November 01, 2005

Two interesting developments

I had two interesting conversations yesterday with different colleagues. The first was with a dude we have who is teaching International Relations for the year (Chai-Rista will probably be the only reader out there to get a hearty chuckle out of "dude" on this one), who is of a decidely liberal world view. Quitcher assumptions: he was an Army officer, Desert Storm and all that, so not your usual set of stereotypes (okay, we probably have the only former Army officer who went to UW Madison undergrad in the country). Anyhoo, he sidled by the office yesterday and noted how much it pained him---we're talking major angst, here---but that with all the positive things going on in the Middle East with Syria, Lebanon, Libya etc., he couldn't really explain it without giving some credit---a tiny modicum, perhaps---to the US presence in Iraq, and that after the sucessful referendum on the constitution, maybe, just maybe----but Halliburton! Chimpy Mc Hitler!---things are going to work out as the Sunnis begin to participate and while completely dropping the terrorism/violence card, seek to get what they can out of the political process.

He then proceeded to go on a long tear about Rumsfeld tearing apart the armed forces, which is in line with the fact that he never served. Fortunately, I was sitting at my desk and pulled up the DOD webpage showing Rummy's service as a naval aviator in the 1950s which kind of torpedoed that argument, and how the whole "they never served so they lack any legitimacy" argument kind of, like, took away from the Democrats their two best war-time presidents: FDR and Wilson, leaving them with LBJ and Truman.

The second conversation was with a colleague that I deeply respect over the issue of the Alito appointment, and basically his take was that the Democrats just don't have the votes to stop it. He wasn't pleased, but his rather funny take on it was that the Republicans need to get their heads out of butts and accept the fact that they won, and start acting like it.

Posted by Steve at November 1, 2005 08:57 AM | TrackBack

Amazing to me that LBJ actually had quite a distinguished service record in WW II. He provides a strong counterweight to the argument that only those who serve can make correct decisions, as he had a great military record personally, and a dismal one as a war leader.

He must have been a cynic to the core to allow Vietnam to go the way it did, as those tapes that came out revealed. I mean, he knew we were unlikely to win in 1965-6, and yet he let it destroy his administration.

Yet he still gets the fond historical treatment. "Flawed Giant", Doris Kearns Goodwin's continual kneepad tribute to his greatness, etc.

I think the war in Iraq is being conducted with eyes wide open. We know that the Iraqis must take the fight over, and I think we are demanding real performance from them. The proof will be in the pudding -- if the Iraqi army and police continue to grow in strength, and the elections continue to draw in more and more voters, then this will be a remarkable blueprint for fighting and winning against an insurgency. It will replace Malaya in all the textbooks.

Of course, the first draft of history is written by journalists, so this fact might not be apparent to anyone until 100 years from now, when everyone realizes that the war wasn't so bad after all.

Posted by: The Colossus at November 1, 2005 09:37 AM

This begs the question of whether the public would have been behind the war if it was proposed that we would start a war in Iraq to spread freedom throughout the Middle East. I think the answer is no particularly if the pricetag was honestly estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars (of course there is no way to know that). This is the fundamental issue: were we led into war based on real info or Straussian misinformation to convince us into a war we otherwise would not have endorsed. Good outcomes do not validate bad actions.

Posted by: LB buddy at November 1, 2005 04:26 PM

The actions which lead to OIF were based upon a number of grounds of which of WMD was only one. While we never found the stockpiles, there is no dispute Saddam never accounted for the WMDs he had at the end of the first Gulf War nor is there much dispute that he had weapons programs ready to take off as soon as the sanctions were lifted. Consequently, his proven use of chemical weapons against the Iranians and the Kurds in the eighties demonstrated his willingness to use WMDs and his development of missiles with ranges longer than 150 km (in violation of the Gulf War cease fire terms) gave him the means of delivering them. With the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent the lifting of sanctions would have provided him with the means and the time to re-acquire weapons he had used before. Anyone who thinks Saddam was not a threat to his neighbors or to the U.S. should talk to any Air Force pilot who patrolled the northern and southern no-fly zones who were fired upon almost weekly. Yes, Saddam was a threat and yes, it was worth it to take him down.

Posted by: LMC at November 1, 2005 04:45 PM

And that's our fundamental point of departure. I have always rejected the Kantian deontological world view that no actions or outcomes can be considered to be good if done for the wrong/bad reasons, or simply by accident. In this, I'm a child of the Scottish Enlightenment and stake my future with Smith, Hume, Lord Kames and the rest. I think this is a problem that a fair amount of the left have understanding American politics: the American political system set into motion by the parameters of the Constitution is defined by this Scottish Enlightenment worldview that the public good can emerge from the actions of less than noble intentions. Hence Madison's arguments in the Federalist papers for "auxiliary precautions" as the guide rather than "civic virtue."

Ideal world, sure, I'll take S0crates and people doing the right thing for the right reason. But, given the world we live in, I'll go with Glaucon and take people doing the right thing for the wrong reason, as the end result is essentially the same.

Posted by: Steve the LLamabutchers at November 1, 2005 07:47 PM

Dealing with Smith and Hume, would that argument extend to a clear violation of international law? From my admittedly limited understanding, US actions are clearly in violation of Nuremburg (attacking a country without clear provocation), making us all war criminals, not to mention the Geneva conventions violations. Is it okay to legalize torture if the ends are good (do you REALLY believe Gonzales' memos were a coincedence)? Kill over 100,000 innocent civilians (estimated 2 years ago in the Lancet)? Gut what little social services we have in our own country to pay for it? Albright was despicable when she said 500,000 innocent dead from sanctions was worth it. A direct attack is that much worse. When do you start calling it genocide?
In terms of the clear threat of Iraq, there was significant discussion over the true level of the threat. The Downing St. memo suggested that our ally Britain was pretty sure in 2002 that the WMD threat was BS and that war had been predetermined by the Cheney administration. Shortly after that, Blair presented his dodgy dossier, Rice was screaming about mushroom clouds and Cheney was saying Saddam was responsible for 9/11. Sure there were several reasons given to go to war with Iraq in elite circles, but most people in the US were concerned about terrorism and WMD and the administration used both of those bogus claims to sway popular opinion. A poll in 2003 showed over 50% of the people in the US believed that Saddam was directly involved in 9/11 even though that had been widely discredited for over a year. Given true reasons for going to war (funny oil is never mentioned even though the administration is soaked in it), I believe Americans would not have supported this war. Of course we will never know, because they were never trusted with the truth.

Posted by: LB buddy at November 1, 2005 08:53 PM