The Vanity of Human Wishes


New at Reason: Cathy Young surveys the battle damage from Iraq.

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  1. A little while ago when I posted that I didn’t know if 40 or 80 percent of Iraqis preferred it that we invaded and overthrew Saddam, I expected hawks to attack me for being cynical and assure me that it was more like 98%. Now, through Cathy Young’s article, I see that by best accounts the figure looks to currently stand at 56%. She says that supporters of the war would laud such a figure, but I don’t think they should. I don’t think anything less than overwhelming Iraqi support for our invasion would justify it and make it work, and we can see what the consequences of such a divided Iraqi public are right now.

  2. What? This article is full of facts, perspective, and insight! Where is my sneering, preening, wild speculation? Someone get Sanchez and Doherty on the casea pronto!

  3. The 56% is just one number showing Iraqi approval. The question of Saddam’s ouster gets a much higher approval rating so I don’t know why Young avoids it. But the fact she makes so much of the less-than-worthless opinion of Richard Clarke on Iraq (he can’t even follow his own rules of going nuts against serious but vague threats before they materialize) does not lead me to trust Cathy Young.

    We’re in the middle of something here, something that can be very helpful to the U.S. and the world–something that finally gets at the “root cause” of a problem. And so far, it’s been a lot easier than serious pundits expected. It’s interesting to see the childish sneering at every significant bump in the road.

    (Feel free to respond, but try not to exploit Marine deaths just to make a point.)

  4. So far, Cathy and posters here sound like journalists describing a forest fire. I’m not a firefighter, but I’m looking for firefighter words, because this is big. Bigger than anyone so far seems to grasp.
    All I can think of is it’s out of control.
    So out of control, I’m predicting President Bush will pull an LBJ before the Republican convention and withdraw his candidacy. The alternative is handing over the country to Kerry, and I don’t think even most Democrats favor that.

  5. For anyone who might be interested, I have spent much of the week nursing some long thoughts about Iraq– not so much the toppling of Saddam…but the ensuing “democracy-building” project. Still musing.

  6. The U.S. is chasing a chimera in Iraq; and wasting the lives of its soldiers in the process.


    Merely because they are happy to have Saddam gone, does not mean that they are happy to have a U.S. military presence there. Nor does it mean that they are willing participants in the American theories and experiment there. Indeed, the notion that this is some experiment to get at “root causes” is illustrative of the sort of arrogance that will bury America there. BTW, those bumps in the road are dead American soldiers and civilians (as well as well as dead Spaniards, etc.). I’m not even an American and I am not so callous about dead Americans.

  7. BTW, as I was told sometime ago here that a President who is below 50% approval rating is in trouble, it should be noted that a Pew Center poll shows Bush’s approval rating at 43%, and that the latest Zogby and CBS news polls have Bush losing to Kerry by 2% and 5% respectively.

  8. Here’s a fun link I found: the actual website of the Coalition Provisional Authority (US Gov.) in Iraq. My favorite story is the one about the Baghdad Optimists’ Club, which is sponsoring an essay contest for Iraqi high-school students. Topic: “What a Free Iraq means to Me.”

    Once you read the site you’ll realize that democracy in Iraq ic coming along nicely, and Iraq is NOT a mess, and it’s probably a nicer place to live than France, and any recent deaths in Mesopotamia were due to old age. So there.

  9. Well…
    Will Bush pull an LBJ?
    Work with me here.

  10. How soon before the election did LBJ drop out?

    Anybody else the Republicans are likely to nominate is far scarier than Bush.

  11. Yeah, but scarier than Kerry?
    His very name rhymes with scary.
    The Democrats’ mistake back in 1968 was nominating Hubert Horatio Hornblower Humphrey who had been LBJ’s VP.
    I don’t the Repubs would make the mistake of nominating Cheney.

    And couldn’t this be McCain’s chance?… or they could bring back Patrick Buchanan.

  12. There was only one viable pretext for the government’s attack on Iraq; to protect Americans from harm…the harm that WMD and/or Iraq sponsored terrorists could have done. Neither actually existed, but the Neo-cons who had long been pushing for the war engaged in wild duplicity and subterfuge to convince the president and the nation that the threats from Iraq were real.

    Right after 9/11 Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz pounded the table in favor of forgoing an attack on Afghanistan in favor of an immediate one on Iraq! The had both advocated the same, before, in a letter to then Pres. Clinton, co-signed by other Neo biggies including Bill Kristol.

    Now, after a war perused under false pretence, the government is carrying out an occupation with aspects that seem devoid of American values thusly shaming the American people.

    U.S. administrator Paul Bremer shut down the Al Hawza newspaper. If the newspaper had called for attacks or assassinations on specific targets, the United States government might have been on better ethical ground, but it did not. Thousands of Iraqis showed up outside the shuttered offices to protest, some yelling “No, no America” and “Where is democracy now?” The reaction of the Iraqis was predictable and justified.

    The military is using “soft torture”, torture methods to extract information from Iraqis. Or, as it is called by the Israeli military, “physical pressure”. Whatever information is extracted, a bitter and enduring hatred is the by-product. We should demand of congress that this barbarity be stopped. It is beneath the dignity of the American people.

    When our government turns over control, we can hope, in the name of decency, that those new in power don’t emulate Bremer’s occupation regime.

    We should demand that the troops be brought home now before any more Americans loose their lives without good cause. And if we allow American military bases to be left there, the neo-cons who lied us into this tragedy will have gotten their ultimate goal and been rewarded for their duplicity. Bases in Iraq will only act as a very expensive trip wire for further American deaths with out just cause.

  13. And Rick Barton,
    I continue to be dumfounded so many deny the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam.
    Both have dragged not very bright Texans in over their heads.

  14. Rick-
    YOu forgot to mention that we’re doing a great job of turning Iraq from the secular country it used to be into yet another Islamic theocracy–exactly what America needs to help us win the war on terrorism!

    Did you check out that website? I wasn’t joking; that is the actual site put out by your tax dollars. (Mine paid for the “Mission Accomplished” banner.) It didn’t say anything about “Ambassador Bremer” shutting down the newspaper, but he DID unveil the Iraqi Olympic Team Logo. It’s very nice.

  15. Hmmm. Ya’ll just wait. If this Rich dude is who I think it is (someone I’ve been encouraging to post here), believe me, he knows his history and foreign policy. This should be interesting.

    I agree with him, BTW, on the issue of the war with Iraq.


  16. But, the government insists that it knows how to transform a region. Look at the way they’ve eliminated urban poverty and maintained the integrity of the urban family unit in the US…

  17. Jennifer,

    Who might the Republican’s nominate as a replacement to Bush, and why would they be scarier? I imagine that if Bush were to do an LBJ then it would make it more difficult for certain wings of the party to convince others that they have a chance of winning.

    In any case, I don’t see him pulling an LBJ on grounds that it would surely lead to a Kerry presidency.

  18. Spot-
    Perhaps I spoke a bit ‘off the cuff’ but Bush himself strikes me as more of a boob than a truly evil individual. It’s the guys surrounding him who really scare me.

  19. Last month, an ABC News poll found 56 percent of Iraqis saying that they are better off thanks to the US-led war that brought down Hussein’s brutal regime.

    I’d love to hear just what clever polling techniques were utilized to maximize the odds of actually eliciting honest responses from this sample!

  20. Just to clarify: I’m not saying that the poll is incorrect – I’m just saying that it’s a tough situation to take an accurate sampling.

  21. Some of you guys (Andrew, kwais) amaze me. The government’s first lying excuses for the war are exposed and now you buy into their BS for staying there!

    If the government’s goal was really to bring more individual liberty and encourage civil society, they wouldn’t be so complacent about the conditions in nations where they have much more influence…like the brutal Egyptian regime that gets billions of US tax dollars every year,(second only to Israel) where there is no freedom of political expression.

    Like the Israeli government’s administration of occupied Palestine where widespread deprivation of individual rights and malnutrition go hand in hand for the Palestinian people.

    Like Uzbekistan, where the government of President Islam Karimov has arrested and tortured thousands of nonviolent Muslim dissidents who practiced their faith outside state-controlled mosques. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that this regime has one of the most deplorable human rights record extant. (a per capita torture tally far worse than even Sadam’s) They called on Uzbekistan’s Western allies, of which the United States is the most important, to apply real pressure to improve its human rights performance:

    Contact your congress people and tell them to bring the troops home now before even more die needlessly in one of the government’s most tragic follies in the history of our republic!

  22. Andrew:
    “I am quite sure Bush will run, and fairly confident he will win.”

    Sure, if we support big spending, big regulating liberals who peruse a hyper interventionist, Wilsonian foreign policy, like Bush, we don’t need Democrats. Functionally, Bush is a Democrat in all of these aspects.

    Bush does not deserve the support of those who value individual liberty. He deserves ridicule. There are many principled Republicans who do deserve support!

  23. Of course, I meant “pursue a hyper interventionist..” Sorry about that. preview button preview button preview button….

  24. Rick,

    The fact that the people making the “democracy and human rights” argument for prolonging this war are flaming heaps of human waste, imposed on us like a Biblical plague, does not mean their argument is invalid. Nor does that fact that they are hypocrites for not applying their newly discovered “principle” universally (or even, like, twice) mean that the principle itself is improper.

    The argument collapses from its own weakness, and attacking it from a personal pov just makes it look like its glaring failure is the fault of its critics.

  25. I am quite sure Bush will run, and fairly confident he will win. My concern is that elections in early 2005 will merely produce some goofy shi’ite regime (AND a civil war).

    Perhaps it would be better to pre-empt such an outcome with some sort of Jordanian-style Baath-lite (maybe even with a King)…if it is not too late.

    I am sure the present turmoil will be contained, and some kind of “hand-over” in June can be effected– but given choices any time for several years to come, it appears as if most Iraqis would feel compelled to polarise around confessional and ethnic strongmen.

    We maybe could extend the occupation for several years…but is that much better than allowing Iraq to take a breather for a generation under an autoritarian (but not corrupt and brutalising) regime for a generation?

    thoreau, your “irony” STILL seems off-base. Again, governments DO create democracy, security and a minimal context of services wherever people enjoy such things– and I suppose I would add that they do an OK job in a lot of places, including here– and SOME government WILL in Iraq, if Iraqis are ever to have such things.

  26. kwais-

    Even though I don’t think we should have gone there, now that we’re there I too hope that we succeed. I’m just not holding my breath.

    But I want to emphasize that I do want this country to succeed at this task. The anti-war faction sometimes gets accused of not wanting the US to succeed, or not wanting a representative government in Iraq. I want to make it clear that I do want to see the US succeed at this, but I’m skeptical of whether it will work. I hope that on a libertarian site people might understand why I would be skeptical of our government’s ability to succeed at an ambitious project.

  27. joe,

    I agree that democracy and human rights (especially human rights) are wonderful things. But, it’s a violation of individual American’s rights to force them to support the same for others.

    How do you think the argument should be attacked so that the blame for its glaring failure goes where it belongs?

  28. thoreau

    We WERE right to go there and rid Iraq– and the world– of Saddam. We could have handed the thing over to the first Baath colonel who looked half-way presentable, and that would have been acceptable.

    (Screw the UN and any “moral obligation” we are supposed to have to rebuild everything we blew up in history’s most humane war!)

    One advantage to staying a year was to arrest Saddam, and kill his sons. Maybe at this point, we can call it a good job?

    I don’t know– I don’t wish to over-react to the news of one week. One thing I am sure of…confine the election to the soldiers serving, and Bush wins with around 80%– today.

  29. Andrew,
    I am not sure most Iraqis feel compelled to polarize around ethnic or religious strongmen. I am from Reno, NV. It has a population of about 400,000 including the surrounding area. If 10% of those were militant and not afraid to use fear tactics to get the rest in line, and to fight against an invading force, it would seem like a whole lot. It would seem like the whole city. I think that all we have to do is empower the majority, like they are for the most part in the US. Most people, whether from a culture that wears turbans or from a culture that wears baseball hats, just wants to be left alone, to make their money, to worship if they want to. Their is a minority that thinks that everybody should be forced to beleive what they do, and that any gain for another ethnicity is a loss for their ethnicity.

  30. Don’t know if there are any political advisors here, but they MUST know Bush can’t win.
    Think the world is going to hell in a handbasket?… Wait ’til November!

  31. Andrew,

    That’s an interesting proposal you have there, about instituting a monarchy in Iraq. I thought you were joking at first, but you’re serious, right? Wow….


    Why is the “are you glad Saddam’s gone” question more relevant than the “are you glad the Americans invaded” question? Seems like the former looks only at part of the picture while the latter looks at all of it, since that’s the reason Saddam is gone. I’m sure that if Iraqis didn’t consider the ouster of Saddam to be part and parcel of the American invasion question, the approval rating of the invasion would be more like zero.

    As for not “exploiting” the deaths of Americans to make a point, why the hell not?? No one here is running for office, so all you’re saying is to shut up about it. I see no reason why that should be off limits for discussion. But that said, and at the risk of sounding callous, it’s the bigger picture that matters anyway. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a crystal ball. Maybe you do and it shows you everything working out fine. To me it looks like all the ingredients are in place for more trouble. Either a prolonged and fitful occupation or a civil war or a new and brutal dictator. But yeah sure, this could just be an itty-bitty bump in the road to democracy and a new middle east. For all our sakes, Rich, I hope your crystal ball is in good working condition.

  32. kwais,

    An amazingly bloodless war?? Well sure, compared to wars with evenly matched militaries. But so what? The Israelis whupped butt on the Arabs in six days. And they haven’t had a day of peace since in 37 years. Looks to me like that’s more like what we’re facing. Of course there’s differences too, there’s differences in any two phenomena, otherwise they wouldn’t be distince phenomena. Anyway, like I say over and over, only time will tell and we’ll see and I hope I’m wrong.

  33. “The 56% is just one number showing Iraqi approval. The question of Saddam’s ouster gets a much higher approval rating so I don’t know why Young avoids it.”

    Because the fact of Saddam’s removal does not exist in a vacuum, and there is no point is discussing it as such.

    Rich, would you like to come to your house, give you a banana, and punch your mom in the jaw? Should I conclude from this that you don’t like bananas?

  34. ^Well said, Joe.

    And re my last post, “distince” is supposed to be “distinct.”

  35. Kwais-
    Like you, I hope we succeed. I also hope I’ll one day win millions of dollars in the lottery. I’m just not making my future plans based on the assumption that either one will come true.

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