Monday, October 23, 2006

War, What is it Good For?

Drum writes:

In general, it's hard to fudge on war: you either support it or you don't. After you've examined everything, talked to everyone, and thought long and hard, you draw together everything in your experience and make a decision. The gears may turn in private, but the final result represents one of the ultimate tests of someone's foreign policy judgment.

Well, no, not really. This is silly. Perhaps a detailed explanation of how those gears were turning tells us a lot about a person's views of the world, but the final up or down vote? Not so much.

This provides an opportunity to revisit the incompetence dodge favored by our better liberal hawks everywhere (it was a great idea but they fucked it up!). What's always bothered me most about the incompetence dodge isn't the basic set of reasons set out by Yglesias and Rosenfeld. Instead, what has long bothered me most about it was that pre-war it was probably the most derided (or, in the vernacular of the day, most "morally unserious") argument against the war. Imagine a senator getting up and giving a speech which said, in essence, that if we had competent people running the show we should go to war, but since George Bush is incompetent it'd be a really bad idea. The fine folks at Joe Lieberman Weekly would've really taken that argument seriously. But now it's the favored position of all those self-appointed very serious people.

I don't wish to to re-debate any particular military conflict other than the current one, but I do find it troubling the extent to which it's accepted that Gulf War I was a war that all sensible people should have supported. I'm not taking a position here, really, but I find it absurd and dangerous that conventional wisdom has solidified around the idea that this is now a closed question. If nothing else, war is not really a binary question as Drum and Beinart, along with the incompetence dodgers, suggest. The how and what next questions are extremely important. But, along those lines, imagine how seriously the incompetence dodgers of yesteryear would have been taken: "Yes, I think that in an ideal world America should intervene against Saddam Hussein's aggression in Kuwait, but I don't trust Poppy Bush to do it right so on balance I have to oppose this war." Very morally unserious that, but it would have been a perfectly reasonable position to take. Gulf War I was definitely a war of choice. It isn't clear how our buddy Saddam's occupation of Kuwait posed any additional threat to us. Sure, there are oil-related and other great game arguments that can be made, but they aren't really all that strong. It was a war which could have - and ultimately did - have some catastrophic unintended consequences. If you believed the people in charge were less than competent, opposing it would have been a good idea even if you broadly supported the advertised goals of the war.

Anyway, all I'm trying to say is that whether you gave the thumbs up or thumbs down to any particular conflict, no matter how right or wrong it seems after the fact, doesn't necessarily say all that much about you. However, I would say an exception to that is the current conflict in Iraq, which was sold to the country in an especially divisive and dishonest manner. Supporting this war wasn't just about supporting the war, but "supporting the supporters" who, by the time the bombs dropped at least, had clearly demonstrated that they were very bad people who were not acting in good faith. Though, I suppose, they weren't quite as smelly and annoying as Some Guy With A Sign somewhere.