March 2, 2007

BRIAN FLEMMING LOOKS AT WHAT HE WAS WRONG ABOUT in March of 2003, and issues a challenge to other bloggers: “If you are a blogger who was active in March 2003, link to that month’s archive and write an entry called ‘What I was wrong about in March 2003.'”

Brian’s entry isn’t too impressive as mea culpas go — basically, he says he underestimated just how immoral and evil people who disagreed with him were. But it did inspire me to look through my archives and see how they held up. A few highlights:

Disagreeing with Andrew Sullivan about whether there was a “domestic war” with the New York Times, etc. I still think I was right to say: “While they clearly have an irrational dislike for President Bush, my sense is that they want what’s best for America — however misguided their views on that subject might be — and aren’t calling, after the fashion of Chrissie Hynde, for America to be given ‘what it deserves.'” But follow the link for Sullivan’s clarification, which seems to have been prophetic itself.

Calling SpongeBob Barbie “surreal:” In retrospect, this was a last moment from a more innocent America. But still surreal. So was this, though I don’t think anyone ever got the reference.

Disagreeing with Radley Balko and Oliver Willis who didn’t mind the idea of Al Qaeda terrorists being tortured. Nope. I’m still anti-torture.

Saying that “a swift American victory is pretty much the only outcome that doesn’t involve a lot of dead people.” That seems to have been entirely correct. Too bad it didn’t work out that way, quite.

Agreeing with Jack Balkin on the Padilla case. Nope. Haven’t changed my mind there.

Scorning those who compared the bombing of Saddam’s ministries in Baghdad to the firebombing of Dresden. Yep, still seems right.

Worrying about Steven Den Beste’s fears, including “After we win, and during the post-war occupation, I’m concerned about a campaign of terrorism developing (90%). There will still be zealots and extremists there; will we end up going through months or years of occasional suicide bombings all over the nation? How many of our occupation troops will be victims? If it happens too much, with rising intensity, will it start to make our troops suspicious of all Iraqis, and thus make them start to think of us as invaders instead of liberators? Could it totally sour the attempt to reestablish the rule of law and to start to improve life for everyday Iraqis? If it reaches levels approaching that of the Intifada, we’re in deep trouble. It’s virtually certain that there will be at least some of this; the question is whether it will end up being politically significant.” I’d say it has become politically significant, though it hasn’t been Intifada-like. (In fact, it’s more like the — current — intra-Palestinian strife.) See this post, too. Well-founded fears on that topic, it turns out, though happily most of Steven’s other worries didn’t come to pass.

Saying that Columbia shouldn’t fire Prof. Nicholas de Genova for hoping the war would produce “a million Mogadishus.” Still agree with that.

Publishing the original Oil Trust proposal: Still like it, and that puts me on board with Hillary Clinton and Milton Friedman. Shame it hasn’t happened.

Being Pro-Sodomy: Still there!

Saying that: “I do think that — although at one level it seems premature to be talking about postwar stuff when the war is just starting — the postwar follow-through is likely to be at least as important as the war.” Alas, my MSNBC post on that topic is now lost.

Observing: “Keegan is, however, worried that we don’t have enough troops on the ground, for which he blames the Turks, whose on-again off-again intransigence has produced the troop shortage as the Fourth Infantry has to go through the Suez and around to the Gulf before it can do any good. . . . I can’t help but think, though, that Tommy Franks knows how many troops he has, and what he faces, better than the rest of us do. And the rap on him has always been that he’s too conservative, not that he’s some hell-for-leather adventurer. I’ll spare you any armchair-generalship on my part. We’ll see, soon enough.” Franks was right for the war phase, obviously. For the postwar phase? That’s still unclear.

Worry about friendly-fire incidents with allied (British) forces — sadly, this was right.

Criticizing Patriot Act abuses, and supporting Randy Barnett for Attorney General. Not ashamed of that stance!

Noting reports of German and French responsibility for the war via their obstruction and evasion of sanctions on Saddam. You don’t hear much about that anymore, do you? How convenient.

Pointing out that satellite imagery from Baghdad contradicted press reports to a highly suspicious extent. Sadly prophetic. LIkewise this report of photo-fakery at the Los Angeles Times.

So was I like Brian? Was my big mistake underestimating the dishonesty of the people who disagreed with me about the war?

Well, let’s give that one a pass and look at the big picture. Knowing what I know now, would I have supported the invasion of Iraq? The actual invasion and capture of Iraq went better than most people expected — certainly better than I expected, as I figured we’d see about as many casualties on the road to Baghdad as we’ve seen in the entire four years since things started. On the other hand, the postwar reconstruction, which I expected to be hard, has been worse than I, or most people (including the war critics), expected. (In retrospect, Mark Steyn’s report about Palestinians heading to Baghdad was probably a harbinger of trouble.)

The domestic political posture is grim — we’ve gone well beyond the three year rule on Iraq, and we’re more than five years into Afghanistan, and that’s costly. I think it’s probably true that the White House wouldn’t do it over again, if they knew what was ahead — certainly the alternative “low-hanging fruit” approach, which called for attacking terrorist havens in Somalia, etc., probably looks better in retrospect. On the other hand, I don’t much care about the political future of the Bush Administration or the Republicans as such, and would happily sacrifice them to make the country safe. Did the Iraq invasion do so? The absence of significant attacks on the U.S. is evidence, but not proof. Saddam and his regime are no longer a threat, and although Iran remains a threat, it was a threat before. It’s been trying to get nukes, and regional hegemony, for decades and it’s not clear that toppling Saddam made things worse, though it certainly hasn’t (as I’d hoped) rendered Iran any more pliable.

And that goes to my big problem. I supported the invasion of Iraq because I saw it as a move toward shaking up the entire Middle East. But as I’ve noted before, we seemed to exhaust our momentum as soon as Baghdad fell. (It’s almost enough to make you believe the Weekly World News theory, mentioned here before, that the invasion was really all about capturing a crashed alien spaceship. Well, no, but it does have a degree of explanatory power . . . .) The cost of toppling Saddam wasn’t nearly as bad as some had feared, and even with the cost of reconstruction added in it might well be worth it if the result was the toppling or moderation of Arab and Islamist despots. But the Bush Administration seemed to lose all momentum in that direction and without that larger payoff I’m not sure it was worth it. That’s not a reason to cut and run now: We’re there, and we owe it to the Iraqis, and our troops, to make it a success. But where I was wrong in March of 2003 was in seeing the toppling of Saddam as the beginning, rather than the end, of the stage of post-9/11 history that started with the rout of the Taliban. In other posts, I’ve quoted Talleyrand to the effect that “you can do anything with bayonets, except sit on them,” and that’s what we’ve done. Was that the plan all along? It’s hard for me to believe, but if someone had told me that was the plan in March of 2003 I’d have been much less supportive of going into Iraq. Not that it didn’t have its benefits.

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