Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Kerr's Challenge Episode Two: The Response

Earlier today I wrote a response to Orin Kerr's challange to pro-war bloggers. Prof. Kerr has now posted the first grouping of responses to his challange (in which you can find my original post). I'd like to just share my thoughts on what was said by others.

The first thing I'd like to note is that I apparently was absolutely right when I guessed that I'd be the only liberal responding to this. Virtually all the posters appeared to be rockribbed conservatives, and no one seemed to have any doubts as to the original validity of the war (Relgious Middle being perhaps the sole exception, and to be fair, most formerly pro-war bloggers who have changed their minds probably wouldn't have responsed to the challange at all). And WAY too many bloggers blindly asserted that Kerry would be worse on Iraq without saying anything to back it up, or even addressing Kerry's Iraq Plan.

Another fascinating thing was the continued reliance on security issues rather than humaniterean/democratization reasons to justify the war (Cafe Hedonistix and Justus for All are happy exceptions, One Fine Jay uses both). Now, I realize that the latter justification probably holds more appeal to liberals like me than it does to your average Republican. But I thought that the record had more than borne out that Iraq was not a threat to the US per se. At best he was a regional threat, but Iraq never was close to possessing the capabilities to get whatever WMDs he did possess to US shores. Alot of these posters seem to conflate the statement that "Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug" (true) with "he has the ability to destroy America" (absurd). The point that Saddam supported terrorists is true and salient, but has been overhyped. Muslim extremists posed as much of a threat to Saddam's secular regime as it did to America. In terms of supporting terrorists, Hussein was a small fish in a very big pond.

Along the same lines, far too many posters were willing to declare our "mission accomplished" simply because we had kicked Saddam Hussein out of power. This strikes me as absolutely absurd. If Iraq forms a new government that is run by radical extremists, we're no better off just because our enemy has a name change. The people who did recognize that Democracy was important (Olive Tree for example) seemed to briefly gloss over it or phrase it in terms of "Iraqi quality of life." They didn't appear to recognize the fact that the lack of a functioning democracy in Iraq would profoundly discredit the United States and likely undo any gains we made from the war in the region. Democracy isn't an optional bonus to US involvment (as Moonage Political Webdream implies) but a pre-requisite to any and every other reasonable measure of success in Iraq. Unfortunately, pretending like democracy isn't relevant gives Bush the political cover he needs to run from Iraq before we finish our job. Doing that will end up making the US less safe than when we started.

Another trap many bloggers fell into was saying that "Iraq isn't that bad, look at how fast we conquered it!" A good example comes from from Pete the Elder
Here is an Andrew Sullivan quote from one of his less hysterical days that sums up my thoughts well: 'If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success.'

He's absolutely right about that, our ability to win the war quickly and relatively bloodlessly was an incredible statement about the efficacy and talent of our armed forces. However, the reason I'd have announced the above scenario a great success a year in a half ago is that I wouldn't have dreamed that, under those circumstances, we'd be facing a large and growing insurgency, an inability to control the country, and the prospect of a functional democracy rapidly spiraling out of reach. It doesn't matter if we don't have a single new casualty, we've still failed in Iraq if there isn't a functional democracy at the end of the day. Whether or not the news is good or bad is directly a function of how likely a democracy is going to develop under the current circumstances, and under THAT framework, we're doing worse every day. Yes, many Iraqi voices claim that things are getting better, which is a positive development. But bodycounts and bombs talk pretty loudly in of themselves, and it can't all be chalked up to media bias.

One thought that only occured to me just now is that alot of bloggers seem to be almost too objective in creating the criteria for success. The problem, as I see it, is that we could be doing everything "right," but if the Iraqi's still see us as "wrong" then we're still going to lose. Its that simple. That's why perception is as important is reality. Take for example, attacking insurgents in Najaf. I think that, objectively, that's important in the war against the insurgency. But the Iraqis could interpret it several ways:
1) A critical battle against anti-democratic insurgents
2) Liberating a religious holy place from armed rebels, so that its safe for pilgrims to travel there
3) US infidels descrating sacred ground
4) The central government crushing opposition and consolidating power
...etc etc.
How well we do in making it so that Iraqi's percieve our actions as "good" is essential to our prospects for success.

To sum up, while many of the bloggers had some excellent arguments, a few characteristics were common:
1) Too much emphasis on what we've already done while minimizing how the current situation puts it all in jeopardy.
2) A general minimization of the immense importance of a functioning democracy.
3) Very quick dismissals of negative news from Iraq while hyping the positive (even positive news from months ago)
4) A failure to see any middle ground between "staying the course" and "abandoning Iraq." Can't we shift policy but stay in Iraq, using the lessons we've learned thus far to make our mission more successful?

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