Jay Reding.com

The Stopped-Clock Principle

It looks like I caught the attention of the lefty blogosphere, which explains why the comments are full of some rather febrile rantings. I’m approving all of them, mainly as it provides a nice pool of evidence the next time I make the assertion that the left is increasingly unhinged.

Atrios points to a comment I made back in October of 2002:

There’s no reason why this isn’t doable. Deposing Hussein will the easy part. Remember that people were saying that Afghanistan would be “the graveyard of empires” and that we’d have no better luck than the Russians? It turned out that Afghanistan can be won… and since we didn’t come to colonize or conquer, we proved those predictions to be wrong. Iraq will be little different.

If anything, Iraq will be easier than Afghanistan. Iraq hasn’t been in continuous warfare for years. Iraq has oil reserves that can fuel reconstruction, and many Iraqi people secretly harbor the dream of a free and democratic Iraq. No, we won’t see democracy spring up in a few months or perhaps not in a few years, but it will come.

There’s nothing wrong with worrying about our troops… in fact, I’d say that it’s natural and understandable to do so. But we should all take comfort in the fact that they are part of the best fighting force that has ever walked this Earth, and the most elite of the Iraqi military don’t hold a candle to them. This is what they were trained to do, and they will see this through.

Mr. Black is obviously trying to argue that I was somehow delusional back then. The problem with that argument is that what I said then was largely true. We did defeat the Hussein regime in short order — faster and with fewer casualties than I would have predicated before the start of the war.

Was I rather too optimistic on the issue of reconstructing Iraq? Obviously I was. The oil funds weren’t enough to pay for the reconstruction, and the sectarian tensions that threaten the future of Iraq were much greater than I would have thought they’d be. Still, most of our problems in Iraq stem not from inevitable consequences, but from mistakes we and others made along the way. We didn’t have enough troops to keep the peace, we tied their hands too much, and we failed to deal with al-Sadr when we had the chance to do so.

Still, I stand by what I said back then, and find nothing unreasonable about the conclusions I made back then. The left keeps claiming that they were right all along, which is simply not the case. They predicted that everything was going to be a disaster, that Saddam would use his WMDs against us or against Israel, that we’d suffer mass casualties taking Baghdad, that we’d have a major humanitarian disaster in Iraq. In wars, bad things happen, and when one predicts disaster at every turn sooner or later one will be right. That doesn’t mean that those people are particularly wise or prescient any more than it means that John Edward is really a psychic.

As an advocate of the war in Iraq, I cannot support a position that would have us leave the Iraqi people in chaos and leave a ruined country in our wake. My support for doing whatever it takes to leave Iraq in the best position possible is based on a moral imperative — and if a bunch of left wing bloggers want to take me and others to task for it, they have every right to do so. However, this is not and should not be an issue of partisanship. If we leave, the suffering of the Iraqi people will increase to a level that is far worse than the already intolerable situation they are in now. We have an obligation to help the people of Iraq, and if it makes me a “warmonger” or a “chickenhawk” or whatever slur is leveled at me, that is fine. I have my principles, and they’re far larger than supporting a particular administration or even a particular political ideology. The willful blindness of the anti-war side to the humanitarian results of a US withdrawal is deeply disturbing to me — but sadly, not to those who seem to value rank partisanship above all else.

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman has an interesting response. Most of his points are pretty fair. However, he says:

Yes, I’m tired of the triumphalism of people who tell me that their early opposition to the war demonstrates their omniscience, and that anyone one who wasn’t opposed to the war before it started should either practice criticism and self-criticism or just STFU. But I’m much tireder of the happy-go-stupid “Sh*t happens” attitude that takes lightly the shedding of lots of other people’s blood. What I can’t forgive the contemporary Right is its fundamental lack of seriousness, which it somehow manages to combine with hysterical fear-mongering.

The problem I have with this is that it’s the left that lacks seriousness in this case. The left has absolutely no plan for dealing with what would happen to Iraq if we were to leave. It is hopelessly naive to assume that the bloodshed would stop, and it’s virtually assured that it would get worse. The Iraqi government might survive, but at great cost.

Everything I see from sites like Eschaton, Kos, and the like is that the motivation for the left on Iraq has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with Bush. The reality is that Bush is irrelevant at this point. Even if Iraq goes well, he’s not going to end up with the credit at this point. The opposition to the war, at least for many on the left, is inextricably linked with their personal hatred of the President.

It’s one thing to destroy a President, it’s another to do so in a way that advances the agenda of our enemies and creates a humanitarian catastrophe in the heart of an already unstable region. We can sit around and point fingers about five-year-old events or we can do our utmost to keep the chaos from spreading. My biggest beef with the left right now is that they’re more interested in pointing fingers than in trying to make things better. If the left had some kind of reasonable plan for dealing with Iraq it would ameliorate some of those concerns — but no such plan exists.

If we leave Iraq, things will get worse. The left keeps dodging that undeniable proposition, which is why it is the anti-war left that isn’t looking at the situation with an appropriate level of seriousness.

18 responses to “The Stopped-Clock Principle”

  1. BT says:

    I guess I have to admit I am a little stunned that you are using the fact that Iraq didn’t use WMD’s against our troops as proof the left was wrong about the war. I would think it’s obvious enough that Iraq didn’t use them because, contrary to the pro-war contingent’s insistence, THEY DIDN’T HAVE ANY.

    Look, the stuff you mention was certainly a part of the pre-war debate, but mass casualties and wmd’s were only a very small part of the Left’s argument. The main thrust of the Left’s problem with invading Iraq was that the country posed in no way whatsover a unique or imminent threat to the United States. The case that the Bush administration built for war could have been applied to any number of countries run by detestable dictators.

    Certainly the Left got some things wrong, but they were essentially right about the important stuff.

  2. Les Izmore says:

    I’m far far to your left and here’s what I was predicting. Our modern technologically advanced forces would easily subdue the weak and fractured Iraqi army with many casualties on there side and very few on ours. We would easily topple Saddam who wouldn’t use WMDs because he didn’t have any! The trouble would start during our ensuing occupation when “we’d have a major humanitarian disaster in Iraq” (maybe a couple hundred thousand civilian deaths doesn’t qualify in your mind), “the sectarian tensions that threaten the future of Iraq were much greater than I would have thought they’d be”, and “The oil funds weren’t enough to pay for the reconstruction.” So I guess you got three things right about the anti-war position in your bizarre self congratulatory post. All the “mistakes we and others made along the way” were the “inevitable consequences” of the triumphalism you continue to exhibit in this post today. There are no do-overs in war my friend as much as you’d like one.

  3. RJ says:

    I am surprised by the condescending way in which you reply.

    Only thing that was correctly predicted was short time in which US defeated Saddam. But then, where was the doubt about about, either in left or right side? Everybody knew it.

    Everything else you predicted was wrong. Almost to the point of being criminally wrong.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    Very few people made the serious argument that Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs in 2003 — certainly very few Democratic lawmakers did. In fact, all the available evidence coming from multiple intelligence agencies both foreign and domestic said, yes, Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

    The historical revisionism that argues that Iraq didn’t have WMDs in 2003 and this was a widely-held opinion doesn’t match the facts. The majority of both sides, pro and anti-war believed that he did, and even many within Iraq itself believed that the Iraqi military had WMDs. Nobody, possibly not even Saddam himself, really knew how degraded Iraq’s WMD capability really was.

    In short, even if a few people did think that, it wasn’t a significant argument in 2002-2003, and didn’t become one until after it was clear that Iraq didn’t have active stocks.

  5. Nicholas MacDonald says:

    Wow, that last post really brought out the funny farm…

    …and also reminded me of why I’m sick of the blogosphere, left or right.

    A return to civility in politics and journalism would be nice, if only we didn’t live in such a barbarous time. Oh well, these things always sort themselves out eventually.

  6. Hesiod says:

    We have a “moral imperative” to make Afghanistan work, as well. And none of us “lefty bloggers” is arguing we should pull out of that country, despite the increasing evidence that Bush has fucked THAT up too.

    Based upon your hairbrained logic, Jay, we have a “moral imperative” to sent 150,000 troops to Darfur, RIGHT NOW!

    We also have a “moral imperatoive” to rebuild New Orleans! Let me now when you get around to those things, and I might agree with you.

  7. Raj says:

    Just before the war started, here’s what I predicted. Simply so that the
    war supporters I knew wouldn’t later bring up this bullshit historical
    revisionism charge.

    1) Iraq probably has a degraded chemical weapons arsenal. But then, everybody and
    their uncle has chemical weapons and its a pathetic excuse for a preventive war.
    2) Iraq may have a biological weapons program but nothing close to weapons.
    3) Iraq has no active nuclear weapons program or weapons.

    There was nothing psychic about these views. Outside the circle of Bushbots,
    this was standard wisdom.

  8. BT says:

    Jay, I’m not sure if you were responding to my post, but if you were, you are misunderstanding what I was saying. My argument isn’t that the Left claimed there were no WMD’s, but rather that it seems somewhat disingenuous for someone who supported the war, and who (I assume) used Iraq’s supposed stockpile of WMD’s as a primary cause for our invading, to use the fact that the non-existent WMD’s were not deployed against our troops as an example of the Left getting something wrong.

    Again, the Left’s argument was really never about whether or not Iraq had WMD’s, only that there seemed to be little threat of them using them against America. The Right turned the WMD question into an important one, so when (they assumed) the WMD’s were found, they could scream “I told you so” from the rafters, as if the existence of WMD’s was the primary argument. When even those lowered expectations weren’t met, suddenly the WMD’s (and Iraq’s non collusion with Al Qaeda) didn’t matter, only the “spread of freedom” did.

  9. Jay Reding says:

    Again, the Left’s argument was really never about whether or not Iraq had WMD’s, only that there seemed to be little threat of them using them against America. The Right turned the WMD question into an important one, so when (they assumed) the WMD’s were found, they could scream “I told you so” from the rafters, as if the existence of WMD’s was the primary argument. When even those lowered expectations weren’t met, suddenly the WMD’s (and Iraq’s non collusion with Al Qaeda) didn’t matter, only the “spread of freedom” did.

    The problem with that argument is that the record contradicts it — read President Bush’s speech to the UN on September 11, 2002, his 2003 State of the Union Address, his February 2003 speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Also read Kagan and Kristol’s book on Iraq published before the war.

    The WMD aspect got the most press, and there were tactical and legal reasons for that. However, it is not true that the humanitarian and political aspects of the war only appeared after WMDs were not found. They were there from the beginning of this conflict.

  10. Gary Denton says:

    I was right about WMDs, and contrary to your post, so was much of the world outside of America. Immediately after Powell’s speech to the UN there were articles debunking every point he made as exagerations and unclear or an outright lie in the British press. The UN weapons inspectors who were expecting some super secret intelligence that they somehow missed said he had nothing.

    I was right about the invasion, an easy military victory, and a desert Vietnam from Hell occupation.

    I was right in expressing doubts about how long Afghanistan would take.

    I was right about the fear mongering being used as an excuse to restrain civil liberties and strehgthen executive powers.

    What the Hell have you been right about?

  11. newdome says:

    “The opposition to the war, at least for many on the left, is inextricably linked with their personal hatred of the President.” This is a rather stupid statement. Do you really believe that if say Hillary or Obama became president and they choose to continue the war in the same stead as the present addministration, that the left are all of a sudden going to become boosters of the war. This is not very well thought through point on your part. If anything, judging from the major grief Hillary is receiving from the antiwar left for her non-disavowal of her vote, I will wager that if a dem admin comes into the whitehouse, come Jan’09, the pressure from the left to end this fiasco will be even higher on it than that applied to the current Bush admin.

  12. Jay Reding says:

    newdome: I think that if the situation were identical, except Al Gore were President, the Democrats would be defending this war. (And possibly the Republicans opposing it, although I don’t think they would be doing so with as much vitriol as the Democrats are now.)

    The animus against the war is based on the animus against Bush — and the only reason why pro-war Democrats are getting targeted is because they’re being viewed as too close to Bush. The war and the President have become one — probably on both sides.

    The problem is that this war is a hell of a lot bigger than Bush, and viewing it through that prism is why most on the left and many the right don’t seem to have a clue about what’s really going on. The situation in Iraq is complicated and dangerous, and all we have are a bunch of children throwing simpleminded slurs at each other.

    Our country really deserves better than this.

  13. Heron says:

    “Everything I see from sites like Eschaton, Kos, and the like is that the motivation for the left on Iraq has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with Bush. The reality is that Bush is irrelevant at this point. Even if Iraq goes well, he’s not going to end up with the credit at this point. The opposition to the war, at least for many on the left, is inextricably linked with their personal hatred of the President.”

    I agree this is the motivation for many on the left, but you overlook one rather major point: Bush doesn’t think he’s irrelevant. He still hopes he’s going to end up with the credit if Iraq goes well. As a result, he will continue to use his considerable power to prevent alternative ideas from thoughtful people on the both the left and the right from being considered. For the thoughtless left, it’s all about Bush. For our thoughtless president, it too, is all about Bush.

  14. BT says:

    Jay, I don’t doubt that the humanitarian aspects of invading Iraq were discussed before the invasion, but they were at best secondary aspects of the Bush administrations case. The Right hung their hats on WMD’s and terrorist connections, and treated the liberation of the Iraqi people as an added bonus. Seriously, is there any way Bush could have convinced Congress that going to war was the right thing to do, if his main argument was bringing Democracy to Iraq?

    Things didn’t work out the way they wanted, so the Right had to keep changing their position, and keep changing their perception of the Left’s argument, in order to fit their new position. First, when the conventional Iraqi army was defeated, that was “proof” the invasion was justified, because the Left said it would never happen. Of course a vast majority of the Left never doubted this. Then, when they thought they’d find WMD’s, this discovery would “prove” it was justified, because the Left argued they didn’t have them. That, of course, wasn’t the Left’s main contention with opposing the war (and became moot when no WMD’s were found). Now, we are left with bringing Democracy to the Iraqi’s, with a few “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” thrown in (by the way, has anyone noticed that those two approaches contradict each other?).

  15. Jay Reding says:

    As a result, he will continue to use his considerable power to prevent alternative ideas from thoughtful people on the both the left and the right from being considered.

    Except the “surge” is exactly one of those ideas. The President accepted it, and the Democrats then changed their positions to oppose it despite the fact that just a few months before people like Rep. Reyes had said that’s what needed to be done.

    It is a purely political calculus that has little do with Iraq and everything to do with the President.

    BT: For one, you don’t go to war for just one reason. It’s rather silly to say that any leader can only have one reason at a time for going to war. There were several independent justifications for removing the Hussein regime. WMDs aren’t the only rationale named in the Authorization for Military Force. There’s no way to spin the facts to support the conclusion that the humanitarian aspect was only tacked on after the war.

    Now, we are left with bringing Democracy to the Iraqi’s, with a few “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” thrown in (by the way, has anyone noticed that those two approaches contradict each other?).

    That line of logic doesn’t make sense. In fact, those two things are exactly the same. We’re fighting groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, and those groups are opposed to having democracy in Iraq. By fighting al-Qaeda, we remove an impediment to democracy in Iraq. There’s no contradiction in those two goals, and in fact they reinforce each other.

  16. centerfielddj says:

    “I think that if the situation were identical, except Al Gore was President, the Democrats would be defending this war.”

    This statement is quite, quite delusional.

    Al Gore has always warned that this war with Iraq was reckless foreign policy, so there is no danger that Gore would have created this “identical” situation.

    There was, is, and will not be in the future a meaningful constituency in the Democratic Party that advocates for a doctrine of preemptive war.

    Also off, and heartbreaking to me, really, is the canard “the animus against the war is based on the animus against Bush”. I’m sorry you wish to believe this, but that is truly fantastical thinking. In reality, it is very much the other way around.

    As the bodies of our forces have piled up, Bush’s popularity has gone down. As he engaged in extremely mendacious and divisive political rhetoric, particularly this last fall, he created more animus among more of the public.

    Jay, the occupation has gone poorly. Occupations, no matter the motivations for them, ALWAYS become unpopular when they result in deaths of the occupiers. Bush plows on, heedless of no one, even the voices of reason in his own party.

    In September 2001, I held no extreme animus against Bush. I PRAYED he would make the right decisions in a crucial time in our nation’s history. I understood that he held the role on Commander in Chief, and that we needed him to perform. I wished to support him.

    He failed, Jay. He failed us. He failed you. He is failing you right now.

  17. Les Izmore says:

    “Very few people made the serious argument that Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs in 2003 — certainly very few Democratic lawmakers did. In fact, all the available evidence coming from multiple intelligence agencies both foreign and domestic said, yes, Saddam Hussein had WMDs.”

    This statement is only possible if your sources of information are US only. The Guardian (UK), Scotsman (UK), Alftenpost (Norway), People’s Daily (China), Le Monde (France), The Times of India, Die Welt (Germany), The Age (Australia) and any other number of internationally recognized newspapers were reporting the weapons experts doubts about Saddam’s mythical WMDs and the ‘sexing up’ of intelligence reports by US, British and Italian agencies all through the war buildup. The fact that you personally don’t accept these folks as reliable doesn’t mean they were any less right and the folks you believe are credible any less completely wrong. Your belief that the US press and lawmakers constitute a majority of people also doesn’t mean the rest of the world didn’t see through the lies you continue to believe. You need to get out more often. The people you blindly support are making the US more and more isolated and unpopular in the world. Whether you personally care about what the rest of the world thinks about us is immaterial, the effects of that isolation will serve to wreck our economy for a long time to come. Here’s a small question. What nation got the most riches from the discover of the Americas? That would be Spain. The story of the rise and sudden fall of the Spanish Empire should be a cautionary tale for historically minded Americans. In the long term being the richest nation is not as important as being the strongest, internally and externally, and strength means avoiding adventurism and pointless foreign entanglements like the Iraq debacle..

  18. Eracus says:

    Yes, thank you, Les Iznuts, I too am always finding myself turning to the Chinese People’s Daily, Le Monde, and Alftonpost newpapers whenever I sense my fear and loathing of my own country beginning to fade. All it takes for me is a quick down-n-dirty simple survey of any number of internationally recognized newspapers and before I know it, Les? I’m so full of hate and anger again I can’t WAIT to suggest everybody who disagrees with me commit mass suicide. I know you can relate, because we both read the same newspapers!

    I agree with you, Les, buddy, I really do. The sooner we can all live under the most popular governments like the people of China, France, and Norway, the sooner we can all stop global warming and tax the rich!! Then everybody will like us again and they won’t wreck our economy — because that’s what really scares me the most, Les. That we Americans are so unpopular in the newspapers!! That’s why we have such an immigration problem, if you ask me.

    I really get you, dude. The real risk, having nothing to do with WMDs and Islamic terrorism, is that the U.S. is so unpopular that everybody might just gang up on us and wreck our economy!! Because they have to, right?? It’s the only way to save the Earth!!

    That’s why we’re all in this fight together, man. The sooner we just surrender in Iraq, say we’re sorry to everybody and leave, the sooner we’ll be more popular again and better able to save the Earth. So what if that means more death to America? That’s a small price to pay when all of mankind is at stake, wouldn’t you agree? Right on, Les!! Death to America!! Right on, dude! Alahu ackbar!! Remember Bob Marley!

    And you know what, Les? It really wasn’t until you made your last point about Spain that I really –finally– realized just how committed you have to be. You know why? Because, dude, you really showed me, Les, just how my filthy American parents and teachers LIED to me, you really did. Of course, of course!! SPAIN!!! SPAIN!! SPAIN was the country that benefited the most from the discovery of the Western Hemisphere. How didn’t I know?? And here all this time I believed, wrongly as it turns out because I am such a victim of people LYING to me, that The United States of America was the most popular, most successful, and ultimately the greatest beneficiary of the singular determination of a very small and unpopular minority to prove, once and for all, that public opinion and popular consensus throughout Western Civilization was absolutely, totally, completely, indisputably, and irrefutably WRONG.

    You really rock, dude. Spain! Who knew??