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10 Years After Iraq


Fallows has some reflections. All are worth reading, but two particularly good ones:

2) Accountability. For a decade or more after the Vietnam war, the people who had guided the U.S. to disaster decently shrank from the public stage. Robert McNamara did worthy penance at the World Bank. Rusk, Rostow, Westmoreland were not declaiming on what the U.S. should and should not do.
After Iraq, there has been a weird amnesty and amnesia about people’s misjudgment on the most consequential decision of our times. Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 primary race largely because she had been “wrong” on Iraq and Barack Obama had been “right.” But Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bremer, Rice, McCain, Abrams, and others including the pro-war press claque are still offering their judgments unfazed. In his post-presidential reticence George W. Bush has been an honorable exception.
I don’t say these people should never again weigh in. But there should be an asterisk on their views, like the fine print about side effects in pharmaceutical ads.
3) Honor. Say this for Al Gore: He was forthright, he was early, and he was right about Iraq.

This period was, among other things, a period of remarkable media incompetence — the inept, trivia-obsessed, dishonest coverage of the 2000 campaign segueing nicely into Judith Miller’s disgraceful propaganda. And, as I’ve said before, this is why I had no use for the Dowd/Rich “Gush/Bore” who belatedly discovered that the Iraq War was a really terrible idea after doing everything they could to make it possible.

In his own reflections on Iraq after 10 years, Corey Robin argues that “it’s important to remember that George W. Bush did not always lie about Iraq and the threat it posed…Bush and his allies did something far subtler—and more disturbing—and what they said was actually well within the canon of national security discourse, both on the left and the right.” Well…I half agree. Certainly, much of the case for Iraq was dissembling rather than outright lying, although (particularly at key moments like the phony precision of Powell’s UN performance) the distinction is not of any moral difference that I can see. I am reminded of two great blogposts on this point. The first, dsquared’s inner-circle Hall of Famer, responds directly:

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make innacurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.


We also learned in accounting class that the difference between “making a definite single false claim with provable intent to deceive” and “creating a very false impression and allowing it to remain without correcting it” is not one that you should rely upon to keep you out of jail. Even if your motives are noble.

The last point is particularly important; while any individual statement could be too-charitably parsed as not claiming that there was an imminent threat from Iraq’s balsa wood drones of doom, the collective discourse of the Bush administration leaves no doubt that they were trying to argue that there was an imminent threat. And given the bad faith that can be inferred, dissembling in this case is worse than outright lying.

I also agree with Robin that a lot of this dissembling fit within broader mainstream security discourses (Walzer’s reputation, to put it gently, did not survive the last decade intact.) This worked in another way — throwing in arguments about democracy that became retrospectively more important as the lies about the “threat” posed by Iraq became too obvious to ignore. Which brings us to Julian Sanchez:

I should be beyond surprise of this sort, but it’s still a little striking to see self-righteous dudgeon and disingenuous horseshit combined in such close proximity and copious quantity. Glenn’s reminding everyone of his “link-rich refutation” of the “revisionist” claim that democracy promotion wasn’t part of the rationale for invading Iraq.

Since most of his readers presumably were, like, alive and paying attention in the run-up to the war, I can only assume that this is a case of self deception, in which case it’s a fairly heroic instance of the phenomenon. The argument appears to be this: Since the value of ousting a despot and incubating a democracy was mentioned as a fringe benefit of removing this dire and immediate threat to American national security, anyone who regards the emphasis placed on it now as an ex-post rationalization for a mistaken policy is engaged in “revisionist history.” Look at all the speeches we can link to where Bush used the words “democracy” and “Iraq” in the same sentence!

Seriously now. We all know that this was advanced as a benefit of the invasion, but gimme a break. If someone sells you “a Porche with a nice stereo system” and you then discover you’ve actually bought a Dodge Dart, are you supposed to be mollified because it actually has had a nice stereo system installed? Democratization was supposed to be a happy side effect of eliminating the WMDs—that was why we had to do this right the fuck now before the “smoking gun” came in the form of a “mushroom cloud,” why we couldn’t keep pushing for a diplomatic solution. Anyone else remember that?


And as a commenter reminds me, of course, we effectively offered all along to do nothing military if Saddam “disarmed.” How does that square with democratization being a significant reason (as opposed to a fringe benefit) for the invasion? Our own government was pretty explicit about it not being a good enough reason on its own: No WMD meant no invasion.

While his arguments were obviously far less influential than his buddy Judy Miller’s, I hope somebody is working on the greatest Iraq-related moments of Instahackery.

UPDATE: A good compilation in re: the final request. That is a truly impressive quality and quantity of hackery.

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