Teh evil bastards who advocated what, er, seems to have been the right thing

by Chris Bertram on September 22, 2009

Martin Bright in the New StatesmanSpectator

Incidentally, I now think the invasion was indeed an error: carried out at the wrong time, by the wrong coalition for the wrong reasons. But where I do agree with the “decents” is that those who opposed intervention in 2002/3 were arguing for the murderous Baathist regime to stay in power. This should remain on their conscience just as the murderous consequences of the invasion are on the conscience of those who supported the war.

(via comments at Aaronovitch Watch .)

{ 186 comments }

1

Zamfir 09.22.09 at 8:30 am

Apparently you are damned whatever you chose.

Next time a dicussion like this comes up, I’ll vote to have unicorns remove the evil people, by magic, without hurting the evil people. That way no one can claim I have something murderous on my conscience.

2

dsquared 09.22.09 at 8:45 am

This should remain on their conscience just as the murderous consequences of the invasion are on the conscience of those who supported the war

presumably the ommission of the words “ie, not at all” is the fault of subeditors?

(furthermore, ex hypothesi, the consequences of the invasion were worse than the consequences of Saddam remaining in power, so why would someone’s conscience be troubled by having supported the lesser of two evils, apart from by regret that their point of view did not carry the day?)

3

dsquared 09.22.09 at 8:46 am

Actually, thinking about it:

Incidentally, I now think the invasion was indeed an error: carried out at the wrong time, by the wrong coalition for the wrong reasons. But where I do agree with the “decents” is that those who opposed intervention in 2002/3 were arguing for the murderous Baathist regime to stay in power

So therefore, Martin Bright is now, in 2009, arguing for the murderous Baathist regime to stay in power. In terms of “does your conscience trouble you?”, he must be up there with Lynyrd Skynyrd.

4

Zamfir 09.22.09 at 9:21 am

dsquared, you are missing the point. Back in 2002, when Saddam was in power, he supported the invasion, so he doesn’t have to feel guilty about supporting Saddam.

In 2009, he doesn’t support the invasion, so he doesn’t have to feel guilty about that either, because he clearly states it was a mistake.

5

JoB 09.22.09 at 9:29 am

Zamfir, no, he feels guilty about both but he confessed his sins and regained a pure conscience, and enjoying the liberty to throw stones all around.

6

Jon Pike 09.22.09 at 9:53 am

Well, Daniel, that’s all hunky dory then. Another account might look like this: in 2003, we confronted a genuninely tragic dilemma, and no talk about lesser evils now will defuse the tragedy of the dilemma, except for a crass post-hoc consequentialist. As things turned out, the opponents of the war in 2003 were right, and Martin Bright was wrong. Nonetheless, opponents of the war in 2003 were advocating a course of action that, under one description; ‘leaving the Baathists in power’ was an appalling one, and this should remain on their (our) consciences. Of course, the consequences of the war should also prick the consciences of those who supported it.

It’s a fairly penetrating account, especially if you understand the structure of a tragic dilemma. It’s of course easy to dismiss, if A) you want to sneer at people, and treat their reflections in bad faith and B) you don’t think there are tragic dilemmas, or you think that the situation in 2003 was certainly not one of them. But if those two are the case, perhaps your conscience could be a little bit troubled about those things, if nothing else.

7

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.22.09 at 10:00 am

How is “‘leaving the Baathists in power” a course of action? Do you fancy yourself a world policemen, judge, and executioner, all in one?

8

nickhayw 09.22.09 at 10:04 am

Surely ‘not wanting to intervene’ does not necessarily equal ‘maintaining / supporting the status quo’. If I have it on good suspicion that my neighbour is doing horrible things to his family, my choosing to not break down his door, destroy his house, ransack his antique collection etc. does not mean that I am therefore giving him my approval, ‘leaving’ him in power as though it were always at my prerogative whether he is or isn’t in power. There are other channels for intervention, ones that don’t involve e.g. war, lying.

9

nickhayw 09.22.09 at 10:05 am

…I see Henri beat me too it.

10

steven 09.22.09 at 10:19 am

#6 — the problem, of course, is that you can invent a TRAGIC DILEMMUH! any time you like, simply by proposing a magic war against any unpleasant ruler on Earth, and then telling everyone who doesn’t want to sign up to your magic war that the consequences of not doing it (ie the probable continuance of bad things happening now in that country) must weigh on their conscience for ever more.

11

Chris Bertram 09.22.09 at 10:22 am

Jon, “as things turned out ….”

Your remarks about “crass post-hoc consequentialism” are ill-directed at dsquared, since he predicted that things would turn out badly beforehand.

12

Jon Pike 09.22.09 at 10:22 am

Henri, no, and it does not follow from anything I said. I do, though, think that moral agents have a general low level responsibility to assist those who are in immediate and serious danger, and that those who see themselves on the left had a duty of international solidarity, including with the Iraqi people under Saddam. That responsibility can be mitigated, but not eliminated, by the sense that there are no effective courses of action available to discharge it. The existence of that undischarged though mitigated responsibility ought to trouble those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq, and it did trouble me.

It would be easy to dissolve the tragic dilemma faced in 2003 by abandoning either of those views, either the general one or the leftist one, perhaps by caricaturing them by suggesting that anyone who holds them ‘fancies themselves as …..executioner.’

Like I say, if that’s what you think then it’s all hunky dory.

13

yabonn 09.22.09 at 10:25 am

In reality, war advocates didn’t care / don’t care about the well being of Iraqi people.

The woke up in 2003, smelled the propaganda, and decided “well being of Iraqis demands war” sounded good. No prior Iraq related activity, no opinion about Hussein’s regime, no opinion about the embargo, no nothing. In 99.999% of the cases, they found their interest in all this, and discovered Hussein’s regime was bad, at the time the war demanded a decent pretext.

14

Phil 09.22.09 at 10:29 am

Chris – Spectator, not Statesman.

Jon – why should the unknowable consequences of any of a number of possible courses of action not taken be on anyone’s conscience? I believe in nuclear disarmament – should I feel guilty about the nuclear holocaust which might have ensued if Britain had unilaterally scrapped its nuclear arsenal in 1997?

As things turned out, the opponents of the war in 2003 were right, and Martin Bright was wrong.

Well, OK. “You were right and I was wrong, but you should appreciate that I had good reasons for believing you were wrong, and if things had gone your way the consequences might have been so bad that we would now believe that I was right and you were wrong.” Fair enough – if a bit weaselly – but what’s most striking about Bright’s piece is that he doesn’t say that he was wrong or that the opponents of the war were right. On the contrary, he maintains that the opponents of the war were wrong – they were “arguing for the murderous Baathist regime to stay in power”, and the Decents were right to denounce them along those lines. (Given that “some of the key advocates” of Decency didn’t support the war, presumably this involved some intra-Decent mutual denunciation, although he’s not clear on this point.)

As for Bright himself, his conscience is as clear as it ever was. Granted, “the murderous consequences of the invasion are on the conscience of those who supported the war”, but that group doesn’t include Bright – “My position on the Iraq War was that of a classic woolly liberal: hedging my bets, not sticking my neck out, worried about what people would think. To this day I remain uncertain about the rights and wrongs of liberal interventionism”. Did he support the war? Well, yes and no. Was he right? Well, maybe. Was he wrong? Well, maybe not. It’s all very complicated.

We were wrong, although what we were actually saying has turned out to be right. That is what he’s saying.

15

dsquared 09.22.09 at 10:37 am

It’s of course easy to dismiss, if A) you want to sneer at people, and treat their reflections in bad faith

Since the context is comments made by the Decent Left in 2003, I find myself saying tu quoque mate, tu quoque. As a matter of verifiable fact, because the evidence is there printed in the New Statesman, Normblog, Harry’s Place et al, Martin Bright and his named allies did not treat the decision as a “tragic dilemma” at the time. They treated it as an unambiguous moral choice between democracy and tyranny, which had an obvious answer for anyone of genuine principle on the Left. I was there, and I remember how the subject of “the only alternative to war is to leave Saddam in power” was treated and there was nothing tragic about it at all.

I, in fact, don’t think that there are “tragic dilemmas”, if this is to mean anything other than that there are situations in which one wants to have one’s cake but also (tragedia!) to eat it. There are questions of fact, upon which it is possible to be right and to be wrong, and with the perspective of six years, it is actually pretty easy to see who was right and who was wrong. I must confess that all this talk about “tragic dilemmas” looks an awful lot like relativism to me, and I know how much you hate that.

My post #2 was entirely apropos, by the way, and though it was stylishly and wittily written, it was also a serious point:

Of course, the consequences of the war should also prick the consciences of those who supported it.

How much does it prick their consciences? Does it, for example, stop them from advocating more wars? Did it make them more sympathetic to people who had warned them at the time? Did it make them think any the less of Tony Blair for leading the UK into it? etc, etc, etc.

16

Jon Pike 09.22.09 at 10:42 am

Chris,

You are quite right: I’ll withdraw the ‘post-hoc.’ However, one mark of crass consequentialism is to ignore the possibility of tragic dilemmas, yes? And one mark of ignoring a tragic dilemma is to say, as Daniel says – ‘why should I be concerned about the lesser evil?’ And, (which mislead me) one disposition that is conducive to this is a kind of overconfidence that characteristically arises post hoc.

Steven, since I didn’t advocate a war, but ,rather, opposed one, it’s difficult for me to see how I am ‘constructing’ a tragic dilemma in the way you suggest. The situation confronting lots of people in 2003 and not created by them, was felt by them to have the structure of a tragic dilemma. I think that they were right to feel this, and I’m interested in the various ways that other people try to escape from this conclusion, by downplaying or dissolving one horn of the dilemma. They do this by repudiating things that the Left has traditionally argued.

17

bernard g 09.22.09 at 10:53 am

“The situation confronting lots of people in 2003 and not created by them, was felt by them to have the structure of a tragic dilemma.”
Can you then give some examples of prominent advocates of the war portraying it as a tragic dilemma, in 2003?

18

dsquared 09.22.09 at 11:00 am

However, one mark of crass consequentialism is to ignore the possibility of tragic dilemmas, yes?

A “tragic dilemma”, as I understand it, is a situation in which consequentialism gives a clear answer about which alternative is better, but the answer in question is unpalatable. I don’t see why, in such a situation, consequentialism should be described as “crass” rather than, say, “jolly sensible”.

It is not as if “invasion of a foreign country will not turn out well” is a difficult prediction to make.

19

politicalfootball 09.22.09 at 11:09 am

And one mark of ignoring a tragic dilemma is to say, as Daniel says – ‘why should I be concerned about the lesser evil?’

There are arguments that misstate one’s opponent’s position, then there are arguments that misstates one’s opponent’s position in quotation marks. I’m not sure which of those two arguments is the lesser evil, but whichever one it is, I bet Straw Dsquared doesn’t care about it.

20

Phil 09.22.09 at 11:14 am

The situation confronting lots of people in 2003 and not created by them, was felt by them to have the structure of a tragic dilemma.

“Lots of people”? Some government ministers had choices to make; so did top-level military personnel, MPs and some permanent civil servants in the MoD. For the rest of us it was a job (if employed in the armed forces) or a spectator sport (if not). For anyone not directly involved, emoting about tragic dilemmas was pretty suspect at the time (not that anyone actually did, as far as I remember) – and doing so six years on is very suspect indeed.

Besides, I’d be very wary of going too far with people’s feelings about politics. The situation confronting a lot of American right-wingers at the moment, and not created by them, is felt by them to have the structure of a covert Communist takeover. I don’t take that as a cue to ponder whether it might in certain situations be correct for the American Right to prepare for civil disobedience against an illegitimate socialist government. They’re wrong and their feelings are wrong.

21

Phil 09.22.09 at 11:15 am

Curse you, c1al15!

As I was saying,

Jon – The situation confronting lots of people in 2003 and not created by them, was felt by them to have the structure of a tragic dilemma.

“Lots of people”? Some government ministers had choices to make; so did top-level military personnel, MPs and some permanent civil servants in the MoD. For the rest of us it was a job (if employed in the armed forces) or a spectator sport (if not). For anyone not directly involved, emoting about tragic dilemmas was pretty suspect at the time (not that anyone actually did, as far as I remember) – and doing so six years on is very suspect indeed.

Besides, I’d be very wary of going too far with people’s feelings about politics. The situation confronting a lot of American right-wingers at the moment, and not created by them, is felt by them to have the structure of a covert Communist takeover. I don’t take that as a cue to ponder whether it might in certain situations be correct for the American Right to prepare for civil disobedience against an illegitimate Communist government. They’re wrong and their feelings are wrong.

22

dsquared 09.22.09 at 11:16 am

My exact words were: “so why would someone’s conscience be troubled by having supported the lesser of two evils, apart from by regret that their point of view did not carry the day?”. Obviously one would be concerned about the lesser evil, hence its description as “an evil”. But if you’ve made the right choice, then surely it’s not up to someone who made the wrong choice to scold you for not having a sufficiently troubled conscience over having been right.

23

Jon Pike 09.22.09 at 11:28 am

Daniel,
I hope you won’t get too annoyed if I reply to you straight, and only about TDs. I would rather we argued about that rather than about my responsibility for everything said by advocates of the invasion that I opposed in 2003. If you want to fight against a proxy of the ‘Decent Left’ could you pick someone else?

No, I don’t think you are right about the nature of a tragic dilemma Both horns of a tragic dilemma involve doing wrong – characteristically, the failure to discharge a responsibility, or to meet an obligation, not simply something that is unpalatable. In some circumstances, clearly, the responsibilities and obligations will be heavy, and to fail to discharge them will be to act wrongly. A standard response to the (now seldom contested, except by crass consequentialists) existence of tragic dilemmas is to think about the sense of tragic-remorse felt by the moral agent who finds themselves in this situation. You explicitly rule this out (“why should I be concerned…”).

(By the way, ‘tragic’ here is a term of art – you can have some fun with it if you like, but that won’t get you anywhere).

In short, your account: ‘invasion of a foreign country will turn out badly’ was indeed jolly sensible. However, your account ‘there are no tragic dilemmas -that’s all moral relativism, why should I have worried about the Baathists?’ is crass. But I don’t think the first entails the second.

24

politicalfootball 09.22.09 at 11:41 am

Jon, your use of quotation marks appears to be a tic that poker players would describe as a ‘tell.’

25

steven 09.22.09 at 11:43 am

Jon — I did not mean to imply that you created the thing-you-say-was-felt-by-some-people-as-a-tragic-dilemmah. But it certainly was created, by some specific people, for some specific reasons, and it would be easy to do so all over again (politician: “Let’s nuke Iran before they nuke us!”; people: “OH NOES! TRAGIC DILEMMAH!”) which is why I find myself rather sceptical of the tragic-dilemmah frame as so applied.

26

Yarrow 09.22.09 at 11:43 am

As I understand it, the amount of third-world debt is less than the cost of the Iraq war. Why was the dilemma not “Keep murderous Baathists in power — or keep developing countries burdened with crushing debt?”

27

Jon Pike 09.22.09 at 11:44 am

Right, I see that I have misstated Daniel on more than one occasion. Sorry about that. While I think the misstating has polemical weight it counts for nothing philosophically.

His claim is: “so why would someone’s conscience be troubled by having supported the lesser of two evils, apart from by regret that their point of view did not carry the day?”.

My answer is that the lesser evil may involve the failure to discharge an important obligation or responsibility, and this constitutes a wrong, about which it is proper to feel remorse, whilst at the same time holding the true belief that one acted rightly. Further, I don’t think that pointing out this failure to discharge an important obligation is adequately rebutted by alleged facts about the pointer outer, even if those facts are true, in the case of Bright, or false, in the case of me.

Anyway, my standards have clearly slipped a bit, so I’ll call it a day.

28

dsquared 09.22.09 at 11:49 am

Jon:

Firstly, I still maintain that “tragic dilemma” is exactly as I describe it, and consequentialism is correct here; psychological feelings of regret don’t actually indicate any important underlying moral reality, and as far as I can see, your argument here consists of the epithet “crass” and nothing else. The only purpose of “tragic dilemma” appears to be to, by saying that both choices were terribly wrong, elide the clear fact that one of them was much worse than the other, and so there was therefore a correct choice to make and an incorrect one. That is, in fact, moral relativism – it is, specifically, the attempt to assert a “moral equivalence” between two outcomes when one is definitely worse than the other.

Second, this wasn’t a borderline case. The “serious obligation” you’re talking about is a very nebulous “solidarity” which isn’t even inconsistent with opposing the war. It wasn’t difficult to see that there was one right choice and one wrong one. There is no reason to identify this as a “tragic dilemma” except that a lot of people, ex post, found themselves on the wrong side of it.

29

P O'Neill 09.22.09 at 11:51 am

Does this mean that Somalia is on all our consciences since no one is advocating invasion, leaving murderous anarchy in power?

30

Alex 09.22.09 at 12:03 pm

As it happened, there were some rather interesting proposals for ways of constraining Ba’athist mis-behaviour from people like Mary Kaldor (if memory serves) – as well as the weapons inspectors, there could have been a Helsinki-like human rights monitoring group, we could have funded and assisted political opposition groups in Iraq (rather than in Washington). If you can have a hypothetical pile of corpses to counterbalance the real pile of corpses, I can have a hypothetical pony to balance the hypothetical pony you’re still going about.

But nobody took any notice because you were too busy howling that anyone who didn’t want WAR! was pro-Ba’athist, anti-Semitic, anti-American, insufficiently folksy, unpatriotic, a hippy, etc etc etc.

31

engels 09.22.09 at 12:09 pm

Jon, how does this argument compare to yours? Many people are in serious danger due to British imperialism. One course of action which aims to reduce British imperialism (albeit one which is both morally forbidden and expected to be ineffective, or worse) is to engage in suicide bombings against British civilians. Anyone who chooses not to engage in such bombings makes a morally correct decision, but he ought to recognise that he faced a tragic dilemna in which both options (doing nothing in the face of evil or doing evil himself) ought to weigh on his conscience. So anyone who does not engage in suicide bombings against British civilians ought to suffer from remorse.

32

Steve LaBonne 09.22.09 at 12:15 pm

“Tragic dilemma” my hairy ass. Try “having it both ways after the fact, while shitting on the people who were ACTUALLY both right and moral in opposing the invasion”.

I too was wrong, dead wrong, because I bought the phony WMD hype. But at least I admit I was a complete dumbass about that, instead of trying to retrospectively justify my stupidity. And I learned from my mistake, which it appears the likes of Jon Pike will never do.

33

politicalfootball 09.22.09 at 12:23 pm

I am troubled by the human rights situation in North Korea. I am not troubled by the failure of the US to invade North Korea.

34

magistra 09.22.09 at 1:16 pm

In 2003 what the war enthusiasts didn’t have was a tragic dilemma: they had a farcical one. A tragic dilemma is taking a course of action you consider to be necessary, knowing how serious the likely negative consequences are. It’s what every sane leader of a popular revolution against a dictator has to consider, for example: ‘do I encourage people to stand up and protest even though they might get shot?’

A farcical dilemma, on the other hand, is when you think ‘my intentions are good, so what could possibly go wrong?’ just before you slip on a banana skin that someone has already repeatedly pointed out to you was there. If you show me any prominent supporter of the war who in 2003 was seriously saying: ‘how can we deal with the damaged country that the removal of a dictator will leave behind’ then I might change my mind. But otherwise, the only tragedy in the whole things is for the Iraqis.

35

Barry 09.22.09 at 1:21 pm

P O’Neill 09.22.09 at 11:51 am

“Does this mean that Somalia is on all our consciences since no one is advocating invasion, leaving murderous anarchy in power?”

No, because (a) there’s not enough oil to matter, (b) the government of Somalia can’t conceivably threaten Israel, (c) the people being butchered are far to, um, ‘well-tanned’, and (d)-(z) there’s not enough oil to matter.

36

Bunbury 09.22.09 at 1:28 pm

Oh yeah Martin!? Well if I’m still objectively pro-Saddam then you’re still objectively pro Mullah Omar and Osama bin-Laden (and Karimov and Bashir and Kim and Than Swe and Malaria and Third World Debt and…) so there!

Amidst all the brokenness in the above passage Martin Bright seems to have forgotten where the goalposts started. Wasn’t the invasion was to get the nuclear weapons and not to free the Iraqis from the Ba’athist yoke?

37

engels 09.22.09 at 1:38 pm

And how should the majority of people in the world who were against this war express their remorse for the counterfactual Ba’athist atrocities which they continue to objectively condone? By wearing black? Or a hair-shirt? Or not getting uppity? I think Norman Geras needs to get onto it.

38

Bill Posters 09.22.09 at 1:41 pm

“a crass post-hoc consequentialist”; because talking about the deaths of all those Iraqis is so crass and No One Could Have Predicted this would end badly.

39

Chris Bertram 09.22.09 at 1:43 pm

I’m more sympathetic than Daniel is to the possibility of tragic dilemmas. In the classic example, poor old Sartre is caught between looking after his sick mother and running off to fight for the resistance. Trying to decide whether my blog (or syndicated column) should say “Let’s zap Saddam!” or “Hang on lads, this may not turn out well” is not a dilemma of that kind. To think that it is, is kind of tragic, but not in the sense intended.

40

soullite 09.22.09 at 1:48 pm

I didn’t don a suit of spandex today and go out and fight crime. Today, I allowed several people to be murdered, a handful of rapes, and several thefts.

I am deeply, deeply ashamed because I refused to act.

41

soullite 09.22.09 at 1:54 pm

You actually have no responsibility to do that which is beyond your power. Ever.

There was never a way this was going to end well in Iraq, we were always only going to make things worse. Given that most war opponents were not only right in opposing the war, but that their specific reasoning turned out to be correct, how can they have any blame? Indeed, it is increases the blame of war supporters for not only being wrong about the war, but having heard arguments that correctly foretold what would happen.

This isn’t Schrodinger’s cat anymore. We opened the box. The Cat is dead. We now know the cat was always dead. We can’t say “sure, the box had a funny smell and there were flies everywhere, but HOW DARE YOU NOT WANT THE POOR LITTLE KITTY TO LIVE!!!!”.

42

Jon Pike 09.22.09 at 2:00 pm

This is quite frustrating, and I’ve tried to be discreet about it, and to back away, but that didn’t work. I post under my real name, and people have attributed to me views that I don’t hold.

I opposed the invasion and subsequent war in Iraq and in 2002 and 2003. I marched against it, resgined from the Labour Party over it, and so on. I don’t claim, particularly, that any prominent advocates of the war (or ‘war enthusiasts’) said that they faced a tragic dilemma, or that they presented the choice as such. The people who faced a tragic dilemma, whether they understood things that way or not, were me and my friends on the left who marched against the war but were troubled then, and still are, by the truth in liberal interventionist arguments, even whilst thinking that, in this concrete situation the outcome of a liberal interventionist stance was likely to be disastrous. This was the right position then and now.

Let me try again. In marching against the war, in 2002-3, the left was right in protesting a probably (now, certainly) disastrous and under-justified intervention, but it also failed to discharge its responsibility towards those Iraqi leftists and trade unionists, and the Iraqi people more generally, by affecting indifference or worse to the continuation of the Ba’athist regime and its (nice word!) ‘misbehaviour.’ There were a very few honourable exceptions, but the failure to oppose the Ba’athist regime was bound up in the logic of the situation.The Left faced a tragic dilemma, since what it advocated (opposition to the war) was also, under another description, leaving the Ba’athist regime in power.

My disagreement with Dsquared, apart from questions of polemical style, is that, amongst other things, Dsquared characterises obligations to the Iraqis in 2002-3 as ‘a very nebulous “solidarity”’ whereas I characterise those obligations as defining obligations of an internationalist left. Since I characterise them in that way, I think of them as one horn of a dilemma, that confronts an internationalist left, and I regard the failure to discharge that obligation as a wrong. Since, moreover, Dsquared doesn’t buy the idea of tragic dilemmas tout court, and I don’t buy his reductive description of them, we’re unlikely to agree about the description of a tragic dilemma facing the left.

There’s plenty more to say, but it’s about the fit of competing moral theories with the constitutive values of the left. To my mind, consequentialism is a very poor fit, not only with the left, but also with ordinary moral reflection about dilemmas. Nothing here or above, is inconsistent with, or in tension with, opposing the war in 2003 and after, and nothing here or above gives any excuse for characterising my view in that way.

I have to say, with a degree of regret, try reading a little more carefully, please?

43

Salient 09.22.09 at 2:09 pm

I have to say, with a degree of regret, try reading a little more carefully, please?

Well, you could have tried to be less prickly at the outset.

we’re unlikely to agree about the description of a tragic dilemma facing the left.

At the time it looked like a blood vs. oil dilemma, which isn’t a very hard dilemma to resolve. Perhaps you forget the discussion of Saddam’s horrible treatment of his own people became popularized only after the weapons of mass destruction evaporated away to the north, south, east, and west somewhat.

44

Substance McGravitas 09.22.09 at 2:11 pm

Let me try again. In marching against the war, in 2002-3, the left was right in protesting a probably (now, certainly) disastrous and under-justified intervention, but it also failed to discharge its responsibility towards those Iraqi leftists and trade unionists, and the Iraqi people more generally, by affecting indifference or worse to the continuation of the Ba’athist regime and its (nice word!) ‘misbehaviour.’

Not risking blowing Iraqi leftists to bits seems responsible.

45

Barry 09.22.09 at 2:16 pm

Jon Pike: “Let me try again. In marching against the war, in 2002-3, the left was right in protesting a probably (now, certainly) disastrous and under-justified intervention, but it also failed to discharge its responsibility towards those Iraqi leftists and trade unionists, and the Iraqi people more generally, by affecting indifference or worse to the continuation of the Ba’athist regime and its (nice word!) ‘misbehaviour.’ “

To summarize, you’re pointing at a particular problem (which is not necessarily one that you care about, but it makes good press), and denouncing those who don’t (a) spend their time bewailing it, and (b) support *your* solution.

46

engels 09.22.09 at 2:24 pm

I am not a consequentialist and I opposed the Iraq war, and I also opposed (or would have, if given the opportunity) the terrorist bombings of the London underground. But I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to feel remorse over either of these decisions of mine. In both cases, there was a serious ongoing injustice: large-scale human rights violations in Saddam’s Iraq on the one hand and an illegal British war with consequent widespread suffering on the other (just to be clear, I’m not making make any comparison of the seriousness of the two). But the proposed course of action was not a reasonable means of addressing this injustice: it was both morally impermissible in itself and expected to be counterproductive in its consequences. So why should I feel any remorse over my decision not to support it?

47

The Raven 09.22.09 at 2:24 pm

Premature anti-interventionism?

Jon, there was no possibility of a military intervention led by the Bush administration having a positive result for the Iraqi left: it was foredoomed. A successful intervention might perhaps have been possible, but even that would have left us in a world where invasion at whim would be more acceptable.

Sometimes containment and patience, however difficult, are the best strategies.

I see George F. Kennan…

48

Hidari 09.22.09 at 2:26 pm

Martin Bright:

‘I am not a signatory of the Euston Manifesto, the defining document of the “decent left”, though I did lobby hard for it to be published in the New Statesman when I was Political Editor as I was convinced it was a significant intellectual intervention.’

Since the dictionary definition of the word ‘intervention’ is now ‘an action whereby incoherent pseudo-liberal bullshit is used to cover up cynical realpolitik’ then I would certainly agree that the Euston Manifesto qualifies.

49

dsquared 09.22.09 at 2:27 pm

by affecting indifference or worse to the continuation of the Ba’athist regime and its (nice word!) ‘misbehaviour

well, this appears to me to be a more or less complete untruth, and one that’s capable of a very insulting interpretation. So it is perhaps understandable that it was not welcomed with “ahh yess Jon, I remember the day when I decided to throw the Iraqi trade unionists under the bus, but it was a tragic choice, what could I do?”. Ye gods.

The one time I heard an Iraqi trade unionist speak, it was at a meeting organised by the Stop The War Coalition. I have no idea why you thought that the anti-war left ignored the Iraqis; their main purpose was specifically to save them from a fate worse than Saddam. If you actually thought that the anti-war movement were apologists for the Ba’athist regime, I am very surprised that you joined their marches.

Also, if you want your own words to be interpreted purely under their own merits and compared against your own personal actions and beliefs, you should probably make it clearer that this was what you meant, rather than supporting Martin Bright.

50

Hidari 09.22.09 at 2:35 pm

‘Well, Daniel, that’s all hunky dory then. Another account might look like this: in 2003, we confronted a genuninely tragic dilemma, and no talk about lesser evils now will defuse the tragedy of the dilemma, except for a crass post-hoc consequentialist. As things turned out, the opponents of the war in 2003 were right, and Martin Bright was wrong. Nonetheless, opponents of the war in 2003 were advocating a course of action that, under one description; ‘leaving the Baathists in power’ was an appalling one, and this should remain on their (our) consciences. Of course, the consequences of the war should also prick the consciences of those who supported it.’

Of course, Jon, by your arguments then we are all therefore currently ‘responsible’ for every act of political repression currently going on in China, North Korea, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. simply by virtue of the fact that none of us* wants the United States to invade and occupy these countries. And this ‘non-invasion’ idea will clearly leave the ‘murderous’ leaders of these dictatorships in power, at least for the time being.

*Unless, like so many Decents, you accept the right that the Americans have the right to invade anywhere they wish but that this might not always be possible for ‘practical’ reasons?

51

engels 09.22.09 at 3:02 pm

Jon, it’s this part, mainly, that I thought was really odd.

I do, though, think that moral agents have a general low level responsibility to assist those who are in immediate and serious danger, and that those who see themselves on the left had a duty of international solidarity, including with the Iraqi people under Saddam. That responsibility can be mitigated, but not eliminated, by the sense that there are no effective courses of action available to discharge it. The existence of that undischarged though mitigated responsibility ought to trouble those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq, and it did trouble me.

So if anyone, anywhere in the world is in ‘immediate and serious danger’, then as I moral agent I have a responsibility to assist them, even if it is impossible for me to do so (this mitigates, but does not eliminate the responsibility). And whenever I can not exercise this responsibility I ought to be troubled and to feel remorse.

So until we live in a world in which no-one is in ‘immediate and serious danger’ we should all feel troubled and remorseful all of the time?

52

Daniel 09.22.09 at 3:08 pm

That responsibility can be mitigated, but not eliminated, by the sense that there are no effective courses of action available to discharge it

“Ought implies can” is “crass” these days?

Also, if the invasion of Iraq had merely been an ineffective way of assisting the Iraqi people, I for one would probably not have bothered to oppose it in 2003 (I didn’t know at the time how expensive it would turn out). It was, in fact, a massively and horribly counterproductive way of assisting them. I don’t see why anyone should feel trouble or remorse at not having wanted to make things a lot worse. It’s rather like having escaped from a burning building and regretting ever after that you didn’t take the opportunity to kick an old man in the groin, on the way out.

53

Salient 09.22.09 at 3:17 pm

It’s rather like having escaped from a burning building and regretting ever after that you didn’t take the opportunity to kick an old man in the groin, on the way out.

Or like wanting to get a friend up and dressed and out of their apartment building, but regretting that you tried to stop the crazy guy from burning the place to the ground.

After all, his setting the apartments on fire might have accomplished your goal of getting your friend sufficiently inspired to leave the building, albeit in a crude and massively counterproductive way, all this assuming your friend wouldn’t have died in the blaze.

54

steven 09.22.09 at 3:18 pm

It could be, of course, that the Iraq war was a rather ineffective/counterproductive way of assisting the Iraqi people because it was not conceived or conducted as a way of assisting them.

55

Salient 09.22.09 at 3:27 pm

steven inspires me to amend my response to D^2^:

It’s rather like having escaped from a burning building and regretting ever after that you didn’t take the opportunity to kick an old man in the groin, on the way out.

Or like wanting to get a friend up and dressed and out of their apartment building, but regretting that you tried to stop the crazy guy from burning the place to the ground. He probably started the fire because he heard an urban legend about gold buried in its basement, but claims to be burning the place down because it contains Demons which will kill us all if we turn our backs.

After all, his setting the apartments on fire might have accomplished your goal of getting your friend sufficiently inspired to leave the building, albeit in a crude and massively counterproductive way, all this assuming your friend wouldn’t have died in the blaze.

56

Frank the salesforecaster 09.22.09 at 3:47 pm

Thomas Paine is quite clear that you can not force democracy on a people’s who don’t want it. Declaring the failure to spread democracy as a moral failure is akin to declaring my failure to float 4 inches above my chair while I type this as a moral failure.

57

Guano 09.22.09 at 4:04 pm

The UK invaded Iraq because, it was said, Iraq had failed to disarm. Iraq had disarmed. I’m not sure why I should feel guilty for having opposed the invasion because the information was not good enough to support the claim that Iraq had failed to disarm.

58

Chris Williams 09.22.09 at 4:08 pm

Dunno ’bout you lot, but I organised a demonstration vs the Iraq war with about 2000 people on it, and I made sure that the rally at the end had a speaker from the WCPI at it. Just for the record.

59

Keith 09.22.09 at 4:11 pm

So, I hypothetically killed less people then the regime he championed actually did? Duly noted. I’ll make sure to tattoo that on my conscience.

60

JM 09.22.09 at 4:22 pm

those who opposed intervention in 2002/3 were arguing for the murderous Baathist regime to stay in power. This should remain on their conscience just as the murderous consequences of the invasion are on the conscience of those who supported the war.

From straw man to false equivalence in one forgettable dishonesty.

Yeah, I remember those guys.

61

Mrs Tilton 09.22.09 at 4:30 pm

Steve @32,

I learned from my mistake, which it appears the likes of Jon Pike will never do

You misjudge Jon, you know. He tells us above that he was against the war back in the day.

Which does make his stance vis-à-vis Daniel’s post all the more baffling, of course. I’ve been turning Jon’s argument over and over in my head, trying to discern what fundamental stance or principle informs it. And I think I’ve found it. It is this: he doesn’t understand the difference between the meanings of “remorse” and “regret”. This weakness of vocabulary has certainly generated an amusing comments thread, but it’s scant justification for striking a tone of prim moral superiority that would, frankly, be tiresome even if more solidly grounded.

62

Chris 09.22.09 at 4:36 pm

My answer is that the lesser evil may involve the failure to discharge an important obligation or responsibility, and this constitutes a wrong, about which it is proper to feel remorse, whilst at the same time holding the true belief that one acted rightly.

This is a failure or refusal to engage with consequentialism on its own terms. In particular the idea that “failure to discharge an obligation” that you actually, under the circumstances, CAN’T discharge is somehow still “a wrong” is necessarily deontological. Under consequentialism, force majeure is an unanswerable argument, because consequentialism is only concerned with the actual consequences of possible actions; an obligation to do the impossible is nonsensical. (So is an obligation to attempt the impossible, because the result of trying is the same as the result of not trying.)

Personally, I’m a noncognitivist because I think consequentialism still fails to produce an adequate basis for preferring one set of consequences to another that doesn’t boil down to personal preference or the socially encoded gestalt of preferences of society members. But since I, personally, am against needlessly destroying sentient life, I also opposed the Iraq war because I didn’t like the consequences. I just refuse to attribute this preference to something bigger than myself.

If you philosophically disagree with either my or dsquared’s way of deciding what is right and wrong, fine, but it would help if you were more above-board about the actual basis of your disagreement.

63

Phil 09.22.09 at 4:52 pm

me and my friends on the left who marched against the war but were troubled then, and still are, by the truth in liberal interventionist arguments, even whilst thinking that, in this concrete situation the outcome of a liberal interventionist stance was likely to be disastrous. This was the right position then and now.

It’s possible for marching against the war to have been the right position*. Marching against the war while sympathising with the arguments for the war can’t have been the right position, because it hinges on the state of mind of the marchers – which is unknowable and un(dis)provable.

To put it another way, you’re conflating what was best for the individual British citizen to actually do and what was best for the state of the i. B. c.’s soul. I’m sure it was better for the soul to be wracked with uncertainty and beset with sneaking sympathies for the enemy**, but that’s not a political position. The political alternatives were “for this war now” and “against this war now”.

Martin Bright seems to be arguing that “against this war now” was right in retrospect but wrong at the time; that “for this war now” was wrong in retrospect but somehow a bit less wrong at the time; and that the right position – at least, the only one that doesn’t leave you with a burden on your conscience – was and remains “oh, I don’t know, it’s all very complicated, what do you think?”.

*And obviously I think it was, but that’s a separate argument.
**Except not the Ba’ath Party, because sympathising with them would be wrong.

64

Chris Williams 09.22.09 at 5:01 pm

PS. Also for the record, I’ll like to point out that Jon is an honest man who was indeed against the war then (I was in at least one antiwar organising meeting with him), and generally fails to fulfil one of the main criteria of decency, usefully summarised as BACAI.

65

jdkbrown 09.22.09 at 5:26 pm

If I refuse to deal with a patient’s inoperable brain tumor by chopping his head off am I
affecting indifference or worse towards his cancer?

66

JM 09.22.09 at 5:51 pm

I suspect that the man who lives next door to me is beating his wife and resolve to burn their house down. Martin (not so) Bright thinks that this is a bad plan. In burning down their house, I manage to leave the family homeless and kill one of their children. I have that on my conscience. But at least I didn’t beat his wife, like Martin (not so) Bright retroactively had been doing, for so many years, by opposing my arson plan on one occasion.

So, I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

67

ejh 09.22.09 at 5:51 pm

Another way to summarise all this might be:

“After six years I finally concede that my opponents might not only have been right, but might have had good reasons for being in the right. I congratulate myself for the speed with which I have acknowledged this.”

I agree very strongly with Steven at #53 above: regarding which it seems to me that making the suggestion that he does, either before the war or during it, was precisely the sort of thing which got one denounced for anti-Americanism, and so on.

Having said that, I actually think the most prevalent motive among the antiwar marchers – and indeed marchers against most wars – was simply a view that wars are things in which we should not engage if at all possible. The movement was bigger in 2003 partly because it had time to build momentum (and even looked as if it might succeed) but also because the arguments for the war were so manifestly specious and dishonest. This really was a case of the bleedin’ obvious. The fact that a fair few people managed to persuade themselves otherwise, while simultaneously rushing round denouncing those who didn’t, is neither a testament to their intelligence nor their integrity.

68

ejh 09.22.09 at 5:55 pm

Incidentally I’d be more impressed with the case for Jon Pike if he wasn’t an enthusiast for the Euston Manifesto, whose theme might be usefully summarised as “some of us were against the war but we denounce most of the bastards who were”. Still, y’know, let’s not pick over the rubble, eh?

69

engels 09.22.09 at 6:00 pm

I agree very strongly with Steven at #53 above: regarding which it seems to me that making the suggestion that he does, either before the war or during it, was precisely the sort of thing which got one denounced for anti-Americanism, and so on.

I’m actually not sure about this. I am sure there were no shortage of idiots who were prepared to call anyone doubted Bush’s comitment to spreadin’ freedom and democracy a traitor but as I recall the more intelligent ‘decent’ position was to concede that Bush’s intentions were far from noble but to argue that The Left should support his project because it would have desirable consequences.

70

engels 09.22.09 at 6:03 pm

(Which I take to be consistent with Steven’s original point, which was that facts about Bush’s intentions were relevant to assessing the likelihood of these consequences coming about.)

71

engels 09.22.09 at 6:10 pm

(Or, as I should have said, Cheney’s intentions.)

72

LR 09.22.09 at 6:31 pm

To flog the dead horse a bit: If you are opposed to a particular war as a means to a certain end because you think an actually desirable end cannot be accomplished by war, then in what sense are you opposed to the end in the abstract? A main concern was that U.S. war with Iraq would likely fail to lead to a longterm stable democracy and might also lead to an ongoing much more bloody civil war. I don’ t see how this indicates any desire to have the Baath regime to stay in power, any complacency about the evils of the Baath regime, etc. The desirable aim was to better the lives of people in Iraq but there was a lot of evidence this could not be achieved. Otherwise you are just engaging in the ‘destroy the village in order to save it’ logic. Save it for whom? And why? I think there is a genuine confusion here about what it means to intend something. This little mistake not just name calling or holier than thou rhetoric.

Of course it does distort the facts since the humanitarian goal was just thrown in as some extra sweetener. It was not even presented as the main goal in the primary arguments. The argument was about security. This is why it was so easy to overlook the likelihood that what did happen was what would happen: Because it didn’t matter that much to the architects of the war. I guess what gets me more is how confused it is.

Related, I don’t necessarily fail to desire a goal if I am unwilling to do something horrific or inhumane to accomplish that goal.

This is similar to the ‘unless you want to bomb Iran you must not care about the Iranian people’ meme (when the opposition to bombing is that it is pointless as well as incredibly risky for Iranian civilians and will destabilize the region). This has to be a kind of informal fallacy, or it should be. What is it/should it be called? It’s the ‘unless you do something pointless and crazy that would cause problems for X [Ahmadinajad, whoever] while also creating myriad other unforeseeable problems for many more people you must be some kinda X-lover.’

A similar kind of reasoning: I was talking to a person involved in enforcing the war on drugs who admitted the war had failed. He would say whenever I suggested there might be some other strategy: ‘But you don’t know how BAD these people [drug mafia] are.’ While also admitting that much of what they did on the WODs strengthens the mafia. To fail to engage in this pointless policy that accomplished nothing was to fail to ‘fight the bad guys’ even if the bad guys ultimately paid no price for the fight.

73

Alex 09.22.09 at 6:45 pm

Oh Jesus, not the fucking imaginary Iraqi comrades again. Why did I see – see – members of the WCPI on demonstrations? Why did the Iraqi unions demand that we left? Why the hell are people still pretending that this shitty strawman is worth anything?

74

David 09.22.09 at 7:17 pm

dsquared had it right in his first two posts and everything subsequent should have been unnecessary. Call me sneering if you will, but I call bullshit on Mr. Bright. He tells me — and quite a few others — that we should have troubled consciences just like the war proponents and apologists and enablers such as himself supposedly have. Again, bullshit. There is not the slightest evidence that any of these people have ever had or ever will have their beautiful minds the least bit troubled by anything they did. Go have another drink with Tom Friedman, Mr. Martin.

75

JM 09.22.09 at 8:33 pm

Ever since I decided not to murder Jon Pike, he has been calling me “mother.”

76

Ray 09.22.09 at 9:38 pm

I have a theory that setting off a nuclear warhead in Jerusalem in six months time will bend the space-time continuum causing Hitler to pop out of existence, averting the Holocaust. (Obviously there will be some collateral damage, and quite incidentally I will become very rich, but that is completely by the by)
Clearly anyone who does not support me in my plan is objectively pro-fascist. Quite frankly, I don’t know how you sleep at night.

77

unseen 09.22.09 at 10:49 pm

There seems to be a misapprehension here:

Martin Bright did not support the Iraq War at the time. He opposed it at the time and opposes it in retrospect. But he was still hopeful it would have a net positive outcome once it started.

78

Helen 09.23.09 at 12:49 am

His claim is: “so why would someone’s conscience be troubled by having supported the lesser of two evils, apart from by regret that their point of view did not carry the day?”.
My answer is that the lesser evil may involve the failure to discharge an important obligation or responsibility, and this constitutes a wrong, about which it is proper to feel remorse..

Only if you (the Coalition of the Willing, or the US, or the UK) have such immense tickets on yourself that you think it OK to appoint yourself the world’s policemen.

79

Substance McGravitas 09.23.09 at 1:38 am

Only if you (the Coalition of the Willing, or the US, or the UK) have such immense tickets on yourself that you think it OK to appoint yourself the world’s policemen.

What if they were just the world’s helpers? I mean, I have a whole bunch of bills to pay to cover various therapies for my lovely child: why not be guilty about that and send me ten grand? I’ll be grateful, guaranteed.

80

geo 09.23.09 at 4:37 am

“Tragic dilemma” was certainly a red flag, and so inept a choice of words that it’s hard to regret the clobbering that poor, well-meaning Jon has gotten. I think he might better have said: “Well, I opposed the war too, and probably for the same reasons as many of you, but didn’t you feel just a little bit tempted to support it just because Saddam was so horrible and a quick, relatively bloodless American victory, followed by an occupation carried out under the international klieg lights, might have been possible, after all, and would have been the best thing for the Iraqi population”? That wouldn’t have been such an offensive thing to say, I don’t think.

I congratulate all of you who foresaw that the invasion was bound to be followed by protracted and bloody civil conflict. I didn’t, myself — I really couldn’t believe, even then, that the Bush administration was so utterly incompetent, and I didn’t know much about Iraqi society and politics. I still opposed the war, though, and without the regret Jon felt, because the invasion was illegal. For me, the overriding goal is a stable, humane, law-abiding world order, in which the use of force without UN sanction is universally considered illegitimate and simply doesn’t happen. This was very explicitly the goal of the people who founded the UN, and one main reason — not the only reason, of course — we haven’t arrived at that happy condition is that the world’s most powerful state has regularly undermined the authority of international law and the UN Charter. If it keeps happening, international law will be a dead letter, making it all the more likely that the species will be vaporized and then poisoned by radiation, even before the environment completely collapses. I notice that most people on this thread have emphasized the prudential rather than the legal reasons for opposing the war. Is that because the argument in this paragraph seems a little abstract and doctrinaire?

81

bad Jim 09.23.09 at 4:49 am

The American conscience will forever be tormented by the decision not to deploy nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union and Communist China. By avoiding thermonuclear war and its horrific consequences we were actually arguing for those murderous regimes to stay in power. Moreover, we are continuing to do so for every unsavory government on the planet: not to nuke them is to support them.

(In fact, this argument used to be common on the far right in the early 1960’s.)

82

David 09.23.09 at 5:16 am

Unseen @76. Mr. Bright may well have opposed the war from the start and continue to do so today. It matters little, however, if he hoped that once begun it might have some net positive outcome. That was and remains extraordinarily unjustifiable wishful thinking on his part. It smacks of the intellectually and morally bankrupt right-war-wrong-prosecutors argument that Hillary Clinton tried for so long. In any case, Bright does himself no credit by telling us that we should feel guilty, too. And compounding that insult with the preposterous claim that any of the war promoters feel the slightest bit of guilt. It is simply not so. I do not see how I am misapprehending his position in the least.

83

dsquared 09.23.09 at 7:03 am

I notice that most people on this thread have emphasized the prudential rather than the legal reasons for opposing the war. Is that because the argument in this paragraph seems a little abstract and doctrinaire?

in my case it’s because I’m a consequentialist, and think that the main reason why the law was made was that wars of aggression have a really bad track record. With respect to this debate though, I’ve found that if you put too much emphasis on international law, you get all sorts of confusion brought up accusing you of being a “Westphalian” and having a “quasi-mystic regard for national sovereignty”; there are lots of people who do seem to believe that the Nuremberg Convention prohibition on aggressive war was based on this strange nationalist concept rather than, as you say, the fact that we tried it the other way and it didn’t work.

84

Zephyrus 09.23.09 at 7:46 am

I’m told by a magic fairy that Russia is planning a full scale nuclear assault on the USA tomorrow evening.

We must nuke Russia pre-emptively.

What? You disagree? Well I guess you’re just sympathizing with authoritarian states. I’m more moral than you, you Stalin-admirers!

(Eight years later…)

Well in retrospect, it probably wasn’t a good idea to start global thermonuclear war. But that doesn’t change the tragic dilemma we all faced, and just as those of us who supported the war must bear that guilt, you guys also need to feel guilty about supporting authoritarian oppression.

PS I’m still more sympathetic and humane than all of you. That said, we need to bomb Iran to save it from its warmongering oppressive government!

85

Alex 09.23.09 at 8:07 am

Martin Bright did not support the Iraq War at the time. He opposed it at the time and opposes it in retrospect. But he was still hopeful it would have a net positive outcome once it started.

Well, in that case, could he perhaps spare everyone the abuse?

86

Chris Williams 09.23.09 at 8:37 am

“But he was still hopeful it would have a net positive outcome once it started.”

I too was hopeful that the war would have a net positive outcome, rather than the giant horrible mess which I predicted. I can top that, in fact; I am hopeful that _everything_ will have a net positive outcome, perhaps involving ponies. There – by uttering this near-truism, I have now rendered myself immune to Decent abuse. Strangely, this rendering has come about not because of things that I’ve actually _done_ but because of something that I’ve said. How peculiar.

On the other hand, this whole decent-kicking exercise is getting a bit boring (just as the Galloway-kicking exercise did, back in the day). What I’d like to see is more effort being paid to investigating the existence or otherwise of links between the decents and any putative Atlanticist backers. For starters, can anyone give me a ballpark guess about the likely out-of-pocket costs for running ‘Harry’s Place’, circa 2002? Is that a sum low enough to have been credibly covered by the kindness of ‘Steele’s heart alone?

87

Guano 09.23.09 at 11:03 am

Decency is a form of humbug: it involves saying things that make little sense. You wonder whether the writer has thought about what he’s saying. The facts disprove the hypothesis (that the Left don’t care about the people of Iraq) but the narrative of the hypothesis is such a strong part of conventional wisdom that the writer scribbles it down anyway.

Humbug needs to be pointed out whenever it appears. I’ve no problem at all with continued decency-bashing.

88

alex 09.23.09 at 11:39 am

“…more effort being paid to investigating the existence or otherwise of links between the decents and any putative Atlanticist backers….”

I have absolutely no horse in this race, but even so I can see that that is so small-mindedly pathetically conspiratorial that even to be able to express it ought to disqualify you from public discourse. The US govt and its cronies were financing some website for UK leftists that nobody reads? Get a life.

89

Chris Williams 09.23.09 at 11:56 am

Well, that’s me told. Thank God that the Congress for Cultural Freedom didn’t exist, and every word in Stonor Saunders’ _Paying the Piper_ is a lie.

I’m capable of entertaining the idea that HP was a self-motivated operation entirely intitiated and funded by useful idiots themselves (especially if the budget comes in at 3 figures), but the world being what it is, it might not have been. Some evidence would be nice. Abuse is less welcome, but it too has an information content.

90

andrew adams 09.23.09 at 12:35 pm

Incidentally I’d be more impressed with the case for Jon Pike if he wasn’t an enthusiast for the Euston Manifesto, whose theme might be usefully summarised as “some of us were against the war but we denounce most of the bastards who were”. Still, y’know, let’s not pick over the rubble, eh?

Yes, it always gets me how the Decents who claim to have opposed the war (I’m not including Jon Pike in this) seem to believe that their opposition was uniquely principled whereas the rest of us were at best deluded and at worst unprincipled, particularly those who actually marched against it who were obviously motivated only by self-aggrandisement. In fact in virtually any argument about issues surrounding the war they will take the side of those who supported it against those who opposed it and are just as quick to start throwing “stopper” type insults around.

91

andrew adams 09.23.09 at 12:44 pm

I’m happy to believe that the HP contributors’ sense of personal righteousness and their responsibility to expose the moral depravity of absolutely everyone else on the left was sufficient motivation in itself without any financial incentives being provided. Is it that expensive to host a blog, even a fairly active one such as HP?

92

Chris 09.23.09 at 2:18 pm

didn’t you feel just a little bit tempted to support it just because Saddam was so horrible and a quick, relatively bloodless American victory, followed by an occupation carried out under the international klieg lights, might have been possible, after all, and would have been the best thing for the Iraqi population

No, because policy decisions should not be based on over-optimistic rainbows-and-unicorns scenarios. Has there ever been a bloodless invasion by a traditionally hostile country with a markedly different culture and religion than the invadee? I can’t think of one. (Actually, I can’t think of any bloodless invasions at all; even deposed rightful kings were frequently and wisely advised not to return at the head of foreign armies lest it undermine their legitimacy.)

Additionally, the potential for an outside attack to rally a country around its leader, *including people who had despised him before*, should really, really not have been underestimated by the U.S. ca. 2002-3.

93

Frank the salesforecaster 09.23.09 at 3:22 pm

I would like to congratulate Andrew on having reached a transendental state were he can read the mind’s of thousands of marching protesters. Of course I risked losing customers and agrevating my business partners for self-aggrandisement. Not to save the country I love the cost in fortune, or prevent the killings of innocents. I did it for me!
All bow down to Andrew, ah don’t bother he has already read your mind and knows you’re only doing for yourself. In fact I bet Andrew can read my mind right now. No? I give you a hint, mmm doughnuts.

Tragic dilemma my ass. After the rationalization have been stripped away you are left with a molehill of bad governance on which to plant your bloodstained neo-con flag.

94

David Kane 09.23.09 at 3:26 pm

Chris Bertram writes:

Your remarks about “crass post-hoc consequentialism” are ill-directed at dsquared, since he predicted that things would turn out badly beforehand.

Prior to March 2003, dsquared predicted that the war would turn out badly? Alas, the Crooked Timber archives don’t seem to allow an easy check of this claim. But, if memory serves, dsquared was reluctantly in favor of the war at the start, but then rapidly turned against it. Corrections welcome!

95

Salient 09.23.09 at 3:31 pm

I notice that most people on this thread have emphasized the prudential rather than the legal reasons for opposing the war. Is that because the argument in this paragraph seems a little abstract and doctrinaire?

It just feels politically untenable. I fully support the reasoning and find it more compelling than purely prudential arguments, personally, but arguing “we ought to obey international law” seems to have no traction whatsoever where I live, and if anything I am surrounded by persons who feel “we ought to flout international law” is a superior principle: disservice to international law through assertion that we are not bound by it is explicitly asserted to be a benefit, not a cost, in their analysis. For this reason, while I could try to argue “we ought to obey international law because it is good,” I find it preferable to argue that “we ought to do X because it is good (implied: despite the fact that X is an example of following international law).”

96

David Kane 09.23.09 at 3:33 pm

I stand corrected. See here for the “the official foreign policy of D-squared Digest” as of 2002/2003.

The official policy of D-Squared Digest with respect to Iraq is now that we support a policy of containment until after the 2004 Presidential elections, and after that, we will support immediate war with Iraq if and only if someone other than George W Bush is elected.

So, if the war had not started in 2003 and Kerry had beaten Bush, dsquare would have been in favor of the invasion/occupation of Iraq in 2005. I am certain that that would have turned out really swell . . .

97

dsquared 09.23.09 at 3:34 pm

But, if memory serves, dsquared was reluctantly in favor of the war at the start, but then rapidly turned against it. Corrections welcome!

Congratulations, you’re wrong. As can be found on my own blog, I would have been in favour of the war if someone other than Bush was in charge because I thought he would fuck it up, basically working on the evidence that even at that early date, he had already showed himself to be pretty incompetent. I later recanted even my counterfactual-conditional support, as I grew to believe that the Democrats would probably also have fucked it up. HTH.

98

Salient 09.23.09 at 3:35 pm

Additionally, the potential for an outside attack to rally a country around its leader, including people who had despised him before, should really, really not have been underestimated by the U.S. ca. 2002-3.

…that’s a very good point. Which I should have made myself, in frequent enough circumstances, earlier in life. How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.

99

Salient 09.23.09 at 3:38 pm

I am certain that that would have turned out really swell

(Some mild grumbling about inexcusable failure to detect snark and therefore misinterpreting as sincere what should not have been taken as sincere.)

Cool thing is, if you were actually engaging in some kind of meta-snark there in which you were obliquely acknowledging the D^2^ Digest’s comment as very funny, or some such thing, my own parenthetical comment can be taken to apply to itself.

100

steven 09.23.09 at 3:47 pm

I think it remains open to question as to whether the war really was fucked up: it depends what you think its aims were. (Obviously it was fucked up in the sense of “evil”.)

101

dsquared 09.23.09 at 3:48 pm

I am certain that that would have turned out really swell . . .

hang on, Kane, aren’t you rather famous for arguing that the Iraq War did, in fact, turn out really swell? To the extent of once having presented a mathematical argument to the effect that we couldn’t rule out that it had literally raised the dead? When did you come over to the belief that it had been a horrible disaster causing hundreds of thousands of needless deaths? Did you publish another article on Michelle Malkin’s blog? If so, thank you from the bottom of my heart for leaving me out of it.

102

David Kane 09.23.09 at 3:58 pm

hang on, Kane, aren’t you rather famous for arguing that the Iraq War did, in fact, turn out really swell?

No. Care to provide a citation?

To the extent of once having presented a mathematical argument to the effect that we couldn’t rule out that it had literally raised the dead? When did you come over to the belief that it had been a horrible disaster causing hundreds of thousands of needless deaths?

Happy to dive into that argument again, perhaps in a new thread?

In order to figure out the number of deaths caused by the Iraq War, you need to have an estimate of the number of deaths that would have occurred in the absence of the war. How many Iraqi citizens would have died if Saddam had been in power over the last 6 years? I don’t have a good estimate for that. Do you?

103

dsquared 09.23.09 at 4:08 pm

I don’t have a good estimate for that

Litotes.

104

David Kane 09.23.09 at 4:27 pm

By the way, for readers new to this dispute, I am “rather famous” at Crooked Timber for being the first to float the fraud balloon about the accuracy of the Lancet estimates of Iraqi mortality. Since that time (was it only three years ago?), lead author Gilbert Burnham has been sanctioned by Johns Hopkins for research misconduct and is no longer allowed to conduct similar surveys. But feel free to blame this news on my zombie army.

105

Conor 09.23.09 at 4:27 pm

I came to this debate rather late, because I was mainly in the field from 2000 – 2006. Although I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, I initially found the ‘decents’ position quite interesting for the reasons that Martin outlined. It would be a huge under-statement to say that my opinion of them has plummeted on every single level over the last few years as I have got to understand what they are arguing better. If there is ever a political grouping that deserves burying under 10 feet of concrete than it ‘decency’. I would say that I still don’t understand how they can live with their own consciences, but I have also never come across a group of people who were so emotionally unaware and retarded, which probably explains things.

106

steven 09.23.09 at 4:40 pm

In order to figure out the number of deaths caused by the Iraq War, you need to have an estimate of the number of deaths that would have occurred in the absence of the war.

In order to figure out the number of deaths caused by a car crash, you need to have an estimate of the number of deaths that would have occurred in the absence of the car crash. But we can’t be sure what would have happened if the car crash hadn’t occurred! Another car might have crashed, or a coachload of tourists; or a serial killer might have gone on a killing spree in the immediate vicinity; or an asteroid might have flattened 20 square kilometres of the nearest dense conurbation. Therefore, it is impossible for us to say that the car crash really killed anyone, despite the bloody corpses in the smoking wreckage.

107

George W 09.23.09 at 4:42 pm

Boy, reading this thread is like hearing You Can’t Touch This on the radio. If anyone’s still reading, I’ll chime in with a hand grenade: I *don’t* think it’s possible at this juncture to see clearly who was right and who was wrong, at least if you thought about the invasion in terms of risks and rewards, as I did. Possible outcomes of invading: lots of people dead, regional war, failure to achieve desired result, spike in AQ recruitment, etc. Possible outcomes of not invading: continuance of totalitarian state, ABC weapons, regional war sometime down the line, etc. In point of fact we did invade, so we can judge whether the risks were realized or not, and in fairness I give it about a C-. Lots of people did die, but no regional war, and I still hold out hope that a stable, democratic country will eventually emerge. On the other hand, since we didn’t not invade, we can’t know whether those risks would have ever materialized. True, we now know that ABC weapons were a lot less likely that we thought at the time, but it was virtually inevitable (in my opinion, your mileage may vary) that had Saddam been let out of his box, he would have eventually done all that bad stuff and more. Hindsight is most definitely not 20-20.

Before you ask, if I knew then what I know now, I would not have supported the invasion as I did; no one can with a clear conscience choose the deaths of a hundred thousand innocent people, a fact that does grieve me (easy to say, yet true). But of course you cannot know then what is known now, and even if you could, you wouldn’t know what else might have been, or indeed what is still to come. Say what you will, I think the right decision was made.

108

ejh 09.23.09 at 4:44 pm

. How many Iraqi citizens would have died if Saddam had been in power over the last 6 years?

Tasteless though this is, I wonder – do we have a reasonable estimate for the previous six? (Possibly divided into victims of repression and victims of sanctions, if people so wish and if such a division can reasonably be made.)

109

Chris Williams 09.23.09 at 4:56 pm

WMDs “a lot less likely that we thought at the time, “

“we”? Speak for yourself. The well-funded disinfo campaign (of which the decents were a part) managed to convince quite a few people, but it didn’t convince everyone.

ejh – the main measurable impact of sanctions was on those under 5, who didn’t suffer so much in the repression. It was also an artefact of the mid-90s, and by 2002 oil for food had brought the megadeaths down substantially, so it’s not just a question of extending a line on a graph.

110

Conor 09.23.09 at 5:04 pm

All this ‘I wouldn’t have supported the invasion if I had known what I know now’ stuff would be a bit more convincing if the same people had not then gone on to write a ‘manifesto’ calling for a reform of international law based on a total lack of understanding of its basic concepts; blithely insisted up until about a year ago that everything was hunkydory in Afghanistan; and never let an international humanitarian crisis go by without raising the cry of ‘send in western troops’ no matter how utterly implausible this was as a realistic possibility (and not matter how much damage it did to the actual delivery of aid). There is surely some requirement in a political discussion that people should have some idea of what they are talking about before they shoot their mouths off.

If the argument is that, despite getting every single prediction about the likely causes of their proposed actions wrong over the last few years, the ‘decents’ should be considered morally superior (in a nice but dim sort of way) then that would only be sustainable if there was some evidence of ‘decent’ practice (ie not relying on ad hominem attacks, not consistently misrepresenting and lying about what their opponents are saying, not indulging in McCarthyite witch hunts, not cosying up to right wingers while attacking human rights and humanitarian organisations, not regularly allowing racist comments on their websites, etc. etc.)

111

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.23.09 at 5:13 pm

Consequentialism my ass. I’m with Geo. The only kind of consequentialism necessary in this situation is this: you start a war – you get hanged by the neck until you be dead. And that’s all there is to it.

112

ejh 09.23.09 at 5:19 pm

I think, to give them what due they’re due, that some people are arguing that, well, at least their instincts were right even if in this instance the policy and the choices were not the right ones.

OK, perhaps, but I think if that’s the argument then the antiwar instinct was also right, even if not always the right policy. For that matter I think the instinct to not trust the White House is right and I think the instinct to find Israel’s actions and justifications intolerable is also right. But on none of these issues have the people now pleading “my instincts were right” extended much generosity to those they criticise.

This is really what angers me about them: it’s that they’re denouncers. This is what they do. It’s a really unpleasant exercise and it doesn’t invite much sympathy from the people they’ve seen fit to denounce.

113

Barry 09.23.09 at 5:34 pm

BTW, David Kane is, um, a bullsh*tting wh*reson a bit disingenuous in his claims about the Iraq Survey Group; he has a long history here of being slapped down by D-Squared. The ‘sanction’ was for some Iraqi surveyers keeping records which included identifying details, which they weren’t supposed to. It doesn’t have any bearing on anything else.

114

Bunbury 09.23.09 at 5:57 pm

Decent says “Let’s call it a draw!”

Or are we at the “I’ll bite your legs off!” stage?

David K. as far as I can see Burnham has been found in some cases to have gathered more personal data than Johns Hopkins had given permission for. How do you think that casts doubt on the Lancet study? On the face of it that means he had better information than suspected.

I guess that your argument would be that it is an example of dishonesty and makes his work unreliable. Under the best circumstances I think that would require corroboration beyond an unexpected result. However the surveys are hard work at the best of times and this one was carried out under extremely difficult circumstances. Mistake, oversight or shortcut (what is the turnaround time for approval of changes in survey design?) are all plausible explanations that you seem unwilling to entertain. Can you explain why?

115

andrew adams 09.23.09 at 6:07 pm

I would like to congratulate Andrew on having reached a transendental state were he can read the mind’s of thousands of marching protesters. Of course I risked losing customers and agrevating my business partners for self-aggrandisement.

Frank, I marched as well – I think most people did so for the best of motives. I was pointing out that the above view of us protesters is common amongst the “decent” left.

116

David Kane 09.23.09 at 6:55 pm

How do you think that casts doubt on the Lancet study?

Forget about Iraq for a moment. Imagine another study that comes to controversial conclusion X. You read it and then, based upon the quality of the study, other information, and whatnot, you have a Y% faith in that result.

Now, after that, it turns out that the lead author is guilty of misconduct and has been censured by his university. Do you still have Y% faith in the results?

I don’t. Anytime that a researcher is censured by his university, my faith in his results drops to near zero. Needless to say, if other researchers have independently come to conclusion X, then X might still be true. But I have trouble coming up with a single example in which a reasonable person should still have faith in a study after such an unusual censuring.

Now, of course, the vast majority of people (like me and dsquared) believe that there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who are now dead but who would still be alive in the counterfactual world of no US invasion. But the Lancet surveys are still one of the most important scientific frauds of a decade.

If you think that Burnham’s censure was the last shoe to drop in this controversy, thing again.

117

Substance McGravitas 09.23.09 at 7:10 pm

Something is missing from David Kane’s argument.

The school completed an internal review of the study, which estimated that nearly 655,000 Iraqis had died because of the U.S.-led invasion and war in Iraq. The review found that inclusion of identifiers did not affect the results of the study.

118

Chris Williams 09.23.09 at 7:26 pm

Kane: _after such an unusual censuring_ ‘Unusual’ here is obviously being used in the sense of ‘obviously trivial in relation to the soundness of the research conclusions’.

Come on, Kane, how stupid do you really think we are? Perhaps you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by hanging round with too many teabaggers?

119

lemuel pitkin 09.23.09 at 7:30 pm

The official policy of D-Squared Digest with respect to Iraq is now that we support a policy of containment until after the 2004 Presidential elections, and after that, we will support immediate war with Iraq if and only if someone other than George W Bush is elected.

I’m really curious if that official policy is still in force. Because it seems a bit in tension with what you say at 82. Is the prohibition of (or strongly-held prior against) aggressive war really intended to apply only to countries with exceptionally bad leadership?

120

Stuart 09.23.09 at 7:38 pm

For someone that professes to be really keen on getting to the “truth”, David Kane seems surprisingly happy to lie and mislead, even when the deception is very easy to expose.

Funny how Burnham’s taking too much private information is reason to discard everything he has done, but his own deliberate deceptions are presumably perfectly acceptable and we should still take him seriously.

121

Barry 09.23.09 at 7:40 pm

Also (I’m too lazy to look it up), David Kane got in trouble with a group in Harvard for making rather extreme claims. IIRC, David Kane is no longer welcome there.

In addition, something that I didn’t want to post earlier – D-Squared and Tim Lamber (http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/) have rather well demonstrated that the David Kane (a) doesn’t know much about statistics and (b) doesn’t seem fazed by being repeated shown to be wrong.

By David Kane’s own standards, he has long ago been shown to have no opinion worth listening to, on anything involving science, research, statistics, or the real world.

122

Barry 09.23.09 at 7:40 pm

Tim Lambert, not ‘Tim Lamber’.

123

Barry 09.23.09 at 7:43 pm

This brings up something else:

Lr in #24 – ‘To flog the dead horse a bit: …’

The ‘something else’ being that this horse won’t die. Lying neocons like Kane and the ‘Decents’ will never go away. They have no problem being disproven, since their job is to promote falsehoods. They’ll just go somewhere else, and come back after a while. It’s not ‘beating a dead horese’, it’s repeatedly staking the vampire, and reburying it in the crossroads.

124

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.23.09 at 7:51 pm

The D-Squared Digest post linked 95 is amusingly Tom-Friedmanesque.

125

David Kane 09.23.09 at 8:22 pm

David Kane is no longer welcome there.

Untrue.

‘Unusual’ here is obviously being used in the sense of ‘obviously trivial in relation to the soundness of the research conclusions’.

As best I can tell, Burnham is the only professor that Hopkins has censured in the last several years. Among elite research universities, such cases are very, very rare. If they are not “unusual,” it should be trivial for you to provide links to five such cases from the last year. Good luck!

For those new to the debate, I think that the New England Journal of Medicine takedown of the Lancet 2 results is a good place to start.

126

Chris 09.23.09 at 8:22 pm

Now, after that, it turns out that the lead author is guilty of misconduct and has been censured by his university. Do you still have Y% faith in the results?

It depends on the type of misconduct and whether or not it affected the results of the study. In other words, relevance. The blanket term “misconduct” is simply too vague to be useful.

What Burnham was actually sanctioned for was no more relevant to his research results than if he had been sleeping with his secretary or snorting coke. So your attempt to paint him as the second coming of Cyril Burt is rather pathetic.

 
As far as the question of how many people Hussein would have killed if he had remained in power, I agree with ejh at 107 that his previous record should be used as a baseline — except I thought the Lancet study had already done this and reported the *excess* deaths, i.e. the extent to which the invasion was *worse* than mere brutal repressive tyranny.

Historical precedent could have predicted (and did predict) that this would be the case. War advocates were choosing the greater of two evils, in the presence of plenty of information demonstrating that that was what they were doing. When you burn down someone’s house, you don’t get to take credit for getting rid of their termite infestation — let alone denounce the anti-arson faction as objectively pro-termite. (How pro-Hussein can I be if I’m comparing him to a termite, anyway?)

127

David Kane 09.23.09 at 8:24 pm

Lying neocons like Kane

Not that it matters, but I voted for, and donated money to, Obama. My main current concern with regard to US policy in Iraq is that we are not pulling our troops out fast enough. But, perhaps in a CT context, that makes me a neocon!

Henri: Daniel Davies is the thinking man’s Tom Friedman. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

128

Patrick C 09.23.09 at 8:25 pm

Because no one opposed the war because they thought Wars shouldn’t be frivolous, because the Bush administration had a history of lying, and because their lies were insufficient as justification for anything other than folly.

Martin Bright is a massive idiot.

129

David Kane 09.23.09 at 8:43 pm

In other words, relevance.

The interviewers failed to follow the survey instructions (don’t record names). What makes you think that they followed other aspects of the instructions (choose starting house randomly)?

But, even if this problem was not directly related to the heart of the study — Did the interviewers do a proper job? — I would still argue that misconduct makes other aspects of the study. You don’t revise your faith in result X after learning that the lead researcher is snorting coke? Maybe it is just me, but my prior would be that coke-snorting professors produce less accurate research than non-coke snorting researchers.

As far as the question of how many people Hussein would have killed if he had remained in power, I agree with ejh at 107 that his previous record should be used as a baseline

We agree. But just what part of his “previous record.” The week before the invasion? A month before? Five years before? The entire period of his rule of Iraq? There is no obvious answer to that question. The Lancet papers used the prior two years. The problem with using this period is that it leaves out the most violent parts of Hussein’s regime (late 80’s, early 90’s). Other tricky issues: Do you count Iraqi military casualties from Kuwait and Iran? How about non-Iraqi deaths?

Again, I suspect that we agree on all of this. It is very hard to know how many people (who otherwise lived) would have died over the last 6 years if Saddam had stayed in power. It depends on many, many things. In that counterfactual world, would the US have maintained sanctions? Continued the no-fly zones? Protected the Kurdish safe-haven? Would Saddam have been relative peaceful, as he was post 2000, or would he have launched other wars as he did against Iran and Kuwait? No one knows.

My main point is that the confidence intervals for any fair estimate of excess mortality are huge.

130

sg 09.23.09 at 8:45 pm

Oh dear, like one of his Zombies David Kane is back from beyond the grave.

David, if you think Burnham can’t be trusted because he was censured for something which the committee found “did not affect the results of the study”, does this mean nobody should trust you because you were censured by your colleagues for allegations of fraud?

Not that it matters, since your inability to understand (or calculate!) relative risks is probably reason enough not to trust your “results”.

Also, that link you give to the NEJM “takedown” of the lancet study seems not to go to the NEJM. It goes to some other conspiracy theory website. Perhaps you should check your link-fu?

131

David Kane 09.23.09 at 9:01 pm

you were censured by your colleagues for allegations of fraud?

Delusions ill become you SG. One graduate student disagreed with my assessment. Nothing wrong with disagreements, of course! Her disagreement was subsequently taken down. Can you provide a link to a post in which I was “censured” by my Harvard colleagues? No, you can’t.

132

sg 09.23.09 at 9:04 pm

Oh come on David, you were given a stern telling off by that bloggy thing where you occasionally fiddled around. They’re your colleagues aren’t they? Your peers, anyway.

I suppose to a big man like you, with his Mighty Relative Risk calculating skills, being disagreed with by a grad student would be a minor matter. But I wonder, could she calculate basic epidemiological measures? Maybe her assessment of your judgement was better than you give her credit for…

133

sg 09.23.09 at 9:08 pm

Also, just out of interest, David Kane, have you read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman? Because the way you write, you sometimes sound like Mr. Croup.

Maybe you are Mr. Croup…

134

Maurice Meilleur 09.23.09 at 9:18 pm

‘The interviewers failed to follow the survey instructions (don’t record names). What makes you think that they followed other aspects of the instructions (choose starting house randomly)?’

Ooh, wait … I know this one. Is it, ‘because Hopkins did an investigation and found no evidence that they hadn’t’?

135

Bunbury 09.23.09 at 9:31 pm

David,

at the time of the Lancet report there were if I recall correctly two other potential sources of an answer to the question of how many people died or were saved as a result of the Iraq intervention: the coalition and IBC. Of these the former deliberately and in possible contravention of international law and simple responsibility chose not to keep count. IBC answered a different question with a robust but systematically underestimated lower bound. There was no basis for the Lancet report to be judged controversial. The Lancet results have been unsympathetically scrutinised to an unusual degree yet the biggest charge that has stuck is that one of the team responsible for the work has been found to have gathered personal data without approval. You claim that the disciplinary action is unprecedented but would other researchers doing the same be detected? In the meantime other estimates have appeared that tend to corroborate the result and wiu what we now know about Iraq the results are certainly less surprising. Unfortunately for your case such slim pickings are in fact supporting evidence for the research and the absence of a proper response in the form of a new study addressing the supposed issues with the full support of the coalition was not forthcoming.

136

Salient 09.23.09 at 9:46 pm

In order to figure out the number of deaths caused by the Iraq War, you need to have an estimate of the number of deaths that would have occurred in the absence of the war.

Wait a minute, that’s a sneaky use of vocabulary. How about, in order to figure out the number of deaths for which the perpetrators of the Iraq War can be held responsible and can be held to account, you don’t need to know a thing about how many deaths would have occurred in the absence of the war.

* If someone is about to die from illness, and you shoot them, you are just as guilty of murder as if they were healthy.

* If someone is choking and looks to be asphyxiating, and you don’t intervene, you are not automatically accountable.

* However, if someone looks to be asphyxiating and you shoot them, you are absolutely responsible for that death and definitely can be held to account for it.

Note that “held to account” in the third bullet point might not result in negative consequences, like censure, jail, etc — for example, one might consider your expressed intentions and determine you innocent of wrongdoing — but you are responsible for the person’s death in a causal sense, even if the person would have otherwise died.

The alternative is absurd. After all, we all die eventually, so any killing is just a hastening of death. No ethical system I’m familiar with would penalize murderers differentially according to the expected life horizon of their victims.

Likewise, if persons A_1_ through A_n_ are very likely about to be killed in a facility, and you bomb that facility, you are responsible for the deaths of persons A_1_ through A_n_. If you knew of those persons’ existence in that facility, or had compelling reason to believe of their existence, you are likewise responsible.

Generalizing this, if you have a compelling reason to believe Dictator S is going to kill 900,000 people in the next year, and you take action which results in the deaths of 655,000 people, you are responsible for those deaths and can be held to account for them. The lives are not worth any less because someone else was threatening them.

137

Salient 09.23.09 at 9:53 pm

(And of course, the above point is orthogonal to the question of whether a particular survey did, or did not, accurately collect information about deaths.)

138

Alex 09.23.09 at 10:19 pm

first to float the fraud balloon

Burnham went in the field and researched. He took the risks. You did…what exactly? Would you have even read the study if it had agreed with your ideological priors?

You seem to be proud of damaging his career. I hope your father is very proud.

139

Alex 09.23.09 at 10:20 pm

And yes, CT, this is deliberately hurtful, insulting, and offensive. I insist and I sign.

140

Frank the salesforecaster 09.23.09 at 10:25 pm

Andrew, I read the thread as well as I could given my time constraints. I evidently missed something as I understood your position to having been pro-invasion and that you were currently among the straw-in-the-wind grasping “moral dilemma” throng. I have set to rereading the thread. Please accept this qualified apology, but I can’t advise you to continue to show-off your superior sample creating technique. It just iritates those of us who have to go out and actually collect a sample with a survey instrument (shudder.)

It is good to see the econometricians chime in with some amazingly moot contributions. Please, continue to attack each other, it is the best evidence I can find that, for me, business was a better choice than academia. Good job guys, arguing over who killed who, and who would have killed more. Your point isn’t relevant. This war was marketed just like shampoo or dog food and it had the exact same “moral” content as the marketing of shampoo or dog food. Any moral considerations were merely product features (bugs?) of no real import to the manufacturer.

141

Alex 09.23.09 at 10:41 pm

Please, continue to attack each other, it is the best evidence I can find that, for me, business was a better choice than academia.

+1. The people are so much less unpleasant.

142

david 09.23.09 at 10:45 pm

David Kane is unbelievable.

143

David Kane 09.23.09 at 11:05 pm

In the meantime other estimates have appeared that tend to corroborate the result and with what we now know about Iraq the results are certainly less surprising.

I don’t think that this is true. Are you reading the links that I provide?

1) The folks at IBC think that the results from Lancet 2 (for certain) and Lancet 1 are fundamentally wrong.

2) IFHS was, adjusted for the type of language allowed in the New England Journal of Medicine, as critical as one can be of the Lancet results.

I would be happy to dive into all the messy details. I have an entire blog devoted to the topic! Perhaps a CT author could start a new thread on the topic.

144

roy belmont 09.23.09 at 11:14 pm

David Kane:
Lying neocons like Kane

“Not that it matters, but I voted for, and donated money to, Obama. My main current concern with regard to US policy in Iraq is that we are not pulling our troops out fast enough.”

Well yeah, of course, now that what you wanted to have happen to Iraq has happened, time to redeploy.
And wonderful noise about Obama, like that negates any accusations of duplicity and covert partisanship, or much worse, the traitorous conduct that produced and prosecuted the Iraq invasion and occupation.
What you and yours wanted done in Iraq was done.
It’s still all-crazy-all-the-time about this stuff isn’t it?
Iran.
#139:
The difference is shampoo and dog food can be marketed without harm to people who would otherwise buy them. The invasion of Iraq has been a damaging lie, from inception to tomorrow’s casualty reports.

145

Bunbury 09.24.09 at 12:29 am

David, there is the IBC count reaching 6 figures, the UNDP survey and the ORB survey are in line. The IFHS survey was conducted with more resources and in less dangerous times but still seems to have more methodological difficulties and in any case does not disagree by the orders of magnitude that the Lancet study was supposed to be wrong. So, yes, nothing has come to light that does anything other than suggest that their results were reasonable.

Have you ever tried replicating results from articles in, say, the AER? Conducting surveys is actually hard, even simple consumer opinion surveys with small samples and only marketing budgets riding on the results. In recent war zones it’s more difficult theoretically, logistically and practically. The results are never completely reliable but people use them because there is nothing better. It seems to me that the Lancet report has stood up to a level of scepticism that would see entire areas of research whither were those levels to determine the standard of evidence required elsewhere. This for a survey conducted under extremely difficult conditions and under significant time pressure.

Your arguments would be more convincing if your scrutiny were applied more evenly or you had for example tried to do a survey properly according to your standards.

146

Sperry 09.24.09 at 2:05 am

I voted for, and donated money to, Obama.

Oh my, it looks like somebody has a black friend.

As if Obama were somehow not proposing the largest military budget in this planet’s history, overseeing repeated illegal offensives into Pakistan, committing US troops to Iraq for another decade, and trying to “surge” the IRA.

Obama: Change you can feel comfortable with, even if you were W’s toady a three years ago.

147

Donald Johnson 09.24.09 at 3:32 am

“The folks at IBC think that the results from Lancet 2 (for certain) and Lancet 1 are fundamentally wrong.

2) IFHS was, adjusted for the type of language allowed in the New England Journal of Medicine, as critical as one can be of the Lancet results.”

IFHS agrees with Lancet 1 on the time period where their results overlap. Lancet1 found approximately 100 violent deaths per day in the first 18 months (if the Fallujah outlier is excluded) and so did IFHS. The IFHS violent death toll was three times higher than IBC’s even by June 2006, and three to four times higher than IBC’s numbers for the first 18 months, and given IBC’s vehement criticism of Lancet1, one wonders why they wouldn’t come out with a statement saying that in hindsight, though they remain skeptical of Lancet2, their skepticism of Lancet1 appears to have been mistaken.

The fact that most Lancet critics never mention the agreement between Lancet1 and IFHS is evidence of bad faith. If they were honest, they’d present the varying claims in a more honest way, but they never do.

148

bad Jim 09.24.09 at 4:17 am

A 20-kiloton nuke dropped on Hiroshima killed ~140k people. A comparably armed cruise missile lobbed at Baghdad might have taken out Saddam Hussein and, regrettably, another 139,999 less culpable folks. It seems uncontroversial that such an attack would have been less destructive than the invasion which actually took place; it’s arguable that it would have been more compassionate than a continuation of sanctions.

So who’s up for a fresh round of decent nukes, incontestably preferable to conventional methods? It doesn’t seem that making an example of one bloodthirsty dictator has discouraged the others yet. If this was the right thing to do, shouldn’t we do it again?

149

Substance McGravitas 09.24.09 at 4:29 am

So who’s up for a fresh round of decent nukes, incontestably preferable to conventional methods?

Paying half a trillion dollars for one missile wouldn’t look good.

150

lemuel pitkin 09.24.09 at 5:33 am

Just for the record, God hates David Kane.

151

dsquared 09.24.09 at 6:14 am

I’m really curious if that official policy is still in force

no it isn’t, I walked away from it in a CT post that I can’t currently find.

152

Chris Bertram 09.24.09 at 8:12 am

David Kane doesn’t, it seems, disagree with the proposition that the Iraq war was a disaster in terms of lives lost and ruined. He just wants to quibble about the numbers, even though the numbers were not a matter of comment in the original post. So what’s he doing here? Trolling, and promoting his little Lancet-denial site. My verdict: a permanent site-wide ban.

153

NomadUK 09.24.09 at 8:35 am

Lying neocons like Kane

Not that it matters, but I voted for, and donated money to, Obama

The distinction being…?

154

Hugh Sansom 09.24.09 at 8:51 am

Martin Bright’s assertion that those who argued against the war were arguing for preservation of the Baathist regime is simply idiotic. False logic, false dichotomy.

First, it is patently obvious that the intent of the two sides was different, and the difference is essential. The pro-war brigade intended that the ‘coalition’ go to war. (I’m tempted to say they wanted a war. That might be unfair, though not in the case of the Dick Cheneys. It both fair and accurate that a significant portion of them wanted to see Arabs killed. Whether Martin Bright is among those genocidal racists I do not know. Daniel Pipes, Ann Coulter and their ilk certainly are.)

The anti-war activists expressly (1) advocated other techniques for achieving ‘regime change (if that really was the goal of war’s advocates — it wasn’t), or (2) argued against war on the grounds that the consequences of war would be disastrous (which has proven true), or (3) argued that Bush & Co had not only failed to make their case but had likely misrepresented the facts (at best) or lied outright (which has also proven true). This is by no means an exhaustive list of the arguments against the war. The second argument is unambiguously one of accepting the lesser of two evils — by no stretch of the imagination an argument for the continuation of the lesser evil.

Let’s take an example from ethics and popular entertainment. A person is threatened with the murder of her child if she does not surrender secret X — the nuclear launch codes that will enable terrorists to kill vast numbers. Any of us can easily imagine the person herself desperately arguing that she cannot surrender the codes. I do not imagine many, if any, saying that she is arguing for the murder of her child even though a consequence of her following the line of her own argument will be the child’s death. You might as well suggest that, because she won’t surrender the codes, she is killing her child. And of course, the weak-minded right-wing did indeed take this line of un-reasoning from 2001 on — that those not “with us” were “against us,” those against the war were for terrorists. Utter nonsense, bordering on actionable libel.

155

Chris Williams 09.24.09 at 8:51 am

” a permanent site-wide ban”

No way. The man may be a dick, but his initial intervention was on-topic, and he’s fighting his corner just as we are. We’ve been ruder to him than he to us. I’d far rather have my enemies around so that I know what they are saying.

Obviously, this is your playground not mine, but I think that CT would be the worse for banning Kane.

156

The Archive Fairy 09.24.09 at 12:59 pm

I walked away from it in a CT post that I can’t currently find.

http://crookedtimber.org/2006/08/15/anti-which-war-when/

157

Barry 09.24.09 at 1:10 pm

No, because it’s been long clear that Kane is a pathological liar, with lots of energy. In many ways, he’s like a professional creationist. He’s been slapped down here before, and at Deltoid.

sg 09.23.09 at 9:08 pm

“Also, just out of interest, David Kane, have you read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman? Because the way you write, you sometimes sound like Mr. Croup.

Maybe you are Mr. Croup…”

Anybody remember the pathological liar skit from SNL?

“that’s it – that’s the ticket!”

158

David Kane 09.24.09 at 1:14 pm

Chrs Wllms: Thnks! Sm thrs (Hnry, dsqrd) t CT d, ls hv tndncy fr bnnng vws tht thy dsgr wth vn (spclly?) whn thy cm frm nmd ppnnts wth cdmc crdntls. Bt lk t thnk tht st-wd bn s nlkly snc thr CT thrs ( thnk spclly f Jhn Qggn) wld b nlkly t g lng wth t. Bt prhps hv t mch fth! [Fr th rcrd, blv tht m crrntly bnnd nly frm th thrds f Hnry nd dsqrd.]

Chrs: My frst tw cmmnts hd nthng t d wth nmbrs. nly gt nt th Lnct stff ftr dsqrd brght t p frst.

Bnbry: Y sm lk rsnbl fllw bt thr r lt f dtls tht y sm t b nwr f. “Th FHS srvy ws cndctd wth mr rsrcs nd n lss dngrs tms” s ncrrct. Th FHS hd mr rsrcs (whch s n f th rsns tht t s mch mr trstwrthy rslt) bt ws cndctd t lmst xctly th sm tm s L2.

Dnld Jhnsn: Whn y cmpr rslts frm srvy 1 nd srvy 2, y dn’t jst gt t “xcld” n tlr nd cncld tht thy r th sm. Th tlr tslf mks thm dffrnt.


Th fct tht mst Lnct crtcs nvr mntn th grmnt btwn Lnct1 nd FHS s vdnc f bd fth. f thy wr hnst, thy’d prsnt th vryng clms n mr hnst wy, bt thy nvr d.

Th rsn w dn’t mntn th “grmnt” s bcs thr sn’t wn. Mk Spgt, nd c-thrs, hv dn < hrf="http://prsnl.rhl.c.k/ht/014/Rsrch.htm" rl="nfllw">tn f wrk n cmprng vrs mrtlty srvys. Hv y rd t? D y nt thnk tht ths wrk (mch pblshd nd t-b-pblshd n cdmc jrnls) s “hnst?” Wht bt t s dshnst? Why d y thnk tht th pr-rvwrs mssd th dshnsty?

S hr (< hrf="http://prsnl.rhl.c.k/ht/014/Mnstrmng.pdf" rl="nfllw">pdf fr xtnsv dscssns, ncldng n xplntn f why Lnct1 nd FHS d nt rlly mtch p. Mny ppl dn’t ndrstnd th dtls f FHS, spclly < hrf="http://lnctrq.blgspt.cm/srch?q=vrstmt" rl="nfllw">th djstmnts tht wr md.

159

David Kane 09.24.09 at 2:03 pm

Brry: “pthlgcl lr?” N mn s jdg f hs wn pthlgs, bt wld y pply th sm lbl t ll th mny crtcs f th Lnct srvys? Lt m prvd sm nms (nd ths s nt n xhstv lstng):

Nl F. Jhnsn, Mchl Spgt, Sn Grly, Jkk-Pkk nnl, Gsn Rnrt, Hmt Drdgn, Jhn Slbd, Jsh Dghrty, Sf mr, lvr Dgmm, Cln Khl, Frtz Schrn, Stphn Fnbrg, Dbrt Gh-Spr nd Mdlyn Hs-R Hcks.

lthgh m nt n pstn t spk fr ny f ths flks, lthgh pstns cn chng vr tm, hv rd mch f thr wrk n Lnct-rltd sss, ttndd thr tlks nd cmmnctd wth mny f thm n prsn nd v -ml. blv tht ll f thm wld gr wth thr:

1) t s n nxcsbl tht th Lnct tms rfs t shr thr dt wth ll cdmc crtcs f thr wrk, r

2) Thr s hgh prbblty (t lst 50%) thn th L2 srvy rslt f 600,000 vlnt dths s vr stmtd by fctr f t lst 5, r

bth.

r ll ths ppl pthlgcl lrs t?

160

Donald Johnson 09.24.09 at 2:27 pm

“When you compare results from survey 1 and survey 2, you don’t just get to “exclude” an outlier and conclude that they are the same. The outlier itself makes them different.”

More obfuscation.

Lancet1 calculated results with and without the outlier for a reason–they weren’t sure the outlier meant anything. Again, a person interested in presenting the varying results accurately would make note of this.

Also, critics of Lancet1 never said that 100,000 excess dead (a mixture of violent and nonviolent dead) , which is the number without the Fallujah outlier, was a reasonable result. They said that this far exceeded Iraq Body Count’s number (which was 15,000 at the time and was later upgraded to 19,000 with further info) and was ridiculous. I’d like to know where a Lancet1 critic ever said “Well, there might in fact be 100 violent deaths per day, and so the Lancet1 analysis without Fallujah is entirely reasonable,but if you include Fallujah it gives numbers that are much too high.” I never saw a critic say that and still haven’t–you’re dancing around it now. From IFHS it now turns out that 60,000 dead from violence (the number implied by Lancet1 without Fallujah) in the first 18 months is almost exactly the same as their midrange estimate.

161

Barry 09.24.09 at 2:28 pm

Shorter David Kane: “that’s it – that’s the ticket!”

162

dsquared 09.24.09 at 2:43 pm

A good general should not be cavalier about sending 10,ooo men to their deaths even if its the logical thing to do

I just don’t agree, stripped of the aesthetic terms like “cavalier”. We judge generals on what they achieve, and at what cost, not on how they felt about it at the time.

163

dsquared 09.24.09 at 2:46 pm

(or more comprehensibly, perhaps, you might worry about a general who didn’t emote sufficiently about sending 10,000 people to their deaths, but it would be because you would be worried that he might make a bad decision in another circumstance where it wasn’t the right thing to do[1] . Having an extra moral evaluation of the general based on his subjective feelings being appropriate or not is aesthetics, not ethics).

[1] I think it’s a lot less confusing to say “the right thing to do” when the context is consequentialism – “logical” seems to bring in all sorts of irrelevant implications.

164

Ray 09.24.09 at 3:01 pm

There’s a line I can’t remember about people wishing they were judged on how they felt, because when they’re judged on what they actually did they don’t like the results.

But anyway – it is not really relevant to judge the Decents on how deeply they felt the tragedy of the situation, really, at home with a glass of wine. They were not passive observers, they acted. They mocked and slandered those who tried to stop the war, and they encouraged those that wanted to make war. The Decents are the last people who should complain about their moral feelings not being treated in good faith.

165

Donald Johnson 09.24.09 at 3:16 pm

I agree with dsquared in 162, but in practice a good general is going to emote (even if only in private) about sending men to their deaths. Maybe a good Vulcan general would be different, but a good human general should feel badly about his men’s casualties even when they are unavoidable.

General Grant seemed a little too accepting of casualties, from what I’ve read. (Just finished Shelby Foote , which is sort of a white man’s view of the American civil war). I’m going to guess he would never have been stupid enough to try the assault at Cold Harbor (where several thousand were killed or wounded in 30 minutes trying to take an impregnable position) if he’d emoted a bit more. He did feel bad about that later, but the way Foote portrays him, he was a little too calm about the loss of his men.

166

Hidari 09.24.09 at 3:26 pm

I don’t know why everyone is so down on David Kane. His remix of Club Sound is bangin’! I take it that’s him sitting in the chair?

167

liberal 09.24.09 at 4:29 pm

Donald Johnson wrote, “General Grant seemed a little too accepting of casualties, from what I’ve read.”

IIRC at Gettysburg itself, some placque claimed the general whose men suffered the most was Lee.

168

alex 09.24.09 at 5:32 pm

“Liberals tend to think in terms of rules and laws rather than obligations,” as opposed to whom? You can have the rule of law or the rule of men, as the saying goes. Anyone here really putting their hand up for the latter?

169

trane 09.24.09 at 6:41 pm

David Kane

09.23.09 at 3:26 pm

”if memory serves, dsquared was reluctantly in favor of the war at the start, but then rapidly turned against it. Corrections welcome!

09.23.09 at 3:33 pm

”I stand corrected.”

Pattern.

170

Phil 09.24.09 at 7:01 pm

Maybe a good Vulcan general would be different, but a good human general should feel badly about his men’s casualties even when they are unavoidable.

A good Nazi general felt deeply, painfully bad about his men’s casualties, but gloried in his ability to overcome that weakness for the greater good of the cause. The problem with this, of course, is that more pain = more glory; you’d be better off with the Vulcan. (Something similar has been suggested wrt Bernard Montgomery.)

171

Phil 09.24.09 at 7:03 pm

gloried in his ability to overcome that weakness

his and their ability, I should have said – when it came to glorious self-sacrifice, they were all in it together.

172

Ohgodohgodohgod 09.24.09 at 7:43 pm

Yes, if there is one thing that G.A. Cohen is famous for it’s the belief that as long as the right rules are in place, individuals have no further obligations to promote justice. “It’s fine that I’m greedy, the rules keep me in check!”

Oh wait …

173

Barry 09.24.09 at 8:03 pm

Chris or D-Squared, thanks for disemvollewing Kane!

174

roac 09.24.09 at 8:37 pm

IIRC at Gettysburg itself, some placque claimed the general whose men suffered the most was Lee.

Sure, but Grant wasn’t anywhere near Gettysburg at the time. He was besieging Vicksburg (which surrendered the day after Gettysburg ended). The Union Army (under George C. Meade) was mostly standing on the defensive, so one would expect Confederate casualties to be higher.

Cold Harbor is generally considered the big blot on Grant’s record, as mentioned above by someone: A longshot frontal attack on a strong position. Comparable to Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.

175

roac 09.24.09 at 8:45 pm

The problem with this, of course, is that more pain = more glory; you’d be better off with the Vulcan. (Something similar has been suggested wrt Bernard Montgomery.)

Guess this is my day for military history nitpicking: Montgomery was an insufferable egomaniac, but he can hardly be accused of inviting needless casualties. The British war effort was seriously constrained, from Normandy to the end of the war, by the fact that they were nearing the bottom of the manpower barrel. Montgomery was painfully aware of this, and American generals accused him of excessive caution as a result. (Arnhem to the contrary, of course.)

176

Phil 09.24.09 at 9:11 pm

My impression was that Montgomery’s approach in both Alamein and Normandy tended to valorise grinding attrition as a militarily worthy as well as appropriate tactic, when it wasn’t necessarily either. But IANAMH.

177

Xanthippas 09.24.09 at 9:24 pm

Yes, I spend many hours feeling guilty about things that never happened.

178

Chris Bertram 09.25.09 at 5:51 am

Oops. I see that “bored observer” had also posted under some threads as “banned commenter” which is one of the noms de plume of our (banned) friend Seth Edenbaum. I’m zapping all comments (and responses too, sorry Harry, sorry Engels, sorry jdkbrown).

179

alex 09.25.09 at 7:22 am

Phil, clearly, and kindly, it must be pointed out that you really don’t know anything about the Arnhem operation.

180

Phil 09.25.09 at 7:33 am

alex – I didn’t mention Arnhem.

181

alex 09.25.09 at 8:11 am

Sorry, it’s early in the morning, you’re quite right, my apologies. OTOH, Alamein was not so much a matter of grinding attrition, as insisting on building up overwhelming superiority in firepower and logistics before being willing to attack.

And at least this discussion has the merit of being more interesting, and civil, than the foregoing, eh?

182

El Cid 09.25.09 at 1:22 pm

People who opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq have no sort of theoretical guilt to bear about not simultaneously being able to find another definite and quick route to helping the Iraqis rid themselves of Saddam Hussein.

183

Phil 09.25.09 at 2:14 pm

alex – fair enough. I was working from a quote I saw somewhere in which Montgomery talked about Alamein in rather blithe “if you lose lots of troops, put lots more in” terms, but since I can’t lay hands on it at the moment I won’t press the point. (Wait a minute, I do know where I saw it – it was on the Internet! Surround the Internet, and look under all the beds!)

Anyway, what about EPSOM and GOODWOOD, then?

184

roac 09.25.09 at 2:14 pm

After posting no. 175, I looked to see what Wikipedia says about Montgomery — on the assumption that Wiki represents mainstream opinion more often than not — and it says pretty much what I said there, and what Alex said in 181.

The only thing worse than winning a war is losing a war, so the duty of a commander to win is paramount. Given a large and irreversible advantage in resources, such as Montgomery had in northwest Europe and Grant had in Virginia, grinding attrition is pretty much a sure winner if you are careful and keep your mistakes to a minimum. Imaginative tactics can save lives if they work, but if they don’t work they throw away lives without moving the ball. Arnhem is an instructive example.

(Incidentally, the Wiki article says the Arnhem plan was so uncharacteristic of BLM that it left his staff in a state of shock.)

185

Joe Wickens 09.25.09 at 7:32 pm

I have not read through all 184 responses to this post so do not know if this has been pointed out in any of them but it must be noted that the “negative” feeling experienced by anyone who opposed the invasion was not and is not guilt in having tacitly supported the Baathists but instead a sense of of the tragic fact that we cannot right all the world’s wrongs.

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Frank the salesforecaster 09.25.09 at 8:22 pm

What a fun thread. I get the impression that we’ve agreeded that getting it right for the wrong reason isn’t really right. Seem fairly standard for the academic world. Some seem to think that you couldn’t get it right for the right reason ’cause there was no right reason for not getting it wrong. Nice. Now it is a discussion of military history. In that vein, “which is sort of a white man’s view of the American civil war” in contrast to the view we normally get? The old rub about the winners getting to write the history seems off in this case.

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