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September 17, 2004



I'm sure lots of other people are sorry too, but you may be putting too much on yourself. My reasons for my half-hearted support for the war are a lot like yours, but also include a desire to accentuate the positive in a war that was going to happen whatever I said and whatever arguements were made against it.

Yes, a lot of the justifications are crap (pretty much just like you said it) but Saddam is one of the worst dictators on earth, and getting rid of him would be a really good thing. Plus while they will have more problems making Iraq a beacon of democracy then they seem to think they will have to do it. It's not impossible to midwife the birth of a better society in Iraq, and we have good people in the Government who are capable of seeing and correcting mistakes. Plus politically they have to make the tough choices, spend the cash and humble themselves before reality. There is no way on earth Bush will get re-elected if he fucks this up. My fellow citizens will not ignore, much less reward, total incompetence. So while I probably would not do it if I were president, this president is going to do it, and there is a real possibility things will come out well. Well, well-ish.

So that's about how I thought at the time. Obviously I was wrong, but I think it mostly comes down to a failure to anticipate total incompetence on the part of the administration. I realized things could go bad, but that we could screw up every single thing so badly I just could not imagine. Frankly, being the optimist that I am if you had told me that things would go this badly I probably would have said that we would then obviously re-think our whole approach to the war on terror and try something else. Not only are we incompetents, we are cowards. This war is really depressing me. So is this post.

Ray Davis

What one imagines should be done has to come to terms with what can in fact be done. I can understand why jes' reg'lar folks might indulge in "This is bad, so we should stop it" thinking -- Americans are pretty much trained from birth not to take note of reality, no matter what the consequences -- but it's the government's job to keep it in mind.

So you shouldn't castigate yourself too much. Save it for the people who didn't do their job. (Or who viewed their job as maintenance of personal power and indulgence of personal fantasies.)

C. Schuyler

I don't know if it's much consolation, but I initially supported the war for reasons very similar to yours. I recall reading a pre-war tabulation of the evidence for Saddam's weapons programs in THE SCOTSMAN, and being particularly impressed by reports of active work on nukes and other WMDs from defectors. I didn't know that many (all?) of these defectors were stooges of Ahmed Chalabi. Was that something the significance of which I could have figured out at the time, given more digging? I don't know. I know now that the Bush Administration should have discounted (or at the very least distrusted) Chalabi as a source of intelligence, and did not. I also know that my mistake is one I'm unlikely ever to make again. Not much consolation, to be sure. One more thing: rightly or wrongly, I don't think I'm an idiot, and you would be one among many other non-idiots I know of who were snookered as thoroughly as I was. I have gained a much stronger sense of how easy it is for even intelligent people to be led astray. That's worth knowing, I suppose.

Russell Arben Fox

Thanks for writing this Belle; it's straightforward, thoughtful, specific, and wise. I came to realize that I had a fair amount of crow to eat regarding the war in Iraq several months ago; unfortunately, since my (tentative) support for the war was almost wholly a product of what you very smartly label the "Oxblog Fallacy," getting myself clear on what I'd gotten wrong, and how and why, mostly involved a lot of (arguably pretentious) theoretical labor. You can read it all on my old blog here; I can't say it's really any good, but hey, I do at least make use of Alan Moore's Watchmen in my argument, and that's got to count for something.


I couldn't believe that Saddam had actually destroyed his stocks of banned weapons and his records of having done so. I still find it very strange that he did this.

That "destroyed records" part is a leftover from the propaganda war.

Try reading this salon.com interview with Scott Ritter from before the war (March 19, 2002). It made sense then, and it still does. It is more right than almost anyone believed at that time.



I'm sure you've read this Daniel Davies post: http://d-squareddigest.blogspot.com/ on why he was right about the war while so many other sensible people were wrong, but anyone who hasn't should. It's a perfect, clear summary of a couple of rules of thumb for evaluating arguments that would have kept you from making the reasonable errors you made.


My first visit to the site and I am impressed. Although I did not share your pre-war views, many people who I know did. I spent long nights debating the issues with them, being called anti-American or even worse a liberal. Reading your self-analysis is closest I have (and probably ever will)come to hearing them admit their mistake.

bob mcmanus

Thanks Belle,#8 was my biggest surprise. On most cynical appraisal of Bushco, I thought greater long-term profits would be achieved by a much more competent reconstruction than they even attempted. I have my own explanation of why they blew it, which is considerably more evil than anyone else's. I think they wanted to implicate their young adults, like Ledeen's daughter, in war crimes, so as to be able to control them later.

On point #1. I am still hawkish. I love my country, but I do consider America and Americans different, and have a terror of what America would become and what America would do after a series of terrorist attacks. Not necessarily nukes, but Arabic and Islamic culture would become the stuff of history books and theme parks. That fear, if anything has been reinforced since 9/11.

1) We must prevent further attacks at almost any cost. Eliminating al Qaeda is insufficient.
2) We must remove Bush at almost any cost.


As someone who opposed the war from the very beginning, I suppose I should be taking pleasure in the mea culpas and explanations of illogical thinking that led to positions of support for the invasion.

But I'm not. I'm just very sad about it all.

The best response to the honest re-examinations I've seen comes -- believe it or not -- from Michael Moore, after Howard Stern publicly apologized for berating Moore in the run-up to the war.

Moore simply said: That's the problem, isn't it? We should NEVER have to apologize for believing our president.


6 and 8 are what got me. I supported the war in a rather queasy "I hope these guys know what they're doing" way. Well, we know how that turned out. I remain astonished that we invaded a country with no real plan as to the aftermath other than hope and fantasies that it would all somehow be ok.

I always thought Bush was dim and Rumsfeld a crank but having people support the war who I don't think are insane like Powell and Tony Blair was part of it too.


As another who was swayed marginally to the pro-war side eighteen months ago by those arguments, the one argument that continually nagged at me and which in retrospect was unequivocally right was Dsquared's question

"can anyone... give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
2. It was significant enough in scale that I'd have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
3. It wasn't in some important way completely fucked up during the execution."

As far as I'm concerned, he has every right to be smug.


Great post. One small nit to pick on #5 though.

he thought it was better to be under sanctions but be thought (by his neighbors) to have WMD than to be free from sanctions but known to be unarmed. Or everyone was lying to him. Or he was crazy.

Even the most ruthless of dictators must maintain a base of political support within his country. It seems likely that one of Saddam's ways of keeping the needed support was to keep his supporters (e.g. Sunni tribal leaders etc.) convinced that he continued to have chemical and biological weapons and was therefore strong etc. Nothing crazy about it.


people support the war who I don't think are insane like Powell and Tony Blair

They were both shanghaied into "supporting" the war. They were both told Bush had made up his mind, the war was going to happen, and that they had better get with the program. And they did, and it destroyed them, like anyone who trusts Bush.


Though I didn't pound the streets, I am one of those people who thought it transparently obvious that the chance that the war would do more harm than good was about 9:1, and that the reality of the harm being avoided -- however you defined it -- was either (1) fabricated or (2) not likely to get better as a result of intervention; or (3) just out and out crazy theorizing. And we had other options, not perfect, but then, letting the better become the enemy of the best is always a dangerous mindset -- and uncertainty should prevent you from ever declaring something better or best in advance of its execution.

There was a far greater likelihood that the "afterward" would more closely model the break-up of Yugoslavia than the post-WWII experience of Japan and Germany and our power to avoid that was very limited and short lived, as we lack any cultural affinity whatsoever for any of the groups involved.

I don't think you should apologize for trusting that you were not being lied to, or that there was a plan in place to maximize the chance of a good result, but I do not forgive so-called reputable members of the press for the same mistakes. No doubt they were instrumental in helping you to shape your opinion.

But I guess, saying this as gently as I can, I do think supporters should feel some amount of shame for having supported this war. I feel shame and I didn't support it. There are just too many dead people for me to overlook the fact that someone did this in my name or for my theoretical benefit. It makes me ill every time I think about it.


Your point about "I should have let partisan opposition to Republicans guide my thinking more than I did." strikes me as exactly right. I think I jumped ship on the war before you did (in January, I believe), but, up until that point, my desire not to let my dislike of Bush cloud my judgment on this war ended up, ironically, clouding my judgment in favor of the war.

I think, moreover, that it is precisely that phenomenon which underlies the willingness of liberals who got this war wrong to nonetheless still feel superior to liberals who got it right. (Here, I'm thinking of the TNR and Slate crowd, not you.) They believe that, even if their judgment turned out to be mistaken, at least they were putting the good of the world above petty partisan loyalties. But as you point out, being loyal to a political party isn't like being loyal to a sports team. In the political case, that loyalty serves an epistomological function, not just an emotional one, and thus it is legitimate to let it guide your judgment about factual matters.

Anyhow, great post.


Belle, I agree with you that the administration is filled with incompetent liars. But the problem is that there is a difference - which everyone seems to overlook - between never embarking on a policy and embarking on it and then giving it up. That is, it would have been one thing if we all decided at the outset that containment was working and we should not stir things up, but in going to the Security Council we threw that policy up in the air, and there is no reason to believe that it would have continued as before if the US had issued a threat that it did not act on. It seems pretty clear to me, at least, that what would have happened is that there would have been inspections for a while, which, finding nothing, would lead to a movement for ending sanctions, sponsored by France and Russia. And what would have stood in the way, if the US had shot its threats was & Iraq was shown to have no WMD? So containment policy, even if it had worked up to that point, would cease to work. What then?

I'm happy to agree that Bush has messed up, that we should not have embarked on this policy in the first place. But it seems to me that is different than saying that we should have backed down in the Security Council. And yet everyone seems to conflate those two positions. I must say I find it frustrating.


Hello Belle, glad to see you followed my advice.

This thread has a bit of the "She used to be a sinner and now she's been saved, let's hug" feel to it. : )

"why were you so wrong about Iraq, and what do you think now?"

The why has been answered somewhat. I think a more pertinent question for the second part is not "what" but "how" you think. If you change the "how", this means that the next time a similar situation comes up, you will not make the same mistakes. That too has been answered to some degree. Maybe I can't see it clearly because it hasn't been stated formally enough. Also, I realise that meta-cognition and then changing paradigms can be difficult and painful.

Central paragraph: If, say, 10 years from now, someone proposed to go to war, what are the criteria, the tests that the proposition/people would have to satisfy for you to agree?

You've identified a few things to watch out for like the Oxblog fallacy and thinking it must somehow makes sense because the govt knows more than you do. Are there others? I ask this of other readers too. Let's inter-subjectivelly improve our heuristics.

It's only fair that I should shortly expose how I came to my conclusion before the war:
I was 2/3 against it and 1/3 for it. I was 1/3 for it because I thought it *might* work.
I was 2/3 against it because I thought it was more likely not to work than work and then who knows what the consequences would be?

Reasons to be against:
1The people in charge cared more about electoral domestic success than foreign strategic success.
2If the people in charge had the option to implement a project that was a small loss to them but a great gain to others, they wouldn't do it.
3The people in charge didn't want a democracy, they wanted a client.

There are other reasons to have opposed it, I could name others but I'm not sure if they came to me before or after the war. Those three I clearly remember thinking in the central room of my college.


Great post. There's also point #10; we'd invested so much diplomatic and political capital, that backing out of a war would weaken the US's appearance of strength; and point #11: as I expected WMDs to be found, I expected all the anti-war folks to look like dicks. They're not good reasons, but those, and the reasons you gave above, were why I was a reluctant hawk. However, I didn't see why we were in such a hurry to get Blix out of there so the bombings could start.

In retrospect, I see the major Rove-ian reason for the exercise (as well as the supposed strategic reasons) as being to weaken the Democrats in the 2002 elections, and thus get control of the Senate, and to strategically cripple the Democrats by splitting them into pro- and anti- war wings.

Heywood Jablomie

I'm with you. We should have stayed out of Iraq. After all, it's ok for government agents to rape women and girls. And making political prisoners out of eight year old kids is good too.

The UN could have handled Iraq, just like they are handling Darfur.

The benevolent Iraqi government was framed by the sneaky US Government that imported all of those skeletons for the mass graves.

There was no reason to be concerned that Saddam was offering $25k to the families of martyred terrorists. He was just trying to be helpful.

And it was ok that Saddam was executing thousands of citizens per year (month?)- Although that's probably because they have darker skin than you and don't live in your

Ted H.

It is difficult to hang onto one's wits in a discussion like this -- where the topic is exactly how much shame one should feel for having made a mistake in judgment.

One has to be clear exactly which judgment was mistaken. In my case, and perhaps Belle's (in light of her 8), it's this: that the administration could be trusted to execute their policy with competence.

Now anyone who believed that back in the spring of 2003 was wrong -- yes, abjectly wrong. And anyone who disagreed with that proposition back then was right.

And you can pose the same issue for specific other propositions (e.g. were Scott Ritter's polemics really credible in the context of the pre-war, or would believing him then have involved a degree of recklessness?) Specific proposition, specific debate -- conducted with reference to the evidence then available.

Unfortunately, that isn't how this debate is going. Everyone seems to assume that there are two positions, pro-war and anti-war, and that if one of these positions is wrong then the other must be right. Well, my view all along was that neither was right, since insofar as either is a position it's entirely reactionary (whether Bush-loving or Bush-hating).

Despite her self-understanding, Belle wasn't simply 'pro-war' in the spring of 2003. That epithet doesn't begin to capture the position of a reflective person who felt some confidence that the intervention -- an event then completely beyond our control -- would lead to more good than bad (and was in other respects permissible). So why should the alternative for her, now that she has come to regret some of her earlier judgments, be an 'anti-war' stance?

What the debate was over then were specific points, points that can still be debated. It's difficult to resist the urge to confess one's sins, I know, since I've done lots of it too. But the idea that as a citizen one simply has to 'take a side' on a matter like this and then be either triumphant or shamed as things turn out is really insidious. It undermines collective deliberation and ultimately citizenship itself.

Look, during the six months that I was 'pro-war' I was racked with (much-blogged) worry that I wasn't doing justice to the best arguments against the war. Since I went 'anti-war' last fall I've been racked with (much-blogged) worry that I wasn't doing justice to the best arguments for the war. And that, I think, is as it should be.

We who are not party to any actual policy-making should be discussing specific arguments, not making a fetish of 'positions.' That's the best way to keep in touch with reality -- and to genuinely learn something. That will make us more intelligent political agents (in the voting booth and elsewhere), and make it more likely that our voices have the right sort of indirect impact on those who do make these decisions.


About that #10 above - weakening the US's appearance of strength - if in the wake of the US backing down there was a big movement to end sanctions, and we did end sanctions, then that would be actual weakening, not just the appearance of it.

Also I'd like to add there was a middle position here, offered by the British government, not to attack UNLESS iraq was shown to be in violation during inspections. This would have kept the teeth in sanctions in tact, but not have led to war if no WMD were found. And this position was not rejected by the Americans, but by the French. "No automaticity" being their phrase.

I happen to remember that because it was my own position, so I recall clearly that Bush & co were willing to bend for Blair, it was Chirac who did not agree to this compromise.


Since the mood here is already so introspective, I should say that -- pre-war -- I withheld my support until I could reasonably guess the answer to a couple of basic questions:

(1) If the US overthrows Saddam's dictatorship, what is the likelihood that a democracy can be established rapidly in a culture that has never shown any real aptitude for it?
(2) Would an Iraqi democracy be secular? Pro-women? Pro-US?

I never got anywhere with the answers, so I never supported the war. Note that I was not looking for definitive theses that provided answers that were "beyond a reasonable doubt," but rather some sort of "preponderance of evidence" that the net result of such a radical proposition had a better-than-average likelihood of being positive.

I should admit that when I first saw the reports in the newspaper that Bush had his eye on Saddam, I was completely mystified because we weren't "done" with Afghanistan, and Saddam had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. So, I was predisposed to skepticism, rather than prescient.


Oh, one thing I forgot for Belle,
What was the straw that broke the camel's back? When did you start to change your views, what were the steps, what evidence convinced you to change? This, again, applies to anyone here who used to be pro-war. I'm genuinely interested about what changes people's minds, how they make decisions and how they improve their decision making process.


If the British policy on when to invade had been adopted, do you think that Fallujah would likely be under coalition control? Would the militias be disarmed? Would Iraq be exporting more oil than it did before the war? Would Sadr have remained a minor figure? Would Iraq lean more heavily towards the Japan-at-best and Turkey-at-worst pole than the Egypt-at-best and 70sLebanon-at-worst?

The reason the war was wrong has nothing to do with the UN or international law, it has to do with the consequences we can realistically expect from that action; the gains, the costs, the opportunities it opens/closes and the liabilities it opens/hedges, the options it opens up and the ones it puts beyond the pale.


I'll offer $25K to the first person to present me with one of Mr. Jablomie's internal organs. Prizes will also be awarded for a limb (not a digit), two continuous square feet of skin, an eye, a gonad or other genital unit, or thirty pounds of current body fat. Appendices, tonsils, gall and kidney stones, cysts and tumors will not be considered for prizes.



Just one point about johnny-come-lately mea culpas here and elsewhere: Over 1000 US soldiers are dead because you supported this war in the first place. Their blood is on your hands. Period.

Go peddle your apologies to their mothers.


What I was saying was that if the compromise version of the 2nd resolution had been adopted, we presumably would not have gone to war, because no WMD would have been found. And yet the US would not technically have backed down from its position - no loss of face, no ultimatums not met.

The problem with the French position, it would have entailed too much of a concession on the part of the US & ultimately have led to such a weakening of its position on Iraq that we might not have been able to prevent the lifting of sanctions. However, if we had adopted the middle position suggested by the British, we would probably not have gone to war, and sanctions would still be in tact/the idea that Saddam still a threat (though not as much of a threat as expected) still written into UN law.

As I say, the French rejected this compromise position, not the Americans.

Heywood Jablomie


That's not nice at all. I suppose I'll be left to rot like the other 19 million people you'd have abandoned to Saddam.


I used a simple thought process to guide my trust of the Bush War on Iraq, skepticism. I start with the proposition of "don't trust government" as well as "don't trust corporatism." I always have to examine further in depth anything put forth on the surface.

The first indication of trouble ahead was how the subject of an Iraq War began. It was an anonymous talking point leak from the White House to the press. Right then I raised my eyebrow. If they really had some hard evidence of WMDs at that time, they could have been more open and publicly announced concern.

It soon became evident that they wanted the Iraq talk as a political ploy for the 2002 mid-term elections. Of course I was hitting all the lefty websites I could find. I learned information I should have known about long before. Things like (PNAC) Project for a New American Century and The Carlyle Group.

I had to accept that this was no conspiracy theory, this was an ideology now well known as neoconservatism. Step by step, they were following a plan that was laid out on the PNAC website. The problem was getting people in America to believe this, because it had the stink of conspiracy theory.

I do have to thank the Bush gang, they've reopened my mind to many things that I had sort of forgotten about myself. As they revealed how far right-wing they are, I've remember my far-leftness. They woke me up. I will be highly aware of my ideology from now on. I won't trust John Kerry but a sliver more than the Dubya if Kerry should win.

My distrust of both government and corporatism points directly to both political parties. They really are partners in crime. Many Democrats either cowered before the Bush Administration or actively helped them. And the poor performance of the corporate media to investigate all the wild claims of the Bushies had a collusion feel as well.

And here we are with about six weeks before a very tight presidential election and we are presented with a joke of a campaign battle. Swift Boat crap vs National Guard trivia. Both candidates can't give us their Iraq plan this close to election day? Both are basically pro-war with no answers?

Mark my words true left wingers, progressives, are going to be sorely disappointed in the direction this country procedes in the next four years even if Kerry wins. Unless Kerry pulls some type of a Roosevelt and yanks this country left, I forsee a quagmire both in Iraq and at home.


I used a simple thought process to guide my trust of the Bush War on Iraq, skepticism. I start with the proposition of "don't trust government" as well as "don't trust corporatism." I always have to examine further in depth anything put forth on the surface.

The first indication of trouble ahead was how the subject of an Iraq War began. It was an anonymous talking point leak from the White House to the press. Right then I raised my eyebrow. If they really had some hard evidence of WMDs at that time, they could have been more open and publicly announced concern.

It soon became evident that they wanted the Iraq talk as a political ploy for the 2002 mid-term elections. Of course I was hitting all the lefty websites I could find. I learned information I should have known about long before. Things like (PNAC) Project for a New American Century and The Carlyle Group.

I had to accept that this was no conspiracy theory, this was an ideology now well known as neoconservatism. Step by step, they were following a plan that was laid out on the PNAC website. The problem was getting people in America to believe this, because it had the stink of conspiracy theory.

I do have to thank the Bush gang, they've reopened my mind to many things that I had sort of forgotten about myself. As they revealed how far right-wing they are, I've remember my far-leftness. They woke me up. I will be highly aware of my ideology from now on. I won't trust John Kerry but a sliver more than the Dubya if Kerry should win.

My distrust of both government and corporatism points directly to both political parties. They really are partners in crime. Many Democrats either cowered before the Bush Administration or actively helped them. And the poor performance of the corporate media to investigate all the wild claims of the Bushies had a collusion feel as well.

And here we are with about six weeks before a very tight presidential election and we are presented with a joke of a campaign battle. Swift Boat crap vs National Guard trivia. Both candidates can't give us their Iraq plan this close to election day? Both are basically pro-war with no answers?

Mark my words true left wingers, progressives, are going to be sorely disappointed in the direction this country procedes in the next four years even if Kerry wins. Unless Kerry pulls some type of a Roosevelt and yanks this country left, I forsee a quagmire both in Iraq and at home.



Well, I wouldn't say non influencial people really have blood on their hands. Richard Cohen, Anna Applebaum, David Brooks, Krauthammer, Safire, it's arguable that they do.

We should be hard on johnny come latelies so as not to create a moral hazard but not too hard because a johnny come lately is better than johnny come never.

Heywood Jablomie


Do you ever talk to any troops? There's an odd outcome if you do- For some strange reason they feel like they are doing the right thing by eliminating death camps and springing children from jail.

I guess all of those people who didn't die don't count in your calculus.


Does anyone on this thread want to hear why someone might still support the invasion, might in good faith believe it to have been the best of a series of bad options available? [the current position, as I understand it, of both Tony Blair and John McCain]

If so, I'll post. But if it will just be perceived as trolling, I don't wish to angry up anyone's blood.


Ben A



You are concerned about the effect backing down would have had on the US' image. That's certainly a legitimate concern. It would have been bad. It wouldn't have been as bad as what you'll get now.

"As I say, the French rejected this compromise position, not the Americans. "
Yeah, the mess you're in is the French's fault. I say nuke the surrender monkeys.

Two things could have been done: Not go to the UN in the first place. Since the US was only going to abide by UN decisions that confirmed what the US wanted, it meant very little.

Or, do with the Iraq war what the US did during the Korean war. Presumably, the USSR's veto was bypassed somehow for the Korean war. Why couldn't the French veto be bypassed or a similar arrangement be done?

" we presumably would not have gone to war, because no WMD would have been found. "
You think the Bush admin would have left a small detail like that get in their way? I think the only thing that might have stoppped them is the prospect of losing Congress seats and/or the 2004 election.


Belle this is a great, intellectually honest post, like the one M. Yglesias did. It's admirably concise and well-written, which makes it even stranger that you could hold these views! I like the "Oxblog fallacy". Best summary yet.
A good vote will be the first step to redemption...

Heywood Jablomie

OK. I was going for a kind of reductio ad absurdem argument earlier, but how come we never hear about the death camps, rape rooms, mass graves and repression of women from antiwar speakers?

Aren't they AGAINST that kind of stuff? I know I am going out on a limb here, but I am going to take a stand and come out AGAINST death camps and FOR women's rights.

I know that marks me as a right wing neocon, but I cannot deny it. IT IS MY TRUTH.


Mr. Jablomie, if you're that worried about post-contest rot, I suggest that you enter the contest yourself. Preemptively, as it were. The $25 K should cover the initial hospital expenses.

Or you could tough it out, stay the course, and donate the money to those Iraqis! Our happy liberated brown people.

It's really a win-win scenario. But it's up to you. What are you waiting for?



Ben A, I'm always in favor of hearing your view. If you don't want to to it here, we can set up a post at unfogged and Belle (I feel confident) will link to it, and then snarkey can offer you a wet-nap and everything will be dreamy.

Ted H.

I'd like to hear Ben's argument too -- before this thread degenerates further.


Very interesting post -- a catharsis of sorts.

I was personally anti-Iraq war from the beginning for most of the reasons you cite. But John Le Carre, in speaking to Europeans trying to understand our mass craziness in the pre-war envoronment, used almost the same thoughts in describing why there was such a pro war fever in the US (opening money line "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness").

The real point here is that we had the misfortune of having warmongers in charge on 9/11. They cashed in the opportunity to start us on the road to wars of choice. Hopefully, enough of the country has realized the stupidity and evil of such men.

As for the righties that cling to war fever based on rape rooms and eliminating demented dictatorships, they are the new right wing versions of bleeding heart lefties. Sorry guys, but you need much better reasons to wage aggressive war than the false belief that you are Spreading Good. I can think of several other more nasty and dangerous dictatorships that I'd like to take out, but unfortunately that's not a good enough reason for launching wars.

Heywood Jablomie


I'm trying to follow your logic. The problem I am having is that I think your approach moves inexorably to this hypothetical: Pretend it's August 1941. Using your logic, we can't do anything about Nazi Germany until we are directly attacked. And if memory serves, Germany never actually attacked, although they did declare war.

Why is your argument different than that?


I've posted it here.

Looking at it, perhaps it is too glib... but less glib than my version of apology here



Please answer my question above: Is Iraq leaning more heavily towards the Japan-at-best and Turkey-at-worst pole or the Egypt-at-best and 70sLebanon-at-worst pole?

If the people in charge have to choose between a repressive client and a democracy that disagrees with them on substantive issues ( oil, Israel, extent of bases, Islam, support for paramilitary groups ) which do you think they'll go with?

If Iraq becomes similar to Egypt, how much of an improvement will it have been? COuld something much better have beeb accomplished with the soldiers, money, political capital, attention that was devoted to Iraq?

If Iraq becomes similar to Lebanon, will it help Al-Qaeda and similar organisations more or less than if Saddam had stayed in power?

Has embarking on a game of brinksmanship, invading and fouling up the occupation made the US look smarter, more rational, more effective than if it hadn't done any of those?

Finally, I'd like to know what your breaking point is. If, 10 years from now, there's a big terrorist attack and the leader as well as most of the operatives come from Iraq, will you say "Alright, maybe, in a way, from a given perspective, knowing what we know now, it is arguable that one could state that perhaps invading Iraq might not have been the smartest thing to do."?


Jablomie, when a nation declares war against you, you're at war. Under the traditional laws of war, you were not supposed to attack until you *had* declared war -- which is why December 7 was supposed to be a "day of infamy." (Of course, now that we practise pre-emptive war ourselves, I suppose we can no longer say there was anything wrong with Pearl Harbor.)

I was against this war from the start, and pointless though I knew it to be, I did hit the streets -- I spent a lot of freezing mornings standing on the sidewalk in front of the U.N. holding signs that said "No War on Iraq" while they deliberated that weird resolution. I even went to protest in D.C. Much good did it do.

Now I don't really care anymore. The war is basically lost already. The only good to come out of this idiot neocon adventure is that losing the first war is going to seriously curtail our administration's desire to start a second against Syria or a third against Iran or a fourth against North Korea. (Although it may not curtail their desires to hurt us ...)

Bush is like the German Kaiser in 1914, a "badly brought up boy." And, like the Kaiser, I suspect Bush's supposed "short and victorious war" will bring about more change than he bargained for in more countries than he planned to. That's going to be the interesting part.

The only other thing I'd like to mention is that the pro-war people kept saying, the U.S. should attack because otherwise we'll be perceived as unable to win a war. And I kept wondering, yes, and what if it turns out the truth of the matter is that we *are* unable to win a war? Then what?

Ted H.

Ben, There's a serious confusion in this passage of your post:

#8 Competence Argument C (execution) –- thought occupation would be handled better: fair cop!
This is, I think, close to unarguable. Almost everyone now believes the occupation could have ben handled better. But I do not see compelling evidence that the current situation represents a complete fiasco, or is irretrievable. Yes, it has been worse than expected. Much worse. Does this, alone, make the decision to invade a poor one? I fear this is where we must agree to disagree…

My own reversal was, logically speaking, this simple: When I was confident that war was a good policy, my confidence depended on the expectation that the war would be be waged with a certain level of seriousness and competence. Then when, roughly ten months ago, I became convinced that the war was not being waged with (even close to) that level of seriousness and competence, I could only conclude that my confidence was and had all along been misguided.

"Complete fiasco" and "irretrievable" are therefore not to the point. You seem to be conflating support for the war with hope that the war goes well. Many of us who no longer believe that the war was good policy (given who was going to implement it) continue to hope that the war goes well. I am no longer confident (to put it mildly!) that war was a good policy in Iraq. But I needn't therefore be an absolute pessimist about the situation in Iraq. My pessimism is relative to the expectations that I had when I had confidence in the policy. It falls far short of 'complete fiasco' and 'irretrievable.'

You're right, then, that the decision to invade is not proven wrong by any particular level of subsequent incompetence or misfortune, assuming there's no absolute time limit on success. But a reasonable confidence in the policy in 2003 would have been informed by expectations concerning how competently it was likely to be executed. If those expectations are severely violated, one must conclude that the confidence was misguided.


I never felt like I had a true "position" on the war (and still don't really), but for me the biggest revelation has been how incompetent the DOD hawks have proved to be. I don't think you have anything to apologize for, though. I think that anyone who claims to have known exactly what to think all along is either deluded or full of shit.



I don't claim, for example, to have predicted that Fallujah would be lost on a particular day. I don't claim to have exact knowledge, I claim to have identified the most likely possible worlds that could come out of the war as well as their approximate limits in terms of costs and gains.

To take the Fallujah example again, I didn't even know about a town caled "Fallujah" before the war. What I did know was that the Bush admin cared more about domestic electoral success than foreign strategic success and could be expected to sacrifice the latter for the former.

As bad as analogies tend to be, let's take this: If I'm standing above a highway and I throw a cement block on it, I don't know exactly what will happen ( the exact number of people killed, the brands of the cars ), but I have a pretty good idea it will involve cars crashing into each other and it won't be very good overall.

Mark Stone

On the one hand, I do appreciate this steady stream of mea culpas from folks like yourself. I am totally new to your site today, so I just don't have any specific back story to criticize you specifically for taking so long to get basic facts of life down.

But here's a general remark to those who who have been wrong about this clusterfuck we call Operation Iraqi Freedom: thanks for attacking my patriotism way back when I tried to tell you how badly this would go. I am a far, far better patriot that you knuckleheads; I tried to protect my country from going down this road. Think I like being right? I especially hate it when all it would do is buy me more derision from the likes of you.

So again, I am torn: thanks for your mea culpas, no matter how many people have died needlessly, and forgetting how your insistence on this war has divided this country. But I would also like you to take your mea culpas and shove 'em.


Ted H,

Consider the following three propositions.

1. The war has not been carried out with adequate "seriousness"
2. The war is currently a mess/fiasco
3. I sincerely hope hope the war goes well

As I take it, you hold all three positions, and I grant that all three are compatible. But most people arguing for 1. are doing it *on the basis* of 2. I think the degree to which 2 is true will effect the type of "1-like" conclusions we are able to make. Thus if we weaken 2 as follows:

2' The situation is much worse than expected

I think it supports a version of 1 where "adequate" is a much higher bar. Maybe instead it should be

1' The adminstration has not planned and executed as it ought to have, and has made several grave errors.

I think we all grant 1': the administration has erred. But saying the invasion was, tout court, a bad idea, and resting this conclusion primarily on a "competence in execution" argument, seems to me to really require better evidence that everything is going to hell. Why? Because if the Coalition does hold it together, that's (to me) good evidence that they were competent enough. Certain levels of error exist in massive undertakings like the occupation of Iraq, and I can't pretend to know whether the (real and substantial) errors made by the administration are more or less than we should have expected as baseline competence.

[I suppose you could argue that already we see that incompetance has made the risk of invasion was higher than anticipated, and this alone shows that the invasion was a bad idea -- "we expected to be welcomed as liberators, etc."]


Egypt and Lebannon seem more likely than Turkey or Japan, certainly. But Egypt is a tremendous result. While I do hold out hopes for a transformative effect in the region, an Iraqi regime which simply maintains Iraq's borders, isn't WMD-seeking or aggressive, and allows US freedom of action in anti-terrorist campaigns within its territory is (in my view) a huge security win for the US, and a big improvement for the Iraqi people.

Ted H.

Mark Stone,

Did Belle question your patriotism? Did any pro-war left-liberal?

This idea that Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman and their ideological kin were going around questioning the patriotism of anti-war people in early 2003 is an amazingly perverse fantasy.

Ben, Gimme a sec.



"Egypt and Lebannon seem more likely than Turkey or Japan,"
And between Egypt and Lebanon, which is most likely?

"But Egypt is a tremendous result."
I would have loved to hear the proponents of the war say that in early 2003. "Let's replace a Saddam by a Mubarak."

If Iraq becomes a failed state, will it have been an improvement for Israel? Which option would give Al-qaeda-like groups the best feeding grounds ( note that those breeding grounds could also be present in a Mubarak-like situation )? A Mubarak-like client will have to abide by some rules to protect his master in DC, thereby not being able to completely suppress Muslim groups. Saddam could, needless to say.

I'm going to cut to the chase: Imagine Iraq before the war, now imagine Iraq as a bigger Yesha with soldiers instead of settlers ( maybe not even that many US soldiers if Joe Sixpack gets tired of the war too much ). Where would Hamas and Hizbollah prefer to set up shop (recruit, network, raise funds, seize power locally etc ) and which would be worse for USA's PR? Which would result in the most loss of Jewish lives?


Well, that's a more honest and humble apology than any of the professional writers have yet given.

I myself considered myself, at the time, in 2000, a rank amateur in terms of world politics, and I had been resolutely apolitical for some disillusioned years before then. I had no prior knowledge of Bush and his cohorts whatsoever. I felt Bush insincere from the little I saw of him, but I did not vote in 2000, thinking all politicans alike, but I felt nothing at the start.

Then I watched them make disaster after disaster through 2001, from the China mess to Condi gunning for the former SSSR countries to blowing off North AND South Korea at the same time. I had a friend who followed eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Islam and was telling me worriedly about this guy Osama who was the mortal enemy of Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan and how come they weren't going for him? all through July and following of 2001. (I knew *exactly* what had happened and who was responsible that morning, because I remembered about the first attack, and I had also heard of Massoud's assassination on the ride in to work, and put them together way before anyone on CNN or elsewhere did.)

In short, I had already seen that even with my limited, helter-skelter amateur fascination with international cultures and history, I understood better about diplomacy and strategy than the people in charge. And that they were ideology driven. I had seen that with the way they were messing around with staff of environmental agency and so forth.

And so I too panicked on 9/11, but in an entirely different way. Don't you remember how hard they tried to pin it on Iraq? How they didn't *want* it to be Osama, didn't want it to be Afghanistan they went after first?

Thus it was clear that they wanted only a pretext for GWII, and were going to get one by hook or by crook. And all subsequent studies and following the international intel community (as best one who is not part of it can) validated this.

That Saddam was not a danger to us, was clear. He had no delivery capacity, beyond the same that any terrorist had - and still has. His aging fleet of Tupolevs wouldn't have done it when they were new from Moscow. He had no navy worth beans. The Air Force derided the threat of his "drones." (They were right.) Wouldn't you shoot at enemy aircraft flying over you and dropping bombs and occasionally strafing? Would that prove us guilty, if we did? (Think ID4)

And they didn't care. And that said more about them than anything.

Only a miracle could have made it work, and I've never yet seen a deus ex machina happen. Seen a lot of Murphy's Law in action, though. And I've always known what "Situation Normal" means, and why you don't trust to luck rather than logistics, because my family was USAF for decades on both sides.

Partly it was history - I had read the bitter truth about our support of the Shah's brutal regime, and our destruction of the last Mesopotamian democracy at the hands of the CIA, because their leftist (democratically elected) leader was not friendly enough to British and American financial interests.

Also, I had read the Anabasis in high school. This plotline, going into Persia on the word of an exiled aristocrat, and getting stranded with no exiled prince, no friends, and a lot of angry people who don't speak the same language, in their home territory - what was that about those who don't study history?

I already knew we couldn't trust the media - when the Afghan invasion started, their anchor revealed that she didn't know there was already (still, encore) a civil war going on there. And then they had orgasms in public over "bunker busters" and "daisy cutters" for weeks and weeks of buildup and release.

The idea of a "humanitarian war" is a myth. A comforting myth, but a myth non the less. There may be jus ad bella, but jus in bella never.

You all do realize that no matter how bad Hussein admittedly was, *all* our information about him was filtered through those of his enemies who wanted to replace him on this throne? Who had demonstrated themselves full of it, during the first Gulf War, with exaggerated and disproven atrocity tales? How much can we trust that comes from House Chalabi? How much *dare* we, in retrospect, now?

Ask yourselves this: if he was such an utter monster, hated by *all* - why, now that his army and infrastructure and wealth are all ruined, were the US officials saying that they had to be careful trying him lest he escape and take over again?

The only way he could take over *again* would be if a majority of Iraqis still supported him.

This does not bode well for our leaders' own confidence in their plans and successes.

--Where is our Xenophon, to lead us to the Sea?

Mark Stone

Hi, Ted H. - I said early on in the post, should you care to read it, that I had nothing specific against the mea culpist who whined on with I-didn't-knows. So, sure, I agree that "liberal" warmongers didn't question my patriotism. But they sure as hell were cozied up in bed with the fuckers that did.

Fact remains: I was right and you were wrong, and you gave aid & comfort to people who killed people for nothing. I'll take your correction, as long as you reconize the blood on your hands. Now - go try to equate the offenses.

Ted H.


It's true that many people appear to be arguing from a state of something like absolute despair about Iraq; my only point was that they needn't be. My actual view, for what it's worth, is not that the war is a 'mess' or a 'fiasco' -- those are just dispersing-gusts-of-outrage terms. (I once called the war a "qualified disaster" on my blog, but that was only to distinguish me from people who think it's a "complete" disaster.)

My only point was that when you 'support' a policy -- as a citizen who is not actually forming the policy -- you do so with a set of expectations concerning how competently it will be conducted. If it turns out to be conducted much less competently than that, you have to rethink your support -- you're irrational if you don't. Of course, you can reaffirm the support, if other considerations lead you to think that even that level of incompetence is acceptable (given the alternatives, etc.). But you have to reconsider. You can't simply stick to your earlier confidence. Your earlier confidence turns out to have been misguided.

(It's like forming an intention against a background of expectations that are importantly falsified before the time comes to act. It's simply irrational to act on such an intention without reconsidering.)

What follows from this point is that for those of us -- and this seems to include you -- whose confidence-engendering expectations have been defeated by the Bush administration's incompetence, the issue can no longer be: was our confidence in the invasion well-guided? It wasn't, since we proved so severely wrong in our assessment of the administration's competence.

The question isn't, or shouldn't be: Was the invasion a good or a bad idea? That's far too vague, since it admits of a "god's eye" reading disconnected from any of the considerations that actually weigh with people.

The question is: Is support for the invasion rationally sustainable? That is, is the support one had then a commitment that one should still buy into now? I think the answer is no, unless your confidence then was compatible with attributing to the administration the level of incompetence that we've now so vividly seen.

Then is when the decision in question was made. There's a very good question of what we should do now, but that's not the question up for discussion here. (You and I may not disagree much about the latter.) The question is whether the earlier decision was worth supporting, in light of what we now know -- not about WMDs (we're not rehashing that debate!) but about the level of seriousness and competence in the principal actors.

By the way, here is fuller treatment of this point, or at least of a related (and even more complicated!) point.


I experienced the Viet Nam era first hand. My draft number was 360, deo gratias, but I knew lots of brothers of other families who never came back or who came back shattered.

We learned this lesson before. Can you understand that? Can you just try to wrap your brain around what it has been like watching people like you not getting it? Trying to shout it out, yell it out?

Ever see a B horror movie? The girl always has to go down that dark stair into the basement no matter how loud you scream no no no. That's you. Never saw a horror movie in her life, so there she goes. Doesn't matter what others think, what lessons history screams out in blood etched capitals as loud as ever it can. Nope. This time's different, cuz, well, that was a long time ago and this is, you know, like, now.

I'm sure lots of other people will read your account and sympathize and say, "Yup, same here, how'd we get fooled into that." Fine. Enjoy their company.

Meanwhile, guess what? This war is serving the exact purpose it was intended for. It is marginalizing the Dems, and despite how badly it is going it is bolstering Bush's support and legitimacy. If Bush is not re-defeated, it will be because this war worked for him, politically. No other reason.

So you may think this mea culpa somehow deals with the issue, assuages your complicity in supporting this boondoggle, but it doesn't. The boondoggle is still there and getting worse. Some mistakes don't have an answer. Another thing I wish to the God I cherish that you and the rest of the fellow-travelers could have seen when it mattered.

Some mistakes don't have an answer. How's that feel?

Some. Mistakes. Don't. Have. An. Answer.



I don't think we're in much disagreement about the form of the argument, although I might be tempted to gloss your position as suggesting simply that the actual risk was greater than the perceived risk. Where I think we differ is in our assessment of the actual risk of failure, the contribution of incompetence to that risk, and what failure means in the context of the occupation.

The more important question, of course, is what we do now. The short answer, I think, is to dig in and see if Iraqi security forces can bgin to assert order. Who should preside over this process is of course the question. I understand many here will find the asnwer an obvious one; I wish I saw things so simply. Many of the President's opponents assume Kerry and his team will exhibit equal resolve, superior judgment, and better process. Based on Kerry's own record, and the foreign policy performance of the last Democratic administration, I cannot share this confidence.



Please answer, what is the breaking point at which you say "Alright, this war really was a major mistake, no excuses"?


Baa, I reiterate:

Some. Mistakes. Don't. Have. An. Answer.

Bush has resolve. Great. Vote for him if you like the direction his resolve has taken this country.

Four more wars! Four more wars! Four more wars!



That analogy doesn't work for me at all. I think the relevant causal generalizations, point(s) of control, etc. are much clearer in the case of dropping a brick onto a freeway. Plus, there's essentially a discrete choice there, and one pretty adequately described by "A or ~A." Not to mention that it's comparatively crystal clear what would count as better and worse outcomes...outcomes per se, for that matter. My feeling, at this point, is that nobody has really had a very good idea of what's been going on all this time, and I think most of what people say about what's going on, and what ought to be, mostly interacts just with other things that other people say about those things. Which isn't to say that people should stop saying the things, but that's how it shapes up for me. I just don't accept that anyone is truly in a position to say "I told you so" here.

Mark Stone

Right on, DrBB, from a guy who had draft number 18. People who should know better drank the KoolAid and apparently decided they didn't need to retain the responsibilty of figuring out the difference between right & wrong. One pill makes you smaller, indeed. Look at me! I'm a gnarly blogger and I have uninformed opinions and... oops! I'm so sorry!

Kyron Huigens

I admire your courage in writing this mea culpa. I wish someone who actually perpetrated this disaster would demonstrate such courage.

But I can't help wondering how you could not see the venality, incompetence, and ideologically induced blindness of these people. It was right there, in their eyes and gestures, every time they spoke to the public.

It was perfectly clear when W ran for president that he was a shallow, unintelligent, spoiled, rich frat boy who couldn't be trusted with power.

It was perfectly clear that Cheney and others of his ilk -- it turned out to be Rumsfeld -- would be in charge of this Administration, and that they were both power mad and just plain mad.

So while I appreciate the reasons you have given for your mistake, I think you leave one out.

You are an atrocious judge of people and character.

Toupee Tostito

The problem isn't that you were wrong, so much as that you were wrong and a real asshole about it to boot. Consider what you had to say about the people who were right at the time:

Does it really seem like a good thing to admit that you are not open to reasonable debate because you are swept up in a fire of emotion kindled by watching Saving Private Ryan? One thing that is odd is that lots of people are going to get killed by Saddam Hussein if there isn't a war and no one protesting for peace seems to want to talk about that. Does it really all come down to the fact that we aren't allowed to see pictures of the people tortured to death in Iraqi prisons? It's true that most of the 1,000,000 or so deaths he's responsible for happened some time ago, so maybe he's running out of steam, but is that a good thing to rely on? It's almost as though you offer someone a trolley car problem and they won't touch the switch no matter how you construct it because then they'd be complicit in killing someone. That sick child isn't going to get any better under a continuing sanctions regime. What are these people proposing, exactly? Oh wait, that's right. This was a protest with little to say.

For that, you should be ashamed of yourself.


Wesafer asks:
Please answer, what is the breaking point at which you say "Alright, this war really was a major mistake, no excuses"?
Some are still trying to glorify Vietnam, turn that into a worthy war. Oh yes, Macnamara issues a mea culpa 30 years later.

Bush himself can't think of any mistakes he's made -- and probably never will.

It's a mark of character not to admit mistakes.


Wesafer asks:
Please answer, what is the breaking point at which you say "Alright, this war really was a major mistake, no excuses"?
Some are still trying to glorify Vietnam, turn that into a worthy war. Oh yes, Macnamara issues a mea culpa 30 years later.

Bush himself can't think of any mistakes he's made -- and probably never will.

It's a mark of character not to admit mistakes.

Bad character.


In the run-up to the war, I remember feeling that I was being asked to pick which survivor should stay on the island. To put the matter in current terms, it seemed like I was being asked whether the CBS memos were forgeries, or whether Scott Peterson killed his wife.

First, the controversy seemed made for television, not reality. Reality was bin Laden, who actually killed a bunch of Americans. Saddam was a manufactured issue, just like survivor, the CBS memos and Scott Peterson.

Second, no matter what I thought, or said, or to whom I said it, nothing mattered except the blind determination of our leaders to go forward. We anonymous Americans had no more say in this than the millions of English and Italians who took to the streets in protest. And my thoughts on the was are evne more pointless than my thoughts on survivor, the CBS memos, and Scott Peterson. Republicans who disagreed about the war were not even listening, and my ideas were pointless and irrelevant.

All of this sounds like the democratic party of today. We debate among ourselves, but we are marginal in society, which supports the soulless, unthinking administration, which marches on like some avatar, fit only for inclusion in Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totaliarianism.

Ray Davis

As for the Sarcasms of Christmas Past, I was solidly against Bush's adventure, but even *I* became annoyed by the Yoko-come-lately tone of the local protests ("To live outside the law you must be harmless"):


On the other hand, it wasn't a sensible rhetorical move for our host to put "open to reasonable debate" and "pictures of the people tortured to death" in the same paragraph.

On the third leg, who expects sensible rhetorical moves from a weblog?


Just a friendly reminder, for all the baying warmongers, ex-baying warmongers (remorse-stricken or maybe just realising that, hey, shouting for the mass death of foreign strangers is just, like, sooo 2003), war-whoring propagandists of BBC, CNN et al., generals, politicians and ordinary schlubs who either didn’t bother to fact check their nation’s grave decision to invade, bomb, torture, maim, occupy and rape a nation that never attacked it — or perhaps secretly revelled in being powerful, untouchable and bloodied with revenge —

There is blood on your hands.


I might actually regain my respect for Colin Powell if he were to be as open and you were in this post. However, his opportunity has been lost. If he were to come out after the election and say something like this, it would be even worse.

You said: I couldn't believe that Saddam had actually destroyed his stocks of banned weapons and his records of having done so.

The one point that I think you missed, and you had some seemingly distinguished company, is that if Israel was willing to destroy a nuclear threat 20 years ago, why wouldn't they do the same in 2003? If Iraq was an imminent or grave threat, why would almost none of its neighbors join our coalition?

I find it extremely interesting how many people were willing to ignore obvious signs of deceit on the part of the Administration, due to basically a gut instinct for wanting revenge.

The true sign of character is demonstrated by those, like yourself, who are willing to admit their mistakes. Congratulations.


...but also include a desire to accentuate the positive in a war that was going to happen whatever I said and whatever arguements were made against it.

This is the same defeatist attitude that the media has attempted to use to justify their lack of reporting in the run-up to war. I hope you do not still believe this statement that war was inevitable. It was probable, but not inevitable. We are a democracy after-all, right?



The problem with the Heywood Jablomies of the world is that they don't see that now America is in competition with Saddam. The Abu Ghraib scandal proves that with our own rapes and torture of prisoners. If you were paying attention, you would know that these prisoners weren't even terrorists or insurgents. Some were families who were driving in the wrong place at the wrong time, or living in the wrong neighborhood. Children were raped in that prison and videotaped.

Many of the mass graves are filled with war dead from the Iraq/Iran war. They are also filled with Shia who listened to Bush I when he told them to rise up against Hussein and that the US would support them, then we didn't. We just led them to the slaughter. Republicans didn't seem to care about those mass graves while they were being filled. The same with the mass graves filled with Kurds before Gulf War I, when Reagan and Bush were buddies with Hussein and supplying him with WMD to kill Kurds and Iranians.

Now Iraq has fresh mass graves, and it wasn't Hussein who filled them. 12,000 civilians and at least an equal number of Iraqi soldiers.

How exactly are the Iraqis better off since we are arbitrarily imprisoning people, torturing, raping, and murdering them? They don't even have clean water, electricity, or safe streets.

For the bozos who equate Hussein with Ossama, Iraq was a SECULAR state. Women already were educated and had jobs. The Bush administration has confused you into thinking all Middle Eastern countries are the same and all are Islamic fundamentalists. They aren't and bin Laden hated Hussein and his secular state.
(To Belle, you might take this into consideration on number 5. Hussein made enemies of Islamic fundamentalists. It would have been a huge risk for him to admit to Iran or al Qaeda that he was disarmed.)

There was a terrorist connection, Hussein was supporting Palestinian terrorists. I think that if we are going to fight Israels wars for them, we should be able to cut off the huge amounts of money and war materiel we send to them. And we should admit that this war had nothing to do with 9-11, that it was done for Israel not Americans. I'm not sure that would play well with the voters though.

I don't think that Bush, and his puppetmaster Cheney, wanted International involvement in their war. It was always about controling Iraq's oil and looting the American treasury. You can't do that if other countries are involved in the rebuilding process. Blind rabid partisanship keeps Republican voters from noticing that they are being boned by our government. They simply can't believe that Bush would stab them in the back for a buck. They are mesmerized by the bright shiny 'culture war' he holds in one hand, while unaware of the other hand picking their pockets.

John Doe

You people baying about 'blood on your hands' strike me as more than a little bit melodramatic and self-righteous. That's a mighty high horse you're on -- a little higher than it seems you can really handle.

I mean, what did you, yourself, do to stop this war? Could you possibly have done a little bit more? Have you, in fact, ever supported a policy, -- any policy -- however tacitly, that resulted in anyone's death, however indirectly? Come one, now... think. I bet you did.

Did you quit your job, buy a plane ticket to Kigali, and stand in the street, trying to save even one Rwandean? No? Then you have blood on your hands, too. The fact is, we're all interconnected in this world, we all -- well, many of us, anyway -- try to make the best decisions we can, and we all have each others' blood on our hands. But few of us try to lord it over others, knowing, as we do, how pompous it sounds.


Would anyone be having this conversation if there were not a small group of insurgents blowing up innocent civilians? Most of you post apologetic neophytes have small minds and a false sense of history. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are thankful they were liberated from Sadaam. Their prosperous future and hopes of democracy are being shattered by the few. Those who feel like right-wing bashing, it is their version of "right-wing" extremists who are terrorizing their country and forcing them into chaos, not us. Its comtemptuous and disheartening to hear people who would rather stand around and watch a people suffer (as well as their neighboring countries) in threat of a homicidal dictator then to raise the banner of liberty and hope. Yes, it is true, freedom has to paid in blood. Our forefathers knew this well. We proved it again in our own bloody civil war. We are proving it again. During the course of any conflict, mistakes can be made. Look at Normandy and the thousands who died there. Men are not perfect. Bush is not perfect. Intelligence is not perfect. But to denegrade our leaders motives to that of "lying" and personal motives is ridiculous and false. As one who has served in government for most of my life and in the military, most are honest and oure motives to truely help another. Much of this discussion of "I told you so" is born from selfishness and selfservice. Shame on you.

Ray Davis

Rayven, I happen to believe that the Bush administration is much, much worse than "not perfect," and that Bush's and Cheney's own motives are much, much less honest than most federal workers'. They're privatizing and profiting from the military, not supporting it.

I understand that you feel differently, but do us the justice of understanding that disagreement may be motivated by love for our country -- which, according to everything I see and everything I know of history, is under siege by the people who are supposed to be leading it.

And I agree with John Doe. Enough with the "shame, shame" crap from both sides. Plenty of shame to go around about issues even closer to home. Besides, we can all expect to be proven wrong about any war if we live long enough to read the history books. Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro all had bad information during the Cuban missile crisis; I doubt that the era's weblogger-equivalents did much better. That's why good leaders have to be cautious.

Don Quijote

Much of this discussion of "I told you so" is born from selfishness and selfservice. Shame on you.

No it's born of abuse: it's born of being called immoral anti-american Saddam loving commies.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, people who opposed the War were right, & the blood of thousands of Iraqis & Americans is on your hands.

Jim D

Actually, I think the anti-war left (myself included) failed to articulate the moral proposition behind our opposition to the war, in a way that didn't sound tantamount to pacifism. Instead, we tried to contest the "facts", which made us sound as if we were Saddam apologists, even though we knew what we were talking about and we were clearly correct.

The moral proposition I speak of is this:

*America should not go to war unless we have to do so.*

A corrollary to this assertion is:

*When evaluating the costs and benefits of war, assume that the worst-forseeable scenario will play out. And then compare that to the benefits.*

The logic behind this corrollary is, if you go to war, you go to war to WIN. And winning means doing whatever it takes to win. Clearly, any defensive war can be justified by this standard (what do you have to lose?), and a lot of other wars can be to.

But not this one.

In this case, it was obvious that the
"worst case scenario" was, that it was going to turn into a Vietnam-like quagmire, requiring half-a-million boots on the ground, necessitating a military draft. That it would empower Al-Qaeda and make the world less safe, not more.

Now, the worst-case scenario has not played out, but it's been a lot more *like* the worst-case scenario than the "best-case scenario" (our troops being greeted with flowers, etc.)

The benefits of war have not been immeasurable. Saddam is out of power and that is terrific. But does that outweigh the costs of the war? I don't think so, and it could get a lot worse before it gets better.

I appreciate the fact that this logic is now accepted by most Americans, but it would have been even better if those of us that opposed *this* war had spelled the "rules of assessing wars" before-hand.


Jim D,
I'm not sure most Americans are utilitarians. I wish though. From the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, we see that most people are not capable of thinking on that level ( that of abstract ethics on which there is some critical thought and reflexion ). I think most people just go with the flow, getting good vibes or bad vibes from our modern clerics, media personalities.

phil  jones

"Much of this discussion of "I told you so" is born from selfishness and selfservice. Shame on you."

Yes, but some of it isn't. If you can't admit when you were wrong then there's no possibility of learning to get things right in the future. Sometimes you have to call it out.

The really shameful thing, and the defence you still hear from pro-war supporters although it isn't mentioned here, is the one that goes : "The war was justified if it made us safer".

Think about that for a minute. A US citizen is statistically more likely to die in a car-crash than a terrorist attack. Now, imagine a hypothetical thought experiment. The devil offers you a deal : "I can reduce (though not eliminate) your chance of dying in a road accident if you let me kill around 12000 innocent people."

Would you support that? Would you buy yourself that little extra security for those 12000 deaths?

If not, why would you support this war?


There is a tremendous difference in guilt between "you did not do enough/you were not successful in preventing evil" and "you were out there actively endorsing harm/putting down dissent."

If you can't see that, John Doe, Ray Davis - then you think that the EMT who doesn't manage to save the murder victim, the person who didn't see the crime happening and so didn't call in the emergency until it was too late, the heavy who shoved the knife in, the buddies who stood by and watched or cheered, and the person who paid the assassin are all equally guilty.

This claim of moral equivalence is drivelling idiocy.

John Doe

OK, Bellatryx, then where does 'tacitly endorsing harm, though it was, you thought less harm than would occur through inaction; while encouraging dissent, because the information you had, which you put some effort in to getting, seemed to suggest there was a possibility you were wrong." Is this really 'blood on my hands'?

And if so, again, I ask you, have you ever, however tacitly, endorsed any policy, that resulted in anyone's death, however indirectly? If not, I can only asume that you do not regularly particpate in political debate (though silence is, of course, a form of endorsment). Otherwise -- and of course it must be otherwise -- you, too, have 'blood on your hands' blah blah blah.

And yet, doesn't it feel great? To be so sanctimonious with your fellow humans. Isn't it easy? Isn't it fun, like intoning bad dialogue from a 50s melodrama? 'You, sir, have blood on your hands! '-- And you! -- And you! --- Me? I'm the Truthteller, but you, you have blood on your hands! Blood!'

What infantile crap.


John Doe

(Sorry, I've should have noticed this while I was writing my last post.) Bellatryx, 'the person who paid the assassin'? Does that mean everyone who pays their taxes? Did you pay your taxes, and do you therefore have blood on your own hands? Or did you not pay your taxes, and therefore withold your support of WIC, Medicaid, EMS, legal aid, and so on. Either way, you've got blood on your hands, man. Hear me? Blood! Blood! You're up to elbows in gore!

Whew! I feel much better...


What was infantile crap was that anyone believed that an invasion of Iraq, either in the planning or the execution, would have as its goal the installation of democracy. We are simply substituting our own Hussein for the old Hussein (who was in his turn our guy at one point, too.) People like John Doe wanted to beat us who were against the invasion over the head with their moral righteousness for liberating Iraqis, and then can't stand it when their moral calculus turned out to be disastrously wrong, or worse, a lie from the very beginning.

John Doe

Mithras: I know there were people like that, but I simply wasn't one of them. I was against the war but willing to believe that there was a scenario such that it could turn out all right. No war, ever, so far as my reading of history tells me, was ever undertaken for anything but the most crass and self-serving reason -- including the Civil War and WWII. Nevertheless, sometimes they have ameliorative consequences. As Iraq might have -- though it was unlikely, and has proven impossible. That was my position: Is it too subtle for you?

I listened to just about everything everyone had to say, and still do, and the only people I feel comfortable bashing are Bush, Rice, Wolfowitz, and so on.

I still feel that the rhetoric of "blood on your hands" is childish, inaccurate, narcisstic, and grotesquely sanctimonious. There are people dying, and as far as I'm concerned, you're using it as an occasion to score Self-Righteous Points. That's the most revolting tactic of all.


I don't know you, and as far as I can tell you don't have a blog, so I don't know what your position on the war has been. However, I am not one to say that blood is on anyone's hands who is not in the chain of command. Every blogger in the world could have been united in their opposition to the invasion - hell, the vast majority of Americans could have been vocally opposed to it - and it would not have made a whit of difference. It's stupid to claim that anything we write has any effect on the real world.


I think the "blood on your hands" rhetoric is counterproductive at this point. It only makes people less likely to admit that the Iraq war is a major fuck-up and instead find rationalizations and justifications for clinging to their pro-war propaganda. We've already heard the numbers of the dead and there is no way to bring them back, but I am relieved every time I hear another mea culpa because it means to me that maybe we can avoid the thousands of deaths to come. Let's get out of this mess first and then if it will help avoid another war of choice we can assign blame.

David Tomlin

Hey there, Belle. I'm new to your blog. I just happened on it following some Iraq links. I'm impressed with your thoughtfulness. I've got you bookmarked, and I'll be dropping in again.

Don't be so hard on yourself. International relations isn't a simple subject. Those who think so are simpletons themselves.

I can't point a finger. I'm one of the people who thought supporting the Afghan mujahideen was a good idea at the time.

"The sanctions were harming innocent Iraqis rather than Saddam, but there was no substantive reason to lift the sanctions from the point of view of Saddam's compliance."

What about just admitting the policy was a mistake?

"I supported the first Gulf War, unlike all my college friends, and I was dismayed by its denoument."

That suggests you were paying attention to rhetoric and neglecting substance. Neither the U.N. nor Congress gave a mandate for "regime change", and Bush didn't ask for one. Exceeding the formal mandate would have shattered the international Arabs-included coalition that Bush got so much praise for putting together.

My impression is that some people expected "regime change" on the theory "Bush compared Saddam to Hitler so he's going to treat him like Hitler". But Bush never actually indicated any such intention.

"I thought that any new government would have to be a better government."

I would substitute "probably" for "have to". "It can't get worse" is seldom literally true, of governments as of many other things.

That said, I've often thought this is one of the strongest points on the pro-war side. If the U.S. had simply deposed Saddam and withdrawn, rolling the dice on what the Iraqis would put in his place, the odds would favor some improvement. Arguably, subjecting the country to foreign occupation made the odds worse instead of better.

"I couldn't believe that Saddam had actually destroyed his stocks of banned weapons and his records of having done so."

It's possible the records were lost. It's the old incompetence/malice problem.

"I didn't think my President would bald-faced lie to me about something so vital to our nation's security."

It's when preparing for war that governments crank up the lie machine to maximum. "Truth is the first casualty", long before the guns start firing.

Comments like yours can give people of my generation the depressing feeling that the whole Viet Nam experience has gone down the Memory Hole.

Kosovo is a recent example. The 'genocide' turned out to be a Big Lie. Of course by then the whole matter had fallen off the front pages and the cable networks.

I was sure Bush was lying when he claimed there was "no doubt" about the WMD stockpiles. Intelligence is rarely that definite, particularly when it comes to a police state like Saddam's Iraq. If they really had such solid information, they should have been able to tell the Blix team where to find some of them.

"I didn't know we would guard only the oil Ministry and let looting and chaos engulf Baghdad after we took control. I didn't know that ideological conformity would count for everything in the CPA, and actual expertise for nothing. I didn't know the men in charge would ignore the advice of our own State Department about what conditions might be like following the war. I didn't know that Rumsfeld was willing to gamble the sucess of this venture in order to score points in an intra-Defense Department battle over troop strength."

I wasn't expecting any of that either, and I'm still not sure what to make of it all.

An often unspoken assumption is that Iraq as a liberal democracy would be pro-U.S. I think the reverse is more likely, and I'm not convinced that the Bush administration believes its own propaganda on that point. Their strategy may be to keep Iraq impoverished and divided, so it won't be an obstacle to the exercise of U.S. power in the region.


There is blood on your hands.



I echo the thoughts of DrBB, David Tomlin and others regarding the widespread condemnation of the Viet Nam analogy before the war, and the fact that Viet Nam lessons were ignored. Our manifest ignorance as a country of the history and current situation in Iraq, together with the Bush Administration's demonstrated politicization of every issue and incompetant execution of policy made a quagmire seem inevitable to me. Coupled with a new war's likely impact on our existing commitment in Afghanistan, this is why I wrote letters and marched to oppose the war.

To Mr. Jablomie, the problem with your argument is that Iraq was one among many despicable dictatorships that were killing and maiming their people at the onset of the Iraq war. Consider the many African candidates. If the reason to go to war was humanitarian, we didn't maximize utility by choosing Iraq.

But of course that was neither the stated nor real reason we invaded. The death toll from Saddam's atrocities was largely in the past (and attributable in part to Reagan and Bush I mistakes) and the expected outcome of invading put many more innocent Iraqis at risk. Your moral calculus is suspect.

Jim D


"True dat." Perhaps my comment springs from my own personal attitude towards foreign policy, which I think can best be described as a sort of enlightened realpolitik. The maxim for which is:

"Let's do as much good in the world without getting ourselves f**ked."

I think as Belle argued (perhaps I should have paid more attention?), there are a lot of people who are not interested in maxims, preceps, and deductions. They're interested in blowing sh*t up. Or romanticizing "regime-change" without thinking through the consequences, in a sort of comic-bookish sort of way.

I try to be an optimist about human nature, but you are probably correct in calling me on my optimism.

But if you don't try to be reasonable with people, irrational politics are the only possible outcome.


I was vehemently opposed to the war from the get-go for a very simple reason. Any dog can chase a car. A fast dog can even catch a slow-moving car. But once his teeth are sunk in the bumper, he's just being dragged along behind it watching his hindquarters being ground away.

Yeah sure we could knock out Saddam and march into Baghdad. But then what? Whenever Saddam left power, no matter what the cause, Iraq was headed for civil war. That much should have been obvious to everybody. Given that, the only question was whether we wanted to be standing in the middle of it when it erupted or not. Easy call.

No blogger on either side has blood on their hands; that's just ridiculous. However, I was amazed to watch liberals buy into this invasion. At least they have the decency to admit a mistake. The other side is still lobbing bricks at anybody who doesn't pledge undying allegiance to it.


Come, come, let's get something straight. The question in 2002 was not whether or not the US should go to war against Iraq to take out Saddam. The question has been whether or not the US should go to war at the point in time at which it went to war. Given the fact that, when the US went to war against Saddam,

(a) the US had an unfinished mission in Afghanistan--a still-unfinished mission, I might add--and

(b) it was fairly obvious that, after going into Iraq, the US would largely ignore Afghanistan--which has proven to be true, and

(c) Afghanistan was a hotbed of anti-western terrorist activity, not Iraq,

it should appear obvious that the US should have finished "the job" in Afghanistan, instead of diverting resources to the war in Iraq. If and when the US finished "the job" in Afghanistan, then it might have the luxury of going after Saddam. But not until it had finished "the job" in Afganistan. Quite frankly, it should be obvious to anyone paying attention, that the US now has two problems--Afghanistan and Iraq, and it doesn't seem to have the slightest idea how to manage either of them.


#1 is really what it comes down to for most pro-war americans, i think, but few admit it to easily.


Rwanda, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Nepal, Kashmir, Congo

Millions dead in East Pakistan and Cambodia, tens of thousands of Vietnamese Boat people lost at sea or killed by pirates, millions of North Koreans systematically starved to death by their own government.

Beslan, Madrid, Jakarta

If you don't care, if you are disinterested, then I suppose there is no blood on your hands.

Should anything at all be done? After all, if we get involved, then there would be blood on our hands. Best just to stand back and do nothing, like the Kitty Genovese case on an international level?


Since there are so many tyrants should we choose one and bring him down, as a start, as a signal to others that only so much will be tolerated? If so, then would it be best to choose one that has used WMDs in the past, that has demonstrated a strategic plan to ovethrow neigboring countries, that is despised and feared by over 80% of his country's population, and most importantly can be defeated quickly?

I dont see that supporting the war is the same as a

" decision to invade, bomb, torture, maim, occupy and rape a nation that never attacked it - or perhaps secretly revelled in being powerful, untouchable and bloodied with revenge -"

Anti-war folks have certain beliefs about the motives of the war supporters, that we simply want people to die. They hold America responsible for the people killed by the car bombers and by the terrorists who cut off hostages heads. They must do this in order to count those deaths against America. During the period from March 2003 to July 2003, civilian deaths numbered around 2000 as determined by an organization that has as a member Raed, a friend of Salam Pax, and no supporter of the war.

I believe that if there had been no war, then if another 9/11 type of attack had occurred that our government would have been tempted to carpet bomb Baghdad. I would say that they were tempted to do something like this when 9/11 happened. But they did not act rashly, they acted with deliberation, and fought for freedom, not for revenge. Go to the Healing Iraq blog and read what Zeyad thinks. His cousin actually was murdered by US troops (the cousin drowned when he was thrown into a river). Go read what Omar, Mohammed, and Ali think at the IraqTheModel blog.

It is perfectly all right to question the Bush Administration's competency, and all right to regret the loss of life, but I think that Belle's reasons for initially supporting the war are sound, and she should have no shame for that support.

"I have faith in the transforming power of freedom" - GWB


By the way, even tho I'm a fascist right-wing ideologue, I love Belle and think that CT is great as well - many very thoghtful and provocative posts.


Oh here is the civilian casualties site:


And here is a clearinghouse of information about Saddam Hussein's crimes:


I really, really encourage folks to read some of the Iraqi blogs. They are instructive.

David Tomlin

Presumably, the USSR's veto was bypassed somehow for the Korean war. Why couldn't the French veto be bypassed or a similar arrangement be done?

Your presume incorrectly.

Did you know that until the 1970s, China's UN seat was held by the Nationalist government on Taiwan? The Soviets of course disagreed with that, and in 1950 they were coincidentally boycotting the UN in protest. That was their decision, not any "arrangement" on the part of the rest of the Security Council.

I would suggest doing your homework instead of presuming.



Thank you for the info.

Do you agree or disagree with the central assertion in that conversation, which is that it was France's fault. Had it had been more conciliatory and agreed to the third ( British ) position, the Bush admin wouldn't have invaded Iraq ( this presumes that Iraq wasn't in violations of the sanctions )?

If the presumption is false and Iraq was in violation of the sanctions, then the US would have inavded and it would be in the same mess.

If the presumption is true, would the Bush admin have let that stop them?


Belle Waring, regarding your number 5:

There is a much simpler explanation for why Saddam had his weapons and documents destroyed secretly rather than openly, than those hypothetisings you must have read in US media.

Saddam destroyed the weapons and documents before the full extent of his programs was known, in hopes UN inspectors won't find anything, leave Iraq, end sanctions and allow him to start over. Unfortunately for him, the UN inspectors found out about pretty much everything from the bits of information and traces left behind. And unfortunately for the inspectors, US governments bent on a regime change by armed intervention foiled their successful mission - twice.

Of course, I must mention, to reconstruct the whole story of the Iraqi WMD 'intel fiasco', it is not enough to unravel the Bush government propaganda, but the Clinton government propaganda too - the entry to Saddam's palace issue, the sanctions' end issue, why the inspectors really left Iraq, and other elements of Clinton's failed 1998 regime change attempt.

Susan - USA

I want to point out a couple of things.

Saddam clearly said, shortly after Powell's speech at the UN, that he had no WMDs or connections to al Qaeda. He said that on Channel 4 TV in Britain. He also said it to the press (off camera) multiple times in the lead up to the war in 2002. So, the theory that he thought he had WMDs, or he wanted to convince the countries around him that he had them is nonsense.

Also, less than 5,000 mass graves (caused by Saddam) have been found so far in Iraq. Of course, not all mass grave sites have been uncovered.

Being of the "war is not the answer" and "violence is not the answer" type, I condemn all of Saddam's killings, whether 4,000 or 400,000. But it looks like the US invasion will actually kill more than Saddam did.

Read Naomi Klein's article in HARPER'S to understand what the neocon plan was, and why it didn't work.

I fully expected them to fuck up totally in Iraq. I pay attention.... and in late 2002, Afghanistan was not doing well at all.


Susan, I think the real scandal about the less than 5,000 corpses found in mass graves is not that its not 300,000, but that the War Party had absolutely no project organised for an orderly tracking down of graves and exhumation - Saddam's past crimes only mattered as casus belli. The real number is certainly magnitudes higher. (Compare it to Bosnia, where there has been such an effort, and mass graves - including ones that f.e. prove the numbers in Srebrenica or ones that disprove longtime denials of death camps maintained by the Serbs - are found to this day.)

On the other hand, most of Saddam's up to but probably much less than 300,000 were slaughtered in two crushings of uprisings, both of which Saddam started under the knowledge that the USA will look the other way: the 1988 attack on the Kurds and the 1990 attack on the Shi'a. It was an outrageously hypocritical argument to imply what carnage Saddam's contained regime could inflict if he is let in place based on the carnage it inflicted before it was contained - and then compare that to the carnage inflicted by the invasion.

"I fully expected them to fuck up totally in Iraq. I pay attention.... and in late 2002, Afghanistan was not doing well at all."

I realised the Afghanistan intervention is a mighty fuckup already at the end of 2001. (Then again, I could rely on European newspapers and TV documentaries, not a US media then increasingly in cheerleading mode.) Being an anti-death-penalty and pro-Kyoto European, I hated Bush and the repubs even before he was sElected President, but this was the point I got really depressed - for I was for a humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan (in fact I just planned to write such an appeal on the ocassion of Ahmed Shah Masood's assassination on 9/11), one with this aim and thought through, but Bush's was neither of these two.


Regarding that discussion about France and Britain's role at the UN; wasn't this British proposal the one that demanded that Saddam admits he has specific amounts of certain CBWs, even tough he hasn't had them?


A further point about the missing documents and WMD: it was one of the main Bush gov't spins to present the inspectors-Iraqis dispute as if the former were looking for WMD and the latter denying everything. In truth, already UNSCOM verified that there has been unilateral destructions of WMD, based on traces found at destruction sites. (Indeed I think most inspectors must have been aware that everything held since 1991 except mustard gas must have been deteriorated beyond useful.)

The dispute was mainly about how to prove the amount destroyed at these sites - the UN wanted official documents created in the destruction process, the Iraqis denied such documents (still) exist, and wanted to prove the amounts using improved chemical testing methods, the effectivity of which for this task (determination of quantity) was in turn doubted by the UN inspectors.


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