**Quick update below I've noticed several mea-culpae about Iraq floating around lately. We talked about one of them (Ignatieff) the other day. Being wrong about such a thing as monumental as war ought probably to carry serious consequences for the credibility of the person who was wrong. In light of that obvious but completely ignored imperative, it's entertaining to watch the ones who were wrong explain themselves:
We might test judgment by asking, on the issue of Iraq, who best anticipated how events turned out. But many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology. They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.
So Ignatieff was wrong, but some of those who were right were right for the wrong reasons (so he claims). We might then say that they're wrong too. Because after all it's just as bad to have a true belief which is unjustified as it is to have a unjustified false belief (like Ignatieff had). Any mature person can see that Ignatieff has picked on the college socialist again–a slogan chanting and capitalistically challenged representative of the anti war left. Everyone ought to know by this point–especially a former Harvard Professor of political science–that such a lefty exists in Rush Limbaugh's mind. Pointing out that someone might have had stupid reasons for being right doesn't have anything to do with your stupid reasons for being wrong. Now to his stupid reasons:
The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq's fissured sectarian history. What they didnï¿½t do was take wishes for reality. They didn't suppose, as President Bush did, that because they believed in the integrity of their own motives everyone else in the region would believe in it, too. They didn't suppose that a free state could arise on the foundations of 35 years of police terror. They didn't suppose that America had the power to shape political outcomes in a faraway country of which most Americans knew little. They didn't believe that because America defended human rights and freedom in Bosnia and Kosovo it had to be doing so in Iraq. They avoided all these mistakes.
First off, I think a good number had some knowledge of Iraq's "fissured sectarian history." It was no secret to experts in Middle East history. But the more perplexing thing (aside from its self-serving comparisons) about this mea culpa is that it puts the entire matter in terms of gambling about an uncertain future–where no one could possibly predict the outcome. And this is just the point that Ignatieff and others fail to get. A person with even a casual knowledge of the history of the region (say the recent war between Iraq and Iran) could have predicted the outcome of this war with a good deal of precision. It's not a question, as Ignatieff frames it, of being unduly critical of the motives of the administration (which one always should be in any case), it's rather a more straightforward matter of good judgment. And so this underscores the shallowness of Ignatieff's thinking about matters of life and death (which is what it was to think about invading Iraq in case that wasn't obvious). The experts he trusts don't have any knowledge of the very public and relevant facts about the history of Iraq (and the entire region). So it's not only a case of taking wishes for reality. It's simpler than that.
**Update: Here's Crooked Timber, always a worthwhile read. I'd be interested in seeing more apologiae pro errore meo if anyone knows where to find them.