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Thursday, January 18, 2007

hawks shedding feathers

In the early 1840s, a Baptist named William Miller began doing some serious work on the Book of Revelation. Using his mathematical genius, Miller came up with a formula showing precisely that the world would end in March of 1843. Due to an overlooked erasure, that date proved incorrect. The world was really going to end in 1844.

Miller collected thousands of followers. Unfortunately, God didn’t stage the drama he’d outlined in the book of Revelations in 1844, either. Hiram Edson, who later figured out that Jesus was coming in stages to the earth after making a tour of the universe, wrote about gathering with others on 23 October, 1844:

“Our expectations were raised high, and thus we looked for our coming Lord until the clock tolled 12 at midnight. The day had then passed and our disappointment became a certainty. Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before…”

Civilization rolls onward. Hiram Edson, more savy than Scott Fitzgerald, realized that America is the home of second acts, especially if the first act involved apocalyptic failure, and went on to found the very successful Seventh day Adventists. The war party is going through a similar blasting of expectations. Since the expectations were founded, generally, on mutually contradictory premises, vague allegories, and an almost complete lack of knowledge about… well, Iraq, the sackcloth and ashes phase should, one would think, involve absorbing a certain skepticism, and of course a reconsideration of the entire war culture – at this time, under the guise of the Global war on Terrorism – that has mangled so many bodies without any necessity at all.

There has been a blog hubbub about the post by Jane Galt, aka Megan McArdle, in which she explains why she was slightly wrong about ardently supporting America’s pre-emptive invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It turns out that McArdle was mislead by her faulty sense of empathy. In the end – as one would expect from a woman who names herself after an Ayn Rand character – the sum of novelistic factors that constituted America’s favorite Punch, Saddam Hussein, was beyond her. On the other hand, she remembers no dove who got anything right in the leadup to the war, except, by some odd quirk of fate, they were right that the war in toto.

Many of the doves seem to be reconstructing their memory of why they objected to the war, crediting themselves with having predicted that the invasion would fail in this way. Many hawks are also reconstructing their memories to make themselves less hawkish. Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I wrote my predictions down, so I know that I was an unabashed hawk, 100% convinced that Saddam had WMD.

The lesson that I can unequivocally take out of this is: do not be so confident in your ability to read other people and situations. Saddam was behaving exactly as I would have behaved if I had WMD, so I concluded that he had them. I will never again be so confident in the future.


That is so sweet of her! The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead have contributed to her education, and I bet she is going to be nicer to elderly neighbors, too!

McCardle leans libertarian. The occupation in Iraq has taught her to distrust government. Or so she writes. LI quietly tore out all of our hair, reading that, and flushed it down the toilet. Say what? If it wasn’t an analytic truth in January, 2003 that the invasion involved every feature of governmental overreaching that had been harped upon for two hundred years by liberal thinkers – as Limited Inc pointed out by going exhaustively through the catalogue of classical liberalism, from Burke to Constant – and McCardle couldn't figure that out herself, well, I'd guess there is a large hole in her libertarian ideas. The hole can be labeled - automatic respect for authority figures. I wish libertarians would just call themselves richophiles – a love of the wealthy the desire that all of society be shaped to please them is pretty much the alpha and omega of the McArdle strain of libertarianism.

Another hawk who shed his feathers a couple of months ago, Norman Geras, is an interesting case. He has made a career as a political intellectual – yet, his politics seem as easily distracted by the most juvenile mock arguments as the audience of American Idol, and that worries me about the way people become political intellectuals in the U.K. Geras recently raved about a Martin Amis quip – Amis denounced those who “waddled” out in the streets of London holding we are all hezbollah signs in the demonstrations against Israel’s bombing of Lebanon last year. Now, “waddled” is an interesting verb. I don’t believe that it is the verb that really occurred to Amis, seeing the tv footage of the demonstrators. They were mostly young and sprightly. Waddling wasn’t in it – waddling is confined more to the over the hill cigarchompers Amis might meet at his friend Chris Hitchens’ parties. The difference between insult and satire is the difference between using the verb “waddling” – which lights up the children and the Geras typses - and using a verb that really does break through the human crust, that puts the fishing hook through that bare forked creature and reels him in.

Anyway, Geras coyly links to a defense of the surge published in Foreign policy by a man named Donald Stoker. And what do you know – Stoker comes up with a defense that is another pony ex machina argument, of the same type that the hawks have made, over and over again, during the past three meat mounding years.

To read the Stoker article, it is best to skip the main part – a mélange of cases in which insurgents lost, insurgents won, etc., etc. – and get to Stoker’s case:

“Combating an insurgency typically requires 8 to 11 years. But the administration has done such a poor job of managing U.S. public opinion, to say nothing of the war itself, that it has exhausted many of its reservoirs of support. One tragedy of the Iraq war may be that the administration’s new strategy came too late to avert a rare, decisive insurgent victory.”


8 to 11 years, eh? To what end? I want to try to put a fairer cast on suggestions that are clearly lunatic, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, billion of dollars spent per month, in order to perhaps put down an insurgency and create (ta ta ta da!) a theocratic Shi’a government indistinguishable, in its ideology, from … Hezbollah. Indeed, Amis might have wanted to watch Chris Hitchens neo-con friends waddle at the next party he goes to, since they are doing infinitely more for Hezbollah than the young bucks of London.

3 comments:

Amerigo Sciurofascista said...

Roger, I find the pro-war nerds who affect a libertarian sensibility highly sympathetic. They remind me of the people who place those "bicurious, seeking experience and understanding" personal ads. They've seldom seen a punitive Nanny State action they find hard to support, in the end, and the tears afterwards have a certain je ne sais quoi to a sentimental old reprobate like me.

roger said...

But the thing I want to know, Brother Rail Gun of Forgiveness, is can I address you as Mr. BRGF?

An odd thing about the entire issue of the war on the blogs is how much it is wrapped up with gloating and not gloating. As if, the major downer about this war is that the people who opposed it can now gloat. This makes me think less of the tres serious world of m seek m seek f seek fm for ws than the world I have long been well out of of high school.

Amerigo Sciurofascista said...

BRGF is fine.

My gripe with the faux-libertarians, and their nominal opponents in the blogged mud wrestling, is they can't leave off those high school games, no matter what they do or where they go. There's a creepy infantilizing fundamentalism to them. They can't rest or know any peace until they've fouled everyone with their stupid debate tricks and asinine point scoring games.