In 2003, I had the naïve notion that invading a country to topple a brutal dictator to give 25 million people a chance at freedom seemed like a reasonable thing. We are the United States of America. Why shouldn’t we use some of our enormous capitol to help those who can’t help themselves?
Eleven years later, I’m less naïve (at least somewhat) and better understand that invading a country is not an uncomplicated task that can be done with little effort and sacrifice. But that’s not what’s being proposed in Iraq today (my instincts today say stay far away, though there’s little reason for anyone to follow my instincts on foreign policy) and those who got it wrong in 2003 may have something valuable to add to the debate today.
Here’s Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine (full piece here http://tinyurl.com/pohohhm ):
Most Democrats in Congress opposed the Gulf War, warning of Saddam Hussein’s fearsome, World War I–style fortifications and citing 45,000 body bags as an indication of the likely U.S. death toll — predictions that turned out to be wildly incorrect. Why shouldn’t anti-Gulf war Democrats -- that is, the vast majority of Democrats — have been excluded from subsequent foreign policy debates? If your answer is “because people died — Iraq,” then then you’re not arguing that pro-war arguments should be ignored because they’re analytically wrong, you’re arguing they should be ignored because they’re inherently morally suspect, regardless of accuracy.
When you’re trying to set the terms for a debate, you have to do it in a fair way. Demanding accountability for failed predictions is fair. Insisting that only your ideological opponents be held accountable is not fair.
Here’s The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart (full piece here: http://tinyurl.com/kt2d3wf ):
Doves are right that when offering their views on the foreign-policy topic du jour, pundits should be confronted with the views they offered in the past, especially when discussing the same country. Simply knowing such questions were coming, I suspect, would make folks like Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer, and Dick Cheney—all of whom have publicly criticized Obama’s Mideast policies in recent weeks—think twice before accepting interview requests. It’s certainly had that effect on me. Earlier this week, I was asked to go on TV to discuss Iraq. After some noodling, I decided the only way to do so ethically would be to explain, as a preface to my first answer, that I had supported invading Iraq in 2003 and been egregiously wrong. I still did the interview, but it was harder that way.
Still, saying that Iraq hawks should have to squirm their way through debate number two before getting to debate number one is different than saying, as Paul Waldman recently did in The Washington Post, that “On Iraq, let’s ignore those who got it all wrong.” In fact, the two positions are antithetical. You can either ignore the people who got Iraq wrong or you can ask them tough, searching questions about why they got it wrong.