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October 11, 2004

More Chordal Changes on Iraq

Mark Shea points to a comment discussion on Amy Welborn's blog wherein a formerly staunch supporter of the war, Rod Dreher, admits the following:

I am deeply concerned over the conduct of the war, and the prospect that family members of mine might die for the illusion that Iraq can be democratic. This is not an abstract threat. I'm looking at the possibility that my brother in law, a National Guard officer who never, ever imagined he'd be ordered to go fight in the Middle East (because who on earth could have invented such a prospect?), might have to leave his wife and three kids ... and never come home. If I still believed that this was a cause worth shedding American blood for, that'd be one thing. But now I'm thinking that our men are dying for an unwinnable war. You cannot force liberal democracy on people who don't want it.

I long ago stopped following the internal debate about the war among Catholics for the simple reason that the heat that it created became unbearable. Even so, Rod's turnabout is a bit surprising. So surprising is it, in fact, that my first impulse is to wonder what the real cause might be: The direct threat to family, and the pressure that goes with that? The stress of being the lone voice on an editorial page that is generally hostile to his opinions? Still, the urge to wonder must remain just that, because I don't know Rod, and I won't guess at his motivations — conscious and subconscious.

Whatever the case, I thought I'd post my comment-box response on my own blog, because with school starting up again tomorrow, I have no idea when I'll manage to flesh it out more:

In a different way from Rod, I've taken an extended break from the internecine battles of the Catholic regions of the blogosphere. Unlike Rod, I don't offer my opinions for a living (yet). So (I say with tongue in cheek), I can only conclude that nobody with whom I sparred in my ostensible hubris a while back has been praying for me — that I'd put down the Kool-Aid (ugh, when will that meme die?) — because I'm still inclined to take up the same side. (Even if Rod Dreher is now on the other.)

I'm going to take this statement for a walk, tonight, to see whether I can wear it down to what's bugging me, but there's something in Rod's comment above that just doesn't sit right:

In retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention to the conservatives (hat tip: Al) who argued that getting mixed up in Iraq was bad for America because there was no way to impose our values on that Arab Islamic culture. ... Even though we didn't ultimately find WMDs, I still wouldn't have soured on the war if there were more evidence that the Bush team had had a more reasonable plan for winning the peace.

And throw this in, too:

One thing that I dislike about the president is how he never seems to be able to admit that he was mistaken about anything.

So what's the retrospective demand? That the President have had a reasonable, enumerated plan to do the impossible, and that he should admit that he didn't have one (or had the wrong one) and install another? The general spin has perhaps gotten a bit too wobbly for essences to be clear.

Sometimes plans have to be fluid, and under certain circumstances, it can be advisable for the leader of the effort not to lay out the steps in any particular direction too succinctly. It will also often be advisable merely to tweek the underlying plan without announcing that a mistake has been made. This will prove particularly true during an election season against a desperate opposing party for which no potential point of attack is apparently off the table (whether it be talking down the economy or distorting the war and belittling the allies).

Look, I don't have a window into the administration's thinking, but it seems to me that one can do as Rod has apparently done and conclude that "getting mixed up in Iraq was bad for America" — even though Rod acknowledges elsewhere that sanctions wouldn't have lasted, and Saddam was prepared to throw his WMD machinery into gear at first opportunity — and the administration won't admit that the plan that it didn't have isn't working in every specific. Or one can trust that not "getting mixed up in Iraq" was not an option that had many more years of viability and that the administration has attempted to take a reasonably fluid approach to accomplishing something that seems near impossible.

In line with all of the above, I would ask of those who aren't reflexively anti-war and/or anti-Bush what they could possibly be measuring against to suggest that the administration's approach is a failure. I don't see how one can simultaneously assess the goal to be too difficult to tackle and declare a particular strategy a failure (after less than two years).

(Sorry to write while thinking, as it were, but I'm beginning to feel as if I missed the Fox News report that Allah had engulfed Baghdad in an impenetrable fog or something.)

Posted by Justin Katz at October 11, 2004 11:51 PM
Middle East
Comments

The thing about Rod's comment that disturbs me is -

"I'm looking at the possibility that my brother in law, a National Guard officer who never, ever imagined he'd be ordered to go fight in the Middle East (because who on earth could have invented such a prospect?),..."

Why did his brother-in-law join the National Guard without the understanding that in a time of war there would be the real possibility of becoming involved in the conflict? Is it because of letting too many years go by before finishing the job that was started a little more than a decade ago? Is it because of too many years of national leaders trying to align U.S. thought with European "peace at all costs" (meaning dissemble, dissemble, retreat)? Is it because the public at large grew so haughty as to believe that no other body politic would see reason in attacking us?

And what is this "winning the peace" phrase all about. I thought it was necessary to win a war in order to secure peace. When did it get contracted and why? Has instant gratification become so ingrained in our society that we no longer have the stamina to defend ourselves? I am Catholic also, but I always thought that self defense was still allowable. Have we as christians lost the understanding that we may have to die for what we believe? Maybe it will be necessary for christians to become a persecuted people again in order to inspire belief... I don't know. When did this country become so squeamish at the sight of blood that it became undesirable to pursue a worthy goal?

If Rod's brother couldn't stand cooking, why did he go into the kitchen and put on the chef's hat? When my youngest son joined the Army, I understood that there was a very real possibility that he might have to actually fight while he was still in. I don't know if he understood that or not, but it wasn't from listening to his parents that he might have misunderstood.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 12, 2004 8:45 AM

"You cannot force liberal democracy on people who don't want it"- A person who claims to live in Dallas.

"last battle of the Civil War was fought near Brownsville"

"News of Lee's surrender arrived after the battle, which caused many of the victorious Texans to flee the state, refusing to surrender or believe they had lost the war."

Is Rod actually ignorant of his own city's history? Could this be an impostor?

Posted by: Ripper at October 12, 2004 10:30 AM
In line with all of the above, I would ask of those who aren't reflexively anti-war and/or anti-Bush what they could possibly be measuring against to suggest that the administration's approach is a failure. I don't see how one can simultaneously assess the goal to be too difficult to tackle and declare a particular strategy a failure (after less than two years).

Exactly - Rod almost fits in with the people Jonah Goldberg was addressing in his latest G-file. There's a big difference between criticizing the post-war tactics and/or strategy, and retrospectively claiming we shouldn't have gone to war because we've handled the aftermath less than perfectly. Either we should have gone to war in March of '03, or we shouldn't. If we end up screwing up the aftermath (and I cannot understand why people think things are so screwed up over there - people need to read more Chrenkoff and Steyn and watch ABCNews less), then we screwed up the aftermath - that doesn't make the initial decision to go to war wrong.

I also have to say that I think Rod's position is very close to being anti-Christian (I'm hesitant to call it outright anti-Christian, not knowing the full scope of his thinking). Christians are supposed to remain hopeful and faithful even in the darkest hour (and this is far from that moment) - that is at the core of Christianity: it's the transformation of Good Friday into Easter Morning. One doesn't have to think that Iraq will turn into Eden to be able to imagine that a much better future is in the offing. Perhaps in 12 months, perhaps 5 years - what's the difference when your reference is the Kingdom of God? Moreover, we are not called to do the right thing only if it works out well in earthly terms - we are called to do the right thing and trust that the Lord's will will be done. Defending one's country is the right thing to do, and attempting to get Iraq back on its feet after removing an evil regime is the right thing to do, even if the effort fails.

Posted by: Mike S. at October 12, 2004 10:54 AM

P.S. On what evidence does Rod base his assumption that Iraqis don't want democracy?

Posted by: Mike S. at October 12, 2004 11:49 AM

Why Apologize?
Rod said: "One thing that I dislike about the president is how he never seems to be able to admit that he was mistaken about anything."

Only those on the left can follow that thinking. Why does it matter whether Bush is willing to admit some mistake. In what conceivable way would the world improve if he did?

The demand for an apology is an obvious trap. It asks Bush to adopt his enemies' mindset, in which perfection is the standard against which everythingt is judged. If Rod invested through a stockbroker, would he expect an apology every time the broker recommended an investment that didn't excel? Liberals can hold themselves to fantasy standards if they like, but they have no right to demand that Bush do the same.

Winning the Peace
Am I the only person who remembers the media frenzy in the months leading up to war? Does anyone else remember the endless wailing and predictions of doom the MSM and other liberals gave us?

We had no chance in Iraq. Our troops were doomed. Iraq's elite Republican Guard was battle-hardened, fighting on their own turf. The people of Iraq would rise up to defend their homeland. Saddam would use WMDs on us.

How can those same people now shriek that Bush is a bumbling idiot because he didn't have some unspecified plan to win the peace? If Bush is an idiot because he didn't have the Iraqi Constitution written before the invasion began, then the libs who screamed that we would lose on the battlefield must be complete and utter morons. If in fact Bush didn't have an adequate plan (which I don't for a moment believe), perhaps it was because he was wrestling pre-invasion with liberal protests bordering on open treason.

The gloom and doom about Iraq seems analogous to the domestic news trick in which you show a few horrible incidents, invite the viewer to imagine that such incidents are commonplace, and then stir up panic for some ridiculous political end.

Take away the puff-piece interviews and tearjerking human interest stories about individual people killed. What objective facts contradict the conclusion that Iraq is progressing as quickly as can reasonably be expected towards becoming the first stable Muslim democracy in the Middle East?

Posted by: Ben Bateman at October 12, 2004 6:00 PM

I realize Rod's possibly not voting for Bush in Texas will have no effect on the race, but in principle does he not see how much worse things could get in Iraq, and in the war on radical Islam, and that the election of Kerry would greatly increase the likelihood that things will go downhill? Things might get worse if Bush is reelected, and there's a small (very small) chance that things would not get worse or get slightly better if Kerry is elected, but the percentages are not remotely equivalent. I think his attitude is grossly irresponsible.

Posted by: Mike S. at October 13, 2004 10:30 AM

Iraq's a real mess - they're handing out frozen chickens! What next, frozen turkeys? We'd better bug out now...

Posted by: Mike S. at October 13, 2004 5:26 PM