The mosque bombing and its aftermath: civil war about civil war; pundits and predictions
See an excellent roundup of differing views on the current post-mosque bombing crisis in Iraq, here.
And the latest from Iraq the Model, who's on the scene in Baghdad.
Belmont Club writes:
The good news is that there are enough cools heads on both sides to try to keep the lid on. That fact alone attests to the accomplishment of those who have tried to build a unitary Iraq. The bad news is that the pressures -- stoked by parties unknown, though Iraq the Model suggests they are "foreign terror groups" -- may be too much to handle.
Bottom line--no one really has a clue, or too much more than a clue.
The doom-and-gloomers who cried "civil war" at the very outset of any discord in Iraq are now practically salivating with glee (I'm sorry, but that's how I see it) at being able to say--like the hypochondriac who wrote "I told you so!" on his tombstone--"See, civil war! Here it is, at last!"
As for me, I cannot see the future. But my experience of the past tells me that neither extreme pessimism nor extreme optimism is warranted right now. I know that the goal of those who have done this is to spark a civil war, and I know that the goal of those who hate President Bush and the entire Iraqi war is to have it sparked, and to be able to say "We told you so."
Is my motivation for wanting things to turn out well to be able to say, myself, "I told you so?" I certainly don't think it is. I want things to turn out well for the sake of--well, for the sake of things turning out well for the Iraqi people, the US, and the world.
But I never was naive enough to believe this would be at all easy, or that it was necessarily going to turn out well, or that it was a "slam dunk." And the kneejerk characterization of the neocon endeavor as being composed of people who think that way--that bringing democracy plus human rights to the Arab world, or any part of the world that doesn't already have that tradition--will be easy is, I think, mischaracterizing the movement.
I've already written a long post on the whole meme that neocons thought the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk," which I think is a misrepresentation of the basic neocon position. The
post is here for anyone who wants to review it; I see no need for me to rewrite it.
I would summarize my position as follows: all alternatives in these situations (prewar Iraq, for example) are fraught with danger and possible chaos. But we must nevertheless choose the course that looks best given all the knowledge we have at the time, knowing that it might lead to failure. That's the risk one must take.
In fact, it's impossible not to take a risk. Because don't think you can avoid making a decision by simply choosing to do nothing. That has consequences, too, although they are easier to deny. And, since we don't have a variety of worlds in which we can try out all the different actions as a sort of scientific experiment, we have to make all decisions with very imperfect knowledge, making it up as we go along, never quite knowing whether we were correct or not--even ex post facto.
That's history (and life) as it's lived, I'm afraid. Which is not to say that we shouldn't try to evaluate decisions, of course. We must, in order to try to learn to make better ones. I think we can now safely say, for example, that securing the Iraqi borders very early on would have been a very good thing to do--if indeed a way could have been found to do so. But I certainly don't think we can rightly say that the war itself was an error, looking at the situation as a whole so far--although, of course, some say it, will say it, and have been saying it from the moment the very first difficulties began.
I wrote a previous post on this subject of evaluating decisions that affect history. It was based on the writing of one of my favorite authors, Milan Kundera. I'll repeat some of his words here:
Several days later, [Tomas] was struck by another thought, which I record here as an addendum to the preceding chapter: Somewhere out in space there was a planet where all people would be born again. They would be fully aware of the life they had spent on earth and of all the experience they had amassed here.
And perhaps there was still another planet, where we would all be born a third time with the experience of our first two lives,
And perhaps there were yet more and more planets, where mankind would be born one degree (one life) more mature.
That was Tomas's version of eternal return.
Of course we are here on earth (planet number one, the planet of inexperience) can only fabricate vague fantasies of what will happen to man on those other planets. Will he be wiser? Is maturity within man's power? Can he attain it through repetition?
Only from the perspective of such a utopia is it possible to use the concepts of pessimism and optimism with full justification: an optimist is someone who thinks that on planet number five the history of mankind will be less bloody. A pessimist is one who thinks otherwise.
And this is what Kundera (a Czech) wrote about the history of his people:
There is only one history of the Czechs. One day it will come to an end, as surely as Tomas's life, never to be repeated.
In 1618, the Czech estates took courage and vented their ire on the emperor reigning in Vienna by pitching two of his high officials out of a window in the Prague Castle. Their defiance led to the Thirty Years War, which in turn led to the almost complete destruction of the Czech nation. Should the Czechs have shown more caution than courage? The answer may seem simple; it is not.
Three hundred and twenty years later, after the Munich Conference of 1938, the entire world decided to sacrifice the Czech's country to Hitler. Should the Czechs have tried to stand up to a power eight times their size? In contrast to 1618, they opted for caution. Their capitulation led to the Second World War, which in turn led to the forfeit of their nation's freedom for many decades or even centuries. What should they have done?
If Czech history could be repeated, we should of course find it desirable to check the other possibility each time and compare the results. Without such an experiment, all considerations of this kind remain a game of hypotheses...
The history of the Czechs will not be repeated, nor will the history of all of Europe. The history of the Czechs and of Europe are a pair of sketches from the pen of mankind's fateful inexperience.
"Mankind's fateful inexperience" is always operating on this, the planet of inexperience.
And so the inexperienced pundits pronounce, predict, and pontificate--while the caravan moves on.