The Iraq War is a Reminder: These People Do Not Know What They Are Doing


Reason Magazine

If you haven't read Reason's symposium on the 10 year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, stop what you're doing and read it right now. And then when you're done, if you're in the mood for some real rage, go read some of the bad old justifications for going to war—left, right, and center. Here, for example, is David Brooks poking fun at simpleton peaceniks in September 2002. Peace! How unserious. Here's Thomas Friedman at his most dangerously vapid talking up the "terrorism bubble," as if war is just another exercise in management by self-righteous corporate catchphrase. And here's The New York Times' Bill Keller, almost delightedly celebrating his both own surprise and his own moral superiority at discovering that he is a hawk who favors launching a war. In perhaps the most infuriating line of reasoning, Keller notes the multiple divergent justifications for going to war, but dismisses potential worries with the almost-funny assertion that "we are hard pressed to see an alternative that is not built on wishful thinking."

I should admit that at the time, and for several years after, I too tacitly supported the war. My only excuse (not a particularly good one) is that I was young, naive, and stupid, not yet out of college when the first bombs dropped and not confident that I could make a critical judgement based on the limited information I had; I didn't think the Bush administration's case for invasion was particularly convincing, but I assumed that in a matter as grave as war they knew more than I did, and wouldn't rush into a conflict on flimsy pretexts. Boy was I wrong. So were a lot of people. 

Reviewing the bipartisan justifications for war in Iraq should serve as a stark reminder to brash liberals, confident conservatives, and strong-government types across the political spectrum that government is a foolishly, frustratingly human endeavor, its projects marked by error and hubris, arrogance and incompetence. To put it bluntly: These people do not know what they are doing—and neither, as the fawning media coverage of Bush's war of choice reveals, does anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact. They all believe fervently that they know exactly what they are doing, that their plans are foolproof, their designs magnificent, their will strong, their aims noble and historic and humanitarian. But what bloody follies like Iraq reveal is that so many of those tasked with either making or explaining the decisions that affect the lives (and deaths) of thousands or even millions are self-deluding fools, oblivious to the consequences of their own power, and their plans and intentions—whether good or bad or indifferent—do not matter when compared with their violent, ugly results. 

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  1. Wouldn’t the Iraq War have started 22 years ago?

    1. It did start 22 years ago and that’s something Reason doesn’t really want pointed out.

      1. Started – but not finished – 22 years ago. I think some of the itch was from that aspect of it.

  2. “I should admit that at the time, and for several years after, I too tacitly supported the war”
    You’re not alone. Being “very conflicted” over the issue doesn’t grant me sainthood.

    1. I’m not very conflicted and I’m…actually pretty saintly. Correlation does not imply causation.

      1. So “saintly” you think the murder of innocents is ok as long as it’s “necessary” to get the bad guys.

        1. If getting the bad guys is necessary to winning the war for the side of good, then abso-saintly yes.

    2. I remember being pissed about the blatant lies in support of the war, but also being even more pissed at some Brit rag yapping about how Americans were always so ready to go off half-cocked. The whole attitude was so veddy veddy elitist and nose in air that I fired off a letter to the editor, reminding them that they had been riding us for years about being 3 years late saving their ass in WW I, and two years late saving their ass in WW II, so now we’re finally paying attention before they come hollering for help, and all they want to do is sneer at us?

      Didn’t like the war, didn’t support it, but that condescending Brit attitude almost made me hope Cheney’s lies were real.

  3. Actually Bush knew what he was doing. Saddam Hussein was taken out of power. Without the ugly results, as you call it, Saddam Hussein would still be in power.

    Yay Despotism!

    1. Saddam would still be in power and 4,500 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis would be alive and multiple trillions of dollars wouldn’t have been spent. Totally worth the cost though.

      1. But the trillions of dollars probably stimulated their economy, right Tony? Think of the rank poverty of the average Iraqi before we pumped so much money into rebuilding schools we’d blown up.

        1. Exxon is Iraq now. And on their own dime. Oil production in Iraq is higher now than it was under Saddam Hussein. Liberty!

          1. And more oil is a bad thing how? All the hopping up and down about “no blood for oil” – well that bill sure fucking got paid, and you’re going to just walk away and shrug? Oh, that’s right, you probably think the evil pillaging humans should pay at least $9/gallon for wounding Gaia so. . .

            1. You may be confused. Lyle is FOR the Iraq War.

              1. Whatever he’s for, he’s clearly enjoying himself.

            2. Ha. It’s a good thing!

              1. hehe. That makes me think of Martha Stewart.

                1. How come you know so much about Martha Stewart?

                  1. Doesn’t everyone know the “It’s a good thing” line?

                    1. I’m culturally ignorant on Martha Stewart. Apologies.

                    2. Understandable, but the “It’s a good thing” bit has been lampooned on Family Guy, South Park, SNL and I’m sure much more.

                    3. That too. Especially Family Guy.

                    4. You’re likely better off.

      2. Saddam would have killed a bunch of Iraqis and maybe more than 100,000. You know he was starving Iraqi children to death before the invasion?

        Not to mention we would have had to continue spending money to enforce the no-fly zone.

        1. Any evidence for that, Lyle?

          1. Thias ain’t google. Look it up yourself, question troll.

            1. I did google it, and the first link I found was an article claiming that malnutrition among children had increased in the first 3 years of the Iraq war due to disruption of food supplies. I saw no evidence he was starving children.

              So would you like to provide me with any?

              1. Geez, quit your TROLLING with those obvious TROLLISH uses of logic and information.

          2. If you don’t know about the starving children of Iraq during the oil-for-food program you’re very ignorant.

            Where have you been dude?

          3. Here baby, let me spoon feed you.


      3. I think you’re estimate of surviving Iraqis without the war is a bit high, Tony. Let’s not forget that Saddam was constantly exploring ways to get rid of them himself. Kill some Marsh Arabs here, Gas some Kurds there, and on slow days, chuck people into plastic shredders. If he was feeling nice that day, he’d let them pick which end of them was fed in first.

      4. Saddam would still be in power and … 100,000 Iraqis would be alive

        Minus the ones Saddam would have killed. And the ones his sons would have killed, after raping them.

        1. Uday Hussein was an exceptional degenerate.

      5. Actually given the rate at which Saddam was killing his own people and the economic problems created by the sanctions it is likely that even more would have died had we not interviened

  4. OT: so what happens in Cyprus and the region tomorrow? The banks are opening, no?

    1. We are all in deep shit on this at some point.

    2. I believe they closed the banks till Thursday.

      1. They did. The real question is how long this ATM run lasts until they start instituting capital controls.

        1. Isn’t Cyprus in deep shit now, no matter what happens? Whether they go through with any of this, they have implanted in everyone’s mind that Cyprus bank accounts are not secure. And with interest rates near zero, what’s the benefit? Lots of people will move their money elsewhere, and even start keeping it at home. So I expect stories of burglaries and robberies in which people lose their life savings.

          1. They wanted to be a banking center like Switzerland and that dream pretty much died on Friday. At least half the deposits are foreign (read: Russian), and you can bet they will do what they can to remove whatever they have left.

  5. Peter Suderman would complained about the costs being too high to keep the Union together and ultimately freed the slaves.

    Too much fucking money!

    1. Lincoln killed too many Americans! They died in vain!

      1. Man, you should really stay away from the internet when the peyote is peaking. Enjoy it, just not here, as amusing as it is, for about 3 seconds.

  6. “And neither do I.” Right? Same standard?

    1. The difference is that McSuderman does not want to be in charge of your life and make decisions for you or anyone else.

  7. Eh. I still don’t see how else one could simultaneously keep Saudi oil out of Hussein’s hands and get US troops out of Saudi Arabia.

    If we hadn’t gotten involved back in 1990-1991, letting Hussein go south would have been one thing. But after having made a guy who used chemical weapons on his own civilians our enemy, just letting him have the whole Arabian Peninsula and all its oil would not have been remotely sane.

    And “containment”, meaning leaving our troops indefinitely on the soil of Saudi Arabia, that’s the policy that from 1991-2001 got a whole string of terror attacks launched against us.

    I’m not saying the Iraq War was a great solution. But there were no good solutions in 2001-2003. I’m not actually sure, even with hindsight, whether either other choice was any better.

    I think the actual lesson of the Iraq War was that back in 1990-1991, we needed to not intervene.

    1. THIS THIS THIS + if you’re going to unnecessarily piss off your ex-pawn psycho dictator who gives shelter to terrorists that murdered Americans even before GW1, GET RID OF HIM. Don’t fucking leave him for your son to finish. Foreign policy by compromise is what made Vietnam a failure. Like walking down the middle of a road instead of just picking a side.

    2. I second this as well. Facts and reason. More please.

    3. Agreed, I’m sorry for all the peacenicks out there but the Iraq war was necessary for a host of reasons none of which had anything to do with WMD and none were more than tangentially related to 9-11 (the only relationship was a schoolyard politics need to remind the world of just how strong we were militarily).

      That said agreeing that the war was necessary is not the same thing as agreeing with what we did.

      As I said at the time, the war was a necessary inevitability and our military victory was never in doubt but the odds that the Bush administration could have ever successfully pulled of the much harder job of winning the peace were pretty much non existant and ultimately I was right for pretty much the same reasons I said at the time.

      1) Out government had no real idea what the political realities of the country were
      2) They had a preconceived notion of what the final outcome should look like (a westernized republic in a unified country) and were unwilling to consider other paths which made more sense.
      3) the wishes of the Iraqi people were never really a consideration

      and finally most importantly

      4) Soldiers make terrible policemen, the longer our soldiers had to be in country putting down insurrections the more time there was for Abu Ghrab type incidents.

      1. The only hope we would have ever had is if there was a Douglas MacArthur type in either the US Military or State Departments who had lived a good part of his life in the Middle East (and Israel and Lebanon don’t count for these purposes) that really understood the people and their culture and really did want what was best for them in the end. Since we lacked that even though the war was necessary it was also doomed to failure

  8. “These people do not know what they are doing”

    Or do they? I see two choices. One, all the world’s leaders over the last few centuries have been completely incompetent. Two, the Illuminati, whoever they are, really exist. Why do our leaders make the wrong decision time, after time, after time?

    1. When you wonder whether our leaders are stupid or controlled in a conspiracy, remember; Joe biden is but a heartbeat away from presidency. Unless the Illuminati are led by Loki, it’s pretty clear they aren’t real.

      1. You’re making the assumption that Presidents does as they choose. If the cabal really exists all Presidents do as they are told. Who holds the office matters not one whit.

  9. By the way, I credit the Iraq war with converting me to libertarianism, along with healthy doses of Thomas Sowell, and Russ Roberts.
    The scales really feel from my eyes when Republicans used all the same weak arguments to justify failing militarism as democrats used to justify a failing welfare state. In the democrats defense, their bullshit plans suffered from less hubris than those of Republicans.

    1. Oh don’t sell TEAM BLUE short, there is a lot of hubris implied in the welfare state.

  10. I was a ‘supporter’ of the Iraq War. I never bought into Shrub’s nuclear boogeyman, anybody who knows anything about that technical pipeline never could have. Ditto with the 9/11 non-connection. But given the regime’s past behavior I was pretty sure they had chem-bio weapons, and was genuinely surprised when none were found.

    But that wasn’t why I supported the war. It was because we had been fighting the war for more than a decade already. It was because the situation in Iraq was a festering strategic problem a’la North Korea, with a budding lunatic family dynasty wriggling free of stupid sanctions.

    The idiot Al Gore actually got something right when on Larry King circa 2002, to paraphrase him, Gore spoke of a reckoning with a Hussein-run Iraq vs. the world coming one way or the other. If we had not fought the Iraq war, we eventually would’ve been dealing with a Kim-crazy regime on a lush petrodollar budget – like debt we were just letting the inevitable war grow in its potential disaster. Like Adolph in the 30’s.

    That is what I thought at the time, and those were rational arguments I had.

  11. It was/is possible to support a war to remove the Husseins and not support the subsequent occupation and “nation-building.” Let them build their own goddam nation.

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