The "Moral" Case For The Iraq Debacle

This comment really annoyed me for some reason. So I decided to republish a piece I wrote that I think responds to it. Please forgive me this personal privilege.

The War Over The Debacle
by Armando

Sat Oct 22, 2005 at 10:52:24 AM PDT

Over at the normally cool TPM Cafe, there has been a pretty hot exchange going on between the Liberal Iraq Debacle Hawks (I use the word Debacle instead of War because I think it is important that we be clear that what they advocated for is a Debacle, whether they thought it would be one or not.) and those who opposed the Iraq conflict.

I won't get into the details of the debate - I think Matt Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld wrote the definitive piece on the issue, but I wanted to note this churlish response from George Packer:

Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias have written thoughtfully about the limits of liberal interventionism. They are right to say that it needs to be rescued from the tragedy of Iraq; over a year ago I said the same thing in The New Yorker when I wrote that it will take years to rescue Vaclav Havel from Paul Wolfowitz. They are also correct that some self-scrutiny among those who seem destined to go to our graves with the name "liberal hawks" is in order. Again, I would recommend a look at "The Assassins' Gate." Rosenfeld and Yglesias show no sign that they read it before they accused me of supporting the war to avoid the taint of dovishness and then employing the artful dodge. But something in their eagerness to prove that Iraq was doomed to fail tells me that they have another agenda than the salvation of liberal interventionism.

Holy catfish! The guy got upset when he felt accused of trying to "avoid the taint of dovishness" and then blithely accuses Yglesias and Rosenfeld of having "another agenda." Sheesh.

He goes on:

They want to win an argument--like some others who contributed to this discussion (it seems to be the default mode of bloggers and commenters on blogs). The inevitability argument has the feel of a very cerebral game played late at night by people who are extremely removed from the real field of play.

This from a guy who advocated the policy that has led to the Iraq Debacle. Accuses those who disagree with him of delusion. Give me a break.

In the end, here is Packer's problem, besides his enormous ego (yes a pot calling a kettle):

Anyone who spent time in Iraq during those months [after the fall of Baghdad] can't forget the longing of Iraqis for a simple, ordinary life, and their openness to those of us who came from outside. That memory, and the knowledge that, hidden now behind the screen of unbelievable violence, those same Iraqis are still there, makes it very difficult for me to write the whole thing off.

Well, this is aiming to sound admirable - to caring about the plight of the Iraqi people. And Packer no doubt does. But what does his empathy mean in practical terms of policy making? How does wanting to do something relate to the ability to do something and the wisdom of attempting to do something? This is his essential failing and he still fails to understand.

General Wesley Clark says "If you can do good, you should." The key word is "can." And "how" of course. The idea that anybody in the political discussion would not want a free and democratic Iraq is just nonsense. Everybody wants that. I want a free and democratic China too. I don't see Packer advocating a war of liberation there.

This kind of sentimentalization of the extraordinarily bad judgment shown by the liberal hawks is exactly the wrong approach to discussing the issue. If their mindset remains mired in this approach, they simply are not credible to discuss the issues of foreign policy that require discussion.

This sentimentalization approach of Packer's is reinforced in this passage:

Last night I received an e-mail from a soldier I met in Iraq in July 2003 who is now agonizing over the way forward. He wrote: "I hoped all the way until March 2003 that we wouldn't go to war with Iraq. I'd heard all the arguments for it, many of which were good...I just didn't think that fighting a war to fix a problem that had always been a problem and wasn't particularly worse than any number of similar problems around the world was worth alienating so many of our friends and reducing our esteem around the world. And I thought the post-war activities would be miserable in that environment."

You were right soldier. And you left out one other thing. We were not capable of fixing the situation.

But now the sentimentalization intrudes:

Once I exited the C-17, though, my views changed drastically. Particularly after meeting and befriending so many Iraqis as they, it seemed to me, woke up disoriented from a generation-long nightmare, I began to believe very deeply in the morality of what I was involved in there, if not the wisdom of the policy that brought it all about.

Hold up. It is NOT moral to adopt an unwise policy that does more harm than good even if the intention of the policy is moral. Indeed, it is IMMORAL in my view.

And this is the fundamental point. Packer wants to grasp the mantle of the "right thing to do" even if unwise. I categorically reject that. It was the wrong thing to do and not moral.

Not to accept that is to not learn from your mistakes. Packer, it seems to me, and no, I have not read his book, just his posts, has learned nothing.

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    One of the reasons I admired Bill Clinton (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 08:39:56 PM EST
    was for what he was able to do with Serbia and Yugoslavia. So while I now agree with you about Iraq, and dispise W for a variety of reasons, I went through a thought process that makes me slightly sympathetic for Packer. As I said a couple of months ago:
    When Bush proposed invading Iraq, my only living memories of America at war were from 1991 and 1999.

    I didn't exactly trust Bush about WMD even then, but believed that if all we could do would be to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, as with Milosevic in Serbia, it would be worth it.

    How wrong I was.

    But I was 17 at the time, and Bush was the President. I'll never forgive him for abusing my faith in the power of America to do good in the world. I sometimes wonder how many other Americans feel the same way?

    I now understand the differences between Serbia and Iraq, but I feel very personally taken by the Judy Millers of the world. They legitimized what has now obviously turned out to be a crackpot comparison.

    Yes. Those moral wars. (none / 0) (#2)
    by walt on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 12:49:10 AM EST
    Attempting to be careful here, but the corollary occurs to me.

    The devil made me do it. [channeling Flip Wilson]

    But the real analysis goes: I (we) am (are) a good person (good people) & the intent was to attain wonderful things, but all this bad stuff happened.

    The crap in that line of thought (strike that) is that somewhere around a billion people stated in advance that the bad stuff would happen.

    Now for the liberal version: We are wonderful people & the intent was to attain good things, but this unexpected stuff happened.

    "'Moral' Case For The Iraq Debacle" (none / 0) (#3)
    by Edger on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 07:00:49 AM EST
    is the biggest oxymoron of all time.