Michael Ignatieff’s piece in the NY Times magazine this weekend made for an interesting read. I really agree with a lot of the points made by Henry at Crooked Timber.

It’s an interesting piece in its own right, with some valid observations about the particular ways that certain kinds of intellectuals and scholars (a much narrower group than Ignatieff describes, however) tend to get mugged by reality. This is one reason that I strongly prefer the kind of historical and ethnographic scholarship that is descriptive rather than work that is trying to come up with comprehensive explanations or models. Model-makers and theorists are easily deceived about the messiness of real life. That’s fine when they’re confined to making models, and not so fine when they escape out of their theoretical clean-rooms and try to influence how policies get made.

A lot of Ignatieff’s critics accuse him of inflating the importance of people like himself, or of conflating his own errors with far more serious kinds of malevolence coming from other political and intellectual directions.

When I run down the list of prominent pro-war constituencies both inside and outside the government in the last six years. I would say that Ignatieff’s group of liberal hawks were more important in framing discussions among liberals and leftists than they were in affecting policymakers planning the war. This is where I particularly see it the way Henry does. From the perspective of Dick Cheney, or even of neoconservative intellectuals and policy wonks close to the Administration, people like Berman, Ignatieff and Packer were tools, not peers. This has a lot to do with the phenomenon of the liberal hawk who suddenly discovers that he is also anti-abortion, indifferent to torture and wiretaps if they’re carried out by the United States, strangely convinced by creationism, opposed to strong enforcement of occupational health standards, and so on. A lot of these guys took a position on the Iraq war that seemed to them to be a reasonable extension of a reasonable criticism of left defenses of sovereignty (a criticism that I’ve supported myself) but as long as they were taking that position, they expected their knockings on the door of American executive power to be answered with a friendly howdy-do neighbor and a welcome inside for tea. When the door to power didn’t open that way, some of these folks started adding all the other trappings and bangles of conservatism to try and get inside–maybe in a few cases (like Packer) hoping for that welcome to be extended while there was still time in their view to professionalize or smarten up the occupation.

I think Henry’s run-down of the relation of liberal hawk proponents of the Iraq war to other war proponents is pretty much correct.

There was one opportunist group for whom this was merely an opportunity to further their goals for long-term conservative hegemony over most policy-making feeder-streams and over as much of the public sphere as they could claim for their own. The war was an occasion, not a goal in and of itself. I wonder a bit if history is going to show that the war was actually their fatal overreach, that they’d been cautiously pushing forward through middle-American moral theatrics and small-beer post-Cold War foreign policy questions. I keep thinking that Karl Rove must have had some sleepless nights when true believers in invading Iraq commandeered executive power for their objectives.

There was another group of intellectuals and policy wonks who shared the liberal hawks’ fervent distaste for realpolitik and their belief in the forcible spread of liberalism but who came to that view from a very different intellectual trajectory–Wolfowitz, etcetera. Where the liberal hawks were outside of power looking in, these guys were much more like the New Frontier guys who planned Vietnam, full of themselves, feeling that this was at last their moment to carry out a grand geopolitical experiment and demonstrate that they had been right all along about how the world worked.

Cheney and the people closest to him seem to me to be yet another constituency with a different theory of power. I keep thinking of them as realpolitik types of a different flavor than Kissinger: brutalists whose theory of the Iraq war (and domestic politics) was more or less the same theory that a mobster applies when he sends an enforcer out to theatrically break a few debtor kneecaps. I don’t think many of them really cared much about whether Iraq ended up a liberal democracy. The war was about sending a message to future clients and potential enemies.

There was yet another group of writers, intellectuals and so on out there, many of them younger men for whom the war was a chance to participate vicariously in a particular kind of masculine spectacle, to demonstrate their affection for the professionalized military culture of post-Vietnam War America. I kind of understand what’s going on with this bunch. The post-Vietnam War military is an institution that a lot of American liberal-left elites are very distant from, but there are some genuinely attractive things about its culture. Before the Iraq war, I was really struck in my occasional conversations with military people at their attractive fusion of blunt honesty, egalitarian meritocracy, and aspirations to efficient managerialism. A lot of that turns out to be a kind of bluff when you take even a modestly harder look: how honorable have our generals and officers been in their political behavior within and outside their services in the last six years? How consistently meritocratic have these institutions really been? Efficiency? Uh, no. But there’s some real there, too–as higher education, for example, has drifted from some of its egalitarian commitments, the volunteer military has tried pretty hard to preserve a system where talent and commitment have a consistent payoff. It isn’t just this culture that explains this particular kind of fronting for the war, though: it’s also a kind of boys-own masculine theater, the keyboard commandoes and journalistic tough-guys sniffing around for an invitation into the Sekrit Clubhouse, a vicarious desire to prove their own manhood by prose genuflections to the guys on the battlefield. Some of the people who’ve fallen into this trap don’t seem to me to have the ideological and intellectual histories that led other people to put common sense into their safety deposit box. Any war anywhere would have been good enough, as long as it wasn’t a five-second scrub conflict like Grenada.

Another group who I think is fairly amorphous, distributed across a variety of ideological and intellectual commitments and backgrounds, are Huntington-style clash-of-civilization folks, genuine New Crusaders who aren’t out to prove that liberalism can flourish globally, but are largely instead spoiling for a sustained war with racial or cultural Others out of a neo-Spenglerian fear that the West is weak, hedonistic, self-indulgent, and has to be called to the frontiers to fend off the barbarians.

So what Ignatieff says is of interest, but it’s a narrow kind of interest. Matt Yglesias, quoted by Henry at Crooked Timber, is right that the liberal intellectuals who got caught up in supporting the Iraq war weren’t area specialists (with a smattering of exceptions) but instead generalist theorists. Area specialists have their own kinds of blind spots that are quite different. They tend to have a very hard time imagining or predicting major changes to the status quo in their region or countries of specialization, for example, and also have a tendency to protect access to their investment in area specialization by foregoing certain kinds of critique. Some of the commenters at Crooked Timber are also right that Ignatieff doesn’t exactly make a clean breast of it: he’s quick to blame others for tricking him or to imply that somehow everyone who resembles him intellectually is equally culpable of the same overall errors. Ok, so Kanan Makiya was a good guy and they all liked him, fine. But come on, the intellectual failures here are not his fault: they’re squarely on Ignatieff and Packer and so on. Those are the guys who didn’t trouble to read a bit more about Iraq or to think a bit harder about whether liberalism-by-occupation had any historical plausibility to it at all or to worry a bit about whether the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight in the White House had even the least chance of pulling this all off.

Ignatieff also doesn’t seem to grasp that there’s a (large) group of liberal intellectuals who shared some of the same frustrations with past political experiences, had some of the same theoretical and empirical toolkit, had a generalist sensibility, and yet came to a completely opposite (and totally valid) skeptical conclusion about this war in specific and voluntary wars intended to spread liberalism in general. There were a lot of people with an idealistic commitment to liberalism but a realistic understanding of its historical underpinnings. Ignatieff tries to expand the circle of his specific failures to a larger group than he’s entitled to.

I don’t really think Ignatieff comes clean on the rhetorical and institutional shamelessness of a lot of war supporters in the run-up to the war, something that I still see in a lot of the so-called “decents”, even those who have recanted their specific advocacy of the war (some with the “competency” dodge, believing the war winnable in the abstract but lost on the specific policy failures of the Bush Administration). Ignatieff recognizes that principle matters, but he doesn’t seem to grasp that process matters too, that the process of public debate over going to war, the gravest decision a democratic society can make, was badly malformed by propaganda, chest-thumping, and manipulation. Every single proponent of the war should have forced themselves repeatedly to intellectually rehearse and evaluate the arguments against the war, and every single process of deliberation about war should have been at pains to respectfully include arguments against as well as arguments for. Ignatieff says he was carried away by his emotional desire to believe that things could turn out well in Iraq, but it’s more than that. His specific intellectual peer group was also carried away by their sense of exultant victory over long-time institutional and political adversaries within their own narrow worlds and so misperceived every critical or dissenting voice around them as the equivalent of George Galloway.

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34 Responses to Ignatieff

  1. withywindle says:

    I clearly will not be able to engage much with this post. If you’re pro-war, you’re a hypocritical tool, a Strangelovian experimentalist, a brutalist, an army fetishist, a spoiler for civilizational war, or some or all of the above. This is not intellectual analysis; it is a categorization of insult. You advocate at all times close, nuanced historical and ethnographical study–but you would be ashamed if you wrote about Zimbabweans the way you write about conservatives and liberal hawks.

  2. SamChevre says:

    Cheney and the people closest to him seem to me to be yet another constituency with a different theory of power…. The war was about sending a message to future clients and potential enemies.

    Almost everyone I know who supported the war supported it for pretty much this reason. To the extent I supported it, that was also the reason. “Anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved” is as true now as it was in 1513.

  3. Withywindle2 says:

    Gosh, no one I know, or read about, supported the war “to send a message.” We were all concerned with the issues at stake–the dangers of Hussein’s Iraq, and the dangers of Islamic terrorism. I don’t doubt that it did send a message–and this does reveal real differences in conservative and liberal outlooks–don’t doubt that this may have been seen as a bonus–but this is quite different from saying that the consequent was the cause, or even that message-sending was the marginal factor that tipped the prudential decision toward war.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    I don’t think it’s any secret that I think anyone who supported the war made some kind of error, an error with grave and likely long-term consequences for me, my children and my society, Withywindle. I think they (all of them) were warned by a lot of very reasonable people about the mistake they were making before they made it. I’m more sympathetic to some of those kinds of errors than others–the liberal hawks and the neoconservatives belief in liberalism at any price, I understand and appreciate. I can understand if strongly disagree with the Machiavellianism that Sam speaks of here, though I think if I took that view, I wouldn’t want a Prince who was nothing but a blunt tool like Cheney as my standard-bearer. The army fetishists I also understand pretty well, and if they could come up for air a little they’d have some useful things to say about military culture and military virtues.

    The civilizational war folks are the people who I think are making the worst compounded set of mistakes–and most of the other pro-war groups should have been really intense from the very beginning about not tolerating even the merest hint of a presence of that constituency in their midst.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    Yes, there’s also people who just bought the WMD-danger message wholesale. If I had been more persuaded in the run up to war that the cards had been placed fairly on the table about WMD, that this was an administration with tough-minded, pragmatic, non-partisan standards for evidence and truth, I might have been prudentially more inclined to the war myself.

    So the people for whom WMD was the singular trigger? Their main problem was credulousness, panic and a certain knee-jerk patriotic reflex that led them to put their skepticism in a blind trust. With the best of intentions, yes.

  6. Withywindle2 says:

    Your language is more sober here, thank you–although you continue to use words like “fetishist” which simply inform the reader of your values, not theirs. Let us assume that I continue to disagree with you on virtually all policy points at issue. To return to style: you aren’t writing an actual work of professional history in these blogs, and so shouldn’t precisely be expected to adhere entirely to professional standards of writing. At the same time, your claim to authority when discoursing on public issues–both implicit and explicit–is that your adherence to professional historical values, nuanced historiography, both provides special insight into current affairs and a model for other people to behave. Yet you do not on a first draft practice what you preach about your domestic opponents–your partisan fire is no different in kind from that of anyone who possesses your range of political views, and your historical nuance somehow evaporates. Now, I know it is difficult to deal even-handedly with people whom one opposes politically–my co-blogger Alpheus has discussed this problem–yet I continue to think you can do better. There is some combination of commitment and detachment which I think a professional historian ought to practice when he blogs–and this post does not hit the mark.

  7. Jmayhew says:

    Nice, extremely nuanced analysis. Those aren’t necessarily separate constituencies or discrete groups of people, but various reasons for supporting the war that are shared among the amorphous group of war supporters generally. I don’t see anything intemperate about the analysis. Someone supporting the war would probably agree that those were some of the reasons why the war was supported.

  8. Timothy Burke says:

    Driving behind all of my particular argument about Iraq is a pervasive sense that people like Ignatieff in particular but also many other planners and proponents of the war ought to have known better. That sense is informed not just by my general training as a historian but by the specific study I’ve been engaged within in recent years of British colonialism and indirect rule. When I read Ignatieff or Berman or (especially) Niall Ferguson, there seems to me to be a will to ignore facts and problems that are lying in plain sight, a refusal to ask certain kinds of questions or to engage certain kinds of issues.

    Look at Ferguson: he writes (post-Rothschild book, post-WWI book) these love-letters to British liberal colonialism without taking on board an immense body of careful scholarship, without even addressing it. Go back to conservatives who were trying in some respect to answer careless or ideological anticolonial writings in the 1960s and 1970s and in many cases you’ll see people who trouble to take the scholarship they disagreed with seriously enough to bother trying to disprove it in detail. (Say, Fieldhouse’s massive study of Unilever’s colonial investments, aimed at Rodney’s accusations that Unilever benefitted from rapacious imperialism.) Ferguson just blows off thousands of detailed monographs as a kind of airy nonsense. You *can* appreciate the embedded liberalism that British imperialism helped to spread, at least I hope so, because that’s what I’m about to argue in print. But you can’t do it by acting as if that was always the central intent and focus of imperial rule, and all that racism and injustice was just a kind of occasional epiphenomenal fart.

    That kind of behavior infuriates me even when there are no consequences to it at all. It’s a shitty way for intellectuals and scholars to go about their business. We’re nothing if we’re not skeptics about our own ideas, nothing if we can’t grapple with difficult and confounding ideas, nothing if we don’t exist in a world where we not only admit contradictions into our presence but avidly seek them out. That’s why I take very seriously the claim that some of academia has fallen into liberal-left orthodoxy. I think that’s a fair complaint, up to a point, and a it’s a problem. Not because somehow we need “balance”, but because it means that a lot of scholars aren’t living up to their professional obligations.

    Now when this kind of behavior also leads to really dire consequences in the real world–in the case of Iraq, consequences that I seriously fear are world-changing at an epic scale–my ability to be polite about it is seriously eroded. In any event, however, I think skepticism and a desire to think through issues from many sides is not the same thing as detachment or a rhetorical commitment to avoid strong language. Sometimes strong or vivid language is important, both because it is true to what we think and because it is the most powerful way to communicate what we think. I probably already avoid speaking my mind more than I should in this space: it’s had a bad effect on my writing in general, depriving me of the ability to speak clearly, compactly and vividly and making me terribly prolix (because I try so hard to lay out all the branching paths of an argument).

  9. Withywindle2 says:

    I recognize the importance of proper rhetoric. I recognize the difficulty to remain polite when the stakes are high–of this, I assure you. I am sure you, or your readers, think I have failed on both accounts numerous times; I surely accuse myself of that. What can I say? My judgment, as an auditor in the dock, is that however mulishly unpersuadable I may be, there are imperfections in your persuasions–that your strong rhetoric inclines you toward preaching to the choir alone. And while this may be persuasive to some, I think it has its limits.

    Incidentally, I find this chastening restraint in blogalogue has had a positive effect on my academic prose. (From a low starting point, granted.) I think my critique of Habermas is far more eirenic than it would have been absent my practice here.

  10. Jerry White says:

    I can understand why Tim thinks Ignatieff should have known better, but I don’t agree at all; I think this Iraq folly is entirely consistent.

    When it was first announced up here that he would seek a seat for the Liberals, he was parachuted into a Toronto riding by the party, shoving aside the local candidate. This was irritating not only because it was heavy-handed and casually undemocratic in a way that’s very typical of the Liberal Party of Canada, but also because the riding he was parachuted into had a very large Ukrainian population. A lot of them were familiar with Blood and Belonging and were rightly offended by his portrayal of Ukrainian nationalism in that book. Ignatieff kept blathering on about how he was being taken out of context and he had nothing but admiration for the Ukrainian people and blahblahblah. But anyone who has read that book knows how he really feels; if I recall, he uses the soap that gets no dirt off as the metaphor for the whole post-Soviet Ukrainian project (I should say that I haven’t seen the BBC series that this book is a companion to).

    In the Ukraine chapter he had made, in short, series of a lordly, sweeping and basically misleading pronouncements that, when they came back to cause trouble for his political career, he tried to distance himself from. Sounds familiar, eh? It’s just that with the Ukrainian stuff he pretended that he had written something else and assumed that most people hadn’t read the book. With his writing on Iraq he has at least been forced to admit that he was wrong, but that seems mostly a function of the fact that he was making the pronouncement in a more widely-read forum.

    Indeed, those Iraq pronouncements caused more political trouble for him nationally than the Ukraine stuff, which was mostly a problem for his constituents. When he sought the Liberal leadership, Iraq came up a lot. Thus it’s clear to me that this NYT essay – which was reprinted in full on the webpage of the Globe and Mail – is meant to do no small amount of political damage control for him in Canada, possibly in preparation for another run for the head of the party.

  11. paul spencer says:

    Withywindle – well said: “If you’re pro-war, you’re a hypocritical tool, a Strangelovian experimentalist, a brutalist, an army fetishist, a spoiler for civilizational war, or some or all of the above.” Either that, or you own a lot of stock in Exxon, BP, or Chevron.

    Timothy – I love it when you play hardball (not Chris Matthews’ style of blowhardball).

    Interesting that so many of us left-liberals knew that: 1) the war part would be easy, because the Revolutionary Guard was a bunch of fat old bureaucrats; 2) the occupation part would be a bitch, because most of the rest of the folks there were not going to be any more docile than we would be under such a situation; 3) the Iraq government had nothing to do with 9/11; 4) Mr. Blix was telling the truth about WMD, and his inspection group were situated to suppress WMD production; and 5) supply lines (and retreat routes) that are thousands of miles long are difficult to defend, plus expensive.

    No doubt my natural cynicism concerning the anglo-american petroleum industry was the basis for my recognition of the true casus belli, when the troops went straight to the oil fields during the invasion. Either that, or it was simple recognition of the role that this gang plays in neo-imperialism generally.

    There was no justification for this fiasco, this debacle, this destruction, this mass murder. If we cannot project our better nature, we cannot “win” in any sense. If we rely on the projection of power, then Viet Nam and Iraq will be our epitaph, as well as epithet.

  12. djeater says:

    I feel this may be a private argument between people in the US, so I hestitate to intervene. But I am genuinely astonished by Withywindle’s claim that people supported the war because they were concerned about Islamic terrorism. An attack on Saudi Arabia would make marginally more sense than an attack on Iraq, if that was the target. There was never any evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 events.
    The war was about WMD – because there was no 9/11 link, so some other pretext had to be cooked up. Remember Colin Powell making a fool of himself trying to talk up clearly flaky evidence? Remember the embarrassing attempt to get UN approval for the invasion? Remember Hans Blix being vilified? Nothing to do with liberal democracy. Nothing to do with Islamic terrorism.
    Indeed, when it was reported that people in the US supported the war because they believed that Saddam had been behind 9/11, here in our smug Old World way we just shook our heads in despair and disbelief. Even so, I’m amazed that someone as clearly intelligent as Withywindle could have seriously thought that attacking Iraq would address Islamic terror. (Another bizarre suggestion was that it would ‘liberate women’, from people who clearly thought that ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ are interchangeable terms, and didn’t know where Afghanistan is on the map.)
    I guess this just highlights how different the political debates were on this side of the Atlantic. Here it was all ostensibly about WMD (the ‘dodgy dossier’ stuff and the ‘you could be dead in 45 minutes’ nonsense); but the real debate in the political columns was about the value of the ‘special relationship’ and how much our long-term interests depended on kowtowing to the US or allying more closely with Europe. The reasons why the US might want to invade Iraq were secondary to the question of whether it was in the UK’s interests to go along with it. I guess Austria might have felt something similar in 1938…

  13. djeater says:

    A PS question: Something that’s puzzled me for some time, which I’d like to ask here, with Tim’s indulgence. People in Europe knew that Iraq was the only secular state in the region. So the proposition that attacking Iraq was an attack on Islamic terrorism always seemed absurd. Why didn’t Withywindle’s friends know that it was a secular state?

  14. Timothy Burke says:

    My sense is that it depended on which of these smaller factions they came out of. For the civilizational war types, Hussein’s secularism scarcely mattered. For the people following Berman/Ignatieff etc. (some of whom were influenced by Makiya), the argument was precisely about Iraq’s secularism–Berman’s claim was that the Ba’athist state was anathema not because it was Islamist but because it was a linear descendent of mid-20th Century European fascism and totalitarianism.

    At the level of policy formation within the Bush Administration, I don’t think these fine points of distinction mattered. Iraq was a target, 9/11 was a permissive condition, and so away we go.

  15. withywindle says:

    We knew and know perfectly well that Ba’athism is a secular, fascist ideology. Also that it is perfectly easy for fascists to cooperate with Islamists when it suits their interests. Also that the entire Mideast is rife with support for terrorism, but the prudential choice was not to invade everywhere at once. And that to say that Iraq was not directly involved with 9-11 is a very different thing from saying it had no connection with terror, or would not in the future. And a thousand other things, all of which lead me to have no regrets about the decision to invade Iraq, and lead me to resolve to support the post-invasion struggle with all my might.

  16. Doug says:

    “support the post-invasion struggle with all my might”

    So are you enlistment age? I think it’s up to 42 now.

  17. withywindle says:

    Very flat feet. Much to my regret.

    I trust, however, that you aren’t rehearsing the rather contemptible notion that one must have served in the military as some sort of prerequisite to advocating the correct policy for one’s nation, whether war or peace; I would expect better from one of Prof. Burke’s comenters. Since you can read arguments precisely identical to mine by people who have served, or are now serving, in the armed forces–just as I can read arguments against the war both by people who have never served and people who have served–I am sure you know just as well as I how specious such an argument would be.

    But I’m sure Grima said that Gandalf was a chickenhawk.

  18. Josh says:

    There’s nothing wrong with supporting the war but not enlisting. But if that’s the tack you’re going to take, you’d be better served by avoiding phrases like “support […] with all might”. It makes you look… silly.

  19. withywindle says:

    Guess it’s a risk I’ll have to … take.

  20. djeater says:

    Withywindle says, above, “We were all concerned with the issues at stake–the dangers of Hussein’s Iraq, and the dangers of Islamic terrorism”, but then says, “to say that Iraq was not directly involved with 9-11 is a very different thing from saying it had no connection with terror”. So it seems that if Iraq had a ‘connection with terror’ (& which state in the Middle East doesn’t?) it was not Islamic terrorism. So, contra the first statement, ‘the dangers of Islamic terrorism’ was not ‘an issue at stake’.

    Moreover, if there were ‘dangers’ in Ba’athist Iraq, they were not, it seems, dangers that were well addressed by invasion. But what were these dangers? Using terms like ‘fascist’ and saying that Iraq might co-operate with Islamists when it served its interest does not address the question. As the Islamists were predominantly Saudi, and as Saudi Arabia is also a very totalitarian regime (is that what ‘fascist’ means in this context?) it would still, on these terms, make more sense to invade Saudi Arabia than to invade Iraq.

    I’m sorry Withywindle, but your argument, as stated so far, still strikes me as either ill-informed (which I’m sure you’re not) or incoherent.

  21. withywindle says:

    Iraq played host for terrorists, like Abu Nidal. Iraq subsidized terrorists abroad, for example in Palestine/Israel. Iraq clearly talked with various terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. The danger, therefore, was that Iraq would hand off WMD to a terrorist group–which could be Islamist, secular, Quaker, or what have you–and try to get away with plausible deniability. Hussein’s particular record was more brutal and aggressive than, say Saudi Arabia, he had a record of seeking WMD (and came frighteningly close in 1990), and he had never come clean on what he had. He was the greatest of the risk-states. The others are no angels–we had and have reason to attack North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, but better to reduce the number of fatal threats by one than by zero. And, yes, we no longer have to fear about an Iraqi hand-off of WMD to terrorists of whatever stripe, so that problem was solved. (Yes, I realize that it seems Iraq didn’t have WMD–unless they were trucked over the Syrian border. I also realize that the sanctions regime was collapsing, Hussein had a skeleton-program of WMD waiting for revival, and he could have had WMD available in very few years. And, of course, there was no way of knowing at the time that Hussein was lying to everybody, including his own general staff, about whether he had WMD.) As for fascist: Ba’athism was directly inspired by Fascism, and it was rather efficiently carried out in Iraq; see The Republic of Fear. Saudi Arabia is a medieval theocracy, not a totalitarian state.

  22. Josh says:

    Iraq played host for terrorists, like Abu Nidal. Iraq subsidized terrorists abroad, for example in Palestine/Israel. Iraq clearly talked with various terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. The danger, therefore, was that Iraq would hand off WMD to a terrorist group

    The last sentence hardly follows ineluctably from the previous ones.

    I’m also curious why Iraq being willing to sponsor terrorism against *Israel* means that the *U.S.* should invade.

  23. paul spencer says:

    If you want the funniest take on Ignatieff’s piece, read David Rees’ article on Huffington Post, August 7. It’s only slightly over-the-top, because Ignatieff’s statements are so close to the top by themselves.

    Meantime in the real world – OK, Hussein led a national socialist, totalitarian regime with two scapegoats – the Shi’a sect and the Kurdish minority: fascist in method and ideology. OK – his group was quite capable of nefarious adventures. Two questions arise:
    1) How does this justify our occupation of the country?
    2) What does invasion and occupation do to promote the “good purposes” that we espouse and supposedly embody?

    Withywindle – I write “occupation” in question 1) on purpose. Let’s put aside “pre-emptive” war and such for the moment. Occupation – what does Iraq owe us that we should try to control its population? How do you justify transferring your civilizational battle-field to a population that was essentially uninvolved in Islamofascism? You will support it with all your “might”, but NIMBY, I guess.

    Question 2) – I suggest that our role in WW II, in Bosnia, and in Kosovo was essentially equivalent and worthy. We waited until the evidence was conclusive, the opinion of the neighboring communities was consolidated, and the situation had passed some threshold level of calamity; then we acted with focus and committment. It takes patience, intelligence, and a strong stomach to wait for the correct moment to engage in battle against any foe – even in a “good” war.

    And then there’s Iraq.

  24. withywindle says:

    Because once Iraq sponsored terrorism against one foreign state, it made it clear that it was willing to employ it in its repertoire of foreign policy tools. At that point, it becomes a question of prudential judgment–can we be sure that Iraq will not sponsor terrorism against us as well? We now know they have no inhibitions in principle against the use of terror–merely a question of whether they think they can get away with it. That affects our prudential calculations considerably.

  25. Timothy Burke says:

    I hate to say it, but “sponsored terrorism against one foreign state” is a standard that an awful lot of contemporary nation-states would fall under, including arguably the United States. More importantly, even from a narrowly nationalist perspective, it seems to me that even in 2001, Iran and North Korea had way bigger footprints in the “sponsors terrorism against the US and its interests” business.

    But let pictures speak a thousand words. I’m curious what avid supporters of the Iraq war make of this video clip. The obvious, unremarkable explanation is that Cheney is willing to support the argument of whomever the President at the time might be. But hearing him say this clearly then–well, if he’d been a liberal at the time, surely American conservatives would already have pilloried him as weak, vacillating, supportive-of-Hussein, and so on. (Of course, he WAS supportive of Hussein, as our government was, but that too somehow doesn’t seem to feature in the memory of the Hitchens-Berman-Ignatieff crowd.)

  26. withywindle says:

    The United Kingdom has had a casus belli against the United States since 1918, for acting as a state harbor for IRA terror. They have chosen not to act on it; a prudent decision. We have a casus belli against many states, not least Iran and North Korea; we have chosen not to exercise them all. For all of them, the support of foreign terror increases the prudential case for war against them. Iraq’s record–actual use of chemical weapons, non-compliance with chapter seven UN resolutions, recorded attempt to gain nuclear weapons, internal genocide, cross-border aggression, attempts to assassinate an ex-president, etc.–were enough to tip the prudential decision toward exercising the casus belli. The fact that we don’t exercise all our casus belli has no bearing on the argument on whether we should exercise a particular one.

  27. Timothy Burke says:

    Why not? The implication of your argument is that a state of war (which may nevertheless not be consummated by an actual war) ought to be the normal state of international relations, the typical form of a relation between nations. It’s not clear to me what the standard is for refusing to go to war in your view unless it’s a prudential standard. (E.g., we should not attack North Korea or Iran because the consequences are too grave.) If it’s only a matter of record, Iraq in 2001 was a piker next to either of those states.

    If it’s a prudential case that determines when one of the many legitimate “casus belli” trips into actual war, then you add up that prudentialism in a markedly odd way. It’s as if you’re keeping a balance sheet that includes only assets and never costs, setting a trigger figure for assets, and whenever the count of assets goes over the trigger, you go to war.

  28. withywindle says:

    You’re grossly twisting my words to say that a state of war ought to be the normal state of international relations. I would say that it is the normal state of international relations–everyone a little bit at war with a great many of their neighbors, with very rare exceptions. Even the US and Canada engage in nasty little trade wars, and we’ve got a free-trade pact! (One reason I see the point of the grasping tightness of the EU bureaucracy, BTW–it’s the only way to restrain the natural hostility of sovereign states.) Humanity’s several sovereign interests seem to be best served by being at a low level of war with most people, while simultaneously trading, visiting, and dickering with them. And sometimes the low level trends higher …

    Of course you include costs. One reason to attack Iraq was precisely because it didn’t yet have nuclear weapons; Pakistan, alas, had already gone beyond the verge; it seems now that our passivity re North Korea had something to do with the fact that we knew that they already had a couple of nuclear weapons stashed away by the time the Bush administration came to office; after Iran drops its first test nuke in the Iranian desert, a pre-emptive attack is almost certainly out of the question. Even sans nukes, Iran’s size and strength has always made attacking it a more formidable proposition than attacking Iraq. Since 9-11, my sense of the danger of the combination of rogue states with WMD and a terrorist hand-off has grown so high, that it has practically outweighed a great many of the associated costs of a pre-emptive policy–but that is not the same thing as saying that I have no sense of the costs at all, or that I will support each and every war that comes along.

    Just a great many more than you do.

    Alas, the window of opportunity is closing. I greatly fear that we won’t attack Iran in time, and then, perforce, we will both be on the same side of the issue–along with 99% of American policymakers and citizens–and think a preemptive strike on Iran gravely imprudent. And then we will have to deal with terrible Iranian mischief in the Middle East–but, no, sadly, a preemptive attack on Iran will then almost certainly no longer be on the table, no matter how badly they behave abroad.

    And, no, Iraq’s record of instability and aggression was actually worse than the rival states. All fatal threats, but Iran and North Korea have actually acted with relative restraint in the international arena compared with Hussein’s Iraq–which attacked two of its neighbors with massive armed force in only ten years! Iran and North Korea are nasty enough, but they haven’t done that.

  29. paul spencer says:

    “Prudential” – what an odd choice of words to describe a debacle.

    However, prudentialism doesn’t answer my question, which was specifically about the occupation aspect. Hussein is dead, his party is essetially outlawed, and his sect is a minority in the “government”. What’s our excuse for occupation?

    Of course, it is control of the oil resource. I suppose that is “prudential” to some, but it is hardly moral, ethical, or legal.

  30. windy withal says:

    withywindle appears to be a little defensive in his first comment: I can’t find the part where Mr Burke says his list exhausts all possibilities.

    In his latest comment, withywindle speaks of a preemptive attack on Iran. I am unaware of any actions by Iran that would indicate they are about to attack the United States. Absent such an evidence, an attack on Iran would be an act of preventive war, a war of choice, and not preemptive.

    I also find it amusing that one of his reasons for fearing Saddam was the Iran-Iraq war, given that Saddam was essentially acting as our proxy in that conflict.

  31. Timothy Burke says:

    Please don’t post using a name that’s a commentary on the name of another poster.

  32. withywindle says:

    Paul: how does preventing genocide strike you?

  33. paul spencer says:

    If you accept anything close to the Johns Hopkins estimates of Iraqi deaths, plus the UN estimates of refugees, internal and external, I don’t see that the occupation army is preventing anything.

    On one salient level, there is a two “nation” surrogate war going on in Iraq – the Shi’a nation (primarily Iran) and the Sunni nation (primarily Saudi Arabia). We have barely impeded this conflict. I propose that, if we leave, the two nations will be more exposed and may well decide that some negotiated settlement might be useful.

    In particular the Saudis know (since the US DOEnergy web site describes estimates dating to the late 1990s) that the western quarter of Iraq probably has untouched oil reserves on the order of the original Saudi oil patch. My guess is that soon they will want to be part-owners (with their Sunni brethren) of this trove of black gold under relatively peaceful conditions. I guess that Iran will be quite content to see their Shi’a brethren in control of the southern fields, plus the most direct pipeline to the port.

    Without the presence of the U.S. heathens, the actual religious extremists should have less to motivate them. So – all in all, I will predict less violence in our absence than in our presence.

    The one caveat in my scenario will be the situation of the Kurds. Maybe – just maybe – a partial redeployment of U.S. troops to their homeland might be justified and useful. On the other hand, the Turks ain’t gonna like it. On the other hand (love me, I’m a liberal), that would be a war of two standing armies, and I think that the U.S. can handle that one.

    In all of this guesstimating, though, there needs to be one particular action. The U.S. must go to some fairly large segment of the international community – preferably the U.N. – and say three things:
    1) We screwed up;
    2) The oil belongs to the Iraqis – or to the peoples of the resultant pieces of the former Iraq; and
    3) What are your suggestions for solving the set of problems that exist in Iraq due to its past history and to our horrific blunders?

  34. Doug says:

    I’ve been away, hence the delay, but “support with all my might” implies much more than debating on a blog. What else are you doing?

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