As if it were yesterday

Sometimes it seems like so long ago that we marched off to war in Iraq. For some, that distance has blurred their memory of events. Writing the "grown-ups" or, as it has become known in the blogosphere, the "very serious persons," foreign policy piece, Sebastian Mallaby, professional contrarian, illustrates that very smart looking people can make some really silly arguments:

Clinton's rivals are contemplating history and deriving only a narrow lesson about Bush: Don't trust him when he confronts a Muslim country. But the larger, more durable lesson from Iraq is that wars can be caused by a lack of confrontation. The Iraq invasion happened partly because the world had lost the stomach to confront Saddam Hussein by other means. By 2002, the sanctions on Hussein's regime had been diluted, and there was pressure to weaken them further. Hussein was no longer "in his box," to use the language of the time: If you believed that a resurgent Saddam Hussein presented an intolerable threat, it was worth taking the risk of unseating him by force, sooner rather than later.

Alone among the Democratic candidates, Clinton has the honesty to insist that the case for war was reasonable at the time — even if, with the benefit of hindsight, the invasion has proved disastrous. In sticking to that politically difficult position, Clinton is saying that, despite its awful risks, war can sometimes be the least bad choice. She is not running away from military power, even in a political climate that makes running attractive.

That's not how I remember it. Nonetheless, more annoying that Mallaby's ignorant contextualizing of history ("at the time") is his pointless hypothetical ("If. . . "). The point of history is not to relive it, but to learn from it: one can learn from history because we know what happened. And you can't forget that all of the things said by Bush, et alia, about a resurgent Saddam were false–false in the sense of not being true.

If you believed that they were true, indeed, then you believed that Saddam posed a threat. But you had a false belief. And more than that. Bush's false belief about Saddam was rather less justified than Joe Citizen's: Bush and his war making party had access to facts that made the case for war against Saddam even less justified than it otherwise appeared. Mallaby writes all of this on the manifestly silly premise that any opposition to Bush's policies–foreign or domestic–can only be explained by the silly ad hominem of Bush derangement syndrome.

I suppose it's "deranged" and "immature" to have been right.

4 thoughts on “As if it were yesterday”

  1. “And you can’t forget that all of the things said by Bush, et alia, about a resurgent Saddam were false–false in the sense of not being true.”

    This is a clear example of hasty generalization.

  2. Dear Douglas,

    If that were false (which it isn’t–Saddam had none of the weapons capability alleged), it wouldn’t be an example of a hasty generalization, but rather a false one. There’s a difference.

  3. That sentence in bold is really crazy. Who is “the world”? Our country decided it wasn’t worth the effort to confront Saddam Hussein further in 1991, thus ending the Gulf War, and by “our country” I mean the cast of the first Bush administration, largely the same folks who got to make the decision to go to war the second time.
    It seems really insidious how Mallaby is discussing this all in the abstract, as if the responsible parties were not specifically known…The construction “The Iraq invasion happened…” is terrible. These kinds of things don’t just happen.

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