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In Defense of My Retroactive Smugness

January 15th, 2007 · 36 Comments

Megan McArdle argues that those of us who opposed the Iraq War from the get-go should pause a moment before we dislocate our elbows patting ourselves on the back:

This has not convinced me of the brilliance of the doves, because precisely none of the ones that I argued with predicted that things would go wrong in the way they did. If you get the right result, with the wrong mechanism, do you get credit for being right, or being lucky? In some way, they got it just as wrong as I did: nothing that they predicted came to pass. It’s just that independently, things they didn’t predict made the invasion not work. If I say we shouldn’t go to dinner downtown because we’re going to be robbed, and we don’t get robbed but we do get food poisoning, was I “right”? Only in some trivial sense. Food poisoning and robbery are completely unrelated, so my belief that we would regret going to dinner was validated only by random chance. Yet, the incident will probably increase my confidence in my prediction abilities, even though my prediction was 100% wrong.

First, I’m not sure exactly who Megan’s talking about when she refers to “doves” collectively. If she means that the papier-mâché puppet crowd are not our most savvy geopolitical observers, and that “no blood for oil” is not a tremendously compelling piece of strategic analysis, well, fair enough. But as I’ve suggested before, the temptation to take the stupidest possible people who disagree with you as emblematic of their position is just a roundabout sort of confirmation bias.

Second, it is true that much of the pre-war debate has proved less than relevant because many of us on the dovish side accepted the premise that Saddam had WMDs—it’s hard to rebut classified intelligence, after all—and spent a lot of ink and pixels arguing that an invasion was unnecessary (even if it might succeed) because Saddam could be contained and deterred; was unlikely for various reasons to hand off bio, chem, or nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda; that indeed invasion was the one circumstance under which such a transfer might be plausible; and so on. In a sense, that whole debate was made moot by the absence of such weapons. But insofar as Saddam surely would have liked to have them, their absence does seem to me to suggest we had things basically right: We were effectively containing and deterring the regime, perhaps more effectively than we’d thought.

Finally, and rather more importantly, what Megan’s saying just seems factually untrue. Many doves opposed the war on the grounds that they feared something like what we’re now seeing would occur. Here’s Bill Galston, who I recall finding to be one of the more compelling critics of the war during the run-up:

The Bush administration’s goal of regime change is the equivalent of our World War II aim of unconditional surrender, and it would have similar postwar consequences. We would assume total responsibility for Iraq’s territorial integrity, for the security and basic needs of its population, and for the reconstruction of its system of governance and political culture. This would require an occupation measured in years or even decades. Whatever our intentions, nations in the region (and elsewhere) would view our continuing presence through the historical prism of colonialism.

And here’s, well, me in September of 2002, responding to then-colleague Brink Lindsey:
In the absence of the rule of law and traditional liberal rights, the invisible hand may not function internationally as well as it does in robust markets, but it is not altogether absent: equilibria are established over time. Sometimes these are so unstable or inherently awful that almost anything would clearly be better. It’s possible that tomorrow, photos will be released of Saddam and Usama sharing a tall milkshake with two straws. If that happened, I’d be duly embarrassed, and revise my assessment of the Iraqi threat. Under most conditions, though, the power vacuum created by the dramatic sort of regime change the administration envisions triggers a process of re-equilibriation at least as dangerous as the status quo. Deposing a dictator establishes a kind of political arbitrage opportunity, which political entrepreneurs are eager to exploit. In these cases, though, the transaction costs typically involve guns, bombs, and other implements of commerce in destruction. As post-invasion uncertainty rises, parties on the ground rush to exploit perceived differentials in local knowledge, and we see the same kind of flurry you would on a stock floor when a hot bit of news leaks—if the NASDAQ allowed traders to carry grenades. This is good in markets, because each act of arbitrage increases efficiency, and involves exchanges to mutual benefit. Exchanges of artillery lack this attractive feature. As we refrain from intervention domestically in the interest of encouraging productive trade, we should be guided by a defeasible presumption of non-intervention on the international stage in the interest of preventing this undesirable variety.

These are, admittedly, fairly general remarks, so arguably I didn’t predict precisely how things would go down. (I imagine accompanying Megan on an ill-fated sightseeing trip to Iraq: “You were so worried about Baathist insurgents, but we’re about to be beheaded by the Badr Brigade. Don’t you feel silly?”) But then, what Tolstoy said about families goes for nation building adventures as well: The happy ones all resemble each other; the failures are infinitely varied. This is not, I think, a point to try to cudgel doves with: Our argument was precisely that destabilizing a country riven by strong sectarian divisions will have chaotic and unpredictable results, and it’s for this very reason that there should be a strong presumption against ambitious regime change projects. This argument is not really undermined if the actual clusterfuck that follows differs in the details from our ex ante hypotheticals about what this might entail.

All that said, there’s a certain irony in Megan’s writing this just on the heels of Michael O’Hanlon’s Washington Post op-ed defending the “surge.” His argument (rebutted ably by Mark Kleiman, incidentally) is that war critics are hypocritical for opposing escalation now, since we argued so strenuously all along that the invasion was carried out without sufficient troops to stabilize the country. So to recap: When it’s convenient for the administration to point it out, we were right on the mark four years ahead of the hawks. But heaven forfend any general inferences about our relative credibility should be drawn from this.

Update: In the comments, Megan makes the fair-enough point that at least people who were just reflexively anti-war, of whom there are surely plenty, shouldn’t be claiming credit for their foresight. I’ll halfway agree, though if the “reflex” was the function of a general principle to the effect that preemptive wars are a bad idea, we’ve at least got a data point suggesting there might be something to their principle. (Compare markets, where the general idea that they’ll tend to solve problems reasonably well in the absence of government interference is “reflexive” in the sense of not being dependent on knowing exactly how the market will do it in any particular instance.)

She also suggests that if I look back at what I wrote in the run-up, I’ll be vaguely embarrassed by all sorts of awful predictions. Well, I’ve got to say, I think what I wrote about Iraq holds up pretty well. But judge for yourself. The full collection: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,
nine, ten, eleven, twelve, and my first reaction to invasion. To the extent that I got things wrong, it was mostly a function of being too ready to take the administration at its word about the state of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and programs.

Last Addendum: Via another commenter, see also James Fallows from the November 2002 Atlantic.

Tags: War



36 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jane Galt // Jan 15, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    I’m not saying that none of the doves were correct. Some were. But more were incorrect, and are retrospectively taking credict for their superior forecasting ability based on hindsight bias. If you go back and read what you and everyone else actually wrote during the period, I think you’ll be surprised by just how many awful predictions were made; the tendency to retroactively correct your previous predictions for current knowlege is really amazingly strong. As far as I know, the number of doves who were even broadly right about what happened in Iraq was a tiny minority, even if we throw out the cute fellows in the papier mache outfits.

    But the main point of my post is not that no one got it right; more that I’m not prepared to bow down in abject apology to people who didn’t get it right, but saw things go wrong for completely different reasons and are now taking credit for their prescience.

    Then there’s a possibility that I think is implied by your post: that for a class of debaters, there was an a priori assumption that we shouldn’t go to war with Iraq, and then a resort to whatever arguments seemed most likely to convince other people. (There were, I think, also this sort on the other side; “don’t just stand there, do something” was a driving impulse for a lot of bad decisionmaking.) Fair enough; pacifism and isolationism are ideologically valid positions.

    But that said, I can’t then say that these people were smart; they had an intuitive reaction I don’t have access to, which in this case proved correct. But as with all sorts of intuitive decisionmaking processes, it’s very hard to pick out any sort of lesson from that, unless I’m prepared to become a pacifist or an isolationist, which I’m not; doing so would require me to bite the Pat Buchanan bullet, and i don’t see that happening.

    Having started with the premise that we shouldn’t have gone to war, and then having selected arguments based more on their public relations value then their likelihood of proving correct, how can I then validate their decisionmaking process because some of those positions randomly happened to be correct? (I mean randomly in the sense that the arguments were not selected for fitness in predicting the outcome, but for fitness in making Americans feel all emotional about the war, which makes them essentially random from the point of view of calculating conditional probabilities.) This is also not true of all doves, but I think it is fair to say that there was a lot of instrumental argumentation from both sides. Do I give them credit for the gut “War is a bad idea?” instinct? Only if I can validate the premises that produce the gut reaction. Since I am neither a pacifist nor an isolationist, I have to look for a basis on which I should have, given the information I knew then, decided that the war was wrong.

    It’s as with any other policy issue. The anti-tax crowd is sometimes right, but not in any consistent way that makes me trust their judgement. Since they issue every single argument conceivable against taxes, based on their intuition that lower taxes are always better, they do have good arguments. But they also have bad arguments, which may outnumber the good ones. This gives me absolutely no policy guidance, and I tend to ignore their reports, just as I ignore reports from the EPI proving that unions are frigging awesome. The dovish decisionmaking process is only useful to me insofar as it starts with the analysis and works forward to the position. There are lots of people like that.

    All of which is not to say “I don’t need to listen to doves”, or to excuse my poor decisionmaking, which after all was in some small fraction responsible for a large number of people dying horribly. It’s only to say that Mark Thoma’s apparent opinion, which is that having “got it right” everyone who was against the war has been proven smarter, wiser and more deserving of an opinion than everyone who was for it, is really, really crappy decision analysis, the no less so for being nearly ubiquitous. I say that in the full knowlege that had I been right, I would feel the same way. So I think I’m lucky to have been wrong, in that sense, though obviously for the Iraqi’s sake I’d much rather be smug and right in the wrong way then wrong in the right one.

    Basically, post hoc analysis is turning this into a binary question: the hawks were wrong, and the doves were right. But if we actually want better policy in the future, instead of any tragic pleasure that doves may take in sticking it to their former debating partners, that’s absolutely useless.

  • 2 Barry // Jan 15, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Jesus Christ, Megan’s a liar. The whole dispute over ‘not enough troops’ was based on one of two things anticipated: (1) urban warfare or (2) guerrilla warfare. And ‘hindsight bias’ is just the latest lie by those who were wrong.

    BTW, Julian, an excellent article is Fallows’ article in The Atlantic (‘The 51st State’?).

  • 3 Meh // Jan 15, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    The scary thing is that this is just a continuing narrative of self-justification on the part of the war hawks. There were reasonably prominent voices internationally who were pretty much dead on with various assessements of the Iraq situation.

    Notably: No WMD, incompetence by Rumsfeld likely to lead to massively messed up post-war period. Unlikely to see a happy democratic state emerge, likely loss of lives on the British/US side in ongoing resistance.

    And Megan and her ilk? Well, they carefully refused to engage with this argument. They spent all their time deriding the “reflexive pacifists” and never once said anything more than “We know more than you about intelligence and military tactics. You’ll see there will be WMDs and democracy through Rumsfeld’s genius.”

    And to pick out Megan’s precise fault, she seems incapable of analysing her own prediction process to understand what went wrong. And that’s the scary flaw. Fine, don’t bow down to dirty hippies, but for goodness sake look at why you were wrong and try to learn from it.

  • 4 Travis // Jan 15, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Criticizing anti-war activists for not being right on the details is completely missing the point. There were a billion things that could have gone horribly wrong, and a lot of them were mutually exclusive.
    Failing to predict the exact nightmare scenario out of thousands doesn’t invalidate the judgment that it was a terrible idea.

  • 5 mixed meter // Jan 15, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Megan, your characterization of the pre-war debate as being between “hawks” and “doves” belies the just how disingenuous you are. That you boil your opponents’ positions down to “isolationism” and “pacifism” shows that you didn’t listen to them then, and you still haven’t begun listening to them now. Very few opponents of the war took issue with it from a stance of isolationism or pacifism. Most opponents did support our intervention in Afghanistan — in fact, maintaining our focus on Afghanistan was one of the oft-repeated arguments against the invasion of Iraq. And certainly many opponents worried about sectarian violence — Bush’s famous response was that it was a racist argument that “brown people” couldn’t live in a democracy.

    You may feel happy about cocooning yourself in your decision-making process by the gotcha arguments that, hey, Turkey didn’t invade northern Iraq, and that the initial drive into Baghdad didn’t devolve into a slog of urban warfare, and that those museum lootings weren’t quite as bad as initially reported. But the reality is that plenty around you were warning you that Saddam did not pose enough of a threat to merit risking the destabilization of Iraq, continued distraction from rebuilding Afghanistan, and the unleashing of chaos that would only impede our efforts in the GWOT.

    And all that befell your “hawkish” ears was pacifism and isolationism. You’re right, Megan, we shouldn’t be addressing your credibility. We should be addressing your hearing. You’re clearly deaf to all arguments that aren’t as easy to topple as those of your strawmen.

  • 6 Padraig // Jan 15, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    honestly, my opposition to the war back in’a day was premised on a very few simple principles – a) pre-emptive wars are not just, especially in the absence of any compelling threat, b) Saddam was unlikely to have major stockpiles of WsMD since c) in all of the previous inspection regimes none had been found and d) all those inspection regimes had ended with the US pulling inspectors out (not Saddam kicking them out), and finally e) Bush was tying Saddam to al-Qa’ida even though this was patently untrue, as f) anyone who knew the slightest thing about the middle east, Ba’athism, and al-Qa’ida would have been able to tell us.

    War is a terrible phenomenon, even in the best of circumstances, and starting one on flimsy evidence, without any need, and in contravention of international law (upon which our global legitimacy depended) and the teachings of history (the Peninsular campaign being only the first modern example of an invader getting beaten by a wide-spread insurgency) was never going to be anything other than a terrible mistake. It was never going to work – and THAT’S what most of the (admittedly intlligent and educated) war-critics I spoke with pointed out.

    So Megan – how did you not see this coming?

  • 7 KCinDC // Jan 15, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    Look, if the war supporters don’t want to accept that being wrong means their opinions should be valued less, could they at least admit that being wrong doesn’t mean their opinions should be valued more? Can we possibly have a few war opponents inducted into the ranks of “serious” people who are allowed on Sunday talk shows, for example?

  • 8 Kieran // Jan 15, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Three remarks:

    1. In the comments, Megan makes the fair-enough point that at least people who were just reflexively anti-war, of whom there are surely plenty, shouldn’t be claiming credit for their foresight.

    Isn’t that sort of “it’ll probably be a disaster” attitude supposed to be the main virtue of Burkean conservatism? It can be a pretty good rule of thumb in foreign policy.

    2. Rationales for the invasion and war before during and after its execution were multiple, shifting and — it turned out — false. So it’s a bit rich to hear the pro-war types complaining that some of the antis weren’t right enough. They could have tried abiding by their own present standards at the time.

    3. As for people not seeing it correctly in advance, as has already been noted there are plenty who got it right — certainly as right as one would have needed to have been in order to make the right choice. At one level, all you needed to know was that the Bush Administration was pursuing this policy: a couple of years of experience with them had provided plenty of evidence that they would, even under the most favorable conditions, fuck up spectacularly. Here is one well-known example. And even if you assumed the Administration was as competent as any other, there was still plenty of good reason for doubt. Here I am in in March 2003, for instance, asking

    (a) Since WWII, how many autocratic or totalitarian countries have been invaded by a democracy, had the bad guys deposed, and a stable democratic regime installed; and (b) How does this number compare to the number of invasions or other interventions that resulted in puppet governments, friendly autocrats, messy long-term military occupations, or outright disasters?”

    Or again the same month:

    After their victory, those hoping to institute liberal democracy in Iraq are likely to find ââ?¬Å?The Iraqi Peopleââ?¬Â (a noble abstraction) resolving itself into a multitude of Iraqi persons (a messy reality). … What then? Does the U.S. really want to go down the road of purging the populace of the Baathists? (Where did I put my old Kulak detector?) More likely, does the U.S. want to take on the role of colonial administrator, struggling to keep a lid on the pot while waiting for a social revolution? Or, perhaps most likely, will the U.S. just declare victory as soon as Saddam is dead and get the hell out, perhaps installing a friendly puppet before leaving?

    So, I got it wrong by judging option III as more likely than option II, but option II looks like where we are right now.

  • 9 theorajones // Jan 15, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    “I’m not saying that none of the doves were correct. Some were. But more were incorrect…”

    Nonsense. Just flat-out revisionist NONSENSE.

    I’m the first to admit that the Quakers were lucky to be right on Iraq.

    But GIVE ME A BREAK on the rest of us. Plenty of non-Quakers, plenty of responsible people thought this thing was a bad idea, and they gave very clear reasons why. Read the Congressional Record–see what the same people who voted in wholehearted support of Afghanistan said about Iraq.

    You. Didn’t. Listen. It is not our fault you didn’t listen.

    Sure, you can say that nobody predicted the looting, nobody predicted Abu Ghraib, nobody predicted we’d botch Saddam’s execution, nobody predicted exactly who would be in the various factions and what shoe sizes they’d wear.

    But I’m sorry to say we got the big stuff right. Completely right. And if you supported this war, you got it wrong. Completely wrong.

    To give one example, in 2002, former Democratic Presidential Candidate Al Gore spoke, and he laid out the many, many reasons that Bush’s plan was a bad one. Read it again (or read it for the first time). You’ll see him saying things like the threat of WMDs doesn’t justify this mad rush to war, that an invasion as laid out would very likely lead to postwar chaos in Iraq, that this action would drain our ability to fight the war on terror, it would make it harder to capture Osama bin Laden, and harder to win in Afghanistan. And he said much bigger things, too, things that were strategically right, and that you should have known were right. He said that the “Bush Doctrine” of preventive war is a terrible one. That it runs contrary to the strategies that have brought America success in the past. He said that unilateralism will have incredible out-year costs, among them weakening our ability to win the war on terror.

    Don’t give me this nonsense about how if we want better policy, the key is that we’ve got to give equal credibility to the people who got it right and the people who got it wrong.

    No, if we want better policy, we have to actually be HONEST about what happened in the runup to war, and figure out how we ended up with this horrible policy.

    And fundamentally, the problem in the run up to war wasn’t that respectable people failed to articulate a serious argument against the war that was ultimately proved right–it’s that people like you not only did not listen to them, but actually engaged in character assassination as opposed to engaging with their arguments.

    I’m sick and tired of hearing the lie from war apologists that many, many people who were against this war were opposed to it because they were kind of loopy–pacifists, isolationists, conspiracy theorists, people with puppets!–and not because they saw that this was a tactically stupid war in support of an strategically wrong vision. The fringies are the people who who were against AFGHANISTAN. Any number of sane, responsible people opposed this war and clearly articulated compelling and ultimately correct reasons why–including, perhaps most notably, a guy who won the popular vote in 2000.

  • 10 steveintheknow // Jan 15, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Woh! Wait a second. That is one B.S. analogy. The inherent risk and possible unintended consequences of ‘going to dinner’ are zero. While the risk of such for going to war, under any circumstances, are infinite. A better analogy would be that ‘I predicted that we shouldn’t have robbed that bank because bad thing A would happen, but instead bad thing B happened’. The point is robbing banks, like going to war, should be considered as an extreme last resort UNDER ANY CIRCIMSTANCE, not just because of all the consequences we KNOW about, but because of the ones we don’t as well. As for going to dinner with shaky evidence to support such a decision, there is no risk, so who cares if you guessed right or wrong. In other words, credit to everyone who predicted war with Iraq would be wrong because, hey, going to war all willy-nilly is, well, just stupid.

    I just think it is a dishonest analogy. That�s all.

    Oh, and comma.

  • 11 Xanthippas // Jan 15, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    It seems awfully stupid to me to criticize the anti-invasion crowd because they didn’t quite foresee exactly how things would go so much worse than anyone feared. I would imagine that in a situation where a car is going off the road, the person who says “This could be bad” is a lot more right than the person who says “Eh, we’ll be fine” when that car subsequently plunges over a cliff. So to me, all of this is just knee-jerk defensiveness. Liberal hawks would do much, much better to start arguing about what the hell we’re going to do once we’re forced to leave Iraq in shame and humiliation, than trying to attack the anti-war crowd for being too vociferous.

  • 12 Dan S. // Jan 16, 2007 at 12:06 am

    Having started with the premise that we shouldn’t have gone to war, and then having selected arguments based more on their public relations value then their likelihood of proving correct . . .

    McArdle is entirely correct about his bit, except for one typo – the shouldn’t in the first part of the sentence. Here, let me fix it . . .

    “Having started with the premise that we should have gone to war, and then having selected arguments based more on their public relations value then their likelihood of proving correct . . .”

    And of course, there’s the minor detail that this is actually describing the actions of the Bush administration, as they pretty much admitted . . .

  • 13 sglover // Jan 16, 2007 at 12:11 am

    New here, from Ezra Klein’s site.

    For me, it was always pretty clear that we were embarking on a massive social engineering project in a culture that is profoundly alien to us. I remember being astounded to hear nationally prominent right-wingers, folks who built their careers convincing people that “gummint” can’t even deliver the mail or running the schools, blithely predict wonderful, self-financing outcomes from the project. I believe this “Jane Galt” neurasthenic, above, is among that lot.

    It wasn’t very long before I was dismayed at the amateurishness which infested everything the administration tried to do to “persuade” fence-sitters here and abroad. This is what finally convinced me to oppose the war — I figured the Bush crowd wasn’t capable of pulling it off. So hawks who try to hide behind the competence dodge get zero sympathy from me.

    I thought predictions of Stalingrad on the Tigris were overblown, and I never felt comfortable making very detailed projections. But I was certain that the stupid thing would quickly lead to a situation where we have no good options. Which is exactly where we’ve been almost from the beginning.

    If the more prominent war advocates were competent at anything other than gasbaggery, if they could hold a job in some other trade, they’d be summarily fired for their shoddy judgement.

  • 14 Larry M // Jan 16, 2007 at 12:56 am

    You know, this is a perfect example of one of the biggest reasons why this war had massive support despite the incredible number of reasons why anyone who looked at the issue rationally realized in advance that it was a huge mistake. You get otherwise reaonably intelligent critical thinkers like Jane (well, she has her blind spots, but I think that’s overall a fair characterization) EVEN NOW unable to honestly look at the road to war. Her post on her site, and her response here, almost read as some sort of parody, yet I’m sure that she is completely sincere. I’m convinced that 911 destroyed the ability of a significant portion of our nation to think rationally and critically about Iraq.

    Incidently, an unrelated point, I was one of the center left liberal internationalists who was supportive of the Afhganistan operation who opposed the war for what in retrospect were precisely the correct reasons. However, the last few years have turned me into an isolatinaist. I can say that NEXT time we go to war I will, indeed, be one of those *unfortunately relatively few) people who are reflexively opposed to war. So Jane, you probably don’t want to listen to me next time, but please listen to the many sane non-pasifist, non-isolationaist, who got it right last time.

  • 15 Dan S. // Jan 16, 2007 at 7:48 am

    You get otherwise reaonably intelligent critical thinkers like Jane . . . . EVEN NOW unable to honestly look at the road to war. Her post on her site, and her response here, almost read as some sort of parody, yet I’m sure that she is completely sincere.

    Exactly. Really, it’s less about how we were *right,* damnit, and should be unquestionably obeyed from now on (personally, in fact, I have rather poor judgment, and the fact that I was reasonably (if not 100% perfectly) and non- randomly right says a lot about *what* a bad idea the war). It’s about how some of the hawks remain unable to admit that they were wrong – and I mean actually admit it, to themselves, without all kinds of caveats and pro-forma-ness, without *still* being stuck, at best, in the opening stages of ideological grief, like Megan here. (In contrast, as pointed out elsewhere, to some of the liberal (former) hawks who nevertheless eventually woke up and showed some understanding of the situation, and came back to the reality-based coalition.) And of course, it’s also, as KCinDC points out, that the fact that they *were wrong, horribly so, hasn’t really seemed to affect the discourse much.

    Megan, the question you really need to be thinking about isn’t so much why we were right (and why that shouldn’t matter, since really, we’re just a bunch of irrational folks, one step better than the puppet-makin’ people, and there’s no way to get access to our crazy intuitive decision-making process) –
    but why we were right (if not always for the exact reasons), and why you guys were so wrong.

    Indeed, in terms of distance from reality, on average the doves might not have been perfect (although as pointed out, a rather good number of folks were pretty darn close, and for very clear, concrete, rational reasons), but that almost fades into insignificance compared to how bizarrely far off the hawks were. And not just in terms of result – in retrospect, it must be clear that the arguments and general conduct were . . . well, very irregular.

    That, Megan, is what you need to be thinking about.

  • 16 aimai // Jan 16, 2007 at 8:38 am

    You know, I don’t want megan mcardle or anyone else who was wrong about the war to “bow down to me” although I was, in fact, right about everything. I want her and her friends to dissapear from our national discourse entirely–I want them to take the position their wisdom and humanity assigns to them which is, when offered a chance to spout their specious, inaccurate, and barbaric opinions about matters of war and peace that they should SHUT UP. Their delusions, which include both the delusion of intelligence as well as the delusion of significance, can really only be atoned for by years in a monastery with an accompanying vow of poverty, silence, and self abnegation.

    They and their buddies are responsible for the deaths of literally hundreds and thousands of people. That is the ocld hard fact.


  • 17 dcnataro // Jan 16, 2007 at 10:29 am

    As a member of the “focus group”, I marched in anti-war rallies in several cities, both before and after the invasion. I know what the predictions were on the street. Here’s a list:

    *They have no idea what they’re getting into.

    *They have no plan for the day after.

    *There is no connection between Saddam and Osama – they hate each other.

    *No information will be produced to connect Saddam to 9/11.

    *Bush is invading now because the inspectors are proving at this very moment that there are no WMD. (I said this one)

    *They want to hand Iraqi oil over to themselves.

    *Halliburton and associated cronies are gonna get rich.

    *It won’t pay for itself.

    *Sectarian and tribal violence will erupt – Saddam had tamped it down.

    *What sort of idiot could possibly believe that Dick Cheyney would ever try to establish a democracy anywhere?

    *The only way they could ever make this thing work is with a massive and permanent occupation of the country – and they don’t want to do this.

    *Thousands of American soldiers will die and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

    *They will use the war for the most narrow of political purposes and to stifle dissent.

    *They will use the war as an excuse to spy on us.

    All of these predictions were made on the street. Those of you who were there know that I’m not lying about this.

    I’d say we did pretty well for a bunch of dirty effin’ hippifricks.

  • 18 Larry M // Jan 16, 2007 at 11:59 am

    OMG, did you guys see the latest follow up post on her site? Words fail me. It has to be one of the most myopic, unselfconsciously funny posts I’ve ever read. I weep for this country, as I suspect that most people are LESS rational and thoughtful than people like Megan.

    God, when the United States finally has to pay the karmic price, it’s sure going to be aheavy one.

  • 19 Blar // Jan 16, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    The central argument against the war, I think, was that wars are destructive, deadly, expensive, antagonizing, unpredictable things, which can go wrong in many different ways, and so you shouldn’t start one unless you have a damn good reason. And that argument passed the test of history with flying colors.

    A more specific argument about Iraq, made by George H.W. Bush, Jim Webb, Robert Wright, and many others was that we were probably in for a long, ugly occupation of an ethnically fragmented, predominantly Muslim country. Though not everyone who opposed the war had this level of foresight, they almost all did at least recognize that the idea that Iraq would rapidly become anything resembling a stable, liberal democracy was a fantasy, and that the most likely alternatives were not pleasant.

  • 20 RWB // Jan 16, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    I agree with theorajones. I was initially a very reluctant supporter of the war. My reasoning was basically that Saddam was genocidal, and we needed to make sure he and his regime couldn’t commit genocide again, esepcially if they got their hands on substantial quantities of WMDs. I also felt I had been wrong about opposing the first Gulf War. I was reluctant because I distrusted Bush to do a good job. I thought his rush to war before the inspectors could properly do their job was wrong. I thought his inability to get other nations onboard suggested that there was something wrong with his plan. And I was worried that this would be a distraction from the battle with Islamism. And finally, when Wilson came out with his descriptions of the WMD yellow-cake lies, I turned against the war. I regret that I didn’t oppose it right from the beginning.

    Being called an appeaser or a traitor was very distasteful and painful. I apologize for my support (which didn’t count for much in the end–I never voted for Bush or any war supporter). I certainly never thought anyone who opposed the war was a traitor or appeaser. I had no particular sympathy for the Socialist Worker types, but I fully recognized that they were a sliver of a minority and did not represent the majority of the anti-war mainstream.

    Therefore, I would like to see some more humility from the recently converted. And for those who bandied about words like “traitor” or worse, you have no right to expect a war welcome into the anti-war fold. I’m not accusing Jane Galt of this–but many on the right have spent the past two years poisoning the public discourse with their righteous disdain while Iraq went to hell.

  • 21 naked lunch // Jan 16, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    I’m not saying that none of the doves were correct. Some were. But more were incorrect, and are retrospectively taking credict for their superior forecasting ability based on hindsight bias.

    This is rich. Because “doves” didn’t predict every single disastrous event that has occured in Iraq de facto puts them right in the same boat as our vociferous war supporters who were wrong is completely ridiculous. Jonah Goldberg should have written this piece. Same sweeping generalizations, backed by zero facts, or links.

  • 22 Steve // Jan 16, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Here’s what Jane was saying at the time — fantasies about New Yorkers beating up anti-war protesters. This is just a bizarre argument for her to make.

  • 23 Orson2 // Jan 17, 2007 at 12:57 am

    There is too much to correct and respond to here. I apologize for busting up the goup-think circle jerk here with facts. Thus, to start I’ll just pick just one whopper by Kieran:

    “2. Rationales for the invasion and war before during and after its execution were multiple, shifting and — it turned out — false. So it’s a bit rich to hear the pro-war types complaining that some of the antis weren’t right enough. They could have tried abiding by their own present standards at the time.”

    The “shifting rationales” thesis was made by the elite media in the fall of 2002, especially the NYTimes, then the electronic media. To my knowledge no Bush administration official confirmed it. To this informed reader, however, this was akll baloney.

    Any forensic debate veteran can see a “spread case” when he sees one. There were overlapping mutliple reasons for going to war with Iraq, and I never believed that WMD was the only or primary one, as the MSM convinced itself. The great military historian John Keegan, in his history of the war, found Blair using five reasons, and this comports with my understanding. If a Brit abroad can see five like me, why couldn’t the MSM?

    The AUM passed by congress detailed even more causus bella, but this was only a question of granular detail and history of reasons before during and after the Gulf War. That the MSM would be clueless was indicated in July 2002, when Bush excoriated a reporter for not reading his important West Point graduation speech of June. But Bush is a dolt, right? Why bother reading what a dolt delivers if you’re a reporter, right?

    Thus, a new book by a communications professor deocuments what was evident to anyone paying real attention: the MSM badly distorts the major and minor speeches Bush gives, setting its own story-line, heedless of the contents.

    In truth, Bush merely acted on the Iraq Liberation Act of October 1998 – passed by a pre-9/11 congress, and signed by president Clinton. It called for overturning Saddam’s regime and replacing it with a democracy. So, how novel was Bush’s “rationale”?

    Unlike the conventional mind-set, what with Johns Hopkins’ Fouad Ajami’s piece on democratizing Iraq in the January 2003, issue of “Foreign Affairs,” Freedom Forward was obviously the guiding rationale Bush pursured. It was equally evident evident in his West Point speech.

    True, WMD in new arsenal quantities weren ‘t discovered. But even the invading army knew Saddam acted like he had them. Oor instance, one vet of OIF stated that he saw truck loads of white chemical protection suits for the Iraqi army, sometimes strewn around abandoned foxholes in Al Anbar province.

    As for the unheralded benefits of the war, there are many. I could give immediate, secondary and tiertiary details. Lybia was completely off the worlds attention as a nuke wanna-be, which only the war exposed. Colorado School of Mines graduate Mahdi Obeidi, author of “The Bomb in My Garden: The Secrets of Saddam’s Nuclear Mastermind,” was completely off anyone’s list as the dictator’s lead scientist. Nor was the fact that Saddam had nuke making parts on order with the now notorious A. Q. Kahn smuggling network, who sold Pakistani nuke knowledge and parts to North Korea and Iran. Or that the sanctions regime was failing.

    The Arab world finally has an alternative to debate for government, besides theocracies and police-states, according to Ajami. True, real progress in Iraq reversed, at least in Baghdad, last year. But how could anyone know objectively? US casualties fell from the year before, and the MSM rarely if ever provides any meaningful metrics. You have to search online for Brookings Insititution data, not your local rag.

    Far from a quagmire, the enemy followed the three increasingly successful elections all the way to the installed seat of political power in Baghdad precisely because it was successful! Not the other way around. Most of Iraq is relatively peaceful – no more than double the current muder rate in (recent historically low) Chicago.

    As for tertiary effects, after a post-war bubble, war in the world went down last year. Checknya, Somalia, Angola, Congo, Indonesia and elsewhere say conflict decline. Meanwhile, the bubble saw the Muslim civil war of identity turn inward, after having been exported for decades by theocracies and police states only too happy to do so! Al Qaida is now much less popular in the world, and a survey published in USA Today in November saw Afghanis much more happy with their liberation – just like those in Iraq – than the MSM reports. Indeed, the fact they and our troops who are much closer are significantly happier than our media and public are ought to ell the skeptics something. But somehow, like all the other items I’ve listed, this never gets assayed by those with quagmir-itis.

    These are only some of the gains war in Iraq has given us in the GWOT. Now, on to win the pacification struggle.

    (PS I never voted for Bush – but if Rummy ran, I would have voted for him.)

  • 24 Davebo // Jan 17, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    What to do when you’ve made a fool of yourself in writing, in public?

    Nutpicking, that’s the ticket!

  • 25 Frans // Jan 17, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Jane Galt,

    Reread your post on famous French military victories. Still funny, right?

  • 26 pseudonymous in nc // Jan 17, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    if we actually want better policy in the future, instead of any tragic pleasure that doves may take in sticking it to their former debating partners, that’s absolutely useless.

    Basically, Megan, we would like you to have sufficient shame (or honor — your call) to shut up on such matters in the future, just as we would rather not hear the unsuccessful auditioners on American Idol sing again after being told, rather explicitly, that they sound like a cat in distress.

    There is no shame in getting something ridiculously wrong from the sidelines: even a position as blissfully uncontroversial as cheering on the Iraq invasion is better said than unsaid.

    So go about your merry business of telling poor people that they’re rich compared to 17th-century colonists, employing those priceless anecdotes gleaned from your lawn-keeper’s cousin’s pet dog. Do keep up the Randian silliness. But have the common decency to avoid any circumstances where you might be remunerated or parroted by your acolytes for prognostications that turned out arse-over-tit. Sit the next one out, okay?

    There is too much to correct and respond to here.

    I’ll just advise Orson2 to stop huffing paint thinners, because I really can’t be pestered correcting all of his untruths and weasel words. Or perhaps I can offer him the choice of a weekend in Baghdad, while I go to Chicago?

  • 27 Gregory // Jan 17, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Interesting. If memory serves me right, a lot of the antiwar position was that Bush’s justifications didn’t add up, whereas war cheerleaders like Galt insisted we should trust him.

    Indeed, I’d say that for many, their distrust of Bush could be called reflexive.

    Which camp was right on that score, Galt? Whose credibility has sunk right along the S.S. Bush’s?

    (For my part, I opposed the war mostly for the same reasons George H.W. Bush and Colin Powell cited for not taking Baghdad in 1991, and I for one don’t remember the hawks addressing their position with anything but predictions of being “greeted as liberators. Chumps.)

  • 28 Gregory // Jan 17, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Besides, McArdle is being — surprise, surprise! — disingenuous when she talks about predictions as opposed to risks. Even if Saddam never used mustard gas on our troops, it was quite rightly pointed out as a risk.

    Meanwhile, the “risks” of not invading so shrilly touted by the prowar side — nuclear weapons carried by balsa wood drones piloted by al Qaeda; hell, the notion that Iraq posed any threat at all to the US — never did pass the smell test.

    If someone gets drunk, insists on driving, and insists that everything will turn out just fine, and one responds by noting that driving drunk could result in a totaled car, an arrest, the driver or someone else getting killed, all of those are perfectly valid risks. If the drunk proceeds to total the car and get arrested, he or she doesn’t get to point out that no one got killed to claim that his or her dissuaders “got their predictions wrong.”

    Even if they’re reflexively opposed to driving drunk.

    Given McArdle’s obvious affinity for straw men, it’s clear that if she doesn’t recall the antiwar arguments, it’s because she was never listening — deafened by the drums of war she was banging, perhaps.

  • 29 Jon H // Jan 18, 2007 at 1:33 am

    So, basically, Megan is a believer in the “wisdom of crowds BUT DEAR GOD NOT THOSE FREAKS“.

  • 30 Doug // Jan 19, 2007 at 12:15 am

    Aimai wrote You know, I don’t want megan mcardle or anyone else who was wrong about the war to “bow down to me” although I was, in fact, right about everything. I want her and her friends to dissapear from our national discourse entirely–I want them to take the position their wisdom and humanity assigns to them which is, when offered a chance to spout their specious, inaccurate, and barbaric opinions about matters of war and peace that they should SHUT UP. Their delusions, which include both the delusion of intelligence as well as the delusion of significance, can really only be atoned for by years in a monastery with an accompanying vow of poverty, silence, and self abnegation.

    And you wonder why people like Megan are loathe to listen to you. Even when you’re right, you’re so appallingly arrogant. Megan’s post was misguided and wrong headed. I supported the war before hand, and I came out of the experience realizing just how little I understood about the Middle East, Sunnis, Shia’s and Iraq. It will certainly change my thinking about military action going forward.

    That said, I can’t help but feel dirty and asahmed to be on the same side as someone as horrid as Aimai. Try a dose of humility, you all-knowing God, you. Sheesh, the arrogance of some people. Smart, intelligent people are wrong…all the time. Even you, no matter who you are.

  • 31 Jon H // Jan 19, 2007 at 12:24 am

    Megan wrotes: ” But more were incorrect, and are retrospectively taking credict for their superior forecasting ability based on hindsight bias. ”

    Oh nonsense. It doesn’t require “hindsight bias” to accurately predict a lifelong drunk, playboy, and failure would mess up any significant endeavor. It doesn’t require “hindsight bias” to accurately predict that a utopian, utterly non-conservative project would fail.

  • 32 Dan S. // Jan 20, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    ” I supported the war before hand”

    And as such weren’t exposed to the constant rain of vomit and incessant hurling of feces that those of us did oppose the war were subjected to – which probably influences our reactions a bit now.

  • 33 pseudonymous in nc // Jan 21, 2007 at 3:45 am

    Even when you’re right, you’re so appallingly arrogant.

    How exactly is it ‘arrogant’? It’s the same desire manifest after hearing the most awful auditioners in American Idol: we wish them no harm, provided their singing voice never assaults us again.

    It’s Megan who should consider the benefits of humility. Is it really too much to ask that she sit out pontificating the next war?

  • 34 rea // Jan 22, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Ms. Galt famously called for antiwar protestors to be beaten over the head with 2×4’s. It’s not surprising, therefore, to find that her account of what the antiwar side was saying at the time leaves something to be desired–she was not listening.

  • 35 MQ // Jan 22, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Doug: this war was not a matter of an innocent mistake by smart people. The foolishness of the war was evident beforehand and deliberately ignored. This is criminal negligence. That is why people are angry. You should not feel dirty to be on the same side as people who actually take it seriously when their country is deeply harmed by bad decisionmaking, as opposed to waving it off.

  • 36 MQ // Jan 22, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    And Megan is an ideologue, who uses her intellect to justify the pre-cooked conclusions of her ideology. This actually makes her *less* intelligent and thoughtful than people who probably have much lower measured IQs than she does.