October 19, 2006

Jonah and the Wail: the Virtue of Ignorance

Hatched by Dafydd

This is one of those rare moments when I must vehemently disagree with Patterico, one of the people who got me into blogging in the first place (quite literally: Patterico's Pontificaitons was the first of two sites that allowed me on as a guest blogger). He gives a one-handed round of applause to neocon columnist Jonah Goldberg -- who now reverses himself, arguing that going into Iraq was "a mistake."

Interestingly, Goldberg, and by extension Patterico, make a pretty big whopper of a mistake themselves.

Here is Goldberg, as linked by Patterico:

I must confess that one of the things that made me reluctant to conclude that the Iraq war was a mistake was my general distaste for the shabbiness of the arguments on the antiwar side.

But that's no excuse. Truth is truth. And the Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003.

Oh, I quite agree: if Congress had known in 2002 that Iraq was only twenty minutes to midnight, instead of two minutes to midnight, it would have punted on the invasion. Congress would instead have settled upon a really, really, really strong letter to Saddam, asking him to be nicer.

But that's not the definition of a mistake, Jonah Goldberg notwithstanding. After all, had Congress known just how bad the Civil War would get, with 600,000 dead Americans and a nation ravaged by all four horsemen of the Apocalypse, it's very likely they never would have voted to go to war; they would have accepted the secession of the Confederate States of America instead.

I do not believe it was a mistake for the Union to fight the Civil War. So thank God they didn't know what was going to happen.

Suppose we'd had perfect knowledge of what would transpire in Iraq, and therefore, as we all (Jonah, Patterico, and I) conclude, we did not invade Iraq. What would have happened then? This is the question that neither Goldberg nor Patterico essay to answer... but I will.

  1. The Iraq sanctions regime would have collapsed.

This was already well on its way, as the sanctions were routinely circumvented and outright violated by European powers, even while the U.N.-mandated regime was still in place. Doesn't anybody remember that this was exactly what the Oil for Food scandal was all about?

European nations were already applying heavy pressure on the U.N. to drop the sanctions, which were "killing millions of Iraqi children" (remember? doesn't anybody remember?) Even Charles Duelfer of the Iraq Survey Group agrees that the sanctions were likely going away very quickly, certainly de facto and likely de jure as well:

Saddam was surprised by the swiftness of Iraq’s defeat. The quick end to Saddam’s Regime brought a similarly rapid end to its pursuit of sanctions relief, a goal it had been palpably close to achieving.

With increasingly shrill and bizarre claims of the death and destruction caused by sanctions, and the hundreds of oil deals Saddam cut with various countries that would only be implemented once sanctions were lifted, pressure to do so would have been irresistable.

And even if we used our veto power to keep them on the books, that is the only place they would exist: in the real world, sanctions only work when other countries cooperate. Europe had long ceased cooperating.

  1. When sanctions did collapse -- even if simply de facto, by rampant cheating and by European "inspectors" turning a blind eye -- Saddam was set to resume WMD development, using the knowledge, personnel, and WMD programs he had carefully retained from 1991 to 2003.

The ISG says this, too:

The Regime made a token effort to comply with the disarmament process, but the Iraqis never intended to meet the spirit of the UNSC’s resolutions. Outward acts of compliance belied a covert desire to resume WMD activities. Several senior officials also either inferred or heard Saddam say that he reserved the right to resume WMD research after sanctions.

I think, after the revelations of Oil for Fraud, few reading this post think it at all farfetched that sanctions were already on life support and would have died entirely... probably in months, not years; and that when they did, Saddam Hussein had no intention of turning over a new leaf and becoming a peaceful member of the community of nations.

  1. Having once lifted sanctions, it would be politically impossible to reinstate them -- as France and Russia both have veto power as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council;

Does the picture become clear? It's true that we almost certainly would not have invaded Iraq had we "known then what we know now" about the cost in blood and treasure... and that failure would have been a dreadful mistake of historic proportions -- far worse, in retrospect, than the decision not to oust Hussein in 1991, following the Gulf War.

  1. There is very strong evidence of an increasing tempo of cooperation between Hussein and al-Qaeda, as well as cooperation with more traditional terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Evidence even from the 9/11 Commission (which admitted a few connections), but much more elsewhere, including here, for example.

  1. Saddam Hussein would have recreated his chemical and biological weapons, but this time attaching them to longer-range missiles that could strike any country in the Middle East.
  2. He probably would not have been able to develop working nukes on his own; but he could eventually have bought them from North Korea or perhaps Pakistan;
  3. He would have become the dominant player in the the region, and would very likely have funneled WMD to terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, with the international reach to strike in the United States.
  4. We would have had an American intifada -- and our response to further WMD attacks within our own country would have been a draconian clampdown on civil liberties here that would truly undercut the Constitution... unlike the minor and trivial "infringements" of the USA Patriot Act.

It amazes me that neither Goldberg nor Patterico even considers the question of what would have happened had we not invaded Iraq in March of 2003. Both buy into the idea that, if we would have made a different decision then, knowing how hard it would be, that the other decision would necessarily be better than the one we made.

We stumbled into the Iraq War by our own ignorance: but this was another one of those astonishingly fortuitous accidents that lead people like Michael Medved to believe that God directly intervenes in human affairs. While I wouldn't go that far, I will say this, echoing what I said above about the Civil War:

Thank God we didn't know in 2002 what we know now about the Iraq War! The "rational" response to that knowledge would have been a catastrophe for American security... and indeed for the entire war against jihad.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 19, 2006, at the time of 5:18 PM

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Patterico updated his post about Jonah Goldberg's column to note my response to it here. More or less, Patterico and I agree to disagree on the necessity of the Iraq War... but I did want to get at one point... [Read More]

Tracked on October 20, 2006 7:13 PM


The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I deleted your comment, Thoughttheater.

I don't mind you linking to your blogpost once, in the comments thread of a post relevant to yours; but linking the same post a second time in a different, unrelated thread constitutes comment spam.

Links only to posts that are actually relevant to the linked post, and only once, please.



The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 5:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: jd watson

I must disagree with your premise that had we known the cost we would not have invaded Iraq - it too ignores the facts at that time. I recall predictions of 10,000 body bags, chemical weapons, Baghdad as the American Stalingrad, a quagmire like Vietnam, the Iraqi army was the largest in the Middle East and would not go quietly, &tc. Had anyone predicted we would overthrow the government in Baghdad in 3 weeks, hold multiple elections to produce a constitution and government in less than 3 years, and have Sadam on trial, all with ~3,000 casualties, they would have been called a naive pollyanna.

The above hissed in response by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 5:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: jp phish


Forty percent of Americans say that it was not a mistake to go to war with Iraq; not a small percentage. And it will shoot to 60% as soon as signs of winning are clear.


The above hissed in response by: jp phish [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 6:20 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

The polls on this are strange. Just a month ago three seperate polls put the numbers of Americans who support the decision to go to Iraq at about 50%. That might be different now because attitudes are volatile. But over all the majority of Americans do not want to see the US defeated in Iraq.

The truth is that Saddam had tried to kill a president. He had to know what would have happened to him and his regime had he succeeded and yet he did it anyway. That tells me that Saddam was not someone who took being told what to do lightly.

The only reason we know a lot of what we do now, such as Saddam's weapon capacity is because of the invasion. The truth is Saddam had ample oppurtunity to comply with the UN and the terms of the cease fire and he made a point of doing neither. He shot at our planes, he continued to brutalize his people and he cirucmvented the sanctions programs. Saddam was a problem that was not just going to go away. Wishing we could all just forget about Iraq will not change that.

So I disagree with the nervous ninnies too. What if Saddam had started up his weapons programs and began to go after Kuwait again? What could anyone have done that he would not just have laughed at? And the rest of his kind would have laughed too. Never again would a mandatory force Resolution have meant a damn thing. A cease fire with the United States would not have been worth the paper it was printed on and the Oil for Food scam would have probably never have been detected.

No, wishing away a bad thing does not mean something even worse wouldn't happen instead.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 6:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

I agree with all but # 8. American intifada? I can't see that.

But you left out a couple of things. With Iraq again pursuing WMDs, Iran (their traditional enemy) would have accelerated their own WMD program. They would now be even further down that road. They may even have resumed their earlier war with Iraq (pre-emption?), this time with WMDs.

Oh yeah - AQ Kahn would still be selling nuclear secrets, Libya would have a WMD program. Syria still in Lebanon? Kuwait would become an armed camp...

It seems people are frequently complaining that the Middle East was a mess. But both action and inaction have consequences, sometimes unpredictable. Not deciding is deciding.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 7:14 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

I'm with JD Watson on this one, Dafydd. I've not read Goldberg's analysis, but we have to remember to refer back to History, not Wishtory: Saddam was under a Cease-Fire and was actively firing on US and British aircraft. Saddam was actively undermining the UN's restrictions on everthing from feeding his own populace to attempting to kill Americans to rebuilding his war machine including WMD's. Saddam was poised to become the biggest player in the "Kill America" team, and had the backing of many nations who have now either been Neutralized or have decided to even work WITH us. Take a step back, and look at ALL of the differences, not just those in Baghdad!

Bush's speech that defined his reasons for going into Iraq listed a NUMBER of reasons why it was important to go in, and expected a much GREATER price to be paid. I, for one, expected a war which had started in NYC and spread to Afghanistan and was threatening Iraq to grow in size as well as scope. I had no belief that we would have a peaceful ally in Iraq in just a couple of years. I still thought it was necessary to do, as much as I hated the idea of active, open warfare.

And yes, peaceful; measure Iraq's violence now against the violence they had under Saddam. Murder at the behest of a Dictator is still violence against the populace. Iraq is more peaceful now under fire fro m the terrorists than when it was under fire from Saddam.

We now have the benefit of more information than we had when we went in; fine, let's take advantage of that... start the narrative from the ACTUAL events, and extrapolate along the lines of ACTUAL movement, and you don't get a neutral Iraq saying bad things against America... you have an untouchable military force arming with nuclear weapons in collaboration with many other Persian AND ARAB nations under the protection of a United Nations dominated by the EU and China.

NOW defend the US from terrorism...

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 7:31 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I think it was inevitable, sooner or later, it was going to happen. But it is moot.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 8:06 PM

The following hissed in response by: Infidel

Typical of "compassionate Consefvatives" and NeoCons; no principle, just waht will garner votes (yes, the CC's are pandering to minorities).


The above hissed in response by: Infidel [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 20, 2006 8:38 AM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Mistakes are like taking a crap, everyone makes 'em and takes 'em.

Invading Iraq was not a mistake...waiting for so long was. Choosing Iraq as one of the battlegrounds in the War Against Terrorism was not a mistake...not leveling at least Fallujah was a mistake.

Anyway, some 5 years after the Attacks of 911, it has become quite clear that far too many Americans have no stomach for War. Having no stomach for War, after just 5 years, against a 'hidden' Enemy (one that hides behind Women and Children...hides behind Terrorist Supporting countries like Saddam's Iraq) that is willing to go for another 500+++ years, is not only a serious mistake, but it is also an early sign of weakness...so to speak.

We spend billions (trillions?) of Gringo Dollars on weapon systems that we never use, so why build them?!? We can't even Water-Board Enemy prisoners who have violated the Geneva Conventions without far too many Americans complaining. BTW, those same Americans probably never spent a year in a "9 x 7" (finished at closer to 8' x 6') American Prison Cell or Jail Cell, with 3-5 other cellmates during even one Florida summer. We aren't fighting...we are trying to find ways to lose or to surrender, in my humble opinion.

Enough said...


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 20, 2006 2:22 PM

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