Iraq War

Another Lesson from the Iraq War

Liberals and conservatives are short-sighted even when claiming to have learned their lessons.

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"For years," says Haroon Moghul, "Many have argued that Muslims and Arabs, like other humans, don't appreciate being bombed or occupied. Finally we have a study to confirm this suspicion."

Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, made this sardonic observation with regard to a new poll showing that 93 percent of young Iraqis consider the United States their enemy. Herein lies a lesson or two for many conservatives—and for liberals as well.

One lesson for conservatives of the more belligerent type involves the value of empathy. Consider how the two leading Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, have been acting toward Muslims lately. Trump has proposed denying Muslims entry to the United States entirely. Cruz wants to authorize law enforcement to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods." This, mind you, from the man who said during one GOP debate: "I will never compromise away your religious liberty. And for me, Bret, religious liberty has been a lifelong passion."

Trump and Cruz staked out those extreme positions because of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, in which 146 people (perpetrators included) died. The 9/11 attacks killed almost 3,000. Conservatives bristle at President Obama's assertion that you are more likely to die from falling in the bathtub than from a terrorist attack. And conservatives are partly right: The odds of dying from a terrorist attack are not really that low. They're actually lower: You're more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack.

But let's say that the next terrorist attack turns out vastly worse than even 9/11 was. Suppose it killed 10,000 Americans. Suppose it killed 50,000. That is still less than half the number of Iraqis who died in the six years following the U.S. invasion in 2003—in a country with a population only one-tenth that of the U.S. (Sure, some of those casualties were soldiers. But Americans do not blithely dismiss the deaths of American soldiers who die in combat. To the contrary, we honor their noble sacrifice for defending their country.)

If Americans can experience such outrage over the slaughter of a few scores or hundreds of Westerners, should we be surprised by the reaction by Muslims and Arabs to the slaughter of tens or hundreds of thousands?

Another lesson concerns hubris. On the eve of the Gulf War, Dick Cheney famously predicted American invaders would be "greeted as liberators." The U.S. would invade, straighten the country out in a couple of months, and Iraq would become a stable, peace-loving democracy. You could write a book about such delusions: The Audacity of Hype.

Things didn't work out that way, obviously. Conservatives blame this on President Obama, for drawing down the troop surge at the end of 2011. They never stop to ask why the surge was needed in the first place—or why, if it was such a success, the country fell apart so quickly after.

Many conservatives—or at least neoconservatives—seem to think any  problem can be easily solved with the firm application of American force, no matter how much evidence to the contrary piles up. But then, so do liberals. The only difference is who's on the receiving end.

Liberals of a certain stripe—those who talk up "soft power" and diplomacy and disdain militarism—oppose efforts by America to impose its will by force abroad. "There are no easy or magical solutions," as Bernie Sanders says in the "War and Peace" section of his campaign website. Yet he and those of his persuasion are ceaselessly enthusiastic about imposing their will by force at home, through the endless expansion of government power and control.

Wages too low? Force employers to pay more.

Too many uninsured? Force Americans to buy coverage.

Not enough parental leave? Force companies to provide it.

Rich people speaking too freely about politics? Rewrite the First Amendment so you can stop them.

A horrific school shooting? Take guns away from people who didn't do it.

People drinking too much soda? Ban big servings or tax the stuff.

Fantasy sports gambling getting too popular? Shut it down.

The list could run on for pages. Except for abortion, there seems to be nothing in America for which the progressive answer is not "more government"—their own magical solution to everything.

And like the Iraqi people, Americans are somehow supposed to be grateful—because it's for their own good! Why can't they see that? Why do they hate government, when it's only trying to help?

Maybe, like other humans, they don't like being ordered about by men with guns. If only someone would do a study to confirm that suspicion.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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41 responses to “Another Lesson from the Iraq War

  1. I’m not sure the Keyser S?ze glamor-shot is the fairest stock-photo for the US military

  2. I have it on good authority (AmSoc) that all libertarians were ardent supporters of this war until 2009, but their racism toward President Obama was so strong that it eclipsed their racism toward Muslims and their love of bombing countries.

    1. it makes so much sense now

      1. Cheese it! He’s on to us!

  3. Socialism, whether it’s Bernie’s much-vaunted Scandinavian Democratic Socialism, or Kim Jong Un’s PRK Socialism, is a philosophy of violence. Bernie just outsources his.

  4. “Socialism government, whether it’s Bernie’s much-vaunted Scandinavian Democratic Socialism, or Kim Jong Un’s PRK Socialism, is a philosophy of violence. Bernie just outsources his.”

  5. Or maybe it’s because when you declare war on a country, the country you declare it on might consider you an enemy? Especially with all those bombs and stuff you keep lobbing at them.

    Rarely does a country you declare war on consider you a ‘friend’ or ‘liberator’ no matter what a certain Texan might say.

    (Standard disclaimer on how the U.S. declares war applies. In that usually we don’t bother.)

    1. “…But Americans do not blithely dismiss the deaths of American soldiers who die in combat. To the contrary, we honor their noble sacrifice for defending their country.”

      Oh, I did want to comment on this as well. We do so only so long as a Republican is in office. Recall the running nightly news death toll of American soldiers in Iraq that vanished the literal instant Barak was elected? Is that how you honor them, by completely hiding the death toll then shuffling the remainders into the VA? How ‘honorable’ of us.

      1. Don’t worry, if Trump gets elected the war protestors and giant papier mache puppet heads will return the next day.

  6. Be kind to Americans or we’ll bring democracy to your country.

  7. In 1960*, did 93% of young West Germans or Japanese view the US as their enemy? If not, why not?

    *15 years after the end of World War II.

    1. Whether they did or didn’t, the active belligerents in those conflicts weren’t accepting mass migrations of each other’s populations based on the reasonable assumption that those groups would be heavily laden with enemies.

  8. “You’re more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack.”

    I’ve seen this repeated again and again in these pages. It’s true but irrelevant. It also misses the point of terror attacks. They are intended to terrorize a populace, and herd them into more extreme positions, and they can be effective with even minimal casualties. Even though your life may not have ended due to a terror attack, and you’ve made it through unharmed, there is plenty of reason to fear the aftermath: more belligerent foreign adventures, increased surveillance at home etc,

    1. It misses an even more important point: lightning is not actively plotting to harm me using the most complex object yet found in the universe, the human brain. And worse, many brains acting in concert. If you can’t see the difference, there’s something broken in your brain.Terrorism is intentional; lightning is not. They should not be thought of in the same way, or defended against in the same way.

    2. there is plenty of reason to fear the aftermath: more belligerent foreign adventures, increased surveillance at home etc,

      Which is exactly the point: those are overreactions to the threat of terrorism. This is why it is important to remind people of their relative risk.

      1. Like cop shootings?

      2. ?Which is exactly the point: those are overreactions to the threat of terrorism. This is why it is important to remind people of their relative risk.”

        You appear to have misunderstood. It is perfectly rational to fear terror attacks. But not, like a lightning strike, because they are fatal, but because to the typical reactions to them. The risk of increased surveillance after a terror attack is elevated and should be of concern to all.

    3. So, both you and Draco are of the opinion that guns should be illegal for everyone?

      Seems legit to me.

      After all, they’re used in a faction of a faction of crime but they’re using scary brains and planning to commit crimes with them. Therefore they should be banned because of that tiny, insignificant fraction of events.

      Even one life lost to terrorism guns is one too many!

  9. Conservatives bristle at President Obama’s assertion that you are more likely to die from falling in the bathtub than from a terrorist attack. And conservatives are partly right: The odds of dying from a terrorist attack are not really that low. They’re actually lower: You’re more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack.

    Actually they’re even lower than that, along the lines of coming out of your shower one morning and seeing Scarlett Johansson blowing Brittany Murphy on the back of a unicorn made of Unobtainium.

    For, ahem, instance, that is.

    1. It’s still a statistic without meaning. The lightning isn’t actually trying to kill people. And just because more people die in car accidents than are murdered by criminals, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps against violent criminals.

      1. But it sure as hell is one hot fantasy! Although, thinking about it now, I’d probably sub out Jessica Alba for Murphy…

        Sorry, I’m gonna need a few minutes in my thinking room to figure this out.

      2. Nobody is arguing that nothing should be done. But going full-on pants-shitting police state mode is not the only option.

    2. Looking at terrorism purely as a body count is the first error.

      Terrorism isn’t about killing, so much as it is about the reaction to killing. You know, the actual terror.

      3,000 people die in car accidents every month, more or less. The same number as were killed on 9/11. Yet our air traffic system doesn’t shut down every month, we aren’t put into a mini-recession every month, etc.

      In short, not all deaths are fungible.

      1. True story: The week of 9/11 I was out running at a local park, and I was stopped by this elderly couple, who asked me if the beat up minivan parked there was mine. I replied yes, why are you asking? The man said, “Well we just want to make sure we know who everybody is, you know, after, you know.”

        Since they were really old, I was nice and didn’t say it but I wanted to ask, “Do you really think they’re going to go after a tiny park in the middle of nowhere where there was just one jogging fat dude and two old fucks hanging around?”

      2. So, what you’re saying is that pointing out that it’s a fear-based tactic based on a false fear of a statistically insignificant thing is worthless because terror will terror even if it’s de-terrored. Ok.

        So even if terrorism stopped working as a fear tactic because people realized it’s a false fear terrorists would still commit acts of terror against us because…?

        1. So, what you’re saying is that pointing out that it’s a fear-based tactic

          Yes.

          based on a false fear of a statistically insignificant thing

          Well, OK.

          is worthless because terror will terror even if it’s de-terrored

          Nope.

          I’m saying that pure body count elides the fact that some deaths have knock-on effects that others don’t. Most people aren’t autistic actuaries. They process threats other than statistically. That ain’t gonna change. People won’t “realize its a false fear” because they are more likely to die of something else. Pretending that a death is a death is a death is to deny reality.

        2. Much like BLM? From the core libertarian tenet of utilitarianism I should expect to see no more hand wringing (look, ma, no pants!) here at reason over police shootings, right? I mean the odds…

  10. “There are no easy or magical solutions,” as Bernie Sanders says in the “War and Peace” section of his campaign website.

    Yet “soft power” is generally a ceaseless quest for easy or magical solutions.

    Unenforcable “executive agreement”? check

    Taking aggressive dictatorships at their word that they will disarm and stand down? check

    And there’s nothing more “easy or magical” than the endless round of climate change jaw-jaw.

    1. I like the cut of your jib, Dean.

  11. “And like the Iraqi people, Americans are somehow supposed to be grateful?because it’s for their own good! Why can’t they see that? Why do they hate government,..”

    Iraqis have perfectly legitimate reasons to hate Americans and their government. Americans don’t hate their government. They turn out in their millions to support an legitimize the likes of Obama and Romney and all the rest every chance they get.

    1. The point which you obviously missed, is that this is a common gripe from the likes of Obama in response to any sort of skepticism of government.

      “Government is us…”

  12. Well done. Especially good is the crisp rebuttal of the charge that Obama lost the war by withdrawing American troops too soon. The ability of the war hawks to blame everyone but themselves was amazing. Reasons for failure always existed with someone else – not the people who started the war, mismanaged it, lied about it, wasted resources on it, or even cared that much about the damage they did.

    Things were not that great in Iraq before the surge, or after the surge, though the renewed commitment did settle things down in Anbar for a while. Things were not that great in Iraq before the 2011 withdrawal, or after the 2011 withdrawal. If you want to argue that American troops could have prevented the fall of Mosul to ISIS in 2014, go ahead, but the impact of American troops in this theater or that province during the last five years is not the point. The question is whether the United States wanted to commit its military to an endless pacification campaign in Iraq’s deserts when it invaded in 2003, or whether an endless commitment has anything at all to do with its worldwide security…

  13. …The original invasion was an enormous, reckless mistake – a strategic blunder that no prudent person would make. The only wise course after making a mistake of that magnitude was to pay modest reparations, and get out as fast as possible. Instead we compounded every evil by overstaying, with allies in our so-called coalition dropping away one by one. By 2011, we recognized at last that we ought to leave as well. When we finally did what we should have done eight years before, Cheney and the others said we should stay another eight, or four, or twelve, or whatever!

    Never underestimate the recklessness of someone who makes a serious mistake. The damage just keeps piling up.

    1. Sunk cost fallacy.

    2. We have no business being there.

  14. It’s bad enough they have 1984 for a field manual, now we’re giving them bullet point lists to check off

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