Righting wrong

Andrew Sullivan: What I Got Wrong About Iraq. A sample:

  I recall very clearly one night before the war began. I made myself write down the reasons for and against the war and realized that if there were question marks on both sides, the deciding factor for me in the end was that I could never be ashamed of removing someone as evil as Saddam from power. I became enamored of my own morality and this single moral act. And he was a monster, as we discovered. But what I failed to grasp is that war is also a monster, and that unless one weighs all the possibly evil consequences of an abstractly moral act, one hasn’t really engaged in anything much but self-righteousness. I saw war’s unknowable consequences far too glibly.

At its best, war is a lesser evil. I said that in 2002, and got quoted by Glenn Reynolds as well. It was all part of a larger discussion that involved Nick Denton, Dave Winer and others.

Still, I hesitate to say that ‘we’ were right and ‘they’ were wrong. There is too much we don’t know and can’t ever know. We can’t go back and conduct a controlled study of futures, one with and one without the Iraq war.

The side I still feel most comfortable taking is the one against war itself. That it’s a lesser evil doesn’t make it good.

Some times we have no choice. That clearly was the case for WWII. Most times we do have a choice. Iraq was one of those. And we made the wrong one.

But knowing that now doesn’t help show a path of right choices toward ending the war, ending terror, ending hatred and distrust of The Other.

Still, failure teaches. It gives lessons.

Andrew Sullivan again:

  When I heard the usual complaints from the left about how we had no right to intervene, how Bush was the real terrorist, how war was always wrong, my trained ears heard the same cries that I had heard in the 1980s. So I saw the opposition to the war as another example of a faulty Vietnam Syndrome, associated it with the far left, or boomer nostalgia, and was revolted by the anti-war marches I saw in Washington. I became much too concerned with fighting that old internal ideological battle, and failed to think freshly or realistically about what the consequences of intervention could be. I allowed myself to be distracted by an ideological battle when what was required was clear-eyed prudence.

There is a generational battle of sorts going on here too. Andrew is post-boomer. So is Marc Andreessen, who gave this as one of his reasons for supporting Barack Obama:

  Most of the Boomers I know are still fixated on the 1960′s in one way or another — generally in how they think about social change, politics, and the government.

  It’s very clear when interacting with Senator Obama that he’s totally focused on the world as it has existed since after the 1960′s — as am I, and as is practically everyone I know who’s younger than 50.

Today we have a boomer president who is one of those who did not learn any lessons from America’s failure in Vietnam: how we entered the war on delusional and trumped-up premises, how our conventional means lost to the unconventional ones, how we failed to understand the culture and language of the war’s theater, how millions died for no good reason, how the nature of a vast and bureaucratized national security apparatus is too devoid of imagination to do anything on this scale without failing.

That void still exists. If General Petreus and his strategy succeed in Iraq (and we’re a long way from finding out), it will be due to imagination and resourcefulness that are devalued by practice in any large bureaucracy.

Recognizing this does not require having lived through the Sixties, or being obsessed with that time. It does require some perspective. In regards to Iraq, we finally have some of that.

11 comments

  1. Marc Drees’s avatar

    “I could never be ashamed of removing someone as evil as Saddam from power”

    Not being an American I’m always amazed by the incredible arrogance (or is it stupidity?) with which certain inexcusable actions of your government are explained away.

    Was Sadam Hussain the only evildoer in the world? Was there one legitimate reason (and not the phony one stated above) to invade a sovereign country? And create an incredible human tragedy in the process?

    Sadam would have been jealous.

    I can only hope that a next president has a better understanding of the powers vested in him. And that such powers should be used with utmost constraint. But I’m not holding my breath.

    The greatest democracy on earth? OMG

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I’m not holding my breath either, Marc. But we are holding an election. And it bothers me that the likely winner, John McCain, continues to regard the war as “necessary and just”.

    He also seems to think we used insufficient force in Vietnam.

    The very notion of “force” must be re-thought. The U.S. is without equal in its many and varied high-tech weapons. Yet excessive faith in those is one reason Iraq turned into a quagmire hardly any less difficult than Vietnam.

    What’s sad for many of us was that we saw how wasteful and bad this war would be, and could do nothing to stop it, while even the press marched stupidly along.

  3. Peter Van Dijck’s Guide to Ease » Blog Archive’s avatar

    [...] Doc Searls: (quoting Andrew Sullivan): “I recall very clearly one night before the war began. I made myself write down the reasons for and against the war and realized that if there were question marks on both sides, the deciding factor for me in the end was that I could never be ashamed of removing someone as evil as Saddam from power. I became enamored of my own morality and this single moral act. And he was a monster, as we discovered. But what I failed to grasp is that war is also a monster.” [...]

  4. Marc Drees’s avatar

    Quite.

    When the whole circus started, I expected the Democrats to make a slam dunk. But this ‘war’, for lack of a better word, between Clinton and Obama seems to have sunk the hope of a turn for the better.

    But what surprises me, and probably a lot of Europeans, is that while one president was looking impeachment in the eye over nothing more but the creative use of a cigar, another president can get away with wasting billions to trillions of dollars, sinking the dollar to an all-time low, sending thousands to their death or live-long mutilitation and creating a global atmosphere of hatred and distrust that will take decennia to return back to normal again.

    Pending the right choice made by Americans this year…

    Back in 2000 I jokingly reminded my American friends that every country gets the government they deserve. But had I known what the future had in store I would never had such a stupid remark.

  5. John Quimby’s avatar

    Hi Marc,

    America is a land of peculiar populist voo doo.

    Last week I noticed that when Governor Eliot Spitzer stood next to his humiliated wife and resigned for boinking a hooker he was wearing an American Flag lapel pin. He may be a cheat. He may be a sinner. He may be a first class poltroon. But by God he’s a patriot!

    Doc, you might be right on your McCain prediction for the general election but I’m not ready to concede.

    Former Gov. Bill Richardson is a Super Delegate. Which means that he comes with fries and a large Coke. He was also appointed to Clinton’s Cabinet as Secretary of Energy and he was Clinton’s ambassador to the UN. I’m sure the Clinton people reminded him that he OWES them.

    Still in all, he looked sincerely happy to embrace Obama and audition for a new job today.

    Will John Edwards will be next? I think he’s still waiting to see if his 46 delegates entitle him to a promise ring.

    If Gov. Richardson is any indicator then the nomination is already lost to Hillary and John McCain had better figure out how to raise some cash if he wants to stay in it until November.

    Regarding Iraq, we’re so lost in Orwellian double speak mixed with Lewis Carrol prose that we’re all through the looking glass.

    Isn’t a surge temporary?

    Why didn’t we win after we won?

    What are the terms for victory?

    What if perspective only shows us that the long dark tunnel we entered 5 years ago is longer and darker than we thought?

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    John, I hope you’re right about McCain and Obama. I too would like to see Obama win.

    McCain should have no trouble raising cash. The question is whether Obama can appeal to the broad middle that delivers elections. I still think that’s a long shot.

  7. John Quimby’s avatar

    Doc,

    I have reasons for saying that McCain is in trouble

    Check out “Obama Winning Cash Contest” from today’s Boston Globe:
    http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2008/03/obama_winning_c.html

    The internet is playing a huge role in fundraising for Obama.
    He is currently outspending Senator Clinton by three to one and his online fundraising effort is setting records.

    The DNC / Superdelegates must go with the fundraising winner if they want to get re-elected.

    Obama has raised $193 million – mostly from online donations. McCain has raised $60 million.

    McCain is going to have to tap Big Donors and Wall Street partisans. I hear they’re a little short right now.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    It all depends on how much Obama continues to make a cross-partisan appeal. It is critical for him to make clear that he understands the free market, and what it can do, at least as well as he understands government, and what government can do. AND logic, not OR.

    Crossover republican and independent voters will need to see that.

    Hate to say it, but so far I haven’t. Thus he’ll be too easy to characterize as a tax & spend liberal. Which he is. Of course he’s much more than that, but that’s at one large base of his appeal.

    Come November, it’ll be a boat anchor, no matter how much money he’s got.

  9. Marc Drees’s avatar

    After reading Armed Madhouse a couple of months ago, I’m not so certain that the Democrats will prevail in the upcoming election.

    McCain would thus enter the White House as the 44th president.

    A guy who says (after returning from Iraq):
    “We’re succeeding. I don’t care what anybody says. I’ve seen the facts on the ground”

    A presidential hopeful stating he doesn’t care what anybody say. In the process ignoring over 70% of his fellow Americans…

    And claiming he has seen the facts? After 8 days?? Sounds like the all American tour: Europe in 5 days. Right. Yep, he’s seen it all…

    If America elects McCain, it does get what it deserves. Another empirial maniac. Although with a couple of shades of grey between Good and Evil. A big improvement…

  10. chsiren’s avatar

    After reading Armed Madhouse a couple of months ago, I’m not so certain that the Democrats will prevail in the upcoming election.

    McCain would thus enter the White House as the 44th president.

    A guy who says (after returning from Iraq):
    “We’re succeeding. I don’t care what anybody says. I’ve seen the facts on the ground”

    A presidential hopeful stating he doesn’t care what anybody say. In the process ignoring over 70% of his fellow Americans…

    And claiming he has seen the facts? After 8 days?? Sounds like the all American tour: Europe in 5 days. Right. Yep, he’s seen it all…

    If America elects McCain, it does get what it deserves. Another empirial maniac. Although with a couple of shades of grey between Good and Evil. A big improvement…

  11. chsiren’s avatar

    I’m getting so many calls that I’ve started hitting “ignore” half the time, which makes me feel like a freaking call center. I can’t take your call right now, I’m inaudibly saying. But your call …

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