Assumptions

At Crooked Timber, John Quiggin comments on a dubious assumption made by many supporters of the Iraq war:

By contrast, the supporters of the war were giving their support to very different kinds of war and assuming that their own preferred version would be the one that took place. But if they were honest with themselves (as Derbyshire has been, at least retrospectively) they should have looked at their allies and realised that there was no warrant for this assumption. Instead, they committed themselves to war with a whole series of implicit conditions. Many of them, in recanting, have blamed the Bush Administration for not delivering the kind of war they supported, or for mishandling the war in various ways that reflect entirely different assumptions and objectives. But, they had no reason to expect anything different.

Fair enough. But I wonder whether this sort of reasoning might have any implications for domestic policy.

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Whether we should have

Whether we should have invaded or not is moot. To clarify, take me for example: I was against the war, but once it started I wanted it to end successfully and not end in a retreat. For me, then, the day on which it became worse than useless to speak out against the war was the day on which we invaded, because on that day the issue became moot. In that day it became necessary to pick a side because the choices no longer were war or no war, but victory or surrender. We can do one of two things: we can win, or we can lose. That's the same choice that faced us in Vietnam. We had the choice of winning, or losing, and we chose to lose, and the Vietnam war has gone down in history as a war the Americans lost. (It's beside the point whether we had the capacity to choose to win the Vietnam war: my point was that we could not merely stop without losing, we could only lose.)

There are two sides, the pro-victory side and the pro-defeat side. Many on the pro-defeat side believe that we have already been defeated (a common term is "failed war") and that we need to act like the losers that we are.

"We can do one of two

"We can do one of two things: we can win, or we can lose."

Bullshit. There are many more options besides "winning" or "losing". There is a whole continuum of options and outcomes.

Defeat is a relative term. If staying in and trying to win has a very high probability of making the situation much worse, and cutting and running has a much lower probability of disaster, then cutting and running is the thing to do. Here's a short list of operations where the smart thing to do strategically was to withdraw and regroup:

The Somme
Stalingrad
Afganistan (for the Russians)
Lebanon

"You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."

The fact that you put

The fact that you put "winning" and "losing" in quotes suggests you don't take the concepts seriously. I do. As an example, let's look at one of the conflicts you brought up: Afghanistan. The Soviets lost, then the Soviet Union fell. Is that your idea of a point on the continuum between winning and losing? I call it losing big time.

Winning and losing isn't a matter of how you decide to put spin on events in the privacy of your own head. It really happens and all your words don't change it.

As Jim Henley pointed out in

As Jim Henley pointed out in the comments over at CT, the argument parallels that which Hayek made in The Road to Serfdom. (See http://www.mises.org/TRTS.htm ) Hayek was talking about domestic policy, of course, not foreign relations. So, the analogy is not exact.

One way in which the Derb's war-ideas were better than other warmongers', is that at least his idea of what the war should have been has been proven by events to be reasonable. Of course, expecting the neocons to do what he thought best was a mistake, and that's what he fesses up to.

You talk as if losing a

You talk as if losing a foreign war is necessarily a bad thing. Although "winning", achieving what we set out to do in the war would be in Iraq and, in the short-term, America's advantage, it would make future foreign actions much more likely and gain support for hawks, current politicans, neo-cons, and all sorts of evil statists.

Its very possible that America, and the World, would be better off if the Iraq War were even more of an unmitigated disaster than it was. Nothing stirs up anti-government sentiment than a bloody, money-pit, conscription causing, drawn-out, conflict that our leaders had to lie us into in the first place in an area that most people don't give a f*** about. Perhaps "losing" some wars is better than "winning" them in many situations.

America did not have a major war, besides the cold war, from the end of our defeat in Vietnam to the first Gulf War. The easy success in the first Gulf War definately played a role in getting us into the present conflict.

I forgot to mention my main

I forgot to mention my main point of my last post:

Failed interventionist actions make future interventionist actions less likely.

You talk as if losing a

You talk as if losing a foreign war is necessarily a bad thing.

The world suffered when America lost, because America's loss was communism's win. After Vietnam the communists were emboldened and spread. But perhaps we Americans did not lose much, safe as we were in Fortress America.

But the current war with radical Islamism is different, because we are no longer safe. At least I am assuming that 9/11 was not an optical illusion.

Occupation and

Occupation and Dependence
Carl Levin has a keen understanding of incentives in the conduct of US foreign policy...

Iraq had nothing to do with

Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

- Josh

Hmm, Saddam Hussein may not

Hmm,

Saddam Hussein may not have had a direct role in the 9/11 attack, but his and like minded tyrants' ideas and actions were made manifest not only by 9/11, but by similar actions dating back to the 1970's (if not the '60's). He violated the terms of a *cease-fire* and had to be deposed because of his many bad acts including violation of the cease-fire. If the new Iraqi government succeeds, then Iraqi policy in the future is likely going to be less threatening to us than it has been, ie, a good result that adds to the justness of this war. I am a libertarian, and this action, IMO, does not qualify as immoral. All actions in life involve trade-offs. Blind intervention is bad. Blind neglect of bad actor's bad acts is likewise bad. Sometimes intervention is just (because it is self-defense).

Iraq had nothing to do with

Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

Actually, my arguments for opposing the invasion of Iraq made no mention of 9/11 because it was never suggested by supporters (with whom I had contact) that the reason for the invasion was 9/11.

Regardless of the history, we now find ourselves at war in Iraq with, among other people, radical Islamists who are trying to do what the Taliban did in Afghanistan and what Islamists are currently trying to do in Somalia. This isn't a conflict we want to lose the way we lost to the communists in Vietnam, because while the communists did not reach American shores before the collapse of the USSR, Islamist terrorists did reach American shores, on 9/11 2001. We were safe then. We are not safe now.

>>This isn’t a conflict we

>>This isn’t a conflict we want to lose the way we lost to the communists in Vietnam, because while the communists did not reach American shores before the collapse of the USSR, Islamist terrorists did reach American shores, on 9/11 2001.

Yep. The resulting carnage was as bad as a single day's fighting on the Eastern Front.

I recall reading comments

I recall reading comments like Ben Darrington’s after the Viet Nam war. The left actually cheered and even aided the North Vietnamese side. Take for example Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden who believed that communists were in the process of creating a better, more collectivist way of life.

Today there is little love for the Islamists on the part of the anti-war left. Now their standards for supporting the enemy have slipped even lower.

Some of them view Iraq through a vague fog like a child’s morality play where they can express their dislike for America. They think the US is a bully who deserves to be taught a lesson.

I look at it differently. Going back to war again in Iraq may have been a mistake. The president and his aids may be scoundrels, but they are American scoundrels and we can vote in some new ones in the next election. The only two ways to influence Islamist terrorists is to cower from them or kill them.

Taking the side of the Islamists and terrorists is naive. Even if their victory results in Ben’s desired American humiliation, don’t forget the other effects that their tactics will have.

Totalitarian movements promote themselves as the wave of the future, though they have no real future. By successfully throwing their weight around they gain momentum and credibility. That is why they must be resisted even at great cost. If Islamists and Baathists defeat the US just by committing daily mass murder and making sure the newspapers report it, I don’t see “Peace in our time” any time soon.

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