Why is it “pro-war” to pretend that things are going well?

If we’re going to win in Iraq, somebody better tell the country, and the President, that right now we’re losing.

Kevin Drum is a little bit shocked at the stubborn blindness of some of the warbloggers at how badly things are going, but he regards a certain tendency to optimism as natural: “I know that war supporters need to support the war,” he says.

Actually, I think that’s just about backwards.

Having never been certain that invading Iraq was a good idea, I’m not now certain that it was in fact a bad one. And whether it was a good decision or not, I’m still a “war supporter” in the sense of thinking that, having invaded, we need to observe Napoleon’s principle: “If you start out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” But that “pro-war” viewpoint makes me more, not less, interested in knowing, and saying, just how badly things are going at the moment.

I never thought that Iraq was going to be a working liberal democracy, or even a reasonable approximation, anytime soon. (According to the neocons, that made me a racist, if I recall correctly.) Now the odds of that seem even longer than they were. But there’s a difference between a mediocre outcome and a disastrous one, and I’d like to see us stick around and pay what it costs, in blood and treaure, to achieve mediocrity.

Minimizing how badly things are going right now does not, however, facilitate that outcome. Yes, predicting that the current adventure will end badly, linked with the proposal that we cut and run, does tend to encourage the other side. But noting that things are, at this very moment, going to Hell in a handbasket isn’t “anti-war.”

If things are, at this very moment, going to Hell in a handbasket, the logical thing to do is try to get them back under control, whether that means sending more troops (our own or somebody else’s), cutting a deal with Sistani on the terms he’s now in a position to demand rather than the terms we were in a position to offer two weeks ago, or even calling the President back from his vacation.

If you, like me, would like the United States to win instead of losing, then you should, like me, be toweringly angry at those, whether in Washington, in the media, or in Blogspace, who are feeding us the happy h.s. about how, in Kevin’s phrase, “everything is hunky-dory.” The claim that, right now, things are going well in Iraq is (in a very short-sighted view) pro-Bush, but it sure as hell isn’t pro-war. Not if “pro-war” means “wanting our side to win.”

The first step in fixing something is noticing that it’s broken.

Update Tacitus, indubitably pro-war, thinks that things are bad and that the Administration isn’t levelling with the country:

Resolute optimism, after a certain point, becomes a form of dishonesty. Not a lie, precisely, but less than truth. Self-delusion? Willful deception? There’s no telling. What is certain is that this revolt makes the Administration look the fools — and for once, rightly so.

Tacitus is more convinced than I am that the the uprisings can be defeated militarily; I would have thought that depended on what proportion of the Iraqi population is hostile, which at the moment we don’t know. But he and I agree that facing the problem honestly is the first step toward dealing with it. (He’s also convinced that Bush will lose the election, which still seems to me, as it does to the betting markets, less than an even-money proposition.)

Tacitus thinks that we got where we are by a series of blunders:

It’s not the result of any one tragically wrong decision or miscalculation; rather, it’s the end result of a year of accumulating bad calls and wishful thinking: disbanding the army plus not confronting Sadr plus giving the Shi’a a veto plus the premature policy of withdrawal from urban centers plus the undermanning of the occupation force (and the concurrent kneecapping of Shinseki) plus the setting of a ludicrously early “sovereignty” date plus the early tolerance of lawlessness and looting plus illusory reconstruction accomplishments plus etc., etc., etc. In short, the failure of the occupation to be an occupation in any sense that history and Arab peoples would recognize. Bad calls of such consistency are the product of a fundamentally bad system.

So far, though Tacitus is one of the leading warbloggers, his thoughtful post has garnered not a single major link from the right side of blogspace. I wonder why not?

Second update Re-reading this by daylight, it sounds more naive than I like to think I am. Of course it’s natural for those who favored invading Iraq to see mostly good news from there, because bad news suggests that they might have been wrong. Contrariwise for opponents of invading Iraq.

There is no more destructive force in human affairs — not greed, not hatred — than the desire to have been right. Non-attachment to possessions is of trivial value in comparison with non-attachment to opinions.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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