Yglesias Responds – So Do I

Yglesias attempts to set my misguided soul straight.

NOT SURRENDER, DEFEAT. To certain misguided souls the question of whether or not the Iraq War has failed hinges on whether or not we can win the war, in the sense of defeating our adversaries there. Unlike some, I don’t have any real doubt that, if we’re willing to spend the blood and money that it takes, that we can beat this insurgency sooner or later. And of course, insofar as the point of the war was to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program, we’ve already done that. But insofar as the goal is democracy, we’ve already lost.

Of course, I discussed why there was a strategic justification for the war apart from WMD (although I think I let them skate a bit on that issue…go reread this old post…) and democracy.

Vide democracy, Yglesias’ post points to today’s murder of the attorney for one of Saddam’s co-defendants as concrete evidence that democracy is not at risk of failure, but has failed.

Rosemary Nelson and Jonathan Luna and Joan Lefkow might stand as examples of the thinness of Matt’s argument here.

I doubt that Iraq will be a democracy in the sense of 21st-century California any time soon. But I’d settle for something a lot like 19th-century Illinois.

And if you asked the Iraqi people, I bet they would, too.

37 thoughts on “Yglesias Responds – So Do I”

  1. I seem to recall early American lawyers (who were also revolutionaries) taking a lot of heat for defending british redcoats who shot american protestors. Unfortunately for the iraqis, “taking heat” has become much more deadly in the era of child portable weapons systems.

  2. btw, If murder, or more precisely the inability of the government to prevent it, is now the judge of a democracy, is Singapore now considered a full democracy and Washing DC a failure?

  3. Matt would have really been useful during the American revolution. Who would have bet money on a ragtag bunch of rebels against the invincible British Empire ? Yet the Empire lost. Earth to Matt, the insurgents are NOT the British Empire. By the way 80% of the people of Iraq are with us. My money is on them.

  4. I have a better idea. Why don’t you ask Steven Vincent how well democracy is doing in Iraq?

    The simple fact is that we’ve empowered autocrats who can rig future elections to ensure their continued power, just as other regimes throughout that region do.

  5. If we’re going with analogies to 19th-century American states, I’d say Iraq is looking a lot like Kansas in the late 1850s.

  6. -“I doubt that Iraq will be a democracy in the sense of 21st-century California…”_

    I should hope not! California’s so-called Democracy has a much closer resemblence to Iraq during the rule of the Baathist party.

    “Vagabondia”:http://vagabondia.blogspot.com/2005/04/conan-destroyer.html

    bq. _Of the 53 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 51 incumbents were up for reelection this year and all were reelected. In the two open seats, a Democrat and a Republican were elected to office. In January, California will send 33 Democrats and 20 Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives, reflecting no change in the partisan balance of the state delegation._

    bq. _Legislative elections were held for all 80 of the two-year seats in the State Assembly, and 20 of the four-year seats in the 40-member State Senate. Incumbents won all of their State Senate races (10) and State Assembly races (56). Although there were 18 open seats in the State Assembly and 8 in the Senate due to term limit vacancies, there is no change in the partisan makeup of the new State Assembly (48 Democrats, 32 Republicans) and State Senate (25 Democrats, 15 Republicans)._

  7. “But insofar as the goal is democracy, we’ve already lost.”

    Jeeze! Insisting democracy’s failed just days after 10 million ballots were cast takes some chuzpah.

    It’s like standing in the rain while insisting there’s a drought.

  8. “Why don’t you ask Steven Vincent how well democracy is doing in Iraq?”

    Vincent would be very proud of the Iraqis right now. There’s nothing in any of his writings to suggest otherwise.

  9. Approximately 20,000 american soldiers died in six weeks during the Battle of the Bulge during WW2. That was one battle. I guess we should have just given up and left Europe to the tender mercies of Hitler. Hell its not like the French & Europeans are grateful at being liberated by the “cowboys” 60 years later.

  10. Fascinating. Apparently, in lib-left world, a murder disqualifies a state as democratic. Especially if carried out by underworkd figures bent on snuffing out a nosy reporter.

    So, when do we get to take the United States back and restore it to its rightful Queen? Or do we just get all of your major cities, starting with Chicago, New York, Boston, Philly, Miami? Enquiring minds want to know.

    God Save the Queen!

    PS… we’ll pass on New Orleans, and give it back to the French. Seems only fair. We thought about adding the Ohio valley, but Cleveland’s river no longer catches fire and they have the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame – so the French can come back and fight another war if they want it. Whereupon I pick the Cleveland Browns, and give up the spread.

  11. This post by AL well complements his previous. That misled by including stuff that Yglesias didn’t say; this misleads by omitting what he did say.

    Yglesias’s “concrete evidence” that “insofar as the goal is democracy, we’ve already lost” is not just that Saddam’s codefendent’s lawyer was murdered, but that he was murdered “by men who identified themselves as Interior Ministry employees”. As far as I know, no one’s fingered the FBI for the murders of Nelson, Luna, or Lefkow; nor were their activities of comparable political significance. Now if say the FBI had rubbed out the NYT’s attorney in the matter of the Pentagon Papers, that might have impugned the U.S.’s democratic character, a little.

  12. a democracy under assault is NOT a failed democracy.

    or britain (IRA) and sri lanka (TAMIL TIGERS) and israel (jihadoterrorists) and india (jihadoterrorists) and spain (ETA) and italy (red brigades)

    (and for that matter the Allies during WW2)

    were all failed democracies because they were all under attack by “insurgencies.”

    yglesias is

    (what’s in parantheses is under my breath: a jerkidiotsmirkingcommie)

    in denial.

  13. So by Yglesia’s logic, Michael Jackson’s “persecution” for “loving children” means the US is no longer a democracy. His lawyer claimed that the DA was persecuting him for being a “proud black man who loves children.” And everything a defense lawyer alleges is true.

    OK, nice to know.

  14. Yglesias repeated the moveon.org talking points fairly accurately, true. But how exactly does that repetetiveness warrant posting on this fine blog? Ho hum.

  15. But insofar as the goal is democracy, we’ve already lost.

    I guess we should have chosen a “reality-based” goal, like installing a cheap little dictator.

    But then, as Aristide has been sent packing, apparently we lost Clinton’s War on Haiti, too.

    Anybody else up for some more Clinton foreign policy? None for me, thanks.

  16. Robert McDougal – I’ll certainly grant one (minor) point – that I didn’t distinguish the one of the canonical arguments that Matt didn’t use from those that he did. That was carelessness on my part, and I’ll try to do better.

    But when you suggest that this:

    bq. Yglesias’s “concrete evidence” that “insofar as the goal is democracy, we’ve already lost” is not just that Saddam’s codefendent’s lawyer was murdered, but that he was murdered “by men who identified themselves as Interior Ministry employees”.

    repudiates my point, I’m pretty deeply amused. First, murderers claiming to be interior ministry officials aren’t necessarily actually interior ministry officials (I mean if you’re willing to murder, you’re probably willing to lie); and even if they are, the Boston, Chicago, New York (and if rumors hold, Los Angeles) police departments have turned out a hit man or two.

    So back to you on that one…

    A.L.

  17. Exactly. I know the sensibilities are repelled by the thought, but those murderers just may not have been entirely honest.

  18. Armed Liberal wrote:
    “First, murderers claiming to be interior ministry officials aren’t necessarily actually interior ministry officials (I mean if you’re willing to murder, you’re probably willing to lie); and even if they are, the Boston, Chicago, New York (and if rumors hold, Los Angeles) police departments have turned out a hit man or two.”

    So… those emails I get from that Nigerian minister might not actually be true? ;)

  19. I’m just gob smacked that any responsible commentator of any political stripe would say we have already lost on the democracy front in Iraq. It is so imprudent that I can only wonder what their true motives are. There is real politics working toward compromise, a real free press, real and successful elections, real flow on effects like Lebanon, and a real sense on the part of the Iraqi people that they must seize this moment and make a real effort to create a democracy. I would be a fool to say democracy has succeeded in Iraq at this point although I passionately hope it does because I believe that democracy is so great a social, political and moral improvement over what went before. So what could people like Yglesias want? Defeat? Discredit Bush? Are so many people who say they are part of the left willing to see the Iraqis go back under the yoke of totalitarianism to defeat a president and a party they don’t like? I’m afraid they are. If so, that is a complete and utter betrayal of everything I as a member of the left have stood for all my life. I’ve read some decent things by Yglesias, but saying we have already lost is defeatist and abandons the very raison d’etre of the left which is to liberate the oppressed, not abandon them to the meat hooks and the shredding machines. Thank Allah and the US Army and now the Iraqi army and police the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people and not the defeatists of the left.

  20. _Are so many people who say they are part of the left willing to see the Iraqis go back under the yoke of totalitarianism to defeat a president and a party they don’t like?_

    Look at the bright side. They are only willing to sacrifice foreigners to score political points, not american territory or american citizens. Its just the “Spirit of ’75” thats made a comeback.

    Its not like France in 1940 where the reaction to the German attack was “How can we sabotage our defence and stick the blame on our opponents?”. Even the military high command (Weygand IIRC) played games and lied to Reynaud and Lebrun to make sure that the surrender was signed by the politicians and not themselves.

  21. Armed Liberal:

    Re #22: Good. Now you’re scoffing at the argument Yglesias did make rather than at one he didn’t. That’s progress.

    And you’re quite right, that we don’t surely know whether the murderers were Interior Ministry forces or, if they were, whether they were on the job or on their own time. But we do know that the Iraqi security forces are riddled with adherents of the various Shi’i militias, that in particular the head of the Interior Ministry is a former (?) SCIRI operative who goes by his SCIRI nom de guerre, that they nurture a strong hostility to Sunni Arabs (to say nothing of Ba’thists), that they’re innured to acting lawlessly and ruthlessly, that a lot of Sunnis are turning up dead after last being seen in the custody of men in Interior Ministry uniforms, and that the Interior Ministry explanation (that the murders are the work of “insurgents . . . donning police uniforms”) makes little sense either in general or in this particular instance. So as a matter of common sense, it seems quite likely that these particular murderers were exactly what they said they were, and working on company time.

  22. You know, Robert M., you’re erecting a strong edifice of certainty on a pretty weak reed.

    Note that the Viet Cong and Algerian guerillas used stolen uniforms quite frequently; but that’s not horribly material as even if I grant you that agents in the pay of the government – and possibly with some level of government compliance – committed these murders, it doesn’t come close to supporting the author’s suppostion that we have been unquestioningly defeated in bringing democracy to Iraq.

    How much do you know about the history of the Civil Rights movement and Jim Crow in the U.S. South?

    And the notion that in ‘better policy circles’ this is common knowledge sadly leads me to conclude more about the need to refresh the population of those circles than about events on the ground in Iraq.

    A.L.

  23. In fact we know of insurgents in this war who donned stolen military uniforms and used them in suicide bombings.
    ” the Interior Ministry explanation (that the murders are the work of “insurgents . . . donning police uniforms”) makes little sense either in general or in this particular instance.”

    Why does that make little sense? Lets set some ground rules here. This argument only even pretends to hold water if this was a government sanctioned execution… which by the way there is _zero_ motive for. If this was angry Shiia freelancing, or Sunni/foriegn agent provacateur, the argument completely collapses, and there is ample motive for those scenarios.

    “So as a matter of common sense, it seems quite likely that these particular murderers were exactly what they said they were, and working on company time.”

    Why is that likely, and why is it common sense? And perhaps the most _obviously_ overlooked fact is _why did men in police_ and _men in military uniforms abduct this man?_ Even in Iraq, jurisdictional turf exists. If this was a government job, the following is certain:

    1.there was no rational motive
    2.it was done _extremely_ publically, unnecesarrily so
    3.it was done by multiple Iraqi organizations, guaranteeing it could not be kept secret
    4.(and this is the idiotarian anthropoligical argument i grant you) the act and the circumstances were done in such a way to guarantee fundamentally unserious anti-war demagogues would seize it at face value to undermine the democratization effort. Which is demonstrably true, because that is what has predictably happened.

  24. Armed Liberal:

    . . . you’re erecting a strong edifice of certainty on a pretty weak reed

    It’s a strange manner of reading that turns “don’t surely know” and “quite likely” into “a strong edifice of certainty”. Rather, there’s a strong edifice of evidence (of which the items quoted in comment #28 are just samples) for divided (or diverted) loyalties and lawless violence by the Iraqi security forces.

    How much do you know about the history of the Civil Rights movement and Jim Crow in the U.S. South?

    I know that the North started out with great enthusiasm to reconstruct the South in 1864; that by a date conventionally reckoned at 1877 it had abandoned the effort; that the original objectives were eventually secured by civil rights legislation, notably the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, if you wish to suggest that about 101 years after the defeat of Saddam, Iraq may become the “pluralistic liberal democracy” of the humanitarian interventionists’ dreams — well perhaps it will, but you might find it hard to find anyone who supported or would have supported the invasion on that basis.

  25. Mark Buehner:

    This argument only even pretends to hold water if this was a government sanctioned execution . . .

    The argument makes sense if there is a pattern of lawless violence by Interior Minstry forces — which there apparently is. Which level of the government might be leading the effort — or whether it’s led from within the government at all — is a more obscure question.

    which by the way there is zero motive for

    What motive there might be for attacking this specific individual, as opposed to Sunni Ba’thists in general, I certainly don’t know, and given the level of information on Iraq available from general news reports, I wouldn’t expect to know. This applies whether the perpetrators were official, or Shi’i freelancers, or Sunni agents provocateurs.

    . . . there is ample motive for [angry Shiia freelancing, or Sunni/foriegn agent provacateur].

    Yes there is motive for angry Shi’i freelancing, but then there are plenty of armed and angry Shi’i (and even Sunni) in the Interior Ministry forces too.

    Regarding the agents provocateurs theory: while such things do happen sometimes, they’re relatively rare, even in ruthless struggles. But death squads in countries with internecine conflict and no strong tradition of rule of law — they’re commonplace. Likewise, of course, glib denials by official spokespersons.

    why did men in police and men in military uniforms abduct this man?

    Because, in general, they don’t need to be furtive about what they’re doing. Who, after all, is going to call them to account? As far as Iraqi reaction is concerned, they may well be pleased to develop their reputation for fearsomeness. As for international (i.e., U.S.) reaction — well so far, there’s been little apparent need for them to concern themselves with it — though the particular act under discussion may have been a shade indiscreet.

    While the police uniforms may be easy for civilians to come by, the Land Cruisers and Glocks are more difficult to obtain.

    I agree, we don’t know who did this, and there are plausible possibilities outside the Interior Ministry. On the other hand, there is no difficulty with the simplest explanation, that it is what it appears to be, a Ministry job. And whether the Ministry organized this particular job or not, there’s plenty of evidence for their fighting a “dirty war” (as your Latin American clients used to call it).

  26. Robert, let me suggest that you spend a little time reading histories of the Civil Right movement in the South in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s; local law enforcement was neck-deep in political murders in the United States at that time.

    So if you want to suggest that a democracy as good as that in Alabama or Mississipi in 1960 isn’t good enough to be considered a success in the Middle East, please stand up and say so, so that we can make out own judgments about your views.

    A.L.

  27. bq. So if you want to suggest that a democracy as good as that in Alabama or Mississipi in 1960 isn’t good enough to be considered a success in the Middle East, please stand up and say so, so that we can make out own judgments about your views.

    Holy cow, AL… attack _many_ straw men today?

    First, it’s not at all clear that the two situations are analogous: while it’s certainly true that racist murderers were found in various official positions within the Deep South in the 60’s and 50’s, I surely don’t remember blacks and sepratist whites each having their own armed militias, public daylight bombings killing dozens of civilians, etc.

    Second, even if that weren’t the case, Robert’s point was _not_ that “Oh, any imperfections in a democracy make it worthless, let’s get out of Iraq”, but rather (if I’m reading him correctly) that if it takes 100 years to go from a Civil War-type event in Iraq to something that would approximate US democracy, the invasion wasn’t worth it in the first place.

  28. Chris, I’ll suggest that there’s somestraw in your argument here as well. Robert’s point was that – in support of Matt’s flat contention that democracy promotion has been defeated – uniformed members of the security services had murdered the lawyer for one of Saddam’s codefendants.

    My response was “possible, not proven” and “if true, doesn’t in itself make Yglesias’ claim true.”

    Comparing this claim – that the security forces are acting to commit extrajudicial political killings – to recent amercian history, in which – security forces committed extrajudicial political killings- seems exactly the point.

    And for you to claim that the argument you accept Robert as making – “…if it takes 100 years to go from a Civil War-type event in Iraq to something that would approximate US democracy, the invasion wasn’t worth it in the first place.” is materially different from ‘”Oh, any imperfections in a democracy make it worthless, let’s get out of Iraq” ‘ is a little disingenuous…the point of the “it’s not worth it” crowd is exactly to drive forward the political decision to withdraw.

    A.L.

  29. bq. Robert’s point was that – in support of Matt’s flat contention that democracy promotion has been defeated – uniformed members of the security services had murdered the lawyer for one of Saddam’s codefendants.

    bq. My response was “possible, not proven” and “if true, doesn’t in itself make Yglesias’ claim true.”

    I agree that Yglesias’ point was too limited, and I wish he’d written something taking a wider perspective. Dirty cops in various degrees can be found in any human society, and by themselves aren’t evidence that a society is failing.

    But dirty cops _on top_ of everything else that’s going on in Iraq are yet one more indicator that things are not going our way.

    bq. Comparing this claim – that the security forces are acting to commit extrajudicial political killings – to recent amercian history, in which – security forces committed extrajudicial political killings- seems exactly the point.

    Sure, but suggesting that not wanting to fight in Iraq now is the same as not wanting to improve the Jim Crow system of the Old South is not an apt comparison: the people we’re dealing with, the methods we have available, and the scale and nature of the problems are vastly different.

    bq. And for you to claim that the argument you accept Robert as making – “…if it takes 100 years to go from a Civil War-type event in Iraq to something that would approximate US democracy, the invasion wasn’t worth it in the first place.” is materially different from ‘”Oh, any imperfections in a democracy make it worthless, let’s get out of Iraq” ‘ is a little disingenuous…the point of the “it’s not worth it” crowd is exactly to drive forward the political decision to withdraw.

    Well, yes, my guess is that Robert would like to see us withdraw (although it makes me nervous to put words in his mouth, and he should certainly feel free to correct me if I’m incorrect.)

    But there’s still a mountain of difference between the two positions. The former is turing away from a monstrously difficult, and perhaps intractable, problem, while the latter gives the impression that the person saying it only believes democracy is worth it if they don’t have to get their nails dirty. And, AL, while you increasingly give off the vibe that such sledgehammer-blunt distinctions are more or less ok with you, I feel it’s exceedingly dishonest to act like someone can’t be an advocate of democracy and western values unless they’re willing to commit to the Iraq war, no matter what.

  30. Armed Liberal:

    . . . if you want to suggest that a democracy as good as that in Alabama or Mississipi in 1960 isn’t good enough to be considered a success in the Middle East, please stand up and say so, so that we can make out own judgments about your views.

    That question would better be addressed to a panel of Iraqis and elderly black Mississipians and Alabamians. In their absence, however, I should say that if, from the present position, the level of political violence in Iraq could be reduced to AL/MS 1960 levels by say the next U.S. presidential inauguration, that would be a praiseworthy and most unlikely achievement (cf. Chris, comment #34); whether the invasion would be justified if that did happen, or if Abu Musab al Zarqawi acknowledged Jesus as his personal saviour, or if every Iraqi girl got a pony, are not however profitable questions.

    . . . to claim that the argument [Chris] accept[s] Robert as making – “…if it takes 100 years to go from a Civil War-type event in Iraq to something that would approximate US democracy, the invasion wasn’t worth it in the first place.” is materially different from ‘”Oh, any imperfections in a democracy make it worthless, let’s get out of Iraq” ‘ is a little disingenuous…the point of the “it’s not worth it” crowd is exactly to drive forward the political decision to withdraw.

    Yglesias of course favours early withdrawal. But the Rosenfeld and Yglesias article claims to be looking beyond, to future occasions for intervention, to be motivated by a desire to save interventionism from the interventionists; you’ve shown no reason to dismiss that claim.

    Whether it was worth it and how soon and fast the U.S. should withdraw are separate questions to be decided by separate considerations. The non-existence of Iraqi WMD, for instance has a lot to do with whether it was worth it, but little to do with whether to withdraw now. On the other hand, whether the MNFI presence is currently doing more harm than good is central to withdrawal but not to the initial invasion. So the claim that people arguing it wasn’t worth it are really arguing for withdrawal appears rather strange.

    As for my own views, if they’re not important, they’re also not worth making a mystery of. I’m already on record as inclining to the pottery barn school; if I’m less firmly so now, it’s not because of what you and Yglesias have been discussing, but because of this.

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