Saturday, May 13, 2006

Answering a true liberal's question about Iraq

Recently an elderly aunt (oh, I don't think she'd like that "elderly" bit at all!) who lives in San Francisco asked me the following question during a phone conversation we were having, "So, do you still think it was good for us to go into Iraq?"

She's a lifelong liberal Democrat, but one of those people in my life who, since my "change," has always been patient and respectful towards me in all of our discussions. We actually don't talk too much any more about politics--it's mostly become one of those "agree to disagree" things--but at first we certainly did, and (unlike many) she made efforts to listen and never flew off the handle.

So, when she asked that question, her tone was only ever-so-slightly dubious, with the subtext, "How could you possibly believe such a thing?" only vaguely hinted at.

My answer amounted to the following:

Yes, in a way, although I never phrased it that way to begin with and wouldn't describe it that way today. It's not a question of "good for us," although the results could end up being good for us in the long run. But the way I saw it at the time, and still see it, is that it was a difficult and risky decision that represented something we needed to do, faced with a bad situation that had been building for decades in that area.

The risks were always huge, but we had to take a stand on Saddam's defiance of the terms of the ceasefire and of the UN's authority, and we had to try to see whether we could get something decent going in the region. That country seemed, for a whole host of reasons (including, most prominently, humanitarian ones), a good place to try to start.

I take the long view, and the jury is still out on what will happen in Iraq. You may not realize it, because of the news sources you read, but the government there is still moving ahead, and the country is not actually in a civil war, despite the bitter and bloody conflict. And it may also seem strange to you when I say this, but I was actually expecting worse. I expected far more bloodshed to occur, and more unrest and street fighting, not less. In this perhaps I'm different than most, but I seem to recall those were the prewar predictions even from the Left--which they seem to have forgotten, since moving the goalposts is always good sport.

I never thought a good outcome was a foregone conclusion. And the idea that the Bush administration uniformly thought so is a distortion (and here I referenced my posts on that theme, and on the famous "cakewalk" remark).

Her response was to thank me for a thoughtful and complex answer--which gives you a good idea of what sort of a person she is, and why we can talk together. I doubt she agreed with me, but not only is she willing to talk and to listen, but I know I represent one of the few opposing views she ever encounters, and she values hearing a different perspective. That makes her a true liberal indeed, in the first sense of the word as it's defined here:

broad: showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; "a broad political stance"; "generous and broad sympathies"; "a liberal newspaper"; "tolerant of his opponent's opinions"


At 12:56 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger peggy said...

So "spot-on" I had to post at my own site, neo-neocon!

Kudos to you and your aunt.

At 1:13 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Senescent Wasp said...

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

I do miss the "pre-modern" Liberal; the post modern variety is so hermetic.

At 1:34 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Tom Grey said...

Great answer!

I do wish you could have compared the current progress in Iraq, 3 years after Bush's action, with the current progress in Darfur, 2 years after both Bush and Kerry called it "genocide" -- but Kerry also added a "global test" to any criteria before the US should act. Sudan has "passed" the global test (or is it failed?), the UN says: "no genocide, no action needed."
"Maybe we'll change the name of the non-acting UN group of talkers and pretend that means we're doing something."

I'm really glad you mentioned the Left's prior expectations for doom, and how wrong they were. The alternative to war was letting Saddam continue to operate his rape rooms and his torture chambers.

At 3:15 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Sissy Willis said...

A heart that's truly liberal in the sense you define is ever young. Your auntie sounds like a keeper.

As for best reasons why Iraq, check your "Risk" gameboard:

Between Iraq and a hard place

At 4:24 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

All counter-arguments has to be tailored to the individual's personal beliefs, foibles, prejudices, or principles.

There are some general tactics like lowballing, that applies to everyone, but I've found it to be basically true that the best arguments are tailor made for certain individuals.

Without knowing what the individual in question really believes in, you are unable to target those specific weaknesses and destroy them.

At 4:59 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Timothy said...

What would your metric for failure be, other than a US withdraw? Is there any situation where the US doesn't withdraw that would be a grand strategic failure? I'm curious.

At 5:05 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Jack Trainor said...

I'm always glad to see reminders that "liberal" is a good word in the English language. Sadly it is no longer the correct word for many Democrats and progressives.

I suspect I'll be voting Republican until 2012 or longer. I still consider myself a liberal.

At 5:19 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Jack Trainor said...

Ah, well…I never did think of myself as a conservative, anyway…more like a classical liberal without a home.

--The Anchoress

Just ran across this while surfing. The Anchoress is good reading. A similar thoughtful feel to Neo's blog but with a Christian prespective.

The above quote is spot-on for me too.

At 6:08 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger al fin said...

That is almost exactly the way I think about Iraq. A huge gamble with huge risks. Given the trends of the past 20 years, something had to be done with arabia, something unmistakably firm and decisive. Perhaps Iraq was not the right thing, perhaps it was. Time will tell. If Iraq does not go well (too soon to say), something else will be necessary, something besides mealy-mouthed ineffectual "diplomacy."

The gods help us all if there is no one in a place of power at that time to do what is necessary.

At 8:44 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Jack Trainor said...

The gods help us all if there is no one in a place of power at that time to do what is necessary.

Exactly. When George W. Bush was elected I was sure he would be thoroughly mediocre, if not a disaster. There was little in his record to suggest otherwise.

Yet he has dared to take action in the Middle East and done remarkably well considering the complexity and risks. For better or worse, he has slashed the Gordian knot. The festering stalemate in the Middle East is over and, given the technological creep of WMD, it's better to do this now than later.

I believe we have found our Truman for the 21st century.

At 10:45 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Bush is actually Roosevelt, because Roosevelt started the war but never saw it when it ended. Which is going to Bush's fate anyways. Truman ended the war, Bush either cannot or will not do it currently.

At 10:52 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

As for failure in Iraq, I think it has to do with when you give up. You'll lose when you give up. Which is sorta like the phrase, winners don't quit, and quitters don't win.

Massoud was fighting the Taliban for like a couple of years, and he had nowhere near the resources the Americans had. People lose when they give up, or when they die, that's about the only criteria for failure.

So long as america is in the poker game and the pot's still growing, and we still have our chips, and we have not folded, there's a chance for victory and there's a chance for failure.

Anyone that understands Schrodinger's Box will understand this scenario as well. (I know, it's confusing, but still you'll get it once quantum physics makes sense)

I don't know what Neo's metric for failure in Iraq would be, but for me failure would be the point where America just folds and gives up, and the enemy wins by default.

Even if you change the criteria and input Iran into the question, the answer is the same. If you don't give up resisting Iran and helping Iraq resist Iran, Iran won't win and turn the ME into a strategic disaster.

At 11:11 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Jack Trainor said...

I find the Bush-Truman analogy more apt because Truman, compared to FDR at least, was a folksy, unassuming man. Truman was a product of machine politics in Kansas City. Not much was expected of him.

Yet he became president of the US after FDR died in office, made the decision to drop the atomic bombs ending WWII, and stood up to the Soviet Union in a necessary, vigorous manner that FDR in his weakened state had been unable to manage.

Although Truman's approval polls dropped to 23% due to the Korean War, he stayed the course, and his presidency has been vindicated by history and historians. Which is what I expect will happen with Bush.

At 2:00 AM, May 14, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

Timothy, a more interesting question is, what's your metric for success?

At 7:13 PM, May 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget - the status quo pre-invasion was splintering and unsustainable. The choices weren't between keeping sanctions on the one hand and invading and removing Saddam on the other. Rather the choices were between watching the sanctions fall apart and leave Saddam free to do whatever he wanted, including resume any WMD programs he desired, versus getting rid of him before that eventuality could come to pass. Big players on the world scene, including Russia and France, were trying their best to do away with the sanctions.

I don't know about you but I can't see how it would be a good thing for Saddam to have his freedom, have his money, have the ability to crow to the whole world that he had "won" by outlasting the US, etc. In that direction lay disaster. He would have become the Hugo Chavez of the Middle East and a mentor to every two bit dictator who came along. And as we discovered after the fact, even if the sanctions had remained in place, they were so thoroughly corrupted as to be nearly meaningless.

The way I look at it, the choices were between 1) a situation where Saddam gained more power than ever and any remote hope for the Iraqi people to have a better life was utterly crushed (remember, his even more psychotic sons were waiting in the wings to succeed him) and 2) a situation where the Iraqi people had some reason to hope for the future.

I believe they still have that reason to hope and I believe they believe it, too. They might be going through tough times right now but it's not for nothing that in this poll reported in December 2005 there was widespread optimism about the future of the country.

No one can pretend that everything is rosy in Iraq right now but the true comparison to make is not between the current situation and some hypothetical nirvana of happiness and kite-flying. That's the false comparison many of the anti-war protesters seem to want to make. They completely discount the hundreds of thousands of people killed by Saddam, the torture and brutality that was part of everyday Iraq. It seems that because those people died behind closed doors that somehow they didn't count. Well, for me they counted.

So when someone talks about "how bad" Iraq is right now I say "compared to what?". At least right now the people have a say in their government and have a chance to steer it into something better. In the Saddam era they had no such chance and consequently no hope. Why anyone would want to abandon them to that situation again, especially after promising them a way out, I can't comprehend.

At 11:45 PM, May 14, 2006, Blogger Elmondohummus said...

God. Bless. Her. (*exclaimation point*).

Openmindedness seems to be a rare trait nowadays. I have a hard time not prejudging many things, but I'd like to think that I at least recognize this and try my best to compensate. Yes, I fail. We all do; we're only human. But it helps to strive towards such a goal, even if we fall short; doing less is doing injustice to one's own intellect. Anyway... too often, when someone claims someone should be "open minded", they mean non-judgemental or simply uncritically accepting of non-majority viewpoints. Yet, that's lacking in regards to the spirit of being open-minded. I really don't believe that term should be interpreted in that way. An open mind is open at the beginning of the analytic process in order to gather all the data it can, then it uses that data to draw conclusions. That is the real function of the mind: Not merely to be "open" and nothing else, but to take and analyze data gathered while open in order to make decisions, draw conclusions, or pass judgements.

A true liberal recognizes this. Such a person may not start out with the same values or beliefs with which to judge data passing through their minds as we who call ourselves conservatives do, but they truly keep their minds open and listen to arguments and reason. They don't prejudge. They may make judgements along the way, but if they're intellectually honest, they'll recognize logic and well constructed arguments when they see them. Sure, they'll mostly still come to differing conclusions than we on the right will, but those who are truly, really liberal will have come to them in an intellectually honest way. Good, rational, logical conservatives must do the same thing; to my regret, too many don't. At any rate, many liberals and conservatives lay claim to openmindedness, yet too few actually achieve it. Your aunt, even though it's apparent that she's already drawn her own conclusions, is willing to at least listen to counterarguments. And she's willing to accept that being opposite another's opinion isn't the same as being a contravida, an antagonist, but rather, it's being simply on opposite sides of one, whole, solid truth, and understanding that one needs to consider counterarguments in order to more fully see the whole picture. The fact that she thanked you for your "thoughtful and complex" answer shows that she's truly an openminded individual, a real liberal in the best sense of the word. Unlike many who claim to be liberal but display a distressing tendency towards the most rigid closedmindedness in their arguments, outlooks, and philosophies. It's bad enough when a conservative is closeminded, but most conservatives aren't as verbal or ostentaneous at laying claim to openmindedess as liberals are, even though it's every little bit as important and integral a part of our intellectual foundations as it is for those on the left. But when a liberal is closeminded... well... given their more openly proclaimed adherence to it, they're in even bigger betrayal of a quality they claim as their own.

When they do that, are they really being liberal?

In closing: A thought from another conservative's blog (warning: I quoted this in one of Neo's previous posts, so some of you will have already seen it):

"By historical terms, there's nothing "conservative" about my beliefs. And there's very little that's "conservative" about America (when was the last time you heard an American politician arguing that we should restore the old monarchy?) We are liberal democrats living in a liberal democracy with a liberal-democratic Constitution that's one of the world's finest and most ingenious political documents ever written. America was born out of liberal principles. If those ideas are abandoned the world will be worse off for it."

At 12:31 PM, May 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be happier if fewer people felt the need to interpret Neo's 'liberal democratic' to mean 'socialistic.'

But I agree with Neo - it would be a healthier political climate if people of all persuasions would listen and respond as she and her aunt did rather than always trying to "win" the debate.

I've said it before, but the fact is I cannot believe that six years into Bush's administration and three years since the invasion of Iraq, we (I mean Americans in general) are still repeating the same arguments over and over. It no longer feels like a debate. It's like if we keep chanting our opinions long enough, the Gods will alter reality to correspond and we'll be vindicated and our ideological enemies put to flight. Yeah, and if we clap loud enough, freakin' Tinkerbell will come back to life...

I wish people could get it through their heads that the die was cast in 2003 and it has yet to stop rolling.

At 7:13 PM, May 15, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

You can't have a debate when 70% of the population on the internet doesn't know anything about Logic 101.

You can have an argument, you can try to persuade others of your viewpoint, but having a debate necessitates some basic fairness of environment. You can't have a basketball game when the other team is missing 4 players on the roster (total 5) , and you can't have a debate with people who don't know how to debate.

If we're talking about propaganda, which is what persuasion is or vice a versa, then repetition is one of the most useful methods. While it is the logical fallacy of ad nauseam argument, propaganda does not adhere to the fairness doctrine in debates.

This is what Newt said that Einstein said about insanity. Insanity is when you keep doing what you have always been doing, and expecting to get a different result.

This is in contrast to the one of Murphy's Laws. If it is stupid, and it works, then it ain't stupid.

I think Neo's been pretty clear about what she means by liberal and democratic, as opposed to the movement of fake liberalism going on, masquearding as open minded folks and molks.

I almost forgot, but I think one of the most pernicious and insidious aspects to people arguing on the internet has to do about self-esteem and self-confidence. If someone is not confident in their abilities, judgements, beliefs, ideas, and analysis then that person has an increased likely hood of attacking other people for challenging their beliefs, which are already shaky to begin.

I'm not refering directly to agreeing to disagree, but it's probably the closest thing to use as an example. When I challenge Jack Trainor's beliefs with my own, I don't feel a need to attack him psychologically, I just don't agree with his portrayal. However, I'm confident in my own opinions and beliefs to feel no particular hostility to learning about why Jack believes as he does.

Someone who isn't confident, would probably behave in a much more hostile manner, and extend the argument to many many comments, which eventually actually goes nowhere.

I like to know and learn stuff. In chess, I'm always looking for my opponent's strategy and seeing what tricks he uses. I use the same philosophy in arguments. I can't argue my position effectively if I do not understand my opponent's position. If there is room for additional points to be made, I'll make them. If it is simply a different prioritization and emphasis on different interpretations, like Jack's emphasis on Truman and my emphasis on Roosevelt, then there is no more debate because both interpretations are valid. I'll resign my game if it is futile to keep moving the pieces in chess, sure. But sometimes I won't, that's valid as well. But I separate the belief in victory from other motivations. For example, if I have a knight and a king with 2 pawns, and my enemy has 2 rooks, the king, and 4 pawns. I might not resign, I would keep moving, forcing my opponent to show me how to do the end game. You could resign of course, but then you would never learn. But if you already know how to do the end game, then you will only waste time by continuing an argument.

Someone whose internal beliefs are unstable and who has a lack of self-confidence, will never admit that any different interpretation might be correct. That would be like a dictator allowing someone to successfully rebel against him, this would set into action a chain of events that would eventually unseat him from power. We are the commander of our minds, and every individual uses a different method of control on mental behavior.

You've seen one defense used already. Fanaticism. Believe so strongly, that nothing your enemy will do will convince you otherwise. But nobody is a fanatic about EVERYTHING, that's not possible. You'd have to go schizoid to do that. Someone who believes the light is green regardless of what anyone else says, may be a fanatic, but he is also certifiably insane.

(jeez louis, Bush just said on Fox that Mexico is our friend and neighbor. Well they're our neighbor, but they're not negotiating in good faith. People who want to send people to the US so that they can produce a higher GDP than Mexicans in Mexico, are interested not in friendship but in exploitation for their own greed, like Fox is.)

Someone who has a shaky internal belief system, will adopt more and more fanatical beliefs. Simply because they don't know of any other way to strenghten their beliefs than that. This is contrasted to open-mindedness, tolerance, and diversity. Where your strength of belief is increased by its inherent superiority compared to its competitors. A person cannot both use oppressive internal mental controls and open-minded democratic internal mental controls at the same time.


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