The Costs of Righteousness

 

London Anti Iraq War march, 15Feb 2003” by Simon Rutherford via Commons.

The Iraq War is one of those world events in which no one comes off great. The American people chose a government who almost completely botched the intelligence process and who then tried to rebuild a country before winning the war. After commendably getting things back on foot, we promptly elected a new government that fulfilled its promise to leave, consequences be dammed. The Iraqis, for their part, have not acquitted themselves terribly well either, with both Sunni and Shia factions showing precious little reluctance to side with devils in the interests of settling scores and looking after their own. That the Iraqis have borne the overwhelming brunt of the consequences of the war does not make them innocents.

In all of this, those on the anti-war left have held their heads high, claiming their opposition to the war has permanently absolved them of any responsibility for what happened since 2003, and pretending that their implicit endorsement of the pre-war status quo was morally neutral. But in the New Statesman, Sarah Ditum has written a flawed but brave piece examining — if not her opposition to the war itself — then at least the unearned and harmful self-righteousness on which she and others have gone to lunch for the last dozen years:

The wrongness of the war, and my rightness about that wrongness, mattered to me a great deal – not just in the run-up to the invasion, but for years afterwards. The division between pro-war and anti-war cleaved a sharp line through the world between the lost and the saved. For the remainder of the decade, I would judge an MP on their voting record on Iraq; a journalist on their coverage of Iraq; a publication on its editorial line on Iraq. And the moral certainty of that period was simply blissful. I do not believe I am alone in this: being right about Iraq gave a whole section of the British left a sense of burning, brilliant superiority.

[…]

[I]t is bloodily, horribly obvious that the plan for post-invasion Iraq was barely thought out, but I do not think that the anti-war left should take much comfort in that. It would have been better to be wrong. It would have been better, in fact, to prove ourselves wrong – to divert political energies from stopping the war (or being right that the war should never have started) and into building a plan for Iraq after Saddam.

This did not happen. I was right, and my being right helped no one, ameliorated no violence, saved no lives. Or rather, it helped one person, meaning me – helped by giving my world a gleaming sense of right and wrong that made an otherwise morally awkward universe much easier to navigate. It took until 2012 for rape apologist Assange supporters to kill that certainty off in me…

I don’t agree with most of the rest of the piece, but this deserves our commendation. We should all be willing to be so honest when wrong.

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  1. FightinInPhilly Coolidge
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    I don’t have enough facts for a proper google search, but wasn’t there a semi-famous mea-culpa from a Hollywood type in the mid 70’s with respect to her Viet Nam war opposition , about the time the boat people showed up and the communists began truly crushing people in the south? This feels something like that.

    Bravo to Ms. Ditum to at least see the other side and that she was a participant, not a neutral observer.

    • #1
  2. Probable Cause Inactive
    Probable Cause
    @ProbableCause

    Tom, I commend you for the perspective of your opening paragraph.  Usually I think in terms of what this administration or that administration did.  But you are correct.  This is what We the People did.

    • #2
  3. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I agree that Ditum’s candor is commendable.

    Does it occur to her that if the Left had done what she posits — that is, if they had supported the war and the effort to create a new and better Iraq — then the decision to go to war itself might not be viewed (in hindsight) as a mistake?

    Further, her statement that “the plan for post-invasion Iraq was barely thought out” evidences a historical ignorance that is almost universal on the Left.  They seem to have this absurd idea that war, and its aftermath, is supposed to go according to plan.  As Moltke is paraphrased, “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”  You set a goal, make a plan, adapt, and persevere.  As Churchill taught us:

    In war, resolution
    In defeat, defiance
    In victory, magnanimity
    In peace, good will

    The Left can’t seem to get past that first one.

    I remember the Leftists in the 60s chanting that they “ain’t gonna study war no more.”  Well, they obviously didn’t.  Which would be OK with me, if they would have the good sense not to speak out of their ignorance.  Of course, it would be better if they would actually learn the lessons of history, and I imagine that many did — and are no longer Leftists.

    • #3
  4. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    We can live in only one universe at a time, so counterfactuals will always be interesting but futile. The Iraq War (Part 2) was replete with bad choices. Almost anything we did or didn’t do in 2003 was going to be less than optimal. The only clear choice was in 2011 when, according to Joe Biden, things were better on balance in Iraq than they had ever been in the past three decades. While the specifics of how things would go wrong afterward could not have been foreseen, the fact that things would go wrong without a continuing American presence was both foreseen and forwarned. In a fair world, whatever their other failings, Bush I and Bush II should be absolved of the mess in Iraq. Liability, in law, is cutoff when an “intervening cause” appears to disrupt the expected outcomes of what has occurred before. Obama, and Obama alone, is the architect of the current disaster that is Iraq.

    • #4
  5. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    I still support the decision to invade Iraq.  We were spending billions a year protecting the Kurds and the Shia from Saddam since the first Gulf War and yes he posed a threat to the region (he funded terror across the region) and if he didn’t have WMDs (I know he did) he certainly was a stepping stone away to reconstituting them.  And most significantly, 80% of the Iraqi people wanted freedom from Saddam.

    Now perhaps the post war wasn’t planned and/or executed well, and that was a failure, but the decision to go in was still valid.

    The monumental mistake was Obama pulling out entirely.  The country was working toward a real democracy and had had a couple of elections under their belt.  We needed to be there to provide stability.

    That Sarah Ditum piece looks to me to be completely self serving.

    • #5
  6. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    FightinInPhilly:I don’t have enough facts for a proper google search, but wasn’t there a semi-famous mea-culpa from a Hollywood type in the mid 70′s with respect to her Viet Nam war opposition , about the time the boat people showed up and the communists began truly crushing people in the south? This feels something like that.

    Bravo to Ms. Ditum to at least see the other side and that she was a participant, not a neutral observer.

    You may be thinking of Joan Baez who advocated for American action to help the boat people and got attacked by her fellow leftists for it.

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Arizona Patriot: Does it occur to her that if the Left had done what she posits — that is, if they had supported the war and the effort to create a new and better Iraq — then the decision to go to war itself might not be viewed (in hindsight) as a mistake?

    She doesn’t but she does acknowledge that opposition to the war blinded the left to Saddam’s horrors and made them way too comfy with antisemites.

    Arizona Patriot: Further, her statement that “the plan for post-invasion Iraq was barely thought out” evidences a historical ignorance that is almost universal on the Left.  They seem to have this absurd idea that war, and its aftermath, is supposed to go according to plan.  As Moltke is paraphrased, “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”  You set a goal, make a plan, adapt, and persevere.

    Yes and no. As my dad is apt to say, we didn’t have an exit plan when we invaded Italy, Germany, and Japan, nor should have been expected to.

    On the other hand, it absolutely seems that much of the post-war violence was preventable, not only because and stuff happens and no execution is perfect, but because we rushed the transition process and made a number of other unforced errors. Things should never have gotten so bad as to require the Surge.

    • #7
  8. FightinInPhilly Coolidge
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    Mark:

    FightinInPhilly:I don’t have enough facts for a proper google search, but wasn’t there a semi-famous mea-culpa from a Hollywood type in the mid 70′s with respect to her Viet Nam war opposition , about the time the boat people showed up and the communists began truly crushing people in the south? This feels something like that.

    Bravo to Ms. Ditum to at least see the other side and that she was a participant, not a neutral observer.

    You may be thinking of Joan Baez who advocated for American action to help the boat people and got attacked by her fellow leftists for it.

    Yeah- I think you’re right. In the retelling to me it had shifted shifted into a regret of antiwar sentiment. Close enough. Thanks.

    • #8
  9. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:On the other hand, it absolutely seems that much of the post-war violence was preventable, not only because and stuff happens and no execution is perfect, but because we rushed the transition process and made a number of other unforced errors. Things should never have gotten so bad as to require the Surge.

    I agree.  The history of war is replete with unforced errors.  But I don’t expect our leaders to be perfect, or even close to perfect.

    Churchill presided over disaster after disaster: the fall of France, and Singapore, and Tobruk; the intervention in Norway; Dieppe; the Anzio fiasco and stalemate in Italy; the lengthy failure to break-out after D-Day.

    So did Lincoln: Bull Run; the Seven Days; Fredericksburg; Chancellorsville; Jackson’s Valley campaign; Chickamauga.  Some victories were so costly that they seemed like defeats: the Wilderness; Petersburg; and even Gettysburg.

    Nothing in Iraq remotely approached this level of disaster.

    • #9
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Rodin: Obama, and Obama alone, is the architect of the current disaster that is Iraq.

    Do you think Iraqis themselves have any moral agency?

    • #10
  11. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Arizona Patriot: I agree.  The history of war is replete with unforced errors.  But I don’t expect our leaders to be perfect, or even close to perfect. Churchill presided over disaster after disaster: the fall of France, and Singapore, and Tobruk; the intervention in Norway; Dieppe; the Anzio fiasco and stalemate in Italy; the lengthy failure to break-out after D-Day. So did Lincoln: Bull Run; the Seven Days; Fredericksburg; Chancellorsville; Jackson’s Valley campaign; Chickamauga.  Some victories were so costly that they seemed like defeats: the Wilderness; Petersburg; and even Gettysburg. Nothing in Iraq remotely approached this level of disaster.

    I don’t think these are very comparable. The mistakes you’re talking about are battlefield ones and — as I said — stuff happens, especially when you’re being shot at.

    The decisions to disband the Iraqi Army, to start nation-building so early, and to hold elections so quickly were quite different and should absolutely have been foreseen.

    • #11
  12. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Tom Meyer, Ed.

    The decisions to disband the Iraqi Army, to start nation-building so early, and to hold elections so quickly were quite different and should absolutely have been foreseen.

    Could they have been foreseen?  It’s not like we or anyone else does this every day.  In hindsight certainly it seems obvious, but I don’t recall anyone bring this up before hand.  Still whether they could have been foreseen or not, the administration was very loose with the follow up plan.  The follow up was definitely a failure on their part.

    • #12
  13. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    TM:  I understand but disagree.  I don’t think we had enough experience in building a representative government in a Muslim Arab country to make anything obvious in 2004 and 2005.  What was obvious is that the Democrats, following Howard Dean’s lead, had turned against the war with a vengeance and placed enormous political pressure on Bush to wrap things up quickly.
    Kind of like the earlier Copperhead Democrats did to Lincoln.

    • #13
  14. Goldwater's Revenge Inactive
    Goldwater's Revenge
    @GoldwatersRevenge

    When we first went in to remove Sadam Hussein from Kuwait I felt it was the right thing to do, but not the wise thing to do. After a decade of fighting in Vietnam, billions spent and thousands of American lives lost we subsequently had a united Vietnam under communist rule. After ridding Iraq of Sadam Hussein and giving the Iraqi people the opportunity to establish the only true democracy in the Middle East, it now seems very unlikely it will happen. Now momentum is building, at least among conservatives, to go back into Iraq to destroy ISIS. It appears to be the right thing to do. After we leave the Afghanistan government to stand alone, look for warring factions to return to renew old hatreds there as well.

    I do not hold to the liberal mantra that we must avoid all wars at any cost, but wisdom dictates that whatever we do in the Middle East will in the end be futile. At some point we must realize that conflicts between the Islamic factions that have been going on for a thousand years are not likely to be resolved in this century. Secondly we must rid ourselves of the notion that any people, given the opportunity to live in a free and democratic society will choose to do so. To Ms. Ditum I say there can be no satisfaction in being right since no one knows the outcome of taking another course. I can only suggest that the Islamic factions warring against themselves is far less threatening to America than them warring against the west.

    • #14
  15. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    I can only suggest that the Islamic factions warring against themselves is far less threatening to America than them warring against the west.

    Except that they have done both.  Iran and Iraq have battled each other, and have both sponsored terrorism abroad that killed Americans and Westerners.  Iran has been directly responsible for a number of bombings in the 1990s, after Iraq was “left alone”.

    They bring the fight to us.  Instead of letting them find their own catastrophic “solutions”, which involve more of the same, we had a chance to remain as an established presence which might have, over time, lent enough stability to Iraq for some sort of modern version of a country to emerge.

    Maybe.  But what we’re getting now could have been pretty easily foreseen, and was – but Barry went ahead and did it anyway.

    Because there’s a guy who really knows what he’s doing.

    • #15
  16. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Iraq was looking ok, saddam was toppled, there was a general uneasy truce going on….. then someone blew up the golden mosque.

    Had that not happened or even happened later I believe the middle east would be different today.

    Sometimes you just get unlucky.

    • #16
  17. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Rodin: Obama, and Obama alone, is the architect of the current disaster that is Iraq.

    Do you think Iraqis themselves have any moral agency?

    Yes, but Iraq has an unfortunate modern history as a nation more defined by Western powers than a self assembled people and culture. Given that history it was evident that there were internal forces that would be difficult to deal with absent an external mediating force. The US had finally somewhat accomplished that mediating role by 2011 and Obama unilaterally ended US involvement with predictable results.

    • #17
  18. Probable Cause Inactive
    Probable Cause
    @ProbableCause

    You knew the media was rooting for failure because they reported daily a running tally of combat deaths.  At the time we habituated ourselves to it.  But in hindsight, it was sick.  (They stopped doing it in 2008 for some reason.)

    • #18

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