2007 November 08 Thursday
Andrew Sullivan Recounts His Errors On Iraq

Sullivan admits to mistakes on Iraq and lists ways he was wrong.

I was wrong because a) one critical element of the case for war was simply not there (whether lied about or misrepresented or incompetently judged or so riddled with "evidence" from the tortured or the criminal that the info was FUBAR); b) the president did mismanage the war so grotesquely that it clearly made the US less safe, empowered Iran, gave al Qaeda a new lease on life, opened the borders of Iraq to al Qaeda, permitted the ransacking and looting of much of Iraq, and led to tens of thousands of deaths of innocent civilians; c) I fatally misread the history of Iraq and did not fully appreciate the depth of the sectarian divides, the absence of any national identity that could effectively supersede tribal loyalties, and the trauma that Saddam's regime had imposed; d) I did not realize that the Bush administration would effectively suspend the Geneva Conventions in the war thus leading to the atrocities across the theater that did a great deal to undermine the moral basis for a just war.

There are some mistakes missing from that list. How about "I failed to appreciate how much Islam is inimical to liberal democracy". Iraq is not the only Arab country. The rest of them are not models of democratic freedom either. Did we really need to invade an Arab country to discover that liberal democracy doesn't go down well with Arabs?

Or how about "I greatly overestimated the competency of government while posing as a conservative". Iraq isn't just a story of mistakes by George W. Bush and the neocons. It is also a story of a lot of people who claim to see government as far less competent than the private sector putting faith in the ability of government bureaucracies. Why should we expect high competence from CIA nuclear weapons analysts? The most talented people are turned off from the idea of working for government, let alone from working for a highly secretive agency which offers oppressive working conditions. Why should we expect competence from a bunch of US occupation administration officials? I wouldn't expect a lot of competence from people willing to go work in Iraq for the US government, even less so when a major filter on who got chosen was the extent of their loyalty to Bush.

Sullivan correctly points out that even if Iraq eventually improves that doesn't justify invading Iraq or make invading Iraq a worthwhile undertaking.

Even if, in a decade or so, we see something approaching a normal society in Iraq (which would be the first time in centuries), I will still have been fantastically wrong. Just because in the very long run, it is possible that a decision made was retrospectively the right one, that was not the basis on which I supported the war and lambasted its opponents. I'm not going to pull that excuse. And the costs of the enterprise - both human and financial - continue to bear no rational relationship to the benefits we haven't even begun to see. To have embroiled ourselves in a large, open-ended, $3 trillion occupation of a country that is clearly no longer a country, and to trap the bulk of the military in that theater while threats proliferate globally, and to have no viable exit strategy ever: this is a colossal, historic error. And all this holds even if. it turns out in the very long run to have made Iraq a more normal society than it was under Saddam.

Even if (and this is still an unknown) we can bribe and bludgeon major Iraqi faction leaders into a sustained reduction in violence that doesn't make the invasion a good idea. There's no benefit accruing to America for invading Iraq. We would have been better off had we never invaded.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 November 08 07:09 PM  Mideast Iraq Blame Game


Comments
tommy said at November 9, 2007 1:40 AM:
There are some mistakes missing from that list. How about "I failed to appreciate how much Islam is inimical to liberal democracy". Iraq is not the only Arab country. The rest of them are not models of democratic freedom either. Did we really need to invade an Arab country to discover that liberal democracy doesn't go down well with Arabs?

Sullivan is basically a liberal (in spite of what he claims) and, like most liberals, he has entirely failed to absorb this pivotal lesson, along with the related lesson "I failed to appreciate how highly endogamous, tribal societies are inimical to liberal democracy." That's because it would upset comfortable liberal notions such as the idea that Islam and Christianity are both equally bad. He prefers to think that his "Christianists," like Pat Robertson, are every bit as menacing to civilization as Islamists like bin Laden.

Sullivan also prefers to blame the war on a deceptive or incompetent Bush than face up to the idea that the war's goals were simply unachievable. I really get tired of this sort of reasoning:

the president did mismanage the war so grotesquely that it clearly made the US less safe, empowered Iran, gave al Qaeda a new lease on life, opened the borders of Iraq to al Qaeda, permitted the ransacking and looting of much of Iraq, and led to tens of thousands of deaths of innocent civilians

Sure, the president has mismanaged the war, but that isn't really central. Sullivan implies that if the president had waged this war in a different fashion, then he could have somehow avoided empowering Iran and al-Qaeda and kept America at least as safe as if we had never gone to war. It's an easy jab at Bush, but it's false; there was no way that could have been done. The war was a failure in concept rather than execution.

This is why I'm not certain most liberals have really learned anything from this war. They persist in the same delusional views of human nature that led neoconservatives to want the war in the first place.

black sea said at November 9, 2007 5:50 AM:

Well, no shortage of things to be said here, but I'd like to focus on the issue of competency in the administration and suggest the reading of Thomas Ricks' book "Fiasco," and - for those lacking the patience to read - the viewing of the film, "No End in Sight." Both offer some genuinely illuminating revelations.

I recall that during Ricardo Sanchez's entire tenure in Iraq, there was never an agreed upon Battle Action Plan outlining just how the military was to cope with politcal, security, and combat contingencies. Oh, there were a host of drafts and competing versions floating around, but nothing consistent among all the forces. I've never been in the military, but this sounds like quite an error of omission to me.

Though lacking military experience, I have been subjected to life in various bureaucracies, and I've seen just how god-awfully messed up things get when there are no clear lines of authority, and people don't really know to whom they are reporting, and actually aren't sure who they're supervisors are. So consider that soldiers and US personnel, not to mention the Iraqis, never really knew if Sanchez or Brimmer was in charge in Iraq, and Brimmer wasn't sure if he was reporting to Powell, or to Rumsfeld, or to the president himself. To complicate matters, Brimmer and Sanchez despised each other and thus limited communication to its barest possible minimum. All of this in a country descending into civil war, which of course nobody was allowed to admit.

And, when the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council violated this "omerta" by reporting in a detailed document to the president that the insurgency was building, he discovered that the president publicly dismissed the conclusions of this report without ever having read it. The president hadn't even bothered to skim the one-page executive summary.

As you may have heard, the president dislikes bad news.

Proofreader said at November 9, 2007 6:03 AM:

How about giving back all that money you made writing bollocks about Iraq, Sully? You surely owe those checks back to your editors and readers.

USorThem said at November 9, 2007 6:58 AM:

Failing to realize this is crucial: "I failed to appreciate how much Islam is inimical to liberal democracy".

So much of our future depends on our leaders understanding basic Islamic ideology. Iraq is not the only problem the U.S. faces regarding Islam. So many threats to our national security exists and are exposed because of failure to understand why Islam is inimical to liberal democracy. Look at how this misunderstanding guides Bush in his policy towards Musharaff and Pakistan. Look at the priority he places in making sure democratic elections are held. What if the Taliban elect themselves into power Mr President? Can you say G-a-z-a. Polls show 60-70-% of Pakistani's support sharia law and want no part of the U.S. stopping the Taliban in their country. What about Iran? If action against them begins will it too include a Democracy Project? And Europe? Why do politicians ignore the Islamification of Europe. Is it the Bush belief that once a democracy always a democracy, who wouldn't love it?

black sea, by coincidence I'm at p. 325 of "Fiasco" by Ricks now. Great insights into the players of the Iraq project.

Randall Parker said at November 9, 2007 6:48 PM:

USorThem,

Yes, Bush's advocacy of democracy in Pakistan is foolish and tragic. He has learned nothing.

tommy,

Sullivan and the liberals and the liberal neocons won't learn anything useful from Iraq unless they allow themselves to learn something about human nature that conflicts with their basic mythical beliefs.

purenoiz said at November 9, 2007 8:05 PM:


what are these truths about human nature randall?

HellKaiserRyo said at November 10, 2007 1:43 AM:

Laconically, people in Iraq are too stupid (just ask Richard Lynn) and humans need to be enhanced altruistically (and over course in intelligence to engage in rational altruism[i.e. not showing altruistic feelings towards bums on the street as they might spend the money on alcohol, but instead giving money to organizations such as OXFAM, which Peter Singer does]). These are obstacles to a liberal democracy.

Is that what the people believe in here (especially the former) as this blog is already politically incorrect? I do not need to restrain myself from talking about it.


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