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March 27, 2007

Weird Times

I sometimes forget how crazy the pre-Iraq period was. In searching for something else, I ran across this Jeffrey Goldberg comment from a Slate discussion on invading Iraq:

There is not sufficient space, as well, for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected).

Forget, for a moment, how astonishingly wrong Goldberg's point is. The dismissal of the anti-war arguments -- he doesn't even have space to refute them! -- says as much as anyone needs to know about what happened in the run-up to war.

Update: Meanwhile, Robert Wright was stunningly prescient about the whole thing:

I suspect Goldberg is proud of the absence of cost-benefit calculations from his analysis. His is a moral argument—he uses the words "moral" or "morality" five times in his post, with a dollop of "evil" thrown in for good measure. Of all the annoying undercurrents and overtones of the pro-war rhetoric, this is the one that annoys me the most: the suggestion that those of us who are clinically weighing all the possible downsides and upsides of war, rather than spending all our time marveling at how evil Saddam is, are being something other than moral. When I think about war in Iraq, I think about the long-term results in terms of human suffering and human fulfillment. I consider that a morally grounded framework.

March 27, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Okay, seriously though. If he's that wrong, like 180 degrees from right, and a dick about it to boot, then why does his expertise count for anything? It is, on this point at least, completely illusory. Why does he get to publish things outside of the fringes? Why doesn't he have to prove to us that we should listen to him again?

Posted by: justin | Mar 27, 2007 4:26:29 PM

i lived with a ultra-conservative bush supporter at the time in college and he was positively giddy throughout the whole thing. his dad even came to visit and popped his head in my room "just to rub in how great iraq was going!"

when those james fallows articles came out in the atlantic, i thought america had gone completely nuts, along w/ my roomie.

the point: people like andrew sullivan keep a meme going that "no credible left winger expressed reservations about iraq before it began!" etc, etc. that is totally false. i'm no pacifist, but unilateral war was certainly a big deal at the time to a lot of lefties.

Posted by: Chris_ | Mar 27, 2007 4:36:20 PM

"no credible left winger expressed reservations about iraq before it began!"

No true Scotsman . . .

Posted by: rea | Mar 27, 2007 4:58:09 PM

When I think about war in Iraq, I think about the long-term results in terms of human suffering and human fulfillment. I consider that a morally grounded framework.

I'm happy to see this, and it more or less expresses a view that I'm going to be defending for the rest of my academic career. Moral agents who are acting rationally choose their actions in light of the consequences. Morality doesn't require that you be thoughtless about the future -- in fact, being both rational and moral requires that you have concern for the future consequences of your actions for others, as far as these consequences can be determined.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 27, 2007 5:05:07 PM

Audie Murphy, most decorated soldier of WWII was once asked, after he had won the Congressional Medal of Honor and was back stateside on a bond tour, how it felt to have made it back. He got real quiet and replied, "no one ever makes it back."

He was commenting on how war shatters the spirit inside. We call it PTSD now. This aspect of war is never considered. A good friend works at the vets hospital down the road in Murfreesboro and while cooking supper at church one night she told me about the emptying of the spirit that happens in war. The worst experience, by far, is not watching your buddy's head explode next to you, or having your platoon blown to smithereens... the worst experience is having killed. That robs the soul no matter how much political justification one wipes over eyes. And what it does to the soldiers, it does to the citizens who supported them. It is a national crisis of spirit. A brutalization that we barely notice.

Ed D.

Posted by: Ed | Mar 27, 2007 5:09:56 PM

How about this bit from the end of the Goldberg piece:

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

I'd love to see what Goldberg thinks now at the almost-five year mark.

Posted by: someBrad | Mar 27, 2007 5:12:28 PM

Totally off topic, but "Dollop of Evil" would be a great band name.

Y'know, someone really should go through and collect quotes like this from online pundits systematically. The idea that liberals didn't REALLY oppose the war or that conservatives didn't REALLY go batshit insane about it is becoming sadly common, but unlike Vietnam we actually have a permanent record of people's positions.

Posted by: Neal | Mar 27, 2007 5:21:05 PM

"...arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East" was what grabbed me. Just how much expertise was it that Juan Cole established that Goldberg had in the Middle East?

Posted by: mrgumby2u | Mar 27, 2007 6:07:32 PM

The thing I hated most about people like Goldberg is their smug self-assuredness, their arrogance, and their contempt for critics of the invasion. They acted as if it was perfectly obvious that the invasion could be nothing but a blessing to the Iraqi people. Hell, even people ostensibly on our (the anti-war) side were contemptuous of those who were making supposedly "hysterical" arguments against the war. They were weird times, no doubt, but the fact remains that a clear-eyed rationalist with even a modicum of pessisism could never sign onto the invasion. Many of us were right about it, and history will record our rightness, and yet those who argue even now that we should stay are no less arrogant and contemptuous. I don't know what that means, except maybe that there isn't any justice in the world, which is what really makes me sick to the pit of my stomach.

Posted by: Xanthippas | Mar 27, 2007 6:18:31 PM

It's not often talked about, but I think you can't overlook the role that the invasion of Afghanistan played in convincing a lot of people to get behind the invasion of Iraq. Accurate or not, the perception of Afghanistan was that the U.S. had waltzed into a Muslim country, deposed an authoritarian regime, replaced it with a democratic government, and everybody lived happily ever after. I think that a lot of the hawks saw no reason to suppose that the result wouldn't be the same.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 27, 2007 6:49:04 PM

About Juan Cole's experience: he supported the war, or perhaps he only avoided criticizing it. In any event, he didn't oppose it.

About "loathing." What evidence is there that Middle Easterners loathe the US any more than they did before the war? Looking at Pew's global polls I read them as saying that the temporarily lowered our popularity but it has generally bounced back. Compared to 2002, the US in 2005 was more popular in Pakistan, Lebanon and Morocco, and less popular in Turkey and Jordan. (US popularity went down somewhat in 2006, but Pew only surveyed 3 Middle Eastern countries). It's only in Turkey where the war has really caused us to be loathed.

Posted by: Ragout | Mar 27, 2007 11:10:06 PM

It's only in Turkey where the war has really caused us to be loathed.

That, ironically, is probably because of the only part of the war that has gone fairly well all along, in the Kurdish north.

The "bounce back" is interesting; still looks pretty mixed.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 28, 2007 12:30:07 AM

Turkey and the US also had a bit of row at the beginning of the war which probably didn't help matters.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 28, 2007 12:46:32 AM

It is only in Turkey [one of our most important, long term, Westernized, moderate, non-crazy, NATO- and EU- loving Muslim allies] where the war has really caused us to be loathed.

Right-- and even if that and the direct monetary costs were the only bad consequences of the war, balanced against the nonexistent benefits, it would still be a horrible deal. Of course, and unfortunately, the Turks' hating us is not even close to the only bad consequence of this very moral project.

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Posted by: judy | Sep 27, 2007 3:10:57 AM

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