a favorable outcome will be used as proof of sagaciousness.

It’s no less off-putting to me when leftists do this than when rightists to it. More, really, because I hold the people on my side of the aisle to higher standards.

91

Donald Johnson 08.10.07 at 4:09 pm

Keith, the impression I get in this thread is that most of us agree that there is a large unthinking left which is reflexively against war. Our contention, though, is that this is a far better reflex to have than the one found on the right or for that matter, much of the center, where any pretense put forward to justify a war is accepted at face value.

It would, of course, be best if everybody had a sincere devotion to human rights and an open mind about the best way to achieve human rights objectives and a keen analytical mind and a detailed knowledge of every place we might ever be tempted to bomb. Meanwhile, back in the real world, where irrationality reigns, it’s probably better on the whole to have the unthinking contingent opposed to war instead of favoring it, on the grounds that most wars probably should be opposed.

Set aside your emotional need to hold your side to higher standards. It ain’t gonna happen–besides, maybe if we were all at the level you want you might find most people disagreed with you most of the time.

Finally, my own ideological and pragmatic rule–never trust someone who refers to himself as a pragmatist and his opponent as an ideologue. There’s some ideology lurking somewhere in the bushes.

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Shelby 08.10.07 at 4:43 pm

As I promised earlier, some supporting links regarding connections between Iraq and al Qaeda. Note that I specifically said I’d seen no evidence “they were high-level or persistent”.

the 9/11 Commission:
“Were there contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq? Yes,” Thomas H. Kean (R), the panel’s chairman, said at a news conference. “What our staff statement found is there is no credible evidence that we can discover, after a long investigation, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein in any way were part of the attack on the United States.”
link

In a frankly skeptical article, Time Magazine noted these (as well as the now-abandoned claim about a Prague meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi spy) as the main bases for possible Iraq-al Qaeda links:
The fact that “bin Laden associate” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who runs the Islamist terror network suspected of killing a U.S. diplomat in Jordan, had taken shelter in Baghdad after being wounded in Afghanistan;
The fact that the Kurdish Islamist group attacking mainstream pro-U.S. Kurdish groups in northeastern Iraq had received cash and training from al-Qaeda; and
Iraqi records show that an Iraqi emissary had held a meeting or meetings with bin Laden representatives in Afghanistan sometime after 1998.

link

The second of the Time items of course refers to the Kurdish-area operation outside Saddam’s control.

I’m omitting various arguments made by administration officials who refer to, e.g., supposed Iraqi emissaries to al Qaeda in connection with poison-making and forgery, because I haven’t seen evidence of supporting documentation. I’m also leaving out the claim that the Al-Shifa chemical factory in Sudan was linked to bin Laden and Iraq, and that it manufactured chemical weapons, because those claims have been substantially undermined (though still hotly contested).

93

lemuel pitkin 08.10.07 at 4:46 pm

Donald Johnson has said exactly what needs to be said here, I reckon.

The only caveat I would add is that a genuine international body with some democratic legitimacy and real binding authority over its members might make the idea of humanitarian interventions acceptable — that’s my answer to Conor at 73. Just to be clear, NATO certainly did not have legitimacy to authorize war in Yugoslavia, since Yugoslavia wasn’t a NATO member. And even if a real legitimating authority existed, I’d be very skeptical of any humanitarian intervention — but without it, absolutely against, every time.

94

engels 08.10.07 at 4:48 pm

“Unthinking” and “reflexive” are not the same thing, though. I personally never said anyone was “unthinking”. What I do think is that most people on the left have a very strong prejudice against going to war, and that this is salutary.

This is not just a point about politics but about rationality. If Keith thinks that being a pragmatist enables him to dispense with “universal rules” altogether then he hasn’t reflected very carefully on his decision making in general and his moral decision making in particular.

Oh yeah and what Donald said about anyone who thumps on the rhetorical drum of his self-proclaimed “pragmatism”. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that a conviction that your own unexamined assumptions are merely down-to-earth “pragmatism”, in contrast to the insidious “ideology” of your political opponents, is the reigning ideology of the US.

95

tveb 08.10.07 at 4:49 pm

to add to what donald johnson said, i think the following heuristics are sound (and don’t pretend that people do not use heuristics for other decisions):
#1 States are not moral agents
#2 therefore it is better not to trust the state and its representatives, especially when it comes to foreign policy

leaders have strong incentives to lie or distort (or at least be disingenuous in their use of facts). This is because they can claim privileged access to information and claim to be representing the “national interest” (sic). Notice that both these claims make it very easy for political elites to successfully hide real intentions. States not being moral agents, you can bet that such intentions are not necessarily what decent (without quotes) people would consider good.* Therefore always demand strong (extraordinary even) evidence for any argument in favor of war (since war, to point out to the ‘decent’ crowd, involves loss of human lives, most probably not the decision makers’ own).

*good intentions inter alia usually involve the following dictum: give equal consideration to all human, be they your countrymen, or foreigners

96

Steve LaBonne 08.10.07 at 5:14 pm

And the way things are going, I don’t have high confidence that a Democratic president in 2009 will be all that serious about it, because of of the nuisance of it all.

I’d even go a bit further than that- I think that Hillary Clinton, the most likely nominee, is the sort of person who will quietly relish the new power and new invulnerability to scrutiny that BushCo has brought to the Executive Branch, and be fairly indifferent to the resulting negative effects on the restoration of US credibility.

97

lemuel pitkin 08.10.07 at 5:16 pm

#1 States are not moral agents

#2 therefore it is better not to trust the state and its representatives, especially when it comes to foreign policy

To expand on this just slightly. States are moral agents with respect to their own citizens, precisely because of a history of political struggle that has resulted in genuine popular control over the actions of the state. The legitimacy of state violence really does derive solely from the consent of the governed, tho consent can take forms other than explicit electoral democracy. So to regard the US, the Soviet Union, Iraq, etc. as morally equivalent in their international relations is not to regard them as morally equivalent tout court. That’s one one of the more common dishonest rhetorical moves on the anti-anti-war side.

98

lemuel pitkin 08.10.07 at 5:21 pm

Also, humanitarian intervention should not even be considered as an acceptable policy until the state in question has already taken all the obvious non-military humanitarian actions available to them — funding for clean water, eradication of contagious disease, IP rules that favor imports of life-saving drugs by poor countries, generous admission policies for refugees, etc. Until all these much more reliable and lower-cost steps have been taken, there is a very strong — overwhelming, really — presumption that the “humanitarian” intervention is not in fact motivated by humanitarian goals.

99

roger 08.10.07 at 5:33 pm

I am always amused by the term “left”. That the left died a generation ago hasn’t eliminated the term, which survives for two reasons, I think. One is that much like the term chivalry survived in Classical Liberal Britain, to mystify brutal relations of power. The other is intellectual positioning. It is a pretty good career move by your average intellectual who aspires to a little fame, your Paul Berman type, to get some face value from association with moribund cellules that use the word “left” – like Dissent. This way, advocating standard GOP claptrap can be made to seem new and exciting, and will get your some golden NYT Magazine page inches – which will otherwise not be devoted to such exciting matters as alienation or surplus labor value.

In that sense, the Decent Left has done a good deed. Their camp parody of leftist talk has exposed the vacuity and nonsense of the “Left” to even the most gullible goof – the incessant worry about the position the “left” should take, the absurd references to the glorious history of the “left” as if Finland Station were just ahead (“and this time, comrades, we will get right behind the privatizing of social security, in accordance with Lenin’s dictum about the state withering away!”) the absurd comrade talk. Unfortunately, the “left”, shoddier than ever, will continue to stumble along for another generation, I would think, doing its job of thoroughly cretinizing any opposition to the status quo. That’s a pity.

100

Shelby 08.10.07 at 6:28 pm

Lemuel,

I’m a bit perplexed how your advocated “non-military humanitarian actions” apply in several recent and current scenarios — ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sudan come to mind. I don’t mean to say gosh, we should use more bombs; I’m just not sure how anyone is supposed to get clean water into Darfur in the current conditions. Can you explain?

101

abb1 08.10.07 at 6:36 pm

It´s exactly the opposite: it´s all about oil and world domination, and it´s not necessarily a catastrophe. Arab nationalism is destroyed and bases are being built in Iraq.

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lemuel pitkin 08.10.07 at 6:54 pm

Shelby,

My point is precisely that if your humanitarian impulse is limited to cases where military intervention is necessary, it probably is not a humanitarian impulse at all.

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engels 08.10.07 at 8:31 pm

The story which Akshay refers to in #67 above is quoted by Tony Judt in his recent LRB essay.

Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, writing in the Financial Times, accuses Democratic critics of the Iraq War of failing ‘to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously’. The only people qualified to speak on this matter, it would seem, are those who got it wrong initially. Such insouciance in spite of – indeed because of – your past misjudgments recalls a remark by the French ex-Stalinist Pierre Courtade to Edgar Morin, a dissenting Communist vindicated by events: ‘You and your kind were wrong to be right; we were right to be wrong.’

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functional 08.10.07 at 8:49 pm

I’m surprised that Holbo hasn’t corrected his blatant misreading, after being corrected as early as comment 2, but also in 65 and 66.

Anyway, 90 makes a great point: Both sides tend to have reflexive and unthinking biases. Then when a decision turns out in hindsight to have been lucky, they pat themselves on the back for their sagaciousness.

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Barry 08.10.07 at 9:09 pm

“I’d even go a bit further than that- I think that Hillary Clinton, the most likely nominee, is the sort of person who will quietly relish the new power and new invulnerability to scrutiny that BushCo has brought to the Executive Branch, and be fairly indifferent to the resulting negative effects on the restoration of US credibility.”

Posted by Steve LaBonne

One of the effects on the Democratic Party (assuming a win in ’08, and increase power in the Senate) might well be to reconsider what should be restored.

The Bush II administation demonstrated beyond any honest doubt that all financial clean-up taken by the Democrats will be destroyed by the next GOP president; the more the Democrats do, the more GOP NextPres will be able to steal.

In terms of military ground strength, there might be an reduced desire to maintain very large ground forces – Iraq showed their limitations, GOP NextPres will just do something stupid. In addition, a hard-core, highly corrupt, GOP-loyal right-wing Evangelical officer corps is something that the Democrats should not aid.

106

engels 08.10.07 at 9:57 pm

Functional – it’s not question of how “sagacious” you were. This wasn’t a harmless betting game, like predicting who won the Superbowl. It’s a question of whether you took a decision which has helped to bring catastrophe on hundreds of thousands and dishonour on your country for years to come. Does the concept of moral responsibility mean nothing to you?

107

Akshay 08.10.07 at 10:24 pm

@104: Oh, so *that’s* where I stole it from!

108

John Quiggin 08.10.07 at 10:24 pm

To restate a point that’s been made many times before, opponents of the war pointed to all sorts of things that might go badly wrong. They only had to be right once. Supporters made claims that all sorts of things would go well. They had to be right every time.

109

Joel Turnipseed 08.10.07 at 11:14 pm

John… there’s a true statement in 109: I’m just not sure it’s ready to come out. Surely you don’t mean, “of a set of N things that could go wrong with Iraq, if 1 of them did, the anti-war people were right–not matter how many others predictions were mistaken” and “of a complementary set of N things that could go right with Iraq, if even 1 turned out badly, that would offset all of the things that went well.” Or do you? If so, that’s a pretty stringent requirement!

110

Shelby 08.10.07 at 11:41 pm

Joel,

Isn’t the whole point of this post and commentary to set a stringent requirement? The real argument is whether it’s imposed on one’s ideological opponents when convenient, or universally applied to proponents of armed action (outside of immediate self-defense) (or possibly, as some would have it, to proponents of armed humanitarian intervention).

111

spinozista 08.10.07 at 11:48 pm

Shorter Michael Ignatieff:

Lucky guesses by bad people who know more than me don’t count.

112

Joel Turnipseed 08.11.07 at 12:02 am

Shelby: on a charitable reading, I’m sure I agree 100% with what John said. But surely you can think of a very large number of models of the argument (I think) John made that just, well: they would be hard to support.

113

jholbo 08.11.07 at 1:22 am

#2: But Ignatieff’s saying our belief wasn’t justified, because it was based all and only on ideology. On his take, we merely had true belief.

#90: I’m surprised that Holbo hasn’t corrected his blatant misreading, after being corrected as early as comment 2, but also in 65 and 66.

Sorry, I missed 65-6 and didn’t realize it was still an issue. It seems to me clear (even from the bit I quoted) that Ignatieff is admitting that many war critics had justified, true belief about how badly the war would go. But there was, in Ignatieff’s view, a (somewhat underspecified) problem with the way they acquired that belief. It was, ideologically speaking, a kind of false lemma. Which gets us a classic sort of Gettier problem.

(I didn’t really think my pun needed defending to the death, but there you go.)

In general, Ignatieff’s problem is refusing to admit he made a dumb mistake by sort of wisely waving to the wisdom of acknowledging the limitations of human knowledge.

114

Joel Turnipseed 08.11.07 at 1:30 am

Q: Is Ignatieff’s reply that you’re drawing a Gettier rabbit and you’re drawing a Gettier duck?

115

Joel Turnipseed 08.11.07 at 1:30 am

ahem: “he’s” for the former. or latter. but not both.

116

jholbo 08.11.07 at 1:42 am

I guess maybe this point is worth expanding:

#90: The claim that there’s not a large left unthinking and reflexive contingent that takes an antiwar position on the basis of something less than considered evaluation is just as silly as the claim that this isn’t true of the right. A lot of righties will support the use of military force no matter what or when. A lot of lefties will oppose it, no matter what or when. In both cases, a favorable outcome will be used as proof of sagaciousness.

The problem with bringing this up, re: Ignatieff is that it’s irrelevant. Because you can’t excuse yourself for being dumb and wrong on the grounds that some people on the other side were dumb and wrong in an opposite sort of way. On a personal note, it was excessive focus on the sorts of considerations #90 raises – and a tendency to thinking holding my own side to a higher standard was virtue – that confused stupid me into being a sort of queasyhawk. I was on the fence about the war, leaning perilously toward pro in a contrarian spirit, and I strongly opposed bashing pro-war arguments and figures whom, in retrospect, richly deserved bashing. Mostly because I was reveling in narcissism of small differences ‘decent left’ opposition to the left. Which made me feel smart. But was just stupid.

117

AlanDownunder 08.11.07 at 3:41 am

In 2002, it was an entirely rational empirical conclusion that the Bush administration was not trustworthy.

Granted, but such an entirely rational empirical conclusion is invalidated by a skeptical predisposition.

So only the credulous are entitled to entirely rational empirical conclusions. Catch 22.

118

clyde mnestra 08.11.07 at 3:42 am

#117: “The problem with bringing this up, re: Ignatieff is that it’s irrelevant. Because you can’t excuse yourself for being dumb and wrong on the grounds that some people on the other side were dumb and wrong in an opposite sort of way.”

I didn’t read him to be “excusing himself” in the sense of exculpation (by this route) at all. I thought he was doing any of several things — (a) saying that some people crowing about the situation were unjustified in doing so, and so weren’t that much superior to him; (b) claiming in mitigation the excuse that there’s lots of room for error in these sorts of things; (c) claiming in mitigation the excuse that he was thinking like an academic, and maybe especially so because he was ensconced at Harvard; (d) other things, probably.

As to (a), by the way, I thought he was explicit in saying that there were those “people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq” who avoided mistakes he’d made, and that he’d made additional ones as well. So at worst he’s saying that some were as dumb and wrong as he was, but others made fewer mistakes than he had.

I don’t buy his arguments, and I found pages 2-3 on the web version so meandering and stodgy my head almost exploded. But I can’t see why there’s this insistence on finding logical flaws based on strained readings of the essay.

119

Donald Johnson 08.11.07 at 4:26 am

I think part of what people hate about Ignatieff is just the fact that blowhards like this were all over the press in the runup to the war.

John Quiggin can speak for himself, which won’t stop me from trying to speak for him. I think his point in 109 was obvious–wars are terribly risky things that can go wrong in many different ways and this was especially likely to be true of a Western invasion of an Arab country. The antiwar types could point to many different things that could go wrong and only had to be right about some of them (John says “one”, but I’ll be more moderate) for their predictions of catastrophe to prove correct. The prowar types had to make sure that virtually everything went right. So the prudent thing to bet was that the war would probably be a disaster. Some antiwar types claim it was 99.99 percent certain to be a disaster, but you don’t have to be that sure of it. Just saying it was more likely than not ought to be enough to stop any sensible person from supporting it, and that’s before we even get into the morality of launching a war on dubious evidence.

120

abb1 08.11.07 at 9:21 am

comment 90: As a pragmatist leftist, I don’t see any reason to privilege “no unprovoked military intervention” above all other considerations. Ideologues will assert universal rules, such as dsquared does.

But surely it’s not just some arbitrary universal rule pulled out of dsquared’s ass. It’s an uncontroversial, commonly accepted principle and a matter a law. It’s like murder or rape – yes, maybe it’s not above all other considerations, but you’ll certainly have a hard time explaining why “other considerations” should allow you to commit a rape or murder.

121

Barry 08.11.07 at 1:54 pm

Clyde: “…(c) claiming in mitigation the excuse that he was thinking like an academic, and maybe especially so because he was ensconced at Harvard;…”

As has repeatedly been pointed out in many critiques, academics overwhelmingly opposed the war. Therefore, ‘thinking like an academic’ would have lead him to oppose the war. He’s blaming the errors of side A on side B. He also does this with politicians, crediting them wit a practicality which they noticeably did *not* display before and during this war.

There’s a word for that; it’s ‘lying’.

122

clyde mnestra 08.11.07 at 2:39 pm

Barry,

Not sure whether you intended to be opposing what I said or not. As I said, I don’t buy the argument; I was simply trying to express what he was saying, rather than contorting him into a logical error (as opposed to something unconvincing on other grounds).

So now we have blaming the error of side A on side B. I don’t know what the “word for that” — that being attributing his mistakes to the wrong cause, — but I would tend to say it’s closer to “making lame excuses” than “lying.” To again perform the painful task of stating an argument to which I don’t subscribe, he seems to be saying that academic detachment from reality and more apt processes of judgment would lead them to results which might be right or wrong in outcome, but for the wrong reasons. I think he overstates this, and it’s an insignificant factor in this situation. But to say that “thinking like an academic,” by his own reasoning, “would have lead him to oppose the war” because the overwhelming majority of academics did, is to mistake fundamentally what he’s saying — FWIW, his reasoning would have them follow their models, not arrive at the same place, and I don’t think he’d say boo about any academic who wasn’t focused on politics, IR, or area studies. He may think they scatter, or clump, but he doesn’t seem to be saying that all academics following the academic mode of poor judgment wind up in the same place. Other hawks would argue that the reason academics overwhelmingly opposed the war is because of their ideology — wrongly, I think — but Ig isn’t making an academic cattle argument.

As if to channel Ignatieff, wholly unwillingly: you and many other commentators are right to say that the essay is a POS, but you’ve got the wrong reasons.

123

roger 08.11.07 at 4:24 pm

One of the more interesting aspects of the Ignatieff article is the weird pretense that Iraq is now behind us now. Yes, he listened to those romantic Iraqi exiles, but now he has girded his loins and is going to go on to other pressing business. Oddly, he is going to go on to other pressing business just as he is in a position to really do something for Iraqi exiles, millions of them, by urging Canada – where he does have political power- to start an emergency fund for Iraqi exiles in Syria, Jordan, Iran and displaced Iraqis in Iraq.

But that’s no fun. That’s not an intervention with guns and stuff. You don’t get to talk to the AEI or the Brookings institute about it. You don’t get to challenge people with your stirring memories of helicoptering down into Kosovo. It is just, like, oh, maintaining a boring number of people, displaced by the unnatural tsuanami of the American occupation, with money. Ho hum. Thus, let’s turn to some more exciting front where intervention means sending in soldiers!

It is amusing to see interveners commit both the sin of commission and the sin of omission as they bounce from one moral fiasco to another, always, however, sure that they have the very biggest hearts… and the very biggest balls.

124

John Quiggin 08.12.07 at 11:46 am

Donald Johnson has done a pretty good job, but let me clarify a bit. Obviously it depends on how fine-grained the predictions are, but here are a few of the things that antiwar people said might happen
* the US forces might fail militarily (don’t know if anyone actually said this, but I’ll put it in for completeness
* Resistance in Baghdad could be equivalent to a new Stalingrad
* Civilian casualties could be in the tens or hundreds of thousands
* Civil war between Sunni and Shia or between Arabs Kurds could break out
* Saddam could be replaced by an equally bad dictator
* Al Qaeda could gain greatly from hostility to the US

As it’s turned out, some of these things have happened but some have not. My point is that any one of them would be enough to make the war a bad, or at least very dubious idea.

125

functional 08.12.07 at 3:53 pm

It seems to me clear (even from the bit I quoted) that Ignatieff is admitting that many war critics had justified, true belief about how badly the war would go. But there was, in Ignatieff’s view, a (somewhat underspecified) problem with the way they acquired that belief.

Not seeing it. If you acquire a belief solely from “indulging in ideology” (Ignatieff’s term), then it is not “justified.” Right? What epistemologist says that a belief can be “justified” in such a manner? Ergo, Ignatieff’s point was not that his opponents had a “justified true belief,” but that they had a belief that happens, in retrospect, to have been “correct” (Ignatieff’s word) but that was not justified. Ergo, your interpretation is wrong.

126

Martin Bento 08.12.07 at 5:04 pm

The logical and substantive problem with the article is that he is pretending that different beliefs about the world are a conflict between ideology and pragmatism and doing so for dishonest reasons. The belief that America went to war for the oil is no more ideological than the one that it did it to spread democracy or prevent terrorism. All are assertions of fact, although in the realm of intentions where proof is always very difficult. Frequently wedded to the notion of an oil motive of course, is the notion that such a motive is illegitimate, which could be considered ideological in a very loose sense – it is, at least, normative. But on the other side, the notion that America was spreading democracy is frequently accompanied by the notion that this is morally commendable – an equally normative notion, and one ideological in the narrower sense that it explicitly valorizes a specific political ideology, whereas objections to wars of choice to steal oil can be made under any number of ideologies.

What Ignatieff is trying to do is draw a line and say that, although Iraq war opponents turned out to be right about their factual beliefs about a) the likely outcome of the war, this should not validate the factual beliefs of some of them about b) why the war was undertaken. While it is true that being right about a does not prove b – though it is certainly not evidence against it – and Ignatieff can concede that he was wrong on a while still holding he was right on b, he needs to actually argue this and instead treats us to rhetorical sleight of hand. Nowhere does he give us actual reason to believe that Bush was acting in good faith or that America’s motives were noble. He does not even forthrightly assert these things. He rather attempts to smuggle them in as the definition of “judgment” or a reasonable view and hold the opposite view as by definition dogmatism. But if the rightness of America’s motives can be, indeed must be, taken for granted without being supported, how is that not dogmatic?

The matter is complicated by the spectrum of opinion among war opponents. There were those who agreed with Ignatieff on b but not a, and those are the ones he currently wants to legitimize at the expense of the others. Of those suspicious of America’s motives or honesty, some held these suspicions only for the Bush administration and some more generally. But anyone who wants to say which position follows the dictates of reason has to actually apply reason fairly to the question.

How do we determine whether we should believe the claims of the US government as to why it wants to enter a war and its assertions of fact regarding the situation? With incomplete information, there seems no absolute rule. A common rule of thumb would be to judge on track record. But the government lied us into Vietnam, Grenada, Gulf War I, and Kosovo. Judged by track record, one should be highly skeptical, and this is not limited to Bush or to Republicans (Bush has given additional reason for skepticism, but most of this was just “paranoid” speculation at the onset of the war). Looking further back in American history provides more examples. So the actual historical record of America supports suspicion.

On the other hand, one might look at why wars are generally fought in history. Certainly, there is nothing odd about wars to control a vital resource or appropriate wealth. Wars for humanitarian reasons? Such are claimed all the time; Hitler even called the invasion of Poland a humanitarian intervention. It is clear that most claimed humanitarian inventions were not such, and debatable whether any truly were. For example, one could argue that Kosovo achieved humanitarian ends, but NATO has predictably also gotten a huge and strategic military base out of it; the motives were not *purely* humanitarian in the best case. And the dominant school of foreign policy political thought in the United States for the last several decades – Realism – is expressly skeptical of idealistic wars.

What Ignatieff is demanding but unwilling to actually argue for is that all commenters on the War must double-down on the very prior that largely led to the error in judgment that he made; accepting at face value the claims made by the US government without requiring independent evidence.

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abb1 08.12.07 at 8:21 pm

When a national government (any national government) starts a war of aggression, typically you don’t need any independent evidence at all to confirm or refute its claims; all you need is a bit of common sense. This Ignatieff guy is an idiot or a demagogue; probably both.

128

John Holbo 08.13.07 at 3:21 am

Functional: ‘Not seeing it. If you acquire a belief solely from “indulging in ideology” (Ignatieff’s term), then it is not “justified.”’

But Ignatieff is not going so far as to say that no one who was against the war was doing anything but ‘solely’ ‘indulging in ideology’. But he is hinting that every justification for the war – every good reason to think it would go badly – was, at some point in the chain, tainted with irrationality. That is, for every good reason for thinking the war would go badly, you can find some false (unwarranted) lemma the brandisher of the reason was guilty of entertaining. Some negative thing they thought about Bush without iron-clad reasons. But this seems to excuse – or extenuate – Ignatieff’s failure to clear the justificatory bar by simply setting it impractically high.

129

Ben Nelson 08.13.07 at 5:11 pm

OK, maybe a bit too lectern-style.

But “air-filled”? Not really. This, I think, is entirely accurate:

“We might test judgment by asking, on the issue of Iraq, who best anticipated how events turned out. But many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology. They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.

The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq’s fissured sectarian history. What they didn’t do was take wishes for reality. They didn’t suppose, as President Bush did, that because they believed in the integrity of their own motives everyone else in the region would believe in it, too. They didn’t suppose that a free state could arise on the foundations of 35 years of police terror. They didn’t suppose that America had the power to shape political outcomes in a faraway country of which most Americans knew little. They didn’t believe that because America defended human rights and freedom in Bosnia and Kosovo it had to be doing so in Iraq. They avoided all these mistakes.”

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Ben Nelson 08.13.07 at 5:12 pm

“But he is hinting that every justification for the war – every good reason to think it would go badly – was, at some point in the chain, tainted with irrationality.”

Why do you believe his remarks suggest anything of the kind?

131

Ben Nelson 08.13.07 at 5:24 pm

Martin,

“The belief that America went to war for the oil is no more ideological than the one that it did it to spread democracy or prevent terrorism.”

I believe the key word was “only”. There’s an obvious difference between statements about facts and values. But it’s equally obvious that values can filter facts. And arguably, bold superlative statements like “it was ONLY about oil” display a filter of that kind. (Even if they were, in some measure, justified, and regardless of whether or not they were rhetorical flights of passion.)

You’re right though that his argument would have been more on-point if it dealt with the actual reasons he believed the war was justified. He only provides one (Saddam). It’s like his article was an introduction to an argument, not an argument in itself.

132

Martin Bento 08.13.07 at 5:54 pm

Ben, that’s an awful lot of freight on the word “only”, especially given that Ignatieff doesn’t seem to be quoting anyone specifically but only giving a shorthand paraphrase. If the objection is really to the word “only”, that would seem to characterize only a small percentage of war opponents. War opponents skeptical of Bush’s motives had a variety of reasons they advocated: the usefulness of war for certain domestic American interests, protection of Israeli interests presented as American ones, a personal vendetta because of Hussein’s apparent attempt on Bush senior life, wanting to succeed where his father had failed, etc., indeed, one of the common indictments of the more cynical war opponents is that the very multiplicity of alternative reasons they provided showed that they were simply grasping for cynical appraisals. Now, we see that sticking to one cynical explanation or having many can each be cited as evidence of dogmatism.

And of course Ignatieff’s own position is also filtered through values in this sense, so this does not provide a distinction between his position and the one he is attacking.

133

Martin Bento 08.13.07 at 6:14 pm

To elaborate on the last point, Ignatieff is claiming not only that cynical appraisals of America’s motives are false, but that they are irrational. This implies that reason can only lead to appraisals of motivation flattering to America. That is quite a bold superlative statement, and one hard to see as value-free, especially when it is treated as a premise of rational discussion, rather than something that needs to be argued.

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Ben Nelson 08.15.07 at 1:52 am

Martin,

I don’t understand how there is any burden at all on the “only” claim. Quite the opposite. Once he says it, he has insured himself against the ‘covert sniping against all critics’ accusation by limiting his grumpiness to a certain (perhaps imaginary) fringe. And if one ignores the “only”, it’s not giving him a fair reading. Unless you subscribe to a nasty interpretation of the principle of charity which selectively excludes “what-has-been-said” in favor of “what-we-decide-the-person-really-meant (because-we-know-his-kind-so-well)”.

If there is a burden upon anything, I think we’d agree (in our tongue-in-cheek analysis) that it is upon the word “many”. Does the use of the word “many” indicate that Ignatieff is genuinely disconnected with the left? Does it indicate that he’s overblowing his estimates? How many people really do have such a black-and-white view of national affairs? And of that group, how many can we say are being rhetorical to get a point across? Of course these are decent questions which aren’t even raised in the places that matter. Zealotry of significant leftists is just assumed without being proven.

I won’t comment much on the sort of anti-intellectual fool that would decide that “multiple arguments equals a foregone conclusion”. Except to say that, at least on the basis of the scant comments that Ignatieff made here, we haven’t any reason to think he is this sort of fool. Sure, the “You think America is always wrong” allegation is sometimes used against those who give multiple reasons for a considered conclusion, because it happens to be effective at unfairly shutting up your opponent William-F-Buckley-style. Nevertheless, the one statement cannot be drawn from the other unless more has been said.

I don’t think Ignatieff is saying that all cynical appraisals of America’s motives are false. He’s saying that it is unreasonable to suggest that one person or nation is always wrong. Again, his strategy is to attack a position that is so bold that one would have be braindead (or unserious) to hold it.

So he’s fending against feeble arguments. But it isn’t true that his arguments are obviously against no-one. Activists do not always speak truth to power. By necessity, an activist (like any advertiser) needs to get attention in order for their message to be received. Bold exaggerated statements certainly have a way of getting an audience. For all their boldness, they’re also not always a literal reflection of the activist’s considered opinion. But it’s not entirely the audience’s (i.e., Ignatieff’s) fault if they take the exaggerated statements of the activist literally. It just shows a lack of worldly wisdom on his part.

…or so I presume. But of course he didn’t even bother to mention activists. He just produced his premises and let them dangle.

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