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April 17, 2004

Recent history. One of the several things I like about Matthew Yglesias is that, unlike many moderates, he consistently remembers that the opinions we choose to hold about questions of public policy actually have real-world correlatives. Indeed, as it turns out, opinions aren’t just exercises in which the object is to get ourselves into whatever position we find most emotionally and socially comfortable. Even more startlingly, it appears that if our supreme goal is to be the “grown-up,” or to position ourself exactly halfway between whatever goalposts the designated “extremists” happen to be currently putting up, we’ll wind up in some pretty bad places. Who knew?


David Brooks offers the first of what I think will be many retrospective I was wrong but I was right anyway articles. The implication here is that though Bush may botch everything in Iraq, Brooks was nevertheless correct to have supported the war because he, after all, was not in favor of botching things.

One anticipates that other people—Thomas F., or shall we call him T. Friedman—will be offering similar theories soon. The trouble, however, is this. When George W. Bush is president and is advocating a war and you, too, are advocating for war, then the fact of the matter is that you are advocating that the war be conducted by George W. Bush. That Bush would botch things was a perfectly predictable consequence of said support, based on—among other things—the fact that he’d botched everything else he’d ever done.

The striking thing is that many people—Friedman works here, too—saw this very clearly, and yet didn’t see it. Kenneth Pollack is the crucial case. Well before the war began, he released The Gathering Storm. Since that was a book and not a newspaper op-ed, it did not advocate “invading Iraq” but rather advocated an entire Iraq policy, complete with loads of details. It was obvious by the time war broke out, that while Bush was invading Iraq, and while the Pollack policy involved an invasion of Iraq, that Bush was not implementing the Pollack policy. I know this is true because, among other things, Pollack said so at the time. Pollack nevertheless did not jump off the bandwagon and join the anti-war team. This is, shall we say with some understatement, a political strategy that is open to criticism.

In the interests of full candor, let it be said that I did something very similar. The difference here being that, as I will now admit, I was wrong. Neither the policies being advocated by Bush nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones. What I wanted to see happen wasn’t going to happen. I had to throw in with one side or another. I threw in with the wrong side. The bad consequences of the bad policy I got behind are significantly worse than the consequences of the bad policy advocated by the other side would have been. I blame, frankly, vanity. “Bush is right to say we should invade Iraq, but he’s going about it the wrong way, here is my nuanced wonderfulness” sounds much more intelligent than some kind of chant at an anti-war rally. In fact, however, it was less intelligent. I got off the bandwagon right before the shooting started, but by then it was far too late—this was more a case of CYA than a case of efficacious political dissent.

Now I am not an important person, and at the time I was even less important. Nevertheless, the block of opinion of which I was a part included some very influential people. In the aggregate, we were never a very large block of public opinion. We were, however, the all-important swing group. Some of us (represented in the blogosphere by me, Kevin, Josh, etc.) swung too late. Some of us never swung at all. If we had swung earlier (not just the bloggers and the journalists and hawkish Clinton administration veterans, but also the regular folks who had similar opinions) there probably would have been no war. We should have swung earlier.

(Apologies to hard-core blog readers who’ve seen this long quote already, but as I keep having to be reminded, hundreds of Electrolite’s readers read only one or two other weblogs. To those, I would say that if you decide to read five or ten other weblogs, Matthew’s should definitely be one of them.) [09:42 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Recent history.:

Rick (Centrist Coalition) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2004, 11:16 PM:

It turns out that Bush is much more radical than I imagined. His crusade to remake Iraq reminds me of the Jacobins who tried to remake French society from the ground up. Conservatives like Edmund Burke criticized the revolutionaries for taking on too much at once. In the Burkean sense, Bush is a radical rather than a conservative.

You seem to see many moderates as sell-outs, more concerned about bourgeois respectability than in making the world better. However, it's my impression that radicals are more concerned about their position appearing to be correct in the abstract, rather than in achieving concrete results which help people.

I see moderates as being pragmatists who focused on results, and even willing to compromise on "principles" As Deng Xiao Ping said, "It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice" It's the radicals who leave a trail of destruction trying to realize their abstract ideas.

Alan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 12:30 AM:

I think of myself as moderate or centre-left. I supported Afghanistan. I hated the enterprise of Iraq, as much for its hubris and impracticality as anything else. The grand colonial empires all fell because ultimately colonial rulers could not make decisions effectively for their colonial 'wards'. The white man's burden was already obsolete in 1900. Trying to revive it in 2003 was always an absurdity in terms of practical outcomes.

The war party's passionate declamations that the enterprise of Iraq would be different because it would be different was just rhetoric they never explained and certainly never thought out.

They were warned of almost everything that has gone wrong in their new raj on the Tigris. They chose not to think about these warnings. Now their sole justification for continuing their project is that anything else is unthinkable.

There's clear historical evidence that the British and French governments regarded a French defeat in 1940 as unthinkable. Sadly...

julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 09:19 AM:

I'm impressed. That mustn't have been easy to do.

MorganJLocke ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 09:53 AM:

I always appreciate when someone is wo/man enough to suck it up and admit sie's wrong. That takes guts. It's much more comfortable to dodge responsibility and obfuscate and blame others -- the way the Bush Administration has been doing consistently ever since they took office.

I feel some compassion for those who bought BushCo's lies and supported the war. I'm sure they feel utterly betrayed, as evidence of our government's misdeeds come to light.

But the time for excuse-making is past. The Iraq war is a disaster. It has taken a terrible toll, and will continue to for many years.


MorganJLocke ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 10:01 AM:

I decided to post my more general screed in a separate message. :)

I think the question of "what's moderate" is an interesting one, too. It's one I've often pondered.

There's moderate with regard to ends, and with regard to means. I consider myself a moderate with regard to means -- I prefer using the tools of consensus and dialog to effect change -- but I don't consider myself in the center -- not in the center of US politics, anyway -- with regard to the ends that I desire.

For years after coming back from Kenya, and realizing just how the US acts overseas -- and how filtered our media here is -- I was a European-style socialist. But after working in business for many years on my return, I came to see how powerful an economic engine capitalism can be, and how a large number of people can benefit from it, and I moderated my views on the subject. People benefit from having the opportunity to provide a better life for themselves and their loved ones, and society benefits as well.

But there's the rub. The balance of power between capital and labor is seriously out of balance in our country. Having money is all that matters. There are so many problems with the US socio-politico-economic system as it functions now, that when you stand back and look at the big picture, it's downright appalling.

The nature of capitalism is to compete. Without constraints, corporations chase the dollar all the way down into the abyss of human misery and environmental blight. Good laws and regulations level the playing field, and set a minimum bar of behavior that is absolutely necessary for the sake of the people who can get caught in the gears of the machine.

Without controls on how the powerless may be treated by the powerful, abuses become endemic. There are not enough economic safeguards in place for the poor. (And don't get me started about OSHA!)

The environment we've been more successful in protecting, historically; there's been gradual improvement over the past thirty years. But now BushCo is upending all that. And the consequences will be real -- tens of thousands of Americans will die because this Administration has chosen to gut -- or refused to enforce -- crucial environmental protections.

And then there's the runaway junk explosion. Consumerism is at the heart of capitalism, and Jesus, am I the only one who is sick of the pile-up of stuff in our lives??

And I realize that the international arena is a free-for-all and that no one's hands are really clean, but I mean, can't we at least try to live up to some of the ideals in our Constitution?


Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 10:48 AM:

You know, I half-expected the response to Yglesias's confession to be ferociously negative: "How wonderful of you to change your mind when it was too late; that you weren't right when it counted still makes you a mass murderer by proxy, and to Hell with you; we don't want your kind."

Largely because there's been a voice in my own head saying this to me for the past seven or eight months. I swung later than Yglesias did: after the shooting started, in fact. So I suppose I bear more culpability for all the dead than he does.

(I figure there's a reasonable argument that my possession, and public expression, of wrong opinions about the Iraq war might conceivably cancel out any good I've ever done in the world up to this point, and any good I am likely to do in the future. So that my life is now a net negative to humanity. I'm not planning on ending it, of course, because presumably that wouldn't do any good; I have responsibilities, and I can learn. But I may end up living the rest of my life knowing that I'm in the red morally and all I can really do is grope toward zero. ...And there's another part of my head that says that this is no way to run a moral philosophy: if you attach such significance to having wrong opinions, you might be afraid to have opinions at all, and that probably wouldn't be any good. ...But, says the stern judge, coming from me that sounds pretty self-serving, which is why I've been looking for external reactions... It would all be much easier if I were a Christian, and believed that repentance can wash away one's sins instantly. But I've always been pretty suspicious of that.)

But by and large, the kind of ferocious rejection I've been fearing, the external validation of this stern and self-loathing attitude, hasn't been the response; the anti-war left has been pretty magnanimous to the converts, despite a bit of self-righteous grumbling here and there. And I find this extremely heartening.

It was a bit worse during the presidential primary season, when there was a major question of whether a convert candidate was good enough, or if the guy had to have been right for the right reasons all along. But I think there's a recognition now that we have to hang together, and changing minds is better than demanding absolute purity.

(Which is why I am a bit bothered by all the picking on Mark Kleiman for his "al Qaeda truce" remark. My God, the guy was righter than I was all along; he doesn't deserve this.)

Ron in Portland ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 11:58 AM:

I supported the invasion of Afghanistan and looked on with dismay as a quick victory turned into a slow and painful defeat due to inadeqate resources.
When looking at Iraq I had no doubt that Saddam was a bad guy and probably presented a future threat. I also realized that Rummy and Company did not have a clue as to what would be required judging on past performance, aka Afghanistan. As a result I opposed the invasion from the start.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 11:58 AM:

Rick writes:

It turns out that Bush is much more radical than I imagined. His crusade to remake Iraq reminds me of the Jacobins who tried to remake French society from the ground up. Conservatives like Edmund Burke criticized the revolutionaries for taking on too much at once. In the Burkean sense, Bush is a radical rather than a conservative.
I couldn't agree more. I've made this point several times on Electrolite over the past three years. Most of modern "conservatism" isn't conservative; it's a transformative ideology dedicated to a revolutionary overthrow of traditional American values in favor of an alien social-engineering project.
You seem to see many moderates as sell-outs, more concerned about bourgeois respectability than in making the world better. However, it's my impression that radicals are more concerned about their position appearing to be correct in the abstract, rather than in achieving concrete results which help people.
Again, I can't help but think you're getting a false impression of my outlook based on brief acqaintanceship. As many of my longtime friends will tell you, I'm generally the person in the argument criticising self-declared "radicals" for being "more concerned about their position appearing to be correct in the abstract, rather than in achieving concrete results which help people." This has been, for instance, central to my criticism of Ralph Nader's candidacies.

As I've said more than once, the notion that it's okay to encourage things to get worse in order to "highlight the contradictions" is something to which I'm pretty much inalterably opposed. This makes me, often, into someone with radical long-term goals who favors moderate means. (But not always. Obviously, some situations are sufficiently dire that some kind of violence is the only solution. That's why we have police and a military; and it's also why some revolutions and uprisings deserve our support.)

My criticism of the way a particular kind of liberal allowed themselves, in early 2003, to be stampeded into supporting Bush's forthcoming invasion of Iraq is really rooted in the particular circumstances, events, and psychological dimensions of those people in that place and time. It's not really about "selling out" or "bourgeois respectability," although I certainly think class interests played a part. I think a greater part was played by simple mammalian pack politics, which is why so many otherwise intelligent people seem to be now awakening, rubbing their eyes, and saying "I supported what?"

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 01:39 PM:

Insisting that you were correct in retrospect, despite the fact that contemporary evidence undermines everything you said at the time, is far worse than insisting that your position be correct in the abstract today. The latter is letting your idealism get in the way of your goals; the former is arrogantly sticking to correctness in the face of all evidence.

I question whether anyone who is doing that can be trusted to draw accurate conclusions from the facts under any circumstances.

I've long been of the opinion that much of the rhetoric I see online - and hear in person - regarding the evil of the Bush administration is overblown - that Bush is no worse than Reagan was, for example, and that his performance is about what could be expected from any conservative. This website has made me doubt that proposition a bit, mostly through comments made by people who used to work with conservatives, but the core of the view has held. Yet lately i've been increasingly disturbed: disturbed by the fact that nobody of any import in the Bush administration appears capable of admitting that they were wrong, about anything, ever. That's not the behavior of a responsible adult; it's behavior that I would reject in a coworker, that would end a job interview instantly. It's not behavior that we should accept in our leadership.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 01:42 PM:

Anybody who supported invading Iraq at all is in a sufficiently different head space from me that I can't quite put myself in their place.

But it seems to me that a lot of the problems we're having in Iraq are a consequent of having a military invasion at all, and not just from Bush pursuing it badly, although he surely is. I can't imagine any strategy for invading Iraq that wouldn't have the ethnic groups uniting against us, or other Muslim countries resenting it. But I haven't read Pollack, so maybe he had some bright ideas on these subjects.

But if invading Iraq is a bad idea tout court, and if there are those who mistakenly consider it fundamentally a good idea, then the phenomenon that Yglesias is describing - that of people who supported a different strategy of invading Iraq, but were willing to go along with Bush's half-assed way of doing it - can be explained as a case of - in THEIR eyes - "not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good."

The problem was their fundamental assumption - invade Iraq, yes, good - not so much their willingness to let Bush do it. Yglesias's greater fastidiousness only saved him because he was willing to reconsider his basic position.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 03:31 PM:

Two cents, and dented pennies they.

There are scenarios in which I can see the invasion of Iraq having been well resolved.

Sadly they required situations I felt, and which turned out, were not the case.

If there had been, large, stockpiles of Chem and Bio weapons (nukes were out of the questions).

That might have been enough to make the aftermath easier.

If we had taken a less high-handed road (even pretended we expected to find stuff) and had put troops in place to immediately establish some sort of law and order.

If we'd not set up a puppet council (and then re-arranged it so our choice could get arounf the fact that the Iraqis don't trust him.

If we'd been willing to deal with the, serious, differences in expectations of the groups in Iraq (Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Marsh Arabs) and looked to some sort of federal system (rather than the One Iraq we seem to be chasing after).

If we'd put a plan into effect on what we expected, when we expected it, and how we were going to do it; in regard to how/when we were going to leave.

And (big, "and"... drumroll please) if we'd had enough troops on the ground, in the center of Iraq, right after the war (say half again what we did) and they had left (most of them) in a big, and public hurry, so that it seemed we were leaving...

Then things might not be so bad.

But, anyone who looked at Afghanistan knew none of that was going to happen.


TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 03:58 PM:

If you can't understand why someone would support invading Iraq, try reading Republic of Fear, about life under the heel of the Baath party. I read it when it came out, before the first Gulf war. I also remember the Iran-Iraq war, which Iraq started. I remember that the Gulf war was started by Iraq invading Kuwait. After the armistice (the war never ended and is still going on), I remember that Iraq did not live up to the terms of the truce. I remember the massacre of Basra, the internal exile of the marsh people, and the destruction of the marshes. I remember the lies the Iraqis told to the inspectors, up to the surpise discovery of the hidden nuclear weapons program. I remember the suffering of the Iraqi people while the funds for helping them were diverted to illegal weapons programs and the construction of luxurious palace fortresses for Saddam. I remember how Saddam used the oil for food program to create sweetheart deals for France and Russia. I remember how the inspections were ended in disarray, to the great discredit of the United Nations and the international community.

Maybe this all puts me in a different head space. So be it. The problem with being a moderate is you have to understand all sorts of stuff you don't like and don't necessarily agree with. But I will take it over not understanding.

For what it's worth, I was opposed to an invasion, except as a last resort, and since Bush's crazed bad cop act was actually getting results, there was no need for a last resort. Unfortunately, Bush &co. wasn't acting, and just looking for a chance to ditch the good cops and do his own thing.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 04:16 PM:

I was anti-war from the start, and never changed my mind. The worst thing for me personally (obviously, this is a very trivial "worst thing" in the world's scales) is that the worse the news gets from Iraq, the more I feel a horrible jagged doubleness: On the one hand "I told you so!" on the other hand "I wish I'd been wrong."

There's no doubt that some people supported the war from the best motives. People who had a vision of what Iraq could become, and believed that the US invasion could do it. And I look at the news, and I wish they'd been right.

There's no doubt that some people supported the war for (at best) appallingly stupid reasons, or straightforwardly vicious reasons. And I look at the news, and there's a horrid pain as well as a horrifying kind of satisfaction in hearing myself mutter "I told you so."

I really do wish I'd been wrong. I wish the people who supported the war for the best reasons had been right.

Rick (Centrist Coalition) ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 04:38 PM:


Thank you for the clarification.

Regarding the decision to invade, I feel a bit like Charlie Brown, lying flat on my back after Lucy has pulled away the football. I've never trusted George W. Bush's judgement, but with something as verifiable as the existence of WMD's, I expected them to be on display after the invasion. The support of centrists and liberals like John Kerry for the war resolution was premised on a potential threat to Americans, and not a crusade for democracy.

I did "swallow" the Bush Administration's contention that the inspection process would never go anywhere, and that the only way to get rid of the WMD's was to proceed with military force. I assumed they had access to secret information, and that after the invasion was complete, they would be able to present their evidence. Bob Woodward is apparently reporting that Tenet said it was a "slam/dunk" that they'd be able to find the stuff.

In hindsight, we should have allowed the inspection process to go forward. This would have demonstrated that there were no WMD's, and that the war was not necessary.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 07:03 PM:

TomB, as I just now remarked in a nearby thread, some of us were observing that Saddam was a bad guy all the way back in the years when the Reagan adminstration was playing footsie with him. My opposition to the invasion wasn't based on any illusions about what kind of bastard Saddam was.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 07:58 PM:

Sorry I didn't make it clear I was only responding to Simon. Since it's your drawing room that we're having this discussion in (very fine port and cigars, thank you), I should have.

As someone who felt conflicted and only just barely opposed to an invasion, I have a great deal of respect for those who saw the situation more clearly than I did and were on the right side from the beginning. How did they do that? And I sympathize with those like Mr. Yglesias who were honestly wrong and can admit it. His mistake was trusting the President, an all too common and easy mistake to make. I think he made the wrong decision for the right reasons. I have less sympathy for the people who made the right decision for the wrong reasons, I guess because I can't quite put myself in their place.

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 08:28 PM:

Actually, poking around a little more (especially in the comments on Kos) I find some people who are condemning Yglesias pretty harshly, especially for his attempts to explain why the antiwar movement didn't manage to convince him earlier. The argument being that the rightness of the antiwar side was obvious to any intelligent being from the very beginning, and only a very stupid or dishonest person would claim otherwise, and, when the result is so much death and carnage, such a person deserves no sympathy or forgiveness, regardless of subsequent changes of attitude.

It must be very nice to be right all the time, and without sin.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 09:17 PM:

Here's a question: when _can_ we blame someone for holding on to the grim end in a foolish belief? 'Cause, you know, I have a little list.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 11:41 PM:

TomB wrote, I have a great deal of respect for those who saw the situation more clearly than I did and were on the right side from the beginning. How did they do that?

And my bafflement is over the question, how could others not see it?

The same question comes up in relation to Vietnam. Fact: the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons went to Daniel Fitzpatrick of the St. Louis Post Dispatch for a cartoon showing Uncle Sam, holding a bayoneted rifle, walking into a swamp labeled "French Military Mistakes in Indochina." And the caption read "How Would Another Mistake Help?" Let me repeat: Nineteen Fifty-Five.

How could they not tell?

TomB also wrote, His mistake was trusting the President, an all too common and easy mistake to make.

Trust this President?

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 11:43 PM:

Matt McIrvin, I for one do not claim to be right all the time. But about this, it was easy.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 12:11 AM:

After September 11th, there was a lot of talk about supporting the president, and to some extent I accepted it. Thinking about it now, I realize that I support the presidency, not the president. Particularly not this president. I support his doing the job that we need him to do, whether he wants to or not. I have never supported Bush.

Another way of thinking about it is that we all trust Bush, to one degree or another. That level of trust is very low now, but it's still there. For example, I think we can reasonably trust that Bush will not call a nucular [sic] strike on the UN building in New York. After the terrible job he's done with Iraq, we're not inclined to trust him much, but even he would not be that stupid, and we're counting on him to not be that stupid for the next nine months until we can replace him. I would argue that in 2002, before he botched the war on terror and made a mess of Iraq, there was less evidence of his gross incompetence, and it was more reasonable, at the time, to expect that he might do a sort-of okay job. The mayor of New York had risen to the occasion, so there was some hope that the president might do so too. Besides, we had little choice but to count on his doing a sort-of okay job for the three remaining years until we could replace him.

As I said, it was a mistake, but it was not an incomprehensible one.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 02:23 AM:

I'm glad my last attempt to post to this was eaten in the ether.

I can only say why I saw this as being wrong. I had professional reasons to think all the evidence given to the public was wrong.

Some of this was political logic... Saddam had no good reason to keep Chem and Bio weapons, and every reason to sneer at the UN, and diddle the U.S.. He was making hay from thumbing his nose at the Great Satan.

He also had every reason to expect he could prove his claims (that he had gotten rid of them, and all the sanctions were was revenge on the part of a vindictive U.S. for his showing them up, by not losing the war (i.e. still holding power after Desert Storm) and resisting the attempts to make him roll over.

He tried this (recall that he was letting the UN inspectors look at things).

What bothers me is the people who say we had to go in because Hussien was a bad man.

In the fisrt place, I take a healthy swig of RealPolitik, and say, "So what?". We can't afford to go after people we don't like, just because they are repressive. No one will believe us, because the people we don't go after are legion, and just as bad.

In the second place, that isn't the justification we were given. We said he was a present danger. We didn't say, "we have to get rid of him because he's a shitheel,". If we'd agreed to the latter, I'd have held my nose and gone along.

But we didn't, and to accept that as a justificatin, ex post facto, is to allow, nay encourage, our leaders to make blatant lies, because we will make excuses for them later, in the cause of, "supporting the troops," and, "maintaining our resolve," and not being embarrased in the international community.

Feh! I'd rather see a leader who says, "We screwed up, and this is what we're going to do to fix it," than one who says, "We've got a pair of dueces, and there's ace's up across the table, but the pot's to big to abandon, so maybe we can bluff the other guy into folding."

I don't like throwing good money after bad (esp. when I, and my friends, are the wager).


Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 03:32 AM:

One of my pet irritations of the current times - -the use of "nuance" as a verb or verbal. I don't seen what is so subtle etc. about Bush's posturings, they make drunken bludgeonings look subtle and carefully deliberated and considered. For that matter, "nuance" has little to to with applying lots of analysis--it's orthogonal. Somone can come up with subtlety in an instant, or taken month to plan and plot and apply the subtle/fine detail touches.

I particularly get irked when the Bush regimes say "nuanced," to me they're using it as an obfuscatory, misleading, and wildly inapplicable and inappropriate piece of subterfuge. The word doesn't denote or connote to me whatever they're trying to mislead people to believe in their fake erudition.

Bush plays up being a reverse snob, despite his Ivy League matriculation. That's an impressive piece of hyprocisy, taking an anti-eastern Establishment sneering stance, when he's Gentleman's C-pedigreed smeared all over him. Or to be nastier, it's the third rater sneering at those who aren't lacking his intellectual depravities and his brandishing his intellectual depravities ("I don't read newspapers, my subordinates read them for me. I don't watch news on TV, my subordinates watch it for me." He said essentially those words/concepts as something to be proud of. "I'm a paraliterate and proud of it, I'm insulated from what the average American sees and hears and has an interest in seeing and hearing! I have flunkeys to serve as insulation!") and hypocritical reverse snobbery as evidence of his morally and ethically superior judgment and values to the rest of the population.

Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 06:56 AM:

You're right, Paula. "Nuanced," in the mouths of Bushies, is an insult.

Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 06:56 AM:

You're right, Paula. "Nuanced," in the mouths of Bushies, is an insult.

Niall ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 07:23 AM:

Matt, while it's understandable that you feel you've blown your moral capital in backing this war, you shouldn't forget that they lied to you.

Even over here in Europe where few people backed the Iraq war, most people did not think that the Bush crew would just make shit up to justify the war.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 10:31 AM:

Matt, I understand your frustration, but you have to try and understand the frustration of people who (as Patrick points out) didn't want us to get in bed with this guy to begin with.

So far, as an granola-type antiwar liberal, I've been against pretty much every step downhill which has led us to this mess since the late seventies, and at every step I've been hearing that I don't understand realpolitik, and we went ahead and did it because the Sensible people prevailed.

It's a little hard to hear the same people who have been telling me for nigh unto thirty years that I Just Didn't Get it while all my worst predictions came true turn around and tell me that they couldn't have been expected to take me seriously on this one, because I Just Don't Get It.

The conventional wisdom is what got us into this mess. What I admired about Matthew's post was his acknowledging that he has some bias about what style of discourse has credibility, and that it negatively affected how he analyzed the facts.

Quite a few of the "moderates" who supported this war are still saying that they shouldn't have been expected to take evidence seriously coming from the sort of people who were against the war.

I don't think that's a serious way to make a decision that gets lots of people killed.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 10:48 AM:

TomB, I think there's a difference between trusting the president and supporting the president. When Bush announced his sudden intention to invade Iraq - about a year after 9/11, a year filled with screwing up in Afghanistan - my thought was, "He's lost the script. What does this have to do with 9/11?"

That Bush wasn't to be trusted had been more than re-proved by then already. If you supported the invasion of Iraq because of a lingering feeling that you should support the president, then I'm sorry, but you were still out to lunch when everybody went home from the office for the day.

I kept asking, in the comments section of this very weblog, why invading Iraq was all of a sudden so urgent when it hadn't been on the agenda before. And the Bush defenders here told me that the idea of invading Iraq had been advocated by administration policy-makers even before 9/11. The Bush defenders told me that. (I might be able to find this in the archives if you really want.) Later on this idea became exclusively the province of left-wing tin-hatters.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 11:41 AM:

TomB, I won't say that I find the mistake of trusting George W. Bush incomprehensible, but for me it's close. That man achieved his current office through a process that included disregard for the rule of law and disruption of the fundamental activities required to make the USA a great democracy, like properly counting all the votes that were cast.

I've been unable to trust George W. Bush since before he was inaugurated, and find it very hard to comprehend how anyone could trust him enough to believe that his administration had genuine reasons that primarily served the proper interests of the United States as a nation for making war on Iraq.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 11:58 AM:

As I said, I did not support the invasion of Iraq. Considering that, and what else I said, I don't think I fall into the category of a person who is out to lunch, a Bush defender, or a left-wing tin-hatter.

You said you can't understand how anyone could have supported an invasion at all, since it was such a bad idea. I tried to explain some of the reasons for an invasion, because I do understand, and I don't think we should condemn everyone who supported it. That's all.

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 12:15 PM:

Reading this thread has me depressed all over again. I'm with the people who say, "How could you not know?" I wish I could figure out why. I just feel there's a clue in there somewhere about how to fix things, how to communicate the reality that Thou Shalt Not Kill applies even on the international stage, that the inalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is not something American, but something the Creator endowed all humanity with. And I'm not even religious any more (gave it up for Lent and decided I didn't really miss it much.)

But seeing the naked face of evil these past few years has made me reconsider the whole thing. All due respect to Matt, who is obviously feeling the weight -- but damn, people, if you look at a moron and see a President, if you look at a gaggle of cronies, thieves, and cutthroats and see an Administration, you have no-one to blame but yourself. It was obvious to me at the time, and it's still obvious now, that people simply *chose* to believe that the invasion of Iraq was justified, was correct, was somehow not bloody Nazi murder and dying children, because to believe otherwise was skirting dangerously close to the idea that maybe, just maybe, the skillful propagandists in the White House had suckered them all in, had taken the beauty of the notion of America and used it to kill and to steal, and fricking laughed in our faces the whole time.

I have never felt rage like the rage I've felt these past few years. A tearing, yammering scream in my chest, with no outlet at all, knowing that the America I grew up loving appears to have been a commercial all along.

Sorry for the blackness. I'm really trying to quit. I'm not even an "extreme left" type -- heck, I own my own business, I'm hardly a radical of any stripe -- but reading this, it does sound like it. But the raw emotion of seeing the ongoing perversion of American and Christian ideals, it overwhelms me at times.

True, I don't condemn the people who were (and are) sucked in. It's easy to get sucked in by skillful liars, especially when you frankly have a life to get on with. But I have troubles believing that such people are ... well, credible. Trustworthy. Adult. Worthy of respect. It sounds harsh, but then, so is the firy death of thousands in order to feel America's power.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 12:16 PM:

Oops, posts crossed in the aether. Previous "you" was Simon. Hi Bob.

Of course Bush stole the election. The reason he stole it was to acquire the political capital and the power associated with the presidency. That power didn't all go away because he stole it. In particular, if Bush proposes something that some people already agree with, even if they don't like him, they may be willing to go along with him. In retrospect, that was a big mistake with the war, but I don't think it was quite so obvious going in. Another example is that I was quite happy about Bush's proposal to fight AIDS world-wide. Now it's turning out to be a hollow promise, but I think the outrage should be at Bush, not at those who were suckered in.

skapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 12:34 PM:

I didn't support the war. But...

...problem is I've not supported a number of wars in the past, and they didn't turn out nearly as badly in practical terms -- they sorta worked from .uk's point of view, we didn't actually officially lose any of them (I wasn't around for vietnam, and anyway .uk didn't take part in that one) -- as my doom laden apocalyptic imaginings led me to expect. At judging the likely outcome of wars, I frankly suck, and you'll likely be glad to know I've anticipated five of the last zero Great Depressions as well.

That this war is living up (down?) to my nightmares is actually rather a surprise given that track record. So I can see at least one place where 'liberal hawks' might have been come from, at least the ones who hadn't been hawks on previous wars.

If the evidence shows that your past judgement about the success or failure of some course of action is generally faulty -- with your errors consistantly falling on this side of expecting failure -- you might well decide the next time that course of action is proposed that you're going lean over backwards to think up reasons why the course of action will succeed. Trying to correct for your obvious proven bias you see. I think that is the sort of thing that people who think of themselves as or aspire to being rationalists, thinking rational thoughts, are likely to do.

Of course that's an argument about practicality and judgement of practicality. None of it speaks to the issue of whether a particular war is moral. This one looked and felt to me to be the most utterly unjust war it was seriously proposed .uk should take part in my life thus far.

Given that it seemed to me a success would be an even greater disaster _morally_ than a failure I was able squelch any concerns about my judgement of the practicalities. If however I *hadn't* made that moral judgement and had to convince myself to be against the war for purely practical reasons -- even given the proven bugfuck insanity and dishonesty of Bush and co -- then the 'lean over backwards, because I'm consistently wrong on this' position would have been very very tempting.

Whether I would have managed to hold to the same moral conviction if I had been exposed to the full might of the US news networks' propaganda, and had I been an American, making 9/11 a lot closer and more shocking, and having the weird cultural baggage of genuflection to the judgement US Presidents, and been subject a hell of a lot more peer pressure...

...well I'm not so sure *my* moral fibre would have been up to it. Tho' granted many Americans moral fibre was.

Hopefully I would value my irrationality enough that I wouldn't have felt the need override my gut, but frankly I just don't konw. *despairing shrug*

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 01:34 PM:

Unlike Julia, I don't identify as a "granola-type antiwar liberal," which is to say, I think that war sucks, and it's something that should only be pursued in desperate situations where it's the only option, but the world unfortunately has plenty of such situations.

Despite that, I think that Julia is exactly right when she writes:

It's a little hard to hear the same people who have been telling me for nigh unto thirty years that I Just Didn't Get it while all my worst predictions came true turn around and tell me that they couldn't have been expected to take me seriously on this one, because I Just Don't Get It.
The conventional wisdom is what got us into this mess. What I admired about Matthew's post was his acknowledging that he has some bias about what style of discourse has credibility, and that it negatively affected how he analyzed the facts.
Quite a few of the "moderates" who supported this war are still saying that they shouldn't have been expected to take evidence seriously coming from the sort of people who were against the war.
I don't think that's a serious way to make a decision that gets lots of people killed.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 02:26 PM:

I'm not as extreme as all that, really - I think we should have gotten into WW2 much earlier than we did - but I do admit that anyone who describes a war as "strategic" is going to be hard for me to hear over the rustle of hackles rising.

I do think that it should be a last resort, and that we have an affirmative obligation to put the same due diligence into war that we would put into investing our own money or donating to a charity. I have a little trouble believing that anyone would trust their retirement money to a brokerage house whose track record for honesty and reliable management was as bad as this administration's is.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 02:29 PM:

TomB, I'm not condemning these people, I'm simply incredulous at their lack of awareness and discernment.

If the "you" in my previous post doesn't apply to you personally, it does apply to those to whom it does apply. Or something.

What Julia and Michael, among others, said.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 02:32 PM:

Comparable situation:

It was said at the time of Watergate that Richard Nixon betrayed the trust of the American people.

What betrayal? The American people put their trust in a crook, and he fulfilled that trust.

I was neither surprised nor dismayed at the revelations of Watergate. I was merely astonished and delighted that they were revealed.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 03:53 PM:

And the Bush defenders here told me that the idea of invading Iraq had been advocated by administration policy-makers even before 9/11. The Bush defenders told me that. (I might be able to find this in the archives if you really want.) Later on this idea became exclusively the province of left-wing tin-hatters.

I do recall that discussion...around September or October, 2002?

Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 07:38 PM:

Paula, I couldn't agree with you more about Pres. Chimpy's pride in his anti-intellectualism. I'm constantly reminded of whoever it was who said, "The man who does not read is no better off than the man who cannot read."

Marlena ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 09:30 PM:

Paula, you nailed it. Being a regular girl from a regular family in a regular town married to a regular guy, I know from regular. Bush always seemed to be trying too hard to be regular, when obviously (to me) he was never any such thing. Lazy, privileged, arrogant and fake is more like it. His whole anti-intellectual bs always irritated me, because regular people are happy to have an education and realize it does not detract from their ability to have common sense. No bragging about and no apologizing for education.

But all that aside, I think a big problem is that people in this country tend to be generous. Americans have given bush the benefit of the doubt, and he has run with it. He's taken total advantage of that charity. Many people just don't imagine he could be as bad as I've long believed. It seems somehow unamerican to think so cynically. "How could you think such a thing??? What's wrong with you?? Lefty weirdo."

Now the pressure to deny the truth keeps building. One group of people must be very, very wrong about the president. Is it the bush haters or the bush lovers? Both sides can't be right, and we all know it. Fear of betrayal is the powerful emotion that keeps the bush lovers making excuses for him. "He would Never do those things you've accused him of! Never!! You are wicked and wretched for saying these things!!"

These regular american bush lovers, they'll be the last to know what the f is going on. And they will never forgive him.

Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 03:23 PM:

[Bush wart discussion below.... hmm, Bushwarting as opposed to Bushwhacking?]

I've got -another- sobriquet for Bush, to go along with the collect of Chief Thief, Wargasm, and Bully Boy Bush -- it's Hubris Boy. [Some other people refer to his as "the Resident"... which for me personally is much too dignified and subject to being heard as a term with more more letter that starts with a P -- my geek engineer/science background is showing there, in wanting clarity and unambiguity when being deprecatory, of not having anyone think that I'm using an actual complimentary and non-ironic title. That's my particular idiosyncratic reaction of why I don't use "Resident," and not applicable to anyone else.]

It's hubris because because expecting that a reasonable impartial journalist given free reign to interview and write as opposed to one's paid spinmeister and religious fanatics buddies is going to write a book that won't show warts--or more to the point, believing one is RIGHT and that any who question or don't agree are minions of Evil, IS hubris....

I wonder what else is going to come out, there been Clarke's book, the one about O'Neil, Molly Given's, Al Franken's book...? Oh, right, isn't there a book going to come out from the former ambassador whose wife was outed, violating US law, as an intelligence agent? And just where is -that- investigation, at the moment, what White House flunky leaked the information outing -that- national secret?!

Hmmm, so far the on-going investigations include:

1. 9/11 -- but they don't seem to be much probing questions like why was the INS so completely ineffectual, why did the FBI branch managers -stomp- on the agents who wanted to further investigate Suspicious Saudi and other Middle Eastern Nationals with dubious bases for being in the USA [not here for education, not here for work, not here to be in a more socially liberal society and have a life in a more open and pluralistic society, not here to avoid getting into bloodfeuds at home--that's one of the reasons members of the royal family get shipped over here, to get them something else to do with the lives besides lethal succession intriguings] and taking flight training for big commercial passenger and cargo planes, without any prior aviation background/interest/experience.

2. Who outed the ambassador's wife as a spy? Was it a White House flunky, and who?

3. Why did Bush squash all Congresional attempts to get FBI records about mobster James "Whitey" Bulger regarding FBI coddling and cossetting and giving Bulger total immunity to every attempt by Boston local and Massachusetts state cops to collar him for murder, racketeering, gun-running, drug crimes, etc. etc. etc.? What or who has Bush been protecting by doing this?

3. Who did Cheney have making up US energy policy, why is Cheney spiting the spirit of the law and the idea of open and honest government by refusing to allow even the names of the people involved be known? It's not as if they're spies and their contacts are going to -die- for it...

4. Bush and the Saudi connection, regarding compromise of top secret NOFORM military information and who knows what else, to a representative of a foreign government, which foreign government has -not- disavowed providing funding and support to terrororist organizations (Hamas, at the least, and I think also Hezbollah, and others). The level of hypocrisy in the Bush regime is breathtaking, to say the least, regarding "terrorism" and financial and moral support for it. Meanwhile, US Cabinet members get informed about deals with foreign nationals, -afterwards-, and probably not in any detail. I thought the Department of State was supposed to handle foreign relations?!

Regarding the oil price rigging that Woodward's alleging, that to me looks like secret deals with foreign governments to harm the US general public -- the rising fuel and gas prices are not something that would hurt the Rich Folks spending $50,000 on SUVs that terrorize everyone else on the road, but something to make the rest of the population even more malleable and looking for Leadership and someone to look Heroic and reduce the misery and pain.

Bush doesn's care that higher gas prices means everything -else- goes up--the price of anythign that has to be transported, such as food, clothing, consumer electronics, the price of anything manufactured in the USA to pay for electricity -- but wait, Bush and his buddies own lots of stocks in companies that have assiduously been moving all their manufacturing and software development and administration and data entry and
customer support centers OVERSEAS to China and India and Romania and Bulgaria and Russia and Malysia and the Phillipines and South Korea, so the fact that electricy costs are going up due to rising fuel costs, doesn't cut the Bush Buddies Benevolent Coprospherity Sphere's profits, it makes them -higher- because Bush is Oil Patch, and raise the prices enough and Bush and his buddies with their oil and gas industry holdings in the USA, get lots of money from production and sale of oil and gas from US sources (the USA has the second largest oil reserved in the world, but it's mostly shale oil, which is more expensive to turn into fuel).

Regarding timing, November is STILL more than half a year away. It's too early for the gas prices to drop to make Bush look Heroic, it would have to be a lot closer to the election, after gas prices had gone even -higher-, such as in September or better still, October or even November -- have the ordinary citizens -hurting- during the summer travel season, but have the prices drop at a time when people aren't driving as much, aren't thinking of how much they were being hurt during the -summer-, and have them be Grateful for the falling prices.

Note the state of the economy -- a friend told me that I ought to post my resume on dice.com; I did, and in less that 48 hours have had two inquiries. The job market seems to have hit the bottom, and companies which were not filling vacancies last year and which had unfilled slots and management which refused to open up requisitions for filling them, and had cut way back on personnel despite good profits, seem to be in the situation where if they don't now start hiring people, they're going to be losing the business they have -- not not gaining new business, but losing existing business and sales -- for lack of people to do the work.

The job increases are illusory as regards actual workforce employmnt -- the population continues growing, and the number of people entering or trying to enter the workforce keeps getting larger. The number of people who got jobs, compared to the number of people who lost jobs who didn't want to, who retired, and who are new entrants into the labor force, is -negative-. That is, if there are 100,000 new people applying for work each month, 20,000 retiring, 10,000 laid off, 2 million unemployed and wanting work but not having it, and 35,000 people hired, while that's a net increase of 5000 jobs, it's actually a deficit of 95,000 jobs needed just to deal with the new entrants to the labor force -- and does nothing to address getting work for the people who are continuing to be without jobs. It also doesn't address the issue of the quality of the jobs available and the rate of pay. One of my coworkers who was a Unix release engineer, found work -- restocking shelves at Kohls, meaning that his income is something like a quarter, or perhaps even less than a fifth, of what it had been before the tech crash.

A friend had been a trainer in the IT department at one of the companies which still I think does manufacturing in the USA, and sells equipment worldwide. The company is in high tech, and got clobbered three years ago. It's got to be doing well again now, though, because it makes equipment involved in making semiductors and there's a shortage now of semiconductor production capacity, since none of the companies were doing much in the way of production capacity the past three or four years, and weren't even doing the acquisition necessary to prevent loss of capacity (that is, the useful lifetime of seminconductor production lines is measure in months, it's not only a matter of advancing technology, which is part of it, but also, much of the equipment wears out, there are high temperature, highly corrosive reagants involved, high speed, high volume, and high purity, and the slightest contamination or leakage and there instanteously goes the production line, and several millions dollars' worth of product value lost.] The lead times in the industry for ordering parts is stretching out into months and only going to worse.... and that's likely to start causing prices to go up in consumer electronics and computers and such, if the demand keeps growing and the production capacity isn't there. And getting new facilities on line can take up to three to four years (for an entirely new plant, line refurbishing is months, provided there aren't backups of orders for the companies which make the wafer steppers, test equipment, wave soldering systems, lithography systems, etc. Given that the companies which make that stuff had cut their staffs and shutdown capacity that they had had four years ago, that's not a good bet. It's going to take them months to train new employees and expand their production and production lines....]

Oh, yeah, I got sidetracked there. The company "outsourced" its IT deparment. The "good job at good wages" she had has probably gone off to India or Singapore or some such (she did training worldwide, including getting sent to Malaysia on occasion) permanently. The company she worked for is probably looking at big fat profits headed its ways, but it's not doing her any good.... she's doing temp work for a retailer, without I presume benefits, as a contract laborer, for rather less than half that what her salary alone had been, and again, it's a temp work, which doesn't last. She doesn't want to go back into high tech stuff, but that's not the issue, the issue is the loss of "good jobs at good wages" and their replacement with low paying low benefits if any retail work of uncertain duration....

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 12:04 AM:

Simon Says: (sorry, couldn't resist)

What betrayal? The American people put their trust in a crook, and he fulfilled that trust.

I was neither surprised nor dismayed at the revelations of Watergate. I was merely astonished and delighted that they were revealed.

I don't want to rag on Simon specifically, but you know, I'm really, really sick of this meme. Electing Nixon may not have been the wisest choice. Nevertheless, people did not vote for him to be a thief. The voted for him because they thought that he was better than the other guy. Nor did their vote for him negate his responsibility to behave ethically, and it doesn't prohibit people who voted for him from feeling angry and betrayed.

Yeah, you could see it coming. I dig. I could have written the script for the Bush Whitehouse ten minutes after the second tower had fallen -- if I hadn't been so busy crying. The fact that I expected this doesn't mean that I have no right to moral anger, nor does it mean that my failure to be surprised somehow makes him less culpable. It only makes it worse.

I'm a post-Watergate baby, and was raised in a church which has a very long history of distrusting the government. (By long, I'm talking hundreds of years.) I was in my late teens before I realized that there were people out there that actually believed anything that the government said. One of my base assumptions had been that the government could always manufacture any evidence it needed. My opinions haven't changed all that much. Too many of the things that we said had happened in the Sixties and Seventies turned out to have actually happened.

However, a while ago, I finally realized that this world-weary cynicism might be accurate, but it was also destructive. It was a way of protecting myself from having beliefs and principles, a way of absenting myself from the public discourse. It's the same thing as insisting that every politician is corrupt and that there's not a dime's worth of difference between them. It's a nice excuse to give up, but it's not much else. It's certainly not accurate.

We may not get it, but we're entitled to the truth from our government. We're entitled to transparent government. We're entitled to responsive government. The fact that we can reasonably expect that we won't receive that doesn't somehow cause us to forfeit our right to be furious about our government's failures.