By me at the amazing LAW AND LIBERTY site. If you click, you find out the REAL NAME of djf.
[...] By me at the amazing LAW AND LIBERTY site. If you click, you find out the REAL NAME of djf. Source: Postmodern Conservative [...]
Great essay, Prof. Lawler. Your expansion on my brief comment was definitely an improvement.
You were writing about foreign policy debates among different kinds of “conservatives” or, more accurately, non-leftists. So you didn’t say much about the current administration or the distinguished Mr. Hagel himself. Before 2009, I don’t think anyone would have used the word “realist” to describe the kind of policy the current administration is pursuing, in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. While Hagel might be closer to what used to be called a “realist,” I think that sort of “realism” was (and is) mostly realistic about the policies that conformed to the perceived short-term self-interest of corporate America. Please forgive my cynicism.
Congratz to djf for getting published. Not sure its curriculum vitae material, but certainly noteworthy in this auspicious realm.
Now for some loose ends …
“Wars are always judged by armchair quarterbacks. Wars are always judged by their effects. When the effects are bad, people seek scapegoats. So sure Bush was scapegoated, to an extent. But that still means it’s a failure problem, not a media problem.”
Mr. Lawler, critics of the Bush administration benefit from the fact that the costs of invading Iraq are thoroughly well known while the costs of not invading are conveniently never considered. These costs would include the inevitable price paid for an Iraq still ruled by Hussein who by 2003 would have benefited from a complete collapse of whatever contraints remained imposed upon him by the house of cards that was the UN coalition of nations, allowing said dictator to proceed unhindered in the WMD adventures he was so enthusiastic about in the 90′s.
Any criticism of the decision to invade Iraq must therefore include a plausible alternative to the decision to invade, unless of course one feels there was no need to confront Hussein at all in which case exactly how would that approach vis a vis Hussein have been any different than that of the Clinton administration with regard to Osama Bin Laden? As I asked in a previous post, should we have waited until Hussein was implicated in the next 9/11?
Secondly, to repeat:
“Wars are always judged by their effects. When the effects are bad, people seek scapegoats. So sure Bush was scapegoated, to an extent. But that still means it’s a failure problem, not a media problem.”
So, here’s the problem. Bad things happened in the Iraq War. But bad things happen in wars by nature. Examine the cost in blood and treasure of the Iraq war. Now compare that cost to other past American wars of similar scope. Vietnam? Korea? etc. You could argue that Bush took the fault because bad things happen in War regardless of the scope of the damage. That’s fine. But measured objectively I think the more precise assessment is that American’s in general are far more ambivalent about the costs entailed in such conflicts regardless of their merits. So is the problem that Bush was overconfident about the support of American’s? Or was the problem that American’s aren’t exactly made of the same mettle they were when previous generations fought the long hard conflicts that made our freedom and prosperity possible?
Which brings up my main argument: scapegoating. The political function of scapegoating is to allow all other culpable parties off the hook by identifying one individual upon whom the entire burden of fault can be placed. This allows the rest of us to proceed untroubled in the knowledge that whatever mess was created in the past, we need never concern ourselves with what part we had in it.
Infact in DJF’s excellent distillation of the matter I see one scapegoat and atleast two culpable parties mentioned whose culpability are placed entirely on the scapegoat in the same passage. Consider the passage yourself:
“Bush’s (The Scapegoat) biggest failure in deciding to invade (besides underestimating the difficulty and cost of achieving an acceptable result) was, IMHO, in failing to perceive how fragile and unstable the domestic consensus (Culpable Party: The Country) in favor of the war was, and how devastating the effect of the collapse of that consensus would be to the country’s ability to prudently advance its interests and principles abroad. And how the collapse of the pro-war consensus would be exploited by the Democrats (Culpable Party: Bush’s Rivals) to achieve their domestic ambitions.”
I’ve already made my case about the culpability of the American people, the culpability of the Democrats I think need only be supported by the fact that with the exception of a few rhetorical changes the present occupant of the White House has prosecuted the War on Terror with an amazing degree of continuity with the previous administration, even intensifying some contraversial aspects such as the drone program. But whither the demostrations? The political theatre, the pacifist puppet show?
Presumably in moth balls until another president playing for team R enters the white house. It seems clear that Bush’s erstwhile political critics on the left never really had a problem with the things Bush did, only that it was Bush who did them. And this seems dramatically instanciated by President Obama’s most recent choice to fill the CIA directorship with Mr. Brennan who has the qualifications of being the Architect of the Detainee program under Bush and helped engineer the Drone assassination program.
By choosing to be so sanguine about placing the fault on Bush while overlooking what I think empirically are the greater faults of a people and the character of our political counterparts on the left, we are not doing our country any favors. I have a rather long list of criticisms of Bush myself. But the fact is Bush is retired, but the people and our political counterparts on the left remain, and very little seems to have changed regarding the wisdom of the former, or the character of the latter.
Pseudo, Thanks. There’s a lot to what you say. Fine points on Brennan and Obama’s policies. To note the inevitability of scapegoating is not to praise it. And the limitations of “the people” are something a democratic leader has to take into account. I live among “manly” southern people who are genuinely patriotic and serve their country in the armed forces in disproportionate numbers, and they turned on Bush a lot less than most Americans. Nonetheless, the conduct of the Iraq took a big toll even with them, as, of course, did the conduct of the Vietnam war.
Culpable Party (among others) – Rumsfeld and ultimately Bush in mismanaging the occupation for over three years and for almost two years after John McCain (among others) noticed that their strategy for maintaining public order and standing up the Iraqi security services was failing.
Bush deserves credit for choosing a better strategy (eventutally) and seeing it through.
I find myself to be the most sympathetic to the folks you describe and to a large degree my agitation stems from the sense that those in influential positions in culture, leadership, and intellectual life (and, it seems, the ever increasing number of people they influence) are failing them as well as our American predecessors.
I would be a lot less agitated on this matter if accounts regarding the reasons for the Iraq Invasion actually corresponded to the facts at the time, but it seems that that part of history has already been entered into the books in terms that are the most congenial to those who would most like to forget what for a brief time was a moment of clarity about the precarious nature of our age. But, as the French are learning presently in Mali, these things have a way of forcing us to acknowledge them regardless of the geopolitical fashions.
Regardless, it’s to your credit and those on this blog that a full throated debate on such topics can be had, and in terms that are quite civilized. So thanks for your thanks, but more importantly, thanks for the concerted effort to keep things on this blog operating at the level of sophistication and civility that it does.
Pseudo, Honest and smart defenses (and remembrances) of the original position are rare these days. Still, I also remember not only strategic clarity but undue optimism about what we could easily do. All ages are precarious, I’m afraid, and we’re now perhaps unduly limited in what people will accept and so what we can do. So things may be more precarious than ever.
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