Category Errors

Ross Douthat points approvingly to Mickey Kaus, who says this:

There aren’t many respected foreign policy machers who were right on the Iraq war (no) and on the surge (yes).

This breed of criticism has been popular among conservatives who champion the success of the surge, but it evinces perfectly the category error endemic to a lot of conservative thought on the topic. That is, the surge was a tactical consideration of the War in Iraq, whereas the invasion was in the first place a strategic decision, and as such can’t be compared by the same criteria. For example, many Democrats — and Barack Obama, notably — opposed the surge because it escalated involvement in a flawed strategy. Whether not that surge was successful of it’s own right, it sunk billions more into a misguided neoconservative project that has enhanced Iranian influence in the Middle East and considerably worsened America’s standing, not to mention the thousands of American lives lost and the untold casualties and hardships suffered by Iraqis. You can’t just disentangle the “surge” from the “War” as though they were discrete decisions that enjoyed their own sets of facts and circumstances.

Imagine two basketball teams are playing, and one of those teams is losing badly at half time. The losing team’s coach decides his team needs to be shooting more off the screen, which his team goes on to do, trimming the point margin, but ultimately losing simply because they were ill suited to compete against the team they were playing. If you were Mickey Kaus, you’d suggest unproductively that there weren’t too many basketball machers who were right on The Outcome of the Game (no) and on taking more shots off screens (yes). While this may be true, it’s utterly pointless to criticize those who argued taking more shots off the screen wouldn’t win the game because they underestimated the degree to which it would lower the margin of loss.

Of Chicken Salad and Chicken Shit

Ryan Crocker has poopy in his pants:

BAGHDAD, Jan. 22 — Ryan C. Crocker, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq, warned Thursday that a precipitous withdrawal of American troops runs “some very serious risks,” from the resurgence of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq to a collapse of faith in a nascent Iraqi state that still faces what he called “enormous challenges.”

A loss of confidence, Crocker said, could create a “chilling effect,” where people “pull back, dig the trenches, build the berms and get ready for what comes next. I’m not saying that that would happen; but I am saying these are dangers that could happen.”

Look, AQI was essentially formed — and gained power — in direct response to U.S. troop presence in Iraq. If we leave, AQI will lose its animus. But this is essentially secondary to larger flaws with neoconservative thinking on Iraq.

Namely, of primary concern is that continued military presence, and especially one that supports a certain regime, will necessarily forge unstable political situations because they are predicated on the unsure assumption of continued U.S. support. Establishing a stable polity in Iraq will  mean reconciling differences currently held at bay by the U.S. military.

Beyond even this animating problem though, one thing you have to come to terms with is that accepting sub-optimal outcomes goes with the terroritory of horrible misguided military interventions. That means, as Crocker suggests, increased Iranian influence in the region and a government who isn’t a “beacon of democracy.” Democrats and liberals would be wise to be vigilant in reminding people that bad policies will yield bad outcomes; expecting a “transformation” in the Middle East was unrealistic.


Bush has been in full victory-lap mode lately, patting himself on the back for the Administration’s wayward efforts at “democracy promotion.”  Needless to say,  it’s tough to describe the situation in Iraq as “democratic” when you hear about things like this.

BAGHDAD — Up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been arrested over the past three days with some of them accused of quietly working to reconstitute Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, according to senior security officials in Baghdad.

The arrests, confirmed by officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security as well as the prime minister’s office, included four generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

“Elite counterterrorism force” that arrests 35 political officials, “some” of whom are “accused” of conspiracy. Sounds plausible..

A police officer, who knows several of the detainees but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they were innocent, longstanding civil servants and had little in common with one another. Those who once belonged to the Baath Party were lower-level members, he said, insisting that the arrests were politically motivated.

And lest we think this power consolidation a good thing, remember that al-Maliki’s Da’wa Party was exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign and al-Maliki’s closest political allies come from the ISCI, which was established in Iran.

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Why Shoes?

Unlike in America, where shoe bombardment is a more garden variety form of rudeness (and perhaps a compliment if the select ammunition are Nikes), in Iraq, attack by footwear projectile — as opposed to other airborne demonstrations of distaste — is particularly offensive, “mean[ing] the [target] is as low as the dirt underneath the sole of a shoe.”

I post this to clear up any confusion; as a youngster, we learned that some cultures viewed meal time flatulence as an um, full-sphinctered endorsement of the meal, so it it seemed possible that in Iraq, the smack of rubber on chest might be more akin to a slap on the back, but alas, it seems that bombing towns is not a universally popular action.

Things to Read

It’s not always the most uplifting experience, but I highly recommend adding the New York Times’ Baghdad Bureau to your daily reading. It typically never updates more than twice a day, and the accounts are always impactful. Take for example, this scene:

That afternoon, outside the trauma ward of Mosul’s Combat Support Hospital, the soldiers of K Troop waited anxiously for word about the comrades they had rushed from the Zanjili outpost.

When the news came, it was bad, but not as bad as some feared. Of the eight soldiers who had suffered gunshot wounds one, Specialist Shea, had died within seconds. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what happened,” Sergeant Neuzil said. “I think he was killed instantly.”

Medics managed to keep the seven others alive long enough to reach surgery at the hospital. There a second soldier, Sgt. Jose Regalado, 23, of Los Angeles, died from his wounds. In the chaos at the outpost, no one had been sure how to help Sergeant Regalado. Shot in the torso, he was not in good shape, but he was not bleeding badly, either.

Too often we tend to discuss the War in Iraq from a distance, but it’s worthwhile to take a step back and consider how utterly dehumanizing it is that the phrase “not as bad as some feared,” isn’t used to describe damage to a car or the number of jobs shed, but rather in reference to the death of two men under the age of 23.

Return of Jedi Mind Tricks

For some time now, conservatives had a tough go at defining “victory” in the context of Iraq. Anyway, it seems to waylay this problem, the new line among conservatives is that we’ve already won. Ilan Goldberg does a fairly good job of succinctly describing “victory”:

It’s an interesting definition of “victory.”  I guess you can define victory as more than 4,000 American fatalities, more than 30,000 wounded, probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, millions of Iraqis displaced, $1-$3 trillion in costs to the U.S. economy, an empowered Iran, an unaddressed threat in Afghanistan, and massive damage to America’s image around the world. All for a war that did not actually achieve its original objectives – eliminate a WMD threat that wasn’t there, eliminate a terrorism threat that wasn’t there, and spread democracy throughout the Middle East.  I guess we can define “victory” that way.  Probably wouldn’t be my definition though.

I’d just add that even if security conditions improve massively into 2011, all these things still will be true. Under the circumstances, I think it would be pretty hard to configure a definition of “victory” under which we will have “won”.


Ezra comments on Paul Krugman’s recent pwnage of George Will on ABC’s This Week.

The pity is that there’s no judge, or score sheet, so folks who wanted to agree with Will probably still do, while those find Krugman’s commentary more convenient to their biases will happily nod along. Lots of folks are applauding this video, and I do too, but insofar as there are no consequences for being wrong on TV, I think the actual takeaway is that sounding like you know things and actually knowing things are, in this forum, pretty much equal.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I think it’s a bit more distressing when removed from the realm of discourse. That is, as distressing as it may be that there are no consequences for being wrong on TV, there are about as many consequences, at least in the short term, for being wrong in the real world. For example, there was never any conclusive evidence to support the notion that Saddam Hussein had WMD. But it didn’t matter. The Bush Administration dexterously massaged the media to shape the debate so that objective fact was obscured and war was predicated on false pretenses. In the long term, the serial dishonesty and poor policy choices of the Bush Administration have hamstrung Republican candidates up and down the ticket, but it’s pretty indisputable that 4,000 Americans have sacrificed their lives in the name of pretense.

Perhaps George Bush will be convicted of war crimes in an international court, but I tend to doubt it. Might has an unfortunate way of making right.